Thursday, May 30, 2013

Making a Sketchwrap

How to make a custom SketchWrap

This SketchWrap is a bit fiddly to make but very useful.

You will need:
1. Fabric - make it easy for yourself and get one with checks. I would say half a yard will be more than enough.
2. Velcro
3. Bias binding - 2 yards
4. Old newspaper
5. Cushy fabric if you want to cushion the compartment for the ceramic palette. I used some jumbo cord and it works a treat.
6. A sketch kit

1. Decide what you want to put in the wallet. 
My items were: a box of watercolours, a ceramic palette, lots of pencils and brushes, a craft knife and a rubber. The paints and the palette were roughly the same size so I decided that they would sandwich together first, and then I would roll up the bit with the pencils etc on top. .

For the Paintbox:
(1) Wrap a piece of newspaper around your paintbox. Add an extra 1.5" for the flap at the top. 
Cut it out.

(2) Pin the strip of newspaper to the fabric, adding 3/4" seam allowance all around. Cut it out.

(3) Sew velcro tabs to each end, one on the inside and one on the outside (obviously). 

(4) Cut two strips of fabric the length and depth of the paintbox, adding 3/4" seam allowance. 

(5) Stitch two long strips onto the main piece to form a pocket. I sewed right way out, and covered raw edges with apron tape (I'm not sure what it's called in the fabric shops). But there should be plenty of excess fabric on the seams to turn in the edges and do a neat hemming job.

For the Outer Wallet:
(1) Measure a piece of fabric 1" wider on both sides than the little pocket you've made for your paintbox. That's your width (I'm assuming the paintbox is the longest item you want to pack). To determine the length, just make sure it is long enough to wrap everything up comfortably. Stitch the paintbox pocket onto the fabric on two or three sides. I did two and it is plenty strong enough.

For the Ceramic Palette Pocket: 
I padded this to cushion it in case of an accident. 
(1) Cut out a rectangular piece of cushy fabric a bit bigger than your palette (to allow for a neat hem).
Make a little flap out of your checked fabric. Mine was about 1.5" X 2" after hemming. Stitch a bit of velcro on the inside of the flap, as for the paintbox.

Trap this little flap between the outer wallet and the rectangle of jumbo cord, and stitch securely all around.
Hem as you go. Use your iron first and it will be nice and neat.
(2) Sandwich together a piece of check fabric and another piece of jumbo cord a bit bigger than your palette. Stitch all around, hemming nicely. Stitch the corresponding bit of velcro onto the checked side.

(3) Stitch this piece onto the bit that you have stitched onto the outer wallet, making sure it covers the inner bit of jumbo cord.

Now your paintbox and palette are safe! 

For the pencil/brush holder:
I thought this bit would be tricky but it wasn't. 
(1) I cut a really long length of checked fabric. I stitched around three sides with white apron tape (bias binding, whatever). You could hem it also if you like. Now it's much longer than the outer wallet, and has neat edges.
(2) Now, make little tubes for each of your brushes and pencils. Just wrap a bit of fabric around each one and stitch as you go, nice and snug so it's tight enough not to fall out. Much easier than it sounds.
(3) Continue until you reach the edge of the wallet. Leave a long strip so that it will wrap around the entire wallet when closed. Stitch velcro to each end of the trailing flap, on either side. The way to get the position right is simply to roll it up full of your sketch kit, and see where the velcro should be.

My Mistakes:
I screwed up in two ways, which I will have to fix.
1. The tube for the craft knife should have been closed at one end, with its own flap. The Stanley knife I use is too heavy not to have its own little pocket, and keeps falling out.
2. Same with my rubber, which needs its own tiny little pocket. 

One More Useful Thing to Know:
When I am out sketching, the ceramic palette fits nicely on the "palette" (ie lid) of the paintbox. This saves valuable space.

I hope this has been easy to follow. Sometimes I think something is really clear and people say it's totally illegible. If you would like to take a look at what I've painted with my lovely sketchwrap, then have a look around my gallery at I hope you really enjoy it.

Good Luck!!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Publsihed for the First Time

Published for the first time!

Back in 1995, there was a paleontology conference held in University College Galway. All the breaks would take place in the James Mitchell Museum, within the Department of Geology itself. I thought it would be really cool to hold an exhibition of paintings of fossils from the museum there, in my ceaseless quest to gain recognition for my art, and sell a few paintings. The naivety! All those guys were interested in was the phlanges on some obscure brachipod. Buying art was the last thing on any of their minds.

All except for one.

Professor Euan Clarkson is a jolly, convivial man, who has written many books on palaeontology. His particular interest was in the eyes of trilobites, but he may be best known for his book Invertebrate Palaeontology, which is regarded as the standard textbook for undergraduates. ( I actually didn't really know trilobites had eyes, which is shockingly ignorant, seeing as I actually passed exams in palaeontology.) There was a drinks and nibbles  reception on the last evening of the conference. Euan approached and said he really loved my drawings: he said he would like to use one or two for use as frontispieces in the next edition of Invertebrate Palaeontology. "I've had a bit to drink," he said, "but I really do love them, and I meant what I said, and I've told one or two people so that if I forget in the morning they will remind me." I was charmed by his warmth and gregariousness, but I didn't want to hold out hope on the strength of a promise made when in one's cups.

Sometime later I received a lovely letter from Euan with a formal request to buy two paintings, which would be reproduced in the fourth edition of his book. (Heaven knows what edition they're on now.) He was very apologetic about the amount his publishers would offer me, but I was so honoured to be included in his book that I didn't mind. He intended to keep the originals for himself, which flattered me immensely.

A long time later Euan sent me a copy of his book, and there were the frontispieces as promised. 

If you check back here tomorrow or the next day, I will dig out that old book, scan the pictures and post them. One was a bed of ammonite fossils and one was a beautiful polished belemnite.

A year later I sold another painting from the exhibition. I was having a party at my house and everyone was getting pretty giddy (we were young). It was a brill party, as it happens. My friend Cormac's mother had a birthday coming up and Cormac asked me if I had any paintings for sale. He chose a really pretty one: it was the inside of the nautilus that you see above, which was coated in a thick layer of mother-of-pearl. I had a new boyfriend at the time. "Don't tell me you're not a businesswoman," he said. "You've just sold a painting at half past three in the morning." 

I don't think he's quite so impressed now. In fact I know he's not - we've been married for fourteen years.

The most unlikely sale was to one of the boffins in tweed jackets. He was regarded as being very dishy within the department and lots of girls had a serious crush on him. (I was immune for some reason.)  He was passionate about fossil corals and I had painted one. It wasn't a glamorous bit of coral, and the only reason I painted it was that it was covered in tiny striae, which I thought were very cute. Someone bought it for him as a gift, and I believe he was accounting for taste I guess.

The nautilus is the last of the paintings. I'm glad I have it. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The City of the Tribes

The City of the Tribes: so named for the twelve family names who...well, I don't know what they did, but I guess they had the place sewn up. I couldn't even give you all twelve names. That's what Google is for!

Anyone who has visited Galway City on the west coast of Ireland will be familiar with its liveliness and charm. The above scene is the embodiment of the dinkiness that is Galway, with its sweet little cottages, painted in defiantly vivid colours.

Galway is a medieval town, established in 1124. I don't know that much about its early history, but back in the 16th Century, when Queen Elizabeth I was hellbent on taming Ireland, the town was a haven of relative peace and decorum in a countryside of wild men. I had better not name names as memories are very long around here but two families were banned from entering the town itself as they were regarded as being troublemakers. I meet people now with the same names and I wonder if time has calmed them down a bit.

Galway is also a city of water. I have no sense of direction and as a student back in the early 90s I was always getting lost, and there was always a river or canal I was sure I recognised nearby. You would think it would be impossible to get lost when there is a network of waterways, complete with distinctive bridges, to guide you around a tiny city but somehow I managed it. Those were happy days of learning, laughter and love, the latter of which vanished like the snows in April. Not all the love I found in Galway vanished: I am married to a Sasanach (English) man I met at a party on Lough Atalia Road (more water), which leads into the docks. They are always full of ships and boats bustling in and out of port. We have three Galway children, who are developing Galway accents (eek).

On the far right of the picture above is a tall building, whose other side is at one end of the docks. So the water you see in this scene is the point at which the River Corrib meets the Atlantic Ocean, with the river coming in from the left of the view, and the sea stretching out to the right. My viewpoint was in the Claddagh, looking at the city itself, and at the row of colourful workers' cottages which form the Long Walk. 

The Claddagh itself is a marshy area bordering the sea, and used to have its own king. When I first came to Galway in 1991 there was still a gentleman to whom the people of the Claddagh paid homage. I don't know if or when that custom disappeared.

I have painted the scene above many times. One day I was at home with my two young babies, one and a half years old and brand new, when I received a call. It was from an old college mate, Fiona. "It's Paddy's leaving do tomorrow," she said. "We'd like to make him a gift of a painting. Do you have anything at the moment?" Of course I didn't! With two babies, the only times I escaped to paint was for a commission - anything else would have been seen as an indulgence. That meant they were all sold in advance. "I'm afraid not, Fiona," I said. "But I can do something for you. What time is the presentation?" "Five o'clock," she said. At six o'clock the following morning I was already on my little stool, across the river from the colourful houses. I had phoned my framer in advance and he had a mount cut to size, and a frame ready. At midday I dropped it in. At half past I collected it and by half one I was home to give the baby his feed. It was a moody piece, painted in the rain, which gave the slate rooftops a lovely shine, and the sky was full of soggy clouds. I think Paddy liked his painting and I'm sure it reminds him of the time he spent as a palaeontology lecturer here in Galway.

It's not the easiest scene to paint, although I always enjoy it. I start with a long horizontal line in the middle. I usually use the bottom of the houses as a baseline, as I know that's straight. Getting that line horizontal is actually the hardest thing I do - you need a huge T-square or a very long ruler...and I don't like to measure as the hand-drawn element is lovely. To a point! No one wants to see the right drooping down, as i always seem to do.

Once I've got my line straight, I do construction lines for all the windows and doors. They are not all on the same line but enough of them are that it's a useful guide. Then I do the same with the vertical sides of the windows and doors.

Next, I block in the roofline. They are fun to do because the angles are really cute and if you get it right, your picture will look automatically sweet. The perspective will become clear, as the rooflines change on the left and right of your view.

The next bit is fun - that's when I ink in with my trusty Platinum Carbon pen. It's when it's all done I simply wash watercolour on top.

You can't really go wrong at this stage. A good tip is to wait for the sky to do something interesting - a mix of cloud and blue is always best - and when it arrives, paint as fast as you can. Don't forget to do the sky (a) in one go and (b) preferably before you have painted below it, or you will smudge your newly-painted bits.

I needed about four hours to do this, maybe a bit more - it's good to do it over two days but just remember to do the bits that will change first, like the sky (see above) and of course the tide. I know you can't guarantee it (especially not in this mad country) but try to choose two consecutive days when the weather will be more or less similar.

That's it!

If you were to walk left from the end of the row of houses above, you would immediately be in the best part of Galway City. It's known as the Latin Quarter and consists of narrow, pedestrianised streets, with bars and restaurants along its length, and outdoor tables full of lively conversation. There are often buskers along there and they contribute wonderfully to the happy atmosphere. I first arrived in Galway in the month of October. It was just a normal Tuesday afternoon and there were no festivities on at the time. I remember thinking the atmosphere was like Grafton St. (Dublin's fanciest street) at Christmas. I now know that it's always like that (apart from a November afternoon on a school day in the rain).

Here's a view down Kirwan's Lane, one of the seven medieval lanes which lead off the twisty and windy Quay St., the busiest part of the Latin Quarter:

 Here's another view of the Long Walk, drawn from a bit further along:

There are always swans in the sea there and they always find their way into the scene. I really like drawing them - that S of their necks makes such a nice sweep with the pen.

Other occasions for which I have painted the Long Walk include: for my father's birthday two years ago (he is nuts about that scene); for my friend Irene's wedding: for my friend Cathy's 40th birthday and for my husband's friend Glenn's 40th birthday. I've painted it just to make a few quid. And it's been good to me: I've sold 45 prints of it, so there are 55 left in the print run of 100 at this time. 

You're not supposed to park where I like to park when I paint The Long walk. It is typical of Galway that far from asking me to move on, the traffic warden has made sure no one blocks my view.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Let's hear it for the Laydeez (and a Gent)!
An On-the-Spot Sketch Report
of the Inaugural Meeting 
of Laydeez Do Comics (Ireland)

Years ago, I went to university to study science. I was a mature student (all of 23!!!) when I started, and all my classmates were 17 and 18, so naturally I had more confidence than them. I sat in the front of the lecture theatres and asked lots of questions. I got a reputation for being "that cocky one at the front" - for a while no one knew I was older, as I have red hair and apparently that is the elixir of eternal youth. 

Many years passed and I found myself taking a PhD in mineralogy. I had to present papers in European cities, all alone, which I found very daunting (even though by now I was even more mature). I never put my hand up to ask a question because I was sure it would give the game away - i.e. that I didn't have a clue what I was on about. The blokes, on the other hand, knew everything, and dominated every presentation with their questions. They would take a very firm position on their own research, and arguments would get very heated. Never once did I hear a bloke say, "Thank you for making that point - I've never looked at it from that angle. I'll have a re-think." It took me years to realise that the main difference between me and those blokes was confidence - my results were just as diligently recorded, my experiments as meticulously designed and my observations as sharp as theirs. There was another difference, of course - I was secretly wishing I was drawing, whereas I'm pretty sure they weren't.

What has this got to do with Laydee comic makers? Not a lot...but it's always nice to make sweeping generalisations.
The Laydeez Do Comics group was set up as a forum to give women a place where they could talk about what they were up to in comics, without being drowned out by (sometimes) over-confident gentlemen. It's been a huge success: it started in Britain a couple of years ago, spread to the States...and now it's in Ireland! Yay!

Last night was the inaugural meeting of the Irish branch and it was a great success. I for one learned loads. the first speaker was the ridiculously brilliant Sarah McIntyre, of the utterly fabulous Vern and Lettuce and tons of other things. If you have never read Vern and Lettuce, you need to fix this as soon as possible.
She was full of all sorts of ideas, a lot of which involved wearing wigs...but that's her way of communicating. She really is a special talent and perhaps not quite of this world...

isn't she fabulous?

The next chap up to speak was Alan Nolan. He is all smiles and twinkling eyes, so you are with him before he starts, and then you're with him anyway, because he's hilarious. On so many levels, yes, including puns. He struck me as someone it would be great to work with for the sheer enjoyment of it. I particularly loved the fact that his work has a very strongly Irish voice - and I don't mean because he has to draw lots of people playing hurling. It's not even just the humour. It's much deeper than that. He makes comics that are intrinsically Irish in every line, and I love that.

can't you see his twinkling eyes?

Finally we had the pleasure of hearing Maeve Clancy speak. This is a woman who is full of integrity and determination. Maeve has used her talent and skill to bring comics to people who might not ordinarily get a chance - I'm talking about kids who've been dealt a poor hand in life, but who are determined to have their say. Maeve spoke of young people who have no one to call next-of-kin, for whom comic making has become a real way to have a voice.
She was also pretty funny about getting the balance right between honesty and keeping a client happy: just draw then better-looking than they are and you'll get away with it!
a most knowledgeable and generous contributor and her hair is fabulous 

Three inspiring comics artists...full of ideas...rock on laydeez (and gent).

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Making Felt Zombies: Family Harmony

I was so sick of the stupid screens. Stupid Minecraft. The kids are so addicted that they go donwstairs at 6am and play it with the sound turned off to avoid detection. I know I'm being unreasonable but it drives me potty to see their beautiful young brains wasting away with such nonsense. I have also noticed, and I was NOT looking out for this, that they get really narky when they've been playing the x-box for ages. They normally get on really well, by and large, but they are at each others' throats after a while on it. Even Paddy (11), who is extremely mild-mannered. His sister Honor (13) is not quite as mild-mannered so it's just an all-round disaster. They even forget to have breakfast and start shouting for it at midday, they get so engrossed (wish I'd invented it).

So yet another day of xboxing was unrolling before me. It was crap outside as usual, dark and wet, and in spite of swearing I would never subject my kids to living in the middle of nowhere, we do.
I put the foot down and told them they HAD to do some sewing if they wanted to go on the stupid computer the next day (why did I buy it then? Try putting a boy to bed every night for a year in tears that he's not allowed to get an xbox, all his friends have one etc etc.). I also promised a square of chocolate each. My friend Emma thinks I am a witch the way I don't give sweets. It worked when they were little - now they get them from everyone, everywhere - bus driver - teachers - coaches - you name it. So I'm GLAD they went without for the few years that I could control it. I can still get them to do loads of things with the promise of a square of chocolate...

I had just bought a book called Zombie Felties (can't remember the author but it is brilliant) and Liv was given one called Felties I think, in the same series, which is also brilliant. So, armed with these, we began... 

Here's the good bit: within half an hour there were three kids around the kitchen table all sewing away happily. I helped the youngest a bit (okay, a lot) as she's pretty new to sewing and she's only 8. But she's pretty confident on the sewing machine and has sewn two monsters so far! 

Here's Honor's zombie bride:

The bride has a streak of blood coming from her mouth and a bunch of dead flowers:

We told her about Miss Haversham (is that her name?) in Great Expectations. I think she liked the idea of a dusty old wedding cake, covered in cobwebs, sitting on a table for decades...Her dad and I are trying to encourage her to set up a business - she sold personalised voodoo dolls last Hallowe'en to her school pals and earned a few quid...she was very resentful that she had to pay her fabric supplier (me) and her subcontractor (also me). I agreed a rate with her at the time for piecework (sewing a zigzag around the edge) and told her afterwards I would have given her a better rate. Tough but you need to know these things!

Here's Paddy's zombie mummy:
Its left eye pops on and off with a tiny black snap. I thought it was an adorable zombie mummy but I didn't like to say (somehow everything he draws or sews has a distinctively cute look, which is very reflective of his own looks and personality...very odd).

Liv made a fellow called Messenger Bear, with some help from me...

I did loads - she was getting a bit restless by the time she'd made any progress. I think with her I would have more success if I did her on her own and watched her the whole time. The other two would be extremely annoyed if I made any suggestions!

Moral: you can get the kids away from stupid screen for a few hours if you bribe them.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Life Sock Creature Drawing

Successful authors always say the way to improve your writing is to write. I'm not sure I agree: I think that you could still be useless at writing if you wrote every day (then again I'm not a successful author). 

Drawing is different. 

If you draw every day, from life (NOT a photo), you will improve your drawing no end.  It's something I sort of knew for years but it's actually worked for me...I used to be a bit hit-and-miss with drawing, or need to look at loads of references to get figures right, but I don't anymore. It's bloody useful as I can work very fast now.

If you want to improve your drawing skills, then this is for you. Feel free to comment away if there's anything I can add to be a bit more helpful. 
Basically the message is this: drawing sock creatures is a perfect way to improve your drawing skills. They are colourful, which is fun; they aren't too fiddly, as you had to sew them in the first place so they are likely to be quite roundy; they are cute, which means the finished result is nice to look at; and they are smallish, which means they can be propped anywhere to be drawn.

The only drawback is that no one will want to buy drawings of YOUR homemade sock it really is an indulgence.

I always use the same materials when I draw sock creatures. They are as follows:
  1. Brown envelope (the inside)
  2. Gouache paints
  3. Waterproof fine liners sizes 0.8 and 0.3mm
  4. Pencil (2B is good)
  5. Rubber
  6. White gel pen
  7. Brushes size 4 and 8 (wriggle room here depending on preferences)
That's it.
  1. Roughly draw the sock creature in pencil - softly - NO HARD LINES
  2. Go over your lines with an 0.8mm pen on the outside, use the finer one for finer lines
  3. Draw whatever patterns are on the sock in pencil
  4. Go over them in a fine liner
  5. Rub out pencil lines - if you want - they won't show up much, especially under paint
  6. Mix your colours using gouache
  7. Paint the coloured bits - leave white till last
  8. Go around any fiddly bits with opaque pen
  9. Fill in the large areas with white gouache
There you go! 
You can substitute other things for sock creatures but they all come with problems. Marionettes: how will you hang them to draw them? Flowers: how do you stop them wilting? Other folks' cuddly toys: not as cute as sock creatures! Interiors: nice but you have to tidy the room first; Landscapes: cold to be out there and too distant when you're inside; Portraits: sitter often gets restless...

So you see, you really can't beat sock creatures for life models...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Communion Dress Disaster

Five years ago I made my older daughter's First Holy Communion dress. It was very pretty. It was ivory raw silk, had a sweetheart neckline, a full calf-length skirt, cap sleeves, tied at the back in a big bow and had a big ivory rose at the waist. The bodice was lined, it looked beautiful on Honor and all in all it was a great success. I put it away carefully for Liv's Communion which would take place in five years' time. I checked that it was clean before I put it away, and it was.

Or so I thought.

About three weeks ago - actually, it was more, but that is to my shame - I noticed that there were two roundish yellow stains on the front of the skirt of the dress. I made a mental note to clean them off before the big day, which was yesterday. Thursday came, and I figured with two days to go I had better not hang around any longer, and took the dress into the bathroom to clean off the stains.

They wouldn't come off at all. I used washing powder: nothing. Soap applied vigorously to the spot: nothing. So I thought, no bother, I'll put a little dilute Milton's fluid on the spots, that should do the trick. After going at it a bit I held up the dress, but to my horror the stains had only faded a bit, but the yellow mark had spread into the surrounding fabric. Cat in the Hat or what! So I freaked out and tried more Milton. Bigger yellow stain, but maybe a bit fainter. But since it was a bit fainter, I thought I would lay the skirt part of the dress in a shallow bath of very dilute Milton (ie. half a capful in a shallow bath).

Lucky I didn't put the whole dress in.

Later that evening I had a look at progress. I couldn't really tell if the stain was still there or not. I asked Cuthbert what he thought and he said "I don't see any stain."

Friday morning - the day before the Communion, when I had five years to prepare - I had another look. I realised, to be on the safe side, I would have to go into Hickeys and buy some little roses or something to cover the stains - just in case.
When I got to Hickeys, I had a look at the dress in the strong light there.

The entire skirt had turned a horrible patchy yellow and the silk had lost its lovely crispness. I held a piece of yellow, limp rag in my hands...with some parts worse than others. Completely hideous. What could I do? No amount of roses (which there weren't any of anyway) would fix this.

I don't know how I had the idea, but idea I did have. I asked the shop assistant Bridie (who is so lovely, really calm and knowledgeable) if I could put some net over the top. She suggested tulle. Off we went to the net-and-tulle section. They had all sorts of grades and shades. She thought I should go ivory to match the dress but I needed to bring in white anyway as the accessories were mostly white - the gloves, tights and hairband were all white. The bag was ivory, covered in roses (adorable). So I bought tons of tulle and a strip of beautiful ivory roses on a lace backing to cover the join at the waistband.

Off I went, calm, knowing it would work, but also knowing I had a very tiny window to sew all this. I got cracking the second I got home. I removed the big ivory rose that was sewn onto the waist, folded the enormous piece of tulle in half lengthways and began to gather it with a running stitch. I have always found gathering net really hard and tulle is not much easier - maybe a bit, as it's a good deal finer. I did it in sections which made it a tiny bit easier but I really should have done it differently (I thought I would end up with a neat, parallel bit at the end, but I had not kept the tulle straight so it was very tricky).

It worked.

I brought it with me to the hairdressers, and sewed the strip of roses on while the hairdresser mixed an elderly lady's rinse. I must have been wired as I talked the legs off the hairdresser.

As I drove up the drive to the house, it was really sunny and Liv was messing about outside. "Why is my dress in the car?" she said, through the open window. "Look," I said, holding it up for her. She gasped. "But...where's my dress?" she said. "That is your dress," I said. "I put this on to make it even nicer." I wasn't sure if she liked it...she was certainly surprised.

A few minutes later, Cuthbert came in from doing the lawn. "Dad! Wait till you see what Mum did to my dress! It's soooo beautiful! Let me try it on for you!" "I'm so glad, darling!" he said, "Let me wait till tomorrow! I would like to be surprised!"

Not half as surprised as I was by the recovery.

She was beautiful, of course. The dress looked far nicer than it had before the accident.

In the cinema, after the ceremony, she leaned forward to me in the gloom. "Mum!" she said. "Look!" The entire front of her dress had a huge dark brown mark on it - I had bought her a tub of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Whatsit and at least a fifteenth of it was now down her front. "Don't touch it!" I said. "Don't rub it, don't wipe it, just forget about it for now!" and back we went to the movie.

After the film, I took her to the ladies. She was mortified by the chocolate stain - there were lots of other little princesses in white there too - and clutched her little fur jacket to her chest with both hands, clearly at a loss. But I had planned the rescue. I put her in a cubicle, stripped off the dress and told her to wait in there while I sorted it out. I washed out the stain with plenty of soap and hot water and spent about twenty minutes drying it under the hand dryer. Thank God raw silk dries super-fast (especially once it's limp)!

I put a clean, warm dress on my little darling, and no one was any the wiser...

Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Hello everyone! My name is Puck, King of the Stupid Sock Creatures, at least the ones that live in my house. They don't know I'm their king but I don't care.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Wild Flowers Prints

Wild Flowers 
a series of watercolour limited-edition prints

 Apple Blossom

This apple blossom wasn't wild - it came from my garden. I felt bad for the apples that would never grow on the branch I snipped but the petals were flying off anyway so I thought it better to paint them while I still could.
It wasn't too tricky - although I did make a false start and had to begin again as I made three mistakes on the first attempt with my waterproof, indelible pen which would have made the painting less than up to scratch. The cloth under the jug belonged to my great-great-grandmother, who came from Madeira. My great-grandmother left Madeira for England (with her manservant!) and this, and many other cutwork cloths, came with her, so they must have meant a lot to her.
The jug comes from a large discount retailer, so although it's lovely (I bought the big one too, see an earlier post with hyacinths and white tulips) it was probably made in the thousands in China somewhere. Then again, some Chinese person may have carefully wrapped it and sent it off on its journey to a far-off land...


These bluebells, or, more accurately harebells, were growing on the roadside along a country road near my house. There is a most incongruous car sales place next to the little clump of bluebells, which seems very wrong in the setting. Anyway I felt bad pinching the flowers but I figured the pouring rain would deter anyone from gazing thoughtfully out the window, never mind making an appearance.
Again, the cloth belonged to my great-grandmother Florence. She was a watercolour painter too. Her work was exquisite. She painted many views of her fabulous house and its beautiful gardens in Nursling, Hampshire, which is now a boarding school. I wonder did she have the ambition as a painter that I have? She would never have had the chance to do anything or go anywhere with her painting, in spite of her privilege. Thank God for less privilege and more opportunities.


These were truly wild. We did not invite them to live in our lawn, but they have made themselves very much at home. I can't even say they are domesticated as we try and chase them off whenever possible - with the lawnmower. But they are so pretty. The lace came...from Madeira. It was tough to paint but I quickly got into the swing of it and discovered the trick (which, obviously, is to paint the holes and not the lace). Most of the clumps of cowslips I found had sedge growing right beside it. They are obviously bosom pals so I decided not to separate them and to paint them together. I think the sedge is cute too.

My brand-new e-commerce website,, will be up and running in a few days and you'll be able to purchase prints from there. I'll make updates on progress on this blog.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

How To Make Beautiful Paintings With No Skill Or Effort
Here are four lilies and a rose that I did for my husband's cousins, who lost their very aged mother, my husband's aunt, back in February. There are seven cousins, all but one of whom I have a card-sending relationship with. So I had six cards to paint.
 That's a lot of cards. So I needed to get a system going. I decided that I would do them using my trusty light box.
This is what I did, with the exception of the beautiful rose you see below, which was done from life, in my garden, on a hot June afternoon, a few years ago. I used an ordinary pencil for this one and the inks I describe below. I do love this painting - it takes me back to that hot afternoon, and we get few enough hot afternoons round these parts. The painting had been sitting around on a shelf for years - four at least. I am exceptionally fond of the particular cousin I sent it to, so I sent it with love, which is saying a lot for me, as I am like a dog with a bone when it comes to things I've painted. I never want to give them to anyone. What's the point of keeping them if no one will see them? There's no point. And I especially don't want to give them away if they've come out particularly well. But years ago I made a kind of rule for myself: ONLY give them away (or better again, sell them) if you cannot bear to do so.
But back to the lilies. I went to Google Images, found four pictures of lilies that I liked, printed them off at the right size and popped them onto my light box. I drew directly onto watercolour paper, in a waterproof fountain pen. I used a Platinum pen with black carbon ink. It only takes a second or two to dry and then you can lash nice wet watercolour on top. 
 I used Dr. Ph Martin's Radiant watercolours which are really intense but are not lightfast so you can't sell work done in this stuff. A year down the road and the image will be noticeably lighter.
There you go! Five cards. 
Now, there was a sixth...this cousin lived with her mother and to my mind deserved the fanciest card. I'm very sorry if you like this image the best of the lot because I can't take the credit for it. It is a lightbox rendering (ie tracing) of a stunning painting that I found on a plain greeting card a few years ago. I had always planned to make a copy of it. I used regular watercolours with this one so it won't fade. I really enjoyed painting it because my normal style is very tight, and this painting forced me to be really loose and not worry about "mistakes". I shouldn't really have signed it at the bottom because it's not my image. When I find where I've put the card I will add his or her name.
The last bit: the light box is called a Light Pad and I use an A3 size which is still tiny, the useable areas being much smaller than A3. But it serves its purpose for most things. I bought it online and I use it all the time for my illustration work. However, I wouldn't DREAM of using it for my "live" on-location sketching...I don't even touch up colour or anything else once I've left the location, to me that would be lying - and probably mess up the image too.
Good luck with your paintings everyone. With this "cheat's" method I can guarantee you will have hours of fun using the method I've described here, with none of the frustration of useless drawing!