Striding out in style

Walkies Wesley by Bridget Davies

Walkies Wesley by Bridget Davies

With a swish of ink, artist Bridget Davies conjures up the very best dressed characters you’re likely to see. From ladies who gather at posh parties to sneer about their competition, to gals striding out with their perfect pooches in tow, her scenes capture glimpses of a bygone era, when waists were nipped, hair coiffed and heels precariously high. Looking at her work makes me think of a jazz club in a Stephen Poliakoff play or the glamorous soirees in Winifred Watson’s Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

Aria by Bridget Davies

Aria by Bridget Davies

For Bridget, the love of drawing began early.

“I do believe it began when I was a child, and I liked to make paper dolls, all with an array of outfits to fit any occasion,” she says.

Showing Off by Bridget Davies

Showing Off by Bridget Davies

She began to take the potential of fashion illustration as an art form when a visiting lecturer who worked in this field led part of her fashion degree.

“I’ve always loved drawing the human figure, both of males and females, but this was different,” she says. “I developed a strong fascination for fashion illustration and drawing. I’m not sure why… maybe it is a prolific blend of the different elements that come together, to produce a successful painting; competent observational skills and draftsmanship, good graphic awareness, and the playful playful, flirtatious narrative.”

Shoes, Shoes, Shoes by Bridget Davies

Shoes, Shoes, Shoes by Bridget Davies

Bridget has also always loved illustrations from the Forties and Fifties. “I’m influenced enormously by the elegant and beautiful fashion drawings by illustrators of this period, as well as contemporary fashion artists and illustrators working today.”

Jealous, No Doubt by Bridget Davies

Jealous, No Doubt by Bridget Davies

To me, Bridget’s images often resemble stills from a film, mid-way through some dramatic episode.

“I use a slightly voyeuristic approach, as a fragment of a stranger’s conversation or passing comment made by a lover can be the catalyst for a whole series of ideas,” she confesses. “Combining with ideas from literature and conversation, I use the genre of fashion painting to create scenarios and characters and, with what I can best describe as visual anecdotes, telling secret stories of how I feel about my presence and desires.”

The central protagonists are usually female, she says, due to there being “an element of self-projection in my work.”

She also uses eveningwear and the glamour of her characters as a means to explore “the lengths we go to in order to impress and express attraction and desire.”

Favourite Cutlery by Bridget Davies

Favourite Cutlery by Bridget Davies

It makes sense, regarding all that, to see several of her artworks hanging in the kitchen of a character in the most recent series of Cold Feet! Though these examples are part of her Heavy Metal series, which succeeds in making cutlery and whisks look unexpectedly elegant! In case you want to follow suit, you can find the range at King and McGaw.

Rose scarf by Bridget Davies

Rose scarf by Bridget Davies

Drawing from another aspect of her degree, Bridget also loves to create stunning silk scarves that double up as works of art. “As my degree was in fashion and textiles, I’ve done a lot of work using fabrics,” she says. “I also wanted to work on a product that could be framed as I love seeing silk squares in a frame.”

Recent collaborations have included projects for The Shard in London, John Lewis, Anthropologie and Ikea. She says she enjoys collaborations for the opportunity to experience “a different way of working and problem solving. It’s sometimes a good change to have a direction dictated from an outside source, and can be quite challenging. Also, to be led in a direction that I may not have previously considered helps develop my artwork and ideas overall.”

Naughty Henry by Bridget Davies

Naughty Henry by Bridget Davies

Being a full time artist is an ongoing thrill. “I love creating. My brain is in a constant whirl. Ideas, ink, paint… It’s all so exciting, and I never feel jaded or fed up! I’m a very lucky girl.”

Find more of Bridget’s work at www.bridgetdaviesart.co.uk, as well as in London galleries such as Catharine Miller and Panter and Hall.

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

Writing prompt – starburst

Queen Square starburst, Bristol. Photo by Judy DarleyOne of the many things I love about living in Bristol is the random ways people choose to brighten our surroundings. This vivid starburst of plastic yellow pipes appeared on an otherwise serious statue a few weeks ago.

Queen Square starburst by Judy Darley

The equestrian statue of William III stands in the middle of Queen Square and is, quite frankly, wonderfully improved by this act of irreverence. Who might have done this, and why? What could it possibly mean? Or is the meaninglessness the very point of it all?

Make this the starting point of a story, and see where it leads you.

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 – The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

The Magic Toyshop by Angela CarterAngela Carter’s riches-to-rags story reads like an exquisitely written fairytale in reverse. Beginning in the summer Melanie turns 15, when she is swooning with the romantic possibilities of her future and increasingly enamoured with her own blossoming beauty, things swiftly turn dark.

A borrowed wedding dress, an altercation with a cat and a midnight scramble up a tree spells the end of Melanie’s dreamtime as she and her younger siblings are packed off to live with their mother’s brother, an uncle they have never met.

Uncle Philip, the proprietor of a gloriously old-fashioned toyshop, has all the potential to be a wonderful guardian but is swiftly revealed to be the ogre lurking at the heart of Melanie’s childhood fairytales. Foul-mouthed and riddled through with violence, he doesn’t even bother to pick up the children from the train station when they arrive, instead dispatching his wife’s brothers to collect them.

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Submit your writing to Zoetic Press

Arnos Vale sunken grave cr Judy DarleyGot a few moments to spare between Christmas and New Year? Zoetic Press invite submissions of fiction and non-fiction eulogising the fallen icons who have touched your lives. The chosen works will be published in an anthology titled Dear Beloved.

The deadline for submissions is 13th January 2017.

They say: “2016 has been a year of the significant loss of cultural icons, from music and recording artists to literary titans and sports heroes. Social media has made grief and loss a shared experience for the people influenced by these celebrities. And while the internet guarantees that there will never be agreement in the legacy left behind, it has also created a new norm in how we grieve, publicly and privately. Artists, musicians, writers, directors, sports heroes, politicians, and actors reveal us to ourselves through their work.”

Written a piece to help you mourn Prince, David Bowie or Victoria Wood? This could be your chance to publically mark their impact on your life. While Zoetic Press are particularly interested pieces which memorialise public figures who’ve died this year, all in memoriams submitted will be given equal attention. “However, please make sure the icon you’re writing about is actually dead – we suggest double-checking the Dead or Alive Info website just to be certain.”

They add: “We regret that we cannot consider In Memoriam pieces for Dearly Beloved which are not about public figures. We cannot consider pieces about family members, pets, friends, or figures that are not public for Dearly Beloved – this anthology is a memorial for the artists and public personalities that shape each of us differently.”

For this anthology, Zoetic Press seek fiction and creative non-fiction of up to 5,000 words in length, and flash fiction up to 1,000 words in length.

Find full guidelines here zoetic-press.myshopify.com/pages/submissions

Merry Christmas Eve Eve!

Little Christmas tree_yr 4_2016 cr Judy DarleyIt’s been a challenging year for everyone, and a particularly difficult December for my family, but now only one week remains and I fully intend to spend it in a blur of good company, good food and, well, good will!

Our little Christmas tree 2015 by Judy Darley

Our little Christmas tree 2015 – year 3

Our little tree continues to thrive, I’m happy to say, despite being cared for by two non-gardeners and kept in a shady backyard! This year we realised it had stopped putting out new shoots, so moved it to a new, roomier pot, and as you can see it seems to have appreciated the gesture.

I hope your day is magical and full of love and warmth, however you choose to spend it. And as always, remember, from tiny saplings grow mighty trees – or at least ones you can watch with pride as they reach for the stars!

LittleChristmasTree yr1 and 2

Urban sketching with Liane Tancock

Dower House by Liane Tancock

Dower House by Liane Tancock

Tangles, twigs, feathers and nests make up much of Liane Tancock’s beautifully intricate drawings. Sketching and walking through the natural wild areas in and around Bristol, Liane captures a sense of the rural within the city. Trees often appear on her pages, but just as frequently it’s the smaller details that gain her attention, and so she

“I have loved art from an early age but growing up I didn’t realise that I could be an artist,” she says. “I thought artists were the famous people you see in museums and in books. I carried on pursuing my love of art undeterred.”

Seeing Karl Weschke’s Leda and the Swan on a trip to Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery fired up her determination to pursue art as a career. “I decided being an artist was the path for me – I was so moved by his painting that my course was set.”

Flight by Liane Tancock

Flight by Liane Tancock

Ooh, I just spotted the bee in the above artwork! Liane’s drawings are full of exquisite details to be sought out and celebrated.

Choosing nature as her subject came about just as instinctively. “Since childhood I have been fascinated by nature. My grandmother instilled in me a great love of the natural world. I spent a lot of time collecting objects off the beach and on our walks, and this is something I continued throughout my life into adulthood.”

When studying for a Fine Art BA, Liane regarded herself as a landscape artist working in oils, and followed this path for many years. “I spent most of my days painting on site on the coast at Barry Island. It wasn’t until years later while living in Devon that the collecting I had done since childhood and my love of the natural world would come together cohesively in my art.”

Nest in the Brambles by Liane Tancock

Nest in the Brambles by Liane Tancock

It was a stroll along a Devon lane that shifted Liane’s focus. “While walking my dog on a blustery autumn day, I found a fallen nest blown down from the winds,” she says. “I returned with it to the studio and decided I needed to return to the beginning and just start drawing. All the found natural objects I had collected over the years became my world.”

Liane believes that what she was seeking in her work “lay at the very beginning of my art education, the simplicity of finding wonder in all the objects people walk by every day, unseen, hidden in the hedges and in the leaf litter. And all the tools I needed were a pen and a piece of paper.”

Second Chance by Liane Tancock

Second Chance by Liane Tancock

Liane says that going back to basics in this way and celebrating the small, unnoticed objects was very freeing, a sensation only enhanced by the materials she uses.

“My tools are very simple,” she says. “I use Bristol board paper for studio work and sketch books for my sketching work. I use mainly dip pen and ink and occasionally Fineliners. For onsite sketching, I find fountain pens and Fineliners the best for catching the immediacy of a moment.  So much can be captured with just one colour and a piece of paper.”

Discovering hidden places is an added pleasure.

“I have found that Bristol has lots of woodland amidst very urban areas and places of such history amongst the hustle and bustle of everyday life,” she says. “It’s a city where you never know what you’ll find around the next corner. I find it exciting to not know what I will discover next to sketch.”

Being a member of an urban sketchers group has led to more discoveries. “It has shown me so much more of Bristol and has given me the opportunity to discover more sketching sites at places that I wouldn’t have immediately thought to go to sketch.”

The Road Less Travelled by Liane Tancock

The Road Less Travelled by Liane Tancock

Translating the atmosphere of a place onto paper takes a particular frame of mind.

“My studio work has its own pace and each drawing is a lesson in patience,” says Liane. “However my sketches are done quite rapidly. When I reach an area I wish to sketch in I take in all the elements around me.  Sometimes associations pop into my head – it could be a remembrance of a poem, a film I have seen or a beloved book. I find the right spot just hits you and I try to draw how a scene makes me feel.”

At My Feet by Liane Tancock

At My Feet by Liane Tancock

Liane is keen for the viewer to experience the scene fully. “I want the viewer to feel the canopy of trees reaching over their head, feel like they can hear the birds hiding in the bushes that they have travelled with me and are seeing what I see. I always write a piece on my artist Facebook posts to describe my adventures out and about, to take my audience with me on my sketching trips.”

Recently, Liane took part in an event raising funds for the Alzheimer’s Society. “I have been lucky enough to meet some wonderful artists while living in Bristol,” she says. “Wendy Calder is an amazing ceramicist who holds annual open studios and raises money for the Alzheimer’s society. I was honoured that she asked me to join her and some fellow artists to show at her open studios. Having been a care assistant for many years and having my grandmother suffer from Dementia, I’ve seen firsthand the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s.”

She describes the sadness of watching her grandmother “who was always such a strong figurehead in our family”, become unable to care for herself through memory loss and confusion. “Even her personality changed. Alzheimer’s and dementia makes you feel like you are losing a person slowly, piece by piece, as the person you once knew so well, changes before your eyes. Someone not recognising their own family is so painful for all involved. So I was deeply honoured to be asked by Wendy to take part and help in any way I could.”

The Feather in the Grass by Liane Tancock

The Feather in the Grass by Liane Tancock

Liane says that she can’t imagine her life without creating art. “I love feeling that I’m always at play with my subjects, and that I can create my own universe. I enjoy sharing my love of the natural work with others and seeing people start to observe the world around them in a different way – a rich, often overlooked world of leaves, bees, moss, feathers and lichen! My life is so rich, for having art in it.”

See more of Liane’s work and information about forthcoming events on her Facbook page www.facebook.com/lianetancockartist

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

Writing prompt – expectations

Grandmas Footsteps by Angela Lizon

Grandmas Footsteps by Angela Lizon

This eerie oil painting is Grandma’s Footsteps by Angela Lizon, and is one of my favourite artworks on show as part of the RWA exhibition Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter.

Resembling a black and white photo, it shows an obedient little girl apparently gazing at the camera with a worried expression on her face. And no wonder, because a vast grizzly bear lurks just behind her.

To me it encapsulates our parents’ and society’s expectations that we smile for the camera, regardless of what may be breathing down our neck.

This week, consider a situation where someone may be expected to act against their instincts. How might they respond? What might the outcome of their actions be?

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 – Shambala Junction by Dipika Mukherjee

shambala-junction-coverThis vividly written, courageous book begins with a train journey that’s unexpectedly aborted long before its destination. An American with Indian parents, Iris alights from her carriage at Shambala Junction at 2am, drawn by the sight of a doll-sellers stall. Left behind when the train resumes its route, she’s plunged into a terrifying situation. With little Hindi language at her disposal and only a small amount of cash, her only option is to trust the strangers who surround her.

Spending a night in a slum was never on Iris’ ‘to-do’ list – through her eyes we experience the shock of poverty, and the discomfort of shamelessly leering eyes. More crucially, however, we enter into the crisis of the people next door, a couple with a missing baby Iris may be able to help recover.

Alone without backup for the first time in her life, Iris reveals a vein of inner strength that she’s never suspected existed. For the first time in her life, without her father or fiancé by her side, she’s forced to draw on her own resources.

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Create a setting for your story

Buddhist monks and offerings cr Dipika Mukherjee

Author Dipika Mukherjee tells us how she came to set an award-winning novel in Shambala Junction, India, and advises how we can make setting play a role in our own writing.

One of the nicest perks about being a writer is that it is a great excuse to travel, all in the guise of research. Although Shambala Junction is an imaginary place, writing the novel took me on lovely long train journeys through India.

Mine your own memories

Shambala Junction begins with a rather jinxed train journey for the protagonist, Iris, an Indian-American young woman visiting India with her new fiancée. I mined the memories of my own childhood, especially the wonderful nostalgia of long train journeys from New Delhi Station to Howrah in Kolkata, to write Iris’s wide-eyed enchantment with the ubiquitous details of Indian life.

Every summer, when the heat drove Delhiites to cooler cities, my family would board the Rajhdhani Express for a 24-hour journey with a long halt at Mughal Serai. Mughal Serai in my childhood had makeshift stalls selling colourful wooden dolls; although, it is almost impossible to find these artisans at railway stations anymore, Aman’s stall is inspired by my vivid memories:

He had an array of colorful wooden dolls spread out in front of him on a pushcart: there were dolls with turbans and flared coats playing flutes and dholaks; there were men riding horses with colorful stirrups and dazzling sword-sheaths; there were dancers dancing with the left leg slightly on tiptoe, caught in mid-swirl in the disarray of flouncing skirts.

Iris was enchanted. She had once owned a dancing doll just like that one, a beloved painted wooden thing with a crack in the veiled head, a gift from some unremembered relative in her childhood.

New Delhi cr Dipika Mukherjee

Start with a vein of truth

I started writing this novel after being enraged at the tone of an article about ‘baby shopping’ which was about international adoptions fuelling child-trafficking in India. This is a global problem, not just limited to India, and the trafficking moves from one impoverished country to another as the authorities start clamping down on severe irregularities I wanted the western world to realise that we are all complicit in this, especially by pretending that if poor children are placed in affluent homes it makes the world a better place.

I wrote the first draft in about three months in Amsterdam, then I edited this novel over four years, toning down the rage and making the characters blossom into real people. A novel like this taught me that there are far too many victims in these stories to be a novel about the East vs West or the Consumerist North vs Impoverished South. This story needed nuanced characters, and I was very aware of how easy it was for me, as an author, to have them climb onto soapboxes.

Use your imagination 

So this story shifted, from being based in New Delhi, to an imaginary Shambala Junction, loosely based on Gaya. Gaya is an ancient city and a deeply spiritual place where the Buddha attained enlightenment. It has a real hill where the Buddha preached the Fire Sermon and a Mahabodhi temple, and these feature in the novel as well. At the same time, Gaya is also within the state of Bihar, which was at that time considered one of the most badly governed, lawless and corrupt states in India. I travelled to Gaya alone to get a sense of the place and visited the Mahabodhi temple, with its most international gathering of Buddhist pilgrims from all around the world alongside general tourists like me.

Buddha cr Dipika Mukherjee

I also visited the cave with an emaciated Buddha figure; an image rarely portrayed in Buddhist iconography, yet the rigors of attaining Nirvana would certainly have necessitated this condition. It was a startling image; a reminder of the frailty and mortality of all human condition.

The hill where Buddha preached the Fire Sermon was quite a trek, and in the novel, I transmute my experience into the voice of Emily, a Canadian woman wanting to adopt an Indian girl-child:

Emily raised her head. She could see the motley group of children heading for the next tourist bus pulling in. They had no time for play; it was work for them as long as tourists like her showed up. She felt her eyes prickle; so many children with miserable lives. Too many children who could not be adopted into better lives.

Beside a square white enclosure it was all brown on the hill. The rough-hewn rocks scattered on the dusty ground made room for brown shoots to limply wave in the wind. Her skin tingled with a tragic epiphany; on this hill, pregnant with religious history, she could see absolutely no signs of life.

Unlike Emily, I was left with a very happy memory by my trip to Gaya. During my visit to the Mahabodhi temple, as I sat under the Bodhi tree meditating with other people at the site where the Buddha had attained Nirvana, a stray leaf twirled down from the green canopy of the Bodhi Pallanka overhead and fell into my lap. That dried leaf is now framed and hangs in my home in Chicago; I like to think that the Buddha approved this story much before it found a publisher or won a prize!

Author Dipika MukherjeeAbout the author

Dipika Mukherjee’s debut novel was long-listed for the Man Asian Literary Prize, then published as Thunder Demons (Gyaana, 2011, South Asia) and Ode to Broken Things (Repeater, 2016, World). Shambala Junction is her second novel and won the 2016 Virginia Prize for Fiction (Aurora Metro, 2016). She won the Gayatri GaMarsh Award for Literary Excellence (USA, 2015) and the Platform Flash Fiction Prize (India, 2009). Her short story collections include Rules of Desire (Fixi, Malaysia, 2015) and edited collections Champion Fellas (Word Works, 2016), Silverfish New Writing 6 (Silverfish, 2006) and The Merlion and Hibiscus (Penguin, 2002).

Read my review of Shambala Junction tomorrow.

Enter the mind of Angela Carter

The Misfits by Nicola Bealing

The Misfits by Nicola Bealing

Author Angela Carter put her own twist on many traditional fairytales, as well as dreaming up her own unsettling stories that hark from ancient fables. In celebration of her askew imagination, the RWA is hosting Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter, an exhibition of artworks inspired by her writing, as well as original cover art from her novels and more.

After The Masked Visitor by Lisa Wright

After The Masked Visitor by Lisa Wright

Eerie, beautiful, thought-provoking and discombobulating, the pieces on show include Marc Chagall, Paula Rego and some truly luscious works by Leonora Carrington, as well as plenty of others that seem selected to haunt your dreams and stir your imagination.

The exhibition is curated by Dr Marie Mulvey-Roberts of UWE, and the artist and writer Fiona Robinson. Among my favourites were works by the wonderfully macabre Heather Nevey (below), and an understatedly unnerving oil painting titled Grandma’s Footsteps by Angela Lizon.

The Murder 1 cr Heather Nevay

The Murder 1 cr Heather Nevay

Other highlights include the chance to see Angela Carter’s photos, pens and other artefacts. For me the best part of all, and the most alarming, was stepping through a curtain into a gallery populated by strange figures with outlandishly large egg-like heads, seated around a table where a naked, terrified man lay prostrate – an installation by Ana Maria Pacheco titled The Banquet.

Wonderfully, while some of these works were inspired by Carter’s fiction, others, such as Chagall’s work, helped to fuel her creativity, while others still sprang from similar ideas, proving what a rich conversation visual and written works can enjoy.

Strange Worlds: The Vision of Angela Carter is on at RWA, Queens Road, Bristol, BS8 1PX until 19th March 2017.