Finding solace in the Solent

During the pandemic, many of us have found ourselves less able to do the things we love and have looked to nature for new ways to occupy our time and nurture our mental wellbeing. Over the past year, Lauren Raine, one of our Marine Champions, has found solace in creating art inspired by the Solent coastline. She shares her experience with us here.

Recently I watched Beau Miles’s short film in which he runs 650km along the Australian Alps. After 421km he explains how there are two versions of himself; one who is good at looking ahead and one who is good at living in the moment, and I paused the video. I realised that, unlike Beau, throughout lockdown I have been living almost exclusively in the past; losing my job, thinking about the last time I went to a pub, and fruitlessly reflecting on decisions I made years ago. From the second I watched that clip I decided to check myself when I start venturing into the past; it is done, the pandemic is hopefully receding, and I want to look forward to what is next.

One way this is possible is through art, and the Solent and surrounding countryside have provided ample inspiration for projects over the past year. I became a Marine Champion for the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust because I wanted to do something useful, meet new people and have another excuse to hang out by the sea. Running once a day for months on end had built up into a desire to spend whole days outdoors, and I hoped to volunteer on the Wightlink ferry talking to passengers about seabirds. Watching birds feed and interact is so far removed from our daily lives it creates a haven away from the bustle of work that I find alluring. Unfortunately, talking to groups of people on the ferry has not been possible, so I have channelled my passion for birdwatching and the ocean into artwork instead.

Papier-mâché ringed plover © Lauren Raine

Papier-mâché ringed plover © Lauren Raine

In the first lockdown (which I now view with rose-tinted nostalgia due to the beautiful weather we had in March), I created a small, papier-mâché model of a little ringed plover. It was inspired by the papier-mâché animals created by my friend’s artist mother and by the plovers on the pebbles of the Solent near where I live. Although I did not realise it at the time, I can now see how making wildlife-based art can be a pure form of escapism reminiscent of Beau’s vision of himself. Although you learn from your mistakes, each layer of a sculpture or painting must be built on top of the last one; you cannot dwell on what has gone before. Each successive layer of papier-mâché that has dried creates a new layer to start afresh, allowing the mind to focus on what it is currently doing whilst imagining what it will look like in the future. The past is a distant thought; a flour-based paste buried under newspaper and paint. The present is a calm few hours spent thinking of nothing but sculpting and painting.

Chest of Drawers © Lauren Raine

Chest of Drawers © Lauren Raine

This third lockdown I decided to restore an old chest of drawers I bought second-hand for a fiver. I have painted each drawer with different natural symbols to remind me of the outside world when I am in my room. Birds, trees, flowers and the sea embody a world without judgement; our worrying does not affect the tides or migrations. Like the plover, every time I added a new layer to the drawers I acknowledged the brushstrokes that had gone before, but I did not think about the dry paint. I could not un-paint it; I could only add to it and change it to create something new that I would be happy with. All that mattered at that time was the act of applying paint to wood and deciding the next colour.

Walking along the Solent can also provoke a present-future state. I often go on long walks and runs along the seafront and the Hamble, near Hill Head and Warsash. Mindfulness is a popular endeavour, but from now on I am determined to try not only to absorb what is going on around me but to think about the future as well. No more walks where I dwell on an awkward zoom meeting or an issue at work; all thoughts must attempt to be optimistically future-based or indulgently present-based. As I crunch over the tidal rocks and listen to the curlew’s distinctive cry I will not be thinking of the latest news. I will imagine where the oystercatchers are flying to roost, what I will paint over the summer and how happy I will be when I can see my nan again.

Feeling inspired?

A huge thanks to Lauren for sharing her journey with us. If you'd like to become a Marine Champion, or support our marine wildlife in another way, our project Secrets of the Solent is a great place to start.