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.”

Poppy and Cherry by Gill Martin

Poppy and Cherry by Gill Martin

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.

Eucalyptus Leaf mixed media by Gill Martin

Eucalyptus Leaf mixed media by Gill Martin

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

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

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Edinburgh Book Festival welcomes word-lovers

Edinburgh book festival gardensThis year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival is on from 13th-29th August 2016, bringing writers and thinkers from across the globe together with a lit-loving audience.

Speakers include poet, songwriter and novelist Naomi Shihab Nye, master calligrapher Haji Noor Deen, award-winning children’s writer Guy Bass, Ali Smith, David Mitchell and many others, as well as intriguing events such as an insight into the collaboration between writers and illustrators with Julia Donaldson and artists Lydia Monks and Nick Sharratt.
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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.”

Toward St Mary Redcliffe by Mike Rome

Toward St Mary Redcliffe by Mike Rome

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.”

From MShed to Cabot Tower by Mike Rome

From MShed to Cabot Tower by Mike Rome

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

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

Bring a film to light

Hands_Still from LIGHT YEARS filmA truly beautiful film is a rare and inspiring thing – as entrancing as any work of art. Directed by the brilliant Esther May Campbell, LIGHT YEARS is just such a film, but releasing an independent is an expensive business.
You can help bring this film to light! Simply go to the crowd funding page and BOOK tickets for Screenings and Film-Maker Q+As, set to take place this September, PRE-ORDER the DVD including free gifts, BUY limited edition photographic prints and more, or REQUEST a screening of LIGHT YEARS in a cinema near you.
Rose__Still from LIGHT YEARS film
The film stars singer songwriter Beth Orton, in her feature film debut, and Muhammet Uzuner (Once Upon a time in Anatolia), along with an array of fresh new talents.
But what’s the film about?

One hot summer’s day, Rose (newcomer Zamira Fuller) longs to see her mum (Beth Orton) but nobody will take her. Taking destiny into her own hands she sets off alone deep into England’s forgotten edge lands to reach her.  Rose’s disappearance pushes her disconnected, fractured siblings and parents into a challenging but poignant reunion as they’re forced to combine their efforts to find Rose.

Family Track_Still from LIGHT YEARS film

The crowd funding campaign is only on until Monday 25th July, so your contribution could make a real difference. Ensure Rose’s odyssey is seen and her story is told. You’ll be supporting British independent cinema as well as #womeninfilm.

To do your part, visit And once you have pledged, don’t forget to spread the word.

Dee and butterfly_Still from LIGHT YEARS film

I’m supporting the release of #Lightyearsfilm staring @BethOrton and #womeninfilm via @thirdfilms you can 2 here
Help get #LightYearsFilm by #BAFTA winning #EstherMayCampbell into cinemas by supporting #thirdfilms and pre-buying tickets as well as lots of other rewards here for more info on the film check out the website

Escape to Port Eliot

Port Eliot Festival cr Michael Bowles

All photographs used in this post are taken by Michael Bowles

Describing itself rather eloquently as “an annual celebration of words, music, imagination, ideas, nature, food, fashion, flowers, laughter, exploration and fun”, Port Eliot Festival brings together some of the best creative talents around and plonks them in the middle of a magical sprawling garden party.

It all kicks off on 28th July, running till 31st July, at St Germans, West Cornwall.

This year’s speakers, performers, mixologists and events include Noel Fielding, Gloria Steinem, Olivia Laing, Lail Arad, Decca Aitkenhead, Travis Elborough, Honey & Co, The Science of the Sky, foraging walks, garden tours, Miranda Sawyer, Juliet Nicolson, Barbara Hulanicki, Jalen N’Gonda, The Story Collider, Jack Adair Bevan, and alternative folk rock band Haunt the Woods.

Each of the stages have names that seem plucked straight from fairytales: Caught by the River, Walled Garden, Flower and Fodder, The Idler Academy and The Black Cow Saloon being just a few.

Port Eliot woodland cr Michael Bowles

It helps, of course, that the surroundings are some of the finest SW England has to offer, with historical attractions including the oldest church in Cornwall – St Germans Priory Norman church. Natural delights range from the Grade 1 listed park and garden, to the estuary – an irresistible spot for a dusk-glow lantern parade.

Port Eliot estuary cr Michael Bowles

That’s not all though, not by a long short. Once the grounds open, anything can happen – in the word’s of the organisers, “at Port Eliot, as twilight turns to darkness, you may still feel the menacing frisson of the unknown coming night…”

Now, that’s my kind of party.

Night at Port Eliot Festival cr Michael Bowles

Journey into the wild

Wild Worlds image courtesy of The Gloucestershire Echo

Wild Worlds image courtesy of The Gloucestershire Echo

This summer, The Wilson invites you to journey into Wild Worlds, an immersive and innovative exhibition of artwork inspired by beasts savage, domestic, fantastical and real, or at least based on real creatures.

The exhibition takes up two whole floors at Cheltenham’s beautiful art gallery and museum on Clarence Street, and offers the chance to explore, play, dream and create.

Single Dog by Catrin Howell

Single Dog by Catrin Howell

The exhibition, in two parts, is on until 4th September, with the lower floor showcasing a display of animal art on loan from Aberystwyth University’s ceramics collection. “From lions, tigers and rhinoceroses, to more familiar creatures like cows, foxes, and dogs, this part of the exhibition will encourage children and families to consider how animals are used around the world in storytelling and mythology,” says Julie Finch, CEO of The Cheltenham Trust, which manages The Wilson.

Raku Duck by Tony White

Raku Duck by Tony White

In the second section, upstairs in the third floor gallery, you’re invited to enter a purpose-built wild world of discoveries, where flowers bloom and parrots zoom.

Wild Worlds parrot image courtesy of The Gloucestershire Echo

Wild Worlds parrot image courtesy of The Gloucestershire Echo

Inspired by work produced in children’s workshops run by Kerrie Reading, artist Sarah Butterworth and a team of practitioners have worked to transform the gallery into an interactive, tactile, and sensory experience.

Wild Worlds LogoColour, lighting, sound, movement and texture all contribute to evoking the impression of a land where anything is possible.

“We’re very excited about welcoming visitors to see Wild Worlds this summer at The Wilson,” says Julie. “This is a unique, unusual and hugely creative exhibition, and we’re hoping that both children and adults will enjoy feeling like they have explored wild worlds beyond their expectations, and discovered animals to inspire their imaginations.”

Find full details at

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