Tracks in the Snow

At the end of April I visited Romania.

They were close by, perhaps watching us through the trees, through the dim blue morning twilight – bears!

On the first morning we set off early, leaving our hostel at 5.30am. The streets were dark and wet with snow piled up the kerbs and covering the pavements in the town of Zarnesti. Romania was experiencing freak April weather – below zero temperatures and snowfall. Ramon, our expert guide and tracker, drove quickly and effortlessly into the white landscape on the edge of Piatra Mare Mountains, winter tyres proving their worth.

The bears had returned to their dens – so we searched for wolves instead as wolves don’t mind the cold and snow. But the blanketed slopes and meadows were empty.

Snowy Scene

Snowy Scene – by Jurj Ramon

Come dusk we went out again. The temperature was minus 4 and the breeze was coming from the north so Ramon took us up the side of the valley into the forest to stay downwind. The snow was two feet thick in places and as we walked in single file, I stepped in the footprints of Ramon and Kevin who were ahead of me. This made it easier to walk. Every-so-often Ramon pointed out tracks – a trough in the snow where bears had dragged their bellies or the arched prints of red deer.

We came to a stream, a dark, trickling ribbon flowing through banks of snow and beneath omenous windows of ice.

Snowy River

Snowy River – by Jurj Ramon

Then the valley slopes steepened and we climbed a snowy corridor up through the trees – Norway spruce, beech and silver birch. My heart felt as if it would burst with the exertion as I sweated beneath my numerous coats and jumpers. At last we reached a viewpoint from where we could see the opposite side of the valley, a rock ridge of mountain with a belt of forest on it’s lower slopes above open fields of snow. There we waited and watched, waited and watched scanning the fields with binoculars or with just the naked eye.

Some animal was moving on the edge of the trees far off. It was not a bear but a red deer, identifiable by its fawn rump. Then we saw three of them. One kept a lookout while the others browsed on tree buds. I have only glimpsed red deer in Scotland so it was good to see them.

Red Deer in the Snow

Red Deer in the Snow – by Jurj Ramon

On our way back down we saw fresh tracks of a family of boar that had crossed our own. We looked about and listened but the animals themselves remained elusive. Further on Ramon stopped and whispered that a bear was close by; there was a change in the smell of the forest and even I noticed a slight hint of animal nearby – not like fox, but a dense, animal smell.

On our second morning we returned to our valley viewpoint. Dawn broke with a wonderful rosy light illuminating the mountain before us. The air was crisp, cold and clear. Ramon pointed out a scratched triangle of trees, the territory of the only lynx in the valley.


Dawn over the Postavarul Mountains – by Jurj Ramon.

Up the hillside again Ramon noticed fresh bear tracks disappearing into an enclave of rocks and bushes. He said that he saw a bear there and told us to move further down the slope as a bear cornered in the area could be dangerous. Earlier he had told us that a bear on its hind legs was looking about to assess the situation. A bear crouching close to the ground was a dangerous bear, an animal ready to charge. We trusted he knew what he was doing as he’d spent years tracking and researching bear behaviour. From a distance Ramon clapped in the hope that the bear would show itself, but no bear emerged.

Wildlife was so close and nowhere to be seen; it was as though the bears were teasing us. The snowy hillside remained full of their presence and absence at the same time. Despite not seeing bears it was a wonderful experience being out in the snowy wilds at dawn and dusk and knowing that we were so close to some of the top predators in Europe.

Bear Back and Fore Prints

Bear Back and Fore Prints – by Jurj Ramon.

Bear Tracks

Bear Tracks – by Alexi Francis

The photos above – apart from the last – were taken by our bear tracker and expert, Jurj Ramon.

I can’t help thinking about Spirit bears. I’ve drawn a bear image. Perhaps this is a Spirit Bear drawn to evoke the wild bears when we return to Romania in the future.

Spriit Bear

Spriit Bear

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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

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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.

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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”.

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Making an Altered Book

I thought I’d document the process of making an altered book – my way!

Below is a slider showing the process of making The Edge of the Wood altered book. Click on the dots or arrows to move between slides.

Making an Altered Book Second Hand Book Tools Opened book with Paper Image 3 Showing Paper Stuck in Image 4 Pencil Sketch Image 5 Start of the Drawing in Pen. Drawing Underway Board Beneath Drawing Cutaway Pages Showing Cutaway Page Cutting a Page. Finished Altered Book Detail of Altered Book

The Edge of the Wood and Deer in the Forest below will soon be on display in Avocet Gallery in Rye.

Deer in the Forest Altered Book

Deer in the Forest altered book

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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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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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The Magical Land Exhibition

Avocet Gallery FlyerAvocet Gallery in Rye is currently holding The Magical Land exhibition and I am very pleased to have some of my work on show as part of it.

Here are a few of my illustrations in the exhibition:

The Crow from The Crow

The Crow in watercolour pencil. Drawn for The Crow, a folktale by Christopher Meckel – see my The Crow page.

Blue Sea Scene

Blue Sea Scene in watercolour pencil.


Angel in pen and ink.

Along with the illustrations are cards and two of my long painted boards. One is very much a river goddess board as it is covered with flowing lines of lyrics, poems and words about rivers.

Water Lyrics Maiden top

Come dreamer,
my eyes have been closed so long, cried the river
I see this world but I cannot see

whispering near the surface of the water comes a voice

let all emotions flow from our dreaming together

I am afraid to heal my soul, said the river

then your spirit connected to mine will die
whispered the wind
do not hide from me river, find your ocean
if you listen deeply
wind and river coming together as one
in the great ocean we’re born of the mother.
This is the way she hears your voice now, all of your feeling
easy or difficult,
truthful ones,
do not be afraid
all the rivers are dying

I will open my eyes to see inside
so my soul whispers with the wind.
Take a deep breath…

Words taken from a YouTube video by Condor Shaman that is no longer available.

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Castle Dreams and Birds

Back in March I took two painted boards to Herstmonceux Castle for Waterweek as I had been invited to contribute some creation. When I took them in on the second evening, one of the artist organisers looked as though to say what on earth have you brought us! I left hurriedly without attending the evening talks, embarassed as I am about these things and made off into the night across the misty Pevensey Levels. I had dared to show something, I had taken the risk! I didn’t see any of the week’s events as I desperately needed to escape the clamour of Brighton and spend the week cosied up beside a roaring woodburner in a shepherd’s hut down in Dorset.

When I returned to pick up my boards, we – Kevin and I – were taken up through the castle corridors and shiny-floored halls to a main room by a friendly caretaker who knew all about my boards. And there they were placed up in a bay window which I thought was a lovely prominant position.

d Painting at Herstmonceux

Why I’m writing this is that I’ve recently had a dream about Herstmonceux Castle. It is perhaps strange that of all the wonderful things that happened that week, all I can write about is my dingy dream. But the castle definitely made an impression on me.

My dream:

I was at Herstmonceux Castle working on my Memory Tree story in a library there. From the windows I could see the fresh green growth of the trees. I was with my mother who was lingering and wasting time when I wanted to go into town with her. I decided to leave her but felt torn. I have many images of her beside a window, sunset without, feeding the birds.

Life is rich on deeper levels. I reach back into a distant past within the walls of the castle of my mind or being. Mystery, intrigue and beauty are words that come to mind and darkness too, which is strange as we are now tipping into Spring and light streams into newly unearthed spaces. I am feeling the desire for life with Spring but also a resistance after Winter.

Castle Dream

I shall not forget
The open window
You with your gifts of bread and love
leaning out with your familiarity
At one with the birds

They came in numbers
And you named them
Each and every one
Native American names
I thought of your gift with them
Those that came in numbers
To feed in your presense

I shall not forget
And shall stand now
At my open window
Inviting in the birds
And I’ll call them by names
Each and every one
To be at one with the birds.


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The Ghost Faced Sheep

For the Year of the Sheep – The Ghost Faced Sheep.

I climb up the western edge, the disused quarry falling away into a swathe of shadow to my left. The sun spills over the crest ahead of me, its brightness blinding my eyes. The ground falls away steeply into a chaotic muddle of hillocks, hollows, dips and clumps steeped in shadow within a cool pocket scooped out of the hillside. I pause to take in this uneven landscape quiet beneath its worn duffle coat of short turf, the work of an army of rabbits. A solitary magpie strutts and frets on a sunlit mound, a performer uttering a soliliquy in a giant amphitheatre. He hops on to the path that snakes between the mounds then takes off with a clatter to alight in a nearby tree, a hawthorn, winter- stripped and dusted green with lichen.

I turn back to the sun and stomp uphill trampling last year’s crumpled hawthorn leaves in the squish of chalky mud underfoot. At the top bright sunshine and the full force of the wind. I find the gate and notice the gorse is still speckled yellow with flowers. The view opens out on to the golf course which descends to a mousy scrubland mix of hawthorn and elder furring the valley like a mould. I circle the broad hollow towards the shadow.

I hear blackbirds scuffling deep within the skeleton of a hedge and glimpse the silhouette of a robin. I look about for birds of prey; I’ve seen kestrels here before, a pair, circling and hovering before collapsing into a bank of trees, scattering pigeons in all directions. They look disproportionally large when hunched on a tree top; distance can be so deceptive.

Just then, I happen to look through a gap in the hedge and am taken aback by the ashen face of a lone sheep standing there like a shocked ghost. The field of mauve shadow with its mist of white grasses contrasts starkly with the sunlit trees beside me. To get a better view I wade through ivy, feathery tufts of yarrow, and ash saplings with their hooflike buds pointing skyward. The sheep stares vacantly in my direction with an air of unease before returning back to graze; a ghost in the lee of a hill that the sun never sees.

Ghost Faced Sheep

Oh sheep sheep
Do not look so wide-eyed and lost!

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