Starting Sketchbook Skool – victory from the jaws of defeat.

I signed up for Danny Gregory's Sketchbook Skool almost as a 'one last chance' to see if I could get into this visual journalling lark. This semester has six classes with six different teachers and as I am off work over Easter I knew that I could always back up the first two classes and double up when I had extra time. In fact it was such a pleasure watching the first set if videos that I got straight into it.

But, disaster hit! If I was hoping that his easy style would encourage me that there was no stress to this drawing game, I was wrong. His demo showed how he would paint his page with watercolour, then, when it was dry, paint the rough outline of his subject ( in this case, his son's painting shoes) and then draw in the contour lines. It looked fine when he did it. When I did it? Oh, no,no,no,no,no!!

He used the really bright, liquid watercolours and gouache. I used pan watercolours which I find really inspid and acrylic which came out way too dark and also shiney under the studio lights. So it was hard to see what I was was drawing and the pen really does not show up well over the paint. It did not help that whilst concentrating on the contour lines of the trainers (see, you didn't even know that is what the drawing was, did you?!) the three adults currently in my house interrupted me four times.

I could have given up and used this to prove that visual journalling is not for me. But part of the video lesson was all about how in the early days you can have reallly good taste in art and so high expectations but not have the skills to match your work to your good taste. The only way forward its to make lots of art until the gap closes. Plus, I thought, maybe I'd have better luck in my own instinctive style.

So I picked up my waterproof drawing pen and some Graphitint pencils, which I had never really used, on the basis that, if I had another disaster at least I might learn something about the pencils, and tried again. Much, much better, don't you think?

These are my dad's trainers. He is currently here starting off the landscaping for the garden. I was going to draw his muddy workboots but he was having so much fun digging things up I couldn't get them off his feet !

Is anyone else signed up for Sketchbook Skool?


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Paper in Paris

Last Christmas I earned Parisian shopping rights by buying my husband a weekend break and tickets to see the France v Ireland Six Nations rugby union game. I got to cash them in last week. Not for me Hermés scarves from Galleries la Fayette or dresses from Chanel. I was in search of paper. And it turned out there were several excellent shops within a short walk of our hotel. I wonder how that happened?

First stop was the Rue Pont Phillipe and Calligrane. Elegant and rather pricey so a couple of sheet of elephant skin paper was the only purchases. This shop would be great if you had a particular project in mind for which you were prepared to pay for a specific sheet of paperP1150737

Then up the street to Melodies Graphique which is more paper and calligraphy supplies. And gorgeous leather journals. The shelf in the second photo is missing a large caramel one from the middle of  third shelf which I immediately snatched up. So soft and tactile and thick creamy pages. Dennis was a bit shocked at the €35 cost : “For a notebook?” (He still writes in battered old school notebooks.) But, applying girl maths, this was entirely free as, due to a pollution warning all the public transport for the weekend was entirely free and thus travel money became journal money. Magic!



Next stop, Relma over the river at 3,  Rue de Putevins Which is a traditional bookbinders. Masses of leather skins and paper of all kinds for bookends. But its heavy on the traditional italian marbled style which was not what I wanted so I settled for a sheet of not so traditional lime green lizard skin and matching bookbinding tape. As you can see, I travel with staff to pay while I take photographs!

P1150746 P1150747

Finally to Sennelier on Quai Voltaire. A delightfully old fashioned shop on three rickety stories stuffed with art products. At the very top, many flat files of paper including just what I was looking for. A whole cabinet of very affordable lokta and washi papers. You know its going to be a good spend when you have to sit down on the floor to do it!P1150765 P1150768 P1150769 P1150770 P1150772

I wanted these papers to just play with, experimenting with encaustic and artists books. I feel particularly freed from the need to preserve them as precious resources by the fact that two days after we returned we booked to go back, so another haul can be bought. And now I know what goodies are there, maybe some other supplies….


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Buy a Plank Giveaway : African Wax Prints Book Correction

In my last post I mistakenly invited you to tweet or post on Facebook about the Buy a Plank Auction by 6th March. It is of course the 12th March today. Ooops. I meant  to make the deadline 6th April.

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Buy a Plank Giveaway No1 – Janice Gunner’s work

Although the Buy a Plank Auction has launched there are one or two quilts which are going to arrive after the deadline as added extras. In fact Janice Gunner’s quilt arrived only a few hours after deadline, which really doesn’t count as late, but then I forgot to add it to the quilt gallery. My Bad. It’s there now.

And the Rains Came - Janice Gunner

And the Rains Came – Janice Gunner

To make up for it, this quilt will be the subject of our first giveaway. Anyone who bids on it before 5pm 30th March 2014 UK time will go in the draw to win a copy of Janice’s book Liberating Log Cabin.


So, even if your bid is not the winning one for the quilt itself, you may still be a winner!

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Buy a Plank Giveaway – No 2: African Wax Prints Book

The Buy a Plank Quilt Auction is now well under way but we want to keep those bids coming in. How could you not want to bid on gorgeous pieces like this,

Peanuts - Jane Rowland

Peanuts – Jane Rowland

Or this


Whirlygig - Molly Bullick

Whirlygig – Molly Bullick

But we know that not everyone can bid so we’d like to keep you involved with a chance to take something away from this project and we also want to spread the word about the art. So, with our second give away we are offering a copy of Magie Relph and Bob Irwins book on African Wax Print. Both the quilts above use these prints to great effect. The book contains a deliciously inspiring gallery of more wax print quilts as well as an informative history of the fabric.


To enter all you have to do is one or both of the following things (doing both gives you two chances to win)

(a) tweet or retweet about the auction using the hashtag #buyaplank and send your tweet by 5pm 6th April 2014 UK time. I will contact the winner of the draw viaTwitter to get your contact details

(b) place a Facebook post on your time line with a link to the Auction website at, take a screenshot and email it to me at by 5pm 6th  April  2014 UK time.

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Buy a Plank Quilt Auction goes live!

I am incredibly excited to announce the launch of the Buy a Plank Auction in which over twenty works of art are for auction to benefit a clinic in The Gambia

Achimota - Liz Howlett

Achimota – Liz Howlett

I wrote in a previous post about how this project started when I took a rotary cutter and chopped up a large quilt of mine depicting the No 1 African Fabric Shop. Artists bought a piece and Magie Relph and I now have in our possession twenty two wonderful works of art all of which are available for you to own!


The Dark Continent - Kate Dowty

The Dark Continent – Kate Dowty

Visit to see the quilts, read how the auction works and to be the first to bid. Then, keep your eyes peeled here and on Magie’s site  for some great promotional giveaways we will be running over the next few weeks.

Whirlygig - Molly Bullick

Whirlygig – Molly Bullick

Don’t miss out. Bidding ends 27th April at 5pm UK time.

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New fabrics, old attitude.

I am loving the textures and pallete of the fabrics I made this afternoon.

Dennis said that it was good to hear me say that, as so often I hate, or at least disparage, the results of my own art making. Of course, I probably shall, once I actually use these fabrics, be of the opinion that I ruined them! Some may say ( and they would be right) that this was perfectionism. I prefer to see it as the fact that art making is less about the product for me than the process of improving, learning and exploring. Of course, that means I always know that the next, unmade quilt will be my best yet. Which gives hope and a reason to continue. But it also makes the last made quilt second best and who wants to live with that on display as a reminder of your own imperfections?!

Am I alone or is there anyone else out there who is always on the elusive search for a quilt you are actually entirely pleased with?


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Helen Conway

February 22, 2014

Liverpool has a museum dedicated to the history of slavery, located right in the very docks which facilitated the trade in cotton and sugar from the plantations. We went down recently to see the special exhibition by Jamaican Artist Laura Facey. There were some woodprints and a couple of sculptures but the main centerpiece was this cotton wood canoe. It is crammed with minature copies of her larger scuplture Redemption Song which stands in the Emancipation Park in Kingston.

The boat stands on a bed of sugar cane. The artist explained in a video how the idea came when she became tired of making the minatures she had been commissioned to do. I thought that was a fascinating example of how the sparks of inspiration often come when we are involved in a tedious repetative task.

Certainly the configuration is deliberately reminiscent of a slave ship. I thought at once of the drawings of the Brookes slave ship which hang elsewhere in the museum.

Laura explained in this video how she struggled at first with the idea of putting the figures from the emancipation park back in the ship and how she reconciled that.


Laura is doing a free artists talk on 19th July at 2pm.


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Buy a Plank project is taking off!

Last year I made a humongous wall hanging of the No I African Fabric Shop. It’s entire purpose was to surprise my friend, and owner of the real African Fabric Shop when she saw it hanging at the Quilt and Stitch Village where she was trading.

No 1 African Fabric Shop

No 1 African Fabric Shop


When I got to the show we had a conversation about what you do with a 90 x 80 inch shack when the laughter is over and, long story short, with the encouragement of Judi Mendelsohn, who at the time was editor of British Patchwork and Quilting, we hatched a cunning plan to chop it up for charity.

At Festival of Quilts in August we began to sell planks. Each buyer agreed to make a quilt using the plank and to return it for a show at the British Quilt and Stitch Village in 2014. We requested, but did not insist, that the quilts were donated for auction. all the money raised is to go to a medical clinic in a village in Ghana with which Musa, who dies fabric for Magie’s shop has a connection. You can read more about that here.

Magie, her husband Bob, Judi and Magie’s employee Isobel Holland came to my studio and the wielding of the rotary cutter began.


Bob, in an attempt to find a suitable photography angle found an unusual use for my cutting surface!


Bob takes photos No 1 AFSMy entry is based on a West African Hunters shirt which also inspired one of my Twelve by Twelve quilts . You can read about that quilt here.

Buy a Plank shirt crop

After months of waiting, the quilts have finally started to arrive and its fun to see how the plank has been used. Some have incorporated it by a sort of quilt as you go/ overlocking method. others unpicked the quilt sandwich and used both front and backing fabrics. Here are some sneak previews – I am keeping the whole quilts from other people under wraps until the show.

P1150646P1150629 P1150622I am tempted to start cutting up some more of my quilts. Have you ever done that with your art?

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Studio Tour

At the beginning of the month I showed you around my ‘wet’ studio. Today I’d like to invite you to visit my main studio. (This is it in an in-between stage – not specially tidied, not at its worst either!) We moved house so that I could achieve this studio, which is a loft conversion. It runs the whole footprint of the house with a dormer window. The day I drove home from work and saw my newly purchased roof looking like this was a bit of a shock.


Dormer roof being built

Dormer roof being built

Thankfully it was all worth it! The entrance is via stairs in what was previously a large storage cupboard. At the top I have a magnetic board with my goals on so I see them as I enter and check them off as I leave.


First you come to a reading nook. The bookcases were created on site by a carpenter. I use the bannisters to store quilts but I really need to get on with a better solution as my collection of completed quilts grows!


Reading nook

The room then opens out into the dormer area. The cutting table is built from kitchen cabinets on castors. Inside holds smaller quilts, scraps of wadding, boxes of sheer fabrics and the like. The baskets on top of the bookcases are full of scraps of fabric and come from The African Fabric Shop. As you can see the cutting table also works well as as a design table. On there you can see a paper template for my next quilt.

Cutting table and bookcases

Cutting table and bookcases

The pressing station is made from cabinets in the same way so if I need a bigger area the two surfaces can be rolled together. One of my favourite things is the iron holder on the wall. I hae an iron that turns itself off if left along too long and comes back on hot fast with just a shake. Ideal for a scarily forgetful person!

Pressing station

Pressing station

The window seat looks out over farmland and in ths distance is a Safari Park so I can hear both bleating sheep and trumpeting elephants! Underneath is ideal storage for wadding rolls, packing materials and larger quilts.


Window seat and view

At the other end of the room is my sewing desk and my Janome 6660 machine. The desk and bookcases came from my chambers when I was a practising barrister. Cheap online office furniture stores are a great source of practical furniture at low cost. Better quality than IKEA. I love the daylight lamp with its table top clamp. That’s top of their range but so worth it!


The design board is insulation foam cut to size, wrapped in white wadding and screwed to the wall. With the daylight bulbs I have in the ceiling it also makes a good photography board.

Fabric and thread storage is dotted about the room in the cheap as chips Really Useful drawers. Their boxes are what I use in the cupboards too. They are modular so you can move them, choose their depth and fit them in small areas. They also pull right out so you can take a tray of threads to the table with you.

Then I have my computer desk. I couldn’t match the wood on my old sewing desk ( and non matching things drive me crazeee!) so I went with a glass desk from John Lewis because if I stick a lamp under it its a giant light box as well. On the shelf behind the computer is a phone which also serves as an internal intercom. My husband loves to use that to call me to tell me my dinner is ready!


On the wall is a very special photo of two chairs at a retreat centre called Bishops Ranch in Healdsburg, California. The photos was taken by my great friend Diane Hock and reminds me of our happy times there together and hope I will be back soon.

Behind the desk and by the side of the stairs is my bathroom. Ideal place to submerge in the Airbath and think about a troublesome design for a while!


I really do find that having dedicated spaces has made me far more productive and focused as an artist. I know not everyone is yet at a stage where they can have a place like this but I would encourage you to carve out a space however small in your home where your creativity ‘belongs’.

Whenever I see someone’s studio there are always small details I see that intrigue me. so if there is something you’d like to know more about leave me a comment and I’ll tell you!









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