Art made from beach finds

Emma Lee Many artists are inspired by our stunning coastline – but Catherine Youngs goes a step further and makes art from what she finds on her favourite beaches. EMMA LEE found out more on a trip to Covehithe.

Emma Lee

Standing on Covehithe beach, the hustle and bustle of the city seems a million miles away. The stress of everyday life evaporates as you breathe in the fresh salty air. The only sound is the waves crashing against the shore.

It's moments like this when you realise how lucky you are to live in a part of the world with such beautiful stretches of coast to escape to.

The beach at Covehithe seems like a bit of a secret - it's tucked well away from the Suffolk hamlet's main road and you have to walk about half a mile to find it.

But it's definitely worth the effort.

Like many artists based in East Anglia, Catherine Youngs takes much of her inspiration from the coast. And Covehithe is a secret that she was lucky enough to discover when she was a young girl.

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Growing up in the area, she would visit the beach with her parents. And, describing herself as having magpie tendencies, she would usually end up with pockets full of “treasures” - items that caught her eye washed up on the shoreline, like shells and driftwood, to take home with her.

Art runs in Catherine's family, so it's no surprise that she showed signs of creative flair from an early age. After school she did an art foundation course at Norwich School of Art and Design, followed by a move up north to land-locked Sheffield to study metalwork and jewellery 3D design.

After graduating she moved to London and joined the corporate world.

But it wasn't long before East Anglia called her back and she was following what she knew was her true calling - art.

And the beaches she has loved for such a long time have provided much of the inspiration and raw materials for her work.

This summer Catherine is taking part in two exhibitions in Suffolk, and during our trip to Covehithe, accompanied by labrador Willow, she is hoping to find some interesting pieces to include in her new pieces for the shows.

It's really exciting to feel like you're part of the creative process.

And once you're tuned in it's amazing what you can spot and the potential it can have - glass that has been battered and shaped by the power of the tide, twisted pieces of metal and smooth driftwood.

As we walk, and Willow chases around and does some exploring, Catherine explains why she feels such a strong connection to Covehithe.

She says she loves the fact that it's a “wild” beach and that its isolation provides an easy way to escape from the hustle and bustle. And it's a place that is in a constant state of change as the tides eat away at the cliffs. We leave with plenty of material to fire her imagination.

Despite training as a jewellery maker, Catherine, 35, works mainly in glass - something that came about by accident. She had bought a stained glass-making kit for her partner, Andy, but found she was more interested in it than he was and started making bird and dragonfly window hangings.

From there Hethersett-based Catherine added another dimension to her work and started incorporating beach glass and other finds from her coast walks into her pieces.

She says that she loves the fact that when she sets out to make one of her beach works she has no idea which direction it is going to take.

“What you make depends on what you find,” she says.

Catherine's first piece made out of beach glass was inspired by a trip to Whitby about four years ago. And last year, thinking about people's often very personal connections with the sea, she had the idea for A Walk On The Beach.

“It's about the strong passion we have for the sea and beaches around us, and how we are drawn to it. It's about memories, friends and loved ones,” she explains.

“When we go to the beach we fill our pockets with little bits - things like beach glass and driftwood, then when we get home, the treasure is put on a windowsill and admired until we get bored of dusting it, at which point it's then put outside the back door and usually finds its way into the flower bed. Now I know not everyone does this, but most do, which is where I step in.

“People can bring their treasures to me and I can make something that reminds them of their favourite beach.”

t Catherine's work is going on show at two exhibitions this summer. Fragile Coastline opens at the Crooked House Gallery at Lavenham on Saturday and runs until the end of August. And Ebbflow, a Suffolk Crafts Society exhibition, is being held at the Peter Pears Gallery at Aldeburgh from August 13 to August 24.

t If you're interested in commissioning Catherine to make a hanging out of your beach treasures, e-mail or phone 01603 811628. Prices range from £40 to £70, depending on the size and intricacy of the hanging.