5 May 2017

Meet the artists and crafters helping to save lives

The endlessly transforming colours, moods and shapes of our coasts have inspired artists for centuries. Among those who call the sea their muse are plenty of RNLI supporters and volunteers. We asked just a few to talk about their passion for art, and to share their tips.

We’d love to see your own coastal or lifeboat-themed art projects too. Share them with us via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using hashtag #GiveArtAGo.

The painter: ‘I have always wanted my art to help the RNLI’

‘When I was 12, our community was devastated by the loss of the Penlee lifeboat’, says Cornish artist Glyn Macey. ‘My best friend then is now the coxswain. So I have always wanted my art to help the RNLI - lifeboat crews and lifeguards.’

Artist and RNLI supporter Glyn Macey
Artist and RNLI supporter Glyn Macey

Glyn can often be found roaming the harbours, moorland and coast of his native west Cornwall, sketchbook in hand, recording the details of daily Cornish life and history.

That’s the inspiration for his studio paintings which, since 2000, have featured in galleries and collections around the world. They have also raised over £45,000 for the RNLI - Glyn has frequently donated a percentage of sales to our charity.

Painting by artist Glyn Macey
Painting by artist Glyn Macey

‘I use a variety of techniques to capture the essence of the coast and the people who live in it - anything I have to hand really,’ says Glyn. ‘When I first took up painting full-time, I asked for advice from the late Penzance-based artist John Miller. He told me to paint for myself and hope others like it. And, fortunately, they do!’

The artist who’s a helm: ‘I’m a doodler’

Tony Parsons is the helm at RNLI Brighton, and lives on a 11.9m catamaran with his two children.

Unusually for an artist he does two very different things - one is caricatures, and the other is oil painting. Looking at his work, you’d be surprised to hear he has no formal artistic training.

Artist and Brighton RNLI Lifeboat Helm Tony Parsons
Artist and Brighton RNLI Lifeboat Helm Tony Parsons

‘I’m a doodler,’ says Tony. ‘My granddad was a watercolour artist and he helped me learn about things like colour and perspective when I was a kid.

'As an adult, I started selling caricatures, often by commission. I started getting some really interesting commissions for TV, and then a royal one too. I felt it was going to be hard to top that, and I was getting bored anyway, so I decided to branch out into the oils.’

Oil painting by Artist and Brighton RNLI Lifeboat Helm Tony Parsons
Oil painting by Artist and Brighton RNLI Lifeboat Helm Tony Parsons

As you’d expect from a lifeboat crew member who lives on the sea, Tony really likes boats. ‘Unfortunately, lifeboats are not nice to paint,’ he says. ‘They are bright orange, they stick out like a sore thumb and they ruin the composition of a natural seascape, which is a shame because you really can’t fault them on the important stuff.

‘I love painting older vessels, but I just tend to go with whatever scenes catch my eye really - usually fairly classical compositions involving nature and pretty buildings. Sometimes I paint under a pseudonym, which is actually composed of a combination of Brighton crew members’ names.’

In 2016, the Brownston Gallery in Devon held an art auction in aid of Salcombe RNLI, with pieces from 20 of their regular artists - including Tony - raising more than £4,000.

The family: ‘It gets bigger every year’

The Aberystwyth Lifeboat Family Art Group, as the name suggests, is made up of volunteers from this Welsh station, and their families.

They’re happy to have a go at creating anything they can sell to raise money for the charity, including felt, jewellery, painting and floristry.

Examples of art created by the Aberystwyth Lifeboat Family Art Group: Painting of Aberystwyth lifeboat launching; sea glass pendants; and a painting of a puffin on driftwood.
Examples of art created by the Aberystwyth Lifeboat Family Art Group: Painting of Aberystwyth lifeboat launching; sea glass pendants; and a painting of a puffin on driftwood.

Fans of ITV Cymru Wales may recognise the Aberystwyth artists from an episode of Coast & Country, broadcast in December 2016.

The group was formed a couple of years ago when Lifeboat Helm Gemma Gill visited the Ceredigion Art Trail and thought: ‘We could take part in that.'

Gemma says: ‘We’ve done an exhibition at a local pub run by a crew member, a Christmas craft fair, an exhibition in my hallway and more - it gets bigger every year.

‘We have a lot of volunteers’ families in the group too, and we get together to do workshops (like the needle felting). It’s nice to get to know the folk who don’t wear pagers - we’re all part of one team, whether we’re on the boats, in the shop, or supporting behind the scenes.’

Every crew member at Aberystwyth Lifeboat Station has their own mug, courtesy of Helm Gemma GillPhoto: RNLI/Nigel Millard
Every crew member at Aberystwyth Lifeboat Station has their own mug, courtesy of Helm Gemma Gill

One of Gemma’s art projects was to design cartoons of each volunteer at the station, to be turned into crew mugs. She explains: ‘When there’s a shout, whoever is still at the boathouse when the crew are out looks at the boots and works out who’s at sea. Their hot drink preference is on one side of the mug, and their picture is on the other, so you always know what to make for them to come back to!’

The ceramicist: ‘When my work comes out of the kiln, it's like Christmas morning’

‘I've always enjoyed making hand-made presents and cards for family and friends, from when I was a child,’ says Exmouth’s Lifeboat Press Officer Emma Tarling. ‘I've been making lifeboat-themed ceramic products for a couple of years. I'm a member of Exmouth Ceramic Group. The group holds weekly workshops where I can buy clay and access kilns and wheels.’

Emma with her lifeboat-themed ceramic artPhoto: Terry Ife/Archant
Emma with her lifeboat-themed ceramic art

Emma studied product design at the prestigious Central Saint Martins School of Art and Design, but always intended to carry on making art pieces by hand. She finds it very therapeutic working with clay: ‘When my work comes out of the kiln, it's like Christmas morning.’

Local craft fairs and events provide the perfect selling ground for Emma’s pieces, which raise money and awareness for the RNLI. She says: ‘At our group's annual exhibition last year, I helped run a tile workshop. The theme chosen by the Exhibition Committee was lifeboats, and we ended up with over 50 tiles decorated with slip [coloured wet clay] by visitors. We’re now working on displaying them somewhere locally.’

Feeling inspired? Give art a go

Are you an artist or a crafter? If not, why not give it a go.

Take up a class or join a group. Go to an arts and crafts fair and talk to the traders. Visit an art gallery - they often hold educational lectures, seminars and tours. Read a book or look for articles and blogs online. Whatever you do, get creative and have fun! It's a great way to meet new people and get involved in the RNLI community too.

We’d love to see your own works of coastal or lifeboat-themed art. Share them with us via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using hashtag #GiveArtAGo.