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Cat Blog

St Davids Lifeboat in action,New Years Day, 2007.

 

1st January. Early in the morning the cats decided that I had slept for long enough, broke into the bedroom and became a ginger cat blanket. Later, walking on the beach with an assortment of mongrels, the sky so heavy and gray with rain and the lifeboat disappearing behind huge messy waves. New Years Day. Everywhere busy. Feeling dazed by the days driving yesterday and trying to make something to eat from an odd collection of vegetables in the house. Inside is warm and smells of fresh baked bread and coffee, outside the wind and weather rage and hail and rain attack the house in waves.

stormy beach

2nd January. A day of tidying and trying to restore order so the house is fit for Robin to come and relax in. Found a photograph, late in the evening, a small square of sepia, and no idea where it came from. Blond hair, smiling face, from far away across time. Started writing a new journal and blank pages stretch out in front of me.

Under the Christmas tree Floss and Pixie curl up together on the new dog bed.

Floss and Pixie curled up on the dog cushion under the Christmas tree.

3rd January. Woke early and tried to catch the daylight chasing away the dark, but just missed it. It is amazing how hard you can work in a day and still do no painting. Spent the day hanging paintings in the gallery at the library in Haverfordwest, then moving a tattered, battered old sofa into the back of my car to make room for a new plan chest to store artwork. Driving home from Haverfordwest the dark sky full of rain made the daylight seem like night. Later the bright white light of the almost full moon made the night like a dull day. The house is almost empty of paintings but smells of guinea fowl and apples roasting.

Sunshine over Carn Llidi, Pembrokeshire, Jan 2006

4th January. Bright sunshine on the early morning beach transformed the landscape. Walked seeking solitude to write something to hang with the paintings in the library and then finally later in the day settled down to paint. Egmont have given me a schedule to work towards, and just before Christmas I started work on the front endpaper for Singing to the Sun. Hopefully over the next six month I will work my way steadily through the book.

sunshine catching the tops of the waves at Whitesands Beach, Pembrokeshire

start of painting for Singing to the Sun by Vivian French, watercolour by Jackie Morris

It's a start anyway, and my head feels better for painting. It gets screwed up tight after a few days of not pushing coloured water around with a brush.

6th January. Early morning rain beats a steady gentle rhythm on the roof tiles. Seven in the morning and the house is quiet and waiting for a busy day to start. Almost finished the front endpaper for Singing to the Sun which means that I am almost on target.

endpaper for Singing to the Sun by Vivian French, almost finished, but not quite.

Later in the day the sun is so bright on lichen coloured trees, driving back to Milton Keynes. Rust coloured leaves left over from autumn and the bright sunshine belie the season. Clouds snag on the low hills in Worcestershire. Later still the orange light glows through the curtains and cars wiz past in the night time streets.

willow tree with three crows and flood water rising

7th January. Long tailed tits flew through the low hedgerow, dark pink flashes, exotic, bright coloured flashes in the dark purple twigs. Flood water rising and the feet of the willow trees stand in water.

8th January. Spent the day trying to catch a small child running around in my imagination, hiding in the muddle in my head, for a new book.

James Mayhew in his studio, pretending to work.

9th January. Drove along roads past fields where deer stood, brown against brown, distant and magical, to visit James Mayhew to talk about books, new stories, pick up books of reference for Arabian Nights. Persuaded James to let me in to his studio, a small shed in the bottom of his garden, with my camera. In the dark it seemed a long way from the house to his studio.

The studio shed was small. At one end a space for writing, full of music and books and a miniature theatre. At the other a space for painting, with brushes and paints and sketches and ideas and pens and ink and pencils and a wind-up gramophone. It was full of half finished drawings, ideas and thoughts, photographs and books and colour.

We looked through sketches, drawing after drawing, character development for his new book. We looked through the rough layouts where the drawings sat next to the text. So many drawings and ideas and a book emerging. Lovely to look through someone else's struggles and searching as he tried to find the main character for this new book, and also a completely different way of working. The finished thing always looks so effortless. Loved the drawings and the workings and the lines on paper, trying to see what worked and why something didn't.

Marie had made us a lovely cake, and Gabriel, their son, greeted us with giant hugs and giant squids!

On the way back we went into Ikea and within minutes of being in the shop our blink rate dropped and I forgot most of what I was doing. Came out the other side with some useful things and not having bought too many things that I never really knew I wanted.

palette in James Mayhew's studio

 

Driving home again to St Davids the journey is just too long, and I have spent too much time in a car this year. At home the cats were pleased to see us but the house was cold and had to clean out the old make a new fire before things could become cozy.

We had hoped to have a couple of days spent quietly together, but unfortunately things got in the way again.

view through the car window

 

11th January. Robin drove back again to Milton Keynes to take his car back to the garage. Today is our anniversary and we had hoped to spend the day together, me painting and him reading in the room next to my studio. So far this year very little has worked out the way that it should.

I met this man five years ago and fell in love with him. I was so angry with myself as I had promised not to do that again as the other end of love hurts so much. At first I waited for him to let me down, over the weeks, then the months and the years, but instead the love just got stronger and he continued to surprise me with his caring and his gentle thoughtfulness.

We walked the dogs together at Whitesands on the stormy beach and to The Ram's Nose where we had first said goodbye, five years ago, I was sad that we could not be together today.

Robin Stenham

 

unfinished watercolour for Singing to the Sun

Then I got on with some painting and enjoying being on my own for the first time this year, painting all day, making soup, later walking the dogs on the beach in the dark and listening to music. Outside the wind raged like a wolf pack around the house, and the wind wolf ran over the roof scratching at the tiles and throwing things around making the fire roar and burn hard and fast as it curled around the chimney pot.

12th January. Listening to the radio and painting. Nick Clarke's audio diary on radio 4 made me cry so much I couldn't see to paint. "Fighting to be normal", worth a listen on listen again if it is available at bbc.co.uk. Not really brave people, just two people coping in the only way that they could but your heart can do nothing but go out to them and their children. I listened to Nick Clarke for years on the World at One. Always measured and balanced, always pushing for answers. He will be missed.

Struggling to cope with painting for Singing to the Sun. One minute it looks good, the next I am thinking it is over painted and badly drawn, the next something works and then it dries and looks different. Late into the night and the lamp in my studio is a circle of light and the whole piece looks different when the angle poise is switched off and one minute it is better and the next it is just a mess.

Outside no stars. A blanket of cloud and a dark, black night.

15th January. Woke up feeling sick and knowing that I had to get the children to school on time for the first time this year today. Went back to sleep. Then the day started all over again and still feeling sick but somehow managed everything and then took the dogs to the beach to try and blow away the nausea. Too much port last night. Not in any fit state to sit and finish painting but feeling much better and almost normal again decided to head off to Manorbier, south of the county, where the schools library van was having its first outing.

 

 

Thorfinn lonely, studying in his tower, to mke stones into gold and win battles.

photograph of the Pembrokeshire Schools Library Van, decorated with a page from Can You See a Little Bear by James Mayhew and Jackie Morris

photograph of the Pembrokeshire Schools Library Van, decorated with a page from Can You See a Little Bear by James Mayhew and Jackie Morris

What is amazing is that the detail from the small watercolour, taken from the book is so perfect so large. You can even see the pencil lines drawn under the paint. The van looked fantastic, and seeing the children's faces when they came out of school to get books was wonderful. Funny though, I found it very difficult to drive away. I think I wanted to drive away in the van, put a little bed and a stove in the back and a small table and head for the hills. Instead I drove down to the beach and walked the dogs again along the cliffs where the sea was raging in, silver in the sunshine. Lovely to see the landscape from a different side. The castle was used years ago in the BBC TV Narnia series.

looking towards Freshwater East from Manorbier

Manorbier Castle, Pembrokeshire, January 2007

Meanwhile on BBC Radio Wales, somewhere, Trevor Fishlock's "Landscape Stories" was on air, half an hour of walking and talking about books and the landscape, with a cameow appearance by Pixie.

16th January.

Thorfinn reading, lonely in his castle tower while his mother and father argue

Still wet. Not finished yet. Thorfinn reads alone in his tower, books on war, books on alchemy, while the Jester walks the wild hills outside and listens to the stories and the music in the wind.

pixie, maurice and elmo walking with Floss and bella in teh distance waiting.

17th January. The winter hill behind the house held a herd of highland cattle, ginger against the russet bones of bracken.As a necklace of cold rain fell from the sky they moved over to the lee side of the rocks. They looked ancient on a barren and bleak landscape.

The cats all walked with us, and later I found them one by one curled and sleeping on cushions in the kitchen.

 

18th January. Began working on rough drawings for a new book by James Mayhew, again. Working from old photographs of Tom and Hannah and trying to find characters and pictures. A quiet grey day with rain and wind so hard that the bench again blew over in the garden and the wind cat rattled at the cat flap and clawed at the roof.

 

19th January. This morning when I woke the night was still pinned to the sky with stars. All in the house was quiet, except for hungry cats. Took Hannah to a friend's farm. So far in two weeks of school they have had three days off, two inset days and a "transition day". Next time I want to take them to a literature festival and am given a hard time about it I must remember this. After walking around the horses and mucking out and shoveling straw she is now lying in a hammock in the living room, eating flying saucers and reading a book.

photograph of Hannah taken with the computer

 

Maurice
Elmo
Pixie

Meanwhile I worked on sketches for mine and james's new book. Early days yet. Tiny sketches from my sketchbook.

sketch of a lion and child

sketch of a child and bear in a rowing boat, with a random dacshund

sketch, thumbnail, for a page of a book.

22nd January. A drive to Carmarthen to pick up paintings from the Botanic Gardens as the exhibition is finished. The day before we had played on the beach so big, the tide so far out, climbing the castles of rocks, beach blue with reflected light.

23rd January. All day in the library in Haverfordwest talking to children and later to adults about painting and stories and illustrating and walking. In between sessions into Tree House Antiques, like entering a Dickens book, cobbled alley between tall buildings, timbered roof and a fire in a cast iron fireplace. Old furniture whispering stories, wooden trunks, chests of draws, old photographs, tables and a claw footed bath. Upstairs a mysterious room where the floor sags with the weight of history.

24th January. Early morning. Watching the light paint the skeleton tree branches in the window. The wind calls outside. It is cold. Dark clouds ink out the light.

Later walking with a photographer and the cats for a news article and they perform wonderfully and the light is splendid.

cat walking over rocks with Penberi in the background, Pembrokeshire

cats exploring teh ruined cottages at Maes Y Mynydd

25th January. Painting in the daytime and walking in the sunshine with cats and dogs. Later in the evening Hannah and Tom and I went to Narberth to hear The Devil's Violin, Roma Gypsy music and tales from Wales with Daniel Morden and Newfolks. Words and music blended to build pictures in my mind and in dreams that night, where a girl with twigs and leaves in her hair peopled my dreams. Leaves on a tree that never grew, an instrument made from powerful, destructive longing, that played music from the heart and soul. A golden palace with a golden princess and the king of the herrings. Daniel seemed to live inside the stories as he had never done before, becoming each character and holding each story so close. I have seen him many times now, but never so powerfully telling. " Dark Tales From the Woods" is good, but Daniel telling the stories blending with the music is even better ad I look forward so much to getting the cd when it is made.

 

26th January. Walking again with dogs and cats and the sky threatening rain. Saw two snipe, two choughs and many ravens. Too many things to do and wanting to do them all at the same time.

 

listening to a wren in the bushes and pretending to be a meercat
cats checking that we are going the right way on a coastal walk

title page for Singing to teh Sun by Vivian French and Jackie Morris, work in progress.

30th January. Yesterday the sun spilled out gold onto the beach and lit the land with sunshine and shadow. Today a ceiling, a bowl, a blanket, a lid of cloud sits over everything, muting the world to tones of winter. The beach in the morning is big. Stones are carved by the sea and the water draws pools and shapes and patterns on the sand that echo in the patterns of the clouds.

Yesterday a song thrush came into the garden. When I was a child I would go to sleep on spring nights listening to the song thrushes calling in the night. The garden was full of them. Today I cannot remember when I last saw a thrush or heard one singing.

sinuous rocks carved by water

title page for Singing to The Sun, by Vivian French, watercolour painting by Jackie Morris, donkey walking with a jester, tabby cat riding on the donkey's back.

Today I started work on the cover artwork for the Robin Hobb "Assassins" books, a day of concentrated work. There was a moment when the drawing and the painting were balanced and fresh and the image looked good and strong, but not what I had been commissioned to do, so I carried on painting, listening to Moondog and his timber wolf. Later picked up the paintings from the gallery in Haverfordwest and now the house is again full to bursting with work and it is difficult to get past them into my studio.

next.........

 

 

 


©Jackie Morris