For Speldiburn Café’s third online exhibition of 2020, we are delighted to present the work of illustrator and designer GillyB.

GillyB's Pictures

Artist Q & A

Please introduce yourself and your work

My first interest in art came from drawing princesses. I was better at drawing these and ponies than anyone else at my primary school. This led to commissions for principal characters in nativity friezes at Christmas and space men in science projects.

A long time later I gained a degree at Manchester Polytechnic in textiles where I specialised in knitwear design for my final year. Then life happened and my art was squashed between family life on an inner Hebridean island and varied part-time employment. My design work has been a constant throughout this time but, it was not until I came to Shetland that it became my full-time employment.

Your work features lovely imagery from Shetland and captures delightful details of island life. Can you tell us a little about how an idea for an illustration or design begins?

I like to walk and as I walk, I notice things in the environment that delight and intrigue me. The differences between one place and another. I might be inspired by a specific combination of a bird I see, the weather I see it in and someone that I pass. These things are very much about being in that place at that moment and they spark an idea for a design or illustration.

The best ideas come to me when I am walking. There is something about being in motion that lets my thoughts flow.

How does sketching inform your work?

Sketching affords me the time to slowly absorb a place. I can really focus on the details, shapes and textures that make up the landscape and seascape at a particular time of year. It helps with the background information in a design, like the variety of grasses and plants, how they move in the wind or the shapes I might want to cut in a paper cut to try and describe the movement of the sea. I also just love the quiet contemplative and concentrated time that it affords me in just enjoying the outdoors.

Since moving to Shetland in 2016, your beautiful papercuts have been seen all around Shetland, as design and illustration work (folk will remember your charming designs for Shetland Wool Week 2018, for instance). But you work in lots of different ways – can you tell us a little about other mediums you use?

I enjoy using ink and pens when I am sketching outside, because I become intrigued by tone and line. I also enjoy working in cut paper collage. I like the ability to move the pieces around until I am happy with the design. As a child I loved Fuzzy Felt, which in my day was an absorbing children's toy, I think the way I use collage stems from that.

Often your illustrations are in the format of extended landscapes, almost like panoramas, with lovely playful ways of using space. How do you begin to plan out these works?

I used to live on the island of Lismore. It is long and thin. I wanted to create a piece of work that represented the island from getting on one ferry at one end and getting off the other ferry at the other end. That was the first time I worked in this format and I decided I like it. It gave me the scope to have a narrative idea in the design, or the idea of a journey. Once I have worked out the things I might want to include, I then think how I can use them to make the most dynamic composition.

The sea runs through many of your works, in the form of harbours, shorelines and beautiful waves, in fact you even live on a boat! What draws you to a coastal environment?

I'm not really sure what the answer is to that question!

Something about the movement of the water and the changing light on the water, everything is in motion and never the same. Being able to look out, that feeling of space, it's transience. On the piers and in harbours the boats are transient too, they are always leaving or coming back, there are stories to be told of those adventures and places that can't be seen beyond the horizon, untethered from shore once out of sight of land, that boat is your whole world and it can be terrifying and wonderful at the same time.

What first drew you to Shetland?

A perfect combination of sea, boats and knitting!

To see more of GillyB’s work, please visit:

Instagram: @gillybridle

Facebook: Gilly B

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