I have got out a new canvas to begin a painting at last. I keep getting images in my mind and don’t want to hold back any longer. I did want to try new techniques, styles or improve my work somehow but it seems that the best way to progress is just to DO even if the result is not how I’d like. So I’ve been sorting through bags of cord, candlewick and leaves that I collected and pressed in the autumn and listening to Michael Nyman’s “Prospero’s Books” music while arranging them on the canvas, working on the floor as usual.
It seems like my theme will be similar to my painting “Siren” with underwater figures (underwater ‘angels’), weedlike threads and a moon image. I haven’t finished with this sort of theme yet, it keeps recurring and I feel that it’s where I’m at at the moment. I’m curious about why I put the moon in so many of my pictures; it seems to feature in many of the artworks I’ve seen on blogs and elsewhere. Mine will be an underwater moon in this painting.
Continuing with water, I’ve decided to change my blog name; I like the title image and its associations.
It’s been a long time since I wrote anything so I thought I’d start the year with the resolution of writing more. Last year was a difficult year despite my doing some interesting things; I just couldn’t engage with it all, perhaps there was too much happening or the timings of things was all wrong. Anyway, this year has begun OK, quietly and with the snow which, I surprise myself by saying, I’m enjoying.
I launched into printing and selling cards last year and that keeps ticking over. I did another design in the “Spirits of Nature” series, which I’m calling “Holly Man”. It’s a Winter/Christmas version of the Green Man and I’ve just used it for my website home page so far, but I’ll consider having it made into a card for next year.
I’m now keen to get back into doing some art. I stumbled on a whole series of blogs that I find really inspiring, namely ‘Contemplating the Moon’ and ‘Beyond Words’. Both women bloggers make visual books and diaries and this is something that I really want to develop. I’m a diary writer and have been since the age of thirteen but it’s been mainly words with just a few pictures and photographs. Now I want to add more art to my books which can mean experimenting with mixed media, painting, collage and even encaustics. The latter is an ancient technique involving painting with beeswax often pigmented with colour. Bridgette Guerzon Mills’ blog has been a great source of inspiration for this.
So this new year I’ll take quietly. I’ll experiment and be braver about writing even when things aren’t going my way. Watch this space and have a Happy New Year.
Here’s a wildlife experience I had earlier this year when in Guatemala. I wrote it for submission to BBC Wildlife magazine and although they liked it, the ending is unresolved and so unsuitable, I couldn’t tie it up neatly. Still…here we are:
We had to set up the hammocks quickly if we were to get to the ruins before sunset. Huglio, a Spanish guy we’d met on the bus, was the only other person at the campsite. Together we hiked into the park.
Kevin my partner, and I were on holiday in Guatemala. We had travelled north to visit the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal. As well as being the largest and most famous Mayan site, Tikal is known for its extensive rainforest and abundant wildlife.
Inside the park, we passed a giant Ceiba – the sacred tree of the Maya – with its straight, grey trunk, towering above the canopy.Beneath impressive trees, the undergrowth was a tangle of lianas, ferns and epiphytes. An agouti picked its way across the path, paused to sniff the air and disappeared silently into the trees while overhead, a scattered group of spider monkeys wove their way. We arrived at the Grand Plaza and sat on the steps of a temple watching Montezuma’s Oropendula birds swoop to and from their basket nests making liquid, melodic calls. Then the call of howler monkeys started. First a few grunts followed by a long, low, gasping roar like the sound of rusty bellows.
I felt really keen to try and locate the howler group, as they sounded quite close by. But dusk was falling fast and the park was due to shut soon for the night, so we had to hurry.
We left the trail and followed the calls into the trees. Soon we were right beneath a troop of seven Black Howler monkeys bellowing into the evening. The three of us craned our necks to watch their silhouettes against the sky.
Suddenly a dispute broke out in the group. With shaking branches, grunting and squealing, a chaos of monkey drama unfolded above us. Startled, we backed away from the debris that rained down all around us. After a frantic chase, one monkey was left hanging from another, dangling precipitously.
Wow! Hold on, I thought, don’t let it fall! Monkeys do fall from trees – but not that often!
But then it did fall! And landed with a thud in front of us from a height of 15 metres. It lay there, a motionless bundle of black fur.
Was it Dead? Injured? Despite the commotion, Kevin, Huglio and I agreed that we should go to look for help rather than approach the monkey ourselves. We found a park guard dozing in his truck not far away. Then Huglio explained, in his native Spanish, what had happened.
At the scene, the guard walked up to the fallen monkey. I sighed with relief when it picked itself up and appeared unhurt. As it slunk off into the undergrowth, a baby monkey was left behind in the leaf litter; it couldn’t have been more than a few days old. The guard picked it up and began talking into his radio. With Huglio’s help we learnt that he was calling for a vet. Immediately I felt concerned for the mother and wondered whether it may have been best to leave them to their fate together.
Translating as best he could, Huglio explained that the vet would look for the mother. The guard thought that she would probably die and suggested that the pair were the unfortunate victims of a dispute or had been rejected by the group. What was the dispute about? Violence in Black Howler monkeys is uncommon, perhaps a newly dominant male was trying to commit infanticide.
We never learnt what happened to the baby and so this is where my “story” falls flat; there’s no happy ending. I contacted the park later on my return to the UK and also contacted ARCAS, an organisation that takes in abandoned, sick or injured wildlife. Neither knew the outcome of the event, what happened to the baby or the mother. At best it is still a sad story. We can only hope that both survived and were reunited with each other, but I think the chances of that having happened are slim.
Lying in our hammocks in the twilight, beneath a starry sky we mused about it all. There’s no doubt it was a good wildlife encounter but I wondered whether it is ever a good thing to intervene in natural crises or to leave nature to run its course. Well into the night, the howlers still shook the forest.
Sometimes I hate words, they fill up my head like beans in a jar, all crammed in, words upon words. But then, words can be like water, spilling, flowing, spreading across the page in a shifting stream.
I fell in love with water images a while ago. Photos of sea and sky, beach, pebble, seaweed, waterfalls; the glistening light on water mesmerised me. Perhaps I should try harder at photography with its lenses, glass, transparency. And voids. Words can fill voids.
And then I discovered cave pools in Laos. I stripped off and went into sparkling, pristine water with a baking, morning sun overhead and shadows that cut the shallows with cool. I’ve done this before, I thought, – sacred cenotes in the Yucatan, rainforest rivers in Costa Rica, serpents threading the water beside me, almost alone.
There’s something so precious about swimming in natural, wild places. Water joins up memories like one, giant underground river.
Water, nature and movement, my interests all coming together. Soon, I went out and bought myself an under water camera case. I haven’t used it yet, but watch this space. I have Roger Deakin’s ‘Waterlog’ from the library ready to read and the other day I stumbled on wildswimming.co.uk. It’s a challengue for a feeble swimmer like me.
To get back to words, there’s Alice Oswald’s poetry that I’m just discovering as well. Here’s a quote from ‘Sea Poem’;
What is water in the eyes of water
Loose inquistive fragile anxious
A wave, a winged formsplitting up into sharp glances
What is the sound of water
After the rain stops you can hear the sea
Washing rid of the world’s increasing complexity,
Making it perfect again out of perfect sand….
I’ve been very inspired by certain calendars I’ve seen at the end of last year. I did wonder whether my artwork – eg Spirits of Nature – was good enough for a calendar, so I’ve approached one or two publishers. I noticed calendars featuring the words and poems of Rumi during my browsing and I began to take note. Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet whose work has become very popular in recent years, especially in the US (probably mainly in new age circles). I’ve been searching and reading his poems and find them very appealing, very beautiful, profound.
Daylight, full of dancing particles
And the one great turning, our souls
Are dancing with you, without feet, they dance.
Can you see them when I whisper in your ear?
That’s a meer snippet, I’m a sucker for anything about dancing. Currently, I’m enjoying “Selected Poems” translated by Coleman Banks.
It seems as though I’m now noticing Rumi everywhere. Whilst googling ‘visionary art’ I discovered the Iranian artist, Rassouli, whose work I love (see www.rassouli.com). He publishes a Rumi calendar and I’m hoping to get one for next year. He’s been inspired by Rumi and another Persian poet, Hafez, who I’ve yet to read. I’ve found myself painting in a similar way recently, I don’t want to copy, but it’s good to be inspired.
Below is a collaged mermaid experiment:
and a collaged “mermaid box”:
I’ve been playing with photoshop. Finally I’m surrendering to the possibilities of digitally altering my artwork. I’ve been inspired by artists such as Greg Spalenka and numerous others whose work is everywhere. I have to enter fully the twenty-first century!
It’s been fasinating and frustrating learning photoshop – bit by bit. I’ve also been dwelling on the sea, on watery things. From angels I’m now into mermaids,… fish …..anything oceanic in fact.
Below is a version of a simple mermaid picture, a photoshop experiment. I’m also including a piece of writing I discovered written up on a church wall in some back street of Barcelona. The author is unknown.
What were the thoughts of those who lived and slept in the vastness beneath the water.
Were these thieves and broken poets, these fugitives affected by some stigma;
Were they jealous or afraid of the world? How had they all gathered in this crepuscular
What had they so much in common that they needed each other’s presence?
Nothing but hope. Hope. Hope like a pale sun……
These words were faint on the church wall, but beneath them was a list of names I could just make out. ‘Mervyn Peake’ was written amongst them; he wrote the Gormenghast trilogy which just happens to be amongst my favourite books.
I discovered the artist Greg Spalenka today, while browsing calendars for 2009. There’s something about his artwork that triggers memories; sometime, long ago, I felt in tune with his ideas. Perhaps there lingers seeds of inspiration deep in my unconscious. Once again I found myself rumaging through my old pictures to a time when I think that I was a better artist (?) I’ll include a few images here, but check out Greg Spalenka
Here is a story I wrote earlier this year, which I’d like to illustrate better:
The Red Fruit Tree
There once lived a beautiful woman and her husband in a lush, tropical kingdom beyond the mountains. They had a baby girl called Echo, who loved playing in the garden with her mother.
Echo loved playing with the butterflies, the birds and the deer chasing them around the garden. Indeed she loved all wildlife and stayed outside long after the sun went down, sitting beneath the red fruit tree.
One day, Echo was playing in the wood at the bottom of the garden. The sky became very dark and clouds shifted over the sun. The beautiful woman called from the house for Echo to go indoors as a storm was brewing. Echo had not experienced a big storm before and gazed up into the sky. Large drops of rain began to fall.
The beautiful woman came out and whisked her daughter inside the house.
The storm was no ordinary storm. The winds came with gigantic gusts and whorled about the house and garden. In little groups, the animals hurried away to find shelter. From the veranda Echo watched them and dearly wanted to follow them and enjoy the torrents of warm rain that descended from above. Soon, she couldn’t wait any longer and while her mother went to take the bread out of the oven, she was off, running across the garden and down to the river beside the red fruit tree.
The beautiful woman realised Echo was gone and rushed into the garden calling,
“Echo! Echo! Where are you! Come back in, you’ll be cold and wet!”
But, Echo was gone. The river had burst its banks and whipped the child up in its watery arms, carrying her off down the hillside and into the mists beyond.
The beautiful woman called her husband from the fields and together they hunted high and low. But there was no sign of Echo, only some tiny footprints beside the swollen river.
Days and nights passed and still no sign. The beautiful woman lost her beauty and became thin and tired and her husband just sat with his head in his hands. The land felt their grief and became parched and barren and the animals wandered off in search of more fertile pastures.
A heaviness and sadness hung over the land.
* * * * * * * *
Echo found herself in a little pool far away clinging to a branch of the red fruit tree. A curious deer came to the water’s edge and plucked the child up and deposited her carefully on the bank. Exhausted, Echo lay there in a patch of sunshine and went to sleep. The birds sang to each other in the treetops above.
Days passed into weeks, weeks passed into months and months into years. Echo lived in the forest with the animals and grew strong and nibble running with the deer through the trees and climbing trees with the squirrels. The sun bronzed her and the rain bathed her. She was happy and could not remember anything about her home with her mother and father far away. But although she was happy, Echo began to feel that something was not quite as it should be, something was prompting her to seek beyond the edge of the forest.
* * * * * * * *
One night as the moon climbed the sky, the Goddess of Night spread her cloak and descended to the parched lands of the once lush kingdom, where the grief stricken couple still mourned their daughter. She entered the barren garden where the grass refused to grow and soft as a cat, she lent against the red fruit tree and took out her harp. A few magical notes took to the air and floated up through the bedroom window of the couple, beckoning to the woman to go outside.
Thin and fraught, the woman came down into the garden and when she saw the goddess, she touched the raw earth and
fell to her knees. Both knew why the goddess was there.
“Please help me, Goddess”, the woman wept, “help me find my daughter and stop my grief.”
The goddess stroked one of the owls on her shoulder before answering.
“Here, take this seed from the red fruit tree and carry it to a distant land. There, on a cliff, you must plant it. When it has taken root and begun to grow, your grief will go and your life will return to normal.”
The woman was just about to ask if her daughter was alive and could be found, when the goddess wrapped up her cloak and faded back up into the sky just as the sun crept above the horizon.
The woman took the seed, shiny and new and put it in a special sack. She said farewell to her husband and set off down the mountain in search of a distant cliff top.
* * * * * * * *
Now, Echo had a dream. In her dream she saw a tree with big red fruit and red leaves. It was growing on a cliff top and was alive with birds. As the birds ate, the juice from the fruit fell and nourished the earth. Some of it fell to the sea beneath where sea-maidens played in the surf. When she awoke, she knew that she had to find the tree somewhere and however long it took.
The sky rained down on her and the sun broke through the branches above. For a day and a night, Echo wandered to the edge of the forest. She passed fields of flowers, streams and over hills. And then, just as the sun was setting, overhead passed a flock of birds their beaks red with rich juice. Echo knew that she was close to a red fruit tree. The sound of the sea came to her ears and was that the laughter of sea-maidens she wondered?
Silhouetted against the sun, was a magnificent tree bright with red fruit, leaves and birds. And Echo remembered the tree in the garden of her childhood and held out her arms to embrace its trunk. More memories came flooding back as she held the tree tight; her mother, a beautiful woman with hair of silk and her father, quiet and caring. And Echo wept.
It was then that something caught her eye high up in the branches, something twinkling in the last rays of the sun. Echo climbed up with the birds and reached up, her hand grasped the object and then she could see that it was a ring encircling a branch. The ring looked familiar; it belonged to her mother. It was then that she knew that her mother had been there, that she must have planted the tree and in so doing, dropped her ring. The tree had gathered up the ring as it grew and held it as a beacon for Echo to one-day find.
Night came and Echo fell asleep in the tree’s arms.
* * * * * * * *
It didn’t take Echo long to journey back home. She followed the river at first and then flocks of birds. Her mother and father were overjoyed to see her, now a young beautiful woman. They had given her up for dead many years ago. The woman, now old, once again became beautiful and her husband was so happy his garden and crops began to grow and thrive once again. The land signed and the animals returned as before. Echo was happy, she stood beneath the red fruit tree and remembered her time in the forest and that all was now as it should be.
They all lived happily ever after.