Sunday, 31 August 2008

View from the Sickbed

IF I LOOK towards my knees right now, this is what I can see: A cosy blanket, a kindly cat, and a very big book. Excellent things for colds. I have just returned from a secret surprise mission to London to visit my parents and have returned with leaden sinuses, croaking throat and drooping eyelids. I am quite annoyed as it is the first cold I've had for two whole years.
Still, I am greatly embroiled in the book which is the quite excellent 800 pages of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It is an incredible work which entwines scholarly fantasy and 19th century eccentricity beautifully, and can't really be compared to anything else. Susanna Clarke has imagined a whole magical history which is detailed in extraordinary footnotes that encompass humourous and strange tales and references. Since I am only on page 369, I am deliciously savouring the remaining chunk of pages in which I am sure there will be journeyings into the Other Lands, sad love stories and much more mastery of words. I find I am quite compelled to stay in this world.. which is a perfect place for wandering with a snotty nose, woolly ears and a bunged up head.
I leave you with some fine things others have had to say about this book, and hop over here if you'd like to learn more.

"It is a book for a favourite armchair, for readers in patched cardigans, with log fires and buttered muffins."

"It's funny, moving, scary, otherworldly, practical and magical, a journey through light and shadow... as tangled and twisting as old London streets or dark English woods."

"the book darkens as rapidly as the sky on a wintry English day, becoming an increasingly bleak meditation on professional envy, betrayal, revenge, madness and despair."

"A triumph of traditional imaginative storytelling, this is an energetic, engaging and inventive tale that simply kidnaps the lucky reader to participate in a rare experience."

"Many books are to be read, some are to be studied, and a few are meant to be lived in for weeks. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is of this last kind ..."

Monday, 25 August 2008

Postcard from the Hermitage

MY WALLS have always been covered in pictures... my bedroom at home was a patchwork of postcards and magazine snippets, drawings and quotations: from skirting board to light fitting there was imagery. Many of these postcards have travelled with me from home to home and still adorn my walls now, dog-eared with old glumps of blu-tack mixed with flakes of paint and plaster from various walls on their backs. Others have been sent to me or picked up along the way.
My liking for patchworkings of clutter means that our walls are peppered with pictures of quite beautiful things, in every nook and cranny, they inspire me and feed my eyes wherever I look, and I thought that perhaps you'd like to see some of them....

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Snail Water

I LIKE SNAILS. They take their houses with them gypsy-fashion and move at an unhurried pace not dissimilar to my urgency-lacking Rima-drift. I met this spiral-shelled fellow yesterday, making his way round a rain filled ash bucket outside our house. We stopped to chat for a bit and I watched him as he moved slowly down a half submerged piece of slate into the water and back up the other side of the bucket, his eye stalks poking out and in all the while.
The unending rain-rain-day-after-day weather at the moment is probably much more up his street than mine. Everyone is fed up with it. I don't remember what the sun looks like. We've even had mudslides on the road out of the village. When will it end?
I am feeling rather snailish at the moment, slow and sliding through puddles.

Gypsies, incidentally, call snails "earthy-horses" or "cattle" because they have horns, and a snail shell given as a love token by a gypsy girl can stir up an unbridled desire in her intended.
In England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland snails were used as divinatory devices by studying their trails in the hopes of finding there in the slime the initial of your spouse-to-be.
They were also used in cures for warts, the ague (malaria), gout, coughs and earache.
Here below is a recipie for Snail-Water, to treat venereal disease. The photograph is taken from the simply wonderful Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garret - a museum in London Bridge which is reached by a narrow winding staircase up to wooden beamed attic of drying herbs and Jars of Things, terrifying operating implements and skeletons, folk medicines and blood stained wooden operating tables. A treat indeed and well worth a visit.

Snail! snail!
Come out of your hole,
Or else I'll beat you
As black as coal.

Snail! snail!
Put out your horns
I'll give you bread
and barleycorns.

An old nursery rhyme.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

A crock of potteries

A POTFUL of exciting news for you... My teapotted eggcupped mice and wheeled oddfolk are taking up residence on some beautiful handmade stoneware crockery. A little while ago Gina Phenix of Phenix Pottery contacted me to ask if she might use some of my drawings on her lovely pots and bowls and cups and plates, and I am delighted to announce the results of her first firing.

The transferred drawings are fired at 1850 degrees Fahrenheit onto the side of the bowls and in the kiln, all other colourants except the iron in the transfer are burnt out, leaving a lovely sepia toned image.
The titles of each work are written around the inside rims of the pieces and Gina's pots have a beautiful earthiness and artfully pleasing shapes that I find very satisfying. I am sure some of you might be tempted by this Hermitage series as well as her other delicious potworks.
I am so excited by this collaboration, that I am inspired to draw more big-bottomed mice sitting in crockeries various to adorn Gina's pottery.

These bowls are just the beginning, there are mugs and more to follow, and Gina is ever so kindly making us a set for our wheeled home, just the right size to fit our as yet unhung cupboards and hooks. This is a novelty and half for me, having never owned a set of anything in my life before, making do instead with a brick-a-brack of charity shop misfits to eat and drink from.

I shall leave you to wander the rest of the Phenix Pottery emporium and drink a cup or three of tea...

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

The Goods & Chattels Man

A DRAWING for my Dad who has a very sore back at the moment and who told us stories when we were young of strange fellows with wheelbarrowsful of buttons ...

The Goods & Chattels Man is staggering about in my etsy shop here, if you fancy relieving him of his burden...

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Our first wheeled cup of tea

LOOK! Our home is being born! In between the raindrops Tui has been hammering and sawing and building and chiseling and cursing and fixing and making our nest. Here for you to see are some moments from our recent doings. The truck's tailgate has been removed entirely and replaced by the front door and another little welsh chapel window. The windows have latches, the floor has beautiful wooden floorboards, the back of the truck has expertly built wooden walls, and most excitingly of all, our home has a fire! The flue pipe needed a little encouragement to fit but is now elbowing its way nicely up through the roof.

We had our first cup of tea on the stove yesterday whilst imagining the next stages - kitchen and seat building, pictures on the walls, cupboards galore and bookshelves.... Somehow lighting a fire in our truck-home makes it really seem like we are getting there. For someone who hasn't ever built anything with wood before, Tui is doing a superbly superb carpentry job and is thoroughly enjoying it too. He has taken gentle care over every last detail and trundled round to the truck every wet day, slurping through puddles to work away at making our lovely home, while I join him in painting breaks for cups of tea and sandwiches and the odd little accordion serenade!

And don't you think our bedford-nest looks beautiful? :)

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Fencer's Clock

A STRANGE KNIGHT rides his rocking horse steed over uncharted territories, only to find that after travelling for miles and battling many Terrors, he is in fact in the very same place where he started. (Such is the dilemma with rocking horse steeds, as you might imagine) ... Nevertheless he holds his sword forth and his shield out, as if protecting himself from the turnings of time.

Here is the third Once Upon O'Clock ... a Russian Icon inspired sword clock for Yoli. This one is made with a different piece of tree from the last two. The wood is cut from a section where the trunk was beginning to divide into two... and you can see the rough split running down the front leg of the horse. And from the side of the slice of wood, I found a tiny spike growing, the beginnings of a branch I think ... and a perfect point for the sword. The bark is rather higgledy piggledy on this one, and still has moss growing in parts...

I am parceling this up today to send off into the wilds of Royal Mail ... it is so exciting that my clocks will be hanging on walls all over the world. I never expected that this venture would be so popular... had I known I would have got on with it all those years ago when I thought of it!!
I think though, that I have this odd blog-world to thank for being able to connect with like-mined and interesting souls all over the planet. Hermits are unlikely to meet them too often otherwise :)

And speaking of blogs... my mum has written her second blog post! (only three months after the first one! ;) with some musings on artistic genes and example of my New Zealand Grandmother's paintings.

Happy days... I'm off to the wagon workshop with some coffee and nibbles to invigorate Tui's woodworking hands ... and maybe I'll lend a hand of my own, while the Fencer's clock hands tick away for the last time until they reach the shores of America ...

Saturday, 2 August 2008

On The State Of My Paintbrushes, Clock Parts & Book Corners

THIS DREADFUL scratty state of affairs to the left is, believe it or not, my most used paintbrush. I fear it's had its day... so I was delighted to receive a little package in the post from my mum with these sleek specimens below enclosed. For those interested in the minutiae of painting tools, I like best to use tiny acrylic brushes with a nice resistance to the bristles, which I find best for painting on hard surfaces like wood. Canvas has never really grabbed me because of the give in it as you put your brush to the painting surface.

Meanwhile in the Hermitage workshop, any thought of a trip away has been thwarted by our old friends the rainclouds.. so Tui and I have thrown ourselves into truckbuilding and clockmaking respectively. Our wheeled home is approaching the Very Exciting stage ... there'll be photos soon.

And Once Upon O'Clock number three is almost done! I must say, that on receiving a lovely new clock order from a geographer, I am beginning to grow into the idea of making clocks for professions: The Perfumier's Clock, The Fencer's Clock, The Geographer's Clock .. and so on. Tho this is not a requirement in each commission, I like the concise idea of it.
I have enjoyed drawing inspiration with this latest one from Russian icons and lacquer painting. I was asked by Yoli the Fencer to include swords and reds... and I am very happy with what has emerged. Here below you can see a bookish corner in our house with the three titles I have been referring to for inspiration on such things as heraldry and horses, as well as the rich, muted broken-paint colours of the magnificent Russian icons.

The books shown are:

Do click on the photograph if you want to look at the books in closer detail...

I must return to the grindstone now, while rain pelts the window.
I leave you with a smattering of tickings of the recent clockmakings ...

Oh, and I have just listed the Once Upon O'Clock Illustration for sale as prints in the shop...