Saturday, 18 July 2020

Painting with Scissors

Continuing my play with paint, last weekend I took part in a short online class with the London Drawing Group, using Matisse as an inspiration.

I had to paint papers before the class, and thought I'd have another go at the gelli plate. 

It's all a bit hit and miss, but there were some bits that I liked so much I cut them out and stuck them in my journal instead of using them in the class! 

And then the actual playing with scissors. 

The class was on Zoom, and on my iPad I could only see the slides, and not the teacher (although I could hear her) so I wasn't at all sure what we were supposed to be doing. 

But it doesn't matter, it was great fun, and a lovely way to spend an hour on a Saturday afternoon. Have a look and see what else they're doing - the price is very reasonable (it's a donation of a suggested amount) and short enough to achieve something without too much overthinking!

Friday, 17 July 2020

Stepping away from the thinky thinky

As I said last time, I've been so busy, and while it's all be wonderful and exciting, I'm really feeling the need to take some time out to consider my own creativity. Everything has been very outward looking, and keeping the plates spinning has meant it's all been very thinky thinky! 

I need to refill the well, tap into what makes me come alive, what I love. I want to go deeper into what I want to do and where I want to go with it all. I'm conflicted between loving the fabrics and threads, being frustrated with the fabric and threads (mostly the storage issues, to be fair), and the urge to do something more immediate - my sewing machine is fast, but paint is faster still!

There's was a bit of sketchbooking and sketching during lockdown, but now the fields are infested with men in hard hats there's been a lack of sources of inspiration around here. Even the woods aren't safe, as the dust from the the diggers floats like a cloud over everything. My husband has just written something for the little men in their diggers! Very tempting to print it out and fix it to their silly fences.

So I've enrolled on a rather wonderful art course. It's not exclusively for painters (which is good, because I'm not) but it does involved getting messy with the stuff to work through the exercises. 

This first exercise was fast and fun fun fun. Just what I need!

I cleaned my palette, with the unused blue paint, by wiping it onto sketchbook pages with a knife - and a seascape emerged!

I've combined some of my sketchbook inspirations from the fields with my most recent paint play, and this was my favourite so far - spot the bracken frond!

There has been a lot more experimenting since I took these photos, far too much to photograph and document - even on my arty instagram page (I keep this separate from my textiles instagram grid)

I'm having fun. I'm going back to the textiles soon as I have other things I want to do. Ideally I want to find a way to combine the two - paint first, interpret in fabric and stitch? Paint on fabric, then stitch? Stitch, then paint? Add fabric and stitch to paint?! 

It's all good!

PS Should I keep my painty instagram separate from my textile instagram? Should it all be one and the same? All the time I'm not sure what I'm doing with paint, I'm not sure. Thoughts?

PPS I'm doing the thinky thinky again! Oops!

Thursday, 9 July 2020

When creating is work and work is creating

My second run through of Swirls of Colour is now up and running, and everyone seems to be having a very good time! I am more than a little relieved that things are ticking along so well, and I am so overwhelmed with gratitude to my students. If someone had said a few months ago, that I would be up and running my own - successful! - online course by now, I wouldn't have believed you. 

Here's a video of some of the finished pieces from the first course - to be added to as more people finish. I'm blown away by the work that people have produced - it's so very different teaching online and not in person; I can't see what they're all up to until they show me! I'm already pondering what course to get filmed and running next, so there's going to be more stitching and thinking needed to do that over the next few months. 

 I've also spent a lot of time recently stitching some commissions, two completely different projects. The first piece was for a couple getting married, both with children already, who wanted to celebrate the coming together of two different families into one whole - but also represent their different natures and quirks. So we came up with the idea of one piece of work, split into puzzle pieces. Each colour represents each person, and features on each piece. The shapes are all different and quirky - but ultimately they can all fit together. Each piece will be framed separately. Here's one of the pieces: 

The other commission was for two cushion panels, based on a similar idea to my Swirls of Colour, but using a very neutral palette with hints of darker colours.

It's wonderful to be asked to do something, and in both cases, based on something I'd done previously, but it's also hard work trying to create something that fits with someone else's vision of what it should look like when it's finished!

So what with the course, and the commissions, I've been so busy it's felt like having a "proper" job! There's not been much of my own stitching or creating going on, that's for sure - I urgently need to find a way to make sure that time to experiment and develop my own ideas is written into my job description too. I'd love to know how other artists and creatives manage to do that. How do you find time to do the work, as well as the business of work? 

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Who will tell the birds and rabbits?

My first words when discovering that the Men in Fluorescent Jackets had started to move further around the hill to hammer in fence posts and dig out a roadway and concrete a crossing over the stream. There's also a heck of a lot of soil being shifted; they're stripping the fields to build a roundabout and road network first, and then houses.

We knew it was going to happen, just maybe not yet. We'd hoped to have the summer. 

Only a couple of weekends ago, I was happily roaming around these fields, coming home with armfuls of different grasses and weeds to draw for a sketchbook course with Helen Hallows

I had an absolute blast painting the pages in my book - even though it meant queuing outside the DIY shop in my mask in order to buy more tester pots of chalk paint! Here's a little video flick through the pages. 

Then I got stuck into some practice sketches, my favourite being the one where we used our non-dominant hand. 

And I've made a start on some of my pages.

But of course, everything's wilted in the jamjars and I need to go and gather more material - it's either that or perch out in the fields, amidst the thistles, and now the Men in Yellow are there I feel even less inclined to do that!

We still trespass, just after hours when they've all gone home for their tea. Yesterday we saw a black bunny, just sitting on the path. We stopped in our tracks and watched it for ages. 

Sorry there's no picture, but if you can imagine a silhouette of a bunny rabbit, sitting upright, with ears up and paws hanging down...that's what we saw. Luckily the whippet didn't...

I can't remember who said it, it might have been Brian Rutenberg, that it's important to experience a little moment of astonishment every day. Well, that was my moment for yesterday. 

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Dorset, Durness, Deadlines and Doing things backwards

Well these are strange times. I'm sure that's been said before!

This week I was supposed to be teaching in Dorset, then heading off up to the far north of Scotland to one of my favourite places, Durness. 

It was on Balnakiel beach at Durness that this photo of my Granny was taken over 30 years ago. Sums her up. Tough, out-doorsy, headscarf, sensible trousers, in one of her favourite places - Scotland. I even swam that day, just around the corner from Balnakiel. I was planning on doing exactly that this time too. And puffins. I was so looking forward to seeing puffins, and we'd planned several jaunts to puffin-rich locations to track them down.

So Dorset isn't happening until 2022, and Durness isn't happening until next year. 

So why not create another deadline for myself instead?

As you may know, I've been working away on my first online course. There's a natural deadline coming up this week that ties in beautifully with an idea I've had for signing up a test group. Say no more say no more, but if you want in on the secret and a chance to be in it, make sure you've signed up to my newsletter. The invitation will be going out tomorrow Monday 8 June - and places will be limited. 

And doing things backwards?

Wouldn't it have been good to have thought through exactly how to film, edit, write, host, market, test, and sign up a course before giving myself a deadline to do it all?

Then again, sleep's overrated, isn't it?!

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Corralling Ideas

As well as sketchbooks for, well, sketching, I have a collection of themed A4 spiral-bound sketchbooks that are more like "inspiration" books. There's a book for:
  • Inspiration from nature, landscape, science, ancient history (e.g. stone carvings) - you could call this Primary Sources, as there's nothing in here that has been interpreted by an artist.
  • Secondary sources of inspiration: pics of other artists' work, postcards, magazine clippings of imagery and patterns that I like e.g. ceramics, printed textiles
  • Instructions for textile projects: clippings from textile magazines showing various artists' techniques that might be useful for future reference
  • Information book: a scrap book (now into it's third volume) of anything that may be useful for future reference (such as how to plan a vegetable plot rotation, or how to make soap) to inspiring quotes and tidbits of random knowledge. 
  • Ideas book: a more portable A5 book (also in three volumes) where I noodle with ideas, sketching out how to make something. I also use a variety of smaller Moleskine journals and notebooks that go with me in my handbag or slip into a back pocket when I go for a walk.  
  • Artist cards bought at exhibitions (these overflow into a box, too!)
Here's a quick flip through some of my collection:

Music: Bossanova
Ilya Truhanov

See those artist cards at the end? If you're like me and have your own collection of cards that you can't bring yourself to send to other people (come on, I'm not alone am I?!) there's a really interesting exercise you can do with them - for another time. 

Every now and then, I try and clear the backlog of things that I've cut out to be stuck in the relevant book. Once I've finally cleared the backlog (!) my intention is to have ONE book and just put everything in that. We'll see!

Because I'm so behind, and some things have just been rammed in loosely to be stuck in at a later date, I can come across totally random and wonderful ideas that I'd completely forgotten about. 

Today I came across an idea for some reverse appliqué, and an idea for making embroidered felt cuffs. The felt cuff idea is at least 17 years ago, because I remember wearing a prototype to a particular family party when my daughter was two years old. 

It's almost like having a diary (something I've never stuck at). Every now and then, I come across something that that reminds me of what I was doing at the time, and how I was feeling. Today I came across a list that just made me hoot with laughter. I might (or might not) share it another time; it has fruity language!

On the one hand, maybe I don't need all these books. You could say if I haven't done something by now, then I never will. But then again, I feel inspired now just by having a leaf through. Never mind decluttering my sock drawer, I'm a lost cause for hoarding ideas! 

How do you keep track of all your ideas and inspirations? Do you manage to keep up with yourself, or are you always playing catch-up?! Let me know!

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Field Notes

Once again, I'm on a mission to discover exactly what it is I want to create and what it is I want to say. In fact, this whole blog, particularly the early days, is record of my attempts to do just that. After a few years, teaching took over, then producing work for Art Trail and other exhibitions, and I got caught up in the doing and demonstrating and trying to keep up with all the things I said yes to; I lost the time to reflect on what I actually want to do. So here we go again.

This week I've been paying attention to what I pay attention to...kinda circular! I've been out trespassing away, noticing what I notice. I've taken a lot of photos of weeds, and I've even sat in the middle of a field of them and sketched them.

I like the empty skies, the empty fields, the physical mass of the woods as viewed from the track approaching them. I like the sound and feel of the wind in the trees, the smell of the morning air, the airy spaciousness of it all, and the cloistered hush of the different spaces in the woods. There's one particular space, under the canopy of the tallest trees, that we've always called "the cathedral" because that's exactly what it feels like. Even the light's the same, dappled, as if through stained glass. 

field path under oak branches, looking towards the woods

But I'm also absolutely fascinated by the structure of dandelion and groundsel seedheads. Properly obsessed. I kicked myself for not having a camera with me the morning each fluffy seedhead was full of glassy droplets of dew. Also kicking myself for not starting a record of how the field is changing over the weeks. It's been abandoned, no agriculture, and it's fascinating to see how it's changing with no intervention. 

It's also very parched, because we've had no rain. It's almost desert-like. The old dried up corn stalks are like bleached bones or branches. 

There are some lovely tiny flowers, if you look closely. 
Scarlet pimpernels and speedwell. 

 I like them, but not as much as the dandelions and groundsel 
(the one I'm holding in the first photo).

For me to get as far as sketchbook pages, that's really something. Here's a little video I made.

Music: The Nest, Josh Woodward @

Friday, 8 May 2020

Swirls of Colour

Phew, thank goodness it's Friday. I've been stitching like a mad thing this week, and all the while videoing the proceedings. My room is a tip and I'm tired. But I think I'm nearly there!

I've been wittering on about sorting out an online course for so long now, but I think I'm within touching distance.

Yes, I still need to edit all the video and work out where and how I'm going to host the course, and recruit people to test it and then promote it and all of that, but for now - I'm pleased.

If you'd like to be one of the brave people to try it out, please let me know! You can sign up to my newsletter and tick the Swirls box to make sure you're on the list.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

If I'm the answer then it's a very bad question

Like so many up and down the land, those with sewing machines, I have been stitching scrubs for the NHS.

Initially I was given ten metres of black polycotton, which turned out to be double-width. After a bit of head-scratching about how to physically handle the volume of fabric and cut it in the most frugal manner on a very small table, I was able to cut out six sets.

Despite my other skills on the sewing machine, I'm not a dressmaker. For example, this is the sort of thing I've done before.

So if I'm the answer to the crisis gripping the nation and our health service, then it must be a very very bad question. We are not in a good place, folks.


When we first viewed our little house more than 21 years ago, we were early for our appointment so took a walk to the top of the cul-de-sac. We discovered that despite being only a 5 minute walk from the town centre and the railway station, from the top of the street there was an unbroken view all the way across fields and woodland to the hills of the South Downs. Sold.

There is a bypass around town, but it is hidden from view at the bottom of the hill beyond the farmland. We can often hear it but not see it.

Eight years ago, we discovered that all the farmland up to the bypass had been sold to developers, and the plan was for 1000 new homes to be built. 1000 homes that will eventually block the view completely. Our nearest patch of ancient woodland will be marooned like an island in the middle. There were the usual protests, environmental audits and so on, but it was a done deal. I wrote about it at the time, and stitched my own version of the plan.

They've started building the houses on the furthest edge, out of view for now, but people have even started moving in. The past year or so they've been digging the fields for drainage pipes and water pipes, but now the building has started the fields closest to us are empty once more. This is the first year the fields are completely uncultivated, and with no sheep or cows.

And then the lockdown started, and suddenly it seems that because people have been told they can only have an hour of exercise a day, they've all decided to take it in the same place, whether or not they were doing so before. It's become harder than ever before to maintain our distance from people, whereas before the lockdown we hardly met a soul, only our usual fellow dog-walkers.

One day, some people walking in front of us blatantly walked straight through a gap in the hedge into the abandoned field beyond. And so we followed them. And we haven't stopped since. We've discovered a whole new network of paths and loops, leading back into the woodland we usually walk in, by way of a "broken" fence (another walker must have accidentally cut through it with some wire cutters they just happened to have in their pocket, and accidentally moved the fence while they were at it).

It's so peaceful and fragrant in the woods.

So we've changed our longest dog walk time from the afternoon to early morning, and it's been utterly delightful. It's been a bit Pride and Prejudice, the sun rising over the dew-soaked fields, the skylark twittering away overhead. Even the bypass is mostly silent. Wonderful.

I'm particularly captivated by the little paths that wind their way through the trees and bluebells.

Over the years, the direction of the paths changes slightly. Sometimes it's to avoid a muddy patch in the winter (impossible eventually, when the woods become a quagmire) or sometimes to avoid a fallen tree. They evolve.

I love the archways and doorways between trees.

And I don't know whether it's because the air is so much cleaner and clearer than usual, but walking in the fields now, seeing little paths made by deer and rabbits, has reminded me vividly of being a child again, when time had no meaning and all I had to do was play.

I could spend all day in here.

I think I'm becoming a bit obsessed about paths and pathways. It might be my new thing.

Monday, 13 April 2020

Will you be in my gang?

At nearly 50 years old I never thought I'd be saying that. As a child I was a watcher from the sidelines, only getting involved when I felt safe. I had absolutely no ambition to be a leader myself!

Even now, I find it hard to talk about myself and my work, especially when there are so many talented people out there doing wonderful things. Being online and showing our work takes courage, as every time we potentially risk personal ridicule and rejection. This is a very primal fear, and as a species we generally avoid putting ourselves in such a situation.

I started my Facebook group Threadnoodlers as a chance for my "audience" (even that word makes me feel uncomfortable and exposed!) to have their chance to share, and inspire and be inspired by others - mostly to take the spotlight off me! I am absolutely not unique with what I can do with a sewing machine and a bit of fabric: we all have talents and skills and interests, they will not be the same, but they are equally valid and important.

I am no more talented because I have a Facebook page or a blog or Instagram; I just decided to do it one day a few years ago. I post sporadically, procrastinate nearly all the time, and have regular moments of feeling entirely inadequate. It's hard to let go of the fear about whether what I do is useful or interesting to anyone - but my job is just to do it, and give other people the opportunity to decide for themselves.

Similarly, creating a Facebook group is just something I decided to do one day, to allow other people to get involved and to share. It's not a place for me to be clever and for people to follow along, hanging on my every word; it's a place for everybody to get involved equally and share what they have to offer to others. We're all in this together, and we're all stuck at home so now seemed like the perfect time!

So please join us - pop along to my Facebook page, give me a like there, and join the group. There are three questions to answer when you sign up (they're not hard!) and please indicate that you agree to the rules (they are very obvious rules about playing nicely).

See you there - in my gang!

My own little gang: our family on our first "theme night" to liven up our evenings while we're in lockdown. No, I can't really explain this one...

Friday, 20 March 2020

Change and challenges

It's probably fair to say that these are interesting, and challenging times. 

Personally, things started to go a bit awry last week when this happened to my tyre on my way to do a talk:

And of course nobody has a spare tyre nowadays, we all have those silly inflation kits and there was no way that was going to fix this. So I needed rescuing and putting on a truck. This is the sort of thing I've always dreaded happening, so on a personal note it's good to know that I can cope and work it out, and not just fall apart in a helpless heap.

One new tyre later, I managed to get to Chichester for the second day of my visit, for a Swirls workshop. Unfortunately, Chichester Embroiderers' Guild had their own bad luck in that their regular venue had been flooded. Luckily, one of their members was able to secure an alternative room at very short notice so the show could go on.

my teaching sample

And despite being in quite a small room, with limited space, the work that everyone stitched was super.

As always with these workshops, I love how people's personality comes out in their colour choices, and the size they choose to work. A lot of the time they surprise themselves!

I "was" booked to teach this workshop quite a few times in the coming months, so I'd prepared a folder of samples showing the whole process. I tried to remember to video what I was doing as I was going along, and my initial intention was to produce another little book, with links to the videos as a bonus. But now a lot of the workshops are cancelled, I'm thinking I may finally get my act together and create a little online course. I'm not sure exactly how to go about this, so that's what's occupying me while I can't go out and do anything else!

When things are up and running again and life has returned to "normal", I will of course be teaching in person, but an online course might be a solution for now. If that is something you would be interested in, please make sure you've signed up to my newsletter to hear about it first (you'll also receive a link for a 15% discount in my Etsy shop when you sign up). 

For now, thank you for reading - and stay safe everyone xx