Spring Forward

On Saturday we put the clocks forward, "Spring forward, fall back" is how we remember it. We have had a few days of spring sunshine but for the most part it has been cold and wet. All the more reason to get on with the frenzy of spring cleaning. This year I was determined to clear out my studio/dining room, no easy task but I am now rewarded with a place for everything and everything in its place. Calm and order prevail, where there was chaos now there is peace! I can't tell you how happy I was painting this little miniature, listening to radio 3 in my freshly painted and decorated room.

I am ridiculously pleased with my new purchase, a funny little oak cupboard found in a junk shop in Leek. It now houses my paints and arty stuff and I wonder why I have never before thought of such a thing.

We had a trip to London to visit our son and his partner. This time we went on a jazz cruise on the Thames. It was an evening affair with live music, sparkling wine and a three course meal below deck. In the background you can see the Globe theatre. I have never lost my delight in visiting our capital city, every time we find something new.

Thankfully we found time to visit this exhibition of illustrated books and prints at Manchester MMU Library, Special Collections, albeit on the very last day. As a textile designer/illustrator I was especially attracted to the works of Enid Marx. If you missed it you can view it online here-

"An exhibition of prints and illustrated books from the collection of Julian Francis and including work by Edward Ardizzone, John Farleigh, Barnett Freedman, Lucian Freud, Eric Gill, Enid Marx, Agnes Miller Parker, John and Paul Nash, John O'Connor, and Eric Ravilious."


Galanthus and other Gallivantings

Earlier in February we visited The John Rylands Library in Manchester to see The Tregaskis Collection- a unique collection of beautiful bindings. The collection forms two parts - the first comprises of 73 copies of the Kelmscott Press’s Tale of King Florus and the Fair Jehane (1893). The books were bound by the most important binders of the day from all around the world and were commissioned by the booksellers James and Mary Lee Tregaskis. We were shown around the library by John Hodgson who is the keeper of manuscripts and archives at the library. We were allowed to pick up the books and inspect the contents and to take photographs.

With so many exquisite bindings to choose from, it is hard to know where to start. I was immediately drawn to the embroidered bindings. Walter Crane designed one of the bindings, which was embroidered by his wife. 

We marveled at the tiny stitches in this silk embroidery on the Japanese binding.

The second part of the collection was a centenary celebration of bookbindings commissioned by The Designer Bookbinders. This time over eighty copies of The Folio Society edition of Andrew Marvell’s The Garden and Other Poems illustrated by Harry Brockway was the chosen book. I particularly loved the tiny wood engravings and marveled at the artistry of both the illustrator and the binders.

Some of our party are fellows of The Designer Bookbinders and had bound some of the books on display. The photograph shows Paul Delrue holding the copy he bound; he had incorporated small strips of marbled paper in the binding in order to allow the book to open flat, see above. Paul has a website here- 

It was also very poignant to see the work of David Sellars on show. David had been a member of our group and had recently died. He left an amazing legacy of work and so his spirit will live on in his bindings. You can see more of his work here-

We also had the opportunity to see The Anthony Dowd Collection of modern British bookbinding’s. A book of patterned papers fascinated me, especially the decorative papers by Ravilious.

Later in the month I had a special little helper join my “studio” (a.k.a. dining room)
Our grandson was on half term and came for a visit. We enjoyed showing him nearby Little Moreton Hall, I think he enjoyed running around the garden best of all.

We also celebrated the first birthday of our granddaughter, how time flies.

I managed to do a little work in the midst of all this gallivanting, some Christmas themed commissions for greeting cards and also I made a start on some new prints.
The tiny wood engraving has yet to be printed. I am frustrated by my lack of engraving skills and can never manage to achieve what is in my head.

 The green vinyl is an alternative to lino, it cuts nicely; this is my first attempt which was inspired by one of the illustrations I did for “Can it be True?” I am still waiting for the opportunity to print it.

  Later in the month a very dear friend came to visit and we went to Rode Hall to see the Snowdrop Walk. This private house was once host to Walter Crane who often stayed as a guest. Whilst there he painted the family pets and the lake. Rode Hall is close to the potteries and I believe Walter Crane was introduced to important ceramic manufacturers resulting in his designs being used in their decoration. Apart from the wonderful gardens Rode Hall has an important collection of art, books and ceramics.

Before we returned home we bought some snowdrops to plant and some kitchen garden produce - six new laid eggs in such pretty colours it was a shame to eat them. The sky blue one was a treat!


New Miniature Painting.

I have finished a new miniature painting, it measures three inches across.

It was a joy to paint!


Moving on.

January proved to be a very difficult month, fraught with ill health, bereavement and ill fortune. I would never want to wish my life away but I have to say that I am glad to move forward into February. The slight increase in daylight hours, the sound of a blackbird singing, the possibility of catching sight of a kingfisher, sunlight on snow, all have the effect of lifting the spirits and quickening the step.

There has been some very encouraging news regarding the sales of "Can it be True?", you can read about it here in The Bookseller. There may also be new opportunities for those of you who write for the seven to eleven age group, read more in the article.

You may have been aware of the controversy surrounding Oxford University Press who have decided to drop nature words like acorn and buttercup in favour of app and blog. In fact around 50 nature words are to be axed as they are considered to be no longer relevant to today's children. You can read more about it here-
I believe that nature will always be important but technology is too. Why not teach your children about acorns on an app or buttercups on your blog? In "Down the Lane" I have attempted to do both. I will always love actual books but I also enjoy sharing stories and pictures on my iPad. I am sure this has done my grandson no harm whatsoever as I overheard him saying that he wants to be an author/illustrator when he grows up!
You can see for yourself what advantages there are in a book made interactive here.
and all for less than the price of a cup of tea!


To be continued....

Normal service will be continued just as soon as I have shaken off this bout of flu. In the meantime I wish you all a happy and healthy NewYear. x


The Message Was Heard

In an earlier post I mentioned that "Can it be true?" by Susan Hill has been featured in a Christmas Carol Competition. Out of a huge number of entries six carols have been chosen and performed by the BBC singers. Listeners are being asked to pick their favourite which will be performed on Christmas day.

As from today you can listen to the six finalists in the BBC Radio 3 Christmas carol competition and register your vote by following this link. I am not sure if you need to live in the UK to hear these BBC podcasts?

My illustration above is one of the pages from the book "Can it be true?" It features some of the animals mentioned in the prose poem. Having spent so long visualising the images in the text it is something of a marvel to me to hear the words set to music. I am in awe of anyone who can create music and also those gifted with beautiful voices. Singing was never my strong point, even my little grandson implores me to stop!

This year we will be having a very busy family Christmas and I am already feeling great waves of panic at the thought of the food shopping and preparation ahead. In order to lessen the stress I have reduced the stock in my on-line shops, you can still buy books but they may not arrive in time for Christmas if you live overseas.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Very Happy And Blessed Christmas. Thank you so much for your support, words of encouragement and friendship over the past months. I really do appreciate it. xxx

UPDATE- Congratulations to Jacqueline Burley whose Christmas Carol setting won the "Can it be True?" Christmas carol competition organised by BBC Radio 3. Jacqueline's version is a worthy winner and has done a brilliant job in her musical interpretation of Susan Hill's words.


Beautiful Dreamer

"Beautiful dreamer, beam on my heart,
E'en as the morn on the streamlet and sea;
Then will all clouds of sorrow depart,
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!
Beautiful dreamer, awake unto me!" by Stephen Foster.

This little sleeping dormouse illustration was painted as an illustration for my book "A Book of Days".
When the days shorten and the temperature drops I sometimes wish I could hibernate, possibly waking up for a brief spell over Christmas. At the moment I feel as if I am wading through mud and achieving nothing.

If you follow Rima Staines at The Hermitage you may have heard about her quest to raise money for a storytelling project and if you are avery quick you might be interested in this auction here at Hedgespoken.

Don't be like the dormouse and sleep all the way through. x