Monday, December 26, 2011

Dove Cottage finished

Done, dusted and stuck down:

Though this image loses about a half inch on either side.

Now on with Gad's Hill Place, which is already straying from my original intention, colour-wise, in the sky at least. 

While browsing through my scrap boxes I came across bits that reminded me of something else that was current in the 1850s and 60s: Paisley shawls, an example of which I have and a photo of which I will upload in my next post. 

Anyway, into the mix they go ...

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The inescapable Charles Dickens

Well, he's everywhere isn't he? Wall-to-wall 200th anniversary celebrations all over the media, so how could I resist? Not that I am a big fan or anything, his heroines are a bit too insipid, his stories a tad too sentimental for my taste and as for his treatment of his poor wife - abominable. I think being force-fed David Copperfield at school has a lot to do with it too.

But having embarked on this Writers' Houses project I could hardly ignore him and I have to say I am rather taken by the story of his Kentish home, Gad's Hill Place, which he had first seen as a young boy, and after which he had always dreamt of owning. In 1856 his wealth enabled him to realize that dream. He enjoyed it for the fourteen years remaining to him until his untimely death from a stroke on June 9 1870.

"It was," said one quote I came across while researching the house, "one of those comfortable old-fashioned mansions which seem to have taken root nowhere but in the most picturesque parts of rural England, and are the brick-and-mortar embodiment of the idea of Home."

There is going to be plenty of garden in this picure and plenty of colour (as a contrast to the wintery tones of Dove Cottage). My first thought was Dickens's purchase of the property coincides with that astonishing burst of colour brought about in Europe by the discovery (or do I mean the invention?) in London of aniline dyes. There are Berlin woolwork samplers of the period that still retain the depth and intense vividness of those mauves, purples, lime greens, carmines and fucshias.

My swatch of clippings for Gad's Hill Place
What a contrast to the old faded sepia photographs of Gad's Hill Place.
And an excellent lead-in to concentrate my mind's eye  ....

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sheepish indecision

Sheep in?


Sheep out?

And why am I dithering and stressing about a blimming sheep?
Get a grip Amanda.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dove Cottage, Grasmere and a lot of weather

Finished at last.

After a lot of putting in taking out of sheep and a whole lot of weather. As I said in another post, heavy weather and the cozy clicking of windscreen wipers are what I remember most about my childhood day trips to the Lakes. 

Consequently it is a bit of a wet and blustery vision I have snipped of the cottage with Mr W himself watching that flock go by, though they look lively rather than leisurely, I'm afraid.

So here it is again, that inspirational fragment from To Sleep:

A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by,
One after one; the sound of rain, and bees 
Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas,
Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky ...

Far too cold and wet for bees , murmuring or otherwise I think.

As usual the picture above has lost some details, it not being the same proportion as my camera shots and me being a non-cropper (still).

So here is the unadulterated version, adulterated by bits of masking paper round the edges.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

In the bleak midwinter

This is taking longer than I would like because of all the other things going on right now, not least of them being Christmas, which all of a sudden is upon us. And not a single card written! 

Just as well I have decided on placing Dove Cottage bang in the middle of winter with none of that foliage I was talking about. Far too fiddly for the feel of the picture, anyway. 
 Must be the effect of hearing carols on the radio seeping into my scissors. In the Bleak Midwinter has always been one of my favourites, mixing my poets here I know. 

I have taken a bit (a bit? you must be joking) of a liberty with the positioning of the cottage too - in Wordsworth's day he did have a clear view over Lake Grasmere but I doubt whether even then it was lapping almost up to the front garden! But needs (and spatial limitations) must.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Working on Wordsworth

It's coming together at last.
I was still faffing around in a fairly directionless manner, abandoning the board and going back to my doodle book.

 Then I found these four tranquil lines from a longer poem by Wordsworth called To Sleep:

A flock of sheep that leisurely pass by
One after one; the sound of rain, and bees
Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas,
Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky ...

Then I found a couple of full page Dolce & Gabanna ads in some magazines I bought at the car boot sale on Saturday .... allowing me some big pieces for smooth fields in just the right Lake Districty shade ...

 Another day or two and plenty of foliage should do it.
I want to keep it looking rough-hewn.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Christmas cards and more for Keats House

I am thrilled to think of my artwork being available on holy ground!

Keats House, Hampstead
 My cards and prints and bookplates will soon be on sale in the Keats House shop which occupies part of the room that was once the Dilke then the Brawne parlour. 
Where the great Keats walked ... 
I am, as you see, cockahoop at the mere idea.
So my studio has been converted into a packing station:

As well as the Christmas cards they will be stocking Sailing to Italy and Hampstead Landscape cards and prints:

Sailing to Italy

Hampstead Landscape - Letter from Naples
 And bookplates - providing I can source very small cellophane bags.

Right, no time to blather on, must get back to my cardboard boxes and bubble wrap and weighing scales and packages which will this week be winging their way to the house formerly known as Wentworth Place...

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Little Shop

and some of my current stock:

A Jane Austen Christmas

A John Keats Christmas
Seasonal cards!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
These and other goodies available in my shop here:

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Dove and Olive, Grasmere

The Dove and Olive was the name of William Wordsworth's seventeenth century cottage during its time as an inn. Some also refer to it as The Dove and Olive Bough. By the time the Wordsworths (brother and sister) moved in on December 20 1799, it had been empty for several years and was known as Dove Cottage.

Here, on the edge of Grasmere lake, William and Dorothy - and eventually William's wife Mary - spent eight idyllic years of "plain living and high thinking".
It was the beginning of English Romanticism and here was written Wordsworth's greatest poetry.

Here endeth the lesson.
And here starteth the collage.

I made the mistake of laying down papers and playing around with them on the hideously bright Mediterranean blue cartridge paper currently covering my drawing board.

I always start off with the windows.
The windows are the eyes to a building's soul.
To badly misquote somebody or other.

The left hand window was finished. Or so I thought. It is now binned. For being too neat.
The windows (and everything else) will be pretty much as you see the rest here: rough hewn and sort of geological. To echo the rugged Lake District. No good giving this home a delicate refined look. It is an honest seventeeth century cottage set in a landscape fashioned by glaciers rather than man.

I lived in a primitive, thick-walled seventeenth century cottage in the north once. Massive thick walls and little in the way of refinement - and that was the twentieth century. So I feel a kinship and am keeping the feel of the thing primitive and "plain living". Earthy. No mod cons. Part of the landscape.
Anyway, more later ...

Friday, November 25, 2011

A farmhouse finished and a cottage beginning ...

Finished this on Wednesday, an image which I shall use for local cards.

And am now busy sorting out possibilities cutting-wise for Dove Cottage and trying to decide on a season. Summer or winter? When I visited as a child I remember it was raining cats and dogs in the height of summer. Wet slate and the smell of earth and damp and the sound of windscreen wipers. 

On the whole, and going on my dim and distant memories I think I might go for watery muted colours so these are the pieces I have found so far. One more box and a pile of fresh magazines to go through. 
I will try very hard to be good and not get side-tracked by the November 2007 edition of Good Housekeeping.

Here is my preliminary swatch (with cat's tail accidentally included).

As you see, continuing my sheep roll, I am thinking of including a passing herd. Not settled about that yet though.
We shall see.
Off to read a spot of Wordsworth to get me into the mood.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A taste of Tenerife - and the Lakes

This is a small collage of a Tenerife farmhouse I am trying to finish off at the moment. It has been a bit of therapy and has served to get my hand and eye in after a couple of fairly sterile weeks.

So I did a therapeutic studio clean up and started this and now hope to return to my writers' houses, especially after discovering this ancient little yellowing booklet which had fallen down and was languishing behind the bookshelf:

It contains some very evocative small reproductions of contemporary engravings and watercolours. I was especially interested in one by the poet's daughter, Dora. It shows Dove Cottage walled by what looks for all the world like a row of headstones and not the drystone wall we see today. 

But however much I peer at it, I can't for the life of me make out what they are. Perhaps just huge slates lined up... a mystery.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Photo shoot chez naive art house

Portrait of a grumpy woman
I am grumpy, stressed out and fed up. Now there's a rivetting way to start a post. (That's not me above, I hasten to add, just a little picture that chimes with my general mood). I am in need of getting down to some serious image-making but all I seem to be doing is shuffling pieces of official paper from one end of town to another or even worse, one town to another. And I daren't even think about the hours of waiting in air-conditioned, miserably-lit depressing offices adorned with hideous paintings where windows should be. 

THEN, in the same fortnight, being the glutton for punishment I already know myself to be, I embark on my Etsy adventure. (Etsy is an online shop community). Stand up anyone who believed the blurb about it being easy-peasy. On second thoughts, don't if you value your life. I was struggling at it all day again yesterday. THEN this morning I woke up to cat sick in the living room and a massive orange spider in the bath.

THEN I switched on the televison and saw the Remembrance Sunday service at the Cenotaph and all my selfish troubles and whinges were kicked into insignificant perspective...

Sooooo ..... back to this Etsy emporium of mine (opening Monday or Tuesday) - it requires photography so I have been stabbing away at every damned setting on the camera hoping that something sharp and appealing and hopefully legible would emerge. That is my usual coping method with any technology whatsoever, be it camera, computer, washing machine or telephone - stab away until it works.

Anyway, here's a sampler of some more acceptable (ie less blurry) images.
I found some nice frames for my Keatsian mini prints:


And here's my Mad Cat Lady in her frame:

And that's enough for now otherwise there'll be no surprise. It'll be a relief to think that maybe next week I will be able to emerge from this horrible chrysalis and start making things that have been buzzing around in my head again in peace and I hope this grumpy whining post will explain to those people with whom I have not been communicating over the past fortnight how things have been. 
My most abject apologies.
Think of it as a lucky escape.


Monday, November 7, 2011

I'm back ... with naive Christmas cards

I didn't realise how long it has been since I had posted anything.
Daughter has been visiting and I have had lots of bureaucratic stuff to do. 
Then running around to the printer.
Anyway, that's my excuse.
My creativity was zapped - or do I mean sapped - by it all.

But as you see, I haven't been entirely idle. 
More presents have arrived on the steps of Wentworth Place and some new shoots of grass are showing!

This is one of my beautiful (if I do say so myself!) Christmas cards - hooray - which will be in my shop this week.

Watch this space.
Or even THAT space.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Monoprints, yay!

Two Sisters
Well, it's something I'd been promising myself to do for a while now but just hadn't got round to hunting out the ink and glass and finding a space for the ensuing mess on my cuttings strewn worktop. So along came two reminders in one week: images on tv of Tracy Emin producing a monoprint and a post on Anna Wilson-Patterson's splendid blog about it. 
The fates had conspired ...
So now I'm on a roll.

I used some of the antique doll images in my sketchbook which have served as the basis for my paper cut portraits as a point of departure.
This was the first I pulled that I was vaguely satisfied with:

 I love the way two opposite poles come together in one image: the precision of line and the randomness of the fuzz and blotching and brush strokes (I have an aversion to rollers). Then there is the childish excitement (albeit often followed by disappointment) of pulling the paper away and discovering - success or failure.

Black Cat
The Two Sisters is the last thing I have done and voila, brings together monoprinting and my love of paper and scissors. I think it's an avenue I will explore at length and enjoy dawdling in!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Romantic footnote

Another miniature portrait of an all-but-forgotten female from the Romantic era. Poor Miss Cotterell has haunted my doodle book for a while, and my imagination for a bit longer. She was an ordinary middle-class girl born in the early 1800s. But for a twist of fate she would have lived and died and been laid to rest in complete anonymity.

Miss Cotterell Was a Sad Martyr to Her Illness

As it was, however, she happened to book her passage (and that of her chaperone, Mrs Pidgeon) to Naples (where her brother was a banker) on the Maria Crowther on the same date as Keats and Severn and has thus, as fellow-traveller, gained a kind of immortality by fleetingly appearing in all the poet's biographies, a shadowy figure who shared their six week voyage south, suffering from consumption and subject to frequent fainting fits.

Severn wrote that she was eighteen, pretty and "agreeable and ladylike". We are also given to understand that her case was terminal and that she was "a sad martyr to her illness", as Severn put it, but do not know her as anything but her formal title of Miss Cotterell. 

What happened to her, how long did she have to live with her brother Charles in Naples? Where and when was she buried? 
Poor, poor Miss Cotterell.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

All we like sheep ...

... is the name of a piece by Handel (I think), and I always have. Liked sheep, that is. 
I'm the mad woman who quietly squeals with delight when I get back to England and pass my first green field of sheep on the train.

So I had these scraps left over from my Naples Letter collage and they were hanging around on my table top and rather than throw them away I made one of my miniatures:

Sheep 1
Which of course led to me doing a larger one, the composition of which was based on a drawing I did ages ago of sheep in Edale, where I lived at one time.

Going With the Herd

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Hampstead landscape

Hampstead Landscape: Letter from Naples

I know. I was meant to be "doing" Dove Cottage ... Well, I went to the library and drew a blank as far as Wordsworth goes. 
The closest was Wogan. 
And that's not exactly close. 

And I had a spare already made up Keats House going, plus I saw the EXACT match to the pathway in my Keats House guide in the shape of one of his last letters to Wentworth Place from Naples so I cut it out, played around, and decided to make a picture of it with a quiltish background. 

It fits in more with the evolved style of  my writers' houses. The brickwork is a nod to the building going on in Hampstead at the time. Indeed, Keats complains of the slowness of developers and the eternal building site opposite Wentworth Place in one of his letters. The colours are nice muted English ones - a contrast to the hectic, vivid vision Keats would have seen from the boat in Naples as he penned the letter.

I'll have to research my Wordsworth entirely online but I'm one of those stupid old-fashioned people who prefer to kick off my research by delving into an actual biography.

Ah well, c'est la vie.
Off to do a spot of googling ....

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The enigmatic Miss Kent

Another imaginary portrait of one of the women of the Romantic circle who oiled the wheels that allowed the men to take centre stage (now there's a mixture of metaphors)...

Bess Kent was the sister-in-law of radical journalist and poet Leigh Hunt. He was introduced to the Kent sisters by a mutual friend who knew the 11-year-old Bess was keen to meet him after reading one of his essays in a political journal. Hunt fell for and eventually married the sexy older sister but the triangular relationship lasted for many years and rumours of incest dogged poor Bess who was undoubtedly in love with Hunt.

The more intellectual and social Bess acted as amenuensis, administrator and hostess while her harrassed and indolent sister produced a brood of unruly children and eventually sank into invalidism and ultimately alcoholism. Bess herself had a legendary temper, a sometime opium dependency and made several attempts on her own life.

But once the Hunts had left for Italy she appears to have blossomed, becoming an independent woman, writing botanical books  - her Flora Domestica, or, the portable flower-garden: with directions for the treatment of plants in pots and illustrations from the works of the poets was a popular hit and the first gardening book of its kind - and carrying on a long friendship by letter (they never met) with the poet John Clare.
Few of her letters survive and she never sat for her portrait.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Even more cats ...

How many cats qualify you for title of Mad Cat Woman? My six sound paltry by comparison with Mrs Griggs's but when they're all clamouring for food at the same time I swear it FEELS like 6 times 13. 

Anyway my interest extends to other people's cats too - my first question is always What's his/her name - didn't TS Eliot write a poem about that?. Obviously a man after my own heart. Names really are important.
Here are two of my latest miniatures, two black cats. My very first cat, Polly, was a black one. They make such very elegant shapes. Very collag-able (is that a word?): 

James is a cat who seems to have adopted my youngest daughter in London. He lives next door, five floors up. A very urban cat.

And this is William who kind of appeared out of my imagination and a heap of scrap paper that was on my drawing board. I think the name popped up out of my subconscious because I have been toying with and doodling away at Dove Cottage, Wordsworth's  house, lately.

Right, off to the car boot sale at the church now, in the hopes of coming across a stash of old magazines. I really need some new stuff to refresh my hoard.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Portrait of a mad cat woman

You never know the minute ... a sentence, a paragraph, a photo, a poem or a curious snippet stumbled upon in a blog can spark the idea for a picture. Well, that's how it works for me anyway. Just a small piece of information can set me off.

One of my favourite blogs is Georgian London - that's www. - where a recent post, a contemporary obit, caught my eye:

"An Eccentrical Lady"

Died, 16th January 1792, at her house, Southampton Row, Bloomsbury, Mrs Griggs. Her executors found in her house eighty-six living and twenty-eight dead cats. A black servant has been left 150 pounds per annum, for the maintenance of herself and the surviving grimalkins.

The lady was single, and died worth 30,000 pounds. Mrs Griggs, on the death of her sister, a short time ago, had an addition to her fortune; she set up her coach, and went out almost every day airing, but suffered no male servants to sleep in her house. Her maids being tired frequently of their attendance on such a numerous household, she was induced at last to take a black woman to attend and feed them. The black woman had lived servant to Mrs Griggs many years, and had a handsome annuity given her to take care of the cats."

So here is my take on the eccentrical Mrs Griggs, a mad cat woman of the eighteenth century.
Hope her cats were indeed "maintained" after her demise.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

In the Bay of Biscay

I finished this piece yesterday, letting rip (as opposed to snipping) with my store of papers. No, I did snip the background which is a patchwork of greys, meant to vaguely represent the sails. And the boat itself, the Maria Crowther, which took Keats and Severn to Naples in September - October 1820. But the rest is torn, the best way I could approximate to what physically and possibly mentally overtook the dying and deeply depressed poet en route to Italy and his grave:

"In the Bay of Biscay," wrote Severn recalling the voyage, "we encountered a three day storm. The sea swept over the ship all day and night, and the rushing up and down of water in the cabin was a frightful sound in the darkness..."

And again: "The waves were of enormous length, and so high that the effect was like a mountainous country:"
Severn himself painted a serene picture of the Maria Crowther which I used as a source and there are strong echoes of Alfred Wallis, one of my favourite naive artists in there too.

Working it out

I used fragmented pieces from photocopies of some of Keats's last magnificent heart-breaking letters too.

I have still to get to grips with being able to crop photos, so I'm afraid there is a bit of worktable all round this picture for the time being until I master that particular IT art.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sailing to Italy

This has been kicking around at the back of my mind (and pages and pages back in my sketch book) for ages. Even before I did the Shelley storm for Field Place. A boat instead of a house this time - not sure where it's going yet. 

The Maria Crowther heading for Naples. 
And death. 

With a 3 day storm in the Bay of Biscay between and echoes of one of my favourite painters, Alfred Wallis, thrown in for good measure.

And memories of a frightful couple of days and even worse nights in my youth which I shall never forget - on a rust bucket of a ferry grandly called the Ernesto Anastasio - in an Atlantic storm in December when only a miracle saved me from being crushed to death between shifting cargo on deck, and we all heard the terrifying boom which signified the propellor coming out of the water. That's how big the waves were.

Oh, yes. I can identify with the storm that hit the Maria Crowther ...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Christmas cards

I have been tweaking my Winter Snows image. 
No, what am I saying? 
I have redone it completely to give it a more decoratively Christmasy feel. 

Wentworth Place with silhouetted inhabitants (Keats and Fanny?), the dashing Dilke cats, some seasonal robins and a gift on the doorstep ...

White is EXTREMELY hard to photograph.

I'm still searching for the definitive shot (this needs more to the left and less to the right) but thought I'd put this one up anyway to prove I haven't been slacking after a week's absence.
Each one of those snowflakes has been lovingly (what?) and individually cut and stuck down.

I think I may be suffering from snow blindness ...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A victim of Romanticism

Here is another miniature portrait, of a woman whose life was fatally shaped by the Romantic movement:

To Fanny nothing now remained except death

Fanny Wollstonecraft was a tragic figure, overlooked in life and death. The daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft, half-sister to Mary Shelley, adopted daughter of William Godwin, she was herself not touched by genius, though she wished to be worthy of those geniuses who surrouded her. Conventional and unbookish, her role in the chaotic, debt-ridden Godwin household was confined to two things: running the place and peacemaking. She was most likely in love with Shelley who regarded her at best with indifference and at worst as a useful go-between and was left behind when he, Mary and their stepsister Claire ran off to France.

Unappreciated, unloved and taken for granted, poor Fanny eventually decided to end her life. Even in this she took care to cause no trouble. She took the coach to Swansea, booked herself into an inn and took an overdose of laudanum. No family member came forward to claim her body and she was buried in a communal grave. She was just 22.

No character of Jane Austen ever had to write anything as dire as a suicide note but you can't help feeling that if any had they could have done no better than Fanny's elegant and understated farewell:
I have long determined that the best thing I could do was to put an end to the existence of a being whose birth was unfortunate, and whose life has only been a series of pain to those persons who have hurt their health in endeavouring to promote her welfare. Perhaps to hear of my death will give you pain, but you will soon have the blessing of forgetting that such a creature ever existed as Francis Wollstonecraft."

Poor Fanny.

Deary me, really,  the more I read about Percy Bysshe Shelley the less I find to like about him...

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Newstead Abbey night scene

Finished at last.
Newstead Abbey with a Gothic twist.

Strangely, as I was sticking down the last pieces, the streaks of lightning, the sound of thunder came over on the radio, accompanying a very brief excerpt from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Creepy ....

It was a storm in the Villa Diodati, Byron's rented villa overlooking Lake Geneva, when those gathered (Shelley, Mary Godwin (later Shelley), Claire Clairmont, Polidori and Byron himself) told each other ghost stories which eventually resulted in Mary Shelley's classic.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Portrait of a worried woman

The Newstead Abbey collage should be finished today.
I had thought of including poor Lady Byron in it, running off with her babe in arms. When doing these houses I can't help but thinking about their occupants ...

Annabella was well aware that her husband cared more for her half sister than he did for her.
In the end I did a miniature portrait, playing card size (the correct term is ACEO but I loathe acronyms) which - as usually happens with me - kicks me into series mode. It is a small picture with a very long title - a sentence from a book. Last night I started on one of Fanny Wollstonecraft. I would like to see how a mosaic of about 20 would look together .... but I am getting ahead of myself.

Annabella Milbanke's unfortunate marriage to Lord Byron took place on New Year's Day 1815. A year and one child later she was divorced, hinting at but never specifying, his allegedly perverse practises in the bedroom and his much gossiped-about unnatural feelings for his half-sister, Augusta Leigh.

So she cut her losses and got out where other women at that time might well have put up and shut up.

The formidable Lady Byron is listed in Chambers as "English philanthropist". She went into the marriage with the celebrated poet with a view to reforming his character but spectacularly failed. She later put her reforming spirit to work more successfully elsewhere: in improving women's education, in agriculture and industry and in the anti-slavery movement.