Monday, 23 August 2010

Studio Update

The last three weeks or so have passed in a blur. Whilst usually neat and well manicured, I seem to be spending much of my time with varnish splattered on my clothes, emulsion paint in my hair and all over my hands, and clothes covered in a variety of substances including (but not exclusively) wall paint, wood dust, compost (from moving plants around) and a variety of dirt acquired from lugging stuff to the local tip.

My normally clean tidy house now has boxes and piles of stuff everywhere. Despite eBaying things, dumping things, sending stuff to charity shops and recycling like mad, it does not seem to get any clearer. I am also taking every opportunity when going over to the new house to take stuff with me. Plants, garden tools, I just grab stuff. We now have 3 garden rakes between us, and little that could be described as a lawn. The annoying thing is that even though we are both clearing out like mad this is only the first ‘wave’. We have dealt with the big stuff like which sofa, TV etc we are keeping, not too hard, I have mainly the best furniture, boyfriend has mainly the best electrical stuff. But after I move in the second wave will happen when we have to deal with having two irons, cutlery sets, kettles and everything else.

Any attempt at artwork has gone out the window, as has gym attendance, cleaning, and regular meals. Like some feral animal I just wait until hunger strikes and head to the supermarket. The teen has been away with various relatives, and returned last weekend to the craziness that used to be a well-run household. “What are those!?” She said in horror, pointing to the original curtains I have re-hung in her bedroom of our rented house. Her plain bright red replaced with dodgy looking ‘80’s lilac floral. “We all have to make sacrifices” I said, motioning to the heavy sludge green, moth eaten, velour affairs now gracing my own bedroom. “Ha, unlucky” she said with true teenage empathy. After a brief stop home she has now gone away again with the Baptist youth club she belongs to. I gave her a brief reminder not to mention her interest in paganism to the club members, and off she went. I now have a small window of opportunity to get rid of the huge collection of baby toys and general rubbish she has hoarded for years. Empty sweet wrapper collection anyone?

Work on the studio has continued:

More painting has been done on the inside. Wooden drawers have been rescued for re-use as storage containers from an old chest of drawers in the now demolished shed. New box folders have been acquired from IKEA, and are being painted to match the walls.

Guttering has been set up outside.

A second coat of varnish is nearly finished outside. This photo shows the difference between two coats, and the door which has only had one so far. Rain has stopped play again on this activity.

The extremely dangerous-to-ankles sleepers have been partly clad in decking, to be finished when the store gets more wood in.

A trench has been dug, water pipes and electric cables have been laid, and bought into the back of the studio, an electrician is shortly to come and do the remainder of the electrical work, regulations not allowing us to do this ourselves.

 Big hole:
And gone again:

We have the power: well nearly...

And as if that were not enough work, boyfriend has been making new cupboards for the smallest bedroom, soon to be shared as his office/den, and my sewing area.

Whilst artwork has been mostly impossible, teaching has continued in the form of one day courses. The first one was successful, it is the most popular I teach, a whole hectic day of watercolour techniques. The second course, aimed at teaching botanical painting in the gardens of Gainsborough’s House was as successful as it could be considering the all day torrential rain left us working indoors. My back up plan was hydrangeas, cut fresh from my garden, and the students made a good job of them. Looking at botanical techniques, with emphasis on mixing greens it was a good day, the class was quieter than usual: you could hear the concentration. 

Tomorrow it is the final one day course, watercolour skies, and today I am getting photos ready, and typing up a plan for the day, simple plain skies to be followed by different cloud techniques, and onto more difficult stuff like sunsets after lunch; should be a good day.

After that it is back to the big clear out and pack up. There are at least three exhibitions I should be entering, but all my current work is already out on display and there’s no time to paint more. The lost income and opportunity doesn’t bear thinking about, but the new studio should more than make up for it, long term. And when we looked at the first photos of the new garden on my boyfriend’s phone last night, the old shed and the apple tree where my studio now stands, it was impossible not to think we have achieved a huge amount so far.

Monday, 9 August 2010


Having now given in my notice on the rented house I live in, things have passed the point of no return; which meant dealing with the stuff in the loft. Once when helping my best friend L clear out her loft I was amazed at her fearlessness. She has arachnophobia, and any sighting of a small invertebrate with 8 legs sees her shaking and screaming stuff like “kill it, kill it, die, die” followed by language I can’t repeat. If possible I usually scoop up the offending creature and set it free in the garden. I don’t mean I am entirely comfortable with the larger types, which have to travel via jam jar, but I don’t have a phobia. Asking L why she was so un-phased delving about in a dark loft she replied “spiders don’t live in lofts: no food source”. I should explain that she and her ex used to run a loft conversion business, so she should know.

However the loft in this house is unlike any loft I have ever been in, for several reasons. Firstly it is Victorian, and just looking at the haphazard brickwork and gaps in the roof where you can see the sky makes me worry that the house is about to collapse. Then there is the dirt. All lofts get a little dusty, but put clean stuff into this one, and it comes out covered in a combination of soot, dust, bird droppings, feathers, spiders, dead spiders, parts of dead spiders and the webs (of spiders.) And did I mention the spiders? 

Yes, this file was clean when I put it in the loft...

So I decided, I would clear it in one day, and never go back up there again. Armed with disposable gloves, a vacuum cleaner, face mask of the DIY kind, and kitchen tea towel tied around my head in the style of a hijab (even I am not comfortable with spiders in the hair) I set to it. There was a lot up there, and the first thought was where to stack it all. Inspiration struck: of course, the teen is away! Hopefully I will clear it out of her room before she ever finds out... I won’t bore you with the details of all the crap in my loft, but will share the following tip: If you decide to store things in black plastic sacks, don’t use the biodegradable ones. It’s only been two years, but they had dissolved into a lightweight dust that took a week of repeated vacuuming to see off.

My hall, where plastic bags go to die:

In between, clearing out my loft, and wondering why I have six suitcases and paperwork from 1998, work has continued on the studio. Boyfriend has completed the woodwork inside, going the extra mile by making and routing surrounds for the windows. Now he is on the guttering outside, and I have been varnishing the bits of the studio I am keeping as exposed wood. It is now ready for painting on the inside. The outside needs a second coat of varnish in places, but the weather is not being kind.

It is a miracle I have done any painting considering my workspace now looks like this:

But I am intermittently working on two pieces; the never ending painting of the window and gardens of Layer Marney Tower I started weeks ago, and a garden painting I am doing on Thursday mornings at the course I am attending.

Work in progress:

I am feeling unsettled and lethargic, mostly due to the overwhelming amount of stuff to do, and the removal of most of the things that relax me, painting, sewing, gardening, gym, seeing friends. These activities have mostly been replaced with opening boxes, filling boxes, labeling boxes, taking stuff to the tip, trying to sell furniture, and hunting online for the elusive perfect plans chest for the new studio, the one I have being too big, all whilst eating disgusting microwave food that I wouldn't touch under normal circumstances.

I did however manage to get to the health club for a swim on Friday. As I looked for the membership card scanner which lets me in, a young girl behind the reception said “Oh we are using finger prints now” and proceeded to scan my fingerprint. Amazing! Now to enter my gym I press a finger on a pad on a wall. Fantastic, I was instantly a member of the FBI on NCIS, at least in my own head. As they say, small things please small minds. Although on reflection I doubt very much I will be able to sneak in after 5.30 on my ‘off peak’ membership any more...