Houses: open and closed

Open House has been and gone, and the big dolls are back upstairs instead of hogging the living room.  Its only a couple of months until the next Open House, but its good to keep them on their toes and stop them getting too comfy. 
In my latest ‘de-Open House’ of our home, I have hung one of my big pinhole photograph prints in the living room. And it has started my brain off on an old tack.
pinhole photograph of a derelict room
Pinhole photograph
Its one from a series for my Arts degree final piece; a research project involving kiln formed glass artifacts and pinhole photography. It was all about the house behind where we lived. Empty for ten years, scheduled for redevelopment, I looked at the house day after day after day. And then one day climbed over the wall.
Deemed ‘A house of no significance’ the property was to be demolished. The council said it had no history. Obviously, if you know me at all, that was red rag to bull territory. I found its history, stuck between the changing fashions in layer upon layer of wallpaper. I spent hours in the house, took hundreds of photos, inspected its scars, and watched its final moments.
black and white photo of a house being demolished
the end of the house
After the house was no more, we moved. The story of the house is in one of my overcluttered filing drawers. The best glass pieces were sold, and the rest relegated to a tupperware pot right in the furthest corner of the loft, ignored and gathering dust. I couldn’t get started again. The kiln I had bought spent five years under a blue tarpaulin at the end of the garden before I sold it again, unused. The woman I bought it from had never used it either.  I hope it had better luck in its new home. I forgot about being a glass artist, and eventually picked up pen and paper and began sketching the people on the beach. And then of course, they grew tails.
Being stuck headfirst into mermaids, I haven’t thought about this body of work apart from raiding photos for my Alice pictures. Today though I can hear Mr Swift talking. Born in the house in 1911, he lived there until 1994. I tracked him down and asked for his memories. He was cross with me when I interrupted his telling tales of the war in Egypt, trying to redirect him back to the house. “Do you want my story or not?” he said. I did want his story, was greedy for it – but I only wanted the narrative for the house. The house was the star, the family the supporting cast, demonstrating how lives and expectations changed.
distressed photograph of an old house, printed on copper
Photo transfer onto distressed copper, collection of Bruce Castle Museum
During our very first Open House, a lovely older couple visited, and seemed a little stunned: turned out, they used to own our house.  They sat on the sofa and looked around, and said “all we can see is what isn’t here”. Their wonderful 1970s home improvements, modernising a bleak Victorian terrace, all gone. Extra walls and concrete fireplaces with modern (condemned) gas fires, ripped out and a Victorian wood burner back in the open chimney. They’d rented the house out for years. Tobacco and coffee stained wood chip covered all, which I’d stripped off revealing orange or green plaster walls, and grafitti: Arsenal, Slade and John Player Special.  Our house is held now in that state of being ‘un-done’. People ask blithely ‘done any more to the house?’ expecting progress. No. Nothing to report. Just a few more mermaids and a Giant Alice.
This morning a Guardian report from the Edinburgh Festival caught my eye.  “Buildings tell stories“. Theatremaker Geoff Sobelle, has created Home, where on stage, a typical two-up, two-down house fills up with all its previous occupants at once. Sobelle, inspired by ripping up layers of lino in his kitchen, says  “My house is my home, but it was someone else’s before that. We share spaces in ways we don’t even see.”  Ours is not a small house, but after more than a hundred years, many of multi occupancy, it would be seriously cramped if everyone materialised at once. I’ve been told snippets of stories. Our house has been a welcoming one, with parties and laughing, a readily opened door; although I do know someone who wasn’t happy here, in the damp front room of a student let.
Somehow I think it is time to listen to my house again. There is work to be done, practical and important and necessary. Things are going to change. But do you know, I think I’ll treat myself to getting a book printed of the Dwelling of No Significance project. One I can put on the shelf; a present from one house to another.
flyer for an exhibition at Bruce Castle Museum, London. A Dwelling of no significance, by local artist Annie Taylor. A critical contemporary art exhibition about a derelict house.
Flyer for the exhibition, January to April 2006. Self portrait in the house

Beware the Slump

Larger than life soft sculpture based on Alice in Wonderland, wearing a pink dress and flamingo, photographed during the Made in Whitstable Arts Crafts & Vintage Trail for the Oyster Festival 2018, with Annie Taylor and another large doll visible in the next room

The Slump is a large dark sludgy green seven legged and nine armed creature, with three eyes on the end of stalks rather like a snail’s.  It has a large spiny tail, which is leaves straggling out all over the place – it just cannot be bothered with tucking it out of the way. You’ll only fall over it anyway, so why bother.

Hugging itself tightly in the corner,  the Slump looks big and scary and slimy. Its not. Not if you don’t let it be so…

The Slump is a miserable old friend that visits immediately after an exhibition. After a deadline has been worked towards, and all stops pulled out.  After the ‘phew, we did it’ and the momentary self congratulation; then comes the Slump.  And here it is, fully formed, hogging my studio, with several of its legs and its tail flopping down the wobbly ladder right into the rest of the house. There is no avoiding it.

Pushing past it this morning to grab items for an ‘activity bag’ as I’m looking after my friend’s studio/gallery, I stood there and huffed at my half made creations. The urgency has gone.  Maybe I’ll just eat all day and jab at Instagram, and look at all the wonderful things other people are making, and feel even more miserable: this is how the Slump works.

So instead, I’m naming and shaming the Slump.  Ok, so I’m on my third bag of crisps, but I’m keeping the Slump at bay. I’m sharing my snacks with it, and offering it a part in one of my stories.  Its not so bad really, its actually quite cuddly.  Maybe it can keep an eye on the gallery while I forage for some more food.


Why Open House?

To some it must seem a dreadful idea: opening your house to Joe Public (and their dog).  Why would you? Surely lots of the visitors are just being nosey?

Well yes, and I don’t really mind. I’m pretty nosey too.  I once hurt myself falling off a very high curb because I was busy looking into someones well-lit front room. It was a large house, rather grand, most tasteful; and then the pavement vanished.

But I digress.  The benefits of taking part in an artists’ Open House are plentiful: and not just the obvious one of being a great opportunity to sell your own work.

poster for the MiW Oyster Festival artists open house

For one, the house actually gets cleaned. Or rather, the whole house is getting cleaned this time as we have friends staying too, otherwise the big front bedroom becomes the dumping ground for everything.  Oh yes, and my studio, up in the loft, accessed by a ladder that deters most people – that, well, that tends to look as though someone picked it up, shook it upside down, and then plonked it back down.  Like a shaken snow globe left laying on its side. My studio is most definitely Not Open.

Secondly, ‘Things’ and ‘Stuff’ get processed. Things and stuff frequently make their way into our house, and consequently our front room is not our living room.  It is the bike park, and the things coming in and going out room – the guitar amps (heavy); the spare pair of doors for Nobby the van (heavy) which are destined to go on our bedroom wall, as Nobby doesn’t currently required new doors. Not just yet anyway. And then I shall probably hang mermaids off them. The Big Dolls and prints and baskets of mermaids – these come and go. Although tend not to spend too much time in our reception area, as it can get a bit grubby.  Nobby’s engine parts have mostly been stored here over the last two years as he chewed his way through five engine rebuilds. Fingers crossed on this last one – it is the compensation engine block from a very good company, provided by the company we purchased the Very Bad engine through.  That is a whole story on its own – but if you wish to know who NOT to have a VW engine built by, message me and I shall tell you. Now, where was I? ah yes, engines.  Well, there are the five or so boat engines, the recumbent trike, the water jacket for our wood burner (we haven’t sorted the plumbing yet), and several other implausibly heavy lumps of metal and a couple of guitars in various stages of rebuild, and our spare door collection. If you know me at all, you will notice this list never really seems to change much. It seems both the Engineer and myself have a habit of not finishing one thing before starting another.

more shed than front room, bicycle and spare van doors, and all sort of stuff, which needs to be tidied up

Third; Artists Open House are a fantastic deadline.  I do a stock check on what I have made and look at the things that I still haven’t finished.  I think about a possible theme for this Open House – which depends on who I might be sharing with.  This Open House I am sharing with Helene Williams, and she is bringing her beautiful delicate watercolour paintings, which she has this time reworked through digital processing. She aims to capture the mysticism of Nature, and that just about fits perfectly with my fairy tale world.

Fourth: inspiration gets a kick up the you know where.  This week I have cleared the decks of paid work. This is something I really cannot do very often, but its so dry that the gardens I care for really are best left alone – or at least, thats what I am telling myself;  and so I have glorious stretches of studio time.  Studio time with a deadline is a wonderful thing. Unfinished objects become finished. Things lurking in the studio corner see daylight. Vague ideas take form.  Things are started, tangents are gone off at, discoveries made and ideas for future projects take shape.

And lastly, the visitors.  You never know who is going to come through the door or what their response might be. They may tell a fantastic story, share the work of an artist I hadn’t heard of, or give us more stuff and things to use (this happens a lot) which they no longer want to keep, but cannot throw away.  Conversations flow, stories grow: questions are asked and in coming up with the answers, I find myself developing the tales I’m telling. Its sort of like a workshop for myself – having to explain why I have nothing better to do…

And of course, if I am very lucky, the visitors like what I do well enough to want to take some home with them. And that is very very satisfying indeed.


Come and visit House No.10 on the Made in Whitstable: Arts, Craft & Vintage Trail this Oyster Festival weekend 21st and 22nd July, 2018.   Open from 10.30am to 4pm.

mermaid art doll

Paints are not just colours

Up in the studio, still in my pjs, painting.  Thinking whilst doing  so, of what I need to do before next weekend when we are an Open House on the Made in Whitstable: Arts, Craft & Vintage Trail, as part of the Whitstable Oyster Festival.
So obviously, my thoughts wander.  I am painting Two-Frida’s this morning, and thinking about my paints.
The blue Reeves watercolour box I have had since I was a teenager.  Great Aunt Vera always gave me great big boxes of paint and art materials for Christmas. Mum used to confiscate the new until I had used the last set, and then another box would appear from the loft, rationed out so that I used them with care.  Or some might materialise as a special treat – I’m sure I had a bonus box when I had Measles immediately after German Measles.
So although I was little when given this set, I probably didn’t get my hands on it until a few years later, when I was 14/15 or so. I’ve always loved the depth of colours from this particular box, no matter how many others I have had over the years. I also always hear my Dad’s voice, telling me the paint water should be clear – if the colour is in the water, it is neither in the box or on the paper, nor on the brush, and is therefore wasted. His water was always only delicately coloured.  I’ve never mastered that refinement, and my paint water is usually a jolly colour to match my work. And quite often whatever I am wearing.
work in progress, painting a double headed Frida Mer doll

The box of tubes of watercolour is a mixture of those purchased new by me, those left over from the paint box I inherited from Granny (Auntie Vera’s sister) who took up watercolour painting late in life, and some from Lidls my parents gave me for a recent Christmas.

The colours on the plate (ah, thats where all the plates go says the Engineer) are a the result of a recent clear out by an artist friend who was moving studio, and are liquid watercolours in bottles, dyes not pigments. They just happen to be the most perfect colours for mermaid tails.
Unfortunately Auntie Vera decided to stop giving me paints when I was 13. She gave me a watch, and then makeup and stuff followed. Lets not even go there about me and time keeping, or ladylike grooming.
But I still paint.

Mice and men…

They know when you have a plan.  I don’t know how, but they know.  And they enoying nothing more than awry-ing them.  Slatibardfast knew a thing or two about that.

Almost as soon as I came up with the idea of writing, or at least adding a picture, to this blog every day for thirty days, it became increasingly difficult to do so. I was rather surprised this happened, even though I would have expected some retaliation from the Inconvenience Bureau for even having a plan,  but seeing as I had been posting an image daily on Instagam daily for ages, and that does require more time and effort than you might think, it didn’t seem too drastic a measure, one that chaos would instantly see as a challenge.  But no, instead of a longer post on the Blog – the Instagram activity ceased too. All creativity was sucked into the whirl of FTB: Far Too Busy.

Now I’m beginning to see the other side of the ftb  bubble, and the Whitstable Biennale is well underway, with so much that is interesting, thoughtful, or challenging – some that is challenging to get your head around, but isn’t that the point?  I’m enjoying very much a soundscape from the church tower which I can hear from home. Can’t get much lazier about engaging with art than that, can you? Most entertaining was Patric Cole’s Restaurant – the icing on the cake being that it was held at the Labour Club and watched with a nice pint of beer in hand, and then in belly. Anyway, all of this makes it sound like I have been enjoying myself and not working – which is not the case.  The enjoying has been squeeeeeeeezed in, and then the working has had to take place at strange times.  Enjoyment however is necessary.


The Whitstable Satellite  has much to offer too – with last weekend’s Shamanic Mirrors performance being a highlight (and finishing at the Neptune – you are spotting my modus operandi now aren’t you?) and of course the Assembly Group show.  I did manage to finish my piece and hang it, but have yet to see the whole exhibition, and am hoping to get to the private view tonight.  However that pesky Profanity Embroidery Group has been eating up my time and more than its fair share of my attention, and we are hanging the LadyGardens tonight.  It is going to look brilliant – do come and visit the blue and white beach hut on the Sea Wall to the harbour side of the Oyster Stores between 11am and 6pm this weekend, 9th and 10th June.


Oh yes, and somewhere over this weekend I am finishing a piece of work for the New Kent Art Gallery in Broadstairs for their illustration and print show, which hangs on Monday 11th June and opens on the 12th. So why am I messing around here? no idea, I’m off…



Leaf me alone…

Time for a bad pun – actually did manage to get in the studio today.  Rattled away on the sewing machine, and made some progress.  Five leaves painted and preliminary layer of stitching.


Machine stitching is all fun and games. Focus, focus.  Invite to pub. Resist. Run out of thread.  Toddle to our brilliant Fabric Shop and buy more, stopping en route for various natters. Invite to pub. Resist. Start sewing again.  Bobbin runs out.  Refuel bobbin, start again.  Invite to pub.  Resist.  Continue sewing, bobbins and threads and suchlike.  Friends leave pub and invite to bbq in their garden.

Well, what would you do?

The Eleventh Hour

The clock is bonging away the hour.  Eleven.  How can it be eleven already.  Even the Cat That Isn’t Ours has toddled off out into the sunshine…. oh no – speak of the Devil, here he is!

There is a theory I have read, and I quite forget in which book, that the balance of the world is actually dependent upon the amount of cats sleeping at any one time.  You or I may think they are just sleeping; the ‘just’ is the important word here.  Yes, sleeping, but doing important work.


He’s gone off to look out of the back bedroom window, to survey his kingdom.  We went out last night whilst the Cat That Isn’t Ours sat in our front window, watching us go.  I’m beginning to realise that the Cat That Isn’t Ours actually thinks this is his house, his bed, his windows to view from.  I wonder what he thinks we are? “The People”, or whatever cats consider us to be (do they even consider us?) The People That Are Not Mine?  Entertainment? Incidental?

The Cat That Isn’t Ours is asleep.  Balance restored.  And I am relieved to have had, for the first time in a week, time to contemplate what might or might not be going on in that furry brain. The Engineer and I are also discussing the contents of our fridge, which as he says ‘has become anomolous’.  Before I go up into my studio today, I shall clear out the things that are green that shouldn’t be, and the things that used to be green but are not; and go and find us some proper food. Yesterday I only ate biscuits. Not good.  Especially as the only reason the biscuits were there to be eaten was that they were not very nice ones in the first place.  Biscuits in general have a very short lifespan around here.

All of which means that I am of course avoiding the inevitable of ‘getting on with it’, ie getting back in the studio. Random thoughts are go, but creativity not awake yet. Might go and mow the lawn.