Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Forty Portraits

Hello! How are you all?

I really thought when we went into lockdown that I would return to regular blogging, maybe a couple of times a week but it would seem that the opposite has been true. Maybe there's just not much to say as the days take on a repetitive quality. A bit like my daily phone call to my Mum where the conversations follow the same pattern... "Hi, how are you?", "I'm fine, how are you?", Good, thank you. Nothing new happening here", " No, nothing much happening here either but at least the sun is shining." etc. etc. 

My last post was on the last day in May and here I am just about sneaking in on the last day of June. To be fair though, I have been rather busy. One of the events to be cancelled this year was Cambridge Open Studios. It was disappointing but obviously it is not a good idea to open up homes and studios to the general public amidst a global pandemic. Instead one of the members has organised an alternative event, Cambridge Open Windows. About 150 members are taking part by display art in their windows during the weekends of July, for people to see whilst out walking, creating an art trail. It's a great idea but a slight problem for me is that my only street facing windows are comprised of several small panes, not creating a great frame for artwork. My living room window has 40 separate window panes. So I came up with the bright idea of creating 40 new artworks to fit within each pane... and then the even brighter idea of making portraits of local residents so that it wasn't just an art trail but more of a game of "Guess Who".

Well long time readers won't be surprised will they.... I'm full of bright ideas, me! And so using our villages facebook groups and word of mouth I asked people to send me a photo of themselves so that I could create small portraits. I've used pencil, pen, paint and collage to create unique portraits of people of all ages. I've discovered that drawing children is SO hard... the last thing I want to do is give people ugly children! Older faces with a bit of character (i.e wrinkles) are much easier. It has taken almost every spare minute over the past month and tonight I finished the final picture. There are 40 pictures of 58 people, eight dogs (all different breeds), two cats, an owl, a budgie and a sock monster (best not to ask). The final one was of a face I see every day. Luckily he likes it but everyone else has to wait until the weekend before they see their picture.

In other news, I helped youngest son move out of his flat, even though he had been living with us for two months during lockdown, and into a new flat share with his girlfriend. The old flat took us all day to clean. After Jacob had moved in with us, his old flatmate didn't bother to clean, wash dishes, pick anything up etc so you can imagine the mess. There have been trips to the dump (oh the queues), lots of packing and lifting and endless journeys to and fro to a deserted Cambridge. On the bright side, at least parking wasn't a problem and being in town meant we had a couple of picnics in the park with son no. two and his wife. 

My next project is online teaching and I'm developing some courses based on some of my established classes. Getting my head around the technology has been quite a learning curve but this old dog is learning some new tricks and I'm hoping to launch my first course in August. If you are remotely interested be sure to sign up to my newsletter (link in the sidebar) for the latest updates. I've been practising my video editing skills by making more free YouTube tutorials that you can find here. Please do subscribe to my channel as once I get 100 subscribers I get more flexibility in what I can do. Thank you!

So that's what I've been up to... maybe I'll be back before the end of July, but I'm not making promises!

Sunday, 31 May 2020

Lockdown Cooking

How are you all? Still staying safe I hope. Despite the endless confusing information and bending of rules here in the UK (which makes me very angry but I'm not going there) we are pretty much living our lives much the same as the past ten weeks. We're staying at home, going out for walks but keeping our distance and supermarket shopping when necessary but that's about it. We have had one or two meetings with family members over the past couple of weeks which has been wonderful seeing them after so long, but still outside and at a distance. I needed some sandpaper during the week so actually ventured out to the DIY store but on seeing the queue outside I decided I didn't need it that urgently so turned around and came back home. I have no desire to rush back to pubs and restaurants or anywhere that people are gathering. It all feels so unnecessary. The jury is still out about getting my hair cut... Stewart did seem rather alarmed when I suggested I could shave my head!

So now that the demand for scrubs has pretty much stopped and I have used up my supply of mask making elastic I'm looking at other ways to stay busy besides painting all day. I've had a couple of moderately successful sough dough loaves from my starter, which I named Vincent Van Dough, which isn't looking very lively in this photo... but it has only just been fed and returned to the fridge. But then in the heat of last week I decided I couldn't endure another summer living with the Aga turned on. I was literally wilting in the heat and seemed to have a constant headache. So we bought a portable two ring hob and the Aga went off. The kitchen is so much more comfortable and our electricity bill has dropped by 75%. I think this could be the decider for it going for good!

So what to do with poor old Vincent with no oven in which to bake bread? I do have a bread maker so decided it was worth experimenting . I mixed the dough, kneaded it and let it prove before adding it to the bread maker for the longest cycle. I cooked a brick! I was all for throwing it out but the men of the house who will eat anything decided it was worth investigating. And surprisingly it was actually okay with a good sourdough flavour and suitably chewy texture, so probably worth doing again.

But I did also discover sough dough starter makes incredible pancakes so it would appear that Vincent will live on!

I then received a wonderful surprise gift in the post from our friends in the Netherlands, who know I like cooking as much as I appreciate art... Modern Art Desserts. On seeing the wonderful Mondrian cake on the cover my heart sank a little as I thought I wouldn't be able to make any of the desserts without an oven. But on reading there were several that do not require baking.

So On Friday I made these elegant little Panne Cotta based on an artwork by Spanish artist Rosana Castrillo Diaz. A layer of coffee flavoured panne cotta set at an angle, with a layer of liqueur jelly separating it from a layer of maple syrup flavoured panne cotta. An awful lot of work and several dirty saucepans over a period of about six hours but so worth it! Only in lockdown would I spend the time making such a special occasion dessert destined for our Saturday lunch but the Mondrian cake will have to wait until the autumn when the Aga goes back on.

I even managed to find some edible lustre dust to make the jelly layers sparkle.

As well as cooking there has been a fair bit of reading and I have just finished Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which I loved. I was so engrossed in the characters that I didn't want it to end so I have immediately picked up a God in Ruins, despite having read it only a few years ago with our reading group. Not a sequel exactly but the continuing story of one of the central characters from Life After Life. It's not often I read a contemporary novel more than once but I'm enjoying it just as much second time around and it's made me think of other books I might want to reread.

Our reading group has continued to meet via zoom calls although it's not quite so easy to have a discussion. As it happens our book for June is another Kate Atkinson - Big Sky, the latest in the Jackson Brodie series. Have you read anything good lately? Or cooked anything exciting either for that matter?

I've not been great at keeping up with blogs or replying to comments etc lately so do forgive me and pop by and say hello! I miss you!

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Lockdown Life

Well hello! Despite my absence on this blog I'm still here, still keeping virus free, and ridiculous though sounds for someone who is suddenly left with no work, I'm really busy. The days seem to fly by. Most days you will find me at my sewing machine where I have moved on to making scrubs and gowns for a local group that is supplying hospitals, hospices and the like. If you had told me three months ago I would have become an expert at fashioning garments from duvet covers I would have thought it a ridiculous idea... but that is what I am doing. I reckon I'd give the contestants on the Sewing Bee a run for their money! I've lost count of how many sets I have now made but enough to have given myself a whole new wardrobe should I wish to dress in old sheeting. I have the fabric waiting to be cut out for two new dresses for myself but they will have to wait. After all I'm not going anywhere so don't need anything new to wear.

I have been enjoying customising the pockets and making my own labels. Totally silly, as this probably takes as much time as the rest of the garment but it keeps me amused and hopefully brings a smile to someone else's face too.

My favourite set of scrubs so far have been this Winnie the Pooh set. Some of the hospitals only want plain garments but others are quite happy to take the patterned ones.

It seems wrong to me that our key workers should be relying on volunteers to make protective garments from cast off bedding... but they do and so I am happy to help.

When I'm not making gowns or scrubs I have been making lots more masks... over 50 at the last count. These have gone to family and friends and whoever happens to ask for them. Some people have asked to buy them but despite my lack of income at the moment, it feels wrong to profit from the current situation.... not a sentiment shared by everyone as apparently masks have been selling for extortionate prices on the internet. But I have had some interesting gifts and exchanges (as well as donations to charity) for some of the masks I have made... wine, flowers, freshly laid eggs, a chilli plant, home grown garlic... and wellies! I rather like the idea of this barter system! If you want to make your own I have a tutorial here... just make the elastic a little bit longer... about 6"

When I'm not sewing you can find me pottering in the garden or painting in my studio... I'm now starting to put some of my paintings for sale so be sure to follow me on Instagram if you are interested. I'm taking part in something called the artist support pledge. Artists who have found their income suddenly depleted are offering work for sale for less than £200 and once they reach £1000 in sales they pledge to spend £200 on the work of another artist. Some artists are obviously more successful than others... I've still a way to go! 

There has also been a bit of baking. I have finally learned how to make sourdough bread and there is a jar of starter languishing in my fridge ready for the next loaf. And in the evenings I'm usually knitting or crocheting whilst watching something on Netflix or the like.

My latest make was this little cardigan for our newest arrival. Our granddaughter, Reagan, was born a week ago. It's hard not to have baby cuddles with her or her little cousin who is now two and half months already... but better to know they are staying safe at home. We are hoping by the time the third grandchild arrives this year (in August) we might be able to see them all.

So that's pretty much my life in Lockdown at the moment. We might have been asked to 'Stay Alert" but but we're continuing to 'Stay at Home' unless we have to go out. How are you doing?

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Going With the Flow

Hello! How's everyone doing?

I thought I would be doing lots of writing on this blog but it turns out that's not the case. I just haven't felt like it. Just like I've not felt like making artisan bread, doing online yoga and pilates classes, finishing all my sewing and knitting projects, learning a new language and cutting my own hair. Some days it feels an achievement just to get through to the end of the day but I'm learning to go with the flow and do what I feel like doing rather than what I feel I should be doing.

The lovely weather over the Easter weekend made me feel like tackling a garden project and this bench seat was in dire need of some restoration. I managed to scrounge a couple of pieces of sandpaper from a friend when I was delivering her shopping to her doorstep... she threw them at me from a safe distance. And fortunately there was enough paint left in the can from when it was first painted many years ago.

I have the same aversion to sandpaper as I do to sandy beaches but I persevered and a couple of coats later it is almost as good as new. I managed to paint the dog's ear to match but we won't mention that. I had to have a sit down and pour myself a glass of Prosecco as a reward!

We also managed to organise a family zoom call on Easter Sunday with all six grown up children and various partners plus the two grandchildren... although the six week old stayed asleep on his Mum's lap throughout. It was lovely to see everyone together. I know I'm not the only one to be missing the family.

Silly hats/masks were optional... as was the green paint up the arm. It came off eventually.

This week has been a slow burn but I have made scrub bags for the NHS from an old flat sheet.

And masks for us too...

Although I regretted mentioning that on social media as it seems everyone has an opinion as to their usefulness. I agree they offer no protection to the wearer but the general opinion seems to be (and this is from a couple of nurse friends) they help prevent passing the virus on. It also stops me touching my face when I'm at the supermarket and hopefully gives some sort of reminder to others to keep their distance. Although I'm constantly amazed at the number of people who have no concept of two metres. One chap actually brushed past me at least three times yesterday, close enough that I could have punched him. I was very tempted and I've been googling cattle prods since coming home!

I also quite like the Dick Turpin look and feel like I'm about to hold up a bank!

 I have been drawing pages into my art journal on a regular basis which I'm hoping we'll look back on one day when all this is a distant memory. It seems like a good way to keep a record of what we are going through, both the good and the bad. I don't think you can watch the video of my pages here but it is on my Facebook page and Instagram

Anyway... that's what I've been up to. Now if you excuse me I'm off to take my advance yoga class whilst brushing up on my Cantonese. Actually no...  I don't feel like it so will probably pour a glass of something and see what's on the telly!

Stay home, stay well everyone!

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Appliqué Tutorials

How are you all copying as we enter our third week of lockdown?

Like many people I'm up and down. There are busy days and slow days, but mostly very long days. I relish my daily dog walks and I'm grateful that we live where we do and that it's possible to walk for miles and hardly see a soul. And when we do see others it's a chance to wave and have a chat from a distance. But like many others I'm also struggling with the fact that I no longer have work, which has not only meant no structure to my days but being self employed, also means no income.

To fill my time, I'm teaching myself new skills and have been posting regular mini video art tutorials on Instagram and Facebook, as well as putting them on my YouTube channel. It all feels very scary and I'm learning as I go but it's also good fun. But I'm also starting to think about how I might find ways to fill the shortfall in my earnings

I thought that one way might be to share share some of my old tutorials and so have decided to make my seasonal appliqué hoop PDFs available here with a Pay What You Can system for as long as we are in lockdown. Each one is a fully illustrated guide to creating your own seasonal hoop, complete with traceable patterns. The patterns could also be printed out and coloured in if you have children at home.

At the bottom of this post you will find a PayPal button and all I ask is that if you are able to make a small payment in return for downloading any of the tutorials, then please do. Of course I appreciate that times are hard for everyone right now and if you can't afford to pay anything at the moment, then you may download the patterns for free with my blessing and I hope it gives you something creative to fill your days. We could all do with more creativity!

The spring hoop is perfect for this time of year, especially Easter and I think I will probably hang mine in the window this coming weekend.

Click on the link below for your download.

The summer hoop features beach huts and hazy summer days.

You can find the download for the summer hoop here:

The Autumn hoop features berries and seeds as well as a little fox

You can find the download for the autumn hoop by clicking here:

And finally the winter hoop features a suitably snowy scene.
Although each design is intended to be displayed as a hoop to hang on the wall, they could be adapted to fit in a regular picture frame or possibly made to decorate a cushion or a bag too.

You can find the winter hoop download here

I have been selling these patterns in my Etsy shop but I have deactivated them while I have the downloads available here. You can find my PayPal button below and thank you for your support.

If you have any questions, just leave a comment below... and of course if you make up any of the patterns I would love to see them!

Wishing you all a happy lock downed Easter... We are attempting a family zoom call  on Sunday with fourteen of us!

Gina x

Sunday, 29 March 2020

The Pattern of my Days

I hope you are all staying safe, well and busy. Our days have taken on a new slower rhythm as we try to keep some structure in our lives whilst observing the lock down. Stewart still has work delivering groceries so is now deemed a "key worker" and much of his other work has always been done on line so not much has changed to his daily routine. Of course, it is a worry that he is going out to work and potentially at risk of being exposed to the virus but we are being as careful as we can under the circumstances. For me, suddenly being without any work and not knowing when it will resume has meant creating a new pattern to my days. I continue to get up at much the same time as usual and take the dog for a long walk. I come home and we then have breakfast together. The heat then gets put on in my studio and I might catch up with emails or maybe watch an art video or two in the house while it warms up. The day is spent in my studio, with breaks to make lunch, make a daily phone call to my Mum and calling or sending a message to other friends and family. More than ever it seems important that we all stay connected.

Studio activity varies depending on what I feel like doing, although I've not felt very much like making big paintings this week. The windows in our village are being filled with rainbows, an idea so that children could play a game of "Rainbow I-spy" whilst out walking, although I suspect a lot of adults are playing too... I know I am and feel disproportionally excited when I spot a new one! So I started the week by painting a rainbow for our hall window. I then decided it would be fun to have a more permanent rainbow to hang up and so made another from mosaic. Are there rainbows in windows where you live?

Although I haven't felt much like making large paintings I want to make some sort of art every day and sketchbooks seem an ideal way of doing this. I have been taking part in Karen Abend's Sketchbook Revival this week (still not too late to join in) which has prompted me into making an art journal. I've started these before but I've never progressed much beyond the first couple of pages. I thought it would be a good way to document our days at home during the pandemic though and with not a lot else to do I might stick with it this time. These are just some random pages from this week.

Important to remember to keep smiling I think...

It is hard to believe we have only been in lock down since last Monday evening... it feels like so much longer. I guess that's because so much has changed in such a short space of time.

Laugh whenever you can... it's the best tonic to keep your spirits up!

We have been lucky that the weather has been so good the past week and on my morning walk one day I was struck by the fact that there were so many birds singing. Nature carries on regardless and it's a joy to see so many signs of spring.

A reminder to myself to make art every day...

... and to keep in touch with our family and friends. We have a family WhatsApp group and there were all sorts of puzzles being sent yesterday between our adult children. It's hard not being able to spend time with them though especially our new grandson who is already a month old.

As well as daily sketchbook work I have also been making some short videos with a view to eventually teaching online. If you follow me on Facebook or Instagram you may have seen some of these already but this week I uploaded my first ever YouTube video which you can find here:


I made it specifically for one of my classes that was due to meet last Saturday as this was one of the things we were going to be doing, and I know some of the class aren't on Facebook etc. It's ridiculous that I have happily been teaching classes to adults  face to face for twenty years but it felt so exposing and I felt so self conscious talking to camera. But I have gradually got braver and my next plan is for a step by step collection of short clips showing the progress of a painting... as a response to a request in a comment from Stitchinscience on my last post. Anything else you would like to see me teach? 

In the evenings I occasionally pick up my knitting but I have also been working on a rag rug for our hallway which I finished on Thursday... I can see a lot of projects getting finished in the coming weeks. I had no sooner put it on the floor to see what it looked like when Hector came over, gave it a sniff, circled a few times and then plonked himself down with total ownership. He approved of the rug that I obviously made for him!

But this is where it really belongs... in our hall where Hector doesn't go!

Last night we had a very special evening... we cracked open a bottle of wine... okay that's not that special and seems to be a regular occurrence ... we then had take away fish and chips delivered on our doorstep by our village pub. This was followed by a delicious homemade crumble and ice cream (even if I do say so myself) made with a gift of allotment rhubarb from one of our neighbours (also left on the doorstep). We then spent the evening on a zoom call with several neighbouring families taking part in a village quiz. It was a lovely evening, just as good as going out and makes us realise how lucky we are to be part of such a wonderful community.

So that's the pattern of my days, which of course may well change as the weeks go by. It's not always upbeat and happy and I have my moments of anxiety worrying about all the people getting sick and whether my family will be safe etc. just like everyone else, but I try to remind myself  that I can't control what's happening in the world, I can only control how I feel and act and it helps by limiting my exposure to the news (which I've realised actually makes me feel physically unwell with a racing heart and pressure in my chest). I feel it's good to know the facts but I don't need all the "what if" horror stories and factually incorrect rumours that are abounding.

How are your days and evenings? I really do hope you are all staying safe, well and busy xx

Sunday, 22 March 2020

A New Normal

I don't think I'm going to write at length about the current situation sweeping our country and the world. We are all in the same boat, with the same problems to face and everyone going on about it doesn't help anxiety levels. It's going to be tough but I believe we will get through it and hopefully come out of it a kinder and more caring society. Of course it will also bring out the worst in some people but let's hope they are the minority. I'm not used to having so much time on my hands though. I'm not working from home because all my work has been cancelled for the foreseeable future - no talks, no classes. I've starting investigating how to produce teaching material online but it's all new to me so it's a steep learning curve... but at least I have plenty of time to learn.

Yesterday we cleaned the house, I did two loads of laundry (which dried outside... yah!), washed the windows outside, which were very dirty after recent storms and then decided to clean and sort out our larder cupboard. We don't have a lot of space for storage so I probably have potential to rummage up four or five unplanned meals at the most, Ready Steady Cook style! Most of the contents are spices, vinegars and jams... so many pots of jam! No hoarding going on here (apart from the jam of course, although it is mostly homemade), but at least I can see what we've got. 

All that was done and it was still only lunchtime so in the afternoon we decided to take advantage of the fine weather and go for a long walk around the villages. It was quite cold and blustery, but lovely to be outside. There were more people than usual out walking but still not that many and all at a distance!

There were lots of signs of spring arriving which was a cheering sight. Mother Nature carries on regardless.

It was Hector's fourth birthday so an extra long walk was a treat for him too!

I've also managed to set up my new website in the past few weeks, which I'm really pleased about. It's very simple but I do quite like it. You can find me here if you want to take a look

Plans to sell my art are now on hold however!

This is my most recent painting... I found a tiny rough sketch in one of my sketchbooks and based it on that. I like it enough for the moment but it may get changed or painted over. I've only a limited number of canvases to keep me going over the next few months!

So that's what I've been up to this week... staying at home, pottering in the garden, making lots more phone calls than usual and sending more messages. It's going to be our new normal!