Five minutes with ... sea swimmer and artist Lesley Warner
From da Vinci to Monet and Turner, hundreds of artists have been inspired by the sea – but ceramicist Lesley Warner has taken it a step – or dip if you prefer – further.
Lelsey, who lives in Esplanade Gardens, Scarborough, braves the waves in the South Bay every morning and then makes a piece of pottery based on that day’s swim.
“Each piece starts with a swim, then a sketch, before being thrown on the potter’s wheel. Some of the resulting pieces are sculptural – reflecting the forces of the water and the feel of the waves on the swimmer’s body. Others are more traditional vessel forms,” said Lesley.
“While swimming in the North Sea off Scarborough, sometimes I’m being pounded and knocked off my feet by waves; other times gently supported by a buoyant wave – or strongly aware of colour or light,” she said.
“The sea is different each day – sometimes leading me straight to the sketchbook, other times simply setting me up for the day ahead.”
Each piece is dated and named after a swim.
“Of course, life is never that predictable. There are some major holes or breaks in the diary, not least following a major accident in August but getting back into the sea and the studio has been essential.”
She is referring to an accident when she fell of her bike and broker her leg in several places – it is now almost fully healed.
Lesley, who was in media and communications, and her husband David moved to Scarborough from London a few years ago.
Her final job was working for Amnesty International.
The couple started coming to Scarborough 13 years ago to go to the first Scarborough Jazz Festival which is held each September at Scarborough Spa.
“I particularly love turning up to rehearsals for the Easy Band in the Sun Court. It reminds me of when I used to play. I love the enthusiasm of young people making beautiful music,” said
Lesley who has a child played, among other things, piano and clarinet.
After a career in media communications she decided to do something different.
The couple bought a flat in Esplanade Gardens in 2015 and rented it out during the season before deciding to settle here full time.
“I left Amnesty International saying I wanted to be a potter having never done any of it before,” she said.
“My journey into clay started aged 39. After a successful career in media relations and communications I decided that what I really wanted to do was be a potter and started studying ceramics for the first time.
Lesley completed a Diploma in Fine Art and Ceramics at City Lit, London.
Find out more about City Lit courses here
From 2010 to 2017 she was a ceramics tutor and technician at City Lit college in Covent Garden, London, teaching a variety of courses, mainly focused on throwing skills.
Now, she says, it is her time.
“Many years later and with a number of years teaching ceramics under my belt my attention has now turned to focus on my own creative practice,” she said.
She decided to concentrate on her ceramics and has a studio at the Old Parcels Office, Scarborough Railway Station.
All her work starts on the potter’s wheel, using terracotta earthenware clay and coloured slips applied during the throwing process. Some pieces are then altered or manipulated. After a high bisque firing a transparent lead-free glaze is applied and then refired.
Lesley has swam three or four times a week since she was 25.
Her outdoor swims started when she came to Scarborough for the jazz festivals and also on holidays to Scotland.
She was introduced to Sea Swim in Scarborough which operates from South Bay.
From Easter to September it has a rota for weekends – Saturday and Sunday – from 10am when everybody who is interested can go along.
“Someone always makes cake,” she said.
Her husband does not join her for the sea swims but “he is always waiting for me with a flask of tea when I come out of the sea,” she said.
On the morning we meet, there are two more sea swimmers and they greet each other as friends.
“We are not silly. We always make sure there are other swimmers and we keep an eye out for each other,” said Lesley.
Lesley also sings in an acapella choir and is taking part in a concert in aid of Amnesty International at South Cliff Methodist Hall And Church on Saturday March 23.