I started collecting beach finds when I was very young, walking on our local beach with my Dad and our Corgi Smut. My family moved to the coast when I was just three, so the sights and sounds and scents of the beach feel as if they are wound into my DNA. I had a collection of shells that grew and grew over the years, some picked up on our walks but others, including an entire collection of sea urchin shells, that my parents must have bought somewhere, although looking back, goodness knows where. I’m not sure what happened to them when I grew up. I’d like to think that they were passed on to someone else, but I guess they were thrown out, a childhood hobby that I’d outgrown.
And as went on to study and then work and live in the city, I had no idea how much these early years of walking along our shelly beach would impact on my future habits. In recent years, as our interest in city living waned and our weekends became focussed around nature walks, I picked up those childhood habits as if they’d never gone: photographing rock pools and interesting looking rocks and pebbles, and photographing shells, so many shells.
Different beaches became associated with different finds: North Berwick and Ravensheugh in East Lothian for interesting rocks; the north stretch of beach at Elie and also the beach at Kingsbarns in Fife for amazing pebbles; the tiny bay at Gullane Point, again in East Lothian, for beautiful white shells. And after we left Edinburgh in 2018, our local beach was added to that list – my childhood beach that is now my local again – for its mussel shells, washed up in piles from the mussel beds that extend out into the Forth.
So you can understand why these watercolour paintings by artist and curator Samantha Allan caught my eye. Allan is also co-founder of The Shop Floor Project, which is where I spotted this collection of artworks. Some pieces just leap out at you when browsing, right? As soon as you see something, you connect. You don’t have to analyse it; it’s just the piece that’s right for you. And that’s how I felt when I saw these prints, each of which has a limited edition of 100 and is available either framed in oak or unframed. And these are big pieces – each measures 84 x 59cm.
Allan’s watercolours were inspired by the ‘educational studies’ of the 19th century artist John Ruskin, whose large-scale watercolour paintings of flora and fauna hang at his home, Brantwood in Cumbria. Allan’s collection of prints are taken from her watercolour sketches of pieces she has found on the beach, including seaweeds, skulls, nests and feathers. This collection makes me want to take a sketchbook to our local beach and attempt to draw – something I haven’t done since my college days – but, more likely, this will inspire me to take even more photos of my own discoveries.
See the Beach Finds collection here.