Friday 9 December 2011

GROTTO is back!

After the succes of last years pop up shop, Grotto returns this festive season to fulfil all your arty and crafty gift needs! Situated this time in the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester's Northern Quarter the shop is looking exciting and full of new arts pieces ready to buy.

'In Deep Water' original watercolour and ink art work in customised frame

I have work in there right now, and will be adding new work in the next few days including new embroidery, so pop in! There is a great variety of local talent from artists around Manchester all at affordable prices so you'll be sure to find something to tick off your shopping list! From original screen prints, unique Christmas decorations and clothing to unusual accessories and art work it's definately worth a look.

GROTTO @The Chinese Arts Centre
Market Buildings Thomas St M4 1EU 
Running until the new year!

Monday 5 December 2011

Back in the booth!

Last week I spent a good few hours sitting in a small box just big enough to house myself and some art materials. Hunched over a drawing desk with no concept of if it was day or night, I worked non stop to produce art on demand; no it wasn't artist abuse, but Sketch-O-Matic, quite a unique and gratifying experience for all concerned!

The booth appeared in Cornerhouse over a week ago and before the project had properlly begun it attracted curious people eager to find out what was behind the curtained off area and what would happen when you put your money in. But the real fun began on the first night of it's 10 day run as the word spread that Sketch-O-Matic had to be experienced to be believed. In fact so successful was the venture that every time I looked there was someone's legs visible beneath the curtain as they sat patiently for their art work

The basic concept was that of a photo booth but one where an artist replaced the camera. The functions were all the same, the but the mirror inside was one way, meaning I could see you, but you couldn't see me! After paying your suggested £1 you had to wait for around 5 minutes then stand outside to receive your portrait through the slot. 

From my first stint I knew this was going to be lots of fun. The fact the sitter can't see you as you draw them made a huge difference to normal life drawing or quick sketching; It allowed the artist to totally get stuck in with no thought to being observed as they worked. Plus it meant the sitters acted more like they were having a photo taken.

There was no telling who would step inside next, from little boys to stately pensioners, beautiful girls to bearded eccentrics; I loved the challenge of getting features and characters down in the short time I had, and I totally loved the fact there was often a queue of people waiting for their turn to be immortalised in the Sketch-O-Matic booth. It was a very intense situation working so quickly and to high demand but equally satisfying to hear peoples sounds of appreciation they got the portrait in their hands. 

The most surreal but amazing part of the whole thing for me was that, stranger or friend, the sitter had no real contact with me as I drew them (sometimes the sitter wouldn't even know who was behind the mirror looking at them) but the encounter felt very intimate all the same.

I had a couple of go's sitting on the other side of the booth to see what it was like and although I sat looking at my own reflection, I caught glimpses of movement and the rustle of paper through the mirror and it was quite thrilling to know that someone was making me the subject of their work. It beat the cold and empty experience of using self automated machines, convenient they may be. As we move further and further away from actual social interaction on a daily basis, there was a simple charm about the Sketch-O-Matic which accounted for it's popularity. I totally understood the appeal! I would have gone in more often if I could. One Cornerhouse employee had 12 portraits by different artists and counting half way through the project...! 

If you missed your chance to be sketched or play muse to an instant poem, lets all keep our fingers crossed that this wont be the last we see of the Sketch-O-Matic, I for one will miss that booth.

Monday 21 November 2011


I will be one of a host of artists taking part in this on hands interactive project taking place at the Cornerhouse starting this Thrusday as part of Art Night. Sketch-O-Matic is cutting edge drawing technology! Well actually, it's a full size photobooth with an artist crammed into the space the camera should be; Sit in front of the one way mirror, put in your £1 wait 5 minutes or so and your portrait will be posted throught the slot! Wow! 

I will be there waiting to draw you this Friday 25th Nov 8-9pm and Monday 28th Nov 12-1pm 

Who knows what scribbles will be created but one thing is for sure, the art work is original and yours to keep! The Sketch-O-Matic booth will be in situ from 6pm Thurs 24th Nov to Sun 2th Dec and will be manned in hour slots, see the booth for timings.

Cornerhouse: 70 Oxford Street, Manchester, M1 5NH

Monday 14 November 2011

My Week With Marilyn

I am soooo excited about this new film! Based on the true story of junior assistant producer Colin Clarke's unbelievable week long relationship with Marilyn Monroe during the filming of The Prince and the Showgirl in 1957 England. I recently re-read the book in preparation!

My Week With Marilyn is like having a new Marilyn film coming out in my life time; impossible, amazing, exciting and slightly worrying. Like many MM fans I am extremely protective of her, this woman who left the world years before I entered it. I've grown up watching her, studying her photos and reading every book I find about her. In short Marilyn has helped shape my ideas of glamour performance and artifice. She encompasses my obsession with femininity! And what's more, I really like her, not just her image, her personality traits too.

It's an understatement to say that the mark Marilyn left on this world goes far deeper than that of a moviestar. Her reach has profoundly altered her fans, uplifted them, inspired them and touched them. Marilyn's creativity and personal story shines on and on...

On viewing the trailer for My Week With Marilyn I felt a small shiver run down my spine, Michelle Williams seems to really get her. Rather than focusing on the sex kitten image (which I have a horrid feeling Naomi Watts will try to capture in her upcoming MM picture Blonde) Williams has keyed into MM's vulnerable side and her complex state of mind. This can really be seen in the shots used to promote the film.

This is certainly no looky-likey performance yet I feel Williams ability to tap into Marilyn's psyche will do more than any amount of bleach and lipstick could ever achieve in doing her justice. I found this interesting talk featuring many of Hollywood's big names sitting around chatting about their work, Here Williams describes her transformation into MM and her own feelings about the star's personality.

It's fascinating stuff. I hope with all my fingers and toes crossed this film lives up to my expectations! 

Friday 4 November 2011

Hit or Miss?

This weekend sees London host the 2011 Miss World pageant, an event that has been running for decades and now celebrates it's 61st year! So popular is this programme it is viewed by millions worldwide. Yet no British mainstream channel will broadcast it (if you're intertested you can find it on the Active Channel here in the UK. Ever heard of it? No me neither.)

So why the awkward silence and doleful staring at the feet? Surely such a huge and successful enterprise would have the BBC and ITV both elbowing each other out of the way to get first dibs. 

Well no, you see Miss World has become something of an embarassement these days and anti feminsit. The 'respectable' media will no doubt promote this opinion because lets face it, championing a beauty pageant in this day and age is 'totally uncool'.

This morning I watched The Wright Stuff on Channel 5 and the phone-in was about Miss World. Matthew Wright laid down the gauntlet; 

'...We’re going to find out what you think about Britain hosting the Miss World beauty contest on Sunday. Feminist groups say it’s sexist and outdated but organisers say the contest champions racial equality and has more than 1bn fans worldwide. True, many in such open-minded pro-women democracies as china and Zimbabwe. Come on folks, what the hell are we doing hosting this nonsense in the 21st century'

With the bait set Wright waited for the lines to fill with disgruntled women. Which they did, but not the disgruntled women he was perhaps expecting; every caller was a female proclaiming her love for the contest and dismay at his views.

But how can you say there's nothing wrong with 'ogling girls in bikinis', how is that not sexist? Wright asked in exasperation.

He was so outraged by the callers he cried out that he was the only true feminist on the programme. Citing that women only feel the need to conform into ideals of beauty, because of a male dominated society which wanted to keep them in their place, the Miss World contest did nothing for womens rights and in fact put them back to the 1950's when the pageant began.

He certainly has a point. But somewhere in between all this political correctness and pageant nonsense something is bothering me. When Wright told one of the callers they couldn't be a feminist and still be a fan of Miss World I wondered why not. It might seem obvious but wait...

I applaud his sentiments and passion for the subject of womens rights, but surely, as I pointed out in my post about the bunny girl, being a feminist means allowing women to pursue their lives in any way they see fit, whether that be dressing as a fluffy rabbit or taking part as a Miss World contestant, it's their choice.

To dictate just what a woman should and shouldn't think in order to be taken seriously is just as bad as these dominating men Wright was talking about. Why can't you enjoy watching a beauty contest and still feel strongly for women's rights? One of the things that occurs to me is that in our fight for equality over the years, women's roles have changed dramatically, but one thing has always remained the same, we ARE women. And as women we still enjoy cosmetics and fashion and beauty. Despite what Wright says these passions are not completely due to men telling us we should conform to them, they come from somewhere deep in our genetic makeup. (The thousands of women out shopping for new outfits and lipstick right now are probably having a whale of a time glorying in the thrill of it all.)

But I do feel these interests are massively exploited by the media and commercialism, and no doubt Miss World plays on them in order to have been running for so long. Tanya Gold (She of the bunny hating club) recently wrote an article entitled 'I blame the media for ignoring feminsim in favour of makeup' In it she asks 'why the feminist movement seems so comprehensively to have stalled.' 

My answer would be it hasn't stalled, it has changed. Women like myself, and possibly the caller on The Wright Stuff, enjoy the trappings of modern femininity (I view artifice as a huge part of femininity), but that doens't mean we have been brainwashed into accepting nothing else in our lives. Feminists (men and women) need to stop pigeonholing other women over their choices and focus on a fully rounded representation of women including the cosmetic side. Why does that have to be a bad thing?

While I personally find Miss World off putting I don't agree with some feminists using the beauty card to underline what they see as womens failure. There is a fine line between enjoying being a woman and having your femininity exploited.

Monday 31 October 2011

Latest painting...

I began this painting of 1940's burlesque performer Noel Toy over a year ago! It wasn't my intention for it to take so long to be completed (usually I finish paintings in a matter of weeks sometimes days) but it soon took second and even third place in importance as other work and projects took priority. During the year or so it sat in my studio I worked on it getting a hour here and an afternoon there every now and then.

On one hand it was good to have a painting on the go as it kept me connected to one of my favourite mediums, but on the other hand having my concentration broken so often meant that my bond with the work had to be built up every time I got the chance to work on it. So finally getting this piece finished feels extra satisfying. However I may come back to it and do some last minute tweaks here and there...maybe it'll never really be finished!

Anyway, I hope Noel would approve of her portrait, which I wanted to stand as a tribute to her; not only was she a pioneer of breaking stereotypes, she was a wonderful performer with much grace and vibrancy

I wanted her painting to have a vintage feel with a nod to old film with its jumps and crackles, hence the black and white background and slightly blurred edges. But I also wanted to highlight Noel's uniqueness, the thing that helped to make her so popular, her origin.  

Seen by many as an 'exotic', Noel used her looks to further her successes. I wanted to try and capture how startling and shocking it would have been to see a little oriental lady performing burlesque back in the 1940's, and found Vladimir Tretchikoff as inspiration. His famous 'Green Ladies' encapsulated the eras fascination with the orient with it's 'unusual' beauty and glamour.

Rather than pigeon hole Noel into yet another stereotype I hope this painting shows her for what she was, a canny performer with a fearless sense of fun and femininity.

Friday 14 October 2011

This week I have been mostly...

...sitting in front of a computer trying to make sense of it all!

I do have something to show for it though; I now have a Facebook Page dedicated to my art work and creative adventures, so as well as my checking in here for an in depth look at what is going on in my world, my facebook page will be a good place for up to the minute pictures and links to events.

You can click to 'like' HERE

Other news:

I was recently asked by the very talented and productive writer Nonita, to submit any stories I had about burlesque mishaps, or to put it bluntly stories about 'when burlesque goes wrong!' She has since put a post together about these mishaps and they make for great reading. If anything they prove that behind the glitter and feather fans there are a whole host of danger zones the burlesque performer must negotiate. Read and enjoy; Burlesque Mishaps, when things don't go according to plan


The beginning of the week saw me handing over my nautical inspired retirment gift to a former Naval seaman. This sailor tattoo themed work celebrated his naval links in a tradtional style and I think he was quite pleased!

Monday 10 October 2011

Embroideries on Etsy

Both my embroideries of Jeanine the Pirate and Scarlett J are now in my Etsy Shop, which you can access HERE, on the little shop front on the side of this blog or on my website

These embroideries look fab on the wall, very kitsch and cool and are 100% original. They would make a great present for anyone with a love of burlesque, rockabilly or tattoo styles and with Christmas just around the corner now is the time to get them while you can!

I can also work to order so if you have an idea in mind for a personalised gift please get in touch for an estimate.

I am currently embroidering these leopard print babies for a friend. The shoes are a nice contrast to the portrait style work I started off experimenting with. Plus they are smaller in size at just 4.5 x 6 inches. I am really enjoying working on them, stay tuned to see how they turn out...

Tuesday 4 October 2011

Last weeks Sketch Crawl

It all began in the morning at Salford Museum and Art Gallery (which is just around the corner from my studio). We were to spend the day with illustrator and author of childrens books, Lynne Chapman who currently has an exhibition of her work on show in the gallery. 

Lynne began by talking us through her work, and I learnt a lot about the thought process that goes into illustration; how to keep it interesting, what you can and can't show, how to get around tricky narrative. It was all really interesting and I especially enjoyed getting the viewpoint from another artistic genre and hearing how we shared similar pros and cons of being freelance artists.

It was a glorious day, hot bright and sunny so the group had lunch outside and immediately got stuck in with sketching. The gallery is located in the University complex so that most of the surroundings are made up of wonderful Victorian buildings and lots of park land, and it is always bustling with students. 

The plan was to spend a hour at three different spots then reconvene at the end of the day. I started out pretty rusty, not having sketched outside for a good while, but once I let myself relax into the moment I started to get much better. One of my favourite things was to try and capture the atmosphere of all the students lolling about in the sun, chatting and reading.


This girl lay for ages before she realised I was drawing her, at which point she upped an left, you can't win them all I guess, but I did like the shape her legs made from this angle.


This building was always busy and I liked the grandness of the entrance which had floods of people pouring in and out at all times.


The best building was the gallery itself and I spent a good hour or so sketching it. Matters weren't helped by the fact an enormous bus parked right in front of it just as I was drawing the entrance! So frustrating, but I managed to draw around it until it left. I tried to capture the movement around the building which was always changing as people and vehicles came and went constantly.

 Detail 1

Detail 2

After grabbing a cup of tea the group met for a viewing of what we'd come up with. Lynne was really enthusiatic about our work and took photos for her blog. It was really good to share our endevours and find out what each other had seen and been inspired by that day.

I'd recommend a sketch crawl to anyone interested in drawing no matter what level they are at. The day was really laid back and fun and I felt I got a lot out of it! I think Lynne runs similar events in her home town of Sheffield so it's worth checking out news on her blog and also other drawing activites at your local gallery.

Friday 23 September 2011

A mixed bag of arty events

Warthog by Lynne Chapman

Next Thursday I will attending a 'sketch crawl' at Salford Art Gallery. Here's the blurb:

Children's book illustrator and sketchbook enthusiast Lynne Chapman invites you to join her for a SketchCrawl around the galleries. Lynne will give a talk about her work, and you'll have the chance to chat with her and look around her exhibition 'Llamas in Pyjamas'. In the afternoon Lynne will lead the SketchCrawl, where you can create your own sketches. It doesn't matter how good you are, it's for fun, so have a go! You will need to bring a sketchbook and a pencil 

Lynne's work is wonderfully fun, I'm really looking forward to hearing her talk and getting stuck in  with some sketching. I'll post up what I come up with next week. You can find out more about the sketch crawl phenomenon on her blog HERE

The Irish Girl by Ford Maddox Brown 1860

Another thing I'm looking forward to is visiting the Ford Maddox Brown exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery

As a life long fan of the Pre-Raphaelites I am so excited that there is another show dedicated to one of my heroes! Back in 2008 the gallery held an exhibition of Holman Hunt work which was really fabulous. I left feeling like I knew more about this talented individual than when I arrived and it was fascinating to see his body of work throughout his career. I hope the Maddox Brown show is as successful!

I love the work of the Pre-Raphaelites partly because they worshipped women and I feel the paintings they produced were like the pin up girls of their day: Sexy glamorous and alluring. But also I think the work was revolutionary when it was made. It broke the mould in a time of chocolate box insipidity and safe art, the PRB's paintings were exciting and shocking.

As if that wasn't enough art fun to look out for, Bury is soon to host the Bury Light Night. On the 14th October the town will be transformed into a luminous landscape of creativity and art events including music, performance, workshops and much more. My good pal Brian Allen of Salford FM will be hosting a Musical Memories Tour taking guests back to the Bury of the 1960's. The tour will have music, photos and memorabilia about Manchester's musical past. Brian used to run the highly successful 60's tour at Urbis and is a pro at bringing the excitement and enthusiasm of the era back to life!

To find out more about the event and how to join in click HERE

Thursday 22 September 2011

Experiments in thread continued

 Working out the mix of colours to use on Scarlett's cheeks and eyes

I started my second embroidery experiment last week and already I can see it's more sophisticated then the first one. Taking inspiration from the pillow lipped Scarlett Johansson, I wanted to create something very kitsch with a tattoo like feel. But the more I've worked on it the more complicated it's become with layers of fabric making up the overall image. I'm quite pleased with it so far though.

Again I've used interfacing to bond layers of material for blocks of colour and acyrlic to paint in the areas I want to give a cosmetic look .

There haven't been as many mistakes and unpicking to be done, but I can see areas I'd do differently next time. It's definately a learning process, but a really fun one. I'm really enjoying doing these pieces and already have ideas for the next one!

Still needs the outline stitiching and some embellishments

Other news:

I finished the 'Last Port' painting last week, but wasn't very sure about it. I'm used to doing more complex 'realistic' paintings with acrylic, so when I finished this one I was underwhelmed at first. I used indian ink to outline the images and text which is something I've never used before on canvas. It gives a beautiful slick shiny black line but to my horror comes off if paint is applied over it. I'm going to see if fixative will fix this problem (any ideas?).

Detail of one of the mermaids as I was outlining. 
I quite like the pastel effect this work had without black outlines.

I might do a bit more to the background but otherwise it's finshed

Despite my initial feelings I'm actually growing to like this piece and as it is a gift for someone I really hope they like it too!