Sleeping Dragons and Secret Gardens

You could follow the arrow that says “Starling Dodd” and find “Witchmountain” there in the trees; the last house on the mountain and goodness it’s really felt like it lately – the last house on the way up but the first for the wind to hammer as it crashes down the valley. The outline of these hills has always made me think of sleeping dragons and I think one woke up during those Named Storms, it wasn’t happy to be disturbed. Part of the lane has washed away and various bits of the house leaked – are leaking- (because as I mentioned last time, this is a Jumblie’s Sieve kind of a place) but it’s quiet now, the heating boiler is fixed and I’m trying to be less like Bill Nighy’s Mr Woodhouse in Emma, constantly anxious about draughts.
The picture above was taken from the top of Catbells last weekend. We set out in brightness and blue sky, with packed lunch and flasks of hot Ribena, only to be ambushed by vicious hail storms which I’m hoping will have the same effect as an expensive microdermabrasion treatment. The snowdrops are still hanging in there, leggy and battered but it’s nearly daffodil time and hopefully a there’s a gentle Spring on the way for all those places so badly affected by the floods.

Now that I’ve talked about the weather I have to try and order my thoughts; what to say? What to leave out? What to paint a brighter shade so that I sound like a misery? I think a lot about writing (when I’m not writing) and art (when I’m not … doing it) and what I think, often, is that anyone who tries to make a living by their imagination and creativity, or even just lets their words or images out into the wild with no thought of financial gain, is pretty damn brave, or crazy, because there are Other People out there and they have Opinions. I remember thinking this when I went to a book event in London a while ago, the brave and fearless authors who’d spent months alone with their writing, had to come out before a crowd to pitch their books to us (the booksellers) and then there would be critics, then sales figures and then the pot holed path towards a new book. It’s the same for all artists who make a thing in private and then offer it up like a slippery newborn for inspection. You don’t get to just go home, switch off and watch Eastenders after a day at work, it’s always there, it is you.

If that all sounds a bit too heavy and serious it’s only because I’m in a thinking mood after I was interviewed this week by a lovely woman from a local magazine. Little old me in my studio (for studio read kitchen table). I’ve never been interviewed in person about my work before, so of course I felt like an utter fraud, a slightly batty hermit; naturally the cat popped in and out with a dead vole and true to form I rambled, over shared (possibly) and only remembered what I should have said after she’d gone. I’ll let you know if it makes the editorial cut, I hope so despite my shyness.
So what should I have said? What is the right way to behave? Up sell, up speak and always look in control?  You see I still feel as though some honesty is vital. What use is it to anyone if the picture of “life up a mountain making art” is airbrushed in such a way that other people misunderstand and possibly fall down the same pot holes, I have a duty to put metaphorical cones out!

What’s real today…
*It took me 3 hours to light the fire so I’ve done no creative work , have a coal dust moustache and if there’s a power cut we’re stuffed because I used all the candles (ran out of fire lighters)
*I’m realising that because my prints take ages to make I sell them too cheaply.
*Sometimes I just want to read a book and eat crumpets instead.
*Self promotion is so hard and feels like being everything you were brought up not to be.

Anyway, that’s the end of the soul searching section, except to say that while I was talking to Ellie I realised that I became most passionate whilst talking about other people’s work and businesses, it definitely feels more comfortable. We also talked about the solitude needed, in my case at least, to come up with ideas and inspiration, but that doesn’t mean isolation. The support of (and for) others is vital. This week although I’ve seen no one I’ve felt absolutely lifted and supported by my slowly growing network of creative friends who all face similar days when the fire (literal or creative) won’t light and their muse has gone missing. You’re all amazing.

Hey look! I did a mug shot! This is so rare and I’m squirming a bit but here I am, only a slightly airbrushed startled rabbit. The finished “big” versions of The Ugly Duckling and The Secret Garden which I’d done for Elspeth Tavacci arrived the other week. Elspeth is working on making a version of The Secret Garden which will work as one of her, Purple Pomegranate, card books but these are the Story House versions, designed for teaching English as a foreign language. The books have all sorts of activities in the back such as word searches and creative writing prompts  as well as vocabulary notes throughout which I hadn’t expected , it really is nice to see the finished thing all printed and real.

This was one of my favourite pages …

Anyway, I have just 5 copies but I could spare one, so I thought maybe I could do a giveaway like I used to in the Olden Blog Days? Is that still a thing? To enter just visit my website  and let me know in the comments below which is your favourite card so I can include it with the book (if you sign up to the newsletter too that ‘s an extra entry – and if you buy a card you are a hero). I’ll pick a winner at random at the end of March so that the winner can read the book before the new film comes out on April 10th!
This is my current favourite and I’m thinking of getting myself a pea green boat if it doesn’t stop raining soon. Good luck x

Reading : “Here in the Real World” by Sara Pennypacker.  I love a good children’s book and this one – admittedly chosen at first for its cover by Jon Klassen – is turning out to be about all the things I love, gardens, friendship, nature and finding a space to become yourself.

Listening to ” The Toyshop” by Robert Dinsdale and the theme song to The Detectorists by Johnny Flynn 

A place in the trees

One night last month everyone in the Lake District, maybe even the entire North, looked up at the sky and reached for their phones and cameras; it was a sunset of such wide screen perfection that the drive back from wherever we’d been (no one could remember once the sky started showing off) took twice as long as usual while we stopped and started several times to admire the changing hues, the way the road turned rose jam pink, the Violet Cremes melting into Turkish Delight. It made me wish I could paint, really paint, in a way that had the same effect – wow that makes me sound  a bit like a megolamaniac but I just mean to say, to be able to create an image that really meant something and sent shivers up your spine in the same way a piece of music or an epic sunset can.
Have you ever felt moved to tears by a painting or illustration? It feels strangly disloyal to pose the question, as an art lover, but while I famously weep at the end of almost every film regardless, feel physically shaken by certain music and get goosebumps wandering through glorious landscapes I rarely get this from a “picture”. I feel as though I should, the way people say sitting in the Rothko Room can affect the emotions.

Here’s a still from something that made me shed a tear this week; LedbyDonkeys made a powerful and emotional statement, projecting still images and film onto the White Cliffs of Dover and Big Ben on the day Britain sadly left the European Union. It was moving and comforting. If you missed it you canwatch it here – a lesson in dignity and respect.

Away from politics and biblical sunsets I managed to stagger to the end of January, complete the scary “financial” pages in my planner with £100 profit (does that mean get a pony yet?) and ride the waves of turbulence caused by the annual round of exhibition rejections. January is peak exhibition application season which is particularly tough as it’s meant to be too early in the year to be feeling despair! On Penny Hunt’s recommendation, to give myself a kick up the bum, I’ve started listening to the Art Juice podcast with Alice Sheridan and Louise Fletcher which is like having a couple of friends sitting at the table while I’m working, discussing some of the questions most people who make stuff have asked themselves… Is making art a selfish thing to do? Why do women in particular often feel guilty about making time for themselves to be creative? What if you don’t have space for a studio and how do you define success?

One thing I’ve been thinking about this past month is, does it matter if I enjoy working in several quite separate styles? You might have noticed a lack of cyanotype images on my social media posts recently and I think if I’m honest that might be why the likes of Printfest reject me every year. I probably don’t come across as a master printmaker or a “fine artist” (there’s already a super fine one of those in the family) because my website isn’t minimal and arty; it needs to showcase the smaller things that I sell, such as cards and printed ceramics, because otherwise I can’t afford to keep doing this. I realised the other day when I was delivering work to the gift shop of a lovely gallery, that what I really wanted was to be one of the people with “proper art” in the exhibition upstairs- that or the writer/illustrator of a totally gorgeous, critically acclaimed picture book that warmed the hearts of children, adults and small bears everywhere (yup, megolamaniac masquerading as a mouse!). It’s a nuicence not knowing what you want to be when you grow up, when you’re nearly 53, but the whole point of being self employed is meant to be the freedom, so for now I shall refuse to be piqeonholed.

I’m loving pen and ink at the moment, obsessing about treehouses as reading rooms and desperately trying to work out if I can weave a story out of the random sketches, mismatched characters and doodles I seem to make at this time of year (oh how I miss those snowed in days on the moor top). I’ve started using Pinterest again to gather some thoughts but only in short, carefully measured doses as I’m already old enough that I jump at my refection, I don’t want to emerge from a labyrinthine browsing session like Rip Van Winkle. Here’s my new Treehouse Board, take care, leave a thread to guide you home…

Hopefully some of these ink and watercolour drawings might lead to some cyanotype pieces as well,  in time for the events I’m doing later in the Spring, starting with a visit to the Hearth Art Centre in Northumberland in April for their next Art Fair.

Well, it’s late now; time to head to bed, where lately the noise of the wild wind wrestling with the giant sycamores has made it feel like being out at sea in a small boat. The curtains swaying in the breeze and the mysterious windy patch on the stairs all add to the impression that our house is more Jumblie’s Sieve than Pea Green Boat…

Until next time x

Reading: “Spinning Silver” by Naomi Novic and listening to “Things in Jars” by Jess Kidd.

2020 Vision

Happy 2020!  Here is the view from half way down the fell I struggled up on New Years Eve, fuelled by my gingerbread polar bears and coffee from a surprise coffee van – I’m getting slower but its always worth it for views like this.
Well, It seems as though the only way to break the silence on this blog and make a fresh start as I enter my 12th year of occasional writing, is to admit that I was defeated when I started writing this post back in November. I ground to a halt, bogged down in a quagmire of half thought thoughts.

This is what I wrote …

 

“…I’m writing this by the stove with a hot water bottle up my jumper and a pile of buttered toast with blueberry jam next to me (well, in me now if I’m honest). It’s dark outside, frosty cold and moonlit and I can hear an owl calling – a good night for hunting.
What happens if I don’t write regularly is that things get jumbled up and all the internal monologs that made sense when I was walking up the valley or wide awake in the middle of the night are forgotten. You’ll have to take my word for it that they were fascinating and really worth writing down and not at all like this paragraph of waffle. I do regret not making at least one post a month though, because more and more this blog has become my personal record of the past 11 years. At a recent art fair a customer commented (flatteringly) that one of my bear drawings looked similar to another very well known artist’s bears and it was a relief to be able to trawl back through old blog posts to confirm, to myself, that it had been drawn before I’d seen her work, although inspired by some of the same sources.
At another event a woman picked up a print which I told her was from a piece I’d done at college “Oh it’s lovely, don’t you wish you could do something that good now? ” (people say the funniest and rudest things without meaning to) It’s good to be able to look back and see that, with a few exceptions, the things I make now are 100% better than those I was making in November 2009, even if the person making them is a bit more rounded and worn around the edges.

What’s brought on all this looking back ? Well on Twitter last week I saw a post pointing out that there were only a few weeks left of this decade! That fact is fairly obvious and shouldn’t make any difference to anything but it came as a bit of a shock to someone who can still remember the last days of the 70’s quite clearly and somehow can’t quite believe how quickly the past ten years, in particular, have been and gone. The question posed by the tweet I saw was, what have you achieved/learned in this decade and what are your hopes for the next? In some ways both these questions terrify me as I am prone to focusing on my fears and failures as well as feeling that, like John Cleese in Clockwise “I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.” Besides, many achievements also contain the bitter taste of Something Overcome and those things are hard to look back on, even when heavily sugared by success. But in a decade of big changes for me there are definitely some small achievements to celebrate and as for hopes… ”

And there I was, stuck, on what should have been the easiest question, what are your hopes and dreams? Well what are they? What are yours as you stride into the year?

So, much of what silences me and makes me sometimes fear writing from the heart in this, “public” space is the pressure to be positive and upbeat at all times, or risk damaging my business, and the very British habit of reserve which means even my most candid posts are heavily censored to avoid being too much of a bleeding heart. What I spent hours mulling over, forgetting to write, turned out not to be my hopes ( I hope for a garden and a pony of course, doesn’t everyone?) but my fears – for the planet, for the world my children will inherit, for our country under this government  and of course my own selfish fears (how many greetings cards = 1 weeks rent and should I be making more “stuff” in this world of stuff?).
Anyway it’s the New Year now, we’re all full of optimism and shiny new intentions aren’t we? I’ve  invested in a fancy new planner from the Makers Yearbook to organise and motivate myself, it’s bound to lead to wild success and world domination – gardens and ponies for everyone! I have to set daily/monthly tasks and one of today’s is “Finish that bloody blog post” (s’cuse me swearing).
I’ve also been drawing something everyday (so far, don’t hold me to it, it’s only January 9th). Here is last night’s effort, part of an unwritten story.

the bear finds a treehouse

My trip to Moniack Mhor continues to inspire me, I just need to knuckle down and put it all into practice even if no one reads the results except you and me. James Mayhew  and Sarah McIntyre are doing another picture books week at the centre and I can’t recommend it highly enough. I’d love to go back but this year I must be sensible, and besides, the car has refused to contemplate the trip.

a new card from a recent print.

It’s nearly time to feed the stove, make a mug of tea and see what inky character emerges in this evening’s session. But first, here is the cover of the poetry book I did for Gary Liggett in the Autumn. It’s a signed limited edition book, handmade in Cumbria. I really enjoyed working with different media for this one (Lino cut and watercolour) and as usual it was a learning process. I’m so glad that he liked it, along with the three illustrations inside; you can see them all here along with some other illustration work.

Planting Onions by Gary Liggett

In other exciting news, I was invited to take part in The Great Print Exhibition at Rheged, in their new gallery space. Sara and I went to the opening night ( we nearly turned back because the poor old car went over a bump and its lights went dim) and I was so excited to see my work along side so many amazing printmakers from all over the country; there was even a red dot on one of mine! Being in an exhibition like that and better still, selling something, is a real confidence boost because I think when it comes down to it, the biggest creative battle I have is the dreaded Imposter Syndrome.

If I don’t write again very soon shout me and I’ll get my act together. Also this post is dedicated to Kat Lakie, a friend of this blog, and everyone else in Australia, I’m thinking of you and hoping for cooling rain x

Reading : “Help the Witch” Tom Cox and “The Lost Future of Pepperharrow” Natasha Pulley (out in March )

Gallery

Kim’s favourite books of 2019

This gallery contains 12 photos.

Originally posted on Sam Read's Books Blog:
In 2019 I continued to alternate reading Childrens/YA fiction with “proper grown up books” partly as an act of gentle escapism and partly as my “research” for illustration projects and the pipe…

Moniack Mhor – there and back again

Way back in the dark days of January, when nothing seemed to be going quite right, I was sent a message by my friend and bookshop colleague Will. The message was a tweet from the illustrator James Mayhew promoting  a “once in a lifetime” retreat he was leading along with Sarah McIntyre, about writing and illustrating picture books, at the beautiful Scottish Creative Writing Centre at Moniack Mhor. I couldn’t afford it* and felt I didn’t really deserve it but I was fed up and feeling directionless so I closed my eyes and pressed “send” on the deposit and also ordered a pair of silver boots for good measure ( I felt sure they would inspire me, and be the perfect antidote to sensible Lake District walking gear).

Well, it’s nine months later, I got home from Scotland on Saturday night and have been processing the experience ever since, reading Sarah and James’s blogs and wondering how I could possibly explain to you, in my own way, how how amazing it all was. I’ve never been on a residential course before, not even the character building ones you go on when you’re at school (although I did once famously-shamefully- run away from a riding holiday I’d pestered my parents for when I was 13 – I was just too shy and couldn’t cope with the streetwise kids from Swansea). At first it all felt a bit like getting sent to the Big Brother house. Since all the Moorside House debacle and moving to the Lakes I’ve lost a lot of self confidence and become quite isolated so I was very aware that my social skills were rusty and I needed a haircut. Everyone was really welcoming though and it was impossible not to feel excited and inspired surrounded by so many lovely people in the impossibly glorious setting of Moniack Mhor. It was good to be back in a place with big skies and air you could bottle; living in a steep sided Lakeland valley with enormous Sycamore trees for neighbours you can’t take light for granted; just look at the view from my desk!

We had group sessions in the mornings with some great creative activities and talks by our esteemed tutors who were so open and generous with their knowledge that I really felt quite over emotional at times (nothing new there I hear my family mutter) Sarah shared the processes behind her top selling books (here she is reading from Grumpycorn, about a unicorn trying to write the best story ever but constantly procrastinating – ha ha, I do REALLY need a donut and some coffee right now…) as well as her very first ever books made as a child. Her message was that the difference between being a writer and just wanting to be one is finishing things and throughout the week she gave us fun tasks which resulted in tiny quick “books” as well as “Comic Jams” and thumbnail layouts. If you’re interested or studying illustration her website has loads of really good advice and inside knowledge.

James Mayhew’s sessions were a joy, a riot of colour and mess as he had us painting to music or making collages to illustrate the traditional stories he told. James’s work includes painting on stage, with orchestras, often working upside down (the paper, not him) and of course his wonderful Katie series, Mouse and Mole with Joyce Dunbar, Mrs Noah’s Pockets with Jackie Morris and the recent Gaspard the Fox books with Zeb Soanes. We were all transported by his storytelling; from memory he recounted traditional tales such as the Baba Yaga, The Firbird and the Orange Princess, conjuring fantastical images and the warm memories of bedtime stories. The final night around the fire, under the stars was a testament to the ancient human urge to gather by smokey firelight to tell stories and share songs and laughter. James also brought with him one of the great characters of the week, his partner Toto, also an artist, who kept us all in stitches with his be-kilted cycling exploits as well as proving to me that you don’t have to dress in beige Gortex to enjoy the outdoors and you can still rock wearing your hair in bunches even if you’re not 12. What a fabulous couple, they made the week for me. (look at James’s blog for some images)

Here we are admiring the results of painting along to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade.(mine is the weird green sea monster on the left)

On Wednesday we had a visit from guest speaker Pam Smy who had come all the way from Cambridge for just, one night to share her unbelievably gorgeous sketchbooks and the gruelling 4 year process of completing Thornhill whilst also teaching full time. We were all in awe of her dedication and unique approach to creating her book, not being afraid to reinvent the picture book format to fit the story she wanted to tell.

one of Pam Smy’s incredible sketchbooks

The last day was for showing what we’d achieved and actually I’d not done very much drawing except for a squiggly watercolour/ink sketch of the Hobbit House …

I decided to use it as a cover for a little scrappy “diary” of my week and spent the final afternoon blissfully sitting under a tree, listening to the gorse pods pop in the hot sun (don’t let anyone fool you, Scottish weather is boiling!). It’s only a few pages long but I’ve made it into a wobbly pdf. on my website so that people from the course (or you if you fancy it) can print it out if they want, I hope it works because it was just a bit of fun. I can’t wait make some more and take more time over it.

thinking…

My tower with Firebird egg dome as well as some chanterelles (?) I picked with Toto.

Scene from a forest walk with Toto (with a nod to Micheal Rosen)

And so, as the coffee pot calls to me, some final thoughts… firstly, I couldn’t fit in all the magical moments and lovely people (we even had surprise bagpipe players and an emotional Burns night supper) without rambling and boring you silly but the most important thing I want to say is a huge THANK YOU, to everyone at Moniack Mhor, to my fellow students and the staff at the centre, to Will for giving me the nudge, Rupert for not going mad that I’d spent the rent paying for the week, my ancient car for making it there and back again and most of all to Sarah and James. Both our tutors are big names in their industry and you might have expected matching egos but the word I keep coming back to is Generosity – they shared so much and were totally open about all the ups and downs on their  roads to success, as well as personal stories of self discovery and secret inside information on the picture books world. I know how tiring it can be teaching workshops and they could have been forgiven for making a bit of space for themselves at the end of a busy day but it wasn’t like that at all which is why I think all of us are still re-living the week and will be for a while yet.

Important housekeeping notes…
*Helen Kellock was on the course and it turns out her actual, real life, utterly stunning book “The Star in the Forest”  is published this month with a launch in Waterstones, Glasgow and this event at the amazing Golden Hare Books in Edinburgh. GoodLuck Helen!
*Sarah McFadyen was also on the course and kept it a secret until the last day that she’s actually a musician and vocalist in the band The Poozies, who I can remember from folk festivals I used to go to. She gave me a CD for my drive home and I love it (It also may have caused me to drive too fast). When I got home I had a giant bath and couldn’t stop singing this song …
*Links to my fellow Picture Bookers Twitter accounts can be found here, most of them are on Instagram too- be sure to follow as they are all amazing.

Finally…back in the real world the fells are putting on their russet cloaks and I’m looking forward to leaf fall when a little more light will filter into the house through old Sycamore’s branches. My next event is the Three Peaks Art Trail which is a taking a bit of getting my head around after a week immersed in Picture Books, it will also be the first event I’ve done that my daddy is also taking part in (yikes!). The new Guide to Whats On at Dove Cottage in Grasmere also includes my workshop there in March next year, I can’t wait to do some cyanotypes inspired by Dorothy Wordsworth’s garden
The webshop is newly restocked with cards, calendars and NEW money boxes – so you can start saving up in case it all goes wrong next month!

Until next time x

*I was fortunate enough to be able to scrape the money together for the course from money earned selling my stuff at exhibitions and with support from my family but I feel that everyone should get a chance to experience things like this. Moniack Mhor is a registered charity and they do have a Bursary scheme as well as ways patrons can donate to help provide these facilities for people from a diverse range of backgrounds. If you happen to be a kind, rich person please consider becoming a Patron

 

Reading: Fierce Bad Rabbits, the tales behind children picture books by Clare Pollard

Listening to: The Poozies “Knees of Fire and The Chase”

Honeysuckle bomb shelter

 

 

I leant on the fell gate earlier, before the thunder came,  and watched a dove grey cloud, in the shape of a dragon, sail along the ridge and dissolve; I was trying to think of whether or what to write to you, after such a long break. It was snowing last time I wrote and today has been the hottest day of the year. I’ve never left such a long gap in writing this blog and I wonder why that is;  because I think if I’m honest it’s the part of my creative life that I find, have found, to be the most enjoyable and useful. I’m alone a lot these days and maybe I’ve lost my voice, or just the confidence to use it? There seem to be so many voices, so many images and opinions and although every day I wander and ponder and think and look, it has seemed unnecessary to add more to the noise.

Anyway, I’m determined to write something now that I’ve started, so I suppose I’ll begin with places. Here is the view up the valley, where I sat earlier today  peering through the feathery meadow grass after my dip it the beck. I wander down there most days and Nutmeg Cat comes too, sometimes there’s a big gap in our visits though and when we go back everything has changed (he was very surprised when the bracken appeared like a lush jungle and made new ambush games a possibility). Last night the air was full of moths and the smell of honey, that heather scent that reminds me of all the summers I’ve ever had.

For some reason hot summer days always do bring childhood memories – the smell of warm tarmac , the feel of bare feet on grass. Last week I had a really special time down in Wiltshire with the West Country bits of my family. It was wonderful to walk in a landscape so different to the Lakes, big skies and the chalk meadows above the white horse at Cherhill, a billowing magic carpet of wildflowers and butterflies, even the air sounded different as it whispered through barley fields and sang like eerie uilleann pipes through a metal five bar gate. Visting Wiltshire always feels a bit magical and nostalgic, in my mind it’s always summer, always a bit golden and bleached out like a 1970s photograph; this time I even fell off my bike and got a scab on my knee for added 70’s authenticity!  So as well as doing some XR things in Bristol, weaving offerings for the Avebury clootie tree and  visiting the window at Lacock (where the first ever photograph was taken), we went to see the house I’d lived in in 1978/9 when I was 11 ish and my parents borrowed a beautiful pink stone, house belonging to the artist Richard Smith. It was the year that I got obsessed with the white horse at Uffington after watching The Moon Stallion on TV and also the year I started “big” school; beginning the whole tummy ache and tantrum strewn  process of puberty, trying to fit in with the wrong accent /shoes /clothes /attitude and trying to avoid going to the massive school in Chippenham while my brother went to the tiny village one next the house, where I think I can remember him learning to make fudge and plant carrots! There is a point to all this reminiscing, I just can’t quite catch it yet…

I think I have it, I think it’s places and memory and getting older. I suppose that year in Wiltshire marked a point in my life where I still retreat in my head… still safely a child with no responsibility but old enough to wander and cycle about the lanes or clatter about in the neighbouring churchyard in my clogs, being a pony, lost in an imaginary world of magical horses, standing stones and mysterious jumbled up stories of myth and legend. I read quite a lot of “children’s” books at the moment ( most recently The Girl Who Speaks Bear and Lampie and the Children of the Sea …. read them, you must!) and it seems no accident that the characters are often that age or round abouts …so here’s the point and the reason I’m in a muddle….

I just paid the final balance for a thing I booked whilst in a fit of January gloom, the same day I ordered pair of silver boots when I probably ought to have bought a SAD lamp or some heating oil. Anyway, it’s a week’s “picture books” workshop at Moniak Mhor, Scotland’s Creative Writing Centre with James Mayhew, Sarah McIntyre and Pam Smy (who are all illustration super stars) and it cost more than I earn in a month. I must be mad? Imposter Syndrome walloped me immediately I’d pressed “send” on the deposit, even though I was about to begin a paid commission to illustrate The Secret Garden and people do occasionally buy my pictures it still felt really self indulgent and anyway…what have I got to say to children now that mine are grown and I’m coming apart faster than that cloud dragon? One thing working in a bookshop tells you, if you ever doubted it, there are a LOT of wonderful books out there.

Well, I’ve paid now and I think it will be inspirational and scary and fabulous . Truth be told it is unlikely to help me make a living but then, all the money I invested in doing Trade Shows didn’t really do that trick either.  Making a living as an artist or writer is never going to be easy and whist I long for a place that could be Home for long enough to plant a tree or two, I know I am lucky to live like I do, it’s just a question of believing it’s ok and not panicking too much about time being short. When I grow up I want to be…..

Now for a bit of housekeeping… I’ve just delivered work to the new Maker’s Mill in Keswick which opens on Saturday 3rd August. On Wednesday 7th of August until September 3rd I’ll have a shop space at Craftsmen at the Priory in Lanercost (where I was a guest exhibitor last year) and there will soon be new workshop dates announced on my website, including one at Dove Cottage in Grasmere. Ok, that’s me done, time to go to bed and read . I hope you’ve kept cool in the heatwave and I hope I didn’t put you to sleep with my ramblings. x

*Blog title inspired by a panic stricken, last minute, homework project we “helped” with at my brother and his girlfriend’s house…

Reading: The House of Glass by Susan Fletcher

Listening to : Possession by AS Byatt and “Life’s what you make it” Talk Talk

Adventure Cat and Nest Girl

If you read my last newsletter you will know that I started 2019 by accidentally going out with my trousers on inside out and sharing a calendar I’d designed featuring the wrong days of the week. In an effort to reverse the, all too typical, trend I wrote a big To Do list and happily ticked off almost everything within a week, including the tax return. The only thing left is this blog post which of course means I’m sitting on the floor by the stove, wrapped in blankets, warming the fingers of one hand on a mug of tea and… yes, totally blank.

Reluctant snow flakes are floating aimlessly outside the big window, occasionally Causey Pike disappears in a flurry but not much is settling, it’s as if the clouds are blocked up like a damp salt cellar. A big shard of ice just blew out of the gutter in a gust of wind and all I can think about is, how long it might take to make some cinnamon buns. January is definitely not a good time for imposing strict new diets and exercise regimes; in fact I think it is vital to edge into the new year cautiously, not looking it in the eye and being extra kind to yourself at every opportunity (and others of course, be extra kind to everyone and build up a fat store of good feelings to help you through the rest of the year’s up and downs). This year in particular I’ve been really aware of how the low light in this house affects my mood and, these days, my eyesight. It feels as though I’m wearing a very large and heavy, wide brimmed hat so I’ve been trying to make sure I get outside even for a few minutes to make sure my rods and cones don’t wither! Nutmeg kitten has been joining me on my short walks, bounding along silently, climbing every tree and promising that his extra bushy tail (which puffs up like a bottle brush the further we get from home) will protect us from almost anything.

I think one of the reasons I’m struggling to write this is that I’ve brooding over the #10yearchallenge thing on social media, which as far as I can see is only fun if you’re about 30 ( that goldilocks decade) and looked a bit odd in your 20s or if you’ve made a massive success of everything in the past 10 years and overcome major set backs so that you can look back with smug satisfaction at how far you’ve come. I look back way too much, dwell on anniversaries and pine for the past to an unhealthy degree, so digging out photos from 10 years ago does not help me get used to the person I see in the mirror every day- I don’t know who she is but she keeps trying to tell me that “looking back is for the birds” and I need to appreciate NOW more and look forward with less foreboding.

Because of the tax return and the New Year, January does tend to be a bit of a looking back, taking stock and reassessing the situation kind of month. Like many creative people, part of what I do inevitably involves some degree of rejection and this can be particularly tough as you bounce bravely into the new year full of plans and hopes. Poet Kate Hale wrote a really good blog about this from the point of view of a writer and as I sulked slightly at a recent exhibition rejection (more because it involved an un-returnable entry fee and a “we are to busy to email unsuccessful candidates” policy, than the actual rejection) I took heart from her suggestion that “You keep casting your line out, and you keep reeling it in. Sometimes there’s a wriggling fish hooked on the end, but most times it’s empty. That’s ok, though. This is just another opportunity for you to add fresh bait.”

As you can see I’m still enjoying escaping reality with my daydreamy watercolour doodles. I’m not sure where I’m going with them yet; that girl keeps popping up in various places and I haven’t quite decided what her story, or face, is yet… who is she?

One exciting piece of news this week is that there’s the possibility of doing another set of book illustrations, this time for The Secret Garden. I really hope it happens, it’s probably jinxing it to say it out loud but I really enjoyed doing the last ones for the Ugly Duckling and it’s amazing to feel like a “real” artist! I’ve added the little books to my website recently and Elspeth will be at British Craft Trade Fair in April with all her “Storybook Cards”

Meanwhile in cyanotype news I’ve been adding a new section to the website which lists workshop dates for 2019 including one at Printfest where Cumbria Printmakers have been asked to run various 3 hour sessions alongside the exhibition which is all a bit wildly exciting as it’s one of the most prestigious print exhibitions in the north. Just as exciting is a brand new exhibition this summer organised by fellow Cumbria Printmaker, Sarah Robley, at Lanercost Priory. Print at the Priory, is a selected exhibition showcasing a wide variety of techniques and some fabulous artists… I’d better get practising!

Well, I’ve managed to stumble to the end of this post and if you’re still reading thank you. I really do like writing I just need to be more organised and confident about it I think. Anyway, here’s to another year of ups and downs, adventures and lazy days. x

Reading: “Holmes and Watson, a miscellany” by S.C.Roberts and Listening to: (audio book) “The Binding” by Bridget Collins