The story of LightBuoy

At last, the story of the concept and creation of LightBuoy.

We live on the North Devon coast in South West England and most days we walk by the sea in Ilfracombe or on the beach at Woolacombe.

Over the years we have noticed more and more rubbish, especially plastic, wash up on the beaches.

Of all the plastic litter I came across, I became most interested in disposable lighters because invariably they still contained flammable fluid and it concerned me that so many were discarded to float in the sea or wash up on the beach.

As a result, I noticed more and more of them on the beach and, along with other rubbish, began picking them up and taking them home.

And then I started to notice discarded lighters everywhere, not just on the beach. Under benches, in shelters, anywhere where people gathered outside to smoke, drink or consume substances.

I found them embedded in the mud in gutters on the road.

And sometimes on benches where people had just left them or they had slipped out of pockets.

It felt as though people were sending a message that they didn’t care a toss about the damage they caused.

And soon the number of lighters I brought home grew larger. What was I going to do with them?

First they needed to be cleaned. All were filthy and early on I decided to use dog poo bags to pick them up to avoid handling them. Then I washed them in disinfectant.

But then what?

Another item I had picked up that had been washed on to the beach was a discarded float or buoy. What could I do with that?

I looked at the lighter, then I looked at the float and in my mind’s eye I saw them together.

I researched glues that would stick plastic to plastic and tried different types, with varying degrees of success. Eventually, I found one that worked and set to creating my vision, experimenting in my garden shed.

I thought it would take several months, but the months dragged into years. We couldn’t always go to the beach and the availability of lighters was sporadic. Sometimes I could find three or four in one day, while I could go for a stretch of days or several weeks without finding any at all.

I picked up lighters. I disinfected lighters. I emptied lighters. I glued lighters. Day after day.

I had no plan, no drawing, just an image in my mind of the finished piece. I had no idea if the real thing would match this.

And so, slowly, my vision took shape. From something like 300 lighters and fragments, a coat of hard spines spread over the globe like a deformed prickly sea urchin . . .

. . . until one day . . . there it was . . .


Just as I had imagined it.

Why create it? What does it stand for? What does it mean?

With a rope already thread through the float when I found it, my intention was to create a mobile piece of art that could be picked up and held by anyone to experience it by touch as well as sight.

Like a sea monster, I imagined it swirling in the water, with lighter fuel leaking out and polluting the depths. A reminder of how little we value our environment, our planet.

And that without us, without cheap, disposable plastic lighters, the world would be cleaner and safer for all other life.