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News from Shetland's Creative Scene - October 2013



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…

The other week I got very excited - I received several small (and very fragile) diamond core drills through the post, perfect for drilling sea glass and pottery. Finding good quality tools is a bit of a passion, which reminds me - I attended Craft Scotland's 'Meet Your Maker' at Bonhoga Gallery, Weisdale. Artist and jeweler Mike Finnie of Red Houss, demonstrated his own design and making processes, utilizing local materials such as soapstone. His contemporary jewellery range, incorporating Fair Isle knitting patterns, will add a "where did you get that?" spark to any outfit. Needless to say his workbench showcased a wonderful selection of tools - I was mesmerized and tried to contain my nerdy tool joy! Mike also made soldering look very easy, which is very encouraging to someone who keeps putting off having a go. More about Mike later….

If you visit Shetland you may come across a knitter's tool - the Makkin Belt - Shetlanders call knitting 'makkin'. Hazel Tindall 'the fastest knitter in the world' has created a 'how a knitting belt is used' short video and she's also written a fascinating blog post about her collection of belts. You can purchase a handmade in Shetland knitting belt from Shetland Museum's online shop.

If you're a yarn addict looking for an extra special spinning wheel - I recently discovered, via Elizabeth Lovick's blog - Northern Lace, that Hamish Polson makes spinning wheels. I had a quick chat with him and he said that if anyone wants to order a spinning wheel to ring him directly: 01957 722235. Hamish also shared a guddick (riddle) with Elizabeth. During the winter people would ask a series of riddles 'aboot da fire'. I hear on the Shetland grapevine that there is soon to be a book of Shetland riddles published, accompanied by Amy Lightfoot's illustrations. I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, here's a riddle from Hamish…

What am I? I have three legs on which I stand, I have four maids at my command, I go much faster than a mill, and yet my feet are standing still. Find the answer at the end of the newsletter.

Did you know: there's a 'Riddles from Shetland' Facebook page? View a selection of Amy's woodcut blocks - she carved 180 for the book!

Shetland College UHI student (and renowned Fair Isle knitter): Kathy Coull

Kathy is a third year mature student studying BA (Hons) Contemporary Textiles at Shetland College UHI.

I was brought up in the Borders when textiles were still a major industry. My grandmother, mother and aunt were all fervent hand-knitters. My aunt worked in the Munrospun Mill in Restalrig in Edinburgh. There was always a lot of yarns and tweeds about, much of it Shetland. I learned plain knitting, and then ambitiously insisted on copying my mother's technique in Fair Isle and other patterns…Machine knitting and hand-spinning happened along the way while I was working at a vet field station and then a research company south. Then the opportunity to move to Fair Isle came up….so I did, nearly 20 years ago. My croft has Shetland sheep, bred for colour and fine wool. I started sourcing other Fair Isle crofters' Shetland fleeces about 4 years ago, and on a small scale, now have 5 natural shades of genuine 'Fair Isle Oo' custom mill-spun.

Can you tell me about your end of year project

My inspiration started with fashion colour trend predictions and the themes that evoked 'Mystery', 'Pleasure' and 'Artisan'. I am always inspired by Shetland, its history, and its natural and cultural heritage. I focused on the Gunnister Man's garments and design elements of clothing of his era; looking at where his 'fashion' had evolved from, as well as its age and the combination of remarkable resilience over time…. My personal challenge was to bring a sense of 'today' to the work through the diversity of colours and patterns, and choices of design elements and processes, while maintaining tangible visual links to the past. I combined traditional textile skills and materials with contemporary design and knit processes. Sustainability, both environmental and economic, in relation to textiles, concerns and drives me

What have been the highlights of the BA and what impact has it had on your work

Having access to expert tuition, fantastic resources and a great bunch of creative folk to work alongside. The highlights are numerous as every day new ideas are explored and new things created everywhere you look in the Creative Industries department. I now have a deeper understanding of textiles and their significance in our lives. It has expanded my textile and academic capabilities hugely.

What are your plans after College

Designing, making, hosting workshops in Fair Isle and travelling to Labrador

Have you got any handy tips for knitters

Centre-pull balls are so much easier to work with. If you are recycling ripped-back wool, sprinkle it with a very little water, place in a polythene bag and microwave for about 30 seconds (depending on amount). Leave to cool a little, and all the kinks in it will be gone.

Kathy holds workshops covering a range of activities, including designing, spinning, knitting, weaving, felting and sometimes clipping sheep!

Dear Abby… can you tell me if there are any creative workshops during the winter?

Winter is approaching and Shetland is the perfect place to have a creative adventure, an unforgettable Nordic noir holiday and, if you're lucky - a mirrie dancers (northern lights) performance thrown in for free! I mentioned Mike Finnie of Red Houss in my opening paragraph, well, not only does he make jewellery, he also offers watercolour and sketching tuition and workshop gift vouchers too. What a wonderful Christmas present. Courses are flexible and can be tailored to your requirements and time constraints.

Shona Skinner runs Shetland Gallery in Sellafirth, Yell - a beautiful island and only a short ferry trip from mainland Shetland. Shona works from her studio and is a textile artist and painter with over 30 years teaching experience in London. She tailors each workshop to the individual - from sketching outdoors to textile projects in the studio. Shona told me that she recently held a textile workshop for a lady, while her hubby attended a wildlife photography workshop with Brydon Thomason of Shetland Nature. There's something for everyone!

Amy of Blue Sky Studio is always busy with creative projects, including The Travelling Gallery with Ana Arnett, Shetland Wool Week (7th-13th Ocotber 2013) and organizing the Fringe creative activities for the Fiddle Frenzy Festival. Little wonder she hasn't had time to update her website with forthcoming workshop dates! However, she tells me that bespoke art workshops are definitely a go-go. Anne Barron, artist and illustrator, offers art adventures for singles or small groups. Ideal for complete beginners to painting/drawing for more accomplished artists wishing to try a new subject or medium. Aamos Designs offer one-2-one 'Learn to weave with me' workshops (weave a cushion or a scarf from scratch and take home). Emma's unique contemporary textiles, available from her online shop, are must-buys (I heart her folksy cushions £49.00)

Top tip: Download the Craft Trail . Winter is the perfect time to meet local artisans.

Did you know: Jackie at PS HQ answers the many emails and phone calls we receive? If you have any enquiries about visiting Shetland during the winter and need help planning your trip - booking a ferry, finding accommodation and you don't have much time and there are 101 other things on your to-do list and you feel like screaming "Aaaaagh!" Well, don't! Get in touch with Jackie and keep life simple by letting her do the work for you. Put your feet up, make a cup of tea and have a chat 01595 989898

Why don't you…?

View new paintings: by Brian Henderson - Surface and Light opens 5th October-10th November. Venue: The Gadderie, Shetland Museum and Archives. Don't miss Variorum - an eclectic exhibition from sisters Barbara and Wilma Cluness. Bonhoga Gallery, Weisdale (21st September- 3 rd November)

Listen to traditional Shetland music: From 10th-14th October: Shetland Accordion & Fiddle Festival & October 10th & 24th: Asta Golf Clubhouse - traditional music evening (free). Join in or just listen

Go Christmas shopping : attend the Makers' Market (12th October 12-4, Town Hall, Lerwick) held during Shetland Wool Week (7th-13th October) - a great opportunity to see a selection of Shetland wool products and purchase unique gifts. A must for cool hunters: Shetland Arts and Crafts Annual Christmas Craft Fair - Clickimin Centre, Lerwick, 15th, 16th, 17th November

Age creatively! Join the team at Lerwick Library on 16th October at 7.30pm for an evening of open mic poetry on the theme of ageing creatively. Part of the Luminate Festival and based on the famous poem by Jenny Joseph, 'when I am old I shall wear purple..'

Learn to write fiction with Frankie Valente: Frankie is a successful self-published author and she's hosting a 6-week workshop from 6th November (Wed 7-9pm) Venue: Anderson High School, Lerwick. Handy tips for beginners and improvers, including how to get published.

Watch a music video: from Utrecht based indie rock band Kensington. Ghosts was filmed in Out Skerries and the video features wow-factor scenery and stars many local residents.

Book tickets : for a night of traditional music and fine wit with Aly Bain, Ale Möller & Bruce Molsky. Venue: Mareel, 3rd November 7.30pm.

Shetland artist of the month: James Thomason - a creative inspiration

"I'm a Luddite! I don't use a computer, come and visit me." And so I did! And what a great time we had chatting about life and travels and James' recent exhibition at Shetland Museum: 'Here and There' - dedicated to his late wife Anne, who introduced him to Australia where Anne worked in the Aboriginal community as a nurse and administrator in the Northern territories and he worked as an art instructor for many years, "I had this old church, grandmothers and grandfathers young and old, babies…I gave them the facilities to do art and they were teaching me…" During his time in Australia he got an insight into Aboriginal culture and learned the meaning of the symbols in dot paintings and now uses this technique in his own paintings merged with a European style. James' exhibition showcased an eclectic mix of work: paintings of Australia, images of Shetland - herring girls, men in blue boiler suits and yellow wellies -"my little sense of humour", women with kishie baskets, and thrown into the mix - religious icons inspired by his time in Athens…. I asked why, unlike many artists, he chooses to paint such a diverse range of work? "A Lowry is a Lowry is a Lowry, A Francis Bacon is a Francis Bacon is a Francis Bacon. I'm happy being diverse, and it's working for me. I don't think, Oh god, I've got to go and do another herring woman…at some exhibitions it's all the same, that's painting by numbers. How many times do you want to do the same painting with different colours?" James is refreshing to talk to, honest and without pretensions, and he creates affordable original works of art, which are exhibited and sold abroad and across the UK, "I would rather people buy my paintings who don't normally buy art, I would rather have the stuff going out of the door and I want to keep myself happy in whatever I do…"

Are you originally from Shetland

Yes, I left when I was young. I hid myself on the lifeboat, the boat that goes to Aberdeen because I couldn't afford the fare and wanted to go to London, and I did a little bit of drama in Shetland and was told I would be an awful good child actor and the first shows of Oliver was coming up and I hid on the lifeboat with dreams in my head. I didn't tell my parents and I hitchhiked at the age of 16 down to London and spent a week and half to two weeks in Trafalgar Square and I went to the audition and couldn't talk cockney, so that led me into the Poetry Society in Earls Court and then I started to do street theatre…

There was a clock in the exhibition, which made me feel quite sad…

I'm going to have an exhibition based on the clock. It is very sad…They had dreamtime - the Aboriginals, which was endless. The land never changed, they tended it and they were hunter-gatherers, and then we came and they had this dreamtime and we took our time there. The painting on the clock, it represents dreamtime, the sea, the bay where Cook landed and so I've done the painting on the clock - it represents their dreamtime and the clock itself represents our time. The colour on top of the clock, the colour of the alarm, is the colour of the Aboriginal flag - black, yellow and ochre, so the alarm bells are ringing. The clock represents our time. They have no concept of our time. I opened the church all day, as they have no concept of being at a place at 9.00….

And the burnt carpet…

There was a house in the community that had been out of use. In this house was a wonderful Persian carpet. What they did was they put it on the ground; they sat on it and put a fire in the middle. I loved that! They're not attached to material objects, isn't it fantastic?! I put the clock on the plinth, like the crown jewels.

Do you have any advice for aspiring artists

Keep at it, keep doing it, keep painting and exploring your talent and your talent is a very rare thing - your visions and imagination and your approach - how you see reality around you. Just keep at it.

Where is home

Home is here

Call James if you would like to visit his Levenwick studio: 01950 422447 (he's on the Craft Trail), he paints "hell for leather" during the winter and loves to meet people in his studio. He also has a beautiful garden you can visit - Nonavaar (he works as a landscape gardener during the summer). His website showcases a selection of his art and videos about his Shetland and Australian work. Please note - you can contact James by phone, he does not reply to emails.

See you soon!

Riddle answer: a spinning wheel!


HUGE Congratulations to Wendy Inkster of Burra Bears! A cuddly bear, called "George Alexander Louis", named after the Prince, was commissioned by Shetland Islands Council and sent on behalf of the Shetland people to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to congratulate them on the birth of their son. Burra Bears travel across the globe and they often send postcards to Wendy, telling her how they're getting on in their new homes and what they've seen. Wendy is hoping that George will share his London news and return to Shetland for a holiday in the near future. Rest assured George will be super cosy during the winter - he's sporting a traditional Fair Isle pattern in soft Shetland colours, knitted locally from pure Shetland wool. The best dressed bear in London? Without a doubt! Read the BB story here and read an interview with Wendy in November's Creative Scene newsletter.

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