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The Arts & Crafts shop in Casemates has recently welcomed a new artisan to its varied portfolio: Valencia-born graphic designer and parkour coach Marie Cediel recently moved to the Bay area following her Lithuanian boyfriend Ignas who got a job in Gibraltar last year. Marie is now selling her hand-painted recycled leather gadgets as well as holding creative classes for young children.

Lithuania is where she discovered her passion for decorating leather with patterns inspired by Eastern European folklore, the love for mild green summers and the rebirth of nature after long winters. 

“I travel there every summer with my boyfriend. I have learnt the technique there, and I am influenced by their art, as they have a flourishing wood carving artistry, often embellished with traditional motifs,” she says. “Of course, Lithuanians still see the ‘Spanish touch’ in my designs, but I am fascinated by Celtic and Nordic cultures, so I tend to reproduce their style in my choice of florals or abstracts.”

“There is no room for mistakes in my work, one slip of the hand will have the piece thrown away.”

The overall effect spans a pan-European taste, with dainty, elegant, and colourful decorations reminiscent of Swiss or Austrian traditional decorations, but also the Berber ones you’d find while travelling Western Morocco, to confirm how fine artisanship transcends borders and cultures.

Marie can make customised items upon request, so she will design your unique key-ring, fridge magnet, bookmark, coin purse, backpack or ‘bum bag’ with portraits of your family or your pets on it.

“Painting leather is a time-consuming and painstaking job, as I have to prep the leather with water and the first coat of paint, especially if the leather is dark in colour, and then draw and paint with a single-strand brush, holding my wrist nice and steady,” she explains. “There is no room for mistakes in my work, and unless I can rectify them, one slip of the hand will have the piece thrown away, and start all over with a blank one.”

But mistakes are also a way to learn how to improve her technique and how to keep her hand steady and consistent: “When I paint, I meditate and control my respiration, so I can channel my positive energy into the object I am creating. If I am sad, nervous, if I’ve had too much coffee, or my cats jump on the table… it will reflect in my work! This means that when you buy one of my pieces, you also buy a piece of my moods!”

Marie salvages scraps of leather from cobblers and tailors, and often she works into her final creation the odd shapes she finds in their mixed bag, like round or oval shoulder pads or oblong patches that will do well as bookmarks.

She also offers mock-leather options for animalists, usually synthetic, but she is looking into plant-based materials. She cuts out her shapes and usually stitches them, although sometimes she outsources the services of a cobbler.

Marie trades under the logo Strange Bright, oriental-inspired in a fusion of a lotus flower, a sun with curly rays and a series of swirly waves around a bright yellow core, and she promotes herself with the motto ‘Si creces tù, crezco yo’, roughly translated as ‘I grow if you grow’, to highlight how her inspiration is a continuous journey. 

Another side of Mary is being a parkour coach: she is holding classes in La Linea at the moment, hoping to expand this project in Gibraltar. “Of course, we don’t leap from building to building like you may see in movies, but we choose a rough terrain and we learn how to control our agility and strength on it. I would like to promote this in Gibraltar too, as I feel it to be a tool for children to develop friendships and companionship, while boosting their self-esteem and resiliency.”

Marie is an accomplished watercolourist and experiments with techniques to give her paintings a contemporary flair. During lockdown, she started a project quite close to her heart: “I lost my dad when I was seven, closely followed by other members of the family,” she says. “Those were tough times for me, and now, as an adult, watching other children losing family members during lockdown made me relive that grief, so I decided I wanted to create something to help them work through their bereavement.”

She produced a series of watercolours inspired by her memories of her father and collected them in an illustrated children’s book, telling the story of Cayetana, a little girl looking for her daddy amongst the stars. 

At the moment, ‘Mi papa ha ido de viaje a las estrellas’ is available in Spanish only, but she’s looking into translating and publishing it in English too, or even better, in a bilingual edition that will serve the double purpose of helping kids become fluent in both languages while they learn to confront loss.

As a child, Marie’s favourite book was ‘Le Petit Prince’ and this reflects in the style of her illustrations. The cover picture, drawn in watercolours and china ink, shows little Cayetana snuggled on her dad’s globular belly that becomes a safe planet for her. “When I was little, his round shape was reassuring for me: when I sat there, it felt like I was on top of the world!”

Visit StrangeBright.com, like Marie’s Instagram and Facebook pages, or contact [email protected] for information about her artwork.

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