Tag Archives: drawing

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

 

Swimming in Clouds/Flying in Water

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I’m curled up by the fire with my new favourite mug full of coffee and a stack of mince pies; its been dark since 2 o’clock and wildly windy but here I am, cozy in my nest, just the comfortable sound of the stove chimney moaning slightly and the rain bubbling in the gutters. I’ve been thinking a lot this week about our carefully curated, aesthetically pleasing virtual lives and how we project ourselves to the outside world…a world where people are struggling just to exist, never mind taking pictures of their latest baking triumph or immaculate room decor. Sometimes the world just seems to be so full of  craziness and greed and violence that writing a blog or drawing a bear or trying to sell the last pack of Christmas cards feels totally self-indulgent. Guilt and impotence in the face of world events can be quite paralysing, I want to DO something to help but I haven’t the skills…or the money to salve my conscience. So many of the artists, makers and creative people I’ve “met” online have similar concerns (and I know that a group of people here in Keswick are organising themselves to try and offer practical  help to Syrian refugees) that maybe we all just have to do what we can, try not to let compassion fatigue numb us and hope that small actions of peace and generosity can influence the bigger ones.

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Well, even in the darkest times there has to be a little light and sitting here on the eve of Winter Solstice I’m taking the time to think about the coming year and how to be more positive, wondering what I can actually contribute to this swirly blue planet and also what I would like to achieve for myself in the year I turn 50 (oh good grief how soon that happened!). It is an introspective time, the deepest dark of midwinter-  maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow with a clear idea of what I want to be when I grow up, perhaps I’ll get up early and toast the sunrise at Castlerigg with a flask of hot something…

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Apart from all the worrying about the world this week I’ve been out in the outdoors where I climbed up above the mist and fog to emerge on the top of the highest mountain on the planet (it is a strange thing that it always feels like the highest mountain even when it’s just a tall hill) I felt momentarily dizzy as the whole aspect changed suddenly and different parts of the landscape were revealed like a theatrical set. The mist rose and fell like a living thing and the surface of the cloud lake went from smooth opaque pool to stormy cauldron and back as the sun set. A cloud inversion like another reality where the mountains are islands and distance is impossible to judge. We would all have to live in tall houses above the storm line.

Back down in the thick fog and fading light we decided to have another go at swimming (last week we’d managed a quick dip in Loughrigg Tarn leaping about on the shore like nutters in gimp suits, doing the Floral Dance to warm up our screaming fingers and toes). This felt exciting and reckless but since we had no intention of swimming more than a few metres in the shallows of Rydal Water  it also felt safe… hidden by the fog. I can’t explain how magical it felt to plunge in to milky water that blended into the sky so perfectly there was no horizon; I imagine it would be terrifying if we’d gone too far from shore but the cold drove us back after about 10 seconds to dance a warm up jig before doing it all again. It was pitch dark by the time we trotted back through the wood, the mist so heavy that the water droplets hung in the beams of our head torches and our foggy breath bounced the light back in our eyes. Obviously I didn’t take any pictures but I saw this on Instagram, taken on the same day, and it seemed too beautiful not to share. Its a picture by Paul Scully of Jenny Rice (who is clearly a lot braver and more photogenic than me- in a bikini rather than wetsuit); they were recently featured on the BBC’s Open Country programme about the Lake District and Wordsworth.

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So dear readers, tomorrow the nights will slowly slowly start to get shorter and already I can see snowdrop shoots where the birds have scuffled the fallen leaves away under the feeder. Still I’m hoping for snow and some brighter days before the rush of Spring. Right, it’s time for me to remove my Polar Bear bobble hat and rinse off the henna mud that is plastered on my hair, my one misguided concession to hair styling, also I need to stop getting distracted and do some drawing  (If you follow me on Facebook you’ll know I’ve been posting a bear drawing for every day in December and I’m running out).

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Happy Winter Solstice wherever you are, thank you for reading x

Reading: “Waterlog” ~Roger Deakin and The Barefoot Diaries

 

“…good books, and a sleepy conscience”

at Moss Eccles with Millican backpack

November arrived in great style with rustling piles of crispy leaves, the kind you can jump in and throw about, seldom seen in recent soggy years. Autumn colours almost worthy of a New England Fall and blue mirror lakes reflecting impossibly blue skies. It may seem as though I’m constantly swanning about having photogenic adventures in perfect landscapes while the rest of the world knuckles down to an honest day’s work… I can assure you this is mostly down to editing and curating, but recently I have to admit it’s all felt like living in a Disney Autumn scene.Last week we had another emergency visit to the bookshop, a torchlit climb up Wansfell and an atmospheric Halloween night spent in the van on the side of Coniston. The photo above is a before shot; before swimming out to the little island in Moss Eccles Tarn,with icicle fingers, discovering a perfect red and white toadstool in the middle of the fairy kingdom and swimming back feeling smug (for being brave enough to brave it on November 1st) and blissful with the sun in our faces. I don’t think the fairies minded being disturbed but I think I heard them laughing.

Beatrix Potter's House

After the swim we walked around the garden of Beatrix Potter’s house Hill Top. The house was closed for the winter but what a treat to have the garden almost to ourselves… last time we visited it was so busy with groups of people and tour guides that we had to queue in the garden listening to an introductory talk and Sara had a spectacular attack of suppressed giggles so that tears were streaming down her face by the time we got in. What a perfect little house and garden, I could sit and draw there all day.

Hedgehog drawing by Kim Tillyer

Channeling my inner Beatrix (I’m getting to be almost her shape these days too) I’ve been drawing hedgehogs in quiet moments at work and expecting to be told off at any moment.

A book is a dream that you hold in your hand.–Neil Gaiman

Last week I was told I must clean shelves at all times and reading was banned even during the quietest days when everything was sparkling… this week I was told off for cleaning while customers were in. I’m a confused and resentful rebel; the teenager who wouldn’t eat fish pie at school, the child who got in trouble at primary school for putting her hands in a tray of seed compost because she wanted to see how it felt, the frustrated artist disguised as a middle aged shop assistant! I’ve mused a lot about work in this blog and of course I’m aware that potential employers may read this and give the naughty troublemaker a wide berth but actually I think they’d be missing the point and the potential. Rules and regulations should also allow for imagination and inventiveness which is how things advance and grow and without which we are extras in a Samuel Beckett play or living a scene in Catch 22. I read this meme recently “people don’t leave good jobs they leave bad managers” and looking back now I actually miss (the early years) working in a pub in Osmotherley when despite the long hours and low pay I would gladly have done just about anything for the manager Helen who had a healthy cynicism about our bosses, the job and a real skill in asking rather than telling. Helen now runs TeaCakes of Yorkshire, a lovely online tea company and I miss her loads.

Crummock in Autumn

Hey ho, the perils of over sharing in a public arena… but life’s too short not to say what you mean just so long as you’re not nasty. Now it’s almost time for me to throw some more logs on the stove and find another pair of socks to put on over the other two – November is showing its other face today, it’s cold and damp and the leaves are mushy gold on the doorstep. Last night we went up Catbells in the dark to watch the fireworks, it was so clear and bitingly cold, sitting on the rocks drinking hot blackcurrant and Brandy and contemplating almost two years in Newlands Valley.

Autumn sketch

I dug out this old sketch which I’d made after one of our weekend trips here from “home”;  it seems so long ago now but the drawing feels more special now that I’m living surrounded by those colours , today the fells are just as black and topped with mist. Meanwhile in the land of blue and white more horses have emerged and a bear has left the Artfinder shop which is fantastic news and really encouraging.

Keep warm where ever you are and enjoy the last of Autumn x

cyanotype horse

Reading: “When the Floods Came” Clare Morrall Listening to:  “Paper Moon” Ella Fitzgerald after listening to Ali Smith on Desert Island Discs

White Horses

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This week I am practicing the philosophy and art of hygge, or gezellig if you want an even harder word to pronounce, because its definitely Autumn now and the average temperature in this house during the day (even with the stove on) is 16-18℃. I’m creating the illusion of warmth and coziness by building a nest in my little room and wrapping up in a friendly old, orange wool blanket.It’s silly that my fingers are so cold and it’s not even winter yet but I can warm them up by slipping my hands under the laptop, which is on my knee like a hot water bottle.

I’ve been driven a little bit mad by technology lately and the fact that I now have a computer that is so out of date the browser won’t even load Wikipedia (I’m keeping my fingers crossed WordPress stays as it is) and an iPhone with a splodgy camera lens and a battery life shorter than a goldfish’s memory (since it updated to ios10 it lasts about an hour). These are actually tools of my trade so I really need to think about investing in replacements but built in obsolescence infuriates me; constant software upgrades and “improvements” never seem to be worth it and always seem like a plot to force sales but maybe I’m the problem; reaching a point where I’m resistant to change and all fuzzy in the head from lack of brain stimulation. The thought of setting up a new computer makes me feel exhausted so I struggle on with Hot-water-bottle-Mac and Goldfish Phone and may as well be using a Box Brownie and a ZX81…besides I can’t afford it just now.

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After I finished writing the last blog post I was so wide awake that I ended up watching old TV programmes on You Tube (which I never do) until 3am, before reading in bed until 4. The thing I watched was “The Moon Stallion” which was a BBC childrens’ TV series from 1978. I was on my own in the house that night, curled up by the fire watching something from my childhood- ultimate gezellig. I was struck by how much it had affected me at the time – when I was 11 and living in Wiltshire not far from the places in the story. It was slightly spooky. I think I was terribly serious and geeky about it when I was 11 which must have been either funny or annoying for my family, so watching it now I cringed a little in memory of my younger self and I wondered how a child of 11 would feel about it today; apart from a slightly cheesy fight scene it had aged quite well and will always be important to me, perhaps because it was part of  a year that marked the almost imperceptible “beginning of the end” of childhood. I remember being taken to see the White Horse at Uffington and Wayland’s Smithy and frightening myself by trying to climb the steep grassy banks… it’s an amazing place where it’s easy to believe in magic. I’ve been back several times over the years and even took my children there, one hot summer day, to spin around 3 times in the horse’s eye (don’t tell English Heritage).

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You can see a little etching I did from around about that time in this post from 2012. I can see the etching from where I sit and the house does look so much like “home”.

Meanwhile in another century a woman on the cusp of 50 draws galloping white horses and lonely bears surrounded by papery flowers and wonders where the time went. You can see a little etching I did from around about that time in this post from 2012. I can see the etching from where I sit and the

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I’ve been slowly adding more pictures to my Artfinder shop as well as listing some new Winter Snow Bears cards on Etsy which are selling really well so THANK YOU to everyone who has ordered so far. It really is true that “Just a Card” can make a big difference – not just financially but by boosting confidence too, making it so much easier when people ask “what do you do”. I’ve been baking too, making this stupidly delicious Ginger Crunch slice from the recipe given to me by Lucia’s in Grasmere. More addictive than crack but hopefully better for you, despite the butter and sugar, it makes me feel happy when I eat it because it reminds me that some people are kind and generous and friendly in a world that isn’t always so ( also a lot of these people seem to live in the Lake District). However I will soon be too enormous to fit in my wetsuit so I may have to learn self control.

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I hope you are feeling gezellig where ever you are. Until next time x

 

“Water is another matter, has no direction but its own bright grace…”

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Last weekend suddenly had nothing in it after plans changed at the last minute and for the first time in ages we had time to spend together, maybe even to go away. The outrageously unseasonal weather had been set fair for days and days and I’d met all my deadlines, delivering and collecting work at various galleries ( I made it to Lancaster despite Google maps directing me via Iceland); everything seemed perfect… yet I woke up on Saturday morning with the weight of the world on my shoulders. Sometimes it really feels as though these attacks of gloom and depression come from nowhere, that they’re somehow imagined or self inflicted, certainly not justified but there’s no doubt that the feeling of heaviness and inertia is real. It took a huge effort to get out of the house and into the van, I felt like a winkle being prised out of its shell and yet, as a pile of different books will tell you, nothing is better for a heavy heart than a good dose of the outdoors- if only you can get yourself out there. When I look at the picture above (of Coniston in October, not Lake Garda in August!) I get a tiny flashback to the utter bliss of being there and the way the water was so clear you almost wanted to breath it, autumn leaves and acorns bobbing about on the surface and the sun’s warmth on my face. Hydrotherapy.

“Everything on the earth bristled, the bramble
pricked and the green thread
nibbled away, the petal fell, falling
until the only flower was the falling itself.
Water is another matter,
has no direction but its own bright grace,
runs through all imaginable colors,
takes limpid lessons
from stone,
and in those functionings plays out
the unrealized ambitions of the foam. ” – Pablo Neruda

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I have almost finished reading Amy Liptrot’s “The Outrun” which talks about overcoming addiction, partly by moving back to her childhood home on Orkney,  and her descriptions of swimming as well as the chapter about her online life really felt familiar. I was sad to be reaching the end of a good read but excited that this coincided with Bookshop Day and an excuse to visit one of my favourite bookshops Sam Read’s in Grasmere. We had an indulgent morning treating ourselves to new books, drinking coffee and eating delicious creamy gingerbread from Lucia’s and visiting Allan Bank to try and see squirrels. I’ve been to Allan Bank with various friends and family about 6 times this year and its always good to sit in the art room and do a quick sketch of the view through the window.

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Its such a wonderful place to just sit and be. I really should make a habit of going regularly with a sketchbook because its sometimes much easier to be motivated when you’re out of your cozy rut and the light is coming from a different angle. Also there are squirrels.

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By the end of the day we we had visited all my favourite places and clambered up some grippy,(mostly) friendly rocks to the top of a hill (whose name I’ve forgotten, sorry) with views for miles. I was a new person, trotting along in the fading light, back to the van to light the Kelly Kettle and eat cup-a-soup with peanut butter sandwiches before snuggling up to watch “Bake Off” while acorns ( I hope) thudded on the roof making us jump. I have heard that elsewhere in the world there was music and dancing, bright lights and fancy shoes but for once it just felt good to be tired for a reason and having a real holiday just 20 or 30 miles from home.

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Finally, as this week see’s the opening of Arteria’s “Hygge” exhibition, I’m reading a book about the concept by Louisa Thompsen Brits which states that “Hygge is a feeling of belonging and warmth, a moment of comfort and contentment” and also  mentions the importance of “Shelter” … this is the idea I have tried to express in some of my work …or at least it is what I feel and yearn for in my own life. Part of the sadness that overwhelmed me on Saturday morning was the recent news from Haiti and around the world, of displaced people and divisive political rhetoric. I want to help but feel powerless. Back in 2010 I wrote this post about a fundraiser called “Hearts for Haiti” and I’m wondering about doing something similar… but for now here is a link to Shelterbox who I think offer really practical help, quickly, in disaster areas and places of conflict.

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Reading: “The Book of Hygge” by Louisa Thompsen Brits and “The Sunlight Pilgrims” by Jenni Fagan

Snowglobe

Newlands Church

Snuggled by the stove with the last of the Christmas cake, a slab of Stilton and a pot of strong coffee. The cat is asleep in a perfect curl on the round footstool and I can’t hear anything but the crackle of the fire (ok thats a lie, the computer is whirring annoyingly but I didn’t want to spoil the picture … actually if you could see the picture it would be spoiled by the fact that my head is caked in hot henna and wrapped in cling-film and a bobble hat- but for the moment you must imagine I’m looking glamourous in some sort of cashmere lounging outfit). Proper Winter came and changed everything; even if it was for just a weekend. It’s easy to be cynical and mock the sudden glut of snow scenes on people’s Facebook pages, the childlike excitement when snow is forecast, the birth of hundreds of slightly muddy, doomed snowmen but here in rainy grey England there’s no denying it is an event that can still seem magical… so long as you don’t have to travel anywhere and it doesn’t go on too long.

On Thursday, waking up to the transformed landscape, I took myself on a tiny first winter ascent of Snab Bank, I had the whole valley to myself, virgin snow, spirals of spindrift and shocking blue skies not seen for months. Its nearly a year since I came here in deep distress and it felt unbelievably good to be standing in this wonderful place soaking up the light and vitamin D ( although I keep wondering how on earth all those polar explorers managed to keep going- I was exhausted and realised I would be the first to be eaten in a disaster scenario).

towards Keswick from Snab Bank

Last week I mentioned the fact that I was missing my snowed-in time and how important it is to me for some reason. My brother read the whole of “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls Wilder when he was here at Christmas and I’m sure it’s books like that as well as a kind of Northern race memory (?)  that makes winter such a special and potentially creative time; perhaps its just the enforced stillness. Anyway, I was freezing last week, trying to save firewood, so I finally got around to making a little work space in the small room. It’s like a cell or an old fashioned school room… no distracting view through the window when I’m at my desk. I drew things and listened to Howard’s End on the radio and got excited by cyanotype again. “Only connect”

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I am easily distracted and who can blame me with a head full of bears and icing sugar mountains outside the window?

snow scene

So this week I am trying to be more organised and practical… my tax return is done, velvet has been ordered from Glasgow, ceramic printing experiments continue and I’ve paid the final installment for my stand at BCTF this April. Now I can’t sleep with worry and excitement and ideas and panic but as Rupert said this weekend, whatever happens something will happen and it needs to because I can’t survive on occasional Etsy sales so it’ll either make me realise I have to change direction or encourage me to keep going. The show is in Harrogate from April 10th – 12th and I think my stand is N27 so come and say hello if you’re there.

bear hug cyanotype

Now I think it’s time for some music while I wait for the henna to do it’s herbal alchemy. Recurring in my head at the moment …”blue, blue electric blue…

Reading: ‘Feral” by George Monbiot  Listening to: “Sound and Vision” David Bowie

 

“We could run when the rain slows”

Low High Snab

All good intentions have fallen by the wayside already and this, which was meant to wish you a Happy Christmas and then a Happy New Year has now become a distraction from the muddled pile of receipts that is my tax return and the even bigger empty void that would be  labeled ” plans for the British Craft Trade Fair” if you could label voids.

Today has been a day of melancholy and many jumbled memories after the initial jolt of hearing that David Bowie had died. I’ve long since got over the teenage obsession (which meant I stayed up all night sometime in about 1983 just to catch a glimpse of his bum in the video for China Girl; before they banned it) but today I’ve remembered that Bowie really has been the soundtrack to my life and one of the few artists whose music I still actually buy. I’ve been playing “Bowie at the BBC 2000” and “Heathen” and thinking about a conversation we had at Christmas about the emotional effect of music; I said I found it hard to listen to music that meant a lot to me or reminded me of certain people and places, particularly when I’m alone, and that generally I fill the silence here with radio 4 . Well today it has been loud and wonderful and I didn’t even cry until “Conversation Piece” (remix on Heathen) came on (I have no idea why- something in the tone of voice?) and instead I felt comforted somehow, less scared, more inspired and just thinking… wow what a life, what a legacy, imagine how many people are listening to his music tonight and reliving moments from their own precious histories ( I hope that makes it easier for his family ).

etching by Kim Tillyer

Anything else seems mundane after that news. Here in my little world life goes on and small steps are taken on steep slopes and steeper learning curves and daily battles are fought against inertia, creative block and the all pervading damp and endless sodding rain. I’m missing Winter as there has been no magical period of snowed in-ness yet and no bright days (another reason I’ve been slow to write as there were no pictures to show you), just a couple of brief snowfalls that didn’t hang around.

Looking to Catbells from High Snab Bank

The most exciting thing that has happened recently was the etching day I went to in Penrith yesterday. We each made a small copper plate etching with aquatint, under the guidance of Bill Cummings and as usual it made me wish I could do more… if only the equipment wasn’t so expensive and if only my hands would fit in rubber gloves ( my hands are still grubby even after a long bath listening to a murder mystery whilst viciously scrubbing my ink black fingers like Lady Macbeth). The image of the cottage above was the first print, before we did the aquatint  and a lot of the detail was lost.

drawing bears at work

So I continue to doodle and vaguely plan my long postponed debut at the British Craft Trade Fair, which is in April so that probably means it’s time to stop being vague and get  motivated! The mugs I printed before Christmas seemed to sell well so I really do need to decide on designs and start getting serious, it really is no good still wondering what to be when you grow up when you’re nearly 49 and life is so god damned short.  Oh to be a fat, furry cat on a patterned rug, with not a care in the world…

the cat at Christmas

Best and happiest wishes for the rest of 2016.

Reading :- ” Maigret Omnibus No.7″ by Georges Simenon  Listening to:- Heathen by David Bowie