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

Sheffield paper artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
Forsythia in a blue jug

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…

Season’s Greetings!

Sheffield collage artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
Peace on Earth

If you saw the bright star in the skies this week, formed by the rare conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, then lucky you. I looked and looked but it was too misty here. As you probably know, it’s the first time the two planets have been so close to each other in 800 years, and that perhaps this was the same bright star that the shepherds and wise men saw over Bethlehem many years before that. There is certainly some perspective (if not comfort exactly) in knowing that this planetary alignment has happened before and that for all the fear, uncertainty and misery of this year, we are just a tiny human part of a great whirling dance and that this too shall pass.

Meanwhile, “Hark the Herald Angels” has been running through my head for days. I learned the descant part at school and always love belting it out with a crowd of carol singers but there’s not been much opportunity for that this year, alas. Still, I’m holding on for dear life to the idea of that bright star and a heavenly flotilla of angels and starlight filling the skies, and whatever can possibly give us some hope at the moment when so much seems to have been taken away. 

Whatever your Christmas plans this year, these times feel so hard. We thought it was going to get easier and it hasn’t, it’s just getting more strange and scary. I believe it’s called evolution and that we are in the middle of such a huge shift that it is not likely to be comfortable. I don’t know what to wish you amidst so much uncertainty except to find something to fall in love with. Something – an animal, a book, an idea even – that can carry you through these dark days and give them a sense of purpose. It has been quite heartening to see people for whom 2020 has brought really positive change despite adversity: a new business, a change of scene, an achievement. New purpose. I have not been one of them – I wish – but it does give me hope to see that it’s possible, change is possible. And despite all this adversity and cynicism and sadness and loss, I still like to think that there are angels are out there, singing songs that we have not yet trained our ears to hear but may yet do if we learn to listen carefully…

Stepping Back…

How are you feeling as 2020 crawls towards the finish line?

Not much has changed here in the last month except that it’s getting colder and I think we’re all getting tireder. Not much has changed and yet I find myself in a state of growing anxiety. Today it reached such a pitch that I had to ask myself, what is making me so anxious? And I realised with sadness that it was a lot to do with social media.

It’s been good to me over the last few years; I’ve made several actual real life friends through Twitter and Instagram, and my interactions have always been 99% benign, but on some level I have to admit there is a pressure to perform, or present a certain image. Even if you really don’t think you’re that sort of person. But also, there are so many voices, so much going on – of course that’s the fun part and how we find out about each other and the world at the moment but I realised today that I couldn’t hear myself think. The Noise – that constant background hum of activity I wrote about a few months ago – is back. It’s heightened by the chronic stress and unrest of still living under restrictions after so many months, a growing fear of recession, and all our known quantities crumbling away. And it’s insidious, this noise. It makes you start to doubt yourself, forget who you are.

Does it affect anyone else, I wonder? If you’re reading this, do you enjoy the noise and seek it out? Or do you find that like an introvert at a hectic party, there is only so much you can take before you need to get out of there for some fresh air and the quiet of your own thoughts?

So I am stepping back for a bit – muting the apps on my phone, leaving the Instagram challenge for another time, tearing up the to do list and reminding myself how to be lazy. Crazy how radical that feels! And how foreign.

My online shop will still be open for orders but I’m pressing pause on all promotional activity and commissions for the time being, yes, even though it’s Christmas soon. I have to say, it’s a huge relief.

Art for Hard Times

Photocollage, Henry Moore

Poetry seems to have had a resurgence this year, and poems of all kinds have helped a lot of us to navigate the strange and complicated emotions of life in 2020. It’s been lockdown-proof, something shareable across paper, screens and airways.
One of my favourite things over the last few months has been my weekly Skype poetry club with a friend, a glass of wine and a poem that we read to each other on a vaguely agreed theme. We’ve been doing it since March and it’s carried on all the way through the summer – including at a real life, socially distanced picnic by the side of a reservoir, post wild swimming – I can’t even remember half the poems that we have read but the words have been such a comfort. Poetry reflects those odd moments of beauty that are so needed in hard times, and seems to refresh parts of the soul that other words don’t always reach.

Seeing art has a similar effect, and oh how glad I am to have done a tiny bit of this before everything shut down again. One of the first things I did after lockdown was not go to a bar but head for Yorkshire Sculpture Park – literally a breath of fresh air!  There are so many things that I miss and have just had to put out of my mind, as we all have; but I hadn’t realised how much I missed seeing art in a gallery until the last couple of weeks, when I saw two really good exhibitions. Even with entry-screening and one-way routes and distancing marks on the floor and wearing a mask, just going to a gallery space felt like tapping back into “normal”.

Tube shelter at Elephant & Castle, Bill Brandt.

I can’t describe how exciting and at the same time soothing it was to see these shows. So nourishing.
One was the parallel work of Bill Brandt and Henry Moore, at the wonderful Hepworth Gallery in Wakefield. They were both commissioned war artists documenting the early days of the London Blitz in 1939 as thousands of civilians slept in underground tube stations to shelter from the bombing.
Brandt’s photographs and Moore’s sketches are some of the most poignant and memorable images of the war; we might not be at war in 2020 but through their depictions of darkness, fear and restrictions, the parallels to our current situation  are hard to ignore.

Night Bombing. Watercolour and wax crayon sketches, Henry Moore

The other show that made a vivid impression was “Transient Lines” at Bloc Space in Sheffield. For a couple of years I had a studio space there with two friends, a tiny little bolt hole to store the equipment for our pop up cinema, Magic Lantern Film Club. So I have a soft spot for Bloc. We shared the space with Katie, who made elaborate hanging sculptures with thread, and when we left the studio, left her some of our old kit including a super 8 projector. She has used her theatrical training to light her hanging pieces with spotlights and film projectors, and the effect is ethereal, soothing and timeless, like watching pictures in the fire.  

Moving Structures, Katie Jamieson

Transient Lines was Katie exhibiting with three other women, including Clee Claire Lee  who makes beautiful shapes with tangled wire and had stretched delicate wire netting across the gallery ceiling to make shadow drawings across the space. I don’t know why I found this exhibition so enchanting except that it somehow had a fairytale, mythical quality (so different from the stark realism of the Brandt/Moore exhibition) and also – soooo important – it was art made by women immersed in their craft, still in process really, art made by learning and moving and playing. It was so good to see some playfulness and also – knowing that the whole thing was going to be taken down in a few hours – an acceptance of change and that through all of the turbulence and uncertainty of 2020, this too shall pass.

“Mouthpiece” (my name for it) Clee Claire Lee

The Inner Flame

Sheffield collage artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
Nights are drawing in…
We’re deepening into the dark part of the year now, clocks have gone back and night is falling earlier. Where I live, we’re now back under fairly severe restrictions in terms of socialising, and a lot of people feel lonely and exhausted already; this year has taken its toll in so many ways and it just feels harder to keep generating new enthusiasm when what’s ahead looks very much like the same old same old with not a lot to look forward to.

I’m lucky to be living with my partner, with various projects on the go and lots of things to occupy my time, but my heart has been hurting with missing people I love – our son, my extended family, and friends in other cities – and all the fresh energy and perspective and ideas that they bring, not to mention the fun and the hugs.
But today I started thinking about this time of year in older cultures and the way that this was always a time to go deeper. To nurture the inner flame. To start slowing down the way that nature slows down, taking more time over all our small daily routines, paying attention to the process rather than fixating about the results. It’s also traditionally been the season when we use the darker colder nights to start flexing our mental muscles in new projects, enrolling in evening classes or taking up a new hobby.

For me this will involve going back to the drawing board – literally – as I challenge myself to do more line sketching in my notebook when I’m out and about, and perhaps even find a life drawing class. I want to learn to draw with charcoal and materials I wouldn’t usually try because I tell myself they’re too messy and I don’t think I can, and I haven’t got time…but what’s this? My life is still pretty busy despite the restrictions but actually I have got plenty of time.
And it is time to go deeper. Get better at things I already do passably well, practice and refine the things that I avoid or that scare me. (For instance, making a little film about me and my work and learning to use technology more comfortably)
Going deeper like this is a bit like sitting in meditation where you are faced with yourself, waiting for the chatter of your mind to fall away until what’s left is your own inner flame. It’s not at all easy! And this isn’t an easy time, but that is when in older cultures the magical and the unexpected become possible. Changing our rhythm and our expectations. Patiently kindling our fires in the darkness.

Handmade Day!

 

Sheffield collage artist Melanie Pearson "Les Fruits de Mel"
Hand made cards

Today is the first of October and the first ever World Handmade Day, as suggested by the fabulous people at Folksy.com. Good timing, as I’ve just had a delivery of new cards from the printers and I’m going to customise each one of them with a few little additions so that each one is unique. Ridiculously time consuming and not at all cost-effective, you might say, when they’re already printed and good to go, but for me there is great joy in adding those extra little touches. That’s what the handmade ethos is about – the opposite of mass production, making and having something unique.

“Yeah, but hand made stuff is so expensive!” – well, I have got to admit, £4 for a greetings card can seem like a lot when you can get a nice one from a supermarket for a couple of quid; I do sometimes buy a card from a supermarket and there are some really nice ones, but a handmade one is the product of an individual maker’s skills, dedication and care, encouraging creativity and independent enterprise in your community. When you support an individual artist or maker by buying their work, you’re helping someone do more of what they love. You’re paying a little bit extra for their product to reflect their training, their overheads, and the materials they use – not to mention their time. But also, I like to think that choosing something that’s been hand made with love is a positive action for yourself, making the choice for the quirky, unique and local, maybe even encouraging skills of your own.