Sunday, 28 September 2008

Northern Nomadings

HELLO! We are home again after a good long meander around the north, and itching to be off again already.
Our wheeled home is just so almost there that we now have a proper sense of how it'll be when we're in it for good, and it is wonderful. We've made a beautiful home with a view that is always changing. Of course there are still cupboard doors and plugs and taps and bookshelves and desks and hooks and pictures to go in yet, but it isn't a horsebox anymore!

This last week's travels took us through towns and villages, along bumpy backroads and under chimney-scraping bridges and back again and we met some lovely folk along the way.
We parked in shady forested corners, on tops of moors, beside streams and down little lanes. We sat in the evenings in candle and firelight with the dinner cooking and pigeons cooing overhead.
We had fires in the woods with friends and woke in the mornings to take our wares to sell in town or just to wander about like tourists, drinking coffee and looking at cathedrals.

Up above are some views of our stops and here below are some views from our windows.

And if it's all sounding just a little too romantic, know that we also came across some people who didn't want us there.. which is the inevitable difficult Other Side to the freedom of a nomadic life.

We were delighted however to meet up with some fellow bus-dwellers who despite being parked just a few miles from here, found us in the land of blog. Andy and Mel of the Black Bus Company and their cats and dogs have found a lovely little corner of Scotland to park their wheeled home and we were happy to meet them for tea and talk.
And further along our way we were welcomed warmly by another young creative couple with exciting plans for wheeled journeyings and woodworkings around Ireland.

A day's meander around Durham's little lanes and the whispering Norman arches of Durham Cathedral was a joy (the bronze cathedral door-knocker growls to the right and there's a peep through an arch below); as was my visit to the excellent Seven Stories Children's Book Centre in Newcastle. It is a seven-storied warren in celebration of the supposed mere seven stories in the world and the thousand different ways of telling them. In this child-centered book haven, there are corners with cushions and books to read, and little doors to open, children's artwork, audio books in the arms of chairs and 3-D recreations of tale worlds. There's a wooden-beamed attic with dressing up clothes and a stage, and there are wonderful examples of original illustrations and manuscripts, opening up the worlds inside the creation of books as well as the worlds inside the tales inside them.

I had the place virtually to myself and was able to amble about one of the current exhibitions From Toad Hall to Pooh Corner, which is based around children's stories set in an idyllic and almost lost English countryside. I sat at the hearth in Badger's Kitchen, with birdsong twittering overhead and admired the just exquisite pencil and watercolour illustrations by Australian artist Robert Ingpen (whose work I have long admired) for a new edition of The Wind in the Willows. There were also EH Shepherd originals, and book manuscripts, layout roughs and authors' notes. Seven Stories holds all sorts of story based events and grown-up books are wholly not allowed! I'd thoroughly recommend a visit, especially since I see a new exhibition in the listings of local author David Almond's work Winged Tales of the North.

Our Geordie-land wander took us past Tui's family where we were mobbed by curious local kids on bikes who we let inside the truck to look around and in their bouncy exuberance wanted to look iside all the drawers and come along with us and hounded us with questions like "are you English?" and "where do you wee?".
"In the woods" I whispered to open mouths and raised eyebrows.
Perhaps if the people who see us and wonder but then call the police would remember the boldness of youth and come over to us with their questions ... There they would find a cup of tea and plenty of answers and obligings, instead of the threat of the unknown fear that lurks like a highwayman on the dark roads of their minds.

I know the negative stories of gypsies stealing your lead piping and/or children, and leaving piles of rubbish. But surely there are just as many nasty house-dwellers as there are nice ones... why tar everyone with the same brush? Indeed it is the home-dwellers who come by the green spot where our black bus friends are parked and dump their unwanted rubbish, and it is the bus-dwellers who clear it up.

Well, anyway, we are returned for a while to busy ourselves with finishing the truck, and I'll make a few more clocks. There'll have to be plenty of clearing upping and freecycling, and I even have a passing notion to have a wee sale of my original paintings... because of course they can't all go in the truck. Would anybody be interested in such a thing?

The sun has come back to Scotland with us, as has a flat tyre. We are now on the hunt for a good set of new tyres for the truck before we leave and we seem to have the rarest wheel size in the world. It is nice to be back amongst blog friends ... the doings of blog land can easily whisk out of your grasp when you leave them for a while so I am bumbling to catch up a little. All your kind kind words are appreciated and enjoyed as ever, and it will be incredible when we have our mobile internet and can blog on the hoof. I leave you with an evening scene in the truck, parked somewhere between here and there... outside there are ominous forest rustlings, and inside, a cup of Horlicks.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Feathering the nest

ANOTHER PICTURE PATCHWORK for you to nose about (enlargeable for the extra nosey)... our gradually growing interior. It is very exciting to see our home becoming more and more like a moving log cabin! Tui has made great sturdy wood frames for the kitchen and storage seats.. there will be doors on them soon. A lovely gnarled piece of wood has become the kitchen bench, the sink is in place but plugless, there's a small temporary cooker, there are little secondhand cupboards on the walls with nothing in them but a bag of teabags, and we have tested out the undersofa storage space with stacks of our picture frames.

It seems we are living in a permanent cloud here... being 1531 feet above sea level (down the road is the highest village in Scotland you know!); I have begun the fifth clock which has reds and roofs and moon and moth, is for the talented and lovely narrative jeweller Nina Bagley, and will be ready in a while.
The day after tomorrow, I will be turning nine-and-twenty and we plan to drive off out from underneath this cloud, somewhere foresty and have a birthday fire and something nice to eat. And then we'll head away to try and find the sun.. if we do, and there happens to be a largeish town underneath it, we shall stop and sell pictures!

The mornings are misty and we'll be driving off inbetween clouds into the world. Meanwhile these two will stay huddled together at home. They don't live with us, they just think they do.
I shall return soon, a year older, and a weekend wiser.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

The Storyteller's Clock

ND there for you is the story of Once Upon O'Clock number four, just completed and inspired by the beautiful words and pictures of the recipient ~ illustrator and writer Jackie Morris. She told me the things she loved: ice bears, ginger cats, hares, moons and many other things, and she sent me her wonderful stories to read.

If you are not already familiar with Jackie's work, do wander over to her website where she keeps a fantastic studio journal and her cat blog where her three ginger cats tell just lovely tales. This clock has already ballooned its way over to the Welsh coast to hang on Jackie's wall.. I must say, it was a task both daunting and delightful to make a commissioned clock for a fellow artist, and such a talented one at that. I think she likes it ;) And now I am about to start number five, a clock for another artist who uses words and images, but in quite a different way.
In the meantime .. in its entirety .. "We Three & The Moon Balloon" ...

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Linoleum Nuptuals

MY FINGERS in my student days used to be blackened more often than they are now with printing inks. I studied at the London College of Printing (these days renamed the London College of Communication for some unknown reason...) and in between my Book Arts studies I enjoyed my days in the rooms of old presses, making, amongst other things, woodcuts and linocuts and collograph prints (a sort of poor man's etching).
So I was happy to be embroiled with roller and linoleum again today for a wee project for my brother and his lady who are soon to be man and wife. They are an artistic pair with hands designed for handmaking things, and wanted their wedding invitations to be hand printed. They had in mind a sort of tile design with two birds and some flourishes. So here below follows my little adventure in linocutting.. using a wonderful Japanese Lino, which is in fact a two-coloured sort of plastic that cuts like butter and shows up helpfully where you have and have not cut.
I will now send the lino plate to the happy couple who no doubt stand rollers-at-the-ready to print out their dozens of wedding invites in whichever colours they choose.
In between the two neck-craning birds are two wedding rings.

This last image can be seen larger if you click on it

Monday, 8 September 2008

Vissudha and the problem of Ultramarine

BLUE IS NOT my favourite colour. I have hardly ever worn jeans in my life for this reason. I am an autumn person, rusty ochrey muddy olivey burnt maroons adorn my work, my world and my body. I don't know why this is. Perhaps because I was born in the autumn, perhaps because there are not many natural things in the world with bright blue colouring (flowers aside, and berries, and the sky... hmm maybe blue isn't so scarce afterall!). A mudgy inky indigo can just about get away with it for me, but bright royal blue: absolutely not!
Strangely, though, I can also find some intense blues beautiful: Maroccan doors, Madonnas' robes, Medieval skies, but I struggle greatly to use these blues in my work.

Consider then, how difficult I found the fifth painting in the Chakra series which I am undertaking. Each of these paintings has to take a colour of the spectrum as its main hue. Number five was to be blue. And I couldn't lean towards indigo to make life easier, as the next painting has to be indigo, and the two must be distinct from each other.
I tend towards a fairly limited palette when I paint, and the only blue I use is French Ultramarine. The name "Ultramarine" derives from Middle Latin 'ultramarinus', literally "beyond the sea" because it was imported from Asia by sea. Natural Ultramarine occurs as a component of lapis lazuli.
My oil painting technique has got more and more scratchily aged in recent paintings, which I like, and it was in this way that I think I managed to get a blue enough blue without it being garish. Bob likes it: particularly the eyes, the elephant and the blue; and he is currently sitting with it while he conjures words to describe what it evokes for him. I think it is appropriate that as a series of meditative paintings, that will serve almost as icons, blue is a necessary "heaven".
Here is Vissudha... it is about the voice and communication, creativity and purification.
Next comes indigo....