Wearing your Heart on your Sleeve

Wearing your heart on your sleeve as a visual sign that you’re in a delicate place emotionally – the Victorians seemed to do this thing so well, but it has gone out of fashion in our society.  I think the nearest thing we have now is a t-shirt for when you’re running a race or taking on some charity challenge in support of someone you love who’s affected by cancer or (as I’ve done in the past) Huntington’s Disease.

I did a workshop a couple of weeks ago at blocprojects on expressing grief and loss through textiles, just because it sounded interesting and I’ve previously tried to describe the experience of loss through writing about my family and doing my comic.

I didn’t really expect the workshop to be so powerful but it is still fresh in my mind, especially as one of my closest friends is seriously ill and although there’s been no formal prognosis yet, we are coming to terms with the realisation that she is not likely to pull through. We were making armbands in the workshop, commemorating  a person we had lost, and representing something they had loved – strawberries, music, a landscape, a colour. My friend was very chic and tended to dressed in 50 shades of black but has always loved a bit of leopard print, and the heart and stars is to represent the love going out to her from an incredible network of friends across the world.

Since doing this, I’ve started wanting to make collages with fabric and other decorations – ribbon, beads, old earrings as well as paper, and it’s opened up a new avenue of ideas and possibilities. I’m a very bad hand-sewer, by the way, much more interested in colour and layers of texture than in neat stitching, but that’s OK – I want the pieces to be a bit quirky and 3D (back to the idea of working in 3D) rather than a finely wrought piece of textile art. And just as well, as I can still remember the tutor on my Access to Foundation Art course looking at my attempts at textile art, and saying it reminded her of one of those travelling tinkers who used to wear every scrap of ribbon, lace and feather on their person to advertise their wares. She didn’t mean it at all as a compliment, but you know, now I’ve got nothing to prove, I think I’ll take it as one anyway.


And back to the drawing book

My 3D dreams are still in the pipeline, but perhaps it’s something to do with the changing seasons, shorter autumn days and contracting energy; all of a sudden I got the pull to draw figuratively again – literally, I found my fingers just twitching to hold a pen and draw some lines.

I’m a bit out of practice! But it is fun to sit at a cafe table or stand at a bus stop, observing and making some quick scribbly sketches. What’s more, it feels playful in a way that I’d forgotten about, perhaps because it is so small scale. It’s funny because I’ve so much been needing to make bigger work lately and imagining it in larger scale spaces, and now suddenly the opposite. I want the smallness and intimacy of decoration and to fill a sketchbook page with close knit images. The big difference about this sort of work is that it’s not collaborative and not so easy to share on a larger scale, but closer to a zine. The drawings below are half travelogue, half fiction, telling a story…I’m not yet sure what story, or if there even is one, but stick around and perhaps this will unfold.

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
Barca Taxi

Moon gazing

It is late September and in Japan this week the festival of Tsukimi will celebrate the harvest moon. I wish I could be there.

Japan leaves its mark on you. Earlier this year I saw the cherry blossom in Kyoto and walked through spectacular mountain scenery, but my abiding memory is of the last day of my trip, in Osaka, when the weather suddenly turned from warm sunshine to torrential rain. It could have been a sad way to leave; my friend and I had been rained off from our plans and gone in search of the city art gallery which is in the middle of a park, but it turned out to be closed and the rain kept beating down. We ran for shelter towards the park exit and spotted a smalwooden summer house, where we waited out the deluge as the rain just got worse, drumming on the roof and making Zen circles of drops in the lake below. We were in the most exquisite and quintessential Japanese gardens, no-one else there except for a very wet heron. It was cold and soggy and a bit ridiculous to be sitting there in the downpour but yet for all that it was the most delightful afternoon in one of the most beautiful places I have ever been in, and the memory has captured my imagination. 

I also keep thinking of the Moon Viewing rooms I saw, and the Japanese custom of gathering to celebrate and admire the full moon. I love the idea of having a special place with windows on all sides for the best view of the moon. The ripples on the lake and the image of the full moon keep recurring as themes and I’m musing on the idea of a companion piece to the cherry blossom installation and film, this time with paper cut spiral ripples and a film of the rain on the water intercut with footage of the moon. Trying to figure out how it will work – but perhaps I will wait til the end of the week and do what the Japanese would do for inspiration, seeking insight under the light of the full moon.


Transient Landscapes

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"

I have heard it said that a bigger studio (or having the use of a studio at all, as opposed to working from home) generates bigger ideas and physically bigger art, and there’s surely something in that. The scope of the work naturally enlarges to fit the space, so you find yourself working on a different scale.

Jo had already been developing her monumental draped installations in the sculpture hall at ECA, and although my work is on a much smaller scale (maybe because I do have a home studio?) I started to want to inhabit the space differently.

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
Detail of Jo Fleming-Smith’s “Wave” painted fabric installation with my cherry blossom film projection in background.

Having a “process space” to develop an idea was a luxury – and quite scary to walk into an empty space (but not quite empty, with coffee cups, old paintbrushes and drawing pins left over from the last residency) with an idea in mind but no real sense of how to accomplish it. The only thing to do was take a deep breath and begin.  

My idea had been to fill the room with the cherry blossom cut out shapes I’d made, but it was obvious that there was no way I could make enough in the short time we had without my fingers falling off; so I just used a corner, like flowers growing wild over a corner of a wall, or a page in a sketchbook. I’d taken so many photos of the cherry blossom while travelling through Japan, and made a little film loop to project over the cut outs. Very low tech, but it worked. As a process of discovery and exploration, it worked, and helped me consider what I could do better in future.

Also, although Jo and I had done very different things with our responses to the space, as a whole it did seem to work. When we opened our doors to the public, we got a really positive response and wished that we had had the residency for longer. But then, the whole point of it was to make something temporary and capture that fleeting moment of beauty – just for a very short time, knowing that nothing is permanent. 

Here are some images from the finished exhibition:

Melanie Pearson, “Fleeting Moment” cherry blossom paper cut hangings and film projection.
Jo Fleming-Smith, mixed media with painted fabric, fluorescent light and hand blown glass.


Transient Landscapes was a site-specific installation developed during a temporary residence at Bloc Meanwhile Space, April – May 2023.

Conversations in a new key

Back in January, my friend Jo invited me to look at a temporary art space run by Bloc Projects, thinking we could put on an exhibition there together at some point. There was a free slot for a fortnight in April if we were interested? Yes of course! I said, despite knowing that in April I would be very freshly back in the country from my amazing once-in-a-lifetime trip to Japan, back at my newish, 4 days a week job, and quite probably jet lagged. There was also the small matter of not really having made any art for weeks if not months, let alone have something to show. But Jo and I have been having creative conversations for many years and her recent work has inspired me. We both said yes, let’s do it, thinking we’d figure it out later. 

Cut to earlier this week, arriving into an empty space that suddenly seemed both dour and daunting. We had visualised how we could use the space together but stepping over the threshold now it all felt very different. How were we actually going to do this?

Jo has already got a strong body of work as a painter / sculptural installation artist from her recent time at ECA, but wanted to try out some ideas in a new setting; just back from my travels, I had very little prepared but I’ve been wanting to make some bigger work for ages and do some paper cut hangings again. Both of us are interested in the changing weather of life and the natural world, and how to capture that sense of wonder at the fleeting moment. Exploring this in a pop up space felt just right. Seeing how our respective work could coincide in response to the space, and most of all to have fun with it.

Work in progress cherry blossom with a glimpse of Jo’s wave sculpture.

What’s been so interesting and fun about this process is the different kind of conversations that are happening. Over the space of a few days I’ve come into the space to see amazing changes as Jo’s work evolves and winds through the area. I hang some cut-out cherry blossom shapes and  know her work will respond with a curve or a play of light. Our hours have been different so we’ve not always coincided in person but I see the art she’s done and she sees mine and it’s like leaving each other visual messages.

We’re not done yet. The conversation is ongoing and – terrifyingly – we’re opening the space up to public view so people can see the process. We so often see art when it’s “done” and has a certain polish; I like the idea of showing something that is in process and saying, this is where we’re at. Because art changes with the viewer, doesn’t it? Even if the viewer doesn’t like it or get it. Something moves forward, another kind of conversation.  It feels vulnerable and brave, and above all it feels creative.

Transient Landscapes residence from April 17th – May 1st 2023 at Bloc Meanwhile Space, Matilda Street in Sheffield city centre.

You’ve Got Mail

Completely forgot to mention that for the last few months I’ve been doing an “Art by post” subscription scheme with proceeds going to UN Women. Early this year I felt so helpless about the war in Ukraine, the continuing erosion of women’s rights in Afghanistan, and violence against women here in the UK, that I wanted to do something to support all of these. (Let’s not even mention the recent Supreme Court ruling on abortion, and what this will mean for women’s rights in the US.)

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
April packaging…
Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
Decorating the envelopes






Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
May (detail)

The idea was that people would pay a small subscription fee to get a monthly art parcel for a period of months. Each month would have a theme and every piece would be hand finished and unique, but you wouldn’t know until it arrived what exactly you were going to get. (A bit like signing up for a veg box…) 

Looking back, I could probably have set the price higher, and several of the subscribers said they expected to pay more, but I wanted to make it accessible. The art itself has been a mixture of collage, print and painted work, easily reproducible in a production line, and although there’s been low or little return, it’s been a fantastic project for creating something new on a regular basis and keeping me accountable. There’s an awful lot to be said for that. 


Goodbye Bob


The house feels strangely empty without our Bob. We lost him a few weeks ago and I’m still getting used to coming downstairs in the morning and not finding him sitting in the bay window looking out at the street, watching the world go by – what a friend of mine once brilliantly called “cat telly“. No good morning greeting, just an empty, clean window sill. No more wet footprints or drifts of fine black fuzz from his daily grooming.  Now it’s just us humans. I don’t miss sweeping up the hairs or having to buy cat food, but we all miss his constant presence in the household and his dense furry warmth on your knee in the evening.

Lesfruitsdemel Cat Collage Melanie Pearson
Home Sweet Home

He was my favourite model, (even if not always the most willing to pose) and easy to paint and draw, so I’m missing that too and kind of on the hunt for a new subject. But at the same time, I’ve been looking at the world outside with cat eyes, seeing it as a continual amazing panorama of fascination – sudden raindrops on the windows and people scurrying down the street holding bags over their heads, a magpie settling on the roof opposite, the stalky alliums in our window box rustling in the wind. It is indeed a world of entertainment out there and I just need to start finding ways to draw it.

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
Feed Me



Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
No idea where this is going, or what it’s going to be, but at the moment I love this colour!

Transition….whenever I say this word to myself, I can’t help getting a burst of “Fiddler on the Roof” in my head, and Topol singing “Tradition”!

Yet with Transition, when you’re going through one of these times you are pulling away from all your traditions. It’s new and exciting and uncomfortable and there is no map for where you might be going. I am having one of these times at the moment. Apparently it coincides very neatly with a series of lunar eclipses. How about you? Chances are you know exactly what I’m talking about because so many people seem to be going through something similar. And obviously the wider world is in terrifying turmoil. These are strange times.

Knowing how lucky I am to live in relative peace and security, it feels wrong to be dissatisfied but I’ve been unsettled lately. So many things seem to be not quite right anymore – living in the city (even in the lovely neighbourhood I am lucky to inhabit), the layout of my room, my hair, my clothes, my job, my social life, and most of all my creative work. It’s been disorientating and to be honest, quite distressing and sad. It feels a bit like the dismay when you reach for the fail-safe party frock or favourite jumper that once fitted so perfectly and you could just throw on without thinking, and suddenly it looks all wrong – too tight or too shapeless or just plain ugh.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been experimenting with painting, and it has opened up such a can of worms because I’m really not very good at it! I wish I was but whatever I do, I just can’t seem to control the brush and it does its own thing. It always results in a dog’s dinner. The whole thing has made me feel quite depressed.

At the weekend I was talking with an artist friend whose work and creativity I so admire, and was telling her about my inability to paint and she said she was just the same (and this is a woman who has been to art school, works across many media and is immensely talented) At some point, she said, you get these times of creative hiatus and you just have to sit with it. Be here now, and accept that it is a time of change and that it is not meant to be comfortable. I felt better after our chat. I decided that I’d stop trying to be a good, or even competent, painter and just go back to my sketchbooks and the playfulness of collage and colour, just have some fun again. Sometimes you simply have to let go of attachment to an outcome, and be with the discomfort and the not knowing.

The funny thing is, I came home and started making some collage AND a painting, and although as usual the brush and paints have a life of their  own, this time it felt different. Like it might actually work out. So I am telling myself to hold my nerve, to feel the discomfort of not knowing where I’m going, and just try to have a bit of fun with that.

Going with the (lateral) flow


Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
I made this painting while I was probably coming down with the virus, though I didn’t know it. I hardly ever make paintings, and if I do, they ten to be more figurative, and I would never normally use these colours together so this is very different. A Covid influenced experiment, perhaps.

Everyone’s getting it.” said my yoga teacher at the weekend, fresh out of isolation after ten days of having Covid, and on Monday I too got the dreaded parallel lines on my lateral flow test. So I’m writing this with a runny nose, headache and sore eyes, still feeling washed out after a couple of days in bed but feeling very lucky to be here.

The weather has been suddenly lovely, sunny and warm, and it felt so good to sit outside on the step with a mug of tea, admiring the daisies coming up in the cracks of the paving stones, thinking about this time two years ago when we also had lovely weather and the world seemed to have paused – not just for me but for everyone.

I look back with nostalgia to that time; it was awful and terrifying in so many ways and yet I loved the uncompromising peace, the quiet walks through empty streets and the drifting pink of cherry blossom petals. I loved the rattle of dice and counters as my son and his girlfriend played endless games of backgammon and Boggle in the sunshine outside the front door, beautiful in beach clothes and the scent of sun lotion. Loved knowing where they were at night, and that we were all safe under one roof.

I loved the news reports of animals strolling through deserted city centres, and the sightings of fish in newly clear waters, and the sound of birdsong as I’d never seemed to notice it before. It was such a hard time for so many, and I knew we had it lucky, and that made me even more thankful for the small daily benisons of home and all the things that I realised made life good.

Today feels a bit like that. A snapshot of March 2022 is very different and the world has not become a nicer, better place, far from it. My eyes hurt and sinuses are stinging; the news reports of war, displacement and poverty are sobering and just keep on coming. But just warming my bare toes on the stone outside with the sun on my face, not well but able to appreciate the slowness, headache and all – despite everything that has passed, and everything that is going on in the world – and maybe because of all that – I feel these things so gratefully and know that it is good to be alive.

There’s more to life than books, you know (but not much more)

You know how sometimes we can miss the bleeding’ obvious even when it’s right in front of our nose? And also, how we can be totally blasé about something we do well because we think it’s just normal and everyone can do it?

I’ve been feeling envious of people who paint and make big, abstract work. Wishing that I could do that (and sometimes I have done, and loved the freedom and expressiveness of it), and sometimes I do unroll a huge roll of paper and splash a splurge of colour with my widest brush, and it feels great – but then I go back to my desk and make a small picture. Because, in the end, that’s what I do best.

It is beginning to dawn on me that maybe I can do some things that not everyone can do, even if it slightly pains me to admit it. Let’s face it, it is much easier to think everyone else has it nailed.

I spent a rainy afternoon this week thinking about life and work and art and how to find a common thread between them. For a while now, I’ve been wondering how to reconcile art and writing – I love doing them both, but they seem to come from different places.

And glancing around my room at all my stuff, I suddenly realised that nearly everything I do is some sort of book. Sketchbooks. Scrapbooks. Journals. It’s all about books! I’ve kept scrapbooks of cuttings for most of my adult life, and always a diary, and usually a sketchbook too: my life is pretty much documented in books, often handmade or in decorative covers, and bits of paper. My life is in books. From now on, I’m going to think of myself as a book artist, except that sounds pretentious and doesn’t quite hit the mark. If you can think of a better title, please let me know.

There are actual books here, too. Lots of books. (Minimalists, look away now – though I guess most minimalists will have done that long since anyway.) 

“Blimey! I wouldn’t want to move you!” said a man with a van once, gazing around at the bookcases stretching up the walls. I didn’t actually think we had that many.

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"

I was pretty defiant about this over lockdown, during all those zoom chats where our most private spaces suddenly became public; some people bought ring lights and carefully adjusted their decor for neutral backgrounds. I couldn’t be bothered with any of that but was aware that wherever I sat, my zoom background was crammed with books.

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"

There are books in the kitchen, books in the bedroom, a box of scrapbooks under the bed and two teetering columns of old diaries. More diaries and current scrapbooks and sketchbooks live in my studio cum library. The diaries just sit there for posterity perhaps, or something sensational to read on the train, and if I had any sense I’d probably get rid. But the scrapbooks and sketchbooks are different; in creatively fallow times they are inspiration and reference, they soothe the eye and the jaded soul. They remind me that I can make interesting work and have ideas, and to keep going. And then I can make more images in more scrap or sketchbooks and fill more shelves…

But the thing is, sketchbooks and writing and making smallish work on paper is what I do, and it’s what I do best. It’s not the most sensational medium perhaps but it’s mine. Finally, after many moons of soul searching and wishing I could be more like someone else, I’m happy with that.