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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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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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

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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Fadistas

Fado, which means “fate”, has obscure origins – in back street cafes, bars and the alleys of the poorer parts of Lisbon perhaps. Some say it began with lonely voyages when sailors would sing of their homesickness and loves left behind. Whatever it’s origins, there is a strong association with the sea, and with that loss, longing and nostagia.

Below are two illustrations inspired by Fado. Initially I was going to draw in blue pen but decided that I wanted a darker, richer illustration with more depth, so I chose mixed media using black and blues, ink and watercolour pencil with collage. Woman of the Song was created a while ago and in greens; she was a woman draped in greenery similar to my Sleeping in the Forest illustration. I wasn’t happy with it then, but felt better adding words and a blue overlay of ink to create a woman in mourning. Not all fadistas are women of course, but mine will join my other women portraits and pictures. Sometime I’ll work harder at depicting men, which I don’t do very often :)

The FadistaWoman of the Song

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Back to Pen and Ink with Water Goddesses

So much water this year, the news seems to be inundated with stories of floods and storm surges. Water is taking over, spilling over banks, uniting oceans, seas, rivers… and it is seeping into my art themes once again.

I am into pen and ink once again which takes me back to my days of doing many illustrations for the Brighton based organisation, RiverOcean. In those days my drawings were all about sea creatures and the sea. Well once again my pen and ink drawings are water related but drawn for a small book I’m writing on River, Sea and Moon Goddesses, a theme that I’m especially interested in… back to that underground river that flows beneath my life.
Ved'ava
My illustrations here are of perhaps some lesser known goddesses. Take Ved’ava for example, a goddess of the sea or water spirit placated by fishermen of Finno-Ugric peoples. She is sometimes portrayed as a kind of mermaid with a fish tail, playing, singing and seducing humans. If a fishermen saw her it was not a good omen as she was believed to be a drowned person’s spirit.

Yemaja
Then here’s Vejama, or Yemoja, she has several names. A goddess of pregnant women and the River Ogun, a river in West Africa, but she is also a goddess with namesakes in other parts of the world. In Brazil, she is Queen of the Ocean and a goddess of fishermen and shipwreck survivors. She is a mother goddess, a fertlity goddess, a spirit of Moonlight too. I wanted to base my pen and ink illustration on the photo collage of my River Goddess, Moanna. I’m not sure it works, what do you think?

Sedna
A better-known goddess is Sedna, or Nerrivik, goddess of sea creatures and the Underworld in Inuit mythology. There are various stories about Sedna but most tell of the chopping off of her fingers from which are created the seals, walruses, whales and other marine creatures the Inuit hunt. If angered she withholds the sealife from hunters in her undersea domain and it requires a shaman to metaphorically dive to find her at the bottom of the sea and brush the tangles from her hair to calm her. I am particularly inspired by Inuit culture and myth right now. My goddess still has her hands and she looks a bit wooden so I’ll need to work on her.

This is a ‘taster’ for my book. I’ll be keen to get back to working with colour again soon.

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Message in a bottle – flotsam and jetsam

Swans and wavesMermaid for bottleWhile in Nepal, I buried a little packet a friend gave me on top of Poon Hill under the gaze of the Dhauligiri Massif. Now my friend will be taking a voyage back across the Atlantic from Brazil, a true dream trip. When she goes, I’ll be giving her a gift to the ocean, a bottle with a picture inside that I hope will be washed up and found one day. She said she’ll drop it in the mid Atlantic so it might get caught by the Gulf Stream or find itself aswirl in the North Atlantic Gyre ending up in the Sargasso Sea. Perhaps it’ll stay in the North Atlantic Garbage patch instead! :(

There’s a sad story about a message in a bottle that was found a few years ago. Here‘s a link to the story.

My picture has drawings both sides. The swan image just came to me. I wanted to depict a bird that flies at night. I’ve linked it to the moon, so perhaps it symbolises a messenger like Mercury. The swan is a symbol of light in many cultures and is associated with the sun and the God Apollo in ancient Greece. The god Zeus took the shape of a swan to get close to Leda, with whom he had fallen in love. Sensitivity, intuition and grace are just some characteristics associated with swans. A swan may represent the Soul and travel to the “Otherworld”… and it was once believed that swans sing a beautiful song when they’re dying. They are wonderful birds!

I want the wild swan to be freed from the bottle like a genie, free the wild soul!

“When the swan of the soul takes flight at last, it needs neither signposts nor maps.” Vijay Bhattacharya.

Blackboard drawing by Tacita DeanI have been musing on loss and ‘lost’ recently, (especially after reading Rebecca Solnit’s Field Guide to Getting Lost.) I’ve also been adrift on an unknown sea of ships, wrecks, dreams and memories. While drawing the little picture for the bottle, I thought of my mother and how I would draw little pictures for her. I guess my mother is connected to the sea and loss, dreams and all those fragmented memories that keep coming back to me. Perhaps that’s why I’m looking into the artwork of Tacita Dean; she too, has a fascination with the sea and of lost and found things. My life at the moment, it seems, is all flotsam and jetsam, a jumble of fragmented things and I’m caught within the liminal trappings of a dream. Wake up, I keep telling myself! But I so want to escape… steal away on a boat somewhere…

Message in a bottleIceland sparDuring an online search I learnt about the crystal Iceland Spar. In ancient Norse legend, the Vikings, who travelled across the Atlantic, are said to have navigated by using sunstones to find the sun on cloudy days. In the summer there would be constant daylight so navigation by the stars was restricted. A new study has looked at the Iceland spars as possible navigation aids after the discovery of one on a 16th century British shipwreck, the Alderney. If held up to the sun and rotated, the crystal is said to capture polarised sunlight. There’s only one point in the crystal where two sunbeams are equally strong, an angle that depends on the beam’s location. On sunny days the navigator would mark the sun’s position on the crystal and compare the position with the strongest point on cloudy days to locate the sun’s position. I really like the possibility of this and gave my friend a piece of Iceland Spar to take with her.

There’s been quite a lot about ships and shipwrecks in the news recently. I have a fascination with wrecks, ships and figureheads, but more on that another time.

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Marine dreaming

Water: Origin of Life by Diego Rivera

Marine DreamingA recent television programme, Timewatch: Atlantis: The Evidence has fired my imagination. A summary of the documentary is as follows:

‘Around 1620 BC, a gigantic volcano in the Aegean Sea stirred from its nineteen-thousand year slumber. The eruption tore the island of Thera apart, producing massive tsunamis that flooded the nearby island of Crete, the centre of Europe’s first great civilisation – the Minoans. This apocalyptic event, many experts now believe, led to the eventual downfall of the Minoans, and provided the inspiration for Plato when he later wrote about the people of a mighty island, Atlantis, which sank beneath the waves and was lost forever, ‘in a single day and a night of misfortune’.

Minoan ceramic jar after Thera explosion

I’m once again back into drawing. I wanted the woman in my picture to be “awash in a pearly dream” of sea creatures – just like the sea creatures on the Minoan ceramics after the Thera explosion that caused a tsunami to reach the shores of Crete. I thought I could perhaps use the idea in my Turtle Dreaming story.

I have been inspired by other art namely Diego Rivera’s Water: Origin of Life mural, my favourite mural that sadly no longer exists as it was painted in Mexico City’s water system and has now been washed away. The theme was homage to the life-creating power of water. I like the hands, the myriad of protoplasmic life forms, the crabs, lobsters, representations to people and god-like figures and the cross-section nature of it.

And recently, I have dreamt of boats leaving their moorings and the arms of the harbour, setting out to sea on voyages into the unknown. It is good to feel as though I’m once again going somewhere :)

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River, sand and tree goddesses

Nadalian's Rock of FairiesI have recently discovered the lovely work of Iranian environmental artist, Ahmad Nadalian. He carves stones with fish, other creatures and goddess-like images associated with rivers and the sea around the world. He carries out rituals of returning his carved fish rocks to rivers to raise awareness of pollution. In his words:

I was in search of my lost paradise. I wished to spend time surrounded by nature and living with nature. Upon my return to the land of my forefather I found that my paradise no longer existed. The wellspring was polluted and river no longer had fish. The rivers are sown and the meadows are planted with villas.… I have created hundreds goddesses and fish on the stones of the river and have dedicated them to nature. I wanted to build his own paradise. I liked to believe that these fish are alive, and were swimming against the tides… they are metaphors for nature and the life of living creatures who endure pain, suffering, and are destroyed by the evils of our time.

I have taken refuge in the deep ravines where I can overcome evil. There is a temple where I am at peace to worship water. I am not tired. I am determined as ever to build my paradise.

Sand Goddess

Words to ponder on. I too want a paradise, a beautiful natural place in which to dream, to take refuge. And I need to dream. Nadalian’s Rock of Fairies done in France captures my imagination the most. See the photo above.

I need nature, earth, leaves, grass, rock, water. And I sense a return of my interest in goddess imagery. I wanted to find and connect with some rocks somewhere. I like the idea of creating with natural materials that are present wherever I happen to be – beneath my feet; to make a small gesture in nature that arises from and belongs to the place.

I visited the nearby Blackrock beach to look at the cliffs, the sea-sculpted chalk shore. I found myself doodling in some patches of sand,… moulding.. a Sand Goddess figure that the tide will return to the sea!

Tree woman carving Cae Mabon

Alexi engraving rock

I’ve just had a replenishing trip to Wales staying at Cae Mabon eco-retreat. It is a place to dream, indeed, to reconnect with oneself and nature. I love the wonderful round cob buildings, the rushing river, the peace; the moss covered hillside and lichen-loaded trees; the fires each night beneath the moon shrouded in its “winter halo”…

Someone had carved a beautiful woman in a tree beside the river; she holds a heart above her head… a River Goddess?

Kevin and I spent some special time there in nature – pottering about the river and woods. I even found a lichened rock to scribble on :)

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Seahenge reflections

Norfolk tree

I have been suffering from nature-deficit-disorder. Surrounded each day by concrete, I have badly needed to get away. My chance came last weekend when Kevin and I took off for Norfolk to stay in a tiny little cottage for two called “The Retreat”.

Rainy and grey it didn’t matter as the low lying landscape had great atmosphere. Solitary trees — including a few stag-headed oaks – naked of their leaves, stood silhouetted against vast skies. And crows, rooks and seagulls milled over ploughed land and created a clamouring parliament in the trees. The fields were wet, soggy under foot and shifting rivers and lines of broken Crack willow gave the landscape a shabby, neglected feel. But it was so good to get away and reconnect a bit with nature.

Seahenge before it was moved

One thing I’ve been wanting to do for ages is visit Seahenge which was discovered at Holme-next-to-the-Sea on the North Norfolk coast. I didn’t know much about it other than it was a circle of 55 wooden posts with a central tree stump exposed in the mud at a lowtide back in 1998. It was a romantic find, but it was removed from its site back then and part of it ended up in a museum at King’s Lynn. It was there that we went to find out more about it.

Seahenge has been dated to the early Bronze Age, 2049 BC, a similar age to Stonehenge. The tree stumps – including the central stump – are of oak . It’s interesting that the central stump was deliberately placed upside down. (Apparently it was lowered into the ground with rope made of honeysuckle. Honeysuckle rope…. there’s something lovely about that.) One theory states that this could have been an altar for placing the dead thereby exposing the body to the elements and wild animals, which would liberate the dead person’s spirit, a practice called excarnation. On the other hand, it may have been a shrine to trees instead, perhaps.

Seahenge tree with reflection

According to Dr Francis Pryor, inverting the oak is like taking a symbol of life and returning the life forces to the earth, the source of life. The release of possibly ‘dangerous’ energies required containment, hence the circle of stumps. Intriguing, turning life upside down! Certain mythologies like those of the Lapps, have a three part cosmos — a world above, around and below us. An inverted tree would have roots in our world but it would be growing into the underworld. The tree would be seen as drawing different worlds together, a way of communicating between our world and the world below the ground — a paralell world. A world inhabited by the ancestors?

Pondering on the oak stumps in the museum, the deep past, something so old, from so long ago, I caught my reflection in the glass.

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Turtle Dreaming drawings2

Turtle with Girl

I’ve been pondering some more on my ‘Turtle Dreaming’ story and have come up with another illustration. I’m still not sure how the story is going to develop, but I hope it will come to me.

To see other illustrations for the story, click on these pictures:
Embracing the wavesTurtle in waves

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