Joymaker: Caroline South

I’ve been following Caroline South for years and have always been amazed by how her compositions of ordinary objects arranged in beautiful ombré rows have the ability to delight, while also raising awareness about a bigger issue. Part of the beauty in her art stems from the fact that many pieces are made from found objects that were then up-cycled, giving discarded items new life. We’re so grateful that Caroline has shared her vision, her process, and her favorite finds.

Where are you from? Where do you live now?

I grew up on the Isle of Wight, surrounded by beautiful beaches. I used to spend a lot of time walking along the local beaches, looking for shells and sea glass. I now live in West Sussex and spend time exploring the South coastline collecting treasures.

Pea pod with blue and white peas

A recurring feature on your Instagram is compositions made with pieces of plastic you’ve found on the beach. How did you start making these compositions? What inspires you about these found objects?

My plastic collection started after I brought home some brighter pieces to mix in with the more natural items I was photographing. I soon realized what unusual plastic treasures could be found, such as Legos lost at sea. These pieces have been in the sea since 1997 when containers fell from the container ship, The Tokio Express. Also army figures and cracker toys, golf tees, vintage hair pins and connecting beads are amongst my favourite things to find.

I hope that by sharing the plastic I find, I am drawing attention to the Marine litter crisis and raising awareness of the damage it is doing to our Marine life. I hope that images such as the tampon applicators and cotton buds, show the huge problem of plastic pollution, as people can see the evidence in front of them.

Talk to us about ombré and gradients. These are such a huge part of your work. Why do you think these color combinations are so appealing?

Color is an important aspect of my work, I love playing around with color themed photographs, organizing my finds in ombre or rainbow order. I am usually inspired by the objects or finds themselves, blending the colors together in a gradient. Sometimes I see a color combination, either out and about, or maybe on Pinterest, and I am inspired to create this with my plastics. My finds are all organized in jars by rainbow order, so it’s easy for me to grab bits and create a color themed image.

What colors inspire you?

I’m currently inspired by the colors coral, peach and yellow together. I think it’s a need for some sunshine and warmth!

bowl of blooming flowers

Ed. note: If you’re curious about why the gentle gradients and organized layouts of Caroline’s work create such a spark of joy, the reason has to do with some universal principles of how the mind processes visual information. One of these is the Gestalt principle of grouping, which notes that when the eye sees similar things, the brain prefers to see them as a group rather than as disparate objects. This has a clear evolutionary logic — after all, when looking at a bunch of grains of sand, it’s smarter for the brain to recognize that you’re standing on a beach rather than focusing on the differences among each of the individual grains of sand. So, when unlike objects (like army men and Q-tip sticks and plastic combs) share a color palette, our brain groups them into a larger whole, and this creates a pleasant feeling. After all, the brain loves to perceive order around us, because order entails stability and often is an indication of the presence of life.

There’s much more to say on this topic, including the role of symmetry, balance, pattern, and flow in creating this delicious sense of harmony that we see in Caroline’s work. For more on this subject, read this post, and check out my book Joyful, available for pre-order now, and when you get it flip to chapter 4!

All images courtesy of Caroline South. Check out her work, follow her on instagram, and visit her online shop.

Hey, Guess What?

The Aesthetics of Joy is now a book! Joyful: The Surprising Power of Ordinary Things to Create Extraordinary Happiness is now available.

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