Thursday 27 November 2008

Hiding the Hedgehog & Other Stories

ANOTHER WICKED flu has had me cast down these last few days which is the very last thing we could do with right now. There simply was not time to get ill! But I had to give in to the sofa as my body and head felt quite entirely drained of life. Today I am upright again tho on the phone I still sound like an old horse who has smoked 80 fags a day all his life.
I have been finishing off a drawing this afternoon which I had started some weeks ago. Here it is above, Hiding the Hedgehog ... I have not the faintest idea what it's about ... I'll leave you to imagine a tale around it! This drawing, along with two other recent pencil doodlings, The Spoon-Eared Child and The Coffeepot, are being offered as prints in my shop in honour of a sort of One-More-Week-To-Go-Sale ... in fact it isn't really a sale at all, since everything's still the same price but I can't think of another word! Basically, I have decided to temporarily close the shop when we head off to give me a little breather while we embark on our grand journey and anyway, the last post date for those of you Over The Sea is looming too.
So all that is a round about way of saying Roll Up! Roll Up! Last chance to grab Christmas presents in the Hermitage Etsy Shop!
The blinds will be pulled down over the frosted windows of my emporium on Friday 5th December.. so .. quick!
I will of course be opening it up again come the new year, hopefully with some new drawings therein.
Meanwhile I'll leave you wondering why on earth that hedgehog needs to be hidden...

Sunday 23 November 2008

Lanterns in the snow

THIS is what we woke to this morning .. these wonderful brown heather hills dusted with an icing of snow. It's very cold indeed and we are busy as ever, tying up knots in things.
We've had pre MOT headaches galore and would like to say a big and heartfelt thank you to Andy for helping us out of a tight mechanical corner :)

All the last minute little dots on the Is and crosses to the Ts are arriving in jiffy bags in droves, much to the interested eyebrow raisings of the owners of the local B&B where we have to go to collect the parcels: hooks and elastic to hold books in, more door knobs, portholes and quite excitingly, a Beamish oil lamp. I think it's an old miner's safety lamp, and filled with some oil (which also arrived in the post) it sits handsomely in our truck alongside another dear little oil lamp which I already had.

The animation has about 4 more scenes plus title sequence to be completed before it's finished, and when it is done, I will turn into a whirlwind of boxes and binbags and dustpans and brushes until the truck is full of our things! There are many more things to do, and we'll still be adding extras when we're on the move as we settle into our home.
We recently (nervously) had it weighed, and found to our relief that it amounts to a mere five and a bit tons. The limit is 7.5, so there is still room for a book or two! I'm also in my infuriatingly last minuteish sort of way still trying desperately to sell my car.. if anyone would like a little 1976 Renault 5 with personality, a few creaking knees and an excellent engine, do have a look!

Wednesday 19 November 2008

Hinges, Handles, Taps, Tiles & Blisters

WELL THE LAST DAYS are approaching, not in an apocalyptic sense, though it feels rather that way. We are tearing about like loons trying to get it all done. I am spending my days up in the attic animating, scrunched up into a crooked S shape, only knowing the weather changes by pattering or lack of it on the roof by my ear. Tui meanwhile has been rising at bird dawn to rush round to the dingy old garage and put all the final flourishes to his masterpiece of a truck-home. The cupboard doors are a marvel, and there are hinges and catches and little hinged shelf ledges. We have a fully plumbed in brass pump tap which makes the most interesting graunching noise as it delivers water, and all the gaps round the doors have been closed in with artistic knotted lintels and edges. I have taken the odd break from move-clicking my paper characters to make a curtain from an old pair of well-loved trousers and a brown-dyed decorators' dust cloth.

Today, by candlelight, I tiled the small area of wall behind the fire with terracotta floor tiles to stop the wood getting too hot when the fire is alight. Tui's hands are all a-blister from days and days with a screwdriver, and we are panicking about all the last minute things that need doing as a cold wet cloud creature sits plumply ontop of our village making all tasks much more difficult than we'd like. In our back pockets, we keep a golden nugget called Thrill Of Journey; it is warm and we peep at it sometimes in between stresses. We mustn't look at it too much just now, but we mustn't forget it either.

Friday 14 November 2008

The Curse

FOR THE LAST TEN YEARS I have suffered under that ancient curse. The Curse. The monthly affliction of women. My period pains have been beyond bearing. Every four weeks I would be bent double, on hands and knees, screaming in pain and vomiting. If I was caught unexpectedly at work, I'd end up laid out on the floor under desks clutching hot water bottles, colleagues stepping over me. I became for a day or two, a complete zombie to pain. I know that many women suffer from period pains, but mine were otherworldly compared to most. My face would turn green and I'd lay writhing in pain in a hallucinatory swoon. There was nothing that would help, I have been to many doctors, who prescribe either the pill or lethal painkillers, neither of which is an answer for me. I was sent for scans and investigations which all came back clear. I tried homeopathy (which helped briefly), yoga, cramp bark, agnus castus, raspberry leaf tea, black cohosh, endless ineffective pain relievers.. and I was desperate, clinging to my hot water bottle as the only slight relief I could find, knowing I'd have to go through all that again in four weeks' time.

I am generally a very healthy person, but this one thing rendered me useless for at least two days a month, which if you work it out would mean at least a whole two years of my life spent in pain. And that excruciating pain, I thought, had got to be treatable. It was not normal that I should experience it so badly.

Some months ago I wondered about acupuncture .. but didn't know anything about it. And here in blog land met the lovely Diana Moll, a Chinese medicine practitioner based in California. Over some time she diagnosed me via email the Chinese medicine way. She asked all sorts of questions about my health, life and things, questions about temperature and temperament, and I had to send her frightful photos of my tongue! From this information she gleaned that something was stuck as I had always thought. Something needed to get moving in my lower abdomen and it was stuck because it was cold. She told me Chinese medicine looked at things in terms of a weather forecast, rather than a diagnosis, therefore leaving the door open for a more changeable outcome. The body and its energy is affected by cold and hot, wind, wet and dry. And pain or illness is seen as an imbalance of these things, an imbalance of your energies.


The idea of yin and yang has always made sense to me. I have always thought of things in a dual way: life/death, day/night, male/female etc, and we are very dual beings with two of many organs and limbs. However, to a western medical sensibility this meteorological view of my problem probably seems like codswallop. Diana set me instructions for massage to get the energy moving (including twice-daily ear massage!), recommendations for dietary adjustments and herbs. She also suggested I buy moxa sticks (the mugwort herb packed dried into a black smokeless cigar-like stick). To use a moxa stick you must light it just like a cigar and hold the glowing end over the acupuncture points on the body, in my case on my belly. It is warm, and smells pleasant, and the ash has to be tapped off as the stick burns. The practise of moxibustion is an ancient one, and relieves coldness and dampness in the body, even being used to turn breech babies.

Diana's help made sense and I started to notice a slight difference in the pain, but it did not remedy it, so she advised I find an acupuncturist to see me in the flesh and assess my situation. This I did. On walking past a Chinese Medicine centre in Glasgow one day, I walked in and asked.

There followed a strange and wonderful three months of weekly visits to Dr Mae who gave me acupuncture, which I had never had before. The needles don't hurt much, and were placed in my inside wrists, lower legs and just below my navel, whilst I lay there with a heat lamp over my belly.
Meanwhile Dr Fu would package up a special selection of dried Chinese herbs into seven paper bags to take home and boil up as tea, to be drunk twice daily.

These herbs are a wonderful collection of what looks like devil's toenail clippings and fossilized cat poo, and the evening boiling ritual, which took an hour and which somehow became Tui's job smelt intriguing to say the least. The drinking was another matter altogether.. I had never tasted anything quite so vile. The result of an hour's simmering of the sinister looking barks and roots and who-knows-what-else made a strong dark brown liquid that tasted bitter as the bitterest roots and sweet too in a strange way. It was hard not to gag, but I had to gulp down a pint and half of this stuff daily .. with sediment at the bottom.

Oddly though it got less disgusting as the weeks went by, now I almost enjoy it. I found it hard to afford the weekly visits to the Chinese Medicine centre, but was determined that I would try, because Dr Mae had promised that after three months of this treatment the pain would not come back. This was like a holy grail for me, and so I scrimped to find the money each week. On arriving there I would sit down and have my pulse read, on both wrists, for some long minutes whilst we asked how each other was in a very basic English. As far as I can gather, the pulses felt by Chinese Medicine practitioners are not the one heart beat a western doctor can feel. Amazingly hidden there are evidences of my inner workings, and each week Dr Mae would take my pulse to see how I was progressing. She concurred with Diana ~ my abdomen was too cold and damp, and things were out of balance. In traditional Chinese Medicine, the body is a whole map of lines ("meridians") along which are the hundreds of acupuncture points where the needles are inserted to effect change in the flow of energy through a particular part of the body.

I even once had the strange experience called cupping, where a small glass jar like a heavy light bulb is placed over a flame for a second before being plonked onto your flesh, which slurps up inside the vacuum inside the jar and looks most unsightly indeed.
I would often lay there with my needles in listening to the Learn English CDs on in the background as the drawers of herbs were opened and closed and scoops of dried barks and roots were measured into bags for me.

So no doubt you are wondering ~ did it work? ... YES! I am at present drinking the last week worth of nasty brew and this recent full moon brought a mercifully painless period! The pain got gradually less over the three months and now I am able to lie with my hot water bottle and no writhing whatsoever. I still experience the strange floating swoon, but it is wonderful to be free from that terrible wrenching pain.
Thank you to Diana for showing me this wonderful medicine. I must say I am completely converted. I like the thinking behind the system, and have proof that it works. If I need to seek medical help again for some other ailment, it will be to a Chinese doctor, not the GP that I'll turn.
Do give me a shout if you live in these parts and would like details of where I went for treatment.

And just think, a few hundred years ago, women used to jump broomsticks coated with the hallucinogenic mandrake root to relieve period pain and in so doing caused themselves to fly.

Woodcut from "The History of Mother Shipton"
published at Aldermanbury around 1750

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Wonderful Wheels

WHEELS, as you will probably know by now, are one of my favouritest of favourite things - Especially when attached to things they are not usually meant to carry along, like people, musical instruments, artifacts and best of all, houses :) Whenever I come across another artist who puts wheels in their work, my heart does a little leap of comradeship.
Our own wheeled home is growing, growing, and we are at present looking for a set of seven 20 inch wheels for it, which will be easier to find tyres for on our travels.

I thought it time to show you some treasures amongst the work of other artists I have tripped over on web wanderings recently. From time to time I like to show you works that have made me smile and inspired and gladdened me instead of joining in with the blog award thingamyjigs that get passed around these parts. Over the last months Moonbindery, Qi Papers, Dogberry Hill, Snapper & The Griffin, Krisztina Maros, Amy Short, The House of Edward, Lost Stones, Ink Haven, Mille Fiori, Moonroot, Bimbimbie, & Gypsy Root have all been so kind as to pass me awards and tags, and for their appreciation and lovely words I thank them heartily. Apologies if anyone is left out in the cold there.. my brain is still all a-scramble. I have also received the most kind and appreciative writings by the two most recent clock recipients, Nina and Allegra.

Indeed Allegra sent to me in the post a most thoughtful gift, a good-journey talisman made with an old piano key, charms of significance and a photograph of me as a young wheeled-home dweller :) All the elements of it are intended to connect us like a knot in a long string to the old gypsy journey tradition and it is to be nailed with a horse nail to the door to bring us luck.

Also in this beautifully wrapped package came a book Tres Deseos (~Three Wishes) illustrated by a recent blog discovery of mine, Gabriel Pacheco ...
It is a wonderful earth toned book with very up-my-street illustrations of an old couple squashed into a chimneyed little house. Thank you Allegra for such appreciative words and thoughtful gifts.

Whilst perusing Gabriel Pacheco's work, I found a strange wheeled apple and so thought to theme my latest gallery of inspiring artworks... here I bring you a wonderful wheeled world in both two and three squeaking dimensions.

Gabriel Pacheco is a Spanish illustrator who creates hazy other worlds of strange beings with subtle colours and textures, and was introduced to the arena of children's literature by his sister who asked him to illustrate a story. I can't find out a huge amount about his creations as my Spanish is non-existent, but by the looks of it he employs a very clever mixture of digital and traditional techniques. As far as I can gather these illustrations shown here are from a tale (Calabacina) about a pumpkin.

* * *

Next I wheel on the incredible creations of Akira Blount of Akira Studios. She lives on 70 acres of land in Tennessee raising goats in between making these wonderful dolls with twigs and wheels and delightful characters. Cage dolls form a large part of her work and inside the cages hide other little people and birds and things. Akira's cage dolls often sport wheels and are for me like a strange circus performance and performer combined, and the twigs conjure a foresty-ness that I love.

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Third and fourth I present two Russian artists who both make sculpture and paintings of a strange naive folky sort that make me smile no end, and which are so brilliant I can't quite find the words.
Vladimir Gvozdariki makes wooden toys, animations, paintings, drawings and dolls, and here above are some of them that have wheels... how wonderful is the old man inside a wheeled barrel with a chimney and lantern swinging!

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And lastly Boris Ivanov ... whose painted wooden sculptures are like automatons, puppets, and toys all in one.. and whose paintings are exquisitely done naive worlds populated with large, wide people, flying, fishing, playing and dreaming. Boris says of his work:

"Once upon a time - it was about 15 years ago - an idea came to my mind: to create a new World, kind of a new Planet, and populate it with People. So I did. As time passed new personages came to existence. This planet became inhabited by its population of Fatties. Currently there are more than 1.5 thousand of them."

Here below to complete my gallery of wheels is a man driving a wonky beer vehicle, both in paint and in wood. Boris's work creates a world that I find familiar and wonderful and it makes me very happy indeed to look at these works. I suggest you take a good long time to visit his website and peruse the treasures there.

* * *

And for more wheeled creatures I mustn't not mention the beautiful watercolours and felted toys of my talented friend Gretel. Wheels have cropped up rather a lot in my work too of course, which I wrote about a while ago here ... you can also see there where Allegra found that photo of my early days :) My paintings seem to me novice-ish and un-developed next to these great works above, but at the same time their work spurs me on to new levels of excellence.
I hope that our days on wheels will bring my work inspiration of a new kind ...

PS - Do click on any of the pictures for a larger view.

Friday 7 November 2008


WHEN I WAS YOUNG, we used to have a book called Trubloff ~ The Mouse Who Wanted to Play the Balalaika by the wonderful John Burningham, and I loved the story very much indeed. John Burningham's illustrations have a fabulous scratchy folky quality that embodies great heart. This is the amazon synopsis of the story:

Trubloff the mouse lives with his family in the village inn but dreams of becoming the greatest balalaika player in the whole country. So one night, when everyone is asleep, he runs away to join a band of gypsy musicians who promise to teach him to play. Trubloff's poor family are overcome with worry, but in the end, it's Trubloff's gift for music that saves them all.

I have always loved Russian music, in fact anything from the Eastern European folk tradition and most especially Jewish Klezmer music. This music moves me in a way I cannot explain, I think I might have inherited this love of oom-pah from my mum ... but as far as we know there is no Jewish blood in our family tree.

I try to play the accordion, as I have mentioned before.. specifically the Russian B-System Bayan :) ... there is something about the sound of accordion and clarinet together that really gets me. I often paint musical instruments, I like the shapes of them and I find that I can hear the paintings playing if I listen to a recording whilst making the image.

Anyhow, back to balalaikas... those triangular stringed instruments that can be seen not only in the arms of mice but also played in whole ensembles with instruments ranging from tiny tinkling things to great bass balalaikas.
As you know, our grand clear out is including the odd original painting sale and I have decided to sell my Balalaika watercolour for an extremely reasonable £80 :) ... it's a smallish little thing (7.5" x 5"), which I painted in 2005 and I'm selling it unframed. There it is in the fireplace with my first green accordion; a funny little man on the back of a wheeled reindeer, playing the balalaika in a snowy onion-domed Slavic forest. And here it is in my etsy shop if you should wish to own it. [Edit... the painting is sold!]

And if you'd like to hear a balalaika playing whilst you look at the painting, here's well known Polish/English balalaika player Bibs Ekkel in 1978 with Ensemble Tsiganka playing Papirosen, a Russian/Yiddish song about cigarettes. That's them over there leaning against the Gypsy vardo :)

NB - all images except those of my painting and accordion are nicked from the internet :)

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Paper November

AUTUMN-END frost has sprinkled down onto our hills these last few days and the evening sunlight of early November shines through the chimney smoke in the village as we go out sporting thermal undergarments to collect coal. The house is a pile of chaos with little bundles of saved cardboard and bubblewrap stuffed in corners in preparation for more wrappings. We have been packing up and throwing away, there are bin bags for charity shops stacked around the rooms and we had a bonfire of old bills. (the bits of paper asking you for money I mean, not a burning of police forces!) A good lot of books have been sent off and bits of furniture too.. and I think I might have accidentally thrown my wits into one of those bin bags as well because I am starting to go a little bit mad!

The wheeled home is nearly there... not yet full of our things but sporting a brilliant second hand hobbit-sized oven and lots more excellent Tui-cupboards. We still need to stop the icy wind creeping in a few gaps and add another window or two, but it is almost ready for its journey I think. We have even bought a brass galley pump tap to adorn our rustic little kitchen. It will pump water up a pipe from a tank below and round and out the spout, into the sink and down the newly piped-in plughole.

There are endless things to think of before we go.. we have to organise mobile internet, buy a small and quiet generator for power until we sort out a solar panel arrangement, rip the music from 100s of CDs so as to leave them behind, parcel up and send off an enormously heavy singer sewing machine table, sell my little car, work out what to do with all my old work, buy 7 new wheels for the truck, and ready it for MOT, sort through yet more stuff... and nip out when the sun shines to make a little money. And amongst all the upheaval, I have dropped the printer! Now it makes clankings that it shouldn't make and refuses to print at all. This is very annoying with a capital A and it is headed for the bin bag corner too. It's not entirely a disaster though because it'll mean we'll have to order all our prints from the printing place now, which, tho a bit more pricey, is easier, better quality, and saves both space and late night cursings when bits of blue ink spurt all over the place for no earthly reason other than to try you.

The book sale was a storming success for which I'd like to say a big thank you to you all.. it took me two whole days to wrap them all and the faces of the post office ladies were a picture when we trundled in with our armfuls of bundles this morning. I must say that I have made rather a silly underestimate with many of the postage costs overseas.. books are so heavy. So a few of you might be getting little garbled emails from me asking for a pound or two more! It is very nice I must say to know that the books are going to places where they'll be enjoyed.

In these remaining four weeks I am putting away paintbrushes.. so clocks and other such things will be put on hold (as if I take hold of some imaginary painted pendulum and stop it swinging). I also (rather insanely) have a stop frame animation to finish before we go. Only Rima would leave such a slow artform to the very last minute to complete. I think I can do it though, and it is looking lovely so far. It appears that something switches in me when a deadline approaches and a new kind of desperate creativity emerges. Here are a few snippets of the paper pieces I am inching about under a camera up in the animation attic. I am enjoying it, and listening to Tui's beautiful and intricate finished Orla Wren album while I do it. Both album and animation will be unfurled early next year if all goes to plan.

So surrounded by big brown wrapping papers and little cut-out whispers of animation papers we approach our big and exciting journey. I shall try to keep news here, but forgive me if my visits to your blogs are less frequent and if my emails are spelled dreadfully or make little sense at all. I think it's time to light the fire now, Tui's just home from an afternoon of cupboard door makings and I'm back off up the attic ladder after removing from the carpet a nasty little cat present.

I leave you with a cold dusk tree shivering without its leaf coat growing up on the hill behind the village at the end of a stone wall.