Back to Pen and Ink with Water Goddesses

So much water this year, the news seems to be inundated with stories of floods and storm surges. Water is taking over, spilling over banks, uniting oceans, seas, rivers… and it is seeping into my art themes once again.

I am into pen and ink once again which takes me back to my days of doing many illustrations for the Brighton based organisation, RiverOcean. In those days my drawings were all about sea creatures and the sea. Well once again my pen and ink drawings are water related but drawn for a small book I’m writing on River, Sea and Moon Goddesses, a theme that I’m especially interested in… back to that underground river that flows beneath my life.
Ved'ava
My illustrations here are of perhaps some lesser known goddesses. Take Ved’ava for example, a goddess of the sea or water spirit placated by fishermen of Finno-Ugric peoples. She is sometimes portrayed as a kind of mermaid with a fish tail, playing, singing and seducing humans. If a fishermen saw her it was not a good omen as she was believed to be a drowned person’s spirit.

Yemaja
Then here’s Vejama, or Yemoja, she has several names. A goddess of pregnant women and the River Ogun, a river in West Africa, but she is also a goddess with namesakes in other parts of the world. In Brazil, she is Queen of the Ocean and a goddess of fishermen and shipwreck survivors. She is a mother goddess, a fertlity goddess, a spirit of Moonlight too. I wanted to base my pen and ink illustration on the photo collage of my River Goddess, Moanna. I’m not sure it works, what do you think?

Sedna
A better-known goddess is Sedna, or Nerrivik, goddess of sea creatures and the Underworld in Inuit mythology. There are various stories about Sedna but most tell of the chopping off of her fingers from which are created the seals, walruses, whales and other marine creatures the Inuit hunt. If angered she withholds the sealife from hunters in her undersea domain and it requires a shaman to metaphorically dive to find her at the bottom of the sea and brush the tangles from her hair to calm her. I am particularly inspired by Inuit culture and myth right now. My goddess still has her hands and she looks a bit wooden so I’ll need to work on her.

This is a ‘taster’ for my book. I’ll be keen to get back to working with colour again soon.

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Landscape Scenes

Here are a couple of new landscape scenes inspired by woodcuts and by reading much ‘nature writing’. I’ve recently discovered the new magazine Earthlines just at the right time; I seem to be tuning into something. I continue to read many interesting books concerned with nature, place and our relationship to the more-than-human world. My list includes: The Peregrine, The Old Ways, The Wild Places, Becoming Animal, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Otter Country……and many more. All make the “wild” an inviting and interesting place to be, but as it is, I don’t see much of it. Now winter is fast approaching, I’m happy indoors turning my attention to creative projects and letting my imagination thrive and trying to get my head around the latest version of this wordpress blog. Not easy!

Seven Sisters

The Seven Sisters.

 

This picture – more like a doodle – I’ve called The Seven Sisters after the cliffs with that name along the coast of Sussex around the mouth of the River Cuckmere.

Cliffs at Birling Gap

Chalf cliffs at Birling Gap east of the Seven Sisters.

Devil's Dyke

Devil’s Dyke

 

This picture is based on a view across the Devil’s Dyke valley as seen from a viewpoint along the Saddlescombe Road.

Devil's dyke

Winter scene with deer

A winter scene with bare trees, a deer and moon.

 

This scene isn’t based on any particular place. I think the trees look a bit stark.

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Havergate Island

Hare on Havergate IslandA stay on Havergate Island off the Suffolk Coast in June inspired this piece of creative writing:

“We head south into weak sunshine poured through a washed out sky, up and down banks of pink thrift and close cropped turf. The shingle protests underfoot. Threadbare hares eyeball us from a distance. An old drum, a reel of wire, land scooped out in dips, mounds and barren mudflats. As we approach the gull colony, lesser black backed and herring gulls greet us with a crescendo of raucous cries. Walking into the colony gulls lift up, a clamour of screeches and cries. ‘Yarh yarh yarh’ and the sky is littered grey with birds of all sizes, motes of soot or litter in the wind. I hear the occasional peep of an oystercatcher, then a deeper more gutteral cry as, amongst the whirl overhead, a great black backed gull is mobbed by his smaller cousins.

Gulls' NestI look down to see a confusion of loose nests, speckled green eggs and huddles of downy chicks, dotted mud-grey and well camoflaged against the grass and splattered ground. I feel a well of excitment seeing nests with eggs and stoop to pick up a broken eggshell embroidered on the inside with a trellis of red veins. I hurry to catch up with Anthony who is fast tracking it through the haze of gulls. They swoop in big arches, their cries deafening. I think I know when they are going to attack as from a distance they fix their gaze intently and then shape to dive bomb. Anthony braces against the attacks and then I receive a vicious kick on the back of my head. I feel the sharpness of feet and beak and know that blood has been drawn. I put up my hood just as a missile of guano splatters my sleeve with chalk white smears.

Through more waves of thrift we reach the hide, out of the wind and into the smell of damp wood and dust. Inside, safe from the birds, I recall fragments of a dream and sit gazing blankly at the mudflats while Anthony latches open a window and sets up the telescope. I am in an alien land wearing a pink gingham dress the colour of pink thrift. The dress is one I wore when I was twelve. I mingle with a group of people I am trying to please but feel awkward and distant from them. I remember the feeling of being caught between people and a wild, other self of tree climbing, birds’ nests and wanderings alone over the Downs. The dream and memories are rosy with sunset light, the same as last night at sundown over the mudflats and thrift. Pink thrift stirs pink memories.

Later that day we move heavy sheets of plastic guttering into the garage where the barn owl is supposed to live in a boarded up corner. Weary but relieved that the task is done, I notice a couple of soggy owl pellets near the garage entrance, the round, dark remains of a barn owl meal. We prise them apart and find fine vole bones. There are no signs of life in the garage. Then I discover a barn owl behind the cabins, a hollow eyed carcass leached of life, soggy feathers fanned out white against the black bins. I am reminded of how harsh it is here.

Lesser Black Backed Gull Eggshell and Jaw bone

Anthony finds a rat skull in the gloom near the decaying remains of a hare and I discover the bleached jawbone of a seabird, slender and springy as a wish bone. On returning to my cabin, I secrete it safely away with my eggshell inside an empty egg-box.”

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The Boat Project comes to Brighton

The Boat Project - Brighton MarinaThe Boat Project - showing my contributionThe Boat Project book

The boat of The Boat Project, arrived in Brighton yesterday. I went down to Brighton Marina to take a look and managed to get to the boat before all the hoards of people. Luckily too, amongst the guitars and walking sticks, I easily recognised my contribution – a piece of driftwood from Crete that I’d notched to count down the days! (See my earlier blog post: The Boat Project) I later saw my photo in the book that accompanies the project, listed number 346. They put down everything I’d mumbled on the day of donating it, which makes my smile :)

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She: an icon of return

Despair Icon
Sometimes it seems I’m juggling fragments. Sometimes my art is born not from joy but despair. This picture followed other pictures I created in anguish. Here She plays with a butterfly against a background of bits and pieces; fragments of letters to the Earth, the lyrics of The River of Despair, the torn pieces of life and the swimmers and dancers amongst them, branches of The Tree of Life like arteries from the heart.

The whole is a reflection of how I was feeling at the time. Following despair, She is an icon of return.

Peeling world within the frame,
in the sky a butterfly…
as a torn and urgent wing
tries to fly…

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Churches, chapels and frescos

Three Graces frescoFresco from CampaniaI’ve had a yearning for a faded sort of beauty. Wanting to satisfy my need, I googled angels, caves and frescos and found two roman frescos from Italy that I particularly like. One is of a Winged Figure and the other, The Three Graces.

It’s the ethereal beauty of the frescos that I like, somewhat wabi sabi?

But there are frescos closer to home, one in a church just down the road, St Peter’s in Preston Park. There are several other medieval churches close to Brighton that have well kept twelfth century wall paintings, these are at Clayton, Coombes and Hardham. Recently, I visited them and took photos.

St George fresco, Hardham churchAdam and Eve wall painting Hardham church

I love the red ochre used in the wall paintings, it reminds me of cave paintings. Some of these walls have faded ghosts: here’s St George fighting the infidel – an apparition supposedly seen at the Battle of Antioch in 1098. Also Adam and Eve, looking a bit raw. The walls must have witnessed countless people over the centuries pondering in the pews.

Below are photos showing Christ in Majesty over the chancel of Clayton church and a humerous painting of a man holding up the arch at Coombes church.

Fresco Coombes Church West SussexClayton Church fresco

In the mood for church art, I made a trip to Watts Chapel in Compton, Surrey. It is a gem of a place. Designed in the nineteenth century by Mary Watts, the wife of George Frederic Watts, a well known Victorian artist, the chapel is of many styles including Art Nouveau, Celtic, Romanesque and Egyptian. It is shaped like a Byzantine Greek Cross and features many decorative mouldings and friezes.

Watts Chapel labyrinth featureWatts Chapel facesWatts Chapel Tree of LifeWatts Chapel angels inside

The whole chapel is embelished with symbolism; birds, flying fish, boats, shells, bells, cherubs etc. The River of Life and The Tree of Life – symbols I love – feature inside and out. Over the entrance arch there are alternating faces; some look up in hope and others down, in sympathy. One of my photos here shows a corbel with a labyrinth that symbolises The Way, which is taken from the saying of Jesus, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (St John 14:6). Venturing inside the chapel is like entering a hidden, secret garden, where one is surrounded by angels or winged messengers. Some of the angels face outwards “carrying the symbol of light” while others face inwards “carrying the symbol of darkness”. I love the intricate vegetation of The Tree of Life weaving a mystical garment out of the whole. Click on the small photo of the chapel interior to see a larger version.

After all this, I couldn’t help thinking about the film, The English Patient and the scene in which the soldier Kip takes Hana to a cathedral and shows her the frescos there. Here it is:

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Spring in the woods

“In the woods, the spirit can stretch and change, can move like a willow, elastic in spring…In the woods, you may be lost in your thoughts, willingly lost, creatively lost, which allows you to enter the mind’s forests, where the wind within can blow you somewhere sought and as yet unfound….In the forest is a child. But inside the child, will always be the forest. Breathe the forest deeply enough in childhood, and the birds will still be singing seventy years on.”
From Forests of the Mind by Jay Griffiths

The Mens West SussexHere in the UK, it’s Spring and I’ve been out in the woods enjoying it. Woodland flowers are blooming and birds are singing their hearts out. A week ago, while wandering a wood near Brighton, I watched as a stoat was chased by some very protective rabbits; it was a real wildlife treat!
The Mens West SussexThe other day, Kevin and I ventured further to two of my favourite woods in West Sussex, The Mens and Ebernoe Common both owned by The Sussex Wildlife Trust.

The Mens is an open beech and oak wood, with other trees such as holly and midland hawthorn. I chose to take photos looking into the light which streamed through the open canopy and Spring growth. Great tits dominated on the bird front, but we also saw or heard woodpeckers, treecreepers and nuthatches. The paths were soft with last year’s leaflitter and some slopes were dotted with wood spurge and lesser celandine. We had the wood to ourselves and one of its beauties is that it’s big enough to get lost in! But I’ve never been truly lost…in a wood…yet.

Stream at Ebernoe CommonEbernoe Common is perhaps my favourite wood. It’s here that I come to see woodland butterflies such as silver-washed fritillaries and a plethora of grasshoppers and crickets in Summer, or to do bat surveys and enjoy the sun sinking mauve over Furnace Pond. On our recent visit, we spent some time around the lake watching orange tip butterflies mating or laying eggs on cuckoo flowers on the wet margins.

Furnace Pond at Ebernoe

But besides the wildlife, and escaping the town, I agree with Jeanette Winterson that woods

“..are places to dream….There is a wooded place in our heads….the forest holds the memory of other lives and other ways of life…is one vast memory system that binds with our own.”

The bluebells are coming out now. If you’re interested in finding a wood near you check out the Visitwoods website.

 

Embracing the Tree of life

Lost by David Wagoner.

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you
.

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Cave of Dreams painting

Cave of DreamsI’ve done a new painting in a style that’s new for me. Kevin says it looks a bit ‘new agey’ and I can perhaps see what he means. It might be the subject matter or the colours, I’m not sure. I have been thinking about gathering birds, swallows in caves and starlings over the pier here in Brighton. They’re like twittering thoughts or memories in the loft of my mind; like a sixth sense telling me something is going to happen; there are dreams ‘waiting in the wings’.

The painting is not my favourite but it’s good to be back putting paint on canvas!

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Pathway Through the Wood

Walking Blind the Night of the CometPathway Through the WoodThis morning I thought about a pen and ink drawing I did years ago titled “Walking Blind the Night of the Comet”. It’s dated 14th April 1997 so the comet must have been Hale Bopp, the Great Comet of 1997. I’d been invited by a friend to go to Devil’s Dyke in the South downs to take photos at night. Fortunately the night was clear and we had good views. I have a photo of the comet somewhere as a faint smudge of light, but here is the drawing I did a few days later.

I’ve looked a lot at the work of Samuel Palmer one of my favourite artists. I love his sepia, moonlit scenes; like him I have put the moon in many pictures. I feel drawn to black and white drawings and photos, and enjoyed looking at the small sketchbooks of Julien Bell in a current exhibition at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery called Dreams of Here. The exhibition also features works by Tom Hammick and Andrzej Jackowski. I was interested in seeing Tom’s work as the flier read that he “uses landscape as his starting point, but a landscape shaped by memories and dreams”. I’m becoming increasingly drawn to landscapes both inner and outer and how they feature in art and literature. Tom Hammick’s work did not disappoint and I appreciated his dark scenes of trees, figures and obscure imagery as well as his vivid colours.

Feeling inspired by my old drawing, Samuel Palmer and the exhibition, I decided to visit some local woods in Brighton and look at trees and paths. I like paths. Paths are worn with stories. I took photos but my creative result is a pen and ink sketch from my imagination featuring a crescent moon once again! I’ve named it “Pathway Through the Wood“. The spindly trunks and coils of bramble stand out at the moment, late winter, hence the swirls in the foreground.

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Message in a bottle – flotsam and jetsam

Swans and wavesMermaid for bottleWhile in Nepal, I buried a little packet a friend gave me on top of Poon Hill under the gaze of the Dhauligiri Massif. Now my friend will be taking a voyage back across the Atlantic from Brazil, a true dream trip. When she goes, I’ll be giving her a gift to the ocean, a bottle with a picture inside that I hope will be washed up and found one day. She said she’ll drop it in the mid Atlantic so it might get caught by the Gulf Stream or find itself aswirl in the North Atlantic Gyre ending up in the Sargasso Sea. Perhaps it’ll stay in the North Atlantic Garbage patch instead! :(

There’s a sad story about a message in a bottle that was found a few years ago. Here‘s a link to the story.

My picture has drawings both sides. The swan image just came to me. I wanted to depict a bird that flies at night. I’ve linked it to the moon, so perhaps it symbolises a messenger like Mercury. The swan is a symbol of light in many cultures and is associated with the sun and the God Apollo in ancient Greece. The god Zeus took the shape of a swan to get close to Leda, with whom he had fallen in love. Sensitivity, intuition and grace are just some characteristics associated with swans. A swan may represent the Soul and travel to the “Otherworld”… and it was once believed that swans sing a beautiful song when they’re dying. They are wonderful birds!

I want the wild swan to be freed from the bottle like a genie, free the wild soul!

“When the swan of the soul takes flight at last, it needs neither signposts nor maps.” Vijay Bhattacharya.

Blackboard drawing by Tacita DeanI have been musing on loss and ‘lost’ recently, (especially after reading Rebecca Solnit’s Field Guide to Getting Lost.) I’ve also been adrift on an unknown sea of ships, wrecks, dreams and memories. While drawing the little picture for the bottle, I thought of my mother and how I would draw little pictures for her. I guess my mother is connected to the sea and loss, dreams and all those fragmented memories that keep coming back to me. Perhaps that’s why I’m looking into the artwork of Tacita Dean; she too, has a fascination with the sea and of lost and found things. My life at the moment, it seems, is all flotsam and jetsam, a jumble of fragmented things and I’m caught within the liminal trappings of a dream. Wake up, I keep telling myself! But I so want to escape… steal away on a boat somewhere…

Message in a bottleIceland sparDuring an online search I learnt about the crystal Iceland Spar. In ancient Norse legend, the Vikings, who travelled across the Atlantic, are said to have navigated by using sunstones to find the sun on cloudy days. In the summer there would be constant daylight so navigation by the stars was restricted. A new study has looked at the Iceland spars as possible navigation aids after the discovery of one on a 16th century British shipwreck, the Alderney. If held up to the sun and rotated, the crystal is said to capture polarised sunlight. There’s only one point in the crystal where two sunbeams are equally strong, an angle that depends on the beam’s location. On sunny days the navigator would mark the sun’s position on the crystal and compare the position with the strongest point on cloudy days to locate the sun’s position. I really like the possibility of this and gave my friend a piece of Iceland Spar to take with her.

There’s been quite a lot about ships and shipwrecks in the news recently. I have a fascination with wrecks, ships and figureheads, but more on that another time.

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