mudlarking on my mind’s beach

Having been painting a lot of monotone patterns for the last few days, in answer to an intriguing and tricky brief, I found myself breaking out into bright colours last night.

The pinks and yellows reminded me of the early ’70s, exuberant patterns for habitat in red and yellow – and a design for Jeff Banks, a calico maxi-dress in pinks and yellows, ricrac, a printed patchwork…

In turn I remembered seeing this poem by Paul Auster on Ian McMillan‘s twitter feed a few weeks ago and its last line lasted – ‘the consolation of color’.I was about nine or ten and we were on a rather rare family outing in a motorcar; it was pouring with rain and everyone was grumpy. We stopped at a roadside café. The mood remained glum, but when the tea came I was completely bewitched: “At least these cups are pretty – they’ll cheer us up!” I said. But everyone groaned – I think the crockery must have been what was considered ‘common’. To me they were beautiful and exciting then – black outside, each with a different bright colour inside and fine painted gold rims – and they still are. I’ve been painting quite a few designs for ceramics lately – coloured rims play an important part!

I can’t pretend to be much more than a magpie collector of images and sensations, colours and impressions. I’ve written before about the store I set on what’s seen out of the corner of one’s eye – it tells a lot and often merits a longer look. The power of fragments. Through the studio window I was aware of a flash of fascinating colour over the road, the unexpectedness of it kept jumping in my eye as I painted: two gardeners were at work. One had an acid greenyellowy shirt and a red helmet, colours which zinged out against the hedges and bricks: a parakeet in human form.

And the success of the annual Easter egg hunt relies on that unusual glimmer of colour and shine spotted in the grass, balanced in the blossom, or lodged in low branches. The families were out in force this year – a full-size easter bunny hopped by to start the whole thing off, and the gardens around our three blocks of flats were quickly teeming with small hunters filling their baskets with treasure.

On a trip to Leeds recently I glimpsed this scene – a dark flock of children gathered upon a canal bridge above a bevy of white swans milling about below it. 

At my destination, The School of Art, I was due to give a talk – about aspects of my professional life. The lecture theatre was full – all three years of textile students plus others – and out of the corner of my eyes I noticed that the only two men in the room were sitting in mirrored positions at each far edge of the front row, both wearing blue jumpers, both sitting adjacent to women wearing yellow – beautiful unconscious symmetry.

For me the professional and the personal are closely intertwined; I found myself referring back to my childhood quite a lot in the talk. I realise the good fortune I’ve had that I can continue to revisit and explore the interests that have excited and absorbed me throughout my life, despite failures, reverses and setbacks. A good idea remains a good idea – often it’s the timing that lets it down, or a lack of opportunity undermines it. One of these days I may even find myself sitting in the desert listening to the nomads’ stories, as I’d set my heart on doing all those years ago. And I’m still working with what the sheep gives us!   

A chance criss-crossing in the street outside the local art store allowed me to tell Maggi Hambling (we don’t know each other) how much I’d enjoyed hearing her interviews on BBCRadio3 recently. “Thankyou – you made me laugh and made me cry” I called – she looked surprised and pleased. And they were worth hearing, full of wisdom, humour and, particularly interesting to me, descriptions of how she works. Still available here.

‘The cloud pours into a cup’ – this line keeps filling my mind; it’s from the  poem, In The Forest, read by Harriet Walter on radio4’s book of the week John Berger’s ‘And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief as Photos’. I loved listening to his ranging thoughts and poems. 

I’ve recently run several different workshops at the Fashion and Textile Museum, including four short making-sketchbooks-from-scratch sessions for teens, and two painting on calico for all comers. I was struck, as ever, and impressed by the application and  inventiveness of the participants – grown-ups included! As a result of one I was kindly invited to contribute to the blog Agnes for Girls. I’ll be running two more short sketchbooking courses in the summer half-term, on Thursday 1st June. I’m also running a one-day course at Selvedge Magazine’s London premises on Saturday July 1st – painting on calico and linen. And I think there’s one place left on each of the Bradness Gallery courses in the summer… all details of courses are here on my website. I’ve also been booked to deliver a private workshop for a group of friends in someone’s home – a convivial prospect! And, as one thing leads to another, have received a lovely commission to paint a pair of calico curtains for a bedroom window with a garden aspect – plans are afoot. 

And talking of Selvedge Magazine – they will be stocking, exclusively, this new and special little group of the lovely dolls wearing our vintage Liberty fabrics and made meticulously for us by Modflowers. I’m not sure when exactly they’ll be online – any day now.

We used our newly printed Cote d’Azure fabric to upholster this classic Ercol chair, for sale at the Do South Shop – it looks rather stylish I think. I’m busy sending out sample swatches to enquirers, and working on a new rich colourway along with colours for our new Ladybird Spot design…. contact me through the website if you’re interested in knowing more. 

We have a new fabric range with MichaelMillerFabrics too; called Our Yard, it’s just launched and will ship in July – here’s a little early look at some of the designs. There are two colour groups, Cloud and Garden, all beautifully printed on cotton, and I’m anticipating some sewing adventures soon.

There seems to have been a rash of journeys to Japan taken by my neighbours, friends and colleagues – I confess to being envious so it’s been great to see their different pictures on Instagram, including the famous cherry blossoms. Apart from the wonders of mountains, temples, culture and gardens, tales abound of the cleanliness of the streets, the glistening handrails on the underground and the aesthetic arrangements in the guest-houses. The nearest I’ve got so far is to be featured in this new Japanese magazine from the publishers Kadokawa with generous articles about creative women ‘of a certain age’ – and their smiles. I don’t understand the text but there are lots of nice pictures!

I’m very much looking forward to seeing the Japanese House exhibition at the Barbican and understanding more about the concept of white (brain) and red (heart-blood) in design. Coincidentally, I’ve been using a lot of those two favourites lately, but with black too of course. Here are two of the new greeting cards – Music and Blackbird – now online

I was recently asked by Period Ideas magazine for my opinion about the new floral fabrics currently available. I took some of my own advice with this little pot of allotment wallflowers, forget-me-nots and rocket gone to seed. The leafy dress fabric is a printed wool we did for Soiries Nouveautées in about 1976.

Don’t you think this horse is sporting a particularly smart outfit – plus glamorous hoof polish?

and thanks to Piper!

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15 thoughts on “mudlarking on my mind’s beach

  1. Hi Sarah. I love your blog . Its so full of creatively delivered tidbits and colour. It puts a smile on my face each time I read it☺

  2. Another positive post – thank you for sharing all the goodies, and especially this time for the link to the Maggie Hambling talk.

  3. Thank you Sarah for your uplifting post. After a tricky morning wrangling children, your words and images have been a soothing balm and I can now get on with my day more posititively!

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