Rock, Paper, Scissors

I have just spent a lovely two weeks in Buck’s Mills in north Devon. It is a small fishing hamlet accessed by a long and steep track down a wooded valley to a small beach with the remains of lime kilns and huge boulders and pebbles that mark this area.
We had no phone or internet and in our stunningly pretty but dark George’s Cottage, it was like being cocooned and wrapped in nature.   I had to sew outside or on my bedroom windowsill as the light was so poor, but being in a place with no sounds except the birds and a tumbling brook at the side of the private track was amazing.  It’s something you don’t find very often.  In fact, we did nod off on the front lawn a couple of times like a pair of ol’ duffers.

I had given myself a rule to take nothing away that needed completing or becoming a ‘something’.  I was determined I was just going to play – I’m such a completer/finisher just playing has been one of my biggest challenges.  I deliberately took a very small sketchbook to potter in, and amazed both myself and Him Indoors with how much of my studio I could get packed into a couple of boxes.  I also took Gwen Headley’s ‘Drawn to Stitch’ and other books to read.   It has been good to read about the way other artists personalise the design process at the same time as having my own theme to work with.  You are reminded of ideas and things you just forget about.  

I soon became smitten by the rocks and boulders of this area.  There are some truly amazing formations which are made from the siltstone and shale which have eroded faster than the sandstone (I read this on a poster!)

I got interested in a small patch of rock containing long horizontal undulating lines, crisp shattered areas and patches containing white quartz veins.  This became the source of many visits and about a million photos.  I have since discovered that rocks can trick you – they are not always the colours they seem on the surface.  Broken pebbles have revealed some interesting facts.

Him Indoors is very patient.   He is used to suddenly finding he is talking to himself on our walks as the wife has stopped again to photograph something interesting or pick something up.   Don’t mention lichen to him – he will start twitching.  He behaves like a normal adult, reading his book somewhere on the beach whilst I walk about the stinky seaweed lines looking for ‘found objects’.  I know you understand this compulsion to wander the lines of detritus on any given beach but he has now perfected the ‘I don’t know this woman, I have never seen her before in my life look’.   I don’t take it personally.

I have found that having my own interest to follow in my cocoon has enabled me to build on all the things we did in Experimental Textiles last year.  I just ‘get it’ a bit more.   I have found myself using black and white to explore patterns and shapes first, just playing with stitch in responding to prints and building on my love of certain colours and tones.  





I got to thinking that pebbles are rather like people…

Some stand out in the crowd

Some hide behind others

Some are plain but hide colour within

Some flaunt their good looks

Some you choose

Some you discard

Some you treasure 

Some you forget 

Some let you walk all over them

Some unbalance you

Some are given in love

Some are used in anger

Some feel just right

Some don’t

Some shine

Some are dull

Some are warm

Some are cold

Some are full of surprises

Some are disappointing  

Some never move

Some just roll with the tide


 I found the sun coming through the window onto the sewn lines of the top image which was rather nice…


I have really cherished this time away but the main things I will take away from my cocoon-time reading and playing are:

• Work with a small theme or interest that you love

• Value the playing – it’s the fun bit and will focus you later

• Experiment with all the possibilities you can think of

• Move towards making selected choices of materials and processes that best represent your theme

• Move from the literal to the abstract as you distil the essence of what you want to get across

Like lots of others, I really enjoy looking through the sketchbooks of other people, but if I’m honest I have always felt impeded by the need to have mine somehow look ‘good’. Maybe this is normal but it’s silly really as it isn’t the purpose.  Nonetheless, I do feel many of us struggle with this especially if we are likely to share our books.  Perhaps the main thing is to decide what you want it to be, from the book that is a piece of art itself to the place in which to mess and muddle.  Even that’s not easy!   I feel I have developed the things I like to work with so my new little book does give me pleasure to look at, and it does look vaguley like my perception of a ‘proper’ sketchbook, but more importantly it now contains a memory and a personal process that is reaI.  I still struggle with tearing out the ‘bad’ pages and having it look a certain way, but I’m getting better slowly. (Yes, I have only shown you certain pages, so I’m not healed yet!).  I don’t know if any of this will be developed into a resolved ‘something’ – I do have a few design ideas but I can honestly say I did what I set out to do which became playing ‘rock, paper, scissors’.
Finally, after twelve days of doing all this and suddenly thinking I can’t look at another rock again, I packed everything away then felt lost without something to do so I got it all out again printed a huge pile of wild plants to make into cards or canvases.  Olive green, yellow ochre, black and indigo ruled.  


I hope you will feel encouraged that stumbling along is a perfectly acceptable way to travel. I train others on the importance of play and exploration for young children, but we forget that it is just as important for our own adult wellbeing. That and a good nap in the countryside.

15 thoughts on “Rock, Paper, Scissors

  1. I have very mixed feelings towards sketchbooks too. I never seem to finish one and they are never works of beauty but I do love playing with them, especially when I’m away from home. You achieved some wonderful play and your time away must have approached heaven. Aren’t we lucky to have supportive menfolk?

  2. What a lovely post!! Just as informative as reading any of my (many) books and just as inspiring! I have bookmarked it so that I can visit it again. So many fabulous ideas….oh dear, it seems I could go on and on…..

  3. Great post – as if we were chatting – really lovely – photos / workbooks really inspiring – Drawn to Stitch is a wonderful book and good company for any ” self” time – I am probably due a revisit – I have just read my hubby your paragraph about collecting stuff from the beach – Tell your hubby he has a kindred spirit here !!! Paul thinks we have most of Porlock beach at home now ! What size are your travel boxes ??? I always end up with too much stuff – just in case !!! Perhaps we need to share our ethos – I love to play – but my finishing rate is rather poor and something I must work on xxx

  4. Hi, thanks for this. Well I took a bag, some rolls of stuff, a sewing machine (!) and a ‘really useful box’ that was a big square size, oh and some books. I nearly came back with a big rusty chain before telling myself to be a sensible girl. I told Ken who appreciated the comment. See you soon! 🙂

  5. Thanks for thinking all this through and sharing it as you learned to play and explore again! My notebook for patchwork has squared paper – maybe I should try plain paper and see what happens!

  6. I really like your site and look forward to new postings off you, this one has inspired me to take a few things with me when I go to the lake district at the end of the week, a sketchbook is definitely in there and I too have a husband who is very patient with me and often suggests places to go and visit or suggests something to photograph although he doesn’t seem to get that I don’t make an exact copy and that I have to change the way it looks or interpret it to my own style.

  7. A great post from a lovely part of the country. I always take things away with the intent on using them but I’m usually so wrapped up in the dogs and their antics I never get around to using them!

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