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Inspired by Deer

We recently visited Wakehurst Place in West Sussex. I haven’t been there since I was a child. It was a damp but bright day and the gardens were autumnal, browns, russets, greys.

Wakehurst Place in November
Wakehurst Place in November

I liked the carvings and one in particular, the portrait of a Sika deer’s head in a living Japanese cedar tree:

Sika Deer Carving in Cedar at Wakehurst Place
Sika Deer Carving in Cedar at Wakehurst Place.

It’s by Japanese Tachigi-bori carver, Masa Suzuki. Tachigi-bori means ‘standing-wood carving’ and is a traditional Japanese practice of carving sculptures into living trees. According to Shinto belief, all things have a sacred force and a large old tree would have a strong sacred force. The carving gives form to the tree’s spirit. This carving was done in dead wood that arose from the great storm in 1987. The dead wood where the carving has been made will eventually heal over with callus wood in the next 25-30 years. For Masa it’s all about connecting to the natural world.

The Sika deer was chosen as, in Japan, it is traditionally seen as a messenger between the earth and the spirit world. The deer were introduced into the UK by the Victorians and I’ve seen them at Arne RSPB Nature reserve.

Well before the Victorians, according to my medieval bestiary,

…”Stags are the enemies of serpents: as soon as they feel the symptoms of illness, they entice snakes out of their holes with the breath of their noses and overcoming their harmful poison, feed on them and are cured……..after they have eaten a snake, they hasten to a spring and drinking from it, their grey hairs and all signs of age vanish….Does do not conceive until Arcturus appears in the heavens.”

Medieval Bestiary
Medieval Bestiary – Richard Barber

The book mentions other peculiarities such as the ability of deer to eat a herb that will help draw out arrows which have harmed them. Such is the weird and wonderful medieval world.

Deer Doodle from my Sketchbook
Deer doodle from my sketchbook

I thought I’d create a little shrine to the spirit of the deer:

Deer Shrine
Deer Shrine

Recently I stumbled on some music I liked by Martha Tilston and was pleased to find it is called Stags Bellow. Here is a Youtube video of the song:

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Badgers and Vignettes

I’m always happy to see one of my pictures or pieces of writing in print. In the November issue of The Simple Things magazine I have a piece of nature writing, ‘Still’, about encountering a badger. It sits alongside pieces by good writers such as Tim Dee, Alys Fowler and Neil Ansell. It would have been nice if they’d sent me a copy of the magazine. Instead, I had to go and buy one. (There do seem to be a plethora of these cosy, classy, hyggey, crafty, lifestyle magazines around at the moment. Is it ‘our’ need for comfort and reassurance in these somewhat dark, unsettled times?)

Still - Writing Piece in The Simple Things Magazine
Still – writing piece in The Simple Things magazine

The piece was originally published in the Autumn anthology as part of the Seasons series by Elliott and Thompson. I’m now in the process of making little, A6 illustrated books using some of my previously published writings. Here is an example I’ve titled, Into the Wood:

Into the Woods Book
Into the Wood book

The last badger I encountered was in the scrubby area behind the cabin in France where I stayed in the summer. It nearly ran into me as I stood quietly waiting for nightjars; they have poor eyesight but a great sense of smell.

On the theme of badgers, I have a Two Badgers altered book currently available in my Etsy and website shop:

two Badgers Altered Book
Two Badgers Altered Book

I’ve just created some little vignettes in pen and ink that I’ve sent to Avocet Gallery in Rye for their Christmas Fair. One of these is of a sleeping badger – pen and ink with a blue copper sky painted with acrylic metallic paint and ink. The others are of a hare, a nest, an owl and, of course, deer:

Vignettes
Vignettes for Avocet Gallery
Badger at Rest
Badger at Rest

I love vignettes both in art and writing – moments captured! And I love the way Jay Griffiths describes a badger in her little book, “Twilight“:

“Then I see him touched by two light, day-streaked and night-stroked, a keyboard playing a twilight sonata in a minor key for the maligned creatures of twilight, the badgers themselves, the wolf, the hare and the bat – flittermouse in flights of arpeggios to catch moths. And owls.”

Avocet Gallery Art and Craft Show 2018
Avocet Gallery Art and Craft Show 2018
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Tonight I dream of deer…

I thought I had more to say about night, especially as the nights are lengthening as we descend through the layers of autumn. However, it seems I have more to say about deer. Deer and night have become one in my mind, I am very close to deer right now.

Recently I’ve had a couple of deer encounters. One was when I was walking beside the River Adur with my partner. We spotted two roe deer in the distance – I could just see movement. Then they came in our direction bounding over the wet water meadows. It was a beautiful sight. The second encounter was in a wood not far from the River Ouse where we regularly walk. A hind roe deer was startled in the scrub and came rushing out. When she saw us she zig-zagged away and out of sight. We stood still so as not to panic her.

When I started my latest altered book, I was going to call it Night Queen and base it on my greetings card of the same name:

Night Queen
Night Queen

However, deer came to me and wanted to be included. So, now I’ve decided to call the book, The Night Queen and the Deer or Tonight I Dream of Deer.

This altered book is close to my heart, it feels more personal somehow – perhaps more full of magic and imagination! I’ve deliberately blackened in pages of sky and stars and have even – surreptiously – included the major stars of the twelve zodiac constellations on one of the pages,

The Night Queen and the Deer
The Night Queen and the Deer Altered Book. Click on the image for a larger version.

and, on the deepest page on the right of the central spread, is a stag with enormous antlers, gently cradling the cresent moon. The Night Queen and the Deer is now on sale in my website shop and Etsy Shop.

I’ve been playing with deer imagery in other creations including two new greetings cards, Winter Deer and Deer Heart. Both are seasonal and I hope, just as magical.

Deer Heart Greetings Card
Deer Heart Greetings Card
Winter Deer Greetings Card
Winter Deer Greetings Card

They are available in my website shop and my Etsy and Folksy shops.

I do have more to say about night, it hides much, but I’ll leave that for now.

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Murmuration Over Brighton’s West Pier

The murmuration over the West Pier in Brighton is fairly well known. Whenever I go down to see it in the autumn and winter, there is always a crowd of people. Nevertheless, I chose to write about it for this month’s Preston Pages and the other free magazines such as The Post and The 7 Directory.

Here is a photo of my article with an illustration, Murmuration 1 (not exactly an inspired title, but still!):

Murmuration in The Preston Pages
Murmuration in The Preston Pages

Apparently the illustration is on the cover of The 7 Directory :)

Murmuration1
Murmuration 1

The original illustration has now sold along with another similar one, Murmuration 2. But I now have digital prints for sale in my website shop. They’ll be ready to go out next week if anyone’s interested.

I can’t help including a photo of the pier in the 1990s before it completely crumbled into the sea and later went up in flames, wonderfully derelict :)

The West Pier Brighton in the 1990s
The West Pier Brighton in the 1990s

The West Pier today:

The West Pier at Sunset
The West Pier, Brighton at Sunset

Chris Watson did a great radio programme of sounds and memories of the West Pier, Ghost Roost, that really brings it to life. It’s well worth a listen.

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Samhain

Wandering Dreamer
Wandering Dreamer – she walks between the veils of the worlds.

Down holloway of bramble, thorny briar and teasel, to where the fabric of the world wares thin, she walks. Autumnal winds whip the bleached branches. Softly she sings her silent lament to the wind. Across the silent moor her echoing answer rings. Shadows creep up hillsides. In valleys mist gathers as she wanders through the encroaching dusk, She calls and waits, calls and waits. The hour is crow feather black and barn owl soft. A figure at the crag edge, she stands…

Samhain is a Celtic day when the veils between our world and the Otherworld are at their thinnest. It falls halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. I don’t usually recognise or celebrate Samhain or Halloween, but this year I feel a touch of magic as though I am at a threshold, ready to welcome in the gifts of darkness – reflection, imagination, story and mystery. For me these things come from ‘the other side’ or from another, deeper side of myself.

So I visualise a cloaked woman walking the land, walking through a thick, dark night. I watch her wander. I watch her roam the night. Night,… I have more to say about you,…soon.

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Harry Potter Altered Book

I have recently been commissioned to make a Harry Potter altered book. I don’t know that much about the Harry Potter books and I’ve only ever seen Harry Potter films on flights, however, this seemed like a good challenge.

The suggested scene to illustrate was from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Chapter Five when Harry and Ron crash the Ford Anglia they are driving into the Whomping Willow in the grounds of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Harry Potter - extract.
Harry Potter – extract.from The Chamber of Secrets.

I wanted to make the Whomping Willow the main feature and got caught up in the detail of branches and leaves:

Making a Harry Potter Altered Book
Making a Harry Potter Altered Book

It was fun overlayering the crashed car with the top layer:

Harry Potter Ford Car in Whomping Willow
Harry Potter Ford Car in Whomping Willow

I added an owl in the foreground and Hogwarts in the background against a starry sky:

Harry Potter Altered Book
Harry Potter Altered Book

Along with the Harry Potter altered book, I created another ‘Into the Beech Wood’ altered book as part of the same commission:

Into the Beech Wood Altered Bookb
Into the Beech Wood Altered Book

To accompany this I put together a little booklet with a piece of my writing called Time in the Beech Wood. I wrote it when staying in the Forest Cabin last year. I’ve wanted to do something with this piece for a while, so this seemed like a good opportunity. I played around with my World Tree and deer illustrations to create the cover in Photoshop:

Time in the Beech Wood
Time in the Beech Wood

(I think there’s a hint of cave painting or Cretan vase in the design!) I’ll add it to the book as a little gift.

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Time of the Deer

Time of the Deer
Time of the Deer

Time of the deer,
Wind and swirling dream,
Heavy, brooding skies,
Amber light,
And the coming of night,
So early.

I feel it in my bones,
I feel it in the river, swollen now with autumn rains.

In the honey and copper forest,
Glimpsed in the woodland ride,
A presence drifts,
Scattering pennies to the earth,
The accepting, gathering, honest earth,
Where all the animals hide.

I feel it in my bones,
I feel it in the river, swollen now with autumn rains.
Time of the deer,
Wind and swirling dream.

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Experiments in Eco-Dyeing

I have always admired the clothes of India Flint, the eco-dyer, alchemist and wanderer from Australia. A couple of years ago I tried eco-dyeing my own clothes following tutorials on various blogs, such as Threadborne, as I couldn’t find a workshop. This year, I’ve experimented once again.

I bought various chemicals – soda ash and aluminium acetate – from Wild Colours and foraged for leaves while out on a walk in the country.

Hedgerow
Hedgerow near High Park Corner.

I chose Turkey Oak leaves as I like their pointed shape and I didn’t come across a native oak on this particular walk.

Turkey Oak Leaves
Turkey Oak Leaves

My basic method was as follows. First I scoured the t-shirts to remove any greese and dirt they may have accumulated during the manufacturing process. This involved boiling the t-shirts for two hours in water with soda ash. I followed the method here. Then I mordanted the cotton with aluminium acetate following the procedure here. Following that I was ready to dye.

I laid out each t-shirt and arranged the leaves on one side. Then I rolled each t-shirt up around pieces of copper pipe and tied up the bundles with string. Ready for the pot. In they went with water, more leaves and some pieces of iron I’d found from somewhere. The iron and copper act as mordants helping the leaf pigments bind to the fabric. I boiled/simmered the pot for an hour or so, allowed the water to cool and then unwrapped the bundles. Here are the results:

Leaf Dyed T-shirt
Leaf Dyed T-shirt
Leaf Dyed T-shirt
Leaf Dyed T-shirt

I made some labels,

Leaf Dyed T-shirt Label

and listed them for sale in my online shop here and in my Folksy Shop.

I’ve found it’s another way to relate to the natural world – and blend in!

By the way my website shop has had a revamp. It now works even better and has all the products for sale in my Etsy and Floksy shops and more.

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Halloween Poster – Trees for Cities

I did some work with the organisation, Trees for Cities, back in the early 2000s. At that time it was workshops, now it’s a pleasure to do some illustration for them. I’ve just finished a Halloween poster for their Halloween party.

I based it on my Campfire card illustration:

Campfire
Campfire

Here is the result:

Halloween Poster
Halloween Poster for Trees for Cities

They added their text so here’s the final poster.

Halloween Poster for Trees for Cities Halloween party.
Halloween Poster for Trees for Cities Halloween party.

All are welcome!

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AEVA Magazine

It was lovely receiving my copy of the new AEVA, Woman Earth Soul magazine in the post today. Formerly it was She Who Knows. AEVA means life, sound and voice. AEVA is different from your typical women’s magazine. It honours the beauty and wisdom in every woman and aims to empower, replenish and inspire it’s readers. It is full of wonderful words and beautiful art by women for women.

In this issue one of the themes is rivers. I have a few words on my relationship to rivers and a photo of me in the River Lot, France.

Rivers have been and still are important to me. My need for a river is sometimes a thirst and I do not visit rivers enough. I am a river person more than a sea person. The sea is too big, too overwhelming, too impersonal sometimes, but I need it as well. However, it is to freshwater I go and where I always feel welcome.

Below is a photo of the cover of AEVA showing women in a river :) How good is that!

AEVA Magazine
AEVA Magazine

Here is a spread of the article, ‘Entering the River’s Flow’:

Entering the River's Flow
Entering the River’s Flow article.

You can get 10% off a year’s subscription with the code sharethelove8. See the AEVA website.