What Facebook wanted to know

I have been wanting to write a new post for a while but I’ve been struggling to come up with what to actually write about, so instead of musing it over or thinking too deeply I caved in and asked my Facebook page followers what they wanted me to write about.

I really didn’t have a lot of expectations about asking others to ask the questions, but there were some that have triggered other things I want to write about so the next few blog posts will be a direct result of some of the questions asked.

This post is like a warm up for them. I’ve become so reluctant to get something out there in the last few months. Having a blog post go accidentally viral just ended up freaking me out but it’s been way too long since I last wrote, so here goes.

Here’s what Facebook wanted to know.

 

Talk to me about what inspires you or talk to me about your creative space.

My creative space is currently a little desk in a corner and a couple of old cardboard suitcases rammed full of threads and bits of fabric. I have a new studio opening in the new year. It’s part of an old market building in the East end of Glasgow that’s being renovated, so I’ve been waiting a few months to actually get in to it and get comfy. Because my current creative space is a cramped little corner I try to make sure that the music I listen to while I work and the things I pin to the wall behind my desk are all useful to me for whatever project I’m working on. It can be hard to focus while working in a tiny little space but as long as I keep my mind on what I’m doing it’s all good.

I don’t tend to pin images onto my studio wall; more often it’s things like twigs, leaves, sea shells, bits of fabric and quotes. I love quotes.

What inspires the most are trees and the changing seasons. It’s a bit of a cliché but it’s true.

 
Is there anything that you’ve wanted to make but have been hesitant to do so because of a fear or an unknown technique?

No, I tend to be inspired by techniques rather than finding techniques that suit my ideas, so I don’t find that I’m limited by how to do things.

BUT there are more things in my mind that I want to make than things in the real world that I’ve actually made and that drives me mad. Your question has really made me think about why it is that what I actually get round to making is just the tip of the iceberg of what I want to do, so there’s a whole other blog post on the way about it.

I think the short answer is that the only thing that seems to stand in my way is lack of time, but I suspect that I have a habit of filling my time with distractions to avoid starting projects that are too far out of my comfort zone.

Rook drawing in progress
Rook drawing in progress

 

I am interested in your personal goals for your dolls or other art in the new year. Do you set goals for yourself or do you create as the muse visits?

I work with a mixture of both. I think if I just made things as and when it suits me then I’d be in a pretty dangerous position financially, so I try to balance work that feels steady and goal orientated with making time for work that’s more intuitive and experimental. I also find that working on things that are predictable and steady tends to bring up ideas for more creative work precisely because I don’t have the time to work on those ideas while I’m working to meet a deadline. I always have a little green note book in my bag so that if a random idea for a piece comes into my head at an inconvenient time I can write it down and come back to it later.

I have some pretty big goals for the new year and if I’m going to be completely honest I don’t want to share them yet because I kind of feel that I need to keep them under wraps to keep the momentum to follow through on them. I’ll definitely be telling you about them as and when they happen though.

 
What are your thoughts on being able to make space for reverie when life sometimes seems designed to squeeze it out? And do you remember childhood sources of reverie?

Reading your question triggered Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights in my head, and it’s still there while I’m writing this, so the first bit of my answer is music. For me music is a short cut to whatever state I want to be in mentally or creatively. In terms of reverie, my never fail musical direct lines are just about anything by Kate Bush, the soundtrack to Twin Peaks, the soundtrack to Labyrinth, and Avalon by Roxy Music. Heaven or Las Vegas by the Cocteau Twins is a pretty safe bet too.

My childhood sources of reverie are the same as my adult ones; trees, the sea, moss, lichen, always the natural world. When I was a child I could get immersed in movies in a way that I don’t tend to now. My favourites were Labyrinth, The Never Ending Story and Splash. I could get completely drawn into the other worlds in those movies.

There’s going to have to be a whole blog post dedicated to this question because my mind is wandering way too much to keep it all in this one little answer.

 
What is the story of your first “doll”?

I don’t remember. I’ve been making little dolls and creatures since I was really little so I’m not sure what the first one was like. There are two types that I remember making a lot though. The first type were little wrapped wool dolls. The second type was made from crab apples, leaves and twigs.

The story of the dolls that led me to becoming a doll maker is here .

 
Of all the materials you’ve incorporated into your art, what has been the most unexpectedly enjoyable?

Wood. Definitely wood. It was a material that I’ve always been drawn to but never had the courage to work with. I found a second hand hunting knife in a thrift store in Oslo that cost about £5, took it home and cleaned and sharpened it, then started whittling twigs and branches with it. There’s something amazing about working with a potentially dangerous tool, it really calms and steadies your mind. Wood is such a beautiful material too, it has it’s own life. I love to carve into a piece without knowing exactly where I want to take it, then the wood can make some of the decisions for me.

Carved Juniper wood doll
Carved Juniper wood doll

And there’s the scent of wood too. I didn’t know that freshly carved wood smells like the fruit of that tree. Apple wood smells like apples, Juniper wood (my favourite) smells like juniper berries, Elder wood smells of elder flowers. Lilac wood actually has gorgeous lilac colours in the grain. There’s a whole world in wood that’s only revealed when it’s carved. I love it.

 
Has there ever been anything that you’ve thought about making but you just can’t quite bring yourself to make it yet?

Bit of an odd answer, but the only thing I haven’t quite found a way to get my head around is how to make male dolls realistic without them being comical or obscene. I’ve made a couple of male dolls and I’ve always caved and given them trousers to cover their manly bits. No one seems to find the breasts or crotches on my female dolls obscene but there’s something different about peoples perceptions of male bodies. It’s the only thing that I’ve wanted to do but thought I maybe shouldn’t do.

 

What has been the biggest surprise in this journey?

The fact that it’s happening at all.

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Ripples in the pond and finding solid ground…

Gilda
Gilda

It’s been really hard to decide what to write next, following the freakish, completely unplanned and totally unexpected success of my last post.

Honestly, I do not plan these posts. I just write. I’m not a writer, I’m more of a compulsive journal scribbler. I write every day in a journal and have done for most of my life, more as a way of ordering and settling my own thoughts and feelings than anything else, and when I write a blog post it’s usually just a journal entry that I’ve decided to make public and I write in exactly the same way; beginning, middle, end, post.

So when the last post went viral, twice, it was a complete shock and It’s taken me so long to post again simply because instead of just writing what’s on my mind, I’ve heaped all of this pressure on myself to write something important or meaningful.

It’s been nearly three months since the last post, so I’m just going to write this, tell you what’s been happening since my self value revelation, and see how it ends up.

I was going to write about what if feels like to have something you’ve put out into the world go viral, but let’s just say it’s overwhelming. It is also incredibly humbling to receive so many heartfelt messages saying “me too!!!”.

It’s safe to say that following my wake up call, there has been a knock on effect in almost every area of my life, most obviously in my work. As a freelance designer, I usually take on as much then a little bit more than I can handle at any given time. I rarely take days off and I almost never take holidays. I often work twelve hour days and sometimes over night. This has been down to an ingrained fear that if I don’t work harder than everyone else, I will lose out and not be hired again.

Not so any more.

Shortly after the train journey when the penny dropped, I had an email from a regular client to ask if I would be able to take on a large project and complete it in a few weeks starting immediately. I really love working with this client and it was a great job, but it would mean dropping all of my other plans and working exclusively for them for a few weeks and delaying everything else around me. So I told them the truth, said that I was fully booked and if they wanted me they’d have to wait two months. I also added that if the project was urgent I could take on half of it within the next month then complete the rest at a later date.

I was worried they’d turn me down and simply find another designer.

Instead they thanked me for taking the time to get back to them so quickly, told me that they’d be delighted to wait for me to fit them into my busy schedule, and then thanked me again for being so generous with my time.

Ok…….

Then it happened again. Another client got in touch to say that they would like to arrange a meeting about an upcoming project and could I begin work as soon as possible. Again, I could have managed it if I had given up my weekends for a month and a half, but instead I told them that I would love to meet them for a chat but that I wouldn’t be able to begin work until later in the year. Again, if it was urgent I could fit them in earlier. The same thing happened! They thanked me for fitting them into my schedule, we had a great meeting and now they’re delighted that we’re going to be working together.

I told my business mentor about this in our last meeting. She asked me how it felt, and I told her in all honesty that I felt like it should have been a bigger deal but in reality it just seemed like this is how it should be.

I always felt that having the opportunity to work is a privilege, and I still think it is, but I now see it as a give and take situation. I work better when I am well rested and well prepared, not pushed to my limit and under extreme stress. I used to think that I was only good enough to deserve my job if I worked at the very limit of my endurance.

And here’s the thing… now that I believe in the value of the work that I do, and I am giving myself realistic timescales to work within, and earning a realistic wage, my work has stepped way up a level.

Clients now feel lucky to have me, but if I don’t deliver and deliver well, then they’ll feel let down and not hire me again.  I feel more valued and I work better because I have more time, the client feels glad to work with me and they get a good result that’s had all the time it needs to be completed.

I used to think that being self employed meant that I wasn’t able to get a “real” job with a steady salary and a predictable income. I thought that I had to take whatever jobs were offered to me and be grateful for the opportunity. I kind of see why that was important early on when I was finding my feet and building my client base, but I think it’s about time I became a bit more selective about what I’m willing to stress out over.

It’s not hard to see where that idea comes from. When you’re self employed people have the most ridiculous ideas of what you do and who you are.

Here are just some of the things people regularly say to me when they find out I’m self employed.

  • How much do you actually earn?
  • Can you sew on this button/fix this zip/adjust this hem for me?
  • I’ll tell all of my friends about you so you can sew on their buttons/fix their zips/adjust their hems for them.
  • Will a tenner cover it?
  • Do you have to do all your own paper work then?
  • And can you manage that all by yourself?
  • Seriously, how much do you earn?
  • Are you sure you know what you’re doing with all your paperwork, it’s really quite complicated isn’t it?
  • That thing you made looks really professional!
  • Make some posters and I’ll put them up in the office.
  • Are you really earning enough to get by?
  • It must be nice having so much free time.
  • You earn HOW MUCH???
  • I suppose folk will pay for anything these days….

I’m not even joking.

The questions about how much I earn are the most common. Can you imagine asking that about someone else’s job? Can you imagine meeting someone at a party or in a bar, finding out they’re an engineer or a sales assistant or whatever, then asking them the highly personal question of what they earn? I guess it comes down to people not knowing what industry standards are, plus the whole mystery surrounding creative industries and just plain curiosity, but as far as I’m concerned it’s just rude.

I think the one that pisses me off the most is the “that looks really professional” comment. To be fair, my own parents have said this to me, and I don’t think people mean any harm in it, but it shows a real lack of understanding of what self employed people do. The fact is I am a professional, the problem is that I’ve only just realised it!

So far everything had been lining up in support of my new found self worth and respect for my work, then just a few days ago something else happened.

I’d applied for another “thing”. I’m applying for lots of “things” right now, and this one wasn’t a big one, and it wasn’t directly linked to my work but they’d asked me to take some of my work along to show them.

They didn’t get it.

They so didn’t get it. I took along my portfolio of photographs of my work and Gilda and her wooden doll, one of my favourite pieces, and they had a good old patronising smirk at every single thing I showed them. They “played” with Gilda chucking around her from person to person and talked about how “sexy” her stockings were and how “clever” I was.

It was like fucking Mean Girls.

I’d realised about twenty minutes before the dolls came out that I didn’t want to be involved in this “thing” I’d applied for, but seeing these people making fun of me made me feel weirdly calm. I knew for sure that I didn’t want anything more to do with them.

I was really keen to get a critical appraisal of my work but this was just plain old school kid mockery, so I packed up Gilda and zipped up my portfolio thanked them for their time and left, absolutely certain that I really was fine with it and for the first time in my life, someone not respecting my work didn’t bother me one bit.

Gilda and her wooden doll
Gilda and her wooden doll

Even a year ago, that sort of experience would have broken me. I would have kept my portfolio shut indefinitely, I would have hidden all of my work from my sight and brooded over how horrible those people were to me and how I didn’t deserve it, then wondered if maybe I did because maybe they were right, then I would have brooded some more. This time, for the very first time, it was shrugged off the minute I left that room.

It actually felt good! It’s easy to feel good about what you do when the people around you are praising you and backing you up but it feels amazing when you can still feel good about what you do when you’re being ridiculed.

So what I thought might be a little change in perspective has ended up being massive shift.

And, getting back to the blog post, it’s been amazing to know that so many other people have struggled with the same things. It’s also connected me to some really amazing new people, blogs, Facebook pages and general goings on. I’ve had literally hundreds of messages and it’s been very difficult to reply to everyone personally, so if I haven’t yet replied to you please know that your message has been read and that it means the world to me.

The full impact of the response to that last post is still too overwhelming to write about so maybe at some point later down the line. For now, I’m going to sign off and say thank you.

Artist’s Statement ….Part Two

The Pale Rook

So remember that thing I applied for?

My application was successful.  I was selected to take part in a project at Scotland’s Craft Town,  the wonderful West Kilbride.   I’ve been a massive fan of the Craft Town since I first found out about it a few years ago, so I’m massively chuffed to be a part of it.  The project I’m involved in takes selected craft makers based in Scotland, at various stages of their careers and gives them specialist business mentoring and studio space for six months.   For the first time in over a decade I am being mentored rather than mentoring others, which has been quite a shock to the system.

The first meeting of the participants, organisers and business mentors involved an exercise where we had to think of things that limited our business or things that we were worried about and then we had to decide whether these things were Financial, Operational, Creative, or Emotional. I do these kind of exercises with my students, so I wasn’t too surprised when most of the participants put a whole lot of their worries, fears and anxieties about their work in the Emotional category. I didn’t because as far as I was concerned I’m not caught up in my emotional issues, not me, nuh uh. I am wiser than that.

Or not.

Later that day I had a one to one meeting with my business mentor, a fabulously astute and direct woman who called me on my bullshit within about twenty minutes.

My mentor asked me to decide how much I hoped to earn in terms of my salary, and to price my work accordingly. I did it the other way around. I worked out how much I wanted to earn from each individual piece (and other stuff that I can’t tell you about yet), then I added up how much I would likely earn over the course of a year and then once I saw the total I decided that it was way too much, that I didn’t need that much and that I didn’t deserve that much, so I’d just have to earn less.

Seriously.

And the worst part was that I didn’t see anything wrong with this. In fact, I thought that earning a good salary for my work was somehow unfair to the rest of the world. So I reduced the price of the thing I can’t tell you about yet and went into my meeting with a nice clear idea of how to avoid earning more than I felt I deserved.

I’m not even joking.

So there we were in our meeting and my mentor patiently listened to my stream of ideas and plans and hopes and fears about where I want to take my work and how I want to develop the business side of things.

Once I’d stopped for breath, my mentor told me that she thought my pricing was too low. I explained that I didn’t think it was. She told me again, that it was indeed way to low, and I explained that pricing it higher wouldn’t be fair to people who wanted to buy it. Then she said something that made absolutely no sense to me. She asked if my feelings about pricing were somehow connected to something within me, or more specifically if my feelings towards the people who buy my work were fulfilling some need within me.

I had absolutely no idea what the hell she was on about. Remember, I teach this stuff. I am a master at pointing out the root of my students’ issues and creative barriers and I could sort of see what she might be getting at and why what she said might have meant something to someone else, but I really had no idea what relevance it had to me.

Until the train ride home.

Here’s what I realised about myself.

I feel bad about people paying for my work because I think that the people who buy and even those who appreciate my work are somehow being duped. I keep feeling that at some point I am going to be found out to be an imposter.  I feel bad when my work is considered valuable.

There.

Issue number one; I do not trust or value my talent.

And there’s more.

I worry that I am somehow going to get into trouble for showing off.  I feel that if I openly value my work then people might not like me.

I know.

Issue number two; please like me, please like me, please, please like me.

OK, so this is all deep down, little girl fear and anxiety stuff, it’s not up there on the day to day surface of things, but it’s still there, and in my experience the deep down stuff has a way of making itself heard in one insidious way or another.

I see it constantly in my female students. I’m sure men and boys experience it too, I know they do, but in my personal experience it’s women who consistently undervalue their work, their time and their talent and it’s women who desperately seek approval by making themselves small.

I have sat through literally hundreds of student presentations, from high school to post-graduate level and women consistently and persistently do one thing when they present their work, regardless of how good it is or how hard they have worked on it or how good they believe it to be – they apologise for it.

Over and over, throughout my career I have heard women and girls tell me all of the things they should have done differently and all of the ways they could have made their work better and all before they’ve even opened their portfolios or begun their presentation. Even when given positive feedback, they tell you how it should have been better and how it would have been better if only they had done something differently. They deliberately make it less than it is.

So about six years ago, I banned my students from saying the word sorry, and we did a little experiment. They had to present their work without saying a single negative word about it, and throughout the exercise they would have absolutely no encouragement or feedback from me whatsoever. So no negativity from them and no approval from me.

What happened shocked me. Some students weren’t even able to begin speaking. They looked at the floor, they took deep breaths, they took several minutes just to find words to begin with that wouldn’t include any sort of apology. Some were even brought to tears by the sheer frustration of not being able to criticise themselves.

Let me be as clear as possible; speaking about themselves without negativity reduced several women and girls to tears and silence.

And I hadn’t asked them to glow with self congratulation, false pride or confidence, all I had asked them to do was not criticise or apologise for their work.

I ask my students why they feel it’s so difficult to not devalue themselves. Their answers are always, always the same. They tell me that they don’t want other people to think they are arrogant. They worry that if they say their work is good, other people will point out that it’s not. They worry that if they appear to think they are better than others, then those others won’t like them.

Which brings us right back to me on the train.

Up until that point I had subconsciously believed that valuing myself meant devaluing others which would make them feel bad which would make them not like me. I had kept myself in a nice little box that would be no obvious threat to anyone and this deliberate devaluing of myself was making it’s way into my life in my reluctance to make a reasonable amount of money for my work.

The sad thing, the thing that made me furious on the train when all of this hit me, was that I knew, I KNOW that valuing yourself and your talent and your work, truly valuing your best qualities does not bring trouble, criticism and rejection; quite the opposite.

About half way through some of the student presentations something else would happen. After a few minutes of speaking hesitantly, through deep breaths and almost uttered “sorries”, something would shift.

There would come a moment when the student’s voice would even out.

Because I wasn’t giving them any feedback, encouragement or prompting, because they were getting absolutely nothing back from me, they would begin to say what they wanted to say. Not what they thought I wanted to hear, not what they thought was expected, not what they thought would make them likeable, but what they truly felt and thought.

There would be a change in tone and volume that was so moving, so utterly inspiring that I can’t even describe it to you. They would speak without apology, explanation or expectation, about what they loved about their own talent. Then they would realise that no one was laughing at them, no one was horrified, no one had stopped liking them, and that they weren’t in trouble, then their voice would get stronger and clearer and calmer.  And when they shone, something would happen to the other students in the room, and to me;  we’d feel just a little bit closer to our own value because we could see someone else connecting with theirs.

It’s worth pointing out that I have done this same exercise all over the place, with different age groups, different academic levels, different nationalities and the results are pretty consistent. About twenty percent break down in tears, around sixty per cent struggle to speak, about eighty per cent reach a moment when they begin to shine.

I would also like to point out that I would never and could never force anyone to do anything in my class. Everyone who participates does so openly and willingly and the ones who cry are the ones who hammer on through with the greatest determination because they are usually the ones who have the most buried within themselves. Just thought I’d point that out in case you had some sort of image in your head of me inflicting emotional and psychological torture on unsuspecting art students.

I could write forever about why we have all of these layers of apology within ourselves, why we feel we need to be small, to be liked, why we need to undercut our own value to feel comfortable. I won’t though because I’ve got way too much to be getting on with and I’m sure you have your own story to tell about all of the times you insisted on less than you deserved.

So go try this.

Talk to yourself about yourself, your work, your talent, your virtues, whatever you like but do it without apology and do it out loud.

It’s harder than you think.  I struggle with it.

I’ve always imagined that as an artist, I should devalue my work, that it’s up to others to see and judge it’s worth and that if I ask for just a little I won’t be disappointed when I get just a little.  After my meeting with my business mentor though, I realise that I have been seeing myself and my worth in exactly the same self depreciating way my students do.   My ideas about being a struggling artist are really just a reason to keep myself small, unthreatening and likeable.

I’m not going to suddenly increase my prices or change the way I sell my work, but I’m no longer going to limit myself in terms of what I achieve through my work.  I’m not going to prevent myself from earning more than I think I deserve.

From now on, I refuse to reduce my own value.

I’ve never been a materialistic person and I’ve never seen financial success as a goal in itself, but what I’ve realised is that until now I have seen financial success as something that I should avoid, something that I don’t deserve, something that might make people not like me, and that has limited me creatively.

So I’m not going to make myself small any more.  I’m not going to keep myself in a little box and whatever comes out of me next will come without any apology or fear of what it might achieve.

And there’s that thing that I’m planning that I can’t tell you about yet.  I’m not afraid of that thing being a success anymore.  I’ll tell you about it next time.

The Pale Rook

 

Paper Doll Presents

Paper doll rabbit
Paper doll rabbit

I made you a present to celebrate it being almost a year since I started sharing my work online and as a thank you for all the amazing support, emails, reviews, and general loveliness I’ve had coming my way since taking the (at the time) very scary step of putting my work out there.  I was going to share this at Christmas but the fantastic Mr Finch beat me to it with his amazing fox paper doll, so I thought I’d hang back a bit.

Red haired Paper doll
Red haired Paper doll

OK, so you can print out these two pages on normal printer paper but I would recommend something slightly thicker.  I printed mine out on medium weight cartridge paper.  You can also print it out on paper and then glue the whole thing onto card before cutting it out.  The first page has a basic doll’s body and the second page has three alternative faces and shoes that you can cut out and glue on top of the basic body.

Then it’s over to you!  You can draw, paint, colour, dye, dab with tea bags to make her look a bit antique-ish, whatever you like.  I’ve doodled on mine with a fine line pen.  It’s a lot easier to draw and colour the doll before you cut her out.

Cut out the individual pieces with scissors or a craft knife the join the pieces together at the little crosses with paper fasteners or tie them together the way I have with thread or yarn.  I’ve used a combination of both.

I really hope you like it!  It’s actually kind of exciting and a bit daunting to put something out there for other people to take in their own direction and I would love to see what you come up with, so please feel free to share your paper doll photos on my Facebook page or email them to me at thepalerook@gmail.com

You can download the PDF pattern here paper-dolls

Enjoy!

Paper Dolls
Paper Dolls

 

PS  Please don’t sell this, publish it as your own work, use it to make things to sell, adapt it to sell it, use it in any sort of dark magic type rituals or generally profit from this in any way that is just plain shabby or unpleasant.  Instead make it, play with it, frame it, give it to people you love and enjoy it.

Why I love nettles

 

Stinging nettles

This is essentially a guide to using wild nettles as a fabric dye but before I start I really need to confess that I LOVE nettles.  I may even go so far to say that I have a passion for nettles and I can guarantee that this post will more than likely veer off in various nettle loving directions along with the fabric dying instructions so you have been warned.

First of all, I started gathering wild nettles when I moved to Norway.  Before I moved I’d always thought of nettles as little more than an annoying weed.  My friend Clara took me foraging in the woods one day in Spring 2013 and explained to me that nettles are traditionally used to make soup in Scandinavia in the spring.  After a long, hard winter of eating dried and preserved food, nettle soup made from the fresh tips of the plant would give a much needed vitamin boost for hungry Vikings.  Nettles have huge amounts of iron, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin D and vitamin K, but more of that later.

If you’re going to gather wild stinging nettles,  you’ll need rubber gloves.  I learned the hard way that normal garden gloves don’t protect you from the sting.  I’d also recommend wearing long sleeves and trousers, as well as shoes that don’t have open toes.  In short, protect your skin because the stings hurt.

The best time for collecting is in the spring or early autumn.  Nettles tend to grow twice a year at these times and can generally be found on the side of foot paths and in rocky, well drained ground.

Only take as much as you need.  Before you start gathering, decide where you’re going to dry and store the plants and how much you can realistically deal with at one time.  It’s easy to get all fired up and pick lots at one time, then have nowhere to hang or store them, which just leads to waste.   Sorting and drying nettles can be a bit of a hassle when you first start, so start with a small amount, say around one carrier bag full.

Once you get them back home, and while still wearing your rubber gloves, arrange them into small bunches and tie them loosely with string.  Hang them upside down and give them a good shake to get rid of any bits and pieces and bugs that may have got trapped in the leaves.  It’s better to brush off any detritus rather than washing it off as you want the leaves to be dry when you hang them up.

Nettles drying on absorbent paper
Nettles drying on absorbent paper

Alternatively you can pick off the leaves and lay them out on absorbent paper on trays or a table top.  The leaves usually dry more quickly this way, but it takes up more space.

Find a warmish, dryish, darkish place to dry them.  Make sure there is enough space between the bunches or trays to allow air to circulate and then draw the curtains, close the door and leave them alone for a few days.

After a few days they will have lost their sting and will be safe to handle.  Sometimes you can still feel the little needles, but they won’t actually sting you, just jab you a bit.

Once they’re completely dried gather them up and store them in a paper bag or large jar, then keep them in a cupboard.  Keeping nettles in direct sunlight will fade their colour.

Some people use fresh leaves to make their dye, and it works, but for some reason I find that drying the nettles first makes a stronger dye and it just makes the nettles easier to deal with.

To dye fabric take a handful of dried leaves and soak them in boiling water.

Place a handful of dried nettle leaves in a jar.
Place a handful of dried nettle leaves in a jar.
Fill the jar with just boiled water and seal.
Fill the jar with just boiled water and seal.

I usually leave them to soak in a jar over night, strain out the liquid in the morning with a sieve and throw the squished up leaves into the compost heap.  I either dip or soak my fabric in the dye bath, then leave it for a few hours.  Remember to use only natural fibres – cotton, silk, wool, as the dye will not colour synthetics.

Nettle dyed Nymph
Nettle dyed Nymph

Once the fabric has been soaked for a few hours you can either leave it to dry naturally or bake it on a low heat in the oven.  The heat will deepen the colour, but be careful not to leave it too long or your lovely deep green will turn into a mucky brown.

Once dyed, the fabric was heated to deepen the green colour.
Once dyed, the fabric was heated to deepen the green colour.

So back to the health benefits.  These are all my own personal observations, I am not a doctor, so please don’t treat this as scientific, clinically proven fact.  There is a lot of information about the health benefits of nettles online so go google.

About three years ago my hair started to get thin and I was told by my hairdresser and doctor that this was just what happens when you get past your twenties, however, I started drinking nettle tea and my hair has honestly not been this thick and silky since I was a teenager.  In fact, about two or three months after I started regularly drinking nettle tea, I ended up with a weirdly shaped Joan Jett type mullet because the top two inches of my hair were so much thicker than the ends.  My hairline which hadn’t exactly been receding but had been, let’s say, widening somewhat, started to become all fluffy with new hair growth.

I also noticed that in the winter my knees and hips, which usually ache in cold and damp weather felt absolutely fine.  I won’t go into details as those details are somewhat … icky… but I also noticed a massively positive change in my digestive and menstrual health.

On top of that, nettle tea just makes me feel healthier in general.  It gives you an energy boost without the buzz of caffeine and it feels nourishing without filling you up.

I drink a jar of nettle tea two or three times a week.  I make it exactly the same way I make nettle dye, except that I chill it before I drink it because warm or hot nettle tea tastes gross.  It can be stored in the fridge for two or three days and if you happen to forget about it and find it’s gone off a bit you can use it as plant food or a hair tonic that you can massage directly on to your scalp, or you can, of course, dip fabric into it.

Then there’s nettle soup, which can be made with the dried leaves, but is best with the fresh young spring time tips of the plant, picked before the plant produces seeds.

And one final tip,  if you have a dog, I recommend taking it foraging with you.  If your dog scents and pees on the nettles then the chances are other dogs have done the same thing in the same place so keep walking until you find a spot that’s not so interesting to your pup.

If you’ve tried nettles as a dye, food or tea please let me know your experiences in the comments section.  I’d love to hear your tips and tricks as I’ve more or less worked all of this stuff out on my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Artist’s Statement……..part 1

The Pale Rook

My current textile work began as an experiment in ….

I am trying to write my artist’s statement and I’m not doing very well. I tried to ask my friends for words to describe my work, in fact I DID ask my friends for words to describe my work, I went beyond trying, there was definite asking and all of them said that I was clearly able to express myself because they’d all read my blog and thought I should just write my artist statement exactly like that.

But I don’t plan my blog posts ! They just sort of fall out of my head on to the page! My blog posts were a progression from my journals and lists. They just happen when I have something to say, it’s a whole other thing when I actually need to make a point and make it clearly and succinctly so that someone else will read it and choose to give me the thing I’m applying for.

None of my friends gave me words! I need words! They told me to use my own words but my words are rambling and stroppy! I’m trying to present myself as a capable, articulate artist with a clear idea of who she is and why her work is relevant, nay essential to her very existence, deserving of funding and support to help it develop to it’s fullest creative and entrepreneurial potential, and I am all of those things and my work is all of those things but I just can’t find the words to convince someone else that I am and it is.

Like I said, I’m not doing very well. It’s ironic that I’m avoiding writing by writing. I don’t see this as writing though. I see this as using words to get stuff out of my head. Writing an artist’s statement is about using words to help someone to appreciate what I do and help me do it some more. It’s not though is it. It shouldn’t be.

For one crazy moment I thought that maybe I could just copy and paste this and use it and that maybe the person I’m sending it to, the person with the purse strings and the amazing facilities would maybe see me as I really am and give me what I’m applying for just because I’m so refreshingly honest. I so wish I was that sort of person. I wouldn’t even need to copy and paste it because what you’re reading now really did start off as an attempt to write the real artist’s statement. That title and that first abandoned sentence aren’t just there for comedic purposes. This was supposed to be the real thing!

I remember once reading somewhere that someone at American Apparel had applied for their job by printing out their CV on a t-shirt and submitting that instead of a nicely printed traditional one. I’ve never been that person. I’d really like to be but I’m not. I wish I could embroider my statement on the wing of a silk raven and send it to them but I just don’t have the time.

I should just tell them what I do and why I do it shouldn’t I, but, you know, without the foul language and stroppiness.

It’s easier talking to you though.

My current work was initially and experiment in ( GETTING SHIT OUT OF MY HEAD) working purely with my creative instincts, allowing the creatures and characters from my dreams, childhood memories and imagination to exist in the outside world. I make figures and anthropomorphic creatures from antique textiles and threads, dyed with plants foraged on my forest walks ( the stuff I’ve hoarded over the years and the stuff I find in my pockets three weeks after I put it there).
Each figure or creature is an intuitive creative response to dreams, memories, fairy tales, and my childhood. Conceptually, I am interested (read, FIXATED AND OBSESSED) in the precious and the abandoned, in the natural tides of the forest and the seasons, and in the language of the subconscious. My process explores the dynamic between textile creation and deconstruction using hand drawn and embroidered detailing and unpredictable dye, heat and distressing techniques, (read, when things go wrong I tend to go with it and make it decorative). Every aspect (element?) of my work is created by hand. (Write something here about the importance of the craft process here).

That’s actually the best I’ve managed to come up with so far. I might actually go with “fixated” rather than “interested” because it’s closer to the truth.

My whole creative life seems to be about treading a fine line between authentic expression and not freaking people out too much.

Thanks for listening.

The Eye Thing and Clumsy Symbolism

Odette
Odette

So, the one eyed thing. That thing I do where my dolls would be a lot prettier if I didn’t deliberately give them mis-matched eyes.

I get asked about that a lot. I think people imagine that it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to, that the one eye, or mismatched eye thing is meant to “mean” something.  I don’t mean this post to be in any way disrespectful to anyone who has ever asked about the eye thing, please ask me what ever you want about my work and I will try my best to answer but please don’t be disappointed if I haven’t given it too much thought yet.

We’re taught that in art things mean other things, and we’re taught that if you want to talk about art then you have to learn to talk about what things are supposed to mean instead of what they actually look like or, heaven forbid, make you feel.

When I was at school we were taught that “real” artists used symbolism in their work and that we should totally, definitely do that too. We were taught to go look at what meant what and then once we knew, we’d select suitable colours, objects and motifs that meant stuff and we would cram them into whatever we were doing to symbolise what we meant. Which brings me to one of my pet peeves….., second hand symbolism as a means of self expression.

Of course, rather than being a judgement on anyone else, this is about me reflecting on things I used to do and don’t like to be reminded of when I see other people doing it because it’s … uncomfortable.

Let’s take the example of a rook, since that’s the pseudonym I have chosen.  A quick Google search will tell you that a rook, a crow or a raven symbolises death and the underworld.  Want to make something spooky?  Just add a raven.

Yes a rook represents death but you don’t need Google to tell you that.  If you live anywhere near rooks you’ll know the sound of their caws on a cold winter morning as the trees stand bare and the sky is cold and grey over your head, telling you that, guess what….death is here! The plants are dying back and the other birds are flying south because it’s going to be cold and dark for months before the whole world comes back to life again. It’s hard to imagine rooks without seeing the cold sky and bare branches that they perch on, and death is part of that whole picture.  And if rooks don’t mean something to you, then don’t put them into your work just because they mean the thing you want to say.  Find your own symbol!  Go bloomin’ live your symbolism, don’t bother looking it up online as a first port of call, by all means check it but don’t just hurl some clumsy symbol into your work because Google told you it might be relevant. Find your symbols, find your points of reference in your world and then let them speak for you and you know what, other people WILL get it, even if it’s just subconsciously.  Don’t patronise your audience, or yourself for that matter.

If you want to connect with your darker side through your work don’t research dark symbols, go spend time in dark, dead places.  Go to the woods in winter and see life dying back so that it can come back again refreshed and relieved. You’ll understand a hell of a lot more if you actually live it. Go listen to how quiet the woods become ( I know, I’m ALL about the woods) , feel how frozen the ground is, how bare the trees are, then wait …. Want to know what colours symbolise hope? Go hang out in your garden in the spring and watch the bright green shoots push their way up through the cold ground, or pay attention to that tiny little happy warm feeling you get when you see the first daffodils bright and yellow and turning their heads to the sun.

And when you look at other peoples’ work, by all means find out what they were on about, but first of all, as yourself how you feel about what they’ve made.  Does the work make you happy, angry, uncomfortable?  Ask yourself why that is, don’t go straight to the little description next to the piece in the gallery, or to the vastness of the internet to tell you what it’s all about.  Go there once you’ve had a think about it and maybe formed some opinions of your own.  Your reaction to art is just as relevant and important as anyone else’s.

But back to the eye thing.

Those who ask about the eye thing aren’t wrong, yes it does mean something.  They are just wrong about the order of events ; I do it then work out what it means rather than working out what I want to say then working out what would say it best on my behalf.

The Pale Rook

When I was a little girl I had a deep, seemingly irrational terror of losing my right eye.  I had recurring nightmares of it being taken or shot or knocked out of my head.   I have very large eyes and it’s something that people have always commented on to the point where I actually believed that I could see more than other people because my eyes were so much larger ( I tended to take some things very literally when I was a child) , so the idea of losing one of my precious big blue eyes horrified me and would send me into a blind panic.  Just writing this makes me cover my right eye with my hand and take a deep breath.

I’d been making the one eyed dolls for months before it had occurred to me that it might be connected to my childhood fears, in fact, I used to make sock monkeys ( I was the proud owner of Ebay’s first ever dedicated sock monkey shop in 2004! ) and they all had one tiny little eye and one giant beautiful one.   With the dolls and drawings, it just sort of happened.  The anthropomorphic dolls, the rabbits and the bears don’t have human eyes,  but for the “human” dolls it just sort of made sense.

My childhood fear of losing an eye was one of the deepest fears I can remember,  because it was too irrational to explain, and because it gripped me when I was a child with no way of understanding where it came from.  It crept into my nightmares.  It’s my part of underworld, my dark scary place, the hidden part of me, and it comes out in my art.  My dolls, my beautiful dolls that would be so lovely if they weren’t just right on the edge of ugly and dark and creepy and weird.  But to me that IS beautiful!  The dance between light and dark, the one embracing the other, the shift between ugly and lovely and back again.  I create a self portrait that combines my idealised self and the worst fear my little girl self could imagine.   My hopes on one side and my fears on the other.  Because that’s kind of where I live my life from, and it comes out in my work.

All of your work will be a self portrait so let it be a portrait of YOU, your life, your fears, your reactions, your loves, your hates,  not your browsing history, not other peoples conclusions or observations, not Wikipedia and not Google.

Instead of cramming symbols into your work, how about just doing what comes naturally, letting it develop, then maybe at some point doing a bit of detective work into icons, mythology, psychology and symbolism, or maybe just your own life to see what you were maybe on about in the first place.   Trust your creative instinct. Let it have free reign for a bit and see where it wants to go.

But back to the eye thing.

If someone had asked me at the beginning of this post what the eye thing meant I would have told them it didn’t really mean a whole lot, that I just did it without thinking (in fact that is exactly what I told someone on Facebook about an hour ago) .   It turns out they are right though, there is a whole lot to it.  I shudder to think what I’d come up with if I’d Googled how to symbolise all the the things I needed to say instead of just getting on with it. The Pale Rook

Fly away little fishes, fly away….

It has been way to long since I wrote a post, it really has, and it’s going to be a little bit longer still.  This is just a quick message to let you know I haven’t forgotten about you, and that I have made some flying fish skeletons.  I’ll be back soon.

Flying fish skeletons
Flying fish skeletons
Flying fish skeletons
Flying fish skeletons
Flying fish
Flying fish
Flying fish
Flying fish

In progress…

The Pale Rook

So the long planned Etsy shop is finally going to open on this coming Sunday the 21st of September and I cannot get my muse to shut the hell up and let me get on with finishing things!  It’s funny how this time last year I had ideas clambering to get out of my mind but struggling to actually get past all of my anxieties then finally squeezing their way out into just a few pieces that sort of worked, and now I have an almost constant stream of  “Ooooo why don’t you make one of them, try doing that that way, dip that in there, put antlers on that, make some wings out of twigs, make mice out of silk scraps, maybe it’s time to make that octopus, oo0OOO0oooo what about a mermaid, now do a lobster make it blue, no white, no blue…houses on legs make houses on legs…acorn eyeballs! ”

The Pale Rook

You get the idea.  I have a stack of unfinished ideas that only get half made before they seed another one!  I can’t seem to switch it all off right now so I am back to making lists and trying to stick to them, although I keep managing to divert myself with tea and dog walking, and (ahem) writing this post.

When it all gets too much I go make another fish skeleton.

I’ve also had the privilege of meeting (online but it still counts!) so many other artists and of course that feeds more ideas of what’s possible and what I’d like to do.  I used to staunchly avoid making anything that I’d ever seen done before, ever, and if I made something that I thought was original, then found to be similar to someone else’s I’d immediately feel like a failure.  I guess I wrongly assumed that something was only truly creative if it was entirely original.  Yes, I was that daft.

I don’t believe that any of us ever work in isolation.  Whether we consciously know it or not, we’re all pulled by the same tides that affect everyone else and our muses will be excited by the same things as others on the other side of the world without ever having met, and we think we’re working on something all by ourselves until we put it online and realise that we’re not alone.

I don’t beat myself up so much now if I see work that’s coming from the same place as mine, or ended up in the same place.  I used to worry that others would think I was copying them. When I was at art school there was nothing lower than someone who’d blatantly ripped off someone else, we were there to innovate damn it!  Only at art school could I have been so naive to presume that I could create something entirely unique that had never been done before.

Of course, the one thing that DOES make our work unique, whether we want it to or not, the one thing that we can only avoid with massive effort,  is the very thing that we take completely for granted; our own hands, eyes, skills and minds.  If we try to consciously imitate someone else, we can only end up being a poorer version, but if we look at someone else’s work as a starting point and think “I’m going to go try making one of those”, then allow ourselves to take the lead from there, it will inevitably end up being as much our own as an idea that we thought we’d come up with by ourselves.

This of course, only goes for things we add creative input into ourselves.  I have an intense dislike for companies and businesses who intentionally rip off other’s designs and ideas, but that’s a whole other blog post!

So into the mix of ideas and possibilities is a whole other world of ideas that I would have avoided just a few years ago because I wouldn’t have been able to prove to myself that I was the only person in the whole world who was doing it.  I’ve been wanting to make a mermaid for a while and I had actually thought I should avoid it because other people make mermaids.  Seriously.  So now that I’ve got over that, expect a mermaid in the not too distant future.

My hands can’t work quickly enough to stitch all of the creatures and worlds that are cascading into and out of my mind and I’m clutching my list, focusing hard on staying the course, at least until the shop is open on Sunday night and I can relax a little bit and work on some new ideas.

I had no idea where this post was going to go when I started it, and I’m still not sure it’s ended up going in any particular direction so for now I will end with a rather fabulous quote that says all of the above and more, far more succinctly than I have.

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. – C.S Lewis

Now, let’s go get those green velvet shoes finished…

The Pale Rook