Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Made with care, to be given with love.

One of the methods I use to select my Christmas stock is to ask myself if my daughters would like it. Naturally I only select items that are handmade with care and demonstrating an obvious level of technical skill. But the clincher is if I could imagine myself giving that particular item to one of my "girls"- without it disappearing into a drawer, never, ever to emerge again . 

Collectively they have Arts degrees in Performance Costume Design, Fine Art and Film Making so have a surprisingly wide range of skills themselves and are very discerning about what they wear and use.... So for an item to pass their scrutiny it has to be a little bit special. But I think the following items would pass the test.... 
Fragrant handmade soaps
Artist made glass snowflake "wall or tree hanging" 

Copper, glass and glazed ceramic necklace

Copper, glass bead and glazed ceramic brooches and necklaces

Padded fabric cases for iPods, iPads and Kindles

Brass ear rings with glass or gemstone beads (Gold plated fittings)

Saturday, 19 November 2011

"Love Birds"

I trained originally as a potter- Degree course at Manchester Metropolitan University (or Poly as it was way back then), followed by a baptism of fire working for studio potters Joe and Trudi Finch at Appin Pottery in Argyll for 3 years, then 15 years of brushwork decorating at Kolonyama Pottery in Lesotho.  

So even though I love everything about painting on canvas, sometimes I have an overwhelming urge to play with clay for a while. Nothing too ambitious, demanding or even large, as my studio is surprisingly compact. Just something lighthearted and enjoyable. This time I decided to make some "Love Bird" wall hangings as "stocking fillers" for family members, because we all create a large proportion of our gifts. So I designed, cut,  decorated, and glazed these little birds and some Hearts too for good measure and fired them in my potter husband's kiln. Simples!  

I made a few extra ones- which are now for sale at £9.90 each here in Crown Studio Gallery or £11.40 by post. The large Hearts are £7.90 here in the gallery or £9.40 by post. The small hearts are £2.90 each.  

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Thoughts on a Christmas Window.

As a child I was always offended by any reference to Christmas that took place before Halloween or Bonfire Night.  I didn't want to learn carols at school, hear about pantomime tickets or see any form of decorations in the shops until I'd enjoyed the pleasures of those other two dark mysterious annual highlights. Those were both outdoor, night time, elemental experiences with their own excitements and dangers.... chief of which may have been the carving of the swede (or "turnip" as we used to call it in County Durham) lantern. These large swedes were fibrous, hard as wood and impervious to all but the sharpest knife- which in our household wasn't remotely sharp at all. For hours we'd whittle away ineffectively with the knife- then scrape away inside with a tablespoon until blisters, gashes or bent cutlery prevented further progress. Once the suitably gruesome face had been carved, a stump of candle was inserted and lit in the lantern- only for it to inevitably blow out as soon as it was taken outdoors. 

The run up to Bonfire Night was a frenzy of finding, collecting and storing bonfire materials. My family's contribution was generally kept in an outbuilding until the very last day to protect it from lightning raids by rival children from "up The Bank" (a local place rather than a financial institution). At the last moment a mountain of  more or less flammable materials would be dragged to the appointed place, to be set alight and burned in a satanic fog of lung busting, black smoke. The acceptable face of fly tipping!

Only after these dark communal rituals had been observed and enjoyed could thoughts turn to the brighter, cleaner, indoor, family celebration of Christmas.

To be honest, I still think the same way. I may begin making and buying the perfect presents in November, but we never put up our family tree or decorations until the "clan" of adult daughters, their spouses and little Granddaughter has gathered, usually on Christmas Eve. 

But in the gallery it has to be very different. Hand crafted items can have a long "lead" or making and delivery time- so it's vital to order (and in our case, also create) stock in good time. Once the big stores begin their barrage of seasonal advertising we have to be prepared begin too, because any small business who doesn't make good sales for Christmas, may not survive until Easter. This is why I have to risk the "ba-humbugging" of passersby who would rather I waited till later to launch my window display. But on balance, I know I get far more positive comments about my window  than negative ones.... From it being pronounced  as "cool" by passing schoolchildren, to a lady yesterday who confessed that it had given her "the first warm Christmassy feeling I've had yet this year". That's good enough for me!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A Gothic Surprise

First glimpse of the mysterious gibbet

One of the many things I love about Northumberland is its capacity to surprise and amaze. Just when you think you know everything possible about your locale, you can discover something totally unexpected- something that if it were "down South", would have featured in magazines, adverts and film locations by the score.  

Today's "double take" moment was finding a gibbet standing next to one of my favourite stands of beech trees. At this point there's probably a chorus of Northumbrians rolling their eyes and muttering "That's only Winter's Gibbet -it's been there forever, you idiot. How could you have missed it Mrs Claims to Look at the Landscape?!" 

But no, I'm definitely NOT talking about Elsdon's historic gibbet- this is a brand new one!! 
It stands in Gothic majesty up on the windswept moors, the black woodwork like a child's game of "Hangman", a crudely carved wooden skull, gently swaying in the breeze, its empty eye sockets blind to the golden autumnal landscape. A brilliantly thrilling discovery!!

Gibbets may be generally out of vogue, but carved skulls are the height of fashion- so I hesitate to reveal its exact whereabouts to the whole world for fear of someone stealing the fabulous skull. So if you want directions, you'll have to come into the gallery and ask!! 

Of course, it might just have vanished without trace by the next time I go for a walk there.... So I'm glad I've got some photos.

Pondering this new discovery

Skull - glowing in the sunshine
Suitably Gothic Arch formed by beech trees. 

If you want the rational explanation for this new gibbet, follow this link

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Santa's Not-So-Little Helper

I'd imagined that applying the new webbing to the sledge would be the easiest part of the whole restoration process. It looks straightforward enough- a spot of simple weaving and a few judicious whacks with a hammer would do it.... Simples!  I soon discovered that this was not the case. The brass upholstery nails bent and buckled on first contact with the resilient hardness of the solid oak chassis. I was very quickly forced to conclude that Santa is very unlikely to want me as his not-so-little helper, because I'm rubbish at simple sleigh repair....... that and the (possibly unfestive)  swearing!!  

But after sleeping on the problem, I decided to apply the pins along the edge rather than underneath and to use my trusty framing awl to bore guide holes to help place the nails. This made the job possible, and the resulting line of  brass looks suitably decorative too. I'm delighted with the results.

Now does anyone have some lovely old brass jingle bells that need a new home?!?  

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Window Dressing

I love my gallery window. It's like creating a wonderful, changing "still life". And it's the best possible way to show the world my eclectic range of Art and hand crafted items.  I always know that I've achieved an effective display when I can see that it's slowing down the traffic along Bridge Street (but please don't tell The Highways Agency!)

This year a main ingredient of my Christmas window is a oak vintage sled bought on eBay. It's a lovely old sledge, with eccentric curved ends to its runners and enough dents and scratches to prove that it's had a long and fun filled life. Personally I hate those occasions on "The Antiques Roadshow" when they inform someone that a toy would have been worth so much more if only it hadn't been taken it out of the box and played with!! None of that nonsense for us!

Admittedly my sledge was a bit grubby and neglected by the time we bought it, giving it a slightly melancholic, Tim Burtonesque air. But it's really responded to the hours of judicial cleaning and a lovingly applied layer of wax polish. Now I only need to replace the old webbing seat and it'll be ready to take centre stage in my window.

Of course if we have snow again this Christmas, I may just have to remove it from the window to give my adorable little granddaughter the occasional ride around the village. 

So if you visit Rothbury in late November or December and you see a big gap in my window display you'll know why. And if you see the pair of us, red cheeked and laughing, do stop and say hello!
A final polish for my vintage sledge