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News from Shetland's Creative Scene - April 2014

by Abby -

Hi, I'm Abby, author of Postcards from Shetland, and I'm very excited to welcome you to my monthly Shetland's Creative Scene newsletter. Meet artists, at home and abroad, inspired by Shetland's heritage and environment (and plenty of handy tips and insider information too!)

At my kitchen table…I've been learning how to embroider

Once upon a time, in a small Lancashire town, a stern teacher with sensible shoes, hair the colour of Sheffield steel and a penchant for pleated skirts, chained me (or so it seemed), and my classmates to antique Singer treadle sewing machines and barked, "girls, make an apron!" Every week I would dread this class; all fingers and thumbs as I tried to thread the machine; creating squiggly lines instead of straight ones, knowing that Mrs sew and sew with beady eyes would soon be huffing and puffing her way across the waxed wooden floor towards me - her thick rubber soles squeak squeak squeaking as she approached with seam ripper in hand, ready to tear at my wiggly-waggly stitches. And I would stare hard, with concertina brow, at my battered powder blue apron. I shall never forget that powder blue apron with a wonky pocket…. It took me a year to make, everyone else had moved on to floral blouses and pleated skirts. I swore, after my sewing classes had ended and I was allowed to move into the Domestic Science class - where I was, according to Mrs biscuit and buns, very good at making lemon curd, that I would never ever do any sewing again. But here I am – many years later - curled up on the sofa embroidery happy. I have learnt eleven stiches so far and I'm hooked! I'm not sure what prompted me to start embroidering; perhaps it was the notion to take a trip to Jamieson's of Shetland a few weeks ago? It all began with a visit to their website and I spied tweed squares (three for £6.00) – all woven on-site (don't miss the magical self-guided tour of the working Mill) and perfect for patching my old jeans and, dare I say it – very SS14 Junya Watanabe. Some time later, after tweedy patches purchased, I went to look for a sewing machine which then led me, as it does, because I get easily distracted (who would have guessed?) to embroidery floss in jeweled colours and wooden hoops and an easy to follow instruction book with whimsical projects and the creative ideas just started flowing… Well, the rest is history, which is where Mrs sew and sew belongs!

Now, let's move on to another old school memory - manual typewriters….

Gemma Balfour - Contemporary Typewriter Artist from the Shetland Isles

You may recall that I wrote about Fragments in the March issue of Creative Scene – an exhibition recently held in Shetland Museum and Archives, featuring local artists Vivian Ross-Smith and Gemma Balfour. Both artists explored Shetland's varied geology (Shetland has been awarded European Geopark status) and the unique formations, which make up the islands. Gemma, a graduate of Gray's School of Art, Aberdeen with a BA (Hons) in Printmaking, creates a unique visual language using the punctuation keys on a manual typewriter to make her "drawings".

I have been drawn to studying the erosion of cliff faces around the coastline of Shetland…This scarification can translate within my work through the imprints made by the typewriter…

I recently caught up with Gemma…

Could you tell me about your favourite vintage typewriter (all sourced in second hand shops in Shetland)?
I've got a collection of typewriters old and new it's hard to pick! I mostly work between an Imperial 80 and an Imperial 60. The Imperial 60 typewriter was given to me by one of my Mam's friends; I used this typewriter for most of my pieces until I was given the Imperial 80. It's an unusual looking typewriter, as you would normally associate Imperials typewriters as beautifully crafted machines, whereas this one is very industrial looking with an A2 sized carriage. The Imperial 80 was a huge asset to my work as the larger carriage allows me to experiment with the scale of my pieces and no be restricted to the traditional typewriter width.

What type of paper do you like to use?
I use a mixture of BFK Rivers paper and Somerset paper, which were both developed specially for the use of traditional printmaking. The paper has a beautiful finish and is far more durable so I don't have to worry about the typewriter keys ripping through the paper.

I loved the lamp showcased in Fragments. Can the lamp be commissioned and do you have plans for more interior decos?
I'm ecstatic so many people commented on the lamp as it was something different I was experimenting with. I'm looking into making more lamps and have future plans for material wall hangings and possibly even material blinds. Yes the lamps or any of my framed or unframed works can be commissioned. The lamps in particular would depend on the size, but I'd estimate for an 18” lamp that was on display in the show would be between £150-£180.

How did your typewriter art evolve?
I was heavily influenced with typography, using words and fonts to create imagery. Although I didn't want to be so literal with word choice and have the language confused with the image itself. After looking into the works of Cornelia Parker I was inspired to take the essence of typography in order to create my own imagery, thus creating my own visual language. My parents gave me my first typewriter in my second year of University where I began experimenting with mark making using punctuation keys rather than the letters. I then applied this method to my love of the landscape, creating textures to interpret the results of harsh weathering on the Shetland landscape.

What are you up to right now?
I'm currently preparing for a solo show "Formation" in Aberdeen at the Aberdeen Royal infirmary which runs from the 14th of May until the 11th of July. A sample of my work is being featured in a book about typewriter art published by Laurence King Publishing due for release in April. I will also be featuring in the artist directory for the international art magazine Aesthetica in the April/May issue. I'm so grateful for these fantastic opportunities and hope it will lead to more exhibitions in the near future.

Where can people purchase your work and contact you for commissions?
I am looking into setting up a website that allows people to purchase works directly from the website, but for the time being people can contact me on my current website, find my facebook page or email me directly:

To find out more about Gemma's work visit her website.

Back From Beyond: explore-create-share

Back From Beyond is a Shetland project established by Alice Mullay and Emma Perring to encourage everyone to get out there, whatever the weather, and be inspired by Shetland's stunning scenery and in the process get creative! Choose whatever medium you feel expresses your love of Shetland's natural heritage - poetry, music, photos, visual art, videos, recipes, sculptures, knitting…Then post your artistic contribution to the Back From Beyond website – you can add your name or be anonymous - it's totally up to you. Musicians, musical groups and poets, who are based in Shetland, have been involved in the project and their art from the heart can be viewed via the website. It's a brilliant creative initiative for all ages, funded by Scottish Natural Heritage as part of the Year of Natural Scotland, and a great way of encouraging people, visitors and residents alike, to explore and discover Shetland, including two National Nature Reserves and seven locations within Shetland's National Scenic Area (see locations map here). Thermals on, pack the sarnies - get outdoors and get creative!

Inspired by the Back From Beyond Project: The Revellers recorded Lower the Rope at Hermaness (a beautiful National Nature Reserve situated on the most northerly inhabited island in the UK - Unst). Date for your diary: the Levellers will be joining The Revellers for a gig: July 16th, Clickimin Leisure Centre, Lerwick.

Why don't you….?

Enter to WIN Guddicks – Traditional Riddles from Shetland by Amy Lightfoot and Laurie Goodlad: curious riddles, fascinating stories from a bygone era and beautiful illustrations.

Enrol on a creative course at Shetland College: NC Art & Design, BA (Hons) Contemporary Textiles, BA (Hons) Applied Music, Sound Engineering…

Knit a Miranda Bag: I LOVE Kyoko Nakayoshi's designs – pattern available to purchase (£4.00) via Jamieson's of Shetland online shop

Get in touch with Hazel Tindall, renowned Shetland knitter and Patron of Shetland Wool Week 2014 (4th-12th October) is releasing a DVD: The Art of Fair Isle Knitting very soon! Email Hazel to find out more:

Book tickets for: Shetland Folk Festival (1st-4th May 2014) – the party starts on the Northlink ferry (30th April)! Shetland Jazz Festival: jazz meets 1920s literature - find your inner Zelda or Scott from 29th May-1st June 2014. Shetland Fiddle Frenzy (3rd-10th August) - workshops and events celebrating the Shetland fiddle tradition and a wow-factor closing concert featuring Catriona MacDonald - considered to be one of the world's leading traditional fiddle players. More gig dates for your diary - pop over to Mareel and discover what's happening in Shetland's buzzy arts hub, including a performance by one of the finest acoustic and slide guitar players in the world - Martin Simpson (23rd May)

Apply for Creative Scotland funding: Deadline for Artists" Bursaries: 23rd June 2014

Watch Shetland on BBC One: The atmospheric Raven Black (part one and part two are available on iPlayer until April 22nd)? The murder mystery series continues with Dead Water. In the meantime, read what the cast thought about Shetland here and what author Ann Cleeves thought about the adaptations of her books here. Date for your diary: 21st April – Shetland - series one and two will be released on DVD.

"Like" Shetland Arts and Crafts Association Facebook page: lots of inspiration for creatives and up-to-date artisan news.

Get creative at Shetland Nature Festival 2014 (5th-11th July): Parkour sessions at The Sletts – 10th July (energetic, fun, creative and lots of mental discipline needed!), craft workshops using recycled materials (8th July), visit artists studio and short nature walks (Friday 11th July) and much much more…

Attend Shetland Showcase events: 12th April at - The South Mainland Young Fiddlers and Hom Bru will provide music. The main Showcase season (Shetland music and crafts) runs from 9th June – 11th August 2014. Tickets can be purchased from Shetland Box Office.

Read about the Shetland boat: History; Folklore & Construction: boat builder, Marc Chivers has relocated to Shetland and is a Post Graduate research student at the Centre for Nordic Studies. Fascinating blog and don't miss Marc's Boats – Marc is available for interesting boat building projects.

View Ora Blu at Bonhoga Gallery, Weisdale (8th March – 20th April 2014): Swiss born artist, Louise Schmid's work – developed during her residency in The Booth, Scalloway.

Attend Writing the North: Shetland Museum and Archives (29th March – 10th May 2014). A year-long project, which has explored the historical literature of Orkney and Shetland, and explored continuity with contemporary works. Attend a FREE series of talks and discussions: 10th May 2014. Find out more here.

Catching up with Shetland creative - Julie Williamson of Julie Williamson Designs

I first met Julie, a Whalsay resident (another must-visit island) and print textile designer maker, at the Food and Craft Market (Toll Clock Shopping Centre, Lerwick) and loved her Shetland inspired prints and contemporary home accessory range (especially the Fair Isle colour mix cushion £48.00). I recently caught up with her and asked "what have you been up to?"

In January I attended my first every trade fair, I was selected and sponsored by Emergents along with 7 other Scotland designers to attend CRAFT at Top Drawer London, Which was a fantastic experience, I have made a couple of good contacts and hope to attend more trade fairs in the future.

This month I held my first Make Your Own Lampshade course; everyone really enjoyed it and got to take home two lights. I am hoping to do more classes in the future with Learn Shetland, or private parties can also book.

I have just finished creating a section on my website for people to buy my fabric designs by the meter in two different weights of fabric, fat quarters and 1/2 meters can also be purchased.

Also, I've just finished doing a wedding invitation commission, which has inspired two new canvas and prints designs you can find on my website.

I am currently working on a new light shade design creating a bird house and croft house style light shades, and I am looking into producing a scarves range and hoping to launch a new kitchen range this year.

Where can I purchase your interior products and gifts?
You can buy my products from the North Rock Gallery Lerwick, and on my website: which I am currently updating, I also have on my website a local delivery option to save postal costs for customers within Shetland.

Top tip: meet local artisans and visit the Food and Craft Market. Venue: Toll Clock Shopping Centre, Lerwick (near the Co-op) Dates: Every first and third Friday and Saturday each month Time: 9am-5pm. This is where I buy: my sheepskin rugs and snuggly sheepskin inners for wellington boots; yummy cheese from Shetland Cheese and moreish home bakes from Callieu's Baking Company.

Time to say goodbye and thank you….

Sadly, this is my last Creative Scene newsletter as travels abroad beckon…Thank you so much for subscribing and to all those who have contributed and got in touch – a BIG thank you, too. Enjoy the creative journey, never stop exploring and, most importantly, always follow your heart (and Shetland's Craft Trail, too!)

All the best

PS Bill Brown, recently retired Head of Ceramics Design at Glasgow School of Art is currently in the process of relocating to Shetland and establishing a workshop in Voe. I spied one of his pieces – a Spørin" Flask, in the Heritage Shop (Shetland Museum and Archives). The Flask tells a story – when a young man was seeking the hand in marriage of his sweetheart he would offer a bottle of spirits to his prospective father in law. If it was accepted and a dram taken, the deal was sealed! The old word spør means "to ask" and the Flask shown in the photograph (the fish) is based on one used in the West Mainland of Shetland in the 1800s. I can't wait to view his exhibition: Message in a Bottle - 7th June–20th July, Bonhoga Gallery, Weisdale.

Posted in: Creative Scene

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