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Roots

Maybe you are searching among branches for what only appears in the Roots. ~ Rumi

Tree Roots

I have recently received a contributor’s copy of the journal, Minerva Rising, as I have one of my pictures, The Dreaming Tree, featured in its pages.

Roots Issue of Minerva Rising
Roots Issue of Minerva Rising
The Dreaming Tree in Minerva Rising
The Dreaming Tree in Minerva Rising
The Dreaming Tree
The Dreaming Tree

My picture sits opposite a poem, Coyotes Talks to Me by Gina Hietpas. Gina contacted me to say she’d like to send me a photo of a tree she loves that is somewhere in the US. It is a magnificent tree with roots exposed to the sea and wind, a real Tree of Life. I should love to see such a tree, but, for now it is in the photo and my imagination.

The Tree of Life
The Tree of Life, US.

It is strange to see what is normally hidden, revealed.

Fallen Tree Showing Roots
Fallen tree showing roots.

I have been thinking about roots, origins and belonging. The theme of this issue of Minerva Rising is roots. Roots physical and metaphorical, have found their way into my drawings and writings since I first started doodling and, more recently, they’ve appeared in my altered books.

Roots
Roots – can you see the figure?

…What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water…

The Wasteland T.S.Elliot

Tree Roots in Sketchbook
Tree roots in sketchbook

Roots – I have the need to look beneath the surface of things and to look within. It may reflect a need to return to earth, the ground beneath my feet and look deeper. Up above a branching canopy transcends the troubles and problems that seem to pervade everything at ground level. Roots give shelter, a shield against the chaos of the world. If I was another sort of animal it would be good to be a bird, but I think I’d probably be a subterranean, crepuscular animal right now. A kiwi, perhaps, pottering among the subtropical roots of a podocarp tree.

Kiwi
Kiwi

I have always liked trees and roots. As a child, I loved the book, “The Tree that Sat Down” by Beverley Nichols, with the shop within the base of a willow tree.

The Tree That Sat Down
The Tree That Sat Down

Over the past ten years I have had a sense of being uprooted, a persistant upheaval carrying me away from what really matters and cutting me off from my source. This sounds dramatic, but off and on it has been quite unsettling and I’ve had to fight to root myself. This goes along with a sense of unbelonging, but then I’ve always really had that.

In Brighton I notice the roots of elm trees heaving up the tarmac in protest.

At the end of last year I decided to make a new altered book with roots as a starting point. I’ve based them on buttress roots of rainforest trees like the Ceiba Tree, a tree sacred to the Maya. The Maya believe the tree links the three realms – the heavens, the earthly plane where humans live and the underworld. I have written a little about it at the start of my piece, A Fragment of Forest over on my writing website.

Roots Altered Book
Roots Altered Book
A page from my Roots Altered Book
A page from my Roots Altered Book.

The altered book has taken me a long time and it’s still not finished. It’s now many pages deep, both sides of the central spread. This one is just for me I think, I probably won’t be able to sell it.

I also wanted to paint a wooden scaffolding board with leaves and roots. I’ve had the board propped up in my kitchen-cum-studio for weeks. Now I wish to festoon it with intricate leaves of greens and browns, with animals between the leaves, roots and branches. And perhaps a few stars between the branches. My Tree of Life. This has come to me from many sources, including the myriad plants that surround me in my flat. Plants have been silently speaking to me as they always have. It’s good to try painting boards once again, although my basic acrylic paint infuriates me and I realise that I just can’t paint! At least I have broken the spell of ‘blue’. However, I’m toying with the idea of giving the painting a wash of blue to create a night scene….possibly.

Painting the Tree of Life
Painting the Tree of Life in my kitchen-cum-studio.

Recently I stumbled on the wonderful botantical art of Jess Shepherd. Her Leafscapes are amazing. I find her work mesmerising and meditative. I recently went to sleep with the image of one of her leaves fixed in my mind’s eye. It stilled me and took me elsewhere. Thank you Jess, I’m following your wonderful journey in search of blue flowers down under. She has got me really thinking about plants, drawing vegetation from life and looking really closely at it. I am also reminded that I have an inclination towards blue too.

As the new year begins, I am still, taking a pause while I try to work out where I am going. I’m still waiting for a sense of direction. I feel as though I’m caught mid-stream, suspended and going nowhere. Perhaps this is what this roots exploration is about, trying to find something to anchor myself to before I can move off with the current. No doubt I’ll see in time.

Fish in Stream

I’ve recently rediscovered the joy of research. It’s like peeling away layers and discovering networks that spread and spread, mycelia of knowledge that go on and on and on. The earth is wrapped in nerves and synapses, strands and pathways – to roots and beyond. Recently I’ve read that scientists have discovered life deep within the earth’s crust. The deeper they go, the more surprises come to light. There are microorganisms that do not need the sun. Instead they create methane which they just use to repair themselves. They have been buried for millions of years. This is life living in the really slow lane, in geologic time, not in the franetic pulse of our diurnal rhythms. That fascinates me, it stretches my mind into deep time. Here is a link to the article.

As I write this I am reminded of one of my favourite novels, An Imaginary Life by David Malouf. I think of it partly because the copy I read had roots on the cover, but also because the main character, Ovid, from the cultured, tamed Roman world, becomes more aware of nature and less afraid of the wild in his last days. The writing, the plot, the themes of exile, of belonging and unbelonging, speak to me at the moment and the many layers of story and meaning are beautiful. Towards the end:

…”I am growing bodiless. I am turning into the landscape. I feel myself sway and ripple. I feel myself expand upwards toward the blue roundness of sky. Is that where we are going?

The earth, now that I am about to leave it, seems so close at last. I wake, and there, so enormous in their proximity to my eyeball that I might be staring through tree trunks into an unknown forest, are the roots of the grass, and between the roots, holding them together, feeding them, the myriad round grains of the earth…

Round the base of these roots, seeking refuge amongst them as in a forest, finding food, are the smaller creatures – wood lice, ants, earwigs, earthworms, beetles, another world and another order of existence….We have come to join them. The earth’s warmth under me, as I stretch out at night, is astonishing. It is like the warmth of another body that has absorbed the sun all day and now gives out its store of heat. It is softer, darker than I could ever have believed, and when I take a handful of it and smell its extraordinary odors I know suddenly what it is I am composed of, as if the energy that is in this fistful of black soil had suddenly opened, between my body and it, as between it and the grass stalks, some corridor along which our common being flowed. I no longer fear it. I lie down to sleep, and wonder if, in the looseness of sleep, I mightn’t strike down roots along all the length of my body,and as I enter the first dream, almost feel it begin to happen, feel my individual pores open to the individual grains of the earth, as the interchange begins….I shall settle deep into the earth, deeper than I do in sleep, and will not be lost. We are continuous with earth in all the particles of our physical being, as in our breathing we are continuous with sky.”

Electric Field
Electric Field
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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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The Cabin – More Creations

During the Pech Merle tour, (see previous post and my article ‘Time in the Limestone Hills’ in Toast Magazine) we were first taken into a cavern with a long tail of tree roots descending from roof to floor. It was like entering the cave of the World Tree with it’s roots in the Underworld.

“The world Tree is represented as a colossal tree which supports the heavens, thereby connecting the heavens, the terrestrial world, and, through its roots, the underworld.” (Wikipedia)

Below is a photo of what is thought to be the ‘root’ tree above ground in the grounds of Pech Merle;

The Oak With Cave Roots
The oak with roots in the cave.

Inspired by the idea of a tree with branches in the upper world and roots in the underworld, I’ve created a collage, World Tree:

World Tree
World Tree

It also features a Cosmic egg, butterflies and a jumble of other images, letter fradments, poems etc. I wanted to add insects as we saw so many at the cabin, especially cicadas.

Cicadas spend years below ground in a larval stage, only living a few months above ground as an adult. They also shed their skins periodically – I found a few exuvia attached to bark with all the intricate details of the live insect, even the sheen on the insect’s composite eye. This is another link with the ‘underworld’, and metamorphosis too.

Cicadas
Cicadas Rising

I’ve added bees and wasps to the collage as in Ancient Greece bees represented a link between our world and the ‘underworld’ as well. I found various pieces of paper wasp nest near the cabin – beautiful and intricate – which I might add to some creation (watch this space).

With the idea of bees and honey, I’ve played with the World Tree image in Photoshop. Here is a honey-coloured version:

World Tree
World Tree

This reminds me of the Mappa Mundi that I went to see in Hereford Cathedral, Hereford, a few years ago;

Mappa Mundi
Mappa Mundi is a Medieval map of the known world and dates from around 1300CE. Jerusalem was at the centre.

I like the idea of using maps in collage and plan to do more, perhaps adding some natural materials like eggshells, wasp nests and feathers. I’ll also have to do my own Mappa Mundi at some point :)

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Wild Woodland Wedding Invitations

Towards to end of last year a friend on Facebook, Meryl of Black Cat Floral Designs, suggested that I create some wedding invitations with woodland, wildlife or Goddess themes. It’s taken me some time to work out quite what’s required as there seem to be so many variations out there, I’m a bit in the dark about the whole subject.

Anyway, I’ve created some designs and had a few samples printed to see how they look.

Woodland Wedding Invitations
Woodland Wedding Invitations

They include Woodland Wildlife – with rabbits;

Woodland Wildlife Wedding Invitation
Woodland Wildlife Wedding Invitation

A springtime leafy one;

Spring Woodland Wedding Invitationn
Spring Woodland Wedding Invitationn

A ‘Goddess’ one;

Goddess Wedding invitation
Goddess Wedding invitation

and Two Deer one which might work best for an autumn wedding;

Two Deer Wedding Invitation
Two Deer Wedding Invitation

They are currently simple and unfolded on stiff white card but I plan to make some ivory ones on folded card.

Based in Chester, Meryl creates wonderful things with flowers for any occasion. See below and check out the galleries on her website.

Black Cat Floral Creation
Black Cat Floral Designs bridal creation.
Black Cat Floral Designs
Black Cat Floral Designs bridal creation.

I’m hoping to create a page on this website with more details and options soon. In the meantime if you’re interested, contact me here.

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City Gardens and the Dawn Chorus

For the March issue of Brighton’s Preston Pages magazine my piece, Dawn Chorus in the City was featured along with the illustration below:

Dawn Chorus
Dawn Chorus
Dawn Chorus in the City Article
Dawn Chorus in the City – article in the Preston Pages

The Preston Pages’ Dawn Chorus in the City was a shorter version of a piece that was originally published on the City Creatures blog and which I’ve now added to my other nature writing website, From the Fields and Woods. I wrote the piece last year and there have since been changes to the garden my flat looks down on.

In January our next door neighbour had some of our trees cut because she wants more light in her garden. i felt very sad about this and requested that as little as possible be cut so the garden was still a wildlife haven. Below you can see photos of before the cut and after. I’m used to it now but the trend in cutting down city trees saddens me whether they are in the street or in peoples’ gardens. I’m all in favour of a bit of wilful neglect so wildlife can flourish in peace – and I mean birds, foxes, badgers or whatever (I draw the line at rats).

View from my balcony
View from my balcony in winter
Garden after tree cutting
Garden after tree cutting

It’s not so bad!

Anyway, I’d like to create a Dawn Chorus artwork beyond an illustration. So far I’ve created a candle lantern:

Dawn Chorus Lantern
Dawn Chorus Lantern

Here is an MP3 recording of the dawn chorus from my balcony:

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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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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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Ulmus Memoriam

There is a new, temporary, sculpture in the park near me, a gateway or screen, a memorial to the Elm tree. It stands beside the two of the oldest elms on Earth, the Preston Twins of Preston Park, Brighton.

Ulmus Memorium

The sculpture is carved from elms felled in the River Cuckmere valley last year due to Dutch Elm Disease. Elm trees around the country were wiped out in their millions from the 1970s by the disease. In Brighton effective control measures were introduced, so it is the last stronghold in Britain for mature English elms. There is still a wonderful variety of elm trees here, originally planted by the Victorians and Edwardians.

Ulmus Memorium

The sculpture is the creation of wood sculptor Keith Pettit and part of a project called Ulmus Maritime organized by The Conservation Foundation along the South coast. He created the screen as a memorial to this fated tree.

On the front are flying birds – rooks – a copse of Winter elms and a sun. Along the bottom are the words:

“Ad gigantes augustos olim per terram nostrum pervagatos, nunc defectos” which means “A memorial to the lost, majestic giants once spreading through our land.

On the other side are swirlly clouds like waves and the hopeful words:

“The last bastion, shielded so future generations may still know of them.”

One of the Preston Twins

The Elm tree had its own nymph in Greek mythology. She was one of eight tree spirits or Hamadryads and her name was Ptelea. Elm trees feature in ancient literature including the Iliad and the Aeneid, where in the Underworld there is found the Stygian Elm of the River Styx or Elm of Dreams:

Spreads in the midst her boughs and agéd arms
an elm, huge, shadowy, where vain dreams, ’tis said,
are wont to roost them, under every leaf close-clinging.

And finally here is a link to a lovely poem, ‘The English Elms’ by Carol Ann Duffy.

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Working on a New Booklet

Drawing desk
My makeshift desk where I work. I like to sit on the floor rather than at a table.

I seem to be continuing the woods and trees theme this year with my new booklet. This time it’s a story, a kind of folktale and I like to describe it as a “tale from the forest” and it’s called The Memory Tree. It is taking time though, already I have worked on several drafts and done many pictures – some for a colour version which I’ve decided to shelve for the moment.

However, I thought I’d show one or two pictures from the tale, a colour spread of a forest scene and it’s equivalent in black and white (the one I’ll use for the book) and a picture of the main character, a girl named Echo.

Night Scene in Colour

Night Scene Black and White

Girl in Leaves

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While she slumbered, a dream came to Echo, a dream of tree spirits and creatures she had never seen, watching, waiting, spying and humming in the darkness around her. It was a dream too, of forgetfulness, her tree, her garden, her parents and her past seeped away into the darkness as she slept.

Trees, woods and forests are so important to me. I need to take frequent trips out to the woods and it has been particularly lovely walking out in the Autumn woods recently, just before the storms hit and the blustery weather made its debut. Here is a favourite tree at Markstakes Common where we walked recently. It’s a large, spreading oak that’s been climbed in and well loved over time. All the woodland and forest visits I’ve made around the world – from woods like this to rainforests in Costa Rica – are distilled into my little story making the forest in it a lush, fictious kingdom from anywhere and nowhere, a forest of my imagination.

Oak at Markstakes Common

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VIRGIN Film

This is becoming another year of trees for me – and for others too. I came across a brief video about women and trees made by Megan Hollingsworth. Megan is the creator of Extinction Witness. She is a poet, writer, dancer, mother and compassion activist. She feels passionately about stopping the destruction of large forest trees and has set out to create a seven minute film that explores this destruction and how it relates to her healing journey following childhood incest.

“VIRGIN is a 7-minute film that tells the stories of grandfather tree, a giant sequoia cut for show in 1853, and a woman healing from early childhood incest in 2013. The film uses poetry in the form of spoken word, dance, imagery, and song to weave these stories through to the roots of violence toward all that shines with grace.”

To help fund the production of the film VIRGIN and find out more go here.

I have been working on my own mini video that involves trees, woods and movement. Coming soon!

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