Beautiful Letters and Gifts to Strangers

i’ve recently received a lovely long letter from a friend and it’s made me think of letters. I like anything to do with letters – apart from bills of course. I love writing and receiving them. I’ve kept many letters from the distant past including a brief handwritten one from Sir David Attenborough and an official one from Buckingham Palace! (This was a reply to a letter I wrote to the Queen when I was about twelve.) But letter writing has as good as died out – or so I thought. More on that later.

A year ago I was fascinated to hear about some 17th century letters discovered at Knole Park in Sevenoaks. You can read the story here on the National Trust website.

Knole Park Letter

17th century letter found at Knole Park.

In the Netherlands a trunk of 17th century undelivered letters was rediscovered in 2015. Apparently the trunk belonged to a postmaster and postmistress who were central in the international communications of the time. None of the letters were ever delivered and were still sealed. In the 17th century the recipient paid the postage so if they were uninterested, dead or away the letters would remain unposted. The website about the project has some lovely photos that include the ones below.

Chest of Undelivered Letters

Chest of Undelivered 17th Century Letters

There’s something sad and romantic about them – unrequited love, words lost in time, words never heard until now, coversations from times gone by. They are beautiful to look at too – pink, cream, handwritten with seals, sometimes with drawings and folded so carefully; someone went to a lot of trouble. They hide secrets and those secrets are now being revealed.

Embossed Letter Seal

Embossed Letter Seal – I love embossed paper, watermarks and seals. I love paper – but then paper comes from trees and I love trees.

Undelivered 17th Century Letter

Undelivered 17th Century Letter

Sometimes when I write letters I like to insert leaves, feathers, pressed flowers, cuttings, photos or drawings in with them. I think – and hope – the recipients appreciate this. But my letter writing opportunities are very few these days. I remember when I travelled through Africa in my twenties, before email, mobiles and the like, I looked forward to the next poste restante where I could pick up my mail. It was all out of date but so special to receive it didn’t matter.

I have a few interesting wabi sabi letters that a friend, who buys old stuff from auctions, gave to me. They’re written in an Indian script, possibly Tamil or Kannada as there’s a Mysore letterhead. I’d love to know what they’re about.

Old Indian Letter

Old Indian Letter

Old Indian Letter

Old Indian Letter

I like the idea of doing a letter writing project that would involve leaving a letter or poem inside a library book or hidden in a crevice somewhere in Brighton for someone to find.

Rain Poem

Rain Poem – I love beautiful writing paper, a nib pen and spending an evening in candlelight dreaming up what to write….days long gone. (I think I belong in another century sometimes.)

Leaving something behind, a trace, a message from what will one day be the past appeals to me, like messages carved on beech trees or chalk cliffs, like ghost signs on buildings…remnants….

Rain Poem on Tree

I would also like to leave one beneath the floorboards in my flat for any future occupants to find. A sort of treasure.

I was pleased to find a letter writing organsation, More Love Letters, which arranges for letter writers to send letters to people who would appreciate a kind note, a wish or a letter at a difficult time in their lives. When I get around to writing one I shall include a Memory Tree book and one of my cards. Which makes me think, if you know anyone having a difficult time who would appreciate a card – and perhaps one of my little books – from a stranger do get in touch. x

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My New Writing Blog

As I do both drawing and writing these days, I’ve decided to create a new blog for my writing – pieces that have mainly been published elsewhere online (a few in print too) along with anything nature inspired.

The new blog is called From the Fields and Woods.

From the Fields and Woods Homepage

From the Fields and Woods Homepage

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Book Review of “Turning” by Jessica J. Lee

I haven’t had a lot of practice writing book reviews, but I thought I’d try. Here’s one I’ve written recently:

I am drawn to water and freshwater in particular. Inspired by Roger Deakin’s “Waterlog”, I was keen to read “Turning”, a swimming memoir by Jessica J. Lee – and really enjoyed it.

The author, a Canadian with British-Chinese parents, is living temporarily in Berlin to write up a thesis. Feeling depressed she turns to swimming in the hope that she’ll heal a broken heart. She decides to set herself the challenge of swimming in 52 lakes around Berlin over the course of a year. With just her bicycle and packed lunch she sets off during breaks in her writing to swim in a lake every week, sometimes using the train and often alone. Swimming in all weathers, she likes winter the best and occasionally has to break lake ice with a hammer. Her relationship with the lakes grows as the environment subtly changes with the seasons.

Turning by Jessica J. Lee

Turning by Jessica J. Lee

Swimming becomes a way for her to find a sense of belonging in a new city. She hopes to find solace and gain an understanding of herself by literally immersing herself in the landscape. The book works well in various ways. For example, the author’s experiences, memories and feelings are reflected in the landscape and water with the use of simple similes and metaphors,

“I’ve been angry with myself for losing my equilibrium, for confusing swimming with love. I’ve been furious at myself for sinking… Feeling as clear as the day, as deep as the lake.”

When she swims, the language is sensual and lyrical but hints at her deep hurt,

“…The lake feels cleaner on your arms, less like velvet, more like cut glass.”

She has a keen eye for the details of the natural world, illustrated when her current situation as a newcomer to the region is accentuated by some wildflowers she notices,

“I’m struck by a tiny flash of pale pink in the green. Himalayan balsam… They are aliens here.”

During her explorations she encounters the ghosts of Berlin’s past as well as her own. Musings by writers such as Theodor Fontaine and the research of water scientists interweave with the author’s story.

Water permeates the book; cities, countries and continents are linked by their lakes and the author’s history. Relationships ebb and flow, sometimes serving as anchors, sometimes causing grief. Her present story shifts to her past and back again until we are acquainted with her life – like the stratified layers of a lake.

In the last chapter Margaret Atwood’s “Surfacing”, is mentioned, an influential book for the author. Perhaps this could have been introduced earlier in the book.

Like Roger Deakin in “Waterlog”, Jessica J. Lee successfully gets “under the skin of things”. But her story is markedly different. “Turning” is beautiful book about lake swimming, loss, resilience, solitude and finding a sense of belonging.

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Deer Rut

Recently I’ve visited the Knepp Estate to witness the fallow deer rut. I wanted to experience it this year to write about it for the book I’m writing, Dusk Night Dawn.

I went with my partner, Kevin, and we were in luck, stumbling on a rutting stand with a few males with magnificient antlers paralell walking. Then the fighting began. My photos came out blurred because of the dim, dusk light, but they’ve caught the primal energy! :)

The Fallow Deer Rut at Knepp

The Fallow Deer Rut at Knepp

Rutting Deer at Knepp

Rutting Deer at Knepp

Rutting Deer at Knepp

Rutting Deer at Knepp

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Trees, Owls, Ruins and Altered Books

Recently I was commissioned to create an altered book with the simple suggestion of making it somewhat ‘foreboding’. I usually draw forest/woodland scenes – leafy undergrowth, gnarled trees, roots – but this time I thought I’d add a human element, a ruined house. One can’t get more foreboding than a ruined house at night. (I love ruins, especially when you stumble on them accidently…)

Ruined Chapel, Norfolk

Ruined Chapel, Norfolk

I started thinking more about ruins then and I suppose I have a favourite ruin, Baconsthorpe Castle in Norfolk, a fifthteenth century fortified manor house. It is supposed to be haunted – a watchman walks the ruined walls and throws pebbles into the moat. The setting of Baconsthorpe adds to its ominous ambience – isolated in fields, bleak in winter, a few leafless trees silhouetted against the sunset, the presence of crows, the mist of dead teasel and willowherb. When I visited a few years ago, a barn owl appeared in the evening light and beat the ruin bounds. (I’ve written about my barn owl experience in the book that I’m writing. See my illustration for it below.)

Baconsthorpe Castle

A view of part of Baconsthorpe Manor

Barn Owl at Baconsthorpe

Barn Owl at Baconsthorpe

Baconsthorpe Castle Watchtower

Baconsthorpe Castle Watchtower

So I was thinking of Baconsthorpe when I added the ruined building to one of my recent altered books.

Ruin Through the Trees Altered Book

Ruin Through the Trees Altered Book (click on the image to enlarge.)

I have now listed a few new altered books in my website shop. They’re also available in my Etsy shop. If you would like a book altered with a theme of your choosing, it would be great to discuss it with you. Contact me here.

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Earth Pathways Calendar

Earth pathways calendar 2018

Earth pathways calendar 2018

I had a lovely surprise when the post came the other day and I received a copy of the 2018 Earth Pathways calendar. I was very pleased to find that my illustration, ‘The Fadista’, now graces the page for July next year :)

My Picture in the 2018 Calendar

My Picture in the 2018 Earth Pathways Calendar

The Fadista

The Fadista – also a card in my Folksy shop.

A fadista is a Portugese woman who sings Fado, the lamenting song originally sung by women as early as the 1920s when sailors went to sea. Often the song is about loss, mourning, the sea, shipwrecks and love and I first came across it when I heard the contemporary fadista, Mariza, sing.

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‘Into The Forest’ Exhibition

I’m having my first solo art exhibition at the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire. It starts today, 6th July and goes on until 30th September.

Exhibition at The Sustainability Centre

Screen shot of the Exhibition at The Sustainability Centre webpage.

Yesterday I drove with my partner and a car full of artworks to the centre near East Meon. We spent a few hours putting ropes and hooks on pictures and hanging them in the Beech Cafe under the supervision of Lyn, the curator.

I took a few photos.

Five A3 Illustrations

Five A3 Illustrations

Kevin Putting up Altered Books

Putting up Altered Books

Through the Forest Altered Book

Through the Forest Altered Book

A4 Illustrations

A4 Illustrations – A Fragment of Forest (Blue), and H(e)art Tree.

Steps to the Light

Steps to the Light

Triptych of Three Dryads

Triptych of Three Dryads

The exhibition features some old illustrations and new box frames and altered books and the theme is ‘Into the Forest’. In the shop I have cards, books and badges for sale too.

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In the Forest

At the beginning of June I spent a week in a little forest studio at the edge of King’s Wood in Kent. The idea was to take some time out to experience the wood at dawn, dusk and day, time to get inspiration for the book I’m writing. I was doing another mini immersion in nature.

The Forest Studio

The Forest Studio

I spent some time wandering in the nearby beech wood plantation, listening to the silence or gentle moan of the wind through the branches. It was like being within a giant underwater forest:

Beech Wood Plantation

Beech Wood Plantation

There was such a contrast between the dark interior and the light exterior:

Edge of the Beech Wood

Edge of the Beech Wood

Wandering and looking at the beech wood trees made me think about the way I create woodland and tree altered books. So I have been making an “In the Beech Wood” altered book:

The Start of an Altered Book

The Start of an Altered Book

Beech Wood Altered Book

Beech Wood Altered Book

At dusk I went out to see if I could see nightjars in the chestnut coppiced area. I was lucky. For several evenings I heard their uncanny churring song and saw the dark shape of the males flying against the sky clapping their wings as they do to display to the female or ward off any other males encroaching on their territory. They were too fast and it was too dark to photograph them but I can picture them in my mind’s eye.

Nightjar

Nightjar

Nightjars are mysterious birds, birds which have attracted superstition and folklore down the ages. They’ve had many names including the name ‘goatsucker’, which stems from their Latin name Caprimulgus which means to milk nanny goats. The myth arose as nightjars were drawn to the insects surrounding livestock.

Dusk Night Dawn Writing Book

Dusk Night Dawn Writing Book

I wandered into the chestnut coppice by day getting to know nighjar territory and was surprised to find an old nest site with a couple of hatched eggshells!

Nightjar Nest Site

Nightjar Nest Site

Plenty to write about.

The Chestnut Coppice at Dawn

The Chestnut Coppice at Dawn

My thanks go to Stour Valley Creative Partnership for allowing me to stay in the Forest Studio.

Stour Valley Creative Partnership

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Tracks in the Snow

At the end of April I visited Romania.

They were close by, perhaps watching us through the trees, through the dim blue morning twilight – bears!

On the first morning we set off early, leaving our hostel at 5.30am. The streets were dark and wet with snow piled up the kerbs and covering the pavements in the town of Zarnesti. Romania was experiencing freak April weather – below zero temperatures and snowfall. Ramon, our expert guide and tracker, drove quickly and effortlessly into the white landscape on the edge of Piatra Mare Mountains, winter tyres proving their worth.

The bears had returned to their dens – so we searched for wolves instead as wolves don’t mind the cold and snow. But the blanketed slopes and meadows were empty.

Snowy Scene

Snowy Scene – by Jurj Ramon

Come dusk we went out again. The temperature was minus 4 and the breeze was coming from the north so Ramon took us up the side of the valley into the forest to stay downwind. The snow was two feet thick in places and as we walked in single file, I stepped in the footprints of Ramon and Kevin who were ahead of me. This made it easier to walk. Every-so-often Ramon pointed out tracks – a trough in the snow where bears had dragged their bellies or the arched prints of red deer.

We came to a stream, a dark, trickling ribbon flowing through banks of snow and beneath omenous windows of ice.

Snowy River

Snowy River – by Jurj Ramon

Then the valley slopes steepened and we climbed a snowy corridor up through the trees – Norway spruce, beech and silver birch. My heart felt as if it would burst with the exertion as I sweated beneath my numerous coats and jumpers. At last we reached a viewpoint from where we could see the opposite side of the valley, a rock ridge of mountain with a belt of forest on it’s lower slopes above open fields of snow. There we waited and watched, waited and watched scanning the fields with binoculars or with just the naked eye.

Some animal was moving on the edge of the trees far off. It was not a bear but a red deer, identifiable by its fawn rump. Then we saw three of them. One kept a lookout while the others browsed on tree buds. I have only glimpsed red deer in Scotland so it was good to see them.

Red Deer in the Snow

Red Deer in the Snow – by Jurj Ramon

On our way back down we saw fresh tracks of a family of boar that had crossed our own. We looked about and listened but the animals themselves remained elusive. Further on Ramon stopped and whispered that a bear was close by; there was a change in the smell of the forest and even I noticed a slight hint of animal nearby – not like fox, but a dense, animal smell.

On our second morning we returned to our valley viewpoint. Dawn broke with a wonderful rosy light illuminating the mountain before us. The air was crisp, cold and clear. Ramon pointed out a scratched triangle of trees, the territory of the only lynx in the valley.

Dawn

Dawn over the Postavarul Mountains – by Jurj Ramon.

Up the hillside again Ramon noticed fresh bear tracks disappearing into an enclave of rocks and bushes. He said that he saw a bear there and told us to move further down the slope as a bear cornered in the area could be dangerous. Earlier he had told us that a bear on its hind legs was looking about to assess the situation. A bear crouching close to the ground was a dangerous bear, an animal ready to charge. We trusted he knew what he was doing as he’d spent years tracking and researching bear behaviour. From a distance Ramon clapped in the hope that the bear would show itself, but no bear emerged.

Wildlife was so close and nowhere to be seen; it was as though the bears were teasing us. The snowy hillside remained full of their presence and absence at the same time. Despite not seeing bears it was a wonderful experience being out in the snowy wilds at dawn and dusk and knowing that we were so close to some of the top predators in Europe.

Bear Back and Fore Prints

Bear Back and Fore Prints – by Jurj Ramon.

Bear Tracks

Bear Tracks – by Alexi Francis

The photos above – apart from the last – were taken by our bear tracker and expert, Jurj Ramon.

I can’t help thinking about Spirit bears. I’ve drawn a bear image. Perhaps this is a Spirit Bear drawn to evoke the wild bears when we return to Romania in the future.

Spriit Bear

Spriit Bear

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Bee Goddess

I’m very into natural sound recordings and came across Be:One last year. It was created to accompany The Hive installation. The Hive was an installation by artist Wolfgang Buttress at Kew Gardens last year.

“An open-air structure standing at 17 metres tall and weighing in at 40 tonnes, The Hive encapsulates the story of the honey bee and the important role of pollination in feeding the planet, through an immersive sound and visual experience.”

Here’s a video about the soundscape:

There’s something hypnotic about the bees’ droning.

The soundtrack is available from Caught By the River’s record label, Rivertones.

In the Ancient Greek world bees were worshipped as they represented a link between our world and the underworld. There were special priestesses refered to as “bees” or “Melissas”, the Greek word for honey bee. In Ancient Greek myth Melissa was a nymph who nursed the baby Zeus, feeding him honey instead of milk. It was from her that the cultivation of bees for honey was supposed to have come.

I’ve worked on a Bee Goddess illustration with this ancient bee nymph in mind. I’ve now made it into a card available in my Folksy and Etsy shops.

Bee Goddess

Bee Goddess

Since February I’ve been noticing many large bumbee bees while out walking. They’re queen bees seeking nesting sites. I came across a carder bee nest one summer which I was a little wary of but it was also quite charming like any nest!

Carder Bee Nest

Carder Bee Nest

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