Monday, 24 December 2012

Yuletide Greetings!

Just wanted to send my best wishes to all of you for Yuletide.

Thank you for visiting and commenting on my site/blog over this past year. I had hoped to have a new painting to show you - a festive version of the ancient Three Hares symbol - but my cats had other ideas. It's hard to concentrate on painting while the Christmas tree is being demolished in the corner and there are baubles flying past my head.

So, another year almost over. I don't know where the time has gone, I really don't. It doesn't seen all that long ago I was starting the paintings for my Enchanted Alphabet project. It doesn't feel as if I've created a lot of art this year. I have to keep reminding myself that, if nothing else, I published a book!!

Here's to next year and (hopefully) lots more art!!


Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Crafting Bug

It's been a while since I posted anything because, well, it's been a while since I painted anything. It's that time of year again when I catch the crafting bug. It happens every year, a bit like the flu but far more pleaseant and colorful. The shops start to fill up with shiney, sparkly things and I get distracted by them all, glittering away on their shelves and shop displays. I must've been a magpie in a former life. It didn't help that Kirsty is back on the telly doing her vintage craft thing, nor did a trip to the MADE Cafe in Whitley Bay and the local sewing shop, both full of lovely crafts and supplies. So, out come the fabrics and the beads and the ribbon. I rediscover treasures I'd forgotten I bought, stashed away for safe keeping, waiting for the right project.

If I'm completely truthful, I have to admit that I bought a lot of the stuff over the years because it looked so pretty. I can't resist all those lovely colors - did I mention I used to be a magpie? But my workroom is full to bursting and I made a solemn promise to myself a couple of years ago that I would not, under any circumstances, buy any more fabrics, beads, ribbons, buttons or fancy threads until I had made use of what I already have (unless it was an emergency, you understand. I had to buy some Christmasy fabric this year to make Christmas stockings for my cats).

This year I had to delve into my scrap box for most of my Christmas fabrics because last year I made geese:

and birds:

and cats:

and hearts:

oh, and bunting. I thought that lot would've finished off my Christmas fabrics for good but I can't bring myself to throw out even small pieces, hence the scrap box. After a good old rummage, I found enough pieces to make some baubles and I really did throw away the scraps that were left this time...well, most of them.

The baubles are basically fabric beach balls - six leaf shaped pieces cut from different fabrics, sewn together to form a ball, with a loop of gold thread secured at the top.

Pattern pieces in three sizes

Six pieces sewn together

Ta'dah! A bauble!

I think they need jazzing up a bit with some beads and ribbons, but with two boisterous young cats meeting a Christmas tree for the first time next month, I think I'll be replacing my glass ornaments with some of these this year.

I also found a few half finished bits and pieces, so with a craft fair at my local community centre looming in a couple of weeks I've finished some fabric brooches:

and some more cats:

Cat egg cosies

Phew, I think that should be all for now. The anti-crafting drugs should be kicking in soon and I can return to normality. I've got one very large painting that I hope to be starting work on soon and may well end up being part of a series of tree-spirit pictures, if the sketching goes well.

Oh, and just a final reminder for anyone who has book-marked pages on my old website - only five days until it disappears and this site takes over as After I've swaped URLs I'll be adding a links page to this site, so any artists or crafters out there who want to exchange links, please get in touch.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Work In Progress

As you can see I've made some major changes to the appearance of this blog. I'm in the process of transferring a chunk of the content of my Wild Wood website to this one, so that, eventually, this blog will become my site. Please bear with me while I make all the changes.



Sunday, 16 September 2012


So, I was watching Labyrinth last week. All those fabulous Froudian creations. And it got me all fired up to finish my troll. I'd been working on a few bits and pieces over the last few weeks - creating little polymer clay troll buttons for his shirt, rune-sticks to hang from his belt and a few 'carved stones' to decorate his hat. The last thing to make was the sack of stories I wanted him to be carrying on his back, full of old scrolls. So with the help of a pot of tea and some coffee (for the scrolls and for me :) ) I got everything finished. And here he is:

Sceop, the Library Troll

As you can see, in the end I had to make some shoes for him. With the best will in the world, he was never going to stand up properly with those lumpy old feet so I cut a couple of matching pieces of mount board, place one under each foot and wrapped them with strips of hand-dyed muslin.

His clothes were made by adapting and enlarging some basic clothing patterns I had created previously for teddy-bears. You can't see them too well under his coat, but he's wearing grey linen trousers and an Indian cotton shirt (cut from an old shirt of mine). His two-tone coat was the biggest challenge. I only have a limited supply of this gorgeous silk velvet, so I made the coat in calico first to make sure the pattern worked. Jeez, that velvet may look nice but it's a bugger to sew. His hat and his back-pack are hessian, lined with calico and all the little rune stones and knotwork stones were made from polymer clay. The scrolls were simply torn sheets of cream paper, rolled and dipped in tea, then, when nearly dry, the ends were dipped in the dregs of a pot of filter coffee.

And here he is. After consulting the members of The Mythic Cafe with Charles de Lint
 their vast knowledge of all things folklore suggested the name Sceop - an old Anglo-Saxon word for 'bard', which troll seems very happy with.

So, what have a learned from the troll-making process?

#1 - build an armature that will actually be able to stand up when it's covered in clay. Sounds obvious, and it is, but I got a little carried away with the tin-foil...

#2 - 20 minutes baking time per 1/4 inch of clay may sound simple enough but it's not. Not when you're making something with thick bits and thin bits and trying to bake it all at the same time.
You need to plan the sculpt and build it up in layers.

#3 - making one complete armature for the whole model might not always be the best way to do it. It would've been much easier to work on the head, hands and feet separately, but I got a little carried away with the tin-foil...

#4 - if I'm going to put sewing holes around the ankles and wrists to secure a fabric bodyto  (and I'm not convinced it was worth doing at all), then at least angle them so I can get a needle through them easily :-|

#5 - I won't be making clothes for anything, anytime soon, from silk velvet.

All in all, it's mostly been a fun process - except when fingers dropped off - and a worth while process. I think I've learned a lot.

Will I be making anything else???

My mum's buying me a pasta maker for my birthday and I have no intention of using it to make tagliatelle  ;)

Saturday, 11 August 2012

The Great August Sketchbook Project!!

Well, I have made a start but, as usual, I've been a little side-tracked by other things - wrestling with CreateSpace, making miniature bears for an exhibition in September, the seemingly perpetual re-decoration of my home, a painting for an art competition on DeviantArt ... I know, I know, I said I was going to put my paints away and just draw for the entire month but my brain just doesn't work like that it seems. I hop from one thing to the next and back again all the time. When something gets into my head I have to start work on it there and then. I'm hopless, really I am. :-|

But the sketchbook itself isn't going too badly so far. Rather than just fill it with quickly scribbled stuff, I'm taking the time to work on each drawing, re-working and re-working again when things aren't quite right, resisting the temptation to give up on an image too quickly and not allowing myself to tear out any pages.

Finally, a quick Troll update: - sculpey troll now has a snazzy little hat, a shirt and a pair of linen trousers; measuring a troll's inside leg - that was a first! Just his coat, shoes and a few accessories to go...

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The Sketchbook of Doom

I've always known that inspiration and the creative urge to make art can be fickle things. They can flit about, disappear just when you need them, refuse to cooperate at exactly the time you've set aside to work; but recently, with the need to produce something new gnawing at my brain I began to realize that I have developed something of an aversion to sketchbooks. This is not a good state for any artist to be in. Sketchbooks, along with pencils, are our most basic tools. We all probably own piles of them. I know I do. But here's an admission that would no doubt have my old art tutors rolling their eyes in despair - <drum roll> - I have never used every page - and thereby effectively completed -  a single sketchbook. Ever. In my whole life. I love buying them, really love buying them. Large ones, tiny ones, moleskine ones, soft cover, hard cover. You name 'em I've got 'em. But not one of them is full.

So I asked myself why that is. Why does the thought of working in a sketchbook make me feel so uncomfortable? And I think, perhaps, it's that word 'book'. Y'see, I love books - and have done since I was a child. I loved to read, and still do, immersing myself in the numerous fantasy worlds of Tolkien, Stephen Donaldson, Clive Barker, Charles de Lint, Terri Windling, Ray Bradbury to name but a few. Not to mention all the art-books I have full of works by my favorite artists. I have a 'book list' at Christmas rather than just a 'wish list' and books are double stacked on most of my shelves. So I think, for me, that word 'book' implies an already completed entity. A finished thing in and of itself; a completed work, edited, designed, finished, which to me, suggests that a 'book' is no place for mistakes or experimentation.

If I could magically transfer all my best sketches into one book that would be my sketchbook. It would have an ornate cover, every page would be covered in perfectly executed sketches, every inch used to its maximum potential - just like the published 'sketchbooks' of some of my favorite artists.

Of course, the reality of my sketchbooks is so very different. Many contain the most inept and awful attempts at composing paintings, terribly out of proportion figures drawn from my imagination  and a few gems which just somehow worked and actually did become paintings. Pages have been ripped out of most of them whether in anger or to be scanned. And the remains of those books just sit there in a row glowering at me, daring me to pick one up and make marks on its pages.


 For a while I thought that I had the perfect solution - to circum-navigate those smugly bound pages and sketch on single sheets of paper. But the reality is that, while this may work surprisingly well and has enabled me to put aside that 'book' anxiety and work more freely on new ideas, perversely there is actually a part of me that wants to, or maybe needs to create that dream sketchbook.

So I'm going to whisper this as quietly as I can, because I am very much aware of the saying 'If you want to hear God laugh, tell him your plans' as I have fallen foul of of this phrase many a time. Perhaps 'God' doesn't read blogs and I might get away with it, so here goes - 

I've bought a new sketchbook and, starting in August when my Enchanted Alphabet  is completed, I'm going to fill that sketchbook, from cover to cover, with new drawings and sketches.

There, I've said it. <deep breath> Now, I'll either be overwhelmed with plagues and pestilence in a few weeks time or I'll be furiously sharpening pencils. Keep your fingers crossed for me and I'll post the results here in the weeks to come :)

Friday, 22 June 2012

Disasters, Repairs, Paint and Hair

I suppose it was too good to be true, that I'd actually get my troll made without anything going wrong. After baking for the final time I know painting should be the next step but I was starting to have serious doubts about whether he'd ever be able to stand up so I wanted to work on the body first. That way, if it all went horribly wrong I wouldn't've wasted my time painting.

So, I wrapped all the exposed wire bits in strips of quilt wadding to start with:

Then, loosely based on a teddy bear body pattern I made a calico body that I could stuff:

And stuff it I did - to within an inch of it's life - in an attempt to make the body as firm as possible. It was rather a traumatic experience for poor troll who, as a consequence, suffered a broken finger and a broken shoulder as I was man-handling him. I'm going to have to experiment with baking sculpey at different temperatures and for different lengths of time, I think. Even though it seemed solid enough, it obviously wasn't. But to cheer him up I also made him a tail :)

So I repaired the shoulder with a bit more sculpey and vaseline. And the poor guy had to go back ino the oven. He looked so sad sitting in his baking tray:

Once that was done I finished sewing up the seams at the shoulders and it was time to paint!!
Starting with thin washes of acrylic paint, I mainly used raw umber, burnt umber and Payne's grey but kept changing my mind about how dark or light skinned I wanted him to be so there are quite a few layers on the finished head:

Finally for this post, I added his hair. I'd left the back of his head unpainted so the glue would stick better. For this I followed this tutorial, though I used needle-felting fleece rather than alpaca fur. I had tried to make needle-felted dreadlocks first but they looked a bit rubbish.

I divided the wool into strands and glued then at one end with pva:

then once that was completely dry, I trimmed the glue to tidy it up and started sticking it to the troll's head, beginning at the back of the neck:

  I am a little concerned that he's now starting to look a bit like one of these:

   This is the last 'work in progress' I'm going to be writing for now. The next stage is to make his clothes and accessories which is something I know how to do, having been making clothes for bears for many years now, and anyway, I want my big 'Ta-Dah!' moment when I can present the finished project :)  I'm also a bit distracted by other artwork at the moment so my next post might well be about something completely different...but I will get back to my troll soon, hopefully fully clothed and looking a little less like the ones above.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012


I've got quite a clear image in my head now of how I want my little troll to look when he's finished. Whether I can achieve that is another matter but it's finally time to work on the head...

I put a very thin layer of sculpey over the whole thing first to start it off, leaving the ears till later.

After that I wanted to site the eyes. The thing is, after checking my stash of glass boot button eyes that I used for making teddy bears, I was torn between two options, one of which meant I had to do a bad thing. So bad I can't even say it but I think this picture will explain:

May Ursula the Bear Goddess forgive me. I will replace it as soon as I can, I promise. Even worse, in the end I went for the other option, using bigger eyes.

A bit more work and eekk!!! it looks like Seth Brundle at the end of Cronenberg's version of 'The Fly'!!

But I kept wittling away. No, wittling's the wrong word. What's the opposite of wittling? Anyway, quite a few hours later and I ended up with something that owes much of its looks to John Bauer, Brian and Wendy Froud, and just a little bit of Guillermo del Toro :)

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Sculpting hands

As an artist I know how difficult it can be to draw and paint hands. It's one of the things that lots of artists struggle with. I know I have and still do from time to time. Get it even slightly wrong and it can ruin an otherwise good image. So I was full of trepidation when I started to sculpt the hands. But what a revelation!! Instead of struggling I really, really enjoyed it. Perhaps it was because working in 3 dimensions removes the worry about foreshortening, I don't know, but I had a blast doing the first hand.

Of course, when things are going well something always happens to balance it somewhat. It was raining all day while I was working. This shouldn't really be a problem - nice cosy room to work in, as much coffee as I can drink, but.. a rainy day means bored cats who won't go out in the wet, which leads to this kind of thing -

After much sniffing of jars and pliers, and an attempt to bite a troll ear he turned his attention to the feet, got a troll foot hair up his nose and promptly sneezed. Lovely, I get sprayed with cat bogeys...
But if that was the price I had to pay, it was a small one, I think, to end up with a pair of gnarly old troll hands that worked out much better than I'd expected.

(the hand on the right is mine by the way - just in case you were wondering ;)  )

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Big Hairy Troll Feet!!

Yup, I think it's going to be a troll...

The Fimo and the armature survived its baking in tact, no burnt tape, noxious fumes or damaged ovens!!

Finally I can start the sculpting proper. I got a collection of sculpting 'tools' ready - everything from the couple of clay modelling tools that I haven't destroyed with hardened polyfiller over the years, the two dental tools I bought at Tiranti's many years ago, a large doll needle, a pair of tweezers and a wooden satay/kebab stick which has proved to be one of the best things (and the cheapest) for adding small details.

So thought I should begin with the feet. I don't know how many toes a troll has but three seemed like a good number. The first foot complete, I decided it needed some hair. So, sadly, my 1" stipple brush will never be able to stipple evenly now that I've cut a chunk of hairs out of it. Quite a few hairs had split ends which was even better - two for the price of one so to speak. I had no idea if they would actually stay in place once the clay was baked but if they dropped out I'd just cover the holes with a bit more clay.

As the body is going to be fabric rather than sculpted I've added widened 'cuffs' to the ankles to tuck the fabric into. Years ago I remember reading an article on making soft-bodied dolls and the artist put some tiny holes around the neck/shoulder, elbows and ankles of the clay pieces so that they could sew them onto the fabric body. This seems like a good idea, as I plan to dress my troll so they'll be hidden.

Right! Off to the oven again. Onwards and the hands...

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Scary stuff.

The milliput I put round the hip is looking a bit dodgey but I think it'll hold for now. It's time to make some bones! yay!

I was going to use ordinary white sculpey but that whole 15 minutes per quarter inch thing was preying on my mind. Then I started worrying about the masking tape - what if it burns in the oven? Or what if the pva glue gives off poisonous fumes? Eek!! What if there's air trapped in the foil and the whole thing explodes and ruins my oven? Scary stuff...

In the end I think I found a safe option. Cover everything in a layer of Fimo - no 15 minutes per quarter inch here, just whack it in the oven at 130c for 25 minutes.

I started with the legs and feet, then moved on to the arms. Bugger! I realised that I'd have to decide on a pose for the hands if I was going to do this. Hmmmm...he looks like he would probably need a walking stick, not least because his head is going to weigh quite a bit, and his back and neck being curved as they are. So the basic hands needed to be bent to hold a stick or staff of some kind.

It was beginning to get a bit cumbersome to handle at this point. Then I remembered the little widgity, grippy thing that had belonged to my dad. He used to make model railways and had all kinds of tools and bits'n'pieces that I've inherited. That did the trick and as it's all metal I'll be able to use it in the oven too!! :)

On to the head. Two packets of Fimo later and he's all done ready for cooking. Feeling a bit chuffed that I even remembered to make eye holes through the clay so I can glue in the stems on the boot button glass eyes later on.