Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Eventually today was the day to return to my set of three landscapes that were begun last September, interrupted for lots of irises and sat around patiently waiting for me. I've been trying to face up to the challenge of continuing something that was already in my head without the sketchbook where I had recorded my ideas (which unfortunately I have left at home in my studio.) Things did not go well at first.

Taking a drink (and a chocolate eclair) outside, I suddenly found myself taking photos of creatures keen to camouflage themselves.

This chap is small - head and body about 8cms long. Being rather dull and plain light brown colours you'd think we couldn't miss him in the lush green grass, but in fact every time we looked away it was quite difficult to spot him.

At first glance I wouldn't have said the plum tree offered much cover to a camouflaged creature unless it was green but then suddenly two things appeared which were surprisingly different from my idea of a plum tree and yet kept losing themselves as soon as I took my eyes off them.

The swallowtail flew off too fast for me to capture his open wings but eventually the goldfinch (kept typing goldfish by mistake!) moved out into the open and I was rather pleased to get a clear shot of him in all his finery.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's been a long time ...

... since I posted any poetry here.

This one is new and is, in particular, for M and for S, A, J & P, A & N, who were here with us last year but alas, not this.

Sometimes there are sparrows
chattering in groups, sometimes
woodpigeons coo to their mates,
never too far away from company.
Swallows, or swifts, I’m never sure,
swoop about one after the other
and we have redstarts here,
singing from the trees
severally and together.

And then there is the lark,
flying solo, no need for crowds.
This wide French sky is filled
with his solitary song.
Plunging to earth to begin anew
such melodies that seem to have no repetition,
touching my heart like no other bird.

There is something magic here
encapsulated in this small bird
of midsummer. 
Above the bustle on the ground
his hymn to freedom
is the anthem of this place
where weary spirits are renewed,
hopes revived,
and we are regenerated.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

There are not many shepherds off the coast of northern France ...

... so I had no worries about this lovely red sky at about 5.30 UK time today.  We had already finished our breakfast and I hadn't got to sleep until about midnight so, as the modern saying goes, do the math.  And yet here I am fourteen hours later still capable of conscious thought.  Spending five months here last year has changed the place forever for me.  As soon as we found ourselves sitting with 'un demi' talking with P in the cafe, I felt as if I hadn't been away.  And this evening, as M was feeding Charlie, I thought, "should I water the vegetables now?"  Of course there are no vegetables here this year and as we are only able to stay for four weeks there aren't going to be.  But even the unpacked boxes, furniture still covered with polythene, to say nothing of the nine and a half months intervening, didn't stop the feeling of continuance.

We have been so fortunate today.  Fingers crossed and perhaps tomorrow I will be eating my words,  but we have hot and cold water and no leaks.  In case this doesn't sound anything very much, I should tell you that M reported that this is the first time this has happened on his return after the winter in the fourteen years he has owned the house.  It's fair enough: last September he stuffed old cushions and duvets and loft insulation in bin bags round every pipe he could find, even those which are empty over the winter.  We haven't checked the cottage yet, but in the house we use all is well. Not only do we have hot and cold running water and electricity, we have phone and, obviously, internet.  No delays this year.  I can connect with the world and report that tonight I feel lucky.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Three posts at once

One advantage of having delayed our trip to France is that we are here for the oriental poppies.  There's really nothing like them.

You can see the rest of the set of poppy photos here.

Look at the wings on those pigs!

Pigs might fly, Jane might get her vegetable plot all tidy and planted at once. Here's the proof.

I haven't been able to grow plants myself this year, not having a greenhouse at the moment, but was able to buy my vegetable plants from the excellent Pound Farm farm shop and plant centre.  They have top quality vegetable plants in good varieties at very reasonable prices and thoroughly recommended to anyone in the vicinity.  Naturally, the locals appreciate the plants as well and have already started munching on them ....

....though Jane's Patent Slug And Snail Detterrants are doing something to keep them at bay. Copper pipe surrounding tasty plants, eggshells on surface around and coffee grounds on surface immediately around the plants. Out of view, a beer-laden trap. It doesn't stop everything but it certainly slows the attacks and I hope to have the majority of plants surviving.  It's not perfect, but the demolished plant on the right hadn't had the coffee grounds and I do think they protect against the very small earth-dwelling slugs to some extent.  Last year in France the slugs were getting the first leaves of the newly-sprouted runner beans until I sprinkled on the coffee grounds and after that all grew happily un-munched.

Now I have the vegetable garden planted up there is nothing stopping us going to France.  I am, of course, still behind with my work but it will be easier to catch up with it in one go nearer to the exhibition.

Logs on blogs

This post does what it says on the tin.  By popular request (you know who you are!)

For those requiring a little more information - at least one winter's supply of logs provided by M, bringing a fallen branch or two home each evening from his walk with Charlie, now finishing their drying-out under cover during the summer.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A good-enough artist

On Sundays I try to find time to read one of the magazines I subscribe to while eating my breakfast.  Sometimes I question my continuing subscriptions to Crafts Magazine and Ceramic Review.  Over the years I've heard so many criticisms of Crafts, in particular from craftspeople.  I know what they mean.  What appears in the magazine often bears little resemblance to the quality crafts being produced all the time around the country.  It's that age-old discussion about art versus craft.  Crafts often seems to be more about art than craft as most people think of it.

I'm in danger of getting into the ramble of all rambles here.  So many topics branch out from the art/craft discussion.  (Thinks: or do they stem from it?  What's the difference?  Oh dear, that one really will have to wait for another time.)  Today's magazine browsing made me think about my own place in things, though, so I will try to stay focussed on that.

I came away from college with a B.Ed. Hons in Art (Textiles).  On paper this qualified me to teach Art.  Our final year's 'main subject' work was to prepare for an exhibition, dissertation and viva along with other trainee art teachers and the ethos of the textiles department encouraged us to think of ourselves at this point as artists rather than teachers.  However, most of our four-year training had been in teaching textiles in schools, where the subject was more usually a craft subject than part of the art department.  I applied for a few jobs in art departments but at interviews it soon became clear to me that I was applying for the wrong jobs.  I wasn't an art teacher.  I really only knew about textiles.  Having eventually secured a job to teach textiles, I went on my first pottery summer school course that year and so caught the clay bug and that reinforced my thinking that I belonged with crafts rather than art.

When I began to sell my own work it was framed pictures, embroidered onto a water-colour painted silk or cotton background.  Describing my work in those terms I can see how others might have viewed it as art, but at the time I still thought of myself as a craftsperson.  I was continuing my journey with clay (though not yet at the stage of selling pots.)  I then went to some basic drawing and painting classes where I met and became friends with J, who was teaching me.

I became aware that J and another friend, S (who modelled in clay), would introduce me to people as "another artist".  At first I would rather sheepishly try to disagree but I suppose I realised that this wasn't very polite to J and S and began to accept the description.  Over some indeterminate period of time I gradually  began to describe myself as an artist but all the time I think I was waiting to be challenged on the description by a 'proper' artist.

Friends who had other jobs would often be critical of what they thought was perfectionism.  Time after time I would point out the flaws in my latest offerings from pottery summer school and get a tut-tut about it.  Then one year I made a particular jug which I thought was a good pot.  I said so.  I'm not sure people liked that either. 

So it was with the artist/craftsperson distinction.  I see-sawed my way through the years and through stages in my own work, calling myself a variety of things but none totally comfortably.  Stroud Valleys Craftsmen was born and I joined, happily feeling at home with the description.  At the same time, my textiles work had evolved into wallhangings which really didn't belong on craft tables but were much more happily viewed on gallery walls.  Craft shows were where I showed and sold pots but the wallhangings moved to mixed exhibitions of art.  I was a potter and a textile artist.  It's what I did, what I do and I still use this description of myself in some contexts.

Sometimes, though, you need a shorter job title and I am now clear, not only in my thinking but also in what I feel, that I am an artist.  If you want to get into distinctions, my work with clay is craft work, undoubtedly, my photography is often on an amateur level, but my textiles work is art and I'm definitely an artist in the kitchen.  Primarily, though, I'm an artist because I just am.  I can't not be.  Prevented from creativity in any form I soon become ill-at-ease and probably difficult to live with.  Returning to creative work after an enforced break I feel above all a sense that all is right with the world.

So what's with the good-enough artist?  Well, I still have what I would call a realistic view of things and others less comfortable with honest self-appraisal might call a lack of self esteem or too much perfectionism.  I look through Crafts Magazine and see beautifully made pots and innovative textiles.  My less confident self of years ago would have been prompted into self-doubt and feelings of inferiority and perhaps even thoughts of giving up in the face of standards I could never reach.  Now, though, I enjoy looking at what is often better work than I can make but without devaluing my own work.  I'm not a world-class artist, but I don't need to be.  While thinking about all of this, I was reminded of my couselling training and the work of Donald Winnicott.  Winnicot developed the concept of the 'good-enough mother', rather than the 'perfect mother', where the good-enough mother's children grow up to be psychologically healthy.  I'm not drawing exact parallels between the good-enough mother and the good-enough artist but there is something here about what we think we should be striving for.  Perfection isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be and good enough isn't a put-down, though I think it's often thought of as one.  Good-enough is good enough.

Saturday, June 5, 2010


Er, that's it, really. You can't smell it from where you're sitting, but at least you can see it.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The greenhouse project - concrete but still not concrete

I know you have all been on tenterhooks waiting to see the finished concrete.  Well, one or two of you have commented that the photos were still not up.  So here they are.  Concrete more or less finished but the greenhouse itself still not concrete.  We're getting there, though.

Last Monday turned out to be the hottest day of the year which meant that the concrete was particularly difficult to get into place before it had set too much.  The worst weather for concreting, I am told.  There were one or two other hitches, such as one helper not turning up because his wife hadn't passed on a message (!)  and M suddenly feeling unwell just as the readimix had arrived.  He's fine now, though waiting for clarification from the doctor about what he should be doing now.  The answer is currently, nothing until we have clarified things!

But anyway, here is a lovely new stretch of concrete. 

The plants in the middle are something of a statement.  I am going to have a greenhouse.  I don't have one at the moment.  This is where I am going to have a greenhouse, with plants in.  Here are some plants, to prove it.

Actually, it seemed the safest place to put them, surrounded by copper piping, to protect them from the slugs.  Hope to get them out into the garden in the next few days.

In other news ....  well, really there is very little other news except that I am still either doing work for the Arts and Crafts centre, trying to catch up with household stuff or being too tired to do my own work anyway.  Bit of a grumpy stage, I have to confess.  We are delaying our trip to France but even so I don't see when I am going to catch up with my work. 

Off to acupuncture this evening, which will no doubt put me right in a couple of days and I hope to get blitzing then.  In the mean time, think yourselves lucky I've found a couple of minutes to write here!  (Or not; this is not the best-written piece I've posted here, I know.)  I'm sad at how little time I have in my life at the moment, particularly because it means I don't get a social life and don't get to see my friends.  I know I've seemed to neglect everyone, but it's not intentional, just an unwanted result of having too much to do. 

If only I could post a scent.  The honeysuckle has been spectacular this year.  You can even smell it from an open window on the opposite side of the house.