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March 2011

On Your Desk

Susie's desk 1

Carrying on from yesterday's post, today's desktop/workspace photos come from Susie Yorke, who is also part of the new generation of artists here in the village. Susie is an amazingly multi-talented woman who paints, writes, and sings with the all-girl acapella group The Wild Violets, all while maintaining a busy acupuncture practice, occasionally teaching both acupuncture and yoga, and raising her daughter Silvie.

"My workspace," she says, "is in the Old School House, which used to be the primary school for the village about seventy years ago or so. It is an old granite building that has now been converted into three houses, and I live in the first house. My workspace (which these days is also my living room and my bedroom) has a high beamed ceiling and a view from a lovely window seat across to beautiful, brooding Meldon Hill and Kes Tor on the moor. I love lounging here, and reading in the warm sunshine given any opportunity. Books are vital to my inspiration. Hung above the desk are paintings by the wonderful Virginia Lee [whose desktop is here] and Natalia Pierandrei [whose desktop is here], as well as one of my own paintings that is too big to store anywhere!

"I often have my PA set up for practicing singing. In addition to singing with The Wild Violets, I also do a little bit of folk with the (amazing) artist David Wyatt [whose desktop is here] and currently I'm working on some blues tracks with Bobby Gilbert on piano. I have a big old woodburner in here that has kept us warm and cozy on warm winter nights while we make merry music."

Susie's workspace 2

Susie's desk 2

"My desk is a 'no go' area for my nearly-four-year-old daughter, and so I know I can put anything on it that I want to keep safe. I have had butterfly wings, a perfect emperor dragonfly, fox skulls and tiny bones and leaves that I have found whilst out walking the land tucked up there -- and so it is a place for delicate precious inspirational things as well as dirty painty things!"

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"My paintings are an expression of myth, of magic, of archetype, and of the spirit of the land. My music is anything that moves and grooves my soul. I see both these things as necessary to my well-being and to my functioning; without them, even in the small, time-constrained way motherhood forces upon me, I would be empty."

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On Your Desk

Studio feb 2011 037

I was in my twenties when I first visited the village I now live in and lost my heart to it; and I'd just entered into my thirties when I managed to move here, in 1990. At that time, I remember looking at the work of older, more established artists, and hoping that I, too, would be able to fashion a life here with my art at its center -- while also forging a path that was uniquely my own (as discussed in January's On Influence posts).

One of the pleasures of growing older (besides finding that path) is taking on a different role in village life: My generation is now becoming the "older generation," while a new group of younger artists is establishing and defining itself.*  These younger artists (in their twenties and thirties) are amazingly talented, accomplished, and visionary; and it is exciting and inspiring to watch as their art, careers, and lives evolve. They, not us, will make this village whatever it is going to be in this new century...and I'm personally praying for a long, long life, because I want to be around to watch and enjoy it!

Danielle Barlowe, whose workspace is pictured above and below, is one of this new generation of artists. Raised here in the hills of Devon, and now raising a young family of her own, she's a painter, textile artist, gardener, cook, naturalist, keeper of ponies and dogs, and she writes beautifully about all these things on her Notes from the Rookery blog.

Jan 2011-1

Danielle says: "After years of working on the dining room table, or in a damp and mouldy shed, I've just taken the bold (and rather scary) step of renting a studio, sharing with my sister. It's proving to be a wonderfully positive and liberating experience. I love the fact I don't have to put my things away after me! I can walk out of the studio, and know that when I return, no small fingers will have helpfully tried to improve a piece I've been working on. Or borrowed my pencils to draw in the garden, scattering them over the lawn on the way. Or absent-mindedly used my stanley knife to slash a piece of jaw-droppingly expensive watercolour paper into tiny shreds. So it's fabulous. I've been able to indulge myself, and paint very personal pieces, on BIG pieces of paper. And sketch. Lots.

"The studio is in the centre of the village, so I can step outside the door and talk to people - something I had almost forgotten how to do, locked away in my shed. I can even pop next door for a real cup of coffee, to bring back to my desk. Oh what luxury! All the while quite deliberately forgetting that actually, I am supposed to be doing paintings to sell, in order to pay the rent on my lovely new studio. Otherwise I shall have to return to my tiny corner at home, and paints will again have to share with sewing threads."

Danielle's studio 3

Danielle Barlow

March Art

To see more of Danielle's enchanting work, please visit her blog and her Etsy shop -- where you can support her new studio, by the way, by purchasing a lovely print or two. Also please visit her sister Angharad's blog, Sustainable Styling, to see photos of the other rooms in their shared studio, and more of the others wonders created within it. Angharad is a clothing and costume designer (and fashion photographer) who specializes in working with recycled materials -- and her work, too, is terrific.

* Footnote: We've seen desktop photos from some of these younger village artists already: painters Virginia Lee, David Wyatt, and Rima Staines, and jewelry designer Miriam Boy.


On Your Desk

WorkTable.W

This week, all the "Desktop" photos come from neighbors who live and work here in my village....

The first desk belongs to a dear old friend of mine: textile artist Yuli Somme, who designs and makes felt products ranging from clothes, tea cosies, and wall-hangings to wool burial shrouds.

"My workspace is a large, drafty and damp granite barn beside the village church," says Yuli. "It’s called Bellacouche, meaning ‘beautiful resting place’ in Clerks Latin. At one time coffins were made and stored here. I am continuing the tradition by making ‘soft coffins,' made of locally sourced wool and wood.

"Within the barn I built interior walls and a roof to create a smaller, warmer, drier studio, which takes up two thirds of the barn's space. The outer part is used as an exhibition space every September; the rest of the time it's for storing twenty large rolls of felt and other useful things.

"At first the barn seemed so neglected and gloomy. In previous decades it’s been used as a garage and the floor is still oily; then it was abandoned for years. Despite the topic of my work I feel I have breathed new life into the space, helped by the occasional visitor and also the variety of industry going on inside: the making of hot water bottle covers, oven gloves, and tea cosies amidst the strange clutter of a busy workshop. I also usually listen to Radio 4, or put on music as I work."

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"Around the walls: a very old Norwegian tapestry, rescued from the back of a farm horse in Norway by my Norwegian grandpa; a Turkish ‘kepenek’ - Kurdish shepherds cape; test samples to remind me of old and new ways of working. It’s like an open sketch book, life sized. For six weeks during our cold spell this winter I was kept company by a featherless chicken, now reunited with her flock (of three!)."

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"There’s a tub for offcuts, another for composting; others hold rolls ready for hat-making and other creations. There are stacks of naturally dyed felt, arranged by colour but rarely orderly. My recently adopted rule is to tidy up on Fridays so that I get a feeling of order and space to help with clear thinking on a Monday morning. It helps, but I wish it hadn’t taken me twenty years to learn this trick!"

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Clutter

To see more of Yuli's beautiful work, visit the Bellacouch website, and the Bellacouch Etsy Shop. You also find an article about Yuli here (in the archives of the Journal of Mythic Arts), and you can read about her wonderful "Felt Feet on Dartmoor" project here and here.

Our second workspace today, which is also in an old stone barn, belongs to another old friend of mine, Dhevdhas Nair. Dhev is a brilliant musician (primarily a pianist and percussionist, although he also plays a number of other Western and Eastern instruments) who has toured all across Europe, Africa, and India -- both as a solo artist, and with various jazz, African, rock, and World music groups. He is also a composer, a teacher, and a member of the medieval music & dance troupe Daughters of Elvin, based here on Dartmoor.

Dhev's studio 1

"My studio is in a barn is next to the large Victorian house where I live on the edge of the village," he says. "I rehearse with bands, teach, write, record and sometimes just doodle around in here. Some years ago, on a warm July day, when I was working on some music for a film, I happened to glance up out of my window across the valley towards Dartmoor's Kes Tor in the distance. With one hand on the mixing desk, the other hovering over the hammered dulcimer, I suddenly saw where I was, and realised it was where I had always wanted to be - in a beautiful place, doing what I love."

Dhev's studio 2

"It's actually the former coach house with very thick stone walls. Having stored some of Katy Marchant's cloth sculptures in here for a couple of years previously and discovered that it was totally dry, I realised it would be a good environment for a piano, so I triple glazed it, insulated the floor and ceiling, and - musician's dream - can play at any time without disturbing anyone!"

Dhev's Studio 3

"It has the advantage of large wooden doors through which I can load my gear directly into the car to go for gigs. It's a ramshackle sort of place, but it suits my way of working, which often includes walking in the surrounding hills and coming back to give the resulting inspiration directly to the music."

Visit Dhev's MySpace page to hear some of his gorgeous original compositions.

Dhev's studio 4

More village desktops in the days ahead....


Tune for a Monday Morning

Today's tune is "The Lights Will Stay On" by The Walkabouts (with thanks for Charles Vess for the recommendation, some time ago) -- a lovely, poignant song that references an old folk rhyme commonly attributed to crows and magpies.

Today's song is for the incomparable Diana Wynne Jones, one of the finest mythic fiction writers of our age, who left us too early (due to cancer) two days ago. I'm so grateful to her for the extraordinary books she has left behind, which have inspired a whole generation of younger writers. She was writing brilliant YA fantasy before the genre (as we know it now) even existed; she was writing enchanting "wizard school" books long before Harry Potter was a gleam in Rowling's eye; and her knowledge of how to weave mythic/folkloric themes into contemporary fiction was second to no one's. Diana will be terribly missed, but through her magical stories, her light will stay on.

Crows

"If you take myth and folklore, and these things that speak in symbols, they can be interpreted in so many ways that although the actual image is clear enough, the interpretation is infinitely blurred, a sort of enormous rainbow of every possible colour you could imagine."  - Diana Wynne Jones


Recommended Reading:

Winslow Homer

* "The Mother of Possibility by Sven Birkerts at Lapham's Quarterly (a beautiful essay discussing the history and value of idleness in life and literature)

* "Around the Table with Dhamaruci" at John Barleycorn (discussing astrology and magic)

* An interview with Franny Billingsley at The Enchanted Inkpot (discussing how she set out to write a novel set in Fairyland and ended up in the English Fens instead)

* Katherine Langrish on finding her voice as a writer at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure (and we're so glad she did!)

* Catherynne Valente on blogging at Rules for Anchorites

* Rima Staines on owls  at The Hermitage

* Claire Massey on old maps at Gathering Scraps

* Ellen Kushner on fairy tale couture at Puggy's Hill

Also: Booktrust Children's Books (here in the UK) has announced the 10 winners of their 2011 Best New Illustrators Award. Click through the artists' links to see some really marvelous work.  There's also a traveling exhibition of art by these talented folks, which has kicked off at the Illustration Cupboard in London. I hope to see it when it reaches Plymouth in April.

Coming up: I've got some terrific new "On Your Desk" photos in the works for next week, and new sketches to share. Have a good weekend, everyone.

At play 2Howard, Tilly, & Tilly's friend Warlock taking joy in idleness & play. (Click on the photo for a larger version.)


Celebrating the Sun

Music, fire, friends & tilly

Spring equinox 2011

Howard rima & steve 2

Music and a bonfire on a Devon hillside to celebrate the spring equinox (Monday, March 21st) in traditional fashion. Musicians: Howard (guitar, accordion, shakers), Steve Dooley (drums), Rima Staines (accordion, clarinet, flute), Tom Hirons (clarinet, guitar), Jason Hancox (drum), Thomas Hine (fiddle) and Damien Hackney (not pictured, fiddle). Dogs: Tilly, Macha, Warlock, Ash, and Pigsy. Friends, neighbors, parents, grandparents, and children. Food cooked on the fire, painted eggs, and laughter. And a whole lot warmer than it was last time. Spring is finally here.

"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold:  when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade." -  Charles Dickens

Musicians 3

"The first day of spring was once the time for taking the young virgins into the fields, there in dalliance to set an example in fertility for nature to follow.  Now we just set the clocks an hour ahead and change the oil in the crankcase."   -   E.B. White (One Man's Meat, 1944)


Tunes for a Monday Morning

Today I'm posting four different tunes related to a common theme: women's friendships.

Considering how important female friendships are to just about every woman I know, it always surprises me that this is not a more prominent theme in music, literature, and the other arts. Good friendships are a remarkably potent force, sustaining us, and our creative work, through everything that life throws at us...while a lost or broken friendship can be just as painful as any divorce.

The first tune comes from the talented young singer/songwriter Devon Sproule, performing at the Tin Angel in Coventry. Sproule grew up on communes in Ontario and Virginia, and released her first CD (Long Sleeve Story) when she was just 16. She now lives Charlottesville, Virginia, where she's married to fellow-musician Paul Curreri. In "Julie," Sproule writes about a particular kind of woman friend: that brilliant, intense, but unstable girl who flashes into your life and out again. (Lordy, haven't we all known one of those?) It's a beautiful song.

I've paired Sproule's song with one by a singer/songwriter of my own generation, Nanci Griffith:

Hailing from Austin, Texas, Griffith has been writing, performing, and recording award-winning music since the late '70s. In the video above, she performs 'There's a Light Beyond These Woods" (first released in 1978), a poignantly autobiographical song dedicated to the best friend of Griffith's childhood . . . and referencing the tragic death of her high school boyfriend in a motorcycle accident after their senior prom. Another beautiful piece.

The third tune (a light-hearted one this time) is also by singer/songwriter of my generation: the adorable Cyndi Lauper, with "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." My girlfriends and I all loved this song when we were young writers, editors, and artists in the crazy New York City of the 1980s. The video, from the earliest days of MTV, is hilariously dated now. . .but I admit it, I still love her outrageously '80s look, and this silly, infectious song still  makes me smile.

The final tune is "A Bar in Amsterdam" by the Norwegian folk/pop/jazz/gypsy/rock/bluegrass/country band Katzenjammer -- not because the song lyrics address the theme, but because the band itself was created by a group of women friends who went to university together...and who are definitely girls having fun.

Named after an American comic strip, Katzenjammer has been performing since 2005, and has released one album (Le Pop), with a second in the works. They sing primarily in English, play over two dozen instruments between them (including contrabass balalaika, ukelele, and the zither), and cite a wide range of influences from Balkan music and gypsy jazz to film scores and old cartoons. I love their energy, and goofily kitsch aesthetic. (The video starts off silently, so don't worry that there's something wrong with your sound.)

Now here's a good question that came up at the Sirens Conference in Colorado last autumn: Who writes well about female friendships? Two of the books at the top of my list are Ellen Kushner's Privilege of the Sword, and (in the nonfiction category) Vera Brittain's Testament of Friendship, about her long, deep relationship with fellow-writer Winifred Holtby.

I don't mean to exclude male readers this morning. Your thoughts on female friendships in art are welcome too.