My Spoonflower Shop

My Spoonflower Shop
Newly opened!


Tudor Houses

Illustration for "Can it be true?"
written by Susan Hill for Long Barn Books.

I thought you might be interested to see some of the thought processes and inspiration behind my recent illustration project for "Can it be true?” for Long Barn Books.

It was decided from the beginning that this book would have either black and white illustrations or restricted colour, we wanted to give a more simplified “printmaker” feel to this new edition in contrast to the very detailed water colours used previously.

When I had to think of an image to use to illustrate the towns page I immediately thought of Tudor style houses. This very decorative style of building lends itself to black pen and ink drawing and so was a natural choice. There are very many wonderful examples around our home and county town of Chester. Some date from as far back as Henry VII.

The illustration started as a black and white pen drawing, which I scanned into the computer. I then added colour and a lino print texture on Photoshop. The original idea was to have gold on some of the pages but to do this would have added considerably to the costs. We decided to add a gold effect instead, this was also done on Photoshop by scanning a piece of gold leaf and then “pasting” the effect in the windows and onto the stars. (see top)

The illustration suggested a repeat pattern so when the book was finished I turned the page into a textile design. To see how this would look on fabric I decided to try out the Spoonflower site. This is a place where you can upload your own designs and have them printed for your own use or for sale in an online shop.

The problem for me was choosing the right fabric, in the end I opted for Kona cotton, thinking it might be nice to quilt. The obligatory sample arrived in due course and when I saw it my mind turned back to books again. I thought it might be good to try out the fabric as a book cloth;- here is my very old and tatty address book sporting its new cover. It seemed an appropriate choice.

If you feel so inclined you can try out the fabric yourself, you will find it here-


"Can it be True?" BBC Competition.

August came and went in the blink of an eye and now it seems we are almost into autumn. A new term for those returning to school and great excitement for a certain little boy who starts school tomorrow. How I wish I could be a fly on the wall!

I seem to have been very busy with one thing and another. I have redesigned my website in order to make changes and updates easily without having to ask for help. I made it on blogger, better the devil you know, it will be a work in progress.

A box full of ‘Can it be True?” book samples arrived followed by some rather exciting news. Those of you who listen to BBC Radio 3 Breakfast might have heard about a new Christmas Carol Competition. Listeners are being asked to set the words of a new version of “Can it be True?” by Susan Hill to create a new Christmas carol. If you are musically inclined you might like to enter, details are available here-

I took this photograph to give you some idea of the scale of the book. As you can see it is Christmas stocking size.

I hope to have some of the Christmas books for sale soon in my bookshop, maybe in the next few days. It seems a bit too soon to think about the festive season so maybe I will leave it for a while, not wanting to wish away the last of the summer.

We celebrated our wedding anniversary by a trip to Bodnant garden, which is probably the most beautiful garden I have ever visited. With panoramic views of Snowdonia, wooded glades, waterfalls, lily ponds, terraces and rose gardens all combine to create an earthly paradise. We have seen the garden before but not for some years now and noticed many improvements, we hope to return soon.

 Are you looking forward to the next series of Downton Abbey when it returns to our television screens soon? I love cosy Sunday nights with a new craft project, a glass of wine and good old Downton. I am hoping for lots lavish interiors and posh frocks and people looking wistfully in the mid distance whilst opining that "times are a-changing".

You may have noticed that I have been playing around on the Spoonflower site. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this website, it is a print on demand site for textiles, wallpapers and wraps. I thought I might try out some new ideas and make available again some designs that have been retired. Like my website this is another work in progress activity. At the moment I am waiting for some samples before deciding what to do next.

Sometimes it seems that I have so many projects on the go and hardly any finished but I am pleased to report that I finally managed to complete the miniature painting I started in the summer. Now what shall I paint next?


July, New work and Texprint.

July is almost over; I can hardly remember a hotter summer. It seems strange that most of my work has been winter themed. So whilst the bees have been humming and the flowers blooming I have had to turn my thoughts to snow and ice.

I mentioned before that I have been illustrating a Christmas book not quite knowing when it would be appropriate to reveal exactly which book and for whom. Well, now my secret is out, a recent article online reveals all.
I have been working on a series of illustrations for “Can it be True?” by Susan Hill, her company Long Barn Books will publish it in September. I will post more images soon when we are all in a more Christmassy mood.

Each illustration started life as a black ink drawing and colour being added digitally at a later stage. The owl drawing is very much a work in progress; the final pages are in colour. When the book was first published it was illustrated by Angela Barrett. I make no secret of the fact that I was absolutely thrilled and terrified in equal measure to get the chance to do a new version. I hold Angela’s work in the highest esteem; she is without doubt one of our greatest illustrators and an impossibly hard act to follow. I was given great freedom to create my own version, the one condition was that I had to do something with a very different feel, to say that I have lost sleep over this would be an understatement, too late now though, it has gone off to the printer.

As you can see I have drawn some of the ivy growing in my garden, although it looks more like this at the moment.

Earlier in the month I went down to London to see this years Texprint exhibition. Each year 24 textile design graduates are chosen from UK colleges and universities to take part in this prestigious event. In 1975 I was amongst the fortunate ones to participate, in those days the exhibition was held at The Design Centre which was on The Haymarket, this years venue was The Chelsea College of Art and Design. The graduates are given the opportunity to connect with industry professionals and hopefully gain placements, jobs and commissions. I was very impressed with the overall standard of work on show, so much talent, innovation and skill. You can see some of the things these young designers produce by following the links here Texprint helped me to make my dream of becoming a designer a reality and I wish each and every one of this years graduates the very best of luck.

I will leave you now with this darling smile from our beautiful granddaughter. In the background you will see my ancient dining room curtains. The bolt of fabric was given to me by Jane Teale; who I worked with in the seventies. She commissioned and printed my design “Blue Jays” (this being a brown version). Oddly enough I met Jane through Texprint almost forty years ago. It’s about time I got myself some new curtains don’t you think?


Out and About.

June has been and gone already! Time is flying by at lightening speed maybe because we have been so busy with work and a London trip- more of that later…

Much of my time has been devoted to promoting “White is the Moon”; this has included a very nerve-wracking telephone/radio interview. A school visit and a book shop signing.

Let me tell you about the school visit first. I was invited to attend a Literary Festival at The Excel Academy in Stoke-on-Trent. Of course I enlisted the help of my husband Tony, a retired advanced skills teacher. We had five one hour sessions with year seven pupils, each session involved an introduction to my books and then a workshop where the children tried their hand at writing and illustrating. In the short time allocated they produced some interesting adaptations inspired by “White is the Moon”. The children were well behaved, imaginative and co-operative. We had some very interesting questions about publishing and illustrating; all in all an enjoyable day. You can see some of the work they produced below. I have to confess by the end of the day I was exhausted!

The shop signing was by invitation of the beautiful and historic Nantwich Bookshop.
This event coincided with a school festival in the town centre so the place was buzzing with visitors. The shop gave me a window display and a table inside where I displayed my books, old and new. They very kindly plied me with cups of tea and toasted teacakes! Like many bookshops nowadays they sell food and drinks, pre-loved and new books and host many events. The day was a success and we sold lots of books and I met many customers, children and book lovers. I hope to return before Christmas; by that time my latest venture should be published. This time an illustrated gift book by a famous writer, more of that soon...

June wasn’t all work, as I mentioned earlier we had a London visit, which was a mixture of cat sitting and sight seeing. We also saw many friends, family members and spent some very special time with our two grandchildren. We did lots of walking as the weather was kind and visited two very different houses.

One was a National Trust property in Chelsea, former home of historian Thomas Carlyle and his wife Jane. I especially enjoyed reading some extracts from Jane’s letters where she writes about the trials of house keeping and hiring servants. The house is still very much a home and has many personal effects. The artist Helen Allingham was a frequent visitor and painted the rooms and their contents some of which are displayed on the walls. She also painted a portrait of Thomas, which you can see, here-

After our visit to the house we spent some time in the lovely enclosed garden and planned our next visit.

The next house was very different, much less a home, more of a place to entertain and impress. Chiswick House is a magnificent neo-Palladian villa. The gardens at Chiswick are said to have been the inspiration for the gardens in New York's Central Park. Our time was limited and the sky began to grow dark, conscious of our long walk home along the river we had to cut our visit short.

We also had a trip to the theatre to see Les Miserables, something I have wanted to do for ages. It was a spectacular performance, Probably the best musical ever!


A visit to Wells.

We made a quick trip to Wells in Somerset to see The Hilliard Society of Miniaturists Annual Exhibition in the Town Hall. If you are in the area it is well worth a visit. Needless to say that the art on exhibition is miniature, a portrait subject being under two inches and all other paintings under four and a half inches by six inches. Don’t worry, magnifying glasses are handed out to visitors.

The exhibition is open until June 1st but you can do a virtual visit here

I had seen some of the work before on a blog belonging to the artist Tracy Hall but you have to see the actual paintings close up to marvel at the artistry and skill which goes into their creation. You will find a link to Tracy’s blog in my sidebar.

Wells is a beautiful cathedral town with medieval architecture, cobbled streets and lovely walks around the Bishop’s Palace and gardens. It is the smallest city in England and lies between the Mendip Hills and the Somerset Levels. The walk around the moat made me think of “The Lady of Shalott”.

We admired the cathedrals beautiful medieval clock and arrived in time to watch the interior display and automaton known as Jack Blandifers, who hits two bells with hammers and two with his heels. The photograph here shows the outer dial and quarter-jacks on the north transept.

Vicar’s Close is said to be “one of the oldest purely residential streets still intact in Europe”, being built in the mid fourteenth century. It is rather like arriving on a film set and so lovely to see a cobbled street with no cars, litter or wheelie bins!

Our time was rather limited, needless to say I returned filled with enthusiasm and ideas and a desire to return to Wells in the not too distant future.


Shakespeare's gardens.

May has been a month of flowers, gardens and Shakespeare. We visited Stratford-upon-Avon to see Henry 1V part one then onto London to see King Lear at The National. The latter is not a play for the queasy, or for those who faint at the sight of blood. I believe such people are referred to as "droppers"! My husband had the tickets bought as birthday presents and it was just coincidence we had something of a Shakespeare fest. Both plays were magnificent and the acting was superb, as you would expect, in particular Simon Russell Beale who played Kind Lear.

Stratford was every bit as beautiful as you would imagine. Elizabethan buildings to explore and gardens to delight. So much to see, museums and houses connected with the bard and his family. I particularly love the knot gardens, they always remind me of embroidery. Books and bookshops everywhere-

We live in a world of computer graphics, television and film and are used to seeing fantastic recreations of the past and yet the theatre still holds such magic. Both productions excelled when in came to scenery, lighting and costumes; these combined with the acting skills of the players and the magic of Shakespeare’s words left a great impression. In the days that followed I found myself relating to the words “Nothing will come of nothing”. Each time I try a new venture there is a voice, which tells me that nothing will ever come of such a thing. If I publish my book nobody will ever buy it, if I paint a new subject nobody will ever like it, the list of self-doubt goes on and yet, if we don’t even try then nothing will surely come from nothing? I know there are many interpretations to that particular saying but that is my understanding of it.

And so, with that in mind, I try my hand yet again at painting in miniature and try not to dwell on the wisdom (or foolery), which persuaded me to self publish my own books.

We have also enjoyed the most wonderful May sunshine and our own little garden has been awash with flowers which self-seeded from last year. The aquilegias in particular have been prolific. When I say “self seeded” that is not entirely true as last year I went around the garden like some crazy woman shaking the dried flower heads from last years crop.


The next chapter.

I should start this post by saying how deeply touched I was by all your lovely messages of support and kind comments following the death of our beloved dog.
I had not prepared myself for the feeling of loss and desolation his departure has caused. Those of you who have formed a bond with a pet will know how different life is without them.

Enough, or we shall all be in tears!

There is much to celebrate, Easter brought family visits made extra special this year by the addition of our darling grand-daughter Edie Rose.

Spring has sprung here in Cheshire and the garden is bursting with life and colour.

My journey into the world of hand made books continues, this time Secret Belgian Binding was the subject of our latest workshop with Alan Fitch from The Farthing Press. Alan also runs courses from his bindery in Powys with accommodation provided, a lovely way to combine a holiday with learning.

Last but not least, my book samples for “White is the Moon” finally arrived. I was so anxious about them but I am happy to say that they have surpassed my expectations. This is a title that I originally illustrated when our boys were little. It was published by Blackie and Son Ltd in the UK and by Macmillan in the USA. Gradually it went out of print and we decided to publish it ourselves as an Acornmoon Books edition. This may prove to be foolhardy given the lack of bookshops and the increased demand for e-books but we are being cautiously optimistic. I have been busy making an on-line shop, which you can see in my sidebar.

In addition to my latest book, I have found a few boxes of older out of print titles. All of these are in an unread, untouched condition. Some have become collectable and can be seen on other book sites for a vast array of prices, I am pleased to say that I have kept to their original price and can offer some real bargains until my stocks run out.

If anyone is interested in these children’s picture books or babies board books I am happy to sign them and add a dedication. You can see what is on offer by following this link. All of the books will be posted from the UK by Royal Airmail, and I am happy to post to any far-flung corner of the globe!