An introduction to Beachcombing Art

Richard Blacklaw-JonesRichard Blacklaw-Jones

Home is Pembrokeshire, Wales, pretty much the Westernmost part of Northern Europe. The North Atlantic is my immediate neighbour and I frequent the beaches here looking for what the sea chooses to bring me I’m married, 56, with 4 daughters. No sympathy please, I’m well used to it by now. I started making pictures about the year 2000. I’m not really sure why I started but I remember being on a beach with my kids and their cousin and finding some peculiar bits and bobs. I felt driven to take it away and “do something” with it. The idea of making a picture came later. The picture which I made is one of the two which are seen on opening this site. It’s called “Who scared who – the Mermaid and the Shark.”

Around the same time I’d been on a different beach and found loads of glass including red glass, indeed big chunks of red glass. Red glass is unusual because it was always expensive to manufacture, indeed at one point it was made with gold salts. Pricey! Hence it used to be used to make small expensive things like perfume bottles. These chunks I was finding were much bigger, some even fist sized and some had odd shapes. They plainly weren’t the broken remains of bottles. There were also similar pieces of white and turquoise blue glass. I was puzzled by these fragments for quite a while. Eventually a yaughtie friend of mine told me these were the remains of Fresnel lenses which had been in navigation lights on the working boats which had previously thronged the Pembrokeshire coast.

So there I was with bags of these glass bits and no idea what to do with them. Inspiration came when we went to the Druidston Hotel for a meal (If you get a chance visit this lovely place, enjoy their cooking and take a walk along the beach). There were some drawings, watercolours and other different styles of pictures all of the same thing, the stone field wall outside. Suddenly I saw that my glass lumps could be put together to make a picture of the wall. So I did this and gave the resulting (Druidstone Wall 2000) picture to Jane, the owner of the hotel and it’s hung in their foyer ever since. I’ve since made a couple of other versions of this picture. A friend has one and I think the other was sold at a benefit to raise research funds after a friend died of a brain tumour. “Double Dragon” is another early glass picture from the start of my career and this is one of the pictures seen on opening this website.

At first I only made glass mosaic pictures (see gallery). But while searching on beaches for the glass I started noticing the bright verdigris green of copper bronze fragments. I’m a sucker for a strong colour and this bright green really caught my eye. We were having work done on our roof at this time and there was lots of old damaged roof slate laying about. I cut some circles out of the slates and spent a while smoothing and polishing their surfaces. The purple/blue of the slate contrasts nicely with the verdigris green of the copper bronze bits and so I started making these collage pictures (see gallery ). These were doubly satisfying because I felt I was doing a service to the environment. Copper and lead are heavy metals and quite toxic. The Milford Haven estuary used to be badly polluted from decades of industrial use. So by removing these metals from the beach (the lead went to a scrap dealer) I was improving it’s environmental quality. As well as this I was using what I had around me, stuff that was close to hand and which was otherwise considered to be waste, a nuisance, needing disposal. My family background was very definitely “waste not want not.” So recycling or repurposing was always second nature to me, and I could never stand to see what I considered a waste of good materials. It won’t surprise anyone, therefore, to know that I am a veteran skip dipper.

So there I was making mosaic pictures from coloured beach glass fragments mounted on clear glass and collages of copper bronze pieces mounted on polished recycled roof slate. I would take every opportunity to to visit a beach and was building up a good knowledge of where to go. I found almost every beach I visited to have lots of plastic rubbish upon it. All sorts of stuff complete and fragmentary, trainers or shoes, balls, fishing tags, lines, crates, nets, lures and line. String and rope, plastic bottles and caps, pens, and bits of tyre tubes. The variety is endless and it’s of all colours and textures. As I said earlier I’m a sucker for colour and I found myself increasingly thinking of using this stuff to make pictures because there was such a range of colours there to be used. I can’t honestly remember the first plastic picture I made but do have a look in the gallery to see what I’ve done since.

I like the business of going out to look for stuff, to beachcomb. I like the randomness of just choosing a beach, any beach. I like the chance nature of being on that paricular beach at that particular time when the wind, the weather and the tides have conspired to land some choice item for me to find. I like that chance element and I believe that by opening myself to Nature’s whims in this way I become the recipient of it’s gifts. There’s always something (usually more than one thing and I will often come back with bagfuls, much to my wife’s annoyance). Nature shows me her gifts and then it’s up to me to find a use for them. I call this the application of imagination.

I spend happy hours searching and almost as many making notes of the ideas I’ve had in response to a particular shape or a colour or a texture. Once I’ve got the idea worked out on paper I can go on to make a picture . These will often take a lot longer to do than to draw. I learn about and find ways to overcome the technical difficulties involved by making the picture.

I’ve had exhibitions here in Pembrokeshire, in England (Bristol) and in France (Brittany). I’m not currently exhibiting anywhere and would be interested to speak to any gallery owner who has space to fill. Please get in touch.

I’m open to commissions. If you like what you see in the Gallery and fancy having something made to order then talk to me. I’ve done lots in the past and I always get the commission finished to deadline and on budget.

If you’d like me to do a workshop, I’ve done them before and I can tailor them to your requirements. School kids, adults , daytimes, evenings, weekends. Let me know. Costs are reasonable.

I’m always interested (agog even) to know of new beaches where I might find stuff. I do have a Facebook page devoted to just this topic. Look it up and feel free to post.