Archive | July, 2011

Calico cat’s comfort zone

31 Jul

Sparta on a pile of blankets

Sparta is our youngest of two tortoiseshell [calico] cats and typically loves her creature comforts. I’ve noticed over the decades of sharing my home and life with cats that there’s a hint of the ‘Princess and the Pea’ about them. They won’t settle for sleeping on a soft settee or bed if there’s a newspaper, towel, folded-up blanket or pile of washing on it – just in case the prince has slipped a dried pea under the edge of the mattress I suppose?

Here she is on top of a pile of folded blankets on top of a cushion on top of a couch. One day I’ll put a dried pea under a carefully arranged pile of soft stuff to see if they notice.

Waspies, Steampunk and Drawing in the Dark

30 Jul

A Waspie on Steampunk Night


Swansea Steampunk night happens at a very atmospheric Victorian club which has developed a patina of faded grandeur over the past 150 years or so. Once a month it’s taken over by strange people in spectacular costumes and weird accessories. It’s great to draw there because I normally work with professional nude models and don’t get much chance to draw clothed people, especially this sort of mix of authentic Victorian and Edwardian outfits alongside bizarre scifi costumes.


It’s also very dark and it isn’t easy to draw in such low light levels. I usually draw in pen onto white paper but this night I used oil pastels onto black paper. I couldn’t see what colours I was pulling out of the box, but I liked the end result, even though her hair turned out purplish when really it was ginger. Nice bold waspie too.

A Big Bum and The Berlin Bundestag

29 Jul

Sandra's bottom in Berlin

Berlin, January 2010 and a group of artists from Swansea were traipsing around in two feet of snow when I did this unflattering drawing of Sandra during our guided tour of the Bundestag. Minus 15º C meant that we were all overdressed in lots of layers and although film and video are supposed to add ten pounds, drawing isn’t meant to! Poor Sandra; her bum isn’t this big really.

The tour included an insight into the social and political conditions that led to Hitler’s rise – it was grim. A lot of our group had parents who lived through World War Two and I found it harrowing at times, although I was heartened by the honesty of our German guide and the historical information displays. The building has loads of fantastic contemporary art installed and it’s topped off with a huge open-air dome designed by Norman Foster. We walked up it at the end of the tour and looked down on the city with snow swirling around us. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Guns, Castrati and my Best British Accent at the Met, NYC

28 Jul

Melvyn snoozing at The Metropolitan Museum of Art NYC

Day two at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. We didn’t cover everything on Day one so we went back and by mid-afternoon we were both shattered. I sat on a bench and asked Melvyn to pose while I drew him. He promptly fell asleep but I carried on drawing. Then a large museum guard with a GUN noticed him and stormed over. So I put on my VERY BEST  British accent,

“Oh I’m SO sorry Officer, I asked my husband to sit for me while I drew him in my little sketchbook here and he dozed off. Silly old thing. IS it a problem?” [big cheesy smile].

He softened straight away.

“That’s OK Maaaaam, perhaps you could just raise him up a bit?” and off he went, smiling.

So I kicked Melvyn and warned him not to doss around in posh world-famous museums where the guards carry GUNS!

The Italian Renaissance painting in the background is a bonkers piece by Andrea Sacchi of Apollo crowning the noted Castrati, Marcantonio Pasqualini, with a very strange bit of bondage going on in the background.

This Is Spartaaaaaaaa!!!!!

27 Jul

Get Off Those Curtains!

Sparta is a small ‘Naughty Tortie’ cat [that’s calico cat in some parts of the world]. She was eight weeks old when she came to us about 18 months ago and one of her favourite pastimes was trashing our net curtains; running across the room at full speed, launching herself up as far as she could and then slipping down with her claws embedded in them, ripping as she went, like in the cartoons. She was so fast that she was up and at ‘em before we could stop her.


One day I grabbed a camera and clicked away as she vandalised the nets. I made drawings of some of the photos and then carved a series of woodblocks, which I printed up into limited editions. They’ve been in a few exhibitions and I’ve sold enough to be able to replace the curtains that she destroyed. Here’s one of them.


A Stroppy Cat, Kathe Kollwitz in Berlin, The Best Apple Strudel Ever

26 Jul
by Kathe Kollwitz”]

Just enough time for today’s quick blog after having a fight with a small furry cat over a flea comb. She won. Ouch!


We visited the Kathe Kollwitz museum during our Berlin trip. I’ve loved her work for many years and I think she’s one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. I defy anyone to go around the gallery and not cry – her work is profoundly moving. She suffered the tragedy of losing her son in World War 1 and her grandson in WW2 and her war memorial, ‘The Grieving Parents’ in the Vladsio German War Cemetery is imbued with a terrible sadness and hopelessness. I did a quick sketch of one of her tragic prints, which she did between the two World Wars; it shows the terrible living conditions in Germany that were partially responsible for the rise of the Nazis. Moving and chilling at the same time.


We went out into the sculpture garden at the back of the museum and a path in the deep snow led to the National Institute of Literature next door, which had a conservatory style restaurant. We had hot Nuremburger sausages and sauerkraut followed by the best Apple Strudel we’ve ever tasted, served with sweet, hot vanilla custard. The ancient friendly waiter led us out through the main building to show us the wonderful Art Nouveau hallway and landings that had survived the War, covered in exquisite mosaic and stained glass.

Stasi style and a big pig’s leg in Berlin below zero

25 Jul

Sinister made stylish - the Stasi van

The Stasi museum in East Berlin is an unassuming modern building snuggling in the middle of blocks of flats just off the main street. Inside, it’s a shrine to 1960’s style, not at all like an evil lair. This retro-chic Trabant van in the Stasi museum was used to transport prisoners for interrogation to Stasi HQ in East Berlin. The windows had pretty curtains to hide the unfortunate suspects inside. When we visited it was minus 15ºC in the daytime and we took the metro over, but decided to walk back to West Berlin – about 2 hours through a foot of snow.

It was interesting to see the city like that but when we got back we were cold and starving and ended up at a ‘traditional’ German restaurant. We ordered off the English language menu and Melvyn fancied a spot of roast leg of pork with spiced red cabbage and potato dumplings. My modest dish arrived and a few minutes later I saw the waitress come out of the kitchen struggling with a large piece of wood with an enormous leg of pig on it with a large dagger sticking out of the top. Melvyn’s face was a picture when he saw it. He did his best but didn’t manage to finish it.


Minus 15 and still drawing

24 Jul

Melvyn in Berlin in the snow

Minus fifteen in Berlin and I’m drawing in the snow. I carry my sketchbook and draw all over the place and it went with me to Germany in January 2010 which was one of the coldest winters in a generation with two feet of snow and temperatures dropping to minus 20ºC at night. I’ve never been so cold and I wore a balaclava, fake fur coat and fingerless gloves so that I could do my street drawing around the city. Berlin didn’t stop. There was no ‘wrong kind of snow on the tracks’ nonsense. Schools didn’t invoke ‘Elfin Safety’ and close for the day; we saw tiny little kindergarten children wrapped up warm in the playground, building tiny little igloos with their teachers.


My drawings of Melvyn are often from below because he’s so much taller. We had a break from the extreme temperatures when we went on the metro and I did this sketch while we were travelling, using Faber Castell Pitt drawing pens and a sanguine conté crayon. I think you can see his Viking ancestry in this drawing.


Making up and cheering up

23 Jul
Bobbit and Ming making up

Bobbit and Ming making up

Ming the Merciless and Bobbit have been enemies all their lives; they hated each other and would rarely even stay in the same room, but last night as Bobbit lay very ill in a blanket on the settee, Ming jumped up next to her. I moved in because I thought she was going to take a swipe at Bobbit, but instead she settled down close by, faced Bobbit and purred gently for a while. It was very touching and I had enough time to sketch them together. All three cats slept in with us and Bobbit survived another night, although she was mostly unconscious. We’d agreed that if she hadn’t slipped away by Saturday, we’d take her to the vet to be euthanized and sadly, that’s what we had to do, although she was asleep and didn’t have any knowledge of what was happening. Melvyn buried her in a sunny spot in her garden, near her old bros Bola and Sialco.

We were very upset but we’d arranged to babysit our nephew and it was lovely weather after the recent monsoon, so we were out for the rest of the day and you can’t be too introspective with a seven-year old tearing around. This evening, he asked to watch a film and chose Mama Mia. I wasn’t keen at first but it’s hilarious and soon he and I were singing and hand-jiving. The best bit was watching him trying to get his grumpy old great uncle to dance and sing along. He didn’t succeed. The day started so badly, but although we’ll be grieving for Bobbit for a while yet, we’ve been reminded that there’s plenty of joy in life as well.

My Journey with Bobbit

22 Jul

Bobbit dozing in a drain

Bobbit came into our family in July 1993 and 17 years later I’m sitting with her as she sleeps her last sleep, dying gently and quietly with familiar sounds and smells and her human and feline companions around her. If she was suffering I’d take her to the vet for euthanasia, but she’s slipping away peacefully and I want her to die here, in her home.

People who don’t have pets don’t get the relationship. A pet shares part of your journey through life and when a pet dies, that part of your journey is over and you take a new route without your companion. Bobbit has been travelling with me for 17 years and now her journey’s nearly over, mine will change.

It’s a long time for a little cat to share my life. When she arrived aged 8 weeks, she hadn’t ever been outside and we took her into our garden on a warm sunny day and she saw her first grass. She went bonkers romping around on the lawn and she’s loved her garden ever since. Yesterday, I thought she might be rallying because she managed to wobble on her poor little arthritic legs to her favourite spot on the grass. She stayed there for an hour or so then wobbled back indoors and has slept since. I think she wanted one last sleep in the sun, with the feel of the grass under her.

In those 17 years, I’ve moved to England to work and come back to Wales. I’ve had several career changes, run my own business and finally achieved my ambition of becoming a full-time artist. New little relatives and friends have been born, while loved family elders, dear friends and respected colleagues have died. Bobbit has been one of the adored cats who have shared my life along the way, moving from being the youngest (and only girl) out of four, to being the grouchy matriarch over two much younger kitties.

As I’m sitting here with her, I think about the people I’ve shared a path with; who is still a friend, who has disappeared out of my life, the important events, the happinesses, the regrets. The death of a pet encapsulates that period of time and all those experiences and sort of brings it to a close. I know that in a couple of weeks I won’t be so upset; that I’ll be able to tell stories about Bobbit and chuckle over them and she’ll take her place fondly in my memory with my other dear cats; Kat, Nellie, Banshee; Freddy Kruger; Sialco and Bola, but for the moment I’m heartbroken to let go of that part of the journey we have shared and to start on a new path without her.

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