Birthday thoughts

I celebrated my 56th birthday last week.

My husband and I spent the day in Bristol shopping and meeting friends.  I dropped off some artwork for an exhibition and collected a piece I had recently bought from a gallery.  We finished the day dining at one of our favourite restaurants on the River Avon.

The view from Bristol’s Harbourside

On that day I felt very connected to my mother Nell who died nearly 40 years ago at the age of 55.  She was an accomplished seamstress.  I started to learn dressmaking two years ago and wore a dress I made earlier this year.

Last year, when I turned 55, was a watershed.

I had lived much of my life, as many people whose parent has died too soon, with the subconscious fear that I will not live beyond her age of death.

In May I made a piece of artwork called ‘Handle with Care’ for a community arts project called the Craft of Caring.  I got in touch with my 16 year old self who had much of the day to day responsibility for looking after my terminally ill mother.  It was a difficult piece of work to make, but very liberating to find a place to ‘talk about’ many of the feelings and memories I’ve carried since that time.  I am grateful that my artmaking gives me a place to process my experiences.

Now at 56, I am travelling into new territory.  I feel at ease with myself and very focused on many creative projects.  I don’t know if my mom is ‘somewhere up there’ looking out for me and aware of who I have become, or what her hopes and concerns were for me at the time that she died.  I do know that last week on my birthday I felt that I am at the same time my mother’s daughter and separate from her, that I am the woman I am becoming.

Paint it Black

I started painting on canvas a couple of weeks ago.  Over the past year, I’ve gone from drawing with charcoal to painting with mushroom compost and India ink and acrylic onto paper.  Somehow, painting on paper was less ‘serious’ than canvas;  although I sometimes ran into problems with sogginess and tearing.  You can only put so many layers of paint on to even the heaviest (250 gsm) cartridge paper.


‘ēme aossetv emēkvnv’ (they came out from the earth) mushroom compost & pastel, 40 x 60 cm

In mid-July, I went to an artist’s talk and opening at Rainmaker Gallery in Bristol and met Comanche artist Nocona Burgess.   He paints in acrylics onto a black background and the subjects of the show in Bristol are his portraits of American Indians.  A good writeup of the exhibition can be found here.

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Chief’s Bonnet by Nocona Burgess, acrylic, 30 x 20 in

At the opening, I had a brief chat with him about my Muscogee background and my desire (and hesitancy) to paint.  He was encouraging and suggested that I just put paint onto the canvas and see what happens, figure out how to make marks and what different colours do.  Later on, I can make pictures of whatever.

I have some canvases and paint that my husband bought for me last summer.  I guess I’ve been wanting to do this for a while, but took some time to work up the nerve.  I have an excellent sense of colour and composition, which is evidenced in my fibre art, but painting is a different ball of wax altogether.  I had a discouraging experience in a mixed levels painting class about 25 years ago, in which the only input I got from the instructor was ‘Don’t give up’.  Not very helpful.

When I got back home, I decided to see what Ivory and Mars black would look like.  I mixed some semi-gloss Golden gel medium into the paint to give it some texture and shine.  I started painting directly onto the white canvas and had no idea that such a thing as black gesso exists!


I call my first one ‘before the light came’  and translated into Mvskoke it is
hvthvyvtkeko monken, pronounced ‘hut-huh-yut-ke-go / mon-gen’ 

hvthvyvtkeko  – daylight
monken – before

Mvto to my Muscogee Creek Word of the Day Facebook Group for assistance with the translation.

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hvthvyvtkeko monken, before the light came, acrylic 40 x 30 cm

The next one I started is Ibofanga.  This is the Muscogee concept of totality meaning the existence of all things and the energy within all things.

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I’m still working on this one.

Last weekend, I went to a painting workshop led by Nocona Burgess at the American Museum in Britain.  He describes his approach to colour as ‘painting outward’: painting with vibrant pigment onto a dark, rather than a light, background.  The workshop was an exploration of contrasts between vivid colour and dark surfaces, and we learned ways of applying colour and glazing on a dark background.

We painted onto a piece of heavy card which was white on the bottom half and black on the top half.  The object was to paint a still life onto the white surface, then replicate it onto the black surface.   I had to leave about 45 minutes early to get the free shuttle bus back to the train station, but reckon if I’d had more time, I could have got the top match perfectly.  While I am not the most gifted painter of mugs, the painting on the black surface certainly has more depth.

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I also learned about finishing  a painting with a varnish, to protect the surface and resist fading and about black gesso.  Steve bought me some black paint & gesso, mediums and varnish for my birthday.  There is something really great about being gifted with art materials and being given permission to use them and try something new.

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I’ve set up my painting studio in our living room.

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There is something I like about painting onto a dark canvas.  For a start, it isn’t so, well, white.  You know all of that daunting stuff about being faced with the blank white page or canvas.  No problem when it is black.   I also like the poetry of making things emerge from the darkness.

This morning, I gessoed a couple more canvasses and am thinking about what next to bring out of the dark.

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Yep!  That’s just how I’m feeling at the mo. We’re planning our Fifth Anniversary Renewal of Vows & Handfasting Celebration for May.  It’s about 85% sorted, but still there is a lot to consider.  Not just the details, but the depths. I’m also in the midst of my winter/summer clothes changeover.  The weather has been a bit changeable, so I’m taking it slow.  Some days I want linen and some days I want wool.  Our bedroom has been in a bit of a state, so I’ve moved all of the bags and boxes into the living room to give myself some space with it.


At the weekend, we went to Bristol for a couple of days.  I love that city!  I walked 2 miles, and back, to see my Dr Hauschka aesthetician Grace Emmerson for Part 2 of a course of Facial Gymnastics.  I’d printed off a map from Google and it was great just to wander and meander through the city.

On the way, I stepped in to the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery to have a look around.  Such a beautiful building, with parquet floors and a gorgeous interior.



I love the taxidermy animals and especially the painted dioramas.  It reminds me of the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History Halls of Mammals I used to go to as a kid.


There was a fantastic installation from internationally renowned contemporary artist, Do Ho Suh.   Commissioned especially for Bristol, New York City Apartment/Bristol allows visitors to experience the ghost architecture of a soft corridor and staircase tailored from fabric based on the artist’s home in New York.



The detail is amazing.





I called into the Bristol Guild and bought a new summer hat too.


By the time I got back to our hotel, I was well ready for a nap with a cuppa and some of the milk chocolate, raisin and bacon bits chocolate I’d got, also from the Bristol Guild.


We went to a couple of great restaurants for dinner over the two nights we were there.   It was a great break and it was very good to get back home to our flat in Devon.  Spring has definitely arrived!  On Sunday, Steve washed the windows inside and out, and we put our white linen curtains up, in place of the heavy, lined cotton ones.


I guess I’m just feeling the change of the seasons.  If anything sums up how I’m feeling it has to be these pussy willow branches we’ve had in our living room for the past several weeks.  The whippiness of the branches and the soft catkins and then that thrusting, green, new growth just bursting out.  Ouch!  And Wow!!  I look at them every day and know.


It is a risk to come back, to come out, to grow new shoots.