Mini Beast from the East

boys, playing, cars, garage, digger, lorry, children, illustration, illustrator, Hannah FoleyJust when we all thought it was safe to get going in the garden the ‘Mini Beast from the East’ struck. Were you all alright? I hope you managed to stay safe and warm. It caught us completely unawares. Despite the forecasts we couldn’t believe the snow would actually settle. This is Devon! We’d already had one dumping so that’s us done for the next ten years, right?! Nooo! Little Owl got another snow day from school on Monday. She and Finch played out in it nearly all day, creating magnificent snow forts and a whole pack of Snowdogs. Wren was full of cold so sat contentedly with me, reading stories by the fire. I cannot tell you how pleased I am that the builders had finished the roof. So, that should be it now, right……?!

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Warmed twice

Look at all the digging I did this weekend! I am feeling proud, if a little achy. This weekend was the first dry(ish) opportunity to get over to the allotment and dig in all the lovely manure Big Dreamer had lugged over there in the autumn. We also planted the columnar cherry (Prunus Amanogawa) against the back fence in the garden, and a holly tree in the corner to prickle the local cats’ bottoms!

I finally put in my long-considered seed order too. Amongst others I ordered some miniature climbing pumpkins, called ‘Munchkin’. I am very excited about those pumpkins! I hope they live up to their reputation for being delicious and easy to grow. I decided to take Nigel Slater’s advice on celeriac, which is, not to bother with growing them from seed. I have ordered some plug plants that will arrive towards the end of April. Do you have gardening plans afoot?

In other news, we have a watertight roof! We also have an enormous pile of amazing old oak joists from the attic. They are incredible but will take Big Dreamer quite a while to chop up for firewood. But you know the saying, “Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.” He’s raising an eyebrow at me!

Here’s some artwork from a recent commission on microbes and viruses for Centre of the Cell.

microbes, viruses, science, education, Hannah Foley, illustrator, children, biology

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Happy belated World Book Day!

magical stories, world book day, imagination, stars, planets, moon, Hannah Foley, illustrator, illustrationThe thaw has filled the river to bursting. The water meadows are all water and no meadow, reflecting back a gun metal sky. But everywhere in the natural world there is hustle and bustle. Out on my bike in the morning the vegetation is full of twittering birds. Rabbits lope off the tow path when they see me coming. Despite the big freeze of last week Spring marches on. Thank goodness! Here is an illustration I did for Exeter Illustrators to celebrate World Book Day last week. I’m posting it here for all the children like Little Owl, whose schools were closed and will be celebrating this week instead. Happy belated World Book Day!

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An eventful weekend

nature, wildlife, ecology, biology, garden, illustration, Hannah Foley, illustrator, education, children, kids, family, drawing, sketching, agapanthus, hebe, primroses, campanula, chives, albrighton rambler, bird feeder, robin, goldfinch, wren, blue titDid you survive the snow? Apart from the odd mound left from road clearing, ours has all gone. After living in Scotland I find snow so evocative, especially being in a rural community.  As many of you will know, country snow is a very different experience to city snow. I can see us all now, heaving our way through silent fields watched by the farm bulls, stocially munching on steaming silage. I have a beautiful memory of waking up at midnight and looking out of the window to see the valley covered in a fresh fall, reflecting back the moonlight as if it were daytime. Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will remember a number of posts reporting our many Scottish snow antics at the time! Big Dreamer and I had to keep pinching ourselves that the electricity didn’t go off once the whole of this weekend. That would have been standard on the farm. I don’t think Big Dreamer will ever forget the week Little Owl and I were away one winter. Snow meant he had to sleep by the wood burner to keep warm, and he fed himself tins of beans and soup heated up on the top.

Despite having electricity and easy access to shops here this weekend, it ended up being an eventful few days in our house. The roofers arrived on Thursday morning but by lunchtime the snow was coming down so thickly they couldn’t see to work, leaving us with a still incomplete roof. The builders covered the roof as best they could and were all set to head home too when there was an almighty crash. Little Owl’s school had been closed so we were all cosied up around the wood burner when we heard the noise. Peeking out of the lounge door, the dust gradually settled to reveal lumps of plaster and other debris all down the stairs and throughout the hall. The apprentice had fallen through the ceiling. Fortunately he was fine, and even more fortunately he came through at pretty much the exact spot where they’ll be breaking through to put in the stairs. Small mercies.

The kids had a great time in the snow on Friday. They spent hours out with all the other children in the street pulling each other along on sledges and having snowball fights. It was a wonderful novelty to be able to play in the road, buried cars stuck fast in their parking spaces. Wren was not quite so sure and got cold pretty quickly so I set up crèche for the under 2s and we watched all the fun from the window. Then on Saturday the thaw began and that’s when the leaks started to appear. First through Little Owl’s ceiling. Melting snow seems to have a particular aptitude for finding little crannies where you thought there couldn’t possibly be any. Soon the attic was filled with every sort of container we could find, to catch all the drips. It was an enormous relief to see both the builders’ and roofers’ vans pull up outside the house this morning!

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The beast from the east

rainforest, illustration, illustrator, Hannah Foley, children, education, science, ecology, natural history, jaguar, scarlet ibis, egret, macaw, sloth, toucan, buttress roots, prop roots, epiphytes, crows nest fern, stag horn fern, bracket fungi, king palm, strangler vine, spider monkey‘The Beast from the East’ has arrived at just the right time for us. Half the roof is missing and we haven’t even one wisp of loft insulation. Last night we packed everyone off to bed early, layered up in thermal vests under their pyjamas. Every hot water bottle and blanket we own was put to good use. This morning dawned bright and freezing, not a snowflake in sight. If it had been the weekend I’m not sure any of us would have bothered getting up. As it was we gingerly tested the air outside the covers with single toes, then counted to three before leaping for dressing gowns and slippers.

Here is a hot steamy rainforest scene to warm you up on this cold morning.

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Website Update

Hannah Foley, illustration, illustrator, children, education, science, natural historyYou’ll be pleased to know that we came back from London and, despite my concerns, the house had not fallen down in our absence. The steel girder is firmly in place and the house seems none the worse. However work has now paused because everyone, builders and us, have all come down with the lurgy. I haven’t had a year like this in ages. The bugs have been undeterred by our usual winter arsenal of multivitamins, bio yoghurts and piles of green veg. It feels like we have been ill in one way or another since the New Year. Roll on the warmer weather.

In other news, I have updated my website. There’s lots of new work for you to look at. I’ll post some of it up here too over the next few weeks. I have also joined Instagram. If you’re on Instagram already please take pity on me and say hello. I have no idea what I’m doing! You can find the link button to my Instagram page on my website.

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‘What-if’ stuff

blood vessels, Hannah Foley, illustration, heart, biology, education, children, illustration, illustrator, non-fiction, biology
I went to sleep last night surrounded by precariously balanced piles of our belongings. I seemed to get the camping equipment and home brew kit on my side, while Big Dreamer contended with tins of paint and Christmas decorations. We cleared out our loft at the weekend ready for it to be converted. Our bedroom is now a teetering mass of atticness. The conversion is incredibly exciting but also a bit nerve-wracking. Big Dreamer has assured me it can’t happen, but what do we do if, when they put in the big steel girder that will support the new floor…the whole house falls down?!

I’ve decided not to think about it. In the mean time it was very cathartic clearing out the loft. I have found that something weird happens to you when you move around a lot, particularly between rented houses. You end up with lots of ‘what-if’ stuff. This is all the stuff that doesn’t currently fit anywhere in your house but either has fitted in a previous house or might fit in a future house. We learnt quickly not to alter furniture or throw things away because you could guarantee you’d need it in the next place. I still shrivel up inside when I think of an oven we let go of for £50.

Anyway, at the weekend we got all our ‘what-if’ stuff down out of the loft; all the things that we hadn’t had the emotional energy to make a decision about when we moved in. And we got rid of it! Because we are never moving again! The relief sort of engulfed us in a lovely cleansing flood. We positively skipped out to the car with armfuls of ‘what-if’ stuff that can now go and serve a useful purpose in someone else’s house.

There will be no post from me next week as we’re off to London to see family and friends for half-term. The builders will be making a start while we’re away…I hope we have a house to come back to. Not thinking about it! Not thinking about it!!! Anyway, I’ll see you the week after! The illustrations here are from a recent commission from the science education charity Centre of the Cell about the heart. It was a lovely brief to work on and I discovered that I really like drawing blood vessels.blood vessels, Hannah Foley, illustration, heart, biology, education, children, illustration, illustrator, non-fiction, biology, anatomy, physiology

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baby, sitting, pointing, dry point, printmaking, Hannah Foley, illustrator, illustration, childrenOne of my new year’s resolutions was to start a walks journal. My idea was to make a sort of scrapbook of our family walks through the year by collecting maps and leaflets, and making notes of the weather, café and loo stops, and potential detours for next time. But January has not got me off to a good start. It has been such a wet and windy beginning to the year down our way. The novelty of winter has thoroughly worn off. I have only managed to put one walk in my journal!

I am also straining at the bit to get to work on the garden and the allotment. I have been noting the bare patches and hatching plans to fill them in. I have one last foxglove plant to try in the foxglove graveyard under the Japanese maple and if that doesn’t take I will give up and plant snowdrops.

It absolutely poured on Saturday so Little Owl and I took ourselves off to our local garden centre to spend my birthday money on a tree for the garden. We selected a Flagpole Cherry which grows in a column shape so hopefully won’t overshadow the garden too much while providing beautiful blossom for the bees and us. I expressed my frustration at not being able to get digging and was given some sage advice by the staff member who helped us out to the car with the tree. “Be patient! You’ll do more harm than good by stomping around all over the earth while it’s so wet.” Oh dear. It’s back to my seed catalogues and my gardening daydreams then! Patience is not my best virtue!

Anyway, I got out on my bike early this morning, for perhaps only the third time this year so far, and there were so many birds singing! It was wonderful to hear. The days are getting lighter. We’re not out of the woods yet but hang on everyone, we’re nearly there!

Another of my drypoint prints of Wren above.

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Emotional homunculus

science, illustration, illustrator, homunculus, biology, chemistry, design, education, young people, families, SCCR, conflict, brainHave you ever heard the term homunculus? If you Google it you get images of a funny-looking human with enormous lips and enormous hands. The homunculus is a visual representation of what our body looks like to our brains. In our culture we tend to separate out the brain and the body but they are intricately connected. All through our bodies there are sensory receptors that send information about the world to our brains via a complicated system of nerves. In parts of our bodies, such as our hands and our mouths, we have a lot more of these sensory receptors than other parts of our bodies, say your thigh for instance. Hence, to the brain our hands and mouths seem much bigger on a sensory level than they are in reality. There are two versions of this cortical homunculus: a sensory and a motor form.

Last year the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) approached me to work with them to develop an emotional homunculus: a way of showing how the body looks to your brain when you are in a particular emotional state. SCCR have been doing some amazing work to help young people and their families make sense of the brain biology of the teenage years and how our brains work in conflict situations. The human brain is being re-wired during our teenage years at the same rate as it is being wired between the ages of 0-2. No wonder it’s a tough time! Then we throw in family breakdown, poverty, exams, job loss, illness, social media, peer pressure. Families need as much support as possible to get through this time and the SCCR have found that understanding a bit about the biology going on in the background has really helped families.

So last autumn I worked with a great bunch of people to develop this project. It was brilliant to work with the web-design team at Primate again. They are soooo good. The main idea of the emotional homunculus came from child psychology expert Dr Sara Watkin and she gave loads of brilliant help and advice as we worked out what an emotional homunculus might look like. It was also great to work with Felipe Bustos Sierra of Debasers Filums on some animations for the project*. You can see the external and internal view of one version of the emotional homunculus above. The project launched last Wednesday in Glasgow at the Glasgow Science Centre and I was lucky enough to go up and be part of it. Below is a photo of one of my illustrations for SCCR on the big screen outside the Science Centre. I was just a little bit proud!!! Sorry about the dark picture. Scotland was very snowy and cold last week. Below that is another image from the project looking at the chemicals that work in your brain. You can see more about the project by visiting the SCCR website here.

Hannah Foley, Glasgow, Science Centre, illustrator, illustration, education, science, SCCR, children, families, kids, young people, keep the head, monkey vs lizard

Cranial cocktail, brain, biology, eduction, Hannah Foley, illustrator, illustration, children, education, science, families, young people

*Felipe has just completed a wonderful film called Nae Pasaran about a group of Scottish aeroplane engineers who refused to allow some of Pinochet’s warplanes to leave their factory in East Kilbride as a show of solidatory with the people of Chile in the 70s. They never knew if their actions had made any difference but now, through Felipe, they have. It’s an incredible story. You can watch the short here. I challenge you to watch it without crying! The feature length film with be closing Glasgow Film Festival and then hopefully you will be able to see it at a cinema near you some time after that. Felipe deserves to win every award and accolade going for this project so I hope he does!

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Picture books 2017

We are lucky to have a fabulous fishmongers around the corner but on Saturday the counter was almost bare.

“Herring?” I asked hopefully.

Patrick threw up his arms in despair. “No herring, no sardines, no mackerel! Very little of anything!”

Storm Dylan was the culprit, keeping all the fishing boats harbour-bound. The dearth of fish reminded me of one of Little Owl’s Christmas presents. A beautiful book called The Mousehole Cat. Do you know it? It’s quite old now, but timeless.

The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley is a re-telling of an old Cornish tale about a terrible storm which prevented any boat from leaving the harbour at Mousehole (pronounced mowzel). It is Christmas and the town’s people are starving but old fisherman Tom and his Cat Mouzer brave the waves to bring back fish. It is really Mouzer who saves the day by singing to the great Storm-Cat who is causing all the trouble. It’s a beautifully illustrated book with a lovely early 90s vibe that makes me feel quite nostalgic. They don’t seem to publish picture books with extensive text like this anymore. Publishers seem to jump straight from young children’s picture books to chapter books with small black and white illustrations. I would put the Brambly Hedge books in the same category as The Mousehole Cat and they are beautiful too. It’s a shame because they are exactly the sort of books Little Owl loves so I end up trawling the archives for new purchases for her.

Can you see where I’m going with all this? Yes, it’s time for my annual round-up of the picture books we bought or received in 2017 and loved. The Mousehole Cat is pictured below alongside Stomp, Dinosaur, Stomp by Margaret Mayo and Alex Aycliffe, and Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.

Mouse hole Cat, Antonia Barber, Nicola Bayley, Stomp Dinosaur Stomp, Margaret Mayo, Alex Aycliffe, Room on the Brrom, Julia Donaldson, Axel Scheffler

The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber and Nicola Bayley; Stomp Dinosaur Stomp by Margaret Mayo and Alex Aycliffe; Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Stomp, Dinosaur, Stomp is from a series of books by Scholastic about various different things from dinosaurs through to diggers. Finch is an enormous fan and I can highly recommend them. They have a nice rhythm so don’t get wearisome on endless re-readings. Alex Aycliffe’s illustrations have a lovely collage feel to them and a great colour palette. I have also learned quite a bit about dinosaurs by reading it (admittedly I didn’t know much before!)

Two of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s books hit our list this year, Room on the Broom and Tiddler. Now I know some people get sniffy about the Donaldson/Scheffler dynamo. “Their books are everywhere!” I hear you cryI too, have perused an airport WHSmith where the only picture books for sale were by this pair. However, the fact is their books are brilliant. Donaldson’s texts are so easy to read when you can barely keep your eyes open after wrestling the kids though dinner and bath time. I find myself romping through them and the kids love them. Tiddler was in the waiting room at our local GP surgery and Finch thought it was so hilarious he pestered and pestered me for his own copy. So there we are. Two more Donaldson/Scheffler books to add to our burgeoning collection.

The Snow Lion, Jim Helmore, Richard Jones, Tiddler, Julia Donaldson, Axel Scheffler

The Snow Lion by Jim Helmore and Richard Jones; Tiddler by Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler

Pictured above with Tiddler is The Snow Lion by Jim Helmore (of Who are you, Stripy Horse? fame) and Richard Jones. I honestly cannot tell you how beautiful this book is. The illustrations are so thoughtful and wistful. It is ostensibly a story about a little girl adjusting to moving to a new area but as with all great picture books it’s much more than that. The way Richard Jones portrays the relationship between the little girl and the lion is very special. It’s already a classic in our house and we can’t seem to go anywhere now without a snow lion or two in tow.

Leon and Bob, Simon James, I'm a Girl, Yasmeen Ismail

Leon and Bob by Simon James; I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail

Pictured above are Leon and Bob by Simon James and I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail. Leon and Bob is another story about a child moving house and finding a friend. It’s another book that’s quite old now too. I think it’s a fantastic story. It’s sparsely written so the twist at the end (it’s a good twist!), really packs a punch. One of the things I love about it is the atmosphere of the illustrations. It has a real sense of place and I love all the little details in Leon’s house.

I’m a Girl is a celebration of not being pigeon-holed because of your gender. In this book a little girl likes to race around, to win, to be noisy and to be clever just as much as the boys. The illustrations are really simple and very effective. They convey so much jubilant enthusiasm in each brush stroke. As with many picture books written by illustrators the writing isn’t top notch, but I do love it.

A meia perdida, Anine Bosenberg

A meia perdida by Anine Bosenberg

Finally here is one of my favourites. A Meia Perdida is by Anine Bosenberg who is a rather wonderful friend of mine BUT that’s not the reason this book is one of my favourites! A Meia Perdida means The Lost Sock but those are the only words you’ll need because this is a wordless book. Two children find their sock has gone missing and trace the red yarn across a snowy landscape full of all sorts of marvellous creatures (complete with intricate page cut-outs) to work out what has happened to it. It’s so well designed and beautifully executed. I love the play on the idea of what happens to all those missing socks!

So there we are. Did you buy or receive some great books in 2017? I hope so. There will be no post from me next week as I am away to Scotland on illustration-related matters. I will return the week after to tell you all about it!

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