A Mountain for a Soap Box

Dodd from the shore of Bassenthwaite

This past week or two I have been pondering the meaning of life and the secrets of success and happiness while traveling on slow trains, celebrating major life events in inspirational cities and continuing to explore the wonderful land of mountains, lakes and lush bracken jungle that I’m constantly surprised to be suddenly living in. Maybe I should have opted for Philosophy at university like my lovely brother (so I could say what I mean more clearly)… anyway it seemed to me, at low points, that success and happiness are almost always measured in monetary terms. I’ve been horrified this week by news stories about the Prime Minister’s pay rise while doctors are being told they don’t work hard enough, people work like hell to subsist on minimum wage, important benefits are cut and don’t even start me on the proposed reforms to the hunting bill. It was the hypocrisy and lack of respect for anything other than Mammon that upset me most. It’s easy to feel like a failure (professional, financial or personal) in a game someone else invented… and then to find out they’re sitting on half the cards and the rule book. And so, yesterday I forced myself to look at what I had actually achieved in the day, a day in which I felt low and unmotivated, and it was this…

Shelter Print and embroidery by Kim Tillyer

1. I finished some stitching on a print I hope to show at Dalemain House in September as part of C-Art 


Moomin Pan with gooseberries

2. A pan of gooseberries for a fool (!) and a plate of warm peanut butter biscuits.


Handmade climbing chalk bag

3. I made a climbing chalk bag from a piece of cyanotype printed fabric and other things found in a hastily packed box of fabrics.

So, take away the crushing sense of failure that means I am too poor to buy a flat with a nice kitchen for my daughter, a house with a studio for my parents or a car that works for my son… surely all we need is food, warmth and shelter and a bit of love…oh and creativity. Everyone should be able to afford this by virtue of their daily work and I never will understand the crazy economics of a world that sets such inequalities at its heart.

Sara Tillyer Smith Graduation Day

Goodness, this wasn’t meant to be a soap box tirade, sorry. Its just that I was in Bristol last week for my daughter’s graduation. It was a lovely and emotional time and we had a lot of fun, saw some great exhibitions, ate delicious food and talked and talked about what to do after university, the search for meaningful work and a place to live. Walking around Clifton we chose our ideal homes in the leafy, flower scented avenues before returning to Stokes Croft and stepping over the collapsed homeless man in the street, wracked with guilt but powerless to help.

Distant Mountains from the train North

It is a proud and melancholy feeling to realise that both my children are now grown up and have the hats to prove it. My nest is very empty and now begins my slide into eccentric old age; I may collect gnomes or teddy bears and take them on trips to the supermarket in Keswick…

So, leaving Bristol was hard.; it felt full of all kinds of life, diverse and creative, inspiring and shocking, but as the empty train trundled North and the sun fell in to the sea  I felt excitement in the pit of my stomach to see the mountains silhouetted in the distance.

And some bears are waiting, as well as a cupboard full of stuff to make a loaf of bread. The Fells are green and wet and really don’t mind how slowly you climb them so long as when you get to the top you look back the way you came and feel overjoyed to be alive despite the struggle of the climb.

Bear Print Cyanotype

Reading:- “Titus Alone” Mervyn Peake   Listening To:- Wind in the Sycamore trees


Opponent Process

River Duddon at Birk's Bridge, Lake District

I’m sitting in here looking out at so much damp, lush greenness that it must be affecting my eyes ( you know the way if you stare at a green thing for long enough when you look away everything looks red?). Because of the way this place stands, tucked into the hillside, surrounded by massive Sycamore trees… high windows on one side and a huge glass sliding door on the other- there is very little sky and today it feels very much like a being in a cave (or a treehouse if you stand on tiptoe and look out of the high windows). Either way it’s cold today so I’m remembering the heat wave of last week when we swam in the river Duddon at Birk’s Bridge and drank instant coffee with a couple of young lads from Barrow who befriended us and left a warm feeling of wellbeing. Here’s a confession; when I first saw two lads on motorbikes near the spot we’d chosen to swim, my heart sank…when did I become so mistrustful of other people and such an awful snob!? They turned out to be amazingly polite, friendly and considerate… shattering stereotypes I didn’t know I had, because in fact it was they who made the friendly gestures- starting a conversation, offering us coffee, helping me find my way over the rocks through the beery water and generally appearing blind to differences of age, class or situation in a way that I am obviously not now that I’m middle aged and more self conscious than a teenager. Anyway, It was a lovely experience made memorable by a chance encounter with strangers.

Glass by Jo Downs in Northern Lights Gallery

Life in Keswick continues to feel special, if a little unreal. At work I can see Robinson framed by watery glass or a circles of swifts and its hard to believe this is home now. There’s just the thin line between solitude and loneliness and the moments when I wake from a nightmare in which I’m being chased around my old garden by the evil Kev Sayer as I frantically try to gather as many precious plants as I can carry! Its been almost 6 months.

View of Keswick from Northern Lights Gallery

Last week I finally plucked up the courage to take some of my new prints to work and so some magic tents and white cottages have snuck in amongst the oil paintings in the wonderful Northern Lights Gallery. They’ve just started doing Own Art too, so my framed pieces are just eligible ( work has to be original or limited edition and priced between £100 and £2500)

Northern Lights Gallery, Keswick

In between making pictures of various shelters. from tents to imaginary towers, I have been working on some needle felted alpacas for Alpacaly ever after.  who have recently had their Kickstarter project funded and are pretty funny and amazing people. I helped out a bit on shearing day and came home with a bag of fleece to attempt felting experiments. Washed and set out to dry on the bench it looked like some disgusting old wigs but just over 4 hours of vicious stabbing later some alpacaish creatures started to emerge… here is number two with his friend the Earth Bear. Now… how to price something that takes nearly 5 hours to make? The Bear is currently for sale in my Etsy shop for an amount that wouldn’t even pay me minimum wage…. grab him quick before I come to my senses!

Needlefelted alpaca and bear by Kim Tillyer

And finally… what do you think of this new design? I’m planning to get some silk or thin cotton printed up to make scarves, this is one of the designs from an original cyanotype drawing that is now in the gallery.


©KimTillyer2015 nest fabric


Free Range


I know you won’t believe me but I think about you all the time. Ever since I got back from my trip to London I’ve wanted to tell you all about it but like a lazy lover or a neglectful friend I have frittered away my time this week; walking about the fells talking to myself and enjoying the precious Northern British heatwave. Now there’s too much to say and it won’t all fit here.

Well I’ll try my best. The main thing is that I went to Free Range Shows, in London’s Brick Lane, where Sara and her fellow UWE Illustration graduates were holding their end of year exhibition. The journey was disorientating … after 5 months of pretty much solitary confinement in a mountain barn the train felt like a roller coaster (do west coast trains lean around corners?) and there were no familiar landmarks to navigate by until the first sight of London brick that made me feel instantly at home. Can you be nostalgic for bricks?

I helped Sara set up her show in the huge Truman Brewery space, wrestling with screwdrivers, buying chips ( for her “Overfished and Chips” installation) and feeling very very proud and emotional…and hot, we were all too hot. I was lucky enough to be given a print by Frejya-Moon whose work I had admired for its themes of home, insecurity and family. I can’t say enough how impressed I was by everyone’s work. The group of 60 students had managed to put the exhibition together, met the huge costs by fundraising, organised transport, planning and publicity all with what seemed to be little or no support from tutors or the University. My pictures were’t great so I’ve borrowed the images above from this album on Facebook which shows all the work.

Sara Tillyer-Smith Illustration

Sara’s work, as you know, is about plastic pollution in the Oceans and it was wonderful to see it in real life … from detailed drawings with etched perspex overlays to the beautiful “Ghost Fish” cast in resin encasing plastic and nylon fishing gear found on beaches. So thoughtful and disturbing with a really important environmental message.

Sara Tillyer-Smith at Free Range Shows 2015

Well, it’s been 7 years since I started this blog and since my own graduate shows; I know how much work goes in to producing a final collection so right now I’m just full of admiration and pride (and a little envy as I’d love to do it all again!). Now the real hard work begins… but hopefully the creativity will continue.

Well, I like to be an owl and there’s so much more to tell you… Alexander McQueen at the V&A, returning home to discover the Ruskin Museum, coming out in hives for no apparent reason…. but I’m at work tomorrow and my book is getting to an unputdownable bit so I must say goodbye for now.


That was my attempt at scientific, methodical printing and here is a print which is now for sale in the Northern Lights Gallery. The tent is leaking magic into the mountains … or maybe its sleeping powder, night night x

Magic Tent  Blencathra Kim Tillyer

Reading:  “Any Human Heart” William Boyd  Listening To: Seth Lakeman

Graduates Websites : http://www.imogenclifton.com  http://www.millieduffey-illus.wix.com/millieduffey  http://www.frejya-moon.co.uk  http://www.auroreswithenbank.co.uk   http://www.cargocollective.com/elliceweaver  http://www.cargocollective.com/jackxander   http://www.sara.tillyersmith.com

Biscuits and Birdsong

Home made Jammie Dodgers from The Guardian recipe

Another weekend is over and the house is silent apart from the sound of me munching my way through a second batch of homemade Jammie Dodgers (even though I tried to trap them in this dome). Worryingly this picture got more attention on my Instagram and Facebook pages than any artwork I’ve posted recently, maybe I should start drawing biscuits? Or just go and work in a bakery and knock all this art nonsense on the head! Anyway, I even switched the radio off today and just opened up the sliding doors to enjoy the birdsong… sunshine at last.

cyanotype work in progress

And so with the sunshine comes my annual attempt at consistent cyanotype print making. I’d already messed up on the one sunny day last week so I recoated the paper and tried to be more scientific ( setting my phone’s stopwatch and then forgetting it was on silent). The results were fun; adding another layer to the pale. washed out print underneath. Then I coated some more paper and of course the sun went in; seems I will have to get a proper exposure unit set up if I want to keep doing this, it’s just too hit and miss relying  on Northern sunlight.

Shelter Design ©Kim Tillyer

Still, in the moments when I’m not banging my head on the table in despair, I’m thinking about ideas for BCTF and wrestling with the sewing machine because I want to make silk things and the corners are impossible! This week I also discovered the Cumbrian Printmakers group who have a Kickstarter campaign to open a studio space not too far from here. They also do group exhibitions and events so I’m hoping they meet their target so maybe I can do some etching or screen printing in the future. At the moment they’re looking for the person furthest away from Cumbria to back them ( just a pound ) … could it be you?

Looking towards Catbells from Scope Beck, Newlands

The landscape is changing colour almost daily and the little black Herdwick lambs now have white spectacles as they start to get their grown up coats, they look so funny and a little bit naughty. This weekend was spent well away from water and canoes… we climbed Robinson again and picnicked on homemade cheese and rocket bread, hot spicy apple drinks and those addictive Jammie Dodgers. The previous evening we’d had a bit of a horrific sheep incident when Rupert and his friend discovered a big fat Swaledale hanging at an improbable angle from its spindly leg, which was trapped in a tree root on the bank side. He got the saw and managed to cut it free ( the root not the sheep’s leg!) but it was clearly snapped like a twig; poor thing (although it hobbled off when I lifted it to it’s feet). A neighbour called the farmer but he didn’t come that night…or the next. Now in the old days, when I was naive and trusted people I would have called again … but my experience with aggressive farmers in Snilesworth, who hate you just for being there, have scarred me for life and I’m just hoping they’ve taken it today.

Bantam hen and chick

In happier nature news Mrs Frazzle has two little chicks now … one hatched so late that I almost threw the egg away thinking it was a dud but it turned out to be a really sweet black and white chick (and they both have smooth feathers thank goodness so fingers crossed they’re not cockerels!)

Other happy news is the fabulous graduation of my wonderfully amazing daughter who managed to get it all together for her final illustration project.It was nail biting at times as she perfected the techniques and ideas but I think the work is beautiful and thoughtful and the message behind it is really important. The exhibition is on at UWE, Bower Ashton, Bristol until June 11th and then at Free Range in London on the 25th. Well done Sara.

Sara Tillyer Smith



Ghostly Trees at Fell Foot, Lake District

Flaming June has arrived in Cumbria, complete with snow covered tents on Blencathra and me wearing three jumpers as I write. I’m looking out at the newly emerged greenery … yellow Welsh poppies, soft, half spiraled ferns , nettles and bluebells leaning almost flat; as the wind races down the valley the end of the house is the first obstacle on its way down from the mountains. In a small shelter sits a mother hen and two tiny chicks… I’ve had to put them in isolation because there was some dispute about maternity rights with three dozy bantams sitting on the eggs until they hatched. Now it’s fingers crossed that the stoat prefers eggs to chicks….

Glitter ... a pot of rain from Oh Comely Magazine

I’m all alone again after a week of adventures; settling down to make a plan for next year’s BCTF and working out if I can use any of the doodles and splodges I’ve been doing recently. If you follow me on Facebook you’ll know that I had some silk printed and have been doing battle with a new rolled hemming foot to try and make silk scarves… much much more practice needed but what I’m hoping for is that eventually, 7 years after leaving college, I will be able to come up with a product that provides me with a methodical pattern to the day… something that is both financially worthwhile, creatively satisfying and stops me spending long parts of the day feeling directionless and self indulgent. Too much to ask?!

The white cottage, lake District watercolour

I’ve been enjoying playing with watercolour, ink and a little digital magic and was so excited to receive a special parcel from my dad last week which contained a little tube of “Caput Mortuum Violet” watercolour… following our musings on the colour of the fells a few weeks ago… now I just have to learn how to use it. Every day here in the Lake District I’m bombarded with little moments of wonder… the perfect colour palette of moss, violet and rock next to a waterfall, the grey Herdwicks looking like swiss army blankets with their red dye markings. Who cares if it’s a bit damp and chilly ( actually this waterfall picture was taken on a very sunny day last week and I’m still itching from the sunburn).

Newlands Valley  waterfall with Violets

Yesterday we walked around Rannerdale where we spotted many wild creatures amongst the bluebells  ( mostly photographers rolling around in the blue looking for the perfect “capture”) The previous day I had re-enacted a scene from Rogue Herries where the old witch is drowned below Grange Bridge… Canoeing from Rosthwaite to Keswick I tipped our boat over while trying to avoid being smacked in the face by a branch just near the bridge. I’ve never fallen in a river before and I’m not the bravest of swimmers so I’m actually feeling quite surprised today that I’m still here ( I floated so what does that mean…. )

Bluebells at Rannerdale, Crummock Water

Another adventure involved clambering ( my particular style of mountain activity… a cross between climbing, rambling and scrambling) up High Crag above Buttermere. Eating a sandwich perched high up in the rocks and emerging on to the summit like the first men on the moon. I’m throwing myself in to this new place while the daily battle against homesickness continues. In the end I didn’t take part in Art In the Shed for the first time in 5 years because I couldn’t face going back. Its easier to pretend this is an island and I’m not too great at water crossings!

Lake District Map Collage, Kim Tillyer

Now, I’m going to research mugs and cards and how to roll corners on silk with loads of thanks to Emma from Temporary Measure who is  a mine of information and helpfulness as usual. This bear and his friend appeared one day after watching the umbrellas in the street when I was at work in the gallery.

Sharing a shelter, bear and girl sketch

Reading: I just finished ” The Gracekeepers” by Kirsty Logan … read it, its perfect. Currently indulging myself with my new copy of “Oh Comely” and the lovely box subscription which included the bottle of drizzle shown above”

Listening to:  Elbow ” Asleep in the Back” , Real World 25 and John Metcalf “Kites and Echoes” ( which has a William Tillyer etching on the cover)


The Empty Nest , Sketch by Kim Tillyer

Let me begin by apologising to all you lovely, loyal blog subscribers who got a wordless, randomly titled version last time ( I panicked and pressed the wrong button which is why I’m not in charge of anything important) . Anyway some recent events made me think wordless was the way forward …but maybe more of that later.

I uploaded the images for this post last Thursday just after I had been to vote in the most scenic polling station in the country; the sun was shining and it felt exciting and optimistic. The fact that it’s rained ever since says it all really but I’m not going to rant on about politics because last week some lovely things happened too and they are things which make the world seem a kinder, more generous and caring place than the cold hearted, money orientated one we seem to be living in day to day.

Polling Staation at Newlands Church

The first thing was a surprise parcel from my virtual friends in the Big Forest, Benjamin and Michael. I’ve never met them in the real world but I’ve loved their bears for a few years now and Benjamin has been so helpful with advice on Etsy selling, as well as being a great promoter of other people’s work on his Facebook page. I had to drive in to Keswick to collect the mystery box which turned out to contain this little chap ( as well as a card and “woodsman ” brooch which I have been wearing on my jumper) …

The Big Forest Bear

So after work and voting we skipped off up the hill to look at the view and chat to the sheep about EU farming policies and the joys of mountain landscapes. I’m not sure but I think the sheep was hoping for a different election result too.

Herdwick sheep on High Snab Bank

So the other good thing that happened was that the divine trinity of Facebook-Etsy-Twitter actually worked for me for the first time ever and a polar bear I’d been struggling to finish ( his feet just wouldn’t behave) and eventually managed to list in my shop, sold before I could even close the page! I wish everything would work so smoothly as it would make the whole process of making so much more satisfying and meaningful…I mean, I love making things but when you have a cupboard full of unsold sheep and bears shouting to get out it can make you think it might be better and more useful to do the hoovering instead.

Needlefelt Polar Bear

Well its nearly time to go, I am preparing things for Art in The Shed again… Jane Thorniley-Walker’s  annual fundraiser for Street Child Africa. It will be the first time back in North Yorkshire since the eviction and while I’m looking forward to the exhibition and seeing friends and family again I’m worried that it will be upsetting.

Polar Bear Print

I recently found out that my totally unfair eviction and my writing a blog post about it, had directly lead to a close family member being refused a tenancy by another landowner in the North York Moors … because they didn’t want “that type of person” living there. Excuse me? What type of person? A family who lived, worked and loved their home and did nothing wrong?

At first I felt devastated by the news, delivered rather tactlessly, and questioned whether I should ever write from the heart again. I felt guilty and dismayed by the way my plight and my words about it had been misrepresented. After much soul searching my fury at fat cat landlords and bigotted cronyism amongst some very unpleasant people, won over and I will not be silenced like a guilty secret.

I told this crowd and they totally agreed…never be afraid to speak out against meanness and unfairness wherever you find it.

The "Alpacaly ever after" alpacas

(These alpacas are part of Alpacaly ever after’s “woolly army” and they are celebrating because they got their Kickstarter project funded, hurray! I was feeding them last week while their proper parents were away at a fair (selling stuff not going on the waltzers) and I want to thank them all for not savaging me and for helping me feel a bit more Cumbrian)

Finally (because I haven’t even got space to describe PrintFest, meeting more artists at the Northern Lights Gallery, battling with stoats or admiring bluebells)  if you’re in London, my dad’s exhibition continues until the end of the month at the Bernard Jacobson Gallery on Duke Street ( near Fortnums) Here is a Lake District watercolour from a few years back…

William Tillyer

Reading:- The Fortress by Hugh Walpole ( god its a long book!) Listening To:- London Grammar “Wasting My Young Years”

A Visit to the Cloud Factory

Newlands Valley from Dale Head

Goodness, I nearly sent this post off to you with no words. I pressed the publish button instead of preview because I’ve been on so many adventures since I last wrote that I was struggling to put them in order. Perhaps the pictures don’t need words… maybe you can imagine how it feels to be on top of a mountain watching a snow shower sneak around the corner like a curtain being drawn across a sunlit window? It was my birthday last week and the weather was so hot we began to think about shorts and ice creams and passed people heading back from Buttermere wearing swimming costumes, but by Sunday it was back to winter again. Twenty minutes after the first photograph was taken I was standing on top of the world (Dale Head) at this cloud factory having walked through a shower of the most perfect star shaped snow flakes ( like the bits in Lucky Charms breakfast cereal).


So I sit here writing with a head full of images and ideas and wishing I could be settle to something meaningful instead of making smiley sheep from the wool I find on fence posts!. Yesterday I visited the Castlegate Gallery in Cockermouth and found out more about an artist called Percy Kelly whose paintings of little white houses and Cumbrian scenes really inspired me. Kelly used to write letters full of illustrations and a book about him called ” The Man Who Couldn’t Stop Drawing” is next on my wish list. In another strange twist of fate I opened the book right on a page showing a painting of Newlands Valley looking up towards this house… there was a quote which was something about the colours in the landscape and how exhausting it is for an artist to be constantly looking and looking; I wish I could remember exactly what he said.


I will never be a painter but I do look and notice and want so badly to be able to express it all somehow. I’ve spent plenty of time wondering exactly what colour those purple-grey- brown mountain tops are, so it was rather wonderful when my dad ( a real painter ) wondered the same thing as we walked up the valley in blazing sunshine, last week. Apparently Pip Seymour the paint maker would know.


And so, with many adventures untold and being a whole year older ( nearly eligible for a whole new category of vitamin supplements ) I will leave you with this small white cottage … a digitally manipulated drawing that I made last week. I’m going to try and do some more drawing and get some stuff together for this years Art in the Shed in Osmotherley on the second Bank Holiday in May. As usual Jane Thorniley-Walker is hosting this charity exhibition (and excuse to eat a lot of cake) in aid of Street Child Africa.

house in the woods

Which do you prefer?