Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Can you tell what it is yet?

I can tell what it is but not what it's for. It's a mixing bowl of eggshells left on the kitchen cupboard by our house-sitter. She's out of phone contact for a few days so I can't find out the real explanation for the time being and just have to guess the answer.

So far, the only conclusion I have come to is that they were destined to be snail deterrents. I've heard snails don't like the texture. I've never tried the theory out myself because, relative to the snail and slug population here, we don't eat many eggs. We had a big pile of scrambled eggs for lunch yesterday, though, partly because we had missed a meal or two in the previous 24 hours while packing up and travelling and partly because the eggs had sat in a hot car for a day so I thought it best to use them up. As the eggshells mounted up on the counter, I just thought why not start keeping them? It's really such an easy thing to do. By the time I have veg that need protecting from slugs and snails I will surely have enough shells to be useful. During the summer I have been keeping used coffee grounds (and drying them out) for the same purpose. Why not have several boxes of such items collecting in the shed ready for the spring onslaught?

There's a bigger picture to identify too. What shape will our lives have here? Five months away is long enough to break all the old patterns that belonged here and bring some of our more recent ones back with us. 24 hours after unlocking the door of this strange but familiar house, I'm feeling a great sense of possibility about all of this. Today there are things to do. I'll set about doing them and see what turns up. I can't tell exactly what life here is yet and it's a great feeling.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes

Over at the Down To Earth Forum people are discussing, amongst other things, what to do with all the tomatoes. Usually I make tomato puree, roast tomato and garlic soup and tomato and vegetable sauce and freeze them but here we have only a very small freezer which is turned off for the winter anyway, so I do jams, pickles and bottling, or canning as it seems to be known in the US, Australia and NZ.

Red tomato chutney and green tomato chutney are well known, but I made this recipe a couple of days ago and it’s tasty as well as different.

Tomato and Red Pepper Chutney
2lbs ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped (skin first if you prefer)
1 red pepper (about 6 oz), deseeded and roughly chopped
8oz onions, finely chopped
10 fl oz red wine vinegar
4oz sugar (brown if you like for extra flavour, though I used white)
1tsp paprika

1. Put the tomatoes in a large pan. Add the other ingredients and bring slowly to the boil. Bubble gently, uncovered, for an hour or two until the vegetables are tender and the chutney is thick and pulpy.

2. Spoon into sterilised jars and seal.

3. Store in a cool, dark place for at least four weeks. Once opened, keep in the fridge for up to one month.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Looking forward

We are packing. Some packing is of things to take back to UK, some is of things here so they are mouse, spider, frost and dust-proof during the winter. But, for the first time since I've been coming here, just before we leave we are not only packing. M is still occasionally attacking a patch of brambles at ground level so that in the spring the old, dead stuff will be easy to remove and the new growth which will be bound to happen will be relatively easy to kill off. I'm preparing my vegetable plot for next summer's vegetables. These are things we might be doing if we weren't leaving. Ordinary jobs but they have an eye on future seasons.

This summer I've been painting the downstairs windows, doors and shutters. They certainly weren't looking their best, but repainting woodwork is as much about protecting it for the future as it is about how it looks now. Not that I'm not happy with how my work looks, mind you! Most things have been stripped right down to bare wood and M has replaced odd rotten bits with new sections of wood in invisible joins. I've got through tubes and tubes of wood filler. (It doesn't seem to be available in any larger quantity, though we've looked.) You really can't tell which bits we've repaired, apart from my re-puttying. It's not yet my best skill, though M says it's no worse than when he does it. I stop painting for the winter with ideas fairly fresh in my mind about what I'll tackle next summer. There are a few more photos of the work we've been doing here if you're interested. (Friends who visited earlier this summer might notice the difference!)

Living here has, even more than before, become in a way just living. Of course I return to making pots, going to the Farmers Market and other sales events instead of spending all my working time making cards and working with textiles. The shape of my days won't be the same as it has been here. In between here and there lies a long journey, tiring for me as I don't sleep well on the overnight ferry. But over-riding all of these things is the sense that in some way life on the other side of the channel can be a continuation of this one.

Unlike other trips, which have been more like holidays for me, I leave this time without the traditional case full of dirty laundry. I've been on top of these sorts of chores while we've been here. There'll be no endless washing loads after this trip.

Not having finished the new pieces of textiles work has it's upside too. I'm so much 'in the middle of stuff' that I hope it will be possible to unpack these pieces and continue with them from time to time over the winter. It doesn't have to be a complete change of lifestyle just because it's a change of scene.

Having enjoyed fabulous swimming weather in July and August, we've both resolved to take up swimming again in the autumn. I'm planning on returning to the Early Bird sessions, starting at 8.00 a.m. Watch this space to see if I keep to my resolution.

This summer looked in advance very much like a self-contained event. Now, though, it feels more like one season in a constantly evolving life. I'm looking forward - to continuing life in the UK, to continuing life here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Culture Shock

There's always a degree of culture shock when we arrive back in Britain from France but I'm expecting it to be much greater this year as we have been here for five months.

After so long even I, mostly sitting in the passenger seat, will find it odd that we are driving on the left once we get off the ferry.

Next there will be the first visit to a petrol station or shop and the affrontery of the assistant not greeting me with "Bonjour Madame." Here, one simply does not start talking to someone without this greeting. A year or so ago we had a French market in Stroud. You know the sort of thing - various French traders seem to do a 'season' in Britain, travelling round to various towns. We tried to speak French to the stallholders whose wares we wanted to ask about, but they all replied in very good English. It was rather sad that none of them welcomed our French; after all, M's is pretty good. The worst thing, though, was the shame I felt at our own behaviour. In spite of knowing everyone was French, we didn't once start a conversation with "Bonjour." I'm determined to make sure I do if there's a next time.

We'll be returning home to a TV, and not only that, but a PVR which will have been recording some of our favourite programs, courtesy of our house-sitter who set it for us. Here, we've watched almost one series of The West Wing during cold, wet evenings, but mostly I have been listening to radio.

We're also returning to a dishwasher - HOORAY! This will be so welcome to both of us that I'm not sure it can count as culture shock. We've even given serious thought to whether we could find room for a dishwasher here. Probably not.

In Stroud we have a local and I think (providing the same landlord is in place) are known there. Here, however, we are well known and indeed on friendship terms with the family who run the café-bar-tabac. When we arrived in April we had not long been married and they and several others greeted us, with some hilarity, as "les jeunes mariés" (the young marrieds). During August we visited the large market at Chauvigny, in part hoping that Saucepan Man, as we have come to think of him, would be there. He no longer comes to our local market and I have been buying a pan each year from him for the past four years or so. That is the extent of our contact with him. Chauvigny is a 45 minute drive from here. We were lucky enough to find Saucepan Man at the market. He recognised us (not unusual, he frequently starts by telling me which pans I have already and in particular which one I bought first) but we were a little surprised that he greeted us with "Ah, les jeunes mariés!" Even as fairweather visitors, we are made to feel a real part of this rural community.

Which brings me to the main aspect of culture shock which we will experience, I think. I probably need say nothing more than to explain that at the top of this post is the satellite picture of where we live in France and at the bottom, in the same scale, the picture of where we live in Britain.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

More than you could ever want to know about chiggers

More than you could ever want to know about chiggers is to be found here but I can tell you enough from personal experience.

Since I've been coming down to France, I've been certain that there were insects in the grass that were biting me. M, who is not attractive to mosquitoes, was not experiencing the same problems and, to be honest, I never thought he was quite sympathetic enough when I complained. He also couldn't think of anything it could be. I was certain, though, that particularly towards the end of the summer, I suffered more from bites on the feet and ankles if I had been walking in the grass for any length of time.

A few weeks ago I sustained some new bites behind the knees and around my waist and felt certain that something had been trapped there, so I did a bit of research. Chiggers. They live in grassland. They jump on, travel up your trouser legs or down your shirt front until they find some nice soft skin or are stopped in their tracks by your clothing or a bent limb, and then do their irritating work. I leave it to your imagination all the varieties of places this can be. Anywhere you can think of, I've probably been bitten.

I'm not getting allergic reactions to them as I do from mosquito bites but they can be pretty aggravating. There doesn't seem to be a lot you can do to stop them, especially as they are too small to be seen by the naked eye. You can put things on to soothe the bites, though as with everything, it's never perfect.

Today I am enjoying a little bit of schadenfreude, though. Friday's excellent gardening brought a big batch of bites. But because M has been helping me prepare the vegetable plot for the winter, he too was kneeling on the ground and therefore made himself available to the chiggers. And they're not so discerning as mosquitoes, apparently. He has bites, though not as many as I do. Today he admitted that he has enough of them to make him realise what I must be feeling with the larger number that I have and he is now able to feel more sympathetic.

So there's a silver lining to this latest batch of chigger bites, which is that at last I feel vindicated in my complaints and assertions about things in the grass that bite.

The photo? The nearest I could get to a cloud with a silver lining. Before you complain about the corniness of that, consider for a moment whether you would really have wanted to see a picture of chigger bites. No? I thought not.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Blood, sweat and tears

Well, the title got your attention, but I bet you're wondering about how it links to the photo.

This is how my vegetable plot here looks at the moment. As with so many decisions in life, I've been doing a lot of thinking out loud which sounds to M like wavering and changing my mind but really is working through the alternatives. What to do next about the vegetable plot? To begin with, having planned a five-month trip here, I was clear that it would be worth growing some vegetables. Two autumns ago we covered an area of grassland with black plastic. Last autumn a neighbour came and ploughed it for us with the cutest little tractor the size of a ride-on mower and told us to leave it uncovered. This spring he rotovated it. Yes, I know, I know, all you gardeners out there, wincing and exclaiming that rotovating just breaks up the weed roots and distributes them over a wide area. But really, we couldn't have dug it ourselves. Mike usually does my digging for me but when we arrived in April he still had a bad back from wood collecting and the ground would have been impossible for me to break up from its ploughed and over-wintered state. In retrospect, we agreed that our neighbour was wrong and we should have covered it in plastic over last winter as well. You live and learn.

So I began to prepare the plot for use. It certainly wasn't ready after rotovating. The ground was incredibly hard and sometimes the weather was hot so not only was it sweaty work (yes, I'm getting to the point of the title) but there were times when it reduced me to tears as I remembered my easily worked soil in the garden back in UK. The blood? Well, I probably grazed a finger or two, I don't remember, but the details are not important. In essence, blood, sweat and tears are what it took to get the vegetable plot started.

Five months has been a very short time to grow things in and I've been saying for a while that it's probably not going to be possible to do vegetable growing again here as we won't be able to stay for five months. But then, I got to thinking. Having pulled up the bean canes, I noticed there really weren't many weeds. We've had some good rain in the last week and the soil was soft and moist. What a waste of all that effort in the spring to let it just return to the wild.

A couple of hours saw the first bed weeded and covered in black plastic. I'm leaving the perpetual spinach, which hasn't done all that well, to be honest, but perhaps it will pick up over the winter and not have gone to seed by the time we return. I've put in a few cauliflower plants too. This is an experiment. When I've tried growing them before I haven't had a lot of luck, but caulis are so expensive here, I thought it was worth a try.

The far bed still has peppers, tomatoes and marrows that I will be taking back with us. I hope to harvest them and prepare the bed in a similar way to the first before we leave.

I don't really know how effective the plastic will be in preserving the well-worked state of the soil. This time we have a level plot for the plastic and have used wood around the edges to minimise space for the wind to get under, so I'm hoping not too much will tear over the winter. We don't know when we'll be back next year, but are thinking of June, in which case if I can put plants straight in they will actually be no later than they were this year.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Getting a life - 1

According to Wikipedia, "Documented early use" of the phrase "Get a life!" starts in 1983. When I read that, I thought "how could 1983 be described as early use? It was just a few years ago. Then I worked out that it was more than 25 years ago and started to think what I was doing back then. In 1983 I was single, still teaching at my first school, had not yet done my first piece of embroidery and did not consider myself to be an artist. Thinking of those and other things I was doing at the time, it sometimes seems like a different life led by a different person. I can only think of three people who knew me then who might possibly be reading this blog.

What were you doing back then? (I suppose there may even be some people reading this that were not even born!)

I digress. I tend to. It seems an interesting enough digression to leave in, though.

Telling someone to get a life started out as a rather abrasive comment, somewhat rude and judgemental. Over the last few years though, the concept of getting a life has mellowed so that now it's something we can use reflexively. "I should get a life" is a good way to own up good-humouredly if we are being a bit obsessive about something. More recently still, getting a life has come to mean working less. It's something I've talked about increasingly over the past few years. In particular, the last eighteen months before we came over to France at the end of April this year were particularly over-full of work. I needed to make sure there was enough pottery stock for various outlets for the duration of our stay abroad plus a couple of months after we get back while I get back into production. I met my goal and this did produce a huge high, as it always does. It meant that having come down here I haven't had to worry about the pottery. It has allowed me to spend some of my working time exploring new ideas and directions for my textiles work and to some extent to re-evaluate the direction of my work as an artist as a whole.

I've also been getting a life. I've rediscovered lots of things I used to do and begun some new things. My days have space for things that aren't work and I don't want to give that up.

Plum preserves

I love to cook and make things like preserves. One of my friends likes to mis-quote "Life's too short to stuff a mushroom" as variations such as "Life's too short to make your own ice-cream" but I notice she's always very happy to eat mine! The trouble is that life certainly is too short to do everything and it's one of my constant conflicts to decide how to spend my time. But that is for another blog.

For about ten years or so I got out of the habit of making jam but since I've been coming to M's house in France, where there is fruit growing on our land and other fruit available locally at lovely cheap prices, I've found the urge to preserve irresistable again. This year has been a glut year for all fruit, including the Victoria plum tree, which in the last five years I've only ever seen produce a couple of dozen fruit before. They are truly delicious. I've bottled, jammed and chutneyed and have now run out of jars again.

One thing I want to use this blog for is occasional foodie features and recipes and the plums get the honour of going first. I would have liked my first foodie photo to show the glow of colour you get from sun on a jar of jam but we are in the middle of a cold, wet spell so you'll have to make do with the kitchen tablecloth.

The recipes assume some experience, e.g. in knowing when jam has reached the right temperature, how to sterilise jars, etc. They're also in imperial weights, for the time being at least. Until recently I didn't have kitchen scales that could competently weigh in metric and many of the recipes I use or create are based on traditional ones where the measurements were all in imperial anyway. There is a useful conversion site here if you need it.

Plum, rum and raisin conserve
I've combined several other recipes to come up with this. The first tasting (on buttered scones) was delicious!

6lbs plums
juice and rind of 2 lemons
juice and rind of 2 oranges
1lb raisins
6lbs sugar

6 tbs dark rum

1. Quarter and stone the plums. Place in a preserving pan with all the other fruit. Cook on a low heat for at least an hour until the plums are all soft and the raisins have begun to plump up. Stir occasionally.

2. Add the sugar and stir while it dissolves. Turn the heat up a little and bring to the boil. Cook till setting temperature is reached, stirring frequently as the jam has a tendency to stick.

3. Remove from the heat, wait for the jam to stop bubbling, then stir in the rum. Pour into sterilised jars and seal.

Plum chutney

5lbs plums, halved, stoned and roughly chopped
3 red onions, finely chopped

3 coooking apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped

22fl oz red wine vinegar

1lb 8oz light soft brown sugar

1 tsp each cloves and salt

1 tbs mustard seeds

1. Put all the ingredients in a large pan and cook over a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

2. Bring to the boil and simmer, uncovered, over a low heat for about three and a half hours until the mixture is thick and pulpy. There should be hardly any liquid left.

3. Ladle into sterilised jars and seal.

4. Store for at least a month to mature.

The original recipe suggested that the chutney should be eaten within six months but I plan to ask it to last a lot longer than that. It has sugar and vinegar and isn't all that different from tomato chutney recipes which I've known to last well for several years.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Shooting season

The shooting season started here on Sunday. As far as I can make out, here in rural France the shooting season means you are allowed to shoot any type of wild bird or animal. It's also different from the UK in that the places where you are not allowed to shoot are stated rather than the places where you are. One can have a fence round a garden if it is definitely a garden but otherwise the land is 'agricultural' land and is deemed open for shooting. You are not allowed to shoot within a certain distance of houses (I don't know what this is but don't think it is all that far) and you're not allowed to shoot towards a house (phew!)

Sunday mornings are transformed once the season has started. Maybe the women still go to church, but the men seem to spend their Sunday mornings out shooting. We have three acres of rough grassland here, so in theory we can be on anyone's route on their shooting expedition so on Saturday Paulette in the café reminded us to keep an eye on how far Charlie went roaming on Sunday morning. Luckily he is not much of a roaming sort of a dog.

In the last few days we've had this partridge wandering round the yard. When we're inside he'll come quite close to the house but gets spooked if I get too close with the camera. Since we haven't seen him before, it sort of suggests he's taking refuge and doesn't know people would be allowed to shoot him here too. He's a fine-looking bird. It wouldn't stop me eating partridge if offered it, though.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Brown dog in the sun

Have I got you singing yet? Even M, who is not known for remembering much music from the seventies, remembers the Boney M song and both of us have been singing it from time to time during the last couple of months. It's probably worth another listen to revive the memories. Enjoy!

Anyway, the cause of this strange outbreak of retro is that Charlie is now a brown dog. We arrived at the end of April with a black labrador, but he's been gradually getting more and more chestnut on his body (head, legs and tail have remained black.)

In August we met someone we see once or twice a year who even said "You've got a different dog! You had a black one last year."

I'm now wondering how long it will be before he returns to a completely black dog.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


It's definitely turning to autumn here. The trees have just started to turn in the last few weeks. I've been out this afternoon photographing the landscape, which I haven't done for quite a while. To be honest, it doesn't really look all that much different from a month ago. There are fields where the crops have been harvested, some where they've been harrowed and some ploughed, but there are also those still with crops and today we saw some new lush green growth of something-or-other in a couple of fields.

Since we arrived in late April I've been wanting to represent the feeling of our local landscape in my artwork somehow. The first problem is that landscapes are usually best shown in, er, landscape format. My wallhangings really work best in portrait format. I played around with a few ideas for portrait-shaped landscapes and there certainly are some that worked but it just wasn't what I wanted to do at the time.

This is the clue, then, to how my work is developing - away from wallhangings! I'm not stopping wallhangings altogether, in fact I have two or three new ones on the go at the moment. As I mentioned in "Artists' Block", I'm not going back to mounted and framed pictures either. I wouldn't mind, but that still didn't answer what I'm looking for at the moment.

The new landscape pieces will be, for want of a better description, canvasses. That is, the fabric will be mounted straight over a framework and a solid backing added ready for hanging.

If this works out, they'll lbe at the next Beastly Art Exhibition next August. If not, they won't. At the moment I'm hopeful and will just leave it at that.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Troughs and peaks

I am so pleased with this trough. On Sunday evening we visited friends who have a farm and I pointed out to Mike that they had some splendid concrete troughs outside the door in which they were growing herbs. These two troughs were probably about 6ft x 18 x 2ft deep. He said there was a slightly bigger one lurking under some brambles somewhere at home. Over lunch on Monday I said that such a trough would be ideal for growing mint if only we had it in the right position. By suppertime, hey presto, there it was. It will need a substantial amount of stone at the bottom and then a substantial amount of soil on the top and this is very likely a project for next year, but the arrival of this trough was certainly one of this week's peaks.

What pleased me as much as anything else was having a partner who could not only get the thing there almost single handed (with the aid of a car and chain and then some runners and a crowbar and a lot of effort) but also had the capability and the interest to go and do the maths to work out its weight. About half a ton, if you're interested.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Suns and moons.

Yesterday there was a really wonderful sunset. From the time when it began, I could tell it was going to be one of those spectacular ones. Each time I looked back at it the colours had changed slightly. And what colours. I'll never get those colours on a photo, I thought, but hey, a miracle occurred (or am I starting to get the hang of the DSLR at last?) and the colours on the photos really are pretty much what I was looking at.

With a digital camera you can easily get obsessive. I mean, there's no film cost so why not just take a load of pics to be on the safe side so you end up with one you like? I've adopted that policy this summer and have mostly had about 2% success, i.e. take 100 photos and end up with 2 I like. This sunset yesterday, though, was an exception in so many ways, including that I had about 30% success. It would have been much higher but I weeded out those which were too much alike. What I hope I'm left with is a couple of sequences showing the development of the sunset. The big sequence shows the really spectacular colours and they really were as zingy as that. No photoshopping at all, promise! Then over to the right there was a sort of eliptical shape in the clouds and the colours were much softer and that area had an attraction all of its own, so I've made a short sequence of photos there too. Finally, some birds flew across the sky. Well, what was I supposed to do, ignore them? The results are a bit cheesy, but I thought I'd just go for it. I only wish I'd been quicker off the mark and got the heron!

Finally, we've been seeing some beautiful moons here and I managed to get four halfway decent pictures of them.

There's one main problem with this post: although I've tried uploading photos to it, I seem to have failed. Blogger tells me I've uploaded, but the photos don't appear anywhere. So, sorry to tantalise, but until I find a way of doing this, you will have to go here to look at them.

Saturday, September 5, 2009


In the late sixties or early seventies there was a fashion for little metal signs (about 5cms x 8cms), like mini versions of the signs found on the outside walls of shops and other businesses in earlier times. These days they'd be fridge magnets but then they were just metal. Perhaps they had holes in the corner for fixing them up, I'm not sure. In any case, there was one which had a picture of a Pears Soap sort of child looking angelic and the words, "What is home without a Mother?" I bought one for my mum and she has it stuck up (with blu-tack) in her kitchen even now and two or three kitchens later. Over the last fifteen years or so I've sometimes felt mildly uncomfortable about it because I'm now aware that many homes do not contain mothers. Now, though, I'm reminded again about why I bought it and the message it conveyed for me then is still valid.

I grew up in an 'army family', which meant that we moved house regularly. The longest we stayed anywhere during my childhood was four years but that was exceptional. The norm was two years and once it was only 11 months. From time to time we had prolonged stays with grandparents but by and large there was no place I called home. Home was the house where we lived but never the place where the house was. "What is home without a Mother?" conveyed this.

My first job after college was in Stroud, over thirty years ago and, against all expectations at the time (I spent my interview day either at the school or waiting at Stroud Bus Station, 'nuff said), I have never left because at last I have a home. I've lived in four different houses, one of them in a village three miles away, but during all this time Stroud has been my home.

I was never happy with moving about and it left me with a certain amount of personal baggage. I've always looked forward, for instance, to returning home even from the time of the beginning of a holiday I'm really enjoying. (I now have an additional perspective on this from what I've learned about the theories of Five-Element Acupuncture, but that is for another time.) Suffice to say, I have always felt uncomfortably uprooted if away from home for too long.

So here I find myself in France for five months! Two years ago, when I suggested this trip, I had built into it the possibility of returning home for a week at least once in the middle because I could not imagine that I would survive the homesickness (or the lack of regular acupuncture and other complementary treatments) otherwise. By the time we set out in April, I had reached the point of saying that a return trip was a remote possibility but not expected to happen.

The reason for the change is that over the last two or three years I have eventually come to view the house here (which has belonged to my partner for a long time before he met me) as home too. I don't consider the actual locality as home, however, even though I might refer to "our part of France." I still talk of our "going home" meaning back to Stroud. And now we are only three weeks from going home and amazingly I find myself thinking I don't particularly want to.

During May I was homesick. Much more than I expected. The weather and house and I were cold. Getting a new vegetable plot started was hard work and I kept thinking of my garden back home with deep beds full of years' of compost and muck and easy to work soil. I was aware how long it was going to be before I saw my friends and missed being able to just pop into Stroud and have a coffee at Mills or drop in on friends for a gossip. We've got a VOIP phone, so our calls to UK are free, but phone calls aren't the same as seeing people in person. Then in June the weather improved and I got everything planted out and I suddenly realised I felt settled in.

Eventually, visitors arrived from Stroud. We've been telling people to come and visit us here for the last few years but for whatever reason, perhaps that we were only here for a month at a time, they didn't come. This summer we've had three lots of Stroud visitors and all seem to have loved it here. And we've loved having them. I think seeing people from my 'home territory' here has contributed to my seeing this place as home too. And so the summer has progressed. I haven't done everything I thought I would, but enough. This is where we live and one can imagine the weeks continuing with us still here.

The reality is, of course, that the weather will turn again, has in fact started to do so, my workroom here will start to become uncomfortably cold and I shall be glad to get back to my fitted carpets and central heating. But it does all raise questions about home. Have I become bi-homed, somehow? Will it be difficult settling back to the sound of traffic and constant light from streetlamps? Will I be homesick for chez nous? Watch this space.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Artist's Block

I've never actually heard of Artist's Block, but don't see why we shouldn't have a block of our own since writers do. I have, of course, heard of artists getting stuck and not knowing what work to do next. I've never really experienced it, though. Recently, I have been feeling the next best thing, I suppose. For those who don't know, I'm part-way through a five-month stay in France. To achieve five months away from pottery production I have been working overtime on pottery and keeping pace with textiles work for the best part of two years. The plan was to bring with me textiles work, including card making, as this is all work that can be done away from home.

In the early part of 2009 I ran a few workshops in silk painting, which I enjoyed very much. I certainly hope to run workshops again this winter. One of the results of the workshops was that I began to look past some of the trees and see the wood and became aware that my textiles work was ready for a bit of a change and so was I. A five-month stay here in France seemed a good chance for a bit of a sabbatical. I packed boxes of art materials and cuttings as well as the usual textiles equipment.

The thing about providing a space for something to happen in is that you just have to provide the space and then sit back and wait for something to happen. This is where the artist's block comes in. Here I've been all this time. I had vague glimpses of ways in which my work might develop. I brought picture-framing equipment because I had ideas about mounted and framed pieces such as I used to make in the past, for instance. I've also been quite clear that I couldn't get up one morning and decide that would be the day when I'd decide what direction I might be taking. For a long time I managed to delay things by making cards - the original goal being to make enough stock to last until next time we are down here, though it may not have been achievable - but eventually I needed just to start some bigger work, whether in a new direction or not.

It's not been a happy few weeks. I've made a start on a couple of new projects but was aware that I didn't have a vision of what either would be like when finished. This is unheard of for me. Normally I see the whole finished piece pretty much in my mind before I even start. Not every detail, but the concept, the why of the piece. But not this time. Yesterday I pushed myself back to the smaller piece, which is also the most different from all my recent work, and continued with it until I'd really reached the end of a stage. Nothing went wrong. But I was left wondering, What Next?

Silk dupion.

Well, it means something to me. I had been playing with some pieces of silk dupion a few weeks ago, certain that they had some important part to play in future work but not sure what. Then last night I spent about 3 hours being awake when I wanted to be asleep because the pieces suddenly fell into place. I had to wait for daylight today to see whether my ideas were right and I'm happy to say that they were. Silk dupion is the way to go. It will be a day or so before I have a chance to get hands on again but it's a huge relief to feel the familiar excitement about my textiles work.

I'm not going to say any more at the moment, partly because I don't like to say too much about things before I've actually done them, but will just add that some new pieces will be wallhangings and others ... won't. Not framed pictures either. Watch this space. Or, more accurately, wait until Another Beastly Art Exhibition 2010, which is traditionally where I show new textiles work for the first time.