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

Monday, 6 December 2010


It’s a black and white world out there, I know because I’ve just spent the last hour worthily raking up leaves in my monochrome garden in lieu of a slippery run along icy roads. The sensible would have chosen to go out in daylight; I dithered around until half three and started in the gloaming, ending up in decidedly creepy twilight. Leaves are an issue in the back garden thanks to a beech hedge planted, I’m guessing, in 1903. I think it’s a pretty safe bet that two world wars were enough of a distraction for the beech to be allowed to run away with itself and we now have forty two large trees masquerading as the original hedge.

It was beautiful: the garden iced white on black, a drift of mist and a filigree of photogenic cobwebs – perfect for one of those arty perfume ads. Since I mainly smell of butane from my studio heater in the run up to Christmas, I am never very happy with the parade of these inevitably black and white adverts containing women who are a) clean b) not dressed for the arctic and c) smell nice (or at least not of butane).

Given the senseless nature of the average perfume advert, I have come to the conclusion that there is some sort of random generating machine, working on similar principles to the Enigma code machine, throwing up advert length batches of black and white shots picked by chance. It may be entirely arbitrary as to whether you get Jude Law frowning with a tie or Kira Knightly in a bowler hat or (one for Dali) a speedboat coupled with a backless dress. I like to think of some ad man pulling a small brass lever and then departing for a long lunch, returning in the late afternoon to a floor scattered with loops of film and scooping it any old how into that brilliantly innovative Givenchy Christmas Campaign.

The thought that, well, a lot of thought goes into those ads is a bit depressing don’t you think? Though, and during my leaf raking I did give this more thought than it deserved, it’s all just the same as a real Enigma machine: ‘buy me’ goes in at one end and all these mad bits of film come out of the other end to bamboozle us. Not that I’m not bamboozled – let’s face it, a hot bath and a squirt of that stuff a Japanese woman floats across flower meadows for is a great antidote for butane and leaf mould.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sound of Silence

It’s been a while and, while I realise this isn’t quite the same as when I missed my last essay on King Lear, I feel I ought to explain. My excuse has all the brilliant melodrama and exaggeration that I sadly failed to summon in the face of Dr Sullivan’s wrath over my lack of comment on the use of the rhyming couplet in sibling rivalry disputes. You can believe me or not, personally I still don’t believe it.

Long story short, one morning a few months ago a man who used to be a family friend turned up at our house with a gun, some ‘devices’ and a scutch hammer and forced his way in. I learnt a few things that morning:

• Jumping from a high window is really, and I do mean really, easy if there’s a bloke with a gun on the other side of your bedroom door and it’s just your double bed holding him back.
• Time really does stand still: for two days after, everyone else in the world moved at half speed and colours were extraordinarily bright and clear. Briefly, like Sherlock Holmes, I wanted to shout ‘How can you be so s-l-o-w?’ at everyone and then annoyingly my moment of genius was gone and I was returned to my normal state of well, normality.
• The police keep change in a tupperware box for nipping round the corner to buy chocolate digestives for the rescued.
• Ten snipers in your back garden won’t be good for your herbaceous borders, not if they’re there all day for a siege.
• It upsets the neighbours, especially the one who shares a Christian name with the attacker, when the police marksmen get shouty and demanding.
• Lastly, if you do break in and then say you have lots of bombs, they make you take off all your clothes when you surrender and then they laugh about it down at the station with the victims.

It’s easy to be flip on here: the blog is flip and I like it that way. However, I’ve lost a few months of my life to this and it stopped me writing among other things. Last month it all went to trial and he was found guilty on several counts. We await sentencing. It’s not been much fun, but I’m getting there and I have written something down. Which is more than I can say for that last essay still due from 1982.

Friday, 18 June 2010

buzz buzz buzz

We have a bee’s nest at the foot of one of our apple trees. Strictly speaking it is a wasp’s nest, but they left at the end of last summer and the bees have since set up home. They came under an entirely fruitless badger attack last week: the badgers left empty handed and we were left with large, deep and perfectly circular tunnel in the lawn. I ran over it with the lawn mower yesterday and froze in horror at the sound of deep buzzing. In my head I imagined the immediate appearance of a solid column of bees, angry as a mob of French peasants hunting down the aristocracy. What actually happened was that about half a dozen bees came out looking slightly cross and bewildered; more like a street’s worth of Highgate Guardian readers on finding they didn’t have advance warning of a mains closure.

I was entirely glad not to be massively stung, but I did sort of expect to have more impact. I felt a bit non-consequential as a result and that brings me on to the main thrust of this blog. Someone asked me recently ‘Why do you write a blog? Does anyone read it? Doesn’t it tie you down?’ Heavy questions indeed. Well, I do have readers: my mum-in-law and assorted other enthusiastic family members, the people who come up on Google Analytics (Berkshire Fire and Rescue: I know who you are and thanks for your support), the lads from Wells enamel factory (if they know they are getting a mention) and the very occasional kind person who posts a comment, but that really misses the point.

I write this because it’s a fun exercise to write something neat, amusing and short. Posting it means it has an end destination and no, it doesn’t tie me down. My friend saw blogging as a sort of monstrous chore: a necessary piece of public relations, relentless as the maintenance of a dark haired Hollywood starlet contracted to go platinum blonde. I see it as a sort of small indulgence to be enjoyed when I’m in the mood: more of ten minutes in the warm sun with a really good coffee. So it really doesn’t matter if, like the bees, people at large take no notice, I’m enjoying myself...

Sunday, 30 May 2010


Six seems like a good number to me when I’m printing an edition. Every time I make a lino print, it’s a bit of a gamble: I print using one block of lino and gradually destroy it, cutting it away in order to build the print out of layers of colour. Start with six and, if I’m clever, finish with six. There’s no going back and doing another few copies or idly hitting the button for a fresh batch of giclee printouts. It’s about as close as I get to living dangerously...
However I have just finished a huge, really huge, edition. One hundred and twenty one lovely late summer sunsets thanks to my sort-of-relation Phil and his generosity in letting me into his printworks at Hand and Eye ( print on this scale I had to produce a set of blocks, piecing the image together like a lino jigsaw rather than using the one block. Precision isn’t my middle name and I suspect it’s actually Phil’s first name. It’s a good job neither he nor his team saw my dreadful inexperience at multi block work; the cold sweats and the idiotic mistakes (including a beautifully prepared upside down field) that went into preparing the seven cut blocks that make up the final picture.
The print is still an original linocut print and every print is unique – unique because I painted every one of the 121 sunsets by hand during printing.
But before this sounds too much of a personal success story, I should confess to having access to Rosa.
As secret weapons go, Rosa is pretty impressive, a former restorer of Italian frescos and a fine printer, she mixed my inks and matched colours brilliantly to my somewhat hopeless descriptions: ‘sort of a non-colour: greenish grey – you know, with a bit of red in it probably’ which is hardly a pantone recipe. She also operated the proofing press and helped me print, ha, actually I helped her print and learned a great deal in the process. The finished result costs £70 unframed and you can buy one from me via this link or from Phil at Hand and Eye.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Stage Fright

I’m not keen on climbing ladders, positively scared of rollercoasters and nothing on God’s earth would get me pot holing.

That’s not a definitive list by the way, just a few examples to show that I’m not one of Nature’s bravest. What I will do however is to venture outside my comfort zone and to that end I have embarked on setting up some studio workshop days to allow people to come in and learn about printing lino.

Being an artist is a tough thing to define, but I think part of it is to be uncomfortable. Uncomfortable mentally that is – I definitely need access to a comfortable bed, a bath, oh and Radio Four, the odd glass of wine and a hot dinner. Normally I teeter on the edge by signing up for enormous public art projects with woefully little idea of how to complete them, embarking halfway round the world to condense a seven year apprenticeship into eight weeks and by finding ways of making my everyday printing near technically impossible. This time I’ve been agitated about stuff like where people will park, what they’d like for lunch and how to give them access to the loo and not my jewellery box*.

Finally I realised that I was dithering. It’s madness: I love teaching people about printing, I have the studio space (thanks mainly to my husband and brother-in-law, though I like to think my barrowing of the best part of three tonnes of concrete helped) and people are kind enough to be asking. So I’ll be sending out the booking forms soon and you’ll be able to come and haul on the Albions for yourselves if you wish...

*actually not worth the bother for the serious burglar consisting as it does of what my mum would call ‘schmuck’ – stuff I like, but an insult to any professional fence.

Thursday, 11 March 2010


If the world is divided into those who keep and those who throw away, I am standing, bin bags in hand, at the fanatical end of the throwing away section. I’m not sure when it happened: as a teenager I clearly remember sleeping in a bed which rocked, balanced as it was on a slag heap of under-the-bed detritus, my mother in despair and my cupboards bulging in dangerous and delicate balance. Somewhere along the line there must have been an epiphany since now I’m never happier than after a good clear out – that rush of endorphins that accompanies the appearance of an empty space, however temporary, in this house of male hunter gatherers.

Today it caught up with me big time: a deadly combination of technological ignorance and literal thinking. While I don’t have an iphone, I do have a mobile that will talk to my email (after a delay suggesting a collection of switchboard operators distracted by an unexpected box of chocolates). This morning I decided to clear my phone, getting rid of all the untidy messages in the inbox that I’d downloaded over the past few days while I was travelling, confident that they were now safe on my computer. You must all know where this is going: no, they weren’t safe and yes, they are all permanently gone. I’m left wondering how this could possibly be: imagine if I slung out all the redundant paperbacks in the spare room and came downstairs to find my cookery books gone too...

My husband has been very kind; instead of a well justified victory song and dance avenging his many beloved items I’ve disappeared over the years, he did his best to recover the mails. No joy. If you are one of the victims then I apologise. I’d like to say I won’t do it again, but actually, that empty inbox does look much neater...

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Good Housekeeping

The problem, I feel, with the short bout of food poisoning I had recently was that, after a couple of hours lying on the bathroom floor wishing for death, I was forced to the disagreeable conclusion that not only were the gates of Paradise going to remain firmly closed, but that it was high time to sand down and repaint the room’s skirting boards.

One thing we did manage last week was to replace the kitchen floor. It’s not often we get interior decoration wrong, but we’ve had nine years of a pale laminate floor which, since it showed every micro-particle of dirt in glaring detail, would have been a perfect worktop surface in a forensic laboratory (no more government enquiries into lost evidence, however small), but was a disaster for a working kitchen. Now we have cork – swirling chunks of the stuff in cross section a bit like marble, but marginally less expensive. It looks beautiful and is brilliant at concealing dirt; I know this because I only discovered the remains of a dead mouse this morning by treading on it with bare feet.

While our kitchen floor was approved by an architect friend and his wife who came round for dinner, my studio heating was condemned. This may have been because I put the fire on and it made their lovely clothes reek. I am resigned to smelling like a construction worker’s site office, but I realise that ‘Bute’ for men is never going to be a stocking filler. I am however quite safe: my brother has insisted I install a carbon monoxide monitor. This shows a touching concern for his little sister’s safety which I’m pleased to say he never exhibited when I was small and he was my twelve years bigger, marvellous, dangerous and tyrannical babysitter.

Monday, 8 February 2010


I’ve always liked the London Underground. I cut my teeth on the Metropolitan Line at seven, taking a couple of stops to school and back. By nine I was making the trip to see my dad who lived in Kensington High Street: a neat change at Baker Street and a loop of the Circle Line. By eleven the system was my oyster (though those were the days of singles, returns and seasons only) and I was loose to roam. These days, thanks to my enamels project, I count among my friends the people who cut, spray, print and fire all the London Underground enamel signage which adds a sort of warm and fuzzy feeling to my travels.*

Today I needed all the warm and fuzzy I could get once I left the shelter of the tube: a bleak howling day of sleet and pinched faces. I visited my print supply shop which is a gem. When I started out I found the assistants horribly intimidating with their total lack of eye contact and empathy. Now I know what I am doing, I find their obsessive expertise enormously helpful. I spent a long time with a man who was possibly even more interested in the mulberry fibre content of Japanese paper than me and knew to the drop exactly how much cobalt drier to use for each ink colour.

Travelling back I had to balance two heavy bags, a large and awkward roll of lino and a fiendishly expensive, long and delicate roll of Japanese paper. Like every over-burdened woman extra in every British film ever made about trains, I decided that I needed tea. Unfortunately, on reaching Marylebone, I was unable to do the sensible thing and find a seat, stymie the romantic end of a love affair and exchange some banter with Stanley Holloway. Instead I juggled a boiling pint of earl grey along with everything else up the platform and onto the down train home.

As a footnote, I have finished my experimental woodblock and lino mixed print that I mentioned in my last couple of blogs. You can see it and access the rest of my website here

*Sadly I do sometimes find myself patting enamel signs in a slightly mad sort of way and saying things like ‘I bet that’s one of Ian’s’.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


Sometimes I despair: I have been printing now for five years give or take. Five years of cleaning down my rollers, palette knives and the sheets of glass for mixing inks. Five years of sloshing white spirit from five litre cartons and mopping it up with paper. Yesterday it finally occurred to me to put some of the white spirit in a spray bottle and, taa daa, cleaning up became a miracle of economy, accuracy and efficiency.

The print I mentioned last time has reached the stage where all the action is down at the bottom of the image. I’m on oil based lino now so using the press. It’s important to have a fair amount of pressure so I packed the press with additional paper and was heaving the handle across with my feet braced on its feet (imagine Mammy lacing Scarlett into her corset Gone With The Wind style). The print quality was still very patchy. In desperation I went to get my husband (now he works from home he is open to such abuses) to give it some more welly. Instead he considered the print for a moment, fished a small scrap of lino from the bin and positioned it at the top end of the block. Instant printing success: his small adjustment stopped the block from rocking away from the plate. His brains triumphing over my brawn.

It could be that the cold has addled my brain. My dad, supplier of the dehumidifier, also supplied the genes for a total inability to generate my own warmth. I get up, think of a sensible number of clothes to wear, double it and still I cool through the day like a human storage heater, needing to be reheated in the bath by evening. It’s tiring and it’s not great for my image. Van Gogh had the romance of candles stuck to his hat while he painted the wheeling stars in the French night sky. Turner, I bet, looked heroic in a sou'wester while lashed to the mast and sketching his storms at sea. I, on the other hand, resemble the sensible pensioner in the Government information films about winter cold; the one who’s wearing those oh so practical layers, fleecy slippers and a warm knee blanket. I too have the warming mug of tea and the hot water bottle. I’m even wearing the cat...

Thursday, 7 January 2010

A little rusty...

While the rest of Britain may be missing work days through snow, I have found that my studio is easily warmer than my home and my productivity is rocketing. It has insulation and double glazing; our house does not. Indeed our house, in the best turn of the century tradition, demands roaring fires in every room and the generous consumption of fossil fuels. Sadly its ambitions are all now bricked up bar one and the only echoes of Edwardian largess remaining are the five chilblains I’m currently nursing.

In Japan I learnt to cut linden plywood. The masters cut wild cherry which is not only frighteningly expensive, but very hard and it lacks the neat guideline of reaching a new layer of wood to tell me that I’ve cut deeply enough. Here I raided my husband’s carpentry supplies and ended up with builder’s birch ply. In a fit of optimism I decided on a starter piece that a) was at least twice as big as anything I’d tried before, b) combined water based woodblock with oil based lino cut (another first for me) and c) used up paper I already had irrespective of its suitability. I think the cheapness of the birch ply had a lot to do with my insouciance. So far it’s going ok: the birch splinters like hell and the paper wasn’t perfect, but a Japanese landscape is emerging and I will keep you posted.

The only glitch in the studio is humidity: the butane heater throws out moisture and my huge chilly iron press is the perfect condenser. Fortunately my dad bought me a dehumidifier for Christmas. I’d like to say this was an act of genius on his part, but actually the cheque came with a note to ‘treat yourself to something pretty’: I just added ‘fantastic to save your work and your press’ to the end of his message. I’m hoping that I can polish the superficial rust off the Albion before the Open Studios and embarrassing questions start.