Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Mulled Wine Good Enough to Tempt a Man Off a Mountain!

On Sunday my offer of a warming glass of mulled wine and a mince pie was enough to tempt the blogging sensation that is international travel writer Paul Steele (@paul_steele) and his companion (@cindyvriend) down from the snowy hills above Rothbury.  It also lured in Steve Orrell (@steveorrell) who very kindly took this photograph. So it's obviously powerful stuff. It might not move mountains, but it can evidently move a man... and a woman... off a mountain!! 
If you want to create your own tempting brew, you'll find the recipe in my previous posting.   

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Dr Johnson's Favourite

Once Upon a Time many years ago, we discovered this old recipe for mulled wine called "Dr Johnson's Favourite".  (The Dr Johnson in question being Samuel Johnson, the English author, poet and critic whose most memorable contribution to British culture was probably his Dictionary of The English Language published in 1755.)

I thought it had been in an ancient recipe book, given to me by an aged aunt on the occasion of my 14th birthday.... but hunting through my now dilapidated copy I found that this wasn't the case. My husband @pottedhistory AKA Graham Taylor, thought it came out of a long discarded South African magazine. We simply don't know....   But what we DO know is that we've been enjoying this warming, spicy concoction every Christmas for decades and that every time we serve it, people ask for the recipe, which we are always happy to share. By popular demand it was even printed in The Northumberland Gazette one year.

 I don't imagine that there's an historian anywhere who could confirm that this truly was Dr Johnson's Favourite, but I can say for absolute certain that it's OURS. Give it a try, it might just become a favourite of yours too!  

Dr Johnson's Favourite-

1 Bottle red wine
2 Medium orange sliced
1 Sliced lemon
3 Tablespoons of sugar (or to taste)
4 Cloves
1 Mug boiling water
1 Good measure brandy or orange liqueur

Put wine, orange, lemon, sugar and cloves into a stainless or enamelled pan over a low heat.  Bruise the fruit with a wooden spoon to burst the juice cells, cover and heat till steaming but DO NOT BOIL.  Remove from the heat, add boiling water and brandy/liqueur, sieve into a jug, add more sugar if necessary and serve in heat proof glasses.  

It is best taken in congenial company, beside a warm log fire. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Made with care, to be given with love.

One of the methods I use to select my Christmas stock is to ask myself if my daughters would like it. Naturally I only select items that are handmade with care and demonstrating an obvious level of technical skill. But the clincher is if I could imagine myself giving that particular item to one of my "girls"- without it disappearing into a drawer, never, ever to emerge again . 

Collectively they have Arts degrees in Performance Costume Design, Fine Art and Film Making so have a surprisingly wide range of skills themselves and are very discerning about what they wear and use.... So for an item to pass their scrutiny it has to be a little bit special. But I think the following items would pass the test.... 
Fragrant handmade soaps
Artist made glass snowflake "wall or tree hanging" 

Copper, glass and glazed ceramic necklace

Copper, glass bead and glazed ceramic brooches and necklaces

Padded fabric cases for iPods, iPads and Kindles

Brass ear rings with glass or gemstone beads (Gold plated fittings)

Saturday, 19 November 2011

"Love Birds"

I trained originally as a potter- Degree course at Manchester Metropolitan University (or Poly as it was way back then), followed by a baptism of fire working for studio potters Joe and Trudi Finch at Appin Pottery in Argyll for 3 years, then 15 years of brushwork decorating at Kolonyama Pottery in Lesotho.  

So even though I love everything about painting on canvas, sometimes I have an overwhelming urge to play with clay for a while. Nothing too ambitious, demanding or even large, as my studio is surprisingly compact. Just something lighthearted and enjoyable. This time I decided to make some "Love Bird" wall hangings as "stocking fillers" for family members, because we all create a large proportion of our gifts. So I designed, cut,  decorated, and glazed these little birds and some Hearts too for good measure and fired them in my potter husband's kiln. Simples!  

I made a few extra ones- which are now for sale at £9.90 each here in Crown Studio Gallery or £11.40 by post. The large Hearts are £7.90 here in the gallery or £9.40 by post. The small hearts are £2.90 each.  

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Thoughts on a Christmas Window.

As a child I was always offended by any reference to Christmas that took place before Halloween or Bonfire Night.  I didn't want to learn carols at school, hear about pantomime tickets or see any form of decorations in the shops until I'd enjoyed the pleasures of those other two dark mysterious annual highlights. Those were both outdoor, night time, elemental experiences with their own excitements and dangers.... chief of which may have been the carving of the swede (or "turnip" as we used to call it in County Durham) lantern. These large swedes were fibrous, hard as wood and impervious to all but the sharpest knife- which in our household wasn't remotely sharp at all. For hours we'd whittle away ineffectively with the knife- then scrape away inside with a tablespoon until blisters, gashes or bent cutlery prevented further progress. Once the suitably gruesome face had been carved, a stump of candle was inserted and lit in the lantern- only for it to inevitably blow out as soon as it was taken outdoors. 

The run up to Bonfire Night was a frenzy of finding, collecting and storing bonfire materials. My family's contribution was generally kept in an outbuilding until the very last day to protect it from lightning raids by rival children from "up The Bank" (a local place rather than a financial institution). At the last moment a mountain of  more or less flammable materials would be dragged to the appointed place, to be set alight and burned in a satanic fog of lung busting, black smoke. The acceptable face of fly tipping!

Only after these dark communal rituals had been observed and enjoyed could thoughts turn to the brighter, cleaner, indoor, family celebration of Christmas.

To be honest, I still think the same way. I may begin making and buying the perfect presents in November, but we never put up our family tree or decorations until the "clan" of adult daughters, their spouses and little Granddaughter has gathered, usually on Christmas Eve. 

But in the gallery it has to be very different. Hand crafted items can have a long "lead" or making and delivery time- so it's vital to order (and in our case, also create) stock in good time. Once the big stores begin their barrage of seasonal advertising we have to be prepared begin too, because any small business who doesn't make good sales for Christmas, may not survive until Easter. This is why I have to risk the "ba-humbugging" of passersby who would rather I waited till later to launch my window display. But on balance, I know I get far more positive comments about my window  than negative ones.... From it being pronounced  as "cool" by passing schoolchildren, to a lady yesterday who confessed that it had given her "the first warm Christmassy feeling I've had yet this year". That's good enough for me!

Sunday, 6 November 2011

A Gothic Surprise

First glimpse of the mysterious gibbet

One of the many things I love about Northumberland is its capacity to surprise and amaze. Just when you think you know everything possible about your locale, you can discover something totally unexpected- something that if it were "down South", would have featured in magazines, adverts and film locations by the score.  

Today's "double take" moment was finding a gibbet standing next to one of my favourite stands of beech trees. At this point there's probably a chorus of Northumbrians rolling their eyes and muttering "That's only Winter's Gibbet -it's been there forever, you idiot. How could you have missed it Mrs Claims to Look at the Landscape?!" 

But no, I'm definitely NOT talking about Elsdon's historic gibbet- this is a brand new one!! 
It stands in Gothic majesty up on the windswept moors, the black woodwork like a child's game of "Hangman", a crudely carved wooden skull, gently swaying in the breeze, its empty eye sockets blind to the golden autumnal landscape. A brilliantly thrilling discovery!!

Gibbets may be generally out of vogue, but carved skulls are the height of fashion- so I hesitate to reveal its exact whereabouts to the whole world for fear of someone stealing the fabulous skull. So if you want directions, you'll have to come into the gallery and ask!! 

Of course, it might just have vanished without trace by the next time I go for a walk there.... So I'm glad I've got some photos.

Pondering this new discovery

Skull - glowing in the sunshine
Suitably Gothic Arch formed by beech trees. 

If you want the rational explanation for this new gibbet, follow this link http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2665965

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Santa's Not-So-Little Helper

I'd imagined that applying the new webbing to the sledge would be the easiest part of the whole restoration process. It looks straightforward enough- a spot of simple weaving and a few judicious whacks with a hammer would do it.... Simples!  I soon discovered that this was not the case. The brass upholstery nails bent and buckled on first contact with the resilient hardness of the solid oak chassis. I was very quickly forced to conclude that Santa is very unlikely to want me as his not-so-little helper, because I'm rubbish at simple sleigh repair....... that and the (possibly unfestive)  swearing!!  

But after sleeping on the problem, I decided to apply the pins along the edge rather than underneath and to use my trusty framing awl to bore guide holes to help place the nails. This made the job possible, and the resulting line of  brass looks suitably decorative too. I'm delighted with the results.

Now does anyone have some lovely old brass jingle bells that need a new home?!?  

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Window Dressing

I love my gallery window. It's like creating a wonderful, changing "still life". And it's the best possible way to show the world my eclectic range of Art and hand crafted items.  I always know that I've achieved an effective display when I can see that it's slowing down the traffic along Bridge Street (but please don't tell The Highways Agency!)

This year a main ingredient of my Christmas window is a oak vintage sled bought on eBay. It's a lovely old sledge, with eccentric curved ends to its runners and enough dents and scratches to prove that it's had a long and fun filled life. Personally I hate those occasions on "The Antiques Roadshow" when they inform someone that a toy would have been worth so much more if only it hadn't been taken it out of the box and played with!! None of that nonsense for us!

Admittedly my sledge was a bit grubby and neglected by the time we bought it, giving it a slightly melancholic, Tim Burtonesque air. But it's really responded to the hours of judicial cleaning and a lovingly applied layer of wax polish. Now I only need to replace the old webbing seat and it'll be ready to take centre stage in my window.

Of course if we have snow again this Christmas, I may just have to remove it from the window to give my adorable little granddaughter the occasional ride around the village. 

So if you visit Rothbury in late November or December and you see a big gap in my window display you'll know why. And if you see the pair of us, red cheeked and laughing, do stop and say hello!
A final polish for my vintage sledge

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Waiting for the next Leaf to Fall

I always find it very helpful to get feedback from my customers- especially when it comes to that perennial problem of deciding which of my paintings to have made into prints. So I've been showing my latest canvas to my "regulars" to gauge their response. The consensus seems to be "I want a copy once it's a print!" So that's good enough for me. 

But I hadn't expected one of my customers to observe, "It's very like a David Hockney. I love Hockney's work, but  I can't afford it... But I can still afford yours" I'm taking this as a compliment!
Thanks folks!  

Waiting For the Next Leaf to Fall- Autumnal Trees on the Banks of The River Coquet at Harbottle.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Autumn Colour

As someone who loves colour and also loves painting trees, Autumn offers a very obvious opportunity to indulge in both of these favourites. This year I'm working on a series of "panoramic" paintings of vibrant woodland trees- ghostly white trunked birches with their yellow leaves, shimmering in the wind like golden coins- and magnificent, lyrical beeches that dance across the landscape crowned with a palimpsest of amber leaves....
Autumnal Birch Woods 
Acrylic on board, painted area 17.5 cm X 49.5 cm 

 Autumnal Beech Woods 

Acrylic on board, painted area 17.5 cm X 49.5 cm 

Large Autumnal Birch Woods 
Acrylic on board, painted area 30cm X 80 cm 

  Large Autumnal Beech Woods 
Acrylic on board, painted area 30cm X 80 cm 

These four paintings, plus some additional snow scenes are going off to be framed, so that they'll be ready to hang here in the gallery soon! I can hardly wait to see them against the lovely warm terracotta red gallery wall.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Shy bairns get nowt!

Yesterday evening I set myself the task of re-painting the long "display wall" in the gallery to match the fabulous new wallpaper. So once the gallery was closed I moved furniture, covered prints, prepared the wall and lined in all the edges, before setting to with a paint roller. Down on my hands and knees, I suddenly became aware of a persistent knocking on the door. Looking up I saw a man with a slightly apologetic grin gesturing to me. It turned out he wanted to buy a brooch on display in the gallery window!!

Having served him, I felt honour bound to tell him that he'd perfectly demonstrated the local saying "shy bairns get nowt"! 

 Paintings of Bamburgh Castle and the Northumbrian Hills in Winter

 Family History / Mining History paintings

Paintings of The Harthope Valley, Farnham Moor, Rothbury's Simonside Hills and The Cheviot.
 Also showing a selection of my own limited edition prints and etchings by Ali Read and John Degnan, plus prints by Sarah Taylor.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Hanging something “Truly Great”!

Every gallery owner must surely aspire to hanging something “truly great” in their exhibition space. Something remarkable that will capture the imagination of the viewer. Something memorable; something original and unexpected.... But “greatness” as we all know is a subjective term. So how could one ever be sure that one has achieved this aim?

Well I know for absolute certain that I’ve managed it this time.

Can I hear a sharp intake of breath at the audacity of this claim, given that I’m displaying my own paintings here at Crown Studio Gallery? Has the normally shy and retiring Lynda Taylor suddenly become unbearably smug and self satisfied? 

I hope not!

But I do know I’ve hung something truly great, because I’ve just redecorated my window with this fabulously quirky wallpaper and what is it called? Why it's “Truly Great” by Holden of course. It's printed in seasonably warm bronze and russet colours and covered in a riot of swirling curlicues, crowns, lions, unicorns, tea sets, cake stands and roses. Everything that’s quintessentially, English!

 I like to think that’s a reflection of the art works I hang in the gallery too- a celebration of all that's best about Rothbury, Northumberland, England and Britain...

Of course if YOU think that my work’s great too I’d be delighted!

I hope you’ll come and have a look.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Reflections on a liquid landscape.

Northumberland has a wonderful varied coastline and sometimes I just have to go across to there to "drink in" its liquid landscape. So if you see a windswept woman standing immobile and apparently gazing at "nothing", it's probably just  me enjoying the reflections of cloud on wet sand, the ever changing colour of the sea, the stealthy rise of the tide, and the ebb and flow of beachcombers. 

And I like to think that's work.... because when I get back to my studio, I'll transform those sights and sensations into paintings.

      Boulmer Beach Reflections

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A Strange Kind of Summer

On a wet, grey day like today it was great to frame some of my recently completed small paintings, because they reminded me that we have in fact had some excellent summer days this year. It hasn't been unremittingly dull weather- we've had some spectacularly sunny days, with gorgeous blue skies, temptingly vivid sea and golden fields. And best of all- I've been able to get out and about to enjoy them. I've even had a "plodge" or two at the coast and enjoyed some fine picnics (Even the one we had on a bench at Boulmer, when a passerby with an excited dog pointed out that there was a dead rabbit on the ground directly behind us- which we hadn't detected because of a good healthy breeze off the sea!) . 

This selection of paintings are all coastal scenes of some of my favourite places. They're probably YOUR favourite spots too!

 Bamburgh Castle Reflections

 Walking on Bamburgh Beach 

 Bamburgh Beach with Lindisfarne  

 Dunstanburgh Castle and Wheat Fields

 Exploring the Rock Pools at Howick

 Sun, Sea and Cereal- Wheat Fields at Dunstan

The Bathing House at Howick, With Dunstanburgh Castle

These small paintings are all part of my collection of "standard" small paintings.  They are each 12 cm square, window mounted in off-white/ ivory coloured card and framed in solid oak frames, bringing the completed framed size to 26 cm sq. They and a large selection of other Northumberland landscapes the same style and size, are available at Crown Studio Gallery for £69 each.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Pictures with the "X Factor"

I always find it very difficult to decide which of my paintings to make into prints. The images have to have that elusive "je ne sais quoi" quality that allows them to resonate with the viewer.  

So the selection process is a bit like "The X Factor"... but with less singing and definitely no phone votes! 

To date I've got 14 "Standard Prints" with an image size of 28.5 x 35.5 and 4 "Panoramic Prints" of 29.5 x 59 cm.  Have a look at these (low resolution) images of them below- you'll find details of sizes and prices at the end.

 The Thrum


                                                                Bluebell Woods

                                                               Daffodil Woods


                                                    The Border Ridge, with Cheviot

                                                         Whiskershiel Farm in Snow

Golden Autumn Afternoon, Elsdon

Shillmoor, Coquet Valley

                                            Walking the Dog- Simonside With Snow

                                                            Poppies and Butterflies

Farne Island Puffins

 The World Still Going on Outside

                                                       Continuity, Watch and Chain

                                       Panoramic Midsummer Poppies
                                                            Panoramic Winter Beeches

                                          Panoramic Foxgloves in Summer Sunshine

                                                Panoramic Springtime Bluebells

Here in the gallery "Standard Prints" are £49 window mounted in ivory coloured board, or £79 ready framed in a light gold frame. 

"Panoramic Prints" are £95 window mounted and £145 framed.

Unmounted prints can be rolled up and posted to any address in the UK for £53 for "Standard" size or £99 for "Panoramic". I'm licensed  to accept payment via Debit/Credit Card by phone, but can also accept Paypal or a cheque if you prefer.