Monday, December 31, 2018

New Year

Edinburgh floral clock (image from here)
Tempus doesn't half fugit!  On this last day of 2018, I am looking forward - hoping for positive progress on so many fronts, personal, national, global.  I thought as illustration for this post I would use the Princess Street Gardens floral clock in Edinburgh.  When I was very young in the early 50s my mother and I used to travel once or twice a year from the Borders where we lived to Edinburgh for the day by coach.  The treats included a trip to Woolworth's to buy a Dean abridged classic, and then down to the floral clock before eating our sandwiches further down the gardens.  It used to thrill me.  Of course as I grew up, and later lived in Edinburgh the clock faded to insignificance in my life.  But in such a state of depressing current affairs, I am determined to focus on small pleasures, and make the most of them.

Wishing you all exquisite joys in 2019.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Winter solstice

Winter sun
This time of year always strikes me as a step out of time.  Everything seems to stop for the Festive Season.  And the commercial side aside, I like the idea of a pause to gather thoughts, contemplate intentions, and mull over the possibilities of setting off anew.
Barbara Hepworth: Winter Solstice (image from here)
The Winter Solstice marks a beginning of winter, being the shortest day and the longest night, heralding for me a time to make sure we notice what is close at hand.  The light gets stronger, the day longer, slowly from now, so the sharp external views are short but can be more intense.  The internal views, the thinking, the considering can be long and deep.
Gail Brodholt: Winter Solstice (image from here)
Even in the days when I was commuting this day marked the imminent change of focus.  Although the images that Winter Solstice brings to mind are those of countryside, most of us spend our time in urban landscape.  Winter is a good time to notice the bare bones of those surroundings too - such as in Iain Sarjeant's photographs.
Also a good time of year for folklore, I particularly like these illustrations above and below by Carson Ellis for Susan Cooper's poem The Shortest Day.  I am not so much for the revelling, but here is a reading of it with a more contemplative piece of music by Thea Gilmore.  The text below is taken from here.

The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper
So the shortest day came, and the year died,
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive,
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, revelling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – Listen!!
All the long echoes sing the same delight,
This shortest day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome Yule!!

We don't put up the greenery, decorations, or cards until Christmas Eve, but I shall start the mulled fruit punch this evening.  Thank you for visiting the blog, and I hope that all of you greatly enjoy this Festive Season in your own way.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Given in to temptation

I must admit that the end of this year finds me feeling rather like this print of mine, and so I clutch at whatever delights come my way.  Three interests of mine are architecture, Scottish landscape, and ceramics, and when all three coincide, then of course temptation must be fully embraced.
A few weeks ago I was delighted to see that Lochside, a house built for a potter on the shores of Upper Loch Torridon was chosen as RIBA House of the Year 2018.
Photograph by Richard Fraser
There have been innumerable times this year when I wished myself far from the hub of things, and this landscape is a favourite.  It is too long since we last visited.  When curiosity about the ceramics that the owner makes took me to Michele Bianco's website, I was smitten, and fell in love with a particular piece: greys, with the subtleties of greens and other colours in the glaze (image below from Michele Bianco's site).  
I would not normally - indeed have never before bought ceramics online, but this time I leapt.  And today was duly rewarded when it arrived.  It is temporarily on the mantle so that we can enjoy it until I put up the leafy decorations on Monday, then in the new year we will find an appropriate permanent spot.
So perhaps the falling is onto a trampoline, and let's hope that there are more elements of joy to temper the plunge of despair.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Clive Hicks-Jenkins: The Green Knight's Head Lives (image from here)
This week I have had a real treat.  First I listened to the BBC radio In Our Time episode discussing the narrative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.  In the discussion was Simon Armitage the poet who has made his own translation of the poem.
I subsequently saw a marvellous programme made by the BBC, and which I had missed when it was originally broadcast.  It is no longer available through the BBC, but I found it on YouTube, and found it enthralling and inspiring.  Armitage brings the story and the language of the poem alive in his exploration of the landscape and other contexts in which the epic was probably written.
I had previously followed the Clive Hicks-Jenkins' blog posts about his work on the illustrations, and it has been a real pleasure fleshing out the whole poem in this way.  All I have to do now is read through the whole poem itself.
Clive Hicks-Jenkins: Gawain Arrives at Fair Castle (image from here)

Friday, December 14, 2018

Progress in a day

Initial thoughts on an idea - perhaps called Feeding the Golden Geece
It started with the vacuum cleaner not working, so I took out the filter and washed it.  It takes twelve hours to dry, so, on to the next thing on my list, which was an exploration of how to mount and frame the stitched readers.  I mounted one, and then found a box frame which was available online only.

So, I've ordered five frames, and went on to the next on the list: the final tidy-stitching of another finished piece.  This involved sitting in my stitching chair near two cold windows with no radiator nearby.  On with an extra jumper, but still feeling a bit cold I decided to work on the computer next to the radiator. I wanted to take a break from drawing readers, and I was inspired by thinking about Byzantine mosaics. 

I reached a pause point on the design which is at the top of this post, and decided to move the furniture round in my workroom so that the stitching chair was still next to a north-facing window, but also a hand's length away from the radiator.

All the while I have been listening to programmes from the In Our Time collection.  Brilliant.  I love radio programmes, and now their form online, not least because I can achieve so much while listening.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Beginning, end, and middle

Here we are, fast approaching the end of another year, in the middle of an incomprehensible political muddle, and at the beginning of winter.  Normally at this time I have built up a pile of books in preparation for my annual hibernation - when on the whole all I do is read with no guilt.
This year is different.  Partly that is because the thus-far guilt felt when just sitting reading is at last diminishing.  But I suspect the farce that is Brexit is an insidious infection corrupting all relaxation of thinking.  I find it difficult to decide on a pile of thought provoking books to enjoy.  It has been easier to come up with images of women reading than to decide what I myself want to read.
I am disturbed that so many folks seem to respond negatively and loudly, to dismiss with scorn rather than inquire and perhaps consider adjusting their opinions.  This feels like an Age of Endarkenment, and I find it profoundly disturbing.
So I'm hoping that once winter has passed into spring, a more positive light will emerge.  Meantime, starting with one book at a time, I have turned to memories of my optimistic youth when I was a teenage existentialist, finally reading Sarah Bakewell's At the Existentialist Cafe which has been waiting on my shelf for a year - escapism, just as much as any Golden Era whodunnit!
Talking of which latter, I have recently been enjoying the Shedunnit podcasts.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Lack of cash

In this increasingly card-paying life, I am finding myself worrying about running out of cash - not because I have no money.  I try to make sure that I have cash on hand for donations - not least to buskers.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Several pages now

Quite a series is now developing from my rescued book.  I have stitched three pages so far.   It is a pleasantly relatively speedy process as the total size of the cloth is A4, and I am mainly stitching the figure only.  It's too dark indoors even to snap them at present, so here are the digital images above and below.
The one I'm stitching at present is below,
and here are some more in the queue:
I am enjoying the process of designing them - not sticking slavishly to any rules except using the same size, a page behind a woman reading in each case.  But trying not to make them too different from each other either.
There are even more in the pipeline.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Admiring the anthology form

I have been wanting a non-online source of thought and ideas - a physical object to wander through, mull over, and enjoy.  Of course I encountered just such an anthology online!
My first encounter with anthologies which made me pause and admire was when I started teaching English and Drama in 1970.  It was in a bookshop rather than the school book cupboard that I found publications by Penguin Education.  Such brilliant books, they were a tremendous boost to me and my teaching - and my learning about teaching.  I regretted that I left the books behind when I left the school.
When I went on to work for an educational publisher myself, I took those Penguin anthologies to be a kind of gold standard to aim for.  Editing, commissioning, and designing anthologies at Oxford University Press taught me so much - not least through seeking content: texts and illustrations.  We wanted to provide access to education through books of delights - to reward and stimulate further curiosity, while fulfilling the same for ourselves in their making.
When seemingly unaccountably Penguin closed their up to then successful education division, we at OUP education were delighted to be able to take on some of their anthology publications.
But I had gone on to Children's books by then with a different publisher.  (Educational texts are for children, but they are bought by or prescribed by schools, while Children's books are bought (diminishingly) by libraries and parents/relatives.)  I would not, unfortunately, be involved with commissioning anthologies again in my career.
But as I say, I have recently felt the need.  Magazines seem increasingly superficial to me; I need something with a bit more of a chew.  So I have decided to give Elementum a try.  Both images above are from here where there are reviews.  And another review here - which points out one of the aspects which drew me to the publication, that the issues are books rather than magazines.  They are like collections of short stories in that the whole does not have to be read from beginning to end - but short stories including non-fiction, poetry, and splendid visuals, both art and illustration.
I've only just started the first volume, with the theme of Calling, inspired by living near the sea, and I am certainly hearing the siren song so far.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Autumn art

As we enter the last month of Autumn I try to drink in the glory of leaves that are still around before the frosts blacken them and they drop to mulch.  Folks often prefer to have windows which face south to catch the warmth of the sun, but I love our north-facing windows showing the south-facing garden.  It's the light in the early morning and in the evening as it illuminates the leaves which I savour every day.  It takes but seconds to pay attention and drink it in, and it lifts the spirits immeasurably.
(image from here)
Nature does a pretty fabulous job, but also many artists cannot resist the temptation to take those leaves to a different level.
Christine Juillard (image from here)
Andy Goldsworthy (image from here where there are more works)
Lesley C. (images from here)

What I admire most about great Land Art is that it makes the observer look hard at the land at least as much as at the art.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018


The word seems so old fashioned now, but very recently brought to my mind, evoking memories of childhood.  First there is the Vuillard exhibition at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham.  I am currently reading - savouring the catalogue, (image above).  A review of the exhibition can be found here.
I am a great fan of Vuillard's intimist work, enjoying it much more than many other of his contemporaries perhaps because he does for me capture so much of the atmosphere which surrounded me as a small child in Thessaloniki, Greece in the very early 1950s.  The UK was forward-looking then, and by contrast the life I encountered with my relatives in Greece was backward-looking.  Refugees in the '20s, they had come from divers locations but were closely related, and met often, and mostly told stories about the past.  Looking back as I grew up, it felt as if I had vicariously lived in a previous century as well as the present.
There was electricity, but because of the strong sunlight during the day, the shutters were often closed and we moved about in the dim light so often seen in Vuillard's paintings.  The rooms were full of women.  Most of my relatives were aunts and great-aunts, and older cousins who had survived their husbands.  Their clothes were black.  There were few shops with clothes because everyone went to a seamstress.  The two we frequented were also Pontic Greek refugees.
My mother paid very little for the clothes that were made for us because not only did we bring our own fabric, but also we used to haul out of date pattern catalogues on our trans-European train journey.  The seamstresses did not need paper patterns, but were delighted to receive the drawings that showed the garments: nearly up-to-date styles.  They were remarkable women who achieved a great deal with small reward.  As we ourselves could afford more, we brought more than enough fabric so that they could use the remainder for themselves, whether for other clients or no.  In fact I never saw our main seamstress wearing anything other than her slip, with a pin cushion tied round her wrist.
Edouard Vuillard: Atelier de Couture de Madame Vuillard (image from here)
The second evocation of my earliest encounters with a seamstress was brought to mind when I went for a breast screen last week.  The radiographer was so gentle she reminded me of my grandmother's and aunts' fittings for brassieres.  In the earliest '50s such garments were not available in any shops in Thessaloniki, but there were seamstresses who specialised in the architectural design and manufacture of corsets and brassieres.  As a toddler I was like Vuillard an observer, amazed by all of the experiences.  
Alas, as the years and decades went by there was less and then no work for the latter seamstress as mass manufacture and sale of underwear became ubiquitous.  I continued to have dresses made for me until I became engaged in 1969, but after that I became a tourist in Greece, no longer living there for the whole season of summer.
But Vuillard's paintings bring it all back to me.  
Edouard Vuillard: The Thread (image from here)

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Dedicated to books and reading

My grand sorting really has led to a great project which has gripped me.  I am not devoting every minute to it, but somewhere in the back of my mind thoughts are churning away.
I wrote a post about the initial idea last month, and since then my interest has deepened, and I have realised just how personally relevant the project is.  My career was in publishing, and specifically in children's non fiction and in educational publishing.  From 1977 - 81 I was a commissioning editor in London for Blackie, whose gazetteer I am now canibalising.  That gazetteer came from my Scottish grandparents' house - and Blackie was a Scottish publishing house. (It was one of the Blackie family who commissioned Charles Rennie Mackintosh to design Hill House.)
I also had a passion for encyclopedias and gazetteers when I was a child.  For Christmas 1953 I was given the complete Arthur Mee's Encyclopedia, and I have had a thirst for reading for information ever since.
So, all in all, I can see that this project will occupy quite a bit of my thinking and designing for a while.

Friday, October 12, 2018

There are some buildings

... to which I become attached at first sight.  Two in Oxford of which I never tired are the Natural History Museum (above) - which is also stunning beautiful inside, and houses the extraordinary Pitt-Rivers Museum, so ticks many boxes - and Keble College (below).
(image from here)
Today in Glasgow we visited another such: the former Templeton Carpet Factory.  It is a bizarre but delightful conceit of an edifice, and thoroughly dispelled any notions of feeling miserable because of the heavy rain (obviously the photo below was not taken on such a day).
These three are decidedly of the decorated school, and are not what I typically go for in a building, generally preferring clean lines.  But these are just so boldly sure of themselves, and have their own elegance I think.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

This is what I call luxury!

Some people crave a roll top bath in the bedroom, but we are enjoying the delight of watching the early morning light change from moment to moment with this view from the bed in the self-catering home we are renting this week.
The big window has a wide sweep over the valley of the Water of Fleet just north of Gatehouse of Fleet.  The garden falls away precipitately to reveal the glorious west-facing view.
Even on a misty drizzly morning it is fascinating.  Thank goodness for the horrid hard bedhead, otherwise it would be too tempting to linger!

Monday, October 08, 2018

Away from the madding crowd

Even when crowded, the occupants of a cemetery enhance one's enjoyment of solitude.  The startling blue in the background is the Water of Ken in Galloway reflecting glorious sky.
This cemetery also boasts a spectacular avenue of limes, and a rowan bower (one side red berried, and t'other yellow) over a well-placed bench.
It is lovely to be far from the bustling metropolis in Autumn.