Working with new materials

I’ve been working with some new materials recently with I’ve been enjoying. Alongside working with cut paper I have been experimenting with cutting cotton. The problem I had was that cutting cotton was that the edges fray, and I particularly like the strong lines and silhouettes produced by paper cut. 

I have managed to fix this problem! I have been coating the cloth with a PVA style glue (I am using this Modge Podge but I don’t think it matters which brand you pick). Apply with a paint brush and make sure you use a plastic sheet to protect your furniture.  This then needs to dry for a good 24 hours before you can cut with scissors. It’s rather satisfying to peel the cloth from the plastic. One side will be shiny while the other will retain the cloth texture. I’ve been using a paper stencil and pencil on the shiny side to trace out the shape I wanted. Then I can cut using scissors as I do with paper.

I like the effect produced – I think the combination of textures works really well.

A limited collection of prints of my are are now available here at threadless.

Works in progress

I’ve hit the ‘too many things, not enough time’ issue again this week so haven’t got a huge amount of thoughtful things to write about. We had a lunch out today and there basically wants anything vegan, or vegetarian on the menu that wasn’t full of gluten or cheese heavy. We ended up eating meat. And we didn’t really really enjoy it. This time last year we were total carnivores so that’s quite a change. I think when Veganury ends we’ll be staying mostly vegan, which is a decision I feel pretty happy with. So that news I guess.

I’ve been picking up some of my bigger projects and trying to push them a bit more. I’ve been working on some images for a documentary film I have been working on for a while. Some sections of the doc will take the form of animated sequences set to audio narration. I’ve been working with my papercut work in these animations. It sucks up time as each thing has to be drawn and cut multiple times, but I like effect and I think in the long (very long!) run it will be worth it.

Feeding ourselves: Vegan food, art, and all the treats


It’s been quite an up and down week. I’ve been feeling quite tired and grumpy, and like I’m not really ready to go back to work tomorrow. I’m feeling better now, but was feeling pretty grim at the beginning of the week, and have been thinking about what has happened between now and then to improve things. It’s has led me to reflect a bit on the things we can do (or not do) to look after our selves when things begin to feel a bit stressful.

The main things that have been helpful have been focused around feeding the creative bits of me. To start with we went to see exhibitions of work by both Robert Rauschenberg and the William Kentridge. I found both exhibitions interesting and though provoking, but the exhibition by William Kentridge was particularly inspiring for me. This is because he used lots of film, narratives and animation in his work, which are also things that I like to play with. He has talked about using a ‘stone age’ approach to film making, and many of the pieces in the exhibition used these techniques, with beautiful effect. From a technical point of view there was little in his work that I probably couldn’t have a go at myself with enough time and effort. Seeing that kind of work on a large scale has been a trigger for me to think more widely about my own practice and where that could go.

We’ve also been out for several good length walks, one through the centre of London and one through some local woods. I tend to find my thinking is most productive when walking about, there is something about the rhythm of walking that works for me. A walk in the woods can really help me work through the kinks in an old idea, or snatch hold of and develop a new one, so this was a helpful thing to do.

Finally we’ve both been paying a lot more attention to what we put in our bodies, as we are a week into Veganuary at the magpie nest. We have had one vegan fail, but as this is time of learning for us I think it’s ok. One of the brands of gluten free bread we’ve used for some time uses egg as a binding agent and we didn’t think to check the label until we were half way through the loaf. What we have found is that we are having to think more creatively about what we cook, as a number of our ‘go-to’ meals are animal-product heavy. In putting limits on what we can cook, we are exercising our creativity in this way too, which is fun and an unexpected benefit.

Finally, we’ve also been indulging in some vegan treats. My boyfriend bought me a box of these chocolates from Booja Booja for Christmas, which are dairy free and particularly yummy. They have quite an intense chocolate flavour and I find one or two are satisfying enough so while they are on the pricy side, you can eek them out a bit. They come in a really beautiful hand painted box (see the picture above) which is particularly appealing to my arty/crafty creative side. I have been enjoying them anyway.


New Year Plans


It’s the beginning of a New Year, I hope everyone is feeling positive about making this year kinder and more inclusive than the last. I don’t tend to make New Year Resolutions as I don’t feel like they work particularly well for me. I tend to see my self as a work in progress, and in need of far more regular check-ins and course corrections. However it is a good time to take stock of what was achieved in the previous year and make some loose (and less loose) plans for what to do in the one to come. On Christmas day I wrote this post about actively practicing kindness and holding onto liberal, pro-diversity principles in the face of what feel like grim times. I feel like this is a pretty important perspective to go into the new year with.

Here in the Magpie nest we have a few other immediate plans:

Dry January – we did this last year (and did dry October too) and found that we felt much better for giving our bodies a bit of a rest from the sauce, so we are going to be doing that again this year. On both occasions we found that our wallets emerged in a better state too, so that’s a bonus.

Money – we are going to try to save up a bit of a financial cushion this year as we feel that we may want to start thinking about making some lifestyle changes of the ‘work less, live leaner’ variety pretty soon – it will be good to go into those with a bit of cash behind us as we work things out. I’ve been inspired by reading some of the posts at Frugal Health for Life in approaching this endeavour and look forwards to reading more of these.

Veganuary – We’ll be trying to go vegan for January. This morning we had our first vegan breakfast of home made baked beans and avocado on toast. It was yummy. I have to be a bit careful about eating well as I have a health condition that could lead to diabetes (I don’t want that), and my partner is gluten intolerant, so there will be some nutritional kinks to work out as we go along. I’m not sure how well we’ll manage this one, and imagine that after January we may well settle into something that looks a lot more like vegetarianism, but my partner and I are doing this together so it feels like a fun project to work on.

We’ve been watching quite a few documentaries on a range of things ranging from global warming, to animal cruelty, to many health issues, to the nutrient poor foods that have become dominant in the market, to antibiotic resistance. When you look at major contributors to all of these problems, the road seems inevitably to lead back to industrialised, factory style farming of animals. We’ve hit the point where we have a stack of reasons to give veganism a try, and only our own laziness as a reason not too. We generally cook lots of vegetarian meals from scratch anyway, so I feel we’ll get on ok with that side of things. We used to eat lots of bacon, and couldn’t imagine not having a bacon breakfast on a Saturday, but we’ve not really eaten that way for a while, and haven’t really missed it. We have been phasing out other types of meat and lots of forms of dairy for some time, but I think I may struggle with not having eggs. I really like eggs. Eggs could be a problem.

Building a creative business – I’m still exploring ideas for this. I’ve not even begun to think about starting trading yet, but I think I have some good ideas now for a set of art pieces, and may be in a position launch something later this year. Until then I’ll continue to highlight any useful resources that I stumble across on my route there.

Other creative stuff – I have a play and a film to finish, and ideas for another play, and another film (that relate to each other) to get going with. And a little animated series. Plus some art. Lots and lots of art. Oh gosh, what a list.

Mental health – I’m going to reduce my hours in the day job in April, I’m really looking forwards to having a whole day a week to myself to work on creative stuff. Let’s see how that works out.

That’s about it for a round up, but who knows what other opportunities may crop up as we go along. What New Year Plans do you have?

Christmas creativity: Something pretty to do with those empty booze bottles

I hope everyone is enjoying some down time over the festive season. We’ve had some family staying. They left today and we have a night off this eve before another round of family arrives tomorrow. I’ve not had much time for creative things but was able, in an idle moment, to put these beauties together. This is super easy so I wanted to share this with any one who had been working up a recycling mountain, which you can now confidently rename as a ‘stockpile of craft materials’.

So you will need:

Empty glass bottles or jars – you want to wash these out and let them dry thoroughly before you do this. Keep the corks, screw lids or wire cages. You’all need those later.

A small/ light weight string of fairy lights. I have been using theses Starry String Lights from YIHONG. I really like these and had them in the house because I bought a load in for a completely different project. They are a 2m strand of tiny LED lights sealed in blobs of glue on delicate copper wire, attached to a battery pack fitted with an on-off switch. The sales info suggests the batteries should last for 72 hours. I’ve not had these going for that long to test that out yet but we’ve had them on for most of Christmas and they are still very bright. The batteries are replaceable. These lights are designed to be worn in clothing so don’t use a high enough voltage to cause a shock. I would avoid using fairy lights that draw power for the mains – I’m not at all sure how you would use these safely with bottles that have metal caps or lids.

What you do:

You want to uncoil the length of the fairy lights and then feed them slowly into your glass bottle. I’ve deliberately let mine coil up in a very uneven pattern as I think this looks quite magical but I’m sure that the more ingenious among you could find a way to get them to sit evenly in the glass. I’ve been really lazy about capping these off, and have just pushed the tops back in or on over the wire – mine stick out a bit. For a better result you probably want to slice a channel down one side of the cork for the wire to sit in before you push the cork back in. You can also screw screw caps over the fine copper wire if you run it down the outside of the neck of the bottle. And that’s it. Done. 

Happy Christmas. 

Lolling about and playing with photoshop

I’ve not been very well so instead of doing a bunch of important things including working out some of my tax bits and pieces I’ve been lolling about on the sofa watching the telly and playing with glue, and teaching myself how to make a gif on photoshop. Here’s my efforts (it works! Yey to ill me) – it’s the underside of a magpie wing I’ve been making for Christmas decorations (if you are interested, I’ve put together a materials list here of the stuff I’ve been using lately).


Don’t for a minute think about stopping you lovely bunch of creatives


[EDIT: So I had a nice formal sounding title for this post, but then I went and changed it because this feels better in getting across what I want to say]

I was procrastinating before work this morning and read this article from George Monbiot on the Guardian website about neoliberalism and loneliness and mental health. I thought it was an interesting article and feel he has a number of valid points about how the two things are connected. I was particularly interested in the scientific work he referenced about the link between stress, pain and physical contact. Anyway it’s a good article – I’m not going to re-write what he says here – go check it out for yourself.

The article this morning happened to come to my attention just two days after I had stumbled onto the work of Prof. Paul Crawford from the University of Nottingham after I me him during a day job event. Paul has been suggesting some really interesting ideas about how we enable people to use arts, humanities and creativity in looking after their own mental health and in their recovery from mental illness. He has a particularly interesting ideas around some form of collective healing through arts and humanities. He’s recently published a book called Health Humanities on the subject with Brian Brown, Charley Baker, Victoria Tischler and Brian Abrams. I’ve not read it yet but I’ve downloaded it and will be putting it on the list.

Both Crawford’s talk and Monbiot’s article have lead me to thinking a bit more about our culture and the role of arts in it. I feel over the last decade and probably for longer there has been this odd political positioning of people who are ‘Artists’ who get to do the making of things, and the rest of us as consumers, who are consumers who are meant to buy things. And things have become very easy, and very cheep to buy. This feels like quite a different situation to the one my parents and grandparents grew up in. My grandfather would probably not have called himself an artist, but he could make anything, and it was common for people to make things for each other, like jam. I like jam.

When I was younger I think I had quite a dismissive attitude towards people who made things (unless they were one of those special, magical, serious people, a proper artist), especially people who made things in groups or clubs. I was a child of the 80s, and while I grew up in the countryside without much stuff, the prevailing political climate was one of stuff worship (and not hand made stuff either). I’ve completely changed my mind about this. For people to gather together to share their making, like a meal, or to make things together, like kitting or music, or in staging a play, is a profoundly creative act. To be connected to each other through our creativity is a profoundly human one.

I think there is a backlash towards this at the moment, and it is thrilling. The internet used to be full of cats. Now it is full up of people having a go at being artists. And crafters and cooks and gardeners and poets. And people making Jam. It is full of artists cheering on other artists. A community or creatives supporting other creatives. Brilliant. Don’t for a minute think about stopping you lovely bunch of creatives.