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Decorating Diaries

I mentioned in a previous post about how I’ve kept a diary for much of my life. Sometimes I decorate the covers. Having seen the David Nash exhibition recently, I thought I’d get out some of my old diaries and decorate them with some of the natural materials I’ve collected.

Last year I visited the Canary Island, La Palma, and brought back some pieces of dead prickly pear I found lying about. It was awkward fitting it in my rucksack. (I can’t resist collecting natural materials with interesting textures that I save for future projects :)

I covered a 2018 diary with a print out of a tree silhouette and overlaid this with some dry prickly pear. Then I added black and white paint. The result holds memories of the lunar, volcanic landscapes of La Palma:

Covering a diary
Diary covered with dried prickly pear.

I have a bundle of dried cocksfoot grasses and decided to arrange and glue a few stalks to the front of another diary. With the next diary, I played with scrim, made some hemp string plaits and attached the jaw bone of a rabbit and a small bivalve shell to the strings before glueing them to cover. It’s a work in process:

Some diaries get illustrated covers, front and back:

Fox wood diary cover
Fox wood diary cover.

I’ve had a bit of a thing about rock and rock seams, especially this year. Stacks of diaries are like layers of sedimentary rock, accretions of thoughts and ponderings laid down over years. Here is my rock seam diary complete with a shell and seeds:

Diary with rock seams.
Diary with rock seams, a shell and seeds.

I thought I’d gather a few of the diaries I have decorated over the years and photograph them altogether – like a patchwork quilt:

Decorated diaries
My decorated diaries.
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Another Harry Potter Altered Book

It’s autumn and my work desk has been busy – well, I have, sort of.

My desk

Among the feathers, nests and skulls I’ve found this year, I’ve been working on a new altered book, another Harry Potter commission. Knowing little about Harry Potter – OK I’ve seen a couple of HP films on long haul flights – it has been a challenge for me. However, I know there’s magic in the books and I like that.

Here is my finished Harry Potter book, featuring some of the characters along with Hogwarts School in the background:

Harry Potter altered book
Harry Potter altered book.

Recently I sat with a friend telling her I was working on a Harry Potter altered book. She sighed and said how she would have liked to have read Harry Potter to her children as the books are full of magic and fantasy. When we were young there were the C.S.Lewis books and books like Lord of the Rings. I also remember Anne of Green Gables, The Little Prince, Tom’s Midnight Garden. There was a little bit of magic in them and we all need an element of mystery and the unreal in our lives sometimes.

There’s much said now about how we need stories and storytelling has made a resurgance in some quarters. As autumn progresses and the darkness descends layer upon layer, I find myself wanting to withdraw and bring in more of the imaginary into my life. More stories, myths, metaphors, images. That’s the thing about darkness, it brings out the imagination.

Sunset from my living-room window.
Sunset from my living-room window.

Below is a picture I did some time ago. I’ve included it to remind myself to welcome in the imagination, something I’ve missed of late.

The Encroaching Night
The Encroaching Night
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Concertina Greetings Cards

I am still working on the film poem I mentioned in my last post. I think it’ll take me a while.

Still, one thing that has come out of my Sea Trout project is the creation of new concertina cards. I call them concertina cards because they’re long cards folded twice. The idea arose from my long sea trout picture (click on the images for bigger versions):

Sea Trout
Sea Trout

I wanted to create a card out of the design and thought it would be good to feature a picture on the reverse side. So I drew a shoal of trout:

Sea Trout Shoal
Sea Trout Shoal

Here is the finished Sea Trout card:

Sea Trout concertina card
Sea Trout concertina card

I decided to create a further two cards, both with a “trees” or “forest” theme. The first of these is In The Forest. One side of the card features a daytime forest scene with deer and a fox beneath the trees:

Daytime forest scene
Daytime forest scene – one side of a In The Forest concertina card.

On the reverse is a night scene featuring badgers, deer, foxes, owls and hedgehogs:

It reminds me a bit of a tapestry :)

Here is the finished card:

In the Forest concertina greetings card
In The Forest concertina greetings card.

My third card features a badger sett. One side you see a badger family out foraging at night:

The Badger Sett
The Badger Sett – one side of a concertina greetings card.

The other side shows a cross-section of the badger sett with some slumbering badgers along with a rabbit burrow, tree roots and a burrowing mole:

The Badger Sett
The Badger Sett – one side of a concertina card.

Here is The Badger Sett card:

The Badger Sett
The Badger Sett concertina greetings card.

All cards are available from my Etsy shop and come with a little tag for a message and a square kraft envelope. :)

Sea Trout greetings card

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From the Sea to the River – Sea Trout and Nautical Charts

When you are lost, you look for landmarks to get your barings, a map perhaps and tools to navigate. This year I have felt lost and adrift, but paradoxically anchored like a buoy and going nowhere. I suffer from a sort of sea vertigo, clutching at nothings. Time has passed and I have little to show for it. When in a state of quasi-suspension, like a trout caught mid-stream, I need a project.

Recently I received the e-newsletter from Dark Mountain and read Charlotte Du Cann’s piece, Sea change, which resonated very much with me. I was especially moved by the little video included in the post, Manta Ray, from the film Racing Extinction. Why watching zooplankton is moving I cannot say, but I felt very humbled and loving towards all of life after watching the video. Here it is:

I mused about the sea and being lost. Soon a project started to develop. I wanted to work with paper, ink, maps, currents, islands. I had few clues as I was feeling ‘at sea’, amniotic and floating. So I returned to an old motif, the fish, and thought about sea trout and their amazing life cycle. Like salmon, they hatch in rivers, go out to the sea and return years later to breed. They undergo a transformation, a metamorphosis – they shapeshift between fresh and saltwater, their lives mysterious and subtle. I like that change and adaptability.

Sea trout spawn in some of the rivers here in Sussex. You can read a well written description of their life cycle on the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust website. I have been doing river surveys for OART for the past few years, looking for ‘redds’, the piles of gravel the fish make for breeding.

Sea trout redd?
Sea trout redd?

Occasionally I see a trout and once I watched several jump up a weir. Sea trout are not lost, they recognise the ‘taste’ of the water where they hatched and return to the same river to breed themselves. Each river has its own olfactory signature. They may pick up other clues to find their way to their native waters, such as the magnetic field. Who knows. I think it is amazing. Follow your nose… find your way.

The river pulls me too.

In the River Rother
In the River Rother

I doodled in my sketchbook, sea trout…

Sea Trout Sketchbook
Sea trout sketchbook

and drew a foldout image of a sea trout.

Folded Sea Trout
Folded Sea Trout

The Dark Mountain piece was illustrated with photos of artwork by the artist Leya Tess. She draws marine designs on sea charts. I decided to take my inspiration from her as I have some old nautical charts, acquired from an auction some time ago and waiting for a project. I used a chart that shows the area of coast where the Sussex rivers – the Ouse, Adur and Cuckmere – enter the sea. Here is my finished artwork:

Sea Trout Art Chart
Sea Trout Art Chart – click on image for a larger version.

I also visited one of the gravelly streams where sea trout come to make their redds and spawn. I filmed under the shallow water:

Filming under the water
Filming under water in a sea trout stream.

I am going somewhere in a way. I have made a start and hopefully it will lead me futher. I’m now working on a brief film poem.

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Dusk Night Dawn Book

Over the past couple of years I have been putting together a little book, Dusk, Night, Dawn. It is a collection of nature writings about my encounters with wildlife during the twilight and night hours here in the UK and on trips abroad.

The book started when I was having mentoring with Amy Liptrot. She commented that much of my writing was about dusk. I then collected a few pieces together and set out to have more experiences that I could write about. These included the time when I saw nightjars in King’s Wood, Kent and looking for bears in Romania. Some of my pieces have been published in magazines, on websites or blogs and in anthologies, but I have put them all together in one book and have included pen and ink illustrations to accompany many of the pieces. Here is an example:

Dipper
Bird of the Black Waters.

I submitted my book to WriteNow in 2017 and it was shortlisted. I submitted it to Spotlight Books and again it was shortlisted, but it didn’t win. It was suggested that I should include more of myself in the book and make it into a narrative. Well, it is what it is, a collection of writings like an anthology. I have sent it to a couple of publishers but I am expecting to hear the same problems with the book, so I won’t be surprised when I hear back from them. In the meantime I’ve put together a mocked up copy with the help of my partner Kevin.

It took Kevin quite a while tp format and lay out the book ready for printing and help design the cover. He took it on as a project.

Having got the printing done, I was keen to investigate ‘perfect binding’ to put it together. This means that when the pages are put together, there is no creep. I researched how to do perfect binding and Kevin made me a page vice. Some commercial printers only do staple bound, so I chose to do the whole thing myself.

Folding paper
Folding paper for making the book by perfect binding.
Homemade book clamp
Homemade book clamp.

I applied PVA glue to the vice-bound page edges and attached the cover.

Glueing book
While the pages were in the book clamp, I clued the spine using PVA glue.

Here is the finished book, front and back:

Dusk Night Dawn book
Dusk Night Dawn book
Dusk Night Dawn back cover
Dusk Night Dawn back cover.

The process was tricky but fun. I’ll wait to see what the publishers say before I do anything else with it.

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Walking With Trees – The Linden Tree

My mother's tree
My mother’s tree – a large leaved lime.

After noticing the lime tree in Withdean Woods (see last blog post), I remembered that the tree planted in remembrance of my mother, is a large-leaved lime, Tilia platyphyllos. I took a mini pilgrimage across town to the woodland cemetery to spend some time with my mum’s tree.

There are three lime trees native to the UK, small-leaved, large-leaved and common. Large-leaved limes like to grow on lime rich soils.

Lime trees are also called linden trees in Europe. They are pollinated by insects, so will not produce as much pollen as wind pollinated trees like oaks or beech. After the last Ice Age small-leaved limes dominated the lowland forests of the UK, especially in the south and east.

The lime tree was considered a sacred tree in Eastern Europe. The Polish word for the month of July, Lipiec, is named after the word for lime, lipa, and the names of many villages translate as Holy Lime.

Broad-leaved lime leaves
Large-leaved lime tree leaves – they are broad, floppy, heart-shaped and they darken as the seasons progress.

Within the dark branches of this beautiful tree dwelt goddesses and gods. In countries such as Lithuania, Laima, a goddess of fate, fertility, childbirth and death held the linden as her sacred tree. She was worshipped by women, who prayed and carried out rituals within the tree’s leafy shade. When a child was born they made offerings there to the goddess. Laima is often associated with the cuckoo, Gegute, who watched over time and the seasons.

In German folklore the lime tree was an important tree of Freyja, the goddess of truth and love. It was thought of as a lover’s tree, perhaps because of its heart shaped leaves. In pre-Christian times it was believed that it was impossible to tell lies while standing beneath a linden tree. For this reason communities held judicial councils, along with celebrations such as weddings and festivities, beneath the tree that was often found in the centre of the town or village.

Lime leaf

Sitting for a while in the grass in the shade of my mother’s tree, I listened to the birds, wrote some notes in my diary and pressed a few leaves between the pages.

Diary in the grass
My diary in the grass and speedwell flowers.
String of feathers and shells
String of feathers, beads and shells as an offering to my mother’s spirit and the tree’s.

Then I replenished the seed in the bird feeder and hung up a simple string of feathers, shells and beads. The feathers once belonged to a green woodpecker, the “Rain Bird“, so named because it was thought to foretell the coming of rain. I think the trees need rain, but I’m quite happy with sunshine at the moment.

Goddesses, cuckoos, lime trees and rain birds – I’ve drawn an illuminated letter for the lime tree, beneath a sun and a crescent moon. Click on the image to see a larger version:

Lime Tree illuminated letter
Lime tree illuminated letter.

I have decided to research and write a small book about tree and forest goddesses to accompany my book, Goddesses of River, Sea and Moon. Below is a picture of Laima.

Laima
Laima, whose sacred tree is the linden tree. She decides the destiny of new born children.

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

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On the Trail of Boar

Towards the end of April I visited the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire with my partner in the hope of seeing wild boar. I’ve written a simple piece about our search that is published today on Caught by the River. Soon I’ll put it on my writing website, From the Fields and Woods.

Here is a wild boar illustration, Summoning the Boar. (Yes, it features brambles once again!)

Summoning the Boar
Summoning the Boar
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Brighton Festival Open House

Yesterday I hung my artwork for the open house I’m participating in this May in Brighton. I had help from Kevin, my partner, and Chris, whose house it is. Together we tried to make it all look as good as possible.

Hanging pictures for the open house.
Hanging pictures for the open house including old favourites, Dancing at Sunset and A Letter at Twilight..
Table at open house.
Table at open house showing a couple of my altered books along with originals, prints and books..

There is some wonderful art in the house, including – Chris Durham’s photography;

Pier and starlings by Chris Durham.
Pier and starlings by Chris Durham.
Photography by Chris Durham.
Photography by Chris Durham.

Dawn Stacey’s paintings;

Dawn Stacey paintings
Dawn Stacey paintings.

Susan Evans’ – skyscape paintings;

Susan Evans skyscapes
Susan Evans skyscapes.

Keziah Furini‘s illustration;

Keziah Furini prints
Keziah Furini prints and cards corner.

Jules Ash’s jewelery;

Jewelery by Jules Ash
Jewelery by Jules Ash

along with Caroline Chalton Hellyer’s lovely ceramics, Stewart Furini’s woodworking and Jan Langdale’s dimensional glass painting.

My work looks somewhat shoddy in comparison. I do hope that I don’t let the house down. My artwork days are numbered. I’ll continue to do my folksy-crafty bits and pieces, but don’t think I’ll exhibit again and certainly not in such professional company. Sigh!

Anyway, if you’re in Brighton in May, consider visiting 51 Montefiore Road at the weekends between 11am and 5pm to see some lovely art, buy some lovely art or perhaps just a card :)

Here are a couple of original pen and ink mounted illustrations that I have for sale in the open house (I’ve become very interested in adding brambles to my pictures!):

Today I’ve been out delivering fliers. Aren’t they good! :)

Open house flyers
Open house flyers for 51 Moniefiore Road, Brighton.
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Eostre

Happy Easter! Or happy Eostre!

Almost exactly two years ago I walked up Wolstonbury Hill to watch the sunrise.

Sunrise over Wolstonbury Hill
Sunrise over Wolstonbury Hill.

I walk in the footsteps of ancient people who would have awoken on this same hillside in millenia past to greet the dawn, casting their gaze out over the wooded lowlands, the Weald of Sussex.

As I stand on the summit I can see in all directions and experience the ringing silence of height. To my west, cluster the pylons of Truleigh Hill with a red light beacon the same red as the clouds before the sun rose.

A kestrel hovers over the top of the hill, wings scything in red-gold radiance. About me the land flickers; fresh dew in the grasses.

Dawn is a becoming, an edge, an awakening, a time of infinite potential; open, inviting and as subtle as a breath. Sometimes a silent cat of soft paws, it creeps over the land unannounced.

As the sun rose the grass glowed rose.

Sunrise over Wolstonbury Hill
Sunrise over Wolstonbury Hill. Eos was a Ancient Greek dawn goddess and was often described as ‘rosy-fingered’.

Wolstonbury hill is a well known chalk hill in the South Downs of West Sussex. It rises to 206 metres and at the top you can see for miles. It is not surprising that it was the location for ancient settlements since before the Bronze Age. There is evidence of ditches, enclosures and field systems. Excavations have found pottery, flintwork, human skeletons and animal bones.

Bronze Age woman
Bronze Age woman – a crude watercolour illustration I did many years ago.

I have become very fond of the hill as I can reach it by bicycle from home. There is something special about it’s layers of history, the sweeping views, smooth, rolling contours and the wonderful sense of space you get on it’s summit and hillsides.

Recently I thought about the word Eostre and recollected that Eostre was a Dawn Goddess. However, she is associated with both dawn and Easter. The Anglo Saxons worshipped Eostre in the month of April according to the Venerable Bede, a eighth century Benedictine monk. The festival celebrating the goddess had died out by his time and was replaced by the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. The word Easter probably derives from the word Eostre.

Eostre
Eostre – an illustration adapted from The Memory Tree.

This year I thought I’d like to make a trip to Wolstonbury Hill with Kevin and perform a small ritual to celebrate Easter/Eostre – the spring and dawn.

We didn’t get up quite so early, but were up there by about 7.30am and were serenaded by skylarks on the hillside and a profusion of all sorts of birdsong in the woods on the way up and back down. Up there it was all about lightness, air, emerging and balance for me. Here is a little video of my movement ritual:

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The Dream – I want to be a swimmer too

The Blue Velvet Sea
The Blue Velvet Sea.

Dreaming, I stand on pebbles and sand. Before me is a rich, dark sea. There are waves, but not large waves. In the water there are octopuses, starfish, clams and swimmers. I want to join them, I want to be a swimmer too.

In the sea’s echoing changing room there is talk of violins. There are neighbours, people I recognise, friends and family. Everyone is talking.

Before long, the walls of the building crumble and in rushes the sea, the dark, rich, velvet sea of swimmers and octopuses, starfish and clams.

The Dream
The Dream.

There are ammonites in the rocks. Strange creatures from the past lurk in the shallows. Beneath the waves I see continents and the blue-green eyeshine of the ocean floor. It becomes a melody of waving grasses and waltzing seals. I want to wade further in and join them, I want to become a swimmer-dancer too.

But I wake up. An amber light spills through the curtains. Did I join them? I would like to think so. Somewhere in another plane I may still wander the shore, marvelling at the life in the water. Of the land but tempted by water, mine is an world between air and sea. Perhaps it will always be that way.

Swimming in the sea off Skokham with seals and jellyfish.
Swimming with seals and jellyfish off Skokholm Island a few years ago.
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