Vintage Christmas Collection.

Thanks to all those who took part in my giveaway and thanks especially for all your kind words of encouragement throughout the year. It really does make a difference and although I don't always have time to respond I do read and appreciate every word.

The winners are Alexa, Nan, Milly, Heidi, Elizabeth and Michelle. I hope you enjoy your app this Christmas.

The illustrations above and below are part of a new quilters Christmas Collection that I have designed for Makower. Hopefully it will be available in a quilt shop near you in the next few months, just in time to do all your Christmas 2011 projects!

In the meantime I would like to wish you all a very warm, safe and Happy Christmas. Take care x


Giveaway and work in progress.

We are delighted to announce that Apple have relaxed their controls on promotional codes, (until now these have only been available to customers in the USA). This means that I can offer six free copies or “promo codes” to anyone wishing to own our new app “The Bird with the Rainbow Tail” This will work on any iPod/iPad or iPhone. If you would like to share this E-book with your children this Christmas all you have to do is leave a comment and indicate which code you need e.g. iPad or iPhone and I will pick six at random. I will then need your email address in order to forward the code, which is valid for thirty days. This means that you have thirty days to download the app from your computer to your iPad/iPhone. I know this sounds complicated but I assure you it is quite simple so I hope you will throw your name into the hat. I will pick the winners on Sunday 19th so hurry! If you don't own any of the above you can gift it to someone who does.

Life continues to be problematic although the snow has now left us; we have had amazingly clear and sunny frost filled days, which have transformed the landscape into a Narnia world although as I write today is grey and dull with the promise of more snow.

I am very behind this year on all fronts, work, Christmas preparations, and blogging, barely able to keep my head above water or so it seems. I have been painting, painting and painting, so much so that my fingers are stiff and aching but feel now that I am getting towards the end of the “Owl and the Pussycat” poster for Long Barn Books mentioned earlier. There is just a little more work to do on the borders and I think it will be done.


In the bleak midwinter.

The last few weeks have been very challenging, elderly parents have needed our support and freezing weather conditions have made life difficult and traveling hazardous. Still, whenever possible I have been enjoying working in my studio, radio playing, heating turned up high.

Ted seems to like the snow and the landscape does look very pretty wearing its winter cloak. Walks have been cut short as the cold wind has been biting, enough to skin a rabbit.

It has been a time for slow cooked stews, warming drinks, sitting by the fire, sewing and taking one day at a time.


Happy days and reasons to be cheerful, part one.

It has been a very busy time here; lots of lovely projects and illustration commissions have kept me busy, so please forgive me if I have not visited your blog. I will endeavour to catch up soon.

I started work on the dream commission mentioned in my last blog post. I have checked with the publisher and have permission to tell you about it, although it is a work in progress and a million things could go wrong. “There is many a slip twixt cup and lip” but so far so good. The publisher will be Long Barn Books, which is owned by Susan Hill, It is a dream commission for lots of reasons, firstly because I have greatly admired Susan's work for many years now and am thrilled to bits to be working with her. Secondly, she tells me to take as much time as I need, how amazing is that? Time is something I will need plenty of because I am working on what seems like an enormous piece of paper and I want to cover the sheet with lots of details. As you may guess from the photo, I am illustrating “The Owl and the Pussycat” and the result will hopefully be available as a limited edition poster if all goes well. I am touching wood and crossing my fingers as I type this.

At the weekend I went along to my bookbinding group and took part in a workshop run by Mark Walmsley , we had a whole day of play - sheer bliss. The workshop was on Suminigashi sometimes called “cloud art” or “ghost art” and paste papers. We all made a great deal of mess and came home with an array of decorated papers for future projects.

I’ve also been looking for ideas for Christmas presents and once again I have raided this shop run by a very busy town mouse. Continuing on the handmade theme I have been covering little diaries with bits of decorated papers that I have accumulated over the years. Marbled paper, Tyvek recycled from Fed Ex envelopes, bits of mono print and a lovely new material called “stone leaf” sent to me to try by this company.

And, last but not least, we have finally got our children’s book application - "The Bird with the Rainbow Tail" which I have mentioned before here, into the iPad/iTunes store. You can see it here, if you are lucky enough to own an iPad, sadly I don’t have one but I know a man who does.

I hope your weeks are happy and busy too.


Grand days out.

I thought I would share with you some images from Shrewsbury, we went there recently to look for an art shop. I needed some large sheets of water colour paper for a dream commission which I am very excited about, (I hope to share more details about this soon). Sadly the art shop that I remembered has closed; this seems to be something of a theme, bookshops and art shops are disappearing from our high streets at an alarming rate. We did however have a lovely day out and took some photographs before my battery gave up the ghost.

It is impossible not to fall in love with Shrewsbury, with its black and white timbered buildings, some of which lean at impossible angles. If you click on the picture you will make out Grope Lane, I will leave you to decide how that one got its name!

Counteracting the tendency to rid the world of smaller independent traders are farmers markets. One such event is held monthly here at Rode Hall. When we visited on Sunday morning the gardens and parkland were bathed in glorious golden light. There was local produce and crafts in abundance, we even spotted some of my fabric from "Buttercup Farm Collection" sewn into lavender bags. After chatting with friends and neighbours and sampling this and that, we eventually came away with some very posh nosh indeed; two of Neil Broomfield’s hand made individual pies from “The Great Northern Pie Company” made from cheese, cauliflower, caramelized onions, star anise, nutmeg and carnaroli rice…. Delish!


Japanese Bookbinding Workshop

The four little Japanese style books pictured above are the results of a very enjoyable workshop that I attended last weekend. The teacher was excellent and I met a lovely, friendly bunch of people from near and far.

We made the books in a traditional manner using hand made paper string to secure the pages prior to sewing. The covers were made using beautiful Chiyogami papers, which are silk-screened using Japanese kimono patterns as their inspiration. Some of these papers have gold and silver details, all are sumptuous and a delight to work with and gave the notebooks an elegant feel.

Each book was sewn with a different decorative Japanese stitch pattern: four-hole, kang-xi, hemp leaf and tortoise shell using silk thread. We also made the cloth covered traditional Japanese Maru-Chitsu case in which to keep them, which is held closed at the foredge with a pair of Japanese bone fasteners.

I learnt much from this weekend workshop and feel that I could adapt this simple structure to bind my own books in the future and feel very inspired to make some more!


Gordon Setter.

I have been busy working on Easter artwork and a couple of commissioned pieces, none of which I can show you yet. This piece is something I did to illustrate a poem by Robert Burn’s; it was published by Kingfisher and appeared in “A Little Book of Dogs”. I am not entirely sure if the dog in question was actually a Gordon Setter but that was what I was instructed to paint by the editor at the time.

On Friday I hope to take it over to Chester where I will meet up with “Books Illustrated”, and so, in preparation for handing over the original I had the image scanned at my local repro house where they have a wonderful drum scanner. The repro house used to serve many of the local pottery companies; it is a sad sign of the times that in the last six months I was the only artist who used this facility. I dread to think what will happen if this scanner fails, it will be too expensive to repair and I have been unable to find another in my area. Of course I have a scanner here but there is no comparison in image quality. Before the world went digital I used to have my artwork photographed and put onto three inch by five inch transparencies, the problem now is the photographer cannot find suppliers of large format film. It is all very worrying and very sad, especially as I have to drive past so many closed down factories in what used to be the very heart of our pottery industry, poor old Stoke-on Trent!

On A Dog Of Lord Eglinton’s

I never barked when out of season,
I never bit without a reason;
I ne'er insulted weaker brother,
Nor wronged by force or fraud another.
We brutes are placed a rank below;
Happy for man could he say so.

Robert Burns

When life gets me down I find great solace in dogs especially my own little Jack Russell Ted. He makes me smile without fail; he lifts my spirits and keeps me fit. He gives me unconditional love and devotion and asks nothing in return except his keep. A dog that belonged to Lord Eglinton inspired this poem by Robert Burns but I think it will strike a chord with many dog owners.


Sky Walk at Kew.

Before too much time passes, I would like to share with you a wonderful day trip to Kew gardens; we actually went there in September but no matter. We caught a ferry at Westminster Bridge and sailed up the Thames on a sparklingly bright and sunny day. On route we passed many landmarks, houses and gardens of the rich and famous, gradually the scenery started to change from man made to a more natural environment; we saw many herons fishing and huge birds which I believe to be black cormorants which for some reason made me think of Edgar Allen Poe! They certainly had an air of mystery about them.

After a leisurely sail we eventually alighted at Kew pier and walked along the river to the entrance gate, remembering the days when you could go through the turnstile for a penny. The gardens are vast with so many delights on offer, far too many to relate here so I will just show you a few of the things we saw. We made a beeline for the newly constructed skywalk, I loved the idea of walking above the tree canopies and the climb to the top did not disappoint, although I did feel rather queasy looking straight down.

There was every kind of tree you can imagine and more, avenues planted with holly, each one different from the last, magnificent horse chestnuts, maples, alders, firs and beeches and of course oak trees, my favourite being the Lucombe Oak, which was first planted in 1773.

If you have ever been to Kew you will know how huge it is; we must have walked miles that day, in and out of hot houses, through Japanese gardens, we drank tea beneath the shade of a rambling vine and watched butterflies, bees and dragonflies until we had sensory overload! Foot sore and weary we made our way back to the pier in time to catch the last boat home and planned our next garden visit, this time to the Chelsea Physic garden, but that as they say, is another story for another day.

Generations pass while some trees stand,
and old families last not three oaks.
Sir Thomas Browne (1658).


Tea with Amandine Labarre.

Won't you stay a while with us? Pull up a chair and pour yourself a cup. It's time for another "cuppa" interview, this time with the French illustrator extraordinaire Amandine Labarre and I know you are going to love her work! You may already be familiar with her blog Epine Blanche

How do you take your tea and in what kind of cup do you like it served?

Answer-Without sugar, in a tall mug to keep it very hot… My favorite one is a blue ceramic one, homemade by a friend. If a cat could jump on my knees while I’m drinking from it, it would be just perfect.

If you could choose anyone, past , present or future, who would be joining us for tea.

Answer-I think I’d like to invite the great Arthur Rackham. I discovered his work very early and was astonished by it. There’s a real word in his watercolors, the shades talks to my heart, and so do his vision of fairy tales: his characters are full of grace, but there’s also something gloomy, mysterious and frightening in it...I find his Nordic myths paintings really mesmerizing. He seemed to be a quite lonely person, but I’d be honored just to share a cup of tea with him, perhaps evoking old tales quietly. I’m not very talkative either.

Tell me a little about your background in art and design.

Answer-I studied at the faculty, intending to being an art professor. But while writing my final dissertation, dealing with art and shamanism, I took the time to think about what I really wanted, and finally realized I definitely wasn’t made for doing this job..I wanted to be an illustrator, which had been my dream for the very beginning…I just was afraid to fail, but I had a lot of luck, and a year later I was earning my living with my drawings-thanks to my first book I wrote and illustrated, on the theme of faeries and herbs.

Where are you based and does it influence your work?

Answer-I live in Touraine (France), and really love my town. I live next to the Loire and run along it each morning: each day, the sight, the colors, the smells are different and inspiring. This afternoon I saw a kestrel flying just above me for a long moment, as if wondering if I could make a good breakfast for it; I was delighted!

What have you been doing/working on today?

Answer-Today, I took my bicycle and went taking some photos of trees for a personal book project, I also picked some lovely hawthorn berries I found on the way back, I think I’m going to paint it, but I don’t know yet to what purpose, perhaps just for the pleasure of taking a quiet time exploring their beauty.

I hope that you have brought along something wonderful to show us, what is it?

Answer-Well, It’s a picture from a little children’s book I made with my brother, an eerie tale dealing with cats, a quest for the return of light in a shadowy land ..It’s the 3rd book in that collection (this one will be published for next Christmas) and I’m particularly attached to it, they really are done with heart.

I think that is evident Amandine, thank you so much for calling by and sharing your work with us.


The art of beautiful writing.

Imagine my great surprise and delight when this beautiful hand written envelope dropped through my letterbox amidst the junk mail and household bills! Ted, my over zealous Jack Russell caught it, singling it out as the most chewable of the days offerings. Fortunately I was there in time and after bellowing, “Leave it!!!” I managed to save this most precious letter from the jaws of destruction.

The envelope was such a joy to behold I scarcely dared to open it, after finding a sharp knife I cautiously slit it open to reveal the most beautiful hand written thank you letter and this magnificent gift, my name in exquisite penmanship. Heather had previously purchased one of my miniature books, which had prompted this unexpected delight.

The penmanship is the work of Heather Victoria Held, a calligrapher from St. George Ontario with a passion for Spencerian Script. She has a lovely blog, which I have been following for some time now. She also has a website which is worth a visit especially if you are considering commissioning a piece of calligraphy as a special gift. In these days of email and often-impersonal digital media I can think of nothing more meaningful than a piece of her artistry.


In search of Squirrel Nutkin

Tony and I decided to escape for the day last week; the blue sky beckoned so we packed our walking shoes and camera and set off in search of Squirrel Nutkin.

We headed for the National Trust Reserve at Formby, on the coast just north of Liverpool. Alas, we did not see a single red squirrel probably due to the devastating effects of recent disease outbreaks. It is estimated that numbers are slightly on the increase now but they were certainly very thin on the ground the day we visited.

I have seen red squirrels in the wild in Austria and was amazed at the colour variations, some very dark sable brown, others bright orange/red. Sadly they are very rare here in the UK despite a great deal of conservation work.

The day was not wasted however as the reserve has some lovely picnic areas and walks through pine forests, sand hills and down to the sea. A huge expanse of sandy beach stretches as far as the eye can see, north towards Southport and south towards Liverpool and the walk helped to lift our spirits.

The illustration is taken from my "Illustrated Address Book".


iPhone and iPod application approved!

Our children's book application "The Bird with the Rainbow Tail" mentioned below, has now been approved by Apple and is in the store now. It will take another four weeks to get the final approval for the iPad or so it seems.Thanks so much for all your kind comments, they have been much appreciated.

The illustration above is the icon that appears on screen as a sort of thumbnail, it had to be very eye catching with strong colours so that it stands out when displayed as a very teeny weeny square. Needless to say that I have it on my iPod and have been playing it non-stop to all and sundry! I showed it to my elderly parents who were completely mystified, I had a hard time explaining how we got Tony's voice in "that little thing". I also found it hard to explain how the iTunes shop works, I am not entirely sure myself! It must be very difficult for my father (who will be 97 this week), to understand blogs and tweets and apps, his world was all about cogs and wheels and thingamajigs.


Listen to this for free!

With a great deal of nervous trepidation I would like to invite to you a preview of “The Bird with the Rainbow Tail” which I have mentioned before on my blog here.

If you follow the link you can see how the application works, it is rather difficult to explain but easy to understand when you see the demonstration. All you need to do is click the arrow and sit back and watch.You can also download the MP3 for free and hear the story from start to finish by following the link in the sidebar on the website.

My husband Tony has written the book with me and has narrated it also. James our son has recorded it and added sound and has composed the music so you see this is a true labour of love. It has taken over four months to illustrate and has been a great adventure, a voyage of discovery into uncharted waters. We have had so much fun doing the recording and testing, with many technical obstacles to overcome and new things to learn, I am almost sad not to be working on it still.

Apple is now testing the application and we have all our fingers and toes, wings and paws crossed that everything will work out as planned. If all is well it should be available in the next week or so. We really hope you will like it!

There is also a little bit about Tony and me here.


L is for Lichfield.

Over the weekend we visited Lichfield, a lovely old, character filled Cathedral city in the heart of the Staffordshire countryside. When we first married we lived fairly close and visited often. Nowadays our visits are few and far between and each time we go we keep our fingers crossed that the special places we so loved are still there.

Thankfully, Lichfield remains as charming and quirky as ever, with its Cathedral, market, historic houses and museums. Samuel Johnson was born here and Erasmus Darwin lived here too, his herb garden is not to be missed. There is also a wonderful old Tudor teahouse built in 1510 and still doing brisk business on the day of our visit.

We were very sad to see that the lovely old antiquarian bookshop was about to close its doors after 65 years, in fact the day we visited was one of its last days of trading. This shop once had an amazing stock selling not only antiquarian books but also sheet music, prints and ephemera and you could wander up rickety staircases through nine rooms filled with printed treasures. At first I did not see anything of interest in the few remaining rooms of stock until my eyes alighted on a small cardboard box on a bookshelf near the exit.

My heart skipped a beat when I saw the contents! This was more like it- tiny miniature editions, special facsimile editions, envelopes containing antique bookplates, toy books, old post cards, invitations to illustrators exhibitions and then this .. dated 1886, The Socialist Platform No 4 socialist League pamphlet, (probably unread because the pages had not been cut at the head) by William Morris with an illustration by Morris on the cover, price £1. Not a reproduction, the genuine article! Also going for a song where several copies of Kate Greenaway's Alphabet miniature facsimile books (1973) and unbound editions of "An Account of the life of Dr.Samuel Johnson from birth to eleven years".

After checking and rechecking with the owner that the prices were correct, all of them seemed too low even for a closing down sale, I finally came away with most of the contents of the box. I thought that I would keep some, give some and put a couple in my Etsy shop in order to share my good fortune with fellow book worms. I will be listing my finds in the next few days but I have no idea what I will do with the pamphlet, any ideas?

No trip to Lichfield would be complete without a visit to the Cathedral, so after a quick peep into the herb garden, we climbed the ancient stone steps up to the Chapel of St Chad, after paying our respects to the Lichfield Angel. As we sat in the little chapel the choir who were assembled for a practice started to sing, a fitting end to a heavenly day.


Post cards from St Ives.

We went in search of sunshine and blue skies and found them here in St Ives which really does have the bluest of blue skies and sea. I met my blog friend Lesley Ninnes here in the lovely Art Space Gallery and saw many examples of how this wonderful light has inspired so many artists over the years.

A trip to the St Ives Tate is a must if only to sit on the rooftop terrace to admire the views. The whole of the town is awash with galleries and museums and there is always something interesting to see, my favourite places being St Ives Ceramics, the Barbara Hepworth museum and garden and the tiny Fish Pye (spelt with an i on the sign outside?) studio which sells beautiful hand made pottery by Laura McCrossen Of course I had to take home another piece to add to my collection.

I have visited St Ives several times before but this was my first time as a grandma so had the added pleasure of time spent with our growing family. We feasted on Cornish pasties and clotted cream teas; scones, jam and cream so thick that you can spread it with a knife. I had under estimated the steepness of the hills choosing instead to remember the fabulous views afforded by the strenuous climb to the top although I was rather glad not to have been the one pushing the pram uphill!


Make hay while the sun shines.

We have waited such a long time for the sun to shine, whilst it does we intend to make the most of it, so we have decided to take a little break from blogging in order to catch some rays!


Once Upon A Time

It has been very hectic around here for the past few weeks, not only have I been trying hard to meet work deadlines, I have also had to plan three separate social events including a family party to celebrate my husband Tony’s early retirement from teaching. These were happy/sad occasions as it meant very many goodbyes not only to pupils and staff but also to a way of life that has dominated our lives for the last thirty-four years. Needless to say there was much laughter and a few tears, mainly from me as I read all the warm testimonials, letters and cards he received.

I wanted to give him a gift that would be appropriate to this new and exciting phase in his life and wracked my brains to find the perfect answer. In the end I settled for two things that I knew he would appreciate: one is a handmade notebook and the other is a piece of original artwork, both by wonderful people I met in the blogosphere and whose work we both admire.

The original artwork is a pencil drawing of a storyteller and weaver of tales entitled “Once Upon a Time” by Rima Staines of Hermitage fame. I was very honoured that she agreed to part with her original artwork, as every piece is very personal to her. I could have bought a print, indeed if you would like a copy she has them in her Etsy shop. The original artwork is something special, so beautifully rendered and imaginatively designed with very many tiny details to enjoy. I thought the theme of the work was very fitting for a man who has spent his career as an English teacher, one who held his classes spellbound with his stories and love of books.

The other gift is a handmade book that has a good thickness and is nice and bendy. It has been lovingly stitched around a recycled leather cover and has herringbone details on the spine. This is the work of Sarah Mitchell who has a wonderful blog called Little Paper Bird. It positively cries out to be used and I know it will be put to good use for note taking, ideas and thoughts. Again, if you would like a similar book she has them in her Etsy shop.


keep right on till the end of the road....

Working on this children’s book project (The Bird with the Rainbow Tail) has been a little bit like climbing a steep hill, I started off nice and lickety split but the nearer I get to the end the harder I have to climb and the slower the progress. Do you ever feel like that? I have to be very strict with myself as it is so easy to give into diversions.

This is page twelve out of fourteen, which started life as a black and white pen and ink drawing. The colour and pattern details have been added digitally with the aid of my newest toy, the Wacom tablet. I have been having fun using some of my fabric patterns where appropriate.

James has been working hard on the music, which is nearly complete. Tony has finished the narration in English and the story has also been translated into German and recorded in Germany and although I don’t speak a word of German I can make out some of the words. I say "English" but in actual fact the text has been changed to have an American spelling as our publisher requested. We now have gray instead of grey and color instead of colour. A case of you say "tomado" and I say "tomato" but let's not call the whole thing off.

It has been a joy to work together on this project and I can’t wait to see and hear the finished thing on an iPod or even better an iPad if only I possessed such a thing! (hint hint)