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Doodling with Gold

I’m playing at being King Midas, gold-fingered, doodling with gold paint. I was very grateful to be given some blank notebooks for Christmas by a friend who knows how much I value them for writing my diary. I decided to decorate the covers with pen and gold paint.

Gold Tree Diary
Gold Tree Diary

I found it interesting to discover that Gold came into being in supernova explosions and by the clash of neutron stars. It’s been present in the dust of the universe from which the solar system formed. A lovely, mind-blowing thought on a wintry day.

I first started doodling tall, lanky, gold trees against a dark, starry sky on one book. Then, on another, I doodled brambles surrounding a fox contained within an ouroborus, that snake circling to bite it’s own tale, an ancient symbol of alchemy meaning infinity, beginnings and ends. In every end there is a new beginning. A fox had to appear somewhere on a book as it seems to be one of my totem animals.

Gold Fox Diary

It’s the end of the year and I’m not sad to say goodbye to it. It’s been a mixed year of trying to make things work, disconnection from my best self and minor struggles. But I’m not complaining, I’m grateful in many ways.

Recently I’ve been wanting to make a deck of oracle cards, so I have started in the same gold vein. Here is one – again with an ouroborus, but this time containing a mountain. It signifies distant lands, dreams, hopes and contemplation for me. I would like to know your thoughts about it’s meaning too.

Oracle card

I’ve blended gold acrylic paint with pearlescent acrylic inks in mauve, red and blue. The photo features a fossilised mollusc I was given for Christmas by my sister (a nautilus or an ammonite?). It’s amazing to think that it’s the beautiful trace left by a beautiful creature that, no doubt, lived in a tropical sea millions of years ago. Treasure – and far more precious than gold to me.

Shell fossil

I’ll buy some more kraft card and continue to make more oracle cards as and when I feel inspired, until I have a deck. I’ll let the images come to me. If any of you have ideas, I’d love to hear of them and then I’ll try to capture them on cards.

Anyway, wishing you a very happy 2022.

Diaries illustrated with gold paint

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Deep in the Winter – a Christmas Concertina Card

Just a quick post to say I have a new Winter/Christmas concertina card, Deep in the Winter.

Here’s the front side:

Deep in Winter concertina card
Deep in the Winter concertina card – front.
Deep in Winter
Deep in the Winter concertina card – front.

And here’s the other side:

Deep in the Winter concertina card – back.
Deep in Winter concertina card
Deep in the Winter concertina card – back.

Featured are deer, a squirrel, a robin, a fox, snowy trees and downland beneath a full moon – a Cold Moon (December), a Wolf Moon (January) or a Snow Moon (February) I guess.

It seems strange to be talking about snow and winter at the moment as it’s not that cold here in Brighton and certainly not snowy. I hope it isn’t a really cold winter when it comes!

The card is available in my Etsy shop and Reflections website shop.

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Altered Sketchbook – Section 1

I’m working on an’altered’ hardback sketchbook, which differs from any I’ve done before. One difference is that every page is illustrated, the backs of the pages as well as the fronts. Someone will be able to open the book anywhere and see a double page spread illustration with papercut work.

The other difference is that most of the book will be illustrated and cut – not just the central 12 pages. I stick two pages together between spreads for strength and because I like to papercut thick paper. I intend to make about five sections, each with a different scene. It’ll be like five books in one – and will be a lot of work!

So far I’ve done the first section – a night wood scene with badgers and owls beneath a crescent moon:

The first spread of my altered sketchbook.
The first spread of my altered sketchbook.
The second spread of my altered sketchbook.
The second spread of my altered sketchbook.
Spread three of my altered sketchbook.
Spread three of my altered sketchbook. Note the reverse side of the badgers :)
Spread four of my altered sketchbook.
Spread four of my altered sketchbook. Note the backs of the owls :)

Sections to come? Perhaps, deer, foxes, nests… I’m not out of the woods yet!

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Painted Diary Box

I was looking at the artwork of Azul Thomé and dreaming about how I’d like to be able to paint like her. I thought for a bit. I have no real patience going on a course and, besides, usually I’m only really interested in what I can create from myself, whatever it’s like. I’m not interested in painting like anyone else. One only gets better by trying, by working at it. So I got out my acrylics and started decorating a couple of diaries and a piece of bark rounded like a bowl:

Decorated diaries
Decorated diaries and circle of bark.

Pleased that the colour had come back into my life, I thought, if I decorate diaries, why not the wooden boxes I keep them in?

I have three wooden boxes from Hobbycraft and The Works that I store some of my diaries in. I dived in and started painting the outside and the inside of one of them and varnishing it. Here is the result, a monstrous, pink, shiny box painted with a tree, of course, and roots on the outside …

diary box
Diary box.
Base of diary box
Base of diary box.

and a figure inside, the guardian of my diaries:

Inside diary box
Inside diary box showing the head and arms of a guardian goddess.

I wanted to paint the figure as a goddess. Then I added face paint and she began to look male. Perhaps the figure represents the sacred union of the Masculine and Feminine. Now though, I tend to think of her as a ‘she’, a woman of the Wild, Golden Sun and she’s discovered a nest (just as I like finding nests), a nest of memories, thoughts, dreams.

Diary box with diaries
Diary box with diaries.

My diaries are strangely special to me. They are what I’ll leave behind, as I have no children, even if my writing is just banal or drivel. The box is a sort of treasure chest and that reminds me of the grave goods of the Ancient Egyptians. I’m not really thinking of death and beyond though, I’m enjoying making creations and painting. I may be improving a bit I don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter to me at the moment. Now to work on my other two, wooden boxes…

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Rainforest Concertina Card

In my last post I said I was happy to be at home right now. That’s not exactly true. I spend a lot of time day dreaming about how I’d like to be elsewhere – often overseas, which is quite difficult right now with Covid and the climate crisis making one think twice about flying. I think about how much I would love to be in a rainforest and how much I would have loved to have been a tropical ecologist working in a rainforest, familiar with the birds, mammals, insects etc. That was my dream, or one of them. Still, it didn’t turn out that way. Now I draw forests, trees and rainforests instead, and I’ve just created a Rainforest Concertina card.

Rainforest concertina Card
Rainforest concertina card – day side.
Rainforest concertina card
Rainforest concertina card – night side.

The card shows a scene from a Central or South American rainforest (such as those in Costa Rica or Ecuador). One side is a day scene featuring coatimundis, snakes, monkeys, butterflies and, of course, trees. The other side shows a night scene featuring a jaguar, an oil bird, frogs, small mammals and a tapir. I haven’t seen a jaguar or tapir or even an oil bird, but I have seen coatimundis, capuchin monkeys and morpho butterflies when I was fortunate enough to visit rainforests in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Ecuador.

I don’t anticipate these cards will be as popular as the others, as not everyone has a passion for rainforest like me. Anyway, I wanted to make one. Rainforest concertina cards are available in my Etsy shop and soon my website shop.

Here is a little glimpse of a young caiman I saw on my trip to Ecuador quite a few years ago:

Caiman in Ecuador.
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Sketchbook Walks and My Diary Stump

It hasn’t been a particularly good summer. Right now I’m listening to the wind whipping around the garden, tossing the trees and moaning with an oceanic roar. Many leaves have come down and my courgettes lean over pathetically. They don’t stand much chance. I’m keeping home, partly because the weather hasn’t invited me out, but also, Kevin has hurt his knee so is confined to the house. That’s OK though, staying close to home is what I want right now.

However, this spring and summer, when the weather has been good, I’ve taken a few solo walks from home into the countryside around Brighton. I thought it might be a good idea to document my walks with photos and notes, but also more impressionistically with a sketchbook. I’m in awe of some people’s sketchbooks – how I’d love to be able to make a good one.

I found a slim A4 sketcbook in my collection of bits and pieces and have decorated the cover. I’ve used a map print-out – of one of my walking routes – builders’ scrim, acrylic paint and stitching. It’s a rougher. looser job than I usually do, but I’ve enjoyed doing it.

I’m filling it fairly randomly with whatever captures my attention on my walks. For example, I walked from Blackbrook Wood, just north of the village of Ditchling, via footpaths to Markstakes Common, Knowlands Wood and finally to the village of Barcombe Cross – a walk of about ten miles or so. Woods, Downs, fields, sheep, villages and more woods.

Walking along the south side of Markstakes Common along Balneath Lane, I was curious about the hornbeams bordering the path and wondered whether they once demarked a field boundary. Ancient field and wood boundaries are interesting, often they were planted with trees – especially coppiced trees – whose roots interwove, such as hornbeams, a native of southern England.

I returned to the lane to look at and sketch some of the trees. I love intertwined roots…

Markstakes Common hornbeams sketchbook
Sketchbook Markstakes Common – my sketch of hornbeam trees entwined along the lane bank and a sketch of a tawny owl feather I found there.

I might write more about my walks another time and possibly post more sketchbook pages as I do them. For now, I’m enjoying diary writing. I have a stump at the bottom of the garden near the fox earth I call my ‘Diary Stump’. It’s in among the vegetation – mainly brambles and cleavers – in among the green. I sit listening to birds, watching bees and the clouds skud over, bathing in green.

Scientists say women see more greens than men and we both see more greens than any other colour. Is this a legacy of our deep past in the forest?

Here is the route down the garden and a photo of my ‘Diary Stump’:

On the diary stump
On the diary stump in spring.

Diary poem

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The Forked Forest Path at Fabrica Gallery

The Forked Forest Path
The Forked Forest Path – Olafur Eliasson at Fabrica Gallery

This week I visited Olafur Eliasson‘s The Forked Forest Path exhibition at Fabrica Gallery. I walked into a tunnel of cross-hatched branches. Spotlights threw light on to the branches, highlighting their skeletal forms, while sunlight beamed in through high windows creating square pools of dappled light on the flagstone floor. There was a fairytale ambience – I thought of witches’ brooms and caught the faint smell of dusty earth, old barns, country museums, hay; the smell of time holding still, memories just out of reach. The exhibition has echoes of a stage set awaiting a moment of drama. It holds a presence, something to kindle the flame of imagination. I followed the path to a fork where I chose to go right.

Back in April I joined an online discussion about the exhibition. After watching a video of the artwork it was interesting to hear other peoples’ thoughts. There was talk of a dreamlike experience, of fairytales. Someone mentioned a portal. We discussed holloways, winter branches, the impoversishment of nature, the space as a sanctuary in the hectic life of the city and the sanctity of nature within an old sacred space. We contrasted the exhibition forest with a real one, noting the lack of movement – of dancing leaves – and colour. I couldn’t help but think of ruins reclaimed by nature that I’ve come across occasionally.

Chapel ruin, Norfolk
Chapel ruin, Norfolk

On our April trip to Dorset, we came to a similar fork in a woodland path:

Forked path at Martin Down NR
Forked path at Martin Down NR

Left or right?

To accompany exhibitions, Fabrica’s volunteers put together a magazine, The Response. I submitted a few relevant images of artwork with a forest theme (as I’m so into forests and woods!) before I realised the magazine is meant just for volunteers. If they use my images I think I owe them some volunteering.

Bark and moss covered diary
A diary covered with natural materials found in the woods – bark, moss, lichen, green woodpecker feathers, an acorn cup.
Forest Painting
Forest – acrylic gold and bronze trees washed over with blue. A recycled painting – can you see the wave-like figure in the landscape?
Forest Path
Forest Path – pen and ink. A similar illustration to the one on my website header.
the Forest Forager Altered Book
The Forest Forager Altered Book. I have nearly finished it. I wanted to make it a night scene, but then I thought ‘Who forages at night – apart from badgers?’

Click on the images for larger versions.

I am contributing to the exhibition in a different way – they are selling my concertina cards and sepia cards in the Fabrica shop – and they’ve been selling very well.

Cards in Fabrica shop
Cards in Fabrica shop

There have been some interesting events associated with the exhibition. Check out the blog of Steve Geliot, who is a current artist in residence at Fabrica. He has an interest in nighttime forays into the woods just outside Brighton.

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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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