4th July. The sun is shining, now. There is a gentle wind. From my studio I can here the wind, crow call and sheep, a blackbird sing. Carried on the wind I can smell the scent of roses, a real perfume.
The last two weeks have been very difficult weeks indeed. I try never to be too negative in writing my journal. As a result life seems idyllic here. But some things are hidden.
I spent just over a week emptying four rooms of the house and learnt just what is necessary to keep and what can be thrown away, given away and recycled. It took three of those days working solidly to empty Tom's room. The worst thing I found there? His packed lunch from when he went to France three years ago. It was very gratifying to see someone sifting through the tractors and dumper trucks that I had taken to the dump and walking away with a great armful of them for another child to play with.
Over the last few days I have been learning something of the poetry of roofing. I have learnt about joists and rafters and a-frames and purlings. I have learnt how wood that was solid and heavy can crumble to dust in the hands when time takes its toll. I have learnt of stresses, both on building and owner, and what happens when a-frames are cut through and purlings severed so that dormer windows can be put in. I have learnt that when a roof is stripped of its slates ( and how quickly this can be done) and when the felt beneath is riddled with holes, that when it rains it rains both inside and outside the house. I have learnt that the sound of the wind on tarpaulins is like the sound of rain on the roof, or tide on a beach, and is reassuring as thanks to the builders coming out on Saturday morning the house is now wrapped like a Crysto sculpture and hopefully a little more watertight . Their very presence on the roof was a little like a weather charm as straight away the sun came out.
Inside Hannah's room when they peeled away all the woodchip board the original roof was revealed with its old Welsh slates and wooden pegs, like stone fish scales.
So now I have done all the moving and shifting that I have to do and all I have to do now is sort out my accounts, try and find an inexpensive caravan so the children can stay here with me for some of the summer, prepare for Art in Action and try very hard to find time to paint. I did manage to finish the seven bears painting and have started reworking the raven thief one and it does look much much better than the original. But there is still time to spoil it.
Feeling quite blue and the dogs are disturbed but cats are taking all in their cat-curled nonchalant fashion. They vanish when the builders are around, reappear like magic as they leave. Kiffer brought me a tender baby rat last night at 3 in the morning. Not sure whether he caught it in or out of the house, but kind of him to think of me.
Seems I nagged James Mayhew just enough times to get him blogging. And he has exciting things to blog about as has been up at Covent Garden watching and sketching at opera rehearsals. When I am back on my normal computer will put links from all my sites to his blog. In the meantime you can get to it through this link.
One thing keeping me going at the moment is reading the second manuscript for The Dragon Keeper, Rainwilds Chronicle, by Robin Hobb. So wonderful to escape into. The first book is now on sale.
5th July. I frustrate myself wasting my time when I should be working. No builders today, only the sound of the rain on tarpaulin which has a strangely comforting song. Yesterday I decided to rework the mother and cub painting so sketched out a new rough on the print out. I wasn't quite happy with the original painting and so it has lingered unfinished. Can't say why, but it is partly the drawing, partly the painting, partly the composition which are not right. So I guess that is all of it! I seem to be doing each piece twice, which given that I have to finish by end Sept and have everything else going on is not good. Eventually yesterday I just fell asleep. Sometimes it does seem that life just gets a little too full!
Painting the raven stealing the cub today in my lofty attic, sunshine and showers passing overhead and shadows of high flying ravens passing over my painting.
6th July. And so, when it seems that things can't get worse they do. All weekend the sky was a dark bruise of rain, but inside the tarp the house stayed dry. Today the builders came back and started taking the roof down altogether. The rafters did not hang on the ridge but had dropped. The ends of the rafters were so rotten it was difficult to work out what was holding the roof up at all and in places you could break it with your hands. Meanwhile a conversation with my accountant went from bad to worse, not because of him. I need to find myself a book keeper who can do vat returns and fast as I have to get accounts in by end July. And my paintings have all just gone up by 15% as I now have to add vat to everything.
Meanwhile still just about managing to paint. Last night the moon in the evening blue sky looked beautiful.
Now I am sitting in my studio and on the other side of the thin plywood partition I can hear Ben and Gavin trying to work out how to cut rafters and boards and angles and supporting beams, to rebuild the roof. They are talking about plates and linings and bird's mouthes and valleys. I can hear the wind washing over the house and a wren shouting alarm calls.
7th July. All day yesterday the men worked hard taking off the roof, then they wrapped what was left in blue and went. The roof had been so very rotten that it almost came away in their hands, in parts crumbled to dust, in other parts there was nothing supporting the roof and it seemed to be held up by wishes. Now, for a while the sun is shining, though the sky is still like a pale bruise. When I walked out into the garden yesterday evening the house looked so sad.
Later in the dimity darkness of late twilight a bird sang and the moon shone yellow through a brief gap in the clouds, smurred and smudged by all the moisture in the air, but so beautiful in its fullness. I worked into the late evening, in the peace of the house entertained by Neil Gaimon and Michael Reeves's Interworld on cd, then read Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb, but still found sleep disturbed by thoughts of accounts and vat. Nightmare. Not conducive to creativity.
8th July. No hot water. I wash in a sink with a kettle of hot water. When I was young I had an uncle, tall and strong as an ox. He worked in an iron foundry and would come home with coal dust grained deep into his clothes, drawing lines in his great paw like hands. Outside the factory there was a pile of coal dust where the men would kick their boots against the wall on leaving work, to shake off some of the dust of the day. For many years they had no bathroom and he would wash in the kitchen and bath in a tin bath in front of the fire. I still remember when they had a bathroom put in to the house, and the outside toilet made into an inside toilet. This was not so many years ago. He died of lung cancer, far too young. I remember being so angry with him as I watched his body change from that of a giant to a wasted child. As I wash in the sink with my kettle of water I remember him and smile. I remember the onions he grew on his allotment that were only big enough when they were the size of my head. He told me he fed them beer, through a flowerpot sunk into the soil beside their root, a terracotta flower pot. His onions always took all the prizes. I remember walking along the disused railway line with him picking warm blackberries, hands stained now with juice not coal dust, blackberries warm from the autumn sun. I loved him so.
12th July. It has been a difficult few days. The roof takes shape but the rain at the weekend was so difficult to cope with as it poured in through the empty rafters and water-falled down the stairs and pooled on the living room floor. I took refuge in The Rainwilds where floods were also causing devastation for human and dragon alike in the beautifully woven story by Robin Hobb, Dragon Haven, the sequel to Dragon Keeper which has just been published. And I also took refuge in painting my huge heron picture, taken from a moment in time, returning from walking to Wistman's Wood in the late twilight gloaming of an early summer's day last year, on Dartmoor. The heron flapped a heavy winged flight, purpled by the twilight as the full moon rose in a cloudless sky. I will take the painting to Art in Action on Wednesday, where, from Thursday to Saturday I will be working away in a mock up studio space, gilding my heron, and a hare and painting a faery cat and possibly a hare circle, or doodling rough for the Nursery Rhyme book.
Took a few minutes off to visit Robin's grandson, Charlie, who was on Whitesands Beach, letting the wind blow through his hair and full of smiles. Beautiful Charlie, just like a real person, only smaller!
So now it is time to make a list so that I make sure that I take all the things I need, stuffed owl, hare or two, pencils, feathers, paints, brushes, gold, sketch books, dummy books, etc etc.......
13 July. Rain pours in and down and over the house and the sky is dark and try as I might optimism escapes me. Hoping that tomorrow is better as I have to pack watercolours into the car and drive to Oxford to exhibit them at Art in Action.
Was sent an email today from The Kids Need to Read Foundation. They are making a calendar to raise money, with photographs by Allen Patrou. The photograph below or one very similar will be used in the calendar. Looks beautiful.
21st July. My heart was sodden with rain as I loaded the car and drove to England to exhibit at Art in Action at Waterperry Gardens near Oxford. On the way there I saw a cow painted to look like Spiderman, a giraffe on the front of a lorry and a dining chair balanced on top of a road sign.
How to describe the next few days. This is very difficult. I have never experienced anything like it. I had a vague idea of how good the show would be, and what an honour it was to be invited to exhibit. I had no idea at all just how much went in to organizing such an event and how much good will and voluntary work was offered with such good heart to make the event possible.
So, I arrived with my work and the buzz was already alive and beautiful work was being taken out of the back of cars and lorries and great trailers. In between hanging I wandered around and just marveled at beautiful things. I think by the end of the day I was overwhelmed by beauty. Not a bad state for a soggy roofless woman from Wales to be in.
By Thursday lunch time I had run out of books and have to thank Laura at Bookpoint for making it possible for Robin to collect more for me so that I had some to sell of Saturday and Sunday. Robin was a star during the whole show, and Jane who does my prints for me had done me proud with business cards and post cards and a huge banner of The Snow Leopard that drew the heart and the eye.
It was difficult exhibiting in a tent, but with the help of visitors and plastic sheeting which went over books and paintings when the rain came through the seams of the tent we were ok. I met some wonderful people aged a few weeks to many years. I have a long list of thanks to give, to Jackie who organized our area, to Jeremy Sinclair who organized the event, to all of the helpers and young people and everyone who put up tents, made food, directed traffic and did many many things that made the show seemingly effortless, like a swan in the water, gliding along with all that work unseen. Also to all the people who came and bought books and were interested and alive. The whole event was joyous and creative.
There were two real highlights for me. The first was our treat of a short concert before the demonstrators dinner. The Chinese music was glorious, instruments and musicians beautiful. Then when Kadialy Kouyate walked on stage, I drew a sharp intake of breath. Never before had I seen anyone so beautiful. Kadialy is a Senegalese Griot and carries with him more than six hundred years of storytelling with music in his flesh, bones and heart. Dressed in gold, he walked onto the stage and began to play and sing. There are no words for the sound his voice and instrument made together. He is everything that is beautiful and this was a moment, sitting with Robin and sharing this, that I will always treasure. Beauty.
The second was when the girl who won The Best of the Best accepted her award. This wasn't her first Art in Action it seemed as she had grown up with the event, working as a volunteer over years. But this was her first time as an exhibitor, she had graduated only the day before and had been given the honour of being judged Best of the Best by an audience of her peers, all artists of the best quality themselves. Should she ever need to get a job she could coach actresses and actors in how to be superbly gracious and elegant in accepting an honour. She was wonderful. Roanna Wells. Lovely. And her sketchbook is worth a look at too. I do like sketchbooks. And I do love different ways of looking at the world.
Home now and I bought a small polar bear which I shall have always watching me while I finish The Ice Bear. It is by a woman who has wonderful hair, and wonderful hares, Nichola Theakston. I have a roof, even a slate or two and have decided to turn my house around aswell as upside down!
For more picture of the four days click on any of the five photographs above.
22nd July. This afternoon I was stolen away by the sleep fairies and while I sleeping Ben and Gaz put the weather vane up. I thought she was beautiful before, but had never seen her in her element, swimming in the wind like a fish in a stream.
25th July. Sunshine and seal pups. Working away, very slowly, easing myself back into painting with a long picture of cheetahs and lurchers and hawks. Banging and clattering o builders and the odd bird call are the soundtrack to work. Trying to decide on a new fire, multi fuel burner to run ten radiators and also a new cooker. So many decisions to make. Frustrated as I didn't have all of the Robin Hobb manuscript, but I am now reading Tender Morsels, which is stunning but not for the faint hearted.
27th July. No builders and the house is quiet but for the kora music playing. Copper bear rides on the north wind and I am finishing off work from Art in Action, signing and delivering books, trying to work out how to post cat calendars and finding peace, but hoping the builders will be back soon.
28th July. Finishing work and tidying up, hanging paintings in the limited wall space of half a house, and outside the world looks like winter. Finished the big gold leaf dusk winged heron, started earlier this month and gilded at Art in Action. She carries the dark of night beneath her heavy wings. Creeping sideways towards taking up the Ice Bear again.
30th July. Rain and wind and no sun led me to believe that summer had died. This morning, a rainbow. Now the sun shines on a cold land with a north wind blowing. I sent roughs to Harper Collins having finished reading the manuscript and with a couple of hours have had the go ahead for the final art.
The week has been full of finishing off work and signing and delivering books and tidying up and trying to get hold of a book keeper and trying to get to grips with The Ice Bear again. And in the meantime a rough for another cover.