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 gone from procrastinating to procraftinating!
Sometimes I can get too comfortable doing things I'm familiar with and delay activities I'm unsure of…For example, in January I was all fired up to design and create an abstract necklace (to accessorize a new dress), which involved sawing tiny pieces of copper into an intricate pattern. However, I went into daydreaming overdrive and found other things to do. I even started ironing. I rarely iron. I'm a huge fan of the crumpled look. I finally had a stern word with myself and sat down at my kitchen table. After breaking many fine saw blades, saying 'oh darn' quite a lot, or words to that effect, I got to grip with my jewellers saw frame - I developed a rhythm, the blades stopped breaking and I even forgot about cake 'o' clock…. I went from procrastinating to procraftinatng and in the process I discovered I wasn't too bad at sawing intricate shapes, creating passable jump rings and finally - making a necklace that I'm happy to wear. The end result wasn't perfect, but I learnt a great deal from the mistakes I made and most importantly what I thought would be a difficult task actually turned out to be relatively easy and hugely enjoyable. I just needed to let go of worrying about getting it wrong and be more spontaneous! I recall a quote from one of my favourite authors Anaïs Nin, "and the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." Did Anaïs get fed up of ironing, too?!
Inspired by Shetland: Artist, printmaker - Penny Bhadresa
I recently caught up with Suffolk-based artist Penny Bhadresa who specializes in magical limited edition linocuts, in addition to working with collage and mixed media. Penny offered some wise advice about the creative journey, which definitely relates to my aforementioned experience, ' be true to yourself, experiment and don't be obsessed with 'technique', find your own visual 'language' and be prepared to work hard!' Penny was inspired to visit Shetland in 2012: ' we had been captivated by recent trips to Skye, the Outer Hebrides and Orkney and wanted to venture that bit further to Shetland; the idea of another Scottish island archipelago over a hundred miles out into the North Sea with its own distinct culture and heritage and almost as near to Norway as to Scotland was alluring!' Penny's visit led to her creating several stunning mixed-media collages: Midnight on Mousa Broch, St Ninian's Isle and Loons on a Lochan….
Can you tell me about the most memorable moment during your Shetland trip?
The night visit to Mousa and its broch. The boat trip out on a beautiful calm night with the sky still rosy with the setting sun, then picking our way by foot along the darkened beach to the dramatically silhouetted centuries-old broch. Climbing the tiny worn stone steps that were built into the thick walls brought us out onto the top with views over the silvery moonlit waters back to the inky hulking mainland with its little row of twinkling lights. Soon we heard them. Wings whirring as the flocks of returning Storm Petrels cut through the air above and around us, seeming to be swallowed up by the broch walls as they disappeared into their secret roosts. The silence was broken by an unmistakable 'chirring' as these tiny birds started up a nocturnal chorus, audible from any stone 'gryke' or derelict building we passed by on our way back to the boat. It was an amazing experience.
Top tip: the evening trip to Mousa is also one of my favourite and most memorable Shetland experiences. Find out more here.
Can you briefly describe the process of creating the St Ninian's Isle mixed media collage?
I made a very rough sketch on the evening we visited; there was a spectacular sunset and I was more intent on trying to capture the effects of this with a camera as the light was changing so quickly. A couple of months later back in my studio I revisited the visual references I had collected and worked up a small collage using an assortment of papers I had kept. I was pleased with the result (this is the image reproduced as a card) and decided I wanted to explore the subject further, again in collage but on a larger scale. The shapes formed by the silhouetted string of islands and the sweep of the tombolo, I found visually beautiful; the light had a softness, which enveloped the sea and stilled everything; and there was the contrast of the rocky textures in the foreground. I started seeing all the different elements of this stunning place as separate abstract forms and playing around with mark-making using different techniques - pen and wash, rubbings, torn paper, pastel and watercolour and pieces torn or cut from some of my linocuts - was how I came to produce the finished mixed media collage. So the process of creating the finished piece was spontaneous and intuitive.
Top tip: the golden tombolo that offers access to St Ninians Isle is breathtaking. Must-do - the idyllic St Ninian's Isle Circular - ramble treasure island - a hoard of Pictish treasure was found on the ancient Chapel site. Don't fall down the rabbit holes!
Did you have a source of creative inspiration that encouraged you change career direction in the early '90s (Penny worked in the Museum of London as Press Officer)?
I think it was more a gradual realisation that I needed to satisfy the 'inner artist' in me! It was something I had put on hold since doing my 'A' levels and needed to re-visit. I was going to lots of art exhibitions to keep up my interest and visual awareness and I had just discovered the work of Eric Ravilious whose work has been a big source of inspiration.
What are your creative plans for the future?
Further develop my printmaking skills and continue to find inspiration in what I see and experience. Seeing beautiful places like the Shetlands is very inspiring and motivating - that can provide a rich seam of ideas and subjects to reflect on and translate into work. But I am also a firm believer in not overlooking what is on one's own doorstep - there is visual inspiration everywhere. It is all about looking.
Did you know: Penny's work is featuring in many exhibitions throughout the year, including The Print Garden Exhibition, Rye Art Gallery, East Sussex (22 nd Feb-6th April)?
Why don't you…?
Subscribe to my Creative Scene newsletter! Get in touch if you'd like to have a chat with me about your Shetland business or have visited our shores and been inspired to create work related to Shetland. I'd love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org
Put festival dates in your diary: Shetland's festival calendar is packed with many events throughout the year and must-visit is Mareel - a busy arts hub with fantastic events planned, including a concert with Catriona McKay and Olov Johansson on Scottish harp and Swedish nyckerlharpa (23rd March). Don't forget to make travel plans NOW! for the prestigious annual Shetland Folk Festival (May 1st-4th 2014) and the 3rd Shetland Jazz Festival (29th May-1st June 2014) - this year's theme: jazz meets literature.
Learn the technique of Frame Basketry: using recycled and found natural materials. Tutor: renowned artisan and author Lois Walpole: Feb 16th, Levenwick Hall. Email email@example.com for further information.
Book a Textile Journey: A 4-day exploration of the islands and the chance to meet the people who are involved in the flourishing Shetland textile industry. (Textile Journeys 2014: May 15th-18th, August 14th-17th, October 16th-19th)
Keep toasty warm with: Fraser knitwear: new online accessory business, based in Muckle Roe - offering scarves made in classic Fair Isle patterns. Love the Peerie ('small' in Shetland dialect) Birdseye Tube Scarf in zinc and tangerine - perfect accessory for one of my favourite rambles - Hams of Muckle Roe Circular).
Make your own lampshades with designer Julie Williamson: one-day workshop -Whalsay School: 11am-2pm - 8th, 15th or 22nd February 2014. More creative workshops (Jan-April) can be found at Learn Shetland
Get decadent with heritage lace from Shetland Woolbrokers: Dolce & Gabbana showcased stunning heritage lace in their SS14 show. However, forget D&G! Shetland is the place to buy traditional fine lace, so fine it can be drawn through a wedding ring! Purchase a forever-chic heirloom from Shetland Woolbrokers
Don't miss the Shetland Croft Cosy Project at Shetland Museum - showcased on the first floor.
View nostalgic images from Dennis Coutts at Bonhoga Gallery, Weisdale: 'Sixties' Revisited' 18th January - 2nd March
Join a class at Wu Wei Studio: Get into the creative flow and find out more about Tai Chi classes available at this new studio, located in the Toll Clock Shopping Centre, Lerwick
Follow the Craft Trail: Don't feel you have to buy anything - no hard sell in Shetland, just a warm welcome. Why not ask for a one-to-one workshop?
A kitchen table success story: Donna Simpson's Bobble Heads
Self-taught artist Donna Simpson started making Mootie Me bobble head figures out of polymer clay in July 2013 and had no idea how successful her craft business "Da Local Yokel" would become. So successful (a very long waiting list) - her order book is closed for the foreseeable future, she's reduced the hours of her 'normal' employment and she's 'flabbergasted'! Donna recently gifted a Mootie Me ("Mootie Newtie"!) to singer/songwriter Newton Faulkner who visited our shores in January to perform a gig at Mareel. The chuckle-inducing lookalikes with exaggerated features - can be viewed on her excellent Facebook page - Donna's main marketing tool. Newton Faulkner looks very happy to have received his lookalike and there's a fantastic short video of how "Mootie Newtie" was created and the moment when the cartoony caricature was gifted to Newton! If you'd like to find out more about Donna's business - read Chris Cope's article here.
Top tip: If you're thinking of relocating to Shetland and want to find out more about business assistance - pop over to November's Creative Scene newsletter and don't forget to visit Move Shetland
Meet Cheryl Jamieson of Glansin Glass - contemporary fused glass designed and handmade in Shetland
When I relocated to Shetland I bought several small Glansin Glass hanging ornaments; hearts trapped in richly coloured glass - they brighten up my windows beautifully, especially during the dark winters. Cheryl is busy with a young family but has managed to find the time to teach herself the art of fused glass and establish a thriving business (in five years!) on the most northerly inhabited island in the UK - Unst. I visited her workshop a couple of summers ago - Cheryl always has time to chat to visitors, demonstrate the fused glass process and talk about her range of contemporary jewellery, tableware and art pieces - make sure you ring ahead! Cheryl's enthusiasm and passion for her craft and her dedication to continuing professional development is quite inspiring. I last saw Cheryl at the popular annual Christmas Craft Fair - a quick hello and catch-up - over 3,000 people attended the 3-day event and so long conversations were out of the question! I got in touch with Cheryl to discover a bit more about her business and plans for 2014…
Can you tell me about your journey to becoming a fused glass artist?
Since moving back home to Unst I dreamed of having my own craft business, I just hadn't decided what craft to do! On a fateful trip to Norway I met a woman who was working with fused glass. It proved to be quite an "eureka" moment and I came home determined to find out more about it as I knew very little. I found an American glass artist called Steve Richards teaching in Glasgow and arranged to spend a long weekend learning the basics from him. There is a lot of science in melting glass and you have to be very careful in the heating and cooling process. Steve was a great teacher, very willing to share his vast knowledge, and continues to be a source of information for me now. I then applied to the Investing in Unst fund that had been set up after the closure of RAF Saxavord. This enabled me to buy a kiln and glass cutting equipment, and then I was off! I started playing around with glass, seeing the different effects you could achieve by applying different amount of heat, and using different forms of glass. I have also had a lot of support from Shetland Arts , both mentoring and financial. I have also used Business Gateway but not found it to be as beneficial. I was also welcomed into the creative community in Shetland, especially by the committee and members of Shetland Arts and Crafts . I recommend to any craft workers that they join this association.
Top tip: Attend a FREE financial workshop for creative practitioners at Mareel, Feb 15th 2014, 11am-3.30pm.
When we last met at your studio you told me about Bob Leatherbarrow and a "crackle" glassware workshop you had attended. Have you developed this technique?
After I did the course I made a few dishes but had to cold-work them by hand as I didn't have a sandblaster. I have now just bought one with a grant from Shetland Arts so will be able to have another go at this technique. Bob Leatherbarrow devised a method of creating crackle glass using glass powder and creates pieces that look very different from traditional fused glass. He also taught us how to make glass wafers. These are very thin pieces of glass made from firing glass powder gently until it just starts sticking together. I have always loved the sight of the hills in Shetland, one behind the other getting fainter and fainter into the distance. In different lights they can look purple, or blue, or grey. I want to try to capture this in glass and am now experimenting with Bob's glass wafers to see if that gives me the desired effect.
Any top technical tips to a newbie fused glass artist and advice to someone setting up a business?
I still feel too much of a newbie to be offering folk advice but I suppose I must have learned something in the past 5 years. For technical tips I'd recommend getting a good book on fused glass that explains the basics, such as how to anneal glass properly, the importance of using compatible glass. There are also some great forums online where you can ask advice. As far as setting up a business goes, I'd say approach the local agencies such as Shetland Arts and the development department in the council and see what advice they can give you. I did some training courses with Train Shetland too, which were a good basis for starting up my own business. Getting to know others working in crafts in Shetland is essential, as I know I have folk I can go to for advice.
What are the pros and cons of establishing a business/studio on a remote island?
Establishing a business maybe hasn't been easy, but for me it was a necessity. I needed some sort of creative outlet and pinch myself every day that I am doing a job I love in a place I love. It's a bit hard to articulate what it means to be doing something creative in Shetland, as so much of who I am comes from growing up in Shetland so it follows that what I create comes from that experience too. We are soaked in inspiration, whether it's the stunning scenery, the wildlife, the archaeology, geology or folklore. I think that is a massive plus for starting a creative business on a remote island. On the downside, it costs me more to get the raw materials delivered. I'd love to build a purpose-made workshop but building costs here are too high. Paying to get off Shetland doubles the cost of any training course I go to down south. Most of the downsides come from things costing more up here, but then I still wouldn't want to be anywhere else!
Can you describe the process of creating one of your favourite pieces from inspiration to the finished product?
I don't have an art school background (I studied maths at university) so I tend to have a looser design process. Some days I have a good idea what I want the finished piece to look like and so try to figure out how I need to build the glass to achieve it. Other times I just start playing around with the glass, and often making one piece will spark off an idea where I expand on the technique. Some of my favourite work is the pieces of driftwood with a fused glass panel depicting the Shetland landscape. As I'm usually rushing to make a batch of them in time for a craft fair they seem like a lot of hard work, but I'm always amazed at the transformation from the pile of driftwood outside our house to the finished pieces hanging on the wall.
Creative plans for the future?
Regarding the future, I have lots of plans but need to be realistic about how quickly I can achieve them. I have 3 children (and a husband!) and it's important to me to keep a good work/life balance. I'm always amazed at how well my business has taken off and I could be building it bigger, but I need to keep focused on the things that are important to me at this point in time. But it's reassuring to know that once the time is right the markets are there to let me expand. I want to build a bigger workshop, learn new techniques, get a bigger kiln to enable me to make bigger pieces. The list goes on and on! I would love to do collaborations with other craftspeople. I love the idea of setting glass into a piece of carved wood. I need to do more with the techniques I've already learned, such as the crackle glass and screen-printing on glass. I'm very excited as I'm going south in March to do a course with Amanda Simmons where I'll learn her drop out technique. She makes the most exquisite little vessels where the glass stretches as it falls down onto the kiln shelf. Basically I just need to make glass. It's well known in the fused glass world that once you start you can't stop. I think it's so addictive because you never quite know what you're going to see when you open the kiln. I say "every day is like Christmas", and who doesn't wish it could be Christmas every day?
If you'd like to get in touch with Cheryl visit Glansin Glass and view a stunning gallery of her work.
See you soon!
The Promote Shetland team will have a stand at The Telegraph Outdoor Adventure & Travel Show, Excel, London (13th-16th February, stand AT352). Say hi to Andy, Deborah and Misa during the 3-day event and learn more about our magical islands and Shetland's vibrant creative scene.