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Tonight I dream of deer…

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

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

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

Night Queen
Night Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Sea Grotto Altered Book

I have often had an image in my mind of a woman trapped in stone beneath the waves, a sort of Rock or Stone Goddess or Buddhess. I first drew a picture of this in my diary back in 1989. I think I was feeling reflective at the time.

Rock Goddess in Diary
Rock Goddess in Diary 1987 – She looks a bit like the Mona Lisa as she looks out serenely from her place of stone!

The image has stayed with me so I thought I’d work with it on another altered book, a colour one this time. Playing with photoshop and layering several images, I put together the image below to help inspire me: (I might make this image into a small card.)

Sea Goddess
Sea Goddess

I had in mind a sort of Frida Kahlo image.

I have two large dictionaries, but I thought there’s something sacrilegous about cutting up a dictionary so I bought a secondhand history book from my local PDSA charity shop (I should, perhaps, have read it first!). It’s a bit of a tome as I wanted some depth to the images.

The result is below. It’s coloured with inks, a mixture of turquoises, blues and golds. The creation of it was a way of expressing a feeling of entrapment I feel at the moment and a reminder that there is treasure within even if I can’t always see it :)

Work-in-prigress Altered Book
Work-In-Progress Altered Book
Sea Grotto Altered Book
Sea Grotto Altered Book

Here are some of the pages. Click on each to see a larger image:

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Fox Wood Altered Book

I still have a thing about foxes and have been watching them wandering around the gardens next door in the snow. I hope they find enough to eat.

Last year I took photos of the fox family sunbathing in the garden next door. One of the photos was taken in January, it must have been warm.

Fox in the Garden

Fox in the Garden

Two Sleeping Foxes

These are the inspiration for my fox ‘altered books’ except I draw them in a woodland clearing. I have yet to do an urban fox.

I’ve just created a pocket ‘altered’ notebook, Fox Wood, featuring a fox among some ivy covered trees and a couple of rabbits hidden in the pages. It’s now for sale in my Etsy shop

Fox Wood Altered Book

For another ‘Fox’ post see here.

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Tawny Owl Art

There’s an owl theme going on at the moment. First I’ve been out looking for urban owls recently to write about for my book. So far, no luck, but I’ll keep trying.

Then I discovered a lovely post about my altered books on the website My Owl Barn and was very pleased to sell my Owl Altered book on Etsy:

Owl Altered Book
Owl Altered Book (click on image to enlarge).

Yesterday I completed a commissioned Owl at Dusk Box Frame, similar to the one featured below:

Owl at Dusk Boxframe
Owl at Dusk Boxframe

With the box frame I decided to hide a poem, Nature by Mary Oliver, written on parchment paper at the back of the box frame behind the final picture. I like the idea of hiding messages and hidden art for anyone who can’t resist opening up the back of the picture.

Below are some images of the box frame process including the back page of the box frame. From the front all you can see of this layer is a bit of sky and moon, but it’s a complete picture that features more trees and a badger.

Owl Box Frame in Process
Owl Box Frame in Process
Nature Poem by Mary Oliver
Nature Poem by Mary Oliver
Back Picture of Boxframe
Back Picture of Boxframe

Here is another tawny owl picture that I might make into a card:

Owl Mixed Media
Owl Mixed Media
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Trees, Owls, Ruins and Altered Books

Recently I was commissioned to create an altered book with the simple suggestion of making it somewhat ‘foreboding’. I usually draw forest/woodland scenes – leafy undergrowth, gnarled trees, roots – but this time I thought I’d add a human element, a ruined house. One can’t get more foreboding than a ruined house at night. (I love ruins, especially when you stumble on them accidently…)

Ruined Chapel, Norfolk
Ruined Chapel, Norfolk

I started thinking more about ruins then and I suppose I have a favourite ruin, Baconsthorpe Castle in Norfolk, a fifthteenth century fortified manor house. It is supposed to be haunted – a watchman walks the ruined walls and throws pebbles into the moat. The setting of Baconsthorpe adds to its ominous ambience – isolated in fields, bleak in winter, a few leafless trees silhouetted against the sunset, the presence of crows, the mist of dead teasel and willowherb. When I visited a few years ago, a barn owl appeared in the evening light and beat the ruin bounds. (I’ve written about my barn owl experience in the book that I’m writing. See my illustration for it below.)

Baconsthorpe Castle
A view of part of Baconsthorpe Manor
Barn Owl at Baconsthorpe
Barn Owl at Baconsthorpe
Baconsthorpe Castle Watchtower
Baconsthorpe Castle Watchtower

So I was thinking of Baconsthorpe when I added the ruined building to one of my recent altered books.

Ruin Through the Trees Altered Book
Ruin Through the Trees Altered Book (click on the image to enlarge.)

I have now listed a few new altered books in my website shop. They’re also available in my Etsy shop. If you would like a book altered with a theme of your choosing, it would be great to discuss it with you. Contact me here.

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In the Forest

At the beginning of June I spent a week in a little forest studio at the edge of King’s Wood in Kent. The idea was to take some time out to experience the wood at dawn, dusk and day, time to get inspiration for the book I’m writing. I was doing another mini immersion in nature.

The Forest Studio
The Forest Studio

I spent some time wandering in the nearby beech wood plantation, listening to the silence or gentle moan of the wind through the branches. It was like being within a giant underwater forest:

Beech Wood Plantation
Beech Wood Plantation

There was such a contrast between the dark interior and the light exterior:

Edge of the Beech Wood
Edge of the Beech Wood

Wandering and looking at the beech wood trees made me think about the way I create woodland and tree altered books. So I have been making an “In the Beech Wood” altered book:

The Start of an Altered Book
The Start of an Altered Book
Beech Wood Altered Book
Beech Wood Altered Book

At dusk I went out to see if I could see nightjars in the chestnut coppiced area. I was lucky. For several evenings I heard their uncanny churring song and saw the dark shape of the males flying against the sky clapping their wings as they do to display to the female or ward off any other males encroaching on their territory. They were too fast and it was too dark to photograph them but I can picture them in my mind’s eye.

Nightjar
Nightjar

Nightjars are mysterious birds, birds which have attracted superstition and folklore down the ages. They’ve had many names including the name ‘goatsucker’, which stems from their Latin name Caprimulgus which means to milk nanny goats. The myth arose as nightjars were drawn to the insects surrounding livestock.

Dusk Night Dawn Writing Book
Dusk Night Dawn Writing Book

I wandered into the chestnut coppice by day getting to know nighjar territory and was surprised to find an old nest site with a couple of hatched eggshells!

Nightjar Nest Site
Nightjar Nest Site

Plenty to write about.

The Chestnut Coppice at Dawn
The Chestnut Coppice at Dawn

My thanks go to Stour Valley Creative Partnership for allowing me to stay in the Forest Studio.

Stour Valley Creative Partnership

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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
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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
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Summer and Autumn Anthologies

I am very pleased to have pieces of writing in the Spring, Summer and Autumn anthologies published by Elliott and Thompson and The Wildlife Trusts. Spring and Summer are on sale now and Autumn will be out on the 25th August. I feel honoured to have writing alongside writers such as Gilbert White, Melissa Harrison, Helen MacDonald and Amy Liptrot.

Summer and Autumn Anthologies
Summer and Autumn Anthologies
Autumn Anthology Inside
The beginning of my piece about badgers.

My piece in Summer was about the hares on Havergate Island, an island I’ve mentioned before here. Below is an extract:


“…Evening, and the moon over Orford Ness is round and full, a warm, butter moon. Below, in its light, I can make out the dark shapes of fishermen casting into the rippling Narrows. The hares will be out feeding on grasses and herbs now. At night I sleep and dream reed-lined, silt-laden dreams, drifting channels in my skiff, hugging the shallows, calm and sheltered from a ravaging sea beyond. I wake and the winds are playing havoc with the wind turbine again.”

Butter Moon
Butter Moon over Orford Ness

For Autumn, I wrote about a badger encounter I’d had with my partner in Woodchester Park in Gloucestershire. I find myself often drawn to nocturnal wildlife:

“Nocturnal wildlife has a special fascination; it usually lives out of sight beneath the radar of our everyday, human lives…”

(As I am writing about my writing, back in February, I wrote a piece about seeing Manx shearwaters and storm petrels on the island of Skokholm, birds of the night. You can read it on the Caught By The River website.)

As my Autumn piece is about badgers, I thought I’d show my latest altered book, Badger Family. I was given a tatty old Observer’s guide to Wild Animals, beautiful in a wabi sabi sort of way. I’ve transformed the book’s interior into a woodland scene with badgers.

Badger Family Altered Book
Badger Family Altered Book
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