The investigative artist

Suspension Bridge at Night by Nigel Shipley

Nigel Shipley has been a firm fixture on Bristol’s art scene since beginning his Bristol Cityscapes series in 2004. Using bold brushstrokes and his own luminous sense of colour, he captures the urban landscape’s spirit as well as its appearance.

An avid curiosity and skilful use of controlled and uncontrolled accidents influence the direction of his work, imbuing his finished pieces with a sense of organic energy.

“Leonardo da Vinci urged artists to search for inspiration in the dirt on walls or the streaked patterns in stones,” Nigel explains when speaking of his own methodology. “In the same way I have found that the accidental blot, the chance mark, or the naturally occurring stain can be a starting point for my art.”

An example of such an accident led to Nigel’s painting Suspense (shown above). “Some random marks led to an idea of the tension of two blocks of colour, of the same weight, close to each other, almost touching, but apart,” Nigel says. “The intense red block in this painting became a ground lying at the bottom, and the dark blue/black block came to hover just above at a slight angle. The dark block is forever calmly suspended in space, held in place by the strength of the red block. A stormy landscape emerged behind them.”

This blend of tranquillity and vigour seems to represent the artist himself, as well, as he explores his own impressions of the world and internal emotions with equal interest.

Painting an abstract image is like feeling your way in the dark,” he comments, echoing the sentiment on his website’s About page. “In all of my paintings I try to achieve a sense of space and depth. I try to capture things such as emotions, a sense of calm or energy, a link to nature or an organic process.”

He cites as an example his painting Warm grey and yellow gold (shown above). “The creation of this included painting a board with white acrylic paint and then washing a thin grey oil paint over it and allowing it to gently slide down the front of the board,” says Nigel. “The oil and acrylic paints reacted to each other and the grey paint fractured into tiny cracks. The pattern of these cracks is similar to those you might find in nature, such as when mud dries. This natural cracking process created something of the infinite complexity that we find when we look closely at nature.”

Before falling headlong into abstract painting, Nigel’s work was far more figurative.

“For many years I painted cityscapes of Bristol, or tango dancers, and these paintings sold well and were popular,” he recalls. “Then I took a break from painting to work on building a new home for myself and when I had time again to paint I decided that my painting was becoming stale and I needed a bigger challenge. I started to look at abstract paintings and then began to create my own.”

Autumn Landscape by Nigel Shipley

Autumn Landscape by Nigel Shipley

The degree of difficulty involved in abstract painting is one of its attractions for Nigel. “I couldn’t return to my previous figurative representations of Bristol harbour, because they would be too easy and I would become bored. I don’t become bored with my abstract paintings, but I may become exasperated as I struggle with them.”

In other words, exasperation is preferable to boredom when it comes to experimenting with paint. This outlook is perhaps shaped by Nigel’s experiences of studying art in the 1970s.

“I didn’t have a happy time at Norwich School of Art in the 70s,” says Nigel. ”They wanted me to create welded steel sculptures, but I didn’t. I left art school feeling disillusioned with fine art world and went on to study cabinetmaking.”

At that time, few artists had the possibility of making a successful living, Nigel says. “I didn’t feel that I fitted in. Coming back to fine art in Bristol in the ’90s I found new opportunities to succeed. I picked up where I had left off twenty years earlier and reinvented my identity as an artist.”

Nigel lives with his partner, professional (and very talented) sculptor and art teacher Sophie Howard. “Her emotional and practical support is very important to my work as an artist,” Nigel says. “I greatly respect her opinion about my work, and sometimes she can give me insights about what I’m doing that I might otherwise have missed. We share a pleasure in seeing art and meeting artists, and living a creative lifestyle.”

Nigel’s creative life is about far more than painting, these days. “I relish how I can use creativity in everything I do,” he says. “I also love tango dancing, and dance at least one evening a week. This is a complex dance with a rich culture of music and Argentina. Recently I took part in a performance on the theme of happiness and pleasure.”

Deep Blue by Nigel Shipley

Deep Blue by Nigel Shipley

Nigel also uses his adeptness at my creative thinking in other parts of his life and work. “For example, when after years of looking Sophie and I could not find the home that we wanted, we decide to build our own Grand Design.

The result is unique home in the centre of Bristol, called Hours. “It incorporates a space that is sometimes an art gallery, and at other times a dance hall, or a venue for creative writing, poetry, yoga and much more.”

Far Horizon by Nigel Shipley

You can see all of Nigel’s currently available paintings at “I will have an exhibition of my paintings at HOURS (Colston Yard, Bristol) on 13th October. I have a studio at Unit 5, Barton Manor, Old Market, Bristol, BS2 0RL, and I’m happy to meet people there if they would like to see how I work. I have recently taken part in the Bristol Other Art Fair which was organised by Saatchi Art and included 100 artists from around the world chosen from 500 who applied. I plan to take part in this again in 2019.”

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, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at)

Writing prompt – art

Philip's art. Photo by Judy DarleyToday’s #WritingPrompt is inspired by my dad. It amazes me how art can help to sustain us in the most challenging of circumstance. I myself write prose poetry and poems to manage the emotional strain of visiting my dad in his care home. He’s afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease and Semantic Dementia which has made language particularly elusive.

Yet on a recent visit, following a fairly nonsensical chat, he picked up some pieces of napkin, tore them and placed two of them as shown above. It felt like he was trying to both make sense of and communicate something. He told me the middle piece was the people, and the one underneath was something he couldn’t get to or reach.

I added the top piece. He considered it with great seriousness, and then smiled. I think the collaborative, ‘reaching out’, aspect of it pleased him.

His earnestness really moved me, and I believe that many admired artists could toil for months with a far less profound outcome.

Strip back a message or emotion to two or three components that interest you, then create a story or a piece of art imbued with those words or feelings. Alternatively, take the words expressed here: people, out of reach, collaborating or reaching out, and write something inspired by these sentiments.

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


Tunnelled – a short story

Redcliffe Caves. Photography by Paul BullivantI’m thrilled to have my short story Tunnelled published as part of dear damsels Youth theme, as their #FridayRead in their Back to School week.

The story took seed while playing my own version of the Tunnel Game with my nephew. It provided a fun way to get from A to B, him with his eyes closed and me murmuring descriptions of the tunnel we were supposedly walking through into his ear.

“She knows he likes it best when she tells him they’re in terrible danger, like when a grizzly bear rushes by, its breath hot and sudden on his neck. Other times the path threads alongside a crevasse so deep and sheer that she has to pull him suddenly one way or another to prevent him falling. His body in her arms feels small and trusting, and she vows that whatever happens, she’ll keep him safe.”

But what if someone else had joined in with the game? And what if the story had become a little too real for comfort?

Sent shivers down my own spine with this one…

Read Tunnelled on the dear damsels website.

This is my second story published by dear damsels. Read my story Two Pools of Water. And yes, in case you were wondering, Redcliffe Caves are real.

Sewn in memoriam

Shrouds of the Somme by artist Rob Heard. Photo by Judy Darley

On a visit to Salisbury Cathedral earlier this summer, I encountered an unexpected sight: 1,561 miniature figures wrapped in hand sewn calico shrouds, laid out in centre of the cloister.

It stopped my friend and I in our tracks. Each of them represents a soldier killed at the Somme during World War I; the ones shown here are only a fraction of the full number being sewn and bound by artist Rob Heard. The 1,561 exhibited in Salisbury Cathedral represented each day that World War I lasted, while each shroud marks an individual who lost their life to the conflict.

It was a sobering display, and a visceral reminder of the sacrifices made through the folly of war. Powerfully moving.

Shrouds of the Somme by Rob Heard. Photo by Judy Darley

The Shroud Project exhibit has since left the cathedral grounds, and has since been on are on show in Exeter. They’ll be in Belfast from 23rd August until 16th September. Artist Rob Heard has continued to work on the project, aiming to complete 72,396 shrouded figures by November 8th-18th. This immense number mirrors the total tally of bodies of British servicemen (and South African infantrymen) who have no known grave. From 8th-18th November, the figures will be laid out at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to form a focal point as the nation marks the centenary of Armistice Day.

As he shrouds each of the thousands of figures, Heard considers a name from a list of the fallen provided by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ensuring each is remembered and honoured through his painstaking artwork.

Find out about the Les Colomes exhibition at Salisbury Cathedral.

Seen anything interesting recently? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley(at)




Writing prompt – perception

Bristol Botanic Garden_Luke Jerram_Mother and Son_Photo by Judy DarleyThis artwork is currently in situ at Bristol Botanic Garden. Created by Luke Jerram, it’s part of his exhibition The Impossible Garden, which warns us not to take what we see at face value. It’s entirely possible, he reminds us, that nothing is quite as it seems.

Bristol Botanic Garden_Luke Jerram_Mother and Son_Photo by Judy Darley

Use this as your starting point. What could seem real, but might be entirely false? What disturbing truths could lurk just below a veneer of normality?

And if you get the chance, do visit the exhibition. Set against the curated wilderness of the Garden, it’s designed to make you questions your impressions of your surroundings in every day life, and is also provide rather beautiful additions to an already contemplative space The Impossible Garden will be in place until Sunday 25th November 2018, so you have plenty of time. Or so it seems.

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

Writing prompt – mechanism

Mechanism by Judy DarleyThis piece of metal is part of a disused mechanism that stands on the cliff edge of Dorset’s Jurassic coast. The shore here is littered with relics from history, and pre-history, rife with potential plot lines.

What could this machine have been used for, and by whom? What might that have to do with the many dinosaur fossils found in this locale? And what chance encounter could occur here? Write a story with this strange object at its centre or providing a scene-setting backdrop.

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

Poetry review – Kierkegaard’s Cupboard by Marianne Burton

Kierkegaard's Cupboard book coverBiography as poetry is an enticing literary choice. Rather than asking us to ingest and retain the cumulative details of a life, we’re instead invited to mull over scattered and strung selections of moments which offer a suggestion of the sum of the whole.In

While the majority of poetry shares roots with autobiography, for the poet to focus on a historic figure is a more unusual, but when done skilfully, the results are hugely pleasing. Think magician’s act blended with both anthropology and archaeology, and thoroughly interlaced with respect.

In Kierkegaard’s Cupboard, poet Marianne Burton has unearthed and thoughtfully restored a scant horde of treasures from the archives of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Throughout she has provided contextual signposts to help us understand the contemplations laid out before us, which support those of us new to Kierkegaard’s meandering preoccupations without intruding on the elegance of the poems themselves.

Continue reading

Writing prompt – signpost

Too Far_photo credit Judy DarleyIf you’ve visited Bristol, you may be aware that certain sign-posts have been added too with helpful advice. This one seems like it could be a warning against heading to Temple Meads Station and actually leaving the city. On the other hand, there’s something enticing about following a sign that invites you to go too far!

Bristol is wonderfully blessed with a population that loves to contribute a hint of weirdness and magic to the urban landscape. To me it speaks volumes about the local culture and personality.

Where could this sign lead? What would you put up in its place to reflect your own neighbourhood’s character?

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


Writing prompt – farm

Toy farm animals cr Judy DarleyI encountered this herd of cows, chickens and other beasts on a random table-top recently, and was briefly dazzled by a wave of nostalgia. Did you play with these as a child? Did you watch someone smaller play with these? Did you imagine being really small and strolling among them?

Write a piece that plays with time, memory and scale inspired by these farm animals.

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