goodbye 2011

Perhaps inspired by the elegant decomposition surrounding Miss Havisham at Satis Hall, perhaps by the fragility of a searing headache, perhaps by the almost imperceptible slipping away of another twelve months, I have put together a mosaic of some of this year's Flickr favourites with a slightly ethereal, other-worldly feel...

There is nothing remarkable about these days... the weather is damp, the hours of daylight are short, the house is quiet. Books are being read, photo archives are being sorted out, words are being written down, turkey is being slowly eaten up. I am grateful for this time, which was badly needed.

I feel I have completed 2011 now*, and I am ready for 2012 which is going to be my year of being kind to myself... whatever that means... we will find out... I like adventures.

*See Megan's post for more about this:

With thanks to my Flickr contacts for these beautiful images:1. waiting for you, 2. 095, 3. Feather collection, 4. DETERMINATION, 5. Untitled, 6. Untitled, 7. january0211_1, 8. Voewood heart, 9. Pine Cones

the darkest day

Sometime tonight, just before tomorrow arrives, the sun will appear to stop in its tracks, and we in the northern hemisphere will experience the darkest, bleakest hours of winter before the earth begins to slowly turn again towards the light and the sun starts its journey southwards.

Solstice means ‘stand still’ and this is exactly what I feel compelled to do at this time of year: to be quiet and still, and think about all that has happened in the six months since the warmth and light of the summer solstice, and about all that might happen before we reach that time again next year.

For me, this time of thinking and being still has much more resonance than the fizz and pop of New Year’s Eve, which seems more like a sparkling finale to the Christmas festivities and a launch pad for the fresh new start which, by then, we all crave.

In these few days of calm, I find myself reflecting on all I have done and seen and felt since the summer. It has been a very mixed time for me this year and there has been a lot of worry and distraction. Creativity and positive energy has been scarce.

But just as the passing of the seasons brings continual renewal, there is the chance to stop and change direction, and this is my hope and intent for the next turn of the wheel. I have read much this year about caring for oneself, loving oneself, being kind to oneself. What if I set out to have as much fun as possible, to enjoy myself? What if I shed the skin of anxiety and worry, the sense of being under judgement, of needing to earn rest and peace and happiness? What if I chose to play more?

I expect lots of you – if you have managed to read this far – are rolling your eyes at this. It probably seems obvious. But I think freedom can be a difficult concept to accept. The prison gate is open, but we are afraid to leave.

Tonight and tomorrow I will light up the house with as many candles and fairy lights as we can find, the fire will burn brightly and we will have a few drinks to bring warmth and light to our bones. Lightness and brightness to lead us out of the darkness and into life.

we have winners...

And they are...

Vivienne of Green Rabbit Designs, Annie of Knitsofacto, Frances of City Views, Country Dreams, Tess of Driftwood, and Helen of A Gallimaufry (Helen I can't find an email contact for you, so please email me with your postal address).

Thank you all for your lovely comments and for your continued support and appreciation which is always very very welcome. A little wreath or heart will be winging its way to the five winners very soon!

a catch-up and a giveaway

Since we last met I've been doing various things...

I have visited (too briefly) the brilliantly inspiring Grayson Perry exhibition at the British Museum. It was brilliant, I would love to go again... don't miss it if you are passing through London.

I am reading Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton and am just about to start Wolf Hall.

I have joined a new choir and we are singing Vivaldi's Gloria and lots of lovely Christmassy music.

I have bought an easel and have begun to experiment with painting standing up. I love the sense of freedom and energy in the body when working this way.

I have been enjoying looking at the still lifes of John Bellany and the work of Janet Melrose:

I have also reached a hundred followers, which is lovely, and as a thank you I have a few bits and bobs from last years mouse winter shop that need a home... just leave a comment whether you are a follower or not and I will select three or four winners at random on Sunday evening.

I wish I could tell you the maker of the beautiful ceramic work at the top of the post... but I've forgotten... sorry.

paint it black

Thank you so much to all who took the trouble to comment on my last post - an overwhelming vote of confidence in favour of black and self-expression!

I was delighted to find a new post on the Will Kemp Art School blog this week covering this very topic. Some of you may be interested to read it... it's here.

an experiment with colour

This morning I did a little experiment with my acrylic paints. I wanted to see what differences the addition of white and black made to the pigments.

I've read a lot about whether to use black in painting or not, and I must confess to a degree of confusion over this. Black muddies the colours, right? And muddying is not good, is it? It's better to tone down your colour with its complementary, isn't it? Or is it? Because I really like muddy colours...

I thought the best way to explore this properly was to see what really happened to my colours when black (and white, to create tints) was added. And so I did an experiment. I painted little squares of all my paints straight out of the tube (bottom left). Then I added white to each one to make a tint (top left). Next, I started with tube colours again and added a very little black to each one (bottom right). Finally, I tinted these muted colours (top right). And this was the result:

Looking at these, I experienced a strong attraction to many of the colours, as well as quite a dislike of others. I thought it would be interesting to see which 'palette' held the colours I liked the best, if any.

So, I tore up lots of little bits of white paper, and I covered over all the colours I didn't much like. This was the result:

Several of the pure tints went straight away, as did many of the original pigments. Then I decided to get more ruthless and leave only colours I actively liked:

Not many left! And most of the brights gone. All the pure tints obscured except the muddy earth colours. But I still felt I hadn't been quite honest. Did I really like that bright red, and that ultramarine tint? No. So I did a final cull, leaving only colours I liked a lot and felt I might want to use:

Half the colours gone now. But what did remain was of interest: eleven 'pure' colours to seventeen 'blackened'... nine tinted colours to eighteen untinted. An extraordinarily clear preference for the blackened but untinted palette.

So, what to make of this information? The blackened, muddied colours that I feel like I 'shouldn't' be using turn out to be my favourites... Now, because I am someone who likes playing by the rules, this worries me. I'm also wondering how to use this information... should I stick to this palette to achieve work I like, or should I see it as a challenge to introduce colours I don't initally warm to, in order to broaden and open out my palette?

I would really welcome comments from anybody with experience of these questions and of painting. What are your feelings about using black as a mixing colour?

Out of interest, the colours, in a clockwise circle from bottom left to bottom right were:

Titanium White
Lemon Yellow
Azo Yellow Medium
Yellow Ochre
Burnt Sienna
Napthol Red Light (Cadmium Red would be better)
Alizarin Crimson
Phthalo Blue (red shade)
Phthalo Blue (green shade)
Phthalo Green
Olive Green
Raw Umber
Burnt Umber
Mars Black

a little crochet moment

It's been a while since we had a crochet moment on here, hasn't it? I think the last time was when I finished my odds-and-ends blanket back in May, but be assured that my hook has not been idle and here is the result: a lovely soft warm scarf in the baby-soft cashmerino that I bought in the summer.

It's such a beautiful colour and just right for autumn. The stitch is very simple and if anybody is interested, the details are below.

Five balls of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino in shade 025 using a 5mm hook using treble stitch which is double in US crochet lingo (I think).
One shell = 2 tr, 1 ch, 2 tr.

Chain any multiple of 5 stitches, plus 4 extra (I did 44).

Row 1: 1 tr, 1 ch, 2 tr into 4th ch from hook, sk 4 ch, *shell into next ch, sk 4 ch, repeat from * to last ch then 2 tr, 1 ch, 1 tr in last ch, ch 3, turn.

Row 2: 1 tr, 1 ch, 2 tr in first ch space, shell in each ch space to end, 2 tr, 1 ch, 1 tr in last ch space, ch 3, turn.

Repeat row 2 until scarf is desired length.
NB I have edited this to correct the previous instruction which Jacqui kindly pointed out was wrong. I originally wrote 'repeat row 1'. This wouldn't have made sense anyway, so hopefully nobody's scarf has got in a twist. But it's right now (19.11.2012)


frame of mind

This autumn is an interesting time for me and I am noting changes in my approach to things, especially creative things. I have always loved this time of year – well actually if you have been reading this blog for any length of time you will know that I love almost any time of year – but autumn has an exciting whiff of change and new beginnings to it that I always enjoy.

Over the past eight months or so, I’ve made discoveries about my creative self that have felt like giant leaps... it has been a marvellous liberation to close the door on textiles and fling wide the door to painting and fine art. I’ve learnt so much, and am quivering like an excited jelly at the thought of how much more and more and more there is to discover. Before, there was doubt and confusion and this so often led to stagnation or more often a sort of frightened petrification. Now, I feel so certain that painting and drawing are what I want to do that I am finding a determination and belief that works almost like an energy force to push me along.

Today I experienced and noticed this energy in a new way as I made a terrible hash of trying to paint this little still-life scene. The paint wouldn’t do what I wanted it to do, I couldn’t mix the right colours, I had so many questions, I felt such a newbie. But instead of the usual sulky, whiney voice that usually pipes up at times like these, I felt a new – and surprising – calmness and determination to find out why it wasn’t working, and to seek out the information I need.

And so I tried again, and this little painting is the result. I don’t show it because I’m especially pleased with it – although it is a lot better than the one I'm not showing! – but I am pleased with what I learned in order to make it, and with my new sense of ‘can’ rather than ‘can’t’.

autumn still life

I went out into the garden today and sighed, because so much needed to be done, and there was interesting stuff to do indoors.

But I'm glad I did put my wellies on and go outside, and as I worked I realised these things about gardening:

It is good to be immersed in the smells of earth, of the scents of foliage as you cut back and brush past, the aroma of compost, and of growing things.

Quite a lot is possible in two hours: more than you expect.

You somehow become alert to another rhythm, a different perspective.

You are exposed to the unexpected.

On a bad day, it can be enough to make you want to carry on.

You become aware that everything in the garden will continue without your intervention, which is somehow soothing.

By some unknown means, it gets your thoughts moving, your anxieties settle, there is a peacefulness.

The fear that nothing will ever be completed seems to become oddly disarmed as you work, despite the fact that every job you begin seems to reveal another.

It is the perfect excuse for a cup of tea and a toasted teacake.

i'm really really hoping...

...that the 'mighty oaks from little acorns' thing turns out to be true.

This week I've been doing some more painting, none of which would pass an O-level I'm afraid, but you have to start somewhere. I've been learning how the paint behaves and which brushes to use, and for the first time in my life I'm starting to understand the importance of pigments and colour mixing and all the things that you just aren't taught on a Textiles degree. It's frustrating because my mind is seeing big things that my hands can't yet produce, but I'm really enjoying it, and am starting to have a little more confidence in the medium.

I've also been doing a lot of thinking about the expectations we place on ourselves and asking myself some searching questions:

What if I didn't feel like I have to leave something of value in this life? What if everything was wiped at the end of each day?

What if nothing was attributed to individual effort anyway and we were all part of a whole, and it was a collaborative production?

What if I didn't feel I had to do 'something useful'? Who is determining what is useful anyway?

What if there's no pressure of time? What if it doesn't matter that I'm getting older because each day stands alone as a single entity, and this one is as precious, valuable and full of potential as one I lived through thirty years ago?

Scary? Wacky? Obvious? Liberating?

playing with scale

This afternoon I've been trying to decide what scale of painting I best enjoy working on. I made four studies of these berries and found that there is some kind of equation going on... the size of the object over the amount of detail it represents, multiplied by the way the paint is applied and divided by my favourite brushes somehow equals the size of the finished painting and whether it 'works' for me or not.

Being someone who has been trained to draw rather than paint, I'm learning all the time. Whereas drawing (for me) is often about line and flat tone, I'm finding that painting is more about areas of colour and light and how the subject matter relates to its background.

When I view it as a learning process, it seems easier to do. Maybe that has the effect of overriding my perfectionism... whatever, I'm glad it works.

If you paint or draw... what scale do you enjoy working on?

city of light

I’m not quite sure why Paris is called this, although of course it is filled with wonderful lights of all kinds, including the twinkling wonder of the Eiffel Tower illuminations which sparkle beautifully once an hour during the evening. We watched them from a little park near the Sacre Coeur and it was magical.

As well as being the city of light, we also found that Paris is the city of very expensive cafes, constant bustling crowds, and energy-draining humidity which rather limited our enjoyment of its delights on this occasion. Previously we have visited in the spring and I think this is the best time to go.

We did our noble best of course, and here are a few photographs that hopefully capture a very little of the undeniable poetic glamour, soft-focus elegance and romantic intensity that seep from every pore of this unique city.

These are the stairs from our third-floor apartment down to the little courtyard that led to the street. We stayed in the Temple district, near the Arts et Metiers metro station... a very mixed, non-touristy area that I might not choose again.

Parisians have lovely weddings... Parisians have lovely everything... but it all comes at a big price. It's one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, apparently.

We trekked all over the city and bravely visited the edgy Canal St Martin area to have a cup of coffee at this very trendy landmark building. It was gorgeous inside. Apparently Johnny Depp has a place near here, but there was no sign of the beautiful one... just a rather persistent tramp who found us apparently irresistable.

The Parisians are excellent at municipal bedding in their delightful parks and gardens... not for them rigid rows of Busy Lizzies or begonias... just look at this gorgeous, frivolous, fresh and airy arrangement of cleome, dahlias, cosmos and grasses.

We spent a morning ambling in the vast labyrinth of the Cimetiere Pere Lachaise... this is where many famous musicians, artists, composers, singers, writers and others are buried, including Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.

Now we are home and I am loving the muted autumn light, coloured leaves, open fires , homemade cake and proper tea. It feels so good to be back in the familiarity of our home with the richness of real life available to me rather than the anxious need to fill the hours with the new and the different. There's nothing like a holiday for helping you to appreciate the beauties of home.

à bientôt

Just a quick post to say that tomorrow I am off to Paris for a well-earned break and I am very excited! I have a new lipstick and a list of places to visit... although this will be my fifth trip to Paris there is still so much to see both new and old... I am looking forward to lots of inspiration, dreaming, sitting in cafes and drinking coffee, and I hope to have some lovely photos to show you when I get back. I am hoping not to have to use my parapluie too much...


I’ve been painting.

But not that kind of painting... the other sort... where you climb up a ladder and get a stiff neck and a bad back and splodges of white paint in interesting places. It’s been exhausting and time-consuming but really worthwhile. The house looks fresher and brighter and ready for autumn.

I get into a kind of daydream when I’m working hard like this. I think I’ve finally realised that ‘it’ is never going to be ‘finished’ or ‘done’... the house, the garden, my lifestyle, whatever. I’d really love this not to be true, for there to come a time when I could sit back and relax and know that everything was beautiful... but when you do that, the weeds grow, the dust settles, the unexpected pops up. And when you concentrate on one thing, another thing gets forgotten. It’s endless.

The challenge of course is to accept this truth and not fight it, to learn how to weave in the other things and not to get frightened of things getting out of control, to know that it will all work out ok.

an honest perspective

I'm going to be honest with you: I didn't do all those things on my list every day. Some days I did most of them, some days I did some of them and one day I did nothing except the housework. I found that what I thought would be a helpful prompt ended up being a nasty laughing reminder that I can't even manage the basics of life...

... and that's not good, because it's not true. I'm just not a list-and-routine sort of a person, that's all, however much I'd like to be - I work in rushes of energy, and then I daydream and rest - that's how I've always been, and that's how I suppose I always will be. Better start working with it, and more importantly, accepting and enjoying it... we can only be ourselves.

I did do a little painting though. Just to see if I could.

keeping it simple

I spent most of yesterday feeling sorry for myself. This happens from time to time, and it's always ugly. There's no good reason for this, in fact quite the opposite: there are many good things in my life at the moment. But misery loves to focus on what we haven't got rather than what we have, doesn't it? And as we all know, misery loves company. It's amazing how quickly I can make a list as long as my arm of things that will change my life and cheer me up.

Anyway, today's a new day, and instead of moping about with the wanties, I've made a plan. Every day this week I'm going to do ALL the things on the list below. They're only little things, and it's not that I don't do these things sometimes, it's that I don't do them every day. And when I don't make things a habit, they get forgotten, and then they loom large and seem too difficult.

Everyday this week then, I am going to:
  • Do a drawing
  • Eat two apples
  • Drink 'enough' water
  • Wear a bright colour
  • Do 20 minutes of some kind of housework
  • Do some form of exercise

All photographs were taken at the beautifully romantic garden at Mapperton Hall near where we stayed in Dorset.

beautiful dorset

Just back from a week in wonderful west Dorset.... where we had sun, rain and wind, beaches and hillsides and woods and wildflower meadows, lots of pots of tea, piles of books and magazines, lovely walks, delicious things to eat, and a LOT of sleep. It was absolute bliss.

I am full of inspiration... for the house... for the garden... for painting and drawing... for life itself...

Just as I had hoped.

a lime green day

I am not one of those people who go all dippy-skippy over bright, bright colours... I do really love colour, but I prefer it when it's seen in a tiny flash, like a kingfisher or a single buttercup in a hedgerow. There are certain colours though that make me go all weak and wanty, like pale dirty duck-egg blue, the beige-grey of unbleached linen, and today's colour, lime green...

As John Lewis were thoughtful enough to text me about the start of their summer clearance sale (uh? How did they get my number...?) I decided to go and 'have a look'...

It wasn't very long before ten balls of beautiful soft cashmerino yarn in the most perfect shade of slightly dirty yellow lime green 'found' their way into my basket... I wish you could feel how soft it is... it is absolutely divine and makes me want to stroke it. I am going to make it into a big, warm, lacy scarf for autumn. I love it.

Then, while I was waiting to pay (I had managed to wander all the way from the yarn department, past the shoes, clothes, make-up, fabric, cushions and bedlinen without buying anything else... how restrained am I?) this gorgeous gorgeous mug in the exact same colour appeared before me. Again, I wish you could reach into the photograph and stroke it... the lightly crackled glaze is so clear and the colour so pure and rich... it is hand-made in France by Jars (have a look at their website, it is beautiful). I am a firm believer in the cheering properties of a good mug, and as I need a new one for my tea at work, I had no difficulty in resisting it.

Lovely, lovely lime green. It ought to be available in little bottles from the chemist.

abstract still-life

Been thinking and learning a lot from Keri Smith recently about creative play, as well as from Amy and Jamie from the Pikaland online art course I went on in the spring.

It seems that whenever I sit down to 'draw properly', I end up dissatisfied with the results... a perfectly good representation of a shell or a feather or a plant or whatever... but no soul. Yet when I stop trying too hard and decide to 'play' with art materials in a more abstract way, I surprise myself with interesting compositions and patterns that are way more stimulating than the 'proper' art...

I know what I have to do... introduce one side of the family to the other...

small and pretty things

In the midst of life it is the small but lovely things that sing out... like this little bunch of gloriously scented just-picked flowers from the garden... and a piece of sponge cake with lemon curd and cream... I am particularly happy about this as I have finally discovered how to make a light-as-air sponge cake which is also gluten free. A mini-triumph... the best kind, I think.

"not matter the long pause..."

This excellent piece of advice was given to me by Rossichka in a comment she made on a previous post... she meant it about art... getting round to it again after many years, beginning to find a voice. However, I have come to see the truth of it in so many areas of life... making art, yes, and also reading and learning about it through books and exhibitions... picking up a forgotten novel again... remembering to take pleasure in clothes and my appearance... reviving my interest in walking and generally exercising more... finding new life in a relationship... and so many other things, including...

...finally finishing a piece of crochet! This blanket was started exactly a year ago and I wrote about it at the end of this post. It's a proper old-fashioned, make-do-and-mend, frugal patchwork blanket made to use up odds and ends of wool from previous projects and no new yarn. Apart from choosing colours that complemented one another, there was no great design involved, just picking up a yarn, working a square, selecting another colour and adding another square, and so on. When the yarn ran out, it was finished.

It's made with all different weights and types of yarn, mostly aran but some dk or finer, which I doubled up to get the right thickness.

Then I used a mid-blue to do a nice scalloped edge:

I love the back of it:

It has a soft, dimpled comfortable feel to it which is different to the front:

So for all of you who have unfinished projects on shelves or in baskets, or plans that haven't yet come to fruition, or unfulfilled intentions, or a sense of stagnation about things... these words are for you too:

Not matter the long pause.

It's true even, or especially, if you previously thought there was a full-stop. You can change a full-stop into a comma quite easily, you know... just add a tail.

nobody here but us chickens

These energetic, characterful and beautifully drawn hens were sketched, probably by a little boy called Robert, about three hundred and fifty years ago in the Taylor family Bible. Aren’t they exquisite? I love the curious, slightly bonkers expressions on their little chicken faces.

This sort of thing is the reason I love my job. To find out a little more about the chickens (but not much, because they will always remain rather an enigma) have a look at the Chetham’s Library blog, home of all things quirky and interesting, many of them in an untidy pile on my desk.

Clicking on the images will enlarge them - because they're worth it.

holding on

This beautiful image of Japanese carp kites is taken from a tiny little calendar book from 1901 which we found at work today. It's about 6cm square and is printed on beautifully crinkled, terribly fragile crepe paper in these lovely watery shades. Every May, Family Day is celebrated in Japan (although I think it was still called Boys' Day in 1901) and these paper kites are strung up to flutter in the breeze as a symbol of good wishes for your family and children.

Our family has been rather disrupted this last fortnight or so, but I think we are finding some sort of equilibrium again now. Lots of changes are happening which are all quite sudden and surprising although hopefully, positive, and so this image of the happy, colourful carp swimming bravely in the wind is a good one for me just now.

home truths

I found myself doing much more reading on my ‘art holiday’ than I had imagined, as I got a terrible cold which confined me to bed for most of the week. At first I was irritated, even angry about this, but decided to be open-minded and spend the time reading, writing and thinking productively even if I didn’t produce much work. I spent a fair bit of time working rather haphazardly and sketchily through The Artist’s Way*, which although definitely qualifying as navel-gazing of the highest order, did prove to be quite illuminating and helped me make sense of some of the thoughts spinning round my head. I was particularly inspired by the exercises to identify your creative dreams and aspirations. In between sniffing and sneezing and eating too many Easter eggs, I learnt/admitted/discovered these things about myself:

  • I would like to paint large canvasses
  • My most cheer-me-up music is trad jazz
  • I’d like to learn printmaking
  • I worry a lot about wasting time
  • I’d love to dye my hair very blonde
  • In another life I’d be a singer in a band or a window dresser for Anthropologie
  • I wish I was braver
  • I’d like to own red shoes, more silver bangles and an easel
  • When I was a child I wanted to be a ballet teacher
  • I am getting better at believing in myself

What I need to do as a matter of urgency is carve out regular, uninterrupted time for myself to paint and draw. How I do this I am not yet sure... what I do know is that, perversely, it is something inside me that stops this happening just as much as external events. I need to stop fighting myself.

*The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron