What a great start to the week.  I received the most delightful email from an American couple who had visited Starfish Studio whilst on holiday recently.

My husband and I (from the Los Angeles, California area) visited your shop recently with our friends from Northampton and I want
to tell you how much we enjoyed your work. (We bought a couple of gifts for our friends.) Gil and I both work in the arts, and we’re so impressed that we’ve sent your website to some of our friends.
Have a wonderful day.
All the best from the both of us.

I know I’m bragging a bit, but I had to share that!

Yesterday was one of those fantastic, feel good days.  I had to deliver some paintings to Banchory and to pick up some beeswax candles for the shop from Organica J in Finzean http://www.organicaj.co.uk/.  The sky was so blue, the sun shone so brightly and the trees were such stunning colours that the drive was just sheer pleasure.

Autumn leaves

Whenever I drive through Strachan I’m always saddened to see that the village shop has closed its doors.  As you may know, Ewan and I moved to Johnshaven when we bought the village shop in 2004.  We went to look at the Strachan shop too – the house had great potential but we didn’t think the shop could be sufficiently profitable to make it viable.

The other sight that saddened me was this one. 

Tesco-to-be as seen from Woodend Barn

It’s going to be a new Tesco on the outskirts of Banchory.  I despise Tesco.  As the owners of a convenience store we sometimes read the trade press which contains many stories about Tesco’s underhand tactics.  As a result I haven’t spent a penny in a Tesco store for many, many years.  I won’t even buy their diesel. 

Banchory is a lovely town with a busy High Street full of interesting, independent retailers.  A shop owner I spoke to yesterday tells me that there is a real sense of doom and gloom amongst the shopkeepers.  Of those she has spoken to, one has decided not to renew his lease (after many successful years), another has said that his business is doomed.

Tesco, and other supermarkets, suck the life out of town centres.  I can’t understand why the planning authorities are continuing to allow more and more to be built.  Banchory has a recently refurbished Morrisons which, along with the High Street shops, provides everything anyone could possibly need on a day to day basis.  For large, one off items, Aberdeen isn’t that far away. 

There, I’ll get off my soapbox now.  There aren’t many things that make me very angry, but the rise and rise of Tesco is one of them.

Between Strachan and Finzean the road passes the Falls of Feugh.  There’s a footbridge providing a great view of the water and, with the sun shining through the leaves of the trees, all thoughts of the building site were swept away by this beautiful sight!

Falls of Feugh

Falls of Feugh


River Feugh

To return home I took the steep, winding road over the Cairn o’Mount…

From the summit of Cairn o'Mount

…and instead of taking the obvious route home, I drove through Drumtochty (love that word!) Woods in glorious sunshine.

On the road to Auchenblae the sky was really stunning and provided a super backdrop to this silhouetted copse.

There was no time to pause for breath after NEOS ended.  I was also exhibiting with South Aberdeenshire Abstracts during the week, and we had a lovely end of NEOS get together on Sunday evening.

Then yesterday morning I took the train to Glasgow to visit Scotland’s Trade Fair at the SECC

The Armadillo at the SECC

Finnieston Crane

I’ve been to many trade fairs at the SECC since long before Starfish Studio existed, and this was by far the most enjoyable one to date.  There’s often an overwhelming number of huge stalls of imported goods and agencies promoting tat, but this had a refreshing balance of the better quality big boys and the, far nicer, individual handmade goods. 

Great Scottish-made stuff on the left, good quality imported stuff on the right.

Having a badge with a big red stripe that says BUYER means that you’re a magnet for the more pushy salespeople, and there’s a knack to avoiding them!  The pushy ones are generally working on commission for someone else but the people I’m interested in seeing are the ones who make the goods themselves and their enthusiasm comes across in everything they say – no need to be pushy!

Kirst talking to Kathryn of Lazy Daisy Glass

I took my very good friend Kirsteen with me for the experience and I think she really enjoyed herself – particularly as the ‘Visitor’ badge I’d requested for her actually said that she was ‘Manager – Starfish Studio’ (she’s a teacher in Glasgow!!).

 There was so much excellent quality handmade stuff that I got a bit carried away and I dread to think how much I’ve spent in total.  There are lovely, new things on their way to Starfish from existing suppliers such as Lazy Daisy, Earthen Images, My Baboo and Snapdragon plus a few brand new surprises.  I just love it when parcels arrive here and am like a big kid when it comes to opening them up!

Occasionally there are breakages, which is particularly upsetting when you consider the amount of work that goes into making a one off piece.  This arrived today from Frank Neikes Glass, and his dishes are really thick and substantial – must have been mishandled in transit.  It’s horrible having to phone someone to tell them that something they’ve made has arrived in pieces.


Today’s the last day of NEOS for 2010.  It has been a super week with lots of visitors coming to the village. 

The NEOS catalogue is an excellent year round guide to arts in the North East of Scotland.  As people use this to plan their open studios visits, it’s important that the photo alongside your name is a good reflection of the kind of work you have on show.  One that really caught my eye this year was the entry for Sheila MacFarlane.  Sheila lives and works at the curiously names Tangle Ha’, just a couple of miles from Johnshaven so I was able to pop along to see her before opening up one morning. 

The road to Tangle Ha'


Alongside the road.


Looking towards St Cyrus.


Just when you think the road is about to disappear into the sea, you come across a couple of houses and Sheila’s distinctive blue studio.  

Sheila's studio.


You can't get much closer to the sea than this!


Sheila explained her fascinating printmaking process for which she uses a zinc plate.  Printmaking is something I’d love to explore myself if time ever allows – I went to a woodcut printing workshop a few years ago and (for a complete novice), was really pleased with my results and itching to do more.  I bought some lino cutting equipment but have never really had the time to get to grips with it properly. 

Sheila in her studio.


Sheila’s work is superb and each piece is very individual.  She makes a small number of prints from each plate (16 in this case) using different colours and papers, so they are all totally unique. 

This is the piece that I just fell in love with.  Sheila kindly let me bring it home to get family approval and check that it would look right on the wall.  Later on we all went back along with the money and for Ewan and the kids to learn about how it was created too 

It's mine now!


So it’s away to get framed and hopefully will be back and up in the living room in a week or two. 

Finally, I had to include this photo of a bench against the wall of Sheila’s studio – it made me smile! 

A spot for contemplation.

Concluding our tour of the NEOS venues in Johnshaven, today you can see inside Beach Road Framers.   I popped down this morning as yesterday I bought an absolutely gorgeously wonderful piece of art that I need to have framed – tomorrow I’ll tell you all about it!

People come from far and wide for Susan Main’s picture framing expertise.  During NEOS she is exhibiting a selection of prints from the Butterworth Gallery.

I sort of implied that she wouldn’t be in these photos – sorry Susan! 

Beach Road Framers is open all year round and offers an excellent service at a very competitive price.  http://www.beachroadframers.com/

Tomorrow’s the last day of NEOS for 2010.  We’ve had a super week, met some lovely people, shown off our lovely village and had good sales.  In tomorrow’s final instalment I’ll tell you about where we went and what we bought yesterday – a studio in an amazing location not far from here…

The Coastal Colourists is a friendly group of artists who meet weekly in the clubroom of the caravan site – it’s a great room for painting as there’s natural light pouring in through windows along three sides and a cracking view of the sea!

The group’s NEOS exhibition is being held in the Old Lifeboat Shed right beside the harbour.

This stunning building is owned by the Johnshaven Heritage Society who have been working tirelessly for years to turn it into a heritage centre with a permanent display of photos and artefacts from the village.


Work began on the building last year and it is now a superb venue for art exhibitions.  The building’s listed status has complicated matters somewhat, but hopefully the heritage centre will become a reality in the not too distant future.

During NEOS I have given a portion of my wee shop over to Janette Anderson of Brazen Hussies Jewellery. I always have a stock of her lovely work – largely made from precious metal clay – but for this week there is a vast array to choose from and Janette’s on hand to tell you about how the pieces are made.

We’ve had a steady stream of visitors to the village this week.  They are all walking around clutching their NEOS catalogues and our extra special Johnshaven NEOS maps.  These are available to pick up from any venue in the village or can be downloaded from http://starfishstudio.orson2.com/pages/NEOS

Have a peek at two more studios –

‘A Week and Two Days’ features work by Rebecca Westguard and Kelly Sim.  Their work consists of printmaking, drawing, painting and bookmaking.

Rebecca Westguard (above) teaches life drawing and NEOS provides an opportunity to see a fantastic selection of her work.  

Kelly Sim makes these amazing creations from books.

A few doors away is Pam Hamilton’s exhibition of acrylic and mixed media work.  Here’s Pam with some of her colourful paintings.

Two studios for your delectation today – Hilary Firth’s Starglazing and the Johnshaven Gallery.  These are next door to each other on Main Street.

Hilary’s lovely hand-thrown tableware, mostly in shades of blue and turquoise, is extremely popular.   During NEOS you can see Hilary at work and admire a large selection of mugs, bowls, jugs, tealight holders etc.

A few of Hilary's pieces in my shop.

Many pieces have a wee fish or shell shape added.  She also has a few quirky wee pieces like this one that I bought from her this morning.

Hilary works in Starfish Studio on the few Sundays that Morag doesn’t do!

During NEOS Ranjit Barry turns one room in her house into the Johnshaven Gallery and features her own work alongside Alison Stewart’s paintings.

Ranjit, under the name RainBow Glass, makes jewellery using fused glass, semi-precious gemstones, silver and crystal.


Fused glass & Swarovski crystals.

Alison Stewart is very well known for her seascapes.  Her house is so close to the sea that you can almost touch the water from her studio which must be a constant source of inspiration.

Alison Stewart working on another masterpiece!

One of Alison's miniature canvases - approx 7cm x 7cm

Hilary, Ranjit and Alison have a selection of their work on display in Starfish Studio all year round.

Today you can have a sneaky peek inside the lovely Johnshaven venue that is shared by sisters Tracy Blease and Susan Young. 

Susan lives in the fantastically named Apple Cottage, and trades as The Apple Cottage Company.   The venue for NEOS is a cheerful summerhouse in the garden.



Susan produces beautiful textile work – lovely accessories for your home.  I treated myself to this keyring which looks good enough to eat!

You can see more of Susan’s work at www.applecottagecompany.co.uk

Tracy is the very talented lady behind Quirkycat jewellery.  She does amazing things with polymer clay and is probably best known for her double sided pendants. 

These photos show two sides of a Quirkycat pendant.  Each one is totally unique.  You can see more of Tracy’s work at


Last year we were spoiled with a week of glorious sunshine.  This year’s a bit more soggy so far, but visitors are still coming into the village to see the various artists!

Morag Smith, who works at Starfish Studio most Sundays, has one of the most talked about venues – The Blue Garage.  Her contemporary landscapes and pebble paintings brighten up the driechest of Monday mornings!

That’s Morag on the left – doing her best to avoid the camera!

Keep checking the blog as I’ll post photos of the other Johnshaven venues during the course of the week…





Yesterday morning Johnshaven woke up to torrential rain, which was not what we had ordered for day one of NEOS.  Fortunately, the rain cleared up just in time for the 11am opening of most venues. 

Visitor numbers were fairly steady throughout the day and sales were very good.  I tried to keep a tally of vistor numbers, but it was too busy to keep on top of it!

There was a real buzz at the Wairds Park caravan park where the mums of children at Johnshaven Primary School had set up a cafe for the day serving a selection of soups, rolls and yummy home baking, all in aid of funds for the school.  Today (Sunday) another village organisation (SHARK) is running the cafe to raise funds for a small digger to help with their community composting  project.

NEOS is truly a fantastic experience for participants and visitors alike – One visitor said they had visited 20 venues in just one day!  Quote of the day from a visitor from Aberdeen, ‘Great originality! Made several purchases – thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.’

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