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)


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?


“Beside the lake, beneath the trees”

view across the valley

The house is silent again now that the Easter break is over. Everyone has returned to work or university and I’m alone again; watching as a great bank of Groaky mist creeps up the side of Causey Pike and some wind battered daffodils bob about outside the window like a Lake District cliche. Soon the trees and hedges will be thick with leaves and the view will be hidden until Autumn.

These pictures were taken over the Easter weekend when we were bathed in sunlight and blue skies and the fells looked like the frayed old brown velvet on the pocket edges of my great grandma’s coat. Sara and I looked down from Scope End and enjoyed a hot Brandy and Ribena with chocolate eggs which made the rest of the walk a bit wobbly.

Causey Pike

So much has happened in the tiny way it does when you’re not really making plans … red squirrels spotted in Dodd Wood, soft Magnolia buds on the bridge at Grange and the Snake’s Head Fritillary I forgot I’d rescued from “home” is flowering in an old tin box by the door.Trying to build a new life from scratch, I’m hoping to become a volunteer at the Calvert Trust‘s Stables, helping with Riding for the Disabled sessions and I’m really enjoying my days in the Northern Lights Gallery, getting inspired by some of the artists (Patricia Haskey is my favourite at the moment).

Red Squirrel sketch

Looking at work that sells ( big painterly landscapes here)  and needing to find a direction of some sort …… “For oft, when on my couch I lie, In vacant or in pensive mood….” ( do I just draw for fun or am I still trying to make things that will sell?) I’m sketching and looking and thinking hard about my postponed place at Harrogate BCTF next year. Thank goodness I didn’t go ahead this year as it is this very week and my head is still a fuzzy jumble; kept awake by imagined confrontations with ukip supporters on quad bikes and sudden fury over lost family heirloom irises and worry that the swallows may return and be locked out…

Blossom twig sketch

Anyway, there’s no point in looking back when Spring is here and everything is new. The bantams have settled in quite happily and lay more eggs than I can use; at Easter we hard-boiled and decorated them for passing walkers, along with little wraps of salt. The only trouble is we have a furry visitor who is causing havoc…. Mr Stoat.

Easter eggs

While is is wonderful to see this little person scampering about fearlessly ( nothing much survived the gamekeepers traps at Snilesworth) it is not so good for the poor hens. So far he is only stealing eggs but I fear it could be worse. Here he is, standing 3 feet from the window staring  at me bold as brass…well he was here first.


So, it’s time to feed the monster stove and maybe draw a little something. I’ve just ordered some new greetings cards for my Etsy shop, here is a sneak preview; what do you think? Bye for now and good luck to all those taking part in the BCTF. x

mountain girl greetings card

Reading: The Keswick Reminder        Listening To : “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen” Baz Luhrmann & Quindon Tarver


Wool, Wandering and Wildlife

Newlands, towards Robinson

This week I’ve been doing a lot of wandering and thinking and wishing I was a landscape painter. Yesterday, I realised that I’ve probably never spent such long periods of time alone and I have to be very careful not to get too used to it. I could easily become a bearded hermit, muttering at passing hikers ( and sheep), especially now that my dear friends are so far away (we had pledged to keep each other’s old lady whiskers and grey roots in check as we dash towards decrepitude). It is a strange contradiction that finds me sometimes pining for the days of dancing in a crowd of smokey, loved up strangers; with thumping bass and ecstatic breaks still ringing in my ears as the sun comes up…. whilst at the same time finding peace and contentment by total immersion in an empty landscape with only birdsong to dance to.

Herdwick sheep on Robinson

I met this friendly soul yesterday as I paused for breath, she seemed to think I needed to work on my fitness but was happy to chat for a while and pose at a jaunty angle to the rock face. In the evenings I’ve been doing a bit more needle felting and by accident this bear emerged, looking so terribly sad and serious that I had to give him a beaded necklace to cheer him up. I’m hoping to visit an exhibition of Herdwick Sheep photography before it ends next month and also The Wool Clip for more woolly inspiration.

Needlefelted Brown Bear Kim Tillyer

Meanwhile, as well as sitting about like a contemplative hermit I’ve also been having wildly exhausting weekends when Rupert comes home. Last weekend we went to Seascale where an old school friend I hadn’t seen for nearly 30 years had told me about a Beach Clean event she was organising. I’d never been to the Cumbrian coast except when cycling for Greenpeace as a protest against the nuclear power station at Sellafield in the 80s! It was actually really beautiful…. except for the rubbish. Why do we do this to our precious planet? These pictures show the more savoury debris but stuff like this, known as “ghost gear” can cause all sorts of problems for wildlife, while what we thought were lolly sticks turned out to be ear-bud sticks (eugh) that silly people had flushed instead of binning ( I won’t go on but you can imagine) .

Seascale Beach Clean

I took some pictures and collected a few pieces to help Sara with her final project at university. Her illustration work is based on the pollution of the oceans and plastics in particular, how it affects marine life and even enters the food chain.

Drawing by Sara Tillyer Smith

I’m really looking forward to seeing her exhibition in London’s Truman Brewery later this year , but first the group need to raise some money to pay for it so here is a link if you have some spare pennies:-   Degree Show Fundraising

Seascale Beach Clean

Oh there is so much to tell you ; there’s a woodpecker outside on the sycamore stump, the hens are laying like mad, I saw a red squirrel yesterday ( bright red in a field of purple crocuses), all my post including my bank card has gone to an empty holiday cottage miles away… and so much more good and bad. But for once it isn’t raining so I promised I would walk and try to draw (my lovely friend Jane sent a miniature sketching kit including woolly mittens so I just need to make a flask of something). So I will leave you with this picture from Saturday (after the beach) which is Great Gable from Yewbarrow (Yewbarrow is one of those walks that makes your arms ache too as both ends are protected by steep rocky crags that needed scaling and scared the s*** out of me!)

Great Gable from Yewbarrow