There’s a lot of fun in choosing the right presents – this year’s favourites were these softies the Tin Men – one each for the three little grandsons – all six came to stay the other night – a lot of present laughter as we squashed like sardines into my small space.
Not even two weeks have gone by since I was potato-printing the wrapping paper on Christmas Eve. Yet time has played such tricks that I can hardly recall the lists, the plans, the labels and the string. And even less time has passed since the year progressed from 12 to 13 when the significance of the new was contemplated again. It seems an age ago in both cases yet today is only just 12th night. The focus at Christmas – the excitement, love and joy – is tempered by thoughts for the have-nots; the optimism and newness of the new year cannot be welcomed without acknowledging the goodbyes in the old one, and the hopes of future peace, health and prosperity have within them the might-have-beens of the months gone by. At the turning of the year – an end and a beginning – we toast the known and the unknown.
And as we approach what’s to come we can do no better than to remember Gandhi’s advice: ‘Be truthful, gentle and fearless’.
In this space of time and muddle of runaway days I’ve been painting happily – a very nice new commission for a hand-painted scarf has just been posted off. Then suddenly these fishes emerged from a series of daydreams and needed painting too!
Waiting most impatiently the other day for the courier to come and whisk new designs off to West Elm in New York I found myself starting to tidy up and clear some space. I tend to call this process domestic archaeology as the piles of papers, drawings, notes, letters, catalogues, booklets, receipts etc that need to be sorted are like strata of my (mostly) recent history. One of the loveliest finds is this already rather historic chart of designers’ colours; the names are so evocative – the currency of my working life. Some are now discontinued – mimosa yellow, havannah lake – and new ‘modern’ colours – phthalo blue, brilliant red violet, sap green – have yet to appear. These little paintings came in celebration.
Talking of colour I was reminded of a project I did in a primary school as part of Big Arts Week (whatever happened to that?) a few years ago – rather ambitious as it turned out. Each child chose a square of home-dyed plain coloured calico and then, keeping to that colour, made a collage from the mound of scrips and scraps that I’d brought in – blues on blue, yellows on yellow and so forth. The young people were glue-happy and I sat there with my sewing machine – appliquéeing to order! It more or less worked and was great fun to make, though a lot of labour to sew together – it grew to be quite enormous!
The sorting unearthed these drawings too – early sketches for the alphabet tree – I rather like them, and they sit well with the clock I was given for Christmas whose dozen different birdies cheerfully chirp the hour.
Then up to the surface floated a piece of John Piper’s Foliate Heads fabric. My mum boldly bought this design for the sitting-room curtains in the late ’50s when we moved to London. I often reflect what an important influence it had on me: the colours, content and creator were all of great significance. Two somewhat frayed cushion covers are all that is left now.
So by the time the courier finally got to me my temper had dissolved and I was rather pleased he was three hours late. And now just a little reminder of spring: an early sketch for a 1975 Liberty print – ‘crocuses, snowdrops and primroses’ – see more in our book….