SCRATCHCARDS can often be seen on the ground among other pieces of litter, discarded after their numbers failed to bag a prize.

But for James Owen Thomas used scratchcards are artist’s materials, used to create beautiful collages ranging from well-known buildings to birds and animals.

James’ unique works have led to exhibitions at venues across the north, including Bradford Industrial Museum, Durham Cathedral World Heritage Visitor Centre and the National Coal Mining Museum in Wakefield.

While hanging at the mining museum last year, in an exhibition called Much More than Meets the Eye, the collages caught the eye of Richard Hammill, chief operating officer at Pontefract Racecourse, who contacted James with a view to working with him.

“He especially liked my collage of a pit pony,” says James. “I was so pleased to receive an email from him asking for a meeting.”

The racecourse was keen to improve its waste management and recycling programme, and to support its campaign, they commissioned James, who lives in Pateley Bridge and is studying art and design at Bradford College, to create four pieces of artwork made entirely from old badges, tickets and marketing materials.

“The first was to recreate their logo of a horseshoe as a collage, then a horse, followed by an image to represent Ladies Day and finally a jockey on a horse,” he says. “Using these materials was a challenge first of all, but I soon got used to them and really enjoyed the work, which I mostly did during holidays and at weekends.”

He adds: “It was great working with Richard. He invited me to the races - it was the first time I’ve ever been. I took lots of photos and it was a really interesting experience.”

Last month, just before his 18th birthday, James returned to the racecourse to see his work on display in a glass cabinet. “It was like an early birthday present. Lots of people were looking at it and seemed interested in the way I had made it from lots of small pieces. They said I must have a lot of patience. I was interviewed by Richard about my art on the public announcement system.”

Aged three James was diagnosed with autism. He could not talk until he was five, but through art his confidence has blossomed. “You have to be strong to be different and the way I keep strong is through my art,” he says. “Speaking to galleries has definitely developed my confidence and given me a voice.”

James enjoyed art at high school as well as photography. “I also liked going to art galleries from a very young age. The world seemed to make more sense to me in pictures as I had limited speech when I was much younger,” he says.

Collecting discarded tickets is nothing new to him. Aged eight, and living in the South-East, he collected bus tickets and later train tickets.

“After moving to Yorkshire aged ten, I began to notice how colourful scratch cards had been thrown away on the ground as litter and soon built up a collection.”

There is no shortage of scratchcards. “I find them everywhere - in towns, cities, the seaside and countryside. Sometimes long strips of them have been left on benches or on walls. I really dislike litter, so prefer to pick them up, take them home to clean and store ready to find a use for in my artwork. Friends save them for me, and as soon as the local shops in Pateley Bridge, Harrogate and Ripon knew that I was using them to create artwork, they started to give me bags full of them. I feel very lucky.”

He has created more than 40 works with subjects including nature, in particular birdlife, land and seascapes, abstract designs and iconic buildings such as Brimham Rocks, Fountains Hall beside Fountains Abbey, Ripon Cathedral and Durham Cathedral.

“Last year I researched my own family background in coal mining in West Yorkshire and created a series of images after hearing a story told to me by my uncle, the last remaining miner from our family,” says James.

James feels happy to be doing his bit for the environment. “I hope in the future to be asked to produce more artwork using different recycled materials. So far I have mainly put scratch cards into my artwork, as well as some beachcombed items, plastics, old tickets, badges and so on."

Collages take many hours to complete. “I use many cut or torn strips of paper, often building up layers until I am happy with the colour and texture of my work. Sometimes I use a type of pointillism effect by hole-punching the paper. The largest collage I have done so far is of the viaduct in Knaresborough and that took me well over 100 hours. I like to take time creating my artwork and don’t like to feel rushed as I can get completely absorbed in it.

“As part of my final project at Bradford College this year, I am creating a sensory room installation based on my memories. I have recycled all sorts of things for it like food packaging boxes to make a sensory touch screen, plastics and fabric, and a chair that was fly-tipped in woodland has now been converted into artwork for the display.”

James has produced a logo for Pateley Bridge in Bloom. “I photographed the bridge over the river for ideas and then I made it into a collage showing the grassy bank and wild flowers. I used photocopied £20 bank note symbols for each of the bricks.”

The logo will be displayed on wooden planters outside businesses in High Street. It will also be used in the presentation portfolio which will be submitted to the Royal Horticultural Society that runs the Britain In Bloom competition.

James is inspired by former Bradford College student David Hockney. “I had a broken phone and instead of sending it to landfill I collaged it with images of daffodils. I was influenced by his iPad pictures.”

One idea leads to another. “The Ladies Day collage for the races gave me the idea of making something fashionable for a woman to wear at the races. I bought a pair of unwanted and unworn shoes that had been sent to a charity shop. They looked such an interesting shape that I wanted to see how they looked if I gave them a coating of silver dots to make them sparkle. I had hole-punched many pieces from raceday tickets which were ideal for the job. I produced a stop-motion animation of the shoes dancing.”

He has also collaged a chair which a friend found fly-tipped.

James has also had a picture selected for the IVE Young Artists Auction in Leeds later this month to help raise money for charity and is taking part in the Nidd Art Trail in August.

In winter he is exhibiting at the National Waterfront Museum in Swansea.

A keen photographer, James enjoys travelling to different parts of the country with his camera. Many birds which find their way into his art while volunteering for the National Trust at Fountains Abbey.

“I get new ideas all the time from taking photos. I went to the Lake District recently for the first time and felt really inspired by the landscape.”

His mum Jane is very proud of what her talented son has achieved. “She likes my picture of a pigeon on a wall best,” he adds.

Richard Hammill said: “The quality of James’ mosaic artwork has surpassed all our expectations and the feedback that we’ve received from racegoers and the public has been fantastic.

“ It has been an honour to have the opportunity to work alongside such an incredible talent as James and we are thrilled to have been able to play a small part in his journey.”’

*James’ art can be seen at Durham Cathedral World Heritage Visitor Centre from July 1 to 29 and at The Showcase Gallery, Richmond, in September.