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

Woodland Dawn Chorus

For a book I’m writing I wanted to experience the dawn chorus in both the city and the countryside. In February I sat on my balcony and listened to the city birds waking up the day. Now it’s April, I chose to get up before sunrise yesterday morning and visit Butcher’s Wood on the outskirts of Hassocks with my partner Kevin.

We set off at 5.45am in the mists and when we arrived we parked in a suburban road of bungalows, cherry blossom and magnolia trees – all now in bloom. The sky was lightening rapidly as we made our way along the railway line footpath to the wood.

The woodland floor is now carpeted with wood anenomes beneath oaks, birches, coppiced hazels and hornbeam trees. I noticed lesser celandine, bluebells just coming up and dog violets too. The wood was already alive with song and the sun was yet to rise.

Butcher's Wood

Wood Anenmes in Butcher’s Wood.

I recorded birdsong along with the passing trains heading into Brighton or up to London. I expect the birds sing more loudly here as they have to compete with this extra noise.

On the audio you can hear a persistant nuthatch, a wren, a chiff chaff, blue tit, great tit and a train passing.

I love the shapes of silhouetted trees with their bare, zig-zag branches against the eggshell blue and salmon sky; some birches bore misty crowns of newly emerging leaves and the hazel understory was yellow-furred with drooping catkins.

Sunrise in Butcher's Wood

Sunrise in Butcher’s Wood

We wandered into a field edged with blossoming blackthorn and blanketed in a milky fleece of mist. It felt colder than inside the wood so we retreated back into the trees.

Misty Field at Sunrise

Misty Field at Sunrise

A while ago I was searching for images of papercuts and came across one I like very much called “Night Gathering” by Ed Pien. There’s something quietly mysterious about the indistinct figures in the lattice of branches. What are they gathering for at night? Why in the trees? Are they children? The figures merge with the tree. It’s an amazing work of art.

Night Gathering by Ed Pien

Night Gathering papercut by Ed Pien

According to his website, “Pien is not entirely sure what it is about trees that allure him and why they are recurring motifs in his cuts, but they speak to him of childhood adventure, of birth and death, and of fear and the unknown.”

My own art adventures with trees and forests continue with more altered books and box frames. Trees, woods and forests mean a lot to me. Within a wood my imagination can branch and grow. In a forest I feel protected in a complex web of secrets I wish to fathom. So often I have a longing for a secret place, a shadey forest retreat beneath the arms of a towering oak, or simply a forest in my mind.

Here is ‘Through the Forest’, which is currently on sale in my Etsy Shop. I hint at fairy tales with this altered book.

Through the Forest Altered Book

Through the Forest Altered Book

Looking for Tracks and Other Wildlife Signs

My interest in wildlife and nature extends well beyond illustration; I am a frequent roamer of woods and ways and have written pieces about my excursions, some of which have been published in anthologies which I’ve mentioned in previous posts.

I do like signs and presences left in the environment, the tracks, feathers, eggshells, etc that I might find on my wanderings. I also like art that hints of the same – I have mentioned the earth art of Ana Mendiata before.

Ana Mendieta

Ana Mendieta

I have thought about starting a new nature ramblings blog, but have decided to write about nature here as I often want to create something artistic from my finds. Spring is the perfect time to get out and watch birds and other wildlife, busy with breeding activities, and look for signs.

Recently I went on an excellent two day Wildlife Tracks and Signs course. We studied the tracks and gaits of various animals and signs such as scat, skulls, feathers and pellets. We found badger, hedgehog, vole, otter, roe deer, fallow deer, muntjac deer, squirrel, wren, newt and beetle tracks. It’s challenging to get into the mind and world of the animal and tracking as an art means using all of ones senses. I like to connect to nature in a deep way – and leave only footprints… and occasionally something else for somebody to find :)

Badger and Hedgehog Prints

Badger and Hedgehog Prints

Fox Print

Fox Print – small proximal pad and empty space in the centre.

Squirrel Footprint

Squirrel Footprint

Otter Footprint

Otter Footprint

Beetle Tracks

Beetle Tracks

Muntjac Scent and Scrape area

Muntjac Scent and Scrape area

Box Frames

It started with my neighbour having a clear out and leaving a pile of white box frames on the wall outside my house (it’s common for people to leave stuff on the pavement with a note saying “Free, please take me!”). The box frames were in excellent condition and I had an idea of creating a layered illustration inside one similar to the way I make altered books.

My first attempt was of a deer in a glade. I took it to Studio 45, a little gallery near the Open Market in Brighton, where it promptly sold. I created more layered illustrated papercuts and bought some more box frames to continue the project. Those I’ve completed so far can be seen below. Some have gone to good homes, some are for sale in my Etsy Shop and Folksy shop and a couple are in galleries. They reflect my current themes of woodland, woodland edges and the wildlife that lives there.

Deer in the Glade Box Frame

Deer in the Glade Box Frame

Blackbird Nest Box Frame

Blackbird Nest Box Frame

Emerging at Dusk Box Frame

Emerging at Dusk Box Frame – badgers!

At the Woodland Edge Box Frame

At the Woodland Edge Box Frame – fox!

Owl at Dusk Box Frame

Owl at Dusk Box Frame

I am creating a separate page for box frames in the same way I’ve created a page for altered books. I’m still very much into pen and ink but soon I’ll get into colouring again.

The Curlew Literary Journal

I’m just writing a brief post to spread the word about a new literary journal, The Curlew, in which I have an essay and some artwork.

I was very pleased to have my essay accepted. It’s about a bat survey I took part in at Ebernoe Common woods in the summer. My image, Echoing Swans and a pen and ink illustration of a dark wood also feature.

The Curlew

The Curlew literary journal.

The Curlew

My essay about bats in The Curlew.

The Curlew

Echoing Swans in The Curlew

The Curlew donates to wildlife charities such as Cheetah Conservation Fund and The Born Free Foundation and is looking for contributions of creative non-fiction, poetry, artwork and photography. It’s also keen to involve young people with a special section called “Sanderlings”.

The Alchemist Altered Book

Recently I’ve been commissioned to do an interesting project, an altered book inspired by The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

I read the book back in the 90s when it was first translated into English. I regret giving my copy away as I’d like to reread it and it had a lovely cover. I tend to like any story about pilgrims, seekers or about following your dreams. I think the book appeals more to the young who have life ahead of them to explore and discover. I can’t remember much of the story but when I think of the book, deserts, sunsets, arches and sacred buildings come to mind.

I was given a few quotes from the book to inspire me. Here’s one:

Quote from The Alchemist

Quote from The Alchemist

For ideas I looked at Islamic arches with their typical patterns and found some images of Moroccan doorways I love:

Two Moroccan Doors

Two Moroccan Doors

Then I made some sketches and started work on a new special edition book of The Alchemist that I was sent which already had some beautiful illustrations.

Rough Sketch for Altered Book

Rough Sketch for Altered Book

Using watercolour pencils and gold acrylic paint I decided to embelish the top pages with a gold leaved vine and feature an archway based on an islamic arch on the second page layer. I was able to indulge my love of desert colours, the pinks, yellows, honey and sand colours. The lefthand side is a star filled night, the right, a beckoning sunset or sunrise – perhaps representing hope, dreams and the future. A pathway leads towards the sun.

The Alchemist Altered Book

The Alchemist Altered Book

Singing Sirens

I am drawn to wings, birds, flight in nature, myth and art. I’ve featured wings in various art projects – my Stone Angel Wings Altered Book, my Wings canvas and illustrations of angels. So I was interested when I saw a flyer for an exhibition, Singing Sirens by Paulien Gluckman at the Sussex County Arts Club in Brighton. (I’m into rock again, but this time sculpted rock.)

Singing Sirens Flyer

Singing Sirens Flyer

I don’t know much about Sirens other than they were mythical beings associated with water who sing to sailors and lure them to their doom. Apparently Sirens feature in The Odyssey when Odysseus has himself tied to the mask of his ship and orders his sailors to plug their ears so that only he can hear the sirens’ song but be unable to swim to them. Sirens are part bird and part human and are associated with the sea. Perhaps it is the morphing of humans and animals that particularly appeals to me right now.

(Some years ago I did a painting I called Siren of a figure beneath the sea in the blue depths. It’s not winged though!)

The Singing Sirens exhibition is in a small, fascinating studio with drawings of angelic winged beings, sculptures of birds, nymphs and winged maidens all around. Paulien invites visitors to feel and hold her sculptures – there’s something very tactile about them.

Dove by Paulien Gluckman

Dove by Paulien Gluckman

Angel Drawing by Paulien Gluckman

Angel Drawing by Paulien Gluckman

Winged Maiden by Paulien Gluckman

Winged Maiden by Paulien Gluckman

Skyscape by Paulien Gluckman

Skyscape by Paulien Gluckman

I asked Paulien what had inspired her to explore the winged creatures and figures she creates. She said that reading The Odyssey made an impression on her and one day her cat brought in a bird’s wing that she thought was too beautiful to throw away immediately so she made some sketches of it and became fascinated by wings.

There’s some lovely sculptures and drawings here and a few wonderful sketchbooks. The exhibition is on until 6th November.

Winged figures and heads in stone and marble remind me of Emily Young‘s heads I saw at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester last year. The serene faces with Roman noses and closed eyes are very meditative.

Head by Emily Young

Head by Emily Young

Head by Emily Young

Head by Emily Young

“These angels, warriors and poets who people the stone, are born of sunny, windy hill tops, and the dark light of caves; a kind of ecstasy, a stillness, a remembered energy from childhood, from dreams of fish memory, from dreams of flying and the silence of stone…” From Emily Young’s website.

Rock Retreat

” Inside me I am rock, desert rock and shadow. Inside me there is quiet, almost silence. I turn my back on the world to retreat to the cave within listening to the desert stirrings of my mind. …I seek a cleft in the rock like an animal, a gopher or marmet. I retreat from the clamour and business that surrounds me with a great weariness and longing for the dark, I seek a cleft in the rock with my back to the world.”

I wrote that in my diary earlier this year. Sometimes I feel the same way especially as autumn unfolds. When I think of rock I often think of sandstone, deserts, gorges – a gorge I walked through on the island of Crete some years ago. For some reason rock and clefts in rock have a certain meaning for me. Perhaps it is a need to retreat, hide, seek shelter from the world for a bit.

In the Rock Cleft

In the Rock Cleft

There’s something special about rock and solitude. I think of a chapter in the book Red: Passion and Patience in the Desert by Terry Tempest Williams. She writes about walking barefoot in the Utah desert to Druid Arch and feels akin to the rock:

“I wonder what it means to be human and why, at this particular moment, rock seems more accessible and yielding than my own species.”

I googled rock cleft and disovered that there is a spiritual meaning to it in the Bible. According to Exodus 33 Moses hid himself in a rock cleft, a place of refuge, from the full face of the “Almighty” and this has come to mean he was in the body of Christ. I’m neither religious nor Christian but this is interesting nevertheless. Another website mentions that the “cleft of rock” represents the falsities of faith, the material superficialities. In a nutshell I think it means one needs to have internal faith and not rely on the external trappings of faith. Whatever it may mean universally, for me it probably means I need to turn within.

Rock Cleft Eridge Rocks

Rock Cleft in Eridge Rocks

Back in late October 2014 I did a solitary retreat in the Catalonian hills at a place called Ecodharma. Now I find myself questioning my desire to retreat.

I was alone and wanted to be alone with nature. I stayed in a little hut submerged in trees, the dwarf oaks of that mountainous part of Spain. It resided in shadow and looked out pensively with a cautious eye of shade. It was very basic. I was curious to know how I’d find being alone with just the basic necessities. I tried to settle myself, find a routine to anchor my days but still allowing my thoughts to drift. I took to wandering and found a rocky ledge beneath the pink cliffs overlooking the valley that I called Yoga Rock as it was where I did yoga beneath the sun. Each day I took out my sketch pad and binoculars and sat there, lost in thought, vacant as the valley air. In the cabin I would write at the table and look out on the woods, glimpsing the blue valley beyond. As night fell outside, fast and black, the sky and stars were masked by the silohetted trees and there were no lights in the valley; I felt very alone but very tranquil.

Now I wonder whether solitude and this sparse natural place are what I needed and wanted or something else. To be somewhere far from home and away from stress, perhaps yes, but to be alone? And with nature? I wonder; sometimes there’s a stigma to retreating from people. Perhaps I needed people with whom I had a sense of belonging, or perhaps I needed to completely turn my back on the world.

My Sacred Rock

A Rock at the Ecodharma Solitary Retreat.

At the cabin I sat inside beside the roaring woodburner and closed my eyes. It felt good to be still and enclosed – contained. Inside me there was a terrain of rock, valley, cave and garden. I needed to follow the path within. I went to this solitary retreat in Spain to be with nature in the hills, to try the Buddhist way, but learnt that my way is not the way of emptiness and void although Buddhists say they go to “take refuge”. Nature too is not enough. And sometimes the need for solitude and darkness is more than just the urge to hibernate in winter.

I found the cave within. I recognized that I needed to retreat inside myself, to journey into the places within, the seams and tiers of memory and imagination and then embrace the stirrings of creativity. Perhaps I needed to access something deep in my psyche like early humans did as they travelled deep inside caves to create art and perhaps commune with spirits and ancestors, deep in the earth’s womb.

Spirit Cave

Spirit Cave

It may not be the same for others, everyone is on a different journey, but I imagine each person needs at some point, a resting place, a place from which they can re-emerge back into the world refreshed. I retreat for many reasons – I can’t be a smiling, capable person in the world all the time. There needs to be both light and darkness in life, both company and solitude and time away from what can seem like a hard unfeeling world.

The last threads of summer will loosen like the dry bark of the skeletal trees at the solitary retreat once more. The land will not be sleeping yet, a restlessness will stir below the surface before the slow decline into the somnolent months of autumn and winter. Solitude is interesting, but as I now feel the same draw earthwards as autumn gets underway, I think, how about doing the opposite and finding people to celebrate with? To go within or stay without, to seek peace and inner journeying or outward celebration, listening to one’s heart is a fine balance.

Into the World of T-Shirts

I have decided to open an online t-shirt shop, Designs by Alexi, as I thought it would be good to have some of my designs on t-shirts. I discovered Teemill whose t-shirts are ethical, organic and sourced sustainably.

Designs by Alexi

Designs by Alexi online shop

I enjoyed creating the shop using one of my woodland photos and a couple of my images for the banner. My images are often inspired by the natural world, myth and folklore so the t-shirt images reflect this. There are other items such as tea-towels and tote bags for sale as well.

My Long Man of Wilmington features on one of the t-shirts:

Long Man of Wilmington T-shirt

Long Man of Wilmington T-shirt

So does one of my moon goddesses, Hina:

Moon Goddess T-Shirt

Moon Goddess T-Shirt

and the Green Man along with other images:

Green Man T-Shirt

Green Man T-Shirt

Originally I wrote about The Long Man of Wilmington a few years ago here. Since then a version of my Long Man picture has appeared on a CD cover for the band Athelstan on their album The Ride.

Athelstan CD The Ride

Athelstan CD The Ride

I’m interested in taking commissions too!

Pink Temples and Goddess Figurines

In June I visited the islands of Malta and Gozo. I’m writing about them now as I’ve had plenty of time to digest the visit.

I am drawn to islands and have been curious about the ancient temples and early Goddess worshipping culture of these two. I’ve read quite a bit about ancient Venus figurines and “The Myth of the Goddess”, so it seemed like a good place to visit. These sun bathed islands of desert scrub and rocky coastlines made quite an impression on me.

Malta gave me: temples of limestone – sometimes pink limestone,

Ggantija Temple

Ggantija Temple on the island of Gozo

Mnajdra Temples

One of the Mnajdra Temples which was mainly used as a solar year calendar and astromical observatory.

portals through pitted stone,

Pitted Portal

Pitted Limestone Doorway at Mnajdra Temples – I think of portals, caves and secret chambers.

interesting obese goddess figurines,

Goddess Legs Tarxien Malta

Goddess Legs Tarxien Malta

Small Seated Goddess

Small Seated Goddess in Museum in Malta

and other curious figurines.

Snail Figurine

Snail Figurine Malta

The Sleeping Lady

Postcard of The Sleeping Lady in the Museum of Archaeology, Malta.

Sometimes what is needed is a shift in perspective and that is what I returned home with from my visit. Before going I had a feeling of being constrained, running along tram lines. Every so often I shake out of my mindset and refind what I want, which is a feeling of wholeness to my life and not a narrowness.

In Malta, the temples, portals, giant slabs of pink and white fashioned from raw limestone that have stood solid, timeworn and pitted down the centuries, spoke to me of silence and endurance.

On returning I felt more open to new sights and experiences once again and had a desire to take a more oblique path. I am being asked to lean towards the left, closer to the earth, like a sailing boat close hauled, leaning into the wind. I am setting off on an oblique course to find my way back to myself.

Malta had plenty of other things I liked, mainly natural things that include all the different sorts of limestone; sun bathing and sea urchin fossil finding on the rocks at Dwejra; the lizards, purple flowers …

On Gozo

On Gozo

Hole in Door

Door Hole Ggantija Temple

Dots of Lunar Calendar

Mnajdra Temple. This temple was aligned astronomically. Lines of dots on door post may represent the possible number of days between equinoxes.

Some years ago I tentatively researched into the “goddess” in her varying forms. I made a little book on Goddesses of River, Sea and Moon, and found myself painting faceless images of female figures. They weren’t all faceless but many were, just like the goddess figurines of the ancient past.

Once again I’m experimenting with faceless figures inspired by the female figurines and colours of Malta. I tell myself that it is not necessary to create something good, but simply to do it, indulge in the process of making a mark, marking a point in time and painting a simple figure is one way to start. The work by the artist Laurie Doctor resonates with me at the moment. She incorporates calligraphy into some of her paintings and sometimes her figures are faceless in a desert-like landscape. I especially like the one I found below – whose title I don’t know – and Night Vigil:

Painting by Laurie Doctor

A Painting by Laurie Doctor

Night Vigil by Laurie Doctor

Night Vigil by Laurie Doctor

In an artist statement for one exhibition, she wrote:

I wish to communicate moments of fluidity between this world and the world of dreams. I want to share the sense of confirmation that happens when a dream steps right through the daytime door.

Good words. The desert colours of red, gold, faun – colours of earth, sand and rock – work for me at the moment.

I have painted a few little canvases in acrylic incoporating string, leaves and cloth pieces. Here are Desert Dreamer, Desert Icon, Gold Icon and The Pilgrim.

Desert Dreamer

Desert Dreamer painted in acrylics on canvas.

Desert Dreamer2

Desert Dreamer2

Desert Icon

Desert Icon

The Pilgrim

The Pilgrim