Thursday 30 July 2015

The Colour Collaborative: July: Mend

It took me a while to decide on my post for this month's Colour Collaborative. At first I looked at the ever-present selection of Joe's broken toys (we even bought a 'My Grandad Can Fix Owt' mug for said grandad's 65th birthday). They're certainly colourful: his red Mini with a Union Jack roof is currently missing its front wheels. The blue one's lost its headlights. The scarlet 'Jinty' steam engine is frequently out of service.

But they're more 'fix' than 'mend'. To me, 'mending' is syonymous with my mum's sewing basket. She'd always have a pile of mending on the go when I was little. I do too. No, I don't darn socks (and I wouldn't know how). But there's usually a holey jumper to be dealt with or a button to be replaced, a tear to be repaired. 

I won't start about the whole 'throwaway society' thing we're a part of these days. Replacing rather than repairing, buying cheap then discarding things and buying the exact same thing again. We all know about that. I try my best to avoid it where possible. But there's definitely something about a mending basket which harks back to more innocent times. 'Nurse' in all those Enid Blyton books was often so absorbed with her mending that she failed to notice toys coming to life and running riot in the nursery.

And 'mending' evokes images of women sitting by the wireless, a mug of Ovaltine close to hand, darning away and listening to the World Service. 

So where does colour come into all this? That's an interesting one. I'm a bit of a magpie and do love to pick up old buttons and sewing paraphernalia. It's usually the packaging which is colourful; the products themselves tend to be sensible and serviceable - like the garments they were used to repair. Bottle green, navy blue, grey, black, brown. You can just imagine those socks and mufflers and schoolboy sweaters requiring mending.

These days, it's perfectly acceptable - desirable, even - to insert contrasting zips and to patch with brightly-hued fabrics. To use conspicuously-coloured buttons as replacements. 

To be honest, I prefer the subtle approach. My sewing skills are acceptable but certainly not great, and I'd rather try to disguise my attempts at mending than draw attention to them. Even though I allowed myself to be talked into buying a bright red zip for a dark denim dress I want to make... Needless to say, the fabric and zip are still (two years later) in my Projects Yet To Start pile.

Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, just click on the links below.

What is The Colour Collaborative?

All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Checking in

Again, I've had plans to write (and photograph) a post which isn't just a quick look back at our week. And yet we're back here again: another Midweek Miscellany. I'm determined to keep this blog ticking over until the workload lessens, when I can return properly and do it justice. But until then it's all about trying to do too many things with too few hours in the day. I'm making good progress on the drawings front but there's still much to do.

So, the week that was. Do you like my lovely collection of Observer guides? The nature ones are particularly useful as I have a small library of reference books for my artwork. I usually work from studying real specimens, but sometimes draw from memory. And now and again I forget the shape of a leaf or the exact form of a shell...

These little books were mine for the bargain price of three for £1. More about that later.

We've been out walking. A lot. On sunny evenings when the wind's been blowing through the fields, sending ripples through the long grass and wildflowers. Yes - Joe is wearing his sleepsuit and wellies. If you can't do that when you're two, when can you? And yes, he did have a change of clothing before going to bed that night. No creepy crawlies under the covers.

We've also been out walking on grey, wet days. Being outdoors is so much better than being in. We just employ that Scandinavian idea that there's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. So sleepsuits have been swapped for puddlesuits and we head for the woods where everything's sodden and the water's rushing over the rocks and rain falls onto the canopy of leaves above us.

We've made friends with ginger tomcats. We've held tiny frogs on our outstretched palms. We've examined pinecones and sycamore keys and eaten wild raspberries.

At the weekend we had a visit to the animal sanctuary on the edge of the village. Joe loved it - donkeys, tractors, rabbits. And a friendly goat called Wallace.

They'd also built a new little bookshop. Previously there'd been a very dusty collection of yellowing paperbacks in one of the barns, next to a shabby old piano. Now there's a wooden building which is quite heavenly. It's all bare pine and unfinished ply inside, cosy and filled floor to ceiling with books of all kinds. 50p each or £1 for three. I added to my little nature library and Joe got a 'new' Thomas the Tank Engine book. I'll be going back again very soon.

In other news: we're counting down the days until we get the keys to the new house. The kitchen's ordered. The builder is at the ready. I'm trying not to think about what he'll find under all that lath and old plaster.

Eats-wise we've been having it pretty good. Roast chicken thighs with lemon and oregano. Griddled polenta with tomato sauce. Courgette and feta fritters (Nigel). Meatballs. Salmon wrapped in streaky bacon. Chickpeas spiced with harissa. And there'll be a soup to use the leftovers on Friday. I finally got around to using last year's blackberries from the freezer, stirring them into my breakfast porridge.

I realise I didn't tell you the result from my healthy eating plan. I lost 10lbs and am still sugar-free. Yes, I eat fruit (a lot) and no, I'm not a slave to ingredients labels. But I do exercise some common sense. No gluten (that's another post - and yes, it's for health reasons); no refined carbohydrates; no night-time snacking. If I want an occasional treat I have one. But it doesn't feel like self-denial any longer.

Finally: thank you again for keep visiting. I will respond to emails as soon as I can. I'm reading other blogs whenever I get the chance. Family circumstances (with my brother) have become quite difficult of late and I'm trying to juggle full-time parenting with work deadlines but it will slacken off. Soon. Please let it be soon...

Wishing you a happy midweek and some more season-appropriate weather!

Thursday 16 July 2015

Midweek (sort of) miscellany

Currently, the blog's all about capturing little moments. Despite having a list of post ideas (for Food Memories, Elegant Economy and so on) I'm reduced to keeping things short and sweet. Deadlines loom. House things, exciting as they are, need dealing with. Joe is currently Testing The Boundaries.

Anyway... our week. You know it's a certain time of the summer when there are gladioli in the house. Statuesque, gaudy and another marker of the turning of the seasons. It'll be dahlias next.

We've had some rather lovely weather lately, and lovely weather means lots of walks. This was Joe yesterday heading over to inspect a couple of JCBs (which explains the pointy finger). The Environment Agency are often to be seen near the little park, working on the flood defences. Getting in early before autumn probably.

Although the earth they bank up is quickly covered with wild flowers, and very pretty it all is too.

Yesterday I achieved the almost impossible: an empty laundry basket. I cannot resist the lure of sunshine and breezes. Everything gets washed and hung out on the line.

The scarf is a potential candidate for dyeing. Although it may not be cotton. Who knows? It could turn out to be a bit of a disaster. I'll file it under Future Projects.

The buddleia is getting ready to bloom. Most of the plants outside look fine but despite leaving the hosta alone, the slugs and snails have devoured several things. I wish the birds would concentrate on eating them rather than the strawberries...

Much to Jay's horror I'm going to paint a bookcase with this. It's currently varnished in a dark brown colour and is just crying out to be pink. Well, maybe I'm the only one who can hear the cries but still. I'm going for it. If the end result's a bit much it can happily go in my new workspace once we move. Although I have faith...

I squeezed in a little walk this morning when Joe went to nursery. It was lovely and bright and breezy, so off I went to take a few pictures and get some outdoor therapy before commencing yet more drawing.

One day I'll get some of my photos printed. They'd make good reference material for said drawings.

The little piggies have grown a bit since I last saw them. They trotted over endearingly when they saw me. Yes, I know they were after food but they were perfectly happy having their ears scratched. So that was fine.

I finally managed to find the Holy Grail last week. Well, my own personal one anyway. I've mentioned before that I have a set of 'Anne of Green Gables' books; they belonged to my mum. I grew up reading them and they're one possession I'd hate to ever lose in a house fire or similar catastrophe. Well, one of the series was always missing. I've looked for it for years, both online and whenever I go in a secondhand bookshop. The set I have are published by Harrap and that particular edition was printed in the 1970s. I chanced a quick look on Ebay the other night and there it was. £4.99 and well worth it. My search is over!

Anyway, that's my week so far. One last thing - I received a comment (from Helen) asking about my work last week and where it could be viewed. I'm unable to reply as the comment is 'anonymous' but please feel free to email me directly.

Have a good Friday and a lovely weekend.

Saturday 11 July 2015

Coming up for air

The last couple of weeks have been very full. As a result, the blog's taken a bit of a back seat. I haven't been able to read and comment on everyone else's blogs as much as I'd like either. Every spare moment when Joe isn't awake has been spent working on my drawings, both commissions and a range of 'off the shelf' images which I'm hoping to have finished, printed, framed and ready to go within the next month or so. Wish me luck...

We get the keys to the new house on the 31st. I say new, but it's actually rather old and the builders will be in there a couple of days after we complete. That should take 4-6 weeks but during that time we'll be able to work on the garden.

So I'm now officially an artist in the 'professional' sense; two payments were received this past week. And I'm still very excited about my writing projects too. It would seem I've finally got where I wanted to be, and deadlines and big orders inspire rather than scare me. 

Still, working from home around a two-year-old, taking care of family commitments, getting the daily chores done and all the rest of it has left me feeling exhausted. So I've been doing what I always do when feeling a bit frayed around the edges: taking a little bit of time out with my camera.

Joe goes to nursery once a week. Just for three hours. It's all I can afford right now, but every minute of those three hours is precious. It allows me to Get Things Done. And I love taking him there as the little road we drive along has trees meeting overhead, giving it a green tunnel-like feeling. There are fields and woods and a village green with chickens and a river. Often when I collect him we go for a little amble.

On Thursday I dropped him off and decided to take a little time out. The sun was shining and I couldn't quite face going home to the desk straight away. I needed some outdoor therapy. Or what Annie calls 'Photocise' - walking and looking for details and taking pictures. Not marching along, just going slowly and observing.

I walked along the platform at the station. The crickets were chirruping in the long grass, bees were buzzing and I took pictures over garden fences of huge alliums and rambling roses. Twenty five minutes. That's how long it was until the sun disappeared back behind the clouds and I headed home. Just a short gap in my day, enough to hit the 'reset' button, enough to set me up for a couple of hours of work.

We went out walking again that evening. The three of us this time. It felt warmer, the light softer, the colours greens and golds. We went past fields of long grass, along the stream and into the woods.

Or the 'Deep Dark Woods' as Joe calls them.

Jay commutes to Manchester and back each day, so a post-work wander is a great way for him to decompress too. Especially when the barbecue's on the go back at home and the sausages are waiting in the fridge.

The whinberries are coming out now. I know lots of places where they grow. Picking them is a long process as they're so small but it's something I love to do. Another week or so and it'll be time.

These walks, sometimes taken in solitude, more often with Joe, are when I feel most like myself. There's just something magical about being outdoors and surrounded by plants and trees and fields. Finding small treasures, spotting insects and birds. Listening to the wind in the branches and the birdsong, inhaling the scents of pine sap and honeysuckle.

They make you aware of the turning of the wheel of the year. Many flowers are already going to seed. The apples on the trees are appearing. Berries, still hard and green, have replaced blossom.

I think early evening is perhaps my favourite time to go walking. At 'rabbit o'clock', when the bunnies are soaking up the last of the sun and everything appears in a softer focus. Although I prefer autumn to the summer it is wonderful to be out in the warmth when the days are long. All those flowers blooming and insects humming away.

Thank you all for your comments lately. I will be back firing on all four blogging cylinders just as soon as I can. And to the winner of my giveaway: your picture will be on its way to you next week (I had a big problem trying to find a very large 'Do Not Bend' envelope, but that's a whole other story).

There are also exciting things afoot with some of my fellow bloggers, following on from our Manchester meet-up. Lots to plan, lots to do. I'll share a little bit more of that once it starts to take shape.

In the meantime I hope you're having a lovely weekend with equally lovely weather. We're going to another birthday party later and I'm looking forward to a glass or two of fizz and some tasty food.

Thank you again for bearing with me while I do battle with this crazy workload. Normal service will be resumed soon :)

Sunday 5 July 2015


Not really. But quite some time ago, I wrote this post about stepping out of my comfort zone, trying new things, pushing myself that little bit further than I usually might.

A week ago today I met up with a small but select group of fellow bloggers: Nina, Rachelle and Catherine. I was the first to arrive and stood waiting at Piccadilly station for the others to arrive, knowing them only from photographs I'd seen on their blogs or their Messenger profiles. I felt a little bit anxious; meeting new people isn't generally something I relish. Small talk doesn't come easily to me and 'outgoing' isn't a word I'd ever use to describe myself.

But I'd got up early, done what needed to be done at home, driven to Manchester, parked the car and power-walked across the city to get to the station for 11am. We all met up. We all got along. In fact it wasn't long at all before we were talking ten to the dozen, swapping ideas and discussing a million and one things.

Any sense of apprehension disappeared almost immediately. It was so good to meet people in person at last, to go and eat delicious food and wander around lovely places like the Craft and Design Centre.

And, of course, Fred Aldous. You can't go to the Northern Quarter without going in there and gazing in wonder at the art materials and the stationery. Oh, the stationery...

We made plans for future meet-ups and collaborations. And it turns out that Catherine lives not too far away from me. She works nearby. We'll get together for coffee and lots of talking very soon.

So you see, it's good to feel a little bit of trepidation and push through it and do something new. I made some great friends, lovely people who appreciate the things I do and who gave me ideas and advice. We all came away feeling inspired and excited, and the few who couldn't make it on the day will be joining us next time. I can't wait.

It may sound a little pathetic, feeling a bit uncomfortable at the prospect of meeting up with new people. 

More challenging has been knocking on doors trying to sell my product. I'm not a natural saleswoman; the very idea of self-promotion makes me wince. I don't possess the gift of the gab by any stretch of the imagination. But I've been visiting local shops to see whether they'd be interested in stocking or even displaying my drawings. I was told to expect a lot of 'Thanks but no thanks' responses. 

But through these visits I have again met some lovely people. One or two have been unable to offer me wall space (due to business rates, commission costs and so on). But they have been very helpful and given me some great advice and suggestions. 

Last week I arranged to speak to a man who runs a cafe where local artists display their work and sell it. He was very dismissive. Actually, he was downright rude. I picked up my bag, left and went straight to the next place. The lady there said she'd be happy to stock some of my drawings. You just have to keep going. It was a small, significant win.

Then on Thursday I received a call from someone who'd seen my website and wanted to speak to me. I went to meet him (and had to take Joe with me - fortunately he behaved beautifully). He runs a large mill shop nearby with an interiors section. He offered me a display area and ordered a lot of stock. As in, a lot of stock. Which I'm now frenziedly working away on whenever I can carve out the time.

I don't actually get worried when I go and speak to potential stockists. I'm not exactly brimming with confidence or expertise, but I just go in there and try my best. I've been quite lucky; after a few weeks my success rate is exactly 50%.

The library where I display some work has asked for enough to hang in another three libraries. My order book is filling up. And I even picked up a commission yesterday when I was getting some copies made (to go in my portfolio). One of my paintings will be going to Australia next week, to hang in a newborn's nursery. That's a strange but quite exciting thought.

So yes, I could do with an extra few hours in the day. I could definitely do with more energy. And I need to speak to a business adviser. But it just goes to show, after years of self-doubt, that sticking your head above the parapet - even if it's just an inch or two - can bring all kinds of opportunities. What with the painting and my new writing job at Tend, I feel as though things are finally going in the direction I've always wanted them to. Better late than never.

Here's to being just that little bit braver than I used to be. I hope other people do the same; I'd highly recommend it, even though I don't know what the outcome of all this will be...

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