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The Alchemist Altered Book

Recently I’ve been commissioned to do an interesting project, an altered book inspired by The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

I read the book back in the 90s when it was first translated into English. I regret giving my copy away as I’d like to reread it and it had a lovely cover. I tend to like any story about pilgrims, seekers or about following your dreams. I think the book appeals more to the young who have life ahead of them to explore and discover. I can’t remember much of the story but when I think of the book, deserts, sunsets, arches and sacred buildings come to mind.

I was given a few quotes from the book to inspire me. Here’s one:

Quote from The Alchemist
Quote from The Alchemist

For ideas I looked at Islamic arches with their typical patterns and found some images of Moroccan doorways I love:

Two Moroccan Doors
Two Moroccan Doors

Then I made some sketches and started work on a new special edition book of The Alchemist that I was sent which already had some beautiful illustrations.

Rough Sketch for Altered Book
Rough Sketch for Altered Book

Using watercolour pencils and gold acrylic paint I decided to embelish the top pages with a gold leaved vine and feature an archway based on an islamic arch on the second page layer. I was able to indulge my love of desert colours, the pinks, yellows, honey and sand colours. The lefthand side is a star filled night, the right, a beckoning sunset or sunrise – perhaps representing hope, dreams and the future. A pathway leads towards the sun.

The Alchemist Altered Book
The Alchemist Altered Book
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Spirit Boat Project

I’ve been thinking about boats and the idea of a Shamanic boat. When I googled ‘shamanic boat’ I found a website about Finnish Shamanism, Spiritboatblogspot (which is very fascinating and worth checking out if you’re into shamanic practices.) I also found a link to the Living Shaman Museum and a workshop that took place by a ‘spirit boatist’/artist, Jennifer Ewing. Her work intrigues me. She started making boats when her father died to help her deal with her grief.

My Uncle Ken made boats – it’s one thing I remember about him. Sometimes boats make an impression on me and one such boat was the Vasa ship in the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. It has some lovely carvings of sea spirits, tritons and mermen decorating the sides:

Vasa Ship Mermen
Vasa Ship Mermen
Sea Spirit on the Vasa Ship
Sea Spirit on the Vasa Ship

Another boat that comes to mind is Grayson Perry‘s ship in The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman.

Grayson Perry's Ship
Grayson Perry’s Ship in The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, British Museum 2011.

I like boat ruins too and featured one in a previous post that’s supposed to be haunted.

There is something lovely about the idea of a container carrying you over the waters.

“At night I sleep and dream reed-lined, silt-laden dreams, drifting channels in my skiff, hugging the shallows, calm and sheltered from a ravaging sea beyond.”

I decided to embark on my own Spirit Boat project, making boats and putting night lights inside them before placing them into a river at dusk as another river project.

So I started by making a simple origami boat and covering it with pieces of a letter written to the river with my hopes and dreams, words and poems. (I tried to write in the language of the river!) I stuck a rabbit vertebrae in the bottom of the boat to hold a gull feather. This became my Boat of Words.

Origami Boat
Origami Boat made out of an old drawing of a fox I no longer wanted.
Boat of Words
Boat of Words

The second boat I covered with used coffee filter papers that were stained a nice, natural coffee brown. I sewed on to the sides rabbit bones with scrim twine and used a rabbit skull as a figurehead. This became my Boat of Bones. At last I have a use for the natural materials I’m always collecting!

All the materials have a story. I collected my rabbit skulls and bones during a visit to Morfa Dyffryn, an extensive stretch of sand dunes on the coast of Wales. We visited on a cold April day when the winds off the sea chilled us to the bone. It must be a harsh place to be a rabbit.

Boat of Bones
Boat of Bones

My third boat I covered in coffee filter papers and scrim and trimmed it with dried grasses that I’d collected from a basket making day last year. I put some sheep’s wool that I’d collected from the Downs on the first really sunny day in April. This is my Harvest Boat.

Agricultural Spirit Boat
Harvest Boat
Nest Boat
Nest Boat

Finally I covered a boat with dried, used teabag papers to give it a rustic, natural look. I then placed moss inside to finish off my Moss Boat.

Moss Boat
Moss Boat
Spirit Boats in Process
Spirit Boats in Process

In my boats I placed a night light.

Five Spirit Boats
Five Spirit Boats

One evening in July as the moon was waning, my partner Kevin and I set off for the River Ouse at Barcombe Mills where the river is gentle and accessible. It is a popular place by day; people have picnics and swim in the river. I have swum there once myself….

Swimming in the River Ouse
Swimming in the River Ouse – I can’t resist a bit of wild swimming when I get the opportunity!

We waited for dusk and then lit the night lights. I can’t help thinking the boats look like shoes! ( I think ‘shoes’ and then ‘footprints’ and have ideas for another project! Watch this space :) )

I slowly put the boats into the water and filmed them while Kevin took photos. When I looked at the footage I found it quite meditative, so I made the video below and set it to some deep, Tibetan chanting. You may be able to hear the odd chaffinch singing from the hedgerows.

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Making an Altered Book

I thought I’d document the process of making an altered book – my way!

Below are photo’s showing the process of making The Edge of the Wood altered book.

Second Hand Book
I start with a hardbacked second-hand book from a charity shop or found in the street.
Tools
My tools – scissors, a pencil and a cutting knife. Also needed are a glue stick, a piece of cardboard and white cartridge paper!
Opened book with Paper
I open the book roughly in the centre and glue a piece of cartridge paper across both sides with a glue stick.
Image 3 Showing Paper Stuck in
Showing the paper stuck in and the edges to be trimmed.
Image 4 Pencil Sketch
I sketch out the top picture in pencil that I’ll later rub out.
Image 5 Start of the Drawing in Pen.
I start drawing. I use a Faber Castell, PITT artist pen, size small
Drawing Underway
Drawing underway. I love drawing trees and like putting a tree centrally to span both sides but there’s plenty of scope for other arrangements.
Board Beneath Drawing
The top picture finished. Place board beneath drawing ready for cutting.
Cutaway Pages
Showing cutaway pages with a new sheet of cartridge paper stuck beneath each side.
Showing Cutaway Page
Showing beneath cutaway page.
Cutting a Page.
Cutting the second-from-last page.
Finished Altered Book
Here is the finished altered book that I’m calling” The Edge of the Wood.” At this stage I might add a bit of colour with watercolour pencils and/or inks.
Detail of Altered Book
Here is a close-up detail of “The Edge of the Wood.”

The Edge of the Wood and Deer in the Forest below will soon be on display in Avocet Gallery in Rye.

Deer in the Forest Altered Book
Deer in the Forest altered book
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A Coloured Altered Book

I’ve been spicing up one of my altered books. No longer just black and white (with silver and gold apples) my Silver Apples of the Moon and Golden Apples of the Sun book is now coloured. Is this an improvement?

Silver Apples Golden Apples Altered Book
Silver Apples Golden Apples Altered Book with a bit of colour

While colouring it in with watercolour pencils I was reminded of creating comic strip pages when I was a child. I dug them out the other day and read them with amusement. I’ve no idea what the story is about but I know I liked comics as a child and was inspired by the Tintin books that my brother had. These comic pages must have been done when I was about ten or eleven but there’s no date on them.

Handmade Comic Strip
Handmade Comic Strip made in the 70s.
A Page of a Picture Story I made as a Child
A Page of a Picture Story I made as a Child

I also discovered an old Brighton and Hove Gazette newspaper in which I had one of my drawings. It’s not that great, but could I have done any better at fourteen?! By the way, I didn’t have a day out with Prince Philip that was my history teacher! :)

Old Newspaper with my Drawing
Old Newspaper with my Drawing
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New creations

It’s the time for nests! Everywhere I hear birdsong even in the middle of town and it’s lovely. As a child I would climb trees in the hope of finding a nest. Sometimes I did, but those I found – and collected – never had any eggs. I wouldn’t have disturbed them if they had. It’s very special getting a glimpse into a nest with eggs.

In our garden there are a couple of magpies building a nest in the top of a dead sycamore tree. The nest looks oval with a sort of thatched roof. They’re probably not yet tending eggs – my egg book says April – May. It’s good to watch them in action. I like magpies although they have a bad name and are so numerous these days. I remember a lovely animation featuring magpies on the IPM Radio 4 website that accompanied a short programme about bird watching and dementia.

Magpie Page in Egg Book

Magpie and Nest
Magpie and Nest

I have a few new creations that feature nests, apples and wings – altered books and small canvases. My Blackbird Nest altered book was on Folksy and sold very quickly:

Nest Altered Book

As it’s Spring, I had to create a Spring altered book which depicts a blackbird nest and woodland scene.

Spring Altered Book

Another one illustrates the poem, Song of the Wandering Aengus by William B. Yeats. I have chosen to illustrate the last few lines of the poem:

..And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

The left side of the book features the moon, half the tree of silver apples and a woman. The right side features a man sitting in the sun below the half of the tree with gold apples.

Silver Apples of the Moon Golden Apples of the Sun

The poem is an old favourite of mine, first heard to music sung by Donovan in a youtube video with some lovely, loose illustrations.

The altered books are part of the Words Exhibition at Obsidian Gallery in Buckinghamshire. I also have Memory Tree Books, a little “Winged” canvas and some cards in the exhibition. The Wings canvas is similar to a commission, Stone Angel Wings, that I did last year (see photo below) It was originally based on an altered book I created some time ago.

Stone Angel Wings
Stone Angel Wings
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From the Forests Beneath The Waves

Forests are still my thing, what better than a forest beneath the sea, a kelp forest. The colours, for one, are beautiful – perhaps some of my favourite colours, aquamarine, turquoise, blues. I imagine it to be a world of beings passing through – seals, brittlestars, rockfish, sea urchins, otters – in the arms of kelp – the odd diver, the odd wreck splintering and lost, discarded bits and pieces tossed by muted currents, swaying waters that whisper the secrets of the land beneath the waves. A forest dream of a world.

Kelp Forest

Enter the Kelp Maidens.

Kelp MaidensI have painted two new long boards on reclaimed wood, the Kelp Maidens. They are varnished with exterior varnish and ready for the outdoors.

I am a little familiar with the Kelpie myths – water spirits that live in lochs and rivers in Scotland, water horses that shapeshift into men or women. My kelp maidens are slightly different, there is no hint of horse, no horse’s mane or hooves. But they live in the kelp forests, amongst the fronds of Saccharina and Saccorhiza (and other kelps) in Scottish waters – they are like the names of two sisters :)

While I was painting my kelp maidens, the Guardian published a series of Forest Fable podcasts. All the fables are good, but one of them, The Princess’ Forest by Alec Finnay just happened to be about the myth of a submerged forest off the coast of St Kilda where a giant woman was said to reside. It is said that she was addicted to hunting deer in the forests between the islands of Harris and St Kilda before the seas came and flooded the land.

My Kelp Maidens are now in the lovely shop Way Out There and Back in Littlehampton along with some of my other paintings and cards.

My River Sisters painting, that was in the shop, has just gone to a new home. I’m delighted!

River Sisters
The River Sisters
The Blue Forest
A new painting, The Blue Forest, (yes it’s blue as usual and I’m still with the forest theme!)
Way Out There and Back
Some of my other paintings in Way Out There and Back.
Kelp Maiden Altered Book
A coloured altered book featuring a Kelp Maiden, which I have put on my Reflections Folksy Shop.
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Touching the Earth

I am yearning for the land. Hearing the wind outside it is not exactly inviting but I feel a pull, a need to connect with layers beneath me feet – rock, sand, mud, grass, the earth’s bone against my bone.

At Eridge Rocks

Over the past few years I’ve been moving outdoors, relating to the natural environment through movement – as I did in a workshop, River Women, earlier this year. In the last year or so I have tried to make a short video, a movement video. It is about the earth, about woods and the sea. I felt a bit lost during the filming and was going to call it “What have I lost on the path?” a phrase I remember writing and illustrating in my diary many years ago. I felt that I had lost something on the path – in the earth – and the film was about acknowledging this. Originally the video was going to be a filmpoem – a film of a poem – but I’m no poet so I decided to keep it simple and see what would arise. I can’t dance or move very well either, but it’s just an experiment :)

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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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The Magical Land Exhibition

Avocet Gallery FlyerAvocet Gallery in Rye is currently holding The Magical Land exhibition and I am very pleased to have some of my work on show as part of it.

Here are a few of my illustrations in the exhibition:

The Crow from The Crow
The Crow in watercolour pencil. Drawn for The Crow, a folktale by Christopher Meckel – see my The Crow page.
Blue Sea Scene
Blue Sea Scene in watercolour pencil.
Angel
Angel in pen and ink.

Along with the illustrations are cards and two of my long painted boards. One is very much a river goddess board as it is covered with flowing lines of lyrics, poems and words about rivers.

Water Lyrics Maiden top

Come dreamer,
my eyes have been closed so long, cried the river
I see this world but I cannot see

whispering near the surface of the water comes a voice

let all emotions flow from our dreaming together

I am afraid to heal my soul, said the river

then your spirit connected to mine will die
whispered the wind
do not hide from me river, find your ocean
if you listen deeply
wind and river coming together as one
in the great ocean we’re born of the mother.
This is the way she hears your voice now, all of your feeling
easy or difficult,
truthful ones,
do not be afraid
all the rivers are dying

I will open my eyes to see inside
so my soul whispers with the wind.
Take a deep breath…

Words taken from a YouTube video by Condor Shaman that is no longer available.

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Castle Dreams and Birds

Back in March I took two painted boards to Herstmonceux Castle for Waterweek as I had been invited to contribute some creation. When I took them in on the second evening, one of the artist organisers looked as though to say what on earth have you brought us! I left hurriedly without attending the evening talks, embarassed as I am about these things and made off into the night across the misty Pevensey Levels. I had dared to show something, I had taken the risk! I didn’t see any of the week’s events as I desperately needed to escape the clamour of Brighton and spend the week cosied up beside a roaring woodburner in a shepherd’s hut down in Dorset.

When I returned to pick up my boards, we – Kevin and I – were taken up through the castle corridors and shiny-floored halls to a main room by a friendly caretaker who knew all about my boards. And there they were placed up in a bay window which I thought was a lovely prominant position.

d Painting at Herstmonceux

Why I’m writing this is that I’ve recently had a dream about Herstmonceux Castle. It is perhaps strange that of all the wonderful things that happened that week, all I can write about is my dingy dream. But the castle definitely made an impression on me.

My dream:

I was at Herstmonceux Castle working on my Memory Tree story in a library there. From the windows I could see the fresh green growth of the trees. I was with my mother who was lingering and wasting time when I wanted to go into town with her. I decided to leave her but felt torn. I have many images of her beside a window, sunset without, feeding the birds.

Life is rich on deeper levels. I reach back into a distant past within the walls of the castle of my mind or being. Mystery, intrigue and beauty are words that come to mind and darkness too, which is strange as we are now tipping into Spring and light streams into newly unearthed spaces. I am feeling the desire for life with Spring but also a resistance after Winter.

Castle Dream

I shall not forget
The open window
You with your gifts of bread and love
leaning out with your familiarity
At one with the birds

They came in numbers
And you named them
Each and every one
Native American names
I thought of your gift with them
Those that came in numbers
To feed in your presense

I shall not forget
And shall stand now
At my open window
Inviting in the birds
And I’ll call them by names
Each and every one
To be at one with the birds.

Pigeons

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