A company of cats

In photo order: Aspen, Neville, Fizzy, Marmite, Oscar Charlie, Hercules and Merlin

   

  

  

  

  

  

 It was over a year ago when Hercules (and Marmite) had just arrived and I fell in love again. He and Marmite are the sweetest cats and have settled in amazingly well to their new life in Shetland, all having their own favourite places in the house. For some reason the two tabbies in the house (Aspen and Hercules) are my sofa mates whereas all the rest want to sit with Mike and its first come first served to get on his knee. We have made a few new ‘beds’ around the house so that when we’re not in the living room they can all find somewhere comfy and warm but our bed usually has a few cats sleeping quite companionably together. This includes the Neville (the Garage cat) who is as nice a cat as you could ever meet.  (His history and why he came to be the Garage Cat is another story). He is best friends with little Merlin and now has to sport a rather natty collar so that we can tell him apart from Marmite as they are so alike. 

Mike was determined to get Neville to live in the house with the other cats even though he seemed so comfortable and happy where he was, but he worried about him in the winter, so he tried bringing him in lots of times and sitting calmly with him in here (an excuse to watch sport on’t telly really) but usually he’d just bolt out after a while. Then one day be didn’t, but he stayed under the sofa most if the time keeping a wary eye on the comings and goings. He just started gradually to get bolder and now mingles quite happily with the other cats. He’s very clean and healthy despite his time living rough and, best of all (from my point of view) is his friendship with Merlin who was desperate to play with someone and who now has a WWF wrestling partner for silent bouts where they eventually disentangle and casually sidle away from each other, as if nothing had happened.  Neville washes Merlin, taking particular care to do his lugs, and it’s so sweet it brings a lump to even Mike’s gruff and manly throat.

You may have noticed there’s a strange collection of names with no logic to them … That’s because we’ve only named three out of our seven cats. How many!?!.  Yes, seven. Not our intention to have so many but one was needing a home in the country as he had decided he was not an indoor cat in a flat and as I knew he was a really handsome boy, we thought he could come to us. This was Aspen who came to us when we only had Fizzy the oldest cat and the only female  and Oscar Charlie, our lovely big Ginger Tom who came from a neighbour’s litter.  Fizzy, by the way, doesn’t like any other cats and never has. Oscar and Aspen were wary but soon settled into a friendly tolerance, and Aspen is a gorgeous silver tabby, very sweet-natured and easy to get on with. It was love at first sight for me. Then we’d heard our neighbour’s’ cat was having another litter so we said we’d have another Ginger tom if there was one, and of course there was. 

Next we heard my niece was desperately trying to find a permanent home for her two cats as she was moving to Australia and didn’t feel she could put them through the quarantines, travelling and change of life. She asked if I knew anyone that would take them but only someone that could be trusted not to ever let them end up in a shelter. So we did try, but in the end I said we would take them and my friend kindly arranged to include them with some specialist transport that was bringing her a rescue dog. So they travelled from Cheshire to Shetland, settled into our little bedroom and gradually started to explore the house and garden.  Hercules had always been a shy cat so we were prepared for him to hide under furniture but once I got his trust by sleeping in that room and talking to him all the time, he soon started to explore and now is, along with Aspen, my best buddy. We both fell for these gentle, friendly cats on the first day – Marmite, the black and white cat that looks like Neville (who was still living in the garage at that time) is a big, bold boy who soon settled in to life in Shetland and is quite self-contained and does his own thing but always sleeps at my feet overnight and strolls happily about the gardens on a nice day. Hercules is more introvert but the only time they both head for the hills is if someone new comes into the house and even then, they will often venture back in. 

It’s not been all plain sailing of course, nothing ever is. There have been trials and tribulations with food, as one of the ‘new’ members of the family couldn’t get on with the very specialised steam-dried food all the others were doing so well on. It was chosen because it has no fillers, grains, etc, and has improved the coat and condition of our others but with a combination of best quality natural chicken and fish, Marmite now seems quite content, although all the others now insist on having some of his too.  The other problem has been a “phantom widdler” which was causing a great deal of problems and we now feel we are on top of it but it’s meant the whole house (apart from bedrooms) has had a new flooring laid which is one of the new style cushionfloor vinyls which looks just like a wood floor, is non-slip, textured surface so it doesn’t have to be polished after mopping, and can be kept clean and sweet-smelling. We use rugs that can go in the washing machine, we have a sort of bacterial cleanser that eats any bacteria and removes any smells and we have a spray called Wee-away to put them off spraying in places that were “favoured”. One of these was the log basket for some reason, so we now have the logs by the fire in a tall wooden umbrella stand that is not easy for them to leap onto. The final change was the litter we used (not much used in spring and summer but vital in winter). A new type as recommended in my internet research has made a huge difference, and an added litter tray, rather a posh one so there are now three litter trays in different parts of the house, checked and cleaned several times a day.  

So it’s certainly been a learning curve and it was worth all the effort to have our little family all doing well together. In my adult life, I have helped to raise over £20k through exhibitions and events for wildlife charities and in more recent years I have continued to donate money and paintings to animal charities of all kinds (as well as children’s charities) but still feel I have never physically been out to “save” animals in the wild, so maybe I am subconsciously doing my bit in my own space. However seven is an auspicious number and we have both drawn a line in the sand! There will be no more but we will continue to care for our little raggle-taggle bunch of misfit names, friends and non-friends, mad-max nut cases and gentle little cuddle-bugs. All much loved. 

A Sketch A Day

  

Something that was raised by a member of the Wikd About Art club when we met yesterday was that she intended to do a sketch every day. Now I’ve been preaching this for ever but have I been doing it? No, of course not. Life gets in the way. However I am filled with renewed commitment and even though I was busy on a big canvas all day, and working on a watercolour under the daylight lamp last evening, I still took time to do a quick sketch. Here it is. Not very good. That’s the point. You get out of practise and the only way to keep your hand in is to draw every day. On this one the relative size of the chair to the cat is all wrong, but my sketches will get better, and so will yours if you practise.

I do sketch when I’m out, but not regularly enough, so I have made a point of putting a lovely small sketchbook I got for Christmas into my handbag and I’ll make sure I have , at least, a drawing pen  (fine or medium), and / or a mechanical pencil, so I don’t need a sharpener. Of course, for me a mechanical pencil is not ideal, it’s too fine and too light, but I did manage to find a pencil that took larger leads (I think it was a 0.7) plus spare leads. It still only gives the lightest of marks, so if you can manage to carry a 2B (B = black) and, say a 6B (very black), plus a sharpener, that would be even better. To be honest, I usually choose the pen anyway, because I like the freedom that a pen gives. You have to just go for it and not worry too much about mistakes as you can’t put them right anyway, so it has the unexpected effect of lessening the pressure to get things perfect. It turns me into a mad scribbler and I love that.  In a way, drawing with the tablet gives me the same freedom and you can maybe see the difference in confidence between the pencil sketch above and my tablet drawn cartoon here.

  

“Shetland ponies can often be seen sheltering each other’s faces by pressing their heads together in really bad weather and it always makes me smile”

Anne B

Sent from my iPad …

Anne B

wildaboutart@yahoo.co.uk

http://www.wildaboutart@yahoo.co.uk

Absence … Did it make the heart grow fonder?

Yes, I’ve been gone too long, because of circumstances beyond my control. So here I am, ready to kick-start my blog again and hoping you’ll forgive and not forget.  I’ve been thinking about the ways I work as some friends and I have made the effort to start a once-a-week “makkin” afternoon, as they say in Shetland. This is a relaxed, enjoyable get together with food and crafting with friends who all have different talents. We are learning from each other, taking time to get to know each other better and support each other through some trying times whilst focussing most of our energy and attention on making beautiful things. There may be times when the food and conversation take over completely and no “makkin” gets done. That’s ok because on the whole we are taking time to broaden our minds and that can’t be rushed.

Obviously we are all finding there are some types of art and craft that suit us better than others and that is fine, but we are all enjoying ourselves and singing something that we can enjoy and do well. This is an eye opener as we are a mixed bunch – varying greatly in age, background, experience and self-confidence.  Of course your confidence in creating art often depends on how your early efforts were received by your peers, your parents and, importantly, your teachers. It only takes a careless remark when some child hands you a drawing to let them think for the rest of their lives that they can’t draw, or paint, or make things.  It doesn’t hurt to encourage people and find something wonderful in what they’ve created.  We all have a forte of some kind and there are as many ways of being creative as there are stars in the sky.

We made this … After delicious home-made soup, garlic bread, fancy coffees and home-made biscuits! Pictures made with wool roving

Death and taxes!

Being over dramatic with that title? Maybe so, but these have both been on my mind recently. The deaths of people and animals to me seem to be equally distressing but some might find that statement rather offensive, but no apology as for me I’ve been lucky enough not to have to cope with the deaths of very close loved ones so far, but I certainly have lost several loyal, beautiful animal companions over the years. This was brought to mind by a friend who recently lost  her dear old doggy companion, a sweet old gentleman of a dog, and it reminded me of the sense of loss you feel whenever you walk in a park, walk on a beach, or just curl up on your sofa, if you have had a dog in the past.

The loss of a close family member is, however, looming as I see with great distress the way Alzheimer’s is slowly sucking the life and light out of my Dad. I don’t see him every day being a long way from my parents’ home these days so the difference always hits me quite hard, but I will soon be there for a full month to ‘cover’ all the care and support my sister and her husband are giving to both parents, so no doubt I will get used to seeing Dad as he is now, but doubt he will know who I am, but will treat me like any of the other smiling faces who try to communicate with him.

it’s a terrible disease that seems to short-circuit areas of the brain, bit by bit, and messes with your memory, behaviour, mood and mobility, amongst other things. It gradually separates you from the people you love, and you can only hope they will love you enough to stay and hold your hand even when you don ‘t quite know who they are. We won’t give up on our Dad of course because he was the quiet, hard-working, long- suffering rock of our family all these years and we loved his love of comedy, his passion for sport and his Scottish pride.  He could probably have gone to University and made more of himself but circumstances meant he had to work to keep his family and he did that without complaint or any sign of regret all his life.  He is a special person and deserves the good carehome, lovely staff and attentive family he now has.  He may live for years, but we are already grieving his loss which started some years ago.

This and another situation where a death has revealed that someone was not the person he purported to be, have brought these rather morbid thoughts to the fore, so forgive me the indulgence of stating hereley “living will” ….

I am happy enough to go into a carehome where I have good people looking after me, a view of the sea, good food and a radio. It would be nice to think I’ll be handled gently and with dignity once I have to rely totally on other people. 

If I am taken ill, do not resuscitate me to anything less than a mobile, normal life where I can read, listen to the radio, walk in a garden or on a beach and, hopefully, create things (painting, knitting, etc). All I possess on my passing, should go to my daughter eventually but can be enjoyed by my partner while he is living (like our little house) and if any of our animals are left behind I would ask my daughter to make suitable arrangements for them to be rehomed as comfortably as possible, preferably to friends who know them.  My body can be used for organ transplants if anything is in working order by then, and the remains should be cremated.

My partner has already been given instructions for my ashes to go off our beach in a “Viking” burial with a little boat set alight and a lone piper to play some of my favourite music. (Mixed metaphors I know.).  I’d like to think it will be a calm day where a few friends will gather and raise a toast to my passing and then swap funny stories of the daft things I’ve done in my life and how much I loved my friends and my family. I don’t expect family and frieds who are not in Shetland to travel for this – I’d be happy for them to get together for a nice meal and raise a glass to me there and maybe put a little donation to an animal charity on my behalf …

Well I hope that hasn’t been too maudling and I promise next time to be back to my usual shallow and slightly amusing self.

The smiling assassins …

There is no doubt that cats are at their best asleep … Not that I don’t love them when they’re awake but there is nothing more relaxing and therapeutic than a cat curling up to sleep on your knee. Well, unless you’re me, that is. Oh it’s great for a short time, then the fidgety legs kick in and I cannot stay still and so they de-camp and switch loyalties to enjoy the vast tundra that is Mike’s lap. Not that he is unoccupied for long, as our mob of moggies have all discovered the joy of perfect stillness. Not that Mike is a couch potato, far from it. At every possible moment he is out in the garden or his shed. When he does come in and is relaxed, he can stay still for a long time with anything up to 4 cats on or next to him. It’s a gift.

The one-way cat flapThe other reason I like them best when they’re asleep is that it’s the only time that all the little beasties are safe. I can’t be doing with dead little beasties offered up as tokens of respect and appreciation. Even less do I like LIVE little beasties flapping or scuttling around my house. My daughter maintains that we once moved house because the cat let a mouse go in the house. She ‘s not totally wrong. My motivation to find a new house was certainly revved up by the thought that this mouse could drop into my soup at any moment., although I had already been on the look-out (honestly).

We had been noticing our cat spending a lot if time looking up at a curtain rail. In the end, assuming it was a fly or spider that was mesmerising the cat, I decided to shake the curtain and a mouse bounced off my head, onto the floor. In sheer panic I locked myself into the downstairs loo and shouted My daughter, who was probably only about 6 at the time, to get her boots on and find the mouse!!! You have to understand that she was, even then, a shark loving, dinosaur expert who was not afraid of any living creature (except moths, and if forced to I could deal with those). Unfortunately nothing could be done to find this mouse and even a friend who worked for Rentakil and came armed with all his technical equipment (a shovel and a brush) had no more success.

Well ill we did move house and, to my undying shame and my daughter’s undying contempt, I re homed the cat. I know, I know. Despicable. But she did go to a good home, and I’ve learned my lesson, and all our animals have a good home for the rest of our lives and would be provided for beyond that if necessary. I’ve got no better at dealing with the wee timorous beasties but since Alex left home, Mike has taken over as mouse-tamer and,  if he’s not around,  I have to go out for the day and pretend it was all part of the plan.

We now have a proper cat flap but for a long time we’ve used a customs control sort of system. Show me you’re not “carrying” and I’ll let you in …but there was a cat flap that Mike designed some years ago. A one-way cat flap which it took one of our cats only seconds to work out. She could spring out one claw which would lever the flap up and then she’d put her head under it and climb in. The other slight problem was that the cat flap was cut out of the door itself and hung with it’s slightly uneven edges back in front of the opening with a rusty pair of hinges. More shabby cheek than shabby chic. It had to go and Mike was so fed up with me nagging him about the wind whistling through the gaps that he closed it permanently in the early hours with a six inch nail, but that’s his way, bless him.

Under the influence ….

not of the drink, I have to add. I like a drink in moderation (mainly because of my age and headaches) but more often than not we have to have the conversation. Are you driving or am I.  But my influence is coming more from other artists, friends and family.

It’s been a relatively busy week with one friend moving into her new home and new life, the end of a photography course for beginners (please don’t ask me what IOS stands for), two days helping out at my friend’s knitting and art shop, several trips to different events or places, a day of babysitting two lovely dogs, one full day’s workshop delivered and an art demo and talk to come tomorrow by an artist in residence who I am thinking of as, not just a fellow artist, but a new friend. Yes, she’ll soon head back to her own life and family with all the influences and memories she’s gathered in a very busy, enjoyable and, I hope, successful residency in Shetland, and we’ll no doubt keep in touch through social media but our lives have collided unexpectedly and delightfully and I’ll always remember her surprise and joy in what we were able to share with her of our much-loved adopted home. She, in turn, has given me ideas for my next steps based on her experiences of co-operating with other artists which I will take to heart and use as best I can.

So we may have had an influence on her time here but she has certainly sharpened our enjoyment of all that is good about Shetland and no doubt her demonstration and talk will slightly deflect my current thinking and practise in painting, as have previous artists-in-residence met through this space in Scalloway that attracts creative people from all over the world. We have met some great characters and lovely artists such as Michael Morgan and Katherine Cooper from Down Under, Karen Willis from Northumberland, Jeff Wilson and the lovely Jan Yates from Canada and Clive Brandon from London.

I still have a child’s appetite for new things when it comes to art, which combined with a (possibly) healthy scepticism for the Emperor’s New Clothes style of ‘let’s see what we can get away with’ means I’m always open to new things and willing to try new media but am usually happy to incorporate what I’ve learned into my own style if it fits. I have tried going all out for a different way of working and the only two things I’ve had to admit complete defeat with were oil pastels and totally abstract work, either or both!  I could not detach myself in order to be able to paint without discovering and developing something recognisable in the marks. I actually got stressed trying to do just that. As for oil pastels, how different could they be from soft pastels, I asked myself. The answer was world’s apart and totally out of my reach.  Is there some connection … maybe abstract artists are really at home with oil pastels? Does oil pastel by nature have to be at least partially abstract? Who knows, not me, that’s for sure.

So what’s new for me just now? Well I did mention that I had bought a stylus that comes with software for creating on the iPad.  Here’s my first iPad sketch – a bit rough and ready and I still don’t quite understand how some colours seem to be transparent and some seem to be opaque as that doesn’t seem to be in the list of options. Still, it was enjoyable to do and it gives me no excuse not to sketch even when I’ve not got my sketch pad and pencil with me, so it could be the start of something big … Maybe not big …. small but interesting?

Synchronicity

This is the coming together of events, conversations, ideas or people, where a recurring theme seems to be pointing you in a certain direction.  For me this has been happening for the  last few weeks with conversations, snatches of thoughts and ideas and finally a sort of casual invitation.  The likelihood of a new co-operation with some other like-minded artists is on the cards.  Something, I’ve thought about in passing for some time.  We all are aware that we’re not the edgy, conceptual or ground-breaking artists that the arts admin folk are really very interested in.  We’re working or hobby artists, producing work that is recognisable and reasonably technically skilled but, and here is the rub, popular.

Personally, in the nearly 20 years I’ve been taking commissions for portraits of people, animals, houses and the occasional boat, I’ve never been without at least one or more commissions in hand at any time.  I think that’s an amazing feat, of which I’m very proud.  OK,in the early days I did work for peanuts and even now, years on, although my prices did go up to a reasonable amount, I did take a step back with prices when I moved to a new place in order to give myself a chance to get my first few local clients and get myself established.  My prices won’t rocket back up, but gradually I hope to get to a point where people will appreciate my work enough to pay that bit more – that’s what comes from getting better at what you do, surely?  However, I’ve never said I could make a living just at doing this.  There have to be other sources of income from sales of prints and cards, from teaching and from, in the future with any luck, some writing about art techniques and tips.

All of this for me is not desperate as I’m now on a pension (yes, I think someone made a mistake on my birth certificate but what can you do?) and with the mortgage paid off and only one very independent and switched-on grown-up daughter, the need for money is not as urgent as it once was.  Of course, living month to month on a pension is not ideal and we’ll never be rich, but we have enough to get by as long as we don’t want expensive foreign holidays, new furniture and designer clothes.  That’s fine.  We don’t, but we would like to occasionally afford a trip to see our daughter in Canada, and to be able to visit my family and our friends in Yorkshire, and to be able to maintain the house and garden and run a small car without getting into trouble. We have modest aims but when you compare our lives with some current lives across the world we are rich beyond the wildest of dreams, and we appreciate that.  We live in a wonderful place, have reasonable health and enjoy a social life with good friends.  So for me the painting is something that fulfills a need so I just can’t stop doing and, when I’m not too pressurised, it’s something I really, really love to do.

We come back to that word “popular”.  It was Jack Vettriano’s stumbling block that has kept him out of the top national galleries he might have wished to be invited into despite being one of the biggest sellers and most recognised of contemporary artists.  The establishment thought him popular and that means “of the people” – low-brow and commonplace.  It is a shame that such snobbery pervades the art world still (and always has I suppose).  My fellow artists and I will enjoy painting together, learning from and inspiring each other.  We’ll be happy to sell our work, teach and inspire others when we can and make affordable art that local people and tourists alike will enjoy.  However we won’t get into the higher end galleries because we are not making unintelligible collections that need a statement to go with them in order to justify their laughably high prices. Some of it may stand the test of time but much of this new art where ideas are more important than skill may turn out to be the Emperor’s New Clothes.  I do remember a favourite story about a group of final year art students who were given a grant and offered complete freedom in how they spent it to put on an end of year show.  All the local dignitaries were invited by the college to come along and give gravitas to the event and when the door of the exhibition hall was flung wide, only a chair stood in the empty room.  On the chair was a note saying – “Thanks for the funding, we’ve gone to the seaside for the weekend”.  I liked that attitude as it’s a kind of double bluff about “what is art”.  They had an idea and that’s what they were asked for.

You might say that this attitude to contemporary practice proves we are not serious about our art, but I would disagree.  We are serious about learning and improving our techniques, communicating something through our art and leaving something as a sort of legacy of who we were and what was important to us. So we could carry on working in a solitary way, but how much more fun is it to enjoy meeting and socialising with people you like and admire, who inspire you to do more and aim higher.  Isn’t that why humans have always formed groups?