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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
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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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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