the first cut

On Sunday I went to see Manchester Art Gallery's new exhibition 'The First Cut' which is all about paper, mostly paper cutting, but also other techniques including making huge leaves out of seaweed and hemp.

These delicate cutwork birds made from old maps by Claire Brewster were my favourite, perhaps because they symbolised a freedom and lightness of touch that I felt the rest of the exhibition lacked. Apart from the seaweed leaves and an enormous, gestural piece by someone I can't now remember, I must admit to an uncomfortable feeling of claustrophobia while walking around. There is something very tight, controlled and almost slightly verging on madness about the process of cutting tiny work from paper, the sort of thing I have seen prisoners or mental health users produce. Very reminiscent of outsider art in its varying forms. Some artists such as the perennially popular Rob Ryan manage to capture a poetry and humour that lifts their work, but I'm afraid a lot of it seemed too intense and gave me a bit of a constriction in the throat - not really something I usually look for in an encounter with art! What a difference from the outdoor freedom and space of last weekend's trip to the YSP.

Do leave a comment if you have been to see the exhibition - I would be interested to hear other perspectives.

out for a walk

Here I am resting at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park after what seemed like a very steep climb but which was in fact a pathetically gentle incline... 

...unfortunately I fear my girth is not too far away from looking like this grey-green lady's, elegantly reclined though she is, which added to the puffing and panting as I laboured up the hill.

It's lovely at the YSP, and I'm so glad I went. A great combo of art, fresh air, sunshine, autumn colours, walking, coffee and cake. Not to mention the lovely scenery of the Pennine hills on the drive over.

I didn't quite manage to banish all my worries from my mind, but I certainly did a better job than if I'd stayed at home moping.

That's all for today, but I thought I'd try to report for duty a bit more often on here... I did a bit of painting on canvas last week before the old anxieties took over and spoilt the fun... hopefully I'll have something to show soon.

autumn is here...

...and so am I... at last!

I have wanted to write a post for ages but I've kept on stalling... I haven't known what to say... I've started a few lines in my notebook and then given up, and then suddenly a week's gone by and it all happens again.

The truth is, I haven't felt like I've anything terribly interesting to say. There's been more 'life' than 'creativity' going on here - and that's been the case for quite a while. I've decided to bite the bullet and write something anyway, just to mark the passing of time, because I want to be truthful with myself, and in the end this blog is for me, to read when I'm old, and what I'm feeling and experiencing at the moment is just as valid and as much a part of the story as the busy, successful times.

I haven't done any art for a while, nor any kind of expression other than the intense giving out that life seems to be demanding of me at the moment. So, I am 'inhaling'... taking in... absorbing... and trusting that the 'exhaling', the expression, the creation of something other than life and relationships, will come.

Maybe the new season will bring other newness with it. I hope so. Autumn is here now, I know this because as well as the rose hips and ivy berries and darker evenings and chilly air, there was a huge skein of geese in the sky this morning, very high up and distantly honking, making their way to Norfolk and the Wash to feed on the mudflats over the winter. We are right underneath one of their flight paths here in south Manchester and every autumn is marked by their passing from west to east. In springtime, back they go westwards, to Iceland or Greenland to breed over the summer months. I love hearing them and rush to the window when I hear the sound of them passing over to catch sight of their strung-out 'v' shapes making their way across the sky.

East to west, west to east... the miracle of time passing. My 'baby' granddaughter will soon be starting school, and neither of my children are teenagers anymore. This feels incredible, but there is something familiar and comforting about the journey of the geese that somehow makes it all ok. Good and wonderful things happen in amongst the terrible and frightening things, and there's a sort of rhythm and form to it all that I didn't notice when I was younger and saw it as a single, linear journey. It's not that at all, is it? Not a bit.

I'm doing a lot of reading. A lot of sleeping, a lot of thinking and praying and eating cake and back in August I did a lot of cleaning. Hopefully I'll be doing a bit more writing and taking photos and getting back into more of a conversation with life very soon.

reflected glory

I just thought I would show you this page from last month's Country Living magazine. It shows the studio of the lovely Emma, aka Silverpebble, who was featured in their 'Women and their Sheds' series.

What's that to do with me you might rightly wonder... well, that's my paper garland in the background! Emma kindly bought one from my Winter Shop a couple of years ago, and I think it looks lovely in its new home, don't you?

I wrote about how I made these garlands here.


June ... is the month for roses, warm sun, tea in the garden and light evenings when it is hard to be early in bed.

From Something to Do, a Young Puffin Original edited by Septima and beautifully illustrated by Shirley Hughes, published in 1966, the year I was born, and the constant accompaniment to my childhood.

It's hard to believe that we are already nearing the end of the month. Despite all the rain and stormy weather, I'm pleased to say we have had roses and warm sun and the other things mentioned above, although perhaps less abundantly than we might have wished for. There certainly hasn't been any shortage of Something to Do:

Tea in the garden - and perhaps more importantly, cake - has featured very prominently, since June is the month when my best friend Anne opens her garden for Didsbury Open Gardens (as well as the NGS) and we serve tea and cake in vintage teacups and best pinnies. Fourteen large cakes had to be made and iced the week before, with one or two extras for 'testing', of course. It's always a lovely day, and fun to meet friends and old neighbours.

This weekend was a special anniversary and so we battled through the torrential rain for a three-night stay in beautiful Northumberland. The beaches, castles, gardens and gentle rolling countryside are so lovely, and we had the most gorgeous and elegant afternoon tea at the Earl Grey Tea House at Howick Hall as well as lots of rambles and pottering about, a wonderful few hours at Barter Books,  and lots of time scuffing about on beaches collecting limpet shells to string into a little whirly wreath.

Earlier in the month, of course, we were all treated to a couple of days holiday for the Golden Jubilee here in the UK, and we decided to pop up to the Lake District to see the Jubilee beacons being lit. After a lovely sunny afternoon drinking tea and reading the papers overlooking Coniston Water at the Jumping Jenny Tearooms at Brantwood, we climbed up Hampsfell near Cartmel and watched the sunset over the Lakeland Fells, followed by the lighting of the beacons. It was a truly magical experience to watch one pinprick of light after another gradually appear on the mountainous skyline until we were surrounded by a ring of tiny distant fires. It was just like Lord of the Rings. Then, suddenly, out of the cloud bank, the full moon rose majestically above the expanse of Morecambe Bay, creating a moonlit path across the water. Wonderful, except then we had to get back to the car down a rocky path with only our wind-up torch for company... a little bit of a Laurel and Hardy ending to a magical day, as is so often the case in our household I'm afraid!

So that was June. Hopefully there will be a bit more art in July.

Mary Fedden

Goodbye Mary Fedden, whose work I have so much enjoyed. I hope you are happy and reunited with all your cats and objects and beloved people in a magical place with zebras and teapots and vases of brightly coloured flowers. Thank you for all your beautiful paintings.

and this week

This week we did lino cutting. I hated it! It totally divided the class into those who fell into a kind of dreamy right-side-of-the-brain absorption (most people), and those who moaned continually and felt no connection with the technique at all (me). I found the carving clumsy and effortful, and the results two-dimensional and uninspiring... but now I know a little bit more about what is 'me' and what not to bother with next time...! The drawing I used for inspiration is above, the resulting print is shown below.


carborundum prints

The second and third weeks of the printing course were spent learning how to make an image using two plates: one drypoint and one using carborundum grit. I loved this.

I took as my starting point the drawing below: it's one of a series of 'automatic' drawings/collages I did last spring. Not really being sure what I was doing or how it was going to turn out, I had a go at interpreting the darks and lights into drypoint, acrylic brushwork and carborundum grit, and you can see the results above. I was really pleased with it and feel there is a lot of potential for me here.

seaweed prints

I recently started a beginners printmaking course at a wonderful and friendly print studio and I have come to look forward very much to my Tuesday nights at this inspiring place.

Last week we were introduced to the process of drypoint printing, and I took along an ink drawing of some seaweed as my starting point.

First of all the image had to be scanned and reduced to fit the size of the perspex plate on which we were working.

Then the perspex plate was laid over the image and I carefully 'drew' over it using a drypoint needle, scratching the surface of the perspex to leave the characteristic 'burr' of raised perspex where the needle had been.

After bevelling the edges of the plate, it was then inked up using black intaglio ink which was pressed into the scratch marks with a piece of stiff card and then wiped off gently using scrim and tissue paper.

Then the plate was ready to print, made into a sandwich on the etching press with newsprint, soaked and blotted cartridge paper and heavy wool blankets. The action of rolling the plate through the press is physical and very satisfying.

And this was the result! I was delighted with the quality and expression of the line and the lovely indented plate mark on the paper, as well as the unexpected smudges and smears of ink that mark it out as a learner piece - but one that I was very pleased to produce.

 A closer view of the finished print:

Next week we are doing collograph, but I am going early to see how many more editions I can print from my seaweed plate before the burr deteriorates. I'm very excited by this new process and can already see all sorts of imaginary work in my head... as usual.


I feel a bit embarrassed walking in here as if everything was normal and I'd only popped out for a few minutes when in fact it's been nearly two months since my last post!

To make up for it I thought I'd share a couple of things that have inspired me recently: first of all the work of Rex Ray, and in particular this inspiring video about his working practices and perspective on life. I'm not so keen on his more psychedelic creations, but I do love those early collages, and I'm planning a therapeutic session of cutting and sticking myself this Easter weekend.

Secondly, I can't remember where I came across it, but this book of Indian spiritual drawings, some from the seventeenth century, is amazing. This New York Times article describes the work as 'seventeenth-century modernism' and it certainly causes you to consider the work of people like Patrick Heron, Sandra Blow and Ben Nicholson in a new way. There is a breathtaking simplicity that draws you deeper in these wonderful artworks.

I've signed up for a five-week beginners' printing course which starts on Tuesday, and so I hope to have a few bits and pieces to share with you over the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, have a very happy Easter. In our house we have mini-eggs, a new baby Emma Bridgewater chick mug, a tiny fluffy lamb, a lemon cake, a 'make-your-own-Easter-balloon-kit' and a roast dinner to look forward to, as well as all that resurrection and new life, of course.

pinning matters


I recently started to feel uncomfortable about the whole image sharing thing that goes on between us all. Up to now, I'd kind of ignored it... we've all heard the appalling stories of how disreputable bloggers steal images and indeed whole creative identities, but well... that's the sort of thing that happens to other people, right?

Well... yes in that it hasn't happened to me yet, but a big 'no' in that we're all in this together, and that's why it's so enjoyable and rich and wonderful, and that's why it's not ok.

I came across this post recently and was inspired to learn more. I realised I knew next to nothing about creative commons or copyright issues or proper Pinterest etiquette, and more importantly, that my ignorance was adding to the problem. I love Pinterest, and really enjoy adding lovely images to my inspiration boards: beautiful homes, gardens, art, and tutorials for making pretty things that I might get round to one day. But I'm lazy about my pinning, and often don't make sure that the image links to its creator, or gives any information at all. This might be ok if it was just for my own personal use, but Pinterest is a social networking site, and when somebody else finds my pin, they have no idea where it came from or who owns it - none at all. That's not right.

So I decided to go through ALL my pins on Pinterest and check that they linked to the correct source. Lots didn't. If I couldn't find the source and add the right link, I deleted the pin. This meant lots of deletions, which made me sad, but it would make me a lot sadder to know that I was contributing to someone else's work being mis-attributed or stolen. I want to feel that the trail I leave on the web is as clean, transparent and responsible as the trail I leave anywhere else on this earth.

I would encourage you to do the same and to take steps to be a responsible pinner and sharer of images. I've found that Tumblr is one of the worst offenders for not providing links to sources. If you pin from a Tumblr blog, it's very likely that you won't pick up the right source html unless you're very careful to follow any link that's given and chase it up for yourself. That's what I've done for several of my pins, but it's not always possible, and I must admit that the thought of my own work getting lost and unattributed in this way makes me pretty anxious.

If you're feeling as muddled as I was, take a look at this post as well as the one I mentioned at the top, and there's tons of stuff on the Link with Love site. It is quite a lot to take in, but it really matters, so please sit down with a cup of tea and take the time to understand it all and form your own point of view.

You can find my Pinterest boards here if you're interested.

directions please!

Weathercock, originally uploaded by Sue McLoughlin.

I am not sure if this is going to work as planned because it's coming live from my new iPad... but that's really the point of this post...

Those of you with experience of this wonder-gadget, do you have any tips or advice on how to blog from it satisfactorily? I can't seem to access any photos (which is why I'm uploading this straight from Flickr on a teeny tiny screen that my middle-aged eyes do NOT like) and the Blogger app doesn't seem to get good reviews. I'd be really grateful for any input you might have.

Also, does anybody know of any killer apps I might be missing? I'd especially love to know about any gallery apps or ways to view art.

Thanks in advance!

yarn talkin'

So, I decided to blow the budget and splash out on the Rowan Felted Tweed. I'm so glad I did, it's a lovely lovely yarn which works up beautifully, even though it's a tiny bit hairy.

I played around with the design a bit more. Having made lots of patchwork blankets where each square is a different colour, this time I wanted a single background colour, and here I've chosen a putty grey for a nice old-fashioned feel. I toyed with the idea of using more than one colour on each square, but in the end settled for these simple stars... I just really like the uncluttered beauty of their shapes, and I love the way the negative space between each star creates a perfect circle.

The squares are really tiny and such a fiddle to make... I am going to be learning a lot of patience with this project! They are just under two inches or five centimetres, so this sample block is just under six inches. They are worked using a 4mm hook. I've never made a large piece using such a small hook before - I usually choose to use Aran weight for a blanket with a 7mm hook, but I wanted to set myself a challenge to make something really fine and beautiful. Also, the colours in the Felted Tweed Aran are just not as lovely as in the DK.

In case you're interested, then, the colours I've chosen, as laid out below are Rowan Felted Tweed DK in 145 Treacle, 175 Cinnamon, 173 Duck Egg, 161 Avocado, 170 Seafarer, 177 Clay, 159 Carbon, 154 Ginger and 172 Ancient.

The Ginger is not so 'red' in real life, and the Seafarer is a bit darker than it looks here. The Treacle is a gorgeous browny purple that I'm totally in love with.

Off to do some more!

something old, something new

I'm going to be completely honest and say that this year has not got off to a good start. January has, on the whole, been rubbish so far and it feels like pretty much everything that could go wrong, has. I was fairly realistic about the chances of the year being 'new' in any sort of way, but even I probably couldn't have imagined just how much like old times it would seem.

At times like these creativity seems in short supply. I am slowly learning how to maintain the energy for myself when times are hard, but meanwhile crochet seems like a good plan. A little playing around with colour and shape and the prospect of yarn shopping is just enough excitement for me right now.

I'm planning another blanket, hopefully using Rowan's luscious Felted Tweed DK if funds allow. I've worked the sample squares shown above in a cheaper DK to see what effect I like best. At the moment I'm rather liking the little stars, but I might make the squares smaller.

I hope to be able to report back on progress very soon... tomorrow I'm going on a yarn-buying expedition. This makes me very happy.


I have been thinking about pathways... the sort that we follow through life... the sort that make connections in our brains... the sort we walked along this weekend along the beautiful shoreline in south Cumbria... somehow they all meet up along the way as we try to make sense of the journey.

As my aim for this year is to learn how to be kind to myself, I have been thinking about how my thoughts go along certain pathways when I don't actually want to go in that direction... how thoughts throw you off course and you suddenly find yourself wandering aimlessly and wondering how you got there.

When I am emotionally drained and feel burdened by the pressure of responsibility, I can't be creative. I just can't. But I'm not sure why. I become angry and full of a destructive energy that works directly at odds with creativity. I spin into a strange state where I simultaneously wish to deprive myself of stimuli and also manically sort things out into some kind of order. I need to work out why I do this and what would be a kinder way of reacting... this way I hope to learn how to continue creating at some level even when things feel difficult.

This weekend marks the two-year anniversary of my list-keeping exercise over at Listography. Five things that make me happy every day... it opens my eyes, makes me notice, makes me thankful, keeps me a little bit sane some days... it's a wonderful way of recording the rhythms of the year. You can read about why I started it here.