Monday, 23 June 2014

What I've learned in MATS Bootcamp

 June assignment :: MATS Bootcamp

I've just completed a piece of work for the Lilla Rogers Make Art That Sells (MATS) Bootcamp June assignment.  This month was rather good because the subject was wall art and the theme was ocean based.  Well, I think by now most of you know how much I love to create art around this subject matter! 

There are some really talented artists taking part on this course, and over the weeks, we have shared our sketches and ideas and final pieces on the Facebook class page, so there's this constant pool of amazing inspiration to immerse yourself in.  I love getting excited by other people's art - I love seeing something new that really lights me up and makes me ask questions like 'how did they do that? How did they create that effect?' and then go away and have a play, and see what I can come up with for myself.
Lilla has been a great teacher - she's shared so much with us and I love the insights we've had as her students into what works in the world of selling art.

As a student and artist, I get deeply curious about the materials people use to make art, and the techniques they apply to create something eye catching and incredible.  From taking this course I have felt myself naturally leaning towards adding more collaged elements into some of my work - it just seems to call to me right now and my last couple of pieces have included beautiful hand made art papers that I glue on and paint over.  I'm excited by these changes in my work, and I like where I'm headed. 

 New :: Winter themed art with collage papers

And before we go on, let me just say, there is absolutely nothing wrong with learning from other artists and crafts people!  I'm always thrilled to be offered the opportunity to learn!  I love discovering what materials a favourite artist likes to use, which paint brand they prefer, what paper or canvas they like.  I like to study their work and learn from them because when we're prepared to learn, we inevitabely grow.

Learning is about embracing new techniques and then allowing them to unfold in our own unique style.  You can give a whole class the same palette of paints, the same brushes and collage materials and give them all the same theme to work to - and each of those students will create something unique and amazing when they create from their soul, which is kind of like what happens in MATS except everyone brings something different to the table there, as a whole plethora of styles are presented in both digital and traditional formats.

Learing isn't the same as copying either - without learning, we wouldn't achieve much as human beings, and when we open ourselves up to learn from someone we admire, or who's at the top of their game we allow ourselves to grow and expand in ways we can't begin to imagine.  The trick is to apply the techniques in your own unique style!  Have a play and see what happens, don't be afraid to let your own style shine through.  It's all about having the confidence to try, to see where it takes you.  My Mum always said 'You're never too old to learn' and she's right! Humans are meant to evolve, we're not meant to stagnate at one level - we need to keep moving, keep absorbing, keep seeing and thinking and dreaming.  Access the very heart of yourself and make sure you keep moving on the path that makes you feel alive, the one that allows your spirit to shine.  Be who you are - because its true that everyone else is already taken.

I'm really happy that I had the opportunity to take this course.  I'm already working on some new art to send to publishing companies for licensing based on what I've learned from Lilla, and hopefully this will be a great starting point for lots more new art to come!
I'll see you again soon,
J x

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Colourful Circles

A trip to the antiques quarter in Sheffield last week ended up with a rather exciting aquisition being made.  For a while now I've been waiting to find a nice stool for my small kitchen - it's too tiny for tables and chairs and sometimes when I'm cooking and folks are over for food I think to myself, 'well, it would be nice for them if they had somewhere to sit and natter while I stir and chop things!' and just last week I stumbled upon a little gem that was just the job.

Tucked away under a great big farmhouse table in a muddle of vintage kitchenalia, the little stool waited.  It had been painted a soft sage green, which, by some serendipitous miracle is the same shade as my kitchen cupboards so it rather felt like it was all meant to be, me finding this stool.  It's a rather smart stool too, hailing from Sweden, and has a broad circular seat of generous proportions, and nicely turned legs (it sounds like a rather lovely lady, doesn't it?). 

But something was needed that little something extra to make it well and truly fit into our colourful little house.  So I made it a little seat cover.

I used Rico Cotton DK to make the cover in random colours, most of which were leftovers from a cushion I made some time ago.  This is a pretty reasonably priced yarn, and good to work with in that it doesn't split too much.  There's also a great range of bright colours available too.  The pattern is just a simple circle pattern which I found in the Happy Hooker crochet book, but I'm sure you can find this method online too.  To secure the cover I just began to decrease the rows once I was sure the top was adequately covered and it seemed to turn out ok and fitted quite well (even though the decreasing part was very much a wing it and see sort of process).

I'm now making a slouchy summer hat, using this beautiful yarn from Begere de France here in a stunning summery turquoise blue, called Oxygene. 

Thanks so much for stopping by, see you again soon.
J x

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Contemporary Craft Fair

Last Friday I set off on a bit of an adventure; a road trip to beautiful Devon where I was to meet up with a group of friends I have got to know these last few years through Facebook.  I travelled down with Andrea Berry, who is a designer and the owner of Polka.  Famous for her amazing use of colour and pattern, she designs glorious bags and accessories and you'll be able to see Andrea at the Country Living Fair in Harrogate this year!

Anyway, back to the story!  A few months back, we had been having a natter and decided to go to the Contemporary Craft Fair which is held in the pretty village of Bovey Tracy, close to the wilderness of Dartmoor and needless to say, we were all rather excited - it's not very often we get to leave our families and head off on an All Girls weekend away!

I must confess at this point, that upon arriving in Devon I found myself momentarily taken back in time and felt ever so slightly homesick.  Several years back, this little corner of the world was my home and the sights and sounds made me very nostalgic for the good times I spent there.
We had been invited to stay with our dear friend Helen, who runs a successful textile design business called Kindred Rose - she is currently in the process of running several lampshade making courses in the South West and you can also buy her brilliant kits online here!  You may also recognise Helen from the TV - she was one of the designers on the Great British Interior Design Challenge!  Helen lives in a beautiful village, tucked away into the green folds of the Devon countryside, and arriving there was a little bit like going on holiday and finding yourself in a little piece of paradise; a cosy cottage and a warm welcome awaited us, as did wine and a lovely meal.

 Helen and her house guests :: Andrea, Jo, Helen, Kate and me

Saturday dawned rather turbulent weather wise.  Following an epic storm in the early hours we watched the dark clouds rumble in from the moors, and as we munched on crispy bacon dished up on thick farmhouse bread, we began to wish we'd brought our wellington boots! 

We drove down to Bovey and met up with some of our other friends - Ros, who is the owner of Roslyn Mitchell Designs, a very innovative textile artist who recreates buildings in fabric to make the most amazing architectural pieces of art!  Angie Spurgeon, who is a talented graphic designer and artist and owner of Artwork by Angie.  When not designing for clients, she's successfully selling her work in Waterstones and the National Trust to name just two of the places you'll find her delightful art!

The fair was wonderful and I can really recommend a visit. I can honestly say that its been a long time since I was surrounded by so much amazing talent.  Three of our friends were exhibiting at the fair - here's a glimpse at their wonderful stands:

Kirsty Elson

Kirsty is a clever dot!  Finding driftwood and other treasures left by the sea on her local beach, she creates beautiful cottages, harbours and other coastal-inpsired art from her finds.  You can discover more about Kirsty and her work here.

 Marna, centre with Ros (left) and Angie (right)

 Marna Lunt

Marna is a very inspiring lady; hailing from the North Yorkshire moors, she creates beautiful hand embroidered items which are inspired by her surroundings and also famous landmarks.  You can read more about Marna and her work here.

Claire Read (with Jo Harratt)

Claire is a lady with an eye for nostalgia and owner of Little Burrow Designs.  She uses vintage tins and ephemera to create stories and unique pieces of art, embellished with sewn elements and text.  Claire's work is truly beautiful and you can find out more about her here.

Anyway, back to the fair.  As I wandered around I found myself in conversation with quite a few of the makers.  It's very inspiring to chat to these people and I do like to say Hello and have a little natter.  One lady in particular, who I met for the first time is such a talented bean I just had to share her work here.  Julia Jowett weaves her love of a dark fairytale into her work, which is created with wire and fabric.  Here's a peek at some of her intricate art works:

 (L-R :: Me, Julia Jowett, Andrea Berry, Jo Harratt)

You can find out more about Julia here.

So, back to the fair!  It wasn't all shopping and chatting - there were also lots of pitstops for food and drink, and what a glorious selection of goodies were on offer to tempt the tastebuds!  Despite the boggy conditions, the food and drinks area had the air of a festival about it with jaunty bunting snapping in the breeze, folk music and a really happy, laid back atmosphere.  Home made lemonade and wood fired pizzas, generous chunks of chocolate cake and farm ice-creams were just some of the delicious treats available.

On Saturday evening we were joined by two other friends who had come down for the fair - Kate Brazier (who runs the increasingly successful Kate Creates), an artist who has a knack for capturing the nostalgia of the seaside with her bright watercolour paintings, as well as offering a range of fabulous greetings cards.  Read more about Kate's business here.

Our other friend, Jo Harratt who runs Elf, is a textile artist with a flair for needlefelting.  Jo has recently created a line of felted animals which are mounted on embroidery hoops - you can find out more about Jo's work here.

More shopping ensued on Sunday, and then all too soon it was time to say Goodbye...once again, the good times had flown by, and we found ourselves crawling up the M5 in heavy traffic, back home, travel weary but happy and full of new memories to treasure.
I feel very inpsired and nourished to have these lovely girls in my life.  They're there through thick and thin, and my world is much lovelier for having them in it.  Thanks all of you, for making the weekend so special

See you next time, when I've got something colourful to share with you.
J x

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Toasted Teacakes and Making Plans

 (The Art House Cafe, Penistone)

As a self confessed dreamer, and wandering somewhat aimlessly these last few months it feels jolly good to be at the helm of my little ship again and to be steering it with a sense of purpose and direction.

One can only meander for a while before coming undone and ultimately lost, not to mention fed up.  When a person has no purpose, life loses its lustre.  When one has nothing to achieve or aim for, it becomes humdrum and tiring.  I figured this all out for myself after losing interest in much of what I did for a living sometime last year.  I questioned every facet of my capabilities and decided that I was tired of art, tired of painting and creating stuff and just like that, gave up.  Weeks passed by where I didn't paint a thing, and I lost my passion for writing too.  It was like someone had turned the taps to my creativity off.

However, the true fact of the matter was, I wasn't actually tired of any of those things.  No, I'd just lost myself enroute to nowhere, and that was the crux of it - I had no goals in place, no intentions, no five year plan, no nothing.  I didn't know where I was going anymore.

I'm aware all that might sound dreadfully dull to some of you; indeed, the very nature of the word 'goals' sounds as if energy is involved and just the very idea of getting up and creating some goals made me feel weary! But in my months without any, where I drifted and wafted, I felt myself becoming very disatisfied.  My life didn't have a purpose - oh, it was full to the brim of stuff, and things to do, but I wasn't heading anywhere and that is most dispiriting.

So, with the help of my new guidebook 'Grow Your Handmade Business', I am finally setting some goals and intentions, and I am not feeling afraid by the enormity of some of these; quite the opposite infact, I am feeling fired up and ready to go!  My delicious green filofax now has a monthly goals section, and I add weekly goals to my diary pages.  It is most satisfying to tick these things off once they're done and I get the added bonus of feeling like Im achieving things, instead of just thinking about them.

One of my smaller goals is to have business breakfast meetings with myself at a very lovely cafe in a nearby village, where I will go over my plans to see where I am with things and what needs tweaking.  I also use the time to dream up new products and ideas.  Working from home means getting out of the house from time to time is essential, a fresh space brings fresh perspective; not to mention hot buttery teacakes and a pot of the finest Yorkshire tea.

I had myself one of these meetings on Tuesday morning, and enjoyed it enormously!  From this very meeting I'm pleased to report a new stream of ideas for greetings card artwork has been born, the latest being some seasonal art for my agent.

Life feels so much clearer now I have a good idea of where I want to be, and what I want my creative biz to look like.  Business doesn't have to be boring, and I think for creative businesses especially it can be exciting and very inspiring.

Til next time,
J xxx

Monday, 2 June 2014

A Deliciously Crispy Summer Chicken Recipe

I love cooking.  It's a fact that I have more cookery books than I could ever possibly need, but there is something about providing good, home cooked food from simple fresh ingredients that really appeals to me.  Just as I'm not a fan of the fast food/convenience food industry, I'm also not one for slaving over a stove for hours on end in order to provide a nutrious meal, and having a family and running a business doesn't really allow for that anyway.  So when I find something mouthwatering and easy, I like to make a note of it...and then sometimes I like to add my own twist.

I recently stumbled upon a recipe for parmesan chicken in one of Nigel Slater's books which we tried out a few weeks ago.  It was amazing! I'm a big fan of Nigel, I like the way he writes and his recipes generally pan out pretty well.  So, the other day I decided to make my own version of this chicken dish, adding a few extra bits of this and that to make a meal full of summery flavours which was reminiscent of warm sunshiny days, and I was over the moon with the results (as was my daughter) so I thought I would share it here with you.  Here it is:

Crispy Summer Chicken
(serves 2)*


2 skinless, free range chicken breasts
25g breadcrumbs
grated rind of one lemon
generous handful of parsley
1 large clove of garlic
25g grated parmesan cheese
1 free range egg, beaten
sea salt and black pepper
Olive oil

How to make it:

Pop your chicken fillets into a plastic food bag, or wrap in cling film and give them a good bashing with a rolling pin or similar until they're about 1cm in thickness.

Add the bread, parsley and garlic to a food processor and blitz til you have a good crumbly mixture.
Tip these ingredients onto a plate and add the grated cheese and lemon zest, season the mix with salt and pepper and stir carefully til everything is combined.

Next, take the chicken and coat each fillet well with the beaten egg, then lay the chicken in the herby breadcrumb mixture and cover both sides thoroughly.

Pop your breadcrumbed fillets onto a lightly oiled baking tray, then sprinkle a good dessert spoon of olive oil over the top of each fillet.  This will help the chicken to crisp up delightfully whilst cooking.

Bake in the oven at 200 degrees for 20-25 minutes and dish up with some buttery new potatoes and fresh greens or a fresh green salad and crudites.

The beauty of this particular recipe is that you can adapt the ingredients to make all kinds of amazingly flavoured crumbs ~ why not try adding some dried chillis, or substitute the parsley for thyme and oregano?  *The recipe is also easy to double up should you need to serve more than two.

You can also make a delicious herby dip to go with your chicken if you wish, using a couple of tablespoons of good greek yoghurt, a squeeze of lemon juice and a mix of your favourite summer herbs.

See you soon,
J xxx
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