Artist's Journal

  • Can You Hear the Jingle Bells Yet?

    Dear friends,

    I wasn’t going to write again until the New Year announcing my BIG Studio Clear Out Sale in Brighton, and then I thought "Let’s make a Christmas Splash with all those galloping circus ponies and hand-trained baby penguins I’ve been keeping up my sleeve…" but time just ran away with me. Instead, I’ll just be wishing you lots of luck with all YOUR festive plans. Let me know how it goes! Will your December be seasonally sociable, full of family and friends, or (my favourite) hunkering down with a warm dog and a good book?

    I’ll be having a bit of a ‘homemade’ Christmas this year. I’ve been learning to throw pots on the wheel (at the rather brilliant Pottery Gagliano in Brighton and Leach Pottery in Cornwall) and I have a few wonky bowls and such to fill with spiced nuts, homemade truffles, scented candles, little pies and Boxing Day Walk granola bars. I’ve also been making a few little Christmas sketches while rifling through the cookery books.

    There are giveaways on social media this week, but if you don’t do the Facebook/Instagram thing, Nan is including a lovely original coloured drawing with December orders of our Crookleigh Chronicles boxed sets. All wrapped in tissue with a little bookmark and authenticity certificate they are the most precious treasures to discover, gift or keep. I’ll try to put a few little drawings for sale in our NEW Club Room too, so look out for them (and I’m sorry if I promise things and don’t get time… there would most probably only be one or two anyway).

    If you are having a homemade Christmas or are on a budget, it’s always free to browse through our websites or revisit the YouTube channel. There are so many vintage vids on there (from when I had hair and lots of energy!), and please join us on Instagram or Facebook or send an e-card.  (Note that e-cards sometimes get stuck in spam filters so don't rely on them for important information.)

    I’m going to light a fire and do some baking to warm the place up while I do those Christmas sketches. Anybody else living in a cold old house like me will probably be shuffling around in big slippers wearing a hat, scarf and blanket. And actually appreciating the night sweats for once! Aren’t WE the lucky ones!?!

    Until the new year, I’ll love you and leave you,

    Big love,

    Sam Toft

    X

  • The Importance of Small Things

    I once had a small dog.

    I called him Stanley Philpot.

    I have to say from the first moment I saw his funny face I was completely entranced. I’d never had a small dog before and this little man tested me almost beyond my limits. Is that a thing with small dogs? Whereas Moses and Betty had a straightforward intelligence, Stan had his own bright ideas about everything.

    Roughly the shape of a dachshund but with untidy ringlets, an undershot jaw and wayward teeth. Those shiny black curls fell luxuriously from his head and ears but fell short along his back to be replaced with a flat silvergrey fluff. Straggly waves covered his short fat legs. On our walks, passersby would look around him and compliment my very handsome big dogs. Just as at a family wedding our eyes flick past the adult bridesmaids and rest instead on the 5 yr old flower girl in her blush pink fairy dress with flower crown. But I absolutely adored my little Stan. I drew him obsessively. Almost as if drawing him would give me a way inside that mischievous brain of his. I designed a range of cards crowning him The World Famous Stanley Philpot. Still available I think from Art Press Cards, but I can’t quite bear to look. His antics were legendary.

    I remember finding my precious vintage Cornishware bowl (plus antique silver sugar tongs) behind his bed one afternoon. I had been looking for them all week. He had managed to find his way up onto the dining table and carried the bowl to his bed before demolishing the fancy brown sugar cubes within. And all without breaking a thing. My, how I’d love to know how he pulled off that stunt.

    He was such a good dog for problem solving. He had a keen sense of smell, a voracious appetite and an enviable dedication to his tasks. He would chew through coat pockets and metal treats tins, driven wild by the possibility of the scantest of crumbs. If at all accessible he’d eat whole bags of dry kibble in one sitting. He’d snaffle the budgie’s millet, clear out the fish food, chomp away at fat balls left for the birds in the park … He could eat a whole box of Audrey’s chocolates and a packet of nuts and raisins with no ill effect. He once ate an entire hamper of my sister’s (delicious and precious) homemade Christmas goods overnight - including the wrappings - and was only slightly ill. A whole Dundee cake barely touched the sides.

    As he grew older, not surprisingly, he lost some teeth, and his whiskers turned a fetching grey to match his silvery back perfectly. His cloudy eyes blinked in heartfelt devotion directed towards anyone with a packet of crisps or a spare sandwich. He’d go missing for hours and I’d find him waiting patiently under picnic tables or high chairs. And, yes, I wormed him regularly.

    I must say he was a little rascal for most of his 15 years. Every time I walked through a door I’d hold my breath trying to guess what fresh mischief he’d found. And perhaps because of that I miss him still. Sometimes in the middle of the night I reach out for him and he’s not there. The powerful comfort of his cuddles is irreplaceable.

    Over those last months I drew him a lot. His little torpedo shaped body and dusty curls. He grew fatter and more boney at the same time. He looked at me a lot and I guessed at what he was wanting to say. I had a feeling that I never wanted to stop drawing him because then I would have to let him go. Which of course I did, as we all must. And now there’s a part of me who can’t really remember having such a naughty pup as Stanley Philpot. He came and he left. Like coming back from a holiday and you can’t quite believe that you actually went.

    Often to comfort myself when my dogs grow old, I do Fantasy Dog Buying. It’s a bit like walking past a house you will never own but at the same time you can just imagine where your sofa would go. For my fantasy dog I almost always go for a Harlequin Great Dane called Big. And Tiny Tim a little blonde chihuahua. Or let’s face it - any dog I see who gives me a second glance. Which is why I am so looking forward to drawing your dogs at Panter and Hall next week. I was delighted to include Club Members’ Pets in my paintings for the show and now I’d like to invite three of you (with or without your 4 leggers) to come along.

    It’s an exclusive event with a very limited guest list. There’ll be a live charity auction for Wild at Heart Foundation, pet sketches for donations to the charity, a short film being made, a live podcast and a photographer to capture the event. You’ll be at the biggest show of my career, with sparkly wine and treats for the pups… I’d love you to join us!! You’ll be rubbing shoulders with such starry guests as my mum, Nan Mustard, as well as my sister Louise and brother Tim who will be running the auction. The gallery list is FULL but I have room on my personal guest list for 3 Club Members. Wish it could be more but to leave room for all the people who have already bought a picture and would like to bring their dog, it’s Fire Regs I’m afraid. It’s on 9th November at Panter and Hall, 11-12 Pall Mall, Big London and the first 3 to contact me with their club numbers will join me as my guests.

    If you are unable to make the Private View, you can visit the show between 8th and 18th November (see www.panterandhall.com for opening times). I’ll also be uploading the short film when it’s made so you can experience the show from your sofa.

    Well if you’ve got to the end of all that lot you deserve an extra biscuit!

    I wish you all the love from my cosy sofa in Brighton where I’m supping Lemsips and catching up on all the emails. The weather is crazy wet and windy outside but I’m just about to bundle up and head out into it. Betty doesn’t mind the weather. Not like Stan. I used to have to carry him underneath my cape. And he wasn’t light. Today I’ll be thinking of my Curly Top as I wonder at the foaming sea with watery eyes.

    Big love,

    Sam Toft

  • A Small Window of Lightness

    I’m going to say it’s Late Summer.

    And the sights and sounds and smells are something to savour!

    Stray leaves tickle the back of my dress as I walk through the woods in sandals and a big jumper. Some of the brambles still have ripe blackberries as well as faded blossoms and crispy leaves. Season’s change on a branch.

    My local park has a new rose bush and there’re a few new buds bursting forth. The velvet peach scent of these late bloomers in the waning sunlight is a rare treat.

    Adolescent gulls parading around in new plumage, spiders jumping into the bathtub, mornings darkening as my big dog develops a limp.

    There’s the smell of elderberries and fallen leaves in the downpours. And horse chestnut shells showing off their white velvet insides after the conkers have been pilfered. It’s just the right weather for rainbows shimmering bright in black ink skies. It all changes so fast that not even the best of us can guess whether to wear our sun hats or our rain capes.

    And we are all part of this big nature story. Sometimes up sometimes down. Tired and fading maybe, yet busy still, creating exciting plans and new ideas. I don’t know about you but I’m not quite ready to succumb to my winter hibernations. But soon.

    After a year of creating and feeling I have ‘plenty of time’ my Big Show has come upon me all of a sudden. It’s like opening the window one morning and there’s a sharp-crispness to the air when yesterday it was all softness. 

    A Small Window of Lightness is at Panter and Hall, 11-12 Pall Mall London SW1Y 5LU from 8-18th November and I hope a few of you may be able to visit? It’s a dog friendly space of course!

    I realise that many of you live far from London and so I’ve been making a few other plans as well.

    I hope to see some of you at the Show, but if not at the Little Mustard Club Studio Sale in the new year.

    Until then, can I ask, how many of you are doing the socks and sandals thing… is it just me?! And will there be a few more beach days before we need to get the warm boots out?

    Big Love!

    Sam Toft x

  • It’s My June Birthday Bonanza!!

    Is it just me or is the hawthorn blossom pretty bonkers this year? Usually there’s a seasonal sprinkle of creamy whites in the hedgerows, but this year she’s gone mad with a blousy riot of fluffy petticoats all over the South Downs! And I love that soft grassyflower scent. In fact, I love sniffing plants in the sunshine altogether.

    One of my favourite Summer Sniffs is Nemesia ‘Wisley Vanilla’ and although it always seems to be the most expensive variety, I can rarely resist filling my kitchen window boxes with those delicate bloomers so I can enjoy their scent while I’m cooking. And over the last few years I’ve planted lilac trees in my garden, an old-fashioned climbing rose at the back and summer flowering Jasmine to scramble up a south facing wall.  But whether it’s my lazy watering, enthusiastic pruning or the wrong type of fertiliser, I’ve had disappointingly few blooms. My plans for a super fragrant summer garden have been thwarted, and each year when the days get longer my hopes fade further.

    But then after a bit of reading I realised I’d been trying hard in all the wrong places. Apparently, you need to neglect your lilacs, prune 'n feed your roses at the right time and the jasmine flowers best when it reaches the top of the wall.

    So this year it’s finally paid off! The white rose smells absolutely DIVINE but with record growth her gangly flowering shoots have bent double, swinging thorny fronds at eye level like a herd of angry triffids, rendering the whole back of the garden impassable. The lilac’s blooms are so heavy and pendulous, my small bush has collapsed across the path. And the spectacular summer flowering jasmine having reached the top of the wall and then some, has broken free of its moorings entirely, landing the most potentially fragrant parts in the fishpond.

    The secateurs are out and I am reminded to be careful what I wish for…

    But some hopes are without such dire consequences… especially if one of your dreams is to acquire an affordable piece of original work by yours truly.  

    My Big Show this year in November at Panter and Hall, London is the next opportunity if you wish to BUY original work, but if you’d like to get something FREE we have lots of giveaways on Facebook, Instagram on some free drawings with orders on my website.

    Ok now I REAALLY feel like I’ve talked your heads off. I’m sorry about that. I’m like one of those people you meet at a party who keeps talking at you even though you’re not listening, you know the ones…

    So I’ll leave you in peace for the now. And I’ll be back in a few months with news of my trip to Cornwall and our Grand Day Out in Big London!

    Big love to you all,

    Sam x

  • Spring!

    Hallo dear friends,

    Spring is here with all her bright and changing moods.

    Just this morning I saw so many moving and beautiful things:

    • The town centre’s newly laid paving slabs with their rare pristine gleam before the blackened chewing gum polka dots descend
    • A large crow building his nest and a young man with no shoes calling "Leave me alone" to anyone who would listen
    • Herds of starlings ambushing the pigeons and seagulls as young girls throw their McDonalds breakfasts into the sky
    • A chance sighting from the bus of a former friend, with their head firmly in the clouds and sad eyes
    • A muddle of cellophane-wrapped flowers & a weather-beaten teddy bear on the roadside
    • An accidental glance at my reflection in a huge Primark window display reveals I am no longer twenty one

    Blossom falling. Bulbs sprouting.

    Spring is here.

    I’m so grateful for all your Get Well Soon messages. I’m in robust health, thank you, it’s just that I’ve been absent from social media recently. I’m taking a few months’ break from all that… You know how things can get ‘a bit much’ sometimes? And dear Amber is doing a few posts which is so helpful.

    The most rewarding thing for me is spending quiet time creating new work but what gets in my way is ‘everything else’! I find I’m trying (and failing!) to be all things to all people. But I’m sure that’s a familiar story for many of us?

    My own solution is Little Mustard Club. Amber can help organise, post and share the material for those of you who’d like a little extra. It’s 12 months since we launched the Club and we’re proudly building on it each year.

    There are already lots of ways to access the Sam Toft range, internationally available, and for all budgets.

    But for those who would like something more exclusive - original work maybe, or priority access to bespoke items, regular newsletters, insider knowledge - we now have a Club for that!

    I have been much more relaxed and creative now I have the luxury of time and space, with Amber running the Club and Socials. So many new ideas as I work towards my Big London show at Panter and Hall in November. I’m currently painting on vintage book covers and illustrating the Crookleigh Chronicles. More information on those later but these two new pieces pictured below are soon to be released as limited editions for Club members.

    I’ve started working with Ami, a talented ceramicist, to produce a small range of half thrown/ half handbuilt painted figures, and I’m hoping to find the time to work on some bigger pieces with master potter Roberto Gagliano at Pottery Gagliano in Brighton. Some of you may remember our previous show Anything is Possible at www.samtoftoriginals.co.uk that sold out within hours? I’m hoping to repeat that success with a very different vision. My ideas are for a small series of large urns with story quilts painted on them. If we can just find the time to make that happen, ANYTHING is possible at www.potterygagliano.co.uk

    Meantime I’ve been learning (slowly and badly!) to throw a few plant pots on the pottery wheel at Pottery Gagliano and you can watch my various personal twitterings, courtesy of Amber, @thesamtoftinsider on Instagram

    I hope you will join us in our new adventure,

    Sam Toft

    X

  • Lovely Things Happen

    A lovely thing happened to me the other day.

    I popped into a coffee shop before my weekend dog walk and ordered two cappuccinos (it was going to be a long walk)… and then I realised I’d left my purse at home. Do I leg it home (quite a distance) and get my money, or do I do without my morning coffee(s)? Both options would be quite disappointing, let’s face it. Also, I’m not very good at making decisions. So I just stood there in my waterproofs and walking boots waiting for inspiration with my very patient pup by my side. And then the Barista said, I’ll make your coffees for free! Generous, lovely, surprising and it gave me such a boost, restoring my attitude of gratitude at the end of what had been quite a difficult week. Small things matter. And I hope you are lucky enough to have a Lovely Thing happening to you when you most need it. As a good friend told me when I was sharing my woes and wondering what, if anything, was the point of life in general and me in particular, “Perhaps there is no real point,” she said, “except for the opportunity to be kind.”

    So, the nights are a-drawing in and there’s a nip in the air when the sun goes in. I’m digging out my hot water bottles, shaking out the blankies, and looking forward to making (and not sharing) Nan’s special recipe nutmeggie rice pudding. I don’t know about you but I’m feeling a bit tired. However, I am grateful for my MANY blessings and looking forward to riding this wave wherever it takes me.

    The BIG news (and I am ever so pleased) is that Amber has agreed to run Little Mustard Club in 2023! It’s incredibly good news as it had always been a one-year (2022) project and I know it’s a lot of work for her (as well as a whole lot of fun). It’s a delight and comfort for me to have help from such a bright, creative soul.  If you don’t know already, Amber is a brilliantly talented artist and mother, making both colourful murals to commission AND uplifting paintings (get in touch with her via the Club if you’d like to know more). Such a wonderful woman to work alongside, I feel lucky to have her energy and enthusiasm to help bring the Wonderful World of Mustard alive for more people without a whole lot of extra work for myself. I know that many of you are content with my two or three catch-up emails a year, but in case you’d like to keep more up to date, I now have someone who can help!

    When I heard the good news I started thinking about where I’d like the Club to go, given we have another year. We’ve done so much already but there’s always room for improvement and extra kindnesses, right? So I’ve been dreaming up a few ideas for Autumn. I’d like the Club to develop (any ideas welcome)… and I’m trying to guess what you’d like to see. With money getting tighter and it being such an expensive time of year, I thought discounts & offers at our online shops (www.samtoft.co.uk and www.mustardhampers.co.uk) for Club Members may be welcome? Nan has a box of 2023 calendars and says she’s happy to send one out free with all purchases (if you drop her a line letting her know you’re a Club Member).

    October is Nan’s birthday month and we have a 10% off discount code for all members valid for the week 10th-16th October, and there are membership deals for early-bird sign ups. As we are nearing the end of the year, any new membership subscriptions will get the rest of 2022 as well as the whole of 2023 to enjoy all that we have in store.

    Renewing members will get year-long discount codes and surprises! We are planning a Members’ Day at our Big Studio Clear Out Sale early next year, and I’ve just finished drawing a smashing colouring-in card for Little Mustard Club which I hope you will love. You could even use it as a hand-coloured Christmas card! And we are planning a Big December Exhibition with your entries at Brighton’s Cutest Gallery Space: Dog & Bone. Whether or not you’re in the Club, you can check out the exhibitions on social media @dogandbonegallery

    But my main reason for writing is to tell you about Blankie. Inspired by the changing of the seasons and my state of mind, I have a new/old character to share. 

    Many of you will remember Roger. Doris dog’s fiancé for a while before he disgraced himself. Anyone remember the picture ‘Roger, Father of Many’? Well, the title explains the problem, for Roger was in fact a working stud dog. An EXTREMELY handsome, smooth haired Dachshund. A real head turner. To call him ‘one for the ladies’ would be an understatement. Not that he was a rascal as such, it was just his job. And there was a dog that knew his business.

    But times change, and dogs they get older even when we feel we haven’t aged much ourselves. Roger, with his confident smile and his charmed life of luxury without responsibility, was no exception. To cut a long story short, once he’d outlived his ‘usefulness’, the unscrupulous breeders threw him out on the street. An all-too-common occurrence. But this was a dog who had lived an unusually cosseted life. Hand fed the finest minced steak and poached salmon, favouring a well know brand of bottled sparkling water and receiving a weekly mani/pedi. This was not a streetwise dog.

    As a young pup Roger had been overly shy and sensitive. Never the first one out of the box, and his mother’s favourite. How he howled when he was adopted too young - first out of the litter - and taken to live on the Stud Farm. His remarkable good looks and conformation to standard were apparent even from an early age and he fetched a very good price.

    At first his new owners treated him well, looking after their investment. He instantly bonded with Nanny the house dog at the Farm so he settled in well and quickly grew in confidence as he was showered with every gift money could buy. Within the year he had grown into a fine looking hound, just as expected. But he also became proud, selfish, badly behaved and snappy as no-one bothered to teach him any different.  As he matured, he quarrelled with Nanny and his insecurities led him to compete so fiercely with the other stud dogs that he had to be kept apart. A nice cosy pen where he was provided with adequate exercise, gourmet meals and increasingly regular visits from pretty females.

    On the whole he was happy with his lot but some nights if he awoke from an uneasy sleep, the warm sheepskin blanket would remind him of Nanny the house dog (or worse his dear late mother) and he felt achingly sad. But each morning the efficient staff would bring him delicious scrambled eggs nice and early for breakfast, and his day would begin. And O they were busy days. When he thought of how far he’d come in his short life he did marvel at it. But he was lonely, and sometimes wished he hadn’t been born so devastatingly handsome and utterly adorable. 

    But then one day he was pulled up short. For some unknowable reason he found himself abandoned on the wild and dangerous streets of the Brighton Hove border. With no useful knowledge nor any social skills to speak of he soon grew thin, ill, withdrawn, depressed. But what he did have is plenty of company. There were so many homeless people, many of whom found themselves in a much worse state than himself. They had tried to catch him early on but he found his hidey holes. The urban foxes and marauding seagulls were terrifying also and for many months he lived under the prostrate cotoneaster bushes close to the amply filled bins at the back of St Ann’s Well Park Café. And it was perhaps his regular meetings there with the good-hearted Doris dog (after she’d finally gotten around to forgiving him for how he’d led her astray) that encouraged him to trust again and finally find the right kind of human and let himself be adopted.

    By this time he had lost many of his teeth so the famous smile was not so perfect, but the kind lady who lived on the square didn’t seem to mind. Her name was Daphne and she had so many old dogs that ‘one more would make no difference’. At first she pushed him around in a large pram lined with old blankets, and when he buried himself deep and refused to walk in the cold, she decided to call him Little Blankie. With her long bleached out hair and kind eyes Roger thought she looked like Brigitte Bardot in her older years. He fell in love with her instantly.

    His new life as Little Blankie could not have been more different. Every night he slept under an old patchwork eiderdown with Daphne and the rest of her kids. He ate whatever was going from the large tin bowls lined up on the kitchen floor in rows. He was no longer prized only for his good looks. In fact he was never picked out or treated any differently than the rest of the dogs and that was nice for the most part.

    It was okay to sometimes miss the heady days of his youth at Alpha Dream Kennels and Stud Farm, he told himself. He’d had some wild times as Roger, ‘Kings Blood Skyrocket Red Baron de la Mer’ to be sure. But here with Daphne he was never left alone. He had friends and they always looked forward to the stories of his glamorous former life when he was the veritable King of the Castle. And what tall tales he told.

    Whether you’d like to call him Roger or Little Blankie, I sculpted him out of clay, had him cast in bronze and now he is being editioned by the very good people of Sculpture Castings, Basingstoke. I have carefully worked on each wax prior to casting which makes each Blankie unique. He has a wonderful patina of lightly waxed russets which reflects his faded grandeur. I visited last week and fell in love once again. He truly is a little darling and I will be showing him on social media when I receive my first copy.

    We will have a limited number (from the edition of 47) available before Christmas at my late November show at www.samtoftoriginals.co.uk This little man would be a perfect companion piece to my Pocket Doris bronze edition (now totally sold out), but equally he can stand alone. He will sit quietly in your hand or pocket, and would give your bedside cabinet or mantle shelf an aura of mischievous charm. You could even knit him a little blanket.

    He will be released this year at an introductory price and offered a day early to previous samtoftoriginals buyers and Club members. Once these few have been sold there will be a 3 month wait at the Foundry and the new year will see him at his regular price, similar to the Pocket Doris.

    With help from my family at our online shops, Graham at samtoftoriginals, Mr Cain with the computer thingies and Amber at the Club I feel lucky indeed. I have freed up time to work on a few new projects (perhaps some plates and teacups for 2023) and there’s a brand new calendar and diary for 2023 which I’m very proud of (you can view them on Mustard Hampers), there are new mugs launching soon and a few surprises to come. But these things always take far longer than I imagine, so the late November show at samtoftoriginals.co.uk will be a small one. I’m hoping for a few paintings, a few earthenware Doris dogs and a few Jig Dolls too. Not forgetting Little Blankie.

    There are some wonderful bargains available at our MustardShop and Mustard Hampers online shops with club discounts. We have Nan’s 10% off too next week. And our second-year sign ups get a secret discount code until the end of 2023. There’s never a better time to join or bestow a Gift Membership.

    But I know it’s a difficult time for most with rising fuel bills and interest rates, so I hope my little stories and pictures serve as a bit of a pick-me-up. I’ll be in touch again in a little while with details of the late November online show, but until then I fondly hope that you too will find your very own Lovely Happening very soon. Keep your eyes peeled!