How two sets of identical twins from Bangor are proving particularly crafty
Julie and Lauren Scott, from Bangor, and Claire and Karen Gibson, from Whitehead, tell Stephanie Bell that the key to their artistic success lies in the close bond they share as sisters
It's not unusual for twins to share the same passions and interests, but on Northern Ireland's burgeoning craft scene, two sets of identical twin sisters are emerging as hot new talents.
Growing up together, not only did sisters Julie and Lauren Scott from Bangor share the same striking good looks, but also the same love for art.
And it's the same story for sisters Claire and Karen Gibson from Whitehead, who run their own ceramic studio, Red Earth Designs in Belfast.
Craft is mushrooming among young people in Northern Ireland, with new studios and pop-up shops opening all the time, selling handmade, contemporary jewellery, pottery and textiles.
Both sets of twins not only have a strong familial bond, but their passion for the same profession means they can support each other as their businesses develop.
Karen and Claire (41) run Red Earth pottery and framing studios in Townsend Enterprise Park in Belfast.
As well as working side-by-side, the girls also lived together before buying their own houses a few months ago.
They both graduated with Masters Degrees from the Contemporary Applied Arts course in ceramics in 1998 and set up their business in 2001. Their work is known to be creative, instinctive and imaginative.
The girls are well established in their craft and have enjoyed the distinction of making pieces for Game of Thrones and the movie Cinderella. And being a twin definitely helps, according to Karen.
"I suppose the fact that we work together, and until eight months ago also lived together, has made us very close," says Karen.
"It is quite unusual that we are both ceramicists. We were both good at art in school and it was kind of always laid out for us that art was what we would do.
"There does seem to be a big resurgence in crafts at the minute, especially with pop-up shops which give people the advantage of the space to work in - and also I think people want to buy local.
"It can be a difficult business and I think artists traditionally don't charge enough compared to what other professionals charge for their time.
"We have branched into framing at our workshop and that has made a big difference to our business.
"Working with Claire is great because I always have someone who will give me an honest opinion of my work and will not hold back.
"Sometimes you can get a bit blind looking at your own work."
The girls have also become firmly established for designing awards and are now commissioned as the artist for the Irish Media Awards, the PPI Radio Awards, Taste of Ulster plaques, the BBC Radio Ulster school choir of the year awards and the NI Local Government Awards.
Although they are twins, their work is very different - Claire's work is neat and tidy, while Karen works in a more freestyle way, playing with form and shape.
Claire says: "We are so similar in so many ways. We have the same sense of humour, the same dress sense and like many of the same things, but I suppose the one area where we do differ is that Karen is quite messy whereas I am quite tidy.
"She goes around the studio like a whirlwind, leaving a mess in her wake and I am usually going behind her tidying it up.
"I couldn't imagine it any other way than having a twin and sometimes it is a bit scary how close we are as I could never imagine her not being here."
With their porcelain skin and calm, otherworldly demeanour, twin sisters Julie and Lauren Scott could have stepped out of the covers of a Victorian Gothic novel by Dickens or the Bronte sisters.
The sisters, who are 25 years old, are two of the most imaginative and talented young designer/makers in Northern Ireland and their unusual upbringing may give a clue to the dark symbolism of their work.
Having both graduated with first class honours in Fine and Applied Art from the University of Ulster in June 2012, the pair have embarked on what promise to be stellar careers in the contemporary craft industry.
Growing up they spent endless hours visiting National Trust properties, fuelling their imagination and love for beautiful old furniture, fabrics and clothes.
But it was their idyllic summers spent in a refurbished cottage nestled at the foot of ruggedly beautiful Mount Errigal in Donegal that gave them their love of nature, with all its imperfections.
The cottage was shorn of modern amenities, there was no running water or television, and the girls had no interest in playing with the latest toys. The dramatic Donegal landscape was their playground and they spent their days collecting frogs from ponds and riding horses on the beach.
They would sit up all night making dolls and other crafts from the natural materials they had found in the countryside and pieces of fabric from their father's linen business. They even opened their own little craft shop, where they would sell their exquisite, childlike pieces to locals and visitors.
Their work shares some similarities and is indicative of their childhood influences. They both work with three dimensional figures that are steeped in the decaying, dusty atmosphere of old Victorian houses and are gothic and literary in mood.
Lauren's figures, which she describes as 'veggie taxidermy', are gnarled, textile-based sculptures of dark, anthropomorphic woodland creatures - the Wind in the Willows as re-imagined by Tim Burton.
Julie's sculptures, as exemplified by her Seven Faded Sisters series, depict phantom women in faded grand dresses that almost reek of the damp, dankness of crumbling old mansions. There are elements of Poe and Dickens in her work.
"We were brought up in an unusual way," says Julie. "Our mum and dad are very creative and love doing up old properties. They bought a derelict rural cottage in Donegal and refurbished it. We still spend a lot of time there."
Both girls worked as riding instructors from the age of 16 and still ride horses from a local stables in Donegal. Indeed Lauren's work is made up of recycled material, including horsehair from the stables, bleached bones found on the beach at Dunfanaghy and off-cuts from her father's linen business. She also uses handmade porcelain teeth and ceramic feet with bunions and misshapen claws to emphasise the ageing process.
"I have a very dark imagination and I like to personalise my animals. I look at a person and think of what sort of animal they would be. A lot of my characters come from members of my own family," Lauren adds.
Julie spends much of her time visiting National Trust properties getting ideas and inspiration from vintage clothes and furniture. Her favourite place to spend a few hours is the Victoria and Albert Museum, in London.
"I have a real love of history and a passion for anything Victorian," she says.
Even when they were studying Art A-level at Glenlola College, their work was different. Julie was into extremely fine, detailed drawings while Lauren was more wildly experimental, working on vivid, three-dimensional textile art. The girls secured places on Craft NI's business development programme Making It: 10, which offers just eight places to artists from throughout Northern Ireland every two years.
Lauren says: "It was quite prestigious to get a place and our two years are due to finish in October.
"It has been brilliant because you are given studio space for the duration and a mentor who spends time with you. I've been working in one of the shipping containers in Project 24 in Bangor and Julie has a space in the Art College. We both will eventually be looking to open our own studios."
Getting established is probably the biggest challenge to the girls and while they have already made a huge impact, they have also been teaching part-time to supplement their income while their businesses get off the ground. Julie's work is also on display in So Fine Art in Dublin.
As with most things in their lives the sisters have partners who live in Donegal and also work in the same pizzeria, The Rusty Oven in Dunfanaghy, where the twins' work will be on permanent display during the summer.
Lauren and Julie will also be involved in the launch exhibition for August Craft Month at the Millennium Court Arts Centre, in Portadown, from July 31.
Julie says: "We've always been really close and it is weird that we both chose this profession, but it has worked out great because we can bounce ideas off each other and give each other advice."
Lauren adds: "We do like the same things but we have very different personalities. I would be the scatty one, whereas Julie is more organised, she is the reliable one. We are good friends as well as sisters."
- Find out more about Red Earth Designs at www.redearthdesigns.co.uk or view Julie's work at www.juliescottceramics.com and Lauren's at www.laurenscottart.com
Designs on fascinating careers
- August Craft Month is in celebratory mood as Craft NI marks its 10th anniversary with a special retrospective exhibition featuring the work of Northern Ireland's leading designer/makers
- Two new exhibitions celebrating the creativity and diversity of Ireland's designer/makers will officially launch the event at the Millennium Court Arts Centre in Portadown on July 30
- The first is Ontogeny, a solo exhibition by acclaimed ceramic artist Sara Flynn, and the second is Making It: 10, a celebration of 10 years of Craft NI's successful business development programme, which has launched the careers of more than 30 makers
- The two-year Making It: 10 programme supports designer/makers as they take their first steps to creating sustainable craft businesses
- It places studio-based craft businesses within host organisations throughout Northern Ireland, with each programme hosting up to eight designer/makers
- There are more than 130 craft-related events taking place throughout Northern Ireland in August including festivals, exhibitions, workshops, demonstrations and opportunities to buy high quality craft directly from makers
- For full details of all August Craft Month events, visit www.craftni.org