Tag Archives: Design

Setbacks and Sideways Stars …

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Today I have spent quite a lot of time standing next to the wood stove with my hands on the tin kettle, trying to warm them up enough to type or attempt another cyanotype print. Cold paws are really upsetting when you want to do things with them other than cradle mugs of hot coffee or rest them on the smooth kettle which radiates heat like a warm, bald head. I know I should go outside and brave the icy wind and occasional snow flurry so that I feel warm in contrast on my return… but my outdoor motivator is in Scotland doing winter mountain things and, since I have the house to myself, the plan was to get a lot of work done. Cheerfully, this blog post is about work, vulnerability and failure… because I recently heard someone on the radio say something along the lines of ” Success teaches you nothing, failure is valuable because that is how you learn”.

love owls design by Kim Tillyer

Perhaps it’s something about January and February … all the muses are stubbornly hibernating and those over optimistic resolutions made in the warm flush of New Year seem forgotten, especially in the disturbing dawn of the Trump era. For a long time – as long as I’ve been keeping this blog/journal/thing – I’ve been conflicted about the need to present a jolly, polite, professional public face, so that I might sell work/get a job and pay bills, and the real desire to share the gritty, uncomfortable bits because they are real life, they are the “cracks that let the light in” according to Leonard Cohen. I’ve talked about it before… the fear of over sharing, of being to open, of being the one who doesn’t realise their skirt is tucked in their knickers until they get home from the party. Anyway this week I had the rare treat of spending a lot of time with other artists, in various real life, coffee -and -cake situations. Lots of talking and sharing, encouraging and admitting to hopes and fears as well as comparing the realities of working days and financial concerns lurking behind the forced grin of social media profiles. I also read this wonderful blog by The Pale Rook which I only hesitate to share because it’s so good you’ll probably forget to come back and read my jumbled offerings.

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Here are some of the things we asked ourselves (in the context of our creative practises) … if you had a million pounds to invest and guaranteed success, what would you choose to do? If you didn’t have to think about selling your work to make a living what kind of work would you make? Is it harder for women to be artists in a single minded way or are we hobbled by some weird domestic guilt that persists even though we can apparently “have it all”? and even the dreaded question “are you an artist?”

Well I didn’t say there were any answers but in having the conversations I reflected on how I feel about where I am at the moment. In a world where there is too much of everything (except peace and kindness) and a bombardment of visual images from all directions, is there room for me and is it important to have a message – are the “decorative arts” just as valid?

from the winter garden

And so to failure… in an upbeat way. Have you ever had a cup of Yogi tea? The teabags all have little words of wisdom on them and the one taped into my planner says “Share your strengths not your weaknesses” (which may contradict everything I just said but never mind this isn’t a dissertation) I’m writing this down so that I don’t forget this lesson … it is strength that takes you back to your work over and over again, despite setbacks and minor disasters; what makes artists weird and superhuman is that they don’t stop, and can’t even if they wanted too. What is visible to the outside world, whether it’s a masterpiece of modern art, a book of poems, a hand thrown pot or a greetings card with a sketchy fox on it, is only the tip of a huge iceberg. Under the surface are a thousand failures, experiments with technique, frustrated walks when the landscape seems to taunt you with your lack of ability to capture what you want to say. Days when the coffee tipped on the drawing board or, for me this week, when a whole batch of prints on fabric washed completely away for no apparent reason leaving me with cracked dry hands and a pile of soggy calico. A whole day’s work crumpled in the sink, a new idea potentially on the scrap heap. I beat myself up and feel like a useless creature, tell myself nobody else is as hopeless, look at other people’s beautiful flawless work and weep…  but the next day I’ll do it all again, solve the problem (a batch of calico with a coating of some sort that reacted with the cyanotype chemicals) and try to take heart from what I know to be true; it takes a kind stubborn courage to keep putting yourself through this. That is why creative people, in all disceplines, are a valuable asset to society, even when they keep odd hours or struggle with tax returns or appear to be constantly barking up the wrong tree …they are the ones who look at life sideways and glimpse the stars you can’t see if you look at them directly.

Jump for Joy Etsy Greetings C

And so, today instead of feeling guilty because I haven’t made a print or finished editing the catalogue for BCTF, or sold the week’s quota of cards on Etsy, I’m going to accept that sitting by the fire on a freezing Sunday in February is perfectly acceptable thing to do.

Reading:-“Swing Time” Zadie Smith ListeningTo: A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett on Radio4.  Inspiring Websites: Two of the artists who I spent time with last week were Penny Hunt and Jane Carlisle Bellerby

 

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Walls and Bridges

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I’ve had the title of that John Lennon album in my head a lot lately,”Walls and Bridges”. It’s hard not to be amazed and mystified by apparently pointless walls when you’re out on the Cumbrian fells and other upland bits of the North of England. As I’m labouring up a hill puffing and panting, I often wonder at the poor soul who had to build the miles and miles of drystone walls, often heading up the most vertiginous slopes, that drape over the landscape like strings of dirty grey and green pearls. The walls have been there for centuries and often mark the boundary between fertile land, intake and the open fell side -the boundaries must be mainly symbolic as sheep are very good at ignoring them. Recently there were protests all over the world against Trump’s border wall plans and since I didn’t have a banner or a nearby bridge I made a little paper banner for the bridge in a sketch I’d made last year and added my tiny voice to the others who were saying #BridgesNotWalls. Since then the stream of outrageous announcements from the USA has grown into a torrent and I watch horrified from my corner of a small valley in the Lake District and feel helpless, wishing yet again that I could DO something or at least articulate the opposing view without getting over emotional and crying “Why can’t we just be nice to each other?” like a foot stamping child.

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Lying awake and worrying about the world isn’t very useful for anyone when you’re meant to be preparing to conquer the world ( peacefully) at BCTF in just 2 months time! Yes I decided at the last minute that it was important to take part again this year, despite the financial hit, as there is no doubt that it really helped to get my work seen (and sold) in lots of wonderful places last year and probably more usefully, focussed my thoughts on what it is I’m trying to do. I’ve learned some hard lessons and being a sensitive creature I’ve been on a real roller coaster at times ( and if you know me in person you’ll know that I would never get on a roller coaster willingly… it would involve chloroform and heavy lifting gear of some sort). Despite all my reservations I’m really looking forward to it now that it’s booked and I’m thinking of it as a bit of an early birthday treat…it’s not often I get to stay in hotels so I’ve booked one with a pool so that Sara and I can float about relaxing after a hard day selling.

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This year I’m thinking of moving away from some of the smaller, time consuming (and therefore less profitable) things such as the printed and embroidered notebooks and I’ve been enjoying working with larger pieces of one off cyanotype prints, on fabric, to make lamps, shades and candle lanterns; these as well as the original framed work and some new greetings cards will be the main part of my collection. I’ve also been making some patterns to have digitally printed after getting hooked on Photoshop again. I made a pair of pyjamas last week using a pattern printed directly onto one of my Spoonflower fabric designs and I had enough fabric left over to make a tortoise fabric table lamp too; there are so many exciting possibilities.

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To get more organised and terrify myself to a jelly with figures, profit margins and sales targets I’ve just received my copy of the Makers Business Toolkit Yearbook which is a great idea from Nicola Taylor a photographer who I met when I lived in Yorkshire. I’m running a month behind, as I only got it this week, but already it’s forcing me to look at some questions that you will probably find it surprising and foolish ( but not uncommon) that I hadn’t already asked, such as “How many mugs or lamps or prints or current buns would I have to sell to actually make any money and pay the rent?” Well, pass me the chloroform, I’m off to get on board that rickety roller coaster to do the maths and then tick the boxes in the planner that state my tasks for today are complete  1. make cyanotypes. 2.write blog  3.look at numbers

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Thank you for reading. By the way you still have 24 hours to take advantage of the 20% discount code SNOWDROPS in my Easy shop 🙂

Reading:- “Swing Time” Zadie Smith                                                            Listening To:- Mind Games – John Lennon   Shop/Web:- Fat and the Moon I came across this via an Instagram post this week. Rachel had just found out that her home had burnt down while she was travelling and she’d lost everything. Her attitude was a revelation to me, so positive and strong.

“Here’s to the ones that dream…”

winter view from Brantwood

Here I am, finally sitting down to write my first blog post of 2017 almost a month late and on the day when everyone will probably be too busy planning their Trump Armageddon survival strategy to bother reading about what I’ve been up too. Thinking back to how excited and optimistic I felt when Obama was elected I got nostalgic and read lots of old posts  which in turn reminded me what a really, really long time I’ve been doing this blogging thing and how it has been a constant throughout all the ups and downs of the past NINE years. I’ve made friends (and a few bizarre enemies), sold work, shared things I love,  tested ideas and got on my soap box plenty of times. So, I’m belatedly raising a glass (well a mug of coffee) to 2017 and all the creative adventures it might hold … but also hoping that somewhere there’s some hippy love magic, thats been lying dormant in the world since 1967, strong enough to overpower the hate and division that feels so evident at the moment (well there has to be something good about turning 50 this year! 50!)

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My excuses for not writing sooner are mostly to do with the Great MacBook Disaster which happened just before New Year’s Eve as I snuggled up with my daughter to watch Jonathan Creek. She’d been working all through Christmas (getting hilariously bad, uncalled for Trip Advisor reviews for not being smiley enough whilst serving rude people their food on Christmas Day) so this was our little treat…only the screen went all psychedelic before going blue and that was the end of “The Kneewarmer” as I fondly called it. All my important things were -and still are – trapped inside it so I felt incredibly stressed until I decided to bite the bull on the horns and take the bullet which meant parting with £1,000 just days after leaving my job and driving back from Workington clutching a small cardboard box, feeling slightly sick. Anyway, as it turns out it was sort of a good thing, a new start, like opening a fresh sketchbook or tidying the cutlery drawer. I feel more organised and much less precious about some of those important things. Nothing else works…the sewing machine foot pedal melted to my sock this afternoon, my Wacom pen tablet is incompatible with the new Mac, the cutlery drawer keeps getting jammed and my phone is becoming obsolete but for now everything is lovely in the computer world…even that weird New Apple smell that is a little bit like curry.

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I’m looking forward to being able to make some more interesting repeat designs for fabric prints now that I can in theory run a more up to date version of Photoshop. In theory because it costs real money and so far the free trial has made me realise I have a lot of learning to catch up on. I felt a bit angry with myself for not keeping up with all the changes and continuing to learn ( especially Illustrator which I’ve always wanted to use more but found quite annoying).

I didn’t really make any resolutions but I have decided to be a lot more committed to trying to make Etsy and online selling work for me; it has to.  I got some good tips from a friend of Sara’s who came to stay, and the initial results have been quite promising. Even after all these years I’m still not sure how to really crack that system and constantly slide into doubts about my work…if so many people like it why hasn’t it sold? I think the reality might be that I’m uncomfortable about money and placing a cash value on something that is essentially – me. I know I’m not the only one to feel this way about their creative work. (Except by the way there is a 20%discount code in my Etsy shop until the 31st … SNOWDROPS)

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While Sara and Sophie were here we went to see La La Land, each with our own traumas and trigger points, three Art School graduates, one a little more crinkley and weather beaten, two newly single, all holding it together quite well in the circumstances! The bit that got to me was the sentiment behind these lyrics :-  “Here’s to the ones that dream, foolish as they may seem. Here’s to the hearts that ache, here’s to the mess we make”. Whatever you think of the film, the thing I took from it was that maybe the world needs the people who have a dream to follow and don’t fit into the boxes expected of them.

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Oh dear, if you’ve read this far then you’re wonderful because it’s been a bit self indulgent, sorry. I think the start of the year (and the approach of a milestone) does lead to introspection and re-assesment but out walking today I wanted to write about other things. The mist cleared in the afternoon and when the sewing machine melted I took myself up the valley, plodding like an aged donkey, to look at the black water  where we swam in in the summer, avoiding the bleaching bones of a long dead sheep. I dipped my hands in the water and tried to imagine jumping in today. Coming back down I was full of energy, bouncing along like a furry fell pony, enjoying the splash of boots through wet peat and loose stone paths running with water. Blencathra summit was floating like an island in the sky, separated from its truncated lower slopes by pastel clouds (or clods as my keyboard would prefer). Can you see it?

And then a smell you could bottle and I’d buy the whole batch …something like wet earth and dead bracken mixed with woodsmoke and moorland sedges, causing a sudden jolt of remembering, a physical reaction to the places in the past; bittersweet.

Newlands Valley

Time to feed the fire and brew more coffee. I’m adding a new bit to the end of these posts; as well as books and music, the website of a maker/ artist/ inspirational person who I admire for various reasons. That’s why we’re here isn’t it…the internet should be about sharing the love. Happy New Year x

Reading:- Winter re-reading of all the Moomin books  Listening to:- City of Stars from La La Land  Shop/Web/Link:– A good friend from college who is always helpful, funny, strong and brave especially at the moment. She’s also cracked the Etsyy thing so is pretty inspirational.  Nutmeg and Arlo

 

 

 

 

“Hang up your chairs to better sweep, Clear the floor to dance…”

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It is a lovely feeling to clear the table and tidy up at the end of a long project. Apart from a few last minute finishing off jobs, yet another lost delivery (hint to van  drivers…use a map not satnav when looking for barns in the middle of nowhere) and a painfully slow internet, I’m all packed and ready to set up for BCTF on Saturday. Ok, we have run out of heating oil, I melted my printer, blew up the hoover and the power’s due to go off at any minute but it still feels good to be able to say, “I’m ready… as ready as I’ll ever be”. The kettle is on the stove and I’m going to have a gallon of tea and maybe even make some scones for old times sake (before the power goes off!).

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On Friday I’ll be heading back to North Yorkshire for the first time in over a year, hoping it feels more friendly than when I left it. It will also be the first time I’ve spent much time in Harrogate since I lived there when I first left home, for a rather disastrous foundation year at Harrogate School of Art. Sara is coming up to be my assistant so we are combining it with a kind of belated/early birthday treat and staying in the hotel that Agatha Christie stayed in when she went missing in 1926. Originally I was going to camp in the van on the showground but decided to make a holiday of it. I hope they let me in with a ruck sack as I seem to have mislaid all my monogrammed luggage and hatboxes.

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Preparing for this event has been an all consuming preoccupation since I first had to postpone taking part last year but, even if it’s not a huge financial success, I do feel as though I’ve learnt so much from it already and it has certainly focused the way I work. No doubt I will come back next week with plenty of new ideas and information and it will certainly make a change from sitting here watching the woodpeckers and chatting to the cat. One of the things I’ve discovered is that many of the odd things I have needed can be found and supplied by small quirky, local shops and businesses and I’ve really made an effort to do this, particularly following the floods of 2015.

Anyway, that’s all for now. I’m currently multi tasking by sitting on hold to an EE call centre who are trying to work out why the internet keeps going off… they don’t believe me when I tell them it’s because the wire from Braithwaite keeps getting wet.  I will let you know how BCTF went next time I write and if  you’re visiting the show don’t forget I’ll be on stand N27…also Good Luck to all the other amazing artists and crafts people taking part, I hope it’s a big success.

 

 

 

 

The Last of Yorkshire…

 

The Last of England - Ford Madox Brown

Yesterday was the anniversary of the momentous day when we finally said goodbye to North Yorkshire and, with a heavy heart, headed in to the unknown -Cumbria. Me and the cat journeyed West with the last of the moving boxes crammed into the trusty old Golf, and while Cat seemed quite content watching the windscreen wipers ( yes it was raining ) I was travelling with very mixed feelings…until we reached that magical stretch of the A66 when the mountains suddenly appear, all majestic and snow topped, telling me to snap out of it. Anyway, a year has passed, this picture has been on my mind “The Last of England” by Pre-Raphaelite, Ford Madox Brown, mostly because of the title and the sentiment- the look of massive resentment and resignation on their faces… I haven’t set foot in North Yorkshire since but maybe it’s time I did, to acclimatise before I go to Harrogate in April!

Map jigsaw, meanding the A591

We have celebrated this weekend with a retro Black Forest Gateau, a trip to Cockermouth (more cake) and finally fixing the road to Grasmere … sorry only kidding, just the jigsaw version which Rupert finished at last (it’s kept him busy and driven him mad every weekend since Christmas). There is going to be a bus to Grasmere soon though, over a temporary bridge and I can’t wait to visit again.

bear necklace by Kim Tillyer

This morning after nailing up a new bird house and hanging up a selection of nuts and seeds to attract some feathery friends, I put all your names in a mug and asked Rupert to pick one… so the winner of  my anniversary giveaway is Lucy McLaurin! Congratulations to you and thank you every one else for your comments. If you send me your address Lucy I’ll go to the post office this week. I’ll also be adding these new bear necklaces and some design samples to my Etsy shop later… I’d love to know what you think. The necklaces are a new and improved version of some I used to make a few years ago, these have sterling silver chains and findings and I’ve been doing rigorous testing (scrubbing with hot water, soap and a washing-up scourer) to make sure they’re robust enough to be sent out in to the world.

Mug design

Well, its a little chilly on this side of the room so I’m going to say goodbye for now and head over to the stove to have a think about more designs… perhaps Spring, Summer and Autumn to go with these wintery bears.

Bear mugs by Kim Tillyer

Reading: ” The Illustrated Herdwick Shepherd” James Rebanks (for historical reasons I’m nervous about sheep farmers but I was given this for Christmas and it is actually quite lovely with some great thoughts on the landscape and education and the importance of “running free”)                                                   Listening To: Lost and Found” Steve Mason ( The video is filmed in Snowdonia but it reminds me so much of here and driving in the rain and certain times and friends from the past)

Catching the Sky

blue sky in Keswick

Today the wind dropped and the day was reasonably dry and warm so I’ve just come in from an hour of stick collecting and branch cutting (laying a hedge to let in more light hopefully). Today is Imbolc… the first day of spring, Groundhog Day or St. Brigid’s Day and so, good weather and wood collecting are not necessarily a good thing. The Cailleach collects the rest of her winter fire wood at Imbolc if she intends to make the season last a good while longer (bad weather on this day was seen as a sign that the Cailleach was asleep and that winter would soon be over). Anyway, it was good to be busy outside, it was still light at five, the snowdrops have emerged and as you can see I’ve been catching blue sky in bottles this week to save for a rainy day!

bird house in Buttermere

On Sunday I discovered this little home in a tree on the side of Buttermere; I’m not sure if it had been washed there by the floods or if it fell from higher up but it looked rather sad and in need of a new roof. We walked around the lake, which I’d never done before. The path goes through a tunnel in the rock at one point and it was all very quiet and beautiful; a dusting of snow on the tops and the lake very still and green with orange bracken slopes, bright green moss and young silver birches with pink and white bark –  quite a colour scheme despite the late winter gloom.

Meanwhile in my “studio” the colour scheme is very blue and white as I continue to plan what to take to BCFT in April. I bought some lovely Pink Pig sketchbooks and have been printing and embroidering covers for them on heavy calico. I was so pleased and flattered when they were spotted by the company on Twitter; they were really complimentary which is always such a nice thing when you’re working in isolation in a barn and have no one to get feedback from except the cat!

a busy desk

The days are racing on and by the time I’ve finished typing this it will already be almost halfway through another week and only four days before I pick a winner for the giveaway in the last post… so if you haven’t left a comment there’s still time and if you have then thank you ( and good luck).

embroidered sketchbooks

This is only a short offering today, I have to try and finish designing the catalogue and price list I’m making so that I can post it out to the galleries who have already requested one. I have to continue with product development and working out prices and terms and conditions and how to stick my stand together and most importantly I have to feed the stove because its getting dark and cold now and I need a cozy nest to work or I just huddle and go sleepy like a bear in a cave hoping to hibernate. The wind is picking up again so maybe the Cailleach is stirring…

Buttermere tunnel

 

Opponent Process

River Duddon at Birk's Bridge, Lake District

I’m sitting in here looking out at so much damp, lush greenness that it must be affecting my eyes ( you know the way if you stare at a green thing for long enough when you look away everything looks red?). Because of the way this place stands, tucked into the hillside, surrounded by massive Sycamore trees… high windows on one side and a huge glass sliding door on the other- there is very little sky and today it feels very much like a being in a cave (or a treehouse if you stand on tiptoe and look out of the high windows). Either way it’s cold today so I’m remembering the heat wave of last week when we swam in the river Duddon at Birk’s Bridge and drank instant coffee with a couple of young lads from Barrow who befriended us and left a warm feeling of wellbeing. Here’s a confession; when I first saw two lads on motorbikes near the spot we’d chosen to swim, my heart sank…when did I become so mistrustful of other people and such an awful snob!? They turned out to be amazingly polite, friendly and considerate… shattering stereotypes I didn’t know I had, because in fact it was they who made the friendly gestures- starting a conversation, offering us coffee, helping me find my way over the rocks through the beery water and generally appearing blind to differences of age, class or situation in a way that I am obviously not now that I’m middle aged and more self conscious than a teenager. Anyway, It was a lovely experience made memorable by a chance encounter with strangers.

Glass by Jo Downs in Northern Lights Gallery

Life in Keswick continues to feel special, if a little unreal. At work I can see Robinson framed by watery glass or a circles of swifts and its hard to believe this is home now. There’s just the thin line between solitude and loneliness and the moments when I wake from a nightmare in which I’m being chased around my old garden by the evil Kev Sayer as I frantically try to gather as many precious plants as I can carry! Its been almost 6 months.

View of Keswick from Northern Lights Gallery

Last week I finally plucked up the courage to take some of my new prints to work and so some magic tents and white cottages have snuck in amongst the oil paintings in the wonderful Northern Lights Gallery. They’ve just started doing Own Art too, so my framed pieces are just eligible ( work has to be original or limited edition and priced between £100 and £2500)

Northern Lights Gallery, Keswick

In between making pictures of various shelters. from tents to imaginary towers, I have been working on some needle felted alpacas for Alpacaly ever after.  who have recently had their Kickstarter project funded and are pretty funny and amazing people. I helped out a bit on shearing day and came home with a bag of fleece to attempt felting experiments. Washed and set out to dry on the bench it looked like some disgusting old wigs but just over 4 hours of vicious stabbing later some alpacaish creatures started to emerge… here is number two with his friend the Earth Bear. Now… how to price something that takes nearly 5 hours to make? The Bear is currently for sale in my Etsy shop for an amount that wouldn’t even pay me minimum wage…. grab him quick before I come to my senses!

Needlefelted alpaca and bear by Kim Tillyer

And finally… what do you think of this new design? I’m planning to get some silk or thin cotton printed up to make scarves, this is one of the designs from an original cyanotype drawing that is now in the gallery.

 

©KimTillyer2015 nest fabric