On Your Desk: Michelle Barnett

Michelle Barnett 1

Today's workspace photos come from Michelle Barnett, a very talented young illustrator and animator in the English Midlands. She says:

"I was born in Norfolk, England, but currently live in Leicestershire where I rent a room from a friend. We just moved in a month ago and I love it. I'm ten seconds from a park (which you can see out my window), ten minutes walk from a canal, and ten minutes drive from a lot of big empty fields. I'm told that an aspiring illustrator should go to London to find work, but I refute that idea rather strongly. If I don't have my daily fix of green growing stuff I get very cranky. Illustration by Michelle Barnett

"I'm an Illustrator Dabbling, which is to say that at the moment I have a day job and will take whatever comes my way to do in the evenings and weekends (all experience is useful experience and beggars can't be choosers). So I've done storybook drawings, logos and branding, birthday cards, worksheets and painted canvases, but what I like most are narrative illustrations. I love the editing options digital art gives me, but I've always found I think best when I'm doing things manually. Something about the feel of a pencil under your fingers, the pressure on the page, the inevitable mess I make when I do anything practical, helps me get to grips with my subject.  Basically I make a tangle with my hands, then use my computer to tuck in the stray threads.

Michelle Barnett 2

"At the moment I'm finishing off a personal project, upcycling a garishly purple bookshelf into something a bit more to my taste.  I've been chipping away at it in the evenings, painting on dancing bears, wasp salesmen, frog people and accordion players. You can see part of it here on my desk, ready to have ruddy-coloured oak leaves hand-printed onto it, then be varnished and finally assembled into a bookshelf again.  I can’t blu-tak pictures up on the window, but the small frame on the top left is a print of Rima Staines' Atching Tan, which I picked up when I had the privilege of meeting her this summer.  How awestruck I was!  I have another print by her, and some by others, hiding somewhere in a pile but as yet nowhere to put them.

"These pictures show my desk mid-bookshelf project.  This is a reasonable level of tidiness for my desk.  I like to keep things organised...until I start work, at which point I need mess.  Unpacking the art materials helps me unpack my ideas as well, spreading the contents of my brain out so I can see them.  I've become very good at stacking objects into increasingly precarious pyramids as my desk becomes more and more cluttered while I work, and then packing it all away again when I finish for the day.

Michelle Barnett 3

Above is a close-up of my reading corner, which I was determined to have in my new room.  The cushions were upcycled from some battered old ones by Amy Allwright.  This is just my 'core' selection of books, the vital ones that travel with me and get switched (with the rest still at my parents house in Norfolk) whenever I go home.  As well as my grown-up books you'll notice that at least a third of them are written for young folk.  I think they often get the better stories, so I steal them.  The current cycle includes Rosemary Sutcliffe, Neil Gaiman, and Dianne Wynne Jones.  Also up here are other knick-knacks; a spoon hand-carved for me by a friend (I'm still trying to bring myself to use it to eat.  It's too beautiful!), a big sappy pine-cone from the Weird and Wonderful Wood festival that still smells fantastic, a collection of robots.... Everything to keep an active mind happy. "

Below is Michelle's video documenting the process of creating her charming and wonderful "Folklore Bookshelf" -- but be warned! You're going to want one too! (I know I sure do.)

To see more of Michelle's magical artwork, please visit her blog: Out There.

On Your Desk

Josephine Pennicott 1

The next workspace in the "On Your Desk" series belongs to Australian writer and artist Josephine Pennicott. Josephine is a multi-award-winning author of mystery, crime, and fantasy novels, including four of particular interest to mythic fiction readers: the darkly enchanting "Circle of Nine" trilogy, which draws upon Persephone/Kore myths, and Poet's Cottage, a terrific mystery inspired by the life of children's author Enid Blyton. Josephine was born in Tasmania, spend her early years in Papua New Guinea, and now lives in inner-city Sydney with her husband and daughter. To learn more about Josephine's writing, art, and life, visit her blog: Tale Peddler.

Here's her description of the charming "writing shed" in her garden, pictured above:

"No matter what time of day or evening, it is always tranquil in my garden office shed. There’s no internet connection or telephone. Instead there’s the rustle of trees and sounds of birds. I can hear currawongs, magpies and the occasional plane passing over. When it rains, the shed becomes womb-like and cosy. But in the humidity of Sydney it is also a good place to be, in between large cool palms and a tea-tree.

Josephine Pennicott 2

"Inside my garden writing shed I’m surrounded by past, present and future project inspirations. At the moment there are a lot of books on 1940s Australian artists as I’m writing a mystery novel in that time period. The blue butterflies on the window remind me of my father who died last year and who encouraged me to live a creative life. The Thesaurus he bought me when I was seventeen is always at my side to remind me of our shared love of words.

"There are several awards placed around the office that my writer husband, David Levell, and I have won; and an old china teapot which has flowers in it to honour the muses.  On the wall is an inspiration board of photographs and images for my current book, including lots of photos of the Australian bush.

Josephine Pennicott 3

"Also in the shed: Piles of scrapbooks with clippings from newspapers. Crystals. Jean Cocteau prints from Menton. A tribal mask from New Guinea, where I spent my early childhood. A limited edition print of “Charles Dickens’ Dream,” signed by a descendant. My muses in the form of photographs of Agatha Christie, Daphne du Maurier, Enid Blyton and the wonderful Elizabeth Taylor, who is the patron saint of my shed. A framed certificate for love of reading which I received from Bulae Primary School in Lae, New Guinea. Nothing has changed so many years later; I still love words and books.

"Above the desk is a beautiful Laura Ashley wallpaper which features birds and butterflies. My German publisher used it for the cover jacket of Dornen Tochter (the German version of Poet’s Cottage); I love the fact they used my wallpaper. In the photo above, you can see the bag that Ullstein Publishing made for the book, inspired by my writing shed.

"Our house is a small brick historic worker’s cottage, and so the garden shed is necessary for space. I share it with my husband, but luckily he's accustomed to my penchant for florals and pretties. My workspace doesn’t actually reflect some of my current writing, mystery and crime (which can get very dark, tinged with gothic and supernatural elements), but it’s my frou frou refuge where I truly feel not only inspired but at peace."

Josephine Pennicott 5

All readers of this blog are welcome to contribute to the "On Your Desk" series. You'll find more information (and the address where you should send your photos) at the bottom of the first post of the series. Please view the full series to get an idea of what kind of material to send in. If you've already contributed to the series, but you've changed your workspace, you are welcome to contribute again.

On Your Desk

Katherine Langrish's workspace, 1

Here's the latest entry in the "On Your Desk" photo series, featuring the workspaces of writers, artists, and others in the Mythic Arts community. (If you'd like to contribute, there's information on how to do so at the end of this post.)

The photos today come from Katherine Langrish, the author of several magical books that all fans of mythic fiction should know: the enchanting "Troll Fell" trilogy, set in the Viking age (and collected in an omnibus edition, West of the Moon); Dark Angels (US title: Shadow Hunt), a gorgeous faery novel set on the Welsh border in the 12th century; and Forsaken, a haunting, lyrical novel based on Scandinavian mermaid lore. She also writes a terrific blog, Seven Miles of Steel Thistles; contributes to The History Girls and An Awfully Big Blog Adventure; and she's the folklore editor for the online fairy tale journal Unsettling Wonder. Her most recent tale (about London under water) has just been published in the YA dystopian anthology After.

Katherine grew up in the Yorkshire Dales and now lives in the Oxfordshire countryside. She tells the story of how we first met here...and I'm so very glad that we did!

The pictures above and below show Kath's writing den in a house overflowing with books, music, and art:

"The first picture," she says, "shows my desk and workroom in a (rare) tidy state, with some of the bookshelves, and the curtains drawn to keep out the morning sun. I always work with the curtains drawn to get a better light on the screen. I enjoy the way the light glows through these curtains, with their design of old fans, which have been mine since I was a little girl. Our next door neighbour passed them over the fence to my mother, and (aged seven) I loved them so much I made up a poem about them:

I have got
New fan curtains,
New fan curtains,
New fan curtains!
I have got
New fan curtains,
Hooray, hooray, hooray!

"If a poem is defined as a perfect expression of your feelings, this is probably the best I ever wrote.

Katherine Langrish's workspace, 2

Katherine Langrish's workspace, 3 & 4

"On the windowsill is an Indonesian shadow puppet who gets the sunshine I decline.

"Up in the top right-hand corner of my room, sinister Mr Fox dangles with an enigmatic grin in front of an Escher print called ‘Three Worlds,’ where a fish turns slowly under a reflective surface dotted with the curled boats of fallen leaves, and upside-down trees reach long black fingers into the depths. I write fantasy, which is also a mysterious mirror to our world. The world is water. The world is air. The interface where they meet is an almost non-existent membrane of a world, containing and transforming both. As for the fox, one of my favourite fairytales to tell aloud is the English tale of Lady Mary and Mr Fox. Be bold, be bold, but not too bold…

Katherine Langrish's workspace, 5 & 6

"Here, on the left, is my cluttered wall space, a pin board with all kinds of notes on it, and above it a magical David Wyatt pen and ink drawing of trolls, the chapter heading illustration for the British edition of my first book, ‘Troll Fell’.

"The map beneath it is a version of London, showing the extent of flooding you’d get if sea levels rose by fifty feet. The Thames would be three miles wide in the centre of the city. That’s all part of the background research for my work-in-progress (whose main characters appear in a story called ‘Visiting Nelson’ published in Ellen and Terri’s new anthology After).

"On the right: books, books, books…. This is why I find it hard to write anywhere but here in my den. I’m forever pulling books down, checking, consulting, getting inspirations.

"Below: a more truthful picture of my desk: the muddle and clutter that shows work really being done."

Katherine Langrish's workspace, 7

All readers of this blog are welcome to contribute to the "On Your Desk" series. You'll find more information (and the address where you should send your photos) in the first post of the series. Please view the full series to get an idea of what kind of material to send in. If you've already contributed to the series, but you've changed your workspace, you are welcome to contribute again.

On My Desk

NY desk 2

Here's another entry for the "On Your Desk" photo series: The desk where I'm working while I'm in Manhattan, in Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman's magical, rambling, Arts-and-Crafts filled old apartment near the river on the Upper West Side. The drawing on the desk is by my young friend Magda Hackney--a picture of the hills of Devon to remind me of home. (Tilly, Howard, Magda and I are in it, along with a couple of enchanting Dartmoor fairies.)

Jane Yolen sent me this beautiful poem today, and gave me permission to share it with you. She's been writing a poem a day for quite some time now, and I'm honored to have inspired one of them.

Letter to Terri in New York

So you are in the exact right place now,
where William Morris meets Riverside,
where fantasy and reality are tree and holly,
where love is the knobbed trunk
sorrow grows like ganglion,
and Devon informs the rest.
Long after you are home,
both spine and spindle will remember
this place, this last homely home
where comfort surrounds you,
coffee sustains you,
and welcome is always on the mat.

NY desk 1

"Letter to Terri in New York" is copyright c 2012 by Jane Yolen, and may not be reprinted in any form without the author's permission. My photos of the guest room in Ellen & Delia's apartment also appear here with permission.

On Your Desk

Brittany's desk 2

The latest entry in the "On Your Desk" series comes from another member of the world-wide Mythic Arts circle: Brittany Warman. Born in rural northern Virginia, Brittany has lived in Florida; New York; California; Oxford, England and Galway, Ireland; and is now back in Virginia working on her Master's degree in folklore and literature. A fiction writer as well as an aspiring academic, her latest story (a beautiful little tale based on Japanese "kitsune" folklore) can be found in the last issue of Jabberwocky magazine. Several other publications are forthcoming.

"The first picture (above) shows my desk and workspace for all of my projects," she says. "I'm a bit of a packrat and am currently at home while I work on my Master's degree at a nearby university so, while I don't have a great deal of space, I try to make do! I've hung postcards and prints of of art that inspires me on my window curtains, the desk is constantly covered with writing notebooks, and there is of course the necessary cup of tea!"

Brittany's desk 1

"The second picture (above) is a close up of my laptop; my wallpaper is one of the amazing 'Lady and the Unicorn' tapestries. You can also see a little print out of one of Su Blackwell's incredible book sculptures, a big cut of crystal, a candle, some fake flowers that remind me of briar roses (inspiration from my favorite fairy tale, 'Sleeping Beauty'), and a great pin of a witch and her cats by Molly Harrison.

"The third picture (below) is my slumbering muse :)."


"Fairy/faerie tales, myths, and folktales are my passions and are almost always the chief inspirations behind the creative and academic work that I do. I am particularly fascinated by retellings, both writing them myself and researching them, faerie and witch lore, folklore and feminist theory, and conceptions of magic and spirituality."

To learn more about Brittany and her work, please visit www.brittanywarman.com.

And speaking of Jabberwocky magazine, a great new issue is up online.


All readers of this blog are welcome to contribute to the "On Your Desk" series. You'll find more information (and the address where you should send your photo) in the first post of the series, and you can view the full series here.