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“But there is always a November space after the leaves have fallen…”

Dark nights and solitude- apart from a sleeping cat and a humming wood stove- are just the right conditions for writing introspective blogs and getting lost in wandering tunnels of thought. I’ve had quite a few magical , seasonal experiences lately but it’s funny how, sitting here wondering where to begin, things suddenly surface that I hadn’t consciously dug up. It can take me ages to write a few lines because I keep half remembering things and looking back at old posts to see what I was thinking about in other Novembers, other nights by stoves; times when writing about my day seemed so trivial in the face of world events or the guilt/ frustration at being ok, but feeling not ok, made writing a personal blog seem self-indulgent (well so it is) and even embarrassing. This week there have been more shootings in Texas, half the world is discussing climate change in Bonn and the rest are chucking plastic into the oceans, forgetting that there is no such thing as “away”. It’s easy to be overwhelmed , stunned into silence and I’m feeling uncomfortable because what I wanted to write about was the water and the stars and and maybe even try to sell you some cards. I’m going to hold on to the naive idea that sharing some beautiful, joyful things somehow leaves a tiny bit less space for the evil, negative ones, I hope that’s ok? Just for now while we keep looking for answers to the bigger things?

My fuzzy picture and this superb one by James Kirby were taken on the last weekend in October when I dragged myself out of my nest, with a tin of warm-from- the- oven banana bread, to take part in a Halloween swim in Derwent Water organised by Suzanna Cruikshank . I didn’t know anyone taking part, I only knew Suzanna in the virtual world, it was cold and I’m shy but it was more than worth the effort. The jetty at Ashness was all decorated with fairy lights and tow floats with torches inside so it glowed beautifully as the light faded and we shivered in to our wetsuits . When it was really dark and everyone was ready we tiptoed in to the black water with our illuminated floats and glow sticks and swam out into smooth icy water. In the photographs there seems to be a woman with my colour hair and many, many chins, looking like an overstuffed inner tube but I have no idea who she was, I was too busy drifting in the dark being a polar bear or maybe a water spirit.  The Great Bear in the sky above us and the half moon in the trees towards Watendlath were the perfect finishing touches. I thought I’d be scared, too cold to use my hands or unable to keep up but the whole experience was quite gentle and atmospheric- much easier to forget about the DEEP and possible (probable) monsters, when you’re in the dark, quietly chatting to someone in full halloween makeup and a miniature top hat. I had such a good time and though I will never recognise the people I shared that experience with again ( face paint/pitch dark/ brain freeze)  I don’t think any of us will forget it. I suppose in its own way it was a kind of virtual reality chat room and joking aside there is something almost spiritual about being in those elements, in the dark – celebrating the change of seasons, and the beginning of winter.

Yesterday after 4 days of migraine ( not connected to the swim) and wondering if I might die in the night and be eaten by the cat, I stumbled up the lane to stand in the beck hoping the cold would do something to shift the headache- I think it did a bit but it might have been all the pills. Migraines really are peculiar things ( I’ve had cravings for cinnamon lately as well as Brinjal pickle sandwiches- symptom or cause?)  and the moment when you realise it’s leaving is such a relief that there is an almost manic burst of energy. I walked around the valley, being shouted at by a territorial wren who followed me for ages, hopping along the drystone wall beside the path. My camera ran out of batteries so I just stood and looked at all the fields striped and cross hatched with long diagonal shadows, the low sun painting the fells orange and sending all the craggy bits into high contrast, like an over edited Instagram filter. How to capture that in words or paint or pixels? I certainly don’t have the skills. Anyway, it felt amazing to be alive again so I made cards, lined cupboards doors with recipes from the Guardian, sawed some wood, wrote letters and listened to Northern Lights and the Book of Dust until late in to the night.

I’m pleased with the cards, they come in little boxes of 10 and are wintery rather than christmassy so hopefully much more versatile – I like cards that make you want to keep them, use them as bookmarks or tie them up in with ribbon in a box of secrets, not the sort chosen in haste and sent out of duty, just to be recycled in January. You can find these in the card section of my website.

I’ve been to post orders today ( including this handsome owl)  and changed my third wheel in just over a week. I think my car is testing my self reliance by waiting until Rupert is in Nepal before getting a puncture in 3 out of 4 tyres. It’s made me realise how important it is to know how to do these things and my blue curses and fury today were tempered by a little smug self confidence in my own abilities. Anyway, the novelty of my new skill has worn off now so unless F1 want give me a pit stop job I’ll be very happy never to have to change a wheel again thank you.

It’s been a rambling, mash up of a blog post and I don’t blame you if you left to put the kettle on hours ago. I think I have in mind the fact that 10years is a long time to be sending these musings out in to the world and the way I feel about it has changed, does change… ten Novembers, it’s not surprising really.

Enjoy November, its brittle days and long nights- time to read and listen and dream.

Reading : Hag -Seed – Margaret Atwood   Listening to : The Subtle Knife – Philip Pullman

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Leaning North

Cinnamon toast and a large mug of tea by the stove are my fuel for this bit of writing. It’s the last day of British Summer Time and at 4pm the fading light means I’m allowed to indulge my bear like nature doesn’t it? My nest is cozy; everything outside is leaning slightly to the right, to North, shaped by the prevailing wind that funnels down this valley. Leaves race past and collect in drifts or scratch at the window like Catherine Earnshaw’s ghost. I made myself go outside though, before building my den and I galloped down the valley in my clumpy boots with unbrushed hair, chased by swirling mist that poured through the gap on Robinson like milk. I should have taken a picture for you , I wish I could have painted it. Yesterday by contrast, was a day of such sparkling champagne light that it hardly seems like the same country !

Rupert is on an adventure in the Himalayas so I’m having to be extra self- motivated when it comes to my own outdoor adventures. Yesterday was easy, I packed a picnic, flask of strong coffee, my wetsuit and a sketchbook and set off to Scales Hill, Crummock Water because I’m greedy and I wanted Autumn trees, smooth swimmable water and mountain views ( all without having to walk uphill with a heavy rucksack). I walked and looked and breathed and braved a tiny dip (longer getting in and out of the wetsuit than in the water). I swam in little circles, using fallen leaves floating on the glassy surface as my markers, edging away from the shallows and trying not to think of the Great Deep; I wanted to float on my back to watch the clouds but October lake water in the ears isn’t nice and after the cold water hives thing at Rydal in the “summer” I’m very careful. After my swim I sat on the pebbly beach eating sandwiches, looking across at the boat house with Grasmoor looking enormous behind it and wondered if I would ever dare swim that far; then feeling that I should be less hard on myself  because I may not be a long distance swimmer or a Himalayan adventurer but after all  I have been up Grasmoor the hard way and been brave enough to get in to a bottomless lake, on my own in October.

Walking back to the car through the woods I suddenly thought, look at me, in all my outdoor gear, what’s happened?! Who am I? And then I saw my shadow and it was ok because as you can see, I’m actually still a bear…

Things have started to feel good in the work department, dare I say that? The exhibition n Grasmere was disappointingly quiet but I sold a print and made some good contacts, while the Exhibition in Shetland at Bonhoga Gallery ( part of Shetland Arts)  has already resulted in sales and lots of lovely comments online. The gallery is really beautiful and I’d never seen my work displayed so well… in that it was given space and light and not lost amongst all the other work, I felt like a real artist ( in times like these most independent shops and galleries need to use all their available wall and display space to maximise potential sales, so space, as in all things, is a luxury). It is interesting that almost all my online sales and commissions recently have come from Scotland and the Islands in particular; perhaps my love of the idea of North, however vague, really does come out in the work somehow?

The gallery staff at Bonhoga took this photograph of a hare lamp which made me very happy because I’d never actually seen one illuminated before and it does have an etherial, wintery feel to it whilst still feeling warm and cozy.

I’ve also been having some wonderful days in the bookshop in Grasmere; filling in on odd days and trying to avoid buying ALL the books. They are long days, especially with the drive, but so unlike any other work I’ve done in retail. Being in Grasmere there are some parts of it that are fairly unique, such as the customers wanting to know the best route up Helvellyn on a wet, foggy day, but there is a joy in solving a mystery for the person who says ” I don’t know the title or the author but…” or seeing all the kids during half term so keen to read real books, even in an age of Tablets and Kindles. Still, my book addiction needs to be controlled; I felt so guilty about spending money on a beautiful new Moomin book when the car needed fixing, that I didn’t unwrap it for a week. Anyway, the Library is now doing well out of me too and after agonising for ages I’ve chosen to listen to Phillip Pullman’s “The Book of Dust” on Audible rather than buying the hardback book. It will keep me company in the quiet house.

Now it is 6pm and the sky has changed through shades of bruise, made pastel by the low mist. There must have been a great sunset somewhere higher up but here it reminded me of  paint water- I had to leave you for a moment to stand on the doorstep in the eerie warm wind. Anyway, it’s taken me two hours to cobble this together, not counting the bits when I got up to put a log on the stove or put some supper in the oven. It’s time to draw the curtains against the night.

Reading: Hag Seed- Margaret Atwood    Listening to: The Book of Dust – Phillip Pullman (unabridged version) and ( in the car) Blue Aeroplanes “Your Ages”  , I’ve always loved this, it’s a painting in words..”in ten years everything will bleach to primer and we’ll lie in the light…”

Rumble Strip

 

It’s the perfect day for sitting under a blanket with coffee and a stash of biscuits, looking at more photogenic versions of Autumn than the one currently outside my window, all windlashed,rain sodden and dripping. As usual I uploaded the pictures days ago and then got distracted by stuff so that I’ve almost forgotten why I chose them. I also had to re-read my last post to remind myself of where things stood back then (September for goodness sake!).
Its a shame I got distracted because I know I chose this title and some of what I wanted to write about when I was walking alone on the fells this Tuesday which happened to be #WorldMentalHealthDay. I’d been reading this story  about the yoga teacher Michael Stone and trying to sort out all the tangled assumptions and conclusions I’d come to when I first read it; an initial thought that it is often those with insurmountable problems of their own who end up in professions where they are attempting to help others, physician heal thyself. His is a sad story of a struggle with mental illness that he felt he had to keep secret and my own lazy reaction, despite my own struggles with the black dog, proves that “Culturally, we don’t have enough language to talk about this. Rather than feel the shame and tragedy of it, can we find questions? … What can we do for ourselves and others who have impulses or behaviours we cannot understand?” (statement by relatives)

So, as I walked I thought about how we’re all just doing our best to navigate the waters and sometimes it’s really not that easy- or easy to own up to our crappy navigation skills. We’re little islands full of hopes, fears, dreams, histories and insecurities and we all deal with it differently. Rumble strip? Well you know when you go a bit off course on the motorway and there’s that bit that makes it feel as though the wheel’s about to fall off and jolts you into consciousness? I felt a bit like that last month and the rumbling told me that I needed to stop being quite so hard on myself for not being “The Most Successful Artist Ever” or “Having the perfect job that enables me to pay back the parents and bail out the kids” and take on board a bit of the new age bullshit… trying to be outdoors (a little bit) everyday, doing yoga, eating green things and writing honestly.

Meanwhile in the idyllic edited highlights of the year we went paddling over  a mirrored lake, so smooth that it was possible to feel vertigo as it appeared as though we were actually in the sky. The surface tension of the water held downy feathers, bone dry as if still falling through air and it seemed to curve up and away from us like the meniscus on an overfilled spirit measure. I did feel dizzy and being in the middle of the lake in the eerie stillness I had half a thought that Rupert might be planing to throw me in or what if the boat got a hole or what if it got foggy and we were lost, what if…? On the journey back from the pub it was almost dark and bats flittered about hunting, I hadn’t thought they would fly so far out over water. It felt like the last night of summer, like a night in a story and so in the dark, on the pebbly shore I jumped out of my clothes for a dip in the black water, giggling like a maniac.

Back on dry land the digital “painting” of the Jack Daw in the September blog post became a stencil for a print which will be at the Cumbria Printmakers/Cumbrian Sculptors “Poetic Vision“exhibition in Grasmere which opens on Sunday. It’s going to include some poetry chosen by the Wordsworth Trust and poetry readings. I’m really honoured that Polly Atkin allowed me to use her book title “Basic Nest Architecture” for this piece and will hopefully be reading from her poem Jack Daw.

After making my fingers very sore piercing and sewing the paper I have now found a proper tool for piercing holes which takes a bit of the pain away and makes the sewing part much more fun. I’ve got completely carried away on the more recent prints and it’s part of my new plan to make less work but to spend longer on each piece.

I found the perfect poem to go with this hare print, just a little too late to be included in the reading on the night but it will be credited on the print and in its title “The Leap From The Lea”  none the less, with kind permission. It is by the writer Dom Conlon, a Twitter connection and can be seen here 

Now you know the nights are drawing in and although it’s only 4.30 pm the weather has made it feel later. It’s time to make a cup of tea and bully the stove into life. It’s going to be a busy weekend and I’m really looking forward to it. Hopefully this little person will visit again at some point…

She is a Goldcrest, called Regulus regulus or King of Birds and I’ve never seen such a tiny little fairy bird in all my life. She banged her head on the window which is why she sat for long enough for me to grapple with my camera ( not long enough for me to learn how to focus obviously) but happily she was soon recovered and flew away.

Reading : Autumn by Ali Smith and this blog post  by Laura from Elsie & Nell which says a lot of what also I feel about the difficulties of being a small creative business.

Introspection and Indiscretions

Mid September and I’m trying to be still, to take stock of the year so far and also recognise how far have I come from that sunny September day (3 years today) when my life was turned upside down by a chance remark – and how far I have yet to go towards accepting my new reality. A recent spur of the moment decision to visit family and friends at “home” in Yorkshire left me with a terrible feeling of not belonging anywhere (yet) – old friends were away and too much had changed. I walked around Town like a deer in the hunting season, all full of adreneline, in case I should see Enemies (at one point retreating to my car for a few tears and the coffee I’d hastily tipped into a flask to escape the loneliness of a window seat for one). It’s pretty hard for people to understand because on the face of it life here in the Lakes is pretty bloody idyllic and I can’t argue with the fact that the enforced change has opened doors to exciting places and brought unimagined new joys … but thats not the point, it wasn’t my free choice to leave at that time. The prodded, still raw, emotions made me overflow with empathy for displaced people everywhere and wish more than anything that I could be of use somehow.In Costa, where the only newspapers were the Daily Mail and the Sun I felt like an outsider, even me with my privileged, white, middle class cappuccino, wondering how much worse it would feel to be a refugee or asylum seeker. Homesick for a place that no longer exists. I try to raise money for charities like Shelterbox but it doesn’t seem enough; one bleeding heart idealist giving the odd tenner, however it is an amazing thing they do, so if my brief wallow in the past informs one person about their work then that’s good isn’t it? ( theres also a very neglected post on my Facebook Page which has some things for sale to raise money for them)

And so the colour palette changes again – hot pink, steel grey, purple blacks, russet and velvet brown-  and I wish and wish I was a painter – or at least was able to express what I feel and see in some satisfying way. The Rosebay Willow Herb has climbed to the top of its stems and the last few magenta flowers are held above downy clouds of seed feathers, bright memories of a summer that seemed to be over before it had started. The joyful discovery of this summer was swimming without a wetsuit ( the wetsuit gives me floaty legs and I end up in a skydiving position with a crick in my neck – I’m really not a good swimmer!) and I can hardly believe that this picture, taken just a few weeks ago was probably the last one before next spring. There’s been so much rain that all the water temperatures have dropped and since I do it so infrequently there’s no chance to get acclimatised to the cold like some of the real swimmers are. Still, I might give it a go and I’m hoping one day to get  some tips from local swimming guru  Susanna Cruikshank who has just set up a new business as a swim guide and might help me progress from being a head up dipper to someone who can swim more than 25 metres without getting hiccoughs. (EDIT we went and swam in Ullswater last night as I was half way through writing this and I got in again for a moment or two after the wetsuit bit – it was chilly but bliss).

Continuing to assess the year;  as far as work goes I’ve been up and down and round in circles and back up again. Sometimes things have worked really well and I feel quite surprised at myself; the digitally doodled Jackdaw I drew the other night for example or this hare print which is now a lamp, heading to Shetland, Bonhoga Gallery  next week. Other times I feel so cross with the whole thing I just wish I could get a regular job as a gardener or bake cakes for a living- everybody likes cake and gardens never stop growing but people don’t always NEED a card or a piece of art, its undoubtably a luxury. I was really excited by the response to the “Just A Card Blog” interview I did earlier in the month, it had been a bit of an ambition to get some nice exposure and help promote their campaign message. On Twitter at least, I felt briefly famous and successful … it’s only when I tell you that barely 3 people looked at my website because of it and there were no extra sales that you start to realise that our social media bubbles are like a hall of mirrors, reflecting distorted versions of your own thoughts back at you … the brutal reality is we need to reach customers not just other creatives.

Its also vital that people realise why work is priced as it is – I’m probably being terribly indiscreet and unbusinesslike ( what’s new) but 0n Saturday at a wonderful open studio in the Eden Valley I got into discussion with a visitor who praised my work but said it was “too expensive” in her opinion. I’ve said it so many times, and I know I’m preaching to the converted because you’re here reading this, so you probably understand, but listen – a piece of art or anything you see in any shop probably has at least a 50% mark up (shops and galleries have bills to pay too) that means that if you half the price of a print which retails at  £70 you’re left with £35 from which to take the cost of materials (the paper alone can be about £6 a sheet), time, framing or mounting and all the other expenses ( including the years of learning the technique, making preliminary sketches, thinking and planning). Nobody’s getting rich quick like that.Having said that we recently walked in on a customer in an outdoor equipment shop rudely accusing the staff of  “just wanting to make money like all the other shops in this town” which was pretty crazy when you think about it, so maybe its not jus a problem in the creative industries.

September 28th has been planned as #JustACard Day ; a chance to really spread the word about the importance of even apparently small sales to keeping independent shops thriving in our high streets and supporting artists and makers – if only by spreading more understanding of the issues around this kind of business. There are a few ways to get involved so do follow the link and see what it’s all about.

I almost lost my nerve a bit while thinking about what to write this time. There is a strong case for the whole “keeping up appearances/positivity attracts positivity/you’re in business so don’t be so open” school of thought but actually I’m bored with that kind of dishonesty; the extreme end of which is “fake news” and other evils of these unsettling Trumpian Times. Anyway, it is what it is and I’ll end by singing about the good things… the walks in the now familiar fells (who have shaken the moths out of their brown velvet coats and scented them with woodsmoke), the postman arriving with surprise, unsolicited book gifts, the re-discovery of yoga ( yeah, like the rest of the world we’re rolling around on the carpet most days trying to follow Adriene Mishler videos without falling over or getting attacked by the cat or distracted by the mousetrap going off) , the excitement of new exhibition plans with Cumbria Printmakers. It’s not Utopia but sometimes when you’re standing up as tall as you can on top of a hill and pretending to be a mountain it gets pretty close. x

Reading: ” A Pocketful of Crows” Joanne Harris (one of those happy moments when social media works as it should and the lovely @likewinterblue from Sam Read Booksellers, Grasmere sent me a surprise pre-publication proof after seeing that it was on my wish list. Some people are just friendly and kind and that makes up for the rest!)  I’m loving it and making it last longer by also reading “The Ladies of Grace Adieu” by Susanna Clarke.

Listening to: owls and there deepening breath ( ha ha! not really I’m just trying to get in the yoga mood)

Edge of Autumn

Nothing specific happens but it suddenly doesn’t feel like summer anymore; an awareness of the tiny changes in the smell of the air or the particular shades of green seems to awaken some ancient instinct to begin baking cakes with cinnamon, checking the store cupboards and worrying about logs (* I started writing this post about 2 weeks ago now so the logs have been delivered and stacked; one thing less to worry about).  You imagine August to be all sunny corn fields, blue skies and ice creams on the beach but it seems more often to be jungly shades of Hookers Green as the shoulder high bracken completes its takeover of the fells and the trees balance darkly on the edge of Autumn. It feels like the moment when you just can’t wait to get the decorations down and clear up after Christmas- anticipating the new season and the fresh inspiration it might bring.  Now, a couple of weeks since I initially started  this post, you can definitely see the first russet tones creeping over the green brackeny slopes … like the roots starting to show through on dyed hair ( I pinched that line from Rupert who has been fretting about the weather after a summer spent getting wet and drying out soggy tents with bunches of NCS kids). The cusp of a changing season is such a special time and as I write I’m hoping for a bright crisp Autumn full of rich colour and clear skies, an excuse to bake comfort food and the smell of woodsmoke and fallen leaves.

I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to complete this post; I can only put it down to a massive bout of inertia ( and some truly evil migraines) that arrived as soon as I got back from Skipton Art in the Pen… suddenly there was a gap in deadlines and I had a bit of a dip in confidence and motivation- despite both shows combined being a big success. I had some really interesting conversations with people visiting my pen, including several people who immediately “got” the references and shared the same passion for bears, and the stories associated with them, The Owl Service by Alan Garner and even one person who noted a Japanese influence (which I initially denied before remembering my obsession with Haruki Murakami novels). It was also really wonderful to spend time with other artists and makers, particularly Penny Hunt (whose beautiful Yorkshire Dales house I stayed at), Debbie Yare and Hester Cox  – working in isolation, it is always such a relief to realise that we all share many of the same doubts, fears and joys that come with this job ( and life in general). I had a LOT of people asking me HOW I made my work  (or explaining to each other without asking) and it’s taken me these past few weeks to organise how I feel about that … being naturally super friendly, approachable ( I hope you’ll agree) and (a little too) open,  it seemed rude not to share- and I did, in detail- but the more I was asked the more I wanted to say… but it’s just a technique, don’t you like what I did with it? Did you notice the drawing and careful composition? You wouldn’t ask a painter how they made a painting or walk in to a cafe and ask for the recipe to their most popular dish without even ordering a coffee  Sometimes I spent ages explaining after which the visitor declared they would order the chemicals online and try it themselves before walking off without even buying a card (of this more later). I LOVE sharing what I do, including how and why, but from now on I will be trying to be a little more businesslike and promoting workshops… if you want to learn about cyanotype, get in touch ( there will be cake).

I was really excited, on my return, to find an e-mail inviting me to be interviewed for the Just A Card blog. You might have noticed me going on about the campaign at various events, and on here, ever since I first heard about it, in 2014. It aims to raise awareness of the difference that we can all make by choosing to support independent shops, artists and makers by making even small purchases, such as greetings cards, which help keep people in business. Certainly most of my income over the weekend at Skipton was earned by selling cards…sometimes just one , but each one carefully chosen by the customer and each sale so very important to me. The combined card sales meant I could come home knowing I had made enough profit and would be able to continue doing what I love.

You can read my interview on the Just a Card blog on September 1st. Let me know what you think.

Hmmm, I’m sitting here trying to choose pictures to illustrate this post and getting cross because my silly iPhone photo-stream won’t synch with my laptop. This means I can’t share the picture of  a fairytale swim I had this week. It also shows how annoying technology can be…except that I’m currently in love with my new Wacom pen and tablet which has reawakened my love of sketching and doodling and just playing with colours and lines and the stories in my head. As someone who loves simple, real things, bakes their own bread and likes to make jam, it feels a little wrong to be spending so much time with a “pretend” sketchbook when I could be using real paints and any of the gorgeous materials I have stockpiled since childhood. Is it cheating? Or is it playing and enjoying mark making ( which is the first thing they make you do at art school) ? Either way I’m having fun and it makes things much easier than my ham fisted drawing with a normal mouse or trackpad.

Now I’m being told my battery is low, it’s 3 o’clock and I promised myself I’d walk down the lane to see if there were any blackberries. As usual I want to write more and I’ve left it too long between posts so I think I’m going to leave this one here and try to be more disciplined about writing in future. I need to tell you about that swim and the cold water hives episode and the absolute joy of it all.

If you subscribe to my website newsletter you will have got a message about this month’s shop discount code and the fact that I’m donating a percentage of all web sales this month to Shelterbox who provide practical  help in disaster zones and areas of conflict. Home and “shelter” are subjects close to my heart so please take a look at what they do.

Until next time x

 


Reading :    “The Remains of the Day”  Kazuo Ishiguro   Listening to: My treat this moth has been to subscribe to Audible so I’m currently 7 hours in to the 19 of Kafka on the Shore byHaruki Murakami.I listen to it in the bath while practicing my underwater swimming technique!

 

 

“Chiaroscuro” seemed like a good title.

IMG_1458These two pictures sum up last week as I prepared for my first big art fair, Art in the Pen, at Thirsk. I tried to work in the dark, gloomy cave of the house while the sun beckoned like a secret lover, through the lace bedspread, hung to keep out the bitey insects. Setting up outside I was driven back in by the glare or the wind or the fact that I looked like I’d been dip dyed upside down in a vat of pink from sunburn. The evenings of swimming were blissful though and I’m now slightly addicted to the well documented after effects of being in cold water; the silky cool feeling under the skin that contrasts with the warm surface and the release of endorphins that feels weirdly like the effects of …hmmm, less “official” methods (which I neither admit to, endorse or condone) but were once described thus by American chemist Alexander Shulgin … “I feel absolutely clean inside, and there is nothing but pure euphoria. The cleanliness, clarity, and marvellous feeling of solid inner strength continued… through the next day. I am overcome by the profundity of the experience.” Obviously swimming is a much more healthy way of feeling “pure euphoria” and less likely to land you in jail; it really has helped lift my blue moods when my natural inclination would normally be to curl up and nest.

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After an epic drive ( hot air blowers on full blast to stop the car overheating in the traffic jams) and still in recovery from a 3 day migraine ( brought on by dropping the settee on my foot during a mad hoovering session and not cured by standing for an hour, thigh deep in Scope Beck wearing just a t-shirt, hat and pants like a crazy old hobo) I made it to Thirsk and set up my pen (with lots of help from Rupert who’d been waiting there for hours).

It was a fantastic, if unlikely, event. As if by magic the slightly grubby and smelly animal pens were transformed by an amazing group of artists and makers who not only produce fabulous work but also design the display solutions (not easy making a sheep pen that was awash with slurry hours earlier, look like a gallery), and work like mad to make it all look great. I didn’t have much chance to look at everyone’s stands as I was on my own but it was so good to meet Hester Cox in person at last (my heart is set on one of her prints one day) and I spent a virtual fortune on some the work I saw on other people’s stands. My friend Sarah Ames wins my “resilience and tenacity” award for doing the whole thing on her own and driving all the way back home to Cockermouth every night! Sarah Robely wins “set design and catering “award because her stand was pristine and her lovely mum Shona, was there with home baked treats to feed to the 5,000. Bridget Wilkinson wins my “wow you’re an inspiration” award because she was so helpful, is a good friend and is making it work! I’ve also got to thank the lovely Penny Hunt  because she suggested I applied and her gorgeous work will be at the “Inspired by” gallery in Danby next week for her solo show, as well as Skipton Art in the Pen next month.

Ok, it’s no fun reading lists of links or thank you’s so I’ll stop now but if I missed you out it forgive me; everyone I met was truly inspirational and that’s before I think about all the friends who came and said hello. I’m still processing it all- months of isolation followed by a manic weekend of catch ups and emotion can be a bit overwhelming and I’m trying not to worry too much about all the ridiculous things I may have said or the faces I didn’t instantly recognise when they appeared out of context!

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I walked alone across familiar fields that belonged to another lifetime and stood watching a small drama as the sun set and a pair of  buzzards, disturbed by something not visible, called to each other and dipped and swooped with chattering, acrobatic swallows- rioting before bedtime.

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And so, after catching up with as many people as I could and wishing with all my heart I could spend more time with them, I took a massive detour home to avoid a traffic jam which would have meant needing to steam my face again with the car heaters. A two hour journey took four but I saw some great landscapes as trundled back through Kirby Stephen, Kendal and the South Lakes. I actually found myself saying “hello” out loud when Blencathra finally popped in to view and for a treat we went to the pub for chips before an icy, dusk swim in the river to wash away the sin of fried food. A tent was pitched right beside the swimming hole, as I’d guessed it might be, so we lowered ourselves in to the dark water upstream, trying to gasp quietly at the shock and swam quickly and breathlessly past the campers, trying not to alarm them. It felt quite exciting and the mossy rocks were like carpeted steps under the water- I wouldn’t like to be in water any faster though, it’s deceptively hard to swim against even a gentle current and I do quite enough of that on dry land.

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Now I’m going to tidy up the boxes still to be unpacked and see what I have left to take to Skipton on the 12th -13th of August and prepare for a workshop at Greystoke next week. Thanks again to everyone who made it a fun weekend. I have loads more to say but I’m having think first and anyway, it’s time for coffee and baking a cake I think 😉

 

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The Magpie Told Me…

Last week I decided to believe in magic again; after being reminded about the strange story of the sketchbook that foretold my future . It all seems so unlikely –  a Dorian Gray kind of spell – except instead of getting eternal youth (sadly) the picture seemed to have been an oracle leading me on a journey far removed from my own chosen direction and wishes at the time.

So now I’m looking for small everyday magic and finding it as I walk ; from the friendly face I spotted in the tree this evening, to the hare gently loping along the path in front of me, before slipping into the long grass and invisibility. I’ve been inspired by some of the people I’ve “met” on Instagram such as Milla, “The Woman who Married a Bear“, to rekindle an interest in plants and herbs; mixing a potion that works wonders on tired fellwandery feet and, who knows, maybe if I fill a sketchbook with my hopes and dreams they might come true someday (better practise drawing pretty houses with vegetable gardens and swimming ponds…and some kind of representation of world peace of course.) Meanwhile I continue to dawdle on my walks, saying the names out loud – Tormentil, Bog Asphodel, Silverweed and Usnea; and tonight, purple-ing my fingers with surprise bilberries up by the reservoir; where I wasn’t brave enough to swim alone. It was the first time I’d walked alone for a while (feeling fat and sluggish after being left in charge of my poor self control and one of Rupert’s coffee cakes while he camps out on soaking wet islands, inspiring groups of NCS students) and I thought, or resolved perhaps, to do it more often. To lose myself in thought and daydreams…

As well as all that wandering about with my head in the clouds or my nose in a bilberry bush, I’m getting organised for Art in the Pen Thirsk, which is in just two weeks time. I hope I can fit everything in the car and even more, I hope it all sells so I can buy the materials needed for Art in the Pen Skipton the following month, as well as some more exhibitions I’m sending work to. It’s been a bit of a flurry of activity the last few weeks with some very happy days in Sam Read Booksellers preventing me from becoming a total hermit and work delivered to three lovely galleries for summer exhibitions ( The Witham, Byard Art and Obsidian Art)

As usual I’ve left this writing until late and all the stories wanted to tell you will have to wait because none of us has the attention span we once did and I need to soak my midge bitten body in some cool water before bed and book time. Remind me to tell you about the evil grey squirrel who scampered below the lazy cat, snoozing on a bench and absolutely didn’t give a damn about the danger ( the squirrel warden has been notified) ; or how I let myself down in Loughrigg  by wallowing in the waterlilies when my prescription goggles steamed up.

Reading: Letters From Klara by Tove Jansson and “Waterlog” Roger Deakin Listening To: White Horses by Jakie Lee (this has been on the radio lately as the theme to Eddie Izzard’s autobiography and I remember loving the series when I was small- which makes me almost as old as these hills)