Sunday 24 March 2019

APRIL 2019 - In and Out of the Studio

In and Out of The Studio 

Mixing inspiration with memories and the view from my studio window that looks out across the river.

I have an old wooden box

Of powdered metallic pigments in the studio - beautifully stored in delicate glass phials. They have diagonally cut cork stoppers that are covered when unopened with soft kid leather that is then secured with waxed linen twine and tied with a small very tight little knot. A work of art in themselves. 
by Winsor and Newton adding extra dimensions to my jewellery
The majority of the colours are  in a range that is soft and subtle, reminiscent of the 1920's and 30's. Though some appear to be pale until opened as time and daylight have faded them against the walls of the glass phials. Only the tiniest amount is needed to make a dramatic impression and to add a further dimension - really quite magical. I layer them on with sign writer's gold size. It adds a certain lustre when juxtaposed against ink or gouache. The addition of resin later on brings an extraordinary dimension. My work is about many things - looking deeply and being aware of the fleeting moment are two of them.
acrylic inks, gouache, various mediums gold, silver, copper leaf and resin
These metallic pigments were always in the house when I was growing up though I was only allowed to look at them. I remember being most impressed by the delicate kid leather and how it was wrapped around the cork with the cord. We had hundreds of books and magazines of various kinds - National Geographic being one so
had read and knew about goats and leather and about cork trees and corks and it seemed such a wonderful and extraordinary endeavour to me that there were such people in the world who spent their time making them - bringing together all these things - kid leather, corks, delicate glass, twisted linen thread - school had taught me where that came from and how it was made when we learned about Ancient Egypt, and then the black and gold printed labels carefully glued on each one telling a different story - not to mention the alchemical contents - where were they all from? This may have led to my interest in finding out how things are produced and by whom and how these people lived. There you have the world in a nut shell. Who had conspired to bring them all together? But when I was very small, frankly all I wanted to do was to sprinkle the stuff on my hair. Thank goodness I was only allowed to look. I was quite literally 'away with the fairies' - probably as a result of all those beautifully illustrated fairy stories that where piled up in books around my bedroom. 

Fairy stories 

In the words of - Albert Einstein - 'If you want your children to be bright, read them faery tales. If you want them to be brilliant, read them even more faery tales.'
The metallic powders were made by Winsor and Newton in the 1920's so now is a good time for them to see the light of day once more. The most beautiful things are often half hidden from view. Hidden treasures. 
my idea of the perfect garden shed and possibly a studio though far too dark

the perfect hideaway

As to studios - 

The one above is not one of mine though is probably my bench mark in terms of my ideal garden shed though. It is in France.
I have had quite a few studios - in the same way as I have had rather more homes than most people - on average.
I have tried different ways of working - space wise. In the home and away from it. Personally I like to leave the house (flat, caravan etc) and 'go to work'. 
Only yesterday whilst I was working in my present studio - it's an old wooden summerhouse, surrounded by birdsong and views across the river - I realised that I have almost come full circle, well
looking in with seagulls flying homewards overhead
a small circle at least. Albeit, in terms of that feeling you get when in a small wooden shed - that fragile privacy, the closeness of nature and that smell - damp and musty in winter and burnt toasty in summer. Being able to hear the birds sing or the rain pelting on the roof, the wind rattling the window panes. I love it all.
ever changing colours shifting and overlapping
mixed colours from earlier on in the day
need to wear a coat most of the time as the ind rushes over the hills beyond to me
There is a place to paint outside when the weather is reasonably fine and a long seat to gather round with family for breakfast, lunch and supper, a perfect place for a catch up with friends and neighbours, even a little beach for stretching out and lounging in the sun - a little sun trap 

and a spot for coffee first thing in the morning. I have no complaints. Though once again it is a temporary perch and as always I am making the best of it. So I am also imagining my next studio. Really the studio comes first, then the garden and then the house in my list of priorities.
this is a very lengthy process and can take all day sometimes
In the studio I can pretty much do all I need to do to create my papier-mâché jewellery. Apart from computer work and marketing as the internet is very iffy. Packing up orders could and often does happen in the kitchen too though our old cat Fizz can be a tad to inquisitive and friendly - he is very hairy. He's now 17 years old and set for 27 I think. When he finds his spot he will stay for days.

named after the fizz in champagne - he has a very bubbly personality when not asleep
My first private space was the empty chicken house at the end of the garden when I was about nine years old. I had grown up with those hens, they all had names, though some were more memorable than others. Some had definite personalities whereas some not so much. There was 'Queeny' because she was the Queen, she was a Light Sussex -
courtesy of Forde Abbey's Instagram page - well worth a visit or many visits
photo courtesy of  Forde Abbey - Instagram
as my old hen has long since departed
and a grown up in the world of hens. But she was also very adaptable and compliant and would happily allow me to dress her in my doll's clothes and strap her into the doll's pram and walk her up and down the road on which I lived. I didn't see the point of dolls. As all the hens - Oily, Beaky, Browny, Whitey etc gradually died of old age, they were buried underneath rose bushes. Then one day the need for my own 'house' began to grow inside me. I cleaned out the wooden chicken house, white washed the walls, I even pasted scraps of wall paper rather reminiscent of the stripy, flowery painting at the beginning of this post. There was even a window that I cleaned and made curtains for. I put down strips of carpet and made a bed from up turned boxes, brought in a small table and a chair and voila. 

Jam jars filled with flowers from the garden mixed with wild flowers from walks to the woods. And books and paintings of course. The need to decorate. It was very cosy. I loved it and so did my friends. It was our den but in my head it was also my studio. I began my first 'blog' there in fact - A newspaper - hand written - we became reporters and would ask the neighbours for their news, then write it down and sell it back to them for a penny a paper. I had almost forgotten that episode. Hidden treasures.
first produced by Arthur Mee - an man of his time
Having a studio is essentially an attempt to create your own very personal and private space. In my mind I imagine that everyone should have one and that all living spaces ought to be able to provide that space for the people who live there. Utopia. 
* I have think I have just heard my first Cuckoo - surely not - it is April and apparently they don't sing until May. Plus I live in the South West and Cuckoos tend to migrate North. Ah well, imagination is my second home.
cuckoo arriving in Spring looking for a suitable nest
In the meantime as I like to choose - somewhat by necessity - to rent the places that I live in. Renting offers so much more scope for the imagination. I have lived in an assortment of places - very old, historically interesting places, a folly, fishermen's cottages, old farm houses, very modern flats, caravans, a hopper shed though only for a summer, a converted church, a couple of baroque villas and various houses and apartments. I always seem to get that feeling that change is on its way after three years. Suddenly I sense it, there is something in the air. I have it now. It is exciting. Change is exciting. Though not for everyone I know. Fizz our very superior cat is thankfully very adaptable.
he can make himself ridiculously comfortable wherever he lands up
So the studios have also changed. Often they have been where I have lived though sometimes cabin fever takes a hold and I long to 'go to work' to travel somewhere specific and be more conventional, though there will always be a spill over studio at home as well and then excuses are found and I stay at home. Though every April and towards the end of September I get that desire to take flight and head for - in my case - the South of France - hopefully I will make it tis year.
getting ready to fly away to warmer places to avoid the English winter
My present studio is one of the best and even more so as now the huge oak tree that hangs over from next door is filling up with birds singing all day long. In the evening the water birds call out across the river in the reed beds, plaintive, other worldly. So I am feeling very blessed.
home to many birds and offering shelter from strong sunlight in the studio
At the opposite end of this studio spectrum is the one a few years ago in a weird industrial complex that had concrete block divisions that did not reach the ceiling and all the noises mingled above. I played French Impressionist piano music on my laptop in an attempt to bring balance against heavy metal. But eventually resorted to headphones. 
the most basic place I have used as a studio - needed lots of imagination
When I took Bella (our family Black Labrador) out for her walks I would try to ignore the piles of rubbish and broken fences and imagine that I was walking in Capri along via Tragara.
It worked perfectly though not a patch on the real thing. I have had a life long love affair with Capri and have yet to find my studio there. It will happen. 
via Tragara - one of my favourite roads that leads to the sea

Wednesday 20 March 2019

CHARVIN - with thanks to Kevin Broughton and Ned Elliott @ GREEN and STONE

Why use staples, when you’ve got tacks!
- with thanks to  Kevin Broughton and  Ned Elliott 
@ GREEN and STONE - echoing my love of Charvin who I first 
discovered by chance one day whilst exploring the alleys and the 
streets of Nice.

'It’s sunny, my skin is being gently caressed by the sun and my hair
is flowing handsomely in the sea wind. I am driving somewhere along 
the Cote d’Azur having eaten something delicious at a small seaside 

My car is a gleaming scarlet convertible from the Golden Age of 
Motoring. It is very expensive and I am gliding across the landscape 
like a knifeful of strawberry jam across a freshly sliced piece of 
buttered baguette. I can’t help but look in the rear-view mirror and 
think how damn gorgeous I am.

However, I am soon distracted, an unmistakable smell penetrates
the salty pine-infused air. My heart is suddenly stung by memories
of disappointment, rejection, dashed hopes, ah, yes, art school!

But no, there is more, I remember my unwavering love of painting!
Suddenly I am filled with the electric buzz of seeing a picture come
to life. ‘What is it! What is that smell! What is it!’ I scream from
my beamer. It is the smell of fresh poppy oil, but what exactly,
Oh yes, Charvin, it is you, I love you! I do!'

This introduction was written from my cold bedroom.
I do not have a car, and I have never been to the south of France.
But I have smelt poppy oil, and I have used Charvin. 

And so, this blog is about Charvin, whose essence I have hopefully captured in this paradisaical opener.

At Green and Stone we sell several types of oil paint including Michael Harding, Sennelier, Winsor and Newton and Blockx.

All of them are good, but the most unusual of the paints is Charvin.
Charvin is solely made on the French Riviera. Much of the products charm lies in its heritage. It is a family business run by Bruno and Laurence Charvin and relies on recipes from 1830. It was popular with such greats and lovers of sunlight, Cezanne, Bonnard, and Ambrogiani.

Charvin sells both fine and extra fine oil colours. The difference between the two being that the extra fine oil is milled twice as long as the fine oil, with discrepancy on timings for each pigment. The machine used is a Buhler Swiss Three-Cylinder which is typically used for the manufacture of high-end cosmetics. The outcome is an incredibly smooth oil paint with a thick, creamy texture. 

In the extra fine range there are a staggering two-hundred-and-eight colours of which Green and Stone sells ninety-six and which is constantly changing. This means Charvin oil paints have the widest range of colours in the world including such delights as ‘Cyclamen’, ‘Absinthe’ and ‘Mummy Brown’.

Whereas Sennelier relies on safflower oil, and Michael Harding on linseed oil, Charvin uses poppy oil. By choosing this oil the paints have a lovely shine, are excellently lightfast and should age without any yellowing. 

With their buttery and fine texture, the paints are perfect for the traditional Flemish painting style headed by such estimable figures as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden. However, they are equally suitable for painting using colour shapers and palette knives, whilst the small 20ml tubes are ideal for the keen traveller and plein air painter. 

Charvin paints are also unusual in that they mostly come in mixed colours, in stark contrast with Michael Harding who emphasises the importance of pure single pigments. Charvin are aware of this and suggest the artist picks their colours carefully and that they do not overmix them, as they warn they will take on a shade of grey upon drying.

The understated jewel in the Charvin crown of rainbow jewels is their oil-primed linen canvas, whether on the roll or ready-made. The linen is of a medium to rough grain with a characterful texture which reminds one of the sorts of canvases someone like Walter Sickert would use. 

The ready-made canvases come in traditional French portrait formats, as well as squares and elongated rectangles. They are handmade by talented Frenchmen who deftly wack copper tacks into the sides and firmly stamp ‘CHARVIN’ onto the back. The result is a canvas of the highest quality with a rigid structure and evocative 19th century look.

Why use staples, when you’ve got tacks!

The final aspect of Charvin which makes it so excellent is the philosophy of the owners. Indeed, Charvin are very much a business on an ethical crusade. In their own words they are a family business ‘rejecting the plasticization, consumerism and delocalised mass production to which the world of fine arts is engulfing’. 

With a business model they consider ‘utopian or crazy’ they have chosen to use raw materials only of the highest quality without any real economic outlook at their cost. They are against people who
only think of profits and margins, who make low-quality products for low-cost countries, simply to gain a foothold in the market without regard for the ethical consequences and the repercussions for art itself. They work for authentic values and true products of meaning.

As part of this crusade Charvin have stressed what they are against. In brief, they are against; colour range reductions (hence their rainbow colour range); the use of average ingredients; cotton canvas – an unreliable material over time, lacking the charming texture of linen. 

Why use cotton, when you’ve got linen! 

And finally, they are against online shopping. Arguing it means the end of advice, replaced only by a better price – thus resulting in a user who cannot progress in their work. The knowledge of generations being lost little by little.

And so, long may Charvin reign in the sunny south of France. A beacon of artistic heritage and quality artistic production, keeping the French oil painting tradition very much alive for all the world.

By Ned Elliott

Bruno Charvin Artist's Oils from Green and Stone - Chelsea 

Catching Light and Colours - Spring in Devon 2019

I write my blog for my own pleasure and in the hope that one day my grandchildren will be able to learn a bit more about who their grandmother is. This sentiment also applies to my children who have not as yet read it as I suspect they think that they already know me.

Down here in Devon where I live, we have had days and days of very strong winds and endless lashing icy rain. It is March and as the saying goes - 

The North Wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
And what will poor Robin do then, poor thing?
He'll sit in a barn and keep himself warm
And hide his head under his wing poor thing.

Not today - today - Sunday - we had a reminder of the beauty of a Spring day. So I gave myself an day off and took my little car out for a jaunt.

First I stopped of at Waitrose in Teignmouth to gather the ingredients for a little picnic - baguette, goats cheese, grapes and where I am suddenly stopped in my tracks by the sudden beauty of supermarket flowers - white orchids. 

Two very elderly ladies are chatting away over cups of tea as they sit in front of this magic moment. I hesitate to disturb them but it's simply too good to miss so I lean towards them and say 'Excuse me, do you mind if I quickly take a photograph of the flowers in front of you?' But they are completely oblivious to my presence or my voice. Sometimes I think that perhaps I am invisible after all - a figment of my own imagination. 

Well, I am delighted - a moment caught in time for ever - a moment to share with people I've never met. I may be a figment of other people's imagination but the image isn't. I get back into my by now quite hot car. Its sudden warmth envelops me. I love that feeling. It always stops me in my tracks. I never drive off. I always sink into that atmosphere. It is another form of happiness - the number of which seem to be infinite. 

Waitrose work with a company called Crocus who supply a lot of their plants. I need to do a separate post for Crocus who are really inspiring - take a look at some of their work at Dorney Court. 

I drive on and over the bridge that crosses the River Teign at the mouth of the estuary connecting Teignmouth, (which was the last place in England that was invaded by a foreign power in 1690) with Shaldon, where if I could I would stop and wander along the beach for a spot of beach-combing. But I don't see a parking space - there are very few in Shaldon though there is an enormous car park at the other end of the village. There is a zoo here I believe. I have seen the sign. I do not like zoos so have never been but maybe I will visit it before I draw too many conclusions. 

There are some old details of Shaldon Bridge her that shows an engraving of the bridge and rather strangely of three men casually sitting on the roof of a house looking across the river. Three Men on a Roof

There are all sorts of hidden places to explore here so I'll leave it for another day and get on my way.Onwards to Labrador Bay - to look for images for paintings - photo references 

- the horizontal lines that shift and blend into one another across the sky and the sea beyond - against that spiky Hawthorn Hedge that's only just beginning to show splashes of bright . In the foreground - hundreds of the self-seeded biennial Angelica Archangelica - commonly known as Wild Celery - now  at knee high - quietly growing through the grey days of a South-West Winter - already scenting the air with that fragrance. A certain fragrance that was so beloved of ancient poets who wore wreaths of it around their heads to bring them inspiration - quite literally. 

Next I head off towards towards Paignton or Peintone as it was known as in 1086 and specifically to Roundham Head - a place that I've grown rather fond of. And a place that was built into - actually into the rocky red sandstone cliff face to stop it eroding away in 1930. 

Now there is a network of weather worn narrow promenades that wind their way zig-zag fashion down to a row of painted wooden beach huts - this part of the bay has a certain faded elegance, it is peaceful - a step back in time. 
Most of the wooden seats have metal plaques on them remembering people who have loved this place and have since died. This one is set into the wall next to a fire hydrant.

I have always loved to choose a seat to sit on so that I can silently chat to the person named on the plaque. I bet I'm not alone. Mind you I am not a part of their family so maybe the numbers are not as high.

I looked up Peggy Denston - she is there to be found on the internet. I also found an interesting lead that has nothing to do with Peggy but that caught my interest. It's about archaeology in the 1920's and 30's and how it had once been a preserve of the wealthy and how it was now being pursued by people who didn't go to public schools. Contoversial in its day.

This Robin is not hiding away with his head tucked under his wing today though with English weather he may be back in his barn tomorrow. 
I believe that the Hairy Footed Flower Bees live here and when the winter is mild they are busy on most days. It is said that Robins like to eat them. 

Perhaps the one singing in the video has in fact already breakfasted on one or is waiting for some more to emerge from a late hibernation as today is so warm and sunny.

I almost stumbled across one as I walked up this path. A spider was trying to wrap it up in its thread. I intervened and set it free. Very hard not to.

I have heard that there are traces of an old Victorian walled garden round here. I shall come back another day and hunt for them. 

I carry on and walk along the paths. There are many people sitting quietly by themselves. This I can really appreciate. I also enjoy my own company. Being on your own gives you the space to muse and to discover. Other people have a habit of talking rather too much. I know do. 

I'm headed for Coleton Fishacre this morning to see the Magnolias and Camellias in flower before the clouds come back and the sunlight is lost behind the grey once more.


whilst searching - I discovered this - snippets of interest that may lead who knows where.

Tuesday 12 March 2019

Looking Forward to May and June

No time to blog I have been taking advantage of early mornings and long evenings and for once - perfect weather - blue skies and scudding clouds. So much to catch up on.

This is the time of year when gardens are open via the National Garden Scheme - the N.G.S - so with the yellow book at hand I set off for Spitchwick Manor - nestled on the undulating edge of Dartmoor in wooded valleys. 

One of my ideas of heaven is a walled garden with greenhouses - Victorian greenhouses. I would happily live in a walled garden.
And at Spitchwick Manor the walled garden is tucked down into the landscape for protection from the elements of winter weather - strong prevailing tree bending winds and slashing, lashing, icy-cold rain. Consequently you will find the orchard is also tucked behind the granite walls - perfectly pruned old apple trees geometrically spaced within their own neat round islands of earth set in lawns of roughly mown, daisy strewn grass.
The walled garden in also a sunken garden on the side where the entrance is. From the outside you find the usual magical wooden door set within the wall and as you push it open are quite surprised to discover that stone steps descend. It makes perfect sense as it embeds itself into the ancient landscape once and for all time. As walled gardens go, this is on a miniature scale. Initially you look over the tops of the apple trees across the top of the walls towards the sea. And then you enter another world.
I love old gardens and all the things that go into the making of them. I don't know if this knife sharpener is still in use as most shears and spades are now stainless steel and as far as I know cannot be  sharpened. I may be wrong. This one is for sharpening plain steel tools, the kind that go rusty when left in the damp night air. All tools ought to be washed, dried, oiled and put in their own place - that is if you have a place to put them.
Storage - essential and also a place for returning swallows to nest. 
More storage - the potting shed - another essential for a well run garden and a place to wile away the hours. Robins also nest here.
I will make a bench like this for 'potting-on' on sunny days. I am planning my next garden, where-ever it may be, composing lists of reminders of details and aspects of things that I love to create. 
Once again a little heaven on earth.
 And Azaleas for perfect beauty and drifting evening fragrance.
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