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News from Shetland's Creative Scene - November 2013



I'm Abby, author of Postcards from Shetland, and I'm very excited to welcome you to my new 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 having a chat with business newbies

I've recently met a couple of people in the process of establishing creative businesses and both were seeking business start-up advice. Fortunately Shetland offers a plethora of info portals and courses for newbies to business and those who have an established business and want to continue their professional development. I always recommend attending Train Shetland courses, which also hosts FREE Business Gateway courses. I attended a free Business Start Up course (2.5 days) with Business Gateway and a Website Today course (1 day) with Train Shetland. Both courses were informative, and fun and if funds are a bit tight you can apply for help with training costs. Find out more here

Did you know : Shetland Arts is the arts agency in Shetland and the organisation supports arts development through a number of initiatives, including the Shetland Arts Fund and the Visual Art & Craft Awards. Find out more here

Top tip: Move Shetland is a brilliant resource if you're considering establishing a business in Shetland

Selling and exhibiting locally….

Living remotely is not a barrier to having a thriving creative business, and if you want to keep your business local - there are frequent Farmers' Markets, the Shetland Showcase at Islesburgh, a superb arts and crafts shop in the Böd of Gremista and Shetland Textile Working Museum , agricultural shows, a hugely popular annual Christmas Craft Fair (15th-17th November, Clickimin, Lerwick) and an established Craft Trail. If you're a creative and want to meet like-minded people - join one of the many local groups, including Veer North, Westside Writers, and/or hang out at our buzzy new arts hub - Mareel, and get chatting/collaborating, accompanied by fine ale from Valhalla Brewery - helps the creative juices flow! There are many galleries to showcase your work, including Shetland Gallery, North Rock Gallery, Bonhoga, Vaila Fine Art and Da Gadderie at Shetland Museum and Archives. We also have many talented people attending Shetland's annual festivals and events, including Shetland Wool Week, Wordplay, Screenplay, Shetland Folk Festival and Fiddle Frenzy - workshops are held and creatives - renowned in their field of expertise, often have the time to give valuable one-to-one advice, in addition to talks and masterclasses. The aforementioned information is just a small selection of what's happening in Shetland, there's much, much more!

Top tip: Want to work in the arts? Why not volunteer to work with the arty crew at Shetland Arts. Get volunteering here

Shetland may be remote, but it's well connected, and inspires the ever-growing creative community and visitors with its exciting entrepreneurial spirit and unique 'off-brand' contemporary and traditional handmade products, and its world famous music scene. Transferring an established business or creating the job of your dreams is possible, and fully supported locally, and you get great office views, too! Wendy Inkster, founder of the über successful Burra Bears, has proven that an island business is not just a dream, but a successful reality, in spite of a wow-factor 'I'll just put my feet up and daydream forever' studio vista! How do you get any work done Wendy?! Let's find out….

Shetland Maker of the month: Wendy Inkster of Burra Bears

You may recall that October's Creative Scene newsletter featured a story about a cuddly Royal Burra Bear called "George Alexander Louis", named after the Prince and sent, on behalf of the Shetland people, to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to congratulate them on the birth of their son. I caught up with the Royal BB Maker, Wendy, who's busy at the moment helping to organise the fantastic annual Christmas Craft Fair (60 exhibitors and attracts over 3000 visitors), running her business - Burra Bears - which all began in 1997 after making a bear as a gift for her sister. More and more people said, 'I want one!' The business has grown steadily and Wendy now employs '5 lovely ladies who sew for me, they all work from home so can work in their own time'. She's also social media savvy and her well-subscribed Facebook page is a must 'like' (pop over and view my favourite commissioned bear - Patchwork Burra Bear, beautifully made with Fair Isle, Shetland Lace, Tweed and plain knitted pieces), all this and more is happening in Wendy's creative arena, however, she still made time for a chat….Thank you!

Can you tell me about the challenges and benefits of having a business in Shetland?

Who wouldn't want to have a creative business in Shetland?! What a fabulous place to live and work. I am lucky that I can work from home, and get constant inspiration from simply looking out the window! The benefits of working from home include not having to be somewhere at 9am every morning, I can walk my two dogs and start working when I'm ready, and if its a lovely sunny day I can enjoy that too. There are always the drawbacks of working late nights and being your own boss means that it's all down to you to make sure everything is done on time. I work better when I have less time! To be honest I don't really have any challenges, I am often asked how I manage working so remotely, but can take orders online, make bears and send them off from my local post office to anywhere in the world. Simple!

Can you tell me where you source the Fair Isle knitwear for your bears?

A big part of our business is still making bears from our customers own jumpers, that's the best bit of what I do, as the jumpers have so much history and so many stories, this is what makes the bears even more special! And to see the look on a customer's face when they come to collect their bear, that's what makes my job worthwhile. We also have Fair Isle fabric knitted up at the Shetland College using our fabulous Shetland wool, and when they are available, we buy Fair Isle panels from Jamieson's Spinning.

Can you share 3 top tips for establishing a business?

  • Be original
  • Be sensible
  • Do what you love and love what you do!

Did you attend Business Gateway/Train Shetland courses prior to establishing your business? If so - which ones did you find beneficial?

Yes, I did the Business Startup course and the accountancy one, they were both really good and I would encourage anyone else thinking of starting a business to do the same.

Best piece of advice given on your creative journey?

Keep positive (Iain Muir, HIE)

Wendy's studio is a gorgeous creative space (a must-visit on the Craft Trail) and during my visit to the BB studio Wendy shared a lovely story: 'granny's bear' - featured in September 2011 Visit Shetland newsletter. Each bear purchased is gifted with its own unique Shetland name and a return to sender letter is attached, too - the bears like to keep in touch with Wendy and tell her about their adventures at home and abroad. Wendy was kind enough to share another heart-warming story about a bear called Addie. I'll share Addie's story with you in December's Creative Scene newsletter.

Inspired by Shetland: Gemma Dagger and the art of Skeklin

Have you heard of Skeklin? I first came across this Shetland folk tradition in Shetland Museum and Archives, and then again in the fascinating Fetlar Interpretive Centre. During the winter (and sometimes at weddings) Shetlanders practiced the medieval tradition of skeklin. Young people would disguise themselves in straw costumes and go from house to house seeking gifts of food, telling rhymes -'laying up guddicks' and doing a dance. The outfits comprised of a long cape, skirt, and a hat that was decorated with ribbons. This tradition survived into the early 20th century. Ewen Balfour, crofter and kishie (basket) maker, was commissioned to create a Skekler's outfit for Shetland Museum (view stunning images of a 'makin kishie' workshop with Ewen here).

I then discovered, via the Document Scotland website, photography student (UWS Glasgow) Gemma Dagger's surreal interpretation of Skeklers - photographed on Maywick beach. In addition to the images - a superb short documentary Clutching at Straws was also created by filmmakers Clint Watt and Louise Scollay, which was shown at this year's Berwick Upon Tweed Film and Media Arts Festival and features archival recordings of the late Brucie Henderson of Yell, who was recorded by the School of Scottish Studies in the 1970s. The project was inspired by Gemma's trip to Fetlar - a must-visit island.

The skekler photo: Sir Arthur Nicolson at Brough Lodge, Fetlar took the image when skeklers visited him in 1909. Jimmy Coutts of Houbie had made the straw costumes for the children. He made two straw skirts for each of the skeklers, one of which was worn around the waist and the other tied around the neck. He made the pointed hat by pleating the ends of the straw and turning them down. Ribbons were threaded through the top of the hat. Years later Jeemie Hughson, one of the children in the photo, made a replica of the hat he is wearing - look out for this hat in one of the displays at Fetlar Interpretive Centre. The image can be viewed in Shetland Museum and in their Photo Library

Did you know: Gemma got in touch with Shetland band - Fiddlers' Bid, and asked to borrow the skekler costumes (made by Ewen Balfour) featured in one of their music videos? Fiddlers' Bid features a tune called Skeklers on their award-winning All Dressed in Yellow album. View Da Skeklers - the film here

A rising star: Shetland artist, Vivian Ross-Smith

Congratulations Vivian! A big Shetland Woop! Woop! for the recent winner of a competition to create original artwork for a new Aberdeen office building. The striking four panel painting Plutonic creates a look and texture reminiscent of local granite. Find out more about Plutonic here. Vivian is a graduate of the NC Art and Design course (Shetland College) and Gray's School of Art, Aberdeen (she lived and studied in Finland for 6 months during her third year, "…I plan to travel and make more work about Scandinavia. But, I think I will always make work about Shetland…"). I read about her winning art installation in the paper and I got in touch with her and said - 'do you remember me?' (Vivian worked in the 'artwear with attitude' boutique - Nielanell and helped me choose a gift. Read about my fun retail therapy experience here). She did recall our meeting! It's my cackle, once heard… I caught up with her and she gave me an arty update and a shared a story about a trip on the ferry from Shetland to Aberdeen and wise advice given by her tutor….

You completed the NC course at Shetland College - can you tell me how this course helped with your transition to Gray's School of Art?

The NC course at Shetland College helped me decide what area of specialism I wanted to study at art school. The course was great for allowing me to work with varied materials and to try out different areas of art and design I had previously never experienced; that was really the start of my love for mixing materials and disciplines. Mostly though it matured my understanding of what art can be. Learning from tutors and working artists such as Paul Bloomer helped me progress and provided me with a really strong starting point when I made the move to Gray's

You describe yourself as a 'visual artist and an islander'. Can you tell me how Shetland influences your work?

I grew up on Fair Isle and island life has significantly impacted the way I make art. My art is heavily influenced by our natural world. I truly believe an honest way of producing work, such as learning from traditional skills fundamental to a community's heritage and making use of locally scavenged materials, forms the very core of my artistic practice. In the case of Shetland, it's history of fishing, knitting and craft has been a starting point for a lot of my work, as well as Shetland folklore and traditions. I try to merge the boundaries between contemporary fine art and traditional craft practices. I consider skills that would have traditionally served a purpose and use them in a way that is purely aesthetic. I like to deconstruct something central to a community before delivering my own understanding though my work. Being an islander means a lot to me, I am drawn to the sea wherever I go and growing up on a very remote location has fuelled my love of travel and makes me want to become immersed in extreme location.

The best piece of advice you've been given on your creative journey?

After a weekend home in Lerwick I was trying to return to Aberdeen for a drawing class on Monday morning but due to our terrible winter weather I was stuck on the Northlink boat for a total of 39 hours. I got off the boat and went straight to art school feeling very rough. My tutor, Andy Cranston, approached me and asked if I had been on the Shetland boat he had seen reported on the news? I said yes. He laughed and said to me 'When we have an experience like this, the best thing we can do is think "Can I make a painting from this?" I then went on to make a series of paintings about the 1897 Fair Isle Disaster . An event that changed the place I grew up.

Do you have any top tips and advice for aspiring artists?

Never limit yourself. Experiment, make mistakes, ask questions, try skills and areas of art from every expertise you can. Be Inquisitive, you can learn a lot from others. Never be shy in outright saying what you want or need in order to progress your own practice and career.

Find out more about Vivian's work: and be sure to view her joint exhibition in February 2014 (exhibiting with Shetland creative and contemporary typewriter artist Gemma Balfour) in Da Gadderie, Shetland Museum and Archives, "…another young Shetland artist who I met while studying at Gray's. She specialized in printmaking while I was in the Painting department. I'm looking forward to showing work with her as our art is very much concerned with the same theme, Shetland's landscape, but we make completely different outcomes.

See you soon!

Psssst…what have you been up to?

I bumped into textile designer - Donna of Donna Smith Designs (featured in August's Creative Scene newsletter) a few weeks ago and she said she was about to add new designs to her online shop. The new fab felt designs are now available! The gorgeous laser cut 100% quirky Wool Felt Croft brooch (£9.95) and Wool Felt Jumper brooch (love the lush lime colour, £11.95) can be purchased online from Not On the High Street.

Monica Pothecary, textile designer, illustrator and pattern designer, has recently opened an Etsy shop: Monica's Design Hub where you can purchase her va-va-voom limited edition iconic vehicle cushions (35.00) - the perfect antidote to a gloomy winter's day. Monica is super busy with Christmas orders, however, she's about to launch a new greeting cards range called Quirky Cats. I'll keep you posted.

I had a nice cup of tea and a chat with Shetlander, Alex Malcolmson (September's CS issue), he told me he was busy getting work ready for a series of exhibitions and his latest 'boxworks' exhibition Seamarks will be showcased at the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh from Monday 11th to Monday 25th November. If you'd like to update me with your creative happenings and your work is connected to Shetland in some way - please get in touch here and say hello!

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