BmArtstuff - Stunning crystal and resin art made in Cheadle Hulme
PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:03 10 September 2018
Ben Melton has taken a hobby and made it pay…in a myriad of ways
Cheadle Hulme residents Ben Melton and his wife, Victoria, have engineered the lifestyle they always dreamed of, and it’s paying dividends of all kinds.
‘I grew up in Irlam,’ says Ben, ‘but Victoria is from Hazel Grove and has lots of family in this area, so when it came time to settle down and start a family it made sense to find somewhere to live around here.
‘We had some adventures first though, not least six months in Kenya, working as volunteers in Mombasa. It was brilliant, apart from one brief period when there was a lot of shooting and everybody fled the country! We were trapped in our apartment and couldn’t leave, but it worked out fine. It would have been awful to have left the country with sad memories at the end. We actually went on the most amazing safari. As nobody was visiting Kenya, it was literally just us and a BBC film crew on this fabulous, luxury safari camp site and uninterrupted views of the land and the animals. Unforgettable.’
This rather British spirit – Keep Calm and Carry On Making the Best of It – has resulted in this young couple achieving a lifestyle many of us can only dream of.
‘When we first moved here, we found a two-bedroom house on a very sought-after street that needed a lot of work - a lot. It was the definition of a doer-upper. We completely renovated it and brought it to new life. We had our first child, Olivia, while we were there but when we knew that Finley was on the way, we needed somewhere bigger.’
Their work meant that their home had more than doubled in value, so they sold it to buy a three-bedroom, but lower priced, house and now have a mortgage of dream-like proportions, while still residing in a very popular suburb with all the benefits that brings.
‘Both my wife and I have always said that we wanted to be very present in our children’s lives, especially while they’re young. Victoria, who worked in the NHS, has taken a career break and I have reduced my hours to just two days per week. I have my own window cleaning business, so I really can set my own targets and working hours. It means I am able to be truly involved, in a way many dads just can’t be. For us, it’s not about having loads of stuff, but loads of time. You’ve got to make a choice and our choice is about spending time with our family and not just seeing them at the weekends.’
Having lots of time means that Ben has been able to pursue a hobby that not only brings him great pleasure, but also now brings an income.
‘I wasn’t great at school,’ he laughs. ‘My favourite subjects were art and English – I think because they were the best and most encouraging teachers. My art teacher especially was really kind and positive about my work. I didn’t really think about art as anything I could do after leaving school, for me, it was something only children did – playing with paints and colouring in! Once I left school, I didn’t touch a paintbrush again for years.
‘Then, when we redecorated our sitting room I knew exactly what I wanted as a piece of art for one of the walls, but just couldn’t find it. The paint colour we chose is Farrow & Ball Hague Blue and I wanted something with mustards and blues, but there was nothing out there, so I decided to paint something myself. I got lots of compliments about it so I decided to do some more!
‘At first I just worked in acrylics and had to teach myself everything about mixing and application. I just like form and colour and movement; for me, it’s about putting feeling on canvas. I hugely admire figurative painters but this, for me, is more fulfilling – I can go where the mood takes me.’
Don’t be misled. Ben is more than capable of creating beautiful figurative pieces. A pretty landscape in his dining area demonstrates this, as does a lovely piece he did for his wife, with four greyhounds in silhouette – Victoria’s favourite dogs.
His latest development has been a move into working with resin, which he initially bought simply to coat one of his acrylics.
‘I wanted to coat one of my paintings, as it gives a glass-like finish to a canvas, but I soon realised I could do so much more with it. You can mix in pigments, ink, powders, glitter and even acrylics. I have long had a fascination with crystals – with geodes and agate and was inspired to recreate these in art form. I mix up the resin and then make up little cups of each colour or glitter I want to use. Then you have to move really fast as it sets really quickly! I build up the patterns with coloured and clear resin and then apply the crystals. It’s really messy too, that’s why I have been banished to the garage. As any parent knows, glitter just gets everywhere; it’s resulted in a few funny looks at the school gate and you should see my lawnmower!
‘Because resin is so expensive to buy, if it’s just for a hobby, I didn’t want to just keep on playing with it, but then a friend commissioned a triptych of hexagonal pieces, which was a leap of faith for her and a very stressful moment for me!
‘Since then I’ve had lots of commissions. The wonderful café bar Thirty One and the Wolfgang Webster Gallery on Hulme Hall Road have carried my work since the very early days, which has been great. It really needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. I have also set up a Facebook page and Instagram, which has resulted in commissions from right across the UK, and have now made myself a website too.
‘People really appreciate the fact that they can have something totally bespoke, with colours of their choosing. A lady in Scotland sent me a whole series of photos of some cushion covers she wanted a match to, for example.’
Ben’s next move will be into painting ceramic tiles, which he plans to take to a Christmas market at Eaton Hall, near Chester, and ‘going large’, by utilising MDF as a base, rather than canvas.
‘I have only had one disaster, when I decided to try a really big canvas. The weight of the resin and the crystals made the canvas sink in the middle and it completely adhered to my worktop! I have learned from that however, and have plans to create bigger pieces on MDF. I also want to start upcycling old furniture – little tables for example.
‘I feel very lucky that what started really as a hobby has developed into something else, but the real joy of it is that I can do it when the children are out or in bed, which means that my aim of being a hands-on, ‘present’, dad, is still intact.’
Living the dream...how fabulous.