Friday, 23 December 2011

Look! I'm a domestic goddess!

This is chocolate and pistachio fudge, courtesy of Nigella Express. I have made it for the guys at work, it's sat next to me in a spangly bag by my desk. It would have taken all the will in the world to give it away where it not for the fact that this is the second batch, the first batch having been consumed stealthily by furtive fridge light over a period of four days last week. I now can't look at the stuff without feeling a little bit queasy.

Tonight is the last night in my flat before I decamp to my mum and dad's for four days. Tomorrow evening I  plan to be in my pyjamas, vodka and tonic in hand, watching Narnia. Merry Christmas you lovely people.

Monday, 19 December 2011

A little recap

These are some of the paintings I did in November. I did quite a few other things as well. I took on a lot of extra teaching which seemed like a good idea a few months ago, when the job situation was looking particularly bleak. I also broke both my phone and my Ipod. There was a depressing evening in late November where I found myself slumped on the sofa feeling stressed and tearful and couldn't even listen to music to sooth myself. I also couldn't phone my mum.

It's all good now though. Work is winding down, we had our Christmas meal today and I'm blogging after ten vodka and tonics. By the end of the week I'll be feeling a bit bored.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Autumn landscapes

So, I have still been painting quite a bit. These are quite different from my flower paintings, which are very bright. I just sat down one listless Sunday afternoon and had a doodle. I've ended up teaching these techniques in class, I think people have quite enjoyed it. The trick is to apply the paint in very thin washes, let it dry a bit and then brush the shapes out with a very wet brush. The painting is built up this way over a few days as you need to let each wash dry thoroughly in between layers. I've spent a very happy and contented fortnight painting these and listening to music.

In other news, I have finished my short story but didn't throw my two main characters off a cliff. I left them bickering in a National Trust car park. I think we've all been there.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Hiding from the world

I had lots to do yesterday; class prep, 3 paintings to finish and a short story to be redrafted for a monthly creative writing class (FYI this writing thing is really hard! Give me a thing to describe and I'm away but ask me to plot something and develop characters whilst thinking about figurative language and stylistic devices and I'm hopelessly lost. I'm on the verge of throwing my two main characters off the nearest cliff).

Instead I reorganised my books. In order of colour. There was a point, midway through the afternoon, when I thought I might have bitten off more than I could chew.

I think I might start another anonymous blog. There are loads of blogs that I love; painterly ones, bookish ones, cookery ones... but the ones that keep me coming back and subscribing are the ones that Tell The Truth*. About important, trivial stuff. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's uncomfortable, sometimes cynical and sad but always sincere. I had hoped that one day I might come back to this archive and find not only a creative diary but an account of what life was like at this point in time for me. What I have found when looking through old posts is a blog with a bit of an identity crisis. The posts that shine for me are the ones when I decide to just spill, regardless. I wonder if maybe I shouldn't have blogged under my real name. People I know read this and, though I know they wouldn't judge, I do hold back because of it. Here are some of the things I'm not blogging about at the moment:

1) Financial meltdown at work

2) The possibility that I might be made redundant and have to move back home

3) The future: what the hell am I doing with my life?

4) The writing thing

5) Weight loss and exercise. I'm not blogging about this because I thought to myself, somewhat haughtily, "this is a blog for creativity and intellectual, important things not something as girly as weight loss". But the thing is, I have lost about 2 stone since Christmas and this has made a WHOPPING GREAT BIG difference to my life. I'm not carrying around 15 years worth of self loathing for a start.

So, there's quite a lot of stuff that I've been editing out of this blog and I'm not quite sure where to go from here. What do you think peeps? Am I just worrying too much?

*The Truth, specifically, about what it's like to be a woman at this point in time. Because this is a heady, difficult, confusing, potentially amazing thing. And we're all in this together. But, God, it's hard. Basically.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Through low light and trees...

I just want to share this with you quickly whilst I think about how best to unscramble the last few weeks of chaos. My brother's girlfriend recommended Smoke Fairies to me, I love the album and, most of all, I love this track. Universe, if you are listening, this is how I would like to feel about someone.

Pour yourself a snifter of whisky (or have a cup of tea), draw the curtains against the autumn chill and enjoy.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Feeling bad about the garden and other angsty thoughts

I spent the bank holiday with mum trying to tame the wilderness that is my back garden.
When I first started looking for a flat I was adamant that I wanted something with some outdoor space. A mixture of serendipity, patience and sheer bloody mindedness meant I actually got what I was looking for: a spacious ground floor flat in a Victorian town house with 2 massive fireplaces, a courtyard garden and a proper pantry. All within my budget.

I was a good girl to start with; planting bulbs, climbers and veg with care and watering every evening during the dry days of summer. However, recently I have been a bit distracted and everything, flat interior included, has gone a bit Miss Havisham.

The lettuce (left) and broad beans (has beans)
I have included a picture of the lettuce that shot. When I pulled it out it was over 4 foot. I have decided that I am no good at growing edible things. Nothing makes be feel guiltier than throwing food away except perhaps throwing food away that I have grown myself and then left to rot in the ground. I am a terrible excuse for a human being. I also felt bad about the 30 or so empty wine bottles I took the the recycling yesterday. We couldn't park the car outside the flat so I had to do the clinking walk of shame over the road to the T K Maxx car park.

It looks like my hours at work are likely to be cut. I have spent a fraught week doing sums in my head, desperately trying to work out if I can afford to stay here or whether I will have to move somewhere smaller. I've just bought 2 pints of milk on my credit card so the answer doesn't look promising. Remember last week when I thought something good was around the corner? Well, feel free to give me an e-slap the next time I start prodding fate with a pointy stick.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

In which the artist finds herself locked in a public loo, reading about Katie Price's split from Alex Reid.

Yesterday I found myself accidentally locked in the toilet in the adult learning centre on East Street in Banbury. I had gone there with my colleague Karen to look at some possible new software. It was the disabled loo so, in fairness, it was quite spacious. It was also painted in a pale institutional green which, as unlikely as it sounds, is actually quite flattering to the complexion. I was in there for over an hour whilst a contractor made his leisurely way over to Banbury to break me out. The other staff in the building managed to break the vent off the door to hand me refreshments, some old trashy magazines and a copy of Fern: My Story. It was all they could find. As I sat there, still hungover from the weekend's disappointment and contemplating my navel, I read about Cheryl Cole's new hair do and TOWIE and thought: "Rachel, this is a new low" as well as "this week has been a bit shit really".

A change of relationship status for one of my cousins has also led me to contemplate Internet dating as well as my belly button. It makes total sense. When you are looking for a job you scour the newspapers and Internet, fill out applications, update your CV, go for interviews, decide on something suitable and give it a go. You don't mope around waiting for the perfect job to land in your lap, you don't identify what your perfect job would be and then obsess over it for months on end hoping the universe will listen to your prayers and provide you with your heart's desire.

This is all very rational and sensible. However.

The people who argue the pros of online dating are probably the same ones who would tell me that love, desire and attraction are merely biological reactions; the merciless combined swarm of oxytocin, adrenalin and serotonin. But what is chemical to them is alchemy to me. Love is random magic and cannot be regulated and squashed onto a CV, crammed into tick boxes or rationalised. So, no to online dating then. For the time being at least. And this is what I decided locked in my mint green prison yesterday afternoon.

Monday, 15 August 2011

How (not) to be single and fabulous in a market town in North Oxfordshire.

  • Awake on Saturday morning at your parent's house having slept badly.
  • Organise staff bonding session/get together only for it to fracture into splinter groups due to clash with local music festival.
  • Take a gorgeous top back to the shop because you simply can't afford it and you're more sensible than that. It's something you never hear these days but it's worth saying: if you can't afford it, don't buy it.
  • Put on your favourite skinny jeans, a cheap t-shirt and a beaded shrug. Spend an hour reading Dylan Thomas, having been on a spree in the Oxfam bookshop. Feel good in your own skin, like the best and truest version of yourself.
  • Spend the afternoon in a wasp-infested field, drinking warm cider, listening to good music and talking to people that you like.
  • Realise that the crush that has been happily fermenting since Christmas has morphed from weak shandy into moonshine of the deadliest potency.
  • Watch the object of your affection kiss his girlfriend and wonder, not for the first time, if you can die of dejection.
  • Carefully pick your way through the hippies and empty plastic cups smelling pleasantly of weed and cigarette smoke mixed with your Jo Malone perfume. Traipse back to the flat.
  • Realise you are meeting friends in a bar in Banbury in a mere 40 minutes. A prospect that, even under the best of circumstances, usually leaves you feeling violent and unhinged.
  • Arrange face and posture so that gory heartbreak is not obvious to all and sundry.
  • Consume rather too much vodka in a surprisingly nice new bar. Bask in warmth that only good friendship and booze can bring. Decide that your friend Tim is the funniest bloke on the planet even if you now know more than you would like about his dream diary.
  • Eat oven pizza at 2am. 'Fess up to 8 months of pale faced pining to a much loved girlfriend. Listen as she shares some of her own secrets.
  • Talk until 4.30am. Realise you need to trust your friends more.
  • Spend Sunday in bed eating chocoalte, drinking green tea and watching The West Wing.
  • Feel strangely optimistic about everything. There are good things around the corner.
This post was bought to you today by Ray Charles singing this song.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Goodbye paintbrushes?

I always find summer to be quite a strange time. My weekly classes have finished and I'm not teaching regularly again until the end of September- I have a couple of one day workshops but they are few and far between. I'm back to doing the day job but, at The Mill, we don't programme bands or shows throughout August as the theatre is under maintenance. Because of this the normal routine (as much as there is ever a normal routine) goes out of the window and we all sort of drift. And bicker. There is tidying and filing and, this summer, a manic preoccupation with income generation and expenditure reduction (the government doing the best it can to see off the creative arts in this country). In the meantime I have been getting my teeth into some new projects- some ambitious new paintings, repainting the flat and attempting to write that novel.

Yep, you did read that last part right. The novel.

When I was younger all I did was write and paint. It's pretty much all I do now. My 9 year old self used to hide in her bedroom and laboriously copy out page after page of the Wind in the Willows in grey exercise books. When I was 13 my next door neighbour gave me her old word processor. It took up the entire bedroom and looked a little bit like the computer Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey. When you sent something to print it sounded like machine gun fire and took about 20 minutes to type out one page.  Somewhere in my parent's house there will be a file with a dozen or so stories about a misunderstood and awkward teenager. The heroines will all have alarmingly precocious names like Araminta or Thea.

Even as an adult I have journalled regularly from the first few dizzy weeks at art college to documenting the glorious, cinematic beginnings of a relationship and it's mundane and all-too-ordinary disintegration. There are stacks of cheap notebooks filled with the kind of obsessive longings normally reserved for teenagers, not apparently sane 32 year old adult education coordinators. But I want to write something a little more structured. Something with plots and characters and themes and a point to make somewhere. And, for all my flippancy about this, it disguises the fact that this is quite important to me and has been a secret wish for a long time. For the first time I have really started to appreciate the situation I find myself in. I am single, I have just enough wit and intelligence behind me to make a reasonable, if not exactly incendiary, stab at this. I have time on my hands and a room (a couple of rooms actually) of my own. I have no idea what's in store for me but this may be the only time in my life where I have access to this period of grace and stillness.

So, I have stock piled the Moleskines, the dark chocolate and a couple of helpful books (Stephen King's On Writing is fab, as is Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg) and I have set my self some small and manageable goals. The rest is up to me.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Why I hate dresses

Another family wedding to go to on Friday. Despite being single and, at times, embittered, I love weddings. I love weddings involving my family most of all. It's a guarantee that by the end of the evening someone will end up crying in the loos, someone will have to go home early because they haven't paced themselves, someone will have fallen over and flashed their knickers, every female present will have long ago discarded their crippling shoes somewhere on the dance floor and people will be drinking Courvoisier because there will be nothing else left behind the bar.

The thing is I can never get the outfit right. I always end up feeling uncomfortable, hemmed in, tummy control knickers cutting off my circulation. I bought a great dress two months ago but, because of exercise and dieting, it now resembles a beige sack. I have spent the last two days traipsing around the shops and sobbing in stuffy dressing rooms and have come up empty handed. I have decided to wear the beige sack anyway. At least it won't be too tight for a change and it won't matter once I've downed a few glasses of wine.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Third party cookies

Every now and then blogger will frustrate the hell out of me with some new problem. The line breaks was one of them. Whole posts where I couldn't seem to start a new paragraph, creative musings looking like impenetrable modernist stream of consciousness nonsense. Three days trying to work out how to make my images bigger ending with a long howl of frustration and mum eventually taking the laptop off me. And now the comments problem. I have to say though, the help forums are pretty useful things. It's third party cookies people. My laptop settings have blocked them but I think (whisper it) I have the problem sorted.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


Things have been in such a mess here over the last 6 months. Not a bad mess, but a fairly typical busy/glorious sort of mess. Life has felt like a ball of tangled wool and the act of unravelling and bearing witness to each little strand (which is what this blog is really- an act of bearing witness) has been nigh on impossible. But I want to be here and it feels good to be back here at 11pm on a Sunday night the week stretching out before me.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Waxed dry points

This dry point has a thin layer of melted wax applied. I'm not sure what led me to make the odd decision to do this. Two years ago I went through a phase of working on wood panels with mixed media and sealing everything behind a layer of beeswax, you then buff the surface to a high shine. The painting then looks like it has been captured in some kind of resin. I think I wanted the paper to go transparent here but it didn't quite work out like that. Hey ho. I'm going to have another try later in the week on a bigger print.

I've used regular parrafin wax which means the surface is beginning to crack. Beeswax is slightly more elastic and giving. There's a random fact for the day.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Of lost voices and printmaking

These are the prints taken from the dry point I was planning in this post. I didn't mean for them to be quite so detailed, it just seemed that once I had started with that needle I couldn't stop. Still, it was a worthwhile exercise I think. It hasn't been put in the artweeks show. I have hung a couple of more restrained efforts.

I've been meaning to post for weeks but I find that in stressful times (as they are at the moment for oh so many reasons) my articulacy fails me. I'm finding it a struggle to put even the most simple of sentences together. I wrote in my diary yesterday for the first time in 6 weeks and managed a paragraph. A concise whinge. None of this is to say I haven't been working on making pictures as I have. Loads. But it might just be images for a while at least until my voice returns.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Tulip fever

I got slightly carried away with the tulips this year. I think my favourites are the parrot variety. I also got carried away with the allium bulbs back in the autumn. I counted 16 plants yesterday.

The sun is shining and I now have 4 days off work. I plan to make hot cross buns with my mum, work on some new drypoint prints and go for a few walks. Bliss.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

In which the artist realises she may have bitten off more than she can chew.

I have been doodling in my sketchbook. Woods (business as usual). There's something so magical about them and they work so well as subject matter in printmaking. I don't want this to be a regular dry point print. I have plans for a bit of collage and some watercolour washes. This time I am using a proper zinc plate rather than plexi glass so the line should be that bit sharper. The doodle itself took about 5 days on and off, drawing in the evenings. On the zinc plate I managed a 2 inch square in about 3 hours. The tip of my index finger on my right hand is numb. I thought I had some terrible degenerative disease of the nervous system for about a week and then realised it's from where I have been clutching the engraving needle.

The Mill's annual artweeks exhibition is going up in 2 weeks time and I have spent so much time coordinating everyone else that I kind of forgot that I'm an artist too and also exhibiting. I have decided that I am going to carry on doodling and playing and if I have something to show at the end of it then great. If not, never mind.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

A stroll into the recent past to make a silly hat. With feathers.

I meant to blog about this earlier in the week but last Saturday I went to a workshop in Deddington to learn how to make fascinators. Deddington is lovely. I used to live there (with the useless ex). I lived in a small terraced farm cottage complete with beams, open fire, pokey corners and cobwebs. It felt, for a while at least, exactly how life should be. Deddington has a brilliant butchers and deli called Eagles, they sell a sort of cheesecakey affair called Jamaican Lime Crunch, slabs of bread and butter pudding, homemade brownies the size of house bricks and homemade sausage rolls which are, especially if you catch them just after they have come out of the oven, heavenly. Oh, and lobsters. Real live ones, in a tank, just inside the front door. Deddington is quite an upmarket sort of place really. I used to sit outside the pub on a Friday afternoon with my white wine and soda cataloging the smart cars that cruised through the market place. Black convertible Audis. The odd Porsche. Those loud, polluting twin exhausts.We used to call  it tw*t-watch.

Anyway, back to fascinators. Below are various members of my wayward family modelling theirs. Left to right, my cousin Katie, other cousin Gemma, aunty Jean (Beanie) and aunty Sarah (Cowbags). The workshop was taught by the talented and thrifty Mary Jane Baxter, she has book coming out too, which you can see here.

This is my effort. A bit Ms Marple but I like it. The little green rosette was made using a piece of ribbon and doing something to it called Petersham Pleating. FYI- it's really hard.

There are no photos of me wearing it because a) I take a terrible photo and b) it keeps falling off, my hair being too slippy for the clip.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Tulips and lilies

Since October last year I have managed to break two cameras. This may be why my posting has been slightly sparodic. I did something strange to the Samsung which caused it to take streaky photographs so I borrowed Mum's Cybershot. Last week I stood on it and the screen cracked. What followed was a week of berating myself for being clumsy and not being able to look after anything properly. If I spend money on a much coveted white shirt you can guarantee that within 24 hours I will have spilt something indelible down it.

Not sure about the above paintings. They seem a little wishy washy. I like my work more when it has a little depth and drama. I might have to do something drastic to them tomorrow.

I'm still waiting for my spring surge which everyone else seems to be getting at the moment. The last few months have certainly been fallow. Actually desolate and drought stricken might be a more accurate description. Though it is very nice to be sat here with a glass of wine at 7.30pm with the sky still light and the birds singing.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Still life class with my students, part one.

These are the paintings of rusty objects that students in my watercolour classes have been undertaking. We have made little concertina sketchbooks out of them as well as collaging the paper before painting. Hence you can see little bits of newspaper and sheet music underneath the work. You start a class thinking that all anybody will want to do is paint pretty landscapes and flowers and it turns out that everybody loves rusty clamps, nuts, bolts and spanners.

I'm posting this as a distraction from the Oreo cookie brownies that are cooling in the kitchen. It's either dither on the internet for half an hour or tuck in to the still warm tray with a spoon and a tub of ice cream. I've spent two months exercising and eating in moderation (cereal and muller rice) and was beginning to wonder why I felt so joyless.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Back again so soon?

There are days when I do nothing but answer the phone.
There are days when I spend hours riffling through enrolment forms, chasing up students who just don't want to fill in any more paperwork.
Then there are days when we have a new printing press delivered and I get to play all day!
This is my first attempt at a drypoint print.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Participation's what you need

Ironically, I had a word for 2011 and that word was participate. Ha.
I have been away and now I am back. For how long I don’t know. Truth be told, I am not very good at this blogging lark. This is because I am quite antisocial , quite shy and prone to extended periods of introspection and inactivity. Which is what I have been doing for the last 2 months; being maudlin and lazy and watching period dramas. I would love to say that I’ve been terribly busy, juggling creative projects, gadding about, being single and fabulous but no. That would not be true. There has been chocolate and Drinking Alone. Which is never good. So I haven’t blogged because I didn’t want to drag my sorry, miserable arse over to this space and complain and not offer up anything creative as some small compensation.

However, here you are. Some paintings and scribbles. Just for you.