The frantic business of September, with all its overlapping exhibitions, drawing deadlines and Very Important Birthdays, is over and here I am on the first day of October, thinking about what to write while the new kitten fights sleep on my knee. Looking back I realise that I didn’t write anything during September and the excuse for this is the fact that, with Cumbria Printmakers and Craftsmen at the Priory, there seemed to be almost continuous exhibitions happening somewhere and although the initial deadline for finishing my Ugly Duckling illustration project was September 13th, I had to extend it a little following the loss of my sketchbook and the week long migraine that followed. Then about 3 weeks ago this happened …
My son arrived one evening with a tiny wobbly monster who was barely able to get up the stairs .This cute, gift kitten has somehow been replaced by a large, spikey tiger with a ravenous appetite and dubious bathroom habits, in the blink of an eye. It’s a full time job. We call her Nutmeg but more often her name is unrepeatable in polite company. As write she is kneading my jumper with needle claws and purring like an engine; it’s good have company in the lonely barn again even if my legs look like I’ve been rolling in brambles and Rupert says I look like Action Man with the scratch on my face!
Early in September as I was busy drawing ducks and swans and worrying about whether it was all looking ok and was “good enough”, the bookshop had organised an event with the writer and illustrator Jackie Morris. I’m sure Grasmere must have been full of lots of extra lovely people that day because I was working in the bookshop and sold more of my cards than usual and had some really nice conversations about mutually admired artists and makers. Anyway, the evening event was very interesting and inspiring because Jackie spoke about how she had been told many times at school and later at art college, that she wasn’t “good enough”, that art wasn’t a real job you could live from and so on, only to go on to be one of the most recognised and loved illustrators working today. She spoke about The Lost Words, working with Robert Macfarlane, and how the book has taken on a life of it’s own in schools, hospitals and care homes, inspiring memories in older people and a new discovery of nature in the young. For me the admission that she didn’t really know “how” to illustrate a book when she first started out, making it up as she went along, but also didn’t really know what else to be, was very cheering as I wrestled with self doubt and worried about ducks. Could my Ugly Duckling become a swan?
I feel as though I gained a lot of much needed confidence from my first experience of working as a real illustrator, working to a brief and getting paid! I know I could have finished on time if only I hadn’t been robbed in Lanercost and as it turned out I was only a week late so I beat Crossrail, with justifiable delays! The Line and Verse exhibition in Grasmere was also really good for me with several sales and work is currently still on show at Upfront Arts Venue in Unthank, near Penrith. But for a moment I can indulge in a few lazy days, think about what I’ve learned and plan what comes next.
The main event of September probably deserves a whole blog post of its own and I’m conscious that as usual I’m trying to play catch up and not doing justice to all the things I want to talk about. Last week I was in London with all my family to celebrate my father, William Tillyer’s 80th birthday …
We had a wonderful time, wandering around the Chelsea Physic Garden, having supper at the Chelsea Arts Club, testing out £1330 chairs at the Conran Shop, fighting our way on to tubes to get to the exhibition opening at Bernard Jacobson Gallery and generally enjoying some rare family time. The birthday party at the gallery also marked the opening of the fabulous exhibition of The Golden Striker and Esk Paintings and felt particularly wonderful in contrast to the Radical Vision opening in January when, unknown to most people, he was in the middle of chemotherapy and really not well. I’m sure he will hate me sharing this but the huge, imposing and beautiful painting at the centre of this new exhibition has been largely completed whilst undergoing chemo and dealing with it’s after effects, visiting the studio daily and working alone without assistants (unlike many of his celebrated contemporaries). I find this hugely inspiring and not a little daunting – how can I possibly live my life so single-mindedly and with such courage and determination?!
Bernard Jacobson, the gallery owner, has written a new book entitled “William Tillyer, The loneliness of the long distance runner”, it’s part memoir, part biography, part imagined odyssey. I can’t tell you how weird it is to read, having been part of the story, at least for the last 51 years. Again, it deserves a whole blog post and a careful review, maybe from someone more qualified and less involved, but here is a bit I really liked…
“Hockney recording nature is like Paul McCartney writing opera. Tillyer recording nature is like John Clare recording nature. . Hockney’s nature reflects back the colour supplements , Tillyer’s is a Modernist mirror of Nature itself.”
Well now, here at the bottom of the mountain it’s time to return to my own search for a bit of creative fulfilment and also time to put on another jumper as I’ve got cold sitting here writing this. I’m making these boxes for some events taking place in November and also thinking about some new work for exhibitions early next year. I need to update the website shop and go outside for some air and exercise too… but first coffee!
Reading: Killing Commendatore – Haruki Murakami