The art of pyrography with Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Inlet_Oil, pyrography and gold leaf on wood_by Michelle Loa Kum CheungSometimes an artist’s power lies in their prowess with certain techniques and materials. With accomplished pyrographer Michelle Loa Kum Cheung, that’s certainly partly true, as she commonly works with heat on wood. However, it’s her rarity of vision that elevates Michelle’s art to the status of truly covetable. By recreating rural and coastal scenes in her own precise way, she converts our familiar world into something otherworldly, revealing the precious and fragile beauty of our planet.

Michelle takes her unique viewpoint almost for granted. “As with most young people, I was a creative child who liked to make things out of paper and draw,” she says. “This fascination with analogue, tactile techniques endured throughout university, where I completed Honours in Fine Arts in Australia at the University of New South Wales. After finishing my undergraduate degree, I travelled for the first time to Europe to France, Italy and England and was so drawn to the art and culture that I have now been based in Europe for the past five years.”

Pont_Acrylic and pyrography on wood by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Pont. Acrylic and pyrography on wood by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Michelle’s intricate use of pyrography – using heat as a drawing medium – is particularly impressive.

“I am so fascinated by pyrography as a way to make a mark, and find it very different from the conventional two-dimensional mediums of pencil and paint,” she says. “I first started the technique shortly after finishing university, where my focus had been on trees in the environment as an exploration of phenomenology where I was interested in the science of conscious attention to the surrounding environment.”

Untitled, pyrography on wood by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Following that period, which she describes as “fairly experimental”, Michelle began investigating wood instead of canvas, and developing her understanding of its potential “as a naturally burning material.”

The proves captivated Michelle. “Pyrography requires a lot of attention, focus and delicacy, which I love,” she says. “There is also an irreversible element as you cannot undo a mark once it is made with the pyrography pen, but I believe that all the marks made add to the finished product.”

Against The Current by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Against The Current by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

She finds herself returning to the same questions time and again through her artwork. “What peaks my interest and forms a lot of the ideas in my art practice is the angst of not knowing and desire, memories and nostalgia, particularly memories which aren’t my own and fabricated nostalgia for places that I’ve never been,” she explains. “Moving from Australia and interacting more with old family photos as a result led to me exploring the concept of displaced heritage.”

Penglai_Oil, pyrography, liquid leaf and conte pencil on wood, by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Penglai_Oil, pyrography, liquid leaf and conte pencil on wood, by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Michelle is also exploring the Chinese concept of shan shui. “My understanding of shan shui is that a realistic depiction of the landscape is not as pertinent as how the artist perceives it, emotionally and mentally,” she says. “Focal points and perspective function differently in traditional Chinese landscape painting than in Western art. Looking into Chinese mythology has also introduced me to Chinese utopia and mythological mountains and landforms which represent an idyllic world which could exist concurrently to ours but which is, as yet, unmarred by human interaction.”

Archipel_Acrylic and pyrography on wood_30x30cm_2017

Archipel by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

As a very visual person, Michelle says “Each new piece is generally inspired by something I have seen personally or a memory which I have ingested second hand through someone else, whether their own recent memory or an old family memory, before I was even born. I try to walk every day and even moving through my environment in a casual manner not only brings new visual inspiration but also clears my mind for imagining.”

Danxia No. 1_oil and pyrography on wood by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Danxia No. 1 by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Michelle says her personal favourite artwork is Danxia No. 1. “It was one of the first circular paintings I have done, and in fact one of the first paintings since permanently relocating to London,” she says. “Dana refers to the naturally occurring red landforms in the Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park, which for me hold resonance with the Chamarel Coloured Earth in Mauritius, where my parents were born.”

Once she has an idea for a fresh piece of work in mind, Michelle’s creative process is precise. “There are certain works where the mark making is very planned, usually if I am combining paint and gold leaf, because the preparation of the wood and intentional empty spaces dictate it,” she says. “In this way mistakes can be particularly unforgiving. My art book is a combination of rough sketches, finished sketches and measured grids. For these artworks, it is important for me to pre-visualise the structure.”

However, the colour is usually applied instinctively, while many pieces are almost entirely intuitive. “It surprises most people that the most intricate pyrographic works on wood and paper which are usually monochrome have the least planning – close to none. There are no mistakes in these works, just the continuation of form.”

Sierra, Oil, pyrography and liquid leaf on wood by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Sierra by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

The beginning phase of the artwork spans from the design process right up until Michelle has filled in the first layers, “whether that be of pyrography or paint. Generally I will do most of the pyrography first as the foundation and switch to the paint. Once these areas have been blocked in, contemplation starts because I tend to not plan the colouring as much as the initial structure.”

The next stage requires a little more space from the actual work. “I’II sit back and stare at the painting for almost as long as I actually work on it,” she says. “I usually need to leave an artwork for a few days and come back to it before realising it is complete. As artists work in such close quarters to their art, separation is definitely needed so we can contemplate what we have done and regard it from a distance.”

Furl by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Furl by Michelle Loa Kum Cheung

Michelle will be exhibiting her work as part of the Counter Balance Artcan Group Show from 30 October – 10 November, Trinity Art Gallery, London. You can also see Michelle’s work at Cultural Diaries, a group show with Milenna Saraiva, KV Duong and Tom Cox, from 25 November – 1 December at Old Brompton Gallery, London.

Find out more about Michelle and her work at www.michellelkc.com, on Instagram @michelle_lkc and on Twitter @michelle_lkc

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley(at)iCloud.com. 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)iCloud.com.

The unlikely magic of bitumen

Leaping Through The Dragon's Gate by Nigel Shipley

Leaping Through The Dragon’s Gate by Nigel Shipley

“In a world of hard-edged technology, expressionist painting connect us with the human hand and emotions,” says artist Nigel Shipley. “My abstract paintings don’t represent things that already exists, but do have connections with the real world.”

The title of Nigel’s latest exhibition, Wine Gums and Moonbeams, sums up this ethos with mouth-watering immediacy. One is tangibly flavoursome, drumming up the inimitable sensation of a mouth full of colourful sweets (especially vivid thanks to their childhood connotations), while the other shivers with impressions of ethereal beauty, other-worldliness, potential romance and possible danger. In other words, they’re each jam-packed with suggestiveness. His work is deliciously evocative and playful.

ironside by Nigel Shipley

Ironside by Nigel Shipley

Following on from my 2018 interview with Nigel, the artist has continued to experiment with abstract painting, finding new routes to capturing the images he envisions. “In many of my recent painting I have used bitumen paint, which is made to repair leaking roofs,” he says, “It is dreadful stuff to work with, sticky, stinking and as black as can be. It is like the dregs of a barrel of crude oil, but when dried on a painting it can be a sublime, rich, and deep black. It’s pure black like Japanese lacquer, but with a velvety softness.”

Nigel has fully immersed himself in investigating the behaviour and effects of this medium. “Oil paint applied in a thin wash over a pure white base acts like a sheet of coloured glass through which light passes and reflects back off the white base. This can illuminate the colour from behind and make it glow, contrasting vividly with the dark bitumen. The black has a dramatic effect on a thin wash next to it.”

Melancholy by Nigel Shipley

Melancholy by Nigel Shipley

Other materials also come into play. “I can make a simple mould out of clay and melt metal to cast silvery pieces to embed into bitumen – the black and silver challenge each other like yin and yang.”

Nigel’s influences inform his trial-and-error process. “The emotional rawness of Abstract Expressionists attracts me, as does the composition of Japanese prints and the light and movement of Renaissance painting. Like Japanese lacquer, bitumen paint gives a sublime, rich, deep black which I contrast with thin transparent misty washes of paint. It creates a hint of a landscape with objects floating in space give a suggestion of surrealism.”

Interference by Nigel Shipley

Interference by Nigel Shipley

The result is a glorious visually tactile series of paintings brimming with emotion yet utterly open to interpretation.

Nigel is an ardent fan of what he terms controlled accidents. “By painting a thin wash of oil paint over a white base of water based acrylic paint, the oil and the water may react and create natural patterns that reflect those in nature,” he says. “These patterns can have an infinite complexity that it would be impossible to design, and mirror the patterns found when frost settles on an icy winter’s window, or the cracks of a dry muddy river bed. Scraping wet paint with a squeegee can create similar accidental textures or rhythms that reflect nature.”

In The Beginning by Nigel Shipley

In The Beginning by Nigel Shipley

His approach is purely based on intuition and curiosity, which contributes to the originality of the finished pieces.

“My method of working is to follow my instincts and not to try to communicate an idea about a social issue but to celebrate beauty,” he explains. “I work on many paintings at a time. I make marks, leave the paint to dry and then come back to look at it afresh before deciding what I feel to be the correct next move. At some point I either decide that it’s finished or throw it away as a painting that didn’t work but from which I learnt something.”

Wine gums and moonbeams will be on at The Hours, Colston Yard, Bristol, BS1 5BD, from 4th-31st October. Viewings by arrangement. For details, visit www.nigelshipley.com 

Sky Light Rain – collection launch and literary night

Sky Liight Rain launch picI’m excited to share the news that my short story collection Sky Light Rain will be published by Valley Press on 2nd November. To celebrate, I’m hosting an atmospheric evening of readings and music on the themes of sky, light, and rain.

The collection draws on my enduring fascination with the fallibility of the human mind, and examines aspects of human existence, including our relationship to nature and to each other.

The event will take place at Waterstones Bristol Galleries, from 7pm on Saturday 2nd November 2019. I’ll be joined by writers Paul Deaton, Kevlin Henney and Grace Palmer, and indie art-pop musician Hidden Tide.

This is a Bristol Festival of Literature 2019 fringe event.

Tickets are free but limited, so don’t forget to book yours.

Date And Time: Saturday 2nd November 2019, 7pm-9pm.

Location: Waterstones, 11A, Union Galleries, Broadmead, Bristol BS1 3XD

Book your free tickets here.

Head to the Bath Children’s Literature Festival

Child reading cr Julian Foxon Photography

© Julian Foxon Photography

Hungry for writing inspiration, or simply got young book-worms to entertain? Bath Children’s Literature Festival offers up a fantastic, imagination-stirring line-up of events.

The festival runs from 27th September until 6th October 2019, with events for all ages. Look out for inspiring and entertaining conversations, workshops and hands’ on adventures in the company of Harry Hill, Jacqueline Wilson, David Baddiel, Cressida Cowell, Claire Spalding, Sophie Dahl, Michael Rosen, Yuval Zommer, Calorie Blackman, and more. Look out for chances to challenge children to engage their own writing and drawing skills.

Image supplied by Bath Festivals. Photo by Julian-Foxon-Photography.

Find details and book tickets at bathfestivals.org.uk/childrens-literature. Find out more about Bath, including places to stay, at visitbath.co.uk.

Art ablaze – review

Still from film. Provided by RWA BristolThe Royal West of England Academy (RWA) is currently holding an exhibition that examines the beauty and peril of fire.

From the romantic flicker of candle glow to a lurching, gigantic charred figure (Man on Fire by Tim Shaw), the artworks on display at Fire: Flashes to Ashes in British Art 1692-2019 demonstrate the challenges of this most voracious and ferocious of phenomena.

Au centre de la Terre II, Nadege Meriau, Photo courtesy RWA

Au Centre de la Terre II, Nadege Meriau

As always, the curatorial team have called in exquisite classic works, as well as showcasing how modern artists are exploring the element currently devastating the Amazon rainforest. The third of the galleries’ element-themed exhibitions feels weightier, unsurprisingly, than either the Water or Air-themed shows, and yet lacks the otherworldly after-feel of either of those, which I particularly loved.

Catherine Morland artworks

Here, there are fewer pieces that spill outwards from attempts at categorisation, but those that feature, not least Tim Shaw’s afore-mentioned Man on Fire sculpture, made from bin bags, foam and wire, as well as two dreamy pieces by Catherine Morland created using candle-flame on glass (shown above), are powerfully thought-provoking.

There are an array of artworks made by harnessing the power of fire and explosives, if only for a moment. Aoife van Linden Tol blasted discs of sheet copper to render her gorgeous, heat-scarred Sun III. In her case, the explosion was the focal point of a performance, rather than merely the means of creation; rather, it’s the artwork itself that is the byproduct.

Sun III by Aoife van Linden Tol

Sun III by Aoife van Linden Tol

Roger Ankling painted directly with sunlight, with a lens for a paintbrush in an act of heliography, to produce his sculpture Voewood, while David Nash crafted his fingertip-tempting Burnt Bent Book using a blowtorch.

As Mowgli learnt in Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, fire is what sets us aside from other animals. It can be terrifyingly destructive, and yet it can also bring us together in comfort and safety.

Single Nights, Naima by Mat Collishaw

Single Nights, Naima by Mat Collishaw

Artists include William Blake, Wilhelmina Barns-Graham, Jeremy Deller, David Nash, Cornelia Parker, Stanley Spencer and JMW Turner.

Contrary to my own expectations, I found it was the more traditional pieces that drew me in – the richness of colour-play, of the fires’ brilliance against nightfall and its beauty set against what can only be panic and most likely death, makes them illustrations of the fragile line we tread beneath safety and peril.

My favourites include three watercolours by J. B. Pyne depicting the 1831 Bristol riots are jewel-like miniatures – undeniably exquisite despite their subject matter.

Look out for Sophie Clements’ mesmerising film (shown top). And on the way out, take a moment to admire Karl Singporewala’s sculpture of a blackened, skeletal Notre Dame tower – a reminder that human as well as natural wonders are susceptible to the hunger of flame.

Images supplied by the Royal West of England Academy.

Fire: Flashes to Ashes in British Art 1692-2019 is on at the Royal West of England Academy until 1st Sept 2019.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley(at)iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.

Honouring loss through paint and music

26 October 1859 by Anthony Garratt

26 October 1859 by Anthony Garratt

The urge to communicate is key to any artistic endeavour, but for the work to truly connect with others, it helps for artists to look beyond themselves and be moved by the world around them. In 2016, artist Antony Garratt achieved this with his painting installation High and Low.

His 2019 project returns him and his team to Anglesey’s wild spaces, this time looking out to sea.

In October 1859, The Royal Charter, a steamship en route to Liverpool from Melbourne was wrecked in the Irish Sea off Anglesey in a ferocious storm. It’s estimated that 800 lives were lost in the storm, which was coined ‘The Royal Charter Storm.’

“The Royal Charter is legendary on Anglesey, not least due to the heroic efforts of locals from Moelfre who attempted to rescue crew and passengers,” he says. “In a dreadful twist of fate, the ship was carrying a cargo of gold and many of the people on board had sewn gold into their clothes. Upon entering the sea, they were immediately committed to the seabed.”

The tragedy of the Royal Charter Storm led to the development of the meteorological office, with the first gale warning service being launched in 1860 to prevent similar catastrophes.

Anthony and his team, enabled by the Outbuildings, Anglesey, and shipwrights Mark and Loz Cann, are creating a painting and theatrical installation titled To All At Sea, or, in Welsh, ‘i barb ar y mar to mark the160th anniversary of the storm.

26 October 2019 by Anthony Garratt

26 October 2019 by Anthony Garratt

Collaborating with the wind

The work will comprise a 4.5-metre-wide double-sided painting panel with a black steel foresail shaped to echo the rig of the royal charter. It will be located in a coastal position near to the location of the wreck off Moelfre, East Anglesey, on 13th May.

“I have just completed the two sides of the painting – one of which communicates a calm, foreboding day at sea; the other the gale which tragically wrecked the Royal Charter amongst many others that fateful night,” says Anthony. “I created the two paintings in my studio over two months; the time it was meant to take the Royal Charter to reach Liverpool from Melbourne.”

Like a weather vane, the painting panel will pivot on a central mast with each change in wind direction. As a result, chance will dictate whether you see the depiction of the calm day, or The Royal Charter Storm, “just as the weather was a form of roulette on that fateful night, before the days of weather forecasting.”

Now we come to the really clever bit

With each pivot and change of direction in the wind, the painting panel communicates data to a website, which each day at 17.55, (the time of the UK Shipping Forecast), draws an arc representing the change in wind direction.

After two months of these ‘wind arcs’ being collected, the lines will be translated into a musical score to be performed and recorded by concert violinist Philippa Mo, accompanying a local Welsh male voice choir.

The performance and culmination of the installation will take place on 26th October, the 160-year anniversary of The Royal Charter Storm.

The installation and composition will be dedicated to those who lost their lives in the storm and rescue efforts.

An art competition will run concurrently with the installation and dedicated social media channels for the entrants to share their work. The subject will be the weather forecast and The Royal Charter Storm. Prizes will include a day creating a painting with Anthony Garratt to keep.

Find out more about all of this at www.toallatsea.co.uk.

Reading the walls of Kaunas, Lithuania

Kaunas Lithuania. pic by James HainsworthOur first full day in Kaunas, Lithuania, was flooded with bright sunshine and brilliant blue skies, so we took the chance to follow one of their excellent tourist maps, Wallographer’s Notes.

Street art began to emerge in the city as a form of protest during the years of Soviet Occupation from 1944 to 1990. Today, the City Municipality regular invites applications of ideas for new artworks, and so every month new creations appear. Here are ten of my favourites.

Insects of Ladislas Starevich. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley1. Insects of Ladislas Starevich
Rotušės Aikštė, 15, Kaunas
If you begin at the town hall, you will soon happen across this trio of gigantic insects: an ant, grasshopper complete with violin and stag-beetle created in honour of pioneering puppet animator Ladislas Starevich.

Dogs Fountain, Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley2. The Dogs’ Fountain
Rotušės Aikštė, 19, Kaunas
Created by sculptor Vytautas Narutis in memory of the canine guardians said to protect the sleep of emperor Napoleon when he stayed in Kaunas Old Town, Fontanas Šunys (Dogs’ Fountain) was installed in the Kaunas Town Hall square in 1987. The dogs have lovely friendly faces rubbed shiny in places, presumably from people patting their noses for luck.

The Freedom Warrior. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley3. The Freedom Warrior
Pilies G. 17, Kaunas
Located between the 14th century Kaunas castle and the Neris River, this exuberant statue is named the Freedom Warrior. The figure of the armour-clad knight on horseback mirrors the one of the city’s heraldic shield, known as Vytis. It stands an imposing seven metres high. I love its celebratory air, but feel its triumphant air is rivalled by the tot scooting around the monument’s base in my shot.

The Wise Old Man, Kaunas Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley4. The Wise Old Man
Jonavos G. 3, Kaunas
Turn to the right with your back to the castle, and you’ll spy The Wise Old Man, or The Master, a gigantic portrait smoking a pipe apparently in his pyjamas. We visited on a Saturday when the square below was laid out with stalls selling freshly unearthed root vegetables, cheese, honey, cured fish and the eponymous tree cakes. The 440 m2 creation by artists Tadas Šimkus and Žygimantas Amelynas overlooks it all with a benevolent air. Ironically, he’s painted on the side of a former footwear factory, and though you can’t see his feet in this photo, he has no shoes. He’s said to be an homage to George Maciunas, one of the pioneers of the Fluxus art movement.

Monument to Abraham Mapu. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by James Hainsworth5. Monument to Abraham Mapu
Mapu G., Kaunas
This jaunty chap stands on a chair inthe courtyard of the Ars et Mundus Gallery. He is the sculpture of a beloved Kaunas-born author,Abraham Mapu, who is credited with writing and self-publishing one of the first Hebrew novels in 1853. I love the cheeky character sculptor Martynas Gaubas has achieved. With his hand held just so, he looks about to doff his cap in greeting.

Owl on Owl Hill, Kaunas Lithuania1. pic by Judy Darley6. A whole flock of owls
Pelėdų Kalnas, Kaunas
These concrete and sand owls mark the perimeter of Pelėdų Kalnas, or Owl Hill, and were created by sculptor Vincas Grybas in 1922. The owls are the symbols of Kaunas Art School, the hill and the city below.

Owl House on Owl Hill. Kaunas Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley

We followed tourist map to visit the owls, but spotted the above en-route to Owl Hill. What is that? An owl-shaped building?! So fabulous. Wonder if it’s on AirBnB,

The Cabin. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley7. The Cabin
Putvinskio G. 36, Kaunas
This gorgeous rainbow building springs out of its surroundings as a reminder that art rests on every corner of Kaunas. Once an abandoned and weather-beaten house, it’s now a vivid slice of life set almost midway between the Devil’s Museum and the Žaliakalnis Funicular (which was closed when we visited, with no explanation as to why). There are two chairs on the cabin’s roof, perhaps in case the devil or his wife fancy a rest.

Levitator. Kaunas, Lithuania. Photo by Judy Darley8. The Levitator
Nepriklausomybes Aikštė, Kaunas
Situated close to St. Michael the Archangel’s Church, this sculpture resembles a miracle caught in mid-moment, as a figure rises, harnessed to its long-locked plinth only by a swathe of cloak.
I’ve since seen photos of children pressing themselves beneath the hovering body, but when we saw it rain poured down and all that caught there was the suggestion of clouds. By the way, apparently the Lithuanian word of Levitator is levitatacija. Beautiful.

Yard Gallery Kaunas1 Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley9. Yard Gallery
Ožeškienės G. 21A, Kaunas
Begun in artist Vytenis Jakas more than a decade ago, the Yard Gallery is a constantly evolving creation, with new artworks being added by a range of artists, neighbours and passersby all the time. It aims to bring life and a sense of community to this space surrounded by residential homes. An astonishing space crammed with evidence of narrative and imagination.

Pink Elephant Kaunas Lithuania. pic by Judy Darley10. The Pink Elephant
Ožeškienės G. 18A, Kaunas
Just up the hill from the Yard Gallery, you’ll find a vast, resting elephant depicted in power pink. That large ear seems ripe for secrets, better than any church confessional. It’s by artist Vytenis Jakas(yep, him of the Yard Gallery, and to me seems to represent all things joyful and accepting in this quirky creative city. It was actually inspired by a graffiti slogan that translates as Love Conquers All.

Find out more about Kaunas, Lithuania, at visit.kaunas.lt/en/ 

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Painting and piecing artefacts

Screen Illuminated by Sunset, gouache on paper by Alan James McLeodAlan James McLeod took a long and winding route to reach the abstract works he’s becoming known for. “I graduated from Edinburgh College of Art in 1990, in applied design, then became a freelance textile designer, producing hand painted fabric and wallpaper designs for companies such as Warner Fabrics, Habitat & John Lewis.”

Following “a long hiatus” during which he set art and design aside, Alan chose to return with a more fine art approach at the beginning of 2014, “but the design background is always there.”

An Echo of the Story by Alan James McLeod

An Echo of the Story by Alan James McLeod

The delicious textural look to Alan’s artwork is created by handpainting papers he then collages. The result is an intriguing resemblance to unearthed artefacts or enticingly  weatherbeaten ephemera.

“At college I used to paint on top of oil pastels, then scrape through to create designs,” he explains of his technique. “This developed to layering the paint colours on top of each other, using clear wax instead of the oil pastels. Lots of scraping and washing, leaving out in the rain, anything to reveal what’s underneath.”

Illuminated by Alan James McLeod

Illuminated by Alan James McLeod

He developed his unique style through a balance of “not worrying about the outcome”, embracing “happy accidents to push my work in different directions” and endeavouring to produce individual pieces “that reminded me of something, and that have some sort of resonance or depth. Papers that are too ‘surface’, can be useful in my work as well though, as they can be overworked or gilded to bring them to a level of usefulness.”

Being away from the art world for around seven years was useful in its own way, as it showed Alan how intrinsic art had become to him. “I was missing a big part of my life, and after work I would head upstairs to our spare room and start sifting through old textile designs, found papers and postcards.”

Before long, Alan started making little collages. “This was purely for enjoyment’s sake. It wasn’t until 2012 that I decided to try a couple of them in a gallery.”

A Hidden Room by Alan James McLeod

A Hidden Room by Alan James McLeod

He describes moving house a catalyst for taking his work to a new level. “At the same time as I was taking my art more seriously, my surroundings were unfamiliar, and not giving me the inspiration that directed my work. This is when a more cerebral approach took over, with my imagination coming in to play.”

Alan felt that collage work using found papers, was already a crowded area. “Many artists have mastered college, one of my favourites being Kurt Schwitter.”

To ensure an originality in his own work, Alan decided to focus on creating his own unique painted papers as the medium for his collages.

Unknown Origin by Alan James McLeod

Unknown Origin by Alan James McLeod

I’m impressed by the beauty of the light Alan captures in his work, and ask how he learnt to represent it so effectively. “Sometimes we need to be shown the light,” he says. “I hope in my work that I’m revealing a little of what may have been hidden.”

The process of developing and completing a work of art can be lengthy and ponderous.
“Often a piece of work will ‘hang around’ for quite some time before finding another paper to marry up with it,” Alan says. “At the onset, I have no preconceived idea of any finished work. The process is just in the doing. I’m thinking about ancient weathered walls, tribal textiles, or a place of cultural interest which has only the decorative architectural features left, with all the precious artefacts removed. Towards completion of the work, I’m striving for depth, hidden meaning, or just something beautifully decorative.”

Never Wanting to be Found by Alan James McLeod

Never Wanting to be Found by Alan James McLeod

Daydreaming is a vital part of Alan’s creative process. “I did a bit of travelling when I was younger, not so much now, so the use of a good imagination helps. Places like Italy and Malta, left an impression on me. The faded colours, layers of history living side by side…”

Alan begins the creation of his painted papers with no fixed plan or vision. “It’s solely about the drive to create an effect or texture that I feel I can use in a finished work,” he says. “How the papers end up influences the direction the piece is going in, be it a more planetary look, abstract landscape, or thinking of imagined shrines, artefacts or architecture. Very rarely is a piece completed using only one paper. I use a combination of techniques, including edge to edge joining for the composition, and collage for the decorative elements.”

Lost Poem by Alan James McLeod

Lost Poem by Alan James McLeod

In his bio on the Lime Tree Gallery website, where he frequently exhibits, Alan states his goal of documenting “emotional responses to music and memory, celestial bodies and changes in the seasons.”

He elaborates: “Abstract work can evoke memories of not just places, but feelings and experiences. I add shapes to the compositions to add focus, hoping the viewer finds enough space within the work to add their own interpretation. Anthropomorphising what is seen happens often, but the attaching of memories and the personalising of the piece is the joy of producing the work.”

Find more of Alan’s artwork on Instagram.

Things Seen That No Longer Remain by Alan James McLeod

Things Seen That No Longer Remain by Alan James McLeod

Artistic embroidered trendrils

Olivia's Summer Garden by Shuya Cheng My first impression of Shuya Cheng’s embroidered artwork was of encountering an elegant form of climbing plant, with tendrils and foliage in a lip-smacking array of colours. Clusters of leaves, petals, moss, coral, shells and tide-manipulated seaweeds are mounted onto crisp white surfaces where their shadows add another layer of design.

Sun carrier Shell by Shuya Cheng

Sun-carrier Shell by Shuya Cheng

This eye-catching approach took Shuya some time to develop, she admits. “It took me a long while to find my artistic niche,” she says. “In my early twenties, I worked as a general assistant to a fashion designer in Taiwan which taught me a lot about creativity and having and working towards a vision. I then trained and worked as a graphic designer for a period of time. In terms of my current art focus, I’m self-taught with a lot of trial and error and the assistance of the internet where a lot of artists generously share their techniques. I am also an abstract painter and I bring this abstract element to all my embroidery work.”

Mind's Eye by Shuya Cheng

Mind’s Eye by Shuya Cheng

I’m impressed by Shuya’s exquisitely delicate stitching, and ask her to describe her methodology.

“My work is free-hand machine embroidery created by spending hours over a sewing machine stitching intricate designs on to water soluble material,” she explains. “This is then dissolves and I shape, arrange and pin the embroidery in a shadow box (a deep picture frame also called a box frame). Much as I would love to lay claim to having developed the techniques, there are a number of artists out there using and sharing these techniques.”

Seaweed Series by Shuya Cheng

Seaweed Series by Shuya Cheng

Shula says she was initially drawn to the deceptively simple appearance of this technique. “I seek to take a physical structure such as a leaf skeleton and through the process bring an abstract element which makes the viewer pause and take a closer look at the intricacies. Pinning the works in shadow boxes allows me to introduce a living 3D element with the shadows changing along with the light.”

She adds: “For me, the 3D effect created by the shadows brings the piece of art to life. Stillness and movement are integral parts of each piece. They are floating; they are moving; they are alive.”

Indian Summer by Shuya Cheng

Indian Summer by Shuya Cheng

Finding a man-made or natural structure that will translate successfully with Shuya’s desired results can be surprisingly difficult. “Sometimes inspiration does come spontaneously but most of the time it involves hours of research looking at photographs. Occasionally I get lucky – on a beach in Northumberland I found a fascinating piece of kelp root which served as the basis for a piece of work.”

Laying the foundations for each piece of work of art is a painstaking process. “Shaping and arranging the embroidery, whether a single piece or a number of individual pieces, takes almost as long as sewing,” Shuya says. “I spend a long time manipulating the embroidery so that the individual components come together as one piece.”

Blue Coral by Shuya Cheng

Blue Coral by Shuya Cheng

Shula begins by envisioning the finished piece in her mind, “which helps me work purposefully towards my goal. It is almost a form of therapy. However, inevitably surprises, and occasionally disasters, occur at various stages. These can lead to the thrill of an unexpected outcome. The moment I finish and sign the work and complete the framing brings a sense of closure and calmness – at least until I start thinking about my next design! My work has to speak to me and I hope therefore it will speak to others.”

Trios by Shuya Cheng

Trios by Shuya Cheng

Shuya exhibits at art fairs across Bath and Bristol, including the Combe Down Art Trail, Widcombe Craft Fair and Art Trail, Front Room Totterdown  Arts Trail and Cam Valley Arts Trail. “The last two Christmases I have exhibited in the Bath Humbug event hosted by the 44AD gallery. I have also exhibited at a number of open exhibitions including the BSA Open Exhibition at the Victoria Art Gallery and Visions of Science at the Edge, University of Bath.”

She also notes that an online presence is essential these days. “I try to post regularly on Instagram and Facebook with regular updates of what I am working on and upcoming events. My website www.shuyacheng.com is a good starting point for anybody who wishes to find out more about my work and my artistic journey.”

 

Mapping myths in lino cuts

Detail from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria WillmottWhen I discovered artist Victoria Willmott’s fresh, sketchy linoprints, I fell for the energy they exuded. In particular, I love her beautiful foldout inspired by the Icelandic myth ‘Redhead The Whale Man’. Victoria tells me she’s been drawing inspiration from fairytales and folklore all her life.

“During my Illustration BA course I worked on a project to illustrate a series of fairytales,” she says. “I started to realise these tales were more then just children’s stories, they were little gems to me that sparked my imagination.”

Detail2 from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria Willmott

Detail from ‘Redhead The Whale Man’ by Victoria Willmott

She adds: “What’s interesting is that fairytales have lasted through hundreds of years and several generations and are still so well known today. The stories themselves often carry a hidden meaning that brings sense or a moral message, but sometimes they’re just fantastic stories that take you on a journey far far awayand I love that about them. I like to reimagine these fantastical fairy tales within our every day and place them into our modern world.”

Visiting Iceland in 2018 was the starting point for a special project.

“I brought myself a book on Icelandic fairytales. It was filled with short stories from elves to trolls, and ghosts with some very dark endings,” she says. “I was drawn to the story ‘Redhead The Whale Man’because it has an element of surprise and absurdity and because it’s a story at sea.”

Detail3 from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria Willmott

Detail from ‘Redhead The Whale Man’ by Victoria Willmott

She explains that Redhead The Whale Man tells the story of a young fisherman who is turned into a whale by elves. “He betrayed his elf wife and elf child by dis-owning them in his homeland. His punishment for doing so was to live as a whale for the rest of his life and haunt the seas his fellow fisherman sailed in.”

The red head is actually nothing to do with his hair colour, but instead comes from the fact he was wearing a red cap at the moment when he was cursed.

Detail4 from 'Redhead The Whale Man' by Victoria Willmott

Detail from ‘Redhead The Whale Man’ by Victoria Willmott

“In this story I like the symbolism with the red cap and that it is a simple object that you can associate to your own world,” Victoria says. “I like to see fairytale emblems in ordinary items, and now a red cap can be added to that as an object that could conjure up a fantastical story.”

Victoria has bookshelves crammed with fairytales ripe for informing and inspiring her work. These include books by the Brothers Grimm, Hans Christian Anderson, and Charles Perrault, as well as folk tales from Ireland, Africa, Iceland and India.

“I created a piece of work called ‘The Lost Slipper in Southville’ which was a reimagining of Cinderella in my neighbourhood of Bristol, Southville. It purely started from personal experience of loosing my own shoe as it flew out of my bicycle basket. It was found, not by prince charming but on a kerbside – luckily in good condition considering it would have been rained on for four days.”

The Lost Slipper in Southville by Victoria Willmott. Lino cut

The Lost Slipper in Southville by Victoria Willmott

From this, Victoria began to see how elements of the Cinderella story could appear in her day-to-day life. “The ugly stepsisters, for instance, I saw in two geese at the local City Farm, which I pass to get to the studio,” she says. “Their webbed feet could never fit into the lost slipper and their constant cackling gave them an unpleasant manner just like the stepsisters bickering.”

Victoria decided that the Prince’s Ball should be held at the local South Bank Club, “where dance classes and evening do’s are abundant. I imagined the dancers there dancing out onto the streets. In one of the original tales of Cinderella she goes to the ball three separate occasions with three different dresses, in the colours of sunlight, moonlight and starlight. I used the colour referencing those aspects for the dancers.”

Victoria created the artwork using lino cut and devised a map that leads you through her alternative Cinderella tale, “but you could take any path you wanted and perhaps make up your own version of the story.”

Crop of The Lost Slipper in Southville by Victoria Willmott

Crop of ‘The Lost Slipper in Southville’ by Victoria Willmott

Victoria is keen to share her interest in fairytales through her artwork. “I find that I want to communicate that there are stories everywhere and people can use their imagination to read between the illustrations and make up their own tales,” she says. “That’s the essence of storytelling – originally fairytales and folk tales would have been passed on through oral telling and each storyteller would have their own take or version of the story. I like to think people are given the option to read my prints in their own way and make up their own story about them too.”

Victoria begins a new piece of work by sketching on location and then takes those drawings back to the studio to refine. “I have an abundance of sketchbooks that hold precious ideas,” she says. “When I look back at them I start to see characters and scenes that I could use in future work. I enjoy the sketching process where I work quickly and produce loose and free drawings. I try to hold onto that looseness and transfer drawings into lino cut prints.”

Recently, Victoria has been working on large-scale map-style prints that are built up from individual lino cut stamps. “The process of making these requires printing each lino cut by hand,” she says. “I have a rough idea of how these prints will end up but I let spontaneity happen on the day of printing and use my instincts about what colours and images will work well together.”

Crop of Icelandic Whale Man Story Map by Victora Willmott

Crop of ‘Icelandic Whale Man Story Map’ by Victora Willmott

The trickiest part, she admits, is recognising when to stop working on a piece of art.

“I feel there is part of my brain that is more critical and aware of my choices and the other half is being playful and spontaneous and having more openness to creating,” she says. “I think the playful side comes out mostly in the sketching and printing process, and then I have to allow the critical side of my brain to come through and make a judgement to see if the piece is finished.”

She smiles and then adds: “I often have to take a photograph of the artwork, make a cup of tea and then let both sides of the brain either agree or not. It’s useful to take a step back and then let you mind see it from a new perspective.”

You can find more of Victoria’s art at www.victoriawillmott.com, twitter.com/vlwillmottwww.instagram.com/vlwillmott and www.facebook.com/VictoriaWillmottIllustration.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley(at)iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com.