Light and power with Steve Slimm

West Across Praa Sands, Evening cr Steve Slimm

West Across Praa Sands, Evening © Steve Slimm

Steve Slimm’s art was recommended to me by reader Irene Woodhead, and I was immediately drawn in by the vigour emanating from his work. His paintings capture coastal views with a stunning abstract quality, spinning together colour, form and light to offer up a scene as much about a place’s energy as its scenery.

Steve has been a working artist for 35 years now, a route he chose almost by chance.

“When I was seventeen I was working in the Civil Service, and was offered the chance of day-release extra curricular studies,” he says. “I opted to do landscape watercolour painting with a local artist John Miller, who was not too well known at the time, but became more internationally known later. He was very encouraging to me.”

Not long afterwards Steve began touting his own watercolours “door-to-door in middle class housing estates etc, offering them for sale reasonably cheaply”

He says this earned him enough “to sustain a meagre living, which paid my mortgage and helped keep a growing family.” To me that sounds far more than meagre! “My wife at the time also helped with the repping. Within a year or two, by doing the door-to-door work, I had met a number of people who helped me to get established selling in galleries – some in Cornwall, and others in the UK generally.”

A Single Tree Stood Resolute cr Steve Slimm

A Single Tree Stood Resolute © Steve Slimm

Steve’s passion for creative freedom isn’t only confined to art, either.

“Aside from painting, this includes a fair amount of music and writing,” he says. “I love the way I’m able now to have significant effect on people’s lives, as they tell me they find great spiritual uplift from my work.”

High Green Pasture cr Steve Slimm

High Green Pasture © Steve Slimm

The physical act of painting is something Steve relishes. “I’m driven by the sheer love of applying paint to see how it forms itself,” he says. “I rarely place paint where I want it, but rather let it go where it wishes, although this is also in somewhat of a controlled way. The happenings in paint become central then to the work.”

This has always been true, he says, “first with watercolours for the first decade or so of my career, and now with emulsions and oils.”

The urge to sell his work is also exciting. “I can get more excited when I have some kind of extra exhibition approaching, or a new gallery to supply. There is always a sense of anticipation, expectancy and even fun – along with timidity – with new ventures.”

Ever since moving to Cornwall, Steve has been using his paintings to explore his love of the county’s coast and the open moorlands, as well as wild locations further afield. “All I wanted to do was express my feelings about the places – I’m not really interested in getting anything ‘right’ about either a location or the colours, or any of the details. It’s the feeling I’m after.”

He says he can’t see himself ever wanting to tackle other subjects other that  “the lay of the land, without much of man’s interference”, though he’s open to being proven wrong about this. “A couple years ago I got passionate about the Moors Murders – you know, Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, in connection with Saddleworth Moor, near Manchester,” he says. “I travelled there twice, and did a series of large abstract pieces connected to the feelings around those horrific events, but still very connected to the land.”

After the Storm cr Steve Slimm

After the Storm © Steve Slimm

He adds: “I became even more enthralled with the idea that we are all one with the land, which is one of my central drives. The other is that the sky and the land meet, but in some way always merge together. You’ll seldom find a distinct horizon in any of my work for this reason. This idea forms the core of my work.”

Steve’s website has links to various places where his work can be seen and purchased online and in galleries.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on Get in touch at judydarley (at) I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Writing prompt – bridges

Clifton Suspension Bridge cr JDarleyThere’s something breathlessly astonishing about bridges, the way they span dizzying gaps, link places and people. Iain Banks set an entire novel on a bridge (one of my favourite books, actually), and it makes sense when you consider the possibilities they present.

By its very nature of hanging in space, a bridge offers an element of danger, while equally providing a sense of safety, potential for escape, and, of course, outstanding views.

This week, begin to write a tale set on a bridge, and see where it takes you.

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 – The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The-Miniaturist coverThis richly detailed, immersive book draws you into the life of Nella Oortman, 18 years old in 1968 and freshly married to a man she barely knows. At the start of her story, she arrives in Amsterdam, a very different place to the rural Assendelft she’s left behind. Her life is on the brink of changing forever, but not in the ways she anticipates.

Told solely from the point of view of this naïve yet spirited girl, The Miniaturist is a story that crackles with suspense, straining at the seams with vivid descriptions and characters so finely sketched they seem utterly real. Within the first few pages we meet Marin, the stern sister-in-law with a hunger for distant shores, and Cornelia, the servant who will prove a crucial ally as the novel unfolds, and Otto, the first black man Nella has ever seen.

The actual miniaturist of the title, however, is a far more intangible creature, difficult to meet and impossible to grasp, yet armed with an uncanny knowledge of Nella’s new household and its many mysteries.

Continue reading

Eco-art in Bristol

Bristol Whales2 cr Judy DarleyI recently encountered a pair of whales in the centre of Bristol. Not in the harbour, where you might expect the occasional sighting of a cormorant, but in a fountain on Millennium Square.

Bristol Whales cr Judy Darley

Made from Somerset willow woven into the two immense marine mammals, it’s a truly imposing work, with 70,000 plastic bottles, collected at the Bath Half and Bristol 10k forming the swirling, glimmering ocean they swim through.

Bristol Whales, the tail-cr Judy Darley

And yes, those are bottle tops hanging from its imposing tail.

It’s a really dramatic, beautiful way to draw attention to the 15 million bottles we send to landfill every day – apparently around eight million tonnes of plastic end up in oceans each year, equivalent to the body weight of 45,000 blue whales.

Bristol Whales4 cr Judy Darley

So the message is, avoid single use plastic, upcycle and, when you’re thirsty, think of the whales.

The artwork will be in situ until 1st September 2015, when, I presume, the whales will migrate to warmer waters. Find more details at and

Writing prompt – details

Leaves, Bristol Botanical Gardens by Judy DarleyInspired by Karl Blossfeldt’s amazing botanical photography, this week’s writing prompt is all about the details.

Create a protagonist who really sweats the small stuff, and I mean REALLY, both the good and bad. While you can have fun making them annoyed with every little thing about their partners, their colleagues or the people they encounter on the bus, but remember to balance that out by having them relish the tiniest details most of us overlook – the veins of a leaf, the pattern in the foliage, the dinky heart in the photo above…

How do these characteristics reflect on the life they lead and the decisions they make?

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

Book review – Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki

Next World NovellaOpening with an unsettling, misidentified smell, Next World Novella by Matthias Politycki immerses you deep in the moment, making use of every sense to evoke a tale that is at times sublime, at others disturbing.

It begins as a story of love and loss, and unfolds into something far more complex, where the life lived by Hinrich Schepp, a scholar of ancient Chinese languages, seems revealed to be almost utterly at odds with the one he remembers. A study in perception and the fallibility of memory, the novel examines of the way we rewrite our experiences as we go along, so that our past may be completely different to the past known even by our closest companions. Continue reading

A holiday in bloody Shetland

Ann Cleeves at a Shetland lighthouse cr Ann Cleeves-Pan Macmillan

Ann Cleeves at a Shetland lighthouse © Ann Cleeves-Pan Macmillan

Here’s an interesting idea – a trip to the place where a series of novels (and then a TV series) is set, accompanied by the author.

Masterminded by travel specialists McKinlay Kidd, the Bloody Shetland tour will feature three nights on the Shetland Islands, and give you the chance to breathe in the air and be inspired by the locations of Ann Cleeves’ Shetland-based crime series.

The USP is that Ann Cleeves will actually be present, for at least one day of the three-night holiday.

The holiday, delightfully named Bloody Shetland with Ann Cleeves, has been carefully to coincide with the close of international crime writing festival Bloody Scotland on Sunday 13 September 2015, presumably to give avid crime fiction fans a chance to soak up the festival beforehand.

The holdaymakers will travel to a top-secret location on the Shetland islands where, following an overnight stay in “one of the islands’ most welcoming hotels”, Ann Cleeves will join them for a full day’s exploration of the locations that inspired her writing and which also appear in the hit BBC TV series (the third season of which is due to be screened later this year). The day will conclude with a murder mystery evening in one of the hotels featured in some of the TV episodes.

Ann Cleeves novels inspired the hit BBC TV series Shetland cr

Ann Cleeves novels inspired the hit BBC TV series Shetland ©

Ann says: “There’s a magic in sharing favourite places with other people. Shetland is bleak and beautiful and I can’t wait to see how readers respond to Jimmy Perez’s home.”

Robert Kidd, Director at McKinlay Kidd adds: “We often welcome visitors who want to learn more about the islands’ hidden gems that have inspired Ann to create such gritty iconic stories, and what better way to do that than with this outstanding author herself?”

It’s an intriguing idea primed to unfurl in an extraordinary setting, and a positive nod to the fact that whatever happens, we humans are fans of storytelling, the more immersive the better.

Places on the holiday experience are limited. To book or for more information about McKinlay Kidd’s full range of tailor-made trips visit or call 0844 873 6110.

Music, marvels and mayhem

Harbour Festival sign cr Judy DarleyThis coming weekend one of my favourite summer events rears its beautiful tousled head – Bristol Harbour Festival.

And yes, there will be boats of all varieties, but there will also be music, dance performances, an area of green leafy eco-friendliness, and circus acts to watch or participate in (including a chance to discover what slacklining is), plus the occasional eruption of juggling, tango or aerial gymnastics.

There will also be plenty of shows that defy tidy classification, such as last year’s splendid Trolleys (featuring actual shopping trolleys by the marvellous C-12 Dance Theatre, not to mention a broad array of imaginative oddities.

Harbour festival 2012 cr Judy Darley

Tempting stalls of food and marvellous treasures will line the parks and harbourside, and stages will resonate with music from folk-rock to techno-bhangra, samba to English gospel. Oh, and there’ll even be a floating cinema. Now we just some sunshine!

Bristol Harbour Festival takes over central Bristol from 17-19 July and is joyfully free 😉

Writing prompt – cumulus

Sky and barbed wire cr Judy DarleySometimes I get mesmerised by the beauty of the sky. Walking home recently I spotted this impressive display. I think they’re stratocumulus – do correct me if I’m wrong.

I particularly love the way the barbed wire in the shot catches at them, juxtaposing the concept of freedom with the threat of being caught – trapped.

Use this as the foundation of your story. Is your character imprisoned and daydreaming about their release, or is it a less obvious form of confinement, such as a bad marriage or hated job? Will they actually escape, and if so, how?

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

Art in nature

Art Forms in Nature1 Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring

Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring

This beautiful photo is by Karl Blossfeldt and is part of the Karl Blossfeldt: Art Forms in Nature exhibition currently on at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

If you ever meander through a woodland or botanical garden, you may have noticed how intricately detailed the plants are – like entire universes in miniature form. Karl Blossfeldt (1865-1932) was one of the original enthusiasts of these small worlds – using the relatively new form of photography to capture and define the scenes that drew him in.

Art Forms in Nature3 Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring

Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring

Karl Blossfeldt trained as a sculptor but became entranced by nature’s own artworks. Understandably, he was (and is) celebrated by plant-lovers, photographers and artists, particularly early modernists and Surrealists, as his images revealed the intrinsic beauty of natural forms, their extraordinary textures, as well as how strangely alien they can seem.

It’s an unexpectedly powerful collection. Seed heads, petals and stems seem barely to contain their energy, suggesting an underlying fizz and crackle waiting, like a thunderstorm, to explode.

Karl Blossfeldt: Art Forms in Nature is on at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery until 13th September 2015.

Art Forms in Nature2 Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring

Part of Wundergarten der Natur, 1932 © Estate of Karl Blossfeldt, Courtesy of Hayward Touring