Polar bear bauble

This is the little polar bear bear bauble I'll be teaching at a workshop at the lovely premises of Guthrie and Ghani, in Birmingham. 

It was the third design I tried; initially I attempted needle felting a polar bear Santa around a polystyrene ball, which I've always thought was a nasty idea and found it to be so. You may ask why then I decided to try it; because making an accurate sphere is harder than it looks, and I thought it may be an easier solution for anyone who was just starting out. The wool floated around on the surface, the head barely stuck to the wool (or the polystyrene) and although it was neat, I wasn't comfortable with that way of working.

I then ploughed my way through most of an elf fox, before realising, many hours later, that it was far too ambitious, even for an all day project.  

It's quite hard to design an appealing project, that is a bit different to everything else on offer, but which can be theoretically made in a five-six hour period by people of all abilities.

But in the end, I settled on this fairly simple little bear; there are five places left on the workshop, which runs from 10.30 until 4.30 on December 10th. You can book directly from the Guthrie and Ghani website here.

If you'd like to see the fabulous studio space and my last workshop there, please see this blogpost from November last year.


A tale of three menus


Rummaging around in a box the other day, I came across these old menus. They are programmes for three Masonic dinners and they tell an interesting tale

The earliest programme is dated July 1902. It is beautifully printed with blind embossing, a satin ribbon and an insert. The menu, by today's standards, is breath takingly sumptuous,  worthy of 'Downton Abbey' at its finest, but not really surprising, as this dinner was held just a year after the death of Queen Victoria and the Victorians did love their food.

The starters consist of mayonnaise of salmon, fillets of sole and lobster salad. The main courses offer a choice of galantine of veal, roast chickens, hams, tongues, galantines of chicken, small aspics (various), pigeon pies, dressed beef, veal and ham pies, roast lamb, veal and ham patties, salads, peas and potatoes. Moving on to the third course, we have wine jellies, fruit jellies, chocolate eclairs, charlotte russe, strawberry creams, vanilla creams and fancy pastry. If that wasn't enough, there were the usual cheese, butter and biscuits and finally a rather anonymous 'dessert'. Just in case one hadn't consumed enough chocolate eclairs.

After the many toasts, one could settle down to the after dinner entertainment, which was very much of the parlour singing kind, consisting of eight songs with accompaniment, by the Cecilia Quartette and others.  As well as the national anthem and a song from a Gilbert and Sullivan opera (I think it is the Mikado), we have 'Keys of Heaven' 'The Country Dance' and appropriately, 'Good night Beloved'. I imagine that after the weight of the table offerings earlier, a few people might have quietly nodded off during the recital.

Moving on to November 1934 - post WW1 and pre WW2 - the programme is another work of art with more blind embossing, gold ink, silver ribbon and an insert. The menu however, is a little more restrained. There are general hor d'oeuvres, soups - mock turtle and consomme - a fish course of halibut and mornay (which is a white cheese sauce and spelt 'Morny on this menu), then braised sweetbreads with mushrooms, roast pheasant, game chips and seasonal vegetables. Finally there is ice pudding, charlotte russe, cheese straws, celery, another anonymous dessert, coffee and cream. 

After the toasts, the entertainment seems to have been provided by selected 'brothers' - one at the piano and the other three presumably singing.

So we move on the final programme, dating from December 1948. This is a much humbler event. The programme is simply printed on one sheet of card and the menu is in keeping with the rationing that  was still going on in Britain, though I suspect that it was quite a feast compared to most people's living standards. 

Sparse by comparison to the previous menus, 1948 offered vegetable soup, roast guinea fowl, bread sauce, sausages,  roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts, finished off with fruit salad, ice cream, and coffee.

After a modest amount of toasting, the after dinner entertainment was very much of its time; dancing to Fred Parry and his orchestra. How times had changed.


Little toadstools

It probably says something about the state of our 'lawn' that we have a sprouting of small toadstools this year. They are of the 'small beige' variety, and despite knowing my general toadstools and fungi, I find these to be the most difficult to identify. Suffice to say I shall not be eating them.

I've been creating my own, more colourful toadstools. 


They too are unidentifiable, being made up as I go along, but they are loosely based on typical shapes and forms.

I've made a lot of toadstools in my time, and they used to be quite jolly, almost cartoon-like, such as these, from several years ago.

This year I found myself experimenting more with using more neutral colours and layering tiny amounts of fibres to create a more organic, natural effect.

It is a little like painting with wool, using the tip of the needle to tease the wool into creating light and dark areas and giving a hint of the gills without getting too forensic. After nearly ten years of needle felting, I am still learning new and interesting things. 



Autumn allsorts

So life potters on here at the cottage, as autumn creeps in. We have had a visitor to the trough, a small toad who obliges us by popping his head up from time to time. Sometimes he gets bath bombed by the sparrows who like to splash about.

I continue to struggle with my long term depression and anxiety. I am still suffering fall out from losing Andy, which continually finds new ways to haunt me. I constantly worry about our ongoing financial situation (while Joe has part time work, I seem to be singularly incapable of earning a living, even at the things I am supposed to be good at). It saps my strength and my silly body is getting a bit older and less useful. So I have good days, bad days and sometimes terrible days when I shut myself off from the world. But I keep as busy as my energy levels will allow and remind myself that my little battles are nothing compared to terrible global events and things could be  (and have been)  a lot worse. Part of the problem with depression is that it's not really the done thing to talk about it and we really should - it is an invisible disease. So I am mentioning it here, holding my hand up and wearing the badge, as it were.

But on to good things - there have been the small pleasures of various crops from the garden. 

And an article published in British Fibre Art magazine. They are, I think, the first UK magazine to dedicate a whole issue to needle felting. Sadly, the entire print run has sold out, but here are some snippets of my feature. 

One of my latest miniature heads, a bit of a one off - 'Sandra' - who reminds me of a 1960s secretary for some reason. 

As it's the season for the inevitable toadstools, I have put together some wool bundles, in suitable colours, which can be bought in my shop here

And finally, I have two last workshops this year, one scheduled to be held at Guthrie and Ghani, in Birmingham, on October the 7th -  dependent on places being booked. And a local workshop in Shrewsbury, on November 16th, which has two places left. Details on my website on the workshops page.


What you can and cannot do

Sometimes you have to jump out of your comfort zone and try something new. I've been waiting for a time in my life when I felt ready to tackle landscape painting and  as I'm not getting any younger, last week I jumped in. I chose a nearby scene, just five minutes away. I was always taught never to paint from photographs, but at this time of year I stand a pretty good chance of being flattened by a tractor if I set up my easel anywhere. I am convinced that if  the great Turner were alive today, he too would be utilising a camera.

After a few scribbles, I did a quick pre-painting pastel sketch. which in the end I liked a lot better than the almost finished painting. 

I had new oils and brushes, bought last year, which I had been saving for the right moment. 

And a small square canvas which was scarily blank. 

I loved painting the sky, and very much enjoyed using oils again. However, the experience wasn't exactly what I expected; to my surprise, despite having a deep love of our British landscape and having taking hundreds of perfectly nice photos of it, I could not find my 'voice'. In the end, I painted a rather dauby, humdrum view which said nothing of what I felt and I know that the barn and trees are particularity poor.

I anguished about it for some time. I posted it to my Instagram account and people were very kind and gentle. But I still hated it; I'm not afraid to admit when I've done disappointing work. I could go on and try again - maybe with a  larger canvas, as this one is so small. (Which maybe why I got too fiddly with the barn).  But I think what's missing is my imagination. I've been painting 'out of my head' for so many years, that normality is a little...well, dull. 
So I've picked myself up and started something new. It does include some landscape work, and again, I am enjoying painting the sky, but this is my inner vision. Hopefully I'll have something more promising to show you soon!


Shropshire lanes

It's been some time since I've been out, so as Joe had pumped Marjorie's tyres up, I went out for a much needed spin. 

Sunday morning is  a good time to cycle, as although the main road looks quiet here, it can be busy, especially at harvest and holiday time.

Off the main road is quieter and takes me up to better views of the far off Shropshire hills. I startled a kestrel, which took flight over my head.

I had brought out art materials, in case I felt the urge to scribble, but the light was quite flat, which makes everything too muted for my taste,  so I settled for snaps.

It was only a short spin, under two hours, what with my stopping every so often with the camera, but it was good to get out. 

The clouds were right, and in the afternoon we had rain. 


Little Arcadias

I have a new shop section for the miniature landscapes I have been making recently. I've really enjoyed making these - even if they are a bit fiddly at times. 

In the piece below, I've tried a new-to-me technique of blending in different wools to suggest falling light. It is even more accentuated when it actually does get caught in the light, and shadows fall.

They are designed so that they can be displayed from any angle. Which sometimes changes the mood of the piece.

This one is my favourite. 

I think of them as tiny escape hatches or contemplation pieces for when things get a bit much and the place you'd really like to be is on a quiet, faraway hill, with a tree or two and maybe a little house to seek refuge in.