Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Beauty and the beast

Lots of interesting things going on... It's only a week and a half until North Somerset Arts Week and I'm feeling twitchy. How do you know when you've made an exhibition rather than just a few pictures? I think I'm getting there but until it all goes up on the wall it's just guesswork. I've framed everything I've made so far. I gave in to the critics and did some more stitching on my daisy, so now nobody can say it's not finished...

And actually I have grown rather fond of my daisy, especially now that it's in a lovely understated ash frame; I will be a little bit sad if it goes.

Then I made a little something else. I'm hoping that for lots of people it will be a happy memory of somewhere or other... 

And then I made another one. I was thinking about this beautiful batik by a lovely lady I know called Conny Ridge who will be exhibiting in Arts Week too....

I got an urge. Let's hope she thinks "inspired by" rather than "ripped off", as I really love her work...

So it's starting to come together. A mixture of flowery scenes and the sea. Some photos mounted and put into cellophane bags, plenty of greetings cards and postcards, of both my textiles and my photography (scary, never sold any photos before, I wonder endlessly how it will go). A play room full of things in frames all wrapped up in bubble wrap. The problem now is not really being able to relax until every last empty frame hidden around the house is filled with something beautiful to sell. I should stop writing this rubbish and get cracking now. 

I rather wish the thing I photographed today had appeared earlier - for one thing I might have been able to sort out a print or two of it, but also if I had known it existed earlier, I might have been able to spare the five little lives inside by stopping the hedge from being cut down... Sometimes at the children's bedtime we talk about the three happiest things that happened in our day, and tonight I had to include this just for the joy of seeing such beauty, even though it was also the saddest thing today.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

An old love reignited

I'm sure I should be doing some more plugging here today for Arts Week as it's only three weeks away, but circumstances and the children's Easter holidays mean that no making has happened for the last two weeks. I will get creative again next week but today it's time for me to tell you about an old flame that's been reawakened, after a very long gap, this week.

In the old days before children, we used to spend a lot of our holidays travelling round Italy. And then it stopped. The trips had been about wandering through cities, spending hours in great little old fashioned restaurants, a bit of culture here and there, travelling light. None of these are easy with small children and so our holidays were spent first in England and then as the whining on long car journeys improved, France and in particular (as you know if you are a regular reader) French beaches, as a ready made entertainment source is on your doorstep when you stay near a beach. But time has passed and this week we tried to stretch the limits a little further... and went to Rome. It was exhausting. We did so much walking, too much walking. I now have stumps of gristle where my legs used to be. Civil words were sometimes few and far between. The crowds of tourists in some areas were shocking as were the hundreds of poor souls trying to eke a living out of them - you want to buy a selfie stick? But there was a joy that I had forgotten and some new pleasure I hadn't known before. I had heard about it but had never fully realised how much Italians love children. Picture us standing on a bus and eldest says to me giggling "Mum, I think there's a lady who likes me" and suddenly I see a hand stroking his hair and tickling his chin. Daughter, still blonde in a way that must be quite unfeasible to an Italian, has a waitress sit down on the bench next to her to talk about whether she wants pasta and meatballs and blood orange juice or peach, then tells her she should smile more as she is beautiful when she does. Even the flower seller going round the restaurant gives her a yellow rose (yes it was MY birthday but never mind) and the stern passport guy in the airport gives her a smile, a wave and a "ciao".

The elegance and faded grandeur of the architecture. Ochre and burnt siena shades in the sun. The splendour of hints of the 1950's in packaging, in shop windows, in advertising. Sunny happy Vespas and motorbikes parked in alleyways. The surreptitious SPQR's hidden on drain covers, lampposts, bins, harking back to a distant age.

The food, the joy and pride in good quality and flavour. The French may have beautiful croissants, but the Italians take them and then stuff them like a doughnut: nutella, custard or apricot jam, what could be better? The steamy puffiness of squares of focaccia made especially in a wood fired oven for the children to have with their meatballs (which come after the pasta course, a bewildering concept to an English seven-year-old).

We search for the best ice cream in all of Rome every day, based on guide books and website recommendation. The quality, the intensity of flavour, gives me the greatest pleasure and the greatest regrets now I've returned. Why didn't I try the apricot flavour, the wild cherry, the chestnut, even the fresh date? I am mortified that on my last day, when I went back inside to thank the man for the three scoops I'd just had (salted peanut, rice pudding, and ricotta, cointreau and orange if you're wondering) and shamefully bought two more flavours, I asked him what he thought his best flavours were, then when he thoughtfully and bashfully pointed out the very darkest chocolate, and then the habanero, I grimaced, made my excuses and ordered the cassata and zabaglione instead. Why didn't I just do it? Maybe I need to get some funding to go back on my own and do some more thorough research before writing my thesis on the best ice cream in Rome. It will only take a few months and some larger jeans.

Anyway my friend Laura says I should just post some beautiful photos of my trip on here without any words, but I never could keep my mouth shut. I think I've said what I wanted to say now though, so here are the pics...


















Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Fate, calm and authenticity

Interesting times at the moment. Fate seems to be happening quite a lot more than usual. Serendipities. Odd events throwing things into my lap. I could mention the hail that fell earlier while I was out, forcing me into a shop and just compelling me to try on and buy a top that I didn't need. Or the boy spending an extra long time swimming and then showering one evening last week, which meant that by the time we got home, husband had had some peace to read the letter I had written after an argument, absorb it and let calm return to the house. My making seems to be going the same way at the moment: I am trying to get lots and lots of work together to show during Arts Week and so quite a bit of making is going on. I have an idea, start to get some wool out for it and suddenly something else altogether is getting made. I wanted to do some lettering in my felt, some beautiful, breathtaking wording, a life-changing slogan, but while I was trying to work out what I wanted to say, this happened:

(Incidentally this is an odd one, I feel really happy with this picture and then other people keep saying  that it will look great when I've finished it. Maybe I need to revisit it with the sewing machine. Or maybe people just need to get over themselves. I bet nobody told Picasso his picture would be great if he put his eyes and noses in the right place.) 

This time for Arts Week I'm branching out and showing a little bit of photography as well as the textiles. It's a gamble and an unknown, which is probably why I'm clinging to the idea that fate has a hand in these things. It's all for a reason. Even if that means I'll have enough greetings cards and postcards leftover to send to people for their birthdays for the next ten years. My amazing shiatsu friend Alexandra,  whose words always carry a great deal of truth in our sessions, and who always manages to point me in the right direction, suggested I get some photos printed onto canvas, and I've done it, with just three pictures. To be honest, I couldn't remember which photos I'd picked. My lovely friend Laura, who I will be exhibiting with, suggested I get my daisy photo mounted to hang with the felted version above, and says she will make a handbag with a daisy on the front to display with it. Great idea, add this to my list of things to do. So imagine my surprise when the photo, on canvas, arrives in the post:

I started making again last week, a sea picture this time, the one that the cat kept sitting on. I had intended something different but this happened:


The photo doesn't quite do it justice; I need to have a fiddle with it as the colours are a bit brash. This is the first time I think I've done a sea picture without any beach on it. At one point I was half thinking about using some sandpaper as a mount for it, to add a bit of beach.  The sea itself has a lot less movement than my usual ones, and there are (apart from the breakers in the foreground) no beads, as I normally use. I wanted to convey something a bit different, and I was reminded of it today, lying on the floor after another shiatsu session with the lovely Alexandra. I felt just the same as I do when I'm floating in the sea when we stay in Brittany, the most beautiful calm and freedom in my head. I told her about this picture, and of the photo that inspired it and a little of the event that inspired the photo: an evening after the people on the beach cleared off for their dinner, an evening of whipping a swimming costume on as soon as the children were in bed and dipping in, floating and flipping, watching little fish swim by, and emptying my brain. That evening a still came like no other, the light had a strange quality about it and you couldn't see where the sea ended and the sky began. Once I'd dried off I took a photo of it. At this point in my writing I'm trying to eke the words out a bit to make more space between my felt and the original photo, so you can't quite see how inadequate my felted version is in comparison to the real thing. But rest assured that in person, and away from the photo, the picture does convey that same feel (in my humble opinion).

By the way, maybe this is the moment to mention that I've recently set up an Artist's Facebook page for myself in a gesture designed to make things a little bit more serious rather than just messing about on the kitchen table, do check it out if you are a Facebook sort of person and like to see what I've been making...

Anyway (she says, continuing to make the space between pictures bigger) I've never really been one for these things but as fate is having a hand in things, why not: Alexandra, who brings me truths and calm, tells me that the time between the solar eclipse last Friday and the next full moon (Google tells me 4th April) is significant and momentous, and that I need to be authentic to myself. I wonder what this will bring...

Monday, 16 March 2015

Pasta and the sea...

I had intended to show you some new art I've made but it may have to wait...

It turns out that I'm not the only one in my household who loves felt. A few months ago I insisted on getting a cat from the local sanctuary. Our eyes met across the room, he rolled on his back and offered up his belly for a tickle and the rest is history. It was a gamble getting a five year old cat; we were half expecting a cat of a nervous disposition, but Pasta is a great big butch cat who stands his ground, respects nobody's rules and now has a territory that seems to span half of Long Ashton.


He follows us to school in the mornings (although he sometimes forgets the way home and waits until we are going home in the afternoon to follow us back up the hill), and he follows us on walks through the woods...

And I've found out once or twice recently that he loves felt. Today he was getting involved with the making of it. Here's a brief lesson in felt making for cats: get your owner to assemble your wool, cover it with warm soapy water and rub it until it stays in one piece, on a base of a piece of bubble wrap. Give it a good sniff every so often...


Wring it out a bit and roll it up in your towel, rolling backwards and forwards a few times in each direction...


Rinse it several times, squeeze it dry, and while it's still damp and rather cold, sit on it.


To help make it even flatter, you could lie down and go to sleep on it...

You probably can't tell from these photos that Pasta seems to prefer beach scenes. I'm doing quite a few in preparation for Arts Week in May. I can show you these examples of previous pictures I've made, but the one Pasta is asleep on is a new approach. Come and see when the pink flags are out!


Saturday, 7 March 2015

A bit of making at last

A creative urge has come upon me since half term finished. Well it really needed to; three people asked me, in the week before, how my preparations for Arts Week were going. Arts Week? Nah, ages yet.  May? Oh no, not so long... um, er... OK better get making. North Somerset Arts Week is happening from 1st May to 10th May and I need to get enough beautiful buy-me buy-me things made to fill around half my lovely friend Laura's studio in Nailsea and convert what was a garage into an extravaganza of lusciousness, along with her ceramics and beautiful felt. A few weeks ago I had about one and a half pictures to sell but things are looking more rosy now. For a start there is this:

It has beading aplenty as well as some lovely Kaffe Fassett fabrics appliqu├ęd on and some swirly embroidery.

Then I made a smaller one along similar lines. I was thinking about cow parsley when I did the embroidery and beading for this one...


Then I had a sleepless night. Something unknown made me completely awake at a time when no human being should be awake. It went on. And on. And in the middle of it, Monet's waterlilies came to me, and I started wondering how they would be translated into felt. So the next morning I set to work...

I am still not sure if it's finished. 

I've started on some beach pictures to become my trademark long thin "beach windows". I tried to take a picture for you but the cat sat on them. The cat seems to enjoy sitting on damp cold felt laid out to dry on the kitchen table.

And yesterday I started work on a new one. It's far from finished but I actually rather love it just as it is. It's very very loosely based on this picture I took of a daisy my youngest picked one day on the way home from school with a friend:

Before I started with the hot water and soap, it did look pretty similar:

But it changed a bit in the felting process, as they always do...

Lots of machine stitching and it will be transformed. Is it me showing my age or does it make you think of The Good Life? I was trying to work out why I had that theme tune in my head earlier...

And that's not all; this week I've been sorting out all my very best photos and getting them mutated into some very posh postcards, a few canvas prints and some large prints which will be for sale mounted. Look out, coming soon to a garage - oops sorry, a studio - near you in Nailsea. Here are a few examples to leave you with...





Saturday, 31 January 2015

Challenge be gone

So I've done it. The 30 days have been and my January of carting my camera wherever I go is finished. Now I will have no excuse for avoiding all the dull but necessary things to be done that surround me. The 30 day photography challenge that I found on Pinterest has been great in so many ways, but I must confess I am glad it is finished. This week has not had the best of themes and some of them have consumed my day. But if it was easy, it wouldn't be a challenge, would it? It's interesting how many times I've gone out with something in mind to fit the theme, and actually another photo that was taken that day would fit the bill better than the grand plan had.

Would you like to see my final ten? Well here you are...

Day 21: Faceless self portrait. I was for a second or two tempted to try some naked body parts but couldn't think of any areas I'd be happy for you to see. I tried a terribly unflattering shot looking in the fridge with my head cropped off. In the end I tried to sum myself up with something smaller...


Day 22: Inspirational. For this one I had always fully intended to do a little homage to Malka Dubrawsky, who always manages to chirp up my world with the brightest funkiest batik patchwork fabric patterns, bursting with sunlight. But I couldn't do them justice and actually there is something amazing and ever-changing outside calling to me every day at the moment to take ever more photos...


Day 23: Patterns. I knew this one would be a doddle. I was meeting with my lovely monthly group at Clevedon Craft Centre, we would be doing art of some sort and something beautiful would materialise. In fact it was the materials that materialised, in the form of a gorgeous box of crayons in the sun, that somehow seemed more fun when they were out of focus:


Day 24: Animal. Yes, I could have bothered the cat again. Or I could have tried to capture the essence of the stick insects (which isn't easy, I have previously tried. Smallest child recently wrote out a schedule for a family talent show and their only talent was "standing still" for several hours). It was a Saturday and the children needed some exercise, so this was my feeble excuse for a trip to the city farm...


Day 25: Strangers. Just the worst. Really not comfortable. I think I'm too English for this one. I spent a morning rushing out snaps, most not properly focussed as I didn't want to be spotted. There were lots. Mostly rubbish. This was the most in focus, and, I hope, the one that tells a little story: why are they looking in that direction?


Day 26: Close up. Aha, back in the comfort zone. Slap on the macro lens, quick trip to the shops to buy some flowers, get the ones with the reduced label. Anemones always make me think of my mum, who loved them; I tried to plant some in my garden a couple of years ago but couldn't bring myself to bury them in the ground.


Day 27: Celebration. It felt a little odd trying to stage something that could be construed as a celebration, at 9:30 in the morning on a grey day after the school run, with just an old bottle of French cider and a light on.


Day 28: Flowers. Ah, I hadn't spotted that a couple of days before. So out come the reduced flowers from the close up challenge again, still hanging on to their uprightness for a few more hours.


Day 29: Black and white. Daughter says "Easy, do a cow." I tell her I don't know where to find a cow, and she reminds me of the calves we saw at the city farm a few days before, as if I am an idiot. I explain that I can just do a monochrome picture of something coloured but she won't have it. So I drop her at school and head off for my grand plan, into Bristol for a gritty bridge, some graffiti, something dramatic. I find the bridge and after several rushed and unfocused pictures while I'm dodging the tutting cyclists, it is a no hoper. I mutter to myself while trudging along the road towards... the city farm. And of course the calves are inside, not a hope of a picture. Luckily a sheep is too stupid to get worried and move when I'm spending minutes poking my zoom lens at it.


Day 30: Self portrait. Oh dear. This one has been bothering me for several days. Interesting that the two most bothersome challenges have been the people I don't know, and the person I know the best. I plan on a good night's sleep to iron out the wrinkles beforehand. But I hadn't bargained on getting up twice in the night for a feverish child and a husband who gets up extraordinarily at 4.30 to welcome a new machine at his work. This was never going to be easy. And in the end, I had an interesting self-realisation. I took hundreds. And guess what? I cannot stand any pictures that feature my mouth. What is it about that strange slit just above my chin? Where are the full and luscious lips I have in my imagination? Thin and mean, or lopsided, gormless, mocking or just plain silly. It's got to go. And then, once I have a few I feel OK about, I wonder about a little bit of editing. Surprising how easy it is. A couple of minutes and I can rub out all sign of those bags under the eyes. That's better, if a little odd. Have a little go at getting rid of the crow's feet... then suddenly I am not me any more. It is wrong. Weirdly husband says it looks like a boy - interesting, are my wrinkles womanly? So back to square one, here I am in full unedited glory, bags, wrinkles and all...

If you too feel like doing the challenge (and I would heartily recommend it), here is what I found, but do let me see the results: