Tag Archives: Bear


plate design by Kim Tillyer

I started writing this last Friday, the day before Storm Desmond showed up…..

Have I told you that this house feels like a boat at the moment? Not that it’s moving, just that it sits here at the head of the valley with it’s stern to the prevailing wind and rain which slams into it as it rushes down from the fells and it sounds like crashing waves. In front the track becomes a river; cutting channels in the fallen leaves which never got dry enough to crunch through . The land rises steeply at the back where a tortured, pollarded Sycamore holds bird feeders that swing out almost horizontal in the wind and the woodpecker clings on like a trapeze artist; the only bright thing out there (recently I saw bullfinches who were pretty snazzy too but preferred nettle seeds behind the oil tank to swinging about for peanuts). It has rained for days and days and days *** Here I was going to insert a big rant about MPs voting to bomb Syria and Climate Change and biblical floods but I think I’ll leave it to your imagination. It’s frightening and frustrating and I despair ***

cat and woodpile

So after I wrote that, things went crazy and after getting home on in gale force winds, clearing fallen trees from the lane, we battened the hatches and spent all of Saturday feeding the stove, catching drips in buckets and feeling helpless to help but guiltily cozy as the disaster unfolded just a mile down the road. Twitter was the only way to make sense of it… real time posts as the water levels rose in Keswick, inching up the glass storm defense and eventually tipping over to inundate the town for the second time in 6 years. Now everything I was going to write seems self indulgent and ridiculous. We walked up Latrigg yesterday, as the day was insultingly sunny and calm, and marveled at the scene below- Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite Lake joined in a continuous stretch of shimmery water – one lake to rule them all.

Keswick and Bassenthwaite floods from Latrigg

It was beautiful and fascinating from a distance but back in the town I felt guilty and too ashamed to even take a picture of the river as people’s homes and businesses were spilled out on to the pavements in muddy piles. It was horrible and reminded me of what I was going through this time last year; losing your home, no running water, mud. I wanted to help but it also made me painfully aware that I’m not yet a part of this community.

rural solitude drawing

Anyway, there is a fundraising page here and various collection centres for donations of food and clothing across Cumbria so hopefully by sharing this I will be doing what I can. I tried to drive to Braithwaite ( our closest village)  today, armed with a shovel and a yard brush to help the clear up but there was a digger clearing a landslide so I had to turn around. I’ll try again tomorrow. Meanwhile my heart goes out to all those affected, I wish I could do more.

cherry cake

Whenever I write a blog post I upload the photographs first with a vague idea of what I wanted to say but to be honest it’s completely slipped my mind now! I think it was going to be a thing about how excited I was to have sold some work at the Great Print Exhibition, amongst such great company, followed by a mention that these cushions are now in my Etsy shop; I might even have been going to share the recipe for my wonderous cherry and almond cake…

Little House cushion

I wanted to write things about the fact that its a year ago exactly since I first saw this place and how that feels, and about how the cat now occasionally sits on me  which is cozy (until she bites) which makes me understand (almost) how easy it might be to turn in to a crazy cat lady if only to save on heating bills! The reason the cat sits on me could be that my daughter bought me a polar bear onesie as a surprise the other day and it makes hibernation even more tempting.

But for now I think it’s best to just be quiet, hope that the kettle boils soon and that the wind and rain settles down and gives us a break. Stay safe and warm where ever you are. x

embroidery detail



A Mountain for a Soap Box

Dodd from the shore of Bassenthwaite

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

Shelter Print and embroidery by Kim Tillyer

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


Moomin Pan with gooseberries

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


Handmade climbing chalk bag

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

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

Sara Tillyer Smith Graduation Day

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

Distant Mountains from the train North

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

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

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

Bear Print Cyanotype

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



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)

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

Red Wine and Chocolate Cake


I’m wondering if writing when you’re in a blue funk is as dangerous as food shopping when you’re hungry… this post could end up being the verbal equivalent of a Greggs pasty and a bag of crisps when you’d gone out for tofu and salad. Anyway, I’ve been moping around all day like a gloomy zombie because I counted off every hour from 4am to 8.30am last night, at which point I got up and fed the chickles, ate breakfast and promptly fell fast asleep until nearly lunchtime. My circadian rhythms are all to pot and  I lie awake getting a lump of worry in my throat that goes down to my heart and sits there on my chest, like a  succubus. A hot bath, a glass of red wine and some homemade chocolate cake seem to have cheered me up this evening though and this picture shows the wall in Borrowdale where we saw the red squirrel – so there are bright moments.

I haven’t drawn anything this week but I think I may finally have some new glasses that work, thank god.  As you can see, I struggled a bit last weekend after snapping my glasses and having to dig out a selection of ancient ones from the depths of the bathroom cupboard. It reminded me of when I was small and used to try on my mum’s glasses and run up and down the corridor for fun because the lens made it feel like you were running uphill!


I’m not sure if I don’t prefer the original pencil scribble, but anyway, it made me realise I need to keep practicing. Drawing is like any other exercise and its easy to get lazy and fat.


On Tuesday evening Jane Thorniley-Walker and I went to the “Sponsors Preview” of Art For Youth North at Queen Mary’s School. It was super posh; full of the great and the good (and the rich) and I am going to be honest and say I didn’t enjoy it at all. Entirely my fault, it’s not easy walking tall and making intelligent conversation whilst balancing a big bags of chips on each shoulder and a sack of worry on your back. Having said that, the work looked great, some beautiful landscapes by Peter Hicks, Ian and Rosie Scott Massie, Robin Puplett and the one I would have bought if I could … “Moorland Cottage” by Caroline Dunn. It was fantastic to see that Jane had sold a piece on the first night which made it worthwhile. (and of course the event raises huge amounts for Youth charities throughout the UK so I’m proud to have been part of that.)


I’ve still been thinking about next April’s BCTF although they have given me the option to hold my place until 2016, since I have no idea what will be happening or where I’ll be in the next few months ( it was either that or lose the money). I had some samples printed up hoping to be able to produce them at a wholesale price but now I’m not sure …does anyone have experience of this? The prices I’ve been quoted so far ( just over £10 for a plate and £4.50 for a mug + VAT and postage) mean that there is very little profit in it for me, let alone a potential stockist. I really need some professional advice….oh and a fairy godmother with a pot of magic beans.


Well now it is time to see if I can read myself to sleep and stay there until morning.I want to say another massive thank you for all the kind messages of support. I wish some of you lived around here, I’m sure I wouldn’t feel so alone, we could march on the Big House and demand my jar of jam back.

I also want to send huge amounts of love and good wishes to my very dear friend who is currently in hospital learning to make her legs behave after having a stroke type thing last weekend. Fit and young ( well, my age) and very brave for keeping on smiling and joking when lesser folk ( me) would have been reduced to a self pitying mess. Get Well Soon or there’ll be trouble!


The petition has now reached 888 signatures which is pretty amazing. Ive also had some really kind people from a nearby village offering support as they too have felt the spite of my neighbour. I even got a phone call and a sort of off the record apology from the man who runs Toby Horton’s Twitter account. However there has been not a word or gesture from the the man himself, or the estate.

PETITION ….please sign and share if you can. Thank you


Not all who wander…


You know how some times things are; one minute you’re busy making new things, getting excited about the ripening tomato crop and hoping for the best and the next your tortoise breaks out of his cage and the rain comes along with the bills, and the specially tailored suit of optimism dissolves into a puddle of despondency round your ankles. Yes it’s good to start a new blog post on a note of gloom, especially when writing has been long over due. Don’t be put off.

So I have been sending the chickens out as a search party, looking for the escapee but they are silly fluffy birds and only care about food and fawning over their flashy brother/boyfriend. I have named them Clarice and Cora (the twins from Gormenghast) and Tortoise never did get a name so can not answer when I call him even if he wanted too. It’s very sad.


The search meant that I missed going to the Home and Gift Trade Fair in Harrogate where my cards were once again on show with Natural Partners Ltd. My “Girl and Bear” image seems to be quite popular and they’d used it as a poster on the stand as part of the Best of British Showcase Trail. Hopefully they took plenty of orders…

Meanwhile I’m flitting from one thing to another, making some new lino prints and building a small herd of bears. The bears are needle felted, a new obsession after a lesson from Susie of Drawn By Badgers ( she made me the lovely polar bear you might have seen in previous posts). This feather winged and beaded polar bear is my first attempt… ( see, those chicks are useful )


I normally re- read my last post before writing but the internet is so slow that I didn’t bother this time, so I’ve forgotten where left you… before Willowman I think? This is a lesson to me that I must either write frequently of not at all because I now have too much to say and not enough time without lulling you ( and me) to sleep as I ramble on. Instead I will make yet another resolution to write more often and try to be a bit more inspiring. A giveaway competition perhaps to thank those of you who still keep in touch.

I’m off to draw squirrels now for a possible illustration commission and tomorrow will see me on my hands and knees in the long grass, searching for a tiny, perfectly camouflaged creature. Wish me luck. x




How to Create a Life Worth Living



Once upon a time there was an old, grey, stone house on a hill where there lived a small person with cobwebs in her hair. She surrounded herself with paper and fabrics and half finished things made of wool or sticks; books towered on every surface and the cupboards were so full of “things that might be useful one day” that it was unsafe to open doors for fear of avalanche or dangerous distraction from the task at hand. In the nearby woods lurked an imaginary black dog who howled rudely in the mornings and said mean things in the night but was usually frightened away by the smell of coffee at elevenses. After lunch a friendly but wistful bear would lumber into the garden, curl into a ball around a tree and refuse to move; even when offered cake. He had no desire to travel far and was happy just watching the garden as it grew around him.


Well, it’s been a funny old week and quite eventful. We looked after a lovely puppy who didn’t realise that cockerels aren’t play things and couldn’t resist the flapping, panic stricken thing who eventually had to play dead (or perhaps he fainted) leaving a trail of feathers like an exploded pillow. Only his pride was hurt luckily and I’m sure his tail will grow back- thought it was awful to imagine his hens sniggering behind his back ( they stayed safely in bed of course). In other chicken news  Egg1 is due to hatch on Thursday and Egg2 the following week. If it works I’m hoping to send off for some rare breed eggs to start my new empire. Then bees, bees are next because thats what Sherlock Holmes did when he retired. Is it too soon for that?


It was fantastic to get a couple of exciting commissions last week and an invitation today to meet a couple of artists whose work I love. Solitude suits me but sometimes it is vital to actually venture out into the world to exchange experiences with other creative people and try to remember table manners and how to converse in a two way exchange. So many of us sit alone in our work spaces trying to make and create in relative isolation- so communication with each other, real or virtual, can be the bright spark in the day.


Anyway, desperation and several evil bills sent me out last week for a “trial” at a nice coffee shop in town. Part time hours sounded good and I loved the place …however, having washed up for nothing for nearly 4 hours I was asked to come in for a couple of hours one evening ( this involved buying uniform as I’d optimistically binned all my old black and whites when I got the job at the gallery). Half an hour before going in I got a call saying the job had gone to a “young lad” so there was no need. Ah, the job market is a fickle thing and I can only hope it was a reminder not to give up on creativity rather than a sign that businesses will always chose someone on the lower rate of minimum wage over one with experience and can basically get unemployed people to work for nothing if they call it a “trial”.


Enough vitriol. The sun shone today and I cut firewood in the garden, watching the increasingly excitable birds on the feeders and the daffodil buds poking through the earth and daring it to snow. I listened to murder mysteries on the radio and finished a couple of cushions with a hot water bottle up my jumper and really thats pretty much perfect.


Until next time x