Tag Archives: Owls

Wildlife, Water and Work in Progress

 

A little over a fortnight since my last blog post and I’m sitting quietly by the stove trying to work out if it’s even possible to coherently share some of the ridiculous things that have happened lately and where to start. This is where being a proper writer would help… or if only I’d taken pictures as proof. Well you’ll just have to imagine if you can:-  the aftermath of the snowstorms, the heating oil arrived at last, the cupboards restocked with Marmite and bread flour and all is as it should be; except that as the snow melted and spring seemed to be arriving, the water went off. Much of the country had similar problems including Jackie Morris and the designer/shepherdess  Alison O’Neil who both endured similar lengths of time with no running water (and electricity in Alison’s case). For 8 days, while waiting for the plumber, we wrestled with the ancient pump (the water comes up from a spring near the beck and it had frozen) and the horrible tanks in the attic; lugging buckets up from the beck for toilet flushing and wrecking my plastic free intentions by buying gallons of bottled water. It was horrible, one trip to the beck was enough for me, I ached all over and the romance of rural life was hard to see. It shouldn’t have taken so long to fix but the house is old and crumbling and the whole experience was incredibly stressful, dredging up memories of the last days at Snilesworth and making me militant about the absolute priority that should be given to making sure people all over the world have proper access to clean drinking water and sanitation. We take water for granted, especially in the Lake District and hardly ever stop to think how amazingly lucky we are. Water Aid do great work in this area, as I’ve mentioned before,  so maybe I’ll ask my landlords to make a big donation!

As a side issue we discovered that there was a monster living in the attic. We’d heard him moving his furniture around in the night but whilst battling with water tanks and  float switches in the terrifying attic, Rupert found the “droppings” of something evidently much larger than a mouse. Thankfully not rats, my friends assured me, but more weirdly … weasels or stoats. Really?! I haven’t been able to eat from the stoat plate since all our chickens got murdered when we moved here and now it seem the culprits live upstairs!

This house is connected to the old cottage next door, so we had a bit of sorting out to do in there too ( burst pipes, Aga issues etc) once the water was back on and I decided to put some of our washing up in their dishwasher since we don’t have one. The cottage is dark and slightly haunted, having been empty for a while, but I’m never too worried, even when I realised that the front door was ajar when I went in to collect my pots in the evening- I probably didn’t close it properly. In the back kitchen, loading my tray I heard a very strange noise and realised I wasn’t alone. Shuffling , scratching, banging sounds that were obviously a brutal burglar nicking the collection of Beatrix Potter figurines, came from the front room and I prepared to meet my doom armed with some crockery. Creeping round the corner I came face to face with a tawny owl who was jumping up and down on the windowsill trying to get out. As I write I can hear the owls, they call constantly even in daylight and I love them but not upset ones in a confined space. As I edged forward to try and open the door the owl swooped silently into the other room and eyed me from the top of a wooden screen before hurling itself into the mirror over the mantlepiece, scattering trinkets and old photographs.We played this game for half an hour- I considered taking photos and wish I had now but I just wanted to set it free without getting it’s talons stuck in me. Eventually the poor thing was so fed up of flying at the window that I managed to catch it (wearing an enormous pair of gauntlets that were lying  around- it’s that kind of place) and set her down on the gatepost outside, part of me wanting desperately to keep her. Away she flew, without a sound or a backward glance leaving me to recover from the shock. How did she get in, walking through the half open door or falling out of the attic after the plumber left a hatch open? Summoned by too many owl drawings and not enough flowers?

I feels though I’ve waffled on enough now, you probably had to be there, but anyway, it sets a scene. I live in a very odd place and I think if it weren’t for my precious, occasional bookshop days, I would be going a little bit crazy by now. It’s important to have a bit of human interaction and lately that has felt more important than ever.

When not fetching water or wrangling owls I’ve been drawing swans, preparing to send an image or two down for an exhibition in Bristol next month and being inspired by a folk tale based in Grasmere called the Hunchback and the Swan by Taffy Thomas , a local storyteller. I’ve just found this wonderful animation by Dotty Kultys based on the story today  


Isn’t it great and the music too! Now I need to keep drawing because I have lots of ideas but they’re not popping out how I want them too yet. Here is my swan, the Lady of the Lake.

Until next time. x

Reading: “A Line Made by Walking” Sara Baum  Listening to : ” TheBedlam Stacks” by Natasha Pulley ( audio book)

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Blossom and Ice

The colour is just seeping back in to the day, as the morning snow gives way to more seasonal rain and I’ve settled by the stove to write. Slowly, outside the big window, the delicate prettiness of pink blossom and ice has returned to over saturated green and yellow ( is it a crime to live in the Lake District and not like daffodils? shhh, don’t tell ).  It’s been a day of little tasks, printing order forms and making price labels, sorting out boxes of exhibition “stuff”; the kind of things that make it seem as though I’ve been busy all day but haven’t achieved very much. It was exciting to wake up to snow this morning and the cat was beside herself with joy, skittering about like a kitten, staring wide eyed through the window and asking to go out ( and immediately back in again) at least 20 times. Cat has always loved snow but there seems to be much less of it these days and certainly less than some of the winters  in our old  home. I miss it and the strange excitement and magic it brings. But it’s unseasonal now, and mostly I suppose, unwelcome after all the celebrations of the first day of Spring. Yesterday was so cold I gave in and put the heating on early. I’d spent the morning sharing a chair and a hot water bottle with that cat- neither of us normally so affectionate- until the Archers came on the radio and the sound of hounds sent her clawing herself free to hide under the table.

Some really lovely things have been happening lately. I’m now recognised in Keswick Post Office, or at least the red bear stamp on most of my parcels is, which must mean that sales are getting a bit more regular. This week for the first time since leaving the Herdy shop I earned the same as I would have done had I stayed – a combined income from my own sales and the almost unbelievable treat of a day’s work at Sam Read’s Bookshop in Grasmere. I think you could begin to understand the strangeness of finding myself looking OUT of the bookshop from behind the desk, rather than IN through the postcardy door, if you looked back at previous posts or searched “Grasmere” in the side bar. The happy/sad of being here in the Lakes instead of “home”, the feeling of unreality and uprootedness that comes from building a new life where there are no familiar touchstones, the lack of confidence after various “work” events – sometimes something nice happens out of the blue and you find yourself looking over your shoulder to check for Fairy Godmothers. Anyway, it was a fun day and I’m very grateful to Will for thinking I might be able to help out… especially as we only really know each other through Twitter and there was that time I was in the shop and mentioned the possibility of assassinating him so I could steal his job (social anxiety can make you say the dumbest things).

Well, I’m sure all work can become mundane (and I’ve always resisted applying for jobs in places I really love in case familiarity breeds contempt) but it was so nice to have interesting conversations and learn new things and it seemed auspicious that as I drove over Dunmail Raise, before the signal gave out, someone was reading Wordsworth’s “Daffodils” on the radio.

Back on Witchmountain with less than two weeks until Harrogate I’m busily doing last minute preparations for the show as well as trying to learn how to use my new camera… an early birthday present to myself because I’m suppose to try and take proper product photographs. The wooden jewellery has been really popular and I can’t wait to get some more designs made. The special “design sample” price ends this weekend but I’m sure will still want them at the real RRP. which properly reflects the costs. How I wish I was a hardened business woman with no qualms about pricing, instead of a bit of a hippy idealist with a basic mistrust of Capitalism! Yesterday I listened to a radio programme that talked about spending and “peak stuff” and found that I agreed so much with the philosophy that we all have too much “stuff” and that we buy too much, waste too much. How can I reconcile this with trying to sell my own stuff?! I wanted to call the programme and say that maybe if people chose to buy more from smaller independent businesses, to choose for love rather than being on the “upgrade” treadmill – could that work? Perhaps I need to look for a good book on economics and philosophy…

The hungry stove is asking for another log, the radio’s brought unwelcome news from London and Rupert has just got back from a chilly day at work in the mines across the valley (as an outdoor educator not a miner) so it’s time for tea. Apparently the sun will reappear later this week and the brief brake on Spring will be released.


Reading:- “Basic Nest Architecture” Polly Atkin ( from Grasmere – poems that have kept me awake at night searching the internet for Moon pianos and memories of home) and “Swell, A Waterbiography” Jenny Landreth ( to be published on May 4th )

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.

Honesty, Owls and the value of things.

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I’m back in my box room nest with a mug of freshly brewed coffee, while the autumn wind shakes the Sycamore tree outside the window. I’ve been in that edgy, change of seasons mood lately; not sleeping well, writing whole novels in my head in the small hours, only to forget that perfect opening sentence and the motivation to capture it,  as soon as I’m properly awake. An owl has been calling in the branch right outside the bedroom and I imagine that it could look in through the arrow slit windows and see me, sleepless and lost in a world of memories, half baked plans and good intentions. I hear it screeching “terrrr-wit” and wait for the answering whispery “hoooo” that sounds as if it could be coming from right next to me, perched on the headboard like in Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake.

mug by Witchmountain

The fells seemed to turn burnt umber overnight, the air is spicy with autumn scents and my favourite time of year in the Lake District has begun. The only thing I’m missing is the long days that meant there was time to swim after work; as it is we are wondering how long we will be brave enough to brave the cold water (or more importantly the cold wind on the shore as you try to struggle out of your wetsuit in a polite but speedy manner, stumbling about, bent double,often hobbled at the ankles by skin tight neoprene.) It’s ok once you’re in though and I’ve become a big fan of swimming in the rain when the water becomes spiky and textured like sparkling Artex and the raindrops momentarily stay on the surface like little pearls.  I want to be able to paint it, or film it or capture it somehow so I can show you.

Honesty

Back in the “studio”  I’ve been busy getting things ready for a couple of exhibitions. Unsold work has been returned safely and sold work has been invoiced, allowing me to realise that I have made the basic error of royally ripping myself off by paying too much for framing and not charging enough to allow for gallery commission – which in some cases is over 50%. One piece which sold for £175 actually earned me £6 after all expenses!  I am not a businesswoman obsessed with making a fortune but I’m learning the hard way and after discussing this over and over again with other artists and makers the conclusion is always the same… just because we can’t afford the art/craft we love, it doesn’t mean we should devalue our own. A good friend of mine makes beautiful mosaic birds…she cuts the wooden bird silhouette, uses hand picked and cut fragments (often rare glass with precious metals), grouts, seals and adds hanging hooks. Each bird is beautiful, unique and  takes at least a day and a half to make… what is a fair price? We are so used to things being “affordable” by which we usually mean mass produced by low paid workers in other countries, that even in the gift shop where I work I regularly hear people muttering that something is too expensive when it is really a very fairly priced item, mass produced in England! We seem to have lost sight of “value” in anything other than monetary terms. I’m not sure what the answer is.

hand embroidery on paper

Well I do apologise for getting on my soap box as usual, I could tie myself in knots and, being over sensitive and ridiculously passionate I’m likely to slip on the soap and fall flat on my face.  Better to keep stitching and muddling through.

cyanotype and embroidery

Well, its almost time to go hunting in the kitchen for supper and in the hope that Rupert has decided to bake something fabulous to fatten us up for winter. The oven fused all the house electrics last week so we spent last night on the floor with our heads in the oven, fitting a new element and feeling pretty smug about being able to mend stuff. It took two people though, not like the instruction video on Youtube and I felt as though I was channeling Sylvia Plath at one point but honestly, how did people ever know how to do anything before the internet?

velvet owl cushion by Kim Tillyer

I’ve just found out about an exhibition inspired by Alan Garner’s “the Owl Service” book and had just listed this cushion called “She wants to be flowers” in my Etsy shop. It is definitely one of my very favourite books, written in the year I was born, so I’ll be making every effort to visit the exhibition as well as Blackden House. Thanks to Natalie for the information.

Until next time, a belated happy autumn equinox to you all where ever you may be. x

Buttermere sunset

Winter Light

Strange to think that in less than a week’s time it will be Midwinter and slowly, slowly the sun will start to return and the days will get longer. I’ve been thinking a lot about that strange and magical few weeks last winter and wondering at the rose tint of time that makes it all seem so romantic. The sun has been shining today and the sky is duck egg blue and vanilla, threatening an icy night ahead.

I’ve been drinking a lot of green tea this week and haven’t yet checked if it has caffeine in it…could this be why I was reading till 3am last night and then up at 7? Its 3pm now and after a day of cleaning, printing, wrapping, cooking and general sorting, I’m so sleepy I need to have a little snooze before going to yoga tonight or I will fall over. “Goodness” I hear you mumble, “whatever happened to the whiskey drinking, coffee brewing couch potato we knew so well? Green tea? Yoga?!” , well don’t worry, my default setting is still “cozy by the fire” .

I’ve been invited to a little vintage style coffee morning at the lovely Vicky Trainor’s tomorrow and we were all asked to bring a tree decoration to swap in a kind of Lucky Dip. I got carried away last night making this owly thing which looks like stained glass when you hold it up to the light, its a bit mad, I hope whoever gets it is pleased!

So much has been happening, what with the various giveaways and projects I’ve been taking part in, but the most exciting so far was my visit to The Dutch House, where Cecile agreed to take lots of my work. It is such a lovely place, I only wish it was closer, I’d be there all the time eating pancakes and wandering in the gardens. I’ve been offered a solo exhibition there next year and the chance to run some workshops! So this is very good news and I am now binging on Dutch Speculaas biscuits and wondering what kind of workshop I could run…

This news , as well as some lovely write ups, including this from Tiffany of the Curiosity Project , have given me plenty to think about as I plan how to keep the wolf from the door in 2012. Oh, that reminds me, I wanted to tell you all about the monster in the skirting boards , a terrifying game of hide and seek in a deserted building and the joy of being able to swim underwater…but maybe another time, I feel a nap coming on!

Meanwhile, here is a plug for my fabulous brother who has been involved in the photography for this beautiful Deluxe edition of Peter Gabriel’s new album, I’m very proud ( but where’s my copy York?!)

Who Killed Cock Robin?

December and right on cue the first snowflakes, icy roads and a dead robin on the doorstep- a gift from the cat or victim of a fight over the fat balls? Its been another busy weekend, with a surprise visit from Sara,a day at  Designer’s Marketplace and a friend’s dog to look after( the cat was not impressed and may have been attention seeking with the bird murder) . We also managed to squeeze in an eventful evening “down the pub” where it all nearly degenerated into a massive brawl when the singer fell out with the locals and the feeling was mutual. Rural Yorkshire life, you can’t beat it!

I spent Friday frantically baking mince pies and doing some last minute sewing ready for Saturday’s market. It was great to have Sara home to help me and it was certainly loads better than last year when the snow sent us all home early. You can see some photographs here, see if you can spot me and my mince pies! As usual the highlight was seeing some old friends and meeting some new ones, seeing all the other work on show and watching Its a Wonderful Life projected on a big screen; one day I must watch it properly, without sound it looked quite worrying! Anyway, the pies and free Port went down a treat and I had enough sales to cover the day so I’m happy enough. Thank you to every one who came.

Now, here’s a thing, this owl wallet has been the most popular item I’ve ever listed on Etsy, with 74 admirers and 7 treasury lists, yet no one has bought it! Today I listed a similar one and it sold withing the hour, bizarre. Anyway, now one lucky person is going to get it for free as I’m collaborating with Matchstick Molly in her “12 Days of Christmas Giveaway” . If anyone knows the secret of this design’s popularity, I’d love to know ( and how to translate that into sales). Meanwhile I flit from one style to another and my current cyanotype obsession continues.

So today I have:- listed new things on both Etsy and Folksy, baked a cake, walked through soggy, spongy birch woods with a Cairn terrier and enjoyed spending time with my lovely children, just relaxing and watching Frozen Planet. I’m really looking forward to concentrating on my Sketchbook Project now and thinking up some new plans of attack for the year 2012. I’m thinking maybe upmarket is the way to go.During hard times it seems that the rich stay rich while normal people tighten their belts and bear the brunt of the enforced austerity. So while some people are worrying about “How to Spend It “others are trawling charity shops and wondering whether to spend £12 on an owl wallet or save it to pay the supermarket bill… just a thought before I make another mug of chai and enjoy the last half hour of Guy Garvey flat out on my new yoga mat, (in the sleeping like a log pose).

May your December be cozy and prosperous and full of love. x

Listening to:- Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on 6Music ( Doves “Sea Song” and Hilli with Lee Hazelwood “At the Top of the World”) Reading:- Mollie Makes and yesterday’s Guardian.

 

Drawing and Dreaming

Well its been an eventful few days. My wish came true and the fog was blown away by gales ; which also blew away chunks of peeling paint and bits of the window frames. Its ok, no real damage and anyway, the insides of the windows are all neat and freshly painted…you can’t even tell which bits are actually held together with scrumpled up Guardian newspapers and wood filler.

This weekend I helped Kev and Viv of ArtVanGo set up and take down, their stand at the Knitting &Stitching Show in Harrogate.It was hard work but even harder work resisting the urge to buy one of everything.Mountains of pristine sketchbooks and papers, racks of paints and dyes the colour of precious jewels, bottles of mysterious potions and brand new virgin silk screens. ArtVanGo also run a stand called Artists in Action where you can see …erm….artists in action, and talk to them about techniques, materials and so on. I was sorry to miss Dionne Swift ( who got me the job), but I did meet Ruth Issett who was demonstrating mixed media techniques ( here is a video from a previous year ) and who has written quite a few books on the subject. Jill Flower was another artist who specialises in textile applications on paper, making intricate lacey pieces inspired by Elizabethan ruffs.

Well, I was tempted in to buying the new issue of Selvedge Magazine , mostly because the cover fitted so perfectly with my idealised vision of Witchmountain, I would love to swan about in vintage lace and cozy wool with my pack of huskies and a few tame polar bears, before returning to my roaring fire to drink brandy coffee and eat turkish delight…oh hang on… I AM sitting by a roaring fire, drinking coffee and obviously when I next look in the mirror I’ll look just like the model in the pictures!

So, I’ve also been busy with this year’s Sketchbook Project and really enjoying using a combination of pen and ink with cyanotype.The subject is “Tears and Fears” but I’m being quite vague about it. I wish I had been able to afford some of those lovely inks and things from ArtVanGo but to be honest I don’t know what half of then are for! My other treat was a pack of inkjet printable cotton which will be used for making some more little wallets, probably, and a skein of beautiful orange wool which I’m trying to knit yoga socks with!!! ( no pattern and little patience)

Now I must leave you to do something productive, it is hard to set my mind to one task and tempting to go outside and do some strimming while the weather holds. This time last year I was snowed in, I feel quite nostalgic for those sparkly days of ice and isolation.

I’m sure there was more I wanted to tell you but it really is time to make more coffee and set up the sewing machine. Oh, but I just wondered, what is Cyber Monday?