Malacophonous Magnicaudate Mermaids

“What does this say?” enquired a lovely visitor, holding one of my articulated paper mermaid dolls. The room was packed, as it was during our very busy Open House for the Whitstable Oyster Festival, this last weekend.

First, find spectacles underneath a couple of goats. Next, focus. Goodness, I don’t think I would write anything quite so small any more. Not that I designed this an awful long time ago. Obviously pre these specs though.

“Malacophonous Magnicaudate” says I, with satisfaction. “Yes”, says lovely visitor, “but what does it mean?” I think, I think, as I dredge in my brain, that it means….. ah yes, gently voiced. And big tailed.

paper mermaid doll by whitstable tail

 

A room full of incredulous faces turn to me. “You made that up”. No, no, I didn’t. Honest. Look I’ll show you. Oh no you won’t, says internet. Internet says no such words exist. Butter wouldn’t melt in its technological mouth as it asks me if I mean all sorts of other things because it has never ever heard of those two words. Never. Lying little internet. It gave me the words in the first place.

“I think it means ‘Bad’ – you know ‘mal’, it means bad. Its all cod-Latin. You definitely made it up.” No, not Bad. I know my mermaids are quite often naughty, but I really don’t like to advertise the fact. And I can remember being delighted when I came across these words, because they were so perfect. And I do so like a perfect word.

Finally the pixies of technology decide to stop messing about, and throw up one lone dictionary definition to back me up, allowing the Malacophonous Magnicaudate Mermaid to swim off to her new home, laughing at all the fuss she had caused.

Not everyone was convinced, I could tell. One online dictionary doesn’t prove anything. And I do like to tell stories, so you cannot blame my visitors for their lack of trust. Of course, later, much later, the Big Old Dictionary finally wakes up, and I find “malaco- or malac- denoting softness: from the Greek malakos”. I missed it because it was hiding behind a snail, slightly above a bunch of herrings and salmon. And if you want to know what I’m on about, you’ll have to look in the dictionary. A proper one, with paper pages. None of that online pedanticness.

Malacophonous Magnicaudate Mermaids are downloadable from my Etsy shop.

 

Time Flies When You Are Having Fun

Hand painted and stitched textile art doll, made by Annie Taylor of Whitstable Tail
Sweet Fanny Adams, a recently completed commission

They say.

“They” say a lot of things.  For time can also fly when you are not particularly having fun – as in Good Lord we are already in February and I have only just actually had some much needed fun. Nor have I engaged in any worthwhile displacement activity.  I wonder what ‘they’ would have to say about that!

So my lack of updating this blog is not due to conscious displacement activity – it is due to a month or more of lurgies various, and life the universe and everything (but not displacement) taking precedence.

Having caught up – almost – on orders, and dug out the sketchbook from a teetering pile of stuff, it is time to take stock of what indeed I ought to be displacing from.

The Profanity Embroidery Group exhibition opens in the wonderful Walpole Bay Hotel on 7th March as part of POW!Thanet‘s IWD celebrations.  “The Private Life of Mrs Winchester” is an installation based on our fictional character and inspiration, and we have all been stitching like mad to make her belongings and treasures. When the exhibition closes at the Walpole, it transfers at the Fishslab Gallery in Whitstable from 14th to 18th March.

The Big Dolls (and hopefully some new friends) will be toddling off to Margate in May to celebrate the Spring Bank Holiday in style at the Pie Factory from 3rd to 8th May.  Neon Blue Tales is an eclectic mix of installation, paintings, prints and words.  Four creative women – Bev Sage, Clair Meyrick, Meg Wroe and myself shall be transforming this beautiful space.

And then in July, it is the Whitstable Oyster Festival, and once again I shall be Opening the House for the MiW Arts Craft & Vintage Trail. That is, trusting we have a floor and all that, which we don’t at the moment, but that is another story.

This is all looking like rather a lot of work, and I really think the best thing to do now is go back to bed and think about it all. Quietly. With the Cat That Isnt Ours and a large mug of tea. Looks like displacement needs to start in earnest.

I could in fact make a doll named Earnest to top the displacement activity list.

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A little perspective (or a big one for that matter)

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Big Alice has me thinking about Time and Scale again, for Facebook tells me it is her Fourth Birthday.   If you had asked me, as I am sure you always wanted to, when I began to make VERY large dolls, I’d have been hard  pushed to tell you, as it feels as though Big Alice has been with me forever.  You might have received a rambling reply about making dolls and why I do. Or I might have talked about the dolls in general, gone off at a tangent and forgotten the point. Most likely the latter.

I had been making very small dolls for a while. Small Alice dolls to shove in bottles and boxes and belljars;  small fairies to keep in little birdcages; and small mermaids to catch straight into jamjars. All of them constricted, caught, and held.

Obviously there was bound to be a backlash sooner or later, I just didn’t see it coming.

When I make the dolls, I draw a sketch, on the back of an envelope, on a  napkin, on whatever is to hand when the doll knocks on the front of my brain and says ‘let me out’, which is annoyingly most often not my sketchbook. Then I draw out the sketch onto big old computer paper.  The sketch doesn’t really change – my dolls are not exactly 2D but neither are they 3D. They are flat, only they aren’t. They are one sided, but the backs are quite important.  I woke with Eureka moment a few days ago: of course! they are Two And A Half D.  On checking with Google, 2.5D does already exist. Of course it would be a ‘thing’, where (and I may not have this entirely right) 2D graphical projections are used to create the appearance of being three dimensional, when in fact, they are not.  What I really like is that it is also called pseudo-3D.

Anyway.  So, I draw out my sketch onto big paper. As we all know, when you make something in fabric, you stitch it up and stuff it, and it is smaller than your drawing.  With this in mind, I set out to draw the pattern quite large. Then I stand back and look at it, check the proportions – sometimes I stand on a stool and take a photo. At this point you might be forgiven for thinking I would realise that it is going to be a biggie.  I work on the studio floor, which as I get busier and busier, becomes a smaller and smaller place, so my sense of proportion gets muddied.  The drawing is not that big, because the working area is small.  Not because the drawing is big. Still with me?

Big Alice was always intended to be quite big.  She was going in The View, which is a wonderful Whitstable gallery, and is very small.  So she needed to be big so that she was uncomfortable in the space.  By the way, my dolls are all very pleased that I have got over this need to cram them claustrophobically into something. Apart from the original Alice doll, who lives in the belljar, which does upset people.

Big Alice ended up being sixteen feet tall.  She lives in our hallway, and looks forward to each Open House.  She has just asked if I can give her flamingo his legs now, and can she have another Cheshire Cat for her Birthday*.

Four years ago, I made Big Alice.  Can’t imagine life without her really.  She is big, but she doesn’t get in the way, and when she’s off making an exhibition of herself I really miss her.  Sometimes people ask if she is for sale.  Can you imagine that?

*Oops – didn’t realise she knew I’d sold the first one.  Can’t pull the wool over Alice’s eyes.  They are just too big, and I can’t reach.

East Kent Artists’ Open Houses begin on October 20th for three weekends.

alice in teh view

 

Down the Rabbit Hole again!

Blinkers on! here we go….

down the rabbit hole

 

East Kent Artists’ Open Houses open in three weekends, and I need to shut myself away in the studio and draw and stitch and create.

I am House No.27 this year. A rather good sounding number, which has led me to the spectacularly time wasting pursuit of Googling; a terrific displacement activity for such a busy time.

It is indeed a satisfying number, and is a perfect cube. According to Wikipedia, “there are exactly 27 straight lines on a smooth cubic surface, which give a basis of the fundamental representation of the E6 Lie algebra, being 33 = 3 × 3 × 3. 27 is also 23 (see tetration). 27 is also a decagonal number. ”

I did look up decagonal number, but my brain caved in, and has gone off chasing dragons. 

Back to the loveliness of 27.  It is the first composite number not divisible by any of its digits, and is the only positive integer that is 3 times the sum of its digits.  27 contains the decimal digits 2 and 7, and is the result of adding together the integers from 2 to 7 (2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + 6 + 7 = 27). See, how satisfying is that? and did you know that? Bet you didn’t.

The next chunk of Wikipedia’s bullet points are strangely attractive to look at, with all sorts of wonderful words, of which I have achieved no useful understanding.

“In a prime reciprocal magic square of the multiples of 1/7, the magic constant is 27. In the Collatz conjecture (aka the “3n + 1 conjecture”) a starting value of 27 requires 111 steps to reach 1, many more than any lower number. The unique simple formally real Jordan algebra, the exceptional Jordan algebra of self-adjoint 3 by 3 matrices of quaternions, is 27-dimensional.[2] In base 10, it is a Smith number[3] and a Harshad number.[4] It is the twenty-eighth (and twenty-ninth) digit in π. (3.141592653589793238462643383279…). If you start counting with 0 it is one of few known self-locating strings in pi. There are 27 sporadic groups, if the Tits group is included.”

I rather like the sound of the quaternions, which from a very swift superficial glance, appear to be quite naughty and not play by the rules. I wonder if the Fairy GM has an army of quaternions to do her bidding.

Alice, I like to think, would have very much enjoyed testing out all these words and numbers while tumbling down the rabbit hole.  I can hear her in my head repeating them aloud, and changing them as she falls, whilst Dina, (her cat, surely you knew that?) puts her paws over her ears in disbelief at such random disrespect for learning.

However, Alice may not have been quite so amused as I am by the existence of the Tits Group.  Being the co-founder of the Profanity Embroidery Group I am very happy to see tits in algebra, even if it is the name of a mathematician.

We must of course not ignore the Stupid Club. All those wonderful musicians who messily end their careers aged 27.  So my listening shall be made up mostly of Gram Parsons, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. There will be some Nirvana thrown in (it was after all Kurt Cobain’s mum who said ‘he’s gone and joined the stupid club’ on hearing of his fate). What else? well, Sex Pistols for Sid, the Stones for Brian Jones, even some Hole for Kristen Pfaff, topped off with Amy Winehouse.  I shall be watched whilst doing so with my collection of Stupid Club prints by  Sadie Hennessy.  Editions of 27, for £27, obvs.

A blue phase will colour my work these next few weeks – cobalt blue – which has the atomic number of, you guessed, 27.

Best fact of all: 27% of the Universe is thought to be made up of Dark Matter.

And now I have to go, because it turns out I do not have 27 days until Open House. And that is rather worrying. Wonder if the Dark Matter will help.

 

East Kent Open Houses takes place on 20th and 21st October, 27th and 28th October, and 3rd and 4th November 2018.  Houses open 11am to 5pm.

dolly was lost

 

 

A Whitstable Tail

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So here we are, back at the beginning.  Why am I called Whistable Tail? I was asked the other day.  Well, it all began with a story, about the Street. “I didn’t know that” was the reply, and I thought, yes, I haven’t told the story for a long, long time, and so I shall now tell you the Whitstable Tail.

 

Yesterday as the rain almost concealed the sea from view, The Street began to appear.  Some people say this is a naturally occurring shingle spit, and some have said it could be the remains of a Roman harbour. I can tell you it is neither. The truth was whispered to me one day by the sea, when I was watching for mermaids; but I cannot tell you who by.  You wouldn’t believe me anyway.

The Street, that winding magical path that leads you out into the sea for a good quarter of a mile, tides lapping at either side, waves crossing in front of you as you walk, was built by a Boy.

Once upon a time you see, there was a boy with rather large feet.  He lived in Whitstable, and all his family worked on the sea.  His father, grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great-grandfather, great-great-great-grandfather, all way way back across hundreds of years, were all fishermen. His mother, her sisters, and their aunts, could all dive and swim and pick up oysters – knowing those that were good to eat and those that would have a nice fat pearl.  The family was at one with the water. They lived in and on the sea as though they were part of it. All of them, except for the Boy with the big feet.

Its not that he didn’t try. He just couldn’t swim. His feet stayed firmly on the ground. He could feel the tree roots grow, knew when the bulbs were starting to wake up, when the soil was ready to push the seeds into sprouting. But he didn’t understand the sea.

He spent hours and hours watching the sea. Sitting there, just round the corner from all the boats and fishing and swimming.  He often felt as though he was being watched back,  which surprisingly didn’t bother him.  In the same way he knew the ground was alive, he knew the sea was alive.  He loved the sea, and had no fear.  But he couldn’t so much as dip in a toe.

One day as he sat watching the sea, keeping his feet out of the way of his working family, the sense of being watched back made he toes curl. His hat sprung up from the back of his head where his hair stood shock upright. He waited, expecting a touch at any moment. None came, but something had changed. He knew now it wasn’t the sea watching him, it was someone.

The family, always working though they were, noticed a change in the Boy.  He spent even more time down at the shore, just around the corner. He walked with more of a bounce, and his feet did not seem anywhere near so heavy.  He’d always been the most lovely of lads, amiable and helpful, but nowadays, well, he just shone with a happy glow.  Funnily enough though, he wasn’t anywhere near so helpful.  He was suddenly very very busy.

His brothers called to him to help launch their boat, but he didn’t come.  His father called for him to help land the catch, but he didn’t come.  They were not cross, just surprised.  He said he was ‘building something’. And certainly he was covered in sand and mud, and barnacles – which was quite odd. They were attaching themselves to the edges of his prodigious extremities in little clusters. He was often followed around by a bunch of crabs and lobsters too. Equally muddy and sandy, they were dragging large swathes of seaweed about as though moving it from one place to another. The family saw all this, and thought how wonderful that the Boy was making friends, although it might lead to problems at dinner time.

Years passed, and life on the Whitstable coast continued as it had for the past hundred years or so, with little or no change.  The Boy grew, and his feet stayed pretty much in the same proportion to his body they always had.  The family saw less and less of him, but he was clearly very happy, and they were just so busy. He was no longer followed around by a raggle taggle band of sea creatures, they had all gone back to minding their own business, scrabbling around on their pereopods, and the family thought this was probably for the best.

A visitor to the town, in search of fine oysters, asked the busy family one day who were the people standing so far out in the sea, and what was that rocky road that had led them there.  The family stopped working and exchanged the most fleeting of glances. The sound of pennies falling from great heights was a cheerful tinkle all along the beach. “Ahem, hurrumph, ahhhh  – well”, said the Grand-Father, “its a naturally occurring shingle spit, which some people think could be the remains of a Roman harbour”.

The visitor commented on the fact that he’d never noticed it before. “Its only visible at low tide” said the Father. “Here, have these oysters for your tea, lovely fat ones, have them, as a gift”.  The visitor, greedy for his tea and not quite believing his luck, scadaddled pretty damn quick.

The family put down the tools of their trade, and walked around the corner.  Sure enough, there was the Boy, far out to sea, at the end of a huge winding stone and sand and seaweed street. And he was not alone. He was sitting talking to a girl. And they were holding hands, and looking into each others eyes.  And he had his feet in the water, and she was resting her scaly green tail across them, tickling his toes with her fins.

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Well, well, said the family.  They all waved and cheered to the Boy and his Mermaid, and all smiled and hugged Great-Great-Grandfather, who had just arrived on the shore pushing Great-Great-Grandmother in a heavy old bathchair, just a whisp of aged fin showing from beneath her blanket wraps.

History has a funny old way of repeating itself.

A4 tail to print 72

 

 

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.

 

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.

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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.

Heart Shape Tags

That is what I am looking at just now.  I don’t remember buying them, or what I was going to use them for.

Day 2, and I’m wondering at the mess on my – well, I suppose I could call it my ‘desk’.  Two staplers strangely wrapped around each other, like drunken men on Cup Final day, neither fully able to stand on their own feet, unable to quite remember why they are in such a state, but knowing they truly are the bestest of friends. Three glasses cases, two containing old specs that will do at a push, if I’ve left my current visual aids downstairs and cannot be bothered to go fetch them. The third case, most dented I notice, is for those I am currently wearing. Wires and wires and cables, external drives, dust and fluff. Paper, pens, thread, pincushion, receipts. Lip balm – I wondered where that was.  A few stones with holes in, some dried seedweed and a selection of shells, also with fluff.  This last section clearly being evidence of some recent pocket emptying.

A large round crystal for hanging over the big old computer, now unplugged, with its side off and cables encrusted with more fluff and dust. One chandelier pendant hanging from the shelf above – this one a beauty.  There were two once.  Presents from my brother, thirty plus years ago. The heaviest earrings ever.  I only wore the pair once, to a Killingjoke gig.  Amazing I even have one.

A large scrappy piece of paper pinned just to the right of the dangling pendant. “Stop Trying Too Hard Pollyanna”. My own handwriting, in pencil upper case, underlined twice, forcefully.

photo of a selection of cards stapled to a wall

More plugs and wires, and fluff. Eww.  Successful spider’s web behind the small printer/scanner. The one I broke with my collection of dead bees. It works still as a scanner, mostly, but not that often as a printer.

Four craft glass bottles that are meant to have little watercolour mermaids in them. I was looking for them the other day, and they would not be found.  I wonder what I moved to uncover them.

My studio  in the roof space at the top of the house, has sloping ceilings and a velux window front and back.  I staple images, cards from friends, souvenirs, on its sloping ceilings. They fall down, and I staple them back up, and add more.  This is where I work.

Three cards from friends that I need to consider more often:

“Never stop searching for Wonderland”:  a man sticking his head down a rabbit hole.

“That is a totally insane plan… I’ll be right over”.

“Anything is possible” she believed, so she grew wings and flew like an angel to the stars*.   * she didn’t know the back of her dress was tucked into her knickers though, but hey, you can’t have it all. ”

Three cards that say ‘keep going, keep doing what you are doing’. Just what I needed to see. And I’ve managed a little bit of a tidy up too.

collection of images on my studio wall

 

 

 

Time & Tails

Ten past six and finally I am sitting down in my studio to ‘get on with it’.  In my head, by now, I would have done the washing, shopping, dog walking, cleaning, hours ago, and made several large dolls and embroidered a mermaid. In reality, I have managed just enough shopping so we can eat tonight; started the washing but need to hang it out and not leave it crumpled in the laundry basket; and walked 2 dogs: both very opinionated and of a Greta Garbo persuasion, ie “I vant to be alone”. One of these caused me to pretend to be a commando and hide below the cow parsley whilst calling to her sotto voice to come back from Hole No.11 on the golf course, where she was busy doing that round and round sniffing which usually leads to something else.

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The ‘to do’ list has no ticks.  It was supposed to be an admin day.  No wonder nothing is ticked off.

Instead, I’ve had an idea.  It is prompted by conversations with two friends, and in encouraging them in their endeavours, I decided to remind myself that two years ago, or whenever it was, that I started this blog, it has hardly become a habit.

Instagram has.  I try to post something each day, more or less.  So why not try to do a slightly bigger post, here. It is exactly the sort of advice I would give to one of my friends, but when I tell myself such things, do I listen? Of course not.  So I am putting it in writing. For the next thirty days, I am going to try and post something every day. There I’ve said it.

Call it ‘artists pages’, call it a load of woffle, call it displacement activity….. doesn’t matter. I shall do it and see where I end up.  Whether it helps me focus, and capture ideas before they float off out the window, or indeed whether I spent time staring at a blank screen and achieve even less.

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And I need to stop now, as I have to be somewhere in eight minutes.  So let me cogitate: the one constructive thing about today was the thinking and looking during the dog walks. I loved the delicate flowers of the cow parsley against the grey sky.  Round here it can get pretty big. New buildings are being cultivated where the cow parsley grew biggest of all, Giant Hogweed size, and I like to think of this Dead-Man’s Flourish pushing up through the new house floors.

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The dog roses are opening and dropping their petals all in one move, which mean’s it is time for Sleeping Beauty to find the old woman with the spindle. One of the nearby properties is wrapped in scaffolding and plastic, maybe up there the wicked fairy sits. Maybe it isn’t a spindle this time, but a nail gun. Or maybe she catches herself on the barbed wire, whilst going, as is ever the way in a fairy tale, where she been forbidden.

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The bindweed is slithering around the nettles, and the Russian Vine is snaking around itself for now, gathering strength.  Soon both will be engaged in a race for total hedgerow domination.  What happens when they meet? Or have they already agreed a boundary line, for I can see neither one in each other’s patch.  The suffocating Fairy GM of Convolvulus in still unfinished in my studio and now I realise she is waiting for her the strangulating Fairy Fallopia Baldschuanica to catch her up.  Also known as mile-a-minute, we shall not be waiting long.

So what do I do with these latest stories. I’ve recorded them here, and that will have to do. Enough for Day 1 at any rate.