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Cuckoos, Woods and Earthworks

Chase Wood
Chase Wood.

It was so good to get away. I’d been in Brighton a bit too long and unable to break free of it because of the lockdown restrictions on travel. Last week we drove to Dorset and spent three nights in a lovely, spacious artist’s studio in an area of rolling hills, earthworks and rookeries. The birdsong was amazing. Two chilly mornings I stumbled out of my dreams at 5.40am on to the frosted grass of the garden to record the dawn chorus:

Chaffinches, blackbirds, robins, a pheasant, rooks – we were beneath a rookery. I’ve wondered what it must be like to sleep beneath a rookery ever since I read about Roger Deakin sleeping out in Wildwood. Rooks do quieten down at night.

We watched the moon waxing, becoming bolder in its silence with each passing night as it loomed towards full; a pink supermoon, a blossoming planet. Now it’s time has passed and it’s waning once again.

One morning I set off alone up Pentridge Hill above the village. ‘Pentridge’ means Hill of the Wild Boar; from pen for hill and twrch for boar in the old Celtic language of Britain.

Pentridge Hill
Approaching Pentridge Hill. From the top there are sweeping views of farmland and woods with the occasional brilliant yellow triangle of oilseed rape.

The wind had a distinct chill that made my eyes stream. Far off in the pines ahead of me I heard a cuckoo. It seemed to beckon, so I followed. I followed it to the western edge of the copse of trees, through gorse and bracken. I scanned the tree branches all around. Cuckoo, cuckoo now came from a tree along the southern edge. I followed the call up, along, over and through, weak sunshine sending out long, shape-shifting shadows.

Pentridge Hill
Spring morning shadows on Pentridge Hill

It was close by but I couldn’t see it. With the wind blowing and the light wavering through the branches, the call of the cuckoo now haunted me from the east. When I walked to the east of the hill it sounded from another copse of trees, far away. The elusive bird!

They say the call of the cuskoo means spring is on its way. For some, hearing the cuckoo for the first time in the year is a sign of increasing wealth, especially if you turn some coins in your pocket. ( I didn’t have any coins in my pocket, only a mangled feather.) For others it is a more omenous sign of impending storms, hunger or death. Apparently the 28th April is known as ‘cuckoo day’ in Cornwall. There seem to be plenty of other ‘cuckoo days’ too.

Pentridge Hill was the site of ancient Mesolithic and Neolithic settlements. There is so much evidence of ancient people in the whole area of Cranborne Chase – long barrows, tumuli, a cursus, Roman roads and dykes. We had some fascinating conversations with the studio owner, who told us about the local archaeology and archaeologists in the area. While out walking she said she’d found a Neolithic flint axe head. Treasure indeed!

The studio and garden are full of artistic touches – life drawings, paintings and sculpted heads. The owner kindly gave me a roe buck skull to add to my collection and for me to draw. I made a few other natural finds.

We went for walks in Garston Wood, a RSPB nature reserve known for its marsh tits and spotted flycatchers. We heard coal tits calling, sounding like squeesy bottles. We then walked on to Chase Wood.

The next day we visited nearby Martin Down Nature Reserve with its strange humps and scrubby down, its skylarks and wheatears with their flashing white rumps. It felt ancient, but I couldn’t really put my finger on why. Perhaps it was its old, worn, threadbare carpet look. We walked a little way along Bokerly Dyke and tried to locate Grim’s Ditch, a prehistoric earthwork, but only found an area of grass a slightly different shade of green to indicate where it could have been.

I’m now thinking about the land above and below, its folds and seams, its hidden treasures, its deep past, its future, it’s bones.

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A Surprise in the Post

Sacred Time by Christine Valters Paintner

Look what arrived in the post today – Sacred Time by Christine Valters Paintner, a book that I illustrated last year! It came with a lovely letter from the editor of Ave Maria press.

I was very pleased to receive it. I’ll treasure it.

To find out more about Sacred Time and to see all the inside illustrations, check out Christine’s website. There you can find out about her other books, writings and other work. If you’re interested in buying a print of any of the pen and ink illustrations, contact me.

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Night Wood Nature Zine/Booklet

Finally done, my Night Wood nature zine/booklet. I’m pleased with how it’s turned out. I decided to call it ‘Night Wood’ instead of ‘Night Forest’ because I started thinking about what the words ‘forest’ and ‘wood’ mean to me.

Night Wood Book
Night Wood nature zine/booklet.

The word ‘forest’ conjures up a vast area of trees, sweeping over the landscape into the distance. On the other hand, when I think of a wood, I imagine a smaller, more intimate place of trees. So, my booklet title is Night Wood.

Night Wood Book
Night Wood nature zine/booklet.

I do like the word ‘forest’ though. It is the Old French word, ‘forest’, which later became ‘forêt’. Forest probably came from the Late Latin words forestem silvam meaning ‘the outside woods’, or the woods beyond the fenced park.

The word ‘wood’ comes from the Old English word wudu meaning a collection of trees. Wudu may come from the Old Norse word viðr or the Swedish word ved, meaning tree or wood. Another possible source is the Welsh word gwydd, meaning trees. This website mentions a few other interesting forest words including Silvanus, the Roman God of woods and fields from which we get ‘silviculture’. Apparently Silvanae were goddesses who accompanied Silvanus… (I can see some further research and pictures that might materialise).

My Night Wood nature zine/booklet is full of wildlife, including badgers, deer and an owl, beneath the moon. All special to me. I like getting lost in intricate detail. There isn’t a story, just a few words – enough to set the scene and tie the book together. The book is A5 size and comes with a black, C5 tie and washer envelope. I like to think of it as a special gift, more than a card, a little book to treasure for anyone who loves woods, trees and wildlife as much as I do. It’s available in my Etsy shop and my Reflections shop.

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New Forest Book

Working in the sunlight
Working in the sunlight

I woke before dawn to see a crescent moon high in the southern sky. Now it’s a beautiful bright cold day with frost on the lawn and on the rooftops. I am longing to get out into the woods, but the car is broken, I’ve put my back out and we’re in lockdown. I’ll have to wait. Instead I’ve found a patch of sunlight to work on my new ‘forest’ book.

This book is about the forest at night. It’ll be titled Forest or Night Forest and will be mostly made up of illustrations with minimal text. It’ll be similar to a zine, but I like to think it’ll be more than a zine – I’m printing it on good quality, 160gsm paper.

So far I’ve drawn three two-page spreads of nocturnal forest scenes. One is of a nightjar flying at the edge of a forest on an early summer evening:

Nightjar in pen and ink
Nightjar scene in my new forest book. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Nightjars are such special birds, I have a bit of a thing about them.

The other two-page spread is of a family of badgers in a forest glade. The full moon has risen higher, it’s bold and bright in a dark, starlit sky:

Badger scene
A badger family scene in my new forest book. Click on the image for a larger version.

I intend to make limited edition prints of these illustrations on white, linen paper. I’m hoping the printers I use are able to take on print jobs during this lockdown. Meanwhile, I’ll plan the other pages in the book. These will feature owls, deer, woodmice, moths and possibly bats.

I have a bit of a thing about forests. I guess I’m a nemophilist – from the Greek nemos, which means grove, and philos, which means affection. That also means I’m a dendrophile, a lover of trees. And then I’m also a bit of a nyctophile, someone who loves night and darkness. Interesting, but right now I love sunshine and am looking forward to the light and warmth of spring.

Flatropers Wood
Flatropers Wood, East Sussex – a bit of a favourite.

Note: A4 digital prints of both of these illustrations are now available in my Reflections shop and Etsy shop.

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Deer in the Night Wood – a Printed Papercut Book

Imagine it’s all quiet, except for the rustlings of woodmice and voles on the forest floor. Listen. In a shadowy tree top close by, sits a tawny owl hunched in his ruffle of feathers. Soon he’ll call to his mate. Be still and sense the forest; its blend of blue shadow, its lonesome shafts of bone moonlight outlining naked branches in shimmering white. Watch as a badger ventures out, rummaging in the leaf litter for earthworms beneath the tall oaks and beeches. Then a hind appears at the edge of the trees…

Printed papercut book
The inside cover of Deer in the Night Wood, my printed papercut book. Click on the image to enlarge.

I’ve created an altered book inspired printed book, Deer in the Night Wood, because I was curious about whether it would work. There are no words in my book, the paragraph above just sums up the atmosphere of the night forest I had in my mind when I was drawing the inside cover.

The book is made of six sheets of card, including the cover, which is in colour.

Printed papercut book
Making a printed papercut book – a sheet ready for cutting.

My pen and ink illustrations are printed on both sides of the card in mirror image, so the scene is on the front and back of each page. The printer did his best to align them, but it’s very difficult to make the fit exact.

Page from printed papercut book
The reverse side of a page showing papercut.

I papercut each sheet separately and folded them in half. Then I trimmed off the edges of each folded sheet – except for the cover – because the pages creep out beyond the edge of the cover and I didn’t adjust the size of them before printing. Finally I sewed the pages together with two stitches along the spine with a strong needle and embroidery thread.

Here is the finished thing, handsewn and slightly smaller than A5 in size:

Printed papercut book
My printed papercut Deer in the Night Wood book.
Printed papercut book
Printed papercut book, Deer in the Night Wood, open to show the layers.
Printed papercut book
Printed papercut book with a black string and washer envelope.

I had a few of these books printed as gifts for my family. Each book may be printed, but the papercutting is by hand, which is quite a bit of work. I’m wondering whether they would sell? I’m not really sure. What do you think? Perhaps they are just meant as gifts, my gifts.

There is more night forest stuff to come…

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Altered Book Commissions 2020

I’ve had my head down working on projects and not getting out as much as I’d have liked. It’s also been rather wet. Soon, I hope to have one or two new things to show that I’m working on. Meanwhile, I thought I’d put up a few of the altered book commissions that I’ve done this year.

Dragon in the Forest Altered Book

I was contacted and asked to make an altered book inspired by Terry Brooks’ magical kingdom. I haven’t read any Terry Brooks’ books, but I researched a bit and, along with a few guidelines from my customer, came up with the following:

Dragon in the Woods altered book
Altered book inspired by Terry Brooks’ magical kingdom.

There’s a dragon hiding behind the trees and a ruin of a house.

The Wintry Wood Altered Book

I was asked if I would make another Box of Delights altered book, this time based on the winter scenes in the story. It’s called The Wintry Wood. David Plaice gave me outlined drawings of what he wanted on each of the pages, apart from the last one which he said I could draw as I liked and make it a surprise. Below are three pages from the book…

… and a lovely video made by David Plaice of the book as a whole, with music by Ian Hughes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but The left hand pages of the book were inspired by my 2017 Romanian bear seeking excursions.

Deer in the Forest Altered Book

Finally, I worked on a pocket sized sketchbook and created Deer in the Forest. It wasn’t exactly a commission, until the first copy went missing in the US postal system and I was asked if I’d make it again:

Pocket Altered Book
Two Deer Pocket Altered Book

Two Deer Pocket Altered Book

I hope to share some more forest-related artwork soon.

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The Woodland Edge Concertina Card

Light through trees

On fine days this autumn, I’ve tried to get out into the woods and see some beautiful colours. Autumn is my second favourite season after spring, so when I decided to create a coloured concertina card, I thought I’d be guided by the colour around me.

When I think of woods, I often think of deer – and sometimes see them too – so I’ve created an autumnal, woodland scene with deer on the front and, on the reverse side, I’ve drawn a field with some hares. I’ve called it ‘The Woodland Edge‘ because so much happens at the edge of things! :)

Here is a photo of the deer side:

The Woodland Edge Concertina Card
The Woodland Edge Concertina Card – front.

And here is the hare side:

The Woodland Edge Concertina Card
The Woodland Edge Concertina Card – back.

Here are the full length images (click on the images to make them bigger):

the Woodland Edge
The Woodland Edge Concertina Card.

I’ve used pen and ink with coloured pencils. I would have liked to have used coloured inks, but the water would have made the black ink run and I prefer to use my Art pen for this sort of drawing. I think the colour has worked.

The Woodland Edge Concertina Card
The Woodland Edge Concertina Card.

This card, along with my other greetings cards, is available in my Etsy shop and in my Reflections shop.

They’ll be more cards soon. :)

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Sacred Time by Christine Valters Paintner

Sacred Time

Earlier this year I was contacted by author Christine Valters Paintner, who asked me whether I’d like to do some illustrations for her new book, Sacred Time: Embracing an Intentional Way of Life. Of course I would! I was very pleased to get involved.

Christine describes herself as a poet, a hermit and a mystic. She is also Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a photographer, spiritual director, pilgrim guide and teacher. Originally from the US, she now lives in Ireland.

Sacred Time takes the reader through the various phases of time, as marked out by the breath, by the hours of the day, the days of the week, etc. and by the different stages of life. It is a beautifully reflective book with poems and practices that encourage us to slow down, to contemplate and consider how we spend our time. We become more aware of our own path through life and the rhythms and cycles of nature that can give perspective as well as serve as anchors and inspiration.

I illustrated each of the eight chapter headings in pen and ink. Below are a couple of my illustrations. Click on the images to see larger versions.

The journey through the Hours is a poetic and symbolic journey through the movements of the seasons in each day. Each moment of the day has a certain kind of quality and invitation and we are invited to make those conscious and to live our lives in response to them.

From Chapter Two: Rhythms of the Day

You can see all my illustrations on Christine’s website here.

Sacred Time: Embracing an Intentional Way of Life comes out in February 2021. Keep an eye on Christine’s website Abbey of the Arts for updates and check it out for information about her programs, poetry and other books.

Here is Christine’s page on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble.

If you’re interested in buying a digital print of any of the images for Christine’s book, contact me.

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