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September 2013 - News from Shetland's Creative Scene



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!). Subscribe here for forthcoming issues.

At my kitchen table…

I've been having a good giggle! Adventure in Unst is a fun short stop-motion animation about a family's summer holiday to the most northerly inhabited island in the UK. Brilliant! I've also been getting musical – I decided it was about time I had singing lessons – I need to improve my breathing and open up those creative chakras. I met Andy Ross, a classically trained singer (his Textile Tours are not to be missed – next tour is October 17th-20th) for a pot of tea and asked if he would listen to my caterwauling. He kindly agreed. I met him at Islesburgh Community Centre, Lerwick (the complex includes an award-winning Youth Hostel) and gave him a rendition of “All That Jazz” complete with a few shimmy-shakes. He didn't look too perturbed and I'm looking forward to my next lesson.

In the meantime, listen to short clips of Andy and his fellow Shanty Yellmen – the only male group singing shanties and sea songs in Shetland - perform on their new CD Silver Darlings. The CD showcases art by Mike McDonnell. View his stunning work at Shetland Gallery and read about his exhibition (on until 6th September) at Shetland Museum here. Some of Mike's vivid images were used as “narrative collages” to accompany the text in Andrew Greig's new poetry book Found at Sea, published by Polygon. Andrew will be reading/performing at the annual Shetland book festival -Wordplay (31st August – 8th September).

In addition to singing and spending a chill-out Sunday in Mareel's Café Bar listening to live jazz, I have been drilling sea glass and pottery and making a necklace for a friend across the pond. (Insider tip: Tresta beach on the west side is excellent for sea glass and pottery finds) If you love beachcombing and getting creative with your finds then the sea glass jewellery and sea glass sculptures from Hjarta (Jeanette Nowak) will definitely inspire you and are available to purchase at Bonhoga Gallery, Weisdale. Jeanette is also currently showcasing her work (stunning heather spheres) in the Gallery: "Lighten" – an exhibition featuring 3-dimensional contemporary textile art from Nordic and Shetland artists (on until September 15th). Don't miss viewing Jeanette's beautiful woven baskets too - the perfect stylish storage solution - a basket, conical in shape and woven from floss and bent (traditionally used for making baskets in Shetland), gathered from the seashore in Yell, is available to purchase (£39.00) from Shetland Museum's online shop. Discover more about this über talented Maker via Jeanette's Facebook page or contact:

Handy tip from Jeanette: I've discovered that if you boil up hairmoss it eventually dyes itself a lovely dark raisin brown!

One to watch: Shetland College student, Helen Ball

I met Helen in the Textile Museum, Böd of Gremista, Lerwick. She was showcasing her cushions and a wall panel as part of the end of Year "Artisan Alchemy" exhibition – a diverse exhibition of creative work by seven students from the BA (Hons) Contemporary Textiles course (Shetland College UHI). Helen chose interior design for her third year project, "because it's a personal project I chose to focus on interior, as home is the most intimate place". And she was inspired by aspects of her personal life, "I used signs and symbols which indicated something special or with meaning and created designs and prints to tell a story about my life." I caught up with Helen after the show to discover more about her creative journey:

Did you complete the National Certificate in Art and Design prior to the BA (Hons) Contemporary Textiles course?

I did…that course was what made me realise I wanted to do the BA Contemporary Textiles course. The most enjoyable aspect of the course was the quick movement of modules and you were able to get a taster of what may be your most powerful talent. I dreaded the textile module within the NC course but after the 2 weeks were over I realised working with material, trends and design was what I wanted to do.

Do you have any advice or handy tips for aspiring designers?

Try everything possible. I went into the course thinking I would specialize in knit but I found out through experimenting and trying different things that digital print actually is what I excel in.

Do you sell your work?

I do sell my work and take orders. I am currently making my cushions ready to be sold to waiting buyers. I have a Facebook page: - my prints can be seen and chosen to be made into cushions and/or wall panels. My email address is: if anyone would like to get in contact.

Can you tell me what the Arabic says on the wall panel?

The Arabic writing on my wall panel says “Brother” for my big brother. The story behind my wall panel is a personal one. The Shetland map is where my family, friends and boyfriend live and my dad works in the Middle East/Africa in the oil and gas industry (this is why brother is in Arabic). The birds flying over are to indicate the travelling and immigration birds do from locations. The roses indicate love – how delicate it is. The leopard print means living fast and to the fullest but the skulls within the print is to indicate the circle of life. The quote “You need three things; a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone” is a tattoo I have on my ribs which I like to live life by…

Inspired by Shetland: Alex Malcolmson

I first came across Alex Malcomlson's work via an article in Country Living (July 2013). I got in touch with a couple of questions and he replied that he was visiting his family in Shetland and why not meet for a chat? And so we did!

Alex was born into a seafaring family in Lerwick, "where the beam of the Bressay Lighthouse used to sweep across his bedroom at night and he was immersed in the rhythms and routines of maritime life". He studied for a degree in fine art at Edinburgh College of Art and now works from his studio in Harrogate creating "boxworks" which are strongly influenced by ship dioramas, Joseph Cornell's symbolic constructions and marine folk art.

Alex creates his own constructions from interesting objects found and driftwood - many beachcombing "treasures" are sourced from Shetland…"If you were to simply create that shape it wouldn't have the same power…The thing you can't force is the idea which is partly why I come to Shetland, why I go on ships, because you get an idea, you see something; a shape, just something that leads you to a point where you could think well, this is a possibility. I can make an image out of this. Once you've got that you don't have any excuse not to work…"

He uses acrylics to create the seawashed effect; rubbing it back to highlight the grain of the wood and uses a variety of techniques to construct the boxes and "capture the moment" - including collaging, metalworking and carving, "I use a lot of references to Shetland and the sea – it may be a lighthouse or a map or a fishing float." He also makes hollow wooden birds, based on the form of an upturned boat, "in Shetland, when a boat comes to the end of its life, you take it home and upturn it to make a hen house or a bench - that's where my birds come from." Current and forthcoming exhibitions can be found here.

Is there a particular artist that influenced you in Shetland?

Nicholas Barnham. As a youngster I use to see exhibitions of his work at the old Museum… (In 1966 Nicholas was the first artist to have a one-man show at the old Museum and has been inspired by Shetland for more than 50 years. View his work at The Shetland Gallery, Yell

Favourite place for beachcombing

Round the Knab (Lerwick) is about as good as any place as I am usually trying to find something from a boat, which has been painted many times and weathered. I found a great piece of red oxide painted engine cover (I think it was), which has inspired a whole series of work.

Handy advice

If you're ever stuck with making something the best thing to do is just start making anything almost and the idea will come…

Creative Influence

Guy Taplin – I use to sell his work (Alex established and ran Godfrey & Watt in Yorkshire for over 20 years before becoming a full-time artist), he's a hero in my business…the things he does you can't teach.

You're on a desert island – choose one tool

A small hand held axe - I could make a boat and get off the island!

Alex Malcolmson:

Why don't you...

Learn the art of drystane dyking: join Davy Inkster at Smuggins Croft, Burra and learn about working with stone and the basics of drystane dyking (2-day course: 7th/8th Sept, 14th/15th Sept, 21st/22nd Sept 28th/29th Sept) Book: or call 01595 743888

Purchase unique Fair Isle patterns from "The World's Fastest Knitter": Hazel Tindall is a renowned Shetland knitter and designer. Visit - read her superb blog, watch a handy knitting demo, learn about her fascinating life and download unique patterns (love the Starn cushion cover). She is holding a Colour Knitting Workshop during Shetland Wool Week (7th-13th October).

Visit Simply Vintage: I met Jane of Simply Vintage at Shetland Auctions (another must-do for vintage seekers. See Shetland Times - published Friday, for dates/times). She told me about her decoupage and upcycling business. I popped over to her FB site – constantly updated with gorgeous items in her "shop". Jane has recently started a wish-list service: "if you have a special requirement for a piece of furniture for your home…I will try and source it for you..."

Conjure up the spirit of Duke Ellington: The Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: The Spirit of Duke & Rhapsody in Blue - Mareel 11th October. Find out more here

View Royal designs: visit Shetland Textile Museum Böd of Gremista, Lerwick and enjoy an excellent exhibition: From The Croft to The Palace – exploring the story of how Shetland knitting emerged from the croft to be displayed at prestigious events i.e. "The Great Exhibition" of 1851 and ultimately worn by Royalty. Cecil Tait, of Paparwark Furniture and a member of The Guild of Master Craftsmen, designed and made the stunning display cabinets showcasing items ranging from 1700s to the present day. Exhibition on until 13th October 2013.

Join film buffs: the annual Screenplay (31st August-7th September), curated by celebrated film critics Ruth Williams and Mark Kermode.

Sing the Blues: The 10th annual Shetland Blues Festival 13th September – 15th September. A Molotov cocktail of blues with rock, jazz, Americana, soul and funk.

Attend a creative writing workshop: "of course you can use real people!" with local writer Marsali Taylor (Wordplay Festival: September 8th). Book here. I'm looking forward to reading her latest book Death on a Longship. Find out more about Marsali here

Listen to Rant! Shetland sisters – Jenna and Bethany Reid are excited to be involved in a new fiddle project with Highland fiddlers, Sarah-Jane Summers and Lauren MacColl. The quartet recently won a Herald Angel award for their performance at this year's Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Buy a stunning keepsake, a designed card, and say "hello!"

You can't beat a handwritten letter and the "Elenore von Flotow" pen is a must-scribble accessory. The wood has been reclaimed from the 19th century sailing ship "Elenore von Flotow", of Rostock, Germany. The ship came to Lerwick in October 1879, after having sprung a leak on passage from Archangel, Russia to Bordeaux in France. On reaching Shetland she was condemned unseaworthy and purchased by Hay and Co. She was hauled up in Hay's Dock and converted to a storage hulk. Eventually she fell into disuse, however, when the dock was renovated during the construction of Shetland Museum and Archives the remains of the hulk were discovered and lifted from the silt. The salvaged oak timber is now being used for a creation of a limited edition of craft items and the pen has been hand crafted from oak by Terry Atkinson of Tingwall Woodcraft. Each pen is unique in colour and grain and comes with a Certificate of Provenance. Purchase from Shetland Museum's online shop here.

Insider tip: I'm a big fan of freelance designer, Monica Pothecary's work – especially her chic fashion prints with repeat patterns of iconic automobiles. I recently visited the superb shop in Weisdale Mill, and spied greeting cards designed by Monica. Choose from a wide selection of traditional Shetland scenes inspired by a collection of photographs taken over a number of years while riding her scooter around Shetland. Traditional scenes are depicted (including the iconic Shetland washing line) with a vibrant colour palette combining hand drawing and digital techniques, "defined by retro imagery with contemporary presence". I bought a couple of her irresistible cards - the perfect way to say "hello". If you're looking for a unique textile and surface pattern designer - contact:

Did you know: since the 1840s Shetland has had a network of small post offices? Mail was the main way islanders kept in touch with their families and friends elsewhere. The service was very efficient; you could send a card to arrange a meeting later in the same day! Letter carriers were a lifeline service, and were often the only people that inhabitants of remote crofts would see regularly.

See you soon!


I recently visited artist and landscape designer, James Thomason at his home in Levenwick. We had an interesting chat about his exhibition: Here and There, currently showing at Da Gadderie, Shetland Museum (on until 30th September). We spoke about his life at home and abroad and how he left Lerwick, aged 16, for London (a great story!) He's a fascinating man and I'll share more about his work and life in October's Creative Scene newsletter. In the meantime, find out more about Shetland's Craft Trail here

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