16 Nov 2018

For the love of things

When I was a young girl, it was the most obvious fact in the world to me that we shouldn't be too attached to ‘things’.  Loving things, particularly posh and fancy things, was a weakness reserved for foolish old women, and flashy men with no taste.  Experiences and relationships were what mattered the most - after all, who needs to clutter up their space with meaningless objects?  Particularly when all you can afford is IKEA flat-packs and grubby cast offs and have no space to house them in...

A little treasured memory from a riverside in China
Since leaving school, I’ve never lived anywhere more than three years. All our homes have been practical choices, the minimum amount of space required for the meanest price, and we have made the very most of them, squeezing out every last drop of enjoyment but knowing in the back of our minds that we will soon be packing up and moving on.  The first home I remember - my childhood home - was the longest stint to date, and the most clearly defined in my mind.  What I remember is not which days were the recycling pick-ups, or which rooms could fit a fold out bed, or the efficiency of the central heating.  No - I remember the touch and feel of things.  A peeling corner of wallpaper.  The careworn kitchen table.  Warm garden walls in the sun; their sandy texture, the dusty, metallic smell of them, and the minuscule red spiders that would gather on the surface, glowing specks of colour against the grey.

We moved out from there years ago, turning that place from practical reality to crumbling memory forever.  In the years that followed, my extended family’s houses became the only places that stayed just the same.  I remember visiting my aunt and uncle’s house and loving all the tiny ornaments that hid in corners; a gift put down carelessly on a shelf and crystallizing there over a decade, becoming precious in it’s permanence like an ancient artifact in a museum surrounded by velvet rope.  I would dare to move these things and see a ring of white beneath, nude surface untouched by the light of uncounted years, and quietly move them back into place with a stealthy reverence.

I remember trying to explain this to my aunt and she was heartily embarrassed and expressed a desire to dust more.

Maybe it’s because I’ve reached the age of thirty this year, or because we have just bought our first home together, but I’ve rarely felt so attached to all the things surrounding me as I am now.  All those wholesome experiences with my friends and family passed by in a flash, and what is left from the burning embers of those good times are these symbols, saturated with meaning and memory.  Somehow they seem to represent a little piece of love, in the very simplest way - there.  Present. Permanent. Yours to keep and yours to share with everyone in the place that you call your home.

It's not just aesthetic - genuinely need this fire (and cat) for heat
One of those small secrets in our new house
This is my new house - and my lovely cat - getting warm in our living room in Catcott, North Somerset.  Quite amazingly, we have managed to buy our first home filled to the brim with beautiful antique furniture.  So not only have we ample space to fill with our present possessions, and a promising studio space for me to boot, we have also inherited a collection of handmade oak furniture each with a story to tell that I can only guess at.  I feel like we've won the Homeware Lottery!

Once we've finally settled in (ie. unpacked), I'm very excited to get to making myself some of our own lampshades and fabric designs.  I've always wanted to design for an entire space so looks like I am going to be my own best customer.  After my latest night-time-nature inspired collection is all done and dusted, I will take great pleasure in redoing shades for some of those enormous old-fashioned lamps, and updating the kitchen units with my own bespoke farmhouse doorknobs, complete with little fruits and veg perhaps, or with matching tea-towels?  It's fun to dream...

Our wedding pictures set up alongside my grandparents' wedding china
I feel I am finally finding my place here, and collecting and designing things for the home has become a very enjoyable part of my life.  I love to make art, but I also love to make a home and so creating homeware where these two things meet now seems not at all materialistic but wonderfully, warmly right.

Alongside my excitement, I'll admit I have dropped myself into the Somerset Levels with no small amount of fear.   It is a journey into the dark, quite literally as there are no streetlights here in the village.  At the moment, I feel a little like a leaf shivering on the end of a branch, clinging to my new home with frail determination.  And it's plenty problematic; heating problems abound, and we are miles from anywhere.  But in some ways that's what I like the most about it.  It's a real life adventure, and I can't wait to go exploring and see what will inspire me next. 

  I haven't even told you about what's surrounding us right outside the front door,
 but I’ll have more to say about that in my next post...

17 Sept 2018

Commission Accomplished

In the spirit of my last post, I thought I'd do a bit more documenting of my process - how I get from ideas to finished work - and how I feel at the end of the experience.

Readers of my blog will know, I've been working on my own artwork for my collections, but I also take on personal commissions as well.  For example, here's a commission from a few months ago.  I tend to start with meaningless scribblings the size of a postage stamp and gradually work my way up in various stages to an A3 finished drawing, thus:

Stage 1 - thumbnail sketch
Stage 2 - pencils

Stage 3 - digital colour
Stage 4 - final product

 Bristol commission

My latest lampshade project has been from someone who wanted a particular favourite view of Bristol, from the top of Christmas Steps.  My first thoughts were, that's going to be great - a panoramic landscape is my favourite.  But how would I get on with a cityscape?

Another layer of complexity was added on here as the source material I was given was a old sepia-toned photograph of the town.  Looks like I was going to be creating a historic view.  So what I drawing wasn't even there any more!

On the one hand it presented a challenge, but on the other hand I was pleased to be portraying a historical scene.  I love to work on things which are a little bit different.  The towering chimneys and crystalline spires of churches rising up through the smog was the pervading sense I got from all the images of that time - most important to me was to get the feeling right.

First of all I had to identify the view - as much of it as possible to fit round a lampshade - and do a bit of a field trip.  A quick march up the hill in my lunch-break and I had some pictures to go on.

Drawing time... I am all about the detail, so I'm always trying to restrain my lines and use little visual shortcuts, a trick I've learned from a lifetime of super-quick sketching and poring over my favourite landscape painters.  It's not easy but I try! 
First sketches

In the end I couldn't decide between on and the other, and so I decided to make both colourways, and have a day and nighttime scene.

And finally I get to actually make the lampshades themselves.  Cue clearing my box room studio and an afternoon carefully cutting and rolling fabric.  Sometimes I wonder why I put in so much time to my artwork, while juggling a day job as well. But then I think about everything that I gain from each new project.  It's not just about drawing; I'm also learning a whole new craft too, as well as design, and with each new commission or collection I work on I'm able to discover something new.  With this one, I got to look research the city and see it in a whole new light (no pun intended).  And they were kind enough let me add this one to my shop, for any fellow fans of this Bristol view to enjoy as well.

The finished article

It sounds odd but have you ever performed on a stage before?  The whole experience, before and after, you're totally focused on the task at hand and it is pretty stressful - but the minute you step behind the curtain you immediately want to go back out and do it all over again.  Well that's the case with nearly everything I make - I am pleased with the end product but straightway it has given me ideas for my next project!  I would love to create another historic view of Bristol, but with a whole raft of famous landmarks, which one am I going to go for?

I'm opening this one out for suggestions...

11 Jul 2018

Don’t quit the day dream

“To say the the purpose of a business is to make money is like thinking that human beings are on this earth to eat.” - John Mackey, Founder of Whole Foods 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it is that makes us happy - and what brings us satisfaction in our working lives.  After all, we spend most of our time at our jobs, so what could be more important than what we do for a living?  I think the answer lies in that sentence somewhere; “for a living”.  When all is said and done, what is the underlying purpose that we want to achieve?

I’d like to be very honest here, because out of everything that creative businesses share, I think I hear this one the least:

I - have - a - day - job... There I said it!

I wanted to write about this because people are so secretive on the subject - but I know you are out there, and I also know what hard work it is to keep going!  For most people with a passion for creating, your day doesn’t really end when your day job does.  In fact, it never really ends.  Yet somehow the idea sticks that if you have another job which supports you, you are not really an artist.

So what does make an artist?  

Perhaps it means someone who earns a lot of money from their art.  But should we really be valuing the worthiness  artwork with the money it is putting on the table?  Why should anyone should feel like a worse creative if they don’t pay their rent with pictures?  It doesn't bear any relevance on what you are making.  If anything, it means you are determined to keep creating even if it means working doubly-hard!

Think of it this way - What is it that you love about your favourite painting?  The way it makes you feel or is it all the money it's worth?  Hmm...

Phwoar, check out all that Money
Does being a good artist mean that everything you produce is perfect?

It's doubtful that many people will feel that way about their work.  But I do think that nowadays we are having to put on a little bit of a show for the cameras.  We don’t have the option to hide in an attic for twenty years working on masterpieces.  Everything is visible.  In some ways, social media platforms are quite counter-productive because so much of the creative process is about failing - it's not like a 9-5 job where you can produce work that is meaningful to you in neat and bite size chunks.  You have to create such a lot of work before you can pick out anything good.   

If you ever had a book of sketches, or stories, or songs when you were a teenager then I am certain you remember the feeling.  “No don’t look!”  That’s your raw unshaped heart in there, of course you aren’t going to share that with just anyone!  There has to be a dialogue between yourself first before you can ever start to think about sharing art with anyone else.  And good work is a long time in the making.  A lifetime really.  It can't be pushed ahead of its own pace no matter how hard you try.

Fun fact: Phillip Pullman got a third in his degree at Oxford, and he hates his first novel so much he will not even speak its name in interviews

So what is it that keeps us going?  I think that perhaps we have to decide ourselves what makes it worthwhile for each of us as individuals.

It's not easy.  But, for any fellow creatives who may be struggling with managing their time, and their energy, and think they have reached fullest limits of their strength - just know you are most definitely not the only one.  You have not reached the end of your creative journey.  Not even close.  But whatever you have going for you - whether it’s a fully-fledged business, or a little niggly urge you get when you are feeling dreamy - try and remember to value your work for what it is, and enjoy the process, because creativity is one part of life which doesn’t need validating any other way than that.

Beer, drawing, beautiful view - What it's all about

5 Nov 2017

Home is where the fire is

More than any other time, Bonfire Night conjures up childhood memories.

Even more than Christmas, if you can believe it.  Why should this be?  Christmas is such a big deal for children, and I have many wonderful associations with it.  But somehow, the words "bonfire night" conjure up instant sensory recollections.

I think it might be something to do with the fear I felt at the time.  I was terrified of fireworks.  Never one for loud noises, fast things and big flashes, I favoured the softly whooshing Roman Candle and the Catherine Wheel (my namesake and favourite) which was safely nailed onto a tree.  When you are afraid, your senses are sharper.  I can close my eyes and instantly be back in the dark, damp field behind my childhood home.

Everyone would be gathered outside with numb fingers and noses.  The trees around us were dark shadows against shadows.  November is the perfect time of year to stand by a tower of crackling logs - the air would be so cold that our breath would fog up, yet the heat from the fire was the most intensely hot thing I had ever felt.  I would cringe away from it, the skin on my face burning, yet long to move closer the glowing flames out of the sea of dreaded coldness.

Then toffee apples - fruit! a sour challenging taste for my younger self - smothered in the silkiest, smoothest nectar imaginable was repulsive and delightful all at once.  Next the hiss - bang - sound of the hastily-lit firework.  Watching the tiny spark fleeing upwards into the starry sky, I would crouch down to the ground, unable to bear the tension as I waited for the noise to reach us.  It will always sound muffled to me when I think back.  A pop, penetrated through woolly layers of gloved hands, as I squeezed my them to my ears, and Mum put her hands over mine.

And sparklers... When the whole nightmare show was over, I still had to suffer the exquisite torment of taking one of the beastly things in my hand!  I would hold it, quivering, at arms length, my only defense being the amazing purple gloves I had strung through my coat sleeves, with little people knitted onto the fingers.  "How do you lose them when they are attached to you by a string?!" Mum would ask the general heavens.  A question I still can't answer.  All I know is that they were my favourite gloves, my suit-of-armour against the biting cold, and the burning fire, and the wildly exploding colours all around me.  I felt safe within a world of dangers.  Protected in my family unit against the dark forces all around.

It's kind of the same feeling I have now that I am back living in the countryside.  Nature is leaning in all around me.  It feels as if I am back in her territory again, far away from the city, with its borrowed green spaces parceled up like safe little gifts from outside the urban limits.  Nothing about the English landscape here feels new, or borrowed, or for put there for me.  When I am outside, with the smell of wet earth and rotting leaves, I experience the special privilege of walking along those ancient paths of childhood memory.  And our home is a pool of light and warmth lent to us by the cold, dark wilderness outside.

It's scary and magical all at once, and totally where I want to be.  Particularly on Bonfire Night...