Searching for sea glass

Sea glass at beach cr Glenda YoungThere’s something magical about sea glass – glimmering works of art washed up by the tide. Reshaped by the mouths of ocean currents,  smoothed and sent ashore.

Artist and writer Glenda Young is equally entranced, and spends at least part of each day searching for these tiny treasures before utilising them in her own creations.

Blue sea and sky glass cr Glenda Young

“Sea glass has such a unique quality to it,” Glenda says. “I was keeping my finds in a bowl in the living room and although it looked pretty it wasn’t doing justice to the individual pieces of sea glass, the really beautiful pieces, so I decided to make things.”

Only one concern stood in her way. “I’m not an arty person at all and I really can’t do crafts well. I’m not under-selling myself here – I’m a writer and I work with words, not objects.”

To overcome this she bought a book of sea glass crafting online. “However, the book is American and some of the ideas don’t really translate to UK style. But it did give me some ideas and I started making small framed pictures of funny looking birds sitting on driftwood trees. I then went on to make hanging decorations, Christmas cards, and I have some of my ‘jewel’ pieces of sea glass, the multi-coloured pieces, displayed in bowl-shaped stones that I find on the beach.”

Bird art by Glenda Young

Living in Seaburn, Sunderland, close to Seaham Beach in County Durham makes beach combing a daily activity.

“Having been brought up by the sea, it’s part of my life. I love the solitude and peace when walking on the beach. Finding things is just a bonus!”

Sea glass found at at Seaham Beach

Even as a child, Glenda always loved sea glass. “ I used to find lots of red, purple, orange. They’re very rare these days so are prized finds. Each piece of sea glass is unique, unlike anything else, every single piece is different. It has a light to it that you don’t get from anything else.”

Green sea glass

Glenda takes along a carrier bag to fill with washed up plastic to drop into the recycling “as part of the #2minutebeachclean (on twitter). I hate plastic and feel passionate about getting rid of it from the ocean. Did you know there’s more plastic floating in the world’s seas than fish? Greenpace announced that just last month.”

Plastic toys washed up after a storm cr Glenda Young

Being in the areas of a beach where plastic washes up, means other items can be found too. “With the recent floods I’ve found a lot of strange stuff being washed down rivers onto the beach. These include a wonderful intact beer bottle with its stopper from a brewery which closed down in 1972.  And for some reason, lots of childrens’ plastic toys have been washing up too. I usually take photos of my finds and put them on my blog at flamingnora.blogspot.com and my Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/30922768@N07/.”

Glenda devotes some time to sorting the sea glass she’s collected. “The ‘ordinary’ pieces go in a bowl in my living room on display. The ‘multicoloured jewels’ go on display in beach stones I find.  I don’t sort by colour or size until I need to do some crafting and then I’ll have a good sort through for the exact shapes and sizes I need for whatever I’m making.”

Post-medieval rosary beadThe best piece she ever found was a small red pebble on Scarborough beach.  “When I took a photo of it and enlarged the photo I could see a small cross on both sides of the pebble. The local finds officer from the British Museum  confirmed it was a post-mediaeval rosary bead. I’ve since had it made into a necklace and I love wearing it.”

She’s adamant that the pieces she makes aren’t true works of art (though I disagree!).

“I just plod my way through things. I did make some lovely little sea glass heart pictures and framed them and sold them on Etsy, they were very popular and I made and sold 12, all clear seaglass on coloured backgrounds so the sea glass took on the colour of the backgrounds. It was really effective.”

Green heart art by Glenda Young

Glenda is drawn to anything “that shows off the light, luminosity and beauty of individual pieces of sea-glass. Hence, the decorations I made are now hanging in my conservatory where they capture the sun and have sunlight shining through them.”

Light Catcher heart cr Glenda Young

As a writer, she also crafts stories inspired by her sea glass finds.  “One of them – The Seaglass Collector – will be appearing in The People’s Friend this month, and I’ve submitted a different, much darker, story of the same name to The Northern Writers Awards 2016.”

Sea glass at the shore by Glenda Young

Living so close to the shore makes the sea a constant companion.

“I love that weird sense of living on the edge – of the country, the land. I love hearing the sea roar when it’s warm enough to leave the bedroom window open at night.”

Find Glenda Young at flamingnora.blogspot.comwww.flickr.com/photos/30922768@N07/ and glendayoungbooks.com.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – star-crossed

The Hare and The Minotaur by Sophie RyderI absolutely love this sculpture that sits on Cheltenham’s grand Promenade. The Hare and The Minotaur is by Sophie Ryder and seems to me to represent the most star-crossed of lovers – a woman with the head and torso of a hare, and a man with the head of a bull.

I can’t help but notice how protective the minotaur is over his lepus lover, and how contented they both appear.

What prejudices could this adoring couple face in their bid to be together? What qualities might aid them in overcoming any qualms, threats or outright aggression towards their tryst?

If you write something prompted by this idea, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Howl by Miles Salter

Howl by Miles SalterHow’s this for a list of ingredients for a very special recipe?

Two mates, one batty old lady, a grumpy cat, a vicar, two absent parents, a mysterious jewel, and a teacher liable to bare his teeth at the rise of the full moon.

These are the things that set Miles Salter‘s Howl alight.

No, this is not the Allen Ginsberg poem, but thankfully rather lighter but equally vivid fare. Set around the town of Rigor Mourtice and its primary school, Howl focuses on James Small and his mate Neville Heavy.

A new teacher, Mr Grindell, has joined the school, and seems determined to make their lives a misery.

Then James’ parents have to go away, and (I wasn’t quite sure how believable this was – but it works for the plot, so never mind), he’s sent to spend two weeks living with a childminder he’s never met before. But Mrs Winters isn’t just a stranger; she’s truly bonkers. She’s also concerned with Mr Grindell’s peculiar behaviour, especially where it regards the local church and a long lost treasure.

The tale crackles with energy, helped along by the two boys and their mischief, courage and determination. The two friends are brilliantly matched, and their characters utterly believable.

Mrs Winter’s eccentricity is a joy, while Mr Grindell is wonderfully sinister even when he isn’t doling out peculiar punishments such as making the lads stand in the school’s ankle-deep and icy cold pond. All other adults are incidental, as seems only right in a book aimed at 7 to 10 year olds.

I enjoyed the filmic quality of Salter’s writing, with his descriptions providing a vivid backdrop to the action as the story speeds towards its crescendo.

Howl: A Small and Heavy Adventure by Miles Salter is published by Caboodle Books Ltd and available to buy from Amazon.

I’m always happy to find out what you’re reading. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Visit Hinterland at Scotland’s Festival of Architecture 2016

Semi ancient forest surrounding St Peters Seminary by Al Smith, courtesy of NVA

Semi ancient forest surrounding St Peters Seminary by Al Smith, courtesy of NVA

Experience the atmospheric wonder of an extraordinary nocturnal art event to mark the launch of Scotland’s Festival of Architecture 2016.

From 18th-27th March 2016, you’re invited to attend the special installation at St Peter’s seminary, in Cardross, Argyll & Bute.

Presented by Glasgow-based public art charity NVA, the event is expected to be a key highlight of the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.

Visualisation of St Peters Seminary interior by James Johnson, courtesy of NVA.jpg

Visualisation of St Peters Seminary interior by James Johnson, courtesy of NVA

As dusk falls to darkness amongst semi-ancient woodland on the Firth of Clyde, Hinterland welcomes you to discover one of Scotland’s most iconic 20th century buildings, transformed using sound and light to symbolise its rise out of monumental ruination into a new creative life, fifty years after the modernist masterpiece was built.

With you moving through the seminary as the protagonist of the structure’s reinvention, the skeletal concrete structure will be subtly re-animated with monochromatic lighting, projection and a specially commissioned choral work by composer Rory Boyle, performed by St Salvator’s Chapel Choir from the University of St Andrews.

Sounds entrancing, doesn’t it?

Visualisation of St Peters Seminary by James Johnson, courtesy of NVA

Visualisation of Hinterland by James Johnson, courtesy of NVA

Hinterland is a creative collaboration between director Angus Farquhar, designer James Johnson, composer Rory Boyle, University of St Andrews Music Centre and St Salvator’s Chapel Choir, lighting director Phil Supple, creative studio NOVAK Collective, who provided projection design, as well as Dav Bernard, Zephyr Liddell, Robbie Thomson & Pete Sach from 85A art collective, who created the installations. Quite the cross-platform cultural mix!

The event opens on 18 March 2016 and runs to 27 March 2016. Find out more and buy tickets at www.hinterland.org.

Coastal sun with Sean Taylor

Waiting for the Tide by Sean Taylor

Waiting for the Tide © Sean Taylor

At this point in February I always begin to seriously crave a hit of summer. While the globe has a way to turn before that’s even remotely possible, artist Sean Taylor is serving coastal sunshine up in the form of acrylic paint and canvas, and alleviating my cravings a little.

The seashore has always drawn Sean’s artistic eye.

“I’ve been interested in drawing and painting from an early age,” he says. “Much of my childhood was spent on a small family farm near the coast in Hampshire, England where I enjoyed sketching the farm animals and the surrounding countryside. The seaside held a fascination and I remember including shells, starfish and seaweed in school painting projects and competitions. This lead to me becoming interested in art and painting in particular.”

Bethesda Hill by Sean Taylor

Bethesda Hill © Sean Taylor

The impressionists were among Sean’s main inspirations at that time, “with Monet, Van Gogh and Matisse among my favourites. While contemplating a career I was torn between becoming a fine art painter or graphic designer. Eventually I studied graphics at Bournemouth and Poole College of Art.”

Happily, Sean returned to painting after a successful career in graphic design. “My graphics background along with the early passion for fine art helped to develop my bold style of contemporary figurative painting which explores shape and colour while sometimes bordering the abstract.”

Beach House by Sean Taylor

Beach House © Sean Taylor

Sean’s confident stylised approach renders a version of the British coastline that’s both idealised and deeply familiar, capturing quirks galore – lines of washing and nattering seagulls feature, along with skew-whiff boats waiting for the tide and harbourside homes.

Seagulls by Sean Taylor

Seagulls © Sean Taylor

“Having always lived near the sea, it’s no real surprise my main subject is the coastal landscape with its harbours and beaches,” Sean says. “As a child I explored the tidal rivers and creeks at Keyhaven, Hampshire, in a small sailing boat. Summer days were spent watching seabirds nesting, beachcombing and swimming in the sea. The marsh area is very flat, without trees and few buildings so the huge skies dipping to the horizon made a wonderful backdrop. These big skies reflect the light off the sea making the bright marine colours of freshly painted boats, marker buoys and blue sea even more vivid. It’s this seaside environment of holidays, colour and fun which attracts me but with it comes the edge, a possibility of danger. The sea can change and turn from friend to enemy, and it’s this mix which appeals to me.”

Coastal Garden by Sean Taylor

Coastal Garden © Sean Taylor

When Sean looks back at his earlier paintings, he says he can see similarities to his current work. “While developing my style I wanted to produce work that was an island of concentrated colour and shape on a sea of flat tone, like a colourful badge or brooch on a plain coat. In time, this composition developed to fill the entire canvas in most paintings as I became more interested in abstract forms and how they interact with each other. The forms have no sharp edges but are rounded like seashore driftwood, pebbles and boats.”

Sean’s studio work in St Ives, Cornwall, England is based on observations of situations he encounters in everyday life. “It could be a small dog on a bench or fishing boats in a busy harbour. An initial small sketch begins the process before coming to life drawn up full size and painted onto a canvas. Composition, forms and colours reflect how I feel about the subject – they are not intended to mirror reality but to borrow elements from reality.”

Harbour Cottages by Sean Taylor

Harbour Cottages © Sean Taylor

Sean’s passion for the creative process shines through in his work. “I enjoy developing an idea for a painting and watching it progress. Finishing the painting, when it goes well, is the icing on the cake and a satisfying finale to the project. I also enjoy meeting clients, in some cases paintings have been purchased over several years through galleries or exhibitions, so it’s exciting meeting the collectors for the first time. A question I’m often asked by visitors to my studio is am I sad to see a favourite painting go? While it can sometimes be a wrench, I realise from the first brushmark the painting has to go out into the world to find its place. When it’s finished, I’m looking forward to starting the next canvas.”

Sean’s paintings have been exhibited extensively in the UK and have been purchased by collectors worldwide. For details of his exhibitions, paintings, and more, visit seantaylorartist.com.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – playtime

After Hours brain cr Judy DarleyPlaytime is an essential part of childhood, helping to develop skills, fuel curiosity and spark imaginations. But why should children have all the fun? Science centre At Bristol has two floors packed with opportunities to explore, experiment and marvel at the world around us, but more excitingly they’ve cottoned onto the fact that adults relish the chance to play and so hold regular After Hours evenings for over-18s only.

Sans kids, the mood is one of grown ups embracing their inner creativity, with people creating animations, investigating our own biology, milling flour, milking cows, and soaring among starfields via the 3D planetarium show.

After Hours lamb testicle

After Hours lamb testicle courtesy Bordeaux Quay

My man and I attended the Valentine’s special SEX themed night, complete with a chance to spot Orion’s penis in the night sky, nibble lambs’ testicles (they tasted a bit like really garlicky chicken nuggets, in case you were wondering) and examine the emotional centres of a human brain.

After Hours bubbles cr Judy Darley

As the night wore on, it was intriguing to watch friends walling each other into phallic towers in the Build It area, and witness the growing competitiveness of spawning enormous bubbles.

After Hours Build It  cr Judy Darley

So many possible prompts for art, theatre or storytelling! Where could your imagination take you?

For details of upcoming After Hours specials and other events, visit www.at-bristol.org.uk.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Reasons She Goes To The Woods by Deborah Kay Davies

Reasons She Goes To The WoodsShared in vibrant, powerful single-page snapshots, Reasons She Goes to the Woods is the story of Pearl, a girl with a curiosity about life, nature and the possibilities of her own self that is both savage and familiar.

The brevity of each missive gives it a startling potency, as each compact and perfectly precise little tale builds up the atmosphere of a childhood riddled with darkness and wonderment. Pearl is a formidable character, unflinching in her examination of the world. Becoming her friend is something of a trial by fire as she strives for dominance over each child who comes into her life, not least her baby brother, The Blob.

Pearl is a succinct reminder of the wilderness we explore of childhood. She seems to feel no fear, a factor that’s clearly part of her hold over others, as we encounter her unconscious allure as much through their responses to her, than through the actions she chooses to take.

Continue reading

Love in a time of coldness

Valentine's Card for JamesEver wondered why we celebrate St Valentine’s Day at this bleak and chilly time of year? I suspect it’s to give us an excuse to cuddle up and feel warm and loved.

Whether you have someone special in your life or not, I think we should forgo the fancy restaurants and expensive out-of-season flowers, and instead curl up in a cosy duvet and relish the pleasure of being snug.

Then unfurl, get dressed and head out into the brisk sunshine, enjoy the air on your face and the few brave blossoms appearing at your feet. And if that inspires a little bit of creativity, so much the better.

Iconic images of Audrey

Audrey Hepburn cr Norman Parkinson Ltd Courtesy Norman Parkinson Archive

Audrey Hepburn © Norman Parkinson Ltd Courtesy Norman Parkinson Archive

Best known perhaps for her performance as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffanies, the exhibition Portraits of an Icon offers an insight into the life and work of Audrey Hepburn that’s unexpectedly moving.

Audrey Hepburn by Jack Cardiff from Simon Regan Collection and Jack Cardiff

Audrey Hepburn by Jack Cardiff from Simon Regan Collection © Jack Cardiff

Audrey Hepburn was never just an actress, never just a model – as the images reveal, she was a spirited, curious, caring individual, who began her career as a ballet dancer raising money for the Dutch Resistance in World War II, and spent her final years working as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador working in poor communities in Africa. In between came glitz, glamour and decades as a muse to couturier Hubert de Givenchy, but, as this exhibition shows, her beauty always far more than skin deep.

Housed within Cheltenham’s splendid art gallery and museum, The Wilson, the images on show are accompanied by information on what was happening in Audrey’s life at the time each shot was taken, and includes less famous pictures, many of which capture moments of whimsy and apparent happiness. My favourites were those showing her relaxing at her rental villa in Italy with Bimba the donkey or grocery shopping with Pippin the fawn, suggesting that at heart Audrey was a country girl as at home in wellies and jeans as in a stunning red carpet gown.

As photographer Mark Shaw is quoted as saying: “Audrey is the most childish, adult, feminine tomboy I’ve ever photographer… She’s many women wrapped up in one…”

As she aged, the photos displayed reveal that Audrey’s attractiveness only intensified. There’s a genuine kindness in her eyes that makes it easy to understand why people from all backgrounds were drawn to her, a detail particularly evident in images caught towards the end of her life in Sudan and Somalia by Robert Wolders.

Along with many others, I discovered Audrey Hepburn through films like Breakfast at Tiffanies and Roman Holiday, and entrancing as these performances were, it’s clear there was far more to this woman. This exhibition is a wonderful reminder of that.

Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon is on at The Wilson until Sunday 14th February 2016. The exhibition is just one of many well worth visiting at the Cheltenham art gallery and museum.

Repurposed natural history

Ken Scott Blue Heron in flight painting

Ken Scott Blue Heron in flight painting

Artist Ken Scott paints beautiful wildlife studies on the covers of old, broken-down books otherwise destined for landfill, and in doing so preserves something of history, culture and nature.

“I’m an artist and illustrator whose work has an intensely historical, even biographical, concept to it,” he says. “It’s conceived from out of the place where a number of important influences come together: my life as an artist, my reverence for history, and a personal study of the lives of explorers who travelled in Colonial America in the 17th and 18th centuries. As an artist, I see objects that I paint through the eyes of those travelling artists or naturalists.”

Ken Scott Red Winged Blackbird

Red Winged Blackbird © Ken Scott

The resulting artworks are elegant and precise, with pencil notations and ornate lettering adding to the feel of discovering a page torn from an age-old travel journal – as Ken puts it, offering “an additional appearance of age and prior usage.”

He explains: “I’ve always been drawn to things that have a history and a story behind them, things that show signs of wear or age. ”My goal as an artist is to create items with a hint of having been loved and handed down from generation to generation, having been owned originally by a long forgotten person.”

Ken Scott Painted Lady

Painted Lady © Ken Scott

As a small child, Ken used to make sketches of the people and things he saw around him. “Art classes weren’t offered in the high school I attended. When I looked for a college, I found one that offered good sound art teaching. At Southern Illinois University I studied under some of the top illustrators in the area. These instructors were a tremendous influence in my becoming an illustrator and learning about the workings of an art studio. The classes were set up to function like a professional art studio with the instructors as the creative directors.”

Ken’s passion for nature developed gradually as he pursued in interest in American history, initially learning the art of leather work, and gaining expertise for making shooting bags and hunting pouches imbued with an impression of use and wear “for Colonial reenactors, both in the United States and other areas around the world.”

Ken’s artifacts have even been used in TV documentaries and as movie props. “I made the hunting pouch for Davy Crockett, played by Billy Bob Thornton in the movie The Alamo and also supplied a hunting pouch for the recently released movie The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio.” Understandably, Ken has been named one of the top 200 traditional craftspeople in America three times by Early American Life magazine, with his leather art highly rated for its quality workmanship, fidelity to period design and construction techniques “by judges expert in museum-quality antiques and fine, high-end reproductions.”

Ken’s tangent into botanical art came about by chance when he was offered a residency at the T. C. Steele Indiana historic site. While there, he lived in a rudimentary cabin, with only a compost loo and no running water or shower facilities, for two weeks. ”The first night there I heard squeaking sounds coming from the stone chimney that I slept next to. My first thought was mice. The next morning, I checked with the site manager and found out that the place is overrun with bats. It also had a lot of wasps and beetles!”

Baltimore Oriole by Ken Scott

Baltimore Oriole © Ken Scott

As part of his residency, Ken taught workshops on developing nature journal sketchbooks. “In addition to the historical paintings I was doing while in this residency, I decided to do naturalist drawings of a wasp and a beetle, in the style of an 18th century naturalist, to discuss during these workshops,” he says. “They were well received, so I decided to do some other nature paintings of birds, and so on.”

His technique of using old book covers as the canvas for his nature work began with a fascination with Pennsylvania German fraktur documents. “These are documents from the mid-18th to the mid-19th centuries – the term fraktur is derived from a distinctive German script marked by ‘fractured’ pen strokes,” Ken explains. “Fraktur drawings were executed in ink or watercolours. Common motifs include birds, hearts, and tulips, as well as blackletter and italic calligraphy. I noticed that there were a lot of frakturs drawn in books or Bibles, and that a lot of schoolbooks had notations on the inside of the covers, so I decided to combine the two things. Most of my work is painted on book covers that have been rescued and repurposed as my painting surface.”

Ken Scott Bombus fraktur

Bombus fraktur © Ken Scott

Ken later visited the Indianapolis Zoo as one of fifteen artists invited to participate in their annual spring Naturally Inspired Paint In. “We painted plein aire and donate our paintings to the zoo. The paintings were displayed at the zoo during the summer and then sold via silent auction in August. I have been invited to participate in this for the last several years.” The two paintings Ken produced and donated in 2015, a butterfly and a hornbill, were purchased record-breaking auction bids.

Ken relishes being able to express himself “creatively and historically through my work, whether by completing a narrative painting or one that has a fictional narrative that I have created. I get great satisfaction from being able to start with a blank piece of paper or leather and create something that looks like it was made a couple of hundred years ago and has been lovingly handed down from generation to generation.”

Find more of Ken’s artwork at www.americanfrontierart.blogspot.comwww.kenscottpouches.blogspot.com and at www.pinterest.com/kenscottartist.

Know an artist you’d like to see showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Give me a shout at judy(at)socketcreative.com.