Real art

A few weeks ago, my art teacher asked us all to choose a favourite artist for a Show And Tell. I chose Bridget Riley who has been my favourite artist since I was a student 25 years ago. I went to an exhibition with a couple of her works over Easter and had treated myself to a lovely hardback book full of pictures.

Having talked about our artists, we were then hit with the bombshell that for the next few weeks we were going to be working on pieces inspired by them. Gulp. Riley is (a) a genius and (b) incredibly precise and geometric in her work. I am neither of those things.  I thought about various ways I might try to get something similar to her style. Initially I was thinking stripes, but then I hit on diamonds and triangles which worked much better. And I had thought about collage of various kinds and different media, but in the end went with simple acrylic paints and lots of masking tape.

Today’s class, as always, was 10.30-12.30. My lovely teacher let me stay until I’d finished. At about quarter to three. I was quite happy with it and then the teacher went to hold it up at the other end of the room and I gasped. It looked like proper art. And it looked like my inspiration – looking up into the sky through a leafy tree. And I love it.



Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia

My hometown recently celebrated its 1100th anniversary*, so I had a lot of history to choose from for the Iron Craft ‘Hometown History’ challenge. I chose to honour Aethelflaed, the lady who founded the ‘burh’ (borough) in 913, established the castle and the pottery industry. She was the daughter of King Alfred the Great and ruled over the land of Mercia which at the time covered a huge swathe of the middle of England. She was a military leader and tactician as well as a politician who worked with her brother to unite all the English people into one kingdom. She was pretty darn awesome!


There aren’t any contemporary pictures of Aethelflaed. Mine is based an illustration from a book about 300 years after she died. It’s alcohol markers on aluminium foil which gives it a really fun stained glass effect.

*There was a settlement here about 200 years before that, but only a hermitage and possibly a chapel, not an actual town.

A wall

There has been progress on the doll’s house:


I painted one side wall and then I got to work. I wanted a painted brick effect, so I mixed up some talcum powder and white emulsion paint to make a sort of plaster substance. I took some craft foam, drew lines on it and then cut out brick shapes to make a stencil. The foam was a good depth, but not quite stable enough, really. It lasted for one wall, but I’ll need to make new ones for the others. And when I put the plaster through it, I had to keep tweaking the foam into place. It’s fine for the cottage I’m doing, but it wouldn’t be great if you wanted a more even look.

I left the bricks to dry overnight and then sanded it down to get rid of some of the extra-blobby bits. I left the dust on the wall while I painted it once more with white acrylic, to add a little extra texture. I’m really pleased with how the brickwork turned out.

So, then on to the fun part: the Banksy. Seriously, this is going to be the coolest house ever. I’m planning a Bridget Riley wall in one room and a Rob Ryan ceiling in the attic. And on the outside a Banksy:


I’m very pleased with it indeed!

Oh, and the bricks at the bottom of the wall? Let’s just say that Banksy, like me, can’t paint feet. ;)

Spring organising

I am pretty much at the end of the Great Spring Clean and Clear Out 2015. Actually, I more or less finished a couple of weeks ago, but inevitably sorting and clearing and tidying left a few organisational gaps which I have been filling. I have finally found a suitable bin which fits in the only good, but tiny, spot for it in the kitchen area. And I have cleared a space for a recycling bin, so that I no longer have random bits of cardboard and plastic bottles lingering on the floor by the front door. I’ve put up hooks to hang my brush and mop out of the way, and done the same in a different place for my apron and carrier bag holder. This all means that entering the house is a much more pleasant experience. You still do come through the Cleaning Zone but it doesn’t all fall down on top of you.

The Cleaning Zone:

After the cleaning zone, on the right is the kitchen. This is what the kitchen looked like after my friend Dawn came to clean it for me:
Two weeks on, it does not look precisely like this any more, but it is not far off. Just a bit more lived in. ;)

It is the rest of the room that’s had the major makeover, though. I took 4 car-loads of stuff to the tip, plus plenty went straight in my bin, plus some was given away. This now means that I can see through my French door, rather than having piles of boxes in front of it. And if I put the heater on, I can feel the effect, because there isn’t anything piled in front of it. My 4×2 box storage is full of fabric and yarn, but it’s all organised and not spilling over. My fibre (for spinning) no longer resides precariously above my boiler, but in a nice wooden box which I use as a sidetable.

And my bureau. Ah, my bureau. Or as I now like to think of it, my Craft Centre.

bureau-004Above the bureau two shelves with boxes and tins, all labelled, and containing a range of different supplies – paper, stamps, glass paints, buttons, beads and so on. Then on top of the actual bureau, a selection of craft magazines and books (I have a whole lot more of these elsewhere), threads, other small items, dolls for dressing.


Inside, it looks like this. There is a surfeit of sellotape, mostly inherited from the chap who used to own the bureau. Similarly, I have an excess of staplers and staple removers. There are notelets, small notebooks and index cards on the right. The pen pots have been organised into: art, craft, colouring, small things and writing. With the lid down, there is plenty of space to work. You can’t really get into my bedroom when the lid is down, which is a good incentive not to pile stuff on top of it.


This is the top drawer with new organisational system. I am very pleased with these IKEA boxes with dividers. They have all sorts of bits in them – acrylic paints, glitter, crayons, balloons, elastic, velcro, pins, tape measures and so on. The middle section holds my glue gun and a few other bits.

Other drawers hold: sketch pads, colouring books and pens, and ‘things in rolls’ – wrapping paper, contact paper, and so on.bureau-005

To the left is my table, with a chair that can easily be used either there or at the bureau. There’s a hanging rack holding glue, paintbrushes and sets of artists’ pastels. Then there is my magnificent wall-mounted pincushion. This is where I sew, and my other pincushions always end up on the floor or hidden under fabric. This one is so handy. A magnetic strip above it holds a few postcards. The hanging rack is brilliant for keeping scissors, rotary cutters and unwieldy items like the bag handle and quilting loops in place. I like to have a tape measure there too, where I can get to it quickly.  Underneath this I am going to put my latest organisational kit:bureau2

It’s an IKEA spice rack with jars, filled with embroidery threads sorted by colour. I love this! I actually need to get another one, I think. There are some extra jars tucked in on the big shelves, but I’d like to have them all on racks. They’re so cheap – £3 for the rack and £1.50 for 4 jars – that I think it’s worth it.

I have also cleaned, tidied and sorted out the bathroom and bedroom but there isn’t much exciting to see there. The best purchase was some new anti-slip stuff for under the bedroom rug. The previous stuff had entirely stopped working and the rug regularly got caught under the door, making it tricky to get in or out. I did make some new wall art for the bedroom, out of some canvases I bought cheaply in The Works closing down sale, a couple of bags of sari scraps I picked up at WonderWool, and some gold acrylic paint:

17114034998_1488e1b189_z 17095224277_06ece43b32_z 17108899249_199b6583dc_z


The office has had lots of attention too:

11196274_10152799427636048_5448383157494945929_nWith some motivational chalkboard art.

11200896_10152799425611048_1196687321611198417_nAnd a new desk tidy.

So, that’s it for the moment. Next big project: the garden…


I spent most of the last week at Nicholaston House on the Gower peninsula, near Swansea. It is an utterly beautiful part of the world and the weather this week was glorious. The house is a Christian retreat centre but this week there was no formal programme, other than optional daily devotions. There was good food (cooked breakfasts and particularly amazing puddings at dinner) and my room had the most fabulous view over Oxwich Bay. I could have happily sat looking at the view all week.


I wanted to go away for a few days before I start the new job next month and I had specific goals for the time which were to give time to let God’s word sink in so that it can change me, and to rebuild better patterns of devotional life. So when I was packing, I did not take lots of knitting or novels which is what I normally do on holidays. I wanted to avoid the distractions as much as possible. I spent some time looking around online for ideas of ways to use the time productively and, to be honest, I didn’t find a whole lot that seemed relevant or useful to me.

In the end, I had a wonderful week, and so I thought I would write a bit about what I did that worked, in case it’s useful to other people.

I started by asking for recommendations of books to take on Facebook and had some great suggestions. Here’s what I took:


Books. Three notebooks, one book about ministry, one book of Puritan prayers, one Bible. And a Kindle.

What I used: the teal Moleskine and the Magma sketchbook (yellow spine). I used the Kindle for Bible reading because I mostly ended up doing this outside and it’s easier to carry. I also read two other books on the Kindle, both by Mike Reeves. I probably read Enjoy Your Prayer Life too fast to get the most benefit from it, but I absolutely loved Christ Our Life. I read a chapter every day and I loved the way he kept the focus of all our hope and salvation and grace and the gospel on Christ. Christ isn’t just the means to salvation, he is our salvation. And so on. Highly recommended.

I also bought another Kindle book that someone recommended, Tim Keller’s book on prayer. I didn’t read this but I did skim the introduction and saw that he had begun to overhaul his prayer life by working through the psalms. I know that’s hardly revolutionary but it seemed like a good place for me to start too. So on the first night I read Psalm 1 and I was particularly struck by the need to meditate on the law of the Lord day and night. That seemed a million miles away from my normal habits of reading the Bible for a few minutes then forgetting it for the rest of the day. So I wanted to find better ways of taking time to meditate on the word, letting it really sink in throughout the day.

The first thing I did was to start journalling as I read through each day’s psalm. The way I do this islike a written form of meditation. I end up writing out the whole psalm, but also my own thoughts, prayers, other scriptures that come to mind, and so on. Sometimes I’ll work straight through from the first verse to the last, and sometimes I’ll circle around as the psalm returns to earlier themes. One thing I noticed while doing this was just how strongly it highlighted the connections between the psalms. I spent around 45 minutes to an hour doing this on each psalm.

And then the fun really started. By the end of the written journalling, I’d have a sense of what was important in my meditation on the psalm – what I wanted to remember, what I wanted to think about more and what I wanted to celebrate. And I’d also worked through the detail of the psalm so I could see what images it uses and what emotional response I had. So I did some art journalling.

Here’s what I took:

Tissues. Small tin with sharpener and eraser. Travel watercolour set and plastic palette. Water bottle. Glue. Coloured card. Sketchbook (not watercolour paper). Very old Bible. Postcard sized sketchbook. Brushes. Scissors and craft knife. Selection of pens and pencils including a metallic gold pen and three glossy opaque pens in black, grey and white. The white was particularly useful.

This amount of kit is very easily portable. I took it to the beach, the garden, and the cliff tops. Nicholaston House actually has an art room which I used for some of the collaging, and probably would have used a lot more if the weather had been miserable. I am not a good painter, but I love playing with colour and found that this was a great way of spending a lot more time meditating on each psalm. I spent maybe 3-4 hours on each page, though I did Psalms 1-2, and Psalms 3-4 each on a single page. My way of going about it was to paint with the watercolours in the larger sketchbook. When I was satisfied, more or less, with the image, I tore it out and glued it into the Magma sketchbook, along with other collage bits, some cut out of the very old Bible – ouch.

Proof of my destroyed Bible (I couldn’t ever be one of those people who does art journalling actually in their Bible):


Then I added words and details with the pens. The white pen is great because you can write over any colour with it. The gold pen satisfies my need for sparkle and it’s good for trying to represent God’s glory with inadequate art.

Throughout, the focus was on the process of doing it and the meditation on the psalm. These aren’t works of art destined to be displayed or admired. They’re expressions of my time with God. If you try this kind of meditation, your outcome will (and should) look different from mine. But because I love them and I want to share them with you, here are the pages I did this week:psalmspsalms12psalms34psalm5outside psalm5


Too much fun for kids

For a number of years now I have had a not-so-secret guilty pleasure: colouring in.

Yes, you know. Colouring in. Like you did when you were a kid.




It’s not supposed to be a hobby for adults. We’re supposed to do important and useful things. Colouring in is neither. It’s entirely about the pleasure of the moment. Selecting just the right colour of felt tips and carefully keeping within the lines. It’s nice to produce something beautiful at the end but it’s ephemeral by nature. Colouring books are completed and thrown out (at least mine are. Maybe some people frame their work.) I love that because it means that the end result doesn’t matter all that much. It’s not like knitting, where you really want to end up with something wearable. Or sewing, which is even more stressful because you can’t easily undo it all and start again. Fabric that’s been cut stays cut. It’s not even ‘proper’ art, whatever that is. Someone else has already drawn the picture for you. Your choices are limited. That’s wonderfully refreshing and soothing.

A few days ago, this glorious book arrived on my doorstep. It is the nicest colouring book I’ve ever owned. It even has a dustjacket! I am saving it up for my holiday. I also love this book by fabric designer Jenean Morrisson. And I’ve enjoyed several Usborne books and the old classic Altairs never stop being fun.

I use a variety of felt tips. These Staedtler ones are beautiful to use but expensive and they are all very saturated colours. I like to have some Berol wide tips for large areas. And recently I treated myself to this box of 40 by Stabilo. They’re not the best pens but there’s a lovely range of colours to use. If you’re like me and you always want more colours, it’s worth getting the cheap packs of pens at the supermarket. They won’t last long, but they’ll add variety to your colouring.

If you’re thinking this sounds fun, there are downloadable pdfs from the Secret Garden book at the link above. Why not secretly have a little go? I won’t tell. ;)