Beth Garnett: Pyrography, Eclectic Materials and Playful Creativity

Beth Garnett is an artist and maker who creates quirky mixed media work. She has worked with ceramics, needle felting and crochet, and recently started to work with pyrography. She currently lives in Cornwall, after moving there to study an MA in Illustration. I was interested in the playful, eclectic way that she uses materials. We spoke about the differences between creating art with wood and paper, Beth’s creative process, and why she works with such a diverse range of materials. 

Tell us about you and your work?

I live in Cornwall, though I’m from Reading originally. I have always liked drawing. I’m a complete introvert, more so as I get older. I do a bit of drawing and painting, and I make things too. At the moment I make a lots of brooches and decorations on woodslices, using a combination of pyrography and paint.

What materials do you like to use?

The woodslices I use in my pyrography are currently locally sourced offcuts from pruning and tree felling. Having a gardener for a husband is really useful! Sometimes customers save me bits of wood from their gardens or drag things they’ve found on their walks back for me. I also collect fabric, threads, wire, and all sorts of things because I always have it in my head that I’m going to make more. As for my 2D work, it’s mixed media: inks, crayons, watercolours, felt tip…it would probably be easier to make a list of things I don’t use!

Pyrography by Beth Garnett

Your painting style is very lively and fluid. How has your work and style developed over time?

I’ve spent a long time trying to develop a really gestural, lively way of mark making. I can’t spend a long time on a piece of work, I get bored, but I have spent hours repeating a three minute image until it looks perfectly impulsive! As I’ve got older, and since doing my MA, I’ve developed more confidence. I’m quite a perfectionist but I’m drawn to the imperfect; the honesty of the mark. So I use play as a way to try and make that moment when something just works happen more often, and I’ve learned to care a little less. It has to be fun otherwise it feels pointless and I don’t end up with work I care about.

How did you begin pyrography? What do you enjoy about working with wood compared to working on paper?

Completely accidentally! My husband carves wood. He makes these beautiful spoons and trinket dishes and things in the green (fresh wood). He fancied trying pyrography on his work so I bought him a cheap machine for his birthday. Somehow I ended being the one who used it.  I was doing a Christmas market so decorations from all this wood lying around seemed like something worth trying. It’s sort of gone from there. If I’m totally honest, this happened by accident and I don’t love working on wood, in fact it’s really frustrating at times! But I do love making things rather than just images, and this just happens to be the thing I’m making the most of at the moment. I find making puts me into that creative place really quickly – that relaxed focus that my best creative moments emerge from. With my painting and drawing there’s so much history and struggle behind it – it’s hard to relax and have confidence in it sometimes. But for some reason I find making stuff is like having a sneaky way in through the back door to that place I need to be in.

Ink Painting by Beth Garnett

A lot of your work focuses on animals. How did this theme develop?

I think it’s just a natural interest in them. The natural world is weird and wonderful, and I can’t believe some of the stuff that’s in it. Plus, animals have faces, they can look so silly or sneaky or whatever you like. I also love birds so I draw a lot of them. My first degree was in Illustration for Children’s Publishing so that’s affected the way I draw, but I’ve never been interested in drawing things that don’t move or don’t have life in them. In recent years I’ve become more interested in the habitats and creatures around me, insects like moths and bees and bugs, so I also work on some less silly things that celebrate those.

What are your main sources of inspiration?

For my character work it tends to be things I find silly, joyful, just playful, idiotic stuff. I definitely think I’m funnier than I am, so it’s a good outlet for that. But on a wider level it’s colour, nature, pattern, wildlife. Cornwall is a constant source of inspiration, it’s such a beautiful part of the world to live in.

Pyrography by Beth Garnett

What is your creative process like? How do you create a piece of work from start to finish?

It’s playful and experimental. I always have my materials to hand, so often I’ll just fancy drawing birds and using some neon paint so I’ll do that and see where it takes me. For new character work I tend to sketch things out in brush pen or soft pencil first, quickly trying different ideas, but other times the idea is just sort of there. I’ll think, well – maybe there’s a chicken who’s really into the Wu-Tang Clan, that might be fun. I’ll do a little scribble, the chicken will look at me, he’ll be saying something utterly stupid and I’ll think, right, you’re going on a brooch.

When it’s not silly chickens, or cats, or whatever, it’s still playful in its process. I play with the media, I make patterns and marks, I try to pinpoint what it is I am really interested in about a thing and it will either slowly come together or it won’t. Recently I’ve started using collage to use all the bits and pieces in those times it doesn’t, to make something whole. That’s quite an exciting development.

Beth Garnett’s Work Space

What is your creative set up like? Where do you create your work?

The spare bedroom is my workspace. I’d say it’s 65% full of materials I rarely use because I collect craft things hoping I’ll get round to doing something with them. The other 35% is the stuff I need regularly. My husband calls me a craft-grazer.  There’s a desk, drawings on the walls, general chaos and a window that looks out to the field behind our house.

What are the most challenging parts of working as an artist?

Having confidence in your work. Not knowing if you like what you’ve just made because it’s new or because it’s good. Trying to be you and not anyone else. Always wanting to do more. Pricing. Selling yourself. Networking when you’re an introvert. Having to say ‘I burn cats’.

Illustration by Beth Garnett

And what are the best parts?

When someone just gets something the same way as you do. They think a grumpy cat singing MMMbop is funny and  – who would’ve thought it – worthy of parting with cash in order to pin it to their cardigan. Or they see a drawing and respond with the same buzz I was feeling when I was making it, they point out my favourite mark or the same splash of colour that makes my heart sing. That’s always a very pleasant surprise. Getting to say “I burn cats.”

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Assuming you already make or draw stuff and you want to start selling it…look at the stuff you make and try to work out what connects it all. That’s the thing that you are selling, and knowing what that is will help connect with your customers and followers better. If it’s something weird, don’t worry. That’s the best kind of thing to have.

Know who your customers are and focus on them. Don’t waste time trying to sell to just anyone, not everyone is a potential customer. Friends and family are completely valid customers, don’t worry if that’s all who buys your stuff for a bit. They will be the ones who rave about your stuff the most.

Define your own idea of success. Where do you want this to go? It’s not always about creating full-time.

Think about business cards, packaging, promotional materials, photography. You can’t do it all to start with but every time you can afford to up your game on this side of stuff, do it and aim high. If you do craft fairs, talk to the other stall holders. I’ve had good fairs and rubbish ones but I’ve always come away with contacts, good advice, tips, leads and – best of all – swapsies!

Most importantly – Play!!

Pyrography Brooch by Beth Garnett

What are you currently working on? And what’s next?

At the moment I’m entering full-on Christmas mode. I’ve just dropped my day job down to 3 days a week to try to make my creative stuff into something bigger. My idea of success would be to not need to work full-time in a day job because this stuff make a fairly consistent and significant contribution to our income, so this is a big step for us to see if I can make that happen.

All images copyright of Beth Garnett.

You can find more of Beth’s work on her website at, or on Facebook at 


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Reading Inspiration: Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Sometimes you find a book that really resonates with you, revealing parts of yourself that you hadn’t fully recognised.

I love finding these kinds of books, and in a stroke of luck Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl caught my eye while I was browsing the bookshop. I devoured this book in two days, hungrily pouring through the pages in every spare moment.

After glancing at the cover – beautifully illustrated by Charlotte Day – it was Lucie Green’s review from the Observer that compelled me to flip through the first few pages – ‘Leaves become elegant machines, soil is the interface between the living and the dead, and seeds, well, they are transformed into the most patient and hopeful of life forms’ – elegantly describing the way Jahren looks at the world, and her love of plants and science.

Jahren is a geochemist, geobiologist, and professor at the University of Oslo. What I found particularly nice about this book was how it finds common ground between the scientist and the artist. The way Jahren describes her lab powerfully echoes with the way I feel about the artist’s studio:

“My lab is the place where I put my brain out onto my fingers and I do things. My lab is the place where I move. I stand, walk, sit, fetch, carry, climb, crawl. My lab is the place where it’s just as well I can’t sleep, because there are so many things to do in the world besides that. […] My lab is a place where my guilt over what I haven’t done is supplanted by all the things that I am getting done. […] My laboratory is like a church because it is where I figure out what I believe. […] It is my retreat from my professional battlefield; it is the place where I cooly examine my wounds and repair my armour. And, just like a church, because I grew up in it, it is not something from which I can ever really walk away.”, – (pp.23-24).

A place to retreat, a place to work and make and do and reflect. That, to me, is what the artist’s studio is all about. I also loved the part where Jahren talks about how what she does forms deep part of her identity. “In our tiny town, my father wasn’t a scientist, he was the scientist, and being a scientist wasn’t his job, it was his identity. My desire to become a scientist was founded upon a deep instinct and nothing more; I never heard a single story about a living female scientist, never met one or even saw one on television,” (p.22). In the same way, being an artist has been part of my identity, and I imagine many artists feel the same way.

Other than finding a lot of personal identification in Jahren’s description of herself and her work, the book is beautifully written and is a great read for anyone interested in plants. There’s enough information to learn something new, but none of the language is too technical, so anyone who doesn’t have a scientific background can easily pick it up and dive right in. The way that Jahren describes the natural world – as a person or a friend – is incredibly moving. A particularly lovely paragraph is:

“Every piece of wood in your house-from the windowsills to the furniture to the rafters- was once part of a living being, thriving in the open and pulsing with sap. If you look at these wooden objects across the grain, you might be able to trace out the boundaries of a couple of rings. The delicate shape of those lines tells you the story of a couple of years. If you know how to listen, each ring describes how the rain fell and the wind blew and the sun appeared every day at dawn.”, (p.102). 

I really enjoyed every page of this read and would recommend it to anyone who has some kind of passion, because I think that we can all find some form of identification in Jahren’s words.

H. Jahren, Lab Girl (New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing, 2016).





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Sophia Shaw: Watercolour, Nomadic Lifestyle and Connecting to the Land

Sophia Shaw lives a nomadic lifestyle with her partner on the UK waterways. She works from their narrowboat, finding inspiration in the surrounding countryside. Her illustration style is light and playful, and has grown from her experiences of travelling and connecting with different lands and cultures. 

Tell us about you and your work?

My name is Sophia, the face behind Sophia’s Illustration. I am 29, a dreamer and tea-drinker who loves to draw, paint and live quite a nomadic lifestyle. Last winter my partner and I bought our first home together – a 1987 Springer 42ft narrowboat, the perfect life for us right now!

Sophia Shaw.

What are your artistic tools of the trade?

For the past few years I have been working with watercolour, ink and gouache. I use Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator  to prepare my work for print, but never usually for anything more – I have always preferred to work by hand with paint.

How did you discover art and illustration?

My mum was always creative and really inspired me as a child. We used to have lots of crafty days and once I sat for her to draw. I always knew that I would like to be an artist and it was always a strong subject for me at school. In college I studied an amazing full-time arts course and it was my tutor who advised me to apply to study Illustration, which I studied at Swansea University.

Map of Wales © Sophia Shaw

How did you begin map-making and what kind of projects have you worked on?

After I finished university I was so over illustration! I went travelling with my partner to Australia and Asia and ended up being away from home for two and a half years. We had the most amazing time and we learnt a lot. Whilst we were away I always carried a sketchbook around, but I still hadn’t found my ‘style’ of working, which was a constant pressure throughout university. I played around painting large scale murals in Australia and also in Kuala Lumpur. It was amazing to enjoy painting without any pressure. We spent six months working in Fremantle, Western Australia, and lived in the garden of the most amazing house. There was no exterior wall at the back of the house and the kitchen and living rooms were outside. Matthew, the owner, was an eccentric photographer who created recycled sculpture from old metal objects, which were all over the roof and garden. It was Matthew’s house where my style of working was born. The very first ‘map’ I drew was his wonderful house and gardens. Once we returned to the UK we moved back to Swansea and I started painting maps of Wales to reconnect with the land and culture.

What inspires you to create your work?

My paintings are often inspired by things that I see in day-to-day life, such as the shapes in a landscape, or a glimpse of a cat sitting in a field or a beautiful allotment. I am a big day-dreamer and always looking for the perfect composition. I have a sketchbook which I use to jot down little ideas of things that have happened, or things that I see, that I can refer back to when painting.

Do you find that you often use certain motifs, themes or colours in your work?

The colour green definitely features most in my work at the moment. I really love to paint gardens and the countryside. I also like to add in little personal details; if I paint animals I will often add pets of mine who have passed away. I really like the personal touch and the connection that this work has to me, but a stranger wouldn’t know.

Boat Workspace © Sophia Shaw

What is your creative process like?

I feel like I am one of life’s great procrastinators! Give me a sketchbook and I can draw and paint all day every day, but when it comes to painting a final piece I find myself doing anything but starting the painting. I seem to get an ‘artist’s block’ and feel like I don’t know where to start. Often I can overcome this if I have a deadline to work to, so this is usually what I do – I seem to work better under pressure. Once I get started I can work quite quickly. I can never finish a piece in one go, but have to leave it a few days and see it again with fresh eyes.

Tell us more about your workspace, and your life living and working on a boat on the UK waterways?

Living on the boat is awesome, but space is tight. The boat is just 13m in length and 2m in width. I have a desk which takes up half the living space, but can be packed down if we have guests. My partner is very chilled out, and we are both very used to living in small spaces, and so it suits us. Under the bed I have a large A3 scanner/ printer and I have to make my prints in very small quantities. In the summer we installed a solar panel to the roof, so I can charge my laptop easily now. At the moment my partner is working in West London and so we have to float around in one area, but our licence states that we must move a couple of miles every 14 days. In the summer we roamed the countryside and enjoyed our freedom! Life on the boat is wonderful, but there is a lot to learn and a lot of time spent opening and closing locks in the pouring rain!

What are the most challenging parts of working as an artist?

I think that taking knock-backs is the most challenging thing. It is quite hard to separate yourself from the work and not take knock-backs too personally. Also making yourself stay motivated; it can be quite a lonely life working as an independent artist from a home studio! My dream is to one day have my own studio/ gallery space to invite people in for arts workshops.

In The Wild © Sophia Shaw

And what are the best parts?

The best part of working as an artist has to be when somebody chooses to own a piece of my work, it’s a lovely feeling that somebody has made that connection and wants my work in their home!

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?

Be patient! Work hard and always make sure you are enjoying creating your work.

What are you currently working on? And what’s next?

I have just finished painting my Christmas card designs for this year ready for some Christmas markets that I am selling my work at in West London. Next thing I am working on is illustrated map tea towels, I have always loved the kitsch holiday souvenir tea towel designs and I want to create some in my own style, watch this space!

English Country Garden © Sophia Shaw

Connect with Sophia at, and

All images copyright of Sophia Shaw.

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Rewilding: The Process


I’ve had a break from blogging for the past month. With one exhibition going on display, and another in the works, things have been pretty busy. I also escaped for a week away with my family, where I spent a lot of time reading and working on drawing studies.

Before I go ahead and explain the thoughts behind my newest painting, go ahead and take a look below at my Youtube video showing the full painting process.

I started this painting because I wanted to make something without already knowing how I wanted it to look. The plan was to put pencil to paper and see what happened. Like most creatives I am a perfectionist, but sometimes perfectionism can limit your work. In this piece I left in the rough pencil lines that I would normally erase. I like using flowing line work to create a sense of movement, and I like how alive they make the portrait look.

Rewilding, Hannah Rose Shaw, 2017, ink and watercolour on A4 watercolour paper.

I’ve recently been inspired by Clarissa Pinkola Estés’s Women Who Run with the Wolves. Estés talks, among many other things, about how a creative inner world needs to be fed. My work often comes back to the theme of inner lives, an introspective nature appearing in my colours and bringing together of the ordinary and the extraordinary, the external and the internal. I’m planning on this idea becoming a series of work, and I’ll talk more about it in posts to come.

For now, let me know what you think of the video, and I invite you to a challenge! It’s this: get out a pen or a brush and set of paints, and start making. It doesn’t matter how you do it, what it is or what the outcome is, just enjoy the doing and use it as a chance to work without worrying about perfection.


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Gaea: The Process

The goddess Gaea weaves through Greek mythology as the personification of Earth and the creator of all life. Greek vases show her as inseparable from her native element, rising from the Earth. In mosaic art she is clothed in green and surrounded by infant gods of things that grow. Described as the eldest of divinities, a giver of dreams, a nourisher of plants, Hellenistic worship of Gaea was a celebration of nature.

The ancient Greek explanation for the creation of the world was written by Hesiod in his poem Theogony in about 700bc. In the beginning there was only Chaos, a great void. From the void appeared the Earth, Gaea, who gave birth to the sky and the sea. The Romans called her Terra, and almost every culture on Earth has a name for her; the Aztec Coatlicue, the Inca Pachamama, the Celtic Dea Matrona, and the Hindu Add Para Shakti.

‘Gaea’ began as a sketch in November last year. I had been reading a lot of Greek mythology and while there are many strong female characters – Artemis, Athena, Nemesis – Gaea stood out to me as a powerful and creative force. I think there is a strong sense of duality about her that makes her such an interesting figure. She is maternal but also the strongest of all the gods, she destroys as well as creates, she brings into being both good and bad, she works in both the physical, natural work and the intangible world of prophecy and dreams.

Gaea, Hannah Rose Shaw, 2016, ink and watercolour on A4 watercolour paper.
Gaea, Hannah Rose Shaw, 2016, ink and watercolour on A4 watercolour paper.

I started this piece by sketching the face and then the leaves and flowers. The drawing process took several hours. I don’t like to rush my work, and I create best when I am in a calm frame of mind and simply let the piece develop.

To colour the drawing I used bold pinks and oranges intermingled with more natural blues and greens, allowing the colours to melt and merge. For this piece I used Daler Rowley watercoloursPebeos’ Colorex watercolour inks – the brightness of which I absolutely love – and tried out my new Finecolour markers, which are subtle but wonderful for adding detail.



I had so much fun working on this piece and working in a slightly different style to usual. The outlines in black pen makes it look more illustrative than my usual work, but I think it fits the boldness of the subject and colours. I’m looking forward to creating more mythology-inspired work. Have an idea which figure I should paint next? Let me know in the comments.

‘Gaea’ is available as an A4 print in my shop.


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