Studio Diaries 04

Since the two days of Big Heat that I sat out at home in studied motionlessness, I’ve been at the studio daily. It’s still hot but I have Bestie, and I’m extra motivated by the boxes in progress and one abstract piece that came during my trip – the one I prepared more indigo paper for. Today I’m putting the final piece on it, and unusually, I remembered to document its making so I’ll be able to make my first offering of a Reel to this most capricious of deities, Instagram.


I have also all but finished the Box of Virgo. Taking the photos is taking a few days, for reasons that will only be visible once I’m at liberty to show it to the world, but I’m absolutely enchanted by what I came up with. Also in progress right now is Gemini, with four more in the queue, so I can’t slack. I can only fully engage with one box at a time because I need to hold the different strands of its story in my mind where they mingle and give rise to ideas I can implement in the physical world. This can’t happen if I try to think of several boxes at a time, though there’s a good deal of “mechanical” preparation work I can do on others while the main box is fermenting (such as giving them a good clean).

I’m nevertheless making a very late start today because my day started with a trip to iTV studios to shoot a segment about the exhibit at the Woolf Institute last month. We were only very briefly on air but we had a lot of laughs while waiting, and it turned out a friend of mine was at the same moment shooting his own segment in the garden, so that we ended up in the same episode. I mean what were the odds??

What could be drying under there?…

This hot dry weather is a gilder’s nightmare. Mordants dry faster than you can work with them, and reactivating is mission impossible as you can’t lay the gold fast enough after breathing on the stuff. I only need one large dot in raised gesso and boy is this going to be tricky. Particularly as I have to switch off the fan for the entire duration of having the gold leaf out. For anyone who hasn’t worked with real gold leaf: it’s so thin that you can’t even breathe in its direction. A heavy sigh will quite literally send a leaf flying, after which the only thing it’s good for is grinding into shell gold. The very idea of forgetting to switch the fan off before taking out a gold book simultaneously entertains and terrifies me.

Detail of the finished piece: Where the Worlds Meets

But it turns out my undoing was simply the ambient temperature. It was nearly 30ºC with the fan off, and the result was that the only thing the gold was interested in doing was adhering to the gilder’s knife and absolutely anything else that would have it. I managed in the end, but not with any dignity.

And I managed to put together the dang reel too. I am officially reeling.

Studio Diaries 03

(This entry starts in June and ends in July, as I didn’t finish it at the time and picked it up where I left)

23 June

The virtual extension of my part of The Written Word exhibit closed a couple of days ago. I have orders for illuminated prints that I was really hoping to print, gild and ship before I vanish for a few days in early July. My giclée printer, who’s local to me, rose up to the task in under 24 hours so I could bring them to the studio today and get to work.

I’m still making boxes and have collected some more lovely objects to include. One great thing about living here is the number of mudlarks who comb the banks of the Thames and sell their finds. Look at these Victorian ink and perfume bottles, they make me squee!

For an experiment, I prepared a very saturated salt solution and left it to dry in a cup. I wanted to see what crystals form but instead I got this…

I think I can see what happened: the shape of the cup led the water to ascend the sides as it evaporated, dropping salt along the way. I need to try this again in a different shape container to see if it makes a difference!

When it rains, the studio’s tin roof magnifies a drizzle into a downpour, and a serious rainstorm with thunderclaps sounds like the apocalypse – I love it! It’s one of my greatest pleasures to create quietly indoors while it’s pouring outside, but British rains are as mild-mannered as the culture and there’s rarely the over-the-top slightly terrifying drama I remember from home. Less enjoyable is that the damn tin roof leaks, and I have to make sure never to leave anything unprotected in the 3 or 4 drip zones.

25 June

I’ve been home with a head cold for two days and I’d have been climbing the walls if I wasn’t too exhausted to move. On the plus side, I nearly finished a long-suffering knitting project.

I had launched an AMA (“ask me anything”) on instagram when I got sick so I had plenty of space to answer. It brought about some lively drama from very strange “dude bros”, of which these are only two examples:

Putting them in their place not only resulted in solidarity from many women artists who have to put up with the same kind of aggressive inferiority complex, and quite good discussions, it also brought me an offer so exciting I’m screaming in a pillow, but can only share in due time. It would make the would-be bullies quite green, except they’re blocked so they won’t find out from my feed.


14 July

The rain above is but a distant memory as we brace for 2-3 days of dangerous heat. I’m putting in as much time as I can at the studio to catch up while I can. I even buckled and bought a fan, one that can also emit heat in winter. I named it Bestie and so far it’s doing a sterling job keeping me from sticking to the paper I’m working on.

I had another indigo-dyeing session at home, not very satisfactory as I had less dye left than I thought, but it produced just what I needed for an idea that came during my trip. I am trying to document this as I make it to make a reel (they’re all the rage right now but I’m still considering whather that’s a bandwagon I want to jump on). We shall see.

I’ve been chomping at the bit to walk back along the canal and harvest nettle seeds, as they’re now in full season, but that’s very dependent on my not lugging anything with me – and I’m always lugging things to and from the studio. Finally I made it, and on my way home had a nice walk catching up with the state of the vegetation. It’s thirsty but incredibly lush right now…

These dried thistle tops stopped me in my tracks because they were positively glinting in the sun as if they were metal. I gathered them up, potentially for a box…

I could have filled a bucket with nettle seeds, but I’ll just harvest a few jars’ worth, so that once dried and separated they make one good jar. I add a teaspoon to my breakfast and it lasts me a long time.

When I got off the bus and took my usual route home, I was stopped in my tracks once again by the sight of all this goldenrod! OH REALLY. It was so much trouble to find goldenrod last year and all the while there it was growing up the street. I may just sneakily cut a few stalks and dry them. They do make a lovely yellow…