Tag Archives: being an artist

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)

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“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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Escapism

I should have written notes while I was away, or I should have spent the evenings writing instead of watching murder mysteries, because now, less than a week since got home, I’ve so much to tell you but it’s all jumbled up with how it feels to be home. Things have burst into flower and leaf , houseplants are leaning towards the light and people have moved into the birdhouse we put up last spring – they have been busy dusting and bringing in new nesting equipment.

The return to Witchmountain, after British Craft Trade Fair, was delayed by a trip to London; so that altogether I was out of my nest for nine whole days! This only happens once a year and I should probably do it more often so that the feelings anxiety beforehand and unsettled flatness afterwards are less intense. I had such a good time and so many adventures. After all the build up to a big event it’s not surprising it feels a little odd to be back with no imminent deadlines and just a sleeping cat for company during the day (and the owl who likes to hoot in the daytime).

This year BCTF was back in a permanent hall rather than a marquee and we’d been given an extra metre of space due to a cancellation, so it was a massive relief that the calico backdrops I’d made last year fitted perfectly. We found it much easier to set up this year, although it’s never quite how you imagine it on paper.I’d mended the ladders with string but they still felt pretty dodgy and my mum told me yesterday that my grandad made them himself in the war or something…no wonder they were wobbly. Here are three generations of Tillyer women- I need to work on my body language a little don’t I, you can see the discomfort in my white knuckled, clenched fist!

Of course I got severe stand envy as I looked around at what other people had done and it’s the hardest thing in the world not to compare and lose confidence; it is for me anyway. My friend Bridget Wilkinson was there for the first time and the simplicity and neatness of her stand design really let her work shine … it was also easier to set up, so If I do the show again I may do some reinventing ( mine was done with fabric, mostly because I have no power tools except a sewing machine and my dreadful measuring skills are more easily forgiven in fabric ).

Well we had a good show and met so many lovely, inspiring people – makers and gallery owners- I can’t even begin to list them all (but I will be adding new dates and stockists to the exhibitions page on the website soon)  I began to think I should give London a miss and head straight home to start on orders. This year is going to be busy and exciting; I just hope it starts to even out financially because there’s no doubt it’s been an expensive journey. BCTF is cheap compared to the bigger events like Top Drawer but I reckon it cost over £1,000 to stand, which is an awful lot when you don’t have a guaranteed income. We treated ourselves to a hotel with a pool and I swam every night, imagining myself looking like Esther Williams until I put my glasses back on and saw the reality-sometimes it’s better to live inside your head and dream.

And so from Harrogate to London where the weather made everything seem like we could have been in Italy. We ate tiny overpriced cakes cut into 3 pieces in the Royal Academy members rooms, marvelled at the marmalade at Fortnum’s , lusted over everything in Anthropologie and visited the Bernard Jacobson Gallery where there was an exhibition by a rather special artist.  London glittered in the sunlight and I insisted we went to Kew Gardens after a tip off there might be Moomins there. We must have walked for miles and I do wish I was able to go everyday for a month with a sketchbook and a picnic and a good map and plant guide.

There was a Moomin event at Kew but the real reason we were in London was to go to the Southbank Centre’s Adventures in Moominland. Ok, I may have lost you by now; to a lot of people the Moomins was just a slightly creepy kids cartoon or a childhood paperback but I didn’t even discover the books by Tove Jansson, apart from the semi autobiographical  “The Summer Book”,  until I was 42. For some reason we missed them as children so my first Moomin experience is of  reading all the stories one deep, white winter, with a bottle or two of whisky for company, snowed in and  heartbroken after a relationship breakup. They are children’s stories yes, but as the exhibition makes clear they are also about existential crisis,  fear and loss, love and friendship, family and acceptance of difference, home and security. Many of the stories are actually about Tove’s own life and relationships. Lots of the characters are misfits and outsiders but all are welcomed into the “family”. Don’t tell anyone but at a couple of points along the guided “adventure” I nearly cried- it was so beautifly done, with little illuminated tableaux in each room containing exquisite original drawings… some hidden in suitcases like Thingumy and Bob’s “content”, the love that they kept secret. There were no filming or photography allowed which I can understand but I wish I could show you how magical it was to literally walk into a favourite book; the whole experience was gentle and tactile with the smell of woodsmoke and clever use of light and sound. It could have been tacky and theme parky, or full of cynical kids but in our group of 15 there were only two very sweet children and the rest were grown ups – which just goes to prove my point.

Tove Jansson’s niece, Sophia Jansson
Photo: Vic Frankowski

Almost every year and in times of need I re-read Tove Jansson’s books, especially Moominland Midwinter and feel grateful for the magic of a story that can transport you to another reality and put a different spin on your own. I think it’s no exaggeration to say those books saved my life that winter, because whilst reading it was as though I pressed “pause” and took the time out  I needed to feel  stronger.

OK, enough of the soppy stuff. I’m back in the Lakes now and busily making orders to send to all the lovely new galleries. There is a giveaway on my Facebook page at the moment to win a candle lantern… it’s in the spirit of Hobbit birthdays  because I’ll be picking a winner at random the day after my birthday next week. If you have time have a look… you’re in with a good chance because despite paying to promote the post only about 11 people have entered! The mysteries of Facebook algorithms.

Happy Spring, Easter, Eostre – whatever you celebrate x

Reading: “The Bear and the Nightingale” Katherine Arden and ” Work and Love” Tuula Karjalainen Website: I met Heidi Vilkman at BCTF, she is from Finland and apart from her art she has built the most amazing little cottage which could easily have been in a Tove Jansson book- honestly you have to look! http://cobdreams.blogspot.co.uk

“Relax and Formulate a Plan”

This  beautiful, wiggly wall over Lingmoor Fell is an allegory of the way my week – and emotional state – has been fluctuating since we walked that way on Monday. At one point on I was surrounded by botched printed vases, newly created landfill to prick my conscience, a mountain of useless greyscale printouts after my printer forgot how to do colour, no lights downstairs after all the fuses went (I looked in the fusebox but it seemed to be very windy and cold in there which is odd) and the DPD delivery driver stuck up to his axels in the mud outside. It has felt at times like I’m living in a kind of Krypton Factor game show for dummies, where every task has involved a massive hassle and steep learning curve; still, it’s much more satisfying when something goes right at last if it has driven you to tears for hours beforehand. Walking in the brittle spring sunshine, arms pinkening and prickling with unaccustomed exposure to sunlight and tummy rumbling with too much coffee and not enough cake, we climbed to the summit of Lingmoor and learned some lessons from the survival bag we used as a picnic blanket. These lessons, and the continuing sunshine, probably helped prevent meltdown and/or murder later on- and besides, what reason do I have to complain? Imagine building that wall… it was immaculate, with each header stone at the same angle despite the terrain.

I love the idea that you would ever be able to “relax and formulate a plan” should you ever find yourself actually needing to get inside an orange plastic bag for survival. Further down it suggested something to do with dried leaves, I can’t remember exactly what. I think this winter there have been a few cases of people whose lives have been saved by these bags though so I shouldn’t joke.

So as Friday night turns into Saturday, I’m sitting by the stove, with the cat dangerously close to my feet, feeling a little bit of the same sense of achievement I get on reaching the top of a hill. I’ve rebuilt my evil website, after many tears and it even has a shop. It’s a big improvement on the previous one so even though it’s more expensive and drove me nuts, I’m actually really glad that Flavors.me closed down and forced me to do it. I’m playing shops and it seems so much more exciting than Etsy because it’s my very own. The first two sales made me feel like a tycoon and I could never take for granted the magic of being able to do that without leaving my nest, from home, in the middle of nowhere.

Most things seem to be slowly coming together in preparation for BCTF but it’s frightening how much money you can spend on services and materials without even leaving the house; and how you think you’ve worked out the costs of things but then remember you need to factor in the sellotape, Paypal fees, tissue paper or sticky labels. Its fair to say I have felt huge ups and downs of mood and confidence this week and have been trying to be more careful about dealing with the downs. Sometimes it really is important just to relax and formulate a plan, to go for a walk or take time to read a book and not feel guilty; because the upside of being self employed, to balance out having no money, is that I have that freedom at the moment and I’ve noticed I work best in the evenings anyway. I’m like that annoying hamster you probably once had that slept all day, got vicious if you tried to wake it up and then suddenly started rushing about on it’s treadmill at bedtime- making a sound like squeaking bedsprings (the rushing about is me, not the squeaking).

And sometimes it’s tempting to sew up the scraps and offcuts to make something new, because, at the risk of sounding like an infuriating meme, failure is often just a state of mind or a view from a certain angle, it just depends how you frame it. Well, it’s time I let you go, thank you for reading and also for all the survey responses. I need to look at the results properly and apply my amazing analytical skills, before finalising my master plan, so for now it’s back to relaxing and dreaming of more days like these. Dipping toes into achingly cold water till the blood fizzes like champagne, winter dimmed eyes blinking in the light and you can almost feel the vitamin D soaking through your skin.

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” John Muir