Monday, 29 November 2010

Tea time

At the Vintage Fair yesterday I bought this little cup...
... which turns out to go with this little plate:
So great was the delight at having found a partner for the plate that a celebratory tea party was held, at which two very small cakes were shared out, perhaps in the hope that fairies, or plastic deer, would be tempted to come and eat them.
All the mismatched cups and plates were very happy and cheered up an unbelievably cold day.

No one mentioned the fact that the pin up lady was actually an ash tray.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Vintage and Handmade and Home Again

This weekend I dragged the family a couple of hundred of miles across the country so that I could attend the Vintage and Handmade Fair at Chipping Sodbury. Well, we had the added incentive that my husband's family live near there, so we were able to see them for a nice meal on Saturday, but the icing on the ... ice was the fair.
Taken from the car on the M4
 Ooh but it was cold, especially as I kept opening the car window to take photos on the motorway. Don't worry, I wasn't driving. I like to take photos out of moving cars, particularly of pylons looming up but I didn't catch any pylons this time, only a few nicely twisty trees.
     So the fair was brilliant. I felt as though my particular corner of the blogosphere had come to life, and I actually met Kitsch and Curious Elaine and Gary, which was absolutely delightful. Cathy, Elaine said you were there too, so I'm really sorry we didn't get to say hello to each other.
     I seem to have spent rather a lot of my pocket money and now I'm in that state of denial where I don't look in the bags I've brought home until the guilt has subsided and, also, by the time I do dare to look, there's the added benefit of having half forgotten what I splashed out on. There are the makings of projects in those bags, that much I know -- but is it too awful to think of cutting up cloth books to stitch the pictures onto something else?
Thank goodness for de-icer, that's all I can say.
     We were home by 4pm and making ourselves tea in our proper teacups, which is something we only do when we return, like hunters, from forays into the world. And we had slices of stollern, which was wonderful and actually tasted as though German frauleins had lovingly soaked the marzipan in schnapps or some such, even though it was only from Sainsburys.
     This is an odd little post, sorry -- the photos don't seem to go with the subject matter. I should be doing little plush rabbits and wheely dogs and my NEW reindeer (I feel more adventures of the plastic reindeer coming on...). But I thought I probably ought not to take photos inside the fair. So here are some of the things I already own instead.
One can never have too much trash, no?

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

My cards came from the printers

Yesterday my Christmas cards arrived from the printers. I'm happy.


They came at first light, hesitantly, through the trees... Something seemed to have drawn their attention over by the fallen tree. A fox?
 Led by the big stag, the whole herd crept slowly into the clearing...

Saturday, 20 November 2010

David Gentleman

David Gentleman is one of my absolutely most loved artist illustrators. The other day I had one of those moments when two completely separate aspects of your life collide. I had decided to do a blog post about David Gentleman and was looking out the two relatively rare books I have with his illustrations (in addition to the wonderful but very well-known David Gentleman's Britain/Italy/Coastline series). They are both very slim volumes and were quite difficult to find amongst all my books but I managed to hunt them both out. One is The Shell Book of Roads from 1964, quite an early title.
 I hadn't looked at it for a long time and, flicking through the pages, I was amazed to see this watercolour of Sewstern Lane on the Leicestershire/Lincolnshire border:
This seems to have been drawn from almost the exact same place as the photo we used on the cover of a book we published recently at work:
The book is about regional boundaries which predate county boundaries by centuries (and which are usually to do with watersheds and other natural features of the landscape). Sewstern Lane lies on one such ancient boundary. If I had only known I possessed a much more evocative image of this place, I would have gone to almost any lengths to get permission to use it on the cover. It's too late now, alas.
     David Gentleman studied at the Royal College of Art under two other of my adored artists, Edward Bawden and John Nash (brother of Paul). I don't fully understand the process of artistic influence, which is surely a subtle and relatively subconscious thing, but Gentleman's style seems almost to be the child of those two stylistic 'parents' -- Bawden's energetic and humorous lines and Nash's sentimental lyricism. It's hard to show this in just one image for each, but a quick browse on Google Images would soon illustrate what I mean:
Edward Bawden The Pagoda at Kew and John Nash The Cornfield
Here's one more image from the Shell Book of Roads:
Fosse Way
Although David Gentleman always captures the spirit and character of every country he visits (his drawings of India were the first images of that country that have made me understand why people love to go there), I find his illustrations of England so true that it has the effect on me that I imagine poetry has on other people. I feel he shows places as they really are and yet at the same time he lets you in on why they're wonderful.
     My other interesting Gentleman book is a National Trust book made out of illustrations done for a Whitbread (Brewery) calendar for 1972:
This is a little temple on a cliff in Coleraine, Northern Ireland. Wouldn't you love to be there with the wind in the grass and the sea below?
     Such is my love for David Gentleman that the other day I did something completely out of character, which was to buy a Wedgwood collector's plate. It has an illustration by Gentleman on it, of Harlech Castle, and I just liked it:
I think he has a genius touch and the most extraordinary ability to render reality into two dimensions. I have one further example of his work, which I cut out of the Guardian when it was used in the Books pages. It's just stuck on the wall in the corner of my mad little space, but when I look at it, I could be in that tussocky field, waiting for the rain clouds to break.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Christmas cards done at last

I've finally found time to do the artwork for this year's Christmas cards. For the last few years I've had my own Christmas cards printed, because it makes me happy. I don't really sell them, but if I do sell any, I give the proceeds to the Alzheimer's Society. But it's just tiny print runs that I get made up. They look nice printed up on gloss-finish card.
     So I've got these two designs this year:
By doing my own cards, I feel I grab back a little bit of Christmas from big business.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Trying to draw more often

I'm trying to make myself draw more. I need to draw every day but I'm not. Here are three small efforts, in pen, pastel and pencil crayon.

Magpie tendencies

I wrote earlier about how much I love magpies, and now here's proof of my affinity with them. All the pictures in this blog are of things I've picked up off the ground in just the last couple of years.
     First off, badges:

I wonder if, perhaps, a flock of girls on a hen night passed nearby, shedding mildly risque badges as they went? Weirdly, this hen night seems to have included the only southern supporter of "Geordie kings of bar room sleaze" Fable's Last Stand.
     Next, photos. How is it possible for so many people to have carelessly 'lost' these photos of themselves and their offspring?

I suspect a secret photo-dropping tendency, a kind of Facebook on the cheap...
     Here are two secret messages. I feel the note on the Sainsbury's leaflet was written by a till operator who genuinely feared for their sanity if they had to swipe one more box of Taste the Difference mini mince pies in the two-month-long festival that is Christmas in this country.

     Now we're getting to the special stuff, the treasure. Here are lost hearts, so many. Hearts so carelessly thrown away, as ever.

Then, the great mass of single earrings and shiny, mashed up items I've dug out of the mud and mulch around the campus where I work. My colleague finds it most unsavoury, but it makes me very happy to pocket a shiny. I am sorry, though, for all the people with only a single earring now. They'll have to donate them to X Factor Wagner.

Finally -- and I've saved the best till last -- a kind of freakish disco ensemble:

That's just about all my best treasures shared with you now. When I was a child I was given a tiny set of cardboard drawers, about a four-inch cube in shape. There were three little drawers and in them I kept my treasures: a little block of chipped purple quartz, a button with a cameo on it, a metal heart commemorating the Relief of Mafeking (why on earth did I have that?), fragment from an old clock, a little bit of carved horn. They really had value for me. I used to take them out nearly every day and order them according to different criteria. Kept me happy for hours. A while ago I came across some of these same treasures, which I'd kept but not looked at for many years. They seemed so terrible humdrum and shabby and I felt a little sad. I can only lay hands on a few of them now as they seem to have got scattered about. I've still got the drawers too:

A few years ago the four of us went into London to join in with the breaking up of Tomoko Takahashi's installation at the Serpentine. This article from the Guardian paints the picture. The artist had filled the gallery space with her trademark tide of charity shop toys, board games, jigsaw pieces and counters as well as larger objects such as fridges and cookers. It was all so much junk but there was something wonderful about being allowed to go into a stern London gallery space and help yourself. My kids and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I still have my bag of mad bits and pieces -- plastic wheels and bits from Mousetrap, random jigsaw pieces and letter squares. I value it because it has passed through the 'filter' of an artist's intention, even though it's just junk really. The kids enjoyed making collages with their bits and dripping molten candle wax all over them.
     I value the bits and pieces I find on the ground almost as much as things I've paid for, sometimes more so. It's the charity-shop syndrome, but more so -- you've found something where the likelihood of finding something good was very low, and so you cherish it all the more fiercely. It takes on an aura of uniqueness.
    If we are defined, in some degree, by our belongings, I am a very strange person indeed.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Spiky structure

About a year ago I was looking on the internet for spiky structural images -- pylons, rollercoasters, scaffolding, that sort of thing -- for no other reason than that I like the graphic qualities of lines of steel. I found this little image:

I had no idea what it was of, exactly. It looked like some sort of derelict fairground ride or possibly some sort of drilling rig. Anyway, the reds and yellows against the blue spoke to me very much and I decided to use it as the basis for a screenprint when I did a printing class. This was the result (rather, this was one of the better ones of my beginner's efforts):

The actual size of the print is only about one inch across!
     Then, this summer I went to Paris for the day, with the family, from our main holiday near Le Touquet. As I spent a (rather lonely) year as an au pair in the suburbs of Paris when I was 17 (before I went to uni) and hadn't been back since, all my memories of Paris were rather out of date. My favourite place, in 1979, to lie low and avoid my horrible little French charges was the Centre Pompidou, so I persuaded the family that we should head there on the afternoon of our day trip. By chance, there was a fantastic exhibition on called Dreamlands, about fantasy worlds, in particular the fantasy worlds created by fun fairs such as Coney Island. It was brilliant, and what should I spot, in a big blow-up of an old postcard of Coney Island, but my spiky structure:

Now that I knew what it was and where it was, I was able to gather together lots of images of it. It's called the Parachute Drop and looks as though it must have provided a terrifying experience.


Coney Island seems a rather stark, neglected place now. I've done my trick of 'travelling' there via Google Earth. The parachute drop is still there, like a lonely exotic bird in a rundown zoo:

But I feel I could spend months, if not years, doing artwork based on Coney Island and its wonderful, dreamlike structures.

My final encounter with the parachute drop was, again, by chance. It was already up on my pinboard, right in front of my eyes, but I hadn't seen it for what it was. It's in the background of a work by artist David Wojnarowicz called 'Arthur Rimbaud in New York'. It looks like a photomontage, I'm not sure. It's a postcard I bought from the Serpentine ages ago. Why didn't I notice the parachute drop till now? I wasn't looking. The Dreamlands show in Paris made great play of the fascination the Surrealists had for fantasy constructions such as Coney Island. There was old film footage of Andre Breton and cool surrealist friends enjoying the teacup rides and giggling on the waltzers (I hope I'm remembering right -- you get the idea). I envied them the newness of the experience and their capacity for wonder and transport. Me, I'm just scared of fairground rides, but I love to collect images of them.

Detail of Arthur Rimbaud in New York (Coney Island), PPOW Gallery