Creative. Creativity. Creativeness.
We’ve all got a motor-mouth mate that can spin a great story, a better half that knows Elephant’s Breath is the best shade of grey for that wall, a chum that transforms into Rain Man when it comes to football bets…or someone that’s just a natural at whatever they put their hand to. That could easily be you, no?
For me, I wasn’t a big fan of drawing as a kid (evidence below, self portrait). I loved Lego though - building entire cities out of those little rigid things. In reality, it was probably 20 bricks stuck together with Sellotape in no order whatsoever – if that was the case then imagination was my creativity.
My point? Creativity comes in different forms. Head to Belfast’s St George’s or any other craft/food market and you’ll see what I mean. Local people using their creative skills in a variety of ways - ways you wouldn't have thought of and potentially, ways you could do too.
CREATIVE TRAILS APP
From what you’ve seen so far on NI Explorer, you’ll get the idea that we like going to new places and trying new things. So when asked recently if we’d be interested in trialing a new mobile app which locates and connects you with creative people/businesses close to you...it was easy to say yes.
The ‘Creative Trails’ app is essentially a digital version of a market. It gives you a quick profile of local creatives, showing their location in relation to where you are. It can even create an itinerary for you – but for me, the biggest advantage is it gives great ideas of experiences/products as gift ideas. We all know that difficult-to-buy-for someone, who has everything already 😊
There are currently 32 individuals/businesses signed up to the app, spread across Counties Down and Armagh. So, with a free Saturday approaching we picked out a handful of these that sparked an interest, quickly mapped a route and gave them a heads up we were thinking of coming.
FIRST STOP: YARD GALLERY / COFFEE YARD
If you don’t like art galleries, this place is for you. If you do like art galleries, this place is for you. It's more like a laid-back record shop with the walls and shelves packed full of curious, funny, impressive pieces to sift through at ease. From Father Ted to Roald Dahl, ulster fry illustrations to epic landscapes around the world; everyone will find something they love. In their own words, Yard Gallery is ‘the least stuffy, most noisy art gallery you’re ever likely to come across’.
And the main reason we put Yard first on the list today? FOOD! Coffee Yard is the gallery’s adjoining sister business, working perfectly together and giving lots to look at while you sip/munch through the superb menu.
Food thoughts? I don't claim to be an expert in any way, but very impressed. The fry felt fresh (strange thing to say I know) and was served with some sort of sweet tomato relish. Pure beaut. I inhaled it (a good sign) so had time for a nosy about, to pick out some favourite prints (in addition to those big 'Northern Ireland' poster/prints I spotted above).
Roll on pay day.
NEXT STOP: NI SILVER
I have to admit, when I first downloaded the Creative Trails app, jewellery was not at the top of the hit list.
The only jewellery I ever had was a small St George & Dragon coin ring from Argos when I was 13 years old (I know). My mum had finally given in and put it on the ‘Santa List’ after I constantly reminded her my mates were all getting one. I got it on Christmas Day, lost it on Boxing Day, found it the following day, then lost it forever the day after that.
But quickly reading NI Silver’s bio, I saw that most of their jewellery was inspired by Northern Ireland landmarks - and with the chance of us getting to make something on our visit, it quickly went up the pecking order.
NI Silver is based just outside Holywood. Ruth, the leading lady, gave us the warmest of welcomes and for the next hour and a half took us through how she got into jewellery-making on the other side of the world – all the while guiding us through the intricate detail of making our own little copper rings.
Our efforts were praised, but needed a little fine-tuning from Ruth. While she perfected (fixed) our attempts, I had a nosy at some of her items. Seeing how much goes into one little copper ring, I can only imagine the work that goes into these:
A few more pics below as we finished off our masterpieces.
NI Silver's main retail avenue at the minute is their website, but as Ruth explained, her business is constantly evolving with requests for bespoke pieces increasing along with the possibility of introducing a regular jewellery-making workshop. Going by the great experience we had, I can really see the workshops being a thing - I'll put her contact details at the bottom of this page if you're planning a small gathering of friends where a workshop would be great craic.
NEXT STOP: PROJECT 24
I’ve passed this place a few times as I drove through Bangor, each time with the intention of stopping to find out what was going on.
In a great location at the seafront, Project 24 has transformed a previously derelict site into a community space, where you will also find artists creating, displaying and selling their work from 12 brightly-coloured pods.
Though the artists' work can be seen 24 hours a day through their illuminated pod windows, for a better experience you really need to go inside. Debra Wenlock’s pod was our first stop. Check out her superb colourful works – you might recognise the style as some of her work is also on display in a few of the museums around NI:
Check out this little number too:
We called into Paula Blatt’s pod next. The talented, self-taught papercut artist’s work is inspired by Northern Ireland nostalgia, everyday life and stories.
How cool are these? Click the images for a better look:
Next, we checked out the clay sculpture work by Sharon Regan. Even the notes on her pin-board were a work of art, never mind the horse’s head she was in the middle of making when we called in.
Though you’ll see a mixture of works in her pod, her love of horses was clear. I can’t even draw the outline of a horse – whereas she explained most of her ‘fine-tuning’ of the horses head was done with her eyes closed, knowing the details from memory. Wow.
But here, check out that little donkey too:
Unfortunately, on the day we visited a number of the other artists were either on holiday or at another market. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for the latest with each of the artists.
NEXT STOP: HAPTIK
This was the biggest disappointment of our itinerary.
Why? My poor planning meant we arrived just after the kitchen had closed. Sad face, sob.
Haptik is an independent artisan coffee bar and contemporary art gallery in the centre of Newtownards. Just like NI Silver, the idea for Haptik started on the other side of the world, with Northern Irish couple Johnny and Rachel McBride being inspired by the thriving Melbourne coffee scene and general healthy work-life balance.
^Images pinched from Haptik's Facebook page^
Though we missed the main menu (I mean look at it - click to expand)...
...we were able to get our hands on a couple of treats. The humid day was taking its toll, so an espresso vanilla iced coffee and red velvet + white chocolate cupcake was the perfect solution. We were also advised to slice the cupcake in half and place the bottom on top, to make a cake-like structure for easier eating. Makes sense!
I'll not post the pic of me getting my basking-shark-like jaw around the height of the whole thing.
Suitably refreshed, Johnny took time out to show us around the upstairs exhibition spaces, telling us a little more about his artist-wife's great work and what they had coming up next (links at bottom of this post if you want to hear more).
In short, a pretty cool space with lots going on. We'll definitely be back to give that menu a run :)
FINAL STOP: ANDREW COOKE CERAMICS
That image above is about as normal as it’s going to get on this one. Flicking back through photos of the day, all I could think was ‘how the hell am I going to explain this one’.
After 20-odd years working in car body repairs, aircraft technician and classic car restoration, Andrew Cooke found himself unemployed due to arthritis. With his trade involving experimenting with materials and techniques, he took his change in circumstances as an opportunity to follow a desire of becoming a self-employed artist.
Eventually gaining a degree in Fine & Applied Art (ceramics), he now labels himself as a ‘maker of unusual ceramic instruments & strange things’.
Andrew's workspace is an old stock car racetrack in the hills between Dundonld and Newtownards. The site is filled with huts and sheds that he has either restored or built from scratch - using them as workshops before outgrowing them and building the next.
His current project on the site is clearly what he's most proud of, the 'Kookietiki Craft Bar' - a place he was just in the middle of finishing when we arrived. Simply put, this is a place where he hopes to run workshops out of, teaching others the tricks of his new trade while having an all-round chilled out experience (checking his Facebook page as I write this and he's just announced his first workshop!).
Heading inside, he showed us some of his quirky and cool creations. First up, his pride and joy, the 'diddly bow', a one-stringed guitar-like instrument made famous by 'Seasick Steve' - see here.
Next up were some of more of his ceramic curiosities (I've already ring-fenced one for Father's Day next year)...
And after a further whirlwind tour around some of his other superb peculiarities on site...
...including his hand-built Chevrolet, with custom bamboo-boot...
It was just about time to wrap up our day of exploring some of the creative wonders of County Down.
Well, just after this unscheduled photo-bombing-dog came to say cheerio!
Thanks to Morrow Communications for bringing the app to our attention and putting us in touch with the businesses.
If you fancy giving it a go, the Creative Trails app is available now on the Apple IOS and Android app stores. Please do let us know if you get to check out any of the other individuals/businesses/experiences featured! (Tag us in your social pics)
For more info on those featured above:
Andrew Cooke Ceramics - linking his Facebook page here so you can see the workshop details.
Don't forget, 4-13 August is the '16th Annual Creative Peninsula Event - Northern Ireland's Premier Celebration of Art & Craft'. See what there is to do here!
Some more info on the people behind the Creative Trails app, should you have a similar idea in mind or need more info:
Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council is the lead council behind the 'Creative Momentum Project', representing the South East Economic Development (SEED) region, which also includes Ards and North Down Borough Council and Newry, Mourne and Down District Council. The EU Northern Periphery and Arctic Regions Programme (NPA) and SEED fund the Northern Ireland partner on the €2m transnational project ‘Creative Momentum’ supporting the development of the creative industries sector across Europe’s Northern Edge.