Friday, 18 July 2014

Drawing with runes

A moment of snatched drawing whilst my daughter was soundly sleeping (a rare event...) ! 

This is a picture of my friend Jason Ofengland; rune engraver, jewellery maker, body builder and all-round lovely chap. Go and look at his work - it is truly stunning (he made me and my husbands wedding rings). 

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Handless Maiden Puppet

I have finally completed my puppet. She is a representation of the Handless Maiden, a story which resonates with me for various reasons. 
My puppet belongs in the segment of the story just after things have started to go wrong - again - for the heroine. She has given birth to a beautiful baby whilst her husband, the king, is away fighting battles. But through a trick played by the villain of the story (sometimes the devil, sometimes an evil female relative), the Handless Maiden (though she is a maid no longer in this chapter of the story) has been thrown out of the palace and set to wondering the forests once more. 

Her clothes become torn and caked with mud. Her child, tied around her by a kindly servant, grows hungry as she struggles to feed him with her handless arms...

Here is the baby - 

I made him as a simple doll. He isn't really a puppet in that he cannot move. His head is fimo and his body is foam. 

I added hair to the maiden - tangled fake fur. 

And she is ready to come alive. 
There are several design problems with this puppet. Firstly I failed to add a rod for her head, and so I must grip her neck to hold and move her. I think the proximity of my hand interrupts the imagery a little. 
I also made her arm rods a little too short meaning that, again, my body is a little close and disruptive as I move her. I can easily lengthen them when I get some time. 

Clive told me that female Banraku puppets have no legs. I was pleased that my intentional omission has presedence, although I have yet to figure out quite how the japanese puppeteers create the illusion of feet walking. This puppet does really require two people to move her properly. 

I feel like I have learnt a great deal by taking part in the challenge - not only about puppets but about creative practise. I thought my making days were behind me for the time being, as my daughter takes up almost every waking (and attempted sleeping) moment I have. But I found ways to snatch ten minutes here, half and hour there, and have completed my first ever rod puppet. 

I can't wait to make more and improve my designs...

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Thoughts on birth

I am a hippy. Probably. I like strange teas, I vote green, I have my nose pierced. But when it comes to birth, it seems I am at odds with much alternative thinking. 

When I was pregnant last year, people started to ask me about my choices for birthing my baby. Implicit in many of these questions, and explicit in some of them, was the assumption that the most right on, empowered, feminist decision I could make would be to have my baby at home. 

I was warned again and again to cultivate a mistrust of the medical profession, which people assured me wanted nothing more than to take over my birth, to disempower me. Ideas of patriarchal oppression merged with historical accounts of women mistreated in hospitals and resulted in a sort of nostalgia for an imagined, idealised past populated by wise women midwives. Doctors were a hand of pariarchy, quick to remove a woman's powerful, intuitive oneness with her body, her baby and the birthing process. 

I know in the past there have been terrible practices enacted against pregnant mothers by doctors. I know horrible situations still arise today and women are left feeling out of control, unlistened to and even violated. I know in many parts of the world women are treated horrendously on a regular basis. But despite all of that, I feel like a real disservice is being done to both pregnant women and the medical profession by the alternative birth discourse. 

I am likely to be more temperate in my views of modern medicine, because of father is one of the medical profession. He is a nurse by the way, not a doctor, which straight away somewhat disrupts the patriarchal angle on his job. He was in paediatrics when I was a kid. He's in neonatal medicine now. I can confidentially assert that he doesn't want to disempower anyone. He wants to help.

And things can go wrong. 
I had fears around pregnancy before I ever experienced it because of knowing about his job. These latent fears made it all the more shattering then when my first pregnancy ended at five months with the death of my baby girl in utero. Her stillbirth was my first experience of labour and birth. It was also my first encounter first hand with the medical profession. They were incredible. Everyone we encountered treated me and my partner with compassion and respect. More, they treated the body of our baby with this same respect and care. 

Earlier this year I had my second encounter with birth. Because of the loss of my first child I was anxious - deeply and pervasively - but even before her loss, the idea of giving birth at home, away from the quick medical care I could receive in a hospital never felt more empowering to me. 
For me, the most empowered choice I could make was to go into hospital. Yes, I made this choice because I was afraid. But I also made it because I trusted that the doctors and consultants we met with frequently through my fraught second pregnancy only wanted what was best for me and my unborn daughter. I trusted that if they decided any interventions were needed, that would be the best choice.
I trusted my intuition where that was appropriate, but intuition cannot, for example,tell you your baby's heart rate during contractions. There is a machine that can, and I took comfort in knowing that machine and my midwife had a watchful eye on my baby whilst we worked together to bring her into the world. 

Yes, the room where we (my baby worked hard with me) gave birth was devoid of candles or music or home comforts. It was full of medical equipment. But no amount of machinery can distance you from the sheer, incredible, awe inspiring act of giving birth. In fact, the enormity of the physical sensations make one's surroundings quickly feel pretty damn irrelevant. 
I was never pressured to have interventions which - luckily - were not needed. I gave birth without any form of pain relief - paracetamol included. 

I'm writing this because I would never want a woman to feel as if she had somehow failed by choosing or ending up in hospital to deliver her babies. I don't want women to feel afraid that the medical profession will take over for no reason other than to flex the muscle of male dominance (just to add, ALL the doctors and consultants we met with were women). No one wants to make more work for themselves in hospital. They want to ensure the safety of the mother and the baby. 

I chose hospital for the blessed event of my babies safe delivery. It's true that fear affected my decision, but since losing my first baby I have learnt just how tragically common it is to encounter problems during childbirth. 
Sadly, the story that is so often told of women's intuitive and bodily power is not always true. For me, I did not feel powerful when I was pregnant. I felt humble. Just as I accept, finally, that the death of my first baby was not my fault, so the life of my second my baby is not my doing either. Nature, life, call it what you will, made her live. Nature grew her inside me. I did nothing. I only observed with wonder as my body swelled. 
I did feel power as I gave birth. But it was not my power. It was leant to me by biology, by nature. Maybe by my daughter too. I felt great power in that hospital room, with the midwife watching on calmly, with my partner beside me. 

Everyone should have the right to choose where and how they feel safe to give birth, be that at home or in a delivery ward. Everyone should have the right not to feel pressured or judged for their choices - by the mainstream medical profession but also by the voice of the alternative. 

I wish hospitals and their staff would stop being demonised and start being recognised for the incredible work they do. 

Monday, 5 May 2014

May Day - full circle

May Day 2013 was a sorrowful day for me. I had expected to greet the day full of joy at what I thought would be little Lyra's immanent arrival. Instead, my womb was empty (or so I thought) and I felt lost. 
I walked out into the early morning revels of the Oxford May celebrations feeling utterly encircled by a winter I could not escape. 

I was wrong of course. On that day, an impossibly tiny life had secretly started her journey into being. I now know my little Minka Rose was already with me. 

This year we spent May 1st in Padstow watching the dancing Obby Oss. It was strange to see my beloved smiling face in the crowd rather than on the Bod steps, leading the singing and dancing. It was dream-like to look down to Minka, wrapped close against my chest. 

After the Oss, we got into a bit of a May froth and have been to three different folky, Wicker Man-esque events. Below are my pictures of Lustleigh and the crowning of the May Queen - sadly I forgot my camera during Helstons Flora Day. 
Lustleigh May Day caused a bit of debate concerning the vintage of such traditions. Historical record has their origins in the fairly recent past, which is a disappointment to those longing for unbroken connection to an ancient past. However, May in England is such a flower-starred, warm(ish) blessed relief from winter, I like to think it is quite possible that it has long been a time for celebration. 
We can never know exactly what it might have meant to ancient Britons, but hopefully there was a picnic in there somewhere. If any of my ancestors were involved I can almost guarantee that bit. 

Along with the new life that May brings, 

there were also reminders of death. 
This beautiful buzzard, found dead and then preserved on site, was particularly moving. It looked almost as though it were still in flight, wings drawn back in preparation for a hunting dive towards the ground. 

I am relieved and grateful to be in Spring this year - and long may she reign in my life! But I also know that Without endings there are no beginnings. 

Thursday, 17 April 2014


A trip to the city of my all it's camp, kitsch, and colourful splendour.

There was art everywhere - on the street...

In the architecture....

In cakes...


and more cakes...

On floors...

And on rooftops...

On glass...

and brick...

In my arms. 

Thursday, 10 April 2014


My work is featured in this new anthology of women artists, presented by Magpie Magazine.
It is called 'Viriditas'. 

The chapters explore the various themes of the work and each contains interviews from all the contributors. I found reflecting on my creative process and imagery a revealing process - I'm grateful I had the opportunity to offer words as well as images. 

The works I have contributed are drawings which deal with sexuality, loss, life and death. 

I am particularly excited and honoured to be included amongst the beautiful imagery of other contemporary artists working and exploring today. 

You can buy a copy here

Friday, 4 April 2014

Puppet (slow) progress

So, my daughter changed her nap pattern. By 'changed' I mean drastically reduced it, and reserved it mostly for times when I'm out carrying her in her sling. But I have made a small amount of progress!

I have attached a rough torso and jointed arms. I've used foam because it is easy to carve, I can do a little bit and come back to it without needing to wait for things to dry etc and because I have a bag of ends that my sister gave. Free material!

I've made joints by hooking strong thread through wire loops. The thread and the wire can both be fed through the foam, which is another advantage of it. The only problem I can see is that it could tear if the puppet is not used gently.

I've altered my designed ideas a bit - I'm not going to make legs anymore as it will mean here people would need to operate the puppet. I want to be able to move her myself, maybe with just one other person.

So the next thing to do will be to finish her torso, create a central holding rod and hen make a dress...the dress will need to disguise her lack of legs so I will need a heavy material...

But now my sweet spawn awakens and so I must away...