Artist's Journal

  • Twenty More Bluebell Woods

    A good friend asked me a question the other day. How much is a million, he said. That’s easy I thought. Six zeros with a one in front of them, right? I don’t often know the answers to random questions so I was feeling quite chuffed. And then he asked how much was a billion. And do you know what, without Google we didn’t know.

    But what I DO know is how little understanding I have of big numbers. Like how many pebbles there are on Brighton beach or how many light years it would take to reach a distant planet. These numbers seem to hit my brain like a thick pea souper. I can get my head around hundreds but anything in the thousands and above starts to get a bit sticky.

    So I surprised myself when I chose my new read at City Books recently because it was its title that made me pluck it from the shelf. Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. I really like his writing style but I don’t usually go for ‘self help’ type books. Just this one has cast quite a spell on me.

    It’s a Time Management book that encourages the reader to do less. Apparently if I live into my 80s I have less than a thousand weeks left. If I’m lucky, that’s just twenty more seasons at my favourite bluebell woods.

    One of the benefits I’ve noticed about my own aging is that there are fewer demands on my time. And I’m reading that even in a long life we have time to do only the tiniest fraction of the things we’d planned.

    It’s such a comfort as I’d always imagined I had to try my hardest to do everything I could think of! Reading this book really takes the pressure off. And I’m realising that most of my favourite pastimes aren’t the super exciting ones. I’m not a thrill seeker. I like walking in the woods, doing a bit of painting, appreciating the little things.

    As I sit here on a mossy log in the heart of Stanmer Woods it occurs to me that this may be the Perfect Spring day. A tad too warm for me and Betty but the smiles on the faces of passers by more than makes up for that. In fact it feels as if everything is smiling.

    Today I’m marvelling at the abundance of early Spring flowers and the rapidity with which they form dense dotty carpets under leafless trees - as if their lives depended on it. Which I suppose they do.

    The Winter Aconites with their little faces like stars in the Heavens. The Lesser Celandines with their watercress leaves and shining golden petals. They look so delicious I’m imagining they could taste lovely in a salad (maybe like pineapple flavoured cucumbers?). And those Sweet Violets pushing their tiny purple heads above the mossy banks. So romantic and delicately showy: it always feels like such a privilege to notice them. And how many sycamore seedlings there are! They’re really trying their best to take over the whole planet!

    So, refreshed from my retreat in the woods, I’m deciding to do something a little more sociable. I’m having an Archive Sale! The only one of its kind and there will be plenty to rummage through. Lots of one-offs. Plenty of bargains. Original paintings, sculpture and ceramics. An unmissable event if you like my work: Lots of things under £5 and lots of exclusive original work. I will be there all the time and probably won’t open my studio again in the future.

    So today I’ll start sorting the treasures from my storeroom into boxes and suitcases, putting up the trestle tables, clearing space on the shelves. It’s going to be a BIG job but I am very much looking forward to welcoming you on April 13th and 14th. I hope there’ll be something for everyone: bargains, vintage treasures, original work, live sketching and YES there will be Tunnocks!

    Big Love,

    Sam Toft


  • Everyday Magic

    Dear friends,

    I hope this email finds you well?

    Here in Brighton we’ve been having such howling winds, such sheeting rain, such small glorious bursts of bluesky sunshine. I must confess I really love our inclement weather. I even love the word. Inclement. Makes me think of 1960s London with its red doubledeckers, men in bowler hats and black umbrellas. Those black and white films where people addressed each other formally and talked of the weather as if it were a secret code. And inclement weather makes people behave in curious ways. Jostling with their rainwear, walking sideways into gusty breezes, hunching their shoulders against the cold. Wonderful drawing opportunities. It’s exciting. So many ideas in the soggy sketchbooks. But I know many people prefer the summer. The swimming and the sunny beaches. Me, I don’t like swimming much and really like the inclemency... I think it’s because I appreciate keeping the water on the outside and keeping myself cosy on the inside. The effort to stay warm makes me feel safe and happy.

    It’s not all fun though. My neighbours opposite are having major works done:  7 months of rattling scaffold with the wind fair whooping through the creaking poles, and plastic sheeting snapping like a wind flag all night. I’m trying to focus on the positive. Like how wonderful it’ll be when it’s all done… like taking your feet out of tight boots at the end of a long day, or sliding that splinter from under your fingernail in a hot bubble bath. The discomfort is almost worth the relief.

    Most of my New Year’s resolutions have bitten the dust already. How are yours doing?

    AND I’ve developed a frozen shoulder. Humph. 

    But thank goodness I have my ‘do less’ and daily writing practices still going. An extra hour in bed with a hot water bottle and a cup of cacao with nutmeg and frothy oat milk in the mornings while I scribble in my little book. 

    AND I’ve realized a long-held dream!

    ...But then I think - was it a Wonderful Dream or more of an Incurable Problem… ? Either way, it’s something that’s been dogging me for at least 20 years. I’ve tried and failed so many times on this one. I’ve reached out for help and still not managed it. I began to think it was a hopeless case. It had got to the stage where I thought, “You’re just going to have to accept this one, Toftie. Nothing can be done…. It’s an unachievable goal like eternal youth, effortless joy or a flat stomach.” 

    And it’s been getting worse each year. I’ve made it mean that I’m not really good enough… as if I have a dirty secret and someone is going to find me out one day. And although my problem is glaringly obvious, others appear not to see it. Or perhaps they see it and it doesn’t bother them. They can ignore it with apparent ease. It just passes them by. So it feels as though I’ve gone a tiny bit mad, worrying about something I cannot do and nobody else has even noticed. An insurmountable problem. An unattainable dream. Do you have anything like that in your life or is it just me?

    It took a visit from my sister and 10 days hard labour, but WE CLEARED OUT MY STUDIO! I could not be more grateful for this life changing experience (THANKS SIS’) but the emotional and physical tremors are only just starting to subside almost a week later. We stretched ourselves to the limit and in the middle of it all we even admitted that it could not be done.

    Over 30 years of sketchbooks, ideas, paintings, unfinished projects, writings, saved things, rubbish and good stuff has been removed from my studio. I let go of lots of beautiful things… They have found new homes to be appreciated in. And in exchange I have a clear, current, creative space to work from. The impossible dream. Every chest and suitcase and drawer has been emptied. Papers have been shredded, recycling has been collected, rubbish has been tipped, Facebook Marketplace has been flooded and scrap stores overloaded. And we are still standing. It doesn’t seem real. There’s still a lot in here, but I can see the walls! We got rid of five sets of shelves and all their contents. Marvellous! Are you curious to see the work I was doing 30 years ago? Would you join me at an Archive Sale in my studio this April? It is a final total clearout. An ‘everything left must go at knockdown prices’ kind of a deal. Keep reading.

    In April I will be opening my private studio - for one weekend only - and having my first Archive Sale! Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th April 11-5pm. Showcasing old work and new, with plenty of bargains. New jig dolls, new ceramic Dorises, new framed paintings, sold out prints, old drawings & etchings, loads of cards and original work from the past 30 years. I have a storeroom FULL of undiscovered treasures at truly clear out prices, so save up your pocket money (there are no credit card facilities) and I hope you’ll join us for a weekend in windy Brighton-by-the-Sea at Brown Dog Studio, 12 Chapel Mews, Hove, BN3 1AR. You could make a weekend of it and stay overnight? There’ll be new bargainous stock each day as our creaking tables won’t hold it all. And accommodation options from hostels and Premier Inn to mini boutique hotels and the Grand! Toftie Towers is full, as my sister (of and her daughter Serafina are coming to help. And Amber from @littlemustardclub and Graham my long-suffering other half. I’m sorry so many of you won’t be able to make it. There are too many things (and too cheap!) to list online. But there will be a small selling exhibition from at the same time, details below.

    Big love from rainy windy BYOOTIFUL Brighton!!!

    Sam Toft


  • 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


  • 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 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