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.

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
Our Bob

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

Transition…

 

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, 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 a 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 are very controlled and figurative, and I very definitely don’t use these colours together so this is very different. A Covid experiment….

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 love 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 pretty 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.

 

 

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.

 

  • Quality content, huh? Shakespeare, Dorothy Parker and The Kinks in the space of a few paragraphs!

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.