A silent space

Rhythm of Silence #2 (close up) 44 x 56 cm by Johannes NielsenAn artwork that cries out to be caressed is a potent object. Sculptor Johannes Nielsen appears not only to understand this power, but to harness it, with sculptures that all but shiver with a desire for a human hand. His latest works are sleek and solid, yet with a suggestion of belonging to dreams, and even in their stillness they suggest a vigour that’s deeply alluring.

And yet, in the opinion of Johannes, these works are all about space.

“In my art there is no real story to be revealed or statement to be told,” he says. “It’s more Iike I want to create a silent space for rest and relaxation. In that space I believe we can get in touch with our own inner voice that may communicate something much more of value that I ever can express through my art.”

Same Body Different Day #1 by Johannes Nielsen

Same Body Different Day #1 by Johannes Nielsen

Born in 1979 in Falkenberg, Sweden, Johannes graduated in Fine Arts from the Lunds Art School in 2003 and worked as an artistic assistant in Dublin before returning to Sweden in 2007. Currently, he lives and works in Beijing.

His motivation to seek calm through his work stems from within. “I have a strong need for clarity and to understand things, often at the beginning I have a question in the back of my mind, then, throughout the creative process I find answers and solutions,” he says. “And I find a way to communicate that without saying anything. Later In the result, I have all of that recorded in to my sculpture. Finally, when I look at my own creation it reminds me of my inner discoveries and the journey during that time.”

Same Body Different Day crop_by Johannes Nielsen

Same Body Different Day #2 (crop) by Johannes Nielsen

His words make sense of the energy his figures and animals exude. The process of creation allows Johannes to empty his own emotions, and so it’s perhaps only natural that his sculptures resonate with the buzz of unspoken emotion. Despite this, the pieces seem open to welcoming more – to soak in human anxiety and replace it with quiet.

Contrary to the perfection of the completed sculptures, mistakes are a crucial part of Johannes’ methodology. “My creative process is often about giving myself permission to fail,” he confesses. “For each finished sculpture there are several failures behind it. I keep trying and trying, modeling and carving in the sculpture: sometimes it crashes, other times it fails. At the end I try to save the best accidents and throw out the bad ones. And often the original idea and the finished result are two completely different pieces of art.”

Echo From the Soil by Johannes Nielsen

Echo From the Soil by Johannes Nielsen

He adds: “I rarely have a previous image or a vision for a new piece of art. Often I only know how large I want the finished sculpture to be, and then I see my creative process as a way to sketch and daydream. It’s then I feel there can be magic moment captured in the result.”

Johannes believes he is growing ever closer to his creative goals. “In general I feel more and more happy for each new pieces of art I create, I feel my recent work hold more and more of my own language and truth.”

The Edge of Silence (side) 16 x 14 cm by Johannes Nielsen

The Edge of Silence by Johannes Nielsen

Johannes describes his motivation as the urge for “a finished piece of art (to) somehow reveal an timeless experience. One way I do that is by sourcing my inspiration both from classical as well as contemporary art, from eastern as well as western culture. I also like to work in bronze for this reason; it’s a timeless material that only becomes more beautiful as it changes with the passing of time and the touch of people’s hands.”

There. I knew it. Art created to be touched.

Find more of Johannes work at DegreeArt.com.

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 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.

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.

 

Daily creativity with Ulla Maria Johanson

180329 by Ulla Maria JohansonIn 2014, artist Ulla Maria Johanson set herself the challenge of creating and completing a new painting every day. It marked the start of a period of intense productivity that has resulted in a series of exquisite work by the Swedish artist.

There’s a sense of spontaneous energy to Ulla’s paintings that I find utterly enticing, yet her habit of producing daily paintings began as a reaction to something of a painterly drought. “I was in a period when I experienced that I lacked inspiration, time and ability to paint,” she explains. “My dream was to paint big and have a lot of time for creation, which was difficult to combine with full time work. When I did find time, the white canvasses felt scary and I rarely managed to make a whole painting I was pleased with.”

Ulla’s frustration grew, until during a break at work she went to an online bookshop and sought out their art catalogue. “I found Carol Marine’s book Daily Painting,” she recalls. “Interested, I read about the simple concept of painting small and often. I immediately felt that it was something for me, and I made my first daily painting the next morning.”

180509 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Luscious brushstrokes build up abstract scenes that summon up an impression of setting, season and mood.

The biggest challenge, she says, is to find sufficient time each day. “I learned quite soon to make it easier for myself by making a little pop-up studio,” Ulla says. “At first, it was also difficult to find motives and ideas. Some days it seemed hopeless and I thought about giving it up.”

To maintain her determination, Ulla gave herself a feasible end date. “First, I decided that I should give it 30 days in a row before stopping,” she says, “and then I extended it to 100 days.”

180416 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Four years on, the habit is now a deeply ingrained pleasure.

“The joy is to take the time to do what I really want,” she says. “It’s also a great liberation to have this daily habit established. At the beginning, I was often dissatisfied with what I achieved – my internal critic shouted in despair and encouraged me to quit! However, I soon found it became easy to silence the critic – the most important thing was not that the day’s work should become a masterpiece but it should become something. Who can expect to produce perfection when time is tight?”

She adds: “The next day there is another chance to do something, and then it could only get better. Painting small and often also makes it easy to try new, experimental techniques and take chances.”

180205 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Ulla usually uses acrylic paint “because it dries quickly and you can paint over with several layers. I do small paintings (15x15cm or 20x20cm) on canvas or on a board, while larger works are always on canvas.”

Ulla prepares her surface an uneven layer of white primer “so that it becomes a structure. Once the foundation is properly dry I paint with a wide brush with short, stiff synthetic bristles, rarely cleaning the brush while I work.” This allows the colours to mix with one another as she transfers them from palette to canvas or board.

“As I work,  I turn and turn the canvas to look at it from different angles and notice what appears. In addition to the broad brushes, I sometimes also use finer round natural brushes and a thin synthetic brush.”

180414 by Ulla Maria Johanson

The early stages are the most intuitive for Ulla. “When I start to work, I do not know at all where it will go. Often, it becomes layer upon layer, before the motif emerge,” she admits.

Her own frame of mind is part of the adventure. “At first, I’m curious about what’s going to happen,” she says. “Sometimes I quickly find something that feels interesting and worth exploring and reinforcing, and at others I find that the work feels it reaches a sticky dead end where the colours do not work together and I wonder how to go on. Then something happens and I introduce a shade or shape that makes the whole thing feel harmonious.”

180820 by Ulla Maria Johanson

The biggest challenge is to know when to stop. “Sometimes I’m sure the painting is done when I finally clean the brush off, and on other occasions I need to let the painting be for a while so I can study the work when it’s dried and make a choice. Maybe it will stay as it is or maybe I will change all or part of the painting.”

180607 by Ulla Maria Johanson

Ulla lives on the Swedish west coast, which influences her artwork. “I often walk and enjoy nature and sea,” she comments. “It is reflected in my art and I also find inspiration in the environments and pictures I come into contact with online and in books.”

For Ulla the finished artwork is only the first stage. “What I want to communicate with my paintings is the beginning of a story that can grow and blossom in the viewer’s mind,” she says. “It’s wonderful to hear people tell me about the different things they see in one of my abstract paintings. I’m also happy every time I hear that my work has prompted someone to feel inspired to create something of their own.”

Find more of Ulla’s work at the following: umjartoneartworkeveryday; instagram.com/umj.art; facebook.com/umj.art

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.

Writing prompt – direction

Lavender Farm way in sign by Judy Darley

Sometimes a story just won’t take root, however much you love the seedling idea. If that happens, try a change of direction.

Look at your cast of characters and assign a different one the role of narrator, change their gender, turn your protagonist from good to bad, switch from past to present tense or go from first to third person point of view, or vice versa. Far from just tweaking the occasional word or pronoun, you’ll find ripples travelling through the entire text, and may even see new plot lines bob into sight.

And if that doesn’t work, change the narrator, tense, point of view or moral code back again, but collect up the most interesting traits and nuances that have shifted along the way.

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

An abstract sense of balance

Tropical Colour By Oliver NeedsI initially encountered artist Oliver Needs at The Other Art Fair in Bristol’s Passenger Shed, where his vivid abstract canvasses sang out from his booth like barely controlled visual explosions.

“I developed my abstract style was after painting in a range of styles, and learning and trying out a range of techniques,” he explains. “I love painting and looking at paintings from most centuries. Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism are particularly influential art movements for me.”

Jungle by Oliver Needs

Jungle by Oliver Needs

For Oliver, part of the thrill is the chance to continually learn from the paintings he creates. “My abstract style seems to be still developing, but I often focus on memories and emotions and try to translate this into my painting,” he says. “I express a variety of feelings from the sense one gets walking in nature to that of going out in the busy night life of central London. Each painting tells a different story.”

Prompts to start a new work are mainly rooted in Oliver’s emotions. “I am inspired to make art by the sheer feeling of excitement like a child gets when going into a sweet shop, that sense of variety and colour and joy and happiness,” he enthuses. “Another example would be that of going to the fair ground where each ride offers a new and exciting experience and buzz. Being a creator and artist has ups and downs but the ups are of sharing positive energy and art with others, just as a great musician does with an audience, making a positive difference to our lives.”

Tutti 1 and 2 by Oliver Needs

The process of creating paintings such as Tutti 1 and 2, shown above, usually begins with choosing a base colour, which Oliver layers onto the canvas as it lies flat on the floor. “I then add relatively fluid colours, which I drip or splash onto the canvas, so to speak, rather like Jackson Pollock did as he has been captured in film and photograph a lot.”

The colour choices themselves are a vital component. “Of course, colours have subliminal effects on the mind and therefore, depending on my mood, will change accordingly,” Oliver explains. “I will try to let myself go up to a point and choose each colour according to how I am feeling at a particular moment, but also considering what I feel will work with well with the previous colour applied onto canvas.”

Redwood by Oliver Needs

Redwood by Oliver Needs

He admits that this method is often therapeutic on one level, but adds: “It’s also some kind of internal journey or release. I enjoy the interplay between the colours and lines, just like different chords in music.”

Recognising when a painting is complete can be a challenge. “Knowing when to stop or finish a painting can be a little perplexing but generally it is just about getting a sense of balance and knowing that the colours and movement of paint sits well,” Oliver says. “I guess this is just an artist’s intuition.”

Summer Fun by Oliver Needs

Summer Fun by Oliver Needs

Oliver will be showing his paintings at Parallax Art Fair in Chelsea Town Hall, London from 19th-21st October 2018.

Find Oliver’s work at instagram.com/needsoliver/ and oliverneeds.com.

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.

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A breath of forest air

Totality by Elizabeth JardineThere’s a palpable sense of the coolness, dappled light and breath of a forest in the paintings created by artist Elizabeth Jardine.

“My paintings have developed over the years, but have always been concerned with the idea of a journey, and with interconnectedness and symbiosis,” Elizabeth says. “I’ve had a love of the outdoors from a young age, growing up on the edge of the South Downs National Park, and after my BA I started long distance walking, which immediately fed into my artwork.”

Borderline by Elizabeth Jardine by Elizabeth Jardine

Borderline by Elizabeth Jardine by Elizabeth Jardine

Elizabeth has been painting woodland scenes for about a decade now. “It offers so many compositions and metaphors that I don’t think I’ll ever come to an end,” she says.  “Occasionally other imagery crops up – structures, or people or animals, but usually within a wooded space. I love to build up many layers of paint, working with gravity, light and dark, in parallel to the layers of growth and decay in the woods.”

The wooded rural areas she’s attracted to also provide the chance to explore a site’s social, historical and geographical aspects.

“I’m fascinated by the layers of history embedded in the landscape and I set off on long walks in order to draw them out, looking for echoes of the past,” Elizabeth says. “I tend to work with moving image or develop an artist book for specific research projects, but  wherever I walk I’m inevitably drawn to areas of woodland; these are the places that I feel most at home, and that I feel driven to paint.”

Satellite by Elizabeth Jardine

Satellite by Elizabeth Jardine

Elizabeth describes her paintings as “an intuitive response to place, concerned with the abundance of growing things, the shifting of light and the sense of timelessness you can encounter on a solitary walk in the woods. I explore the emotional response I had to a physical place, and aim to recreate the sense of being drawn through a landscape.”

The paintings offer up a means of communicating the feelings that rise up when viewing the landscape.

“These are the things I like looking at, and it’s lovely to share that with people,” she says. “I always leave space for the viewer in my paintings; I want to create a space where people can be absorbed, and feel drawn into their own journey.”

Drift Derive by Elizabeth Jardine

Drift Derive by Elizabeth Jardine

I ask Elizabeth what tempts her to stroll down a new path and set up easel and paints.

“I guess it’s a universal human condition to want to know what’s down the path, round the corner, get to know the world more deeply,” she replies. “I like to keep moving!”

Taking a full arsenal of art tools isn’t practical for most long distance strolls.

I used to sketch in the field but long distance walking is an activity in itself, you get into a rhythm as you roll through a place,” Elizabeth explains. “Now I use my camera as a sketchbook and starting point for paintings. I refine the compositions within photographs back in the studio as little sketches; then scale them up.”

Dark Matter by Elizabeth Jardine

Dark Matter by Elizabeth Jardine

On walks, Elizabeth carries a backpack of food, tent and various layers “to keep the British weather at bay. My knees aren’t up to carrying an easel as well! It would be interesting to spend a long period of time in one woodland, working in situ, to see how that would change the feel of my paintings.”

Elizabeth adapts her process as her painting progresses.

“At the start there is so much potential, and towards the end it is easy to overdo it; I slow right down,” she says. “I try not to get too tight or precious, but keep the spontaneity and energy of the first strokes. I don’t like to have too much control over the work, as long as it is underpinned by a solid composition, and by a real place that I’ve walked though or slept in.”

Potential Vorticity by Elizabeth Jardine

Potential Vorticity by Elizabeth Jardine

But how does her own frame of mind shift between the beginning of a work of art, and putting down the paintbrush at the moment of completion?

“Watching a painting unfold into some kind of resolution is a process of discovery, like walking round a corner, or taking in a new view,” she says. “I like there to still be a sense of potential, a feeling that it could still grow, or change. For me they feel ‘finished’ when they still sort of hover on the verge of becoming – it keeps them alive.”

Fairway by Elizabeth Jardine

Fairway by Elizabeth Jardine

In 2017 Elizabeth was selected to be resident artist in Yeovil Country Park’s Water:Meadow:Wood project, which aimed to foster greater engagement with the park. “Each year focused on a different element of the park, with a different artist each time,” she says. “My element was Wood, and I worked with children with special educational needs in the wooded areas, using clay to explore the trees and imprint a record of our time there. Creative activities are an amazing way to embed people in a place, encourage them to spend time there, and look closely. The children I worked with gained so much confidence from working outside, and made some wonderful artwork as well as building a sense of togetherness.”

She adds: “I think it creates a sense of belonging too, that of belonging to a place rather than of owning it, which is really important for our health, happiness, community and for the future of the planet.”

Find more of Elizabeth’s work at www.elizabethjardine.com

“If you’d like to be invited to exhibitions and events please join my mailing list – email art@elizabethjardine.com.”

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.

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.”

Suspense by Nigel Shipley

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.”

Warm Grey and Yellow Gold by Nigel Shipley

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.

June 2013, part of Nigel Shipley's Tango series

June 2013, part of Nigel Shipley’s Tango series

“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.”

Taste of Heaven by Nigel Shipley

Taste of Heaven 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.”

Autumn Landscape by Nigel Shipley

Autumn Landscape by Nigel Shipley

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 www.nigelshipley.com. “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 SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley(at)iCloud.com.