Tuesday, 30 December 2014

ten thousand hours

Whilst enjoying a velvety coffee in my favourite cafe one winter afternoon, I chance to  overhear a fellow customer declare that excellence in a discipline is achieved only after ten thousand hours of dedicated practise.

The cafe is warm, softly lit, the murmer of conversation is comforting. Yellow light spills from the window onto the darkening world beyond the glass; it is the hour of dusk. I stir my coffee and ponder upon the magical equation proposed by my neighbour.

During the last week of November, I made seven, small, delicate studies of cloud formations, before losing confidence and coming once more to a tremulous standstill. Several hours were committed to each little study, nowhere near the number required for excellence, but my efforts marked something of a return to my practice, nevertheless.

A month later, no further drawings having been made, I retrieve the fragile pieces from the drawer in which I had hidden them from my censorious gaze, and lay them out on the floor of the back bedroom, in order to reappraise them. I am much relieved that I resisted the urge to destroy them; by so doing, I would have denied myself the opportunity of learning from them, vital steps marking my passage through the 'forest dark' would have been lost forever, and I would have again been floundering without the guiding light of their presence. As it is, each carefully dated study bears witness to my attempt to celebrate and understand the wondrous mutability of the clouds, each represents the sum of hours of work, carried out with a will to improvement.

I have still many more hours of such work ahead of me. At times my appetite for the task is fickle; weeks pass in which no drawings are produced, and I am again plunged headlong into the misery of doubt and self condemnation. However, thankfully, these painful intervals are  becoming shorter as my resolve strengthens, and sometimes I  experience the tiniest flicker of pleasure in my modest achievement, from which I gain a modicum of courage to continue. There are even days when I begin to believe that I tread the 'straight foreward path', the way forth from the darkness. I may yet come to behold the stars.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


It is plain to see that my mother's garden once bordered land unclaimed by urban development; at the foot of a neighbouring garden are two trees of the woodland, a sweet chestnut, and a walnut, both mature plants of majestic aspect. Every Autumn, amongst the prodigious fall of outsize papery leaves are to be found the fruits of each, glossy, bristle tufted chestnuts clad in spiny, floss lined jackets, gnarled and brittle walnuts. The crop represents a bountiful annual harvest for the resident squirrels, who bury both chestnut and walnut all over my mother's garden, frequently casting plants from flowerpots to hide their cache beneath the soft soil.

Emptied of their chewy, bitter kernal, the spent walnut shells resemble little boats, fashioned for the tiniest of passengers. Searching for a pastry cutter in the kitchen drawer of the rented house in Somerset, I unexpectedly come across a brown paper bag of these fragile craft, and remember gathering them in my mother's garden on a glowing Autumn evening, turning the fallen leaves with eager hand, guided by the last rays of a blood red sunset.

It was my intent to attach mast and sail to each, and set them afloat on the stilly waters of the pond, or launch them in my mother's bath tub, documenting the event with camera, but, my confidence having failed, instead thrust the paper bag to the back of the kitchen drawer, the idea to the back of my mind.

Dried earth from my mother's garden still clings to the shells; dust rains from the paper bag when I empty it. Sentimental, I cannot bear to sweep the dust away, returnng it to the bag with the shells, folding the bag over, and placing it atop the old piano, my repository for found and broken objects, abandoned birds nests, dried flowerpetals contained within sheets of tissue, paper fans, fragments of garden ornaments.

I remain unsure about the destiny of the sculptural walnut cases, feeling certain that there is potential for a piece of work, however modest, yet anxious that I may not have the ability necessary to realise it. The shells are lovely in their own right; perhaps a mast and tiny sail would appear amiss, as would a coat of paint. In my minds eye I envisage them bobbing amidst the glistening bubbles of a foam bath, motionless upon the crystal depths of the garden pond, marooned on a sea of creamy paper. Perhaps I should take a practical approach rather than a purely cerebral one; experiment, afix a mast and sail to one, at least, float them in sink, bath and pond, see what they look like. Or perhaps I should arrange them on the earth of my mother's garden, where I found them, setting them upright amid the rustling ocean of leaves, grouping them like a diminutive armada awaiting the command for battle.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014


In an old wooden cold frame, fashioned by my father many years ago, we store the spent daffodil bulbs over the summer each year , having lifted them from the long flower beds of the front garden late in the spring after flowering, let them dry in the sun, and removed the yellowed foliage. Each autumn we add new, fresh bulbs to the colony before planting; every few years we replenish the entire stock. The task of planting the bulbs, later lifting them and setting them out to dry falls largely to myself, in my father's absence.

It happens one autumn, that we have too many to plant, and so the remainder are left in the cold frame at the bottom of the garden throughout the season. At the close of flowering time, when the planted bulbs have been lifted, dried, divested of their faded greenery and are ready for storage, we open the cold frame to discover that the surplus bulbs therein have flowered also. Fragile, dessicated blooms append each shrivelled, papery bulb, a tangle of pale gold and honey, exquisitely beautiful. My mother and I are profoundly moved by the sight. My mother whispers apologies; we are each conscious of guilt, and sadness for our unwitting negligence, for the plants unfailing and faithful response to the turning of the year, unwitnessed, unsung.

I cut the frail blooms from the shrunken bulbs, captivated by their beauty, and place them carefully in paper bags, anxious to preserve them, somehow to chronicle their effort, their ultimate, valiant expenditure.

Monday, 8 December 2014

image, text

A dear friend enjoins me to keep thinking, 'image, text', 'image, text'. This, after she read an earlier post entitled 'paper plane', which post comprises the digital photograph of a model aeroplane, and a text concerning my relationship with my father.

I am fast lodged in a period of sterility as far as making drawings is concerned and find myself instead much more inclined toward the act of writing, and the collection and arrangement of found objects, mostly from my mother's house and garden.

I must conjecture, therefore, that all is not lost, with regard to making visual work, it's just that my mind is not alive to drawing at present; rather is working in a different vein. If I were at all kind to myself, and to these fledgling ideas, I would pursue them with more energy, lay to rest my frantic, unassuageable desire to be drawing, for the moment, and allow myself to think as my friend bids me.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014


It is the time of Advent. Both of the little schools where I volunteer my assistance are preparing for Christmas. Nativity plays are rehearsed, songs sung, crowns, wreaths and cards are fashioned.
In Assembly we sing 'Away in a Manger', a carol that I remember well from my own childhood.

I am unprepared for the flood of emotion that causes me to falter on hearing the familiar melody and simple refrain. The closing words of the last verse pierce me to the quick. I can only hope that I will be fit for heaven at the time of my death, whenever that shall be.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014


My mother's garden is cold and quiet, the lawns pearled with moisture, trees gaunt and naked against a colourless sky. It is the Autumn of the year of my father's death and the opaque air of November clings to my skin like a shroud. A will to dormancy takes hold.

Yet I must prevail against grief and seasonal inertia, for I have a promise to keep, and a task to undertake. My mother is away, and I have vowed that in her absence I will transplant her much loved peonies, from a position that they have occupied for many years, to a different site further along the flowerbed, thus liberating them from the encompassing shade of a vigorous laurel, beneath which they are at present suffering.

I gather tools, and survey the bed. Against the dark, leaf littered earth show clusters of small pink points; the ruby of emerging peony buds, arranged in optimistic groups, signalling the closure of one year, the  opening of the next.

The plants are well established; I remember them from my childhood, recall my amazement each year at the magical unfurling of the tight drumstick bud, and the gradual emergence of the bounteous head of glistening petals; the miracle of life and growth made gloriously manifest.

The black cat, Minos, joins me, pressing against my legs, as I stand uncertain on the path, daunted by the prospect of the endeavour ahead of me, and almost regretting my promise, glad that my mother is not present to witness my nervousness. For peonies are sensitive, resentful of disturbance; I am anxious that the move might kill them. Besides which, I do not know how to move them; I do not know what they are like underground, and, the realisation coming upon me in an uncomfortable wave of self disapprobation, have neglected to research the project.

I bend down to caress the cat, whose jet coat gleams softly in the dullness of the day. When he steps away from me, pacing delicately across the damp earth of the flowerbed, I take the light fork, the one with long, slender tines, and sink it down into the clinging soil, remove it, and sink it again and again, at different points around the first plant. I am thankful that the buds are showing; it gives me an idea of where to dig. I begin levering the fork carefully against what I presume to be the root ball. But peonies do not have a root ball. Their heady glory eventually emerges from discrete brown tubers, deep beneath the surface of the soil. The rending of earth and plant fills my ears, causing me acute distress. I clench my teeth, and insert the fork more deeply, hoping to loosen the soil sufficiently to burrow my hand underneath the plant, and thus free it. The earth is chill and heavy, sticky and unresponsive; I struggle to work my fingers beneath the tubers in order to lift the plant in it's entirety. The peony appears in fragments. I have shorn some of the tubers in two; their ravaged surfaces are the rich yellow of butternut squash. I shed tears, knowing that I must repeat the whole process at least half a dozen times. I am overwhelmed by a sense of inadequacy, and pity for the plant whose quiet incubation I am so ruthlessly disrupting. I set the damaged tubers upon the earth, in the place where they are to be replanted, and begin to excavate the next. I now know how deeply I must engage the fork; understand something of the peony's habit of growth.

Prying the peonies from the ground, deciding on their fresh positions, and replanting them, occupies me for the whole of the day. The cat, as if sensing my discomfiture, remains with me for much of the time, taking advantage of pauses to request attention, slipping away on business of his own when I resume digging, A robin trills bouyantly above my head, from the sequestered haven of the laurel. I take some heart from the presence of both.

At last I have unearthed each peony, and laid it on the bed where I shall replant it. I reflect bitterly upon my lack of skill, and sensitivity with regard to the plants; to my anguished eyes, the scene before me resembles one of carnage. Numbed with cold, and the dread feeling that I may have ruined the plants beyond recovery, I begin to bury each tuber well underground, leaving the vulnerable bud just above the surface, as I had seen them that morning. I realise that I am mouthing apologies to them as I do so. The day closes upon my labour with grey finality. I collect the tools, clean the earth from the tines of the fork, and replace all in my mother's shed. Later, I sit motionless indoors beside the fire, both cats faithful at my feet, blind to all else but the dancing flames in the grate.

On subsequent visits to my mother I return anxiously to the bed where the peonies have been transplanted, hoping to see movement in the tight red tips of the new season's buds, taking comfort in the still vibrant, vital colour, the absence of decay.

As the season wears on, it becomes evident that the peonies have not only survived, they are flourishing. Over time, the glossy carmine spears miraculously extend, opening into hands of shining leaves. Compact flower buds centre each span. There seem to be many more than I planted; each fragmented plant has spawned another, much as the broom of the sorcerer's appentice multiplied when chopped into pieces. In May, the first glowing, satiny petals open to the sun, and the blooms release the rich, exotic scent so evocative of my youth. As she does each year, my mother cuts several in commemoration of the birth of my sister's eldest son, born at peony time, taking her a luxuriant bouquet from the garden in which my self and sisters played as children, and work as adults; our domestic Eden and safe harbourage, site of childish secrets and adventure. For my mother, it is the only place on earth where she finds a fleeting solace from grief, where entrenched in the perpetual cycle of rebirth and replenishment, she experiences some ease of mind, some relief from the loneliness of life without my father.

Monday, 10 November 2014


At the bottom of my mother's garden, undaunted by heavy rain, my sister builds a monumental bonfire from the trimmings and prunings amassed during the last few months. It is the beginning of November, and the family have gathered in commemoration of the date, to loose fireworks into the dark and streaming night, to huddle in talkative groups by the warmth of the fire, afterwards to repair to the house for a traditional 'bonfire supper'.

When my sister is satisfied that despite the downpour, the fire is quick and fierce, the rest of us assemble beneath a shelter tented over the washing line, and my mother, as excited as a small child, opens the gaudily decorated box of fireworks residing on the garden table, with much ceremony. We prevail upon her to be the first to choose from the promising array, and thus follows a succession of other, brilliant, starry choices, wreathing the drenched air with  bitter scented gunpowder smoke, throwing fantastical shadows of the old apple trees across the lawns, drawing shouts and applause, gasps and exclamation.

All the while, my sister tends the bright pyre at the bottom of the garden, her face and figure ruddied by the fiery glow; Hestia incarnate, devoted to the hearth and heart of family, staunch, tender, passionate.

After the fleeting glories of the fireworks are spent, the rain eased, the tent dismantled, and the family returned to the house, I join my sister by the dwindling embers, and find her in reflective mood, her usual vigorous animation of visage softened and quieted. She tells me that her self appointed task of setting the fire, and tending the blaze on this night always brings our father to mind. She says that she is certain, as at no other time, of his presence, that in the velvet shadow at her shoulder he is standing, clad in the old  overalls and the little blue cotton hat he wore for gardening, watching over her, watching over us all.

Sunday, 2 November 2014


A vernal flush quickens the bright Autumn grass. Beneath the lichened, mossy boughs of the apple trees in my mother's garden, their fall cushioned by the lush verdure, lie the glowing fruits that this year we have not had opportunity to pick. In the blonde light of a balmy afternoon just past the Equinox, my mother and I stoop to the task of gathering the fallen harvest, filling tub and basket, trug and bucket, between us the easy conversation of those enjoying their labour and each other's company.

Unhurried, pausing often to point out to each other the tiny, delicate brown toadstools threading the  grass, we step from deep dewy shadow to brilliant glade, the low sunlight gilding the venerable old trees and touching my mother's silvery hair with fire. We speak of homely things, comparing recipes for apples baked with dried fruits of the vine, honey and bitter pungent peel, remarking on how many leaves there are yet to fall, reminiscing about past afternoons spent thus, all the while, the beneficient warmth of the late sun on our skin, the unspent dewfall glittering as though a bushel of diamonds had been cast across the lawns.

Something other than the little toadstools, the abundant fruit, the first fallen, papery leaves catches my attention, gives me pause to bend low to pick it up, and gasp with surprised pleasure at my find. It is a fragment of a garden ornament, fashioned from painted metal much weathered, but otherwise intact; a hummingbird of deepest emerald, tawny patina of rust marking the wingtips and long, tapered bill as though intended.

My mother is curious as to what it is that I have found, and I unfurl my fingers to show her the little bird in the palm of my hand, at pains to quell my desire to possess it. My barely supressed longing must have shown in my face, for my mother asks me as gently as though I were still a child, if I should like to keep it. Moved and tremulous, I breathlessly whisper my affirmation and thanks, thrilled by this unlooked for souvenir, unexpectedly gifted to me by the beloved garden and it's loving custodian.

I shall not forget that golden September afternoon, the sense of being infinitely priviledged in my companion and my surroundings, the bequeathed garden yet echoing to the presence of my father, as though my mother and myself were attended by his gentle spirit, and I have always, as precious and lovely keepsake, the hummingbird, talisman and charm against the day when my mother and the garden are no more.

Monday, 6 October 2014

new moon

In the luminous west, just proud of a gathering of feather edged, dove coloured clouds, gleams the steely sliver of the new moon, a precise, sharp tipped crescent, cut clean into the deepening ultramarine of an October twilight. Alone with the young moon in the back garden of a rented house in Somerset, utterly defenceless against the incursion of rememberance, I am recalled without warning to a garden in a more easterly county, there to gaze in retrospection upon an older moon, one waxed full and buxom, whose light embraces those standing together in commemoration of the event; a small family group, mother, father, and a daughter, one of three. Such a time ago it seems, that August evening during which we gathered to celebrate my father's newly restored sight; to be in his company when he first looked on the moon through the binoculars given as a gift, and exclaimed like a child at the wonders he could now see without the ghostly interference of the cateracts that had hitherto sorely distorted his vision.

Several years hence, he has departed this life, and his ashes are scattered in a county yet further eastwards, that which gave birth to him, but that seems woefully distant from the garden where I now salute the glowing sickle of the new moon in memory of him.

I find that I cannot curtail my tears, for although I am removed to a westerly region with a chosen one, whom I hold dearer than life itself, and have become accustomed, more or less, to our very different place of habitation, there persists a dull ache in my heart, a perpetual nostalgia for family, for places familiar, above all, a longing which cannot be assuaged, for the smile of welcome wreathing my father's face on beholding his daughters coming home to him.

Friday, 12 September 2014

the prayer

Deep in rural Gloucestershire, not far south of Cirencester, the tiny eight hundred year old church of All Saints, Shorncote is remote from it's village and reached only by a narrow country lane. Cool and quiet within, the simple interior is mostly unadorned except for an elaborately carved Royal coat of arms, and lit upon the fall of darkness solely by oil lamps mounted at intervals on the walls of the nave. Appreciative as I am of the humble grace and depthless silence of the building, it is, however, the unexpected paintings on the north walls of the chancel, and above the chancel arch that inspire within me much emotion and delighted surprise. They are mediaeval; according to the guide dating from the late twelfth or early thirteenth centuaries, and depict a regular, repeating pattern of rectangles, as though a wall had been painted upon a wall, each rectangle containing a ruddy, daisy like flower. A substantial fragment remains, despite the destructive plaster and wash of later periods, enough to be able to imagine the appearance of the chancel when the paintings covered the walls in exultant glory, crisp edged, poppy bright, surprisingly contemporary for all their naive rendering.

Each time I behold ecclesiastical paintings from the mediaeval period, I am astonished by the fervour, candour and directness of communication with which they were made, and passionately regretful that they should often have been obliterated by succeeding generations of church authorities, even though my partner has explained to me that faith evolves like everything else, and that the paintings may perhaps have come to be held as inappropriate, irreverent, possibly even blasphemous, or simply outmoded; that other interests were at work. However, I remain profoundly moved by such intensely realised evocations of faith in a God seemingly often vengeful, capricious and unpredictable, a God meting out such extremes of destiny according to one's earthly deeds, and it appears to me to be an act of desecration to have destroyed these works of art and religiosity from an earlier, unimaginably different and difficult time.

I am thankful for the exuberance of the remaining mural at Shorncote; it implies a God less exacting, one exhibiting painstaking attention to the minutae of life on earth; the very flowers at our feet, a God extending a merciful hand to those labouring in their faith and fields, One who cared enough for His creation to gift the painter thus. I feel uplifted, light of heart, grateful to the unknown and unknowable artist, or artists, as close to prayer as I have been since childhood.

When I told my mother of our intended visit to this, and other churches, being unable to accompany us, she asked of me that I should indeed pray for her, and although I usually find it difficult, if not impossible, to participate in her child like faith, on this occasion, I felt honour bound, and able,  to comply with her simple, heartfelt request.

I respect my mother's strongly held, if somewhat unorthadox, Christian convictions, finding particularly touching her belief that instead of resurection to an Heavenly afterlife, she will return to the earth following her death in the form of a modest, wayside flower; a daisy, or buttercup perhaps, her scattered ashes having nourished the soil to give rise to new life. The elegant, ancient, eight petalled blooms painted in a once brilliant ocherous red on the otherwise naked lime washed walls of the little church call her vividly to mind. She would have loved their symmetry and simplicity, would, if she had been able to be with us, have understood the intensity of the celebratory piety that had originated them. It seems appropriate, therefore, to answer her plea whilst gazing on this frieze of flowers, to offer both thanks for the endeavour of the painter, whose work remains to enchant the eye and refresh the spirit, and the prayer for my mother, whose passion is for the Creator, her children and the garden she shared with my father.

Standing alone before the innocent blooms, for my partner is gone outside, I enjoin the Lord to keep my mother from harm, ask that she should have many more years in which to care for her beloved garden, years of health and plenty, that her own, tenderly nurtured plants should flourish each in their season, that she may eventually leave the life with which she is at present so fiercely engaged in painless slumber.

Days afterwards, whilst joyously picking blackberries from a roadside bramble, she lost her footing and fell heavily on her back to the ground, sorely bruising her ribs and spilling her patiently gathered fruits on the pavement. On learning of her misadventure during our evening telephone conversation, I am conscious of an acute sense of shock, a feeling of outrage that she should have been hurt, a swift chilling of the blood in my veins, unwillingly being brought once more to recognise that she is increasingly frail and unsteady, although she retains an indomitable independence of mind and spirit.

I do not share with her my uncomfortable conviction that the prayer I uttered on her behalf seems to have failed, to have missed it's mark, that perhaps, after all, it found no recipient, but had been merely a whisper unto empty air, a hope against hope, a child's exhortation to a child's God, a God who shields one's parents, siblings and friends for all eternity, watches over the defenceless, mends broken wings and restores vanquished life; a God of immeasurable tenderness. Perhaps a prayer from one unaccustomed to worship is indeed doomed to failure, however sincerely intended. I am cast irredeemably into doubt, my mind swept agonisingly by loneliness and fathomless despair, not only for my mother, but for  those whom I also love, for the tide of all living things condemmned to suffer and to perish. In my distress, I forget the celebration of material life and of the God who makes it so evinced by the painter of Shorncote, the implication of the rightful cycle of replacement upon replacement, of evolution and extinction which embodies the drama of wordly existence, the unaffected, passionate connection which my mother maintains with her garden and her God. Instead I find myself most painfully and deeply bewildered, as much a child in my bewilderment as when a child I prayed each night for the safekeeping of my mother and father, my sisters and friends, the flowers, trees and creatures of the earth, those of the air and waters.

I ask my sister why our mother had fallen. She answers, "Because life is random".

Wednesday, 6 August 2014


A narrow footpath flanks the playground of the infant school, where I help in the classroom during the afternoons. Each day, I pass along the path on my way to the school office, where I must sign in. I always arrive whilst lunchtime recess is taking place, and the children whom I have come to know are at play in the playground. More often than not, I am espied and the children run to the fence separating the footpath from the playground, calling my name and waving to me, which I find most touching and uplifting.

One  breezy, brilliant afternoon in early summer, I am hailed as is customary, this time  by a little boy whom I recognise as having been in the reception class where I help a couple of years ago, although I do not recall his name. I pause to speak with him, and he asks me a question, which at first I do not understand, but catch the word, 'artist'. Intrigued, I ask him to repeat himself, and then I realise that he is enquiring of me whether I am a "great artist"! Surprised, much affected by his question, I shake my head in denial, and reply that, no, I am not, although I would like to be almost more than anything in the world. He answers that he remembers me as having been good at drawing. I thank him sincerely, astonished that he should remember me at all, much less ascribe to me proficiency in a discipline I have not practised for years, although I do assist the children in their own work where appropriate. I take my leave of him, and continue on my way, a glow of appreciation having been kindled by the child's praise.

The little boy has eyes of an intense, unwavering, crystalline blue. They meet my own with the candour of childhood, ingenuous, confiding, reminding me that I have a duty to safeguard such innocence and vulnerability, however delighted and moved I am with the compliment bestowed upon me by one so youthful.

Later, I am given to realise that I have been made the gift of a new gem to hang on the necklace of compliments safely stowed in the far reaches of my mind; a sapphire, perhaps, of the same azure brilliance as the eyes of the little boy who unwittingly laid balm upon a wound.

paper plane

Above my head, suspended from the bedroom ceiling by a length of black cotton, and a brass headed drawing pin, there swings a polystyrene model aeroplane, much faded by the sun, crafted by my youngest nephew from a kit, when he was a little boy. I am visiting my mother, and have chosen to sleep in the back of the house, in the bedroom once used by one of my sisters, and now designated the room of her son when he comes to stay. I awaken very early, to a pearlescent morning, pale light seeping through the summer curtains, and casting a fragile shadow of the aeroplane on the ceiling, a shadow tracing each delicate manoevre of the plane as it turns slowly in the current of air drifting through the open window. Unable to return to sleep, I lay and watch the subtle pirouetting, captivated, and then moved by a sudden impulse to photograph the eccentric craft and it's attendant shade, although I have at my disposal only a tiny digital camera.

Across the landing, a few steps away, the door remains closed upon the room in which my father slept during the latter years of his life, a room quiet and pleasing of aspect, that, as the eldest daughter of the house, was originally my own, and in which, after I had finally left home, in the tranquility of the back of the house, he found peace and security. The wardrobe still contains my father's clothes, most poignantly his homely, plaid dressing gown, and the tweed jacket he was wearing on admittance to hospital after having suffered the stroke that paralysed the lefthand side of his body.

When I visit my mother, I take pains to open the curtains of this closed room in the morning, perhaps opening the fanlight if the day promises to be warm, drawing the curtains again against the coming of night, and shutting the window. The room is not intended as a shrine; it is simply that my mother cannot bear to remove the possessions that speak so powerfully of my father's presence; his hairbrushes, watch, and spectacles, the  knitted garments contained within the chest of drawers,  his jackets, shirts and overcoats hanging neatly in the wardrobe.

Longing for the sound of his voice, the generous, delighted smile with which he greeted us, the gentle pressure of his hand upon our head or shoulder, as though we his daughters were still tender children, I often pause whilst in the room, to open the wardrobe door, taking care that the sound does not reach my mother, to touch the clothes that he inhabited, lay my cheek against the reminiscent roughness of woollen cloth, draw in the lingering scent of his skin, his hair, until either comforted, or overwhelmed by an unassuagable grief, I close the wardrobe, and steal from the room on tiptoe.

I once asked my father if he could make paper aeroplanes, knowing that, as a child, he had created little models from balsa and thread, which he hung from the ceiling of his bedroom, much as did his grandson generations later. We were travelling together on a train bound for a London terminus at the time of my question, leaving him small scope for demonstrating his skill, and would soon part company, myself to journey onwards to Scotland, and he returning home to Hampshire, but a day or so later, a manilla envelope addressed to me in my father's fine, rhythmic italic, arrived by post, bearing within an elegant aeroplane fashioned from a sheet of manuscript paper. I have it still.

Thursday, 31 July 2014



What are days for?
Days are where we live.
They come, they wake us
Time and time over.
They are to be happy in:
Where can we live but days?

Ah, solving that question
Brings the priest and the doctor
In their long coats
Running over the fields.

From The Whitsun Weddings, by Philip Larkin, first published in Faber Paperbacks, 1971. Reset in 2001

Monday, 23 June 2014

foam bath

As a child, I delighted in the glacial mounds of glittering bubbles at bath time, and find that my enthusiasm has not waned with the passing years, although I no longer pretend that I am piloting a fragile craft between castellated ice floes, in grievous peril of running aground.

The bath at my parental home is the original, cast iron, squat legged vessel, installed when the house was born, a little short of ninety years ago, deep, steep sided, bone white, a delicate mineral patina running from tap to drain. It is my pleasure, when visiting my mother, to take a cool, foaming bath on a  summer's evening, following a hot day of labour in the garden below, to shed soiled clothing and ease my weary body into scented, shimmering water, sinking below the brittle skinned froth until completely submerged, holding my breath for as long as I am able before rising in a flurry of bursting bubbles to the surface.

I prefer the bathroom to be unlit, the sole source of illumination the dimmed evening light seeping through the lowered blind, so that the ghostly bergs gleam softly, and the intervening straits shine like pewter. I recall other, noisier bathtimes, and, although often prey to a painful nostalgia, am grateful, nevertheless, for the mature tranquility of my mother's house, the silence in the bathroom broken only by the water rippling in response to my movements, and the sound of late birdsong drifting through the open window.

Monday, 9 June 2014

the close of a difficult day

An evening telephone conversation with a dear  friend does much to restore my equilibrium, sorely disrupted following a night of troubled, anguished dreams and a morning of unproductive drawing practise. She is an artist, and we speak, as always , of art, most particularly of drawing, her own principle area of practice. I confide to her my problematic return to the making of drawings, and the destruction of all but two of my most recent attempts, which two I have for now secreted at the bottom of one of the boxes in which I store unframed drawings, knowing that I will, in all probability,  destroy them also.

She likens the process of beginning to draw again after a long absence, to hill climbing after a protracted period of abstinence; one is out of breath at first, weary throughout one's entire body, defeated in spirit and perhaps unable to achieve the summit, but that, following several determined attempts, one regains a former fitness for the exercise, becoming more proficient, one's confidence improved.

With her wise and reassuring words resounding in my ears, I take my grateful leave of her, and, as the evening is wearing on, venture into the garden, from which I have absented myself for the greater part of a beautiful day, to water my collection of potted plants, which have withstood the heat and drying wind of the afternoon in silent fortitude. I hear the bees still in clamourous throng about a densely flowering shrub growing along the length of the wall enclosing our small garden, and realise with a sense of humble admiration that they have been hard at work throughout the day, going about the business of collecting nectar with an engaging fitness of purpose for the task and an unshakeable dedication to duty.

After watering, an undertaking made pleasant by the knowledge that I am supplying  the needs of my beloved miscellany of plants, and by the accompanying sonority of the bees, I repair to the kitchen for a glass of wine, and return to sit on one of the old wooden, garden benches from the lodge, beneath the bee busy shrub, my spirits eased by the melodious notes of a thrush  and the over- arching sky of softly and exquisitely layered cloud. Gazing upon the beauty of the cloudscape before my eyes, I arrive once more at the realisation that I do, after all, wish to return to the making of drawings of clouds, however difficult the first endeavours may be.

Dusk is falling. The clouds above me are dove grey, arranged in folds of exceeding delicacy, deckle edged, indescribably subtle. I determine to re-apply myself to the attempt of rendering this fragile world of vapourous forms with pencil, on paper.

Suddenly the bees are silent, for, as if at a signal, they have departed the garden. My wine glass is empty. I re-enter the house, strengthened in resolve, at least for the present, quietly satisfied with the written work I have accomplished during the course of the afternoon, and with a profound sense of gratitude towards the bees, the garden, the sky and the thrush, for it's generously uplifting evening song.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

blunt instrument

I discover, quite by chance, whilst writing a shopping list on a scrap of paper with a dulled, soft pencil, that I am far more comfortable using this blunted instrument than I am with a newly pointed pencil; a discovery that flies in the face of experience and previous preference. The graphite seems to flow more sweetly, the line is thicker and stronger, although still subtle and accurate enough. I find that the sweeping curves I am able to make with this less than needle tipped tool infinitely satisfying and pleasurable, the act of writing more akin to drawing; a distinctly sensuous experience.

I wonder, as one who loves lists, could I perhaps engage upon a series of handwritten lists as drawings? The thought is appealing, and familiar to me; an idea I revisit from time to time, but until now I have not been able to decide on a suitable writing implement, much less the surface upon which to write, having previously written in chalks on the stripped blonde pine of an old dressing table, and the worn receptiveness of a Victorian wooden boarded floor. Perhaps my discovery of the pleasure to be found in writing with a blunt pencil is a guide as to the direction I should follow, especially in the light of my recent abortive attempt to resume the drawing of cloud formations.

I am, however, immediately cast into a flurry of indecision regarding the possible size and shape of the letters, the format of the lists upon the surface of the support, and question deeply my abilities to attain and sustain the freedom with which I wrote texts on dressing table and floor, whilst writing with pencil on paper. I feel my neck and shoulders, my entire torso become rigid with apprehensive tension, my heart begins to race, and my hands dampen with the sweat of fear. I am unconvinced about whether I can justifiably assume the status of visual artist, and my most recent drawing experience has done nothing to disabuse me of my uncertainty.

Feverishly, I comb the internet for examples of lists written by visual artists, and am delighted by John Baldessari and Pablo Picasso, although disheartened when I begin to compare myself with those illustrious others. As before, I should exercise a strict moratorium upon research, if it is to prove not a help, but rather occasions despair.

I must bring myself gently to the point of experimentation; allow myself to blunder, think carefully about how I wish the lists to appear, the scale of the letters, and indeed the size of the paper with relation to the texts, their layout and articulation. I am unsure whether I am equal to the task, not having had a great deal of success in formatting written work when attempting to write essays, for instance, and having a distinct tendency, unless governed by a ruled feint, for my sentences to dip, sag and slant. I have not the eye, or the skills of a graphic designer. I cannot, at present, visualise the texts, although I eagerly nurse the idea like a cherished possession; it has a hold on my imagination, and perhaps will shape my future actions, although it is easier to dream of works to be made, than to undergo the perilous journey of attempting to make them. I am eager for successful arrival; I do not desire the discomfort and possible disappointment of travel.

the search for a voice

I think that, in terms of drawing, and certainly not in line with my desires, I have yet to find a voice, although I seem to have discovered one as far as writing is concerned. I feel that I have greater strength as a writer than as a visual artist. For instance; I recall, that, as a graduating student, I did not gain a first class degree for my visual work, but that I did for the piece of theoretical work  submitted (on the deadline), being a short essay upon a particular state of mind, and an exploration into the extreme difficulties I experienced in the production of an academic thesis. I contravened the terms of the requirements, and took a personal, self revelatory stance which served me well, and resulted in a brief, spare document, nevertheless almost approaching the poetic in some passages.

Looking back, I recollect certain shortcomings, especially with regard to the title, and the piece is haunted by my own immaturity, yet, although the article is no longer in my possession, but has been lost, it still remains significant in my eyes, and is a work of which I am able to write with something of a sense of retrospective accomplishment.

Despite my best efforts, I am experiencing grave difficulty with regard to effecting a return to the practice of drawing, the imminent arrival of lovely new papers, ordered for me by my partner,  notwithstanding, and am not at all sure of the direction which I should pursue. It would appear that with the rainbow, volcano and tree drawings, made several years ago, now, I had indeed found the voice of which I write with such yearning, but the powerful imperative which enabled those drawings no longer exists, and I am finding the resumption of drawing clouds all but impossible. I have made some preparatory sketches, and several attempts at making drawings of smoke, but they fail to satisfy me; I can see that they are painfully inadequate.

Perhaps I shall not ever possess a true, consistent and  identifiable voice as a visual artist, despite the unflagging and loyal belief of my partner in this regard, and I speak instead through the words that I commit to this online diary, words of longing for the rightful designation of artist, rather as Susan Sontag wrote of her own longing for the designation of writer. Perhaps my way lies not in the production of drawings of clouds, but in the making of text based pieces, if I am set on pursuing a path in the visual arts. I simply do not know. I recognise that I am compelled to make work that is, as noted above, in some way self revelatory, usually dealing with psychological states,  but I seem better able to articulate doubt and fear, for example, in the form of diary entires, than I am at fashioning drawings.

Why drawings anyway? Why not a different form? Formerly I articulated my concerns through the medium of photography, specifically slide projection pieces, and polaroids, and, until, making drawings in chalk on the garden paths of my parental home, with my then infant nephew, had not drawn for years, believing that I possessed insufficient skills as a draughtwoman. I only made a dedicated return to drawing on paper, when I made a return to art education as a PhD student, and began, in the face of difficulty concerning the " straightforward path", to draw cloud formations. I discovered that I loved paper, especially soft textured printmaking paper, that I loved pencils in equal measure, and overall, that I loved the process of making a drawing.

This afternoon, a bright, windswept afternoon in early summer,  many years hence, it is  however with the greatest reluctance that I contemplate a resumption of the attempt to make drawings of clouds; that I consider returning to the table at which I have been trying to work for the last fortnight, and take up pencil and powder once more. I would rather sit in the cloistered, shuttered cool of the upstairs room which houses the computer, the shining, perfect afternoon lost to me beyond the drawn blinds, and write. I cannot draw as I would wish, and am already sensitive to the feelings of my partner when I confess to him the destruction of all the recently created drawings except two, neither of which shall I show to anyone, much less publish online. Perhaps, in order to save my partner from hurt, I need not confess their loss, although I shall find it difficult to refrain from communicating my sense of despair and disappointment, my desperation to find a voice that is my own, and is, furthermore, a voice for which I can feel a measure of justifiable pride.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

the necklace

Perhaps one should not write of compliments; it should be enough to receive them with modest good grace, and revisit them silently, in solitude, as one may sometimes remove a precious necklace from a jewellery box simply to enjoy the play of light on stone and gold, the pale lustre of pearl, the opal's sudden fire.

This afternoon, a sweetly scented afternoon of sunny aspect, a chance encounter with the former director of the local arts centre furnished me with a compliment upon my drawings, which I received gladly enough, for I had hitherto, despite the bonny afternoon, been much cast down about my work, and questioning deeply my proposed intent of resuming the making of studies of clouds.

I took my leave of her with lightened footsteps, and a gladdened heart, for the moment at least persuaded that the work I exhibited at the local arts centre several years ago  is worthy,  quietly pleased that the drawings still have vitality in someone's thoughts.

It is monstrously difficult for me to retain any degree of confidence in my abilities to draw, or to fashion works of art by any other means; I am habitually consumed by voracious self doubt, against which devouring force I must needs find the way to fortify myself in order to carry out the resumption of my practice.

I keep a necklace hidden in the recesses of my mind; one strung with the compliments bestowed on my drawing, or writing  throughout the years of my life, the first dating from when I was very young; still at primary school. The necklace is not thickly clustered, however, rather it's gems hang in isolation, at irregular intervals. They gleam reassuringly in the darkness of my thoughts; I reach for them when my distress seems otherwise too much to bear. They are like affirmations, uttered not by myself, for I am unable to do so, but by others; those others whom I have sought to please ever since I was a child.

I have now a new jewel to thread upon the necklace, a delicate moonstone, perhaps, or transparent ancient amber, a moment of glory transformed, coalesced, an amethystine remembrance that I must care for, and may visit whenever my heart is faint and my will reluctant, my soul doubt riven.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014


On some days drawing clouds, especially storm clouds, seems like the way forward. On other days, difficult days of bitter despair and fathomless self doubt, it does not.

Saturday, 26 April 2014


This drawing was made sometime in 2005 or 2006; I cannot remember exactly when, although I know that it dates from the time after I had withdrawn from Winchester School of Art, during which period, before our removal to Somerset, I worked in isolation at the lodge in rural Hampshire. It is reminiscent of the Nimbostratus drawings, published in earlier posts, but I believe it to be a far superior drawing; indeed, I am uncomfortable about having published the Nimbostratus drawings, as to have done so evidences an assumption that I considered them worthy; a somewhat shaky understanding of their virtues as I now come to realise.

The cloud drawings had been becoming darker overall following  withdrawal from my PhD, and I made many studies of stormy formations on offcut pieces of paper, unfortunately without due consideration of the relationship of drawing to paper size and shape. None of these studies survive.
When I now consider a return to the making of cloud studies, I turn to just three drawings for reassurance and inspiration. This drawing is one. I was, at the time of making the drawing, enamoured of mass rather than form, or of line. I liked dust and powder, and found  it  a more intuitive, emotional way of working, to spill dust and powders onto paper and then ease them into the surface using a fragment of linen cloth wrapped about my forefinger.  Working thus I felt a more intimate connection with the drawing and materials; the tiny circular movements of my finger were like caresses, my breath was cast over the face of the paper, my entire being was concentrated, alert, vigilant, abstracted. It was an almost erotic experience; certainly an act of love.

I shall not remove the Nimbostratus drawings from this online diary, whatever the discomfort I feel on allowing them to remain, for I have learnt from them, perhaps belatedly, and they stand not only as failed endeavours, but milestones on the path to more mature and proficient works, which I hope that I shall be able to realise in the immediate future. I now believe that my intuition regarding the road ahead was apposite, and feel that I wish more than anything to resume my practice in the depiction of storm or rain cloud formations. To that end I direct my attention to the "overarching" skies, and rehearse in my mind the articulation of dust and powder upon the enticingly receptive surfaces of the papers I have stored away against the day when I feel able to make a new beginning.

Friday, 25 April 2014

the shell

One of the nicest pieces of work that I ever made was a gift to a Professor of English Literature, whom I was dating at the time, many years ago, now. It was a limpet shell, pale, steep sided, scrubbed clean of the echoes of the sea, and of the remains of the flesh of the creature once dwelling within, inside which, in the form of a spiral, I inscribed, in pencil, the words of a love poem by Robert Herrick. The shell, an enchantingly simple, bony tent-like structure, was delicately tinted in shades of ochre, buff and cream, the smooth interior surface accepting the mobile graphite as if it had been designed for just that. I placed the shell, weighted with words of love, in a small box lined with white tissue paper, and could hardly contain my excitement at the prospect of bestowing it.

The relationship is long over; no correspondance has passed between us for at least a decade, but I remember the man, and the shell, and my longing both to give it, and to keep it. It was received, as I recall, in the very spirit in which I had fashioned it. One can ask for no more than that.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

cloud verse

"Clouds, that surround us like a ring of white-
Gowned nuns, their vigil gentled by the wind,
Grow taller with each mile so as to hide
The blueness underneath their spreading arms.
Their habits greying with the ageing day."

 The second verse of a poem entitled 'July Journey',
from The Desecration of Trees, by Lotte Kramer.
Published by Hippopotamus Press, Frome, Somerset, 1994.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014


Increasing longsightedness renders my vision imperfect for reading, drawing, writing and playing the piano, but perfect for gazing at the clouds.

Friday, 18 April 2014

drawing practise

With regard to the three drawings written of previously, and as yet only existing in my mind's eye, those of the blue mittens, the red handled skipping rope and the little leather shoes, I find that my internal vision well outstrips my abilities in draughtwomanship. On attempting to make a preparatory drawing of the little leather shoes, my eye is painfully bewildered, and I am unable to perceive the correct proportions, or understand the shapes and their relationship to one another, the interplay of lines that makes up the whole, let alone transfer this compexity of information to the paper. The marks that I make with the pencil seem coarse; I cannot depict the article before my eyes with any degree of accuracy or finesse. Neither can I attempt a more naive rendering, approaching the problem in a similar manner to that in which I approached the drawings of tree, volcano and rainbow.

 Dyspraxia, formerly known as 'clusmsy child syndrome' and with which I was diagnosed somewhat late in life,  causes me to experience difficulty in understanding spatial relationships which may account in part for my refusal to engage with more than one subject in a drawing, instead suspending an image centrally in a sea of white or cream paper, with relationship only to the edges of the paper and thence to the frame. Dyspraxia also affects my fine motor skills and coordination; I find the pencil an unwieldy, although much loved, instrument on attempting to draw with it, and when I write, although managing some fluency and speed, I am often unable to attend to the true shapes of some of the letters, lacking the control to fashion them as forms distinct from one another.

 I cannot altogether ascribe my lack of skill to the condition; I find and have always found, academic drawing difficult, and do not seem to be gifted with the facility to render observed objects accurately or gracefully, particularly the human figure; the same confusion regarding proportion, line and spatial relationships pertains. As noted above, my interior visualisation, that which shapes the drawings in my mind, is far superior to that which I exercise physically when I attempt to draw from observation. There is no fluid transmission from my eye, or my mind's eye, to the paper although when I was engaged in making the drawings of tree, volcano and rainbow, none of these subjects being drawn from life, I experienced a sense of freedom and a measure of ease. I concede that practise would effect an improvement, but I have come to a further realisation; not only is it  imposible for me to draw the little leather shoes in an academic, realistic fashion, I do not wish to. Such a method does not chime with the image I have in my mind. However, I have achieved progress of sorts; on encountering failure where I would have preferred success, I do not engage in self harm, instead coming silently to terms with my deficiencies, and, setting aside materials, begin to consider other possibilities.

For I must find a way of realising the piece of work comprising the blue mittens, the red handled rope and the little leather shoes. If I do wish to draw them after all, I may well decide to try and trace their outlines on the paper from  projected transparencies,  attending to colour and mass afterwards. I might make a photographic piece. I need to set the work adrift in my imagination; forget the three ghostly drawings, or at least not be fettered by them, and apply myself to exploring other means of articulating my ideas. I do not believe it possible to make a drawing of the blue mittens in the manner in which I had first conceived of, on discovering them, and finding the suggestion of a drawing seeded in my mind, therefore I shall wait awhile, and then make many careful transparencies of all three things, the rope, the pair of shoes, and the little mittens. This activity would mark a return to an earlier way of working, but might also suggest the method by which I would find it possible to externalise my inner concerns, thus creating a piece of work which satisfied my vision.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

spring bulbs

Each afternoon, I visit a local first school, where I help in the classroom. In the Autumn, the children and I planted spring bulbs in deep, soft loam in terracotta pots; crocus, hyacinth, daffodil, the children each choosing a bulb using the brightly coloured packets as their guides. Almost every child wished to plant a hyacinth, or a daffodil, because the bulbs of the hyacinth and the daffodil are bigger and seem more impressive than the tiny, nutty crocus corms. We looked closely at the illustrations on the packets, and I explained to them that the crocus would form a beautiful goblet, that from the modest, wrinkled corm, a satin petalled bloom would emerge as if by magic, like a magician's silk handkerchief pulled from a pocket. Thirty bulbs were planted during the course of the afternoon, the children placing them carefully into finger moulded hollows in the earth, and covering them with a layer of soil, before we watered them , and set the pots on the windowsill.

Throughout the following weeks I tended to them daily, careful that the soil remained moist, as the atmosphere of the classroom during the months of Autumn, Winter and early Spring is very warm and dry. As it was, the bulbs, encouraged no doubt by the warmth of the room, showed spear points of green much before their garden counterparts, and in early February the first crocus opened the petals of it's frail, elegant chalice to the  pale winter sun. I was enchanted, and watched with increasing delight and gratitude as a succession of blooms followed; hyacinths of an intense, smokey blue, rich mauve and snow white crocuses, brilliant daffodils. We enjoyed the display for several weeks before the crocuses collapsed into crumpled  ribbons, the daffodils sagging like damp paper bags, the hyacinths becoming brittle, dark and shrunken.

One afternoon in late March  on entering the classroom, I noticed, with a palpable shock, as though a current of electricity had been passed through my body, that  the still green foliage of the spent bulbs had been cut just above the level of the earth. Bulbs need their leaves to rejuvenate themselves after flowering, for a short period, at least. Far kinder  to allow the leaves to yellow and wither naturally before tidying them away. The sight of the severed greenery caused me a sympathetic jolt of injury that I found difficult to bear.

Later in the afternoon, a child fell in the playground, grazing her hands slightly and bursting into copious weeping. I comforted her, upset at the sight of the torn skin on her palms, removing her to wash them in warm water. Yet, disturbed as I was at the child's mishap, I did not feel the same acute outrage that I felt on seeing the truncated leaves of the bulbs, only an echo of the sense of the pain I had experienced on their behalf, which is a hurt similar to that I feel on seeing a recently felled tree, plants of wall and wayside wrenched up by their roots or broken and flung to the pavement, the wrecked body of an animal or bird hit by a vehicle, lying abandoned on the road or grass verge.

It would seem that I care more for the lives of plants and other animals than for human, although when my beloved partner fell from his bicycle, and badly grazed his forearm, so that I needed to bandage it for protection for days afterwards, the shock of seeing his bloodied, raw flesh was as keen and strong as that which I felt at the sight of the bulbs. Perhaps my reaction depends on the severity of the injury, or perhaps intimacy is the key, and  there is a necessary emotional distance between myself and the children, preserved partly due to my own personal reticence, and partly as a matter of propriety.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

clouds and balloons

" The single clouds hanging like balloons."

Roger Deakin   Notes From Walnut Tree Farm Hamish Hamilton Penguin Group 2008

Friday, 14 March 2014

inaudible frequency

My father wondered whether the minute silken filaments spun by spiders, strung from twig to twig in the apple trees, and hammocked between blades of grass in the lawns, were like tiny aeolian harps, each vibrating  to a frequency beyond human register. Now, every time I see a spider's web quivering in the wind, I recall his words, and imagine the entire garden resonating in a symphony of sound that I shall forever be unable to hear.

Monday, 3 March 2014


A chasm yawns between thought and deed, between bud and fruit.

I am afraid to begin the three drawings hitherto written of, and find myself trembling on the brink of the abyss, my heart faint within me.

Sunday, 2 March 2014


"'Why are you afraid?' I asked myself, because fear is at the bottom of everything, even love usually rests on fear. 'Why are you afraid, when whatever you do you will die anyway?'"

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson. Published by Fourth Estate, Great Britain 2004.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

little leather shoes

The third in the trio of intended drawings written of recently may well be the most difficult to realise, although I have distinct qualms about all three. Successful in the search for the child's skipping rope, my partner and I eagerly comb the internet for a pair of child's vintage shoes, hopefully to fit a child of about six or seven, thus being contemporaneous with the blue mittens. Two pairs appear in an online auction, a pair of small brown school shoes with a buckle fastening, dating from the 1950's, and a more recent pair, also fastened with  buckles, that looks to be unworn, and, as the shoes date from a later period than the school shoes, and are a little larger, seems better suited to my purpose. The school shoes eventually sell for more money than I can raise, and there are several bids, but the other pair remains unclaimed, and our modest bid secures it. Once more, I wait excitedly for the delivery of a parcel, and unwrap the little shoes on their arrival with a flutter of anticipation.

They shine with the glow of new leather, and are fashioned from three differently coloured pieces of hide; a warm olive brown, a rich cherry red, and a deep forest green, a silvery buckle securing the strap passing over the instep. I am as entranced by them as I am by the blue mittens and the red handled skipping rope, and they take their place alongside these others in the back bedroom, where I gaze upon them each day, contemplating the means and methods by which I may make the attempt of drawing them.

I am aware of a pleasurable quiver of nervousness, quite unlike the storm of anxiety which has hitherto held dominion whenever I have thought about making drawings, effectively preventing me from touching pencil to paper. Perhaps I am beginning to emerge from Dante's "forest dark", in a manner completely unexpected and surprising, although I have yet to brace myself for the encounter between self and materials. I had supposed that making a return to the drawing of cloud formations would mark my emergence from the darkness, and was thus wholly unprepared for the appearence in my mind of the drawings of the blue mittens, the redhandled rope and the little leather shoes.

Their presence in my thoughts serves both as a motivating force, and a comforting reassurance. I can visit them whenever I wish, although I must take good care not to outstay my welcome, they cannot be wrested from me, they have embedded themselves in my imagination as surely as a fertilized egg inserts itself into the lining of the womb. I am grateful for their coming, now sure of their remaining, and wonder at the process by which they have assumed such vitality; it is as though I had had no part in it. Having cudgelled myself into determining that my first move after several painful years of abstinence would be the execution of a drawing of clouds, I find instead that a mysterious area of my consciousness has been at work upon an entirely different idea, and that, after many months of studying cloudscapes and formations with a view to drawing them, and the gradual purchasing of a suite of 'cloud pencils', the "straightforward path" perhaps lies in another direction. It would seem that one cannot will the way ahead, or hold sway over one's intent.

I do, however, have a choice; I can choose to embark upon the journey of birthing the drawings, immersing myself in the perilous endeavour of attempting to give corporeal shape to my visions, or I may hold fast to the double edged pleasure to be found in unrealised potential, protect myself from the possibility of failure, keep the nascent works safe as cerebral companions. I am, though, conscious of a not unpleasant urgency, a return of the need to communicate, to articulate pressing concerns, the desire to engage with familiar and well loved tools in an attempt to realise an idea in material terms.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

red handled skipping rope

My mind is haunted deliciously by the spectres of the three drawings still to be realised, mentioned in a previous post. Of them all, the envisioned drawing of the blue mittens is perhaps the most powerful, although it is as yet nebulous, and I must take care not to dwell upon it too closely, for fear of causing it to dissipate before my mind's eye. I find myself possessed of a newly forged inclination to draw, delightful to experience, as for years there has been an absence of such. Now, I feel a pleasurable anticipatory thrill whenever I encounter the presence of the three proposed drawings in my thoughts; a frisson of excitement familiar to me, that which presages the beginning of engagement with new works. I can even think of a working title to contextualise the drawings, although I shall not speak of this to anyone.

Years ago, my work was much concerned with childhood; specifically  memories ofmy own childhood and of the games one plays in solitude. It would seem that I have made a return to these concerns, but this time informed by the poignancy of mid life, when one is very often consumed by self doubts, thus liable to question deeply one's own position in the world, and is, moreover, persistently alarmed by global events. The drawings that I hope I am about to embark upon address those concerns obliquely, their collective and individual titles conveying both the unmitigated pleasure to be found in the pursuit of the simplest pastimes of youth, and the ever present fear and dismay embedded in one's adult consciousness occasioned by current events and occurances.

With my new born intent a motivating force, I search online sources for a child's skipping rope, preferably one with wooden handles and a white rope. I am particular in that I require a vintage rope, one that has been used, and is still in usable condition. I find, however, only contemporary replicas of the skipping rope I once dreamed of owning, and so turn the task over to my partner, who is a gifted researcher, and who frequently unearths longed for treasures from times past. He is gloriously successful, and I am ecstatic, for he finds a once white rope, suspended between two rounded wooden handles, reminiscent of old fashioned ice cream cones, their red paint pleasingly worn to reveal the blonde wood beneath.

The arrival of the skipping rope is attended by much anticipation and pleasure. The parcel is duly unwrapped, and the red handled rope placed within the scope of my eye in the back bedroom, where I can look upon it each day, as I do my drawings, to familiarise myself with it, get to know it as an enchanting object. As with the future drawing of the blue mittens, I discover that the means by which I shall attempt to realise the drawing of the skipping rope comes readily to  mind, affording me a point of departure, although I must be careful to allow the drawing to evolve in its own terms. A precious memory in part informs my vision of the drawing to be; the rasp of frosty air drawn swiftly into the lungs, the warming exertion of jumping to and fro the whirling rope, the electric thrumming of the blood and the repetitive thud of the rope and the soles of my shoes on the aged stone paths of my parent's garden, where, one hoar bound winter's morning, I returned to skip as an adult, recording my endeavour through the eye of the camera in order to recapture the ecstasy and life affirming rhythm of the solitary games of childhood.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

blue mittens

On an otherwise inauspicious, blowy morning in early February, whilst shopping in the market town where I live, my eye lights excitedly upon a pair of child's woollen mittens, strung together by a scrap of primrose yarn, hanging midway between other handknitted gloves and mittens from a rail in one of the local charity shops.

I am drawn at first to the colour; a deep, soft, royal blue, intense yet subtle, although other details delight. The mittens are quite small, probably knitted for a child of around six or seven years of age, and are obviously made by hand; slight irregularities about the thumbs enchant me. I imagine slipping them on, feeling the reminiscent roughness of the wool against my skin, easing my thumbs into place, holding my mittened hands up before my eyes to enjoy the colour.

In my mind's eye there float three drawings, one of which is the drawing of the blue mittens, shadowy as yet, but vital enough for me to begin to see a way forward in terms of the process by which I would attempt to realise it. Enthused and emboldened by my find of the little mittens, I visit the nearby art supplies shop, where I select a Sennelier chalk pastel of the same vibrant hue, taking pleasure in it's luxurious friable quality, envisaging the lively blue against the velvet darkness of graphite powder, and the mild creaminess of the paper.

Something has begun in my psyche, a precious, long hoped for rennaissance, a most welcome re-birth of intent, desire and purpose, which, taking place after an agonising eternity of waiting and self abnegation, thrills me, surprises me by it's very intensity, persuades my ever doubting self that the journey upon which I am about to embark, although fraught with peril, will, eventually, prove to have been one of worth.