Plastic Angst

As I put my grocery shopping into cupboards, bowls and baskets the kitchen bin fills up with packaging. I recycle and reuse what I can. The cubby hole under the stairs is now almost unusable as a cupboard due to it being full 0f plastic bags disgorging more of the same, tubs and pots are treated to a round in the dishwasher before being saved into my special sister-bin and feet are stamped when I read NOT CURRENTLY RECYCLED on plastic fruit bags.

‘What’s a sister-bin?’, you may ask. Most weekends my sister visits. She travels about half an hour from another authority, an authority which has a very generous list of plastic items it’s happy to recycle. So ever on the look out for ways of reducing waste headed for landfills I keep a special bin of clean plastic just for her to take away with her on a Saturday night! It’s not a perfect system, carbon wise I’m probably cancelling my good intentions out with the hot water and petrol but at least my yoghurt pots, margarine tubs and meat trays are not heading for …… but wait a minute. Where are they going? How can neighbouring authorities have such differing policies?

I do love a system. To me the little-number-in-the-circular-arrow symbol suggests great sorting possibilities: we could all be sorting our plastics into bins according to this number and off it could all go to the particular process suitable for that type of plastic. No? Here my scientifically savvy friends check out the ceiling and sigh.

So as you can see I have plastic angst. I read about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch which contains 100 million tons of plastic. Our oceans full of tiny pieces of plastic – microplastics. The fact that they are tiny pieces does not mean that they are decomposing in the accepted sense. They are still plastic, an unnatural material whose chemical bonds are forced to fuse under tremendous heat. They are still plastic, a material mistaken by the digestive systems of marine life as hormones. They are still plastic, an everlasting material created by the ingenuity of man but often utilised in single-use, cheap or disposable items.

(Not) Currently Recycled

(Not) Currently Recycled                 20cm x 20cm             Acrylic paint on canvas

So this piece is my response to that angst. Tiny dots of colour suspended in bright blue. The scale here is ambiguous. It could be a satellite shot of landmasses and oceans. Equally we could have zoomed right in and be looking at microscopic flecks.

Either way the plastic is here to stay.


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A True Portrait

Another little piece in the series of shed paintings. This particular wee beauty had a real glow to it due to the back wall being made almost entirely from glass panels. I like this idea: that there is a transparency of character which becomes apparent in how we create things, be they conversations, families, quilts or sheds. So in painting these little shed portraits I feel I am almost painting a portrait of the person behind (or in!) the shed.


When You Leave Somewhere …  20cm x 20cm       Acrylic paint and found materials

In this piece I have incorporated a tinned food key as part of the fence, a little black safety pin with an interesting round end and a rusty washer: an opener, a connector and a facilitator. The text is snipped from a newspaper interview given by Lemn Sissay MBE when he became Chancellor of The University of Manchester, he said ‘When you leave somewhere you take it with you.’

I also like to think that as we move through life we leave a little of ourselves with whatever we have created.





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Sheds from Leftovers

These little shed portraits are a continuation of the work I did on Patchwork Plots. They celebrate the creativity and ingenuity of plot holders and gardeners in reusing objects and materials which are regarded as having come to the end of their useful lives: old window frames spanning a range of styles and ages becoming a greenhouse extension or cold frame; decapitated plastic containers lining the boundary of and allotment sprouting with an abundance of strawberries; lengths of piping providing protective collars around brassicas to keep away munching pests or providing obstacle free growing space for the straightest of carrots.

When I come to paint these characterful little buildings I too make use of things that might otherwise be thrown out. In truth I can’t throw them out because of their histories, known or unknown, so honouring them in this way seems apt.

The Key's on the Hook

The Key’s on the Hook          20cm x 20cm          Acrylic paint and found materials

In this piece I have framed the work in a series of rectangles and squares to suggest it’s a small part of a larger whole, making reference to the original inspiration for this series – the patchwork quilt. The palette is muted echoing the pale colours of the oft washed quilt as well as the faded paintwork of well weathered sheds. My favourite circles appear in metal as well as paint. (My son is now well trained in picking up rusty washers and lost buttons.)

The text is torn from old sheets of cello music from my childhood, once practised weekly now yellowing in dusty piles under the bed. The little vest button was an extra raided from my mother’s button box for another project and the little rusty key has long lost its keyhole, isn’t it hard to throw away a key?

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Circular Coincidence

I pulled Will Gompertz’ modern art book off the library shelf, it fell open at the chapter on abstract art.

A conversation I’d had at the last collective meeting about reading round themes and researching ideas encouraged me to take an unexpected half hour at the local library that morning. I was supposed to be dropping off a painting at the gallery next door but had arrived too early.

With few distracting illustrations or plates to flick through – I’m guessing it was published for the Google generation who have a world of images at their fingertips – I started taking notes on an artist new to me called Frantisek Kupka, a member of a Paris-based movement called Orphism. Mr. G describes, in typically eloquent detail, a painting of Kupka’s which is made up of a series of circles and discs; an exploration of our relationship with outer space and the planets; how the sun, the moon and the planets relate to each other and to us. As I continued reading I discovered the first satisfying coincidence of the morning: Kupka painted this moon inspired painting in 1910 and prophetically entitled it First Step.

frank kupka first frank kapka first step frank kapka

Thirty minutes soon passed and I returned the art book to the shelf. The painting I was dropping off was for an exhibition of work created in response to poems written locally during WWI.


I had been drawn to this poem called “Address to the Moon” and had created a piece inspired by the numerous ways the moon is described in the poem.

Address to the Moon Acrylic on Canvas 60cm x 60cm

address to the moon                      acrylic on canvas                   60cm x 60cm

A satisfying synchronicity.

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A Patchwork of Memories

My paternal grandmother made this quilt as a gift for my parents when they married. I lay under its colourful heaviness as a child as did my sisters.

The pieces in my connected exhibition were inspired by memories of my beloved grandmothers and their sewing. To balance these misty recollections I needed tangible evidence of their needlework. I retrieved the carefully folded quilt from deep within my mother’s linen cupboard. There it was, much smaller and tattier than I remembered. I laid it out on the floor and instinctively climbed underneath it. It was still heavy.


Not for my Granny the luxury of matching and co-ordinating prints or symmetrically tessellating shapes. My Dad showed me again the patches he’d shown me as a child: left over pieces of garments sewn by his mother for her family. His four sisters’ summer dresses; his mother’s ubiquitous aprons; an old cushion cover; the trimmed off hems of too long curtains; his tie HIS TIE!

I was suddenly four again wishing I could read the “writing” on one of the patches: rows of random black marks on a white background. I stroked the silky stripes of the paisley tie, conjuring my parents dressed up and dancing in their youth. The chequered patch along one side became the police station of my little sister’s bedtime imaginings.

Can you see the tie?

Can you see the tie?


I still can’t read the writing.

The back of this quilt holds the secret of its warm weight: leftover scraps of tweed and heavy worsted gathered together by my tailoress grandmother when the men’s suits she made for a living were finished.


This is my favourite part of the quilt, its muted tones functional against the breezy gaity of the other side: its private face.

The tiniest pieces found a place

The tiniest pieces found a place

An ariel map of love

Stitching an ariel map of warmth

So I found the tangible piece I was searching for but it had become much more than that, more than pieces of fabric sewn into a quilt. It is a lesson in creativity in the face of scarcity. It speaks of hard work, skill and tenacity. Ingenuity and wit.

But most of all it is a lesson in love.

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Sew and sow

My grandmother’s gift to my parents on their wedding day was a patchwork quilt . Irregular pieces left over from making clothes for the family stitched together, nothing wasted. Each piece, regardless of shape or size, finding a place.

On his allotment my husband shows a similar ingenuity: old drainpipes become long pots for growing the straightest of carrots; the legs of a broken trampoline hold up netting over the fruit bushes; plastic lemonade bottles are being saved to create an invincible green house wall.

The old quilt and the plots at the allotment share a shabby, haphazard elegance: a quirky creativity of faded colours, patches and corners gone slightly awry.

The allotments are an almost overwhelming source of inspiration for an artist. I used the idea of wonky squares to contain and separate the individual elements of the painting below.

patchwork plots acrylic on canvas 60cm x 60cm

patchwork plots      acrylic on canvas       60cm x 60cm

I started by sketching the innumerable sheds. Some new, neat and freshly painted, most however more characterful with sagging roofs, patched walls, questionable extensions, mismatched window frames and palette steps. The personality of each shed setting the tone for its plot. They really are a testament to the ideal of make-do-and-mend and are all the more beautiful for it.

I found ways of expressing other details of the allotment by creating patterns often found on patchwork fabrics: checks, spots, flowers, dimity print and polkadots. It wasn’t until the painting was finished and I looked at the quilt again I saw how closely my patterns resembled the material my Granny had used almost fifty years before.


Rows of bright blue plastic buckets I saw neatly placed along one side of a shed became the blue and brown check at the top of the piece.


Six white dandelion seed heads represent the six members of our family: we all had blond hair as children, four more recently than two.

leavesThe three pale butterflies are accompanied by a lacey green cabbage leaf: the cause of many a heavy heart, but a pretty image.


A cluster of forget-me-nots, which grow in abundant hazy blue clouds around the edges of my husband’s plot – thoroughly encouraged as they were one of his mother’s favourites.


The pink and white polka-dots represent my favourite produce : the rows of red and white onions brought back in shining heavy bunches and laid on the kitchen table, the little heaps of dried soil from their stringy roots forgiven for the sweet pungency they bring to our family dinners.

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aromatic memory

How many times did I run up the spiraling stone steps to burst in through the big white front door of my grandmother’s tiny house?

The answer must be an actual number, countable with a first and a last, but it felt infinite. Her busy arms pausing to press me into her flowery and often floury apron whilst above my innocent blonde head mother and daughter exchanged hugs and hellos, purring and laughing.

Those tight embraces were given with the understanding that comes with the passing of time itself, that time is precious and fleeting; but received heedlessly by an unsuspecting infant heart: these moments would be unchanging and always possible.

apples and coal      acrylic canvas     60cm x x60cm

apples and coal                acrylic on canvas                 60cm x x60cm

The apples in the fruit bowl and the coal fire in the grate laid down an unacknowledged perfume; sharp sweet red fruitiness singing over an earthy organic darkness: an olfactory sound track to those visits.

The precious pungency only struck me when my dear Granny and her house had become a cherished memory. The smell of the shiny red apples left in the stockings on Christmas morning half conjur those precious moments as did filling the coal bucket on holiday this summer.

This piece was painted to capture the whirl of love that gathered me up in that little house.

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silver linings

After ignoring my phone for a couple of days I was absent mindedly thumbing through the emails that had built up. I’d scan Great Art Offer or Hi! Ed Needs You and hit the bin icon. The vaguely irritating enthusiasm of these admails was punctuated by a sincere Hi Coreen, I’ve just sold your painting “autoimmune”.


autoimmune                          acrylic on canvas                                   80cm x 30cm

I had painted it for a Bury Collective exhibition entitled “Automatic” and it was now hanging in the Bury Art Shop whose manger had sent the welcome email.

It represents my experience of living with ME. I wanted to convey how things can be bobbing along nicely and then a leaden greyness comes into view absorbing physical and mental energy. Initially sensed from a distance, it gets gradually closer and bigger, blocking out the brightness of mental clarity and filling muscles with a sullen uncooperative weight. A curtain of impenetrable, stinging fatigue is drawn around every reluctant fibre of who you are.

ME does its own thing. It flares up and recedes to its own rhythm. It has taken a long time but I have learned to play the waiting game. I was angry that it took my career, now I am (almost) grateful that it allowed me to find painting again. I have found that these enforced periods of stillness and reflection are useful creative tools.

Day 2 of painting Autoimmune

Day 2 of painting Autoimmune

I had to think backwards when planning this painting. I knew I wanted tantalising bumps and flecks of colour to break through the dark section in the middle of the piece. I squeezed thick ribbons of deep acrylic colour straight on to the canvas spreading them about with my palette knife, leaving a texture of edges and curves. Covering up this vibrant panel with mars black and Paynes grey did not obliterate its energy: it somehow became quietly compelling, its texture and layers making the viewer pause to study its subtlety.

Life is poetry. Someone paused to look and decided to buy. That my work has connected with someone unknown fills me with both humility and a fleeting self belief. Thank you.

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My palette, encrusted with smears and lumps of blue, green and yellow, is soaking in hot soapy water in the kitchen sink. The commissioned piece, a landscape of hills and fields, is finished.

As the autumnal nip finally heralds an end to the gift that has been our long warm summer, I have been keeping those golden days alive by painting velvet green hills against a pale sky, dark abundant trees and bleached out grasses all shot through with the singing yellow of fields of rapeseed.

As the piece will not be with its new owner until the new year I’ll post just a peek – one of my favourite bits – a tiny bit of skyline.

summer fields - a detail

summer fields – a detail


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your walls, my work

“It’s worth taking the time to get it right.”

The bright colours of the flyer nudge line by line out of the printer. Three days after we had started, final versions of my promotional card are piling up on Chris’s desk.

Chris and Loraine’s eye for detail and exquisite high standards, apparent in their beautiful printmaking, have been generously shared in helping me create these eye catching cards.

Now it’s up to me to go to galleries armed with my cards, speak to people and find out how to get my work hanging on their walls.


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