First of all, before I forget, I would like to thank Olivia at 4roomsandthemoon for nominating me for a blog award and also Julie from beadholder.etsy.com for listing one of my books in a treasury.

I would also like to thank everyone who visited my blog over Christmas and left kind messages. We had a very enjoyable and busy Christmas with family and friends but now the last guest has departed, I have been enjoying a bit of time to myself, time to play!

In September, my husband gave me a set of wood/lino cutting tools. Now, some women like perfume, others bags and shoes, but for me, I just love receiving craft tools! Last Christmas I got a Japanese hole punch which works like a dream, this year I treated myself to needle nosed pliers and a crimping tool, aren’t I the lucky one? However, I digress, I have been playing with my lino cutting tools and have managed to make several prints of a barn owl feather for a little book project I have been working on called “Silent Flight”.

Cutting lino is fraught with difficulties and I have many failed attempts which I consigned to the bin. The wood cutting tools gave a much better result than my old "school" set but as a print maker I feel I have a long way to go, however I have enjoyed myself immensely and have made a great deal of mess in the process.


The Holly and the Ivy.

I would like to wish all my lovely friends in blogland a very happy Christmas. When I first started this blog earlier this year I had no idea that I would make contact with so many wonderful, inspiring, entertaining and talented people. Thank you all for making my life richer, and as they say on my favourite Christmas movie (The Muppet Christmas Carol) "God Bless you, one and all".


Christmas bells

"Christmas hamsters" illustration, original artwork for a greeting card published by Camden Graphics Ltd. Part of an exhibition called "The Art of Christmas" (see previous post).

"Christmas Bells" , a poem by Longfellow composed on Christmas Day 1864.

"I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"


Christmas in "The Air"

Christmas Decorations at The Ritz.

Patrick at "The Art of Christmas exhibition"

Yesterday I exchanged my dog walking trousers and wellies for more suitable attire as I made my way down to London on board a lovely new train which tilted and whizzed it's way into Euston station from Crewe in an incredible hour and a half!

I had a lovely time mooching around some of my favourite shops in Covent Garden and of course Liberty's and enjoyed the opportunity to meet up with my brother. The main reason for the trip however was to visit The "Art of Christmas" Exhibition by Books Illustrated Ltd. which opened at the Air Gallery in Dover Street. I took along my son Patrick who happened to be working in London, so it was good to have some company. We took the tube to Green Park and as we walked past "The Ritz Hotel" I could not resist taking a photograph of a stunning window decoration.

It was a real treat to meet up with some of my favourite artists, Particia Papps and her husband Andrew Skilleter and of course the amazing Peter Malone, who's illustrations for the newly published "Nutcracker" adorned the walls of the gallery. Peter told me that he did not take up illustration until he was forty years old. You can read more about how this came about and what influences his work, here.Peter Malone

I also managed to persuade our usually camera shy son Patrick to pose for a photograph, perhaps the champagne helped!


The Holly and more Holly!

ILex Altaclarensis Golden King

Ilex Crenata Convexed Gold

When we first moved into our present home, over twenty years ago, I started to keep a little garden notebook. Every time I bought a plant I kept a note of the date of purchase, the price and any instructions that came with the plant such as "water well in spring" etc. It has been very interesting to keep track of the progress of some of these purchases. Some sadly did not make it through their first winter, others thrived and have made themselves at home and have become part of the fabric of our home, albeit outdoor fabric!

As I have often been asked to paint Christmas foliage, it seemed like a good idea to have a plentiful supply of evergreen plants in the garden, some of these, in particular the hollies, have become firm favourites. I have been looking back at the notes I have made about some of these plants and was surprised to see that a small tree, purchased from a nearby nursery for a mere £7.99 is now the main focal point in my front garden. It is a beautiful, two coloured green and gold holly called Ilex Altaclarensis Golden King.

I also bought a tiny holly called Ilex Crenata Convexed Gold. This has a spreading habit and makes good ground cover and unlike the common, hedgerow holly, has no prickles at all. I think all in all, the holly makes a great addition to any garden, its shiny, evergreen leaves are reward in themselves, with or without their red berries.


"The Art of Christmas" an exhibition

Illustration by Peter Malone from "The Nutcracker"

Illustration by Patricia Papps "Winter Fairy"

Illustration by Kate Greenaway.

I have just received a rather beautiful catalogue, which has been produced by “Books Illustrated” to accompany an exhibition of original artworks to be held at The Air Gallery in London from the 15th to the 20th of December. I am looking forward to my visit with eager anticipation, it will be a great excuse to visit London and see the Christmas decorations and maybe do a bit of Christmas shopping.

I will be having three works in this exhibition, which is very exciting, including the robin illustration above which I did some years ago for the World Wide Fund for Nature. The star of the show however, will be Peter Malone who will be featuring the complete works from his new book “The Nutcracker”, (see above) recently published by Knopf. I am a great fan of Peter’s work, which looks even more exquisite when you see it up close. He has an amazing eye for detail and his work has a timeless quality I think.

There will be works by some of Britain’s best loved contemporary illustrators, including Christian Birmingham, Charles Van Sandwyk and Patricia Papps alongside classic illustrators from the past such as Annie French, Honor Appleton, Arthur Rackham and Heath Robinson to name but a few. So, if you are looking for any stocking fillers and you have very deep pockets, you could treat yourself to an original Kate Greenaway perhaps? Well we can dream…


Winter Wonderland

Ted and I thought we had stepped into the storybook landscape of" Little Grey Rabbit" this morning as we took our morning walk.

We had sunshine, blue skies, and sparkling frost which had transformed our ordinary field into a winter wonderland. Fortunately I had remembered to take the camera with me.


Herb Garden Quilt

I have learnt recently that Makower have commissioned Anja Townrow to design a patchwork quilt using fabrics from my “Herb Garden” Collection. It is always a great thrill for me to see how others have used my fabric designs to create their own unique works of art. I am not much of a quilter myself, although I have managed to finish a few small projects, so I have been really interested to see how Anja has realized her design.

If you feel inspired to create your own quilt you can have the pattern absolutely free of charge by following the link in my sidebar or by going to the Makower website. There you will find instructions and information about sewing the quilt, if you do not have the time to do the whole quilt it might be nice to make a smaller cushion using part of the pattern?

Anja is a professional quilter with her own website called Dutch Quilts. She was born in Holland and has lived in England since the seventies when she started to make quilts after being inspired by a picture in a magazine. I am sure Anja’s work will in turn inspire others as her work is regularly featured in exhibitions and publications. The website is well worth a visit, there is a gallery of quilts, information about books, workshops and free patterns.

The fabric designs are in the Makower warehouse now and are ready to ship so should be available this month. I have samples here and am delighted by the quality of the printing by the craftsmen in South Korea who have the seemingly impossible task of registering as many as eighteen different screens without loosing definition. I think my favourite design is the blue botanical design, which Anja has used in her teapot appliqué, in fact teapots feature quite a lot in this collection, it must be something to do with living near to Stoke-on-Trent!


Thanksgiving wishes.

I would like to wish everyone a very happy Thanksgiving if you are celebrating this week. We do not have this tradition here in Britain but I know plenty of people who will be getting together for the holiday, so for all of you, have a good one!

“O Lord that lends me life, Lend me a heart replete with thankfulness” William Shakespeare


A visit to Longton

I have been busy working on a new collection of designs for bone china mugs. The new designs will not be available until early next year and I cannot show them to you at the moment, so, instead I am showing two of my designs, which are currently in production.

Hudson and Middleton Ltd will manufacture the mugs in Stoke-on-Trent and on Monday of this week, I drove over to Longton to deliver the artwork. To visit this famous potteries town is to take a step back in time and whilst I was there I thought that I would photograph some of the old bottle kilns at the Gladstone Museum. Bottle kilns were once a very familiar feature of the area, now only a few remain and they are being preserved for posterity.

The Hudson and Middleton factory is still manufacturing English Bone China in a factory which dates back to the Victorian era and operates from it’s original grade two listed building and is one of the oldest potteries in the country. Over the course of my career I have seen many of the famous potteries close with the loss of thousands of jobs. Many of the ceramic companies have moved their manufacturing to the Far East but I am pleased and proud to say that my mugs will be made in Stoke-on-Trent, England.


Catch a falling star

The inspiration behind this illustration from "Down the Lane" was the sighting of a "shooting star" which zipped across the night sky in November.

When I was a child I was very captivated by the lyrics of the Perry Como song “catch a falling star and put it in your pocket”
I grew up in a fairly built up area with yellow street lights and so had to wait several years before I first saw a shooting star, which I since learned are not stars at all but meteors.

If you were lucky enough to be in the Northern Hemisphere and had a cloud free view of the November sky recently, maybe you caught sight of the annual Taurids meteor shower which occurs in the region of Taurus?

I think it is a great pity that we have so much light pollution in our towns; most city children are unaware of the night sky. There are few things more inspiring and challenging than contemplating the universe.


The Somme

On our way back from holiday in August this year we visited the Somme. We had enjoyed a family reunion with our two adult sons but they had chosen to fly home, leaving my husband and I to enjoy the drive back at a slower pace. As we drove through the Somme the sky darkened and a deep gloom descended, it seemed to me that the summer ended there in that strange, deeply scarred landscape. We decided to visit Vimmy ridge and to see something of the trenches and war memorials. I cannot imagine the terrible hardship and suffering endured by so many of those young soldiers, I am so grateful that we did not live in those tragic times and did not have to wave goodbye to our menfolk.

“They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”


November Illuminations of Nature

Here is my offering for November, it is part of a series of work which I call "Illuminations of Nature" A series of twelve decorative panels, one for each month.

Now is the time to see pheasants in the countryside, I am not sure when the shooting season starts but I guess it must be about now. There is something very autumnal about their colouring don't you think? Maybe mother nature painted them to blend in with the hedgerows so they would have a sporting chance to avoid being shot?

If you click on the image you will see it more clearly. 


Sweet Dreams

As the weather has taken a turn for the worse and temperatures have dropped, I feel like hibernating like this little hedgehog. Favourite sites for hibernation are under piles of old leaves and wood stacks so it is very important to look out for these creatures if you are considering lighting a bonfire for November the fifth. 

The little fellow that modeled for this illustration would be too small to make it through the winter, he was actually curled up in the palm of a hand during a summer visit to an animal sanctuary, (now you know all my secrets). They do need to have reached a good weight before they have built up enough reserves to see them through the winter.

I have found a very good website with lots of helpful advice about hedgehog protection, it is owned by The British Hedgehog Preservation Society.The site has easy to follow instructions for creating housing for hedgehogs which would provide shelter during the winter months.

Now I own a dog I have become very aware of the effect of fireworks on animals, in fact Ted is reduced to a quivering wreck when he hears a bang. I loved bonfire night when I was a child but I do wish that we could limit our use of fireworks to maybe one week in November. It seems to be the fashion nowadays to have them all year round which makes it difficult for animal owners.


Fiona Owen Showcase

In these days of uncertainty and gloom, isn’t it nice to know that there are artists in the world who are creating work of such beauty and expertise that could rival any of the past masters who created the illuminated manuscripts of bygone years? One such artist is Fiona Owen who paints the most exquisite works of art using oil paint on panel and then gilding her work with 24 carat gold in the tradition of the mediaeval manuscripts.

I first became aware of this artist when I received the most beautiful Christmas card, published by The Medici Society, many years ago. It was one of those cards “too lovely to throw away”; I still have it, together with other cards produced over subsequent years and also a baby record book, which Fiona illustrated.

It was my good fortune, in the late eighties, to be invited to provide illustrations for “Little Grey Rabbit’s Country Book”, I learnt later that the publisher wanted Fiona to do the work but she was unable to undertake the task due to family commitments. In those days The Medici Society had an art gallery next door to Collins the publisher and the art director I worked with had first come across Fiona’s work through the gallery. I was very flattered to be given the commission and felt that I had a great deal to live up to knowing the quality of work required.

I have never forgotten Fiona’s work and was delighted to find that she has a website which shows many examples of the new work she is now producing. She has very kindly allowed me to show her artwork here, I know that you will enjoy visiting her site and learning more about her work and her most amazing home and garden.


Christmas Teddies

It has always seemed inappropriate until now to post a very Christmassy image, however, being mindful of the time needed to plan and sew a Christmas project, here is my Christmas Teddies Collection for Makower UK. The fabrics have been available since January, it seems that it is never too early to start sewing those Christmas projects. I have to confess that the very idea of Christmas preparations induces mild panic, I am always so slow when it comes to putting up decorations and wrapping presents!

                                             Please click on the image to see more clearly.

I had great fun in designing this collection and enjoyed mixing up no less than eighteen pots of gouache including gold. This does not show up too well on screen but when you see the actual fabric it does add a very rich luster and I think adds an extra "Christmassy" glitz.  

Now you may wonder why I am not showing you examples of my home sewn creations using these fabrics? Well, I do have plans but alas time is whizzing by at an alarming rate. I am reminded of the character from "Dad's Army", the one who yells "Don't panic Mr Mannering, don't panic".

I love the idea of wrapping gifts in simple drawstring bags, partly because they look so pretty and partly because unlike expensive wrapping paper, a little bag is more likely to be re-used. 
Maybe I will find time to sew a couple for under my tree this year.

You can see more of these fabrics if you follow the Planet Patchwork link in my side bar.


Errol Le Cain Showcase.

I have been an admirer of the work of Errol Le Cain for many years now and have been delighted to find this website by Michael Sporin, who has posted many images from Le Cain's books and has very kindly agreed to let me share them with you.

I particularly like the very decorative style of illustration used in the above illustrations taken from "The Thorn Rose", "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" and "the Snow Queen". He was undoubtedly a master of his craft, and a superb artist who's work may well be forgotten as many of his books are now out of print. Fortunately his work is being kept alive by book lovers and collectors and there is now a website dedicated to his work, run by Tania Covo.

His work shows the influence of some of the places he has lived, much of his formative years being spent in India and the Far East. You can read more about his life and work as an illustrator and set designer in the websites mentioned. Sadly, his life was cut short after a long illness, he died whilst still in his forties and no doubt in his creative prime, in 1989.


Herb Garden Collection

At the moment I am busy working on a new collection of fabric designs for Makower UK. Unfortunately I can't show you these designs at the moment because of copyright protection. I can however show you my "Herb Garden" Collection which will make it's debut at the quilt market in Houston this month. It seems ages since I delivered the final artwork to the Makower headquarters in Henley-on-Thames, most people are surprised that a fabric design actually starts life as a painted piece of paper.

Today I saw it for the first time in print, always an anxious moment. Unlike an illustration for a print reproduction on paper, these fabric designs have to be translated into separate screens, one screen per colour. When you consider that some of the designs contain eighteen different colours, you can imagine the skill of the printer who has to perfectly register each and every colour.

Here are two of my favourite designs from the collection, I hope you like them!

I used some of the images from this collection to make my one of my little artist's books. These designs form a decorative panel called a nine square or label design. A term which will be familiar to those of you who quilt. You can see more of these images in my "Herb Garden" miniature book in my Etsy shop.


October Illuminations of Nature

This illustration is my offering for the month of October, it is part of a series of work entitled "Illuminations of Nature". This piece was inspired by the poem "To Autumn" by John Keats. (You can click on the image to see more detail).

I chose to include a jay because I love their colours, in particular, the tiny blue, stripy wing feathers. When I was working on "The Acorn's Story" I found out that jays play an important part in the life cycle of an oak tree. The jay will store away acorns rather like a squirrel, in crevices and sometimes it will bury them beneath the earth, these sometimes germinate if conditions are favourable, providing of course that it doesn't decide to eat them first!


Dreams and Elderberries

There are a great many elderberries around at the moment, beautiful, shiny and resplendent. It is said that the elderberry is the Englishman's grape, not only is the fruit used but also the flowers make flavoured drinks. The illustration above is taken from "An Illustrated Address Book" and shows a corner of the first garden my husband and I ever owned.

I was reading on another blog, about dreams and the number seven; the house number was seventy seven which made the connection in my mind with painting. The garden was a typical terraced house garden, very long and narrow. At the end of garden was an allotment and tall elderberry bushes and hawthorn trees formed a hedge making the garden very private. A blackbird sang there in the evening, it was our little piece of heaven. I often dream that I am back in that house, the dream always follows the same pattern. I walk down the garden and discover outbuildings, rooms, extensions that I did not know I had. I make elaborate and exciting plans to transform these buildings into studios, guest rooms, potting sheds, all manner of things. I continue my journey down the garden and discover pathways, streams, ponds and lakes, sometimes I find the sea shore. When I wake I am always rather disappointed that these things do not actually exist, I could make such good use of all that space!

I read somewhere that dreaming of rooms means unfulfilled potential, I have no idea what the water connection is, perhaps someone can enlighten me?


Gold Tooling

The latest workshop that I attended was entitled “Finishing for the frightened” and they don’t come more frightened than me! Finishing in this instance, referred to gold tooling, a skill, which I am convinced, takes a lifetime to perfect.

The tools, which we used, consisted of a wooden handle and a brass letter or pattern; using fillets or wheels to make linear patterns. We started by heating the metal tools on a stove, this proved to be problem number one, if you don’t heat the tool enough it will not transfer the gold onto the book, if you heat it too much you can melt away too much of the adhesive and produce an ugly effect. By trial and error, much spitting (to judge the temperature) we had to decide when the tools were ready. In case you are wondering, a letter “I” will not retain as much heat as a letter “M”, because of the amount of metal used in the formation of the letter. By now I think you may be able to understand the complexities and variables involved.

Our first practice was to try out the letter on fax paper, as this is heat sensitive you can get a good understanding of the amount of heat needed. When we had tried our hand at that we moved onto gold foil, which we used on pre prepared boards covered with book cloth. Gold foil is not actually gold, rather gold colour on an adhesive backing. The skill here is not only in ascertaining the correct temperature but applying the correct pressure and consistency of pressure over the area of each letter. Positioning the letters is also extremely difficult and something that I feel I would never master in a thousand lifetimes.

When we had made sufficient progress with the gold foil we moved onto real gold leaf and leather. Unlike the gold foil, the gold leaf needs to be adhered to a glare; (boards were covered with leather which had been treated with glare). These had prepared  for us beforehand so it was one less thing to worry about. I won’t attempt to explain the complexities involved in handling gold leaf except to say that a mere breath can wisp it away, it is so delicate and light. It is also very beautiful and now I am aware of the difference between foil and leaf, infinitely prefer the real thing.

I have posted my first feeble attempts for anyone who is interested. If nothing else they show how not to do it! As always I enjoyed the day and learnt so much at the workshop, it gave me a much greater appreciation of the skills involved in fine binding.


Little books

To see the image in more detail please click on the photograph.

I have always had a fascination with miniature books and have, over the years, collected a fair few. I thought that you might like to see some of them. The first one I ever bought was the miniature bible, which is not much bigger than a one pound coin. I could, at the time of purchase, actually read the text, sadly now I have to use my magnifying glass. The birthday book is Victorian and contains selected biblical scripts for each day, I bought it because I had illustrated "A Book of Days" and was intrigued by this early example.

A few years ago, I decided to learn bookbinding and book making so when I saw a miniature book making kit for sale, I had to have it! I ordered a kit from The Green Chair Press after falling in love with the Japanese paper and the origami nature of the book, which needs no glue, it is simply folded paper. I was rather taken aback by the seemingly impossible task of transforming the tiny pieces of paper into a little book but after a little perseverance I managed to finish making the little book at the top left of the photograph. After that I was hooked and decided to print one of my designs onto paper and make a slightly larger version, (top right).

The other little book is made from a piece of hand-marbled paper from yet another workshop, I shall save that story for another post. I think by now you will understand that I am something of a workshopaholic, sad but true.


Retail therapy

Kayla Coo, Karen and The Dutchess have all very kindly nominated me for various blog awards recently. I am afraid I have been very remiss at passing these awards on, to tell you the truth I find "the rules" hard to follow, it is difficult to choose favourites as there are so many great blogs to visit! So instead, I have decided to showcase some wonderful handmade items which have been made by extraordinarily gifted individuals. Each of these creatives has their own blog, if you are unfamiliar with their work you are in for a treat. If you click on the images you will be transported to their shops, but beware, you may stay longer than you think!

Again, I hope that I have not left anyone out. Karen Davis is an illustrator with her own blog called Moonlight and Hares. Morna's blog is called Bittersweet, she creates all kinds of things, using felted wools, she also makes fabulous dolls which I adore. Rima Staines makes individual clocks. she is also an expert printmaker, illustrator and book artist. PG at Middle of Nowhere  illustrates children's books and creates wonderful characters using needle felt. Kayla Coo "paints with thread" and sews lovely things with felt and last but not least Celia Hart/ Magic Cochin is an illustrator and print maker and has a blog called purple podded peas.


Bright eyes and berries

The illustration below is taken from my Hedgerow Collection. The pattern around the central dormouse square was inspired by fungi.

Ted and I are making the most of the late afternoon daylight hours before the clocks change, it's so much nicer to walk in the sunshine!

The hedgerows are full of berries, I love the way that each shiny berry reflects the light, making the hedges glow.

Throughout my working life I have had to learn to store away reference material, it is inevitable that a Christmas commission has to be completed in mid summer and visa versa. How much more inspiring it would be to be able to paint in sync with the seasons. Now I have my digital camera it is possible to take hundreds of images and if I make a mistake, I can easily delete the image. I don't have to worry about wasting film anymore, so thank you to the brains behind the technology!