Tag: local artists

Featured Artist – Helen Bulmer

by Debra Urbacz

I first became aware of Helen’s work last September at Canalside Heritage Centre during an exhibition changeover, which was made slightly weird by the wearing of masks and muffled conversations. Her perfect prints radiated bright shots of colour from the stark white wall. With inks as intense as her hair dye sitting well with subtler pastel shades, those paper prints commanded  attention – the heavy line work succeeding in emboldening them further.

I met up with Helen again in Bendigo this month, where we  swapped secondary teaching tales over a welcome mid-week glass of sparkly wine and talked about her artistic inspirations. It is probably unsurprising to learn that Helen was very much taken with the use of tone and pattern in works by Henri Matisse. The vividness and bold forms are very much evident in her prints. “I like colour!” she exclaims. “I have tried to be subtle but it doesn’t work.” Her signature hues are orange and turquoise, simply because they look so good together.

Helen has always had an interest in making art. Recognising her passion and talent early on in life led her to study the subject beyond ‘O’ Levels, eventually graduating with a degree in Graphic Design from Newcastle University. She qualified as a teacher in 1985 and spent 30 years to encouraging young people to engage with their artistic sides before taking the decision to leave in 2015, taking life at a much slower pace. We talk about the rewards and challenges of the teaching profession and how all-consuming it can be – leaving little time for other interests and connecting with people outside of education.

Suddenly with all this free time, Helen began to explore opportunities to get involved with the community and develop her own artistic practice. She volunteered at Oxfam for a short while, joined the Embroiderer’s Guild and began working with the WEA, delivering print making courses. However, it wasn’t until meeting fellow Beestonian Janet Barnes that she started to feel part of a wider creative community. Janet was involved with the restoration of the weir cottages, which have now been reincarnated as the Beeston Canalside Heritage Centre, a popular spot for visitors to enjoy a bite to eat among beautifully maintained gardens to the backdrop of Beeston Weir. Janet also ran an art group at The Boat and Horses which Helen enjoyed attending.

Encouraged by the centre’s amazing potential as a hub for local creativity, she organised the opening event in the June 2017. The Grand Opening was welcomed, after almost ten years of planning, and very well attended by those in the local community who had been watching the renovations take place. There have been some wonderful events and exhibitions there and Helen is keen to see these continue. Originally involved in promoting the educational side of what was on offer, Helen has since taken over the responsibility of ensuring there is a continual display of local artist’s work in the tearoom gallery space.

Her own work flourished during the pandemic. A difficult time for many, she found that becoming absorbed in producing lino prints was ideal to pass the time during the first lockdown. She remembers this as a ‘positive experience.’ Helen felt she had been given permission to ‘stay put and slow down.’ Creativity was a marvellous escape and the lengthy printing process was something she could turn to at different times of the day and keep herself purposefully occupied.

Taking inspiration form her own garden, she tends to focus on the simple still lives she creates by bringing cut flowers and plants inside to sketch. Once she is happy with the composition of the sketch, she transfers this to a lino block and carefully carves out the first colour that she will be printing – lightest colours first. Reduction lino-printing relies on calculated cutting and printing techniques that allow the final image to be built up in layers. Each colour must dry completely before over-printing so Helen prints around twenty five at a time – using eight colours on average.

Though she plans each print carefully, it really is the ‘luck of the draw’ how they will turn out and this adds to that initial excitement of seeing whether a new design will look as it was anticipated.

Her casually created tableaus contain objects she feels compliment each other in form and colour. It’s as much about the shapes that are made as the colours themselves and it can several attempts to get the shade just right. She reveals the difficulty she sometimes has with which colour she is supposed to be cutting out first, especially as more of the lino is cut away, so on her latest block she decided to colour the design onto the lino of her new print of Chinese Lanterns.

Hailing from the North East, Helen met her husband whilst at University in Newcastle and later followed him to Beeston where he had secured a job with Broxtowe Borough Council as a community worker. We speak fondly of Georgette’s the Florist, which was on the corner of Stoney Street and the High Road and is now the O2 Mobile Phone Shop, as Helen recalls buying flowers there every week and she was ‘always excited to see what they had in each week!’ She loves the diverse community and lively feel of the town and is happy she chose to settle here. This year is the first that she has taken part in the ABC Art Trail and thoroughly enjoyed it. She had set out a print in the various stages of adding the colour and visitors seemed to find this particularly fascinating. Sharing knowledge and influences seems to be the most rewarding aspect about the Art Trail for artists – as well as the interest in their work of course.

You can delve into more of Helen’s wonderful work via Instagram.



Eyes of Wonder

by Debra Urbacz

It was truly a treat for our community to have the ABC Art Trail back on the calendar this year, a timely reminder of the value that creativity has on our well being.  A little later on in the year than usual, nevertheless with its usual buzz, artists and patrons opened up their homes to bring us a physical gallery that spanned approximately four square miles of Broxtowe borough.

As in previous years, I cycled round the trail. This year though I was accompanied by a good friend and her eight year old daughter, Erin. Having never visited the trail with a child in tow before it became apparent that our progress might be a little slower. However, what she lacked in cycling speed she more than made up for with her wide-eyed perspective. Genuinely interested in getting her view of works to photograph and write about, I asked her to lead me to her favourites and tell me why she liked them more than any of the other brilliant works we saw.

We started down by the canal at Canalside Art, after a leisurely lunch at the Heritage Centre. Erin chose almost every painting of the dozen or so placed on easels around Janet’s garden for me to photograph,  but was in the red brick studio where she found her favourite painting – Pedro the rescue dog. “The doggy is cute and I like the colours in the background, they are calm and peaceful. The dog looks happy.” She stood observing Pedro as he sat obediently on his floor cushion, his eyes two shining Minstrels staring back at us from the canvas.

I wasn’t sure what an eight-year old would make of the haunting figures and sombre palette of Oliver Lovley, but as we ventured through the open front door on Burnham Avenue she was immediately drawn to the large square painting in the entrance hall. She noticed he had used “just three colours for the whole painting” and commented that “the tree looks really weird.” And she was right, there was something unsettling about that tree’s fractured form but at the same time it was elegantly beautiful.

We stood together and watched over it in silence for a short while before moving into the main room where Oliver was painting, surrounded by a large selection of his work.It took us a long time to get round them, captivated by the tiny painted figures captured in each frame.

It was clear that the bold colours of Oksana’s textile work would easily attract attention and Oksana herself was happy to share the process of rag rug making to a curious child. Naturally she loved the bright ‘fiery colours’ and found it difficult not to run her fingers over the pile, especially as she had seen the bag of fabric that was being used to make the rugs. However, it wasn’t until we pedalled our way to Red Lion Pottery that I felt my young companion was truly inspired.

Alan Birchall is always happy for visitors to pick up his pots and her little fingers were definitely enjoying exploring the different textures and patterns of his plates and bowls. She was particularly entranced by the collection of ceramics on the many shelves of his small studio. Pointing to a blue glazed bowl she declared, “ I like these pots because it’s like the ocean blue colours. It makes me … basically feel wooshing waves in my head. It reminds me of the sea.” I could picture the “ziggy-zaggy” pot she described and the “dabs of blue” on another as she flitted excitedly from shelf to shelf.

Zoe Zegzula’s textile toucans also caught the keen youngster’s eye but it was the panoramic landscape of lush olive grass velvet grass and spidery black trees that she requested I photograph. Again it seemed to be the variety of textures that interested her. On our last stop at Karen Attwood’s she elaborated on this further when stood looking up at one of Karen’s wet felted trees. “They have used lots of different fabrics and different colours of fabrics. It feels autumny because of the colours.”

It was rewardingly refreshing to view the artwork through a child’s eyes. We can learn a lot from their honest reactions and responses, maybe it IS simply beautiful because it is colourful.

Another lesson was also learned on that day, and that is how important it is to take your time to examine the details and look at the world again like everything is new and wonderful. Thank you Erin.


Please note; the ABC Art Fair is on Sunday 10th October from 10-4pm at Attenborough Village Hall.

Featured Artist – Oliver Lovley

Featured Artist – Oliver Lovley

If you were a frequenter of the Malt Cross BC (Before Covid) then you will undoubtedly come across posters advertising Oliver’s life drawing classes or indeed the man  himself immersed in a bit of live painting as the artist in residence. I can distinctly remember a slender grey jacketed man sketching at one of the pedestal tables, to a lively background of cheerfully chattering people enjoying the architecture and supping their fine ales.

It was great to have the opportunity to catch up with Oliver again in the newly refurbished Greenhood Coffee House this July and talk to him about his recent work, which appears to have gained momentum since live exhibitions have become a thing again. Although we met briefly when Oliver joined the ABC Art Trail back in 2019, recent events have curtailed networking in general so it’s taken time for our paths to cross again despite both of us living in Beeston. He shows me his sketch book of observational figure drawings as we chat over an excellent coffee, and explains the process as capturing just enough information to ‘describe the people’ – the act of studying subjects as his connection to the outside world.

Oliver was born in Grantham but his parents moved to Nottingham when he was a baby. They based themselves in Newark and were living in Keyworth by the mid-80s where Oliver grew up and went to school. Although his degree at Loughborough University was Illustration, his course prepared him well for a career as a fine artist with an almost military regime of daily drawing. Having ‘tried unsuccessfully to be an illustrator’ down in London, following the success of a short animation film described as ‘hauntingly beautiful by Brief Encounters Film Festival judges in 2002, a disillusioned Oliver returned to Nottingham. Although there were signs that he should continue to hone his craft, as the portrait of his father he submitted for the prestigious National Gallery BP Portrait Award that same year made it through to the final exhibition.

Back in Nottingham, Oliver spent his time painting the landscapes around Keyworth and Belvoir Castle. Many of his earlier paintings are small watercolours depicting the natural forms of trees, fields and hedges in muted shades. They are delicately beautiful in their luminosity. Building up a collection of paintings led Oliver to look for commercial opportunities and came across the well-established Arts and Craft Fairs run by Alan Woolley in Beeston and West Bridgford. Growing interest in his work gave Oliver all the encouragement he needed to continue painting and selling at local events, securing commissions as his popularity expanded.

Another great event for him was the rather magical Craft in the City. A festive fair created by Anna French, Oliver felt his work was appreciated and talks about the encouragement he received from Anna and the supportive creative network in Nottingham that he felt lucky to be part of. Rather than competing with each others for the spotlight, there exists always a sense of mutual respect for the talents of other creatives which empowers the whole movement.

Approaching the welcoming team at Malt Cross at the end of 2015 led to a progression from artist in residence to him being invited to exhibit a selection of his work in their gallery space the following summer. Although this was not Oliver’s first exhibition, he felt that he had learned a lot since returning to his old school and exhibiting work in 2011 which was a strange if positive experience and he sold some of his paintings, which was incredibly rewarding.

As a follower of Oliver on social media, I have been noticing his newer work and the much more figurative nature of his subjects. He refers back to what he was taught in his illustration degree about the ‘visual language’ of creating an image – ‘the marks you make are your signature.’ His detailed sketches inform his paintings and he has gathered plenty of material to build up convincing forms. He applies a thick slice of paint with the palette knife first to give the figures substance, then adds in the finer detail with a fine brush, fading them into the background as objects that are further away do in real life. He describes his art as ‘explaining what’s there and talking about the emotions involved.’ He observes the scene and uses his ‘visual language’ to build in the stories. And he builds these beautifully, in textured layers.

Oliver talks through the process of how Football Crowds 2 came into being, an hour or two on Trent Bridge, intently studying the mannerisms and translating them into a serious of meaningful marks on the pages of his sketchbook. Catching glimpses of poses enabled Oliver to recreate the tension in the everyday scene, of football fans impatiently waiting for entrance to a pivotal game – instantly recognised by a football fan as the Nottingham versus Derby match. Despite not being a football fan himself, he totally captured the essence of the passion supporters feel for their team and their club. I particularly like the spectral shape of Nottingham Forest Football ground in the top left of the painting. It hangs in the air, a historical landmark, its heritage etched on the city’s skyline. The slightly contorted figures discomforted and restless and sombre tones belie the nervy anticipation.

You might also be surprised to learn that as well as being a rather accomplished painter, Oliver is also the frontman of the band Dog Explosion  – his sidekick being a small but rather formidable looking stuffed dog. Dog Explosion is one of the sound affects on the synthesiser he uses to make music to accompany his generally explosive lyrics. A contrast to the way his paintings slowly manifest before your eyes, he describes his songs as more of an ‘announcement!’ An onomatopoeic assault of words tumbling forth, often an expression of ‘life and its many frustrations’ there is definitely the same resonance of discord in his art.

Described by Left Lion’s Bassey Easton as ‘the kinda sound Sleaford Mods would make if they were middle class executives living in 1984 and singing about ulcers caused by their stressful jobs in the City.” It’s definitely worth a listen!

Oliver teaches classes at Artworks and will be setting up a selection 0f his paintings alongside knitwear designer Oksana Holbrook on Burham Avenue in Attenborough for the Art Trail this year. As well as ABC Art Fair at Attenborough Village Hall on October 10th you will find a selection of his works at Cupola Gallery in Sheffield and at Lakeside Arts in the coming year.

Dog Explosion will be performing with Obi Rudo at The Chameleon in August and will be starring at OXJAM again later in the year.