Well, here in Scotland, ‘the nights are drawing in’ and we’re beginning to look out warm coats and winter boots. Though so far November has been a beautiful month, autumn is fast heading for winter and it’s time to invite friends to join me round the fire.
I have a dear friend, Lesley Richards, joining me for tea and cake today. Cake she made, of course, and kindly brought with her. But more of that later. I hope you enjoy meeting her.
Lesley Richards is a well travelled Scot who combines an eclectic range of skills and passions including scuba diving, photography, painting and baking.
After university in Glasgow and corporate jobs in London she now enjoys life based in Edinburgh where she combines corporate projects with creative pursuits offering artworks and images in various forms under the banner of Siren Art and bakes to order as Siren Bakes.
First of all, Lesley, can you explain the unusual company names you have?
I was nicknamed a mermaid when I first went scuba diving because my very long hair would come loose underwater. That became the ‘sea siren’, another term for mermaid.
When I needed a name for my photography Facebook page, ‘Siren Art‘ seemed to fit, then when I set up a page for my baking it was only natural to continue the theme with ‘Siren Bakes‘.
I know you love to travel, but where do you call home?
We moved around the UK a lot when I was growing up, so it meant I got used to being in different places, so home is wherever I happen to be. I suppose I feel like I have lots of places I can call home as they feel familiar if I ever go back.
I live in Edinburgh at the moment and must admit it is nice being back in Scotland, I love the variety of scenery and skyscapes we have here – I’m in a capital city with a historic castle and modern buildings like Dynamic Earth, but within reasonable distance I also have mountains or sandy beaches. Now if we could just add some warm weather – what’s not to like?
How many countries have you traveled to?
Lots! I’ve been fortunate to travel as an individual, for work and as part of scuba expeditions. I’ve been to most of Europe, parts of Canada, Central & North America, some of the Caribbean, Africa and a little of Asia & the Far East.
There are many places I’d love to revisit but also lots of places I haven’t seen yet so plenty more travelling to do. Australia, New Zealand and Galapagos are definitely on the bucket list.
Do you have a favourite place?
It’s hard to pick just one. It depends what I want to do.
To relax nothing beats being on a dive boat, sunbathing on deck between dives, or sitting at the prow getting splashed as the boat is in transit and I can dolphin watch.
One of my favourite views is just under the boat at the start or end of a dive.
I have two favourite restaurants, one is a little fish restaurant on a narrow jetty over the Red Sea at the Kahramana at Marsa Alam in Egypt. The other is a tiny fondue house in the Sacre Coeur area of Paris where it’s so narrow you have to climb over the table to sit on the other side and they serve baby bottles of wine instead of glasses.
What was your favourite job ever? Where was it? And can you tell us a bit about it?Well I can’t really call it work but I had a large group of divers going out to do a special trip of advanced diving on a brand new boat in Egypt. The political situation affected businesses in Egypt at the time and the new boat was not going to be finished on time. I was contacted about the delay and offered a different boat for our expedition. To assure me it was up to standard, the company invited me out for a week aboard to check her out.
So a weeks diving and holiday on a newly refurbished luxury livaboard boat in the southern Egyptian Red Sea – absolute bliss. Then two weeks later I returned with my expedition and we had a brilliant time then too.
Photography is something you love, isn’t it? What kind of things/people/places do you most like photographing?
I started photography when I first learnt to dive over 20 years ago now. Back then the underwater camera I had was fully manual, we had a maximum of 36 shots on a film and we had to develop our own films on the back of the boat to see what shots we had at the end of the day.
For me it was the best way to capture the incredible beauty that was underwater and share it with people who weren’t able to dive themselves – as well as being great memories for me.
With digital cameras it is now much easier to take lots of photographs and immediately review them, but underwater it is still essential to spot the shot, anticipate marine life, capture the best lighting effect and have perfect buoyancy to not touch anything underwater. When I was teaching scuba-diving we always said, ‘take only pictures, leave only bubbles.’ If you couldn’t get a picture without touching coral or stirring up the sand – then you didn’t take the picture. Conservation is everything.
I still love being underwater but I also do coastal and landscape photography as well as wildlife and local points of interest.
I tend to photograph places rather than people but I have been known to be on duty for candid shots at weddings and engagements.
You have taken so many fabulous shots. Do you have an all-time favourite? Tell us about it.
There is a very special shot of a leopard-spot blennie that I love, these are very small fish that usually hide in nooks & crannies of the coral, you usually see just their face as they vanish into a dark hole to hide.
This one I spotted while it was out sunbathing on the coral. It was the first time I’d seen this type of blennie and he was so relaxed his dorsal fin is still down. He let me take a few pictures then swam off.
I love that his fabulous dotty pattern is even on his eyes and the amazing frilled effect he has on his mouth.
I think I am always proudest of underwater wildlife shots as its their ocean and they can swim off and vanish at any point, that they stay and give me a chance to see and photograph them is very special.
Do you plan which shots you want to get when you travel, or are you an impulsive snapper?
I may have some shots in mind but I always adapt to what happens at the time. Even with ‘classic’ shots of landmarks or scenery, it really needs a dramatic sky or interesting lighting effects to make them come alive.
I am always on the lookout for an interesting shot and they can happen very unexpectedly. This one was taken in torrential rain from Edinburgh’s Grassmarket as I had been driving through and stopped to capture the Edinburgh Tattoo fireworks above the Castle, no filters or photoshop required.
What’s the best impromptu shot you’ve taken?
Just last week, I spotted the moon emerging from behind Edinburgh Castle as I walked down Princes Street, I had to dash across the road and find a view through the trees before I missed my bus!
I know you make prints of some of your photos. How else do you merchandise them?
It’s mainly been by word of mouth so far, I also had a stand at Scotland’s Boat Show last year & have some postcards at Thread & Heather in Edinburgh.
My Photographs are available as wall art, postcards, greetings cards, on cushions, calendars and whatever you would like them on – size & quality permitting 😄
My paintings are one offs, but I usually do a print of them also. If it’s a private commission then totally unique, no prints.
I also do food photography for my baking. Most recently I had the privilege of making my best friends’ wedding cake as my gift to them. I loved the effect of sunlight on the sugar lace, edible paint and pearls I had decorated the cake with.
I can vouch for that cake, Lesley. Not only did it look amazing, it also tasted divine – both layers. Having tasted many of your cakes, I have to ask, are they available to order?
When I’m not in the water I do love to cook and since moving back to Scotland I have done a lot more baking. I’ve always brought homemade things to parties and get togethers and people started asking for more.
Popular requests for baking are Chocolate Guinness Cake, Carrot Cake, White Chocolate & Raspberry, Brownies, Tequila & Lime, Spiced Cranberry Cookies and Sticky Toffee Pudding.
Savoury requests include Lasagne and filo pastry quiches.
I also do gluten free, nut free and dairy free requests.
Are there some links you could share with us to view your work and to order items we would like to buy?
I post some of my work on Facebook: Siren Art & Siren Bakes, Instagram (@siren_art) and Twitter (@Siren_Art) and they are the main ways that people contact me.
I have a holding page at www.siren-art.com and am working on the website for 2016.
It’s best to get in touch and discuss what you are looking for and what you like.
Thank you so much for visiting, Lesley. It’s been great to sit and chat with you, and thank you for the cake. Your Chocolate Guinness cake was fantastic.
Well, hope you enjoyed meeting Lesley, folks. Sorry if talk of Chocolate Guinness cake has your mouth watering, but it really was rather special. Think it’s the creamy, gooey frosting …mmmm!
If you live anywhere near Edinburgh, I can recommend you order one from Lesley.
You’ll not regret it.
Do you have a favourite recipe? Tell me in the comments and, who knows, if I like the sound of it, I might invite you to join me by the fire for a chat, a cuppa…and a slice of cake.