I have lived close to Longsands beach in Tynemouth for over 20 years and took it for granted that I could walk there whenever I wanted to. I used my time on the beach for reflection and inspiration as an artist, as well as for my physical and mental wellbeing. Like so many of us, I never anticipated this could be taken away from me.
When the UK Coronavirus lockdown began in March 2020 I was suddenly only permitted one hour on the beach per day. Having previously dealt with anxiety I thought I was coping quite well but I found I could hardly draw which was profoundly unsettling. So, for that one hour, I went rock pooling at low tide every day.
Apart from the unwelcome but necessary time constraint, I had never known the beach so deserted, beautiful or healing. As nature reclaimed her liminal spaces there was almost no human noise: no cars, aeroplanes, fewer people, dogs and almost no litter. The sounds of the sea, wind and wildlife were all around and had taken precedence. There was such a sense of airy space in the sky, horizon and flowing tides.
I searched for something to draw for the future when I had recovered and discovered broken seashells and beachcombing oddities. Meditative, exciting and healing, this was restoring my equilibrium. I felt protected by nature and my beach finds became my talismans.
When the car parks were open my anxiety was triggered but I sought help and am now improving. Most importantly I am beginning to make artworks again. In saving the shells they have saved me. I am now working on drawings where I give a shell or beachcombing find to an object from my extensive studio collection. When a shell fits against the body of an object that becomes the inspiration for a drawing. While these are not self-portraits, I hope they reference my early lockdown, rock pooling hours and me.
Although COVID is still here and we are in the midst of a worldwide pandemic it is good to see people again enjoying the beauties of Longsands. While lockdown easing has also brought problems as well as benefits, my sea treasures help me focus on the positives and look to the future.
I recall my anemones exhibition in the library of the NHSN in 2018. When this Covid crisis has passed I look forward to bringing in my sketchbook to study the lovely drawings of shells in the Society’s archive. I will always remember the intense moments I had on Longsands in full lockdown, and will never look at shells in quite the same way again. I hope you also have managed to find solace in a corner of nature and maybe to have even found your own little natural talisman. Perhaps now is the time to try and draw it?
By Charlotte Powell, North Tyneside
About the author
Charlotte lives in Tynemouth and regularly walks along the local beaches and in Northumberland Park. She has taught at the University of Newcastle for over 20 years and has exhibited widely. In 2018 she worked closely with the NHSN archives to create the show ‘Anemones of the Spirit, Sea, Air and Juvenescence’ held in the NHSN library.
Her work is mainly representational drawing focussing on a still life approach to found objects. Her studio is full of wonderful things, somewhat akin to the seventeenth century Cabinets of Wonder approach. Every object has a story and she uses a process of observation similar to that of Dutch still-life painters to capture these narratives in her work. Her subjects are wide-ranging but have included insects, birds, plants and, most recently, seashells from Longsands beach.
Her work can be seen at her website: clpowell.co.uk