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Cornwall: Friends of the Towans Art Club on the Dunes

Dynamic Dunescapes

In their own words, find out more about the Friends of the Towans Art Club in Cornwall that Dynamic Dunescapes is delighted to be able to support.

In 2022 artists Hilary Jean Gibson and Dominica Williamson set up Friends of the Towans Art Club on the dunes. Hilary's dream was to establish the art club and Dominica's was to run workshops for young people and families. With the support of Friends of the Towans (FOTT) and Towans Ranger Martin Rule, they were successful in applying for funding from the Dynamic Dunescapes project.

Our heartfelt thanks goes out to Andy Nelson and Pip Cook from the Dynamic Dunescapes team for their help and advice, without which none of this could have taken place. Much to our delight, we’ve received more of this Heritage Lottery funding from them to run and develop it for another year.

Hilary Jean Gibson leading the sunset session for Friends of the Towans Art Club. Photograph Pip Cook

FOTT (Friends of the Towans) Art Club

What is it for: Learning about how dunes are homes, are beautiful, are a mystery and are places you can play and learn from through the experience of making art in an informal fun manner.

Who is it for: It’s inclusive, free and for adults and families. Holidaymakers and locals are targeted as well as existing art clubs and FOTT volunteers. Overtime we will reach out to people who are often overlooked as well as schools (through the idea of an after school club).

What can it achieve: Through en plein air drawing and painting and botanical illustration, you can you can learn about nature and gain a new appreciation of your surroundings. These are mindful activities and so good for people’s wellbeing and the environment.

A woman in a beanie hat sits on the beach painting under a sunset
An art club on the dunes - sunset session led by artist Hilary Jean Gibson. Photograph Dominica Williamson

The art club on the dunes in 2022

The art club met on the dunes for the first time in April at Gwithian Chapel followed by a marvellous time drawing in the churchyard and on Gwithian Green. An afternoon drawing on Mexico Towans on Saturday 27th May in the most beautiful weather was next.

These types of sessions continued with Hilary leading them. For instance, on Wednesday 22nd June the Summer Solstice beckoned us to St Gothian Sands to depict a glowing sunset. Our fourth meeting found us lying on the rabbit nibbled grass drawing and identifying many precious dune plants including Southern Marsh Orchids during World Sand Dune Day at Gwithian Towans on 26th June.

During the year there were also marvellous walking opportunities provided by FOTT to discover more on the dunes with botanist Dr Colin French and archaeologist Jacky Nowakowski.

A smiling lady with a sketch book sits on the sand under a blue sky
An art club on the dunes drawing in the summertime. Photograph Hilary Jean Gibson

Gwithian Green

Dominica delivered four family workshops at Gwithian Green during the heatwave. She designed them following one of the FOTT guided walks by Dr Colin French. His knowledge is invaluable and shaped the workshop. He is a vice county recorder for Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland (BSBI).

Through the workshops, participants have learnt about unique and sometimes rare plants that they wouldn’t necessarily notice, especially in some recently scraped damper areas of the dune system. By first using hand lenses and making time to really ‘see’, then by drawing and painting, the wonders of the tiny world of plants were explored!

‘I found the combination of the science and art fascinating;. Andy the conservationist talked about the habitat of some of the plants we were to draw and also the way the site is managed: Dominica our artist, gave us insight into the botanical process and a lot of guidance on how to draw and paint the plants; a very enjoyable and inspiring day.’

Friends of the Towans Art Club session 'Introduction to Botanical Illustration for Families'. Funded by Dynamic Dunescapes. Drawing dinosaur plant exercise, created by Andy Nelson and Dominica Williamson. Photograph Sophie Oudeboon.
Friends of the Towans Art Club workshop on Gwithian Green. Funded by Dynamic Dunescapes. Botanical illustration worksheet by a young person who painted with their sister and grandmother. Photograph Andy Nelson

The future of the club

We hope to make the green a site of excellence for botanical illustration with a focus on 9-12 year olds visiting the site to draw.

"My daughter really enjoyed the art and found the use of the hand lens fascinating when looking at the structures of the petals and the plant itself."

Gwithian Green is common land and is managed by the Gwithian Green Management Committee (a local group of experts and enthusiasts) with the help of the Community Liaison Officer. Over the past 30 years 316 species of  flowering plants have been recorded – 237 of those since 1999.

In terms of the overall future of the club, in September we met on 17th at Mexico Towans to draw, and for an Autumn Equinox sunset on 23rd at St Gothian for some colour. This led us to creating an event to mark the end of the year and so we could gather in all our feedback to help shape the future.

Friends of the Towans Art Club workshop on Gwithian Green. Funded by Dynamic Dunescapes. Botanical illustration worksheet by a young person who painted with their sister and grandmother. Photograph Andy Nelson
Friends of the Towans Art Club session 'Introduction to Botanical Illustration for Families'. Funded by Dynamic Dunescapes. Drawing dinosaur plant exercise, created by Andy Nelson and Dominica Williamson. Photograph Sophie Oudeboon.

Art club outcomes and feedback

FOTT Art Club went from strength to strength growing in numbers and reputation. Seventy participants helped to make it a joy and as someone remarked, we became ‘a community’.

"Brilliant project, would love to take part in more events."

"Thank you so much for these sessions – it’s great to meet like-minded."

"Like to do more. So thoughtfully organised. Interesting set of people."

"Brilliant experience, well done!"

"Thank you very much! Very enjoyable. Please add me to all mailing list for art, talks, events, info and support."

"Extremely good to see so many people enjoying the dunes."

"Hilary is amazing, informative and inspiring. Enjoyed every session. Full of local information about my area from Andy and Martin."

This year is the last year the artists can access Dynamic Dunescapes funding so they are working on how they can take the club into the future.

A graphic word cloud show casing what people felt about the introduction to botanical illustration workshops.
A graphic word cloud show casing what people felt about the introduction to botanical illustration workshops.

The Big ‘Dune’ Draw

The grand finale to the year for the club in 2022 was The Big Dune Draw and a celebration of Art Club at Gwithian Chapel – Hilary and Dominica ensured the club took part in the international event called The Big Draw on the beach at St Gothian Sands drawing and writing in sketchbooks –  warming up afterwards with tea treats in the Chapel with an exhibition of sketchbooks.

They will repeat The Big Dune Draw this year and build on their business plan and manifesto. They are involving their new community in this process. They will also build a gallery of images and make art club badges and stamps. And for the future, Martin Rule the Towans Ranger has lots of ideas for art making that he can then use to help conserve the dunes.

Perhaps their moto will be, ‘Keep dune drawing!’

Art session
hilary

About the Author

Hilary Jean Gibson
Associate Member of the Society of Graphic Fine Art, Botanical Society of Artists Fellow, St Ives Society of Artists

I’ve taught art since 1980 and been an art tutor at St Ives School of Painting since 1995, also running art courses for the Field Studies Council since 1998. So when I became a Trustee for the Friends of the Towans my dream was to create an Art Club, enabling people to draw en plein air, learn skills and introducing them to our beautiful dunes in Hayle. Through Martin Rule the Towans Ranger, I met Dominica and with funding from Dynamic Dunescapes we set up FOTT Art Club. Observational drawing is my passion and I especially love to draw plants in the natural habitats and landscapes in which they grow. I’m passionate about sharing these joys with others.

Dom

About the Author

Dominica Williamson
Fellow of the Eden Project Florilegium Society and Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts

I'm an artist and experienced facilitator who runs participatory workshops using fine art, botanical illustration, three-dimensional modelling, sustainable design, photography, map-making, and walking. I'm passionate about working with people outdoors in an informal setting to harness their skills and awaken their creativity. My strong drawing skills are key to developing, communicating, and illustrating ideas. Dynamic Dunescapes funding is enabling me to work with Hilary and Martin Rule so we can impart our drawing and painting skills to others. We want everyone to feel they can make visual work, and everyone to realise they can learn and help protect nature by taking part in FOTT Art Club.