SPACE. The final frontier.

Having the house to myself! I have longed so much for this. Just some time and space to myself with no-one else around. Why is this so important for women? Women living with children, that is, or women who are carers, or just women living with a man. Especially an uxorious kind of man who loves to be at home and sees no particular need to go or be anywhere else. And I don’t know if this is also true for woman living with another woman. But for so many women living with a male partner, it does seem to be the case: we love them but we just wish they’d bloody go out for a few hours.

Everyone needs time to themselves and space to unravel their thoughts: that knotted skeining of thoughts, what-ifs, to-do’s, perhaps’s and if-only’s that float constantly like specks at the edges of your vision. Most of the time there is not much room to consider these in a busy day full of work and other people’s demands. And yes, I know I am lucky to have other people in my life who make those demands, and to live with a man who loves and wants to be near me. But still. It is hard to ignore the needs and energetic presence of another person, the inevitable call of the outside world, when they are always there pressing up against the thin cells of my own identity, and I long for space away from all of that to recharge my batteries and remember who I am. And it seems to happen so rarely.

What do I do with this luxury of space? A day all for myself? When my son was a baby, a sickly baby who cried constantly and never slept for longer than two hours at a stretch, time alone was an almost impossible concept; my body was no longer my own, the edges blurred between me and him, this tiny tyrant. To be on my own back then was an animal thing, a separation that felt like relief but also a puzzlement, a persistent twingeing of a phantom limb. On the odd occasions when he slept in the daytime, or wonder of wonders if someone took him out, the most precious thing was simply to be able to sit in a quiet room by myself, make a cup of tea at leisure or read a book. But I have to admit that first of all, I used to tidy up. Pad softly around the house picking up old newspapers, wiping away smears and cup rings and plumping up the cushions. Not so much from neatness as ownership; re-acquainting myself with the parameters of the house; re-acquainting myself with me.

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"

Later, in the early days when my son had started going to nursery, I’d use the time on my own right up to its edges. I was weak and grieving after a series of miscarriages and in this state of crisis, a creative energy rose to the surface and would not leave. For just two short hours, I’d forget everything to kneel on the floor furiously cutting out shapes from huge rolls of paper that I’d found in a skip, making them into giant paper cut women. Women without hands, like the old folk tale, or sometimes women with enormous long arms stretching out into branches and leaves like Daphne turning into a tree. Forgetting everything else, that was the key. And making art, for nobody else but me, because I simply couldn’t not do it. I got my mojo back that way and reclaimed my strength.

In Tai Chi and yoga practice you can visualise a ball of energy between your hands, feeling its shape and weight and playfully making it bigger or smaller. Maybe it has a definite colour or gives off heat. I bet for most women this energy would be so big, so colourful and glowing that it would light up the world if only they could keep it for themselves. When day after day my emotional and physical attention is given over to other people and the outside world, and I don’t get proper space to myself to recharge, this energy – what could be such a radiant power – feels like a small wizened cricket ball, shrunk almost out of existence. Most of the time I am just used to it this way.

We talked about FOMO a while back and not only did my partner not know what it was, but genuinely did not understand the concept. He’s self-contained, happy with his nest, dust balls and all. And I get on with the stuff of life and all the things that women are good at, but increasingly lately I wonder what it would feel like to kneel on the floor making art all day, and I feel that little cricket ball pulsating in my pocket.

Nick’s Coffee Pot

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"

Our coffee pot has broken, and this morning’s brew flooded the wooden surface of the sideboard. Cue frantic mopping up with tea towels as that precious first rocket fuel coffee of the day pooled into drawer handles and dripped onto the floor. Holding the empty jug to the light, I could see a fine but definite crack running along its base, no longer fit for purpose.

Noooo! It’s Monday morning and I must have coffee! was my first and immediate thought. Then, I realised something else – that the coffee pot had been my brother’s. He’d had it for years – one of the few things of his that somehow escaped his wreckaging – and I’d used it a thousand times when he was alive, standing in the big kitchen at his old house in the north east and then when he came to Sheffield, and I would make the coffee for us both as he couldn’t manage to do it for himself any more. So many coffees, so many mornings, so much time we’d spent together. He’d chosen and bought it in the days when he was able to live on his own and leave the house on his own and just go out to a shop. It has a history. It had poured the mugs of coffee we drank together on the day that he died. And now I have to put it out of service.

There is a strange kind of poignancy in using the last of the things that belonged to someone who is gone. I can’t really call it grief so much as a long term sense of loss; I miss Nick so often, and from a long lifetime together there are so many memories that still feel tender to the touch. Things like tunes suddenly heard on the radio or remembering a joke that no-one else would understand, or walking past his old flat and seeing someone else open the curtains. Or the pang of sadness when my phone sends me “Christmas memories”, with pictures of him on our sofa in a Santa hat and looking so happy. Saying goodbye to his coffee pot is odd – another tiny pixel added to the wide landscape of loss. But unlike a person, it will be replaced.

I remembered seeing an old cafetiere jug with a wonky plunger in the cellar– one of those things that Simon likes to keep in case it comes in useful, and I am always stealthily trying to throw away.  In this case it did come in useful, though the leaky plunger is a bit of a deal breaker and continuing to mop up every time we make a coffee will be annoying. I will just have to go out and buy a new one. At least it is January and they’ll be on sale.

Nature Saves Me

Sheffield collage artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"

(Written on 31st December 2021 but not actually posted until 2022 due to the hurly burly of life and all its many obstacles)

The newspapers called it “unprecedented” as if there were no other words in the collective vocabulary. We thought 2020 was a year like no other; we didn’t expect 2021 also to be quite as un-normal as it has turned out to be. So, as another unusual year comes to its end, I reflect on the things that have got me through. We all seem to have had one or two things that saved the day, be it baking or box sets. The main one for me used to be swimming, but in the last two years that has changed. When the pools were closed for so long, and everyone seemed to be wild swimming, I somehow didn’t want to do that as much. Wild swimming is special and lovely and there are some beautiful places to do it around the outskirts of Sheffield but it felt different; involving a drive or bus out to the reservoirs, and somehow more of a social activity. My pool swims were solitary, exercising for mind and soul as well as body, and while I loved the community at the pool, my swims were always the way back to myself, shoulder knots unfurling and everything feeling suddenly back in perspective. The baths are ten minutes walk from my house and their simplicity and availability were key. When the baths opened up again I’d still go for a swim, and enjoy it, but booking ahead for restricted sessions makes it trickier to fit in, and something has changed. So now it’s walking in nature. 

Walking was always so much more than just a cheap way of getting from A to B. There’s a wonderful saying attributed to the Greek philosopher Diogenes, that when in doubt, “solvitur ambulando”- it is solved by walking. Like swimming, it calms the mind while exercising the legs and lungs, and somehow things seem better for doing it. One of the best things I did in 2021 was go on a walking trek across Dartmoor, walking mostly in silence with a small group, following ancient pathways carved out by people and animals over hundreds of years. Walking and sleeping out on the wild moorlands amongst standing stones and extraordinary skies, walking through sun and rain and mud and mist, just letting our feet find their rhythm. Everything seemed to fall into balance and re-set. And perhaps most crucially, having left my “full of care” head behind, along with my phone, I learned to switch my thoughts off in a way I’d never managed in a thousand attempts at meditation, by simply being in nature and just looking. As a city-based tree-hugger who loves walking locally but had never done anything on this scale, it was what they call a game-changer.

Back home, I realised that although I love the green parks and woodlands and moors of Sheffield, what I really love is walking along its high edges: steep hills with high plateaus, feeling the pleasant pull on my muscles of brisk uphill climbing, rewarded by a panoramic view of sheer breathtaking beauty.

So a daily walk amidst some kind of wildness and greenery has become my life-saving companion (alongside the early morning ritual I have done since being on Dartmoor, sitting in the garden for ten minutes with my coffee, not trying to plan or change anything, just looking.) On a good day, getting out to water or the wild edges. These things have got me through the last months and long may they continue. But as 2021 ends and a new year begins, I wonder how to incorporate art and making into these small excursions, and then too, where to go next…

New year’s reading: “The Songlines” by Bruce Chatwin (perhaps no accident that he was born in Sheffield and also grew up walking its woodlands and edges) is a beautiful book about the joys of walking and its history. A book I first read years ago and which feels very timely to read again now.

*I do so recommend Henriette as a walking guide and for her philosophy of being a woman in nature. https://www.wanderingwild.co.uk 

And if you have any recommendations or tips about possible future adventures or wild wanderings, coast to coast walks and the like, then please do let me know. Happy New Year XXX

Make Time for your Art

I have of late – wherefore I know not – lost all my mirth…

And it’s easily done, as my dear brother was fond of saying. Since the clocks changed, I’ve been sleeping densely but not really waking up refreshed; there’s been a weight on my heart, a heaviness that I couldn’t identify.

Then yesterday, sitting in the garden with my first cup of coffee, I realised: oh yeah. I’ve not been making time for art.

So I need to tell you: It’s not frivolous to make art. It’s nourishment, a vitamin shot, a life force. And for me, I see, a return to balance. Without doing anything expressive or creative for a few days (and sometimes, regrettably, it can be more than that), life starts to cloud over and everything seems a  bit greyer. If you make art professionally I guess there will be a whole other dynamic but for me, doing a variety of other things as my day job, it has taken a terrifyingly long time for the penny to drop.

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
Yes yes yes it’s my Autumn almanac

The funny thing was that I had enrolled in an online drawing course a few weeks ago and had got really into it for about five days and then, erm…to paraphrase Dorothy Parker, once I’d put my sketchbook down I couldn’t pick it up again.*

Why? Because it was too controlled, just too pernickety and kind of finite. Where was the random element, the playfulness, the fun? I realised that what my creative soul was really missing was just playing. Exploring possibility. Making a mess! And so I’ve gone back to one of my favourite things and started a scrapbook / junk journal for autumn, and just like that, choosing some goldy-reddy papers from my collection of scrap materials did the trick. It reset something that was out of whack, lifted my sad mood instantly and got my creative mojo rolling again.

Art. Who knew? And why do we let ourselves get caught up in adult life and forget this important stuff? We all need permission to play. Just like my first-thing-in-the-morning-coffee-in-the garden sit in the same spot through all weathers, it’s become a daily meditation.

 

 

I did it My Way…

Regrets…I’ve had a few...” and yes, frankly I would have preferred to avoid amazon as the publisher for my recent memoir but as a first time author navigating the choppy waters of self-publishing, it was difficult to find a better alternative. For all its ills, amazon does have an international reach which means that people all over the world can find out about the book and easily order a copy, and all purchases generate royalties which I am then able to donate to charity.

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"

However…it would also be nice to have the option to sell copies directly through my shop on this site (and throw in a few of those personal touches too that you wouldn’t get by ordering through a multi-national corpocracy ) so the plan is to do that in the very near future.

If you are interested and would like to pre order a copy, or have any comments or queries, please do get in touch via my contact page here.

Further updates coming very soon! As well as more ART! There’s a new cat story taking shape on the back of an envelope that will soon become Love Cats 2. Autumn is a time for new creative endeavours, after all.

So this is what I’ve been up to:

Beautifully written: a powerful and important book. I hope people read it. It needs to be read.”

I’ve not been doing much visual art lately, though new work is gently simmering in the back burner of my imagination. Instead, over the last year and three lots of lockdown, I finished writing the book I’d started about five years ago.

It’s been a long time in the making and hasn’t always been easy to write: it’s a personal memoir about my family and how a rare genetic illness has shaped our lives together. My brother really wanted people to hear our story, and there are excerpts from his diaries to tell his side of it in his own words. When he died suddenly a couple of years ago, it gave me the impetus to finish the book.

Self publishing, especially for the first time, is quite a daunting process and I couldn’t have done it without the help of a fantastic editor, Anne, who was recommended through Sheffield’s Creative Guild; she sorted out my crazy paragraphing, organised my jumble of pages into something resembling an actual book, and suddenly like magic, it’s been published! A real paperback book with my name on. I’ve dreamed of that for a long time and now here it is, available for anyone to buy. Can I just say that it’s a proud but utterly terrifying experience.

Anyway, it is currently only available via a…on (don’t judge me – they make it so much easier for the newbie author) but I’d like to be able to offer it via this website for UK readers. What do you think? It will be a little more expensive to include postage, but every order will be signed and include a little thank you gift too. Do let me know if you’d be interested.

Heartbreaking but not miserable and I hadn’t expected it to be so funny!

Juggling

 

“And what do YOU do?” Mixed media collage with Ada Lovelace

I’ve never understood those people who have nothing to do, or say they are bored. I do get bored, but that’s usually more due to spending too long in the wrong situation than having nothing to do. I always have something to do. I’m a busy person. I’ve always got stuff to do and projects on the go. Its not really something to be proud of; yes I get many things done in a day but too often they are either obligations for work, or for someone else, or those small, inconsequential things that make me feel better by ticking something off a long list, and at what cost to the bigger picture, the heart’s desire?

One thing I have learned is that you genuinely can’t have too many pots boiling over on the stove at once. Something has to give. At the moment, I’m juggling three part time jobs and also trying to finalise the edit for the memoir I’ve been writing. It’s very nearly done but it’s taking time and concentration and there are only so many hours and so much energy in the day. Art has fallen by the wayside.

At times like these it feels that something is missing, and it is. The need to draw or make cut out shapes is stronger than any expectation of the result, and it feels like a loss. I am really missing that feeling of sitting down to a blank page with no agenda except to play. But I know I’ll come back to it. My sketchbooks and scissors and crayons are waiting patiently for the time when I feel I have enough space in my head to create something new, and for now, there is just time and energy to make a tiny little sketch of the flowers on my table, cut from the garden first thing this morning. 

 

Lovely light

I love these lighter mornings, sun glowing through the bedroom curtains   and no need to switch any lights on. It’s still chilly but his morning I went out without needing gloves, and for a little while I even took my coat off! And there are bright yellow baby daffodils and purply blue miniature irises in my window box – the colours of springtime. I love this promise in the air, the scents of greenery and knowing that there are warmer, brighter days ahead.

Sheffield collage a

I’ve been making some spring flower papercuts to hang in my window and now a Flora, goddess of Springtime, to go with them. Here she is laid out on the rug before hanging up; have not planned this design at all, it’s just taking shape in a very ad hoc way! I think I’m going to add some more green leaves to make it really spring like. What do you reckon?

Things to get through a cold month

We didn’t think we’d still be here did we? Working from home (or not working because lockdown has made us redundant) with cinemas, shops and cafes closed, not seeing our family or friends, life as we knew it pretty much on hold…when we looked ahead this time last year, this certainly wasn’t in the plan.

For me, the trick to keeping anxiety at bay involves getting outdoors and into nature as much as possible, making or producing something creative every day, however small (like these pretty peppermint creams) and keeping brain and body active. I signed up to a WEA course on the history of Sheffield activism which is more fascinating than I could possibly have imagined, taking us deep into the history that shaped this city and adding new dimension to my lockdown walks.

For centuries, Sheffield was remarkable for the equality between artisan and business owner, resisting the feudal rule of other similar centres like Manchester or Leeds and encouraging the education of its working people. Many of these belonged to “Non-conformist” faith groups, rejecting the hierarchies of the Church of England in favour of more socially conscious ideas. Religion and politics went hand in hand, with a strong leaning towards dissent. I knew that John Wesley had famously preached in the city centre in the 1700s but hadn’t realised the extent of the Non-Conformist movement of diverse religious groups or the strong links between faith, artisan design and radical thinking.

Reading up on the players in these histories, I’ve been looking them up in my wonderful architectural Guide to Sheffield  and now, with restricted movement around town, I’m seeing familiar street names and buildings with new eyes. How places I pass most days have hosted the people and events that I’m reading about. Here is one of them, and a favourite local landmark, the “Samuel Worth chapel” (named after the architect) in the General Cemetery, with its Egyptian style doorway.

He was also the architect for the much beloved Upper Chapel in the city centre, where we once saw a film projected onto the facade as part of the city’s Ruskin centenary celebrations.  Watch this clip (I’m in the crowd there – remember crowds?!) and feel nostalgic for the ease with which we used to do these things.

Love in a Cold Climate

Sheffield paper cut artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"

Have I said “Happy New Year” yet? Probably not, as 2021 is still yawning and stretching itself into shape. We’re once again in lockdown so this year still feels a lot like the last one and while there is hope – it’s cold, cold, cold but the days are definitely getting lighter – we are still very much in the middle of a long winter.

We took the Christmas decorations down this week and now the house feels strangely bare. Most noticeably, the windows, which for the last month have been festooned with fairy lights and colourful paper cuts. It’s been so cheering to see all the festive lights and decorations in people’s windows and I realised that I would like to keep that cheerful spirit alive with some new year window art. Because decoration – like so many other lovely things – is not just for Christmas, and right now we need all the communal creativity and cheer we can muster.

We have a massive bay window that’s visible all the way down the street, so I’m thinking big. So now the challenge is: what images to make that would put out a hopeful face out to the world and declare my intentions for the year ahead? My fingers immediately started cutting out a heart shape before my mind could even focus on a plan, so it’s got to be something to do with LOVE.

What would (or will) you make to cheer up your January windows? Some of my neighbours are already on the case. So watch this space….

UPDATE: I made this angel:

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"

Sadly, it’s had to come down now as it was really upsetting the cat. He;’s getting a bit old and set in his ways and the bay window is his space…