If you read the blog regularly, you'll know we're always on the lookout for unique creations made in Somerset and to find people who are doing things differently here. So, when we met Cheddar-based artist Ness Robinson and her other half, awesome maker Oli Lee, how lucky were we to find not one, but two brilliant people doing exactly this... creating very cool stuff in our very cool county!
We first met Ness at their family home, during the Cheddar Arts Fringe Festival and we fell in love with her amazing animal portraits. Ness is a ray of sunshine, she creates these amazing pictures from tiny, torn up bits of paper and for us, her approach feels like such a bright, original way to have your hounds, cats or other furry friends forever represented in a piece of awesome art. Just look at these beauties:
The expressions and vibrancy in these portraits is just beautiful.
And there's more! Oli, under his brand 'With Bear Hands', hand makes a variety of bespoke furniture and other wonderful wooden creations.
From cabins (yes, whole flipping cabins!) to cabinets, from benches to beautiful window sills... basically, there's nothing Oli can't turn his bear/bare hands to (I know, I know ;)).
We've loved Oli's work for ages too, as well as his relaxed spirit, and so a little while ago we all popped down the pub to chat about how the guys met, how they got started making, what inspires them and to discover more about their ace creations.
As it turns out, the guys first got together at Uni, where, as Oli jokes:
"Ness was the only other person who wasn't from Liverpool, so I noticed her West Country accent and latched on to her"
and if that's not a good reason to dedicate yourself to making someone your forever partner, we don't know what is ;).
Ness was doing a degree in Children's Illustration at the time and once she graduated and became a mum, she really started to think "what next". As Ness tells us:
"I started sketching and doing a few Christmas markets, but I really wanted to move away from more traditional line drawings and painting styles and do something different. Dogs have always been my favourite things to sketch, so I started to experiment with different ways of creating them. I love the ripped edges torn paper gives and the liveliness that comes with layering it, so I kept on trying out techniques until I developed my own style".
Ness is a serial experimenter when it comes to creating her art - one of the things we love about her - and as we chat, her face lights up with the excited spirit of someone that keeps testing things out, keeps learning and keeps on doing things differently.
" I'm always collecting different types of paper to use and I'm definitely a hoarder! I save all sorts, because you never know which bits will work for which portrait and I do lots of different things to the paper to give it different textures and colours - anything from natural dying with avocado skins, to re-using paper from food shopping trips. I once used pages from an old printmaking book to get the texture right. I love breathing new life into things and depending on the way you treat the paper, it gives you a completely new take".
As we chat I imagine this almost magical, full-to-bursting paper drawer that Ness has, with all sorts of weird and wonderful pieces in it and as Ness says:
"I'll experiment with different drawing techniques first, sketch the shape and then search through the paper collection to decide which pieces will work best, depending on the character of the animal I'm creating".
As Ness tells us, choosing the paper and then committing to putting that very first torn piece down is the most nerve wracking and exciting step, because once that happens the piece almost takes on a life of its own...
And from here, getting the personality of the dog or cat into the picture is absolutely key. It's definitely something Ness nails too... every time.
Just look at this finished expression. Heart most definitely melted! :)
Ness has brought many cool and colourful dogs to life in her art...
The first picture Ness actually ever made was one of her own childhood dogs, as a special present for her mum and dad and she also loves this giant-sized Boxer portrait...
... but as for her absolute favourite creation, Ness tells us:
" The most recent one becomes my new favourite"
and do you know what? That absolutely sums up the enthusiasm and passion Ness has for every portrait she makes - and her desire to keep making original art, with huge amounts of love. It's clear to see that Ness is creating straight from the heart and you can feel that in every torn piece of paper.
Talking of creating things from the heart, it totally runs in the family because Oli has exactly that approach too.
'With Bear Hands' was born out of love - a love of design, Oli's love of making things with his hands and a love for his growing family, as he wanted to spend more time with them when he decided on a career change. Oli was originally a set designer at Aardman, you see. He decided to try his hand at building a Japanese style bunk bed for his kids and you've guessed it... he totally got the building bug!
As Oli tells it,
"My friend then asked me if I could make his kids a bed too. We had very little money in the bank, I had a hammer, a saw and not a lot else back then... no van, no proper tools, but I knew I loved making original things out of wood. It was what I wanted to do, so I just thought **** it!".
Well, we bleeping love that attitude :). Even though Oli hadn't made anything on a large scale back then, he knew from his time creating sets at Aardman that he could absolutely do it - and being brave enough to follow your heart, giving it a try and going down that different path definitely gets gallons of our respect!
In the early days, Oli did lots of jobs for friends and people he knew locally, he made mistakes (like the time he completely overpaid for wood because he had no idea where to buy it from - he laughs about that now), but he learned, got through the ups and downs everyone has when they start something new and he built up a reputation for the amazing quality of his work - and his creative ideas.
The Instagram community was also a massive support Oli tells us:
"I've made some great friends on Instagram who've really supported me and who I started to do some work with in the early days, like Wuffles Design. Working on your own projects is cool, but working in partnership with someone like that is great fun. We've made some great stuff together and we've had a laugh doing it - check out Wuffles Insta stories. They're legendary. We did a mini series of them once called #savethemaker. It basically featured me making everything for him... and trying to escape! ;) ".
As we chat, it becomes really clear that Oli brings that sense of chilled out happiness to everything he does:
" I just want to make things that make people smile - objects and rooms that bring joy. Whether it’s a secret reading nook under someone's stairs or a coffee table or cabin in the garden" .
And talking of cabins, Oli's become a bit of an expert in creating them. Just feast your eyes on this beaut!
The Roundhouse has been one of Oli's favourite projects and looking at the finished result it's easy to see why. As Oli tells us,
" The Roundhouse was a labour of love. The idea was to build a space for yoga and meditation, I had a book on how to build it and we learned as we went! We had some fun testing the roof (I might've jumped on it ;)) and I love the floor, created from old pieces of wood. The build also changed as we progressed. We looked at putting installation in one flat wall originally, but in the end I needed to do this in a circle, which was a challenge. Love a challenge though... and most importantly it worked! "
And for us, that's part of the creativity of both Ness and Oli - that love of learning and developing through their work, with no project too challenging. As Oli says,
"if someone has an idea, or no idea at all, I can definitely work with it to create something special"
and it's really clear from spending time with the guys that they're not only incredibly talented makers, they're also a very special couple too.
To chat to Ness about an animal portrait, you can reach her at email@example.com and to get in touch with Oli about creating something bespoke from wood, give him a shout at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Ness and Oli on Instagram too.