I’ve been considering my creative life and thinking that my own particular mix is a daily swoop between soaring flights of fancy and the down-to-earth practicalities of doing. These last days have been a case in point. In return for work so generously given, the value of which I could never repay in money, I gladly agreed to paint my friend three lengths of fabric for his new window blinds. 93 inches is a lot of cloth – never mind times three!
The subject was to be birds; the bay windows for which they’re destined look onto, and even invite in, a garden rich in leafy branches. It’s taken almost a year to gird up my loins and get started, but the painting took no more than a few days in all. The cloth was measured, cut and ironed and pinned taut on my table, the fabric paints assembled and mixed, the fun began.
Painting directly onto the calico is a lovely exciting spontaneous experience, though a little nerve-wracking as any mistakes cannot easily be rectified – pencils, rubbers and overpainting not being possible – and as I started I had no real idea exactly how these birds would turn out. I’d made a tiny sketch for the layout, and thank goodness for my auto-fade fabric pen!
The birds rather took me by surprise, each one emerging amongst the leaves and flowers took on a character of its own. Some I like more than others of course – the heron, the green woodpecker, the pure fantasies – and I’m particularly fond of this little fellow, partly because he was so very nice to paint – the brush just did its job so agreeably.
Being rather short I was in the perfect position to see that the pavement was scattered with tiny golden treasures: amongst the crowds of little creamy individual flower heads were some minute downy feathers, white with the softest yellow and turquoise tips, anchored to fallen sticky buds. In contrast the smallest leaves from the very growing ends of the chestnut branches were a bright sharp green, and all were laced about with yellow willow catkins and their fluff.
Further up the hill some broken bits of a circuit board made a fascinating deeper green and silver contrast on the grey asphalt. I held the fragile hoard in my palm: ‘Take a peek’ I offered a whistling teenager as he passed. ‘Very pretty’ he commented giving me a surprised though tolerant look.
Over the last months I’ve got to know the walk from London Bridge station to the FTM quite well. It’s always a little different, changing with the season, and this last week the pre-rain light gave the tower of Southwark cathedral a pale gold glow beyond the avenue of grey glass and concrete – a decorative butterscotch lace rising over the unyielding structure of the railway bridge. From that level a steep escalator flanks the gargantuan glinting chandeliers in the Shard’s foyer, where as I descend I spy tiny dark cakes laid out one by one in glass cases.
I pass the rank of clipped conical bushes standing to attention in pots, the cloud trees guarding huge portals, and on to the rather seedy pathway, made narrow by all the construction works.
Round the corner is a sociable little public flower garden neatly bordered by an amber-leaved beech hedge and planted with cherries whose deep red bark shines in the sun. A quick sit amongst the underplanting here, and a peer into the adjacent well-organised vegetable plot full of mint and thyme and newly planted onions growing strongly regardless of their neighbours, the overbearing office buildings.
Around another corner I pass Andrew Logan‘s buzzing blue facade and see opposite a fulsome group of euphorbias that have really come into their own – their huge heads of lime-green flowers nodding amongst soft blue ceanothus.
Down the street I go – and here is my favourite window – the fabric on the blinds is of London landmarks and I love it – I have a real penchant for designs of landscapes. I pass the school garden leafy behind railings, reminding me rather of those guerilla gardens in Manhatten, and on into the charms of the flowery Leathermarket parklet.
I stop for a while and watch the pigeons: the gents are getting frisky, purring and strutting, puffing up their chests, splaying their tail feathers. They dip and dance around the females hoping to hop on for a quick one, but on the whole they get no encouragement and subside back into the usual pecking order, having to forgo their flights of fancy.
The little hillocks are absolutely covered in buttercups and daises; the white stars in the grass sparkle beneath the peeling paperwhite bark of slender birch trees and the creamy blossom of a weeping pear. I want to take one of those curls of bark and draw on it in black ink.
Leaving the garden, this grand number 5 winks at me. At the end of the street beckons the orange cube, the museum, the only building that the Mexican architect Ricardo Legoreta made in Europe.
And pausing briefly at its front door I see another favourite view – this ancient building complete with a wooden weaver’s shed at the top – stands in company with the gleaming Shard, the old and the new. Lovely London.
At the museum there are just a few more weeks to see the current exhibitions, till May18th. And then at the start of June it’ll be the Mexican rebozo, a wonderful cultural feast – including a contribution from me! Our new scarves – designed with the exhibition in mind – will be available from our online shop soon….and new cards even sooner.
Although the actual items designed remain secret until later in the year I can say that the Habitat 50th celebrations are gathering speed; you can get a feel for them here at ‘Friends Reunited!’. Last friday we met to have our photos taken – so very friendly to be in the company of these design supremos – we all had quite a laugh which made the ordeal by camera and interview as pleasant as it could be. Styling required us to wear only black and/or white, though we were given some leniance regarding idiosyncratic colour detail; my trusty Vans and rosey dip-dyed socks came into their own!
What will the results show? It’s already quite un-nerving to be faced with a large picture of myself in a local Traid shop, dressed to party!
At the London Print Fair one evening (when a percentage of the profits was being given to the Artroom charity) we were treated to a printing demonstration by master etcher Jason Hicklin at the City and Guilds School stand. And at Dulwich Art Gallery there’s still time to enjoy David Hockney Printmaker. It’s useful to have the different print techniques explained – etching and lithography – and to see again Hockney’s pleasure in drawing. From his early tender and humorous etchings to the huge many-hued Mexican lithos he constantly experiments with colour and method. I particularly like the large print of Celia: by using a soft tusche line it gives off the direct energy and emotion of that spontaneous moment of doing.
In Westminster I glimpsed a huddle of maroon-wrapped monks beneath the naked catalpa trees. Coming up this weekend, May 3rd – Slow Textile Group’s symposium about sustainable fashion….