Sunday, 26 May 2013

Pensees de Boulevard de la Liberte

It's been 24 hours since we arrived here in France and so far the weather has been kind, as have the tides and the food shopping. It's been suggested that I change the blog name as we are not in Short Lane this week, hence the post title. Renting an apartment that has a stonking view of the beach is good nourishment to someone who lives to make pictures of the sea. Today I must have taken at least 24 photos, which would be kind of normal, except that we have come here every year since I was pregnant with my 5-year-old so have probably already got images of every possible weather condition and tidal level. But somehow this year, having spent so much time recently on all things artistic, my brain is trying to capture every inch with a frame around it, which is of course impossible. To make the perfect picture of this place you would need a frame about 6 feet wide and 8 inches high, if you don't want to get too much sky in it or overshadow it with too much foreground. As soon as I arrived I was also gutted I hadn't brought some of my sea pictures to sell. People roll along here, plenty on a Sunday afternoon, and a few a day during the week, from Belgium, other areas in France or occasionally Germany (and maybe once a week in all the time we have spent here a fellow English family who try to keep its distance and pretend to blend in, as do we) and they come to wander up and down watching the sea (nothing else here to do) and I can't help feeling some of my sea scenes would go down a treat. I also am positive that the apartment we stay in would be enriched by one. Maybe next year I might remember to pack a few and be brave enough to give it a go. Anyway here is a taster of what we have seen today...

Food so far has been great: brown shrimps with mayonnaise, pate, hachis parmentier (the French version of cottage pie but so much classier, with the smoothest mashed potato seasoned perfectly with a hint of nutmeg and breadcrumbs, parsley and gruyere on the top, available from good local butchers ready made in foil tins - when would you ever trust an English butcher to rustle up a really quality ready-made meal?) and the next step on my everlasting quest to find the best ever coffee ├ęclair in all of France. I have also been sampling cheeses with a more critical eye than usual (or I suppose that should be critical taste buds?). A friend has asked me to bring back 6 or so cheeses for her French husband. He has left the choice with me, which is a great honour and a very enjoyable challenge but at the same time quite nerve-wracking. An English person buying French cheeses for a Frenchman? Since when did the French ever entrust anyone English with any culinary responsibility? There are a couple of local ones of great repute (and a great foul stench and a mouth full of flavour) that will go on the list - Maroilles and Boulette d'Avesnes, and there is one oddity that I was thinking of getting and weirdly I got a text from them asking for it last night: Cancoillotte, which is basically a plastic pot full of the oozy bit you would normally expect to get inside a really ripe soft French cheese if you ripped the rind off - just serve yourself a spoonful! But the final three are more troublesome. I will let you know the rest as the week goes on. Any suggestions?

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Zipping away...

It has been a funny old week this week, nothing vaguely creative at all until this morning. Too busy catching up with dull things after Arts Week (and spending half my life in school last week felting flames), and getting things sorted for holidays. When I say nothing creative at all, that is actually a lie because I've had to make an outfit for my 5-year-old to wear tomorrow; at the end of their Great Fire of London topic my two have to dress up in Stuart-style clothes. As for her she will actually kind of look the part, if a little bit First World War nurse:-

The dress will be shortened afterwards and I am going to sew a big flower onto the front; it will be great for warmer days, maybe messing about on the beach in Brittany this summer. My eldest on the other hand is decidedly more Fred Dibnah than Samuel Pepys with ebay flat cap and waistcoat. Not particularly proud but at least he is happy to wear it after a bit of a bribe. And then the next bit of making was converting a Japanese kimono into a summer-weight dressing-gown (chopping off half the sleeves, sewing up under-arm holes, sewing a loop into the neck so I can hang it up and making a belt for it. These were jobs that needed doing for over a month so had been playing on my conscience.

But today was more fun. My friend Laura organises monthly creative group Thursday mornings and today was one. And we all went to visit our friend Romy at Clevedon Craft Centre and soaked up the atmosphere. Laura had brought not 1, not 2, but 3 different sorts of cake, plus all the equipment and materials for making cappuccinos with flavoured syrup. Romy got out a big container of old zips she had been given and we had a project. She started showing us how to make a flower brooch out of one. She showed us the first petal and we were off, no further instruction was needed. I started off with a plastic zip but after a bit of trial and error I have come to the conclusion that metal ones are much more effective. Here is my finished article, complete with some more zips that we took away to create more...

What a great morning. Romy made me feel thoroughly envious of her beautiful studio, maybe one day... At the time I was sewing, I remembered spotting some zippy brooches incorporating felt when I was looking online to see if anyone had ever made a felted paisley pattern like mine (here it is again if you haven't seen it already):-
So I looked again just now. Just google "zip brooches" (but do come back afterwards!) and see what amazing images crop up, truly inspirational. Who would have thought that something that is so thoroughly tiresome if you've ever done dressmaking could turn into something so beautiful. I will need to investigate this further!
Not right now though. We are off to France for a week in two days and there is much to be done. 

Friday, 17 May 2013

Finally flames!

So how have I come down from the highs of Arts Week? Has my life become a sad and empty shell now it's all over? Well no, I have ensured that I have kept busy all week and actually haven't had a spare minute to mourn it. And as a result of my keeping busy, 85 5, 6 and 7 year-olds now know the joys of felting (well if I'm being honest, 83 know the joys and 2 said it was smelly and disgusting. Ah well, can't please all of the people all of the time and all that). On the whole though they, er, only blooming loved it! I did groups of 3 and then 4 as confidence grew; they were intrigued, and toilet trips out of their classrooms and into our corridor were frequent and often delayed as they stopped for a gawp. As the week went on, many of them were pretending they hadn't already done it in an attempt to have another go. The messiness, soapiness, touchyfeeliness of it was a winning formula. And the amazing thing was how different all their felted flames were, with different colour choices and different shapes, thick ones and ones so fragilely thin that any cobweb felter would have been proud, and varying degrees of colour blending. I'm not sure the International Feltmakers Association would be impressed by the quality but every single one was in one piece by the end even if a few had a worrying hole here or there. They are going to be mounted on red paper (I hear one girl has told her mum that black would have been better; what an eye for the dramatic at such an early age!) and then stuck to the front of their topic books on the Great Fire of London. Annoyingly I forgot to take any photos of their finished articles, and it was quite full on as far as supervision was concerned, so that every time I tried to get a good group together for a photograph (ie. a group of children whose parents I knew I could ask if they were happy for me to put a photo on here), I would get into the felt making and forget about the photos. Here are the ones I did manage...

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

On fire again

So Arts Week is over. I am shattered. We went out with a bang and the last day brought two great sales. The first was my hearts:-

I am quite relieved to see it go, as it wasn't really my style and I was beginning to feel a little awkward about the sentiment in it. But for another person, the French "Je t'aime depuis le moment ou mes yeux ont rencontre les tiens" meant something altogether better and lovelier and more appropriate. I'm not sure I can tell the beautiful story yet as it could spoil a special anniversary surprise if a certain wife reads this, but suffice it to say that I have told the story to 3 people who proceeded to well up in tears.

Then I sold my original flowery picture, the one with the amazing purple mount that my brother had done:-

Weirdly this one was bought by someone I know from school. She said that her daughter told her one of the teachers had said someone's mum was doing Arts Week. She had looked through the brochure but couldn't find a name she recognised. So she flicked through again and out of nearly 100 picked just one she fancied that she would visit - she saw the picture and then saw my name and recognised it. She loved the picture and said she'd just lost her mum and had been left some money and had thought of buying some art, keeping at the back of her mind that her mum had loved flowers and loved purple. She kept looking at it and giggling! It was also odd that some of the flowers were ones I'd seen and photographed at school back in September - she knew the ones I meant. It was meant to be.

So that's it. I have lost count whether I have sold 9 or 10 out of the 21 I took along, which I gather is pretty good going for Arts Week. But more than everything I am greatly encouraged by everything that happened. New leads, new ideas, a better idea of what sells and what people like, but more than anything a big bucket full of encouragement that I can hopefully carry around with me for a while without spilling too much over the sides.

Now on to my next felting challenge. I was worried it would feel really empty this week without Arts Week but I haven't had time to think about that yet. The Great Fire of London is beckoning again and I had promised I would go into the children's school and show them some felting. So yesterday I had around 20 5, 6 and 7 year olds making felted flames. They loved it! I wouldn't say the quality is the best and some of them might disintegrate before they get them home, but for now they look great and they had good fun getting covered in soap suds. I have set aside every afternoon this week so should get through all 85 Key Stage One children by the end of the week. I will try to take some photos to show you if I get a chance (and a moment when the camera won't get covered in soap).

Saturday, 11 May 2013

The road to Clevedon Pier

So I think I have finished work on my entry for the Clevedon Pier deckchair competition. How cool to have your own design made into a deckchair! I would so love to be one of the winners and I am so amazed how many of our Arts Week visitors seem to want me to win as well. I leave it out at the exhibition so that people can see one unframed and cop a quick feel if they like. Somebody told me it should be used as the pier logo, never mind anything else, everyone who sees it wishes me well and I already have a buyer for it. I never knew I could sew a pier before but it seems I can. I wonder what else I can do that I don't know about yet. I still have to sort out a really decent high-resolution image of it to send to the pier people but here is the best I can do for the moment...

One more day of Arts Week to go tomorrow and that's it. I fear that my purpose in life will suddenly disappear and I will fall off a cliff. I have lived and breathed it for weeks now. I have adored it even if sales have not been quite as I had hoped if I am honest; I still have all the biggest ones left (maybe that could change tomorrow!) but I have sold 7 out of 21 and got a commission for another, and of course the pier is all but sold. Not bad. And it has been lovely to get such positive feedback directly from customers. Next time I must concentrate on smaller cheaper ones. I could have sold at least 10 of my small beach scenes in "windows". There could be a price threshold for impulse buys and of course the bigger ones need bigger walls. But is a mini production line of beach scenes in little white frames the place I want to be? It would be lovely to sell a biggie tomorrow but I mustn't get my hopes up...  

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


Well today has been a good one. Arts Week has hotted up today after a lull yesterday and I sold 4 (well alright, if I am being honest, I sold 3 and bartered one for 2 sets of earrings!). And yes today I sold two to strangers (and one of them a fellow Arts Weeker). So I am not beating myself up so much. They were not big money but it is a definite start. And a very positive day indeed. Lovely to know that people out there are reading this and appreciating and remembering it. But my high point? Today I met the great Conny Ridge. You might not have heard of her. But I have. A couple of years ago I bought some of her cards; they were prints of batiks she had made. Every time it's someone's birthday and I need an emergency card, I go to them to find one to use, and I can't bring myself to give them to anyone else. This is one of her pictures (I do hope she doesn't mind me using it):-

She did a fabulous one called "Footsteps in the sand" that I really adore, and that has quietly been a big inspiration for me. And today she came to see us! The others already know her but I didn't until today. I did get a little too gushy and felt a bit like an overexcited labrador; I hope it wasn't too obvious. She was lovely and very enthusiastic. But the best bit of all was that SHE bought some of MY cards!!!

In my spare time (!) this week I have been working hard on an entry for a competition run by Clevedon Pier. Artists have to submit an A4 photo of an artwork by email, and 24 winners will have their design printed and made into 2 deckchairs, one to be auctioned and one for the artist to keep. How cool does that sound? The end date has been extended which leads me to believe they haven't got many entries and I might have a chance. I thought one of my usual beach scenes would be great and then got persuaded to incorporate Clevedon Pier into it. A little artistic licence is needed as the beach is a little too yellow and sandy and the angle isn't quite right but I am quietly pleased with it and people who were around today for Arts Week were nicely appreciative. I told Conny about the competition and she is going to give it a go as well; wouldn't it be great if we both won? Once the ends are all sewn in I will take photos of my entry and show you. Shouldn't be long now...

Saturday, 4 May 2013

First day over with...

Our first day of Arts Week over and done with! I am exhausted but pleased; we have had the loveliest comments from people, for me in every way from opinions on pricing, on frames and on the work itself. It amazes me how different people are and the different things they like. Hours went by with people focusing on one or two obvious ones and then out of the blue someone would make a comment about something I had forgotten even existed. So far my long beach scene (below) is by far the star of the show (not the meadowy ones I was expecting) and people were even gasping and saying "Look at that!". It is heartwarming. And is it really coincidence that the sea pictures (that are the ones I most love doing) are the ones that seem most popular? Does my heart show?

I sold a few cards and two of my very small long thin beach scene "windows". My only dilemma with that is this: does a sale to a friend count as a real sale? Both were to friends and it was very special to wheel out my first ever red dots but somehow I feel I cannot rest on my laurels until I make sale to a stranger. I came pretty close, I think, and I don't think it will be long, but until then I will feel ever so slightly fraudulent.

Day two tomorrow, I wonder what it will bring...

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Dairy at Netherton Wood

Well it's almost there. Arts week starts tomorrow and our venue, the Dairy at Netherton Wood, opens on Saturday. I suddenly got nerves yesterday as I was wondering where on earth all the pictures were going to go, but with a lot of help and the gladness that comes when you see a picture looking lovely in its surroundings, we got there and the room is almost ready to go:-

Pricing has been interesting and difficult. I started off making my own price list with a delicate balance of making enough money to justify a) the hours of work and b) to cover framing costs, and not charging so much that I look too arrogant for a completely unknown name, working in a medium that I know is not everyone's cup of tea. I then asked a few friends to come and do a pricing exercise without letting them see my list or know how much frames cost, or the time I'd taken on them (thank you to those who did it for your honesty, not so sure about the one who valued one picture at less than the cost of the frame, but hey it's all subjective and we are still good friends! Lucky I didn't have PMT that day...). People's ideas varied by over £100 in some instances. Some prices have changed slightly as a result. It shows that it's all in the eye of the beholder; let's hope some love affairs start in the Dairy over the next week. 

As I am sitting here typing, I am messing about with working very hard on an Arts Week playlist on my ipod. It is quite a good challenge: some background music that will drown out the silence so that potential punters feel comfortable, a good variety of things that will not alienate older people or sound too stuffy for younger ones. Classical music is good of course but not too much of the sadder stuff (it has been pointed out that some of my very favourite classical music is the stuff that always crops up in films about the Holocaust). I am considering some of Brian Eno's Music For Airports, some Spanish guitar; I have included some other things in there to make it a bit more upbeat: a couple of Buena Vista Social Club songs, Paolo Conte's 'S Wonderful, one or two things from the soundtrack to Amelie, and I am toying with a little bit of REM and Paloma Faith but these might get deleted before too long. Anything with too much of a beat is falling by the wayside. I felt duty bound to include a tongue-in-cheek "Cavatina" as anyone British of a certain age will recognise it from Tony Hart's Gallery. But I wonder if there has ever been any research done on what sort of music makes people want to get their money out and buy some art? Any suggestions are more than welcome.

If anyone out there is thinking that I am being callous by neglecting the school's Great Fire of London project and concentrating on my own fripperies, I haven't forgotten it and will be returning to Pudding Lane once Arts Week is nearing its end. I think we are now going along the lines of a couple of smaller pictures that I will make in school so that the children can see the process and help where possible. Watch this space!

Post script: 2 days later I have woken up with bizarrely a different Tony Hart tune in my head. It turns out after a bit of googling that it is The Noveltones with Left Bank Two...