Nothing going on, except a lot of planning, designing and unfinished work - here's a little something I have actually completed, with amber chips on a bronze wire. Yes, it's yet another hare. Well, it is nearly Spring!
Once upon a time, I was an art student, then I was an artist, and then an illustrator. Always in watercolour. However, I've had a painting block for nearly four years and one of my things for this year is to pick up things I've neglected - mostly for unavoidable reasons.
Actually, my biggest painting block is with oils - it was my first love when I was a teenager and yet I've only been able to make myself paint one (still unfinished) oil in 25 years. Yes, over two decades. That's some block.
When I was taking photos for my first newsletter, I included a work in progress, Aunty Pat. And I was taken with the light in this picture, as it made a nice portrait. I hunted out some old brushes and paints and set to work before my stupid neurosis could take over. So my studio table was cleared and refilled and a little canvas started.
Here is where I made the first basic error - putting in a warm, creamy brown background, which in hindsight, would have been better as a cool grey or blue. At the time though, it was enough just to be actually painting again and to my surprise, feeling quite happily at home with it.
It went quite well to begin with, until I looked at it later and realised the light was all wrong; in the photo, the light falls from the right, so I painted her that way. But the background is lit from the left. I had forgotten the most basic thing I'd been taught, 'always look for the light'.
The next day, I set about correcting it and while it was now pedantically accurate, I had lost the freshness of the paint strokes. However, this was not about doing a perfect picture, it was an exercise to get me painting regularly again.
In putting down a similar background colour and tone, I found it almost impossible to get Aunty Pat's furry (or rather, woolly) head standing out as sharply as I wanted, without bringing in too much white. And then I added too much black (which I rarely used in the past and now I know why) to her foreground ear and it just looked messy and dead, colour wise.
But I persevered, and finished it. I don't like it. I know it's the thing nowadays to be terribly pleased with anything one has created, but I had an old fashioned art training, which taught me strict self criticism, in order to be able to improve. And at the end of the day, I broke my oil painting hoodoo. And that was what it was all about.
I did sign it though.
I envy people who can just pick up a brush and sail away happily. For me, it has been like not being able to eat my favourite food: it is, as they say, complicated and may even sound odd. Nonetheless, my inability to 'just paint' has been very real and frustrating. Like being able to swim well, but not able to enter water and still wanting to swim.
I'm off to spend some kindly given Christmas money on some decent brushes, paints and a couple of canvases. I've got a lot of painting to catch up with. Twenty five years, to be precise.
If you haven't signed up for my newsletter and would like to see the other photos of Aunty Pat, as well as read my tips for getting equal length limbs, you can find the archive here. (You're not obliged to sign up, just click the link for the January newsletter)
Taking a few days off over the holiday season meant some quality time plonked in front of the woodburner with some old board games. I introduced Joe to a childhood favourite, 'Coppit'. My 'vintage' version is, as you can see, a bit the worse for wear, but it is still a great game, even cut-throat - if a board game can said to be such a thing.
Once he got the hang of it (after one game), he won every game after. But I got repeated revenge with Scrabble and didn't gloat too much.
Another old favourite of mine is 'Tell Me' - I've had this game in various versions almost all my life. The two I have now are from the 50's and 60's. The same game, but with slight differences and not just in the box design.
It's a very basic concept; general knowledge questions are read out, the disc is spun and lands on a letter of the alphabet and the first person to call out a correct answer (or one which isn't disputed) wins the card. Winner is the person with the most cards. Although simple, the spinning disc brings in the element of randomness, so the answers are different every time.
The 1960s version is almost like the one I knew in the 70's, with fairly straightforward questions -
'something in this room' 'name of a member of parliament' 'an advertising slogan' (this one is not included in the 50's version; maybe a sign of the times?)
also 'a word used in radio' (very broad and up for debate) 'a means of communication' and a reflection of the growing prevalence of the one-eyed monster in the room, 'a television personality'.
The 50's version has many of the same questions, but also some odd, almost philosophical ones. We played both games, and this one threw up by far the most interesting discussions and verbal tussles. Here are some choice ones -
'What would you like to become?' - which could be anything from 'a better person', to 'a proper grown up' to 'a postman'.
'What or who annoys you most?' - again, a debatable subject, and dependent on the alphabet letter thrown up. And should the answer be silly or truthful? Should you say any answer so long as it fits the letter, or not answer because you honestly can't think of anything which annoys you beginning with 'X'?
'What or who do you love very much?' - same situation really, and we tended towards the silly and soppy.
'What frightens you?' Do we really want to go here? If the letter was the right one for one's honest answer, it could throw up all kinds of deep confessions, but we decided to stick with anything monster-ish or spooky.
'How do you feel at this moment?' Again, this one can lead onto quite interesting discussions and it's then that you realise how something as simple as a board game can be great conversation makers as well as entertainment.
'Something seen on a country ramble' didn't appear in the 1960's version - maybe it was deemed too old fashioned for the time. A bit 'Enid Blyton'.
'A word reading the same forwards or backwards' is very straightforward, but surprisingly tricky to think of at the time and led to a few drawn out silences as we racked our 21st century brains, more used to Google for the answer to anything.
An original owner of the 50's game had obviously decided to put in their own questions - I have a feeling this may have been 'Dad' as the block lettering is very much like my father's and other men's writing of that time. So we have something a little more modern
'A term used in inter-planetary space travel' - this was an ambiguous beast and some confusion reigned as to what kind of thing precisely fitted the question. I swung it with 'asteroid' but it didn't really feel right.
'Name of your favourite TV programme' - again, a more updated question, so maybe this family had a TV of their own. If so, they may have been quite financially comfortable as not many households at that time had them.
The last two seem to have their own little back story. There is -
'A county cricketer, past or present'
'Not a cricketer but a famous sports person'
I wonder if there was a cricket expert in the family, and the last altered question was put in to give the others a chance? We will never know, but I'm sure we had as much fun playing these old-fashioned games as previous generations have.
Berrington, the 'Teddy Bear of Doom' went up for sale in my Etsy shop and someone loved him enough to buy him. I know he's gone to a fabulous home, though I had to help him with the packing. So it's been a good start to the new year for both of us and I send everyone best wishes for 2016.
Joe and I are enjoying our second Christmas together. Yet again it's simply a quiet time; a time of being thankful that we have a roof over our heads, food, logs for the fire and most importantly, each other. Whatever you do at this time of year - and especially if you are alone - we both send you the warmest of best wishes and hope for the future. Because there is always a better place, despite the long haul to get there.
How can something so innocent looking cause so many headaches? And yet it did. Back in the spring, I decided to have a bash at making a needle felted teddy bear. Not my usual thing, but I wanted to see if I could. And it took months. Months of picking it up, putting it down, leaving it for weeks at a time and almost giving up. Bits were cut off, bits were stuck back on. It became known as 'The Teddy Bear of Doom'. But I persevered and eventually finished the darned thing. Then came the knitting.
I rarely knit. But I wanted to make a little vest for him. By now it was a 'him'. I used four needles, as I'm more comfortable with four (like socks, which I haven't made for 25 years). Bought a gorgeous ball of soft aqua wool. Cast on, using my own apparent common sense.
How hard could it be to knit a little vest, freehand? All weekend difficult, that's how much. I discarded my first attempt and began another.
So small. So fiddly. So infuriating. It wasn't going to beat me.
After many, many knitting hours, I had finished. Only to discover the big, glaring design flaw. I hadn't thought about the head opening. So it sat on his head like a mushroom cap. At which point, I gave up.
So I did what I should have done in the first place and needle felted him a vest. Took a couple of hours. Not a couple of days.
Then he was thread jointed.
And so his head, arms and legs swivelled, like a proper teddy bear.
He is one of the largest things I've made, and sits snugly in the hand. I guestimated he took over 50 hours, but that was with a lot of tinkering and remaking.
And he was, in the end, worthy of his own special tag - named after a tiny village in Shropshire, not a million miles away from where I live.
The essential problem with him was that he was bigger than my natural making scale. I remembered an early project from long ago, when I was commissioned to make a monkey. I had to abandon my first gigantic attempt, but the second, smaller one was just right. I blogged my shame and called it 'A Tale of Two Monkeys'.
But recently, I got the urge to start another jointed figure. This time, non-teddy bear (not really 'me'), but a small fox. And this one is going exactly to plan. So far.
I've made just under 50 patterns in the last four years, but this one has to be one of my favourites, a Scandinavian style village in a terrarium.
It's also my third cover for Mollie Makes, which is a bit of a proud moment. As usual, it's been beautifully styled and photographed at the other end.
Like all of my patterns, it started off with sketches which progressed from initial brain storming ideas -
- to experimenting with various shapes and arrangements.
Before settling on what would be more or less the final design.
The pattern ended up being quite in-depth, but still a fairly simple process. The entire pattern is in issue 61 of Mollie Makes, and is in the shops now (WHSmith, large supermarkets and newsagents, directly from Mollie Makes, or as a digital format from Zinio, Google Play or Apple iTunes.
For my American friends, I believe it becomes available early next year from Barnes and Noble, Books A Million and outlets of Jo-Ann. A full list of countries and overseas outlets can be found here on the Mollie Makes site.
I'd love to see any examples of villages made from my pattern. I'm also holding a 'little houses' needle felt workshop at my old haunt, Folly Fabrics, Wiltshire, on February 27th next year. For more details and to book a place from their site, click here.
I've been pleasantly surprised at how many people have signed up for my needle felt newsletter, and am planning the first edition for mid-January. If you'd like to sign up for it too, the form is here on my own website.
Joe and I managed to get together for a couple of precious days, to celebrate our first anniversary. No champagne or roses, just the pleasure of being with each other. A week later, after a few mysterious hints, a box arrived in the post. It was opened with ceremony, over Skype, twenty first century style.
I was still baffled when I opened the lid. Apparently these have been widely advertised on TV, but I watch very little TV. So imagine (as they say) my surprise. And delight. Rendered, for once, speechless.
A selection of my needle felt creations, printed onto strawberry marshmallows from Boomf! The perfect anniversary present. Of course, I can never eat them. They are too, too precious, in so many ways and not just because my toys are on them. Besides, Sasha has already staked her claim on hers.
Well, that's that out of the way and I seem to have my life back again. I don't usually do stalls, as it's an almost impossible (and expensive) thing to do when you don't drive and live in remote ruralsville. But this one was only a couple of miles away and Brian-next-door helped me get everything over, on a stormy day with gale force winds and driving rain.
Thankfully it was all under cover. This is the annual Christmas Fair held at Concord International College, at Acton Burnell. It was bigger than I expected - much bigger. My heart quailed, not for the first time, but I got stuck into setting up. I'd been planning this for weeks, so it was just a case of popping everything out.
There was a small emergency when I had to get Brian to pick me up again so that I could dash home and print off more price labels (which I thought I had, but patently hadn't). And also borrowed an extra table cloth from Jean, having scrounged some extra table space.
I even unearthed my old stock of cards, and sold quite a few.
In the end it all went well. My old retail skills kicked back in and I had a pleasant smile glued to my face. There was a large footfall of over 2,000 visitors, not including the college students. My stall was nice and busy and I sold enough gubbins to make it worthwhile. My new Paypal card reader worked and the three hours flew by.
I was inevitably asked about my prices for my own needle felt work. One couple directly asking me why it was priced 'so high'. Once upon a time, I might have shrunk under a stone, but now I've got more confidence. For a start, I answered (keeping my pleasant smile) the smallest thing on my tree took at least four hours to make. I am a published professional in my field, very well known, with over eight years of full time practise. And my work is collected, especially in America, where they really value good craftmanship. So the prices reflect my time, my skills and my name.
It's hard not to be British sometimes and undersell yourself. I now realise that I have to be my own walking, talking CV; there's no point in being overly modest. What I didn't add was that with the hours of work I put in on each and every piece, I am still working for less than the UK minimum wage which is £6.70 at present. So I am pricing as low as I can afford to, even if it seems 'high' because this is not my little hobby, but my livelihood.
But here's the thing - although I only sold one piece of my own work, the look of joy when so many people came up to my stall and admired the displays was immensely rewarding. I put on, as they say, a 'good show'. And sold a lot of kits and supplies on top of that. I have to admit, I treated myself to a celebratory bottle of cheap wine and a pizza on the way home when Brian drove me back. He refused petrol money point blank.
I also had many people asking me if I was holding a local workshop, which is now on the cards and spurred me into setting up a monthly newsletter, which will start in January. It will be solely about needle felting - workshops for next year, tips on working, my own work in progress, new kits - that kind of thing. So there is now a sign up page on my website, here. Of course, your details remain completely confidential. I've already had quite a few subscribers, so I'd better start planning the January edition...