We recently visited Wakehurst Place in West Sussex. I haven’t been there since I was a child. It was a damp but bright day and the gardens were autumnal, browns, russets, greys.
I liked the carvings and one in particular, the portrait of a Sika deer’s head in a living Japanese cedar tree:
It’s by Japanese Tachigi-bori carver, Masa Suzuki. Tachigi-bori means ‘standing-wood carving’ and is a traditional Japanese practice of carving sculptures into living trees. According to Shinto belief, all things have a sacred force and a large old tree would have a strong sacred force. The carving gives form to the tree’s spirit. This carving was done in dead wood that arose from the great storm in 1987. The dead wood where the carving has been made will eventually heal over with callus wood in the next 25-30 years. For Masa it’s all about connecting to the natural world.
The Sika deer was chosen as, in Japan, it is traditionally seen as a messenger between the earth and the spirit world. The deer were introduced into the UK by the Victorians and I’ve seen them at Arne RSPB Nature reserve.
Well before the Victorians, according to my medieval bestiary,
…”Stags are the enemies of serpents: as soon as they feel the symptoms of illness, they entice snakes out of their holes with the breath of their noses and overcoming their harmful poison, feed on them and are cured……..after they have eaten a snake, they hasten to a spring and drinking from it, their grey hairs and all signs of age vanish….Does do not conceive until Arcturus appears in the heavens.”
The book mentions other peculiarities such as the ability of deer to eat a herb that will help draw out arrows which have harmed them. Such is the weird and wonderful medieval world.
I thought I’d create a little shrine to the spirit of the deer:
Recently I stumbled on some music I liked by Martha Tilston and was pleased to find it is called Stags Bellow. Here is a Youtube video of the song:
I have recently been commissioned to make a Harry Potter altered book. I don’t know that much about the Harry Potter books and I’ve only ever seen Harry Potter films on flights, however, this seemed like a good challenge.
I wanted to make the Whomping Willow the main feature and got caught up in the detail of branches and leaves:
It was fun overlayering the crashed car with the top layer:
I added an owl in the foreground and Hogwarts in the background against a starry sky:
Along with the Harry Potter altered book, I created another ‘Into the Beech Wood’ altered book as part of the same commission:
To accompany this I put together a little booklet with a piece of my writing called Time in the Beech Wood. I wrote it when staying in the Forest Cabin last year. I’ve wanted to do something with this piece for a while, so this seemed like a good opportunity. I played around with my World Tree and deer illustrations to create the cover in Photoshop:
(I think there’s a hint of cave painting or Cretan vase in the design!) I’ll add it to the book as a little gift.
It was lovely receiving my copy of the new AEVA, Woman Earth Soul magazine in the post today. Formerly it was She Who Knows. AEVA means life, sound and voice. AEVA is different from your typical women’s magazine. It honours the beauty and wisdom in every woman and aims to empower, replenish and inspire it’s readers. It is full of wonderful words and beautiful art by women for women.
In this issue one of the themes is rivers. I have a few words on my relationship to rivers and a photo of me in the River Lot, France.
Rivers have been and still are important to me. My need for a river is sometimes a thirst and I do not visit rivers enough. I am a river person more than a sea person. The sea is too big, too overwhelming, too impersonal sometimes, but I need it as well. However, it is to freshwater I go and where I always feel welcome.
Below is a photo of the cover of AEVA showing women in a river :) How good is that!
Here is a spread of the article, ‘Entering the River’s Flow’:
You can get 10% off a year’s subscription with the code sharethelove8. See the AEVA website.
Towards to end of last year a friend on Facebook, Meryl of Black Cat Floral Designs, suggested that I create some wedding invitations with woodland, wildlife or Goddess themes. It’s taken me some time to work out quite what’s required as there seem to be so many variations out there, I’m a bit in the dark about the whole subject.
Anyway, I’ve created some designs and had a few samples printed to see how they look.
They include Woodland Wildlife – with rabbits;
A springtime leafy one;
A ‘Goddess’ one;
and Two Deer one which might work best for an autumn wedding;
They are currently simple and unfolded on stiff white card but I plan to make some ivory ones on folded card.
Based in Chester, Meryl creates wonderful things with flowers for any occasion. See below and check out the galleries on her website.
I’m hoping to create a page on this website with more details and options soon. In the meantime if you’re interested, contact me here.
People often leave furniture and bits and bobs in our street so one evening late last year I went out in search of some wood to make a shelter for the pigeon that had adopted us. The pigeon, who we named Beaky, had been sitting day and night in the corner of our balcony getting very wet.
I didn’t find anything suitable for Beaky but I did find a small bureau standing in front of a house with a notice on it saying “Free. Please Take.”
I phoned Kevin who came up with the car and we took it home. Here it is:
Now I have a new space to write and draw in among the plants. It’s become a special corner of the living room where I keep my wildlife treasures – feathers, eggshells etc, my art and writing bits and pieces all lit by a little paper star light my sister gave me for Christmas :)
i’ve recently received a lovely long letter from a friend and it’s made me think of letters. I like anything to do with letters – apart from bills of course. I love writing and receiving them. I’ve kept many letters from the distant past including a brief handwritten one from Sir David Attenborough and an official one from Buckingham Palace! (This was a reply to a letter I wrote to the Queen when I was about twelve.) But letter writing has as good as died out – or so I thought. More on that later.
A year ago I was fascinated to hear about some 17th century letters discovered at Knole Park in Sevenoaks. You can read the story here on the National Trust website.
In the Netherlands a trunk of 17th century undelivered letters was rediscovered in 2015. Apparently the trunk belonged to a postmaster and postmistress who were central in the international communications of the time. None of the letters were ever delivered and were still sealed. In the 17th century the recipient paid the postage so if they were uninterested, dead or away the letters would remain unposted. The website about the project has some lovely photos that include the ones below.
There’s something sad and romantic about them – unrequited love, words lost in time, words never heard until now, coversations from times gone by. They are beautiful to look at too – pink, cream, handwritten with seals, sometimes with drawings and folded so carefully; someone went to a lot of trouble. They hide secrets and those secrets are now being revealed.
Sometimes when I write letters I like to insert leaves, feathers, pressed flowers, cuttings, photos or drawings in with them. I think – and hope – the recipients appreciate this. But my letter writing opportunities are very few these days. I remember when I travelled through Africa in my twenties, before email, mobiles and the like, I looked forward to the next poste restante where I could pick up my mail. It was all out of date but so special to receive it didn’t matter.
I have a few interesting wabi sabi letters that a friend, who buys old stuff from auctions, gave to me. They’re written in an Indian script, possibly Tamil or Kannada as there’s a Mysore letterhead. I’d love to know what they’re about.
I like the idea of doing a letter writing project that would involve leaving a letter or poem inside a library book or hidden in a crevice somewhere in Brighton for someone to find.
Leaving something behind, a trace, a message from what will one day be the past appeals to me, like messages carved on beech trees or chalk cliffs, like ghost signs on buildings…remnants….
I would also like to leave one beneath the floorboards in my flat for any future occupants to find. A sort of treasure.
I was pleased to find a letter writing organsation, More Love Letters, which arranges for letter writers to send letters to people who would appreciate a kind note, a wish or a letter at a difficult time in their lives. When I get around to writing one I shall include a Memory Tree book and one of my cards. Which makes me think, if you know anyone having a difficult time who would appreciate a card – and perhaps one of my little books – from a stranger do get in touch. x
I had a lovely surprise when the post came the other day and I received a copy of the 2018 Earth Pathways calendar. I was very pleased to find that my illustration, ‘The Fadista’, now graces the page for July next year :)
A fadista is a Portugese woman who sings Fado, the lamenting song originally sung by women as early as the 1920s when sailors went to sea. Often the song is about loss, mourning, the sea, shipwrecks and love and I first came across it when I heard the contemporary fadista, Mariza, sing.
I am drawn to wings, birds, flight in nature, myth and art. I’ve featured wings in various art projects – my Stone Angel Wings Altered Book, my Wings canvas and illustrations of angels. So I was interested when I saw a flyer for an exhibition, Singing Sirens by Paulien Gluckman at the Sussex County Arts Club in Brighton. (I’m into rock again, but this time sculpted rock.)
I don’t know much about Sirens other than they were mythical beings associated with water who sing to sailors and lure them to their doom. Apparently Sirens feature in The Odyssey when Odysseus has himself tied to the mask of his ship and orders his sailors to plug their ears so that only he can hear the sirens’ song but be unable to swim to them. Sirens are part bird and part human and are associated with the sea. Perhaps it is the morphing of humans and animals that particularly appeals to me right now.
(Some years ago I did a painting I called Siren of a figure beneath the sea in the blue depths. It’s not winged though!)
The Singing Sirens exhibition is in a small, fascinating studio with drawings of angelic winged beings, sculptures of birds, nymphs and winged maidens all around. Paulien invites visitors to feel and hold her sculptures – there’s something very tactile about them.
I asked Paulien what had inspired her to explore the winged creatures and figures she creates. She said that reading The Odyssey made an impression on her and one day her cat brought in a bird’s wing that she thought was too beautiful to throw away immediately so she made some sketches of it and became fascinated by wings.
There’s some lovely sculptures and drawings here and a few wonderful sketchbooks. The exhibition is on until 6th November.
Winged figures and heads in stone and marble remind me of Emily Young‘s heads I saw at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester last year. The serene faces with Roman noses and closed eyes are very meditative.
“These angels, warriors and poets who people the stone, are born of sunny, windy hill tops, and the dark light of caves; a kind of ecstasy, a stillness, a remembered energy from childhood, from dreams of fish memory, from dreams of flying and the silence of stone…” From Emily Young’s website.
” Inside me I am rock, desert rock and shadow. Inside me there is quiet, almost silence. I turn my back on the world to retreat to the cave within listening to the desert stirrings of my mind. …I seek a cleft in the rock like an animal, a gopher or marmet. I retreat from the clamour and business that surrounds me with a great weariness and longing for the dark, I seek a cleft in the rock with my back to the world.”
I wrote that in my diary earlier this year. Sometimes I feel the same way especially as autumn unfolds. When I think of rock I often think of sandstone, deserts, gorges – a gorge I walked through on the island of Crete some years ago. For some reason rock and clefts in rock have a certain meaning for me. Perhaps it is a need to retreat, hide, seek shelter from the world for a bit.
“I wonder what it means to be human and why, at this particular moment, rock seems more accessible and yielding than my own species.”
I googled rock cleft and disovered that there is a spiritual meaning to it in the Bible. According to Exodus 33 Moses hid himself in a rock cleft, a place of refuge, from the full face of the “Almighty” and this has come to mean he was in the body of Christ. I’m neither religious nor Christian but this is interesting nevertheless. Another website mentions that the “cleft of rock” represents the falsities of faith, the material superficialities. In a nutshell I think it means one needs to have internal faith and not rely on the external trappings of faith. Whatever it may mean universally, for me it probably means I need to turn within.
Back in late October 2014 I did a solitary retreat in the Catalonian hills at a place called Ecodharma. Now I find myself questioning my desire to retreat.
I was alone and wanted to be alone with nature. I stayed in a little hut submerged in trees, the dwarf oaks of that mountainous part of Spain. It resided in shadow and looked out pensively with a cautious eye of shade. It was very basic. I was curious to know how I’d find being alone with just the basic necessities. I tried to settle myself, find a routine to anchor my days but still allowing my thoughts to drift. I took to wandering and found a rocky ledge beneath the pink cliffs overlooking the valley that I called Yoga Rock as it was where I did yoga beneath the sun. Each day I took out my sketch pad and binoculars and sat there, lost in thought, vacant as the valley air. In the cabin I would write at the table and look out on the woods, glimpsing the blue valley beyond. As night fell outside, fast and black, the sky and stars were masked by the silohetted trees and there were no lights in the valley; I felt very alone but very tranquil.
Now I wonder whether solitude and this sparse natural place are what I needed and wanted or something else. To be somewhere far from home and away from stress, perhaps yes, but to be alone? And with nature? I wonder; sometimes there’s a stigma to retreating from people. Perhaps I needed people with whom I had a sense of belonging, or perhaps I needed to completely turn my back on the world.
At the cabin I sat inside beside the roaring woodburner and closed my eyes. It felt good to be still and enclosed – contained. Inside me there was a terrain of rock, valley, cave and garden. I needed to follow the path within. I went to this solitary retreat in Spain to be with nature in the hills, to try the Buddhist way, but learnt that my way is not the way of emptiness and void although Buddhists say they go to “take refuge”. Nature too is not enough. And sometimes the need for solitude and darkness is more than just the urge to hibernate in winter.
I found the cave within. I recognized that I needed to retreat inside myself, to journey into the places within, the seams and tiers of memory and imagination and then embrace the stirrings of creativity. Perhaps I needed to access something deep in my psyche like early humans did as they travelled deep inside caves to create art and perhaps commune with spirits and ancestors, deep in the earth’s womb.
It may not be the same for others, everyone is on a different journey, but I imagine each person needs at some point, a resting place, a place from which they can re-emerge back into the world refreshed. I retreat for many reasons – I can’t be a smiling, capable person in the world all the time. There needs to be both light and darkness in life, both company and solitude and time away from what can seem like a hard unfeeling world.
The last threads of summer will loosen like the dry bark of the skeletal trees at the solitary retreat once more. The land will not be sleeping yet, a restlessness will stir below the surface before the slow decline into the somnolent months of autumn and winter. Solitude is interesting, but as I now feel the same draw earthwards as autumn gets underway, I think, how about doing the opposite and finding people to celebrate with? To go within or stay without, to seek peace and inner journeying or outward celebration, listening to one’s heart is a fine balance.