Present Mirth


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.

DSC02360 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.

Glass Pen

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!The Fish Pond

Colour ChartWaiting 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.

Little Paintings

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!

School Project

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.

Alphabet Sketches

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.

John Piper Fabric

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….


Thanks to AlanMolly, the Clown in William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night and Sophie for Gandhi.

The Fish Pond

11 thoughts on “Present Mirth

  1. Pingback: the art of the matter | Sarah Campbell Designs

  2. Hi Sarah. I know what it is like to sort out layers of stuff and am quite taken by your phrase ‘domestic archaeology’! It sums it all up but the wonderful surprises when one finds a fragment that recalls a moment in one’s life, even for a fleeting instance, can be life enhancing. Hope to see you at Tess’s gig on Saturday 9th February in the first session 7.30 to 9.00pm. Take care. Love Dave xx

  3. Happy New Year 2013, Sarah! It seems to have been a long holiday here in Spain as traditionally it is the kings who bring the gifts for the children on the 12th night when festivities reach their delirious peak. Then it’s down with a “bump” and back to work /school all in a day. I’m quite glad to get back to normal though and find that you have had time to write your blog. I love the fishes, the ideas from the past that never lose their freshness and look forward with anticipation and excitement to this years creations. Very much love to you, B X.

    • Thank you Barbara – and don’t those kings have wonderful names – Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar? Yes, it’s good to get back to normal-ish, though nothing is ever quite the same…

  4. Ah! This post brings back vivid memories of the Christmas I spent in London several years back, staying at Susan’s house on Bromfelde Road. Watching her wrap Christmas gifts on the enormous table in the dining room was a sight to behold – the gorgeous paper, tissue, ribbons, colors were a sight to behold! Even after all these years I still save the gift-wrap and ribbons that my own gifts were decked in by the various members of the Herxheimer/Campbell/Collier/Unwin families. These are wonderful, happy memories I carry with me into each New Year with gratitude and love. I’m glad you made the most of the three hours’ wait time for the courier, which we (your blog followers) are so lucky to have here. Lots of love to you, Sarah.

    • Thank you Wendy for those vibrant memories – so much is held even in the smallest scraps of paper. And you have the accolade, according to my WordPress annual report, of being my ‘most active commenter’! So thank you for that too – I really appreciate it.

  5. I am so glad I read your blog… I am sat in a mess my life in boxes… Trying to throw away & sort through reminents of the last year… Looking forward to brightness… Less chaos & clutter… Free from builders… I will stick Gandie’s words on my fridge to keep me focused! Happy New Year.

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