Conversations at Valhalla, Tresco, Isles of Scilly

Within the exotic gardens at Tresco is Valhalla. This is an area covered from the elements but open at the front, and is used to display ships figureheads mainly found wrecked nearby.

I first met the figures when there were no visitors. It was a grey day, which emphasised both the scale and bright heritage paints. It must be an eerie place at night, with moonlight catching on varnished lips or blue eye.

On my second visit the conservators were stretching from ladders to rub, caress and check painted cheek, curve, and gilded scroll. Talk was of paint numbers and lunch.

The workmen were warmly clad in practical paint daubed clothing, in stark contrast to the brightly painted and carefully crafted figures and fish. Although made of wood these figureheads embodied the religious beliefs, family loyalties and maritime[ heritage over centuries.The hopes and fortunes of captains and investors, dashed on hidden rocky ledges.


Ships spirits, – or what happened next!

Rosa Tacchini

Rosa Tacchini

Ships figureheads were used as religious symbols for protection. Sailors believed that the ship was a living thing, and if it needed to find it’s own way it would need eyes.

This figurehead has been deliberately left unrestored, giving her a ghostly appearance. She was returned to Tresco from the Royal Maritime Museum, she is from an Italian Barque sailing from Buenos Aires to Antwerp in November 1872 with a cargo of hides horns, hooves, tallow and wool. She ran aground off the island and was was wrecked on Tresco Flats

Rosa Tacchini

Rosa Tacchini

Roman Soldier, 19C no provenance, but possibly from a small merchant vessel from the Mediterranean


Roman soldier


Sally Simpkin’s Lament 

Oh! what is that comes gliding in,

And quite in middling haste?
It is the picture of my Jones,
And painted to the waist.

It is not painted to the life,
For where’s the trousers blue?
Oh Jones, my dear! – Oh dear! my Jones,
What is become of you?
– Thomas Hood 19C

Lesser octopus, Anglesey Sea Zoo

Water is a magic medium and re-reading these fun sea shanties by Thomas hood gave me the idea to make small spirit models.  I was studying and drawing fish moving at Anglesey Sea Aquarium from 1996-8

It is more likely that ships would be anchored and sheltering together during a storm. The shock of twisting cables and hulls being pounded on ledges of rocks would be an additional soundscape. A possible rescue? No one knows yet.

Splintered painted woods, floating fragments or hidden events unfolding.

I will leave that to your imagination!

Roman Soldier, 19C no provenance, but possibly from a small merchant vessel from the Mediterranean.Paper and mixed materials collage, Crab environment at Anglesey Sea Zoo


Open Up Sheffield 2015 – it’s here again

My studio will be open once again over two weekends

Saturday 2nd, Sunday 3rd, and Monday 4th May bank holiday,


Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th May

Opening times 11 am to 5 pm

Check the brochure for the address.

I’m hoping  you will put these dates in your family diary, and I really  look forward to meeting you again!


Travels and inspiration in 2014


Gateway Calver ancient edges

After another very enjoyable Open Studio at the beginning of May, the weather continued to work in my favour for travelling. July saw sunny skies for nine days out of ten on North Ronaldsay, Sanday and Eday in Orkney. We stayed on the first two islands. This was mainly a working holiday with plenty of walking, crawling into some smaller chambered tombs, drawing and photographing. We flew over the archipelago this year rather than using the ferries. Islands we visited in 2012 were very different, due in part to the geography, economy and connections with Kirkwall on Main Island.


Barbrook- entrance to the stone landscape

Three years ago I joined Time Travellers Archaeology group in Dore. With friends I began to investigate the history of Brigantia, the largest of the Iron Age tribes in Britain which stretched northwards from what is now South Yorkshire. This started my personal study of early Metalworking, and now goes hand in hand with coastal exploration and landscape painting, and will be included in my Open studio this year.

Open Studios 2014

Time has flown since the 2013 Open Studio! Last year I had plenty of visitors over the 5 days, and I had lots of great feedback, and I’m looking forward to more of the same this year. Open Studio 2013 So the dates  for 2014 are:

  • Sat 3rd May
  • Sun 4th May
  • Mon 5th May (Bank holiday)
  • Sat 10th May
  • Sun 11th May
and I’m expecting to be open from 11am to 5 pm on each of those days.
If you can’t make those dates but you’d like to come and see my studio anyway, just send me a message.
For more information about the event, please follow the link to

Westray Orkney July 2013

This year we travelled via mainland Kirkwall to Westray and Papa Westray. Although we did not experience the exceptional heatwave, there were very blue skies, some drizzle, moderate winds and mist. All very comfortable for walking and sketching.
These islands were lush with fairly natural meadows,cattle, spectacular cliffs and sea life. It is a landscape which exposes its previous history in abundance; slipping and sliding into the sea, and in dramatic stone splendour.
The shape, texture and colour of rock and it mineral contents define the islands. Its bones are laid bare on the archaeological sites.
From the sketch books of this trip, I have started some new work

Exploring aspects of Iceland

September 2012 and MAY 2013

Like many people I am fascinated by ice and fire. The fact that birds could accommodate and nest in such extreme conditions was a real surprise. I joined two small Naturetrek groups, because I was interested in habitat and the environment. I have no experience of regular bird watching or photographing them. I took small sketchbooks on both occasions. The company was good, and with a sympathetic leader I was able to achieve the first part of my exploration. We travelled by small mini bus, stopping at significant bird, geological, and historical sites. My sketchbooks had to be small and usable in all weather conditions and capable of inspiring further work and investigation.

The highlights of the September visit to Southern Iceland were the excellent weather, viewing the northern lights on four different nights and seeing a new country as it unfolded in autumn colour. Birds were an integral part of this experience as they have been for thousands of years. They were migrating.

The following May I booked again – with the same experienced leader but a different group, and flew to Northern Iceland where the geology is even more significant. This time the weather was very cold and spring was late as in the UK but this did not deter the birds or animals. The sounds of bird calls was overwhelming. Nest sites were very imaginative, utilising the edges of shallow lakes to gain warmth from sun and thermal activity. The larval landscape  provided shelter in the form of natural and artificial walls, the latter made with holes to break the force of the wind for young lambs. Rivers, fast flowing and still, provided food and sport for a large variety of ducks and small birds.

Godafoss North Iceland

rescanned iceland May_0001

Laka River North Iceland

rescanned iceland May_0002-1

Dimmuborgir North Icelandrescanned iceland May_0004


This time the weather varied from strong sparkling sunlight to horizontal rain, strong winds and snow showers. Some bird flocks, just balls of feathers landed and sat in pools of sunshine in the most sheltered places they could find.

This time the highlights were of a geological landscape seen in stunning contrasting colours and  varied weather conditions  as  our trip progressed west, then south to some areas we had seen in September, this was in contrast to the autumnal plant colour.

Tourism had barely started and the birds seemed oblivious of humans and got on with courting and nesting; waterfalls with their spectacular energy, the underlying thermal activity erupting, and huge power stations sited in the lava fields. Strange and dream like, this landscape seemed on the one hand very primeval and strong, and on the other like eggshell, very fragile. Myths, legends and the twenty first  century all collide.

My two visits showed an island full of contrasts.  I hope this is captured in my sketchbooks and subsequent acrylics.

Since the Open Studios 2012

Since the Open Studios at the beginning of May, I have visited the Scilly Isles.

Each of the islands has its own special character. It is the wilder side of the landscapes and the early archeology which is of real interest to me. My friend and I have both sailed and anchored here, and felt the frisson of anticipation at navigating in these waters.

Green sea Tresco Scilly Isles

tresco scilly isles

The pool South Bryher Scilly Islesthe pool south bryher scilly isles

The weather conditions, warm and with good visibility this time, proved ideal for visiting the small  islands by the small  ferries. Plants were at least one month ahead and hay making had already started. It was even good enough to do the odd tiny sketch leaving on the Scillonian for Lands End and the Cornish Coast at the end of the holiday.

These rather idylic conditions disguise the fact that over 700 ships have been wrecked on the rocks round the Islands even since the lighthouses have been built!

This of course can be viewed two ways; as a grim reminder of the challengers of going to sea with cargo and passengers, or as a legacy of the threads of skills, and human spirit rescued for new generations to emulate.

There is a collection of thoughtfully carved ship’s figureheads recovered from wrecks  around the Scilly Isles.which is proving a fascinating study, and I am planning some new paintings or collage from studies of these, and the landscape.

As I watched the Jubilee Pagaent with its diversity of ships  progress down the River Thames I started to notice not just the loving care which had gone into the preparation of the vessels for the event, but also themes of gilding , carving and the use of diverse materials, old and very new. All of which should be cherished in the 21st century. More of my thoughts will be posted as art work progresses.

Thank you for coming!

My three days of Open Studio has just finished, and  many thanks to all the visitors who have come through the door.  I now need to recharge the paintbrush and sort out the collage materials.

It would be lovely to see some of you again when I open late November, or before now you know where I am!

Open Studios is a great event for Sheffield, and without all the background organisation involved, a huge variety of creative work might remain hidden. I do hope you enjoyed it all.

New adventures..

I took time off from travelling far last year, so that I could concentrate on the move, but later this year I’ll be off again to the Scilly Isles in Spring, a nature reserve in France in the Summer and to Southern Iceland in the Autumn.
Dawn at the agriturissimo near Tuscany