brushes with reality

windowsill brushes 3A nephew, catching sight of the jars on my studio window-cill (or is it sill?) once asked me what all the paintbrushes were about. “Well, these are the flat ends for straight, choppy and also consistent strokes, these the round, for cursive and variable lines, these the vari-ends for feathery marks; these are the fat ones, these the tinies; these are the mixing brushes, these the scrappy ones for scrappy marks, these the very broad ones for painting washes; these the worn-out ones whose pointy ends I use for scraffiti, these are the toothbrushes for scruff, and the combs for texture; here are the palette knives for thick paint, the foam-brushes for work on fabric. This is the four-headed special, and here’s my one dear old dip-pen for fine ink lines.” He was satisfied with the answer – I think!dip pen and nibsDuring this prolonged period of lockdown – and I’m still very cautious and keeping rather isolated save for my family bubble – I’ve been through several different phases.sad sarah At present the outside world, the political shenanigans, shameless corruption and about-turning of our leader and his cronies, not to mention those tyrants overseas, are making me, on the worst days, feel despondent and powerless – and absolutely furious with it. With good reason. And the woeful reality of the millions being wasted (in my opinion) on brexit borders, retrograde restrictions, customs checks, pitiful trade deals, and an inward-looking intellectually inbred island mentality reduces me to tears: I do despair – but not entirely because there are some exciting good new things on my horizon….

loveMaybe I’ve been a bit too much of an island myself lately. I recently had a commission to illustrate a special and expansive declaration of love – spoken by a little boy to his mum and dad. Perhaps I should think about that a bit more.

So despite finding it difficult to manage the dual miseries of covid and brexit when I look up from my desk, and difficult to look down at my desk when I can’t manage them, my purpose is to continue to concentrate on doing what I can do in my small world and be the mistress of my studio table, the influencer of my own sheet of paper – however modest. And I’m hatching plans for a revolution of sorts….!

palettes, opera pinkmixing brushesThat was rather an uphill route back to where I started, sorry! I love my paintbrushes. I talk to my work as I go along (oh heavens, you think, not just doomy but crazy with it!) and encourage my brushes to do their best, the paint to flow smoothly, my hand to be steady. It usually works! Anyway, this blog is about the simplest of things – what some of my paintbrushes do. Just the doing is soothing, and the practice naturally leads on to other wonderings and experiments. Here follows a series of short videos showing some of this process; these marks I’m making – in this instance building up on the same piece of paper – are instinctive, to do more with impulse, enquiry and feelings, rather than the intellect – or beauty! The sequence may be a little indicative of the mood – from bright through dark to some glimmers of brightness again….

So – go with the flow – think of this as a meditation – laying a ground, a yellow one in this instance, with a wide brush

 – a flat brush and a round brush – things are hotting up

 – woodgrain combing – wonderful gouache!

– painting with an old toothbrush

 – a fan brush at work

– what the lovely pointy round brush does best

– a tiny brush for a necessary detail

– then it needed this little reminder of the original yellow groundyellow dot detail– and finished – for now

yellow dot

and a very quick look at what marks the strange 4-headed-monster brush can make


In my last blog I mentioned the two new and special books Stafford Cliff and I have produced – ‘Dailies’, my visual journal of 2019, and ‘The Art of Pattern’, a record of the work Susan and I made for Liberty of London Prints. These are both now available to order online here – several of you enquired. These are a couple of pages from last October.october days: DailiesThe bundles of fat quarters are still in demand, though I’m beginning to run short of some of the patterns now… The humble face-mask has been elevated though the political maelstrom to being a required legal entity, so if anybody out there would like to do a collaborative business with me making facemasks from my fabrics, selling in my shop, and sharing the takings please get in touch – I really don’t want to do the sewing… here are just a few of the designs available – all from my collections designed over the years for Michael Miller Fabricsfat quarters, 'night'And another fabulous use of fabric – thanks to the magical fingers of Modflowers – is a new group of some very stylish and unique dolls dressed in the latest Mode Atelier – my last collection for MMF. With a nod to Sonia Delaunay and other artistic heroines, six or seven are on their way and will all be available from my shop in the very near future.Bauhaus doll 1cIn ‘Mode Sarah’, here’s a twirly mini-movie of one of the garments available at Livingstone Studio, who are now open by appointment on Fridays and Saturdays. Now’s the time to get yourself a unique piece of wearable art – wear a painting and make every day special. Beautiful cloth, enriching colours, gorgeous smile!

Workshops – these are under constant review and I’m putting the new course dates at Fashion and Textile Museum, Morley College, Handprinted, West Dean College online here as I know them.square cloth, wrapping The classes will all be smaller, and run in accordance with the proper health guidance and covid19 care. I’m also invited to give an online workshop for Selvedge Magazine in the late autumn – date yet to be confirmed, and possibly a very short online something as part of their virtual world festival – we’ll see. I’m also developing a new workshop around the idea of furoshiki – cotton cloths used for wrapping and folding in the traditional Japanese way. We’ll be looking at their textile design too, and then painting our own – of course.

I plan to offer some original work through the Artists Support Pledge scheme, starting next week. It’s a great idea set up by Matthew Burrows: contributing artists offer pieces for sale at no more than £200 each, and the pledge is that when they’ve made a £1000 they in turn will then spend 200 buying art from others on the scheme. Mine will be a motley mix of things – mostly paintings on fabric, both as individual pieces, and sewn as cushions. They’ll be shown and offered on my Instagram account here.horsey horsey

I am very honoured that my painted linen cloth, made one night in an urgent response to Rev Al Sharpton’s eulogy for George Floyd, will be borrowed for inclusion in the Black Lives Matter display in the local secondary school where I’m a classroom volunteer with the years 12 and 13. I look forward to seeing it there when we all reconvene in September.
Al Sharpton eulogy

And lastly – please remember this rhyme when you do go out –

blue, green, black or white –

wear your mask – you know it’s right!

yellow, purple, pink or lime

protect each other all the time.facemask poster

thanks to my lovely model Juana, and to Isabel for co-ranting with me as we do our stretches each morning, and then letting it all go – through the meditation of our taichi practice!

28 thoughts on “brushes with reality

  1. Pingback: a shop, a show, a show-off | Sarah Campbell Designs

  2. My Dear Sarah

    A very belated thank you for such a diverse and entertaining blog. I’ve been wondering how you are despite all that is thrown at us over these past 6 months and since we last met for a coffee.

    If our usual cafe is not suitable, I like sitting outside at the Brown and Green cafe in Crystal Palace Park, near the Penge gate

    If you are free this Saturday morning at about 10am, it would be wonderful to enjoy a coffee with you?

    A big virtual hug,

    Jane xx


  3. I loved watching you work, dear Sarah. It was like a meditation for me. Thank you for all your wonderful posts.

  4. Dear Sarah

    How are you? It was lovely to read your post and thank you for your videos. I’ve been keeping well and doing bits and pieces but am very pleased to finally return to my studio in Teddington. I’m working on a large garden themed painting. Not my usual subject and so have been unsure how I’m going to tackle it. However, inspired by your brushwork videos, today I paused the big one and got out some cartridge paper and a range of shapes of brushes and set to playing. An old blusher brush is wicked. Thank you for inspiring me..! I now feel I have some new tools.

    Your new projects look exciting and I hope your teaching online and in small groups takes off. We’ve all missed these interactions so much!

    Take care Love Stephanie

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Thanks Stephanie, am glad to hear you had some fun with your brushes – a landscape sounds interesting! I hope I can make it to your gallery in the not-too-distant f, am in Teddington quite often with the family… x

  5. Just how I can feel some days, but a session moving fabric about is my total relax…as was watching your evolving brush design….& was that the terrific Bill Evans playing….from which CD?
    Also couldn’t resist ordering your dark background fat quarters…I have been asked to make face masks for delightful eco shop in Kendal..perfect!
    Thank you for all your inspirations.
    (Notice you have another Sue Johnson fan !)

    • Thanks Sue – it’s Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, John Dejohnette on ‘Tokyo’96’ they got muted on facebook (rights) but ok on here apparently… and thanks for your order which will be on its way in the next couple of days.

  6. Hello Sarah, I don’t usually post comments on anything but you have expressed very poignantly what a lot of us are feeling at the moment. Very inspiring; just wish I had your glorious talent!

  7. Thanks Sarah for this newsletter. I was going to tidy up but think I’ll play with my brushes and colours instead. Stay safe. Glynis x

  8. Dear Sarah,

    Thank you for your newsletter! I always look forward to each one that you send. I learned so much about brushes from these videos and there was something very comforting about watching you paint. And we could all use a bit of solace right now, as you say.

    Best of luck with your ups and downs, I know exactly what you mean!

    Jeni Hankins Crystal Palace (I once wrote to you about how I took a set of your bed linens to university in the USA).


  9. Sarah, thank you so much for this. It’s absolutely fabulous and I loved every second of it. Quite mesmerising watching how you build it up!

  10. Sarah, I admire and respect you very much. Your work is a ray of sunshine, and I really think your videos really inspiring. Thank you for all you do, and have done,

  11. I opened a parcel of fabric from you this morning and it brought with it colour and happiness. So when you have your down moments, which we all have, just think of all those pieces of loveliness that you are sending out. Thank you from a lifelong sewer, fabric hoarder and mask-maker, Clare

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