A Coloured Altered Book

I’ve been spicing up one of my altered books. No longer just black and white (with silver and gold apples) my Silver Apples of the Moon and Golden Apples of the Sun book is now coloured. Is this an improvement?

Silver Apples Golden Apples Altered Book

Silver Apples Golden Apples Altered Book with a bit of colour

While colouring it in with watercolour pencils I was reminded of creating comic strip pages when I was a child. I dug them out the other day and read them with amusement. I’ve no idea what the story is about but I know I liked comics as a child and was inspired by the Tintin books that my brother had. These comic pages must have been done when I was about ten or eleven but there’s no date on them.

Handmade Comic Strip

Handmade Comic Strip made in the 70s.

A Page of a Picture Story I made as a Child

A Page of a Picture Story I made as a Child

I also discovered an old Brighton and Hove Gazette newspaper in which I had one of my drawings. It’s not that great, but could I have done any better at fourteen?! By the way, I didn’t have a day out with Prince Philip that was my history teacher! :)

Old Newspaper with my Drawing

Old Newspaper with my Drawing

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River Voices

I have just got back from one of my favourite places, Penpynfarch, in a beautiful wooded valley in Carmarthenshire, Wales. As I wandered the river, lakeside and woods I listened to the many ‘voices’ I always hear when I visit, voices of the river and trees. It’s as though moments and memories from times past and future speak from the very soils, hidden spaces and waters. I found myself listening, searching and waiting, and the words ‘deep song’ came into my mind, the deep song of the river and woods.

Nant Gwyddyl

Nant Gwyddyl

With my new mp3 recorder I recorded the many voices of the Nant Gwyddyl; returning to rivers, that mean so much to me.

Listen,
Rock, cleft, moss, stone,
of memory and eternity,
the River speaks
voices of rock and root,
echoes of shoot and bark,
algal smooth
chasing
animal pelts of weed,
into
a whirlpool of laughter
an eddy of thought,
rush smooth,
babbling,
gone.

a kingfisher,
riot of dazzling blue.

A child’s voice,
A deep vowel,
sonorous tones,
silt of silk,
a current
secretly shifting the world.
A haunting harmony
carries me along by thought and dream.

I am river.

I have many photos from a few years ago, little has changed.

The ruin is a bit more overgrown,

Ruin

the wrecked caravan a little more hidden in its green swathe of undergrowth,

Wrecked Caravan

Wrecked Caravan

there’s no sign of goshawks in the trees,

Looking for Goshawks

Looking for Goshawks

and the lake is still peaceful.

The Lake Pen Pynfarch

Then rain came as it always does in Wales. So I walked in the rain and watched the herons flying to and from the heronry, the river rise, it’s voices a little stronger.

Now I am back home again I need to be patient and listen more deeply.

I am reading two books at the moment, both have “river” in the title. The first, The Other Side of the River by Eila Carrico, is a memoir and exploration of the meaning of water both physically and metaphorically in our lives, especially in the lives of women. It is written as a river flows, shifting gently here and there. The second book, At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid. Perhaps I am drawn to anything with the word ‘river’ :) Both books flow with rivers of words or beautiful language, both weave in nature and hint at tropical lands.

Books I'm Reading

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New creations

It’s the time for nests! Everywhere I hear birdsong even in the middle of town and it’s lovely. As a child I would climb trees in the hope of finding a nest. Sometimes I did, but those I found – and collected – never had any eggs. I wouldn’t have disturbed them if they had. It’s very special getting a glimpse into a nest with eggs.

In our garden there are a couple of magpies building a nest in the top of a dead sycamore tree. The nest looks oval with a sort of thatched roof. They’re probably not yet tending eggs – my egg book says April – May. It’s good to watch them in action. I like magpies although they have a bad name and are so numerous these days. I remember a lovely animation featuring magpies on the IPM Radio 4 website that accompanied a short programme about bird watching and dementia.

Magpie Page in Egg Book

Magpie and Nest

Magpie and Nest

I have a few new creations that feature nests, apples and wings – altered books and small canvases. My Blackbird Nest altered book was on Folksy and sold very quickly:

Nest Altered Book

As it’s Spring, I had to create a Spring altered book which depicts a blackbird nest and woodland scene.

Spring Altered Book

Another one illustrates the poem, Song of the Wandering Aengus by William B. Yeats. I have chosen to illustrate the last few lines of the poem:

..And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

The left side of the book features the moon, half the tree of silver apples and a woman. The right side features a man sitting in the sun below the half of the tree with gold apples.

Silver Apples of the Moon Golden Apples of the Sun

The poem is an old favourite of mine, first heard to music sung by Donovan in a youtube video with some lovely, loose illustrations.

The altered books are part of the Words Exhibition at Obsidian Gallery in Buckinghamshire. I also have Memory Tree Books, a little “Winged” canvas and some cards in the exhibition. The Wings canvas is similar to a commission, Stone Angel Wings, that I did last year (see photo below) It was originally based on an altered book I created some time ago.

Stone Angel Wings

Stone Angel Wings

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From the Forests Beneath The Waves

Forests are still my thing, what better than a forest beneath the sea, a kelp forest. The colours, for one, are beautiful – perhaps some of my favourite colours, aquamarine, turquoise, blues. I imagine it to be a world of beings passing through – seals, brittlestars, rockfish, sea urchins, otters – in the arms of kelp – the odd diver, the odd wreck splintering and lost, discarded bits and pieces tossed by muted currents, swaying waters that whisper the secrets of the land beneath the waves. A forest dream of a world.

Kelp Forest

Enter the Kelp Maidens.

Kelp MaidensI have painted two new long boards on reclaimed wood, the Kelp Maidens. They are varnished with exterior varnish and ready for the outdoors.

I am a little familiar with the Kelpie myths – water spirits that live in lochs and rivers in Scotland, water horses that shapeshift into men or women. My kelp maidens are slightly different, there is no hint of horse, no horse’s mane or hooves. But they live in the kelp forests, amongst the fronds of Saccharina and Saccorhiza (and other kelps) in Scottish waters – they are like the names of two sisters :)

While I was painting my kelp maidens, the Guardian published a series of Forest Fable podcasts. All the fables are good, but one of them, The Princess’ Forest by Alec Finnay just happened to be about the myth of a submerged forest off the coast of St Kilda where a giant woman was said to reside. It is said that she was addicted to hunting deer in the forests between the islands of Harris and St Kilda before the seas came and flooded the land.

My Kelp Maidens are now in the lovely shop Way Out There and Back in Littlehampton along with some of my other paintings and cards.

My River Sisters painting, that was in the shop, has just gone to a new home. I’m delighted!

River Sisters

The River Sisters

The Blue Forest

A new painting, The Blue Forest, (yes it’s blue as usual and I’m still with the forest theme!)

Way Out There and Back

Some of my other paintings in Way Out There and Back.

Kelp Maiden Altered Book

A coloured altered book featuring a Kelp Maiden, which I have put on my Reflections Folksy Shop.

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Spring Anthology

Writing is as much a part of me now as making visual art of some sort. They are two channels in the river bed of my life, sometimes intersecting, other times flowing in parallel, two parts of myself getting to know each other. Perhaps one day they’ll blend. Writing my journal is something I’ve always done – and treasured – I’m excited now that my other types of writing are becoming just as important.

As part of the prize for winning the Creative Future Literary Award for fiction last year, I’ve been having mentoring with Amy Liptrot whose memoir, The Outrun, has just come out. I’m reading her book at the moment, enjoying the beautiful, clear writing; the contrasting phases of her life, the interesting steps she takes in her recovery from alcohol and her accounts of living and visiting remote Orcadian islands. I find myself wanting to gaze at the sky, watch the sea – even get in! I need to find myself an island. It’s a recommended read :)

Spring Anthology

So far with the mentoring I’ve concentrated on creative non-fiction, “nature writing” mainly, which leads me on to Spring: An Anthology for the Changing Seasons, in which I have a piece of writing. I have only just opened the book and read a little of the introduction by Melissa Harrison:

It is a moment of quickening, of rebirth. the old, lovely story: life surging back, despite everything, once again. However spring finds you – birdsong, blossom or spawn – it is a signal: the earth turning its ancient face back to the sun.

Beautiful! – I’m already looking forward to reading the whole thing. The book comes out 18th February and is published by Elliott and Thompson and The Wildlife Trusts.

In the book my piece is about seeing a stoat at Newtimber Hill on the South Downs. The Newtimber Estate is an SSSI. Newtimber Wood on the north side of the hill is one of my favourite local haunts and where I filmed part of Touching the Earth. It is also a bluebell wood. Here is a photo I took a few years ago in March.

Newtimber Wood crossing the bostal

Path in Newtimber Wood crossing the ‘bostal’.

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Touching the Earth

I am yearning for the land. Hearing the wind outside it is not exactly inviting but I feel a pull, a need to connect with layers beneath me feet – rock, sand, mud, grass, the earth’s bone against my bone.

At Eridge Rocks

Over the past few years I’ve been moving outdoors, relating to the natural environment through movement – as I did in a workshop, River Women, earlier this year. In the last year or so I have tried to make a short video, a movement video. It is about the earth, about woods and the sea. I felt a bit lost during the filming and was going to call it “What have I lost on the path?” a phrase I remember writing and illustrating in my diary many years ago. I felt that I had lost something on the path – in the earth – and the film was about acknowledging this. Originally the video was going to be a filmpoem – a film of a poem – but I’m no poet so I decided to keep it simple and see what would arise. I can’t dance or move very well either, but it’s just an experiment :)

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Fox

“It is the dark time of the year and there’s a fire aglow in the orchard; I hear fox.

As evening slides into night, I put on my coat and head out into the street. The night is sepia and a sleepy half-moon rests its belly upon the chimney pots of the houses opposite.”

So begins my piece, Fox, written for the Creative Future’s Literary Awards. I was so pleased, it won first prize for fiction, a Platinum award. At the Awards Ceremony and Showcase, in London a week or so ago, I received my award and read out my piece in front of an audience along with the eleven other finalists. Lemn Sissay introduced the evening and read along with Maggie Gee, both also contributed to an anthology of all the finalists’ work, titled Impossible Things.

Lemn Sissay and the Sign Reader

Lemn Sissay introducing the evening with a sign language interpreter.

Impossible Things Anthology

My piece of writing, Fox, in the anthology, Impossible Things.

Fox and Moon

The fox that inspired me.

Lemn Sissay and Alexi Francis

With Lemn Sissay at the Creative Futures Awards Ceremony

Here is a video of me reading “Fox” at the Creative Futures Awards Ceremony. I’m a bit serious!

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Forest Altered Books

As a child I loved pop-up books. A friend once sent me a pop-up postcard of the Alhambra in Granada, Spain featuring a thoughtful, solitary figure. It was a beautiful, inspiring card. I have mislaid my card but I found a photo of it on the web:

Alhambra Postcard

Postcard showing the Lindaraja Balcony within the Alhambra.

I am now altering books. I made my first altered book, angel wings a few years ago. Now I am working in pen and ink and with the forest as my inspiration, I’ve started with a square paperback book, a sort of thick pamphlet.

Book to be Altered

A book to be altered as an experiment.

Altered Book Half Finished

Forest altered book half-finished.

Altered Forest Book

Forest Altered Book

Detail in Altered Forest Book

A deer in the glade.

Altering a book is like creating a stage-set, a little window on to life or on to a dream. Life seems very much like that at the moment, I am in the wings, I have a secret view into a strange, alternative world that is sleeping or buzzing, busy with dreaming, busy with weaving dreams. (I am reminded of a lovely folktale from the Isle of Skye called The Dream Makers. It is about deer too. Sharon Blackie has written a lovely version of it on her blog here.)

I am fascinated by burrows, badger setts and secret havens. I like to find signs of the presense of animals – smeuses (gaps in vegetation made by the passage of animals), ‘couches’ of flattened grass where animals like badgers have lain while away from the sett; feeding signs. It is interesting to think that beneath my feet, along a woodland trail, might sleep a badger.

Badger Sett

One of the entrances to a badger sett in Newtimber Woods.

I bought a couple of the small Observer field guides secondhand. They’re not rare or valuable but I do like them and treasure copies I’ve had for decades. I thought that I’d work with an image that I’ve drawn recently, of a badger sleeping beneath tree roots which is inked in with a gold sky:

Slumbering Badger

Can you see the face amongst the roots?

Books to be Altered

Old Observer field guide books.

Badger Altered Book

The badger altered book underway.

Badger Altered Book

A badger sleeps beneath tree roots.

With another old book, I have created a forest scene, again with deer and a central tree with spreading branches and roots. I cannot decide whether to complete the picture behind the deer or leave the pages of text. I quite like seeing the writing, the essence of the book still evident.

Forest Deer Altered Book

Forest Deer Altered Book

Click on the image to see a larger version.

The book of the forest. I have other ideas for altered books – portraits, goddesses, icons – but I don’t think I have quite finished with forests, trees and deer yet.

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The White Hind in the Thicket

Deer. Signs of their presense, torn bark, a trail of hoof prints through the trees, a shed antler. Deer are elusive, highly tuned to the slightest sound or movement; a delight to come across.

Fallow Deer Antler

It is easy to understand how deer are often seen as magical creatures in myths and stories, connected with the spiritual, supernatural world. Often in these stories and myths they are white, a brilliant, glowing white. In Celtic mythology, they are seen as ‘fairy cattle’ that are milked by mystical women – sometimes banshees – who themselves shapeshift into deer. I am fascinated by shapeshifting in any form and by the crossing of the subtle veil between worlds.

I have been collaborating with the author and storyteller Roselle Angwin. Once I had written my book, The Memory Tree, Roselle proof-read it. She liked my artwork and suggested that we work on something together; I would illustrate one of her stories. As she lives close to Dartmoor, she chose an old Dartmoor tale that she first heard from Dartmoor storyteller, Mavis Hewitt. The story is about a man’s encounter with a magical deer. Stories with this theme occur all over Europe.

Here are some photos of our booklet fresh from the printer. It is available in my Folksy shop and in my shop on this website.

The White Hind Booklet

The White Hind Book Inside

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