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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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The Cabin – Inspiration, Sourcing, Creating

As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, while in France we visited three caves of palaeolithic art, Pech Merle, Cougnac and the Sorcerer’s Cave. Pech merle made the biggest impression on me and the frieze of the spotted horses especially. (I have written about the visit in detail for TOAST Magazine.)

Pech Merle
Pech Merle Cave. Photo from www.archaeology-travel.com
Horse Drawing - Pech Merle
Horse Drawing – Pech Merle

We found some Pech Merle inspired graffiti while driving in the valley of the River Lot:

Pech Merle Inspired Graffiti
Pech Merle inspired graffiti on cliff overhang.

We were allowed to take photos in the mineral cave at Cougnac. It felt like entering a womb in the earth,

Cave at Cougnac
Cave at Cougnac
Cave at Cougnac - Stalactites
Cave at Cougnac – Stalactites

Many of the stalagmites looked like gatherings of people,

Cave at Cougnac
Cave at Cougnac

As part of the tour of the Sorcerer’s Cave we were allowed into some medieval cave homes in the rockface,

Medieval Cave Homes - The Cave of the Sorcerer
Medieval Cave Homes – The Cave of the Sorcerer

I’m always intrigued when I find a nest;

Nest in the Cave
Nest in the Cave – what bird I wonder? I’m finding a few nests.

I didn’t make many sketches while away, just a few line drawings in my sketchbook;

Sketchbook and Finds
Sketchbook and Finds – nest, wasp nest, owl feather.

But I found the caves very inspiring and I’ve started doodling images. Here’s the cover of my diary:

Diary Cover Two Horses
Diary Cover – Two Horses

I made a small sketch painting on cardboard layered with brown paper pieces to give it a surface texture. I like the magic of spotted horses, they bring to mind circuses and merry-go-rounds and the art of Chagall.

Two Horses
Two Horses

I’ve experimented with overlaying tree photos in Photoshop to give a mystical, dreamlike quality to the image;

Tow Horses
Two Horses

I’ve also experimented with creating textured surfaces. Here is a spread in a sketchbook:

Sketchbook - painting idea for The Silent Herd
Sketchbook – painting idea for The Silent Herd

I’ve added some animal outlines;

The Silent Herd
The Silent Herd Idea

It hasn’t worked yet, but I’ll persist with the experiments :)

I’m not typically drawn to horses, but seeing horses canter aound a field one day while I was at someone’s house made quite an impression on me. It inspired me to draw the picture, In the Rock Cleft, in this post. (And all along I find that there’s a song in the back of my mind, Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones :) Listen here.)

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Sea Grotto Altered Book

I have often had an image in my mind of a woman trapped in stone beneath the waves, a sort of Rock or Stone Goddess or Buddhess. I first drew a picture of this in my diary back in 1989. I think I was feeling reflective at the time.

Rock Goddess in Diary
Rock Goddess in Diary 1987 – She looks a bit like the Mona Lisa as she looks out serenely from her place of stone!

The image has stayed with me so I thought I’d work with it on another altered book, a colour one this time. Playing with photoshop and layering several images, I put together the image below to help inspire me: (I might make this image into a small card.)

Sea Goddess
Sea Goddess

I had in mind a sort of Frida Kahlo image.

I have two large dictionaries, but I thought there’s something sacrilegous about cutting up a dictionary so I bought a secondhand history book from my local PDSA charity shop (I should, perhaps, have read it first!). It’s a bit of a tome as I wanted some depth to the images.

The result is below. It’s coloured with inks, a mixture of turquoises, blues and golds. The creation of it was a way of expressing a feeling of entrapment I feel at the moment and a reminder that there is treasure within even if I can’t always see it :)

Work-in-prigress Altered Book
Work-In-Progress Altered Book
Sea Grotto Altered Book
Sea Grotto Altered Book

Here are some of the pages. Click on each to see a larger image:

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A Walk Between Heaven and Earth

A Walk Between Heaven and EarthI have just finished reading “A Walk Between Heaven and Earth” by Burghild Nina Holzer. It is a lovely book about how to write a creative journal, written in the way of a journal. Burghild’s writing shines in its simplicity and beauty. There are many passages I like, such as the quote on the back of the book:

Talking to paper is talking to the divine. Paper is infinitely patient. Each time you scratch on it, you trace part of yourself, and thus part of the world, and thus part of the grammar of the universe.

There are many passages I relate to. One in particular, about when the author spends time beside a river, reminds me of my time beside the River Bure. Here is an extract from page 107:

On the last day of my journey I sat by a river with long green hair. It was like the hair of some wild river woman, swirling at my feet, as if she wanted to caress me. And the river woman whispered to me, she said, “Put your feet in the water, put your hands in.” And as soon as I did I saw the fish….And the green hair caressed my feet, and I forgot about time. And when I finally turned to go, I saw that my backpack had fallen into the water, as if the wild woman wanted to claim it, as if she wanted to claim my journal and make the task of translation impossible…”

River Bure with Long Green Hair
River Bure with long green hair.
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Moss Journal

I love all things natural, including books made from natural materials. I was very interested to read about the natural book Bridgette Guerzon Mills created on a Maker’s Foraging Retreat that took her out of her comfort zone. (I love all her work by the way!)

I wanted a make a natural book and perhaps one obvious thing would be to make handmade paper and bind it with nettle cord. One day. Instead I decided to collect natural materials – as I do for some of my paintings – and simply decorate one of my journals.

After a day in the woods at the beginning of June, these were my finds:

Gifts from the woods

I took one of my small, kraft paper notebooks and covered it first with bark – I think it is hazel bark – then moss and finally lichen. The spine I have decorated with rushes.

Moss JournalMoss Journal



A very earthy journal! The trouble is that bits fall off while I’m writing out my dreams first thing in bed!

Journalling or writing a diary is very important to me; I write most days but much of it is babbling thoughts that need sorting. I have written a journal/diary since the age of 13 when I read Anne Frank’s diary; it moved me a great deal. Now I have piles of old notebooks in storage boxes and I’ve decided to embark on a proper storage project: creating Diary Boxes that will contain all my journal/diaries as well as other memorabilia. In these ones I have feathers, eggshells, rabbit jaw bones, letters and, of course, diaries.

Memory Box

Memory Box

Mermaid Memory Box

I’ve partly been inspired by The Library of the Forest created by Miguel Angel Blanco that I read about in Robert MacFarlane‘s The Old Ways. The boxes are a beautiful and natural record of walks the artist takes into the Guadarrama Mountains outside Madrid where he lives. It is worth reading the whole of his artist’s statement, but here is a passage from it in English:

It is still possible to plunge into nature’s secret life. In some places, earth emits a dense breath, which, when inhaled by man, immediately passes on to him knowledge and sensations he possessed in former times, when living in its bosom. The telluric sensibility of ancient man can still be retrieved. Our capacity to fathom the ancient to discover the new. Nature presents itself as a transcendent experience, a means of reclaiming man’s hidden greatness, so that he may grow spiritually and penetrate the dark. The forest is one of these privileged places, where it is possible to feel mother earth’s throb. It is where the sky takes roots in earth, a sacred space heavy with mystery.

I have also discovered an artist Jan Kilpatrick, who creates all sorts of boxes. They look great!

I have decided to leave my diaries to The Great Diary Project when I die – not that anyone would find them very interesting, but who knows?

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