I can not help myself – when engaging with something new I turn to books. This time I am trying to track down books on creative uses of feathers. As yet there seems to be very little on the subject other than the catalogue that accompanied the Birds of paradise exhibition at the Fashion Museum in Antwerp. (On leafing through the book recently I spotted a consistent mis-naming of a particular feather which made me wonder whether if it was a genuine mistake, an over active auto-correct function, or carelessness.) I treated myself to three books at Foyles though none of them are exactly what I was looking for: one considers the soci-cultural images, myths, and legends of various birds hroughout history; another examines the evolution of the feather from a biologist’s standpoint; the third is “visual guide to the structure and anatomy of birds”. All of these books touch on creative uses of feathers but I thought that I might find a more comprehensive volume looking at feathers in artistic practices.

So on Saturday I took myself off to the National Art Library at the V&A. I have never been there before and I have to say it is quite an experience! I was surprised and delighted at how many people were there on a fine autumn weekend. It is a wonderful place with helpful staff and what must be an incredible stack/store as it takes less than an hour for requested books to be available. I found four books in their catalogue that seemed relevant though I wonder if that has more to do with my abilities to come up with ‘keywords’ for the catalogue’s search facility. In my mind I have images of strange victorian confections of feather flowers presented along with taxidermed birds under glass domes. But how do I search for something like that? What did come up was a book documenting the commercial and industrial aspects of plume-making in France! Published in 1914 the book lists and illustrates the range of feathers available at that time, a list that is certainly not available now! I was interested to see how many terms for the plumes are the same as Tim uses – the language of feathers seems international, or perhaps acknowledges the supremacy of france and french in the fashion industry. Diagrams of various machines for the treating of feathers, and the exprot/import tables, made me realise how large-scale the operations must have been in the past. The book was fascinating and it was a real treat to be able to look at it. As I mentioned I had not been to the library before and the way in which the book was presented by the librarian had perhaps primed my curiosity and wonder. The book was classified in the special collections which meant that I was invited to look at it at particular and considerably smaller group of dark-wood tables, each reader’s place was denoted by a large grey cushion on the table top. The librarian placed the book on the cushion that I quickly understood was there to support its spine when I opened it. I spent a very happy hour leafing through a book in which, despite not speaking french, I found both the familiar and the new.

Last week I saw Prem Sahib’s shows at the ICA and Southard Reid. I didn’t know his work and went along based on a short article in a copy of the Royal Academy magazine. I liked the work and am thinking of going over to the Barbican to see the work of one of his friends and collaborators Eddie Peak. The ICA has re-instated its “day membership” – a brilliant idea that means it costs £1.00 to see the show. The ICA was one of the first, if not THE first, contemporary art venue that I started going to when I was a teenager. I remember seeing a Rosemary Trockle show there – I must have been 17 or 18 which would make it about 30 years ago! It was great to be back there and feel a familiar sense of excitement and curiosity.

On friday evening I was able to accompany Kim to the RA and join her public talk in the Ai WeiWei show. It is amazing how popular the show is. It must surely be the art event of the year. Kim and I have been discussing both the artist and the work over the last few months as she prepared for the show and has been giving tours to both school and public groups. What I really apprecaited was Kim’s skill at presenting the pieces as outcomes of both artistic and activist commitment. The work is wonderfully material, and the materials and forms are beautiful, whereas the popular image of Ai Weiwei seems more concerned with the stories around his detention and treatment by the chinese authorities. The show is impressive not least for the way in which takes on the scale of the RA galleries – it is one of the few one person shows that really sits well in those grand rooms. Kim and I continue to ponder why the show is so very popular – we can’t believe that it’s because of the actual artworks, however if the cult status of Ai Weiwei gets people interested in art and shows them how artists work through personal, political, and philosophical issues then it is all to the good!




I am being over-stimulated by London! After weeks of working full-time with Tim in his rural studio being in London is quite amazing. It is great knowing that I am here for three weeks and that I have time to do things at a leisurely pace. Having said that my day with Francois in which we went to seven (if I remember correctly) exhibitions/events was a good example of how it is possible to get a good impression of things if one trusts one’s instincts and does not feel that every piece has to be studied in minute detail.

Freize felt fresh and vibrant and I was delighted to see several galleries showing artists working with glitter. And even more pleased to see that no-one is doing what I am doing with it! I bumped into Peter Lamb whom I have not seen in many years – we used to both be at Bow Arts in the late 1990s. He is an amazingly energetic and enthusiastic artist, and it was a real pleasure to catch up with him. His passion for art is infectious and after speaking with him I found myself dreaming up international shows and projects … which reminded me that I want to join the artist association in Enköping and get involved in the gallery there. I also want to meet with the head of the re-development of the town’s cultural centre.
It was the ancient and non-european art that interested me most at Frieze Masters. Perhaps because these pieces tended to be objects rather than images. Working with feathers and theatre costumes has taken me back in to looking at form and construction in very material and physical ways. I am looking forward to getting the studio organised and playing with materials over the coming months.
I have those itchy fingers and restless hands again!

I am very excited about the future! I want to move forward on formalising my apprenticeship with Tim, and I also want to spend time on my own work. It is very timely to be reminded that the most important thing is the making and all of its attendent processes. At Foyles I bought books about birds and feathers: one very technical and scientific, one alogorical, one historical. As Kim and I were leaving their café she spotted an announcement that Philip Treacy was speaking there the next evening. It was interesting to hear him speak and I was struck by how much of life is the result of the interplay of commitment and chance – the first being so internal and the second being so external. I know that I get distracted by what I perceive to be the complexities of the world, perhaps it is useful (“strategic”?) to keep those anxieties at arms length and to concentrate instead on something which I have control over – commitment, and to believe that that will put me in the right places for things to happen “by chance” …


Hello art-world!  After a somewhat unintentional “sabbatical” it is nice to be back.  Actually it is a bit daunting!  To avoid ‘giving an account’ of the summer I am simply going to start from here and now.  I will refer to things that happened as they come up and in the context of today.

My fingers are itching to get into the studio and make!  Not that I have not been making – it is just that I have not been making my own work since moving.  A trip to London in July, getting the flat ready for and then welcoming friends and family, and working full-time as the plume-makers assistant has kept me more than busy.  Speaking of which – plume-making – I have been made a very interesting proposition!  Tim has asked if I am interested in formally becoming his apprentice.  Neither of us know exactly what this means and we are too busy with head-pieces and special costumes for the final number of Mamma Mia the Party to spend time finding out right now however we are both keen to see how it could work for us.

The idea of being Tim’s apprentice has given me a lot to think about: it an equally fantastic and frightening possibility, so I guess that the reality will come to lie somewhere on the spectrum between those two extremes.  Or possibly swing between those two extremes!  It is great because it offers the potential to make a living from doing something wonderfully visually creative and fun, it is scary because I will almost certainly have to kiss goodbye to my aspirations of a career in academia.  Having said that I should acknowledge that academia is just “not that in to me” (to borrow a line from Sex in the City).  My overwhelming feeling is that Tim is offering me an incredible life-line and that I would be an absolute fool not to accept.  The question came up after Tim was chatting with a “Master” tailor, she is actually a woman, who could not believe that Tim was not recognised as a Master in his field.  I should point out that in some ways Sweden is quite traditional and apprenticeships, guilds and masters in handwork are still very much alive and respected.  If I understand correctly, and we discussed all this in Swedish so I may have missed a few of the finer points, in order for Tim to be accessed as a Master he needs to have his work examined by a committee of relevant experts AND he needs to have trained an apprentice.

I am very flattered to have been asked.  Tim’s skill and expertise are acknowledged in both the theatre and fashion industries, he is also a guest teacher at one of Stockholm’s best design schools, and counts celebrities and royalty (Swedish) amongst his clients.  Soon after I started working for him he mentioned that it was a shame that I was not at least ten years younger as he should be starting to look for someone to train-up in order to buy the business when he wants to retire.  Tim is only in his early fifties so there is no immediate urgency from his side, however his comment made me very conscious that I am considered old to be making a career change of this type.  Despite Sweden’s more enlightened attitude to second careers for the over forties at my age (forty seven) I would have difficulty getting (and then re-paying) the bank loan necessary to buy the business.  If I was training for a second career where I would be employed in the more traditional sense there would not be such difficulties.  Because of this I had imagined that I would be working with Tim up to and until he found his young apprentice.  Now it seems things have shifted and after working together (successfully!) for a year Tim sees another way of doing things.  I may never be in a position to buy his business but I could become a qualified plume-maker working for him, for his successor, and even on my own.  In the meantime he gains his master title (and status) which increases the businesses value, and we get to keep working together which works well for us both.

As I said we have a lot of work to do to re-establish plume-making (feather work) as the recognised and respected expertise that it once was.  It is a challenge that I think both Tim and I will enjoy – looking back at the historic aspects to when the skill was on a par with other hand-work professions where the term “master” is still used – tailoring and hat-making for example.  It does strike me that “master” here does not denote, or even connote, anything to do with being male – rather it is understood as a level of skill devoid of any gendered prerogative.  Tim, I and the examining committee also need to look at what plume-making can be, and needs to be, today.  Contracts for military plumes and even regular commissions for private customers are not as frequent as they were at the turn of the century, today theatres provide a lot of work and at the moment (evidenced by the fabulous Alexander McQueen show at the V&A) fashion designers are keeping the feather industry going.

For the moment though we have a lot to do in advance of the public previews of Mamma Mia the Party.  If all goes well, and there is no reason that it will not, after the official premier in late January there is the likelihood that the concept will be rolled out internationally!  I do not expect that I will necessarily make pieces if the show is put on in Sydney but it would be amazing if Tim’s interpretations of the designs, and some of my handiwork, become the models for subsequent productions.