Dreaming, I stand on pebbles and sand. Before me is a rich, dark sea. There are waves, but not large waves. In the water there are octopuses, starfish, clams and swimmers. I want to join them, I want to be a swimmer too.
In the sea’s echoing changing room there is talk of violins. There are neighbours, people I recognise, friends and family. Everyone is talking.
Before long, the walls of the building crumble and in rushes the sea, the dark, rich, velvet sea of swimmers and octopuses, starfish and clams.
There are ammonites in the rocks. Strange creatures from the past lurk in the shallows. Beneath the waves I see continents and the blue-green eyeshine of the ocean floor. It becomes a melody of waving grasses and waltzing seals. I want to wade further in and join them, I want to become a swimmer-dancer too.
But I wake up. An amber light spills through the curtains. Did I join them? I would like to think so. Somewhere in another plane I may still wander the shore, marvelling at the life in the water. Of the land but tempted by water, mine is an world between air and sea. Perhaps it will always be that way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The murmuration over the West Pier in Brighton is fairly well known. Whenever I go down to see it in the autumn and winter, there is always a crowd of people. Nevertheless, I chose to write about it for this month’s Preston Pages and the other free magazines such as The Post and The 7 Directory.
Here is a photo of my article with an illustration, Murmuration 1 (not exactly an inspired title, but still!):
Apparently the illustration is on the cover of The 7 Directory :)
The original illustration has now sold along with another similar one, Murmuration 2. But I now have digital prints for sale in my website shop. They’ll be ready to go out next week if anyone’s interested.
I can’t help including a photo of the pier in the 1990s before it completely crumbled into the sea and later went up in flames, wonderfully derelict :)
The West Pier today:
Chris Watson did a great radio programme of sounds and memories of the West Pier, Ghost Roost, that really brings it to life. It’s well worth a listen.
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.
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.)
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 :)
Here are some of the pages. Click on each to see a larger image:
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.
Enter the Kelp Maidens.
I 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!
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.
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 :)
Avocet 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:
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.
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,
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.
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 :)
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.
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.
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?
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.
While 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.
I 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…
During 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.