Farewell to arms. (Well for a little while, anyway)

February 1, 2017

Some things really make to world seem right. I had one of those today. You meet nice people making bears, little packages of love as gifts for loved ones. Sometimes it can be a little bittersweet, like when making memory bears , stuffed bears made from the fabric of a dead loved one’s clothing but in a strange way, it is one of those little jobs that make the world a slightly better place, not much, but slightly.

 People bond with bears in a way they don’t with anything else and every now and then I get the odd photo and thank-you card turn up from every corner of the world.  A few years ago something incredibly wonderful happened. I discovered a strange toy When reading reading a book by Poppy Z Brite, it was called a Mr Bingle, a strange, hybrid Christmas character, comprised of an ice cream cone for a hat, a snowman’s body and holly leaf wings. It is only available from Maison Blanche in New Oleans and, whether consciously or not, it reflects that sort of mish-mash / gumbo quality that the city is famous for.  Of course, like the spoilt brat I am, I cheekily slapped up on facebook that I wanted one and got on with my day. Some months later I was surprised to see a large box arrive on my doorstep covered in usps stamps and stickers and inside staring up at me was a Mr Bingle. One of my American customers only went to the trouble of tracking down one of these elusive creations and shipping it to me. 

Fast forward some nine years and up pops a curious message from the same lady. “What’s your address now? ;-)”

That was about three weeks ago…

Today was a bad day, I hadn’t slept and what with my friend Pete’s funeral yesterday and other agro, I wasn’t having much fun. Then the door buzzer went. I scratched my head as the postman waved the large, brightly coloured, box at me. When I saw the, tell-tail, mint green customs clearance sticker the penny dropped who it was from. The shipping box alone was a thing of wonder, a scene from the Peanuts cartoons, with Snoopy’s feet poking out of an iconic US mailbox with a little flag. Then when I looked inside, I saw the strangest of things, it took a moment to work out what this strange creature was. It was a Krampus, a creature from Nordic folklore that was believed to eat naughty children at Christmas time. I suspected for a moment that this one had started eating itself as it was missing arm. Fortunately I found it wrapped up separately at the bottom of the box. Along with a lovely card reading… “If anyone could fix this guy and find him a new home, it is you!  Please save him!” What with the rest of the stuff in the letter, I must admit, I had a bit of a cry.

So, I fixed the arm back back on with a new joint and some, slightly gruesome, open head surgery and put the festive Yuletide child eater back in business. I named him Mr Spigot in memory of the famous enough Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, “only one leg” sketch and now he sits in a chair by the tv, happy in his new home after a very long journey. 

Some days it is had to believe it, but there are some lovely people in the world and I’m glad that I know a few of them.


Wot I did on my holidays

January 8, 2017

I’m trying to think of the last time that I had anything like a holiday. Not having any spare money, I can’t afford to travel by bus let alone jet off on an airplane somewhere warm and glamorous. Don’t laugh, but the nearest I have had to a holiday was when I had swine flu about five years ago (I even kept my packet of tamiflu as a souvenir). It was marvellous, I just lay on the sofa for a whole week, just staring at the television whilst under the duvet, totally guilt free. I had no compulsion to make or do anything. I just lay there… 

Apart from that, the nearest I get is to change the pattern of what I do. In the last instance from designing Christmas cards through a surprisingly warm autumn to making teddy bears. It’s such a lovely thing to do, well for a little while anyway. They seem to bring people such joy, even if it’s just to look at on social media. The people who buy them seem to get so much pleasure from them, either when they give them as gifts or keep them for themselves. It’s good to practice all the skills and remind my fingers how to do it all and give them a bit of excercise. If not to disappoint my occasional haters, it’s all a swift slap down to the pretend makers of st Leonards to remind them that, however much they wish to blow their own trumpets, they aren’t  very good at what they say they do. But, that bit of petty spite aside, I really love doing it. I bloody love fabric and to have the privilege to work with such expensive and high quality materials is a sheer joy.

In some ways it would be lovely to make teddy bears all the time but the art ideas keep backing up in my brain and besides, there just isn’t the kind of money washing about the economy to sell that many one off teddy bears. It’s nice though, particularly in the winter, just sitting on the sofa, in a cone of heat from the halogen heater, as the wind howls outside and the rain blatters on the windows, all warm and cosy with the telly on. I mean seriously, I get paid for that, how cool is that? Granted, not huge amounts, but it is rather lovely all the same. I guess that’s where the holiday part comes in, work that is fun isn’t work. Plus you make people smile, what more do you want from life? I’ve done jobs before in the past that were utterly pointless, they made no difference to the world at all, they may even have made it slightly worse in some cases. It is good to put something out there that is lovely. Plus there is that creating an heirlooms malarkey, knowing you’ve made something else enough that it will last and age well.

I did get a bit of a bee in my bonnet  about people balking at the prices though. So much so that I decided to do a little film about the making process. I really can bear either looking at myself or hearing the sound of my own voice. So much so that I found the editing process rather painful and a found it hard not to just stare at my balding head and bulging belly all the time and listening to my Kenneth williams like voice was only surpassed in awfulness by all my snuffling and the laboured breathing of someone with heart problems. I am deeply human and I haven’t got any other choice but to deal with it sadly. Gripes aside, it is a fascinating  business, condensing the making of an object into a relatively short space of time. I suspect I will also do a condensed and sped up version too. After that I shall get back to my usual line of work as I can already feel the ideas clawing at the inside of my head. Apperently a change is as good as a rest… That’s how the cliche goes, I must admit though, truth be told I’d rather have spent the last six weeks in the sunshine on a beach reading a book. But as second choices go, making a big stack of teddy bears is a pretty good one.

Me bear making


The price label always faces down. 

December 18, 2016

I have had an ongoing battle for the last couple of weeks or so. I was recently talked into making a few teddy bears, I haven’t done it for a while because it can become very addictive and very expensive. I have sold quite a few in the past month but the place that I originally made them for hasn’t sold a single bear. The thing is, I can tell that people have been eyeing them up because the label is always left with the price tag facing upwards. I have learnt over the years that a luxury item like a one of a kind, handmade teddy bear is not for everyone. You need to fall in love with a bear, you need to hold it and stroke it and feel an almost maternal / paternal need to take it home. But there is a time delay between seeing a bear and picking it up and if one should see the hefty price tag first… Forget it. So, there I go, everyday I turn the price tags downwards again. 

All relationships are like that, we all have a certain amount of baggage and/or personality flaws and if we all walked around with them, on a T-shirt for example, visible to everyone  else, we would remain single and friendless permanently. My price tag shirt would read, prone to depression, skint, stubborn, brutally honest, doesn’t suffer fools gladly, oh! and snores occasionally. If you saw those before you had a chance to see my good points (of which there may be some if you look hard enough) you would back  away very quickly. The idea is that by the time we find these things out about another person, the good outways the bad and we are emotionally invested. That’s why liars and bullshit merchants always get plenty of attention  on dating sites and , barring one attempt many years back, I would never use one. So many people lower their age, inflate their bank balance and create imaginary careers for themselves, whereas honest mugs like me are all to painfully human and falable. We all have our price tag and the liars amongst us turn the price tag well and truly face down.

 In the real world it is different though, we meet people and slowly they unfold to us. Their personalities become clearer and clearer and they either attract or repel us, sometimes we make allowances, and sometimes we don’t but, by the time we have started to invest in people, the heavy duty stuff comes out and the real cost of a relationship is revealed. It’s then we can really get hurt, the amount of hard work and sacrifice you need to make becomes apparent and you can suddenly discover that the price is too high and suddenly no one is happy. I try and be an open book if I can, I remember that a few years ago I had a painful second date with a girl where I told her that I suffered from depression during a meal and she burst into tears. I still remember watching her crying into her food as she ate it, sobbing all the time. Not the sort of response I expected, suffice to say there wasn’t a third date. I was glad I was honest though. I think a lot of problems come though when people aren’t honest with themselves, when people aren’t aware of their baggage they can present themselves more confidently than they rightly should, but then again, some people undersell themselves when they are actually truly wonderful. Self awareness is a precious quality and I feel it is a vital quality for everyone to develop, it amazing how few do though. It’s a pity there isn’t a trading standards association for people really, everyone would be a lot better off and meeting people a lot less traumatic. 


Insert bad bear pun here

November 17, 2016

There always seems to be a real sense of urgency about this time of year for some reason. Last year it was murals and public art, the year before that I was traveling to Leeds castle and back daily to deck the halls with, well… All sorts of stuff. The year before that art stuff, before that scarves and before that something else but every year for as long as I can remember I’ve made a few teddy bears. I love keeping traditional skills alive but the problem is, in a world of mass production, so few people are prepared to pay for them, unable to comprehend the expense of quality materials or the time taken to make a one off item. I still make them though… It’s a vanity thing really, in a town of mouthy amateurish show offs, it is satisfying to make something that requires a ludicrously high skill level, a massive “up yours!” to people with no talent other than possessing a mouth like a foghorn. It’s petty and childish I know but at least something good comes off it, so I will let myself off the hook.

I do like the secret knowledge aspect of it all, knowing where to get the weird shit that one needs to create things that will technically be heirloom items. Sources from wool mills, specialist wood yards, upholstery suppliers and the like. I tried to picture what a ridiculous sight I must have looked today, dragging what must have looked like a cloud up the hill and home, a five kilo bag of stuffing, it’s not the weirdest part and combine that with all the other crazy stuff I’ve been doing in a teaching capacity this week. I must admit, if there is such a thing as normality, I haven’t a hope in hell of recognising it unless it was attached to a big pointy sign stating so.  Still, however mad and random it all gets, at least I’m not doing a boring day job, I guess that’s why I don’t feel the need to show off and act like an arse to relieve the tedium  of my working like. however hard my days are and how little I earn you can never say my days are dull. Hooray!


Travels with my bear

November 3, 2016

Do you ever catch yourself sometimes and think “bloody hell! I do some weird shit!”?

I had one of those moments yesterday, I needed to get some publicity photographs done for a Christmas show I’m doing and I needed a few of my teddy bears. “I know what”, I thought, ” I’ll take some with a few local land marks” so there I was, wandering down the seafront, a grown man with my teddy bear, like Sebastian and Aloysius from Brideshead Revisted and no one took a blind bit of notice.

I love that about st leonards, no one really cares what you do. When I lived in Doncaster, leaving the house was hell, all you had to do was wear anything other that an Adidas or Nike tracksuit and the locals would start to sharpen their pitchforks.

I really enjoyed that aspect when I first moved to st leonards but after a while that started to change. I’ve always been exactly who and what I am, a little bit eccentric and off kilter. I think my own way and I refuse to get sucked into any group or gang and I love having my own mind, and speaking it for that matter. I had a brief flirtation with being a goth when I was younger but soon got bored as it just became yet another uniform. I wear pretty much what I want now and it is judged on my own terms and is more about a sense of design or historical significance than anything else. 

I have never sought attention, when I recieved  filthy looks back in 1989 and onward knitting my own jumpers on the train, I did it because I like knitting and it was dead time that could be used. When I had an asymmetric razor cut Dutch bob it was because it is technically the hardest hairdo to cut and when I followed it with a coup savage it was because it was because I was fascinated with the idea of someone hacking at my head with a cut throat razor. I have never in my life sought attention, I don’t need it, don’t want it and in the kindest and, in the politest way possible, I really don’t care what you or anyone else thinks of me.

The problem is though, so many people do. Care what people think of them that is. 

This lack of people taking any notice, whilst giving a wonderful freedom to those that need it, has a tedious side effect. Those that want and indeed crave attention have to keep upping the anti, doing more and more outrageous things to get noticed. Personally, I’m a great believer in the notion of meritocracy and that the best way to get positive attention is to develop a talent, to get really good at something. Call me old fashioned but that is what I feel.

There is a short cut to talent, well two in fact and they are both used locally and seem to work to a degree. The first is to use the distance from London’s creative heart and the slightly  cut off nature of East Sussex to gild the lily of your own level of talent. Mediocre talents in any industry suddenly become geniuses and the totally inept can join in too if their mouths and egos are big enough. The other is to just keep puffing yourself up further and further, using and endless stream of events to draw in punters and sell booze to get dressed up yet again, year after year like and endless merry-go-round of gaudy drivel. Then, if that isn’t enough, the next thing to do is to invent a few things of your own. Although it is even easier just to steal your ideas from things happening in London or Brighton or wherever knowing that, if you do it with enough brazen cheek, you will get away with it in an isolated bubble of a community. 

The thing is, however hard they try, people that in need of attention will be tolerated and ignored, labelled by everyone who isn’t them as “that bunch of tossers” while the rest of the world gets on with their lives, ignoring the occasional bit of mess or disruption as a nessesary evil, the price they pay for their own eccentricities to be ignored. Like me and my bear. 


Loopy

October 20, 2016

At the moment I am trying to train myself out of looking at Facebook, which is awkward seeing as I have to using it to promote my artwork. The nearest I can liken it to is an eating disorder, and I completely acknowledge that compared to those it is completely trivial, you have to eat, you just can’t cut it out of your life and walk away.

I have had addiction problems in my life, I am obsessive by nature and I try my best to channel it all into art and creativity but at various points in my earlier life, before I learnt to control it, I became addicted to painkillers and to cigarettes. I quit both eventually but it wasn’t much fun. Everyone has things they do all the time, little ticks, little phrases. I say “ooh!” an awful lot for example, I was joking with a friend yesterday about how it must be like the Inuits having many words for snow. I have a myriad tones for the word “ooh!” There is Ooh! Someone nice is at the door, there is ooh I’ve just spotted some trainers or a t shirt I would like to buy, ooooh I’ve just see a gorgeous designer toy, OOOH! I’ve just had an idea, OOooOOH!!! There is a naked lady in my home. It’s so ingrained that it is part of me. Sometimes we carry on things way past when we need to, I still waft an imaginary cigarette around when I am talking and a lot of my anxiety, most people’s anxiety in fact, is carried on from things that happened  in early life that I am still trying to  protect myself from that don’t even exist any more. This is where it gets confusing, if you remove a key habit from your life, are you still you? What exactly is “you” anyway? I’ve been guilty at times of trying to point out things in people’s life that is obviously doing them harm and it never works out well, people can only ever come to conclusions for themselves. A year into three years of counselling, I worked out what was blitheringly obvious to the counsellor from day one but she could never have told me. It’s all that giving people the gift malarkey. Some people try and circumvent (god I hate this phrase) personal grow by going on some weekend, sort your life out, course, paying hundreds of pounds to magically fix your life. An old college friend of mine who had to be rescued from a cult calls these Cult Lite, they use the same programming techniques but combine them with some sort of pyramid scheme. The truth is, changing yourself in any way takes bloody hard work and time.

I have been trying to create healthy loops, ticks and habits over the years, going for a long walk every day, reading, trying to eat healthily (I’m still working on that one), creating things…. This is where it gets into eating disorder territory, writing this blog is a loop and sometimes it’s a good way of getting the thoughts out of my head that would eat me alive if left in there, sometimes it entertains or explains something but sometimes it gets me into trouble, same with the artwork, it isn’t  always that clear when I am crossing a line from useful or interesting to offensive and hurtful, it gets into so many grey areas that you can see nothing else if you are not careful. 

I’ve been doing a bit of knitting recently, I used to knit all the time and have done since a teenager. I stopped a while back because it became too trendy and I didn’t want to be associated in any way with the sort of people who had jumped on the bandwagon. It’s  nice doing it again, knowing that my hands remember everything, but once I’ve made a couple of hats for myself I shall stop again. Where as it used to be a passion, it is now just a useful skill to have. It doesn’t define me, not the way it would the quirky straight guy who would do it in his twenties which was me back then, doing a degree in constructed textiles and getting praises heaped on me and a strange admiration from women. 

There are similar questions I ask myself about the difference between being child like and being childish. I have a huge collection of toys, ones from my childhood, art toys decorated or designed by other artists from around the world, toys that are technically very small sculptures, I make teddy bears and there are plenty of mine about the house as well as examples of some of the most interesting ones I have found by other people or companies. I am fascinated by the shapes, the colours, the textures… I try and see the wonder in most things, beautiful skies, shapes in clouds and trees. I am curious to know what is behind doors, over walls, underneath stuff and I make up my own versions which are usually but not always much more interesting. Childish though is probably more about all that nasty playground stuff, gangs, who’s in, who’s out, doing things with a lack of thought that effect other people, not thinking things through, not seeing the consequences of your actions or not really caring about them, showing off… Plus I’m not intentionally trying to act like I’m young on some slightly embarrassing mid life crisis trip back into an idealised version of  my youth. I think I’m ok on all those counts so I think I am safe to keep the toy fixation loop going.

The Facebook loop though… I think over the years it is fifty fifty, I’ve got back in touch with some lovely people and it’s got my artwork to some places it wouldn’t otherwise have got  to but it’s also caused an awful lots of arguments and falling outs and I have seen things that I would rather not have. It’s damaged the distance I have tried to keep from toxic people and unintentionally  upset some nice ones, people have definitely got hurt I am sorry to say, including myself and people I love. Over the last half a year or so I have cut down what I see  of other people’s lives, particularly the one’s who’s loops, ticks and childishness are particularly  tedious and I have become incredibly selective about who sees my stuff which is no mean feat with all the privacy settings keep changing all the time. The next thing is to learn how to leave my iPad well away from the bed area so that it isn’t the first and the last thing I see each day.

In time I hope to replace my social media behavioural loop with a book again, as obsessive habits go, being a voracious reader is a good one.


Back in (the) Love (cafe) again.

February 7, 2016

P1020954I’m back in love. Yay! No, this isn’t some sickly pre Valentines Day post where I’m plugging my wares to all those lovers young and old. (Although prints, t-shirts and painting make wonderful gifts 😉  ) Sadly, and completely not of my choosing, I will be very much single this year. Cue violins.   Anyway, When I say I’m in Love, I mean the Love Cafe in St Leonards on Sea. Not to be confused with Japan’s Love hotels, which are, erm, a very different kettle of sushi.

DSC05779My relationship with this place started when the original owners Rosie and Ed bought a teddy bear I made from me some 8 or so years ago. It was a Viking bear I believe Sven? Eric? Something like that. It was not that long after that I got a call from Ed, He was taking over and old print works and turning it into an art gallery / craft market and was looking people who made really nice stuff to show their wares. When I did put some bears in, I cagily took down a folio of paintings. I thought they’d hate them, most people did back then, but no. They loved them!

So I put some paintings in and I even sold one. Then, as a lot of things do in St Leonards, plans changed and it became The Love Cafe. I was going through a bad patch a little later and I really needed to get some focus and direction into my life. I decided to commit myself to a serious task and that was to produce a version of William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress as both painting and etchings (well, biro drawings to be exact).BWthe prison I’ve found it’s so much easier in life to let one’s self down than it is other people. Personal goals can slide by and we look up and we are years older and “that thing” never got done. So I took a deep breath (and and NHS confidence building workshop) and I went and asked Ed if he would let me put up A Rake’s Progress and I even got him to book a date. There we go! I would be letting someone else down then, I had to do it. It went quite well and I even did a version in booklet form including the story in 18th Century pros. I even got it in the Soane’s Museum after that( The booklet, not the drawings sadly). When I had my first solo gallery show it was Ed and Rosie who bought enough of my paintings to cover my costs. P1020970I would often have a painting or two on display in their cafe though. It’s a loyalty thing. By the time they sold up and moved on I was starting to do more high profile shows, such as the one in the prestigious Towner Gallery in Eastbourne but I took time out at the end of last year to do a photographic face through for them at their new venue in Hastings’ Observer Building. Then came an interesting email via one of my agents. The new owners of The Love Cafe were wondering if I would put some work in there. I was a little wary at first, wondering if it would be a backwards step, going from the Towner and solo shows to having work in a cafe. Then I met them and the new owners Sharon and Colin were lovely. Plus I got bribed by the loveliest hot chocolate, with little pink and white marshmallows floating in it and I was sold. There was one condition though, I wanted to absolutely cover the place. Complete Dweebling takeover. It’s lovely to cover a large space, the scary thing is though, I could have done it three times over. I do hope people actually buy a few paintings or else I may need to invest in a lock up.

You can see the work and have some fabulous food and drinkies and the Love Cafe, Norman road, St Leonards on Sea from now to the beginning of May. Further details Here.

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