By Laurie GoodladNovember 19th 2020

Shetland-based artists draw so much inspiration from the world around them, like the ever-changing seas, the rich heritage of fishing and how the weather can dramatically alter the landscape in a heartbeat. In this blog, we look at how the sea inspires some local artists' work.

Shetland is a hub for creatives and, for those who work from small studios, the physical and cultural landscape gives rise to a variety of beautiful work. The annual Craft Fair is an event organised by the Shetland Arts & Crafts Association and in 2020 this is replaced with a socially-distanced craft fair at the Bonhoga Gallery in Weisdale, in partnership with Shetland Arts. You can book your slot online via the Shetland Arts website. For works by artists mentioned in this blog post, you can also buy them direct from the artists’ websites.

Ruth Brownlee is an artist based in Sandwick who is well known for her dramatic seascapes, rough brushstrokes and unique play on light. Painting the sea into her canvas, she can perfectly capture the raw energy and power of the sea on our wind-ravaged coastlines. She has exhibited her work across the UK in popular shows, and she continues to document her days on Instagram, giving an insight into where she draws her inspiration from. Her studio and work have also featured in the hit BBC drama series Shetland.

Ruth says that her work is “based on recent responses to the rugged, dramatic environment of Shetland and its visual drama of constantly changing elements against the coastal landscape and the North Sea.”

Find out more in our recent feature How Shetland inspires me: artist Ruth Brownlee.

Giving us a window into Shetland’s wild winters and the tremendous power of wind and sea our photographers can capture the unbridled power of the sea, our dramatic landscape and that magical northern light which draws so many creatives to Shetland. Susan Molloy of What Susan Sees (who captured the dramatic image of the Hams of Roe at the top of this post) photographs Shetland’s dramatic ever-changing light and shares them to her Instagram page.

Meanwhile, emerging local photographer Ellie Duncan focuses solely on the sea. Capturing the rolling waves that crash in on our shores, her work shows us that no two waves are the same! The colours and energy she contains in each individual wave featured in her work draw us into the scene so that we feel we are sharing that moment with her. Her prints are available to buy on Etsy and you can read more about how the sea inspires Ellie in our recent interview.

The sea also inspires one of my favourite local artists, Gilly Bridle. Gilly B’s colourful, fun and bold designs are both eye-catching, beautiful and full of energy. Fishermen inspire much of her work, featuring bold Fair Isle jumpers and the wildlife around our shores. The bulk of her work is produced around original paper cut artwork and bold imagery. She sells prints, cards and gifts inspired by the life she sees around her in Shetland.

So strong is Shetland’s connection to the sea that it has inspired a whole collection of jewellery by Shetland Jewellery. Seascape is a collection inspired by the “wild seas that surround the Shetland isles.” The range “incorporates the sea colours in designs of flowing waves and foaming tides”.

Julie Williamson is a Whalsay-based designer producing printed textiles, furnishings and ceramics inspired by Shetland’s history and culture, and, in particular, our deep-rooted connection with the sea. Her designs have a real historical theme with many scenes depicting fishing and crofting in days gone by. Each of her designs has meaning and a story or memory to tell.

Another local knitwear designer who uses our fishing heritage to inspire contemporary and creative design is Hoswick-based Nielanell. Niela’s designs are cutting-edge, stylish and bold but with a distinctly traditional twist. Her Smookies are described as a modern Shetland jumper; a fusion of two classic garments. A smookie is a traditional fisherman’s smock worn by fishermen until fairly recently. Into this, she has incorporated the distinctive Fair Isle design to give the garment a contemporary twist.

Find out more about Shetland’s vibrant arts and crafts scene via the Craft Trail, which maps Shetland’s creative landscape, leading you on a journey of discovery throughout Shetland.