Thursday, March 11, 2010

Vanessa Cabban - "Do You Mind if I Knit?"

Vanessa Cabban, known for her wonderful blog has inspired this post. Vanessa is a prodigiously talented and productive person.  She is "professionally" a childrens' book illustrator, having collaborated on several books already in her young life.  When she is not doing that, she knits, crochets, paints and gardens all apparently expertly.  Did I also mention that she takes wonderful photographs?  Her color world is limpid, delicate and confident all at the same time and her grasp of composition, texture and plasticity is sophisticated, subtle but rigorous.  Her latest series of "abstract" watercolors marry Paul Klee to Sonia Delaunay to very successful effect.  You should check her out.  And keep an eye on her, because I'd like to think that she could go on to some very great things.  

I was hoping to post a few more pieces from her blog of her "little squares" crocheted scarves whose hues are a little like Italian sorbettos but technology-with-a-mind-of-its-own won the battle again and I lost. 

But this is a longer post as you can tell already and not ENTIRELY exclusively about Vanessa, but also about a world that she seems to inhabit.  And which, by buying her paintings, I can tap into vicariously.  (And you could too!  Did I mention that Vanessa also has an Etsy site through which she sells her paintings?  See the link on her blog. Apologies to V. that I was not able to share directly more of her talent and her lovely house in Northern England with you.)

Here is a cover of the UK's "Country Living" magazine.  ("When Your Heart is in the Country") sans title (Computers 1, P.P. again, 0).  Does it speak to you?  The Cornish Blue pottery?  The French blue AGA?  The powder blue table with the cabriolet legs?  The geese in the kitchen?

Country Living; Photo: Chris Drake; Styling: Hester Page

Some of you may or may not know that I am married to a Brit and for two years, lived the life of a Corporate Banker in the City of London.  I was VERY young and newlywed and working in a Department of ALL MEN.  Who were still rather old-school.  And fully expected me to, any minute now, and rightfully so, pack it in and head off to the life that all true English people are supposed to desire.  Especially WOMEN.  Regrettably, or not, they were not ALL wrong.  And it's true, there was definitely a part of me - and still is, that was seduced by images of a Country Living kind of life. 

I was initiated into it by my then new Mother-in-Law who, through no fault of her own, had fallen somewhat short of achieving a Diana-ish clone to spangle up her extended household (because that was indeed how she saw it - vs., her household, and (SEPARATE!) mine!), she was going to give it her best effort to inculcate me into the strawberries and cream kind of life.  It started with this Victorian washbag (we don't have these in America - but I DO like it!  See I kept it!) and some charming vintage homemaking handbooks.  (Can ya believe I've schlepped these all the way from the UK, to NYC, to Honolulu and now L.A.!!!??? Can ya?)

With lots of basic English recipes, almanac-style admonitions and seasonal alerts, weights and measures guidelines and plenty of handy stain-removal techniques!

(for the pre-blog, pre-Martha Stewart world)

Oh yes she also gave me lots of doodads with pink roses on them like duvet covers and Marks and Spencers lamps. (OK, I had to draw a line SOMEWHERE, these items did not see much daylight but p.s., she'd never had a daughter of her own, only lads. know!)

Photo: George Weidenfeld and Nicolson, Country Living

So yes, it didn't take long for me to wistfully anticipate my eventual existence somewhere a little out of town, on a hill overlooking fields, forests and stiles, in a stone cottage with roses over the door and waist high lavender lining the crazy-paved path.  With a bathroom like this perhaps:

Photo: Christopher Drake, Country Living

A fluffy dog getting his wet paws all over my furniture and floors like this:

Photo: Ling Wong, Floor: Liz Wagstaff, Country Living

(Somehow rosebuds seem less egregious with a blue background and even, shall I say?  Hipper.)

I desired that I might have a little menagerie of children.  (If not blondes, I would have settled for green eyes, and long legs given my native genetic Anglo-deficiencies).  And my neighbors would look like this:

Photo: John Curtis, Country Living

Summer Fetes, Livestock Fairs, Cream Teas, picnics would look like this:

Photo: Roger Philips, Country Living

and views like this:

Photo: Jill Mead, Country Living

might form a part of my seasonal traditions.  I also imagined that from time to time, someone like this:

Photo: RSPCA Photo Library, Country Living

would make his appearance at the bottom of my garden.  And that I would know JUST WHAT TO DO WITH HIM!!!!!!

And that I might grow old in a gentle way.......with some good company.

Photo:  Kim Sayer, of Lady Sayer, Country Living

In fact, none of that remotely came to pass.  The brief two years of London life quickly melted into the past tense and our particulars assumed the murky urban hard-edged fast-paced character that to this day makes my husband's heart race with joyous anticipation.  We've moved around a bit since then, and have finally landed up in a place where there may just BE a sufficient choice of mental health professionals up to the task of integrating my many and various ethnic alter egos.  (Either that, or I'll just have to "join 'em" with a brand new Equity card and get cast in an English costume drama/Kung Fu movie!)  

Until I've found that mental health professional, and figured out exactly, WHO I AM......???????  At the end of the odd long day in the hot So-Cal sun, I may yet lay my head down on my squishy pillow, under my ruffly duvet with the same pattern that Mary the-Vicars-daughter-from-Lindisfarne had on her bed when she was eight (!) with the East Midlands popstar (Mr. Paradis) snuffling by my side and think:

of cath kidston

Provence Rose

and Vanessa.  Who are so good at being English.

As is their birthright.  And if I again need a quick sweet shot of that gentle English life, I will buy another one of Vanessa's paintings.  (Yes the one on top is now mine!  Go ahead, hate me!)

Sooooooooo.......Thanks again Vanessa.  And go check out Vanessa!

And......Cheers my dears!  (Do you know who YOU are?)


  1. Made me laugh. I definitely have this dream and love all these things! I haven't achieved it either yet...

  2. Oh good Ellen! It's not just me! (I knew that by how many Cath Kidston shops there are in England!) Sigh!

  3. It's all about escapism isn't it? The English Idyll, where we can feel safe, and the world feels like a good place, I think that's what Cath K is tapping into. By buying her goodies, we're owning a little of some lovely life we imagine is idyllic. I'm all for a bit of escapism myself! Thank you so much for your wonderful words about my work, and this post has been a very interesting read, thank you. Love Vanessa xxx

  4. Yes, you've very right Vanessa, and you would know best about the reality. Everytime I bring up this subject with my husband (who has spent time in bucolic villages in Kent and knows), he says: "OH NO! We're not going there again are we?!!! But yes, the world in that idea of England feels like a good place, and safe. We can all dream. Meanwhile, you're paintings and your blog are dreamy! You are good at what you do! (And you make it seem easy when I know there's alot of hard work in there!)