I’ve just completed my Journey Through the Forest altered book. I’ve made two or three versions of this before, but this latest version has the most layers. It features a girl, a deer, a fox, a badger and trees. Here are photos of some of the pages:
I’ve written a vignette of a story to accompany the book:
Above, a shimmering bowl of stars. Orion, looks on, while Sirius, the dog star, points the way. On this night of the full moon she is taking a journey, one soft footfall after another, the deer a few steps behind. The silvered path is cast with eerie shadow. She knows the trail, or thinks she does. An owl, silent on a perch in an old oak, watches. The forest darkness closes in.
I follow the dog star, she says, That must be the way.
The only way to the oaks her people planted.
Soon all the trees look the same and the path petters out.
Listen, say the trees in their secret, silent way. Listen.
So she stands still among root and fern, briar and dog violet on the softly trodden leaflitter. She turns towards the moon, a distant, knowing face in the blackness.
That’s it, she murmurs, I can hear.
The subtle moan of the boughs, the whisperings of the land all around her. She is not alone, no, she is no longer alone. The land, the trees, the sky, the moon are with her. She can find her way, with the deer a few steps behind.
Journeys through lands and forests serve as metaphors. I even include them in my little story The Memory Tree. There are journeys into the psyche and physical outward journeys. Sometimes a map composed of symbols is needed. I think like this when I am vaguely looking for something, something I may have lost, perhaps a part of myself I have lost. Who knows… Now I am wondering how I can create some sort of animation of the journey part of The Memory Tree story, something magical. Hopefully I’ll post more about this soon.
I am reminded of a small ‘magical’ exhibition I went to at Hove Museum in December, called Magical Wonderland. It was a collection of paper and card sculptures of traditional stories and fairy tales called The Story Cabinet and created by a group of artists called Fabula.
I like their miniature worlds within worlds within chests of drawers, wooden cabinets and suitcases. I like the use of cardboard and everyday materials, the use of words woven into the sculptures and the cardboard tree – The Wishing Tree – in particular. Better photos are on The Story Cabinet website.
During my visit to the museum I got talking to the curator. She said that she likes to display artwork that shows that it is made of everyday materials to inspire visitors to be creative. I’m looking forward to seeing what Fabula comes up with next and perhaps trying my hand at altered books that are more sculptural.
Maybe you are searching among branches for what only appears in the Roots. ~ Rumi
I have recently received a contributor’s copy of the journal, Minerva Rising, as I have one of my pictures, The Dreaming Tree, featured in its pages.
My picture sits opposite a poem, Coyotes Talks to Me by Gina Hietpas. Gina contacted me to say she’d like to send me a photo of a tree she loves that is somewhere in the US. It is a magnificent tree with roots exposed to the sea and wind, a real Tree of Life. I should love to see such a tree, but, for now it is in the photo and my imagination.
It is strange to see what is normally hidden, revealed.
I have been thinking about roots, origins and belonging. The theme of this issue of Minerva Rising is roots. Roots physical and metaphorical, have found their way into my drawings and writings since I first started doodling and, more recently, they’ve appeared in my altered books.
…What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water…
The Wasteland T.S.Elliot
Roots – I have the need to look beneath the surface of things and to look within. It may reflect a need to return to earth, the ground beneath my feet and look deeper. Up above a branching canopy transcends the troubles and problems that seem to pervade everything at ground level. Roots give shelter, a shield against the chaos of the world. If I was another sort of animal it would be good to be a bird, but I think I’d probably be a subterranean, crepuscular animal right now. A kiwi, perhaps, pottering among the subtropical roots of a podocarp tree.
I have always liked trees and roots. As a child, I loved the book, “The Tree that Sat Down” by Beverley Nichols, with the shop within the base of a willow tree.
Over the past ten years I have had a sense of being uprooted, a persistant upheaval carrying me away from what really matters and cutting me off from my source. This sounds dramatic, but off and on it has been quite unsettling and I’ve had to fight to root myself. This goes along with a sense of unbelonging, but then I’ve always really had that.
In Brighton I notice the roots of elm trees heaving up the tarmac in protest.
At the end of last year I decided to make a new altered book with roots as a starting point. I’ve based them on buttress roots of rainforest trees like the Ceiba Tree, a tree sacred to the Maya. The Maya believe the tree links the three realms – the heavens, the earthly plane where humans live and the underworld. I have written a little about it at the start of my piece, A Fragment of Forest over on my writing website.
The altered book has taken me a long time and it’s still not finished. It’s now many pages deep, both sides of the central spread. This one is just for me I think, I probably won’t be able to sell it.
I also wanted to paint a wooden scaffolding board with leaves and roots. I’ve had the board propped up in my kitchen-cum-studio for weeks. Now I wish to festoon it with intricate leaves of greens and browns, with animals between the leaves, roots and branches. And perhaps a few stars between the branches. My Tree of Life. This has come to me from many sources, including the myriad plants that surround me in my flat. Plants have been silently speaking to me as they always have. It’s good to try painting boards once again, although my basic acrylic paint infuriates me and I realise that I just can’t paint! At least I have broken the spell of ‘blue’. However, I’m toying with the idea of giving the painting a wash of blue to create a night scene….possibly.
Recently I stumbled on the wonderful botantical art of Jess Shepherd. Her Leafscapes are amazing. I find her work mesmerising and meditative. I recently went to sleep with the image of one of her leaves fixed in my mind’s eye. It stilled me and took me elsewhere. Thank you Jess, I’m following your wonderful journey in search of blue flowers down under. She has got me really thinking about plants, drawing vegetation from life and looking really closely at it. I am also reminded that I have an inclination towards blue too.
As the new year begins, I am still, taking a pause while I try to work out where I am going. I’m still waiting for a sense of direction. I feel as though I’m caught mid-stream, suspended and going nowhere. Perhaps this is what this roots exploration is about, trying to find something to anchor myself to before I can move off with the current. No doubt I’ll see in time.
I’ve recently rediscovered the joy of research. It’s like peeling away layers and discovering networks that spread and spread, mycelia of knowledge that go on and on and on. The earth is wrapped in nerves and synapses, strands and pathways – to roots and beyond. Recently I’ve read that scientists have discovered life deep within the earth’s crust. The deeper they go, the more surprises come to light. There are microorganisms that do not need the sun. Instead they create methane which they just use to repair themselves. They have been buried for millions of years. This is life living in the really slow lane, in geologic time, not in the franetic pulse of our diurnal rhythms. That fascinates me, it stretches my mind into deep time. Here is a link to the article.
As I write this I am reminded of one of my favourite novels, An Imaginary Life by David Malouf. I think of it partly because the copy I read had roots on the cover, but also because the main character, Ovid, from the cultured, tamed Roman world, becomes more aware of nature and less afraid of the wild in his last days. The writing, the plot, the themes of exile, of belonging and unbelonging, speak to me at the moment and the many layers of story and meaning are beautiful. Towards the end:
…”I am growing bodiless. I am turning into the landscape. I feel myself sway and ripple. I feel myself expand upwards toward the blue roundness of sky. Is that where we are going?
The earth, now that I am about to leave it, seems so close at last. I wake, and there, so enormous in their proximity to my eyeball that I might be staring through tree trunks into an unknown forest, are the roots of the grass, and between the roots, holding them together, feeding them, the myriad round grains of the earth…
Round the base of these roots, seeking refuge amongst them as in a forest, finding food, are the smaller creatures – wood lice, ants, earwigs, earthworms, beetles, another world and another order of existence….We have come to join them. The earth’s warmth under me, as I stretch out at night, is astonishing. It is like the warmth of another body that has absorbed the sun all day and now gives out its store of heat. It is softer, darker than I could ever have believed, and when I take a handful of it and smell its extraordinary odors I know suddenly what it is I am composed of, as if the energy that is in this fistful of black soil had suddenly opened, between my body and it, as between it and the grass stalks, some corridor along which our common being flowed. I no longer fear it. I lie down to sleep, and wonder if, in the looseness of sleep, I mightn’t strike down roots along all the length of my body,and as I enter the first dream, almost feel it begin to happen, feel my individual pores open to the individual grains of the earth, as the interchange begins….I shall settle deep into the earth, deeper than I do in sleep, and will not be lost. We are continuous with earth in all the particles of our physical being, as in our breathing we are continuous with sky.”
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.