But where can I buy all the pretty???

Visit Vagabond Romantics shop now to browse and buy altered art, wearable collage, and lovingly curated craft materials unearthed from the farthest reaches of granny's attic.

Saturday 26 November 2016

Inspirational Icons: Andy Goldsworthy

Andy Goldsworthy has the distinction of being the first visual artist whose work moved me to tears. It's strange in a way, as his work isn't as obviously emotionally evocative as many other artists. In fact one could say that it's emotionally neutral, a "blank canvas" in the reaction it seeks to provoke. But the first time I witnessed a collection of his large scale works up close at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in 2007, I was totally overwhelmed.

The video at the top is a short introduction to Goldsworthy's work, but at the bottom of this post I'm including a link to the entire 2001 documentary Rivers and Tides which is (currently, at least) available on Youtube. If the first clip intrigues you, it's well worth spending the time (ninety minutes or so) it takes to watch the second. The variety of Goldsworthy's work, the time he devotes to it, and the visual impact all mean it rewards those who explore it in more detail. 

Actually there are so many things about Goldsworthy's art that are magical to me. I love how he combines art and nature - especially this year as I've become more preoccupied with the diverse natural environments around me. The fact that he's working with nature, albeit in a controlled way, re-organising it, proves that we can be in harmony with the world and still shape it in a loving, respectful way. The transient nature of much of Goldsworthy's work speaks to this too - ice melts, water dries, leaves blow away. Goldsworthy's use of environmental materials extends to tools and the most basic building blocks - natural pigments are ground with stones and bound with water, branches are fastened together with thorns, leaves are linked through each other or thread onto grass, mud acts as glue. These works can easily be absorbed back into the earth as Goldsworthy is not introducing anything "alien" into his environments. Because of this, his sculptures also sit particularly beautifully in their homes.

I also think there is something incredibly magical in making art that is not necessarily for public display. The fact that Goldsworthy's works are often created in remote places, destined to be destroyed by nature, their existence recorded only on film, is somehow fitting. Some things are too precious for the public to be entrusted with.

I also love the concepts behind much of Goldsworthy's work - there are often surprising levels of detail, such as in the Snowballs in Summer project of June 2000 where thirteen giant snowballs, each weighing a tonne, were shipped overnight from Goldsworthy's Scottish home and installed in the streets of London. This would have been a striking enough concept on its own, but Goldsworthy also included hidden "surprises" in a sort of environmental variant of "Pass the Parcel" so that as the snowballs melted, they revealed traces of their rural Scottish origins in the shape of raw fleece and cow hairs, pebbles and pine cones.

Goldsworthy's art speaks to me precisely because it is such a multilayered affair. There is the concept, the process, the finished piece, the documentation - each of these elements an essential link to the whole. It is a balm to the soul in the same way as a walk on the seaside or a hike in a forest. It offers hope that humans and nature can co-exist peacefully, that patience is rewarded, that wonderful things are happening around us all the time, often going unnoticed. Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to get back to work on my driftwood dolls....

Friday 25 November 2016

No Sales Today, Thank You!

Of course, normally I am not-so-secretly hoping that anyone reading this blog will go straight to my Etsy shop and make a few purchases. After all, you all want your lives to be just as exciting as mine, don't you?! But today I am breaking with tradition and asking you to refrain, in honour of Buy Nothing Day 2016.

Today is a subversive little holiday which was founded by Vancouver artist Ted Dave in 1992 as a day to take time out from our usual habits and consider the implications of overconsumption. 

American habits - especially the bad ones - seem to spread all over the world. From fast food to lowest-common-denominator politics, it seems like the worse an American idea is, the faster everyone else rushes to adopt it. So Black Friday sales suddenly abound here in the UK, though thankfully not with the same level of insanity that accompanies the Stateside events. Across the pond, it's a chance for retailers to finally turn a profit and for consumers to spent the night queueing to buy artificially cheap "bargains" that they will later look at and wonder "What was I thinking?!" In the UK, it's more likely to mean a 10% discount on something you were probably planning to buy as a Christmas gift anyway.

So just for today, if you possibly can, spend the day away from all retail and consumer outlets. You may find you actually already own everything you need! And if you must buy, buy it from an independent business. It's kind of common sense, but it bears repeating. When you buy, say, a piece of jewellery in a High Street shop, you can be sure it's made in a factory abroad. You can't be sure of the conditions for the workers. Chances are that mere pennies of your purchase will actually go to the makers (and hopefully some for the designers too) whilst most of it will feed into the overheads of a huge company and directly benefit no one but their shareholders. The quality may not be brilliant, it may even be the kind of "fast fashion" that is designed to fall apart so you're forced to buy next season's designs. And there's every chance that at any party you go to this holiday season, there will be a few people wearing the same thing.

In contrast, consider buying a similar piece of jewellery from a maker on Etsy. It's often the case that they will be charging a very similar amount to what you'd pay on the High Street - we're all trying to compete and sadly most artists still consistently undervalue their work as the conditions above have created a false impression of the true cost of many items. That Etsy crafter is very probably (assuming they are playing by the rules!) making that item by hand, in their home, between school runs or while the kidlet naps. Each piece we create is our baby, and we love it, and we desperately want the buyer to feel the same way. You're not likely to run into anyone else wearing the same thing, or feel the need to worry because it might have gone out of fashion next season. And the money you paid - barring transaction, listing and postage fees - goes right back to the maker. And it may be enough to allow us to pay our listing fees for the next month or year, or buy that sleeping child the toy they have their heart set on, or the materials we need to try out the new idea we're working on. It may even be grocery money for next week or go towards the rent. And however much we end up with, whatever profit margin we've allowed ourselves - we, the makers and designers, are in control. We have chosen what price we think we should be paid (albeit probably underestimated it!) and we know what percentage of the cost is going elsewhere. We'll give you personal service too - I've already gift-wrapped my first Christmas sale, and the customer didn't even have to ask. And in the very unlikely event that there's an issue with your purchase, you better believe we're going to bend over backwards to put things right - small businesses can't afford to have unhappy customers!

So if you can avoid buying anything today please do. If you must buy, try to support local and/or independent businesses. And beyond today, think about making some changes to your shopping habits. If you are reading this, I am probably already preaching to the choir. But we really can't say it enough: buying a gift direct from a maker shows the recipient you care, and is also the best present the artist can hope for!

Thursday 24 November 2016

What are You Grateful For?

My friends and family in America will be celebrating Thanksgiving this week. There will be no feasting in my house as Thursdays are a busy day here, but I always welcome an opportunity to practice gratitude.

Many British friends have asked me about the origins of Thanksgiving. It's a holiday which is now steeped in controversy, and rightly so, especially when so many Native Americans are suffering this year. But it's also a holiday that I find difficult to totally discount. However hypocritical we may be, a holiday that celebrates gratitude, friendship and community seems a worthwhile one. Personally I'd prefer it to be kept, but rebranded with a less spurious origins story.

According to American tradition, the original Thanksgiving was a feast that took place when the first wave of settlers to the New World celebrated their autumn harvest. The story goes that the local Native American tribes had helped teach them which plants would grow, the best ways to fertilise, and how to preserve foods. So when it became apparent that the settlers had successfully grown sufficient food to last them through their first harsh North American winter, they invited the locals around for a huge celebratory feast. It's a rose-tinted view to be sure, and one that conveniently ignores all the later atrocities committed against these tribes and others - the legacy of which is still, sadly, very much alive in the US today.

But I can't help it, I love Thanksgiving. For one thing, it's all about the food which always seems like the best place to start a holiday. No gifts are exchanged (though I have been known to tell British visitors otherwise out of pure mischief), decorations are minimal, everything closes, and it's usually a very low key day spent with loved ones. A proper holiday, in other words, that defies too much commercialisation and keeps the focus pleasantly traditional.

It's also, of course, an excellent excuse for reflecting on the past year and counting our blessings. I thought I'd share a few of mine with you.

*I'm thankful to live in such a beautiful place
*I'm thankful for my faithful, funny little cat
*I'm thankful to have spent so much time this year close to nature
*I'm thankful for old friends I've reconnected with and new ones I am still getting to know
*I'm thankful for my creative impulses and ability to express myself
*I'm thankful that my mother is in good health and for our close relationship
*I'm thankful for all the people in my life and beyond who are trying to make things better, both on a small, personal scale and in the broader world
*Sadly, I'm thankful not to live in America at the moment (sorry, guys! I do feel for you though)
*I'm thankful that I have the freedom to choose how I live
*I'm thankful for the people I love, and the people who love me in return
*I'm thankful for my curiosity which means I am always learning, always inspired, and never bored
*I'm thankful I was able to go abroad this year
*I'm thankful for all the privileges I've been given, and which I know I've done nothing to deserve
*I'm thankful for my health, which has improved this year

What are you thankful for in 2016? It's been a trying year but look close enough and you'll hopefully be able to find something!

Tuesday 22 November 2016

Inspirational Icons: Yayoi Kusama

I first discovered the work of Yayoi Kusama just a few years ago when I was teaching art history to children. I'd last studied art history myself nearly twenty years before, so there was a sizeable gap in my own knowledge which I had been lazy about filling in. I was fortunate to have some incredibly switched on pupils who refused to let me rest on my laurels, and after a couple of terms fielding questions like "Why don't we learn about more women artists?" and "Why are all the artists we talk about dead?" I realised it was time to hit the books and gen up on my contemporary art.

One of the characters I ran across in my quest to find living, working female artists was, of course, Yayoi Kusama. And I will be eternally grateful to the children who pushed me into doing the research that led me here. I soon fell in love with Kusama's work, and her story, and the children I taught loved her too. For an artist as prolific and fascinating as Kusama is, she deserves to be much more well known.

Kusama's artwork will strike most as bright and cheerful, "wacky" in an immediately accessible and appealing way. But it belies a much darker truth - Kusama has suffered severe mental illness since childhood. Her artwork is not just her way of dealing with her condition but also a visual representation of the hallucinations she has experienced throughout her life. In fact, after garnering major success as part of the Pop Art movement (at the time, only Andy Warhol was a more famous proponent), Kusama voluntarily checked herself into a mental hospital. She has continued living there since the mid-1970s, leaving daily to work in her studio and occasionally attend exhibitions. Now approaching her 88th year, Kusama is still exhibiting internationally.

Art heals. And Yayoi Kusama is living proof that no matter how broken you may be, you still have something beautiful to bring to the world. 

Monday 21 November 2016

These are a Few of My Favourite Things

Today has been cold and wet, but inside the radiators are going, my duvet is lovely and fluffy, I've had a nice hot bubble bath, lingered over a good book binged on my favourite telly, eaten comforting carbs and catnapped with my feline companion. In other words, all is right with the world. It's got me thinking about what the very best, most satisfying sensations are. Here's a few I've come up with but feel free to add your own in the comments!

*That moment when you are drifting into sleep but just conscious enough to know it
*Sinking into a bath that is almost too hot
*A long drink of ice cold water on a hot day
*The weight of a relaxed, purring cat as it snuggles into the crook of your arm (especially on a cold night)
*Laughing uncontrollably
*Lengthy eye contact with someone you might be falling for
*Being weighed down under heavy wool blankets
*Sunshine on your face
*Sleeping outside
*Warm sand between your toes
*A really good kiss
*Rainy night, wood fire, knitted blanket (good book, sleeping cat or dog and cup of something odd all optional but highly recommended extras)
*Being alone in the woods
*Going someplace new, just because
*Ticking off the last box of your to do list
*Waking up to snow
*Freshly washed hair
*Taking a dog to the beach
*Cuddles from a child
*Staying up all night working because you've been inspired and you know you can lie in the next morning
*Mastering a new knitting stitch
*Remembering that you have leftovers in the fridge
*A shelf full of homemade preserves and pickles
*Snow falling on Christmas Eve

Sunday 20 November 2016

Mushrooms and Mermaid's Purses

(I managed to hit "save" rather than "publish" for this post, so it's a little late appearing! Apologies)

I am currently curled up on the sofa in front of a woodfire, with a dog snuggled up on the hearth. I confess that dog, fire and sofa are all borrowed - I’m visiting friends this evening. But it is just the ticket, especially after spending the afternoon communing with nature.

I spent an hour or so on the beach as planned. Sadly I didn’t get the full benefit of yesterday’s winds as the tide was still mostly in - damn these early nights! But I did collect some very inspiring bits of driftwood, some of it far more substantial than usual. It was also a good day for large cockle shells and mermaid’s purses.

I cannot resist a mermaid’s purse. My father was, until he passed away in 2011, an extremely competitive beachcomber. He always wanted to claim the best finds for himself, or at least the most. He was particularly obsessive about fossils, mermaid’s purses, and seaglass, which he used to fill glass jars and vases of all types. Indeed his beach glass collection destroyed more than one vessel which was simply not up to supporting the weight of its contents! He and both longed to find mermaid’s purses. I think he got his eye in first, but I soon followed. Up until recently though, he had logged far more hours on the beach than I had and his finds dwarfed mine accordingly. If he ever had the chance to acquaint himself with my favourite beach, I don’t know how I’d have dragged him away. So every time I stumble across a mermaid’s purse, I feel like Dad is there on the beach with me - I feel sure certain there is no place he’d rather be. And so, although I haven’t yet found a use for them, each of these reminders of him is is dutifully collected and taken home to add to my ever-growing collection.

I have now amassed quite a few mermaid’s purses and I’d like to find a creative use for them. If anyone has any ideas, please do let me know! I’m planning to try gilding a few, perhaps stringing some onto a garland. They’re not beautiful objects, but they are pleasing nonetheless and I suspect there is plenty of hidden potential if I can just hit on the right angle!

I rarely feel the cold but today the wind bit hard enough to drive me from the beach. It was a wonderful relief to climb back into my car and turn up the heating. Indeed, it was so lovely that I lingered a bit longer, taking a very slow drive deep into a forest where I was rewarded with a basketful of edible mushrooms and the kind of views most people only get to see as the backdrop to a motivational poster.

But tonight, the sleet is pounding down and I am very happy to have my feet up with a fire burning, a cup of tea and a good friend - a perfect end to a lovely day!

Friday 18 November 2016

The Calm After the Storm

Our sleepy little corner of the world hit the news yesterday with winds recorded up to 94mph. I was fortunate enough to be only minimally affected myself. I was on my way to an appointment when I rounded a corner and found the road blocked by a massive tree which had taken a power line with it as it fell. I rerouted and arrived only slightly late.

However, this morning I intend to investigate further....I have an afternoon engagement, blogs to write, Etsy items to list, emails to send, a house to tidy, and a million other things to do. But the sun is shining, it takes twenty minutes to drive to my favourite beach, and who knows what the storm will have washed up? I'll let you know if I find anything good....