Tag Archives: Books

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…”


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)

Waldeinsamkeit : The feeling of being alone in the woods


The hills are brown velvet and dirty lace, with their dusting of half hearted snow melting fast and adding to the frothy beer coloured streams and puddles. I don’t think it is possible for things to be any wetter. Everything is either green, grey or brown as if somebody has applied some new Instagram filter to the view. I’ve been looking after my neighbour’s farm this weekend and as I walked back after skating around in 50 shades of mud for an hour I thought what a shock to my eyes it would be if I were suddenly transported to somewhere hot and bright and vibrant…Mexico maybe.


Last week I treated myself to books. One was full of photographs of owls and the other was “Sculptor’s Daughter” by Tove Jansson which is wonderful. In one chapter she describes the correct way to draw forests and mentions John Bauer who is probably one of my very favourite artists…I knew exactly which pictures she was describing and when I couldn’t sleep last night I spent an hour or two reading about him and looking at the mossy stones and dark woods filled with bears and trolls and tiny golden haired princesses. It’s easier to live in a world of make believe because in the real one logs piles run low and phone companies mess you about and cars break down and cost so much to fix that it doesn’t even matter if you spent all your money on books because that was just a drop in the ocean anyway.


I’ve been doing lots of drawing and pattern making and getting excited that Spring Fair is next week and the fact that my cards are going to be there as part of “Natural Partners” collection makes me feel like a “real” artist. It would be fantastic if some shops chose to stock them. (If you happen to be a buyer for  Anthropologie or Paperchase or a gorgeous independent gallery shop then the stand number is 4J21!)


Well, I am itching to get some more designs on Spoonflower so I’m going to throw another log on the stove, get some coffee ground and draw some more owls. I think a cake needs to be baked too; January is definitely a time for indulging and lying low until the first bright colours arrive.


Listening to: ” Sunset “Kate Bush Reading: “Sculptor’s Daughter” Tove Jansson

This is England

And still the fabled Summer didn’t arrive, everything got greener and greener and all anyone could talk about was the rain and the the irony of hosepipe bans and the possibility of Ark building. Nevermind; in the odd moments when the sun breaks through, the startling light reveals a lush and verdant land where you can almost hear the grass growing and the water seeping into wet earth and the slugs getting fatter. At the weekend I danced in a field in the pouring rain, visited a stuffed dog in a railway museum ( I had known it as a child when it stood on Wimbledon Station) and was given a beautifully hand embroidered Bavarian tablecloth that may or may not have once belonged to Himmler (I do hope not). You can’t say life is dull.

A few times recently I have ventured down from Witchmountain and been to shops which all seem to have a lots of orange and day-glo pink things.My work never seems to fit the current trends as dictated by the textile and fashion industry but at the moment I seem to be accidentally fashionable. Perhaps orange is just a really good antidote to the gloomy weather? Anyway, it would be nice if somebody at WGSN or Trend Bible would notice and send the orders/job offers flying in!

I had a lovely time making this design one evening, it was just a quick experiment (measured by eye so it doesn’t quite repeat properly) and it got me wishing I was still designing for an agent or at least had access to an affordable digital printer. Anyway, for more uplifting orange there is no better place to look than How About Orange….

This week has also involved a lot of worry and decisions about possessions …while not a hoarder I would admit that I find it hard to part with anything that has any sentimental attachment, from a train ticket to an old moth eaten t-shirt to a child’s drawing. Trying to make space and organise the chaos, my daughter and I began to sort book shelves; by the end of which we still had most of my pony stories from the 70s (but written in the 1940s!) and some random titles such as “How to be a Detective”( I loved Sherlock Holmes when I was 10), Sara had managed to give away most of her childhood favorites such as Jacqueline Wilson’s books, with very little persuasion. No one is likely to read “Jill has two Ponies” again in this house but its a book, its my childhood! What on earth do we do with all this “stuff” we acquire over the years- sentimental, aesthetically pleasing or just plain weird  (see above mention of “Himmler’s Tablecloth” ) ? I’m torn between running away from it all to do yoga up a tree for the next 25 years or building more shelves.

Well, it is late and time I was tucked up in bed reading about Mervyn Peake and dreaming of book shelves. Before I go I need to share this event with you because it’s being organised by a very lovely, talented and inspirational designer who is trying to raise money for a cause close to his heart.Find out more by visiting Baron Bizarre on Facebook or Twitter. Until we meet again x

Reading:- ” Moving Towards Balance” Rodney Yee ” Mervyn Peake-Two Lives” Sebastian Peake and Maeve Gilmore

Listening To:- Anything with Bill Nighy in it (!) and The Best of Neil Young.

“Up The Hill Backwards”

I’m thinking of changing the name of this blog to “Which Mountain” as I seem to be spending as much time going on about my days in the hills as my days in the studio ( * for studio read kitchen table ). I hope you don’t mind? Anyway, I have finally found a good use for Twitter; the ability to find out from locals whether it is worth the drive from East to West. A good weather report on Friday evening turned us in to a fast response team, dashing over to Keswick for breakfast,then to Rannerdale to climb Whiteless Pike.

Oh, I wasn’t feeling at my best and it felt like the hardest yet but goodness, its always worth it when you reach the top! My photography skills let me down though; its impossible to capture on a mobile phone camera, the amazing beauty  that unfolded on all sides.We ate chocolate cake on the summit and almost lost the flask, like a Morris pattern missile, hurtling down the steep ice slope. As Rupert fitted crampons to his boots I began to fear I may go the same way as the flask, despite the ice axe I was given to use as a miniature walking stick!Wearing 80’s style legwarmers and some secondhand boots, I still behave like a toddler tackling the stairs and prefer to go on all fours, sitting down occasionally.

A beautiful, beautiful place and I would love to return in the Spring when Rannerdale is full of bluebells- preferably with a wicker hamper full of picnic , a tartan rug and sketch book! I shall wear something floaty and totally unsuitable shoes…

Talking of sketchbooks, mine is off to New York tomorrow.I’m spending the rest of today making prints, photographing and generally getting ready to part with it.I’ve really enjoyed this year’s book and while it is sad to know I may never see it again I do hope we will meet again in London at the end of the year.

These prints have been made on Khadi paper and stitched together on the sewing machine. They will be a limited edition available in my Etsy shop soon. I’ve also made a miniature version of the book, for myself, which I wish I’d done last year. I love books and feel inspired to do another very soon; I’ve also been looking into finding a way into freelance illustration…

So, don’t forget the giveaway competition ends on Wednesday. Thank you so much for all the lovely comments and new followers. Have a good week where ever you are. Just one more thing,if you live in the United Kingdom and have fond memories of school trips, enjoying the outdoors, building shelters, falling in water, getting muddy and having midnight feasts you may be interested in signing this petition to save Outdoor Education Centres  . Joking aside, the emphasis here is on education and the vital work these places do, inspiring children’s learning through interaction with the world around them;encouraging self awareness and building self esteem. Saddly,I missed my school trip…where did you go?


I was supposed to wait until tomorrow, my new writing day, but I just couldn’t wait to show you these photographs. Anyway, routine is dull and I refuse to start behaving with any self restraint just because it’s January. Look at the blue of that sky, I promise it was really that blue and the air smelled clean and crispy, not a breath of wind, everything sparkling with diamond frost.

The expedition began at the ungodly hour of 7am, when I was prised from my nest and transported from East to West through a magical landscape of sunrise and ghostly frosted hedgerows. Breakfasted with sausage ciabattas ( vegetarian ) in the Lakeland Peddlar and armed with sandwiches wrapped in paper,along with a flask of hot Marmite ,we began our ascent of Hindscarth. I have to tell you now, I was tricked. The hill you can see here ( Scope End) cleverly hides the actual summit, a million miles further up.I just assumed it was a gentler walk due to shorter days and post holiday unfitness, but no, it was a big trick to stop me wingeing ,clever.I’m only annoyed with myself for being too slow to make it back to Keswick in time for a visit to my favorite tea and cake place, Temporary Measure, home of big bears, pearly buttons and sticky,gingery cakes.

This is the view from the top, it looks like Mars.But as Rob Ryan says “Other planets cannot be as beautiful as this one” and its true; just looking at these pictures again makes me feel so ALIVE ,lifting the heavy lid of winter for a while and chasing away those nasty black dogs.

Back in the warmth of a Sunday kitchen I’m listening to Guy Garvey and planning what to do tomorrow when Lindsey  comes up for a day of coffee and creativity. I must focus, because in the middle of my lino print frenzy I was distracted by making tiny books with that bag of leather off cuts I told you about.I’m still on with the lino printing, stitching into the prints and trying to get a more consistent result; perhaps the beauty of it is that each one is so different though?

In other news, this exhibition has opened in New York with work by William Tillyer (Daddy, my Daddy!) and Robert Motherwell , amongst others. I’d love to go but I think I’d better stay and keep practicing with the mangle…

Listening To:- “Paper Tiger” Beck .Reading:- “IQ84 part3” Haruki Murakami ( and as I write Mr. Garvey is playing “Paper Moon” Ella Fitzgerald which will mean something to you if you’ve read this book….)

Red Shoes

The Red Shoes

Day Three of my new leaf thing finds me up and about EARLY IN THE MORNING and already I’ve been for a walk! A sparkling October morning, dotted with berry jewels and gauzy spider webs.Finding my neighbour’s postbox too small to fit the egg box in, I had to go right down to the house and take the track through the fields ,immediately cursing that I’d decided not to bring my phone and therefore had no camera. Oh, and when I had to do a spot of impromptu bouldering , clinging to a drystone wall, I wished I’d brought my wellies and could just trudge through the muddy slurry that was threatening to be my morning bath!

Sneaking up on Basil

So, I must admit I’m feeling much more positive than I was on Monday and not a drop of butter has crossed my lips! My kitchen table is set out with the components of several new wallets, ready to be sewn up and printed as soon as I’ve stopped waffling on to you. Three small canvasses with cyanotype prints and stitch are drying on the windowsill and the coffee pot is beckoning.

Owl Box and Reflected Light

Yesterday I ordered some chemicals to make cyanotypes on fabric and I’m really excited about trying out the process when the package arrives. At the moment I’m collaging the paper prints I’ve made using Sun Print Paper but I’m hoping that I’ll be able to use the chemicals not only on fabric but directly on to canvasses.

Hedgerow Flowers, Shadows and Reflections

At the risk of sounding like a compulsive shopper I’m also waiting excitedly for the postman to bring my copy of the shiny new Haruki Murakami novel “1Q84”.Murakami famously gets up at 4am, writes until 9am and then spends the rest of the day relaxing and training for marathons! Obviously he is my new role model!

Now I have to confess, I spent ages writing this, this morning, only for WordPress to go a bit crazy and refuse to recognise me or let me publish it. I’ve also ruined my best and favorite shirt and got in a bad mood with the sewing machine….oh dear, sometimes I think you can start the day TOO positive.

I hope Autumn is good where you are and you have a good book to read?

Reading: “Moomin Papa at Sea” Tove Jansson   Listening to: Radio4 and a very loud buzzing coming from this computer……