Seeds of art

Hyacinth watercolour by Gill Martin

Hyacinth watercolour by Gill Martin

“I don’t consider myself particularly creative, more as a recorder of natural things so that the viewer sees them afresh but also to give them a place,” says botanical artist Gill Martin.

Gill sees nature as a direct connection to art, and vice versa. “Art makes me really look at things and appreciate their beauty; I love that I can just be walking down a street and find a leaf or twig or something else that just makes me feel I want to draw it.”

Almond by Gill Martin

Almond by Gill Martin

It’s a symbiotic process than began early on in her life. “I drew and painted from a very young age and did Art A-Level along with Sciences, which led me down the path of a career in dentistry; the drawings I did at school were always close observational, usually in pen and ink.”

Throughout her time working as a dentist, Gill’s artwork was, in reaction to this “very concise occupation” far more abstract than it is today. “I produced large pieces, stained glass and printmaking – it was almost like an antidote to the dentistry,” she comments. “After I retired from my profession I decided to do a long distance four-year distance learning with the Society of Botanical Artists and felt very much back with my natural inclinations.”

In particular she finds herself attracted by unusual shapes and forms. “Although during the course I had to do many flowery subjects, I have found that I am more interested in subjects such as individual leaves.”

Examples of this include an intricate drawing of a seedpod completed while in Australia for her son’s wedding.

“The course assignment was fruit, but all the fruit I looked at seemed very boring. Then I realised that the fruits of various trees were far more interesting! I think that I really like looking at the ground, or other places where perhaps things crop up unexpectedly.”

Australian Seedpods by Gill Martin

Australian Seedpods by Gill Martin

Using watercolours, coloured pencils and graphite pencil, Gill’s beautifully precise art has been exhibited in London, at Bristol Botanic Garden and in the BV Studios where she carries out much of her work.

She relishes the ability to show people the natural world in a fresh way by focusing in detail on small, easily overlooked elements. “I love the achievement of highlighting something that most people wouldn’t notice; nothing gives me greater pleasure than to find a fallen leaf amongst many others and then making a beautiful drawing or painting of it so viewers think, Wow, look at that leaf!”

Find Gill and her work at

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 – MerryGoRound

Brighton MerryGoRound cr Judy DarleyFew things shout summer like a traditional seaside MerryGoRound. The blaze of colour and eerie nostalgic music, promises kept or broken, first snogs, first betrayals, or simply the dizzy pleasure of being whirled round and around as seagulls scream.

Use this setting as your starting point.

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

Suspense writing with Iris Murdoch

The Nice and The GoodThere is a scene in The Nice And The Good by Iris Murdoch that encompasses everything you need to know about suspense writing.

Plumped 295 pages towards the end of the 1969 edition of this rather meandering novel, it involves Gunnar’s cave, “its sole entrance only above water for a short time at low tide.” Murdoch drops this line in far earlier, building on the cave’s status in “the mythology of the children.”

For 15-year-old Pierce in particular, this sea cave is a place of fascination and dread. He fears it more than the other children do, and, equally, wonders about the possibilities of this hidden space, and marvels over the chance there could be a secret safe spot in there, or whether one would inevitably be drowned.

Towards the end of the novel, his heart has been broken, he’s cross with the world, and his behaviour is becoming increasingly erratic. The cave, seems to be the answer to this – the opportunity to face the threat head on, while allowing it to prise from him the choice of life over death. Once inside, with the entrance sealed by the tide, he will be at its mercy, and that, in his current state of mind, is oddly appealing.

But even this disastrous plan doesn’t go quite to plan. No sooner is he swallowed up by the darkness than he hears splashing nearby and discovers that Mingo, the family dog, has followed him in. Then John Ducane, a friend of his mother’s, swims in to see if he can find the boy. Now three lives are at peril in a dense, cold, alien blackness of the cave, and the reader (in my case, at least), is transfixed.

Continue reading

A quality of precision

Clifton Suspension Bridge by Mike Rome

Clifton Suspension Bridge by Mike Rome

A pleasing sense of meticulousness arises from the artwork of Mike Rome. There is a crispness and clarity to the light captured in his oil paintings, and a confidence of line and scale that lets you know this is an artist who understands how to translate what he sees onto a canvas or page for all to appreciate.

Yet, Mike says, becoming an artist was for him less a conscious decision, than a consequence of experience, time and circumstance.

“I had an interest in and enjoyed drawing as a child, with, of course, no thoughts of a career at that stage of my life,” he says, “I was encouraged by art teachers at school, and during secondary education did consider going on to art college.”

Coming from a working class family, however, Mike had no choice other than to start work at sixteen, but this only put his artistic ambitions on hold briefly.

Bristol Steam Crane by Mike Rome

Bristol’s Steam Crane by Mike Rome

“My father found me a job as an apprenticed engineer, and after three years on the workshop floor my employers recognised my artistic ability and transferred me to the drawing office where after a short time I became a design and detail draughtsman,” he says. “Although I used a drawing board and technical instruments to create working drawings, I also enhanced the work with freehand illustrations to aid production, at the same time giving myself the opportunity to improve my drawing skills.”

In his mid-twenties, Mike made a dramatic career change into financial services, which he worked at for 20 years. “During this period I found the time to continue to draw and still had the desire to return to an artistic career,” he says. “I attended evening art courses and a basic graphic design course, eventually finding a position as a graphic designer – albeit on half my previous salary!”

In 2005 Mike felt ready to concentrate fully on his art, designed and launched his own website, and became a self-employed artist.

Broad Street Bristol by Mike Rome

Broad Street, Bristol by Mike Rome

“All of my paintings are oils, although I do draw as well,” he says. “I’ve experimented with watercolour and acrylic paint, but find the consistency and slow drying nature of oil far more suited to my style of painting – deliberate and cautious. I love the feel of working with the paint and the depth of colour one can achieve.”

Without a doubt, the style of Mike’s art has been influenced by his previous careers, which required him to produce accurate and representational work. “As a consequence, even my abstract works have a tendency to be tight!”

The majority of Mike’s paintings are created using photographs and grids “so as to be as true to the original as possible. I sometimes work from sketches, but rarely en plain air as this style is more suited to artists who work quickly and with a loose style, using watercolour or acrylic.”

The chosen composition can make the difference between a sale or no sale, Mike says, so he crops his photos “to create the desired layout before any painting commences. Sometimes colours are varied or elements changed to add emphasis.”

Mike usually paints on pre-primed canvases, occasionally opting to use board for smaller works.

“For the ‘photographic’ works I normally grid, draw, over-draw with pen, erase the pencil, cover with white to knock-back the pen, allow to dry and then proceed to paint by blocking in the darkest colours first to create the initial contrast,” he says. “I sometimes work purely with shades of grey to achieve the overall contrasts before adding colour and/or colour glazes.”

The biggest pleasure for Mike comes at the very start of a new picture, when all possibilities still remain open. “I love the creation process. Starting with a blank canvas, deciding on a subject, working with the paint and colours and producing something that people enjoy are all part of this.”

Clevedon Pier by Mike Rome

Clevedon Pier by Mike Rome

Knowing when to stop painting and setting the sale price can also be difficult, “as not only am I trying to produce a work I am pleased with and satisfied is of a sufficient standard to market, but I’m also attempting to sell the finished product at a realistic price for the work and hours involved.”

Mike’s aims for his art are straightforward, if not necessarily simple – to achieve “Realism, to the best of my ability, colour and impact in my abstracts, and beauty in all my work.”

Find more of Mike’s paintings and details of upcoming exhibitions at

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 – contraption

Auchentoshan distillery cr Judy DarleyWhat could this rather exquisite contraption be? A musical instrument or a surgical device, a mixer of dreams, a time travel machine or an experimental invention for reading minds?

You decide, then make that the starting point of your story.

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

Writing prompt – inflated

Shop window full of balloonsWalking to my sister’s house, I spotted this shop window brimming with balloons. What could be happening here – preparations for a birthday party, a third wish gone awry, an attempt to spell out a secret message using a code of coloured latex, or something else entirely?

What metaphors could they represent, or what potential catastrophe? Are they harbingers of happiness, or something far more sinister?

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

Stories shared on the #FlashWalk

Cormorant cr Judy DarleyDuring the #FlashWalk on National Flash Fiction Day, ten fantastic flash fictions were shared, all inspired by Bristol Harbour and the surrounding area.

Several have already been published elsewhere, but here is an exclusive opportunity to read four thought-provoking and wonderful tales.

Harbouring Friendship by Diane Tatlock 

I walk with Mother along the harbour side. Calm. Quiet. Galleons stand tall above us.

I see him then. The boy. Men standing round him. Holding him.

I walk with Mother. Slowly. Her skirts swish the cobbles. Her bonnet nods. Her parasol shields us from the bright sun.

I watch. Sloshing water slops over him. Showers his dark skin. He stands. Still. They plunge the bucket again. And again. Chuck the water. Hard. He stands. Still.

Mother clutches my hand and I walk on. She still nods to friends. Smiling. I look back.

They drag his dripping body across the wooden deck. Towards that gaping square. They tip him. Trip him. Let him go. His wet, brown body disappears into the black hole.

Mother pulls me on. Shows me a shiny penny for a bun.

I wonder who he is. What he has done. Where he will go. If he will be raised from that darkness in another harbour. If he will see the sun again.

He could have been my friend.

Johnny Pencloud by Juliet Hagan, read by Jo Butler

Johnny Pencloud by Juliet Hagan, read by Jo Butler

Johnny Pencloud by Juliet Hagan

You, young man! You look strong, and capable enough of hauling a rope or scrubbing a deck. Best keep an eye on who’s behind you, or you may not see home again. The ‘press men are about, you understand. To beat the tyrant Bonaparte, they have the power to seize any man, any man at all, and press him on to the King’s ships.

They took my husband, Johnny Pencloud, fifteen years ago. A fine man he was, eyes as blue as a summer evening, broad shouldered, and hair as black as the coal he used to mine. Mind you, it’s prob’ly grey now.

The morning after our wedding, it were. We lay in our warm bed as the sun shone through the window, and listened to the sounds of the people in the street below.

‘Hot coffee! Fresh rolls!’ shouted a hawker. Johnny’s stomach rumbled. ‘I need some of that,’ he said, grinning. ‘Stay there and don’t move ‘til I gets back.’ He kissed me, put on his trousers and shirt, grabbed a pewter jug, and left. I waited till noon, and sunset, and all through the night, but he never came back. The press men were out on the street, you see.

How could I go back home without him? So I stayed, doing what I could to pay my way, and I comes down here whenever I can, asking for news about him. I come even on the day our babe was born. And on the day she died, too. So, have you heard of Johnny Pencloud?

Your Name is Pero Jones by Ingrid Jendrzejewski, read by Tom Parker

Your Name is Pero Jones by Ingrid Jendrzejewski, read by Tom Parker

Your Name is Pero Jones by Ingrid Jendrzejewski

Nothing is known of you until your twelfth year, when you were purchased by a sugar merchant. You worked on John Pinney’s plantation in the West Indies for 19 years, then accompanied him to Bristol as his personal servant. You had two sisters. You were trained as a barber. You knew how to pull teeth. You visited the West Indies twice after settling in England; after the second visit, it is said you took to drink. You served the Pinney family for 32 years in all, then died around age 45.

Then, you slept.  Nothing is known of you for the next 201 years.  We don’t know where you went, what you dreamt, what has wakened you, but we do know that when you came back to Bristol, something had changed.

Now, you are larger than life. You span the floating harbour. You are raised and lowered by a hydraulic piston. You have grown horns.

And we wonder: for what have you returned? How long will you suffer the footfall of living men? Are you still bound by the grasp of the River Frome, or will you someday free yourself from the line of the river still known today as St Augustine’s reach?

Jo Butler reading A Thousand Words by Gemma Govier

Jo Butler reading A Thousand Words by Gemma Govier

A Thousand Words by Gemma Govier

With her stiletto jammed in the cobbles, she tried to perfect the laidback office worker look, munching on her panini whilst leaning against the stone pillar.  Nobody had warned her about the cobbles and she was wishing she had trusted her instinct to wear flats on her first day.

At the business park, lunch used to be powdery soup in the corner of the canteen, trying to look interested in a magazine while avoiding eye contact with everyone, especially the creepy Mr Summers. Now she had fresh air, seagulls, cheerful crowds and pavement artists. Polishing off her lunch she gave one final twist of the heel and her shoe was freed. Dignity intact, she moved from the shadows into the sunlight and looked over the shoulder of the guy chalking.

It looked just like her hometown. It was her hometown. It was unmistakable with the castle in the background and the church spire just in front. She was about to ask him if he was from there too when she noticed he was working from a small photo.

It was of herself walking through the high street. Not herself now but herself ten years before, holding hands with her old flame, Matthew. It was next to another photo. She was at her local park on a swing as a child, laughing as her sister pushed. In the next, she was at her graduation.

The bass beat from the waterfront bar seemed to be pumping right through her body as she moved round to get a better look at the artist, frantically searching for some kind of familiarity. She must have gone to school with him, lived near him or something, she thought. He was at least twenty years older than herself with small dark eyes, unshaven and had receding hair. She had never seen him before.

As she tried to form the right words he turned to look directly at her and placed a finger on her lips. “A picture’s worth a thousand of them don’t you think?” he said.

A short story – Paper Flowers

Mount Isola, Lake Iseo by Judy Darley

My short story Paper Flowers has found a happy home on the beautiful journal The Island Review.

The tale was inspired by a visit to Mount Isola on Lake Iseo in northern Italy, courtesy of the splendid Brescia Tourism. It was the perfect example of how my journalism feeds my fiction feeds my enduring thirst for travel.

My story begins with the following line: “I hand the yellow felt-tip to Chiara, half watching as she adds a few dots of colour to the heart of a paper lily: pollen that will never fall free.”

You can read the full story here:

The alchemy of colour

Captivate by Kathryn Stevens

Captivate by Kathryn Stevens

If you’re anything like me, you may have noticed how colours can shift, enhance or alter moods and atmosphere. For artist Kathryn Stevens, colour has become an enduring fascination, prompting her to experiment, examine and make stunning discoveries about how colours behave set against each other, and how best to use this in her art.

“It’s been a journey,” she says. “I don’t think I ever had that initial moment where I decided I was going to ‘become an artist’. It has been a gradual understanding of what that means and what my identity as an artist is. For me, encouragement through my education and support from different tutors, family, gallery owners, other artists and supporters have lead me to this point where they have seen something in the work I make.”

Kathryn began to understand the true impact of colour when visiting a Gerhard Richter exhibition at the Tate Modern. “I think it’s the most inspiring exhibition I have seen – the best thing ever!” she exclaims. “I totally fell into this whole other way of looking at paint and colour and technique.”

The showcase gave Kathryn the thirst to explore “the material of paint” more and more, rather than “the outcome of the painting”, and her artwork became increasingly abstract.

This led her to a deeper exploration of colour. “I enjoy experimenting and discovering how different colours and mediums react and work together. Colour has always been important, but through seeing some of Richter’s paintings in the flesh made sense of why.”

Rush by Kathryn Stevens

Rush by Kathryn Stevens

As humans, we naturally attempt to impose an order on what we see, and to me, many of Kathryn’s works conjure up underground landscapes – caverns and curious rock formations, pools and splashes of light breaking through. It’s as though Kathryn is mapping previously uncharted territory, and in a sense, that’s actually the case.

“I approach all my canvases as experiments and explorations,” she explains. “I use experimental methods in my work – some shapes are painted on, some are poured, and the conversations and the way the colours and texture react are unpredictable most of the time. So I am constantly learning.”

Ridge by Kathryn Stevens

Ridge by Kathryn Stevens

She aims (to my eye, successfully) to create “a sense of depth and space in each painting. There are conversations between surface textures and the illusion of space created on the canvas by using a combination of colour, tone and shape. Some shapes made by the pours of oil paint and turps may resemble clouds and in some others the change of tone and depth in the painting may suggest a horizon and a distance.”

Kathryn also uses a varnish in most of her paintings, which “alters the way you see the colour and layers on the painting.”

At it’s heart, Kathryn’s approach is one of trial and error. “One of the biggest lessons I learnt is that if some paintings don’t work out, that’s okay!” she says. “At one point I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to make ‘a good painting’ with every painting I started, mainly because I felt I didn’t have time to mess up. I wasn’t giving myself enough space for failing and learning. That wasn’t a very healthy attitude to have, especially with the way I work. It takes time and needs space. I have to allow myself to make mistakes and let go so I don’t much control over how the painting takes shape.”

She believes that it’s dangerous to think you know it all. “You lose creativity and freedom to look at things in a different way when you think you have nothing left to learn. So I try to stay in a place where I am still learning and still vulnerable. I don’t want to lose the mystery.”

Tidal by Kathryn Stevens

Tidal by Kathryn Stevens

Sometimes, she admits, “just turning up to the studio is one of the hardest things, but once I get there and I’m in that creative space, it suddenly makes sense again. It feels like part of my identity. That is probably the one of the best things.”

She adds: “I believe we are all creative in some way, part of it is having the courage to take the next step. I’m still learning everyday about what it means to be an artist.”

Kathryn has exhibitions coming up at The Old Lifeboat House in Porthleven, Cornwall, at the end of July and at The Crypt in St Ives, Cornwall during the first week in August. At the end 2016, she will have some work in a mixed show at Artwave West Gallery in Dorset.

Find more of Kathryn’s work at

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 – artefact

Hay-on-Wye book pyramid cr Judy DarleyIn Hay On Wye, a curious structure stands: a rusted-up pyramid entombing classic books. Small windows show the books encased within.

Hay-on-Wye book pyramid by Judy DarleyIn places these windows have been cracked and broken, allowing spiders and insects to make their way among pages mildewed by rain, rotted by weather.

Hay-on-Wye book pyramid cr Judy DarleyThere are so many directions you could take this prompt in – imagine it as a sole reminder of our bookish past for future generations to discover, or have it found inside an ancient Egyptian pyramid – an uncanny duel link to the present within the past.

Choose as your protagonist an alien, a spider, or a small, puzzled child. Turn the structure into a metaphor for humanity, or for a relationship. Make this the site of a significant meeting between two unlikely characters, and see where they take you next…

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