Saturday, December 29, 2012

Memorial amaryllis

Those who know me well are only too aware of the loss I have felt since my dear friend Maeve died in December 2011. Fortunately, she has left many legacies in my life, from a Slightly Foxed tea mug, tin of string, a Persephone notebook which she insisted should be my commonplace book, a little cardboard box from Venice with lovely pink marbling, to knowing the importance of warming tea cups before pouring and, above all, the value of courtesy and kindness.

She had a special friend and neighbour who was her rock during her last months, Pauline, a feisty, down to earth fellow nurse, whose humour and strength made such a difference to that difficult time. In fact, my last meeting with Maeve was with Pauline as well, and typically all I can remember is how much we laughed.

Maeve was no horticulturalist. So, when her amaryllis went over, Pauline took it on and grew it to flower the next year. This year she gave it to me. Flower it has, spectacularly, with the added joy of remembering Maeve every time I admire it.

I decided to paint it in my usual rather slapdash style, one which Maeve admired (but, then, she always admired everything with 'what a girl you are!').  So, here it is, to you, dear lady.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Birch bark and sticky buds

Trees of childhood.

Birch, particularly this one with its glorious apricot lined bark. Surely any children lucky enough to live in the country has peeled the bark and used it as paper? I've been told that it makes wonderful kindling for the fire.

Horse chestnut, picking a leaf and stripping it down to a fishy skeleton - small pleasures. Now, I love the way the sticky buds start to appear to soon after the leaves drop. So optimistic.

This morning on Radio 4 there was a delightful programme about the magic of trees. There is more than you think to hugging a tree.

Ditchling - Ethel Mairet & Tadek Beutlich

Having remembered Ditchling in my last post, recollections of houses and people have bumped around my mind since then. So, I have decided to write short posts on some of the people and their houses, as I remember them, either in myth or reality. During the twentieth century, Ditchling became a remarkable centre for arts and crafts and many notable artists have lived and worked there over the years. There is still a lively crafts scene as well as the notable Ditchling Museum (closed until next Spring for refurbishment).

Firstly, two weavers.

Ethel Mairet (1872-1952) was a craft weaver who moved to Ditchling in 1916, to a house she had built in the Arts & Crafts style. It was called Gospels. Here she created a vibrant hub for the craft scene, welcoming other influential weavers as well as the potters Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada. Of course, the Guild of St Dominic and St Joseph, founded by Eric Gill and Hilary Pepler was the focal point, but Ethel Mairet was one of others working in the village at the time, not directly associated with the Guild.

A student weaver, Tadek Beutlich (1922-2011), visited Mairet at Gospels with his tutor from the Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts.  In 1967 he bought Gospels. This was when I knew the family. Our sons, my James and his Matthew, were pals at the village school. Many of my friends worked with Tadek as assistants, making it very much a village industry as it had always been. I believe there was a covenant which precluded anyone other than weavers from owning Gospels which was lifted after Tadek moved to Spain in 1974.

Tadek's work was created off the loom and this was the sort of wall hanging which I saw there. Bird of Prey (1972). They were magnificent and huge.

I remember Gospels as a lovely house with high ceilings for the main workshop room: Ethel Mairet had large looms there but Tadek needed the height  for these large wall hangings. The Lutyenesque details were superb, leather thongs for the wooden latches, high quality hinges, brackets, windows, doors, and yet with an overall modesty. Most impressive were the huge wall hangings being produced using hunks and loops of wools, and large woven baskets overflowing with glorious coloured skeins of hand dyed wool.

Next post? I'll decide later. Quite probably it will be lettering.

There is a plethora of information on the web - here are just a few links.
For more information and image - Ethel Mairet
Obituary of Tadek Beutilich
The University of Brighton has written about Arts and Crafts in Ditchling
Ditchling A Craft Community

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Small kindnesses

Today the rather lovely Writing Our Way Home would like us to write about a small kindness we have received. Mine is in the distant past, probably about 35 years ago.

I ran a small estate agents' sub-office, in Ditchling. It was the middle, red brick and timber house in this picture and a lovely place to work. However, I was going through nightmare domestic issues. There is no need to go into details, but one problem was dire finances.

One Friday, the door opened and in came a friend who shall be nameless, but was a barrister colleague of my then husband and is now a judge. He was wearing his court suit and over it a baggy Barbour jacket. Out of one of the inner 'poacher' pockets he produced a large leg of lamb for us the weekend. He was worried we might be going hungry; which wasn't really the case as I was resourceful. Nonetheless I was grateful not just for the food but also particularly for their love and support.

Follow this link to get Fiona Roby's book 'Small Kindnesses' which is free today.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Toys for ... girls

Having dropped my elderly compact camera on a cobbled street in Lagrasse in France, resorting to using an iPad as camera which was brilliant but awkward, today my new camera arrived. I'm told it is a bridge camera which means it is more complicated and does more than the compact but is not quite as hard to learn as a DSLR. Eeeew, I hear you say, this girl's a geek. I'm not, but I do love photography ever since I had an OM1 thrust in my mitts, loaded with black and white film and was told to go out and use all of the film around Brighton. (I was a mature, 34 yr old, art student doing the Foundation Course at what was then the redoubtable Brighton Poly Art College.)

The zoom is 42x which is superb considering you don't have to change the lens. Here are a few trials. I didn't know the snail was in the second one, until I looked on my laptop screen. Tomorrow I hope to try some atmospheric landscapes while we have these amazing autumn colours, and also black and white for my trees project. Oh bliss...

Friday, October 19, 2012


 There is a particular beauty of seedheads which may be their promise of fecundity, continuity or is it just the aesthetics of form, colour, texture? I love the dessication, the wisps and crispy bits, the prickles and pods. The colours are subtle and soft, autumnal and gentle. The runner bean pod cocoons polished ebony beans with splashes of magenta; the chinese lanterns are the exception to the subtle rule, glowing as they do in fluorescent orange (mine are rather washed out); teazels are protectively spiky. All are delicately beautiful.


The art group I belong to with tutor, Caroline Chappell, had a glorious day last week mucking about with these lovely specimens. Inks, frottage, monoprint, glue, bleach, all enjoyed with a large helping of good company and excellent cakes.

Shall I split the sheet, or leave it as it is?

We have an exhibition coming up at the end of November, so will decide nearer the time.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Stop, think, be in the moment

I've just seen the title of my last post, "Pinepple"  which sounds like one of those phonetic interpretations of upper class pronunciation, such as Prince Charles's "hice" instead of "house". Never mind. It is not critical, but does serve to show the importance of being in the moment and concentrating on what is, instead of what may be coming or what has been.

Mindfulness book

Mindfulness: finding peace in a frantic world is one of the best books to help anyone who is interested in Mindfulness, particularly as a way of avoiding recurrent depression (that's me). Mark Williams is a Professor at Oxford and at the forefront of the scientific interest in the benefits of meditation and Danny Penman describes himself on Twitter (@DrDannyPenman) as: Award winning investigative journalist.

For anyone who is interested, this is a way of conducting the recommended 8 wk introduction to the practice. Personally, while I admire and refer to it constantly, nothing can replace the real world experience of a course. Fortunately for me, Hugh Poulton who is local, runs these courses and I recommend him highly.
After the 8 weeks he provides continuing refresher sessions, sometimes drop in by donation and other times booked whole days.

Now all that remains for me is to breathe deeply, focus on this moment and proof read what I have written.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pinepple poll

It's been a while. Painting, not writing, has been my priority. And surviving life's vicissitudes. So now, when I shop, I am thinking of my health and creativity. I buy objects to paint, then eat. Pineapples are one of the most gorgeous objects to paint, with their intricate patterns, subtle colours and particularly the blue green leaves. Pears are the same, with purple and yellow hints. 

The strange object behind is an old, unwanted (yes, really) paperback with the cover removed and the pages folded to create this rather beautiful piece. The tanned pages and the text add to the texture.

They sit in an marked and stained antique French wooden bowl.
Two earlier pineapples, one collage and the other ink.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Potty about pots

Sarah Flynn

Sarah-Jane Selwood 
Fossil in Selwood bowl

Lately, I have realised how important The Pot has become in my list of favourite things. The largest sketchbook I could find (A3) is now starting to fill with sketches, photos and notes about pots. All my sketchbooks, including the smallest include images of pots. Morandi made pots the focus of his illustrious painting career. Ben Nicholson slipped them into his paintings, and his father William's painting technique produced incredibly lifelike and beautiful images of pots.

Which took me to a more philosophical level. What is so satisfying? Aesthetically, I find all pots please me, whether as art objects or domestic. I reckon it is connected with their circular or continuous form, containing, nurturing, preserving. Empty they are begging to be filled. Full, they are fulfilling a purpose.

William Plumptre
 This William Plumptre slab bottle, and the Jim Malone bowl were bought from the potters' studios. The presence of the maker is important.

Jim Malone

Yesterday I met some exciting young potters who are dedicated and highly professional. They are graduates of De Montfort and work as a collective producing individual pieces reflecting their personalities, in a spirit of sharing and co-operation.
Sonya Viney
Rebecca Fraser
I loved their work, particularly that of Sonya and Rebecca. I believe we will be hearing more of them in the future. They were charming. chatty and plainly dedicated to their chosen craft.

On the other hand, these pots of mine have little value and were machine produced, but have special memories, of mother, friends and places.

So, pots rule here, for now. Until something else grabs me. Or maybe I should start making.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chardin and Edmund de Waal

At first glance, there might seem to be little connection between these artists. Currently there is a small exhibition at Waddesdon of some of Chardin's greatest works around their recent acquisition of one of the great House of Cards series. The quiet calm is palpable. They are restrained yet assured, concentrated expression combined with delicacy.

At the same time our great ceramicist, Edmund de Waal has created special installations for Waddesdon. His particular theme here is the vitrine or case, which relates to his book "The Hare with Amber Eyes", referring to the family collection of netsuke. The restraint and calm of his work is self-evident. The simplicity and purity of his porcelain, with small touches such as the hint of gilt on this piece, generate a Zen like calm. Their beauty is understated, but full of confidence.

De Waal is an amiable living presence (I have this on good authority from a Waddesdon guide who has met him several times and had a personal tour of his work there). Chardin left us his beautiful paintings to ease us through the stresses and strains of life.

Good on the Rothschild's artistic interests and patronage.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


I was talking to a man who had been a child in our village, and he was reminiscing about picking bunches of primroses on the railway banks, tying them onto a stick and bringing them home for their mothers. Now, I know everything in the past was not better, but it does make you think how wonderfully free children were and how much pleasure they got from simple things.

It also reminded me that primroses were considered to be in decline a few years ago, and you picked them at your peril, and theirs.

All over the country it seems that currently, happily, the primrose family is flourishing and populating entire banks, lanes, lawns - everywhere. So I didn't feel so guilty about sneaking a few from the bank by our house. When I first lived here, about twenty years ago, there were none there; now it is smothered in these mixtures of the primula family. And, naturally, that led me to get out the inks. These are Brusho crystals, which mix with water. I bought lots of cheap little plastic bottles, mixed all colours with water and labelled them. This was almost as much pleasure as using them.

I'm the one we drools over boxes of coloured pencils, or pastels, arranging them into the sensible order of colour gradation. Always have. As a child I adored the Derwent boxes and my aim was to own the biggest box of 72, was it? Now I have 24 Derwent watercolour crayons and they are a great joy to use, and, of course, arrange in the right order.

The small pleasures are the best ones.

Sunday, April 15, 2012


For me, the most nostalgic tree is the horse chestnut. Embedded in my memory is learning, at kindergarten school aptly called The Spinney, about the saddle and horseshoe marks, which probably appealed because I was pony mad.

The tree is a complete experience, from the optimism and promise of sticky buds, then these fresh, early umbrellas of leaves; the glory of candles of blossom; the curious game we would play stripping out the flesh of the leaves to make fish skeletons; glossy conkers and their prickly coated, softly lined shells; their early autumn browning and crisping of leaves and early spring, earlier each year when  sticky buds re-appear.

Just one of the many joys of mindful observation.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Two favourite things

What are they? A stoneware teapot given by a good friend, which is a joy to use - yes, it works, that is, pours without drips. It was bought in Somerset and is celadon green, probably fired with wood ash. It has a traditional, Japanese feel and look. It pleases me endlessly, being both useful and beautiful. (Since first posting this, I have now concluded it is by Paul Dennis - am asking him to confirm.)

The book is my Persephone notebook, which I use as a commonplace book and now that it is more than half full, there is enough written and drawn in there to make a true beside reader. I have a terrible weakness for good notebooks and am thrilled to have discovered an old Moleskin book, with the elastic gone, which is all graph paper with a super marbled endpaper.

Persephone books are perfect, to hold, feel and look at, not to mention great reads. This notebook has lovely plain cream paper and a Duncan Grant design endpaper. I make no apologies for having written before about this treasure. I hope one of my children will keep it and pass it on. I like to think it sums up my tastes and what amuses or touches me. Not least is the great satisfaction in writing with care, rather than bashing at a keyboard.

The endpaper - Duncan Grant design

Thursday, April 05, 2012

It's been a while

For the past month I seem to have had no inspiration to blog. Because I hate the idea of feeling obliged, I''ve just let the water flow gently on. Today I feel like writing.

This week I had my best day for ages. Life has got no easier, the stresses are greater if anything. So what was different? Firstly, a long online meditation with Jon Kabat-Zinn. Secondly, I was on a creative high. These are some of my efforts on that day.

What interests me is that they are so varied. All were done in a rush of enthusiasm and energy. I've noted what a physical painter I am, moving about all the time, quite impulsive and spontaneous. Some might call this slapdash, and I would agree but out of this approach accidents happen and things emerge. This seems to me to be a reasonable metaphor for life. Take risks, grab opportunities, make the best of difficult situations, and keep smiling even when that is the last thing you feel like doing.

Speaking of which, today I tried posting on Black Dog Tribe, Ruby Wax's excellent initiative. Now that was the opposite of a good experience - sorry, Ruby. Partly because I couldn't insert an image, which was the point of the post and partly because even a breath near the advert on the right launched into a ghastly eulogy for winged false eyelashes. I know that age is no barrier to making the best of yourself, but I am now so sick of them that I feel like finding them in shops and shrieking out loud. I suppose ads help keep the site going but it needs a lot of fine tuning before it offers the support that is intended.  

Saturday, March 03, 2012

The beauty of black and white

 There is something special about black and white photography. It distils the image, and makes you look more closely at textures, composition and atmosphere. Colour is wonderful but some images just look so much better in black and white. I took the photo above at Walton Hall, in the grounds of the hotel there, during the ice and snow (and sun) of Christmas 2010. Thanks to dear old Picasa I have converted it to black and white, which it very nearly was to start with, but this image seems even better to me.

Whereas, this picture taken at Brancaster Staithe in Norfolk in 2010 is enhanced by the touches of blue and yellow in an otherwise monochrome image.

Both should be good sources for paintings.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

familiar objects

This sketch on too thin paper, in coloured aquarelle pencils, is something I will treasure if we ever have to move from here. Not because it is any good, but each object means something, the glass oil jar, old green glass ink pot, small stone jar, glass bottle stopper, miniature pewter mug, old glass salt cellar, a pot (more of which later) and a bowl.

They are in the kitchen on some green shelves and serve absolutely no practical purpose, but beauty is more important to me, and I love the way the light falls, and the spaces between.

Maybe I will become like Morandi, and just keep painting, drawing, photographing the same few objects.The painting from this drawing is here:

The white pot has the following written on it:

Price 1/11, 2/9 & 4.6 Per Pot

It is cracked and shabby, but a favourite treasure. Objects can give great pleasure without being valuable.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Being Mindful

Ten Mindful Movements - on YouTube

What more can I say? To balance your mind and body and to come into the present moment with awareness, this series of movements is perfect. With the beautiful Thich Nhat Hanh of Plum Village in France.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The tactile pot

Shoji Hamada
Square Plate
Kaki glaze with poured decoration
3 ¼ x 12 ½ x 12 ½"
box signed by Shinsaku Hamad

I have found this picture of a typical pot, or rather a plate, by Shoji Hamada. He is just about my favourite potter for his sense of form and exquisite use of colour. This one is for sale at the Pucker Gallery and no price is mentioned. What I do know is that it would be far, far more than we could ever pay.

I want to touch it and hold it, just as the potter did. For me, the greatest quality of any handmade pot is its tactility. Running your fingers over the glaze you can feel the potters hands.  This YouTube clip of Hamada turning a pot is classic, apparently in Australia in 1965.

The stones are piling up

Over a week and my river of stones is growing. I've decided I need to do what has been suggested, which is to look, just look for five minutes and then to write. Having to choose something every day has interesting side effects. For instance, I see something early in the morning and decide to focus on it, then later a more absorbing object or sight occurs. Also, it can feel a little contrived, this deliberate choice of something to write and publish.

However, it feels good. So I will persevere and try to relax. Above all I will try not to be too pretentious.

Here are a few of the images attached to the stones.

 my photo of Venice some years ago
my photo of tea yesterday
The Source of the Thames by Michael Andrews

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Starting my River of Stones

Through the blog Writing Our Way Home I have decided to undertake to closely observe one thing, feeling, event every day and write a 'stone'. I have a separate blog for this and hope to include an appropriate image every day. So, that blog could be the only record. But then I remember buying this collection of notebooks, with beautiful handmade paper, in a box covered in images of pebbles.
Perfect! And each book has 60 pages, there are 6 books, so each one will be for 2 months. It was  meant to be.

Then I wondered why, in common with many people, I am drawn to pebbles and stones. For instance, this is one of my favourite mugs.

And it runs in the family. My grandchildren in Australia insisted their mother bring these in her luggage, specially chosen for me from their favourite beach, probably at Lennox Head. Yes, I know it's not legal, but hope the pebble police are not looking. It meant so much to think their small hands had held the stones that I now hold.

It is the primaeval, the tactile qualities, the resonance with water, rivers and seas, that makes them so special as if by holding them, we are capturing the spirit of the place and the person who picked that particular one.

So the idea of 'writing a river of stones' has resonances far beyond the practical. And that has to be good. It mustn't be a chore to write a small paragraph every day, but a joy in something held, like a stone, and examined minutely. No doubt with practice, they will be more polished, but it doesn't matter. What matters is the time spent observing, mindfully, of course.