With a life-long passion for beachcombing and turning her shoreline finds into sea-glass fish and driftwood pictures, Nicola White has taken the plunge into living her childhood dream. Words: Terry Barber
Growing up in Cornwall, self-taught artist Nicola’s fascination for beachcombing began on family holidays in St Ives and Penzance. ‘I used to look for pieces of driftwood, sea glass and old rope,’ she recalls. ‘Then I’d make collages, creating a frame with the driftwood and sticking pieces of sea glass in the middle.’
It was this early encounter with sea-worn treasures that inspired Nicola to become an artist, but these things take a while. She eventually left Cornwall for London, where she was employed as PA to the chairman of a bank. ‘I worked in the corporate world for 23 years,’ she explains, ‘but I recently gave it all up and bought a studio so I can concentrate on my art full time. It’s a one-bedroom chalet in Shellness on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent, and it’s very quiet. I don’t regret it for a single minute.’
The artist now divides her time between the studio and her home in Greenwich. ‘When I left Cornwall I did miss the sea a lot, so I naturally gravitated towards the Thames,’ she says. It’s a great spot for mudlarking and offers a wealth of old objects to discover because of the higher level of industry and activity, Nicola explains. She finds debris and makes art with it in situ, taking photos to raise awareness of plastic pollution. ‘I recently found more than 150 lighters in the space of a few kilometres along the Thames estuary,’ she recalls. ‘Then I bring them home. I always try to encourage people to throw their plastic in a bin and not use plastic water bottles.’
Porthminster Beach, St Ives. Photo: Ian Woolcock/Shutterstock
Nicola’s favourite beachcombing spots include a quiet place near Folkestone, where the glass pieces are smaller and smoother than by the river Cliffe, and around Dover. ‘I make fish out of the sea glass and I love to imagine what they were before,’ she says.
Surrounded by boxes and boxes of found objects to use for her artwork, Nicola admits she might have become a bit of a hoarder. ‘When I was a child I wanted to have a little laboratory, and now I’ve realised that this is what I imagined,’ she says. ‘It’s a wonderful feeling.’
Nicola will always make time for beachcombing. ‘It’s almost meditative and you’re very much in the moment,’ she says. The combination of the solitude, being outside and the need to create – that’s what inspires me.’