Monday, November 13, 2017

Natural beauty: Hair, skin, eye make-up

The less time I spend in shops, the less frazzled I feel, so I love finding things that work and sticking to them. Unfortunately, with hair care, the perfect product eludes me, and it may well be true that it is necessary to switch products every now and again anyway. Since I try to use only natural beauty products, this criterion narrows down the choice, thus simplifying the process, but of course that also means fewer options. On the rare occasion that I use non-natural products, my hair looks and feels better, but this is short-lived, and I would rather not use shampoo and conditioner with a long list of questionable ingredients. In that sense I am happy to pay the price in the form of sub-optimal hair.

I finished up the Trilogy shampoo and conditioner and don't think I will repurchase, as they did not do much for my frizzy hair. The castile soap I use for many of the 18 uses listed I haven't trialled for long enough on my hair, but according to my sister, the result is not satisfactory.

Now I am using Sukín, and so far, so good. My hair feels more manageable, though I got it cut shortly after I started using Sukín, so that is probably a contributing factor.

My Green Angel moisturiser was running low, and while I loved it, especially the jasmine and neroli scent, I had always wanted to try Egyptian Magic, which is all-purpose and therefore satisfies the minimalist in me (I also like Trilogy's Everything Balm). It is practically scent-free (the ingredients are honey, beeswax, olive oil, royal jelly, bee pollen and bee propolis), and while it doesn't sink into the skin completely, I have been applying it during the day (some people only use it at night for this reason) and haven't noticed an unwelcome oily sheen. You can also use it as a lip balm and on your hair and in numerous other ways. Daisy the cat has skin cancer on her nose, which manifests as a permanent scab-wound-scab cycle, and apparently some pet owners used Egyptian Magic successfully to make the scab disappear, so we might give it a go.

Going natural with make-up means I can avoid all the make-up counters and the accompanying indecision and just buy the products in a health food shop, where choice is definitely limited. I was out of both eyeliner and mascara and got Lavera for both. The eyeliner is probably the best I have ever had, and I don't have strong opinions on mascara. This one, while not giving an awful lot of volume, is great for everyday use.

I would prefer to use Irish products where possible and will look into it, and I will buy from Green Angel (the only Irish company mentioned here) again, but I think Egyptian Magic, like castile soap, is here to stay.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Drawing | Book without words

This week I redrew all the images for the book about my nephew and Branwell the cat in 0.1 fineliner on larger sheets of paper. This will be a book without words, and I am keeping it quite minimalist, using the black-and-white of Branwell as inspiration.

I have also started work on two new books and am wrapping up another one, all with an eye on the end of the year, although that is of course a completely arbitrary deadline.

Meanwhile my share of garden tasks has been woefully neglected, even though the workload is much smaller at this time of the year. I can appreciate the beauty in the austerity of a winter garden and the cycle of life, and at times I manage a Buddhist equanimity about the pointlessness of human endeavour, but part of me is sad to see so much of the effort we put into the garden torn out or disappear, and I feel exhausted at the thought of having to start all over again.

This year I have shed several things - responsibilities, some part-time work, hobbies - that were taking up time, in order to prioritise my work and the people in my life, but nothing is set in stone. One of the pastimes I gave up is knitting and crocheting, but now, with the darker evenings, and inspired by a book my sister gave us, I want to start the large-scale, no-thinking-required project I have been meaning to make, a moss-stitch blanket. I just haven't found the right type of yarn yet (knowing my taste for luxury wool, this blanket will end up costing me an arm and a leg!).

Monday, October 30, 2017

Contentment - reading and a good day's work

‘Now I close the door and return to my life a little tired but also with that modest contentment and gratitude of those who enjoy their work. This must be boring to read, as there is really no drama. The deeper I am in this routine, the better things are. My appetite for music, film, books, paintings and the people I care about increases. I have never understood why.’ 
Writer Hisham Matar on his working day in a recent Guardian Review

I had kept the cutting of that feature, as, far from boring to read, it articulates that feeling of quiet satisfaction we have after a good day's work and how our 'appetite' for other things is stimulated by said feeling and the routine that enables it.

Another cutting I had in my folder was an interview with writer Lucy Hughes-Hallett, in which she said the following about novels, so pertinent in today's political landscape:

‘I think getting inside other people’s heads, even if they are imaginary people, is very important. One life isn’t enough and when things start to go really bad politically is when people forget to see the other side’s point of view. That’s the way in which fiction can be useful.’ Guardian Review, 13 May 2017

Hughes-Hallett wrote her first novel at age 65 (having previously written non-fiction, including The Pike, about Gabriele D'Annunzio). I find mid- and late-life forays into new territory inspiring and reassuring - it is never too late to begin something.

The only painting I have done in the last couple of weeks was a few brushstrokes on the above painting by my nephew, a portrait of Daisy the cat (who refused to pose with it), but while I am itching to get back to the easel, other work has been fulfilling, and I have cleared time and space for projects I want to complete in the next few months. 

One day each week or fortnight is dedicated to new-house tasks (it feels weird to say that after over two years, but there is still so much to do) and gardening (we harvested the last tomatoes,courgettes and potatoes and cleared most of the polytunnel this week), and there have been impromptu day trips (to Inis Meáin, where I lay on a rock in the sun in an attempt to sleep off a migraine that had started on the boat and enjoyed it thoroughly, despite the lingering pain) and events and of course my day job. So time in the studio has been limited, but I am making the most of those moments.

And I have been reading more than ever. Twice in the last month I read a book in a day (a rare luxury, admittedly). I got Josephine Hart's The Reconstructionist in the library. Damage is one of my favourite books, and this one is as good. I love her raw, haunting writing style. I finished Shirley Jackson's biography (a brick of a book I nearly bought in London, even though I only had hand luggage), which was a fascinating insight into the mind that conceived such unsettling glimpses into the human psyche, and am dipping in and out of Frances Borzello's book on women's self portraits, so as to savour it. I also bought Siri Hustvedt's latest collection of essays.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

In the wonderful world of picturebooks

 From Beatrice Alemagna's What is a Child?

A page from Oh No, George! by Chris Haughton - note the fair trade symbol on Harris's bag

 Collages and one of the final illustrations for Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton

 From A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna

Collage workshop

A little visitor enjoying the children's artwork

This week I have been guiding tours and workshops for the Baboró exhibition 'A World of Colour' in the O'Donoghue Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance at NUI Galway. This show was curated by Sarah Webb and features artwork by two of my favourite illustrators, Beatrice Alemagna and Chris Haughton, so I am in my element.

Alongside their work there is a growing gallery wall/window of photographs the lovely volunteer and I take of the amazing collages the children make (they can take the originals home, and we tell them it is a process similar to how the books were made). The children's creativity and their responses to the illustrations blow me away.

 I wrote a piece about the exhibition here.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Filtered water, no plastic

Years ago a friend gave me a small piece of charcoal for purifying water. She was using this centuries-old Japanese technique and got her charcoal from her Japanese friend. I was excited to try it out with a small bottle and research it, but then I never got around to actually getting started on a bigger scale and buying more.

This summer I visited her and saw that she had taken it to another level by having two 5-litre Kilner dispensers of water with charcoal on the windowsill above her sink, which provide enough water for herself and her two children each day. She had me do a blind taste test comparing purified water with water straight from the tap, and the former tasted so much better. I told John about it, and he promptly bought one of these dispensers, even though he was sceptical, but he likes a project and unlike me, he is a doer.

I then ordered binchotan charcoal from this website, and we said good riddance to our plastic Brita jug with its wasteful and expensive filters - the jug was relocated to the potting table in the shed to use for watering plants. Each night we pour any water we haven't used into a glass jug and refill the dispenser with fresh water, so it is purified by the next morning. After three months you reactivate the charcoal by boiling it in water for ten minutes, and after a further three months you recycle it (there are various uses for old charcoal, from deodorising to gardening), so the sticks last for six months. We use three sticks (each approximately 12 cm and long and 2cm thick) in 4.5 litres of water.

Apart from all the above benefits, it is aesthetically pleasing - I never liked the look of the plastic jug sitting on the counter.


Two new-to-me songs I added to my playlist this summer:
"Going home (Mythical Kings and Iguanas)", a strangely haunting song by Dory Previn, which was another late-night-radio-while-driving discovery

"A Rose for Emily" by The Zombies - I found this via the podcast S-Town, which I binge-listened to while painting rooms

Friday, September 29, 2017

Two cats

Last month, through sad circumstances, we became guardians of a 13-year-old, semi-blind, semi-deaf cat, for an unknown duration. We quickly fell in love with her. She teaches us mindfulness, as John puts it, since she moves in such a slow and considered manner, and it is lovely to have an animal sharing our home.

The day we were asked whether we would look after her we were hanging out with the cat in the second picture, whose portrait I posted to the cat-parents this afternoon  - a precarious walk along the prom to the post office in a gale that turned the parcel into a wing and lifted my dress (after all this time I still have not learned to dress for the weather). I got drenched - the parcel was waterproof, thankfully - but by the time I reached home, the wind had dried most of my clothes.

Usually I do not post pictures of commissions online before they have reached the recipient, but I am pretty sure that in this case they have no idea this blog exists; I never tell people about it.

This cat lives above a beautiful historic cemetery in London that includes the graves of William Blake and Daniel Defoe, so I had to use it as the background.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


 Three feet



1|  Pink shoes you can walk in for miles (because they are Ecco), to the pub and back, for example

2|  Alternating cooking and eating apples from the garden in this apple frangipane tart

3|  I have photographed the view from the kitchen window in this house and in my old place so many times, always with grand plans to paint the particular colour combination of sky-land-sea, and I have done the latter four times in all those years. Sometimes we are in the car on the way to work or home, and the bay is sublime, and I make a mental note to get the morning or evening light down on paper or canvas or snap a hasty photo. One day soon those scribbled lines of 'fuzzy strip of indigo above pale blue water, flat sky' will be translated into paint.