Art with narrative

Lover Leaving, oil on panel, 60x70cm cr Frans Wesselman

Lover Leaving, oil on panel, © Frans Wesselman

I’ve recently come to realise that quite a few of the artworks that have attracted me in recent years have two particular things in common: 1) they offer the sense of a larger story; 2) they’re by the same artist.

Shropshire-based artist Frans Wesselman has been creating narrative paintings, etchings and stained glass since his childhood in the Netherlands.

Godiva window 1, stained glass panel, detail cr Frans Wesselman

Godiva window, stained glass panel detail © Frans Wesselman

“When I was a child, my interest in visual art was kindled by my mother pinning illustrations, cut out from magazines, onto the wallpaper,” he recalls. “They were done in a kind of Arthur Rackham style, presumably to children’s stories, though I don’t remember the subjects. But they were drawings, graphic art. I was fascinated by this alternative way of telling stories and at about 17, decided I wanted to do this myself. Ever since, drawing has been the basis of all my work.”

Owl cr Frans Wesselman

Owl © Frans Wesselman

Frans’ parents insisted that he study a subject that could lead to a living wage, and he initially attended an Art Teacher Training College. “After completing my military service I topped that up with a few years at art college, studying print making and photography,” he says. “I went abroad, doing odd (but often interesting) jobs for a few years, drawing, etching and painting all the while. Eventually the odd jobs became fewer, the exhibitions more successful. I was elected a member of the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers.”

I love the atmospheric fairytale quality of Frans’ works, but when I ask him what drew him to develop this style, he says it wasn’t a conscious decision.

“I don’t think it worked that way. I made the images that interested me and tried to express what I felt was important, and this is what came out,” he explains. “I think art is based in one’s attitude to life. Over time the accent changes and the handling of the materials develops, I always try to make the work more direct, better conceived and more spontaneously drawn or painted. But for better or for worse, this is the result.”

Father, oil on panel, 69x70 cm cr Frans Wesselman

Father, oil on panel, © Frans Wesselman

Much of his work is inspired by literature, poetry, and even the bible, which he finds “a great source of fascinating thoughts and stories, especially in conjunction with the work of the old masters who took similar subjects as their starting point, Rembrandt for instance or Murillo. Sometimes my own experiences are the beginning of a series of sketchbook scribbles that may lead to finished work. And from time to time I get commissions that may lead on to the exploration of other themes.”

Frans also draws from nature a lot, saying that “though that rarely leads to a finished piece, it underpins all the rest.”

Swimmer II, woodcut, 42x49cm cr Frans Wesselman

Swimmer II, woodcut, © Frans Wesselman

Key pleasures in his craft include “having the freedom to explore through drawing and painting the subjects that interest me. To be able to get out of bed in the morning and think ‘I must change the stance of that woman in my new painting’ and to be able to just go and do that.”

The Owl That Sang In The Night, oil on panel, 35x28cm cr Frans Wesselman

The Owl That Sang In The Night, oil on panel, © Frans Wesselman

Frans will be exhibiting at the Bristol Affordable Art Fair from 18-20 September on the Churchgate Gallery stand. He also exhibits pieces at the Montpellier Gallery in Stratford on Avon, at the Bankside Gallery, London, and will have works at the Great Print Exhibition at the Rheged Gallery, Penrith, from 19th September to 22nd November and at the Glaziers Art Fair, Glaziers Hall, London, on 27-28 October 2015. Find more of his art at

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

Boats among the trees

Luke Jerram- Withdrawn-Sea cr Judy DarleyThere are only a few days left before Luke Jerram’s Withdrawn installation disembarks from Leigh Woods and sets sail for its next, possibly, ultimate, destination.

I finally got a chance to visit last Sunday, and really wasn’t sure what to expect. A fleet of unseaworthy vessels arranged in a woodland – part of me couldn’t help but ask why. The boats have formed the setting for a variety of cultural performances throughout the summer, as well as asking grand ecological questions – but beyond that, what is the emotional impact of this artwork?

Luke Jerram- Withdrawn-Gloria Jean smells of the sea cr Judy Darley

I love trees, and I love boats, so an afternoon tramping through to a leafy land-docked harbour was irresistible. Any when we arrive and glimpsed Grey Gull through the foliage, something deep inside me leapt for joy.

Luke Jerram-Withdrawn-Grey Gull cr Judy Darley

Because, in a curious way, it made perfect sense. Not only in the sensible sense that these seafaring craft are made primarily from wood, so to return them to a woodland offers a delightful symmetry to it, but because the boats themselves look perfectly at home.

Being a Sunday, the woods were awash with family, mainly in wellies and bright waterproofs, and it led me to wonder if part of the reason this works so beautifully is because it harks back to the Swallows and Amazons adventure games of childhood, when any fallen tree trunk could become a pirate ship, mountainside or palace in an instant.

Luke Jerram-Withdrawn-Joanne Marie detail3 cr Judy Darley

The installation is both absorbing and unexpectedly transportive. Joanne Marie has a cockpit where a pair of tortoiseshell spectacles rests, and a lobster pot lolls on the stern. Stand close to Gloria Jean and you’ll catch an enticing whiff of saltwater.

Luke Jerram-Withdrawn-Gloria Jean cr Judy Darley

More than that, though, is the way nature has quietly been taking hold. The peeling paint has inevitably peeled further, moss is quietly springing up, and thick cobwebs are appearing in interiors we ourselves can’t enter. Oak leaves gather where once seaweed might have strewn.

Luke Jerram-Withdrawn-Joanne Marie cockpit cr Judy Darley

And I’m fairly certain that when all the humans leave for the day, the badgers, squirrels and other Leigh Woods’ residents come out to play.

Luke Jerram’s Withdrawn installation will be in Leigh Woods until 6th September 2015.

Writing prompt – wreck

The Titanic wreck cr Dr Robert Ballard

The Titanic wreck © Dr Robert Ballard

The tragedy of the Titanic has inspired creative output for more than a century, but the discovery of the sunken vessel is equally evocative.

Today marks the 30th anniversary since the famous wreck was found by American oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard and French diving engineer Jean-Louis Michel 370 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, nearly two and a half miles (4000m) below sea level. The boat still lies in 13,000 feet of water today.

Imagine devoting your life to searching for a missing vessel, plane or artefact. How would you feel when you finally discover it? What losses might you have incurred along the way? Write that into a work of fiction.

Find out more about the Titanic at Find 30 intriguing facts – perfect for filling in the details of your tale – at

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to JudyDarley(at) With your permission, I’d love to share it on

Curtis Brown Creative courses for aspiring novelists

Notebook and pen cr Judy DarleyCurtis Brown Creative, the creative-writing school run by Curtis Brown Literary Agency, is inviting applications for two writing courses for aspiring novelists – a London-based Novel-Writing Course and an Online Novel-Writing Course.

Previous courses – the only ones in the UK to be led by agents – have seen more than fifteen students secure book deals with major publishers and several others find representation.

Applications will be accepted until midnight on Sunday 18 October 2015.

Novel-Writing Course 

The Novel-Writing Course will run from 7th November 2015 to 16th March 2016, and will be taught by author Erin Kelly and Curtis Brown Creative’s Director Anna Davis, a literary agent and author of five novels.

Open to 15 students, the course will include weekly evening workshops, teaching sessions and one-to-one tutorials with Erin Kelly, plus pecial visiting speaker sessions hosted by Anna Davis and featuring literary agents from both the Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh agencies, paired with leading writers and top publishers. Anna will also meet with each student to give detailed feedback on their novels and discuss next steps, including industry advice. At the end of the course, the full agenting teams of Curtis Brown and Conville & Walsh read the synopses plus openings of the students’ novels, and the students get to meet the agents and discuss their works-in-progress at a drinks evening.

The course fee is £1,800.

Find full details at

Online Novel-Writing Course 

This more flexible option – tutored by Commonwealth Book Prize-winning author Lisa O’Donnell – will run from November 02 2015 until February 22 2016, and brings all the ingredients of the London-based novel-writing courses to those unable to attend sessions at Curtis Brown’s offices.

Places will be offered to 15 students, selected on the basis of ability as demonstrated in their applications. Commonwealth Book Prize-winning author and tutor Lisa O’Donnell will give direct feedback to students on their novels-in-progress via weekly online workshops and one-to-one tutorials. Lisa will also deliver specially designed teaching sessions on key topics and set homework exercises. The course features dedicated advice and Q&As with agents from Curtis Brown and our sister agency Conville & Walsh. Literary agents from both companies will read the openings and one-page synopses from all students at the end of the course.

The course fee is £1,600.

Applications must be submitted by midnight on Sunday 4th October.

Find full details here.

Otherworldly views with Anouk Mercier

Hotel Belvedere cr Anouk Mercier

Hotel Belvedere © Anouk Mercier

Artist Anouk Mercier invites you to take a stroll in a landscape that seems at once deeply familiar and uncommonly strange. Like a set from an arthouse sci-fi film, skies are golden and flecked with bubbles that add both beauty and peculiarity to a scene that may well include an intricately detailed rendering of a grand Victorian country home, a craggy rockface and a scattering of trees.

Anouk never really made a concrete decision to become an artist. “Drawing and reading were always my favourite activities as a child, perhaps partly because I grew up without a TV at home,” she says. “Drawing was and still is so many things to me; a form of entertainment, escapism, relaxation and expression.”

This last point became particularly significant when Anouk first moved to the UK from France “and couldn’t speak English – I learned at that time the power of drawing, and Art generally, as a universal language and means of communication. So there wasn’t so much a decision to ‘become an artist’, as much as an ongoing endeavour to lead my life in a away that would allow me to draw as much and as often as possible.”

Cascade du Lac Noir cr Anouk Mercier

Cascade du Lac Noir © Anouk Mercier

Anouk went to Art School in Paris and then in Bristol, and after graduation found work within the Arts to continue her development “in parallel to my practice.” She says she always makes an effort to ensure any outside work, such as teaching or curating, “compliments and feeds into my practice, whilst allowing me plenty of time in the studio so that I can draw as much and as often as possible. It is all about establishing and sustaining the correct balance!”

Finding the correct balance is also key to the eerie serenity of Anouk’s unique artworks, which blend antique photos and postcards with her own mark making.

The Gorge cr Anouk Mercier

The Gorge © Anouk Mercier

“My practice begins in the collecting of images,” she says, explaining that she has an immense collection to select this base images from. “This is the case whether for a graphite-only drawing, photo etching or acetone transfer and airbrush piece (I use several different techniques throughout my practice).”

Anouk’s process for the latter involves “making multiple photocopies of a selection of existing Romantic landscape prints or paintings, fragments of which are then carefully re-printed onto paper using acetone transfer. I then delicately apply colour to the skies using airbrushed inks, building a base on which to embellish with my own delicate mark-making.”

It Stood, Abandoned, Against the Yellow Skies cr Anouk Mercier

It Stood, Abandoned, Against the Yellow Skies © Anouk Mercier

It’s a multi layered, and often laborious process, she says,”and each stage is more or less predictable. It’s a technique that’s evolved naturally over time, developed to best convey and present concepts and notions inherent to my work.”

Anouk feels fortunate to have “turned my passion into my ‘job’. I love being surrounded by creative, open minded people and objects of beauty, being self employed and free to manage my own time to a certain extent. I have spent every August over the past few years working from France, for example, which always offers fresh perspective and new sources of inspiration.”

It Stood, Abandoned, Against the Yellow Skies - Detail cr Anouk Mercier

It Stood, Abandoned, Against the Yellow Skies – Detail © Anouk Mercier

Inspiration can come from anywhere at any time, “which is why I always feel that a big part of being an artist is being curious and inquisitive. Generally speaking I tend to be drawn to places and objects that are either beautiful, uncanny or both, which covers a very broad spectrum!”

Anouk spends much of her time taking country walks and visiting stately homes. “Nature, architecture and art all inspire me.”

Anouk’s extensive collection of early photographs and postcards, ranging from Alpine scenes, to Modernist American hotels and hand tinted flowers, are “an inexhaustible source of inspiration to me. I’m currently particularly interested in 18th and 19th Century garden design and landscaping, so I’ve been spending a lot of time ambling through the beautiful grounds of estates such as Stourhead and Hestercombe.”

It sound like a divine way to search for and foster ideas for new artworks.

Warm Glow, Burning Through the Clouds cr Anouk Mercier

Warm Glow, Burning Through the Clouds © Anouk Mercier

Anouk is currently represented by Antlers Gallery  and The Contemporary London, and regularly exhibits with both. She recently had a drawing shortlisted for the Jerwood Drawing Prize, which you will be able to see as part of a touring exhibition opening in London on 16 September 2015.

Find out more about what Anouk’s up to at

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

Writing prompt – blooms

Blossom car, Bristol cr Judy DarleyThis Mazda MX-5 was recently parked in a smart part of Bristol, annoying locals by taking up a parking space, but charming passersby with its abundance of flowers.

This week, imagine the person who created such a floral cornucopia. Why plant it in a car? What does the car mean to them? Where do they intend to go with it? Why?

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to judydarley(at) With your permission, I’d love to share it on

Book review – Unraveled Visions by Nina Milton

Unraveled Visions by Nina MiltonUnraveled Visions (A Shaman Mystery) is the second of The Shaman Mysteries by Nina Milton. This review has been written by Lee Fielding.

We’re back on the rain-drenched moors and the rugged, forbidding coastline of Somerset for the second Shaman Mystery by Nina Milton; Unraveled Visions. One of the many things that draws me to read these books and that keeps me looking out for them, is the brilliantly described landscapes, both of Somerset and of the shamanic otherworld – the place shamans go in when they’re in a trance.

As with number one of the series, In the Moors, which I reviewed for SkyLightRain on its release, I was hooked from the first page, a tense description of the body of an unknown young woman being winched up from her watery grave in a silted gravel pit on the River Parrett.

Like In the Moors, Unraveled Visions is a mystical thriller; a whodunit with supernatural undertones, but it still feels very much of the real world, because shamans are part of the alternative therapy community all over Britain and the US, as well as in traditional communities.

Continue reading

Guernsey Literary Festival 2015

Guernsey Literary FestivalFancy flitting over to the Channel islands for a long weekend? The Guernsey Literary Festival, which takes place from Wednesday 16th till Sunday 20th September 2015, offers the perfect excuse for an early autumn escape. Over the four days there’ll be creative talks, workshops, film screenings and family story sessions.

GuernseyThe line-up includes an array of literary figures including Best Exotic Marigold Hotel author Deborah Moggach who will be joined by her daughter, debut novelist Lottie Moggach, in a talk sharing their love of fiction. Man Booker shortlisted author and journalist Will Self will read from and talk about his novels Umbrella and Shark, while Korky Paul, illustrator of children’s books, including the Winnie the Witch series, will run a fun family event.

Naomi Wood will talk about her 2014 novel, Mrs Hemingway, which is told from the perspective of each of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives. Gain an insight into the research required for the fictionalisation of real people, and into the women loved, married and deceived by the enigmatic Hemingway.

Ooh, and AL Kennedy, comedian, author, journalist and short story writer, will be reading from her upcoming novel.

There’s also a change to absorb the history of Guernsey in sixty minutes, with an original play utilising local knowledge and mysteries, physical theatre and the talents of four of the island’s most beloved performers.

The festival will mainly be based in Guernsey’s capital St. Peter Port. Venues include hotels, the inflatable Literary Festival Hub and, especially intriguing, Hauteville House, where Victor Hugo wrote Les Misérables. Event tickets cost from £4 to £25 and are bookable at where you can also find the growing diary of events.

The joy of clay with ceramicist Rose Bates

Asian Dreams cr Rose Bates

Asian Dreams © Rose Bates

Ceramacist Rose Bates fell in love with clay after exploring almost every other creative form she could imagine.

“Weaving, chair caning, cake decorating and more – there was always something missing, all fun but short lived and none left a desire to carry on,” she says. “In 1992, a friend persuaded me to take GCSE Art and Design at our local Adult Education Centre. As chance would have it, as well as being an accomplished artist, our tutor’s real expertise was in ceramics. Handling clay with its versatile properties and endless artistic possibilities, I was hooked.”

Deep Blue Sea cr Rose Bates

Deep Blue Sea © Rose Bates

Rose stayed on to study Art and Design A-level, Art and Design A-level 3D, and spent four years gaining a City and Guilds Ceramics in Hampshire and Sussex.

“City & Guilds invites complete commitment and discipline towards your subject, a challenge for a Gemini like myself, used to flitting from one idea to another,” she says. “Initially, there was heavy emphasis on drawing and designing projects, with no contact with clay. During the four years, I was pushed to become competent in throwing, glaze making, hand-building and so on, as well as designing my own pieces of work from start to finish.”

Female Torso cr Rose Bates

Female Torso © Rose Bates

In the midst of this, several techniques gradually came to the fore. “The excitement of creating my own glazes, with the mixing and sifting of oxides seemed like alchemy with a hint of danger, especially as some elements are highly toxic in the raw state,” she says. “Choosing a tricky glaze to create seemed a good idea, although choosing macro crystalline glazes was risky.   This technique  requires perfect balance between mixing the right ingredients and  managing the temperature of the kiln in order for  crystals to grow.  Get it wrong and you are left with a perfectly good shiny glaze – but no crystals.”

During this time, Rose also “rediscovered the art of fire. Having nearly set a hillside on fire at the age of nine in Kent while cooking sausages in a frying pan, I finally had a legitimate use of tinder. RAKU  `Happiness by Chance’ is the ancient Japanese technique of firing bowls for tea ceremonies and today offers endless attractive surfaces on pots and sculpture.”

Treasure cr Rose Bates

Treasure © Rose Bates

Rose particularly enjoys “fashioning a lump of clay into something hopefully attractive (sometimes useful) and lasting, as well as finding new colour in glaze. I have also entered a world full of dynamic artist friends, uncovered opportunities to travel and to hold classes in my studio, gathering students as local education colleges close down vocational subjects.”

Her work is driven by the desire to “find new ways to express art in clay, using folk art of world cultures, the natural world and the human body.”

The Chase-Crystalline soft greens:blue of a mermaid and dolphin-Rose Bates

The Chase © Rose Bates

Rose’s ceramics are regularly exhibited in Sea Sky Art, Southampton, Rum’s Eg Gallery, Hampshire, Crafters Gallery, Dorset, and The Creative Gallery, Wareham.

To contact Rose, email bates4crystal(at)

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on Give me a shout at judy(at)

Writing prompt – mislaid

Bench thong cr Judy DarleyOccasionally, the morning after the night before, I spy a suspect trail of cast-of clothing wimbling up the hill. A shoe here, a sock there, a bra draped across a litterbin over there.

This week, no such riches, just a single crimson thong adorning the corner of a park bench.

But what happened to the person wearing it? When did they realise they’d come home without it? How did they explain or hide the loss of their underwear (and possibly their dignity too) from their nearest and dearest?

If you create something prompted by this, please let me know by sending an email to JudyDarley(at) With your permission, I’d love to share it on