Monday 7 December 2020

Elsewhere: Messages

Elsewhere, The Stove Network, Dumfries
Photo credit: Kirsten McEwan

As we all know 2020 has been a bit of a bonkers year. There have been huge challenges for us all but there have also been opportunities. One of the challenges for me (not actually covid related) has been finding the time/reason to write about my work. It's something I've really missed the past couple of years but there is, of course, a way to fix this; i.e. to do some writing. 

Elsewhere, The Stove Network, Dumfries
Photo credit: Kirsten McEwan

One of the most exciting things I've been involved with this year is The Stove Network's Elsewhere project. This grew from their Homegrown project (which I was also part of with my Feathers of Hope) and is also part of their Atlas Pandemica project. 

Elsewhere, The Stove Network, Dumfries
Photo credit: Kirsten McEwan

It's exciting for a number of reasons; firstly it's a really interesting project, secondly it's been a great opportunity to get involved in my local arts community and thirdly it involved actual real life happenings! In previous years that might not have been quite such a big deal but this year having the opportunity to show physical work in a physical space and to be involved in an actual event with actual people attending has been something quite extraordinary. 

Elsewhere, The Stove Network, Dumfries
Photo credit: Kirsten McEwan

For my part in the Elsewhere project I was commissioned to create a piece of work that could be displayed in Dumfries town centre. I wanted to develop some of the ideas I'd started playing with during my Feathers of Hope micro commission and I wanted to look at ways of sharing our thoughts and feelings about the unprecedented times we were living in. One of the options for display was to use an empty shop window and I was really keen to explore this offer. During lock down our town centres became very different places; at once familiar yet changed and strange, an echo of so many elements of our lives this year. 

Making envelopes!

At the time I was also developing an online sketchbook making course (which is now available if you fancy making your own books) and I was making a lot of envelopes. This inspired me to come up with the idea of an installation of envelopes, combined with my drawn feathers. 

Drawing on my envelopes

I wanted to use envelopes and feathers for both practical and conceptual reasons. Envelopes are used to carry messages, to communicate ideas, thoughts, dreams, secrets and feelings. Envelope can also mean to wrap and protect and I like this dual meaning. I wanted to explore how we felt, our hopes and dreams at this strange time but I was also very aware how fragile these thoughts and dreams can be, how in need they are of protection. Similarly; the feathers represent us and our hopes and dreams, they are both delicate and strong. 

Some of my envelopes

To emphasise this duality of strength and delicacy, familiar and strange, I chose to work with tracing paper to make my envelopes. The transparent material allows us to see inside the envelopes, to see what secrets they might contain. The envelopes both protect and reveal their contents. Some of the envelopes were empty, some had feathers drawn inside them, some contained drawings of feathers and a couple contained actual feathers. 

Installation day

I love working with transparent materials, I love the delicacy and the ethereality of transparent materials. I wanted my installation to have a feeling of almost not being there, being something intangible, as our hopes and dreams often are. As much as I love them, the big downside to working with transparent materials is that being see through they're difficult to see and really difficult to photograph! Luckily for me Kirstin McEwan took some excellent phots and has kindly allowed me to use some of them.


My work was installed in an empty shop window in Dumfries town centre. I don't think I've ever enjoyed installing a piece of work so much! After months of cancellations and uncertainty it felt so exciting to be working in a space that wasn't in my house and I loved seeing people stop and watch what we were doing as the envelopes went up. It was also nerve wracking as I had an idea in my head of what it would look like but until the work goes up you never know if it's actually going to work! I was lucky to have lots of help and encouragement from Katie Anderson at The Stove and again, being able to work alongside another person was such a good feeling. The piece even made it into the local press!

My installation was just one part of the Elsewhere project and in mid November The Stove held an 'Elsewhere' event where work from the project was displayed in vennels and other spaces in Dumfries town centre over two consecutive evenings. My envelopes were hung in The Stove Cafe and I loved the way they became more and more difficult to see as the cafe windows steamed up on those cold nights. 

'Messages' installed in The Stove Cafe

Mr. Stitches and I really enjoyed exploring the town and discovering the other artworks on that cold November evening, being relatively new to the area it felt like an adventure going into tiny vennels we'd have missed otherwise. We felt that we got to know the town and it's artists a bit better and it helped us feel more a part of that community. 

Work by Simon Lidwell

This sense of community and involvement is one of the things I've enjoyed most about being part of this project. It's helped me feel connected and a part of the artistic community. Throughout the ethos has been supportive and encouraging and I hope that I will continue to be involved and part of this community. 

Monday 18 May 2020

Feathers of Hope: Homegrown Commission

Day 1 Hope for Clean Air
Pen on handmade paper

In the ongoing roller-coaster of emotions and experiences that is the 2020 Covid-19 crisis there are lots of glimmers of hope and positivity. Over the 10 years I've been writing this blog one of the recurring themes has been "and I would like more time for my own practice." Be careful what you wish for! In truth though the past few weeks have offered me the chance to really focus on my practice and I'm very grateful for that. I've also been finding new ways for me and my work to 'get out there,' mostly in a digital rather than a physical sense of course! In this post I'm going to share one of the ways I've been sharing my work.

Day 2. Hope for Kindness
Pen on tracing paper

The Stove Network is an artist-led organisation based in Dumfries and they believe that the creative community can and should play a key role in the development of the region. One of the ways they have been supporting their members during the pandemic is to offer micro commissions as part of their 'Homegrown' project. The key tenets of this project are open-heartedness, solidarity, perseverance and insight. The micro commissions are for small week long projects that embrace one or more of these ideas.

Day 3. Hope for Inventiveness
Coloured pencil on inside of an old envelope

I was really excited to be selected for one of these commissions for my 'Feathers of Hope' project. It was a simple idea; each day for a week I would draw a feather and share it along with one of my hopes for the future that will come after this pandemic. I've been spending a lot of time thinking about how we have the opportunity to create a fairer, happier society and so this project was a good way to focus some of those thoughts. The feathers and hopes were then shared on The Stove Network's Facebook and Instagram pages each day.

Day 4. Hope for Art Education

I was also excited about the opportunity to share work with people in my local area. As we're relatively new to the region I'm still finding my way around and it's great having organisations such as The Stove Network to help get to know what's going on. Even though we didn't move far last year we did move to a new region and indeed a new country and so it takes time to get to know what's going on and the people involved. Everyone I've come across has been so friendly and helpful and the positive arts scene in Dumfries and Galloway was one of the factors in deciding to move.

Day 5. Hope for Food Origin Awareness
Free motion embroidery on rust dyed silk organza

Taking part in this project has been such a positive experience for me. As well as being a good confidence boost it's introduced me to lots of other wonderful creatives and helped me feel more a part of my local arts community. It's also given me a good 'daily focus' and I found I very much looked forward to creating the drawings each day. Having a reason to give myself that time to be creative each day was very beneficial and led to lots of other work in the studio too, more about that another time maybe!

Day 6. Hope for Nature
Ballpoint pen on reverse of gold paper

As part of the commission I was also asked to create a short video about my practice. I'm not really that technically minded and have a fairly limited idea of what I'm doing when it comes to making videos and so on but one of the good (if also rather stressful) things about the current crisis is that it has forced me to learn how to do things. I now have a slightly less shaky grasp of video making and sound recording. These are really useful skills and as I'd been thinking about creating some online courses before the pandemic anyway I hope they're going to stand me in good stead! Making the video was also a good opportunity to think about my practice and what the really important bits are that I want to share with people.

Day 7. Hope for Positive Changes
Pen, chalk and pastel on coloured paper

As usual I've not written the post I intended; I was going to write about the actual work and the hopes for the future but writing this post has been a good opportunity to reflect on the experience as a whole so I'm going to hope (see what I did there) that the work speaks for itself and I also hope that you've enjoyed it!

Monday 4 May 2020

How to Stay Sane

Welsh Poppy in the Sunshine
As we first entered 'lockdown' I ran a series of posts over on my Facebook and Instagram pages sharing some of the ways I stay sane in the hope that it would be useful for people at this strange and scary time.

I had a really good response so I decided to gather some of the ideas together in a blog post, so here you are: My guide to staying sane! I hope that some of my strategies will be useful to you but 'sane' is of course a very personal and individual thing. Remember to be kind to yourself and to do what you need to do to stay well.

Part 1. Draw Something

Daily Drawing: Birds in the Garden
I've written a lot about drawing on this blog over the years and how beneficial it is to me and, I believe, to pretty much everyone. In this instance I'm talking about drawing just as a process, the outcome really doesn't matter. Get lost in the feel, the look , the sound of your chosen implement moving across the paper. Enjoy the quiet focus of looking and getting to really know about what you're drawing. With practice your drawing will improve no end and hopefully you'll enjoy not only the process but some of the outcomes too.

Part 2. Have a Cup of Tea (or Coffee)

Fabric Teacup
Have a nice cup of tea. It won't solve your problems but taking time out to sit quietly and really enjoy a nice, hot brew can help calm you and get things in perspective. I also like to have a nice cup of tea with me when I'm drawing, stitching, gardening, doing anything at all actually.

Part 3. Get close to Nature

Oh Deer!
Being close to the natural world, whether that's a dandelion growing out of a crack in the pavement or a deer bounding across your path, reminds us that there was a before and there'll be an after and really we are all just a small part of something much bigger. Personally I find that very comforting. It is also a constant source of wonder to me the infinite variety and adaptability to be found in the natural world.

Part 4. Stitching

Stitching: Work in Progress

Stitching is something I always return to, especially during times of stress and anxiety. I find that the repetitive rhythm, the tactility and focus required for hand stitch are perfect for keeping a busy mind occupied but it's also not too taxing. I find the same goes for knitting and crochet and since this crisis started I've been doing a lot more of all these things!

Part 5.  Grow Something

Planting a seed implies a belief in the future and at a time like this that's more important than ever. Growing something is immensely satisfying, watching it grow and develop and maybe even turn into something you can eat is both exciting and relaxing at the same time. It's also a good chance to practise Part 3 and get close to nature.

Part 6. Simple Pleasures

A Sunny Day
It's easy to get dragged down and worried, especially at the moment, but taking time to 'count your blessings' really does help. From a nice cup of tea (see part 2) to your favourite film being shown on TV to a good cup of coffee to clean sheets on the bed it's important to take a moment to notice and appreciate these things. It's also one of those things that the more you do it the more you'll notice how many good things there are in our lives even when times are tough.

Part 7. Reach Out

Feather Collage
You are not alone, we're all going through a roller coaster of emotions at the moment so don't feel that it's just you. Reach out and enjoy the wonders of modern technology; phone your friend, whatsapp your cousin, skype your sister in law. We have so many ways to stay in touch even though we can't be together.

Stay safe and stay hopeful; I truly believe we have the opportunity to come out of this and to create a fairer, happier society.

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Completion Catharsis

Gold paper and feather collage

Wow, it's been a long time since my last post! When I started this blog ten years ago way back in 2009 the world, particularly the digital world, was a different place. Over the last decade social media has exploded, our use and reliance on the internet has grown hugely and the the world of blogs is not what it was. Don't worry, this isn't a "isn't modern life terrible lets live in a cave" kind of post, I just want to set out some of my thoughts.

Jackdaw, 2019
Fabric pastel and hand embroidery on linen

Jackdaw, 2019
Fabric pastel and hand embroidery on linen (detail)

Over the last decade I've used my blog for different things; reflecting, recording, promoting, ranting and sharing to name a few. Recently though I've not used it much at all. Social media channels such as Instagram have meant that I share "little and often" rather than saving things up and writing blog posts about them. Like most things this is good and bad; it's great being able to quickly share and connect with people but for me the downside is that I don't share much 'in-depth' information and I certainly don't share as much of my reflections (which may actually be a good thing; it's probably only interesting to me anyway!) There are also other reasons for not blogging so often, I'm very busy being one of them! I also started a newsletter so information that would maybe previously have gone on here goes straight into that.

Flow: Moon, 2019
Hand embroidery and found objects on naturally dyed fabrics 

Sometimes I miss this blog and posting regularly but mostly it sits here, waiting for me. I don't know whether I'll carry on writing it next year but I'll leave it here for a while and see. I like to look back over my posts occasionally, it reminds me how far I've come and what I've achieved. Which leads me back to the reason I started writing this post which was to share some finished pieces with you. These have all been 'works in progress' for some time and I really wanted to get them done before the year is out so I've been enjoying sitting down with them and working on them until they're resolved.

Flow: Moon, 2019
Hand embroidery and found objects on naturally dyed fabrics (detail)

Some pieces come together quickly and easily, others need time and several attempts to get them done, which is the case for Jackdaw and Flow: Tide-lines. Often it isn't even that I don't know what to do it's just that I'm not in the right mood or there are too many other things that must be sorted first. I find that, particularly with hand embroidery, I really need to be able to sit in peace to resolve these works, it's so time consuming that I feel like I need a clear block of time to get stuck in. It's a bit odd really as the process is actually very calming and meditative and easy to pick up and put down. Maybe it's just my need for some quiet time?

Flow: Tide lines, 2019
Hand embroidery and found objects on naturally dyed fabrics

Flow: Tide lines, 2019
Hand embroidery and found objects on naturally dyed fabrics (detail)

Whatever the reasons, these pieces have been a long time in the making but I'm pleased to have finished them and have them ready to share with the world. I have a head (and several sketchbooks) full of ideas of what I want to do next in my work and having cleared these pieces from my 'to-do list' I feel like I'm ready to start working on some of these ideas. Maybe I'll share them on here and maybe not, we'll see!

Wednesday 3 July 2019

A Drawing challenge for 30 Days Wild

Horse Chestnut Leaf

The Wildlife Trusts have been running an initiative in June called 30 Days Wild, encouraging people to get back in touch with nature and discover what a positive impact contact with nature has on us. I meant to take part last year but it never really happened so this year I was determined to get involved. The natural world is such an important part of all our lives and our connection to it is at the heart of my artistic practice.

Snail shell after a thrush had dinner

Found wasps nest

A swarm of barrel jellyfish washing up was an interesting highlight!

I sent off for my pack and was really excited when it arrived, complete with wall chart, stickers and seeds. The 1st June was a lovely sunny day and I was out enjoying the self seeded wildflowers in my garden. I did a quick sketch of some poppies blowing about in the wind and decided that I would tie in my 30 Days Wild observations with a creative challenge.

Poppies: Day 1


More poppies: Day 26

I started off thinking that I would make it a creative challenge; the aim being to create something each day either inspired by or made of natural materials I'd collected but in the end it ended up being a drawing challenge. This fitted in well with my (more or less) daily drawing practice and has given it a bit of a focus over the past 30 days or so.



An unusual shell

I really enjoyed doing my 30 Days of Wild Drawing (which you can see over on my instagram feed if you'd like to.) It gave me a strong incentive to draw everyday which is what I always aim to do but when it gets busy, as it was this month, my daily drawing is often one of the first things that drops, despite the fact that daily drawing is one of the things I find really helps with my well being!

Swallows and house martins flying high


Birds in the garden

It also encouraged me to look more closely at the natural world and I saw lots of small creatures and noticed details I might otherwise have missed. I like to think I'm a fairly observant person and I've always been interested in wildlife but however 'good' we are at something we can always do better and learn something new. Doing this challenge also gave me a good excuse to get out everyday and collect more treasures; mostly feathers and shells!

Trying new media

Feather: Pen, chalk pencil and iridescent oil pastels

Feather: Pen, chalk pencil and iridescent oil pastels

Trying different media: ripped tissue paper

Doing the challenge and sharing it online also encouraged me to try doing things a bit differently. For instance, one day I found two beautiful iridescent feathers on the beach. I wanted to draw them and I wanted to try and capture some of that iridescence so I dug out some iridescent oil pastels I knew I had stashed and had a go with those. I combined them with my usual pen drawing and was really pleased with the result. It's quite subtle but is an effect I would like to explore further.

Carrying on into July!

Feather: Pen, chalk pencil and iridescent oil pastels

Feather: Pen, chalk pencil and iridescent oil pastels