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To the Forest Ball and Papercut Dresses

Back in 2016 I learnt about an intrigueing 17th century dress hauled up from a shipwreck off the coast of Holland. Apparently it belonged to the Countess of Roxburghe, lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. It’s a romantic story that you can read about here. From then, I decided I’d like to do an art project centred around a dress, something that has been done many times before.

17th century shipwreck dress
17th century shipwreck dress.

I forgot about the idea until it was rekindled by a visit to see the paper dresses of Stephanie Smart at both Danny House, ‘Maison de Papier‘, in 2017 and Firle Place, The Regency Wardrobe, last year. (Firle Place was where the film Emma was filmed.) Here is a photo of one of the dresses in Danny House:

Paper dress by Stephanie Smart
Paper dress as part of the exhibition ‘Maison de Papier’ by Stepanie Smart at Danny House.

You weren’t allowed to take photos of the dresses at Firle Place, but I managed to take a general scene. You can see photos from all exhibitions on Stephanie Smart’s website.

Paper dresses in ‘The Regency Wardrobe’ exhibition by Stephanie Smart at Firle Place.

I’m always curious about paper art. There are other paper dresses, dress illustrations and paper objects made by different artists that I like. Check out Marina Terauds‘ dress illustrations here and artist Chris Lines’ mixed media dresses.

I like the idea of dresses and stories, dresses and words, sea mottled dresses, dresses underwater… the latter reminds me of the tragic drowning of Sarah d’Avigdor-Goldsmid, depicted in the sea by Chagall in the beautiful windows of Tudeley Church, which I have written about before.

I decided, as usual, to do an altered book. I reached out to the sea for inspiration, but nothing returned to me. I’ve been too embedded in the woods and forests, too much with trees, so trees had to be involved. I started the book last autumn, but it wasn’t going quite as I wanted it to. After much experimenting with folding paper to create a paper dress that could be folded into the altered book, I decided the result was a bit too similar to a gaudy Spanish souvenir doll in a flamenco dress :) I stuck with it though. I’ve used gold pen and gold paint on the papercut pages along with coloured inks. Here is To the Forest Ball altered book on a stand made out of a metal coathanger:

To the Forest Ball Altered Book
To the Forest Ball Altered Book

And here are a few of the inside pages with a lot of gold brambles and blue, dusky trees:

To the Forest Ball will be available in my Etsy shop and website shop soon.

I hesitated a lot while working on this book, feeling ambiguous about the dress. I don’t wear dresses myself, but over the years I’ve found myself illustrating women in long, old fashioned dresses.

I embarked on a picture that will be made into a card. I’ve called it Waiting for Rain because the woman is holding out her hand. I thought that I’d work on paper collaged with brown paper using pen and ink, gold paint and metallic inks. I also wanted to pattern the dress with a bramble design. The drawing is size A3. It shimmers in the light:

Waiting for Rain
Waiting for Rain – mixed media on paper
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St Mark’s Church Murals

We managed to get away for a couple of nights to the Hampshire/Surrey border. There we discovered a church with some beautiful murals painted about 100 years ago. The artist was Kitty Milroy (1885 – 1966), a woman local to the Upper Hale, Farnham area. When we visited, a friendly woman was about to hold a mum’s and toddlers’ play group. She said she had been aware of the murals all her life, but it was only last year that they were restored to their present state.

St Mark's Church mural
St Mark’s Church mural – the left side.

The left hand side shows figures standing beneath apple trees. Each one has a symbolic name. From left to right there is Showers and Sun united by a rainbow, then Moon and Clouds. Each of the figures stands squarely and was based on a local person.

On the right hand side there are a further four figures; Waters, Summer, Winter and Winds. I like how, at the bottom of Winds, there are wood anenomes depicted, woodland flowers we are trying to grow in the garden. They’re flowering around now.

St Mark's Church mural
St Mark’s Church mural – right hand side.

I like the pastel colours – especially the luminous, dusk blue of the sky and the glowing corn golds – and the delicate way the murals are painted. I also like how the figures are in natural surroundings. They remind me of the art of Watts Chapel (see Churches, Chapels and Frescoes) and were created around the same time, the time of the British Art Nouveau Movement.

Below the paintings of the figures are smaller paintings, quatrefoils (images shaped like a four-leafed clover) depicting some local and natural scenes – Crooksbury Hill, Crescent Moon, Stars of Heaven, Fire and Heat and others. I like the symbolism and the references to places local to the church.

St Mark's Church murals
St Mark’s Church murals – around the windows and altar.

The murals are inspiring. I have plans to paint the inside walls of our shed with a mural when it gets warm enough to sit outside. I can’t do as good a job as Kitty, but I can try. That will be a future post :)

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Nest Project

Nest Oracle Card
Nest Oracle Card – the deck is growing!

I could tell you about how grim the start of my year was and how, after one thing and then another, I caught Covid and am now recovering. Covid wasn’t so bad, but…enough about that. I’ll tell you instead about the Nest Project that I’ve been working on.

It’s time for nests. I’ve been watching a blackbird looking for suitable nesting sites in the garden and I’ve seen a crow diligently prising off twigs from one of our elder bushes for a nest in a tall tree a few doors down. I love finding nests from previous seasons, their intricacy intrigues me.

I recently went to an exhibition called Undercurrents by Louise McCurdy and Steve Geliot. It was about the starlings on the Palace Pier and their murmurations. Here is a photo from the exhibition of a giant starling’s nest. I love the interwoven flowers.

Nest in undercurrents Exhibition
Nest in Undercurrents Exhibition at the Phoenix Arts space, Brighton

Apparently flowers and bark have aromatic chemicals so if woven into a nest they can fumigate it and deter parasites.

I’ve got out of the library, Nests by Susan Ogilvy. The book is gorgeous with lovely pink/cream pages and her watercolour paintings are exquisite. Here is one of her wren’s nests made of fine twigs, grasses, moss, skeleton leaves, feathers and hair:

Susan Ogilvy's Wren's Nest
Susan Ogilvy’s Wren’s Nest

And here is a photo of a wren’s nest I found in the garden last year, deep in the ivy (photographed after the wrens had fledged and left). You can see that the materials are very similar:

Wren's Nest

Below is my feeble attempt at painting an old mud-lined song thrushes’ nest as a still life:

song thrush nest in watercolour
Song thrushes’ nest in watercolour, mud-lined with dry moss and grasses.

I’ve been working on my Altered Sketchbook and have added the next section, section 2, a nest in the undergrowth. I’ve based it on a willow warbler’s nest, which is typically domed and made close to the ground. I’ve made a short video showing the whole of the altered sketchbook so far, including the nest section:

Here are some images of the Nest section (click on the images to see larger versions):

I’ve started working on a Nest nature booklet/zine. So far I’ve drawn blackbirds at their nest in the undergrowth:

Blackbirds at Their Nest
Blackbirds at Their Nest for my new nature booklet/zine.

In Wolstonbury Woods, just outside Brighton, there’s a large circle of sticks in the shape of a beautiful, human-sized nest:

Nest sculpture Wolstonbury Hill
Nest sculpture Wolstonbury Hill

Who made the nest I had no idea, until I did a bit of research and discovered the website of artist Flick Ferdinando. You can see more photos of the nest and a film about it on her website.

I’ve collected together images of some of the nests I’ve found over the years – a lesser black-backed gulls’ nest; a dormouse’s summer nest; an unknown nest with woodpigeon and blackbird eggshells; a long-tailed tits’ nest; a blackbird’s nest(?) in a hornbeam; a wren’s nest. Each one has a story, told very  briefly below each image.

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Papercut Concertina Card – The Wood at Dusk

Dusk, when the edges of all things blur. A time of mauve and moonlight, of shapeshiftings and stirrings, of magic…

I have a new concertina card, The Wood at Dusk. I wanted to create one that was also papercut, giving the card a window on to a layered wood at sunset.

Here it is:

The Wood at Dusk papercut concertina card
The Wood at Dusk papercut concertina card.

On one side of the card there are badgers beneath the trees, through which one can see a deer against the sunset. On the other side there are deer, a fox, a flying tawny owl and a hedgehog.

The back of The Wood at Dusk papercut concertina card.
The back of The Wood at Dusk papercut concertina card.

The Wood at Dusk papercut concertina card.

The Wood at Dusk papercut concertina card.

the Wood at Dusk papercut concertina card.

I went into the woods yesterday evening just after sunset. The sky was pink blue blending to flame red. It was still and the air was a bit cold. I saw no deer or badgers, but the blackbirds, song thrushes and robins were singing, and the odd mistle thrush flew across the land as it descended into shadow. As I sauntered back, the moon, big, bright, white and full followed me through the trees – Wolf Moon, Old Moon, Ice Moon. I think I’ll call it Chalk Moon – it was so white – or Watching Moon, the first full moon of the year.

Sunset at High Park Corner
Sunset at High Park Corner Wood, just north of Brighton.

From my winter retreat I need to revisit the woods and, once again, feel a sense of belonging.

The Wood at Dusk is available in my Etsy shop.

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