Blood and Bilberries

Bilberry picking

The rain has just returned, hammering at the moss covered roof and leaking noisily from the broken gutter. Earlier, it was the picture perfect summers day and  I wandered up the valley, in the steamy August heat that has been so rare lately, playing at being a bear foraging for berries, growling at annoying sheep and dying my hands and knees purple with juice. Bilberry, Bleaberry… what do you call them where you are? There is something very primitive and comforting about gathering wild food and filling the store cupboards like a squirrel or a Moomin…  I’d already made 8 jars of red gooseberry jelly in the morning after discovering that I’d gone to work by mistake.

The  day started like this… morning sunshine making the inside of the black painted front door hot to the touch as I dashed out to work with my carefully packed lunch, rarely brushed hair and a day of selling wonderful art to lovely people ahead of me. Only I hadn’t read the calendar and had forgotten that I’m working on Sunday instead, silly me, I could have stayed in bed. I put all the lights on anyway and collected my newly framed work for C-Art which had been left in the gallery and headed back to the hills – at least I was up and about early and it was a ridiculously perfect day … as I drove back I thought, as I often do, how it is SO pretty here it feels unreal, like a fairy tale.

felted nests

After the gooseberry jelly was safely in its jars I took myself to the garden of the  house next door (which I pretend is mine when they are away) with a straw hat and a pile of things to make into nests. Some tiny bronze birds had come in to the gallery last week and I just thought they needed nests. I also just wanted to make something methodical because it stops me thinking too much. So there I sat, with a buzzard crying overhead and the mountains all around me and people rushing past looking hot, with heavy rucksacks saying “ooh isn’t it lovely, you are lucky” and feeling guilty for being lucky and also edgy because I’ve felt like this before about a place and look how that turned out.

a felted nest

Nest building is a lot harder than it looks and the birds were probably laughing at me but tomorrow I’m going to put the bronze wren in one and that will make it worth while. nest in the mountains

So, all the time I was picking bilberries and breathing in the smell of heather and bracken and warm mud and mountain air I was thinking about how to write it down so that you could get a sense of how lovely it all was. I came back and began to cook supper, feeling content in the way that you only can in summer when its warm enough to pad around in bare feet and a scruffy sundress, with the windows open… and then…the horrible sound of banging and squawking and panic and feathers and in the chicken house the mean old stoat. My favourite little chick was killed and Mr Stoat is so fearless that I know he will be back. I’m quite tough- I had to complete the job to make sure she was dead, you do these things in the countryside, I try not to be sentimental but I’m sad and I find the smallest thing hits me hard these days. I won’t trap the stoat, it was here first and probably has young to feed. Maybe I can fence him out, but anyway, thats how the day ended.  Sometimes I feel a bit like this …


Now I’m off to bed to read a little bit and try not to dwell on the possibility that I may be suffering from the Jam Makers Curse ( I remember life taking a sharp turn for the worse after a certain batch of Plum Jam back in the Joe Cornish Gallery days AND there was the Apple and Bramble Jelly that failed to save me from eviction !) I don’t even eat that much jam, I prefer Marmite :)

Reading :- “Haweswater” by Sarah Hall    Listening to :- “Stolen Car” Beth Orton and RAIN

Enchanter’s Nightshade and Sycamore Shadows.

a view from Wandope, Lake District

More time has flown by; faster than I have been able to write it all down, blurring one day in to another. Six months have passed since I came to live in the mountains; months marked by the changing colours of the fells- monochrome snow scenes melting to become Bracken slopes of  Caput Mortuum and now dark lush Hooker’s Green with bright Magenta spikes of Foxglove… oh and the more or less constant rain. August feels a bit too jungly for me, the Bracken could hide anything and the patch outside the big window has become heavily shaded by Sycamore and carpeted with Enchanter’s Nightshade (which is apparently used in binding spells to keep precious things close).

Nothing stays still for very long here, except the sleeping dragons in Newlands Valley- the fells themselves. The hills are full of people rushing about doing energetic things in lycra but always, even in the busiest season, there is the magic of being able to flop down on the mossy grass at the top and look at the view as if you’re the first to have ever seen it.


In the past two weeks we’ve been on two lovely adventures… up Eagle Crag and then the strangely named Wandope .I don’t seem to be getting any better at the uphill bits… after about an hour my legs finally warm up and stop aching just in time for my feet to start complaining. I really admire people who can run about doing things like the Bob Graham Round  (they often come pounding past here in the dark with minutes to spare as this is the last mountain on the round) but I’m still fundamentally a tortoise and prefer to dawdle along admiring the flowers, sniffing the sappy pine cones, filling my pockets with Bog Myrtle, making wands out of rushes and only making it to the top because of the promise of sandwiches.  The Garden Tower,cyanotype  Kim Tillyer

And before you think this has turned into a blog about hiking, here is what I’ve been up to for most of the week, when Rupert isn’t here to leave a trail of crumbs up steep mountain paths. I’m trying to get work together for the Dalemain House exhibition so I was pleased when a woman admired my work in the gallery the other week. Not realising it was mine, she asked about the technique and came in again a few days later, with a framer, who offered to frame a piece for free to see what I thought. He made a lovely job of it and chose a frame I would never have picked for myself; now I just have to save up to get some more done and hope that the gamble pays off because obviously I need to sell them to justify the whole endeavour. Working in galleries certainly gives you an insight into what sells, if not the ability or desire to produce it. On several occasions it’s been obvious that the customer is really looking for an investment rather than buying for love and its not just the artist’s name that matters but the medium they use. Why is it that oils are seen as superior to watercolours or a ceramic sculpture more highly valued than say, a needle felted one? IMG_3122

I’ve been stitching into the recent cyanotype prints I’ve made since moving here. The work represents ideas of home and security, impermanence and the need for shelter- from nests to ivory towers; stitching into the paper represents domesticity and also safety and healing… holding things together with stitches. There … do I sound all arty and conceptual?! Meanwhile some new greetings cards arrived and a piece of fabric from Spoonflower,to make purses … (this one was a birthday gift for Ruth who has been very kind to me since I admired her trousers for not being beige walking trousers when she came in to the gallery one day. She runs this guest house which you might want to stay in if you visit Keswick)  mountain girl caed and purse

Now it’s time to have a last cup of tea before bed and make sure the place looks tidy and loved because the landlord is coming round in the morning to discuss the howling gales that blow up your trouser legs in the kitchen… I need to be in the right frame of mind and not the angry defensive bundle of resentment I have become due to my last landlord’s jackboot tactics. I will leave you with this view of Borrowdale, lying on my tummy on a flat rock in the sun…well away from the edge, higher than a helicopter and amazed by the ridiculous beauty of it all.

Borrowdale from Eagle Crag

READING: The Slow Mountain Company Blog which is pretty wonderful and “Flora Britanica” by Richard Mabey

LISTENING TO: “No Light , No Light” Florence and the Machine

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 :

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)