Nicola McFarlane Young makes her home in Edinburgh, Scotland. Nicola has always been a collector of beach treasure and collects driftwood, sea glass, sea pottery, and seashells. She is a beach lover through-and-through.
“The beach makes me so happy—it allows me to connect with nature and it clears my head,” Nicola says. “The expanse of the ocean helps me feel that anything can be overcome. I have to go at least once a week or I get horribly moody. My beach time is very precious, it’s my ‘me’ time.”
Nicola beachcombs primarily near her homes in Edinburgh and Fife. She has tried mudlarking, and though she loves uncovering buried treasure, she doesn’t get the “Zen, calm, and restored feeling you get from spending time at the beach.” Though she prefers the beaches near her, sea glass-rich Seaham, England, is only a two-and-a-half-hour drive away, where Nicola also has many friends. An expert in Scottish glass, Nicola has some pointers for any who get the chance to visit the country’s gorgeous cold shores: if you want pottery, go to Fife; if you want historic finds, go to Edinburgh; and if you want sea glass, head to East Lothian or Seaham.
Since she started working as a professional driftwood and coastal artist in 2011, Nicola has traveled throughout Scotland, Northeast England, London, Hawaii, Maryland, New York, France, Spain, and Italy. In the future, she hopes to travel to Davenport and Fort Bragg in California, Venice, the Scottish islands, Puerto Rico, and Iceland. Through her travels, Nicola has found many new friends and traveling companions, something she treasures deeply about the beachcombing experience.
“I intend to travel the world, beach by beach, and collect friends and sea treasures along the way,” she says.
Nicola’s favorite time to hunt for sea glass is in the summer. “I love the summer...the world is a friendlier place in the sun,” says Nicola. “In the summer, the sea doesn’t throw up the same amount of treasure but the sunshine, light nights, the kids, the dogs, and the families all make up for it.” She also enjoys the winter beach experience—especially the feeling of having an isolated beach all to herself.
Her three favorite beach finds are a still-full bottle of ink (which Nicola imagines belonged to a ship Robinson Crusoe sailed on), a perfect sea glass duck’s head, and a love message in a bottle written in Mandarin that she found with her family.
Nicola’s collection is massive. She has stoppers, marbles, frozen charlottes, rainbow multis, sea glass door knobs, and pottery (including a pottery head of renowned poet Robert Burns). Her front and back garden are full of driftwood, and she has a work shed of driftwood, glass, and pottery, along with an old wash house, an attic work room, and a garage—all filled with beach finds. Her collections creep into her Edinburgh house as well.
“I love having nature all around me. I have pieces all over my house, in every single room,” Nicola says. “My friends think it’s lovely. My hubby doesn’t like the clutter, my children like some of it, and my dad thinks it’s odd!”
In addition to their beauty, Nicola has a fondness for the history of the sea treasures she collects—the connection to other lives and their precious objects, gifts, and love mementos. She also adores the thrill of discovering trash that mother nature has turned into treasure.
Nicola is also a talented artist and sells gorgeous art pieces—composed of items found while beachcombing—through her online Beach Art shop. Though she mainly makes coastal art from driftwood, she also incorporates sea glass and sea pottery into her work. She also enjoys painting seascapes.
Though her art is lovely on its own, its recycled nature has additional meaning for Nicola.
“I am passionate about walking the talk, and I live my life in ways sometimes quite frustrating for my family,” says Nicola. “If it can’t be recycled I don’t buy it, I do not have a landfill bin, I only buy second hand clothes from charity/thrift shops, I have no dryer, we share one car between us all, and I’m trying to go back to old ways of life, using as little plastic as possible.”
She has just finished an art installation in a glass case with suspended driftwood fish and actual marine plastic she collected off the beach. She included information on what plastic pollution does to our oceans and easy ways to reduce plastic use.
Find Nicola on Instagram @nicolabeachart and on her website at beachart.co.uk.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine May/June 2019 issue.