Monday, 17 October 2016

Just Slow – An interview for Craft Design House

 I have always painted and drawn slowly. No amount of pressure has ever made me faster in fact quite the opposite.
There have been times that I was told that my art was too delicate, too detailed, too traditional, too quirky and too slow. Every now and then, in an effort to try to step up and be sensible and make money from my skills I would change tack. Following the advice of those who 'knew the world better' I would attempt to draw large, paint boldly, paint brighter, paint faster. It never worked. More often than not, no matter how I started a piece I would find myself settling quietly into some corner of detail listening to the sound of rain at the window and forgetting myself.

I surrender. I love slow, I love detail and I love small. 

Just last week however a lovely thing happened and I think that maybe things are changing.
Craft Design House is a lovely online Gallery that wholly embraces the 'Slow Movement'. The international 'slow movement' is growing. There is slow food, slow cities, slow tv, slow sex, slow fashion and now it seems slow buying of slow art. They asked to interview me for an article and I gratefully accepted. 

So maybe, I might fit in after all.  

Click here for the Article written by Craft Design House

Interview for Craft Design House 

Where do you live? Where is your studio? Is where you’re situated very important to the work you create?

I live near a river in the middle of nowhere and I love it. Up stream is a beautiful Buddhist temple called Samye Ling. It's full of prayer flags and wishing trees and even has a fairy hill. Down stream is a beautiful bridge where two rivers meet and I swear a Troll lives under there. One day I'll draw him.  
I have always painted things of a slightly magical nature but I am definitely more at home here than I have ever been before. It's quite something special. It's as though the paintings belong here.

the river

 Samye Ling
 The Locals

What are the origins of the figurines? Where do they come from? What are they made of? How did you find them in the first place? Do they have a particular name? 

 I first came across Matryoshka when I went to Russia in 1986 – oh gosh that's along time ago! It was still the USSR then and the streets and the people were all of a grey colour but the market stalls with the Matryoshka glowed in the Winter light and I was captivated. Each one delicately painted, telling  it's own story. Some were similar but no two were alike – it was as though you could see and feel the quiet mood of the artist who created them in the little brush strokes. 

I've always wanted to combine my love of painting and illustration with 3 dimensional work and this seemed like the perfect way to do it. For along time I was unable to source the blanks but recently I have found a contact who can get them for me from Moscow and they are more wonderful than I expected. The ones I paint are an unusualform of Matryoshka called Nevalyashka sometimes also called Chime dolls.
They are made of Lime wood and sound of the bell is quite lovely. Very mellow, the whole thing is very tactile and quite charming.

What does slow buying mean to you/what is its most important aspect as far as you’re concerned? 

 I adore the concept of slow buying and quite coincidentally I have just found out that our village hub is in the process of looking at becoming part of the Slow Movement ( I suspect that won't happen in a hurry).  I've spent so long away from television and the media I wasn't aware but it seems the whole slow movement is really catching on. 
I'm not surprised though, it was way to fast for me. Every moment of life is important and valuable and if your head is full of huge to do lists the moments slip by un-noticed and a huge sense of dissatisfaction ensues. I feel slow buying is a beautiful way to buy, particularly because it honours the time taken to produce a piece of artwork which can only enhance the enjoyment of the piece. 

I have always painted slowly. Once a design of a sketch has found its way onto a surface I love settling down to paint and losing myself in the detail. It becomes almost like a meditation. The delicate smell of paint and freshly sanded wood, the sound of the wind outside or rain on the windows. The slow appearance of a picture growing on a once blank surface.


What do you enjoy about the commissioning/personalising process? Can you give an example of a recent commission?

Working on a commission can be a delightful process. I have a beautiful commission in the pipeline at the moment for a couple who live in a neighbouring valley. They are renovating a very old house. Underneath the floorboards they found an old note handwritten by a child which said " Would somebody please tell me what happened to the Crystal bird?" When they asked me if I would like to paint a picture to enhance the story I couldn't stop grinning. The imagination began to swirl with images.  immediately. Pure magic! That one happens to be for a painting to hang on a wall but there is nothing to say it couldn't be a 3 dimensional object if that is what was wanted.

I also have a small commission which is nearly finished for a Christmas ornament , one of the Nevalyashkas. The client has a cheeky cat that likes to climb into their Christmas tree and so it makes perfect sense that her portrait becomes part of a Christmas decoration.

What options for customisation do you currently offer?

I can customise most of the Nevalyashkas with a little something to make it more personal if clients wish or a whole new piece can be commssioned. Traditional 2 dimensional Illustrations can be commissioned too of course.

About the painting process – does it need to be treated first or is it ready to go?

The blanks arrive from Russia wrapped in Russian newspapers and in a box absolutely covered in Russian stamps. It feels like Christmas no matter what time of year they arrive. The Nevalyashkas need a light sand and I seal the wood too before I start to design or paint. Then, once they are painted they need to dry thoroughly before they are varnished and then need to be put away in a warm dust free place to dry completely.


Where does inspiration come from? Who are the people/faces you paint? What are your influences?

My inspiration, I think, is sort of anything Northern and folktale-ish. I can't explain why really but my pull to the North, places like Iceland and Norway and across through Finland to northern Russia is quite strong. Very odd having been born and brought up in Australia , I know. I guess somethings just remain a mystery.

The faces and drawings sometimes come out of nowhere and sometimes might be sparked by a particular idea that leads me to look at a certain type of artwork or style and that may lead to another idea and to another which leads to a portion of the drawing and from there it might create itself. It's a bit like a walk in the woods you never know what you might find. An Antler here a Jay feather there, all beautiful and inspirational and unexpected.

How integral to your wider work is your illustration at the old burrow?

The Old Burrow began as a place to simply display paintings but quite naturally writing is taking its part as well. When people buy paintings they most often will want the writing that goes with it as well. The writing is a snippet of a story - an introduction give the viewer a helping hand into the realm of the imagination. My greatest love is to see the sparkle in someones eyes as they tell me more about whats happening in the painting. The gap between Adult and playful joyful child is very narrow really - it's just sometimes people need a little nudge.

I love the idea of creating a mechanism for story telling, most peoples lives have a bit of magic running through it - to create an artwork to help tell the tale just brings that magic to life. 

How long will it take from first contact to completed work? 

The pieces vary in the amount of time they take to create, some designs are more complicated than others. And of course it depends how many orders I have as well. Usually I tell people 2 - 4 weeks and of course I will let them at first contact if that will be sooner or later. 

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

The Gates From There to Here

Sometimes I like to start the day off with an Illuminated manuscript. The colours, the humour, the unexpected juxtaposition of characters spark a curious sense of delight within me and I am inspired to play with that strange thing we call the Imagination.

For very long time now I've wondered what the Imagination is. One of the most common questions I get asked about my paintings is "Where do you get all these ideas from?" And, then I hear myself saying "Well, I think I may just have an over-active imagination". Really, I'm just mimicking the words I heard adults used to describe me as a child but if I think about it, I don't believe it at all.

For me the Imagination is almost more like a place in consciousness that can be visited. I never feel like the sole creator, more a participant in some kind of miraculous play where anything is possible. Sometimes there is a strange feeling of losing oneself and yet a feeling that an interaction is occurring. Othertimes I feel far more like a privileged witness than a creator, it's just that when I sit to paint or draw I get to bring things from that place to this place so that others can see it too. And, when they see it, what I really hope for is that they might be inspired enough to be delivered to the realm of Imagination – so that they may experience the joy that is pure creativity.

In our society, at least in the one I was brought up in, the imagination was something to be restrained. It was for lazy people, for no-good-day-dreamers, for people with their head in the clouds. For some of us that is crushing and for me it forced my drawings into secreted sketch books and my imaginings into a locked closet that I would only share with a very few. The few that had that sparkle of magic in their eyes, the few that would laugh joyfully and play un-selfconsciously with the waterfall of spontaneous creativity that flowed when the gates from There to Here were allowed to open.

A Faun and a Fish from once upon a time secret sketchbooks

and a few more...

Beyond the mainstream view of things - which is often filled with superficial but widely accepted perspectives - there is often a much greater landscape to explore. 

The depth and importance of creativity though often dismissed as a mere pastime by many is recognised by some as so much more.  

Some say that being in the flow of pure creativity is a divine state. Some say go so far as to say it can deliver Wild information from the Edge and that it is a way of negotiating with Life.

Here is a lovely video from Martin Shaw – Master Story-Teller


"Imagination is a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by being where and what it sees, by sharing the path, or circuits of things through forms, and so making them translucid to others."

Ralph Waldo Emerson

 And so here is the latest delivery from the Imagination.  After many years in a dusty sketch book it has finally been painted.

 She is Babotchka A name kindly suggested to me by a friend. Babotchka is Russian for butterfly and pleasingly similar to Babooshka (Russian for Old woman ). There was also once a belief that women (particularly witches) turned into butterflies after death. She was born without a name or a purpose but has found one that suits her perfectly. I find that is often the way with creativity, it seems to encourage synchronicities and that is always pleasant.



Monday, 8 August 2016

Little Painted Wooden Things

My small cottage in the woods seems to have sprouted another studio. Well, I say studio but neither are actually rooms to themselves. 

As with any creative pursuit, what was once intended becomes something else entirely. Something akin to a voracious and well nourished plant that takes over parts of the garden it wasn't meant for – so it is with the little Wooden Things in my home.

There is of course a dedicated painting room – but I never paint there. I always find myself perched at my Grandparents old oak table which sits by a window in the lounge room.  I have been sitting at this table since I was seven years old and it feels like family. From this childhood seat half way up a Scottish hillside I can see right across the wooded valley, not a single house in view.

In the warmer months I watch the swallows dart over a field of fox gloves and occasionally get distracted by cloud watching. Little, small, low clouds sail up the valley like small fishing vessels returning home. I  am quietly besotted with their pace and tranquility. 
When the weather becomes 'Scottish', which can happen at anytime of year, the wood burner and its kettle puffs away gently, ready and willing to provide warmth, tea and the curiously comforting company of fire.

And now there is another space – a small zone for painting and painted wooden things. What began as, "I'll just pop that over there to dry", expanded and multiplied until it became obvious that the little Wooden Things have demanded a place in my house. 

They are very welcome.

an artist's box being prepared for decoration...

a Christmas Nevalyashka slowly taking form...

A Harebell box...

a trumpeting bunny from 'The Rabbit Cabinet' ...


a 'please shhhh' bunny from 'The Rabbit Cabinet' ...

wooden feet...

Dare I say it – no not yet...

A field of tea cups – slightly potty...

a family gathering...

And just in case you're wondering who I keep in a cage .....

His name is Figaro. 
Don't worry I let him out occasionally ;)

Monday, 4 July 2016

Unexpected Poetry

This year was my first ever year in the Open Studios event called Spring Fling. At the end of May every year Artists and Crafts people all over Dumfries and Galloway open their studio doors to the public.

For a person of slightly hermit like tendencies greeting near 500 people in 3 days is a lot. I am truly grateful to every person who climbed into The Old Burrow and for all of the wonderful things that happened within.

So many genuine and heartfelt conversations and stories, so much encouragement for the work. It seems for some, that the art and words touch them deeply and for others, it brings a smile to their face and a giggle into the room. As it turned out there were a few giggle spots in the exhibition. Such a lovely thing to occur.

One of the most unexpected things to occur and one of the most delightful was a lovely gentleman bustling back into the gallery after he had already been and bought and smiled. His eager strides made a beeline towards me and then he tapped my arm and beckoned me to stand before one of my own paintings. Without saying anything by way of introduction he began to recite a poem. So I stood there looking at my own artwork as though it did not belong to me hearing words that brought it to life in a completely new way. It is and was such an honour to be a part of the ever unfolding process of creativity.

It is curious the way words and pictures stir us deeply and personally. I was educated to believe that there was one dictionary meaning for a word and that was it. Occasionally words could have more than one meaning and of course the dictionary carefully explains these irregularities so that we can be clear.

My own love of language never quite fitted into the mainstream idea of correctness. I have an irreverent attitude towards grammar and if a word doesn't exist that I feel quite captures what I want to convey I am quite happy to make one up.  

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said
in rather a scornful tone. "It means just what
I choose it to mean - neither more or less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you
can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty,
"which is to be master - that's all." 

Lewis Carroll 

It is a strange and wonderful thing, that when reading or hearing a word, next to our intellectual understanding of its dictionary definition it is always coloured by our own personal palette of visions and feelings.  And when we place strings of words together,  this palette widens like a vast sky casting its own particular light and shade giving the listener or the reader a completely unique experience. Such a beautiful phenomenon but one that is fraught with the dangers of inevitable miscommunication. I love the phenomenon as a creative spectacle.

 One of the most wonderous things about being a parent is being able to, to a certain extent, witness the world again through your child's eyes. Mine are adults now and I still enjoy the spectacle.

To be able to see some of my own artwork through someone else's eyes was such a pleasure. So here follows a few poems written by John Horn to go with some of my pictures. A sincere thank you to both John and Margaret Horn for their support of my work. I am truly grateful. 

What solemn plea
does this slender girl
clasp between 
her yearning palms

Heart Window

A girl is standing still with a palace in her heart
Its blue onion domes reach the sky
And inside the palace is a princess set apart
With the look of one about to cry.
She opened her chest and was left quite bereft
As out flew two swallows and a dove
And with it escaped all the dreams she had left
All her futures once filled with love.
Now the girl standing still must shutter up the doors
To hide away the palace so grand
And wander the track of lonely open moors
Till finding another magic land.

 Dream Truth

Your images are dreamlands of the heart
with magic hues and lines precise
that bring false truth to light
and hold a fairground mirror to reality.