Coffee and sketching in Shrewsbury

In a message to someone the other week, I wrote that I felt as if I was waking up from a twelve year long nightmare (or words to that effect). I am slowly coming back to some kind of version of who I was before losing Andy, not only allowing myself to do things I used to love, but also recovering the capacity to actually take pleasure in them again.  Listening to beloved music that has previously been too painful to listen to, looking at favourite art books again, taking time to draw just for myself and generally doing a lot of self-care that for many years I didn't think I deserved. Living with chronically bad mental health and depression - which I've had since I was a teenager - is an insidious condition; often you don't know how bad things are until you begin to come out of it. 

I made such huge strides when we lived back in the Cotswolds, in our dear, tiny rented cottage from where I wrote so many posts for this blog. I remember waking up some mornings and feeling strange (in a good way) and realising that it was because I felt truly happy and content for the first time in my life. Then Andy and I made the decision to move to Shropshire and that feeling was ripped from both of us almost from the first week of being here, with the awful knowledge that the situation was entirely self inflicted. I will never find that kind of happiness again, but I am finally finding my own peace and my work as an artist is beginning to flourish again after more than a decade's hiatus.

After my lovely time out at the Stiperstones the other week, I had another nice outing when a neighbour organised a sketching morning at the Bird's Nest Café in Shrewsbury, also driving me there and back as there is no regular bus service here. I knew nearly all of the other attending artists through Instagram and it was lovely to put faces to names and chat - mostly about art, which I've missed. I was very lazy and stayed at the table, drawing three different coloured coffee cups. Again (as with the Stiperstones lichens) I had fun just playing about with colours and mark making, without worrying too much about the result. Consequently the result is  rough and ready, but fairly pleasing. 


Vast landscape, tiny worlds at the Stiperstones

I've been working in my new part time role with Enable Employment Services for a few months now and it's transformed my life. As an Expert by Experience (my life of dealing with depression, anxiety and 'everything else'), I contribute my pennyworth to meetings and other areas. For the first time since moving here, twelve years ago when it all went so terribly, awfully wrong, I feel I have a place and purpose in Shropshire and lovely work colleagues. I'm less isolated and it's having a positive effect on my art and mental health, neither of which have been right for all the time I've lived here.

A couple of days ago I was able to take part in a volunteering/team building day with Shropshire Wild Teams and we all headed over to the Stiperstones Nature Reserve for a tree clearing session. Enjoy this short video, taken from the cab of the minibus and accept my apologies for the wobbles and bad light; a proper video camera is still sadly a pipe dream, but you get the general sweep of the area.

The narrow roads leading up to the Stones are long and winding, gradually rising until you are many miles above sea level. There are scatterings of houses along the way - most too small to be called a village - and it is a wide, windswept landscape with views across to the Long Mynd and beyond. It was a cool, overcast day and the rain held off, though huge grey clouds marched along the skyline. 

I had a bit of bother scrambling up the scrubby gorse covered slope, as my legs are quite arthritic now. But several of my younger colleagues kindly gave me a helping hand and eventually I borrowed a stout stick, which was so handy that I had become quite attached to it by the end and was sad to return it. While everyone else began chopping down the invasive young conifers that are choking up the natural habitat, I wandered slowly up the hill, marvelling at the rich flora underfoot. I had anticipated having to sit the activity out and had brought along some art materials. The surrounding landscape was majestic, however I couldn’t have done it justice. So I focussed on the wonders at my feet; the tiny worlds of lichen and mosses which were sprouting on dead wood and old stumps. 



So easily overlooked and yet on closer inspection, so exquisite in their form and colour, resembling an underwater coral reef, with scuttering beetles and bugs for 'fish'. 

I spent some time searching for the elusive perfect patch, eventually settling down on my blanket for a happy hour of drawing. 
I had a big sketch pad with me, and rather than fiddle about with a fussy, intricate study, I swept my pastels across the page, enlarging the diminutive stalks to giant size. Chunky little Unison pastels (a  gift from long ago) created the swoop and sway of the dancing stalks.

I was completely lost in my work, adding bright accents of colour, darker areas of negative space and later, thinner, more fragile suggestions of outlines with pastel pencils, another kind gift from a friend and a nice reminder of them as I worked. 

I did have a ‘moment’,  thinking about how Andy loved this area, in his brief time here. I had brought his Swiss Army knife with me, which I used to trim a pencil and I huddled into the waxed jacket I was wearing, which used to be his. 



I was so lost in my work that I completely missed the sandwich break and didn’t eat my packed lunch until I eventually got home and then promptly fell asleep after a marvellous day out.



Turning the page on 2023


Dropping in to brush the dust off my blog and wish everyone (if you’re still there) a happy and improved 2024. I had to make some changes to my lifestyle to try to manage my ADHD, jiggling things  (such as my diet and eating times) around a bit, in order that I can use my energies to prioritise work.  That meant resting my blog for a while, and concentrating on my Patreon page and Instagram. Hopefully now that I’m in a better routine, I can blog more regularly.


My mental health has been very bad this year, with the constant stress and the financial struggle to survive and keep the cottage going. In short, it’s been a difficult year. There will be a bit of a life change next year and having faced a lot of dragons in 2023, I’m back to painting at last. I hope this is an end to the artistic block I’ve had since moving here. As I write, there are fireworks going off far away and although I don’t celebrate New Year (for me, the year turned on the recent Winter Solstice), I am looking forward to turning the page on the old year and starting tomorrow with a new pink diary and calendar. A fresh start all round.


Field painting adventure and overcoming blocks

I have started to reserve Saturdays as a day off, otherwise I'm working every day without a break, which isn't particularly good for my fragile mental health. The weather at the moment is perfectly 'May' - not too hot, with a pleasant breeze and everywhere around is bursting with greenery, blossom and bird song. I have been yearning to do some landscape sketching for ages and decided to stay close to home, because I have a certain amount of anxiety about going out. So I packed a rucksack with a stupid amount of art stuff, made up a little picnic of a cheese sandwich and a bottle of water and after a lot of deep breaths, I set off on my monumental adventure; a minute's walk down the road to the back field which my bedroom overlooks. This is my usual  pleasant view, when I am working in bed (which is most days). It has the best light after midday and is comfortable.

I haven't  set foot in this field in the ten years I've been here. There are two reasons for this; the first is practical. There is a designated footpath which goes across it, but it ends abruptly at the hedgerow boundary, so it's fairly useless. The second is that I've had a mental block about it, as this was the field that Andy walked across on his last, ghastly walk in the dark snowstorm, leaving only his footprints, which remained there for days. I remember kneeling at the bedroom window the next morning, watching a police dog tracking what it could find of his scent and that image will never leave me. So despite it's beauty (and since then, I do appreciate it, every day), I have had little desire to actually go into it, even for a change of scene. So this was the day and it felt momentous. The footpath is just on the edge of Jean-and-Brian-Next-Door's garden and is almost never used (for the practical reason I mentioned before). It was overgrown with lovely Queen Anne's Lace and less lovely nettles.  

I scrambled over and waded through the jungle. Suddenly there I was, and what seemed like a vast expanse in front of me. The footpath leads to that gap ahead in the hedgerow. Beyond that are more fields, but technically inaccessible without extra footpath. I don't think the farmer would mind me pottering about, as we are on good terms, but I don't like going outside 'the rules', so I stuck to the  route. 

Happily, the area that I intended to sketch was perfectly placed for me to settle my gear and myself on the path - there is a small blossoming area of hawthorn that I wanted to capture, just beyond the oak tree on the edge of the woodlands (which belongs to another less friendly farm). 

It's been years since I attempted anything like this. I did a very rough prelim sketch of the composition, which was a messy scrawl that only I could interpret. 

I have no pretensions to being the next Cezanne or Paul Nash - this was really about getting out in the nice weather and doing something different. It was hard work though, even with copious amounts of pastels. I didn't create a masterpiece, nor even anything like how I emotionally 'feel' about the landscape. But I did have a marvellous two hours, sat in the sun, scribbling away in the middle of a field that I had feared entering for a decade. Now I felt safe and comfortable. I ate half a cheese sandwich and dickered about with my pastel mess until it was time to stop before I completely ruined it. 

It's been  long held wish of mine to be able to spend most of my time focussing on landscape art, but I'm not good enough to make it pay and I can't afford the time it would take to get to a standard I am happy with, nor the big canvases and oils I'd like to paint with. But this will do for now and more importantly, it was a break from my other work and I had fun. 

The problem is an old one - back when I was doing my art training over thirty years ago, I decided to go down the path of illustration, which suited my naturally 'tight' and high definition style of working. So it's hard to break out of that habit and needs a lot of practise to get out of. However I made a small start and the colour capture wasn't too bad - I'm just not happy with the way I depicted it, because it in no way expresses the way I 'see' a landscape in my mind's eye. There's no lyrical rhythm or magic. It is what it is.

However, self criticism aside, I also enjoyed seeing our cottages for the first time from the back - Jean and Brian's larger sections on the left and my bit tacked on the right side, with the white window frames. I had the odd sensation that maybe  (in some freakish quantum alternate reality kind of thing) there was simultaneously another Me in the bedroom, needle felting and gazing out of the window, while present Me looked on from the other side of the field. 

That's another block overcome and for the first time in ages, I have two mini- paintings for sale, in my usual style, over in my Etsy shop. I'm hesitant about mentioning them, as my art barely sells, compared to my needle felting, but I'm going to be brave again. 

This is 'Marmalade', one of my imaginary toys, which comes in a 6 x 6 inch mount but is unattached, so that it can be reframed if wished, which is available here

And one from last year, which I've only just listed, 'Autumn Pincushion' (very unseasonal), which is also in a 6 x 6 inch mount and is available here. 

Now I'm going to take the rest of the day off again, as it's Saturday, and I might sit under the willow tree in the overgrown garden and finish some Christmas ornaments so that they are ready in time for the holiday season, which will swing around all too quickly. 


A Wild and Sacred Beauty

I realised today that I was in danger of missing my favourite month of the year; May for me is like Christmas - I cannot wait for it to arrive, spend weeks in anticipation of it and miss it dreadfully when it is (all too quickly) over. However, I have to earn my mortgage every month and that means working (making and selling) pretty much all day and every day, with no guaranteed results. The only sure result is that I am constantly tired and anxious. So this morning, with my inner batteries feeling totally flat and my creativity at a low, I pumped dear old Marjorie's tyres up for the first time this year and we set off for a short jaunt to a  tiny village across the way, turning off the main road and up into this narrow, high banked lane, which has been here for centuries. 

I stopped to inspect this huge polypore fungus which has been here for a while. It is just sending out a 'baby' underneath, which feels cool and tender as opposed to the main body, which is hard and powdery. The hedge-rowed banks were sprouting ferns and all the winsome Spring flowers were speckling the greenery - Red Campion, White Stitchwort, Bluebells and Buttercups. Further up the hill and the best of all, the creamy froth of Queen Anne's Lace lining the lane all the way to my destination. This is richness. This is freedom.

All Saints Church at Berrington is small, but beautiful - and ancient. Unusually, it sits within a raised circular enclosure, leading to suggestions that there may have been an even older older scared grove here, before the first Christian church was built. The grounds certainly have a magical, secret garden atmosphere. I parked Marjorie in the foyer and went to explore.  

The older, original part of the churchyard has been left to gently wild, with slim pathways cut through for access to still tended plots. There is an abundance of Hawthorn, which drips blossom laden branches and scents the air heavily.

To the side, there is a venerable yew tree guarding a small gate, with views to the surrounding countryside.

The original church is recorded in the Domesday book of 1086, however the present church was built in the 13th Century and like most British churches, has had many alterations and additions since. Inside, I was drawn like a bee to the Norman (or possibly Saxon) font, which stands upon a Roman pillar. I counted the faces carved around it, instinctively thinking that there would be seven - and so there were. There is no record of who or what the faces depict, that I can find.

I sat on a pew in the still peacefulness and had a little think and a prayer, my thoughts returning as they so often do to Andy and how he would have loved this place and the mysterious faces around the stone font. 

I am only just feeling more like myself after over ten years of finding myself alone in a strange county. Time has (to some extent) healed, but there is still a deep scar.

Outside, the sun had risen high and after quietly closing the old wooden gates, I had a last look at the wild loveliness of the churchyard. Feeling much better for my adventure, I cycled home.

I am indebted to the 'Friends of Berrington Church' website for much of my information; if you'd like to read more of it's long history, do give it a visit. 

(If you are one of my Patreon subscribers, there is a more in-depth account of the church interior here).


Shropshire snow

I ventured out for a short walk this morning, as although the snow was falling it is due to rain later and as I write, there is a steady, wet spattering as it slowly melts and drips from the cottage roof. So off up the hill I went, with my camera. 

It isn't unheard of to get snow in March but it is odd to see the cheery yellow daffodil heads bent under the weight of their new white bonnets and the surrounding farmland resembling a Christmas scene.

I only noticed the other day that the trees and hedgerows were just - barely - starting to acquire the warmer flush of colour that precedes new shoots and growth, however today they were stark silhouettes, with not a hint of Spring about them.

I walked up to my usual gate, exchanging a cheery wave and hello with a father and his two children, who were playing with a sled. There was no sign of the Wrekin, which is usually plain in sight here.

Feeling a little damp and chilled, I headed home, with the  comforting sight of my little cottage waiting for me and the prospect of another day of working in the warmth of my bed.