Why you should try house sitting

It’s been a long time since we owned a dog and when he passed it broke our hearts. Some people won’t understand that losing a pet can be the same as losing a member of the family. And as such we found that we couldn’t bring ourselves to replace him. Time passed and I read a magazine article that got me thinking. let’s take some time out doing a temporary job abroad with accommodation included. My first thoughts were that this was just for student gap years, but not so as it appears that adult gap years are on the rise.

Google provided the answer and after trawling results that were useless (isn’t that always the way!), I found blogs and websites that described a way of escaping. It all sounded so wonderful, but as reality kicked in I realised that a whole year out wasn’t possible. Damn you mortgage! Perhaps there was a way though to have a slice of the gap year cake rather than the whole thing?

There was a way, house and pet sitting. There are websites that allow you to link up with home owners with or without pets who need a trustworthy person to look after things whilst they are away. So this is how to have doggy and cat cuddles without owning them! Yes please, sign me up, so I did.


One of the top sites is www.trustedhousesitters.com.  There is a yearly membership fee of £89, but this ensures that owners find pet care from verified sitters (like me) who won’t charge a penny for keeping pets safe & happy at home. Also there is Mind my house which is a great site that costs a lot less at $20, but has fewer members to choose from. There are other sites, but these will keep you busy enough and you can apply to sit anywhere in the whole wide world!


Over the past two years my husband Jason and I have had the pleasure and privilege of sitting 7 times for 5 different home owners, a total of 7 cats and 4 dogs so far. We have loved seeing different parts of the UK and France. Not only have we had some amazing experiences but have met some wonderful people too. I would highly recommend house sitting and we are happily looking forward to our next sit over Christmas in Gloucestershire.


The links I have given to the Trusted House Sitter website will give you 20% off membership. For every one that joins, I will receive 2 free months. Please contact me if the links don’t work and I will send you a code instead.


Keep on learning

“Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching.”

Over the summer I attended a one day workshop at the fabulously creative City Arts Newbury. “A ring in a day” with Berkshire based jeweller Cathy Newell Price, what an opportunity! Not wanting to miss out I booked as soon as I could.

It was billed as “A fantastic introduction to jewellery in silver, with artist Cathy Newell-Price.” During this workshop, myself and the other seven attendees planned, designed and created a wide-band silver ring. We learnt basic jewellery making skills, including texturing and making marks in metals, cutting out using a piercing saw, hammering, bending & shaping silver, joining by silver soldering, finishing and polishing.


We started by trying out all of the different tools, experimenting with mark making on our trial copper band. Nervousness and excitement were a heady mix along with the rhythmic sound of hammer on metal.  Hands on guidance was needed when it came to the soldering part of the process. Only with Cathy’s level of experience were we ever going to ensure that the flat strip of metal would turn forever into a circle.


I am really pleased with the results I managed to achieve, being a complete beginner, albeit with lots of enthusiasm. In the back of my mind I would like to explore this further, perhaps with more lessons with Cathy, via YouTube videos or from good old fashioned book learning!

With the kids all going back to school, I feel it is time to embrace learning something new. Why should they have all the fun? Let’s see what we can achieve.


Open Studios time again

The silly season for professional artists is in full swing, Open Studios. I am a member of the Open Studios West Berkshire and North Hampshire scheme. It was set up in 1987 by the late Pat Eastop MBE as a non-profit organisation to celebrate the diversity of visual arts available within the local community. It strives to create a dialogue between artists and the community by encouraging members of the public to visit artists’ studios.

Every May over 100 artists open their studios and exhibitions free of charge and are happy to talk about their creative process with visitors. We work to make entering any art space a comfortable experience, to encourage and promote accessibility to art and artists. Works of arts are normally for sale but there is no obligation to buy, the focus is on enjoying your visit.

Open Studios is organised entirely by a committee of volunteers made up of artists and other professionals who generously donate their time each year to ensure the scheme runs efficiently and within budget.  I am one of those volunteers and countless months, weeks and days of work are finally behind me. Now all I can do is send off a few last Press releases and visit some studios. I tend to open my studio every other year, giving me time to refresh my work and free up time to get inspired by my colleagues.

So far I have visited Diana Barraclough, ceramicist www.dibarraclough.org.uk, in Hungerford. With her this year she has painter David Jones, print and book-maker Mavina Baker and fellow ceramicist Emily Myers. We visited them on their pre-view evening which was bathed in soft early summer light. This made the stroll around her garden to view the totem poles and bird baths a delight, enhanced further by the glass of red wine so generously and thoughtfully given to me upon entry. Cautiously making our way down steep steps from the main viewing area, on the ground floor of her beautiful home, we emerged into the basement and the creative heart of the studio. Sketchbooks open on worktops needed to be flicked through, small vessels begged to be held. Inspiration was drawn from the Cornish coast, small sea birds, water and fishing boats were abundant.

Contentedly we walked all of 5oo yards along the road to our next studio, painter and drawer Shirley Cartey. Whilst the landscapes swept you from local scenes of Coombe Gibbet in the UK to the Grand Canyon in America, I found myself drawn (excuse the pun) to her beautiful life studies.

A few days later I set off, on my own this time, to visit fellow photographer Giles Penfound www.picturesonapage.net . Even though it is now technically May, heavy April-like showers greeted me as I arrived at his home in Newbury.  I have been admiring his black and white landscapes since he joined the scheme last year and wanted to take the time to meet him. His work, for me, has a commanding use of contrast and composition. Happily Giles and I found ourselves in that artists bubble where we chatted easily about film and digital photography, equipment likes and dislikes and the feeling of solitude that can be overcome when you open your studio to strangers.

Visiting peoples homes and studios can be a daunting thing for the public, but if you have the opportunity I urge you to try. It can be so rewarding. Just pick ONE out of the brochure, or from the website and go, what have you got to lose? www.open-studios.org.uk

All photographs are the property of the original artist.

Polaroid project – emulsion lift

Weeks of research into emulsion lift techniques were finally coming to fruition.


Searching around the house for my old darkroom trays, I found only one, and a tiny one at that. The others must be up in the loft and I wasn’t prepared to go up there. So I dug out some foccacia trays my husband uses for his baking and gave them a quick wash. He’ll never know, will he!?

crop edges off

The first stage is to cut off all the white borders to the polaroid image, thus allowing the separation to happen. So I took my first experimental Impossible project polaroid image of orchids and trimmed it, see here for how I made the image. Laying out 2 trays on the kitchen counters I placed near boiling water into the first one and cold water into the other.


Sliding the trimmed polaroid image into the hot water I saw tiny bubbles appearing underneath the surface of the image. My excitement grew as I waited at least one full minute to see if it was going to work. Starting in one corner of the image I tried peeling the positive from the negative part. The two parts should peel easily, they didn’t, so I plunged the image back into the water for 30 seconds and tried again.


Yes! It was working, I couldn’t believe it. I was removing the white negative part (the back bit) and separating the transparent positive part.


Using a soft brush I cleaned the remaining chemistry on the positive part, gently cleaning it in the hot water.


I had removed the negative part but still had to free the emulsion from the transparent foil. Plunging the image back into the hot water again for 1 or 2 minutes I started teasing the gel emulsion off using a soft brush.

emulsion on to paper

Amazingly the jellyfish-like emulsion was floating around in the water. I transferred it to the clean second tray of water and slipped in a piece of watercolour paper ready to receive the gift of this disembodied image. Gently teasing the limp emulsion with my brush I coaxed it into position. What relief and joy, it really worked!

What an amazing experiment! I can’t wait to try more.

The tools I used were: 
1 instant photo
1 or many soft brushes
1 pair of scissors or guillotine
1 carrier surface paper but it could also be wood, plastic, glass…
1 tray filled with hot water
1 tray filled with cold water

Polaroid project –

Testing times…

Once I had got over my initial nervousness and excitement of just putting the film canister into the Polaroid Sonar SX70 camera, it was down to business. Creative people will tell you (if asked!) that it can take some of us some time to get into the right ‘head space’. So focus, not the camera’s but mine, was needed. Closing the door on the rest of the world (and my husband), gave my creative inner-being the chance to rise to the challenge I had set myself.

My passion is for still lifes and landscape images. For this project I thought that it would be more practical to stick with an indoor still life. I have been eyeing up some glorious white orchids and decided that they would be a great subject matter. Placing them alongside a big window to take advantage of the natural light I set about pushing the ‘sonar focusing’ button halfway down. As I began to press the shutter button, the camera released sound waves to the central part of the scene. The frequencies are beyond our range of hearing and travel at the speed of sound. Pretty advanced for something made in the 1970’s! The split second it takes for the sound to reach the subject and the echo to return is fed into a tiny electronic computer inside the camera. The computer uses this time measurement to calculate the distance between the camera lens and the subject, then signals a motor to turn the lens until the subject is in sharp focus.

shutter button

Once the subject is in focus I could then press the shutter button fully and Hey Presto! out popped the film positive with a satisfying clunk and whirring sound. Contrary to popular belief and OutKast – Hey Ya! DO NOT SHAKE IT LIKE POLAROID PICTURE! Leave the precious thing alone, face down with something not too heavy on top to stop any extra light getting to it whilst it develops. The equivalent of us laying down in a darkened room springs to mind.



A few images were taken for me to be able to experiment with in the next stage, the Emulsion Lift. Imagine my surprise and disappointment when I couldn’t control myself and I had used all 8 frames of my first pack of film. This was mainly due to me thinking there were 10 frames in the pack! Shame. Development take longer than I thought. For the colour film Impossible Project state 6 minutes and for Black and white 1 minute. In my experience the images fully developed at least 3x longer than that. Initially you think that the image isn’t that great, but once patience has been exercised you can see that it looks pretty good!


The next thing I had to do was use all the research I had been gathering and try and make an emulsion lift and create something that I would be proud to add to my online shop.

Polaroid project – film

Old camera, new film –

Excitement and nervousness were my watch-words as I started to peel open the box that contained the polaroid film.  Impossible Project have allowed photographers like me to continue to explore the unpredictable world of polaroid emulsion lifts.


When Polaroid announced the end of instant film in 2008, Impossible stepped in to buy the last remaining factory, days before it closed down. The machines had been dismantled, there were no formulas to follow and the supply chain had already been destroyed. If we wanted to keep instant photography alive, we had to reinvent instant film from scratch.


Eight years later, with the help of some incredible chemists, engineers and photographers, we’re the only people in the world who make original format instant film. We make film in both color and black and white, for Polaroid 600-type, SX-70 and Image/Spectra cameras, as well as large format 8×10 film.


I bought this Polaroid SX-70 camera (which is almost 40 years old!) to explore creating wonderful images through emulsion lifts. As the camera does not have a battery of it’s own, it wasn’t until I inserted the film pack that I would know that I had bought a working camera!
These polaroid cameras were developed without an internal battery, meaning each film pack contained a ‘fresh’ power source. This feature powered the camera motors and exposure control, ensuring that a charged battery would always be available as long as film was in the camera. This also meant that these old cameras never had battery acid leaks whilst being stored away in someones cupboard for over 30 years. So what joy for me to hear the mechanical clunk and whirring sounds that came magnificently from the retro camera!

Polaroid project


‘New’ Photography project with an ‘Old’ Polaroid camera

I am excited to start a new photography project with this old 1970’s Polaroid SX-70 Land Camera. I think it is pretty much as old as I am! For years I have wanted to try both emulsion lifts and image transfers. After lots of research, I finally decided to get a new ‘old’ camera and try my hand at this much longed-for technique. This model has autofocus and allows for manual focus as close as 10.2in (26cm) so I hope that will help when I come to take my own images.

New film has been ordered and on it’s way courtesy of Impossible Project. They have done some fantastic work making sure photographer’s  like me can still experiment and explore the wonderful world of polaroid photography. Hurrah! As they say on their website “The SX-70 Original was the first instant SLR ever made, and the first camera to use integral instant film. It’s also one of the most beautiful cameras ever made, with a folding brushed chrome body and leather trim. Beloved by artists and photographers since Andy Warhol and Ansel Adams.

I hope that this project will be everything I’m wishing for! I’ll keep you posted…