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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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A Prehistoric Forest and an Interesting Find

My interest in trees, forests and geology continues. On Saturday, Kevin and I went to Pett Level beach, east along the Sussex coast from Brighton. We arranged our trip to coincide with a low tide because when the sea is out the wave-cut platform reveals the remnants of a prehistoric forest. A peaty layer of ancient tree trunks, roots and boles can be seen covered in seaweed and pock-marked by piddock holes.

We were surprised at how easy it was to see whole tree trunks. Some of these may have come from shipwrecks off the coast, but the spongy wood is likely to be from the sunken forest, which is about 6000 years old. Evidence of alder, birch, hazel, alder buckthorn, yew, ash and willow trees have been found along with brambles, sedges, meadow rue, bedstraws and marsh marigold. This mixed woodland flourished when the sea level was 60 metres lower than it is today.

Pett Level beach showing sunken forest remains.
Pett Level beach showing sunken forest remains.
Tree trunk on Pett Level beach
Tree trunk on Pett Level beach.
Sunken forest on clay - Pett Level beach
Sunken forest on soft clay – Pett Level beach.
Pett Level Forest
Imagining the view from a cave overlooking Pett Level forest in Neolithic times.

It is strange walking over this ghost forest imagining the animals, large and small, that roamed among the trees and the people who possibly hunted there.

Our day was enriched by the sight and sounds of oystercatchers, cormorants, fulmars, curlews and a peregrine that sat on a cliff perch in the weak sunshine.

High up in the cliffs that overlook the area, we saw a cave now occupied by fulmars. but where archaeologists have found flint tools. They propose that it could have been a lookout used by Neolithic people for spotting game in the forest below. No doubt the cave was much more extensive in earlier times.

Cave in cliff - Pett Level beach
Cave in cliff – Pett Level beach.
Cliff strata - Pett Level beach
Cliff strata – Pett Level beach

The cliffs are eroding fast, up to a metre a year. On our way back we watched as a trickle of stones fell down a section of cliff, where people had been walking a moment earlier. This was followed by a loud crash as a bush from the scrub above came down. I have never heard the earth sound so loud. Fortunately no one was nearby when it happened.

Cliff fall - Pett Level beach
A fallen bush and rock fall – Pett Level beach

Further back in time the area was frequented by dinosaurs, their footprints have been found on the beach. We didn’t find much in the way of fossils or footprints, but Kevin found something else of interest and called me over. He wondered whether it was a piece of crab carapace. When I saw it I thought it must be a piece of skull as it had sutures, the wiggly joints between skull plates. We decided to take it home.

On Monday morning we contacted Archaeology SE to see if they could identify it. Their forensic archaeologist identified it as the back of a human skull and told us to contact the police as soon as possible! Three police officers came to collect it and took our details.

Perhaps it belonged to a sailor aboard one of the ships tragically wrecked along the Sussex or Kent coast. Such shipwrecks include RMS Alaunia in 1913, in which two crew members lost their lives. Hopefully we’ll find out a little more about it in a few weeks time.

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Journey Through the Forest Altered Book

I’ve just completed my Journey Through the Forest altered book. I’ve made two or three versions of this before, but this latest version has the most layers. It features a girl, a deer, a fox, a badger and trees. Here are photos of some of the pages:

Journey Through the Forest Altered Book
Journey Through the Forest Altered Book
Journey Through the Forest Altered Book
Journey Through the Forest Altered Book – fox page. I think I am becoming more influenced by Millefleur tapestries.
Journey Through the Forest Altered Book
Journey Through the Forest Altered Book – girl.

I’ve written a vignette of a story to accompany the book:

Above, a shimmering bowl of stars. Orion, looks on, while Sirius, the dog star, points the way. On this night of the full moon she is taking a journey, one soft footfall after another, the deer a few steps behind. The silvered path is cast with eerie shadow. She knows the trail, or thinks she does. An owl, silent on a perch in an old oak, watches. The forest darkness closes in.

I follow the dog star, she says, That must be the way.

The only way to the oaks her people planted.

Soon all the trees look the same and the path petters out.

Listen, say the trees in their secret, silent way. Listen.

So she stands still among root and fern, briar and dog violet on the softly trodden leaflitter. She turns towards the moon, a distant, knowing face in the blackness.

That’s it, she murmurs, I can hear.

The subtle moan of the boughs, the whisperings of the land all around her. She is not alone, no, she is no longer alone. The land, the trees, the sky, the moon are with her. She can find her way, with the deer a few steps behind.

Journeys through lands and forests serve as metaphors. I even include them in my little story The Memory Tree. There are journeys into the psyche and physical outward journeys. Sometimes a map composed of symbols is needed. I think like this when I am vaguely looking for something, something I may have lost, perhaps a part of myself I have lost. Who knows… Now I am wondering how I can create some sort of animation of the journey part of The Memory Tree story, something magical. Hopefully I’ll post more about this soon.

I am reminded of a small ‘magical’ exhibition I went to at Hove Museum in December, called Magical Wonderland. It was a collection of paper and card sculptures of traditional stories and fairy tales called The Story Cabinet and created by a group of artists called Fabula.

Story Cabinet Tree
Story Cabinet cardboard tree.
Story Cabinet - Boots
Story Cabinet – cardboard boots.
Story Cabinet
Story Cabinet
Story Cabinet - writing
Story Cabinet – writing

I like their miniature worlds within worlds within chests of drawers, wooden cabinets and suitcases. I like the use of cardboard and everyday materials, the use of words woven into the sculptures and the cardboard tree – The Wishing Tree – in particular. Better photos are on The Story Cabinet website.

During my visit to the museum I got talking to the curator. She said that she likes to display artwork that shows that it is made of everyday materials to inspire visitors to be creative. I’m looking forward to seeing what Fabula comes up with next and perhaps trying my hand at altered books that are more sculptural.

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Roots

Maybe you are searching among branches for what only appears in the Roots. ~ Rumi

Tree Roots

I have recently received a contributor’s copy of the journal, Minerva Rising, as I have one of my pictures, The Dreaming Tree, featured in its pages.

Roots Issue of Minerva Rising
Roots Issue of Minerva Rising
The Dreaming Tree in Minerva Rising
The Dreaming Tree in Minerva Rising
The Dreaming Tree
The Dreaming Tree

My picture sits opposite a poem, Coyotes Talks to Me by Gina Hietpas. Gina contacted me to say she’d like to send me a photo of a tree she loves that is somewhere in the US. It is a magnificent tree with roots exposed to the sea and wind, a real Tree of Life. I should love to see such a tree, but, for now it is in the photo and my imagination.

The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life, US.

It is strange to see what is normally hidden, revealed.

Fallen Tree Showing Roots
Fallen tree showing roots.

I have been thinking about roots, origins and belonging. The theme of this issue of Minerva Rising is roots. Roots physical and metaphorical, have found their way into my drawings and writings since I first started doodling and, more recently, they’ve appeared in my altered books.

Roots
Roots – can you see the figure?

…What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water…

The Wasteland T.S.Elliot

Tree Roots in Sketchbook
Tree roots in sketchbook

Roots – I have the need to look beneath the surface of things and to look within. It may reflect a need to return to earth, the ground beneath my feet and look deeper. Up above a branching canopy transcends the troubles and problems that seem to pervade everything at ground level. Roots give shelter, a shield against the chaos of the world. If I was another sort of animal it would be good to be a bird, but I think I’d probably be a subterranean, crepuscular animal right now. A kiwi, perhaps, pottering among the subtropical roots of a podocarp tree.

Kiwi
Kiwi

I have always liked trees and roots. As a child, I loved the book, “The Tree that Sat Down” by Beverley Nichols, with the shop within the base of a willow tree.

The Tree That Sat Down
The Tree That Sat Down

Over the past ten years I have had a sense of being uprooted, a persistant upheaval carrying me away from what really matters and cutting me off from my source. This sounds dramatic, but off and on it has been quite unsettling and I’ve had to fight to root myself. This goes along with a sense of unbelonging, but then I’ve always really had that.

In Brighton I notice the roots of elm trees heaving up the tarmac in protest.

At the end of last year I decided to make a new altered book with roots as a starting point. I’ve based them on buttress roots of rainforest trees like the Ceiba Tree, a tree sacred to the Maya. The Maya believe the tree links the three realms – the heavens, the earthly plane where humans live and the underworld. I have written a little about it at the start of my piece, A Fragment of Forest over on my writing website.

Roots Altered Book
Roots Altered Book
A page from my Roots Altered Book
A page from my Roots Altered Book.

The altered book has taken me a long time and it’s still not finished. It’s now many pages deep, both sides of the central spread. This one is just for me I think, I probably won’t be able to sell it.

I also wanted to paint a wooden scaffolding board with leaves and roots. I’ve had the board propped up in my kitchen-cum-studio for weeks. Now I wish to festoon it with intricate leaves of greens and browns, with animals between the leaves, roots and branches. And perhaps a few stars between the branches. My Tree of Life. This has come to me from many sources, including the myriad plants that surround me in my flat. Plants have been silently speaking to me as they always have. It’s good to try painting boards once again, although my basic acrylic paint infuriates me and I realise that I just can’t paint! At least I have broken the spell of ‘blue’. However, I’m toying with the idea of giving the painting a wash of blue to create a night scene….possibly.

Painting the Tree of Life
Painting the Tree of Life in my kitchen-cum-studio.

Recently I stumbled on the wonderful botantical art of Jess Shepherd. Her Leafscapes are amazing. I find her work mesmerising and meditative. I recently went to sleep with the image of one of her leaves fixed in my mind’s eye. It stilled me and took me elsewhere. Thank you Jess, I’m following your wonderful journey in search of blue flowers down under. She has got me really thinking about plants, drawing vegetation from life and looking really closely at it. I am also reminded that I have an inclination towards blue too.

As the new year begins, I am still, taking a pause while I try to work out where I am going. I’m still waiting for a sense of direction. I feel as though I’m caught mid-stream, suspended and going nowhere. Perhaps this is what this roots exploration is about, trying to find something to anchor myself to before I can move off with the current. No doubt I’ll see in time.

Fish in Stream

I’ve recently rediscovered the joy of research. It’s like peeling away layers and discovering networks that spread and spread, mycelia of knowledge that go on and on and on. The earth is wrapped in nerves and synapses, strands and pathways – to roots and beyond. Recently I’ve read that scientists have discovered life deep within the earth’s crust. The deeper they go, the more surprises come to light. There are microorganisms that do not need the sun. Instead they create methane which they just use to repair themselves. They have been buried for millions of years. This is life living in the really slow lane, in geologic time, not in the franetic pulse of our diurnal rhythms. That fascinates me, it stretches my mind into deep time. Here is a link to the article.

As I write this I am reminded of one of my favourite novels, An Imaginary Life by David Malouf. I think of it partly because the copy I read had roots on the cover, but also because the main character, Ovid, from the cultured, tamed Roman world, becomes more aware of nature and less afraid of the wild in his last days. The writing, the plot, the themes of exile, of belonging and unbelonging, speak to me at the moment and the many layers of story and meaning are beautiful. Towards the end:

…”I am growing bodiless. I am turning into the landscape. I feel myself sway and ripple. I feel myself expand upwards toward the blue roundness of sky. Is that where we are going?

The earth, now that I am about to leave it, seems so close at last. I wake, and there, so enormous in their proximity to my eyeball that I might be staring through tree trunks into an unknown forest, are the roots of the grass, and between the roots, holding them together, feeding them, the myriad round grains of the earth…

Round the base of these roots, seeking refuge amongst them as in a forest, finding food, are the smaller creatures – wood lice, ants, earwigs, earthworms, beetles, another world and another order of existence….We have come to join them. The earth’s warmth under me, as I stretch out at night, is astonishing. It is like the warmth of another body that has absorbed the sun all day and now gives out its store of heat. It is softer, darker than I could ever have believed, and when I take a handful of it and smell its extraordinary odors I know suddenly what it is I am composed of, as if the energy that is in this fistful of black soil had suddenly opened, between my body and it, as between it and the grass stalks, some corridor along which our common being flowed. I no longer fear it. I lie down to sleep, and wonder if, in the looseness of sleep, I mightn’t strike down roots along all the length of my body,and as I enter the first dream, almost feel it begin to happen, feel my individual pores open to the individual grains of the earth, as the interchange begins….I shall settle deep into the earth, deeper than I do in sleep, and will not be lost. We are continuous with earth in all the particles of our physical being, as in our breathing we are continuous with sky.”

Electric Field
Electric Field
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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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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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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.

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Wild Woodland Wedding Invitations

Towards to end of last year a friend on Facebook, Meryl of Black Cat Floral Designs, suggested that I create some wedding invitations with woodland, wildlife or Goddess themes. It’s taken me some time to work out quite what’s required as there seem to be so many variations out there, I’m a bit in the dark about the whole subject.

Anyway, I’ve created some designs and had a few samples printed to see how they look.

Woodland Wedding Invitations
Woodland Wedding Invitations

They include Woodland Wildlife – with rabbits;

Woodland Wildlife Wedding Invitation
Woodland Wildlife Wedding Invitation

A springtime leafy one;

Spring Woodland Wedding Invitationn
Spring Woodland Wedding Invitationn

A ‘Goddess’ one;

Goddess Wedding invitation
Goddess Wedding invitation

and Two Deer one which might work best for an autumn wedding;

Two Deer Wedding Invitation
Two Deer Wedding Invitation

They are currently simple and unfolded on stiff white card but I plan to make some ivory ones on folded card.

Based in Chester, Meryl creates wonderful things with flowers for any occasion. See below and check out the galleries on her website.

Black Cat Floral Creation
Black Cat Floral Designs bridal creation.
Black Cat Floral Designs
Black Cat Floral Designs bridal creation.

I’m hoping to create a page on this website with more details and options soon. In the meantime if you’re interested, contact me here.

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Dusk Night Dawn T-Shirt

At the beginning of the year I decided to design some new t-shirts. Finally I’m getting round to it.

My first new design is Dusk Night Dawn. I’m always drawing deer and this time I thought I’d add the words Dusk Night Dawn (the title of my book!), as I really like these times of day.

Dusk Night Dawn T-shirt
Dusk Night Dawn T-shirt
Dusk Night Dawn T-Shirt
Dusk Night Dawn T-Shirt

I wanted to reflect the moon in the shape of the silhouetted deer and trees. It’s now up in my Teemill online shop here.

There is another deer t-shirt in my collection, Deer Tree t-shirt:

Deer Heart Tree
Deer Heart Tree T-Shirt Design

Other t-shirts in my shop include a special Great Crested Newt T-shirt favoured by ecologists.

I’ve been told there is free shipping this weekend…just in case you’re tempted :)

If you have design requests, just drop me a note and I’ll see what I can come up with.

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An Interesting Street Find

People often leave furniture and bits and bobs in our street so one evening late last year I went out in search of some wood to make a shelter for the pigeon that had adopted us. The pigeon, who we named Beaky, had been sitting day and night in the corner of our balcony getting very wet.

Beaky
Beaky at the window in summer.

I didn’t find anything suitable for Beaky but I did find a small bureau standing in front of a house with a notice on it saying “Free. Please Take.”

I phoned Kevin who came up with the car and we took it home. Here it is:

New Bureau
New Bureau

Now I have a new space to write and draw in among the plants. It’s become a special corner of the living room where I keep my wildlife treasures – feathers, eggshells etc, my art and writing bits and pieces all lit by a little paper star light my sister gave me for Christmas :)

My Creative Corner
My creative corner among the plants.

It’s amazing what you can find in the street!

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