Wednesday 30 July 2008


AS SOME of you may have read, I have been commissioned to paint the seven chakras personified.
The whole project is to take place over some time, so that there is a development within me as I paint each one, working my way through the seven points. They are being painted in oils on Ikea breadboards!
You can see my first three in the series here and here.

I did not know a huge amount about this old Sanskrit mapping of the body and spirit before undertaking this job, and my commissioner (I shall call him Bob) is very knowledgeable about all the intricate aspects of the yoga and meditation he studies, as well as the spiritual symbolisms behind it all.
As well as this he is an ex-drawing pupil of mine and a maths and science teacher too.
A while back when I posted the third of my paintings for this series, some of you commented that it might be interesting to read his eloquent reflections on my works. I am not used to such detailed, interesting and thoughtful responses to commissioned work, so it is always a delight to hear back from Bob when he has received each painting, and he sees things in a quite different way from me. I paint my interpretations of each chakra and its meaning, whereas Bob is able to put into words (with a mathematical brain too) what he sees and feels in each piece.

I thought with the fourth and latest of these paintings I would also include a selection of these kind and insightful responses, which he has written and agreed to be shared. You need to click on them to read at full size.

Sunday 27 July 2008

Seven Impossible Things

iassen ghiuselev - alice in wonderlandALICE IN WONDERLAND is a wonder-ful, odd and slightly unnerving tale loved by people old and people young across and around the world, as well as me. In Lewis Carroll's sequel, Alice Through The Looking Glass, Alice meets the White Queen, who informs her that she tries to believe at least six impossible things before breakfast; and what an admirable ambition indeed! Today I am lucky enough to be featured on Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast - Why Stop At Six? ~ a fabulous blog about books. Jules and Eisha, who have created an entertaining and informative haven of bookish and sometimes non-bookish things, have written a lovely thing about my work for this week's featured illustrator post. I am among a host of other fabulous illustrators featured, and archived helpfully there for later perusal. Do wander over and explore.

To continue the Alice theme, I would like to introduce you to an exquisite edition of Alice In Wonderland that I have had on my shelf for a few years (snippets to the left), but which never fails to enchant me.
This book (perched inexplicably up there in our lovely little ebay-snaffled belfast sink that sits at present in the corner of the bedroom, waiting to be fitted into the ever developing home-on-wheels) is illustrated by Iassen Ghiuselev a Bulgarian artist with the most amazing and old fashioned sort of talent, whose medieval wonderland of works demonstrate enviable skill with light and foreshortening.
The main illustrations from this book are all taken from one painting, measuring 20 inches by 40 inches, which took him six years to complete... it is painted with gouache on wooden panel and is for me both humbling and inspiring to look at.
All the topsy-turvyness of Alice's world is represented, Escher-like in a dimension-defying landscape populated by Cheshire cats and Duchesses, playing cards and piglets, white rabbits and hatted madmen, marmalade jars and dormice ...
I was pleased to find that he now has a website where you can see his Alice works and many others: Pinoccio, Don Quixote, Arthur, Orpheus as well as several tarot decks to name a few.

And talking of caterpillars, (which I might have been - look there he is over there, smoking a hookah pipe and sitting on a mushroom) I have the most impossible thing of all to show you ...
The other day Tui was taking off the big front wheels of our truck and swapping them with the back ones (with good reason :) but it's not relevant here) and lo and behold, what should he find living in the 6mm gap between the brake drum and where the wheel goes round but these handsome fellows ... each one on a different wheel!! Isn't that just incredible? We are unsure what they are... moths-in-waiting perhaps? You can see the wings being formed. They are now hiding in a dark slightly-ajar drawer, so maybe soon a magnificent and beautiful beast will spread its wings and fly forth slightly dizzily.
I think the White Queen with her believing of six impossible things before breakfast would have been quite bowled over indeed to hear of these tiny creatures metamorphosing inside a beautiful shell going round and round and round and round and round and ...

And do click on them to make them larger ~ Tui's photos are so good you can almost see their thoughts ...

Friday 25 July 2008

The Perfumier's Clock

THE SECOND ever Once Upon O'Clock is now ticking its way over the ocean to Perfumier Nicole.
She asked me to paint a wise woman, a brewer of magic, a young witch rather than an old crone, and one with whom she could identify whilst stirring her own fragrant artisan skincare brews.
I am very pleased with this second clock, I like the warm colours that put me in mind of distilling petals and sunlight through bottles of who-knows-what along a windowsill.
This perfumier is stirring her brew as time turns around her cauldron... she is stirring time.

I have now begun an official List of custom clock orders. I am receiving such delicious requests for imagery that delights me, and I am having fun trying to keep some circular motif within each design to go behind the hands. A few more logs have been brought indoors in preparation for clocks to come and Tui has the arm-aching task of sawing clock-slices from the logs.
The next piece of wood is cut and sanded and almost ready to be painted on... it is for a fencer (of the sword variety, nothing to do with edges of gardens) and I shall be beginning work on it after a little picture-selling jaunt into the north of England, dodging rainclouds, and parking overnight in the forest.
Cheerio for now ... tick tock.

Tuesday 22 July 2008

The people on the streets

OUTCASTS and strange folk are fascinating to me ... as I say in my website porch, they are most welcome in my world, and indeed they people my paintings more than do any others.
As you may have read before, our living is made by selling our work from town to town, setting up a temporary display on the street, selling pictures to passers by and then moving on. This is the most exhilaratingly precarious way to make a living, where earnings are dependent on such see-sawing variables as the weather, people's whims and wallets, vehicular compliance, police and council officials' good will & finding a Good Spot...
Recently we have been hiding in the hills more than usual due to unending rain, truck preparations and repairs, and paintings to do.. nevertheless, we have to go and sell when we run out of money and grab any chink of sun that we can. Often this might mean a small trip to our nearest big town - Glasgow, which for the last two weekends has been the case (yesterday being a true escapade of frazzling exhaustion, ending in us randomly not being allowed on the tube due to our baggage and "health and safety reasons".)

In this country, selling our work like this is not exactly legal; it is impossible to get a license for street trading in the way we do it. Most towns have a handful of licenses available and these have been bought up for years ahead by locals who turn up every Saturday with a tacky display of cheap football shirts and mobile phone accessories, and this is not quite what we're after anyhow, as we sell in many towns. The only alternative is a pedlar's license (bought from the police) which "officially" covers you for peddling door to door or selling on a mobile trolley sort of affair that you move every 15 minutes down the street.

The term pedlar means any hawker, pedlar, petty chapman, tinker, caster of metals, mender of chairs, or other person who, without any horse or other beast bearing or drawing burden, travels and trades on foot and goes from town to town or to other mens houses, carrying to sell or exposing for sale any goods, wares, or merchandise, or procuring orders for goods, wares, or merchandise immediately to be delivered, or selling or offering for sale his skill in handicraft;
~ Interpretation of the term "pedlar" from the Pedlars Act 1871

Luckily we get away with it most of the time, and if we are approached by police on their rounds/suited council officials on their lunch break who decide to invoke the law, often a pleasant conversation about how we do what we do, try our best not to bother anyone, and how we'd buy a country-wide license if one existed appeals to their humanity and they turn a blind eye. Not so always however. There are people in the world who take pleasure in speaking to us as if we are a piece of dirt on their shoe, making assumptions before even trying to have a conversation with us. If these people are the ones asking us to move and happen to have a uniform on, then we have to move, even if the day was going well and the sun was shining. On the whole though, the police are fine.
Plenty of contradictions are thrown in our laps too... over the road we see a beggar preparing for his days' work: positioning his polystyrene cup in front of his feet, donning a suitably grubby t-shirt, pulling it forlornly over his knees, and bowing his head, ready to invoke peoples' pity and in so doing earning often more than a street musician. This is not illegal. The police can move us for selling pictures that we've made ourselves, but they can't move him. In other towns we are approached regularly by people with cameras and microphones... they are making a film about the vibrancy of the street entertainment in the town and could they interview us.

On top of all this, we have to deal with the colourful circus of humanity that lurches past us while we sit there quietly selling our pictures. Despite the fact that we tend towards the shy and certainly never shout "roll up, roll up".. we are called upon by the street to rub shoulders with what, I am certain, must be the strangest, most challenging and disconcerting folk ever to walk the planet.This phenomenon never fails to amaze us and cause us to shake our heads in disbelief.

In the early morning we have to battle with our trolley of wares and armfuls of pictures up and down public transport steps to beat all the other street performers to our Good Spot (a wall where we can lean our pictures that isn't in front of a shop).

Once there and set up, and before many people are even about, we will have met at least two teetering bedraggled drunks who can barely speak and decide that we are the most interesting folk to talk earnest jibberish to, three inches from our faces, even though they can't remember who they are or where they live. The day continues like this ... there are the regular hoo-haas between buskers loud and quiet, talented and dreadful /balloon modelers /Big Issue sellers /street performers /left-wing campaign groups with leaflets and tables and stiff expressions /religious fanatics with microphones and billboards of sin and damnation /annoyingly bouncy "chuggers" (charity muggers) with studenty haircuts who block people's path and bully them emotionally into giving.

In between meeting lovely interested kind people who look at or buy pictures or just pass with a smile, we have to parry the metaphorical blows of a stream of nutters: abusive track-suited teens on low bikes who, laughing, pretend to ride over our pictures and tell us to cut our hair; lonely old men with obsessive interests in cameras and large bellies who engage us in inescapable conversation for aeons; costumed genuflecting weirdos with quotations tattooed on their arms who use the word "betwixt" in ordinary conversation; hollow-eyed heroin addicts who want money for the train; tottering abrasive plastic women/judgmental fat lawyers talking on mobile phones who stand almost on top of of our display and on being asked kindly to move a little say things like "he wants us to move" or "You dare to ask me to move? You're scum"; guitar strumming buskers with dogs that howl to the harmonica who chat at us vaguely; red-faced old scots who shout - "Are you English?! What are you doing here?!"; bearded and alcoholic old men with no homes who dance in joyful oblivion to the street musicians playing and who are not the tiniest bit aware of the crowd of shoppers who have stopped to hold up mobile phones, to laugh and ridicule and video him ...

All of these sad, funny, upsetting and unbelievable anecdotes are true to the letter and have happened to us on the streets of the UK. I may sound like a ranting hermit, but days like yesterday make you marvel and despair at the people in the world, and want to scuttle off to the forest. However, I have always found these interactions fascinating, and it makes a happy encounter with a friendly, unusual or interesting person all the more appreciated. I love the beautiful colourfulness of life, but there are some horrors out there too. Being on the street and exposing yourself to that thing which we call people is a brave eyeopener and a journey and a half for a hermit.

Sometimes when we sit waiting for a sale (which can be a long wait on a bad day and a fleeting minute on a good day), I play the accordion to pass the time and gather a few pennies, or I draw.
There above (click for a larger view) is a collection of a few sketches that I have made whilst sitting amidst the uproariousness of the street, they are almost always portraits of people in my head (although once, in Canterbury, an exact incarnation of my just finished drawing walked past! ~ the old plaited lady, bottom left).

They are odd folk, outcasts, people with wonky eyes ... the people I welcome into my world, and, I suppose, they are the medieval marketplace of folk going by. Maybe I romanticize them ... for in amongst it all, these people are raw and not always pleasant. But for all that, my eyes always will be drawn to the ones who are sitting on the edges of things.

Friday 18 July 2008

Long walks and rainclouds

THIS DAMP hanging curtain of cloud has been sitting knitting raindrops over these hills for weeks now, and everything is dripping.
Tui has been fighting a battle with sneaky little leaks in the wooden body of the truck. When it rains heavily, deft little raindrops find their way through 30-year-old screw holes and down the sides of windows and he chases them out again with good old silicone sealant.
Yesterday we drove off up and down a few hills to a Town to buy some groceries and passed a cheerful looking lady in suitable rain gear pulling behind her what can only be described as a tent on wheels. On the side of it were the words "Rosie's World Run" and we waved at her because she looked interesting, and she waved back. And we waved again when we passed her on the way back. On further investigation it turns out that she is walking round the world on a very low budget in the spirit of seizing the day. She is 61 years old or thereabouts and has passed through such chilly places as Siberia and Alaska before trundling through our misty hills. You can read and see more here.

I am busying away like a ticking bee on the clocks... and am chuffed indeed at the enthusiastic response from folk. I think I have settled on a price for now - £90 for a random Rima-clock that pops up in the shop, and £150 for a commission/custom order. How does that sound? I have a fair old little queue of orders at present so it may be a while before any random clocks pop into the shop!

In the meantime while you're all twiddling your thumbs, I'll tell you that I have a nice little nest of small prints for sale in my shop now.. they measure 7 inches by 5 inches ... if you have any little empty picture frames that need their bellies filling.

Wednesday 16 July 2008

Flies & time

THIS MORNING on tottering downstairs towards the morning cup of tea, I found a drowning fly flapping for his upside-down little life in the dregs of last night's hot chocolate cup. So I scooped him out on a fingertip and sat with him on my hand for some time watching his perfect little fly-drying routine. He would wipe his big little eyes with his front legs like a cat over and over again, and then swap to his back legs which he hooked over his wings to wipe off the tiny remnants of chocolate, scraping them slowly over and under each wing... and then he'd flutter a little and begin all over again. Here he is sitting atop the gnarled mountain rage that is in fact my knuckles under a macro lens!

Outside the wind and cold rain showers are unrelenting and we keep peeping out the door to see if the sun might allow us to trundle off and sell our pictures any time soon.
Meanwhile the second clock has begun! I was jumping about the kitchen the morning the first clock sold (it is happily winging its way now to new owner Tara). Thank you everyone for such a wonderful, encouraging response to this new venture, and for all your thoughtful words on the matter of pricing. I am still feeling my way, but it seems the general consensus is that I could eke my prices up a smidgen. I have received a number of custom orders for clocks too so I think that I have settled upon having two prices, one for the clocks I make and just put in the shop, and the other (slightly higher) for custom orders. I still want these to be affordable, so the prices will be both not ridiculous for the buyers and not ridiculous for me.
Here's a sneak preview of the second clock, which is green where the first one was red, and is a custom order for a perfumier!

And while I paint, we repeatedly check on the BBC weather like anxious mothers or perfectionist chefs, and our lovely Bedford sits there waiting patiently to be taken on an adventure...

Thursday 10 July 2008

Once Upon O'Clock

GOOD DAY to you all! I would like to proudly announce my newest venture, one which I have had planned for years but not quite got round to until now... I am becoming a clockmaker!
As you know I have a delight in Heath Robinson-like contraptions, automata and all things that clink and clonk, I love to paint folk tales in medieval hues, and make things from wood. So I thought to combine all these things into Once Upon O'Clock, my laboratory of creaking and ticking and a place where you can buy my original paintings with a twist.

My first toe-dip into the horological workshop was a few years ago when I made this clock on the left as a gift for my parents. These new once upon o'clocks are made from slices of wood from a tree down the way that has been logs for some time, logs that are a perfect round clock size.

The wood, once cut, was sanded and the bark left on. Then the hole for the spindle was drilled, off centre to match the rings of the tree. The "Old Mother Time" painting is inspired by the many world myths of the fates spinning the threads of our lives and of time and the familiar old woman of fairytale who spins.

I liked the idea that the hands of the clock would turn around her spinning wheel, and I have spent time making the surface of the paint look aged and worn and the cracks in the wood into a feature. I hope that these clocks will be unique and unusual treasures, useful and beautiful, strange and old, ticking away once upon o'tales on your walls ...

To celebrate my new creations, I have been busy making a ticking tocking website-with-cogs where you can spend time in this once upon o'clock world. Tui has made the most amazing music for the site out of recordings of clocks and treadle sewing machines, bells and scuffles, as only he knows how. I think the sounds add a whole new dimension to the page and make wandering off into the imagination of this wonky contraption of a place quite unavoidable.
I invite you all to go and have a look ... it will grow as I make more clocks, there's even a rhyme. And don't forget to turn your speakers up!

Pricing of works is always a dilemma and a half for me... Artists who make their main living from their art, as I do, have to charge prices that reflect the time and costs involved in the making of a piece; this, after all, is a wage. But it is an ever present problem that if you price a work that has taken you two weeks for example at an amount even half another person's average fortnightly wage, they fall backwards in horror, mutter "um thanks anyway" and scuttle off never to be heard of again!
So what's the answer? Either to undercharge dramatically, subcontract your work to a factory in China, or fill your living room with wonderful never-seen artworks.

With this problem in mind, neverending drizzle outside the windows, and a cavernously echoing piggybank, I have decided to try to make these clocks at affordable prices, because I want people to buy them. The idea is to make a one-off original painting in oils on wood which I would normally charge several hundred pounds for and turn it into a useful object: a clock, a unique creation that will never be made again and charge just sixty pounds - one pound for every minute!
I hope that each one I make might sell and then I will make another. This one took me four days. I would really like to hear your views on whether you think this is too much, too little, affordable, silly, cheap or otherwise. Would you buy one? Why/Why not?

Here is the new Once upon O'Clock Etsy Shop where I hope these clocks will flit in and out in a tick and a tock ... first come first served!

To begin this little story:
It was once upon o’clock

When a jumping jackanory

Called to his ticking flock:

“Come and spin a yarn with me

Around this loom of time,

And I’ll tell you horologically

Of the spinning wheel of rhyme.”

PostScript: It has sold already!! Hooray and thank you! And a custom order is being planned too!

Friday 4 July 2008

Wildflowers & windows

WELL WELL, the sun has visited us for a brief glimpse and so we grabbed the chance to hang out washing, walk a little and cut holes in the side of the truck!
Summer here is in full wild bloom. Everywhere there are yellow buttercupped fields, white cow-parsley'd waysides, and the tall gentle warm-whispering mauve grasses are hiding all manner of little flowers and scuttling things.
That orange flower down there on the left is growing by a curling stone that sits at our front door. Back in the days when the winters here were more wintry, the villagers would go up to the frozen reservoir and whizz these stones across the ice.

I have never seen so many buttercups in one place. Do you remember holding them under your chin as a child to see if your skin glowed yellow telling that you liked butter?
I've just weaseled out some other little superstitions surrounding buttercups ...

  • The common name 'buttercup' was derived from the yellow color of the flower. It was also believed that the richness of butter's yellow color was the result of the number of buttercups in the pasture; however, this was only a myth since tall buttercup is so bitter that cattle avoid eating it.

  • According to superstition, holding a tall buttercup flower against one's neck on the night of a full moon, or simply smelling the flower, causes insanity, hence the folk name 'crazyweed'.

  • Flowers tend to track the daily movement of the sun in the sky.

  • Beggars used to blister their skin purposefully with buttercup juice to arouse the sympathy of passersby.

  • Fishermen of the 1800's poured buttercup tea on the ground to bring worms to the surface.

Tui took me on a wee short-sleeved walk around behind the village to where he'd been busying away on the latest and excitingest addition to our wheeled home: The Kitchen Window!

And now the starter motor is fixed, we can think about venturing out.
I'm still hard at work on my new secret creation ... all will be revealed soon.
Wishing you all a happy sunny buttercupped weekend.

Wednesday 2 July 2008

Rain, rain & little bits of news

BEYOND THE WINDOWPANES the rain falls and falls and the skies are neverendingly leaden. Indoors I am busying away on a new and exciting little idea, which I shall be telling soon. And we wait and wait for news that the broken Bedford starter motor has been fixed, until then we are stranded in the hills eating baked beans on ryvita! In the mean time I am happy to announce that little bits of my work can be glimpsed in various corners ...

Firstly, I am taking part in the fabulous PikaPackage Project, organised beautifully by Amy of Pikaland who has made it her mission to celebrate all things illustrated. A PikaPackage is a monthly collection of collections of illustrated things donated by illustrators from far and wide, all put together carefully with a lovely little Pikaland magazine featuring the participants and their work. Soon you'll be able to get your hands on these July editions here. And see my humble little contribution here.

Secondly, I am happy to announce that my first ever animation The Woods for Polly Paulusma's single on One Little Indian records in 2007 is to be shown at the Hebden Bridge Fringe Festival on this Saturday the 5th of July in the evening. Here are the exact details if any of you are in the vicinity and should like to pop along, which we would have been doing had the starter motor not abandoned us. For those of you too far afield to visit the film festival, and who haven't seen the animation, here it is again, only very small!

If you are having trouble viewing the film, click here.