Another summer, another superb art trail to add life and colour to our town! Each year we get to enjoy this inclusive community event, and I have the privilege of covering it for this column, I try and review it from a different perspective. This article will focus a collection of artists that make sustainability their main aim when they are creating their wonderful pieces.

At a time when we should be encouraged to consider what changes we can make in support of our environment, it was refreshing to see that many of our local creatives are incredibly climate change conscious. Even if you believe that the shift in seasons and global warming is a naturally occurring phenomenon then looking at sustainability from a no-waste perspective should still be important. The idea of a piece of art being created as something permanent for generations to enjoy for years to come could be a fine example of sustainability in itself, but it is also great to know when materials have been sourced to minimise their impact on the environment.

‘Ars Longa, vita brevis! – Art is long, life is short!’

Each art trail I like to try and visit new venues and new artists, as this keeps the trail fresh for me. I also find that I enjoy the ABC Art trail so much more if I don’t try and cram in too many venues and take my time to really admire the art on show. The fact that there are other opportunities to see local artist’s work later in the year also reassures me that I am not missing out! This year I made my way around six of the seventeen venues, making sure that I had time to chat with the artists themselves – as they are sometimes in great demand! I like to start my tour of the trail with a coffee and cake whilst I circle my destinations with biro on the printed map supplied.

After a catch up with Matt Plowright at Yellow Wood Café , I started out walking over to Venue K where I was greeted with a genuine warm welcome and invited into a beautiful garden with equally beautiful sculptures placed artfully amid the planting. A pig, a cat and a giant bee sat elegantly against the foliage, all made skilfully by bending willow. For fans of something more architectural, there was also a trio of willow globes on poles which had the delightful appearance of balls of wool and a collection of hearts, stars and wreath shapes hung up for us to admire.

Willow artist Katrine Scott-Mitchell was happy to talk about how she sources her materials and the process by which she transforms the whippy branches into beautiful and useful things – I am admiring a woven lampshade as she speaks. The willow she uses in her creations comes from plantation in Somerset, harvested every couple of years or so. Willow is a sustainable short rotation crop that requires little attention after it is planted and Somerset is still the main commercial growing area in the UK. I notice the different natural shades and Katrine explains that the darker brown willow has been dried with its bark left on whereas the white rods have been stripped after soaking. Dried willow needs to be soaked before it can be woven, and can take several hours to become pliable enough to bend. As well as selling her wonderful willow products, Katrine also runs workshops from her Beeston studio.

Just a few streets away at Venue J I was pleased to reacquaint myself with Mark Lowe, and meet his vibrant wife and business partner Marianne. The wooden chopping boards, coat racks and tealight holders are all superbly crafted from FSC certified oak from sustainably managed forest and inset with terrazzo offcuts from fellow creative Olivia Aspinall’s workshop. Their pieces are designed to be timeless, both stylish and practical that will stand the test of time. I first met with Mark in the autumn of 2019 and featured two of his cleverly adjustable lamp designs in an article entitled Dark Nights, Bright Lights.

Mark and Marianne have significantly extended their product range since then, later additions being the ‘Hellene’ propagator and the ‘Mabel’ candleholder that has just a touch of the Wee Willie Winkie about it to be considered a classic. I have always loved the flexibility in the options they offer, when buying a lamp it is possible to  customise not only the shade but also the flex that is visible in their designs. Colour is so important in our lives, and the right colour can make or break a product, so it is one of their unique selling points, also one that will ensure the product is likely to be hung onto and cherished.

Venue I Helen Bulmer is printmaker Helen Bulmer’s home. Helen was our featured artist in Issue 79 and as well as having a wide selection of her fabulous prints on display, she was also hosting fellow ex-art teacher Ann Price and her delightful wool felted pictures. Although both artists have leaned towards nature for their inspiration, Ann’s soft focus images are a complete contrast to the bold, graphic style of Helen’s prints.

Ann tells me that she has painted in watercolour for many years and this has allowed her to apply her knowledge of how to build up the layers to produce a convincing landscape in wool. She favours the dry felting technique, which she applies to a background or fabric or wool attached to a foam backing. She build up blocks of colour with a twelve needle embroidery machine but adds the finer detail with a single sharp needle, that catches the wool as it pierces the layers. I love the textured finish and dreamlike quality of the countryside scenes that seem to hold all my childhood holiday memories in one small framed picture.

Ann was demonstrating her felting technique on the day, it involves pinching a few pieces of the wool to bunch the fibres a little, then stabbing the needle in a perpendicular motion to bond it with the surface. Sheep fleece is another abundant material, produced by farmers as part of their animal care program which can be dyed easily to produce a range of colours. Ann tell me her felting wool comes from farms in Yorkshire and she enjoys sourcing a wide range of different shades for her work so that she can recreate nature in all its multicolour glory. She retains the textured look of some of her one-off pieces by mounting them in box frames that showcase effectively the depth in each image.

This year’s ABC Art Trail concluded for me with a quick “hello” with Matthew Lyons in a nearby studio gallery at venue N, who has his rescheduled exhibition of twenty portraits of people from Beeston People of Beeston coming up soon – look out for dates. There was also just time for a brief chat with newcomer Rhea Williams, who had a collection of lino prints in the garden at venue M, photographer Lynne Norker’s creative home.

If you didn’t manage to catch a particular artist at this weekend event, there will be another opportunity at the ABC Art Fair on Sunday October 9th at Attenborough Village Hall, or you can pop over to their website for links to all of the artists involved.