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One extremely blustery, typically Cornish morning this week, we had the privilege of warming up with a cuppa and natter with the lovely Nikki Fewings, a mum of two girls, Marine Biologist, and the talented artist behind ‘Lily & Sea’.

In our ‘yarn’, Nikki spoke about her life-long love of the ocean, her commitment to sustaining and protecting what she loves and how she goes about ensuring this takes precedence in her newly found, and surprising turn-out for her creative career!

So how did Lily & Sea all come about?

Well, when I was as young as 4 or 5 years old, I started to develop a love and affinity for the ocean. I grew up in the middle of the country, at least 2 hours away from the east coast, which was our nearest coastline. My grandparents used to take my brother and I off on holiday to Bridlington and we would spend a large part of the holiday staring at the sea and beachcombing with them.

As I got older my love of the sea never disappeared even though I wasn’t beachcombing anymore. I knew from a young age that Marine Biology was what I wanted to do at university, so everything was gearing towards that. You know, for my work experience, I went up to Scotland to work at an aquarium and I knew I wouldn’t settle for anything else really.

I ended up in Plymouth University for my Marine Biology degree, which was utterly amazing. After this point I ended up in Mexico for a year where I worked for a volunteering organisation, where people would come for 6 to 8 weeks and learn about the sea, learn to dive… It was a great job! I was driving boats and diving every day.  I worked alongside a guy who wanted to start up a charity called the Olive Ridley Project {}.  Olive Ridleys are a species of sea turtle. When I left my job in Mexico, I ended up being the Chair of Trustees and we set up the charity from scratch. I’m not part of the charity anymore, but they’ve gone from strength to strength and have built a rescue centre over in the Maldives, who save turtles who have sadly been caught up in ghost fishing nets.

Once I came back, I worked for a Scuba Diving Tour Operator in Plymouth, where I was so fortunate to be able to go out to the Maldives and the Galapagos, which are such amazing places to go diving. I specialised in sharks during my degree, so my boss set up trips which allowed me to talk to our customers about sharks for a while too which was really lucky.

I’m so fortunate to have dived in some incredible places, and I’ve seen some wonderful things, but there are still a few things which I’ve not seen yet and I’m just not ready to hang up my fins until I have! I really want to see a Sunfish and any kind of great whale!

When my husband and I got married, we honeymooned in our campervan around the South-West coast. We have a little dog, Bertie, who is our furry child, so we couldn’t go abroad and leave him! He had to come on our honeymoon. We started in Welcombe, worked our way down to Land’s End, then across to the Isles of Scilly, and travelled along the south coast back up to Plymouth.

It was on one of the beaches on the island of Tresco in the Scillys that I noticed just how beautiful the shells are over there! And that’s when my passion for shells in particular came flooding back. Their colour variations are different to over there, more subtle, more pastel-like. Some of them have more of a mother of pearl to them. I brought a handful home to add to my jarred collection of my old Bridlington shells but thought they were too good to just sit in a jar!

I’d always been quite crafty, and randomly one afternoon I bought a cheap frame and off I went! That was 2017, when it was more of a hobby. You know, I’d make a few pictures for family and friends here and there. They were the ones that suggested that maybe I should sell them! But I’d never thought of creating a business at all until then.

At that point in time there wasn’t anyone else that I was aware of, creating anything with shells in frames. I thought, well I enjoy it so why not give it a go! At that time, I had something like 100 followers on Instagram, which felt like loads back then! But it was the first lock down when it really kicked off. Maybe because so many people weren’t able to visit the sea themselves; perhaps they wanted a piece of art to remind them of their favourite places. It was totally unexpected how mad it went!

We moved to Bude in 2018 and pretty soon after that I decided to drop my part-time job and give the art a go full time for a period of 6 months. I remember saying to my husband, if it makes the same amount of money then please can I do it?! [laughs].

So, you were granted permission! [laughs]…

Yes, but I’m totally humbled by it! I wasn’t expecting it to be as successful as it has been at all. I’m so lucky to be able to do my passion for my job. I actually look forward to my working days so much. I have to keep pinching myself!

So where does the name ‘Lily & Sea’ come from?

Lily is my eldest daughter and I feel a bit weird saying this, (because who has spare time when you have a newborn?!) but I found the time to do it when she was a baby. During her nap times, rather than cleaning the house or catching up on sleep like I felt I should, I would take some ‘me time’ doing art. It was my time to really slow down and relax.

When I make or create something, I become very mindful. I don’t think about anything. I feel at peace, which was really needed for me at a not very peaceful time as a new mum.

I’ve tried meditating but I find it very difficult to switch off, but creating the artwork really is a mindful activity.

Where to do you source your shells? Do you create a sort of story around where you have collected them?

I collect them all myself, and generally, with each piece I would say which county the shells have been collected e.g. Cornwall, or Devon, though the majority of artworks showcase Cornish treasures

People have asked me before which beaches are good for beachcombing, but I’m a little hesitant and quite protective over where I go for a number of reasons really. One of the reasons is safety. I have a relatively large following now and don’t really want people to know where I go. I’ve also spent a lot of time and money (in fuel) driving across Cornwall, trying – and sometimes failing – to find good beachcombing spots, so I don’t like to give the locations away so freely. I also don’t want to encourage loads of different people going to one particular beach – I probably do a bigger beachcom maybe three times a year, but the reality is that I just pick up the odd treasure here and there when I’m out walking my dog. I’m very wary of taking too much, and I don’t know that others would be the same. Every now and then I even go through my collection at home, and I bag a load up and take them back down to the beach if I’ve not used them in a certain time frame.

Another reason is, obviously I am taking shells as ethically as possible from the beach. I’ve really looked into the correct ways to do it, causing as little harm as possible. But not everyone looks into this. People really need to know what they can take or not, and where from etc. I only beachcomb from the high tide line where things are much less likely to wash back in. We also have to be so careful not to take anything with a living creature in it or on it, and sometimes this isn’t as obvious as it sounds. Sometimes there’s a little creature quite far inside the shell so you really have to look carefully. Also, we need to remember that barnacles are living – unless you can clearly see the outer plates with a hole in the middle where the animal used to be! People don’t always realise that and often take shells with live barnacles on them. It’s an absolute no no for me, to the point that when my grandparents were collecting things from the beach, my grandad accidentally brought home a shell that he hadn’t realised was someone else’s home. So, I drove it back down to the beach and dropped it back off in the rockpool!

I mean the truth is, that the majority of shells will just erode and wear away into sand, but there also can be other animals that utilise those shells like hermit crabs and with the bigger ones, octopus hide in them, some fish lay their eggs in them.

You sound extremely environmentally conscious…

I do really try to be, because I am aware that I am taking something from the beach. My frames are all handmade in Launceston, which is about half an hour from my home. My packaging is all ecofriendly, using recyclable or recycled materials, the bubble wrap is oxo-degradable, the stickers I use to seal the ecofriendly, 100% recycled tissue paper I use are made with plant-based inks. I try very hard!

I’ve noticed that you also plant a tree for every purchase of a piece of artwork made…

Again, it’s just another step to try to be more ethical and sustainable. I use an organisation called Ecologi and every month they update me on where they are planting are being planting around the world. I need to share that a bit better actually! It’s an important thing to do.

So, what would you recommend to someone who’s interested in starting beachcombing… what do they need?

Eyes and a poo bag!! [laughs] I do use earth friendly poo bags too, just to throw that out there! Tupperware is a good one. It’s definitely about keeping an eye on the tides, making sure you are constantly aware of what the sea is doing, not getting too close to cliffs and staying on the hightide line as much as you can.

It’s also so important to pick up litter too! It’s not just about what we want to take from the beach but how the beach can benefit from you. In fact, sometimes I use marine plastics and nurdles in my artwork, so it doesn’t always just go in the bin [she says pulling a handful of fishing line, nurdles and bits of rubbish out of her coat pocket].

What’s the weirdest and most wonderful thing you’ve found so far?

It was a few weeks ago actually. So, I collect and use sea glass in my artwork as well, it holds a bit of a special story for me.

I was at one of my favourite spots I go to, and I found a little glass eye. I think it’s from a very old teddy bear. It has a bluey white background with a black pupil on it. It’s gone in my favourites pot.

Why is sea glass so special to you?

A few years ago, I lost my aunty to breast cancer. She was only 47 years-old and we were quite close. She wasn’t very confident around the sea, but when we moved to Bude, she visited us a couple of times and we would go sea glass hunting together. She absolutely loved it!

I almost prefer now looking for sea glass to shells as it carries more meaning to me. I use sea glass in all of my mixed artwork, except the rarer pieces, which I can’t bear to part with. My auntie’s favourite colours were orange and yellow, and I found an orange and yellow piece in one of my favourite spots, which is quite rare, so I had that made into a necklace.

So, what’s next for Lily & Sea?

Well, I have so many ideas, but it’s just about finding the time to do them! I think that when my youngest, Maggie, whose 2 years old, starts school, that will be the time to really start pushing things. But that balance is really hard at the moment. There’s a good demand for my work and it’s so hard to not run with it. I take commissions but I’m booked out until October next year, so I have to be realistic and honest with customers and myself with what I can and can’t take on.

I’ve just done a run of jigsaws made from wood, with a great company called Wentworth. They do wooden, sustainable, beautiful high-quality jigsaws in the UK. The board is made from sustainably managed forests, the boxes are recycled. They’re so beautifully made.

I’m just starting up an exciting collaboration with an artist in London, who makes beautiful art using alcohol ink and resin. We’re going to have three pretty large artworks for sale soon and I can’t wait to see how they turn out!

I also do cards, Christmas cards and prints too, using the guy who makes my frames. He took at photo of a beautiful, pink, queen scallop shell that my mum had found and is now in Lily’s bedroom. With the print, he put a smiley face on it, a Santa hat, and a Christmas pun along the bottom. It went down really well when I posted it, so I think that the image on a Christmas jumper would work really well!

But of course, [in true Lily and Sea fashion] it will need to be made with organic certified cotton!

Watch this scallopy Santa space!!

If you would like to see what Nikki is up to, contact her, or have a browse at her incredible artwork and find out what she has to offer, you can reach her on:

Instagram: Lily_and_sea

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