As I mentioned recently I had decided to work in acrylics for a while…well having started I feel like I don’t ever want to stop. It feels like my medium, as though everything is right with it. I feel the confidence to try subjects & fantasies that intimidated me a little with watercolours. Don’t get me wrong, I love watercolours, but sometimes I feel like we’re at odds. Techniques that should flow for me at times I wrestle with.
Acrylics though, we feel like old friends, I feel playful and alive working with them. I want to experiment with them, whereas with watercolours I felt insecure leaving familiar territory.
Somehow it all just seems right, and this feels like an exciting new beginning for me. I can be truly creative, that stories that bubble to the fore of my mind from my subconscious can be confidently tackled. I have already told a story straight from my being, the story of the “Woman Kissing Cat“.
I feel this is warmer, more evocative & emotive than anything I have painted in a long time. I am quite frankly, excited about the future of my work. I am on the ascent. I can feel it.
I always liked a picture I drew a few years back, just with a felt – tip called “Coffee Lovers” but I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. I’ve been making lino prints again recently and it occurred to me that it was a perfect design for making a lino cut of.
I usually use the soft rubbery lino sheets, but there were none in the local art shop in the local town so I ended up buying some of the hard type lino sheets that I’ve actually never used before.
So, I got my space all cleared, printed up the design in reverse, then transferred it onto one of the hard sheets. Now I don’t know if I got dud sheets that had dried out or what, but when I started cutting into it I discovered it was tough work, tougher than the soft sheets. It was like carving on soft stone. I have a back condition, scoliosis which limits my activities and endurance and energy, and carving this intricate design with the coffee beans cascading around was ridiculously hard for me on this surface.
I don’t like admitting I have a disability, not because of any social stigma, but because I find it a self-limiting word, but that’s pretty much what it is. My spine is unbalanced, it doesn’t support my body the way it should, and the tiniest little thing can be exhausting to me. It didn’t affect me much when I was younger, I didn’t even know I had it, but time and a list of activities that I probably shouldn’t have been doing, had I known, caught up with me and my spine & chronic hip and back pain forced me to get it checked out, leading to the “Aha! Scoliosis!” moment when I got my X-Ray results back. I half suspected from some not-so-subtle hints my body was giving me.
So every little cut into the surface of the lino was probably the equivalent of lifting a dumbbell for the average person. The result, was that I could only work on the print a little everyday, as every muscle in my back strained and tensed to achieve the grooves and lines I wanted and I was exhausted after each session, sometimes unable to work the following day due to severe fatigue.
So you’re probably waiting for the big reveal when I announce my triumphant achievement at the end of all this…well no, that didn’t happen. The finished carving looked okay on the sheet, but didn’t print up very well. I just wasn’t happy with it. And if I’m not happy with it I’m surely not going to offer it to customers. So I’ll start it all over again on a soft sheet one of these fine days when I can face all of those little beans again, because it is a nice design, and it should flow, which I think I can achieve better on soft lino.
This week I am experimenting with acrylics again. I have worked in acrylics in the past, but always felt I had a “stuffy” formal style, so I am trying to loosen up and find my “voice”. One of the ways I’m doing this is experimenting with a palette knife for the first time. Well I may have picked one up in my teens, tried it, found it didn’t come easy and grabbed a brush instead, but now I have the patience and discipline I lacked then to persevere and learn a technique that doesn’t come so naturally to me. It is fun and challenging, and even better isn’t too tough on my back! I’m finding it oddly liberating because you can’t be too exact with a palette knife, you have to work with instinct a lot, and I’m done with dry, formal interpretations of my subjects, it’s time to fly!
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
– WH Auden
It’s been almost a year. A full cycle around the sun since I lost Pookie. A year since. It can’t be. I can still see him, feel him, smell him like it was yesterday. A year since the moment that came in the night to snatch our happiness. All that time has passed since he was here. Since I last felt “All is all right in the world”.
It’s late August or September 2000. I am young and self – absorbed. I think only of myself and my own needs. I do not want responsibilities, I will avoid any kind of commitment as though it were a pit of vipers opened up before me. I have a cat, well I call her mine, but an older sister takes care of her because I am restless and move around a lot, the cat will die young and I will always know it was because I didn’t appreciate her enough, didn’t deserve her. I see myself as a romantic figure, a nomadic gypsy of sorts, I live only for fleeting experiences, for my “poetry” which is a flimsy stream-of-youthful sub-conscious upwellings which have little real meaning, or if they do my conscious mind is not privy to them, and music. My music. I can live inside a song for days, intoxicated by it. I dream of being a singer, of having a band. I’m too shy to do anything about it though, so I dream a lot instead. I am lonely. Horribly lonely, but I don’t know it yet. I’ve always been kind of an outsider, I got used to not fitting in. Timidity will do that for you as a pre-teen. Shyness and being the only gay person that you know will do that for you as a teenager. I don’t need anyone, I don’t want anyone. Ordinary life is not for me. Marriage is not for me. Being a parent is completely out of the question for me. I’m not like other people. I reject this notion and take pride in it in equal measures, constantly clashing with myself. I will be selfish for a long time to come, but I will be taught spiritual lessons by a master soon.
A kitten, irresistible to even selfish, moping me is found in the bushes near the house. A kitten I don’t want, because he would be inconvenient, but I will enjoy his softness, his babyness until I find him a good home. I wait for a phone call for a week or so to say “I’d like to take the ginger kitten, I have a good home and I love cats”.
Twenty one year old me reads “A Tale of Tom Kitten” to the little gingersnap as he runs around the mobile home we stayed in then. Of course he doesn’t understand a word, but neither of us care, do we. I take the “Kitten to Good Home” advertisement from the local paper. I am overwhelmed with love. No one else will have him. He is a gift from the universe for me. I know that with the same certainty I know my name. Stop all the clocks.Stop them then.
I settle on a name I saw on a re-issued children’s book from the early 20th century – Pookie. It suits him. I never question it. I never even read one of the books, I still haven’t, but the rabbit-fairy creature on the cover reminds me of him. My boy, my mystical baby from the universe, So that’s that. His name seemed to bring itself to my attention, I didn’t really need to go looking. Such magical things happen when you’re young and your world seems to revolve around you. Stop all the clocks. Oh Lord please stop them.
Pookie is restless, he wants out all the time. He wants to make more Pookies, I know it. I hate to hold him to any human standard of reproduction but those fluffy upside-down heart shaped sacks have to go. He jumps on my lap and sprays me as if to confirm the time is right. He is neutered.
He still likes to wander. He leaves and goes missing for large stretches of time. He gets in fights, a lot of fights, he is a warrior tom. I wander and pace. I think of every terrible thing that could have happened to him, I search the road, I bargain with God, I pray, I am sick with worry. Regularly. I sit on the front step late on a summer’s night, any summer’s night in my mid twenties, waiting. Without fail he always appears, sooner or later. Sometimes it is late and I have gone to bed to lay awake worrying. He is greeted with kisses and mild reprimands which sound more like praise. He is home. He is home. Thank you God. Thank you. Stop all the clocks, Stop them now.
He comes home with an eye injury. My heart sinks. It looks bad but the vet says it will heal. He gives me tablets and antibiotic eye drops to administer. Pookie has other ideas. Pookie would rather freeze to death under a tree in the forest in the rain than have a strange liquid placed on his sore eyeball. Cue years of on and off battles for the eye. It never does heal. It becomes ulcerated. I make the heart-wrenching decision to have it removed before he gets any older (he is ten now) I am thirty one. We have both been through a lot. Not just in our little world, in our lives, in our family, in the world, so many things have happened around us and to us, things we learned from, things that hurt us badly, but we always have each other. As long as Pookie makes it through the enucleation surgery all will be alright in the world again.
He comes home like a little Frankenstein’s monster, swab sticking out of newly emptied socket, half his face shaved. I am irrationally furious with the vets for shaving his whiskers. He runs out of the carrier and to the back door. I have been told to keep him in for ten days. We compromise and manage two. No one ever told Pookie what to do. He was always a king. Now he is a one-eyed pirate king. He recovers from the surgery but goes straight into urinary tract problems which I always suspect are stress related. He is treated many times but it never completely goes away, but we still have each other. All is alright in the world. Stop all the clocks, we still have so much time. I am so lucky. I know he was a gift to me, I know that every day. I never forget that. I know I will lose him some day but don’t really believe it will ever happen. It can’t happen.
I am lying in the sun with Pookie, he bites my scalp playfully, a game we have. He taught me to lie on the ground with him, to relax profoundly, a feline meditation of sorts. He is wise and old and handsome with his missing eye. I am filled with pride that I have raised such a beautiful creature, that I steered him through the thick and thin of it all. It is probably the one thing I am really proud of. It is without a doubt the best thing I have ever done. All is all right in the world. Stop those clocks there.
Pookie is fifteen. I am 37. He is chased up a tree by a local dog in the garden. He’s too old for that kind of scare, I know it, but I entice him down with his favourite treats. He’s been eating too many of those recently too, but he’s older, I don’t want to deny him his few vices he has earned. We forget about the dog. He fights with local cats. I put it aside. He’s very youthful for his age. We play in the garden many days, he chases a tassel on a string on a stick. He pounces and rolls forward athletically, he’s getting too old to play like this too, but he enjoys it and I take a stupid pride in how fit and athletic he is for his age.
Smash all the clocks. Smash them to bits and pieces with their smug little faces grinning at the present and their groping hands pulling me into a future I don’t want, but which I know is inevitable. Don’t make me a mother then take my baby from me. Don’t teach me how to love and take my love from me.
In the night he has a stroke. He is dragging a back leg, one at first, quickly the other.I lie on the ground for another reason than the reason he taught me, I lie on the ground because I can’t get up. My legs have failed me at the moment he needs me most. I can only crawl and call for help, because I am fainting. The vet says it was caught quickly. The vet says he may recover, indeed could well recover. The vet sends him home with various medications for us to have one last battle over. The vet says, the vet says, the vet says. But I know. I try to believe, for Pookie I try to believe, but I know. He dies three days later. I die too. My heart is still beating, I can still speak, I am still here, but my clocks stopped on February 29th 2016.
“He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.”
Yesterday was an exciting day at the PookiePics studio, we appointed Mr. Chalky Choo Choo, by a unani-mouse decision as our new chief executive officer. The decision was not without some controversy as Mr. Choo Choo is a known killer and brawler. Eyebrows were raised by the bird and rodent communities who feel Mr. Choo Choo is not the best choice for the title. “I mean he stalks us, like, literally, he tried to kill my husband yesterday” said Ms. Veronica Vole of the grassy mound near the bird feeding area, who’s squeaks were ignored as the board of directors threw papers in the air dramatically and waved their arms and paws around in animated debate as the decision was made. “It’s simple, he’s the best cat for the job” said his mother, a human who also happens to be the resident artist and former leader of the company, “Handing over the reins hasn’t been easy, I mean we don’t even own a horse, and now I don’t even have reins” she said, but then added “Chalky has that, you know, killer instinct needed for business, I’ve never even killed a mouse, so, there you go”.
Mr. Choo Choo’s first act as chief was to get nipped in his office with the door locked and shades down. “That’s just how I rrrrollllll” he said in a slurred drawl over the louder speaker to his slightly confused staff.
We caught up with this exciting young executive in the company gardens where he likes to spend his spare time relaxing, exercising and stalking prey.
CCP- Mr. Choo Choo-
CCC- Please, call me Chalky, we don’t do formalities here (he flashes a charismatic smile and his hypnotic eyes sparkle)
CCP- Okay, then, Chalky-
CCC- What did you just call me? It’s Mr. Choo Choo to you!!
CCP- But you just said…never mind…Mr. Choo Choo, what do you feel you can bring to this company that your mama…I mean, the owner, couldn’t, as leader.
CCC- Hmm…let me see. I bring everything. Everything. Looks, charisma, intelligence, business sense, firm but brilliant leadership, humility, fluff, dead mice-
CCP- But sir, what have those last two things got to do –
CCC- Don’t interrupt me! Why I oughta! (raises paw in threatening manner) As I was saying I bring many wondrous qualities to this position, all of which the former “leader” (he mimes quotation marks with his paws) lacks. There is nothing I can’t do. Nothing. I’m a cat for Bastet’s sake!
CCP- That all sounds incredible, but what about the rumours that you pilfered last months finances and went on a catnip bender in the company gardens?
CCC- (breaks into unexpected laughter) Yes, yes, okay, paws up, I did that, but you know what, I brought those earnings in, in my former role as AROC (All Round Office Cutie). People wouldn’t look twice at the woman’s scribbles if it wasn’t for me, and our founder, the late, great pirate king, my predecessor, Pookie. We bring in the revenue, we’re entitled to blow off some steam now and again, don’t you agree?
CCP- I’m finding, that somehow, I do, but I don’t know why (he fixes me with a hypnotic gaze at this point, I am melting into his apple green eyes, melting, melting)
***Interview is paused while I recover***
CCP- So, Mr. Choo Choo, what’s for the future of this company, with you at the helm?
CCC- (he taps the table with his paw) Well…simple. World domination, a choke hold on the market, we’re going to hiss at, and scratch the competition’s noses, and then we’ll stare at them for a couple of hours until they back down. I’ll also arch my back a lot and make my tail very puffy.
CCP- Okay…and do you feel you should have an impact on the look and feel of the work produced by me, I mean, your mama, I mean the resident artist? Or will you give her artistic freedom?
CCC- HAH! That’s a joke, right? You know I paint those, don’t you?
CCC- Yes, with my tail!
CCP- (Stunned silence) But…
CCC- Give me that dictaphone it looks interesting-
CCP- No, I need it, it’s recording this interview-
CCC- But it looks interesting and I kind of want to push it off the table-
CCP -Don’t do that-
CCC- I might… (puts paw out)
***There is a crashing noise and recording ends abruptly***
I’m afraid the interview ends here as we had, em, technical problems, but I hope this gives you an insight into the character of this great cat, our new leader in the cutthroat world of cat paintings and prints. If you’d like to check out Chalky’s “company” PookiePics on Etsy to see my exclusive range of whimsical cards, prints, paintings & photography downloads, please do so here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/PookiePics?ele=shop_open
Some of you maybe be curious to know what the glamorous life of an up-and-coming artist is like, so I wrote this in the garret, I mean office, as a rough guide to an average day for me.*
Morning, am-ish: Wake up, see sun, whimper, sleep a little more. Be woken again by mad man on radio shouting and playing depressing songs about rain. Feel cat at feet, hear coffee’s siren call, remember meaning of life – caffeine.
9.00 – 10.00: Actually get up, slowly, slowly, straighten back, check legs are working, attempt stair descent. Chalky, a seasoned climber shows off his stair descent skills, no ropes, no rails, just down, surprisingly loud on bare wood steps. Now me. I can do this. One, two, I can see the stairwell, or as I call it “the bottom of the stairs”.
9.03: Coffee. Any coffee will do, just give me instant, I don’t care, just give it to me.
9.05: Check twitter. 2 likes and a retweet? Is that all? That comment was funny people! FUNNY!!! Read DMs, intend to reply later. Or in a couple of days, whichever happens first.
9.10: The caffeine is speeding through my veins, I can feel it! Suddenly I can laugh again, I can speak! I love my fellow humans! I want to communicate with them immediately!
9.15 – 10.00: Look at cat pictures on the internet, for research purposes – hey I paint a lot of cats, people!
10.00: Think of current painting or drawing. Hmm, can I? Should I? But it might be risky to add in a tree at this stage. I really should get painting. It’s getting late, where did the morning go? Stare thoughtfully at painting. Carefully considering next move.
10.05: More coffee. It helps me focus.
10.10. General malaise and weakness is self-diagnosed as probable hunger leading me to the kitchen. Look in presses and refrigerator. Aha! Just as I suspected. There’s no food here!
10.15 – 11.00: Contemplate cat painting and how it relates to life and death.
11.05: Go to shops. Look in purse at measly funds. Withdraw money from bank and get statement. Look at statement hopefully. Cry pitifully into hands in middle of street. No one stops to ask if I’m okay, they’ve seen this before. See other crying Artist on street with bank statement in hands. We nod knowingly at each other.
11.10: Go to art shop for supplies, a brush and a tube of white watercolour paint. Locate brushes. What brush did I need? Can’t remember but this one looks nice, I never had one quite so long and pointed before, can probably paint really long pointed things with this one. Look at paints. Only Chinese white. For weeks now only Chinese white. What if I want titanium white? There is a difference you know. Go to counter with brush and Chinese white paint. Have confusing unsatisfying conversation with art shop man about brush cleaner. Why does he never understand what I mean? Why do I never explain myself clearly and always come away sounding like I’ve no idea what I’m talking about? Why does he never restock the paints? Does he want me to shop online? Watch enviously as other customers are understood and assisted by art shop man.
11.30: Grocery shopping. Get trolley due to crap back that can’t carry things anymore. Get crap trolley with spinning wheel. Wheel is distracting, mesmerising almost, Stop staring at the wheel on the trolley. Stop it. People will think you’re weird. God I’m weird. No one else gets distracted by the wheels on their trolley. They’re all thinking about grown-up things like taxes and dinner parties. Bundle essential items into trolley, counting cents as I go. Oh look there’s a thing for peeling a lemon. A lemon peeler, if you will. I don’t have a lemon peeler. Lemon peeler becomes an essential item, it can probably do oranges as well, making it a must-have bargain.
12.15 – 12.30: Sing in car on way home. Self soothing. Those hills truly are alive, with the sound of me. Spot cute animals from the window, counting dogs, cats. Too many cows to count, I go by too quickly to count herd animals. But there were a lot.
1.00: Get home check twitter. Laugh at funny cat pictures. Hahaha! Make coffee to steel myself for the brutal emotional odyssey that is my artistic life. Eat food, also good fuel. Chewing and thinking, thinking and chewing. Food reminds me of eating which reminds me of weight, which reminds me of exercise. Should probably go for a walk before painting, I may be too tired after painting due to crap back.
1.30. Check for sales online. No sales. Look at bank balance again, look at cat looking at me as provider. Start to sob uncontrollably which turns to maniacal laughter. Pull out some hair, worry, worry, drink more coffee. Check twitter.
2.00: Leave house at determined pace on exercise mission. Stop to look at various distracting interesting phenomena. Why are ants always so busy? Why are they always carrying another ant? Sometimes alive, sometimes dead. Are there disabled ants that need to be carried? Admire colour of fallen leaves. Plan the fallen leaf painting I’ve been planning for a while. A considerable while. Should I photograph the fallen leaves? I will get back to the fallen leaf painting another day. Press on. I can do this. Just a few more steps. More steps, less fat. Gosh that’s clever, maybe I should make a motivational poster of it. But then it sounds so anti-weight-ist, what ever that’s called, and I’m not like that at all. I just have to be careful of my weight because of my ever crappening back. I’m not judging other people. Scrap plans for anti-weight-ist-whatever-that’s-called poster.
3.00 -ish: Back at house. Lying on ground, it’s just pain Aoife, it’s just pain. When did life get so physically hard? Ponder lost bloom of youth, Shakespeare drifts through mind “Summer’s lease hath all too short a date” Existential crisis. Again.
3.30 – 4.00: Panic over lost bloom of youth and lost day. Begin painting.
*This may or may not be an accurate account, I need to discuss it with my legal team before revealing.