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

Thursday, 15 October 2009


I’ve just eaten a whole packet of biscuits in two days. This is not like me: I come from a family where biscuits are eaten in twos with tea (the tea is compulsory): to have just one is unacceptably austere, to have three too hedonistic. I’m certainly not given to lying on a bed stuffing two at a time until the packet is gone. Admittedly they were Japanese which meant they were a lot more like little gems (remember those?) than digestives, but it’s still not good. Perhaps, now I live in a world where everything is individually wrapped, then wrapped and wrapped again, it was just that they only had the one plastic bag? Maybe my brain now thinks that one wrapping = individual portion. If that’s the case I’m in big trouble when I do come home.

I think the real problem is that I miss my cooking. That sounds horribly egocentric, but, since I am the cook at home, it makes sense. The food here is exquisite in every sense of the word: the fish twitching fresh, vegetables like jewellery, noodles in silken hanks, but the fact is that bread is not Japan’s strong point and it is mine. I want a big hunk of crusty, chewy bread, fresh and warm straight from the oven with a smear of salty fresh butter. I also want it to be richly wholemeal: malted, spelt or rye.

This craving for bread attacks periodically, I’m making do with computer access to Radio Four instead. I realise it’s a lateral solution, but somehow its welcome familiarity is almost as soothing. It also has fewer calories and, if I’m going down the biscuit route, that may be something I should think about…

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Fine Tuning

Three weeks into this residency and I have finally learnt to play the shower. The water pressure is great, but the temperature unpredictable. Such is the size of the bathroom that the sink does for bath and shower with a sort of neat flip over switch for the shower and an extra long tap to hook over the bath. Provided I have a hand out of the shower and play the taps with the sensitivity of Evelyn Glennie on percussion, I can have a really good shower while the bathroom floods like a rice paddy. The first time this happened I was horrified, now I realise it’s fine: it’s why there’s a drain at the back of the unit.

It’s good that I’m showing some signs of dexterity in the face of my slow progress with the hangi-to knife. Our current Sensei (one of the last few master carvers able to raise fluid lines the width of a human hair in cherry wood) has been teaching us all week with amused patience. I can see what he wants me to do with the knife, I can see what he can do with his knife, but so far I’m the five year old with a fat wax crayon scrunched in a hot fist (and yes, my tongue does stick out as I work). He gamely lent me his knives and let me cut one of his practice blocks. He’s also showered us with gifts. Such kindness in the face of our inexperience: he tells us his apprentices serve for seven years; we have less than seven weeks…

Sunday, 11 October 2009


My feet and back are currently shot. My feet because I have failed to bring shoes suitable for walking up and down the steep mountain hillside. I carefully bought shoes suitable for taking on and off efficiently at Japanese doorways and they seemed comfortable enough. Sadly I now have a penny (100 yen) sized blister on the back of my heel and a crop of mini blisters between my toes which make me look like I am sickening for something sinister.

My back is the result of kneeling at a dinner to welcome me and the other five artists to Nagasawa. It was a great party; we were guests of the local people, mostly farmers, who host this unique and generous residency every year. Housed in a very traditional room with tatami mats and paper walls, it confirmed my every fear about low tables. While perfectly designed for the small and supple Japanese, they are a nightmare when you’re nearly six foot, have a dodgy back and toes that dislocate at every opportunity. Let’s just say that I deserve the Queen’s medal for unobtrusively relocating two errant toes and maintaining an unflinching smile in the face of cramp. Copious quantities of sake and lots of good home cooking helped of course.

I spent the best part of today cutting out twenty two tiny circles to represent persimmon fruits for my second ever wood block. It wasn’t a bad way to spend a Sunday and I’m a whole lot better at cutting circles with the hangi-to or cutting knife now than I was this morning. A razor sharp knife, the hangi-to is the primary tool for Japanese woodblock and is held in the fist, thumb on top, and pulled alarmingly towards the stomach. Ok so far, I try not to think about slipping…

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Vital Statistics

Some observations about size (in homage to Sei Shonagon)

Large: the insects. Our notes about the course included a warning about ‘virulent’ insects. I thought this meant a lot of mosquitoes (which there are); I didn’t think it meant hand sized house spiders and giant orange hornets (which it did). We are learning to live with Ashidaka gumo, the huntsman spiders living in the house which come out at night to catch cockroaches. I admire anything with a taste for roaches, but at 11cm across they are too big for comfort. Fortunately they are very shy: I shared the kitchen with one in the dark of early yesterday morning and we circled each other with mutual horror. There are also large orb spiders, Betsy (fellow artist from Seattle) and I went out for a walk and saw one, marvelled at its hugeness and then slowly realised, in true horror flick fashion, that every tree, power line and gutter were infested.

Also large: Philipp and Ross. To their great credit they were considered too big to learn to print traditional style on their knees so we are all seated at desks for which I will be eternally grateful.

Small: almost everything else. I notice it in the supermarket where there are no shopping trolleys, just baskets or, for the large family, two baskets in a frame with wheels. Our kitchen work surfaces are 79cm high which, even when the spiders are absent, makes cooking a challenge and me feel like a troll. Food comes in tiny packages - just as well as mostly shopping is a total mystery and sometimes it’s best not to have too much to eat before changing item.

Small (but deep): my bath. It’s lovely, like reclining in a large packing case. I need it at the end of the day. To say this is a steep learning curve would be to understate: gone are the days when I would mess about in my studio and get away with saying ‘but it’s art’ to every process error. It’s achingly clear when water based woodblock goes wrong and I am making every mistake in the book and probably a lot that aren’t.

Large: gap between me and a decent print…

Saturday, 3 October 2009


The last time I travelled long haul I was thirteen and it was back in the days when the in-flight film was a communal event with a wobbly screen at the front of the plane, no choice and someone’s head inevitably between me and the action. So I was amazed by the individual seat back screens and spent many happy minutes tapping around, doubtless irritating the hell out of my neighbours with excited squeals when I found I could see the outside of the plane with a choice of external cameras. I was less pleased to discover that my headphones were on an anarchy setting, rattling through all channels at five second intervals. Much screen tapping later and just before I complained I found that I had plugged into next door’s socket instead of my own and had to quietly move my headset, settle down and behave myself.

I did get to see us landing at Dubai at midnight through the pilot’s eye view camera and that was very exciting. I used to have a phobia of flying: 25mg of valium would just about keep me breathing and sitting still, but I had to give that up as its sedative qualities would kick in as I left the plane and relaxed, leaving my husband to support a sleeping wife, the baggage and our son. That and I would unpack under the influence and once successfully tidied our passports God knows where, causing a last night panic in southern Italy which had to be experienced to be believed. So I toughed it out and now enjoy flying – I would like to think there is a message of hope in there, but I think it’s just that I have a short attention span.

Osaka airport was a bit scary. Jet-lagged and sleepy, I was first finger printed and then photographed. I made it as far as customs where the white gloved and face masked official asked me if I was ‘sure, really sure’ I had nothing to declare. I immediately felt horribly guilty and it must have shown as he made me open everything up. Try explaining that the pillow you’ve brought to cuddle at night and have vacpacked into a white brick is not in fact cocaine – I had visions of immediate imprisonment. Fortunately he realised what I was miming, thought it was hilarious and released me.