Islands of inspiration for young makers

As the countdown to Christmas continues, you can be certain that Orkney’s incredible range of talented makers are all hard at work, making sure orders are met, packages are posted and customers across the world are kept happy.

As we come towards the end of Scotland’s Year of Young People, we've been asking some of our current crop of young creatives what is it about these islands that attracts such an impressive array of artistic talent.

Zoe Davidson runs her jewellery business from her home overlooking the beautiful town of Stromness. It’s a place where inspiration greets you every time you open the front door.

This old maritime town has been home to generations of artists and for Zoe, the proximity of the sea supplies her with ideas and a creative spark.

“Orkney’s coastlines and ever-changing seas inspire me every day, from the flowing waves to angular rock fractures on the shore.”

Community spirit is an important part of Orkney life, and that’s certainly the case when it comes to our innovative islanders. “The creative community is thriving here in Orkney,” says Zoe. “You can feel a real sense of support and need for it. It’s constantly evolving and growing, and it’s exciting to be part of it.”

Robin Palmer recently brought his ceramics business to Orkney after a spell working and teaching in Inverness. His unique range includes lighting pieces, tableware and 3D sculptures. Despite being a relative newcomer to the islands, he has found Orkney is already beginning to influence his work. “This place very much inspires my design process – the beaches and the surrounding seas help form the colours and shapes I use in my products.” he says.

Robin is based in the Orkney Creative Hub, part of the Ortak base at Hatston in Kirkwall. It offers workshop and studio space to artists and craftspeople, a place where they can experiment with ideas and share inspiration with each other. For Robin, the attraction to Orkney is obvious.

“I wouldn’t be able to do what I do anywhere else."

“It’s exciting to think what next year might bring, and the opportunities that could come my way. It’s so encouraging to be part of this creative community.”

Based just metres from the Scapa Flow shoreline, Hilary Grant is a knitwear studio and design partnership run by Hilary and Robert Harvey. Their innovative and unique take on traditional knitwear items, including scarves, shawls, hats and gloves, has seen the range spread from Orkney as far as Europe, the Far East and the United States.

But, as you might expect from designers of quality knitwear, their influences don’t necessarily come from the beaches and blue skies of an Orcadian summer.

“We are inspired by the islands, but not in a literal sense where we take colours or patterns directly from the landscape,” says Hilary. “The bright colours we gravitate towards are often a response to the land and seascapes in the dark winter months and the need for something bright, and optimistic.”

Orkney sits within touching distance of mainland Scotland - just seven miles across the Pentland Firth – but that stretch of swirling sea brings more than just distance. For Hilary and Robert, it helps provide a different viewpoint.

“In Orkney we find we have a lot of creative space to do our own thing, without worrying about fitting into a collective style that you might find in bigger cities."

"That’s become more and more important to us as our work has developed," says Hilary.

Back in Kirkwall, Fraser Anderson is hard at work finishing off his Christmas commissions. Fraser is a furniture maker, and everything he creates has a link to Orcadian craftmanship from the past.

“I always wanted to work with wood,” he says. “Ever since I was a boy, I’ve loved the look, feel and design of a classic Orkney chair. “When I got older, I realised I wanted to leave my own mark on the Orcadian furniture tradition.

Orkney chairs were a mainstay of old crofts and farmhouses in generations gone by. They were made from driftwood found on the shore and straw gathered from the fields. That’s a connection with the past Fraser continues to this day.

“I often collect driftwood from around the islands and turn it into furniture, just as it was done in the past." he says. "The beauty of the design is that you can experiment with different woods, shapes and sizes, but that simple structure is always there, and there's just something special about that."

"Orkney has always been such a resourceful, creative place, and I’m proud to be helping keep that tradition alive.”

Find out more about Orkney's incredible range of talented makers from the Creative Orkney website.

The Digital Orkney project has been part financed by the Scottish Government and the European Community Orkney LEADER 2014-2020 Newsletter

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