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Gardening

Wiltshire artist takes on his greatest challenge – being a dad.

This article was first published in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald on Thursday November 14 2013 and it’s reproduced here by request. 

Ever heard of the artist Syd? Or the Stencil Shed? If you live in the Malmesbury area, these names should be familiar.

Syd, whose real name is Luke Hollingworth, lives in the town, works in the town and has found his artistic niche in his adopted county. His street art can be found in the rural community and he uses the pseudonym ‘Syd’ which was a childhood nickname.

Even on the day I visited he was wondering who in Wiltshire would allow him to put an image on a boring wall or brighten up a dull space.

“I’m always looking for a space to create art. At the weekend I did an image of a green hare on a wall which was dull and needed brightening up. But I want to create art which is fun, sometimes thought provoking  and I want to create it legally with cooperation.”

Today Luke’s life as a 37-year-old husband and father in Wiltshire is a far cry from the ambitions of his childhood – when he vocally vowed he would never become an artist like his father Brian who is an accomplished sculptor.

Luke just didn’t believe there was any money to be made in the world of art. He went to university to study business and began a career in sales and marketing. He worked for big brands including Coca Cola and Dyson.

It was a job with the latter company which brought him down from Nottingham to settle in Wiltshire. Then he met his wife Mandie and gradually the art began to take over. He left his job to try his hand at being an artist who can earn money.

Locally, Luke became best known two years ago for entering the Shed of the Year competition – an event originally flagged up to him by his mum Shelley.

“My shed had become my workshop when mum told me about this competition. It really appealed to me and I decided to try some unusual marketing to get people to vote for me.”

In 2012, Luke spent a night hiding his art works around Malmesbury and on the back of each item was a note asking people to vote for him and his shed. His efforts led to local and national media coverage. In 2012 and this year, he’s come third in the overall competition and has also won the award for Best Workshop and Studio Shed on both occasions.

Visiting the shed is an amazing experience. Apart from gorilla guarding the path, there are eyes which stare at you as you approach and a silver skeleton by the door. Then on entering, it’s a cosy haven, complete with woodburner and mini-bar!

My favourite creation was Luke’s modern day take on the Michaelangelo paintings in the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City – not the first thing anyone expects to see on the ceiling of a garden shed.

His art does have a Banksy feel but with a strong Wiltshire edge. Many make a subtle political point – and the jackdaw features heavily. Luke tells me that the people of Malmesbury call themselves jackdaws.

In fact Luke’s work has been mistaken for a Banksy before. He once did a piece of artwork in Glastonbury, showing organizer Michael Eavis dressed as a gangster.

Now, 15 months after the birth of his first child, Luke’s vision of success doesn’t look the same as it did before.

“I would be really proud if Daisy said at school ‘my dad’s an artist’. You do what you have to do to get by and to pay the mortgage but doing something you love and are passionate about is even more important to me now. I want Daisy to be proud of me and to recognize this or that art as my work.”

His passion for art is growing with age and experience. When Daisy’s first word was ‘owl’, he painted her an owl to capture that special moment.

“That painting in our kitchen will always be Daisy’s and will remind me of her with its bright, big eyes and piercing look.”

When Luke decided as a young man that he was not going to try to make a living through art, his chances of denying his creativity were ridiculously slim. Yet even at a very young age, his talent bubbled to the surface.  He won an award for his sculpting talent aged just eight. At home, creativity was all around him.

Wiltshire, street art, Banksy, Syd

Where did that hare come from?

“I’d often help Dad with the finishing off his ‘littlelies’ as he called them – small sculptures of frogs and hares that he made to sell. At Christmas we always had an exhibition at home and we always helped Mum and Dad prepare and invited people around to see the artwork.”

The reality and struggle of trying to earn a living as an artist was apparent then.

“There were times when Dad was stressed and anxious and now I realize these were times when money was tight, there were recessions and it was very hard to make ends meet.”

Now aged 37, Luke jokes that he’s become exactly like his Dad – clearly a personal hero in his life. He’s a working artist who also has a foothold in a ‘normal’ job too. He’s a gardener at local Abbey House in Malmesbury for the Pollard family.

“You do what you have to do. My wife used to laugh at me saying I was the guy with the business degree who was doing the weeding.

“But I have to say, all in all, I’m very happy and fulfilled in my life.”

 

Factoids:

 

Luke’s marketing stunt for Shed of the Year 2013 was to create a mock-up work of artist Damian Hirst, pickled in formaldehyde, and he put it in a field for cows to admire.

 

You can see Luke’s artwork at:

www.thestencilshed.co.uk or www.facebook.com/TheStencilShed

 

And his Dad Brian’s work (based in Nottingham) is:

 

www.animal-sculpture.co.uk

 

 

Reviewing a Sunday spent in the garden

Gardening – a term which fills me with dread. I’ve always hated gardening and everything that goes with it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike gardens, I appreciate the effort which goes into a garden but I just don’t want to bother with all of that myself. If I had a choice between gardening and reading a book – the latter would win. As would cooking, cleaning, ironing, walking, driving and much more…

The only time I choose to go to a garden centre is to meet someone for coffee and cake – never for any other reason. A couple of years ago, a close family member bought me gardening vouchers for my birthday and I almost spit out my dummy. When, some months later, I raised the issue I was told that I was ‘approaching the age when I’d be into that sort of thing’.  A comment guaranteed to ensure that when I hit 60 I’ll be even less interested in gardening than I am now!

Today, however, I was part of a family team of gardeners. Having stared at the weeds growing up alongside our house for a couple of months, my need to deal with a problem boiled over. And my usual strategy – kicked in. We all muck in and do it in a morning – or I will be spending all day doing it myself. Always works.

So I now have cuts and bruises from pulling brambles, after my gloves ripped and my feet were black after realising that gardening with crocs on probably wasn’t such a good idea.

I then had to go to a garden centre with my other half to buy some plants to fill the space left  by weeds and brambles. Somehow we actually ended up at B&Q – a place which also ranks in my list of awful places to visit.

Flower

This is not the flower bought today for our garden

So today’s lesson is this – I still hate gardening but having grasped the nettle (quite literally several times) the place looks a little better.

How many months until I have to do some more?

 

A portfolio career – is it for you?

Every so often, Fiona and I like to branch out and do something a little different. While Fiona never stops, whether she’s making a documentary, writing a column or advising on PR work, I find my other interests are in a very different direction. So here I am, fresh from having delivered my first gardening blog this weekend.

I think the days of a regular 9-5 job are long gone and the way forward for many people is a portfolio career. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking like this and would be curious to know what unusual combinations of jobs people put together in their working week. I’ve always been interested in lots of things and so to diversify my career makes sense. It also opens up your life to new people who have shared interests.

My family were supportive last year when I signed up for a one year course with the Garden Design School at the Botanic Gardens in Bristol, but I knew that secretly they were wondering, why? I’ve been an obsessive gardener for years, but became really hooked after helping out on a show garden at the Hampton Court Flower Show. It was so much fun that I came back and immediately investigated how I could develop this side of my life.

I found, at times, the course was very inconvenient as the workload meant that family life went out the window for days at a time. There I was, middle-aged with three young kids, working through the night to complete, of all things, a gardening course! Ask anyone, and they would expect such a course to be fun and relaxing, as you learn about a subject you are really interested in. I signed up in haste, but it was the right thing to do. I’ve learnt so much about design in the last year as it was a really well-taught course, even if I emerged rather pale and bedraggled from behind my drawing board on many days.

Having taken more than a few months to recover, I now find myself keen to use my new skills and to this end will be writing a weekly blog. At the moment it can be found at Birdsontheblog/food/strawberries in October, and I think the ‘Birds’ plan to set up a dedicated gardening section in time. Every two weeks I plan to write about jobs to do in the garden now, and every other week write a regular ‘Ask Sue’ section where I answer reader’s gardening queries. So if you have a question about plants, growing vegetables or best place to site a pergola, contact me.

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