Turning Washed Up Wood Into Art

The fallen tree we’re sitting on has long had its bark removed by the lapping waves of the Solent. The sun and salt has bleached the exposed wood, turning it almost white. The tree may be long dead, but it’s beautiful. It wouldn’t be out of place as a sculpture in a modern art gallery.

Exploring the beaches near his home here on the Isle of Wight, Josh Hibberd goes further than most when spotting nice pieces of driftwood. He brings them back to life and turns it into art.

Where others see waste, Josh sees opportunity. He paints coastal scenes inspired by his surroundings onto the material he finds to create unique pieces of art. We shoot the breeze with him on a local beach as he works on a new piece.

Josh paints on an Isle of Wight beach

“I get weirdly excited by finding bits of wood. I spot something and think immediately of what I can so with it. The art starts there,” he says as the turquoise water washes over his feet.

Each time he goes to the beach, there’s no way of knowing whether he’ll come back with anything useful. What he does find becomes the canvas for his paintings. The worn wood has a say in the creative process, it offers something that a canvas can’t.

“What I struggled with originally with a normal canvas, was the very fact it was a blank canvas. It’s quite sterile. Driftwood offers something instantly. You can play off the different textures, depths and the grain. That determines where I’ll take it as a painting. I leave parts of the wood unpainted so the wood looks like the beach. The wood is literally part of the art.”

Listening to him speak, it becomes clear that the best way to depict natural scenes is to use natural materials.

Finding a natural canvas

Working with the textures of the wood

Josh explains Island life makes him closer to nature, a connection that has become a part of his identity.

The coastal environment marks the boundary of what we control and what we don't. On an Island, we see in every direction the ocean is part of a connected system. A system we are a part of. Perhaps that’s why Island communities worldwide are particularly conscious of their impact on the natural world, in tune with the changes and challenges of our planet. Josh nods.

“I feel disconnected if I don’t see a bit of the sea during the week,” he says looking over the Solent. “Living on an Island, you appreciate what you have a lot more. It's finite. You see plastic floating around and washed up on the beach. We talk a lot about plastics, but it’s even stuff like coastal erosion accelerating due to rising sea levels. Some of the beaches I used to love going to myself, I notice them change and think ‘where are they going to end up?”’

A canvas version

Taking inspiration from the environment

When people started buying his art, Josh realised he was onto something different. A different approach seemed to resonate more and that gave people a chance to tap into something we all have in common. His art can be found in homes far from the sea, bringing a piece of the coast to their homes.

“Primarily the people who buy my work are people who have had experiences here or love the seaside, but live far from the coast and don’t see the sea. Everyone’s got a yearning inside of them for that connection,” Josh says, “that’s where the driftwood plays its part, it makes the connection real.”

Josh wears the Octopus t-shirt

The journey the material takes is part of the story that fascinates him.

“I find bits of driftwood that have stamps on them from all over the world from Asia to America to Antarctica. It can come from a long time ago or really far away, from fishing boats or trawlers or trees anywhere in the world and any time in the past.”

The journey of the driftwood that finds its way to shore had a story of its own. Though it doesn’t end there. Josh’s paintings give them a new life and purpose, a new chapter as one creative step in a natural flow. As a natural canvas, once they’ve served their purpose they’ll once again break down to continue their journey in the cycle. Natural, and back to nature.

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You can explore Josh’s artwork on his website and instagram

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