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From the Sea to the River – Sea Trout and Nautical Charts

When you are lost, you look for landmarks to get your barings, a map perhaps and tools to navigate. This year I have felt lost and adrift, but paradoxically anchored like a buoy and going nowhere. I suffer from a sort of sea vertigo, clutching at nothings. Time has passed and I have little to show for it. When in a state of quasi-suspension, like a trout caught mid-stream, I need a project.

Recently I received the e-newsletter from Dark Mountain and read Charlotte Du Cann’s piece, Sea change, which resonated very much with me. I was especially moved by the little video included in the post, Manta Ray, from the film Racing Extinction. Why watching zooplankton is moving I cannot say, but I felt very humbled and loving towards all of life after watching the video. Here it is:

I mused about the sea and being lost. Soon a project started to develop. I wanted to work with paper, ink, maps, currents, islands. I had few clues as I was feeling ‘at sea’, amniotic and floating. So I returned to an old motif, the fish, and thought about sea trout and their amazing life cycle. Like salmon, they hatch in rivers, go out to the sea and return years later to breed. They undergo a transformation, a metamorphosis – they shapeshift between fresh and saltwater, their lives mysterious and subtle. I like that change and adaptability.

Sea trout spawn in some of the rivers here in Sussex. You can read a well written description of their life cycle on the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust website. I have been doing river surveys for OART for the past few years, looking for ‘redds’, the piles of gravel the fish make for breeding.

Sea trout redd?
Sea trout redd?

Occasionally I see a trout and once I watched several jump up a weir. Sea trout are not lost, they recognise the ‘taste’ of the water where they hatched and return to the same river to breed themselves. Each river has its own olfactory signature. They may pick up other clues to find their way to their native waters, such as the magnetic field. Who knows. I think it is amazing. Follow your nose… find your way.

The river pulls me too.

In the River Rother
In the River Rother

I doodled in my sketchbook, sea trout…

Sea Trout Sketchbook
Sea trout sketchbook

and drew a foldout image of a sea trout.

Folded Sea Trout
Folded Sea Trout

The Dark Mountain piece was illustrated with photos of artwork by the artist Leya Tess. She draws marine designs on sea charts. I decided to take my inspiration from her as I have some old nautical charts, acquired from an auction some time ago and waiting for a project. I used a chart that shows the area of coast where the Sussex rivers – the Ouse, Adur and Cuckmere – enter the sea. Here is my finished artwork:

Sea Trout Art Chart
Sea Trout Art Chart – click on image for a larger version.

I also visited one of the gravelly streams where sea trout come to make their redds and spawn. I filmed under the shallow water:

Filming under the water
Filming under water in a sea trout stream.

I am going somewhere in a way. I have made a start and hopefully it will lead me futher. I’m now working on a brief film poem.

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Dusk Night Dawn Book

Over the past couple of years I have been putting together a little book, Dusk, Night, Dawn. It is a collection of nature writings about my encounters with wildlife during the twilight and night hours here in the UK and on trips abroad.

The book started when I was having mentoring with Amy Liptrot. She commented that much of my writing was about dusk. I then collected a few pieces together and set out to have more experiences that I could write about. These included the time when I saw nightjars in King’s Wood, Kent and looking for bears in Romania. Some of my pieces have been published in magazines, on websites or blogs and in anthologies, but I have put them all together in one book and have included pen and ink illustrations to accompany many of the pieces. Here is an example:

Dipper
Bird of the Black Waters.

I submitted my book to WriteNow in 2017 and it was shortlisted. I submitted it to Spotlight Books and again it was shortlisted, but it didn’t win. It was suggested that I should include more of myself in the book and make it into a narrative. Well, it is what it is, a collection of writings like an anthology. I have sent it to a couple of publishers but I am expecting to hear the same problems with the book, so I won’t be surprised when I hear back from them. In the meantime I’ve put together a mocked up copy with the help of my partner Kevin.

It took Kevin quite a while tp format and lay out the book ready for printing and help design the cover. He took it on as a project.

Having got the printing done, I was keen to investigate ‘perfect binding’ to put it together. This means that when the pages are put together, there is no creep. I researched how to do perfect binding and Kevin made me a page vice. Some commercial printers only do staple bound, so I chose to do the whole thing myself.

Folding paper
Folding paper for making the book by perfect binding.
Homemade book clamp
Homemade book clamp.

I applied PVA glue to the vice-bound page edges and attached the cover.

Glueing book
While the pages were in the book clamp, I clued the spine using PVA glue.

Here is the finished book, front and back:

Dusk Night Dawn book
Dusk Night Dawn book
Dusk Night Dawn back cover
Dusk Night Dawn back cover.

The process was tricky but fun. I’ll wait to see what the publishers say before I do anything else with it.

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Walking With Trees – The Linden Tree

My mother's tree
My mother’s tree – a large leaved lime.

After noticing the lime tree in Withdean Woods (see last blog post), I remembered that the tree planted in remembrance of my mother, is a large-leaved lime, Tilia platyphyllos. I took a mini pilgrimage across town to the woodland cemetery to spend some time with my mum’s tree.

There are three lime trees native to the UK, small-leaved, large-leaved and common. Large-leaved limes like to grow on lime rich soils.

Lime trees are also called linden trees in Europe. They are pollinated by insects, so will not produce as much pollen as wind pollinated trees like oaks or beech. After the last Ice Age small-leaved limes dominated the lowland forests of the UK, especially in the south and east.

The lime tree was considered a sacred tree in Eastern Europe. The Polish word for the month of July, Lipiec, is named after the word for lime, lipa, and the names of many villages translate as Holy Lime.

Broad-leaved lime leaves
Large-leaved lime tree leaves – they are broad, floppy, heart-shaped and they darken as the seasons progress.

Within the dark branches of this beautiful tree dwelt goddesses and gods. In countries such as Lithuania, Laima, a goddess of fate, fertility, childbirth and death held the linden as her sacred tree. She was worshipped by women, who prayed and carried out rituals within the tree’s leafy shade. When a child was born they made offerings there to the goddess. Laima is often associated with the cuckoo, Gegute, who watched over time and the seasons.

In German folklore the lime tree was an important tree of Freyja, the goddess of truth and love. It was thought of as a lover’s tree, perhaps because of its heart shaped leaves. In pre-Christian times it was believed that it was impossible to tell lies while standing beneath a linden tree. For this reason communities held judicial councils, along with celebrations such as weddings and festivities, beneath the tree that was often found in the centre of the town or village.

Lime leaf

Sitting for a while in the grass in the shade of my mother’s tree, I listened to the birds, wrote some notes in my diary and pressed a few leaves between the pages.

Diary in the grass
My diary in the grass and speedwell flowers.
String of feathers and shells
String of feathers, beads and shells as an offering to my mother’s spirit and the tree’s.

Then I replenished the seed in the bird feeder and hung up a simple string of feathers, shells and beads. The feathers once belonged to a green woodpecker, the “Rain Bird“, so named because it was thought to foretell the coming of rain. I think the trees need rain, but I’m quite happy with sunshine at the moment.

Goddesses, cuckoos, lime trees and rain birds – I’ve drawn an illuminated letter for the lime tree, beneath a sun and a crescent moon. Click on the image to see a larger version:

Lime Tree illuminated letter
Lime tree illuminated letter.

I have decided to research and write a small book about tree and forest goddesses to accompany my book, Goddesses of River, Sea and Moon. Below is a picture of Laima.

Laima
Laima, whose sacred tree is the linden tree. She decides the destiny of new born children.

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

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On the Trail of Boar

Towards the end of April I visited the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire with my partner in the hope of seeing wild boar. I’ve written a simple piece about our search that is published today on Caught by the River. Soon I’ll put it on my writing website, From the Fields and Woods.

Here is a wild boar illustration, Summoning the Boar. (Yes, it features brambles once again!)

Summoning the Boar
Summoning the Boar
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Brighton Festival Open House

Yesterday I hung my artwork for the open house I’m participating in this May in Brighton. I had help from Kevin, my partner, and Chris, whose house it is. Together we tried to make it all look as good as possible.

Hanging pictures for the open house.
Hanging pictures for the open house including old favourites, Dancing at Sunset and A Letter at Twilight..
Table at open house.
Table at open house showing a couple of my altered books along with originals, prints and books..

There is some wonderful art in the house, including – Chris Durham’s photography;

Pier and starlings by Chris Durham.
Pier and starlings by Chris Durham.
Photography by Chris Durham.
Photography by Chris Durham.

Dawn Stacey’s paintings;

Dawn Stacey paintings
Dawn Stacey paintings.

Susan Evans’ – skyscape paintings;

Susan Evans skyscapes
Susan Evans skyscapes.

Keziah Furini‘s illustration;

Keziah Furini prints
Keziah Furini prints and cards corner.

Jules Ash’s jewelery;

Jewelery by Jules Ash
Jewelery by Jules Ash

along with Caroline Chalton Hellyer’s lovely ceramics, Stewart Furini’s woodworking and Jan Langdale’s dimensional glass painting.

My work looks somewhat shoddy in comparison. I do hope that I don’t let the house down. My artwork days are numbered. I’ll continue to do my folksy-crafty bits and pieces, but don’t think I’ll exhibit again and certainly not in such professional company. Sigh!

Anyway, if you’re in Brighton in May, consider visiting 51 Montefiore Road at the weekends between 11am and 5pm to see some lovely art, buy some lovely art or perhaps just a card :)

Here are a couple of original pen and ink mounted illustrations that I have for sale in the open house (I’ve become very interested in adding brambles to my pictures!):

Today I’ve been out delivering fliers. Aren’t they good! :)

Open house flyers
Open house flyers for 51 Moniefiore Road, Brighton.
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Eostre

Happy Easter! Or happy Eostre!

Almost exactly two years ago I walked up Wolstonbury Hill to watch the sunrise.

Sunrise over Wolstonbury Hill
Sunrise over Wolstonbury Hill.

I walk in the footsteps of ancient people who would have awoken on this same hillside in millenia past to greet the dawn, casting their gaze out over the wooded lowlands, the Weald of Sussex.

As I stand on the summit I can see in all directions and experience the ringing silence of height. To my west, cluster the pylons of Truleigh Hill with a red light beacon the same red as the clouds before the sun rose.

A kestrel hovers over the top of the hill, wings scything in red-gold radiance. About me the land flickers; fresh dew in the grasses.

Dawn is a becoming, an edge, an awakening, a time of infinite potential; open, inviting and as subtle as a breath. Sometimes a silent cat of soft paws, it creeps over the land unannounced.

As the sun rose the grass glowed rose.

Sunrise over Wolstonbury Hill
Sunrise over Wolstonbury Hill. Eos was a Ancient Greek dawn goddess and was often described as ‘rosy-fingered’.

Wolstonbury hill is a well known chalk hill in the South Downs of West Sussex. It rises to 206 metres and at the top you can see for miles. It is not surprising that it was the location for ancient settlements since before the Bronze Age. There is evidence of ditches, enclosures and field systems. Excavations have found pottery, flintwork, human skeletons and animal bones.

Bronze Age woman
Bronze Age woman – a crude watercolour illustration I did many years ago.

I have become very fond of the hill as I can reach it by bicycle from home. There is something special about it’s layers of history, the sweeping views, smooth, rolling contours and the wonderful sense of space you get on it’s summit and hillsides.

Recently I thought about the word Eostre and recollected that Eostre was a Dawn Goddess. However, she is associated with both dawn and Easter. The Anglo Saxons worshipped Eostre in the month of April according to the Venerable Bede, a eighth century Benedictine monk. The festival celebrating the goddess had died out by his time and was replaced by the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. The word Easter probably derives from the word Eostre.

Eostre
Eostre – an illustration adapted from The Memory Tree.

This year I thought I’d like to make a trip to Wolstonbury Hill with Kevin and perform a small ritual to celebrate Easter/Eostre – the spring and dawn.

We didn’t get up quite so early, but were up there by about 7.30am and were serenaded by skylarks on the hillside and a profusion of all sorts of birdsong in the woods on the way up and back down. Up there it was all about lightness, air, emerging and balance for me. Here is a little video of my movement ritual:

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The Dream – I want to be a swimmer too

The Blue Velvet Sea
The Blue Velvet Sea.

Dreaming, I stand on pebbles and sand. Before me is a rich, dark sea. There are waves, but not large waves. In the water there are octopuses, starfish, clams and swimmers. I want to join them, I want to be a swimmer too.

In the sea’s echoing changing room there is talk of violins. There are neighbours, people I recognise, friends and family. Everyone is talking.

Before long, the walls of the building crumble and in rushes the sea, the dark, rich, velvet sea of swimmers and octopuses, starfish and clams.

The Dream
The Dream.

There are ammonites in the rocks. Strange creatures from the past lurk in the shallows. Beneath the waves I see continents and the blue-green eyeshine of the ocean floor. It becomes a melody of waving grasses and waltzing seals. I want to wade further in and join them, I want to become a swimmer-dancer too.

But I wake up. An amber light spills through the curtains. Did I join them? I would like to think so. Somewhere in another plane I may still wander the shore, marvelling at the life in the water. Of the land but tempted by water, mine is an world between air and sea. Perhaps it will always be that way.

Swimming in the sea off Skokham with seals and jellyfish.
Swimming with seals and jellyfish off Skokholm Island a few years ago.
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Wild Garden Altered Book

Preston Manor garden
Preston Manor garden.

I’m not alone in loving a wild, secret garden. Tangled ivy, vines, roses, brambles and signs of faded grandeur- all of these I’ve tried to feature in my new altered book, Wild Garden

For me gardens are places to contemplate, reflect, lose myself in layers and textures of shrubs and flowers, layers of time. They are special places to retreat to and hide in. Yes, hide, they are meant to be hidden in – and meant for memories. They are places where time stands still. I think I need quite a lot of still time. But,

“Nothing stands still, except in our memory.”
Philippa Pearce, Tom’s Midnight Garden

The house where I grew up had a garden with a willow tree. I used to climb into the willow tree and sit up there at night. We were in the centre of town, but I had the sky and imagined myself elsewhere, somewhere wilder and more interesting.

I’ve been working on my Wild Garden altered book for the Open House exhibition that I’m involved with in May (more about that soon). I’ve put a lot of hours into the book and lost myself in the detail. Perhaps it has a little too much detail :)

Wild Garden Altered Book
Wild Garden Altered Book

I wanted to add a door that can be opened – to the next layer. A door, symbol of transition from one world to another…

Detail from Wild Garden Altered Book
Detail from Wild Garden Altered Book
Wild Garden Altered Book
Wild Garden altered book.

I didn’t find this altered book as easy as some of my others. This may be because I’m more happy with wild natural themes – forests – as opposed to enclosed spaces. That’s why I wanted to draw a slightly wild, neglected garden – the sort of garden where foxes hang out and a few brambles overun shady corners.

I visited a few gardens for inspiration such as the walled garden of Preston Manor just down the road from me. It’s a 17th century, flint walled garden. At this time of year the magnolia tree is in full bloom. Preston Manor is supposed to be haunted by a certain White Lady. I wonder if she haunts the garden?

Preston Manor garden is lovely and an oasis of peace in the busy city, but I wanted a garden with statues or sculptures, so I chose to visit Charleston House gardens in East Sussex that’s a moderate drive away.

It has one or two interesting sculptures and statues including one beside a pond, a Levitating Woman, known as The Dreamer:

Levatating Lady by Quentin Bell
Levatating Lady by Quentin Bell in Charleston garden.

and a classical statue of a woman emerging from shrubs:

Charleston garden with statue
Charleston garden with statue.

With gardens in mind, I can’t help but think of the book, Tom’s Midnight Garden, that I read as a child. It’s a mystical, ghostly, beautiful book in which time warps and a garden from the past becomes manifest. The garden may be the projected memory of an old lady, who lives upstairs in the old house, but we can only surmise. I’ve made a quick illustration for the story, but I don’t really think I’ve done it justice:

Tom's Midnight Garden
Tom’s Midnight Garden
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In Virtual Forests

I have recently learnt, via an email from Sussex University, about a virtual reality project called Tree VR that enables people to “become a tree”. Intrigued I looked up the project and found the Tree VR website and a couple of videos.

Basically, Tree is a multi-sensory exhibition in which participants can experience the life of a rainforest kapok tree from it’s time as a seed to it’s growth as an adult tree. As part of Tree participants are exposed to various sensory inputs to enhance the illusion of being in a rainforest – sounds, scents and breezes. Tree was shown at the Davos conference in Switzerland.

Here is a little video of the first part, Tree VR – Seedling:

There is another video with more about the installation.

After experiencing Tree, participants are encouraged to support the Rainforest Alliance,

“an international non-profit organization working to build strong forests, healthy agricultural landscapes, and thriving communities through creative, pragmatic collaboration”.

Rainforests and forests in general are so important for the health of the earth. Sadly, they are still being cut down at an alarming rate. Scientists have found that they are vital for carbon-capture and the best thing to offset the effects of climate change. More trees in the ground!

I really wanted to experience Tree VR so was pleased to find a website where you can download it. All I needed was somewhere with the right VR equipment to “play” it.

Luckily Kevin, my partner, has a friend, Andy Baker, who is well into VR. So we went to his house and tried it out. Tree was my first VR experience.

Experiencing Tree VR
Experiencing Tree VR

It was all a bit mind-blowing, not real but surreal. It was an excursion into an alternative world, an interior world like that of dreams and the forests of one’s imagination. I was amazed at the very real sense of space and depth all around me. As a seed I climbed through metres of soil. On the level of a giant mushroom and leafcutter ants I broke through the leaflitter and ascended higher and higher. Macaws, morphos and bats flew all around. At first my arms were leafy blades but soon they became proper branches with bark and leaves and hung with lianas. My body became the tree’s trunk. Looking down I felt a touch of vertigo. Night came along with a huge moon, stars and birds flying home against the darkened sky.

I won’t say how Tree ends as that would spoil it for anyone who gets the chance to have a go.

In the rainforest mood, I thought I’d make another rainforest altered book – another forest of my imagination – but this time in colour. Based on a Central/South American rainforest, it features a kapok/ceiba tree along with a tapir, agoutis and scarlet macaws.

Rainforest Altered Book
Rainforest altered book in colour.
Rainforest altered book detail
Among the trees in my Rainforest altered book with the tapir and a scarlet macaw.
Rainforest altered book detail
Lianas, cecropia trees and palms among the rainforest trees of my Rainforest altered book.

I plan to display this altered book at an open house I’m particupating in during Brighton Festival in May. I think I’d like to donate some of the sale price to the Rainforest Alliance or another rainforest charity. I’ll write more about the open house nearer the time.

I went a step further and decided to grow a kapok/ceiba tree. I bought a few seeds and have just sown them in a tray after soaking them in tepid water for 24 hours. Somehow I need to create an acidic rainforest environment and try and keep the seeds warm – they need an optimum temperature of 25C. With this warm, Anthropocene February we’re having, under plastic on the window sill might do fine.

Kapok seeds planted.
Ceiba pentandra seeds sown.
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The Tapestry Fox

In my previous post about my latest altered book, I mentioned that one of the pages – the fox page – reminded me of the Millefleur(s) art style. Millefleurs means “thousand flowers” in French and was a style using many flowers in the background of European tapestries between 1480 and 1520. The style was brought back into fashion by William Morris and his company Morris & Co.

I looked again at tapestries and particularly like Tapestry: Greenery designed by John Henry Dearle for Morris & Co. It hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, US and features deer, rabbits and a fox beneath chestnut, oak and pear trees:

Tapestry Greenery
Tapestry Greenery designed by John Henry Dearle for Morris and Co. Photo credit Plum Leaves on Flickr.

I love botanical detail in tapestries and paintings, especially with my recent rekindled interest in plants. i like the way individual flower species are depicted. I first really took note of millefleur in Botticelli’s Primavera in which there are about 190 species of flowering plants depicted and many have symbolic meanings:

Primavera - Botticelli
Primavera painting in my Botticelli book showing flowers throughout the painting.

I have decided to write/illustrate another little book that I’m titling The Tapestry Fox inspired by Tapestry Greenery and of course, the foxes that live around my way.

The Tapestry Fox sketchbook
A few notes, ideas and doodles for The Tapestry Fox.

The fox as totem animal is coming back into my life. it is a good luck animal for me. I’ll follow it wherever it takes me. I’ve worked on a few ideas for the book:

Fox in the Woodland
Fox in the Woodland – a possible illustration for my new little book, The Tapestry Fox.
The Tapestry Fox Cover Idea
The Tapestry Fox cover idea.

In the first picture above I’ve added teasel, bramble, oak and hornbeam – I try and add plants that can be identified. i haven’t managed the sinewy trunks of hornbeam. I particularly like adding bramble (of the rose family there are over 300 species in the UK and deer love it so you can often tell if a deer has passed by the bitten ends of new bramble shoots. Bramble was used for fencing where barned wire is used now and then there are blackberries! A great plant!)

While on the fox trail, I’ve been experimenting with the idea of millefleur and foxes at the woodland edge in a larger, A3 picture. I’ve called it Millefeuilles Fox – Thousand Leaves Fox:

Millefeuilles Fox
Millefeuilles Fox

In the picture stars are sprinkled among the leaves and plants so the sky becomes the land and the land sky. I like to think it might be an allegory of some sort with a hidden meaning :)

I’m looking forward to visiting the woodland edges, making sketches, taking photos and gathering a few plant specimens. With spring comes primrose, white dead nettle, yellow archangel, lords and ladies, stitchwort, herb robert, red campion, nettles….

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