For details about my work have a look at my website,

I am currently working on large prints combining water based woodblock techniques with oil based linocut: nothing if not a challenge! I'm also doing some teaching and go back to school myself in the spring to qualify as an adult education tutor

Tuesday, 26 August 2008


It's my first day of a new shift and I didn't get much sleep last night.

I do tend to go through periodic bouts of insomnia which I accept with the help of cups of tea and the extraordinary offerings of late night satellite TV. The delight of my cat helps: he embraces my three am arrival with all the enthusiasm of an Enid Blighton school child. 'Crickey! A midnight feast! Ripping, let's open the sardines and condensed milk!!'

Last night I was woken up by a fight outside, I think in Polish. I had a look and was horrified to see two huge skinheads towering over a tiny girl. After an anxious moment during which I ran through all the things in the rented house I could use for hitting (nothing much except my heavy set of template drawings) it became clear that the men were getting the worst of it. I'm no expert in body language, but I've read enough Desmond Morris to see that whatever these guys had done, it wasn't big, it wasn't clever and their sister (?) was considering writing home to mama in painful detail. The men waved their hands about in appeasing gestures and shuffled from one foot to the other until things calmed down. They were then permitted to get into a pimped red hatchback which they drove away very slowly and very quietly. The girl dusted her hands together, something I thought people only did in bad films, and went inside.

I didn't really mind waking up for that, it was great. Besides I slept on the ferry coming over. I may not sleep at night, but there's something about Red Funnel ferries that knocks me out cold every time. I slept through screaming kids and yelling parents on a ferry so crowded that I had to fold up small to share my bench with two grannies and their packamac collection. When I woke up one said to me 'I expect you're tired dear, a nice rest on the Island will do you good'. Yeah, right.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

The Colour Purple

I should say, before I go anywhere at all with this, that I am no expert in enamel and its various properties. I could have done my homework on the net and filled you in on the technical stuff, but I had a bubble bath instead. Doubtless there will soon be a waterproof laptop and then you'll be better informed.

I am working with enamel in a liquid paint form. It comes in various types for spraying, silk screen printing and painting. Most of my colours I apply to the panels with a roller and for this the enamel is mixed to emulsion paint consistency. (I was going to refer to cream here, but cream seems to get thicker and thicker these days. M&S 'not just' double cream being more like clotted cream and their clotted cream presumably solid as a house brick).

I chose the colours for this project sat under a borrowed street light with a newly bought and heart stoppingly expensive pantone chart. Great Western Street is to be lit with elegant white light from liquid halide lamps and I decided on the colours to work accordingly. The lighting company then took back the light, which I quite fancied for my studio, which was a pity. Even more of a pity is that nobody will take back the pantone chart - it would have almost funded a weekend in Paris.

Printer Lucy mixed the twenty chosen from an engaging mix of stock London Underground colours and pantone bases. I can tell you now that all the rape fields are pure Circle Line yellow and as the artist, concede that this is a subtle but considered interplay on the urban and rural within my work (or perhaps not). The colours go on one colour, dry to another, fire to a third and cool to a fourth. This kind of painting is not for the faint-hearted: there is no confirmation, other than the pantone number on the roller tray, that I have it right until the fired panel cools from a shimmering purple haze (as was the case when I happened to pass the furnaces last week) to a down to earth ploughed brown. Greens are red, pink and orange at heat. I have yet to see what red or orange do, but I'm sure it'll be worth watching.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Meals for One

Up until now I have never had much need to cater for one. Even as a student I was cooked for as part of my halls of residence deal. Bizarrely (we are talking Aberystwyth I'll admit) I was stuck on a campus populated with librarianship students and boys from the surrounding hill farms, sent down by their parents for a bit of taming and a diploma in animal husbandry. It wasn't a marriage made in heaven and led to much shrieking by the librarians as they found dead lambs in their baths and their carpets doused in slurry. Sadly no one ever retaliated by balancing Library of Congress indexes on the tops of barn doors or stamping 'overdue' on the pregnant cows, but the food was good and aimed at the farmers.

Later I shared a house with three Northern vegetarians. They didn't like me much: I was from the south, my dad wasn't a miner or steel worker and I came from public school. To maintain the status quo I became vegetarian and shared cooking. It was OK until things in the house got so silently aggressive that I had to make a small stand. I went out to the butcher and bought a bloody and substantial ox tail and slow cooked it in Guinness with herbs and dumplings, moving on later to rabbit pie, pig's trotters and chicken livers. I was tempted by the thought of a pig's head, but the oven was too small. The vegetarians were livid, but hey, what could they do? Funnily enough they all forgave my soft southern ways around the time they left college and wanted jobs and accommodation in London.

I've not really got the energy or the need for retaliation cooking while on the island. I certainly haven't got the time for the slow cooking of slightly controversial cuts of meat. No, after a long shift at the factory heaving mild steel and sweating in the heat of the furnace, I'll be coming home to a veg based stir fry. Oh how my old flat mates would be proud...

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Can you see what it is yet?

The answer to that, when it comes to this project, is nope, not a chance. We don’t even get to see the daily six panels en masse. The constant dance of painting, drying, trips down and back to the furnace and the need for space mean that the panels, like men on the swing shift, cross paths but never manage to all get together at the same time. There’s the odd tantalizing glance (we managed five together on the first day which you can see on my web site), but that’s it.

I console myself, slightly, with the thought that I will eventually get to see the whole picture. I read once that tapestry weavers in Bruges would weave huge scenes in narrow strips and send them away to be sewn together and shipped, presumably never seeing the result of their labours. Perhaps they didn’t mind their disconnected maidens and unicorns, but I care very much about my fields!

It’s been a successful week all in all. I’ve lost the ‘first day at school’ feeling now that I can find my way about (sort of, though I still find myself confused by downstairs which is a bit dim given that there are two furnaces the size of Luton transit vans for orientation) and everyone has been very welcoming. The only disappointing thing really has been to learn how pathetic my endurance is: I’m in by seven thirty feeling virtuous, trolley Dave has been in since three am; I’m one of a pair lifting the big steel panels and Colin tells me that when he’s spraying them with the initial coating, he lifts them with his fingertips to avoid smudging the wet enamel. I have a horrible feeling that I’m going to find out that one of the guys in dispatch is a Turner Prize winner on the side…

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Some like it Hot

One of the senior men at Wells said to me yesterday that he hoped my time with them would be a pleasant journey. It was a kind thought and conjured up an appealing image of a leisurely drive through the Cotswolds with plenty of stops for tea and antique shops. In actuality the last few days have been like finding myself at the wheel of a Bugatti in the middle of Le Mans - the chance of a lifetime and pretty terrifying.

I am working on six panels a day. The furnaces need a constant feed of work and the best way to deliver that is to work on several pieces all at once so they can be coming and going. Coordinating this is a bit like reversing a car - fine if you don't stop and think too hard or have your dad mouthing instructions through the windshield. I won't bore you with the details here as it's all on my web site, but suffice it to say that it is best done on the hoof. I did try to plan it out on the evening before my first day, but that only resulted in a strong desire to get back on the ferry and sail away again. (If you do check out my site I apologise for how I look. I began with good intentions, nicely brushed hair and make up. Now it's day three and you're lucky I've managed to change my t-shirt.)

I have two new best friends in the shape of Kevin and Colin who run the furnaces. I'd like to say we're a great team, but I think I'm getting an easy ride on the back of their experience. They work in startlingly hot conditions, Colin with music as loud as the furnaces are blistering, and seem totally impervious and cheerful. Conversely I am rendered unattractively pink and shiny by my drying shed which I am told is 'not hot enough to do anything serious'. I am also greatly indebted to Dave who ferries everything down to the furnaces on my six metal trolleys. Trolleys are in short supply and Kevin warned me to label mine. In fact I grow increasingly possessive and now feel like I've adopted six metal children, worrying about their welfare and safe return whenever they leave home.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Beverage Report

As the artist in residence at AJ Wells I have a designated 'area'. It's a bit of factory floor next to the canteen. Actually it's a very big bit of floor, nicely situated by the ladies loo and the coffee machine. It's great and I look forward to filling it with Radio Four. I especially like the idea that Woman's Hour will infiltrate the blokey workforce: I picture the furnace man saying to his wife 'Need a new peg bag love? I hear Kath Kidson's big on polka dots this season.'
In reality I'm a bit out of the way and it'll be me and Drama on Four alone as usual.

The coffee machine is another thing altogether - solitude is fine, instant coffee is not. I went out yesterday and bought a nifty mug with built-in caffitiere along with a mini thermos for my cold milk. I hate myself for being so picky, but I blame my childhood. I went to a boarding school where the (instant) coffee came with rules: no coffee for those under fifteen (too much stimulation), coffee once on Wednesdays for over fifteens (milk compulsory) and coffee Tuesdays and Thursdays for the lower sixth by then allowed black. By the upper sixth, about to be launched into coffee drinking careers at the BBC or diplomatic core, coffee every morning at break in any combination with biscuit. I rebelled early on and refused anything to do with instant coffee on the basis that I wouldn't then have to obey any coffee related rules and would also be seen to suffer for my sophisticated tastes. What I actually did was to nick a pint of milk from the staffroom each morning and drink that instead. A couple of weeks into my thieving, the teachers upped their order by a pint and we were all happy until the day I left when they were presumably puzzled by a milk surplus.

I hope Wells will forgive me for spurning the coffee machine. At least I've made my own provisions and they won't have to check their milk crate every morning...