I moved into the house 16 years ago on a sunny day with my husband and a cat, a sofa and a table, a plan chest, some paintings and lots of books. Now there are two children who are quite big (their father and I divorced in 2000), three dogs and five cats, and sometimes Robin and his dog Larry, more books, more paintings, more furniture, a squash and a squeeze. So, after more than 24 years of working full time as a professional artist it is time to build a new space, a studio where I can work that has space to move. Hopefully this page will follow the progress of the new studio from the day it began, to moving in and painting there.
At first I had hoped to use the attic space and asked a friend who is an architect to come round and look, measure up and see what could be done. He went into the attic, and the minute the cats heard the ladder going up they came running from all sides and followed. They helped with the dusting and the measuring up and caught cobwebs in their ears.
But Mark thought that the space is to short, the roof would have to come off, there would still not be enough height, so it was back to the drawing board on ideas and I began to get used to making the best of what I have. I have worked in my bedroom in a bedsit, a large caravan, a small caravan and now my studio is a room in the house. But Mark measured up the house, with the help of Stuart and Mr Griffiths from next door, and a few weeks later some wonderful plans arrived in the post, so then it was time to put them to the planners.
29th August. Last week the planners came up for a site visit and it would seem that we are going to have to change the plans. They want a free-standing structure in the garden, which is not what I wanted at all. But having looked at drawings and talked to the architect I think it will be ok. Below is a very rough sketch from the architects of what they are proposing.
22nd February 2009.
Progress on the new studio has been so slow. I had plans drawn up and they were passed by the National Park, but in the process of being drawn up and being passed things were changed and I ended up with a structure that was so unaffordable that I had to go back to square one. So, a few weeks ago builders looked at the attic space and said, yes, they could make a room there and that they thought it would be big enough. It would be short, but then I am no giant and I don't often paint standing up, though I do sometimes dance around in the studio. There would be no punching the air in triumph or jumping up and down though!
The problem with a free standing studio in the garden is that it would have to have independent heating, but also in the seventeen years that I have lived in the house I have done little in the way of repairs and maintenance, so as well as building the studio the house needs a lot of love. So, some time in the next few weeks the builders will start and I am back to getting planning permission but this time for roof lights! I have to try and work around the builders but hopefully I will have a new space to work, tucked away at the top of the house, a spare room where friends can stay when they visit.
I worry that the cats will find things all too much, but I have sleepless nights over the thought of trying to work with builders around. And meanwhile the attic is a chaotic mess of roof beams and rats.
12th March. Lots has happened in the house in a few days. I now have a hole in the ceiling of the studio where I worked for all those years on books like Can You See a Little Bear and Tell Me a Dragon. A ladder is placed where the stair case will be and from this end the space looks much bigger. Things have been moved out, wires cut, pipes moved by the plumber.
A letter came from the National Parks Planning Office to say that I do not need planning for the windows and am so glad as now windows are on order and hopefully today Ben can cut a hole in the roof and give them some air and some light up there. Meanwhile I have been painting hares and cheetahs and curling up in bed with the manuscript for the Robin Hobb book which is oh so very wonderful. I have to read it all as description is scattered through out and I would hate to paint the wrong character.
When the studio is finished I will have the most wonderful view across to St Davids and Skomer and up the hill towards the high rock where we like to roam.
The builders think I will be in the attic in about six weeks, which is amazing.
Friday 13th March. It is amazing how all the cats emerge as the builders depart. Almost at the end of the first week now and all seems to be going well. After wanting this for so long and waiting for so long I am amazed at the speed at which things are happening. Trying to summon up a wind as they have another job to finish but can't do it if the wind is too high. Outside the ash tree branches are shaking so looks as if the summoning is going well. Hope so. Having dreaded them coming as I was convinced that I wouldn't be able to do a stroke of work while they were here I will miss them if they have to go.
So, time to introduce the builders. Below is Gavin, too tall for me to take a photo of unless I stood on a box, he has spent the week crouched and crawling around in a dark and dusty attic full of cobwebs until his knees hurt and his body aches. Hopefully next week they will have the windows in. Maybe three, maybe, if I am very lucky, four, two looking toward St Davids and two looking up towards the high rocks, the birds and the hedge top. He has smiling eyes.
Below is Gaz who has crawled into the very edges of the eaves to screw in great bolts to tie the roof together with the floor, and has hacked loads of the render off the back wall of the house.
And then there is Ben, who escaped before I could get a photo, but will be back tomorrow ( although only in the morning as I am told there is something called The Six Nations on, a rugby tournament I am told) Ben is building me a staircase and putting in new windows amongst other things like book cases. All three are coping very well with me going, "I've had an idea!" They only raise eyebrows a little.
Next week the floor will go down and the walls up, if the wind is right, and I may get a wide angled lens.
14th March. Ben arrived just as I was home myself and having the camera handy I managed to get a picture of him. Camera shy, but not for long I hope.
I almost felt bad the other day for taunting him with tales of how stunningly perfect the surf was down at Whitesands one morning, but managed to get over it. How he has time to run and surf and kick box and make my attic I will never know. Hidden time machine I suspect.
So, although it is Sunday tomorrow the builders will come and I am not too worried by the conversation I had with Gavin, which went something like, "Well, we've got the posts in, so tomorrow is make or break." Should I be worried about the 'break' bit? Or should I just get up the ladder with camera and take a photo?
Later that day....... with the sun shining and the sky blue and the builders all working much much harder than me. I walked past at one point and Ben was sitting on the roof going, "oh dear". Bit alarming. Seemed that my coping tiles weren't (coping very well that is) so I need some new ones. They get a lot of weather sometimes up there. When the wind blows hard it feels as if the whole house will come down sometimes, like a ship in a storm.
Flushed by his success at being called photogenic, almost every time I went to take a photograph there was Ben, but I did manage to get him to move out of the way now and again so that I could get Gavin in a shot or two.
And so the space in the attic has opened up and is bigger, wider and taller than I had thought it would be.
Meanwhile at the back wall Gaz was trying to stop the rest of the house from falling down. So far so good. The roof is still upright, no unusual creaking noises have been heard and there is now one window almost fitted, which makes an amazing difference to the look and the feel of the place.
18th March. Work goes on. Having builders in the house is a bit like Big Brother in reverse. Who shall we vote in today? Let's have a plumber and an electrician. Meanwhile Gavin has left for a while. Was it something I said? Surprisingly not as they seem very unphased by me suggesting that they take up life modeling in their spare time. He has gone to finish the other job, and though I hoped the wind would blow it is so calm and peaceful with hardly a breath of wind. Whatever happened to March winds?
Still we are all managing very well without him and Gaz and Ben have been making a staircase and I have been learning something of the language of stairs. My new stairs have a kite at the bottom, rises and threads as well as strings, and the slope of a staircase is called 'the going of the stairs'.
They work steadily on while I have been running around like a headless chicken trying to get things done for the Tenby show, but also taking time to sit on the beach for a while, as well as doing other things like preparing prints to post to Bob at The Hermitage Bookshop in USA. Bob had bought prints ad the money from them will be spent on my new windows in my studio and their installation. There is something very lovely in the fact that the light by which I work has been gifted to me by someone so wrapped up in books and stories. Three windows, two that look up the hill and one that looks toward the cathedral and Skomer Island. (to see the prints being prepared and Jane's fantastic attic of delights have a look at her workspace here.)
29th March. The attic has come on so much again in a week and changed into a place of light.
Talking to Gaz in the week and he remembers being at school with Tom in primary school. I would have gone in and worked with him on a big painting when he was 11. Does that make me feel old? Simple answer. Yes.
So the good news is that the space is wonderful, the views from the windows stunning, the light bright and the air clear. The bad news is that delving around in the old roof, the old roof timers are so rotten that they crumble to dust, worse even than cracker bread ( not good to have a roof held up by cracker bread). Not only that but years ago someone with no sense of geometry cut through the A frames and didn't put any other support. Oh dear. They did other dreadful things too but the upshot is that the roof at the front has to come off. Ben sort of hid in a corner looking busy with a hammer while Gavin gently broke the news. All I could do was feel very excited. Now my studio will stretch through the length of the whole house as Hannah is moving to my bedroom downstairs. Apart from having to find many thousands more pounds (investigating methods of spinning straw into gold and trying to remember where I planted the dollar tree being two methods used for this) I feel quite euphoric about the whole thing. Exciting.
At night I sneak up there and sit in the space. Yesterday I did some work up there. And I watch the world turning as the stars move across the windows.
In a more realistic attempt to raise money rather than debt to pay for things I am working on my website, on updating the prints pages to include all those available. Anyone investing now would be contributing toward flooring, plumbing, roof slates, beams and the builders' wages, a sofa for my new studio,shelving..........