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.
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:
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…
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’:
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was so good to get away. I’d been in Brighton a bit too long and unable to break free of it because of the lockdown restrictions on travel. Last week we drove to Dorset and spent three nights in a lovely, spacious artist’s studio in an area of rolling hills, earthworks and rookeries. The birdsong was amazing. Two chilly mornings I stumbled out of my dreams at 5.40am on to the frosted grass of the garden to record the dawn chorus:
Listen to the dawn chorus in Pentridge:
Chaffinches, blackbirds, robins, a pheasant, rooks – we were beneath a rookery. I’ve wondered what it must be like to sleep beneath a rookery ever since I read about Roger Deakin sleeping out in Wildwood. Rooks do quieten down at night.
We watched the moon waxing, becoming bolder in its silence with each passing night as it loomed towards full; a pink supermoon, a blossoming planet. Now it’s time has passed and it’s waning once again.
One morning I set off alone up Pentridge Hill above the village. ‘Pentridge’ means Hill of the Wild Boar; from pen for hill and twrch for boar in the old Celtic language of Britain.
The wind had a distinct chill that made my eyes stream. Far off in the pines ahead of me I heard a cuckoo. It seemed to beckon, so I followed. I followed it to the western edge of the copse of trees, through gorse and bracken. I scanned the tree branches all around. Cuckoo, cuckoo now came from a tree along the southern edge. I followed the call up, along, over and through, weak sunshine sending out long, shape-shifting shadows.
It was close by but I couldn’t see it. With the wind blowing and the light wavering through the branches, the call of the cuckoo now haunted me from the east. When I walked to the east of the hill it sounded from another copse of trees, far away. The elusive bird!
They say the call of the cuskoo means spring is on its way. For some, hearing the cuckoo for the first time in the year is a sign of increasing wealth, especially if you turn some coins in your pocket. ( I didn’t have any coins in my pocket, only a mangled feather.) For others it is a more omenous sign of impending storms, hunger or death. Apparently the 28th April is known as ‘cuckoo day’ in Cornwall. There seem to be plenty of other ‘cuckoo days’ too.
Pentridge Hill was the site of ancient Mesolithic and Neolithic settlements. There is so much evidence of ancient people in the whole area of Cranborne Chase – long barrows, tumuli, a cursus, Roman roads and dykes. We had some fascinating conversations with the studio owner, who told us about the local archaeology and archaeologists in the area. While out walking she said she’d found a Neolithic flint axe head. Treasure indeed!
The studio and garden are full of artistic touches – life drawings, paintings and sculpted heads. The owner kindly gave me a roe buck skull to add to my collection and for me to draw. I made a few other natural finds.
We went for walks in Garston Wood, a RSPB nature reserve known for its marsh tits and spotted flycatchers. We heard coal tits calling, sounding like squeesy bottles. We then walked on to Chase Wood.
The next day we visited nearby Martin Down Nature Reserve with its strange humps and scrubby down, its skylarks and wheatears with their flashing white rumps. It felt ancient, but I couldn’t really put my finger on why. Perhaps it was its old, worn, threadbare carpet look. We walked a little way along Bokerly Dyke and tried to locate Grim’s Ditch, a prehistoric earthwork, but only found an area of grass a slightly different shade of green to indicate where it could have been.
I’m now thinking about the land above and below, its folds and seams, its hidden treasures, its deep past, its future, it’s bones.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
Note: A4 digital prints of both of these illustrations are now available in my Reflections shop and Etsy shop.
On fine days this autumn, I’ve tried to get out into the woods and see some beautiful colours. Autumn is my second favourite season after spring, so when I decided to create a coloured concertina card, I thought I’d be guided by the colour around me.
When I think of woods, I often think of deer – and sometimes see them too – so I’ve created an autumnal, woodland scene with deer on the front and, on the reverse side, I’ve drawn a field with some hares. I’ve called it ‘The Woodland Edge‘ because so much happens at the edge of things! :)
Here is a photo of the deer side:
And here is the hare side:
Here are the full length images (click on the images to make them bigger):
I’ve used pen and ink with coloured pencils. I would have liked to have used coloured inks, but the water would have made the black ink run and I prefer to use my Art pen for this sort of drawing. I think the colour has worked.
What comes first the tree or the book? The tree of course – there would be no books without trees. However, having just finished an altered book, Beneath the Old Tree, I was inspired to find a really large, old, real tree. So, I decided to pay another visit to Kingley Vale, just north-west of Chichester in West Sussex, which has an ancient yew forest. Some of the trees are thousands of years old. Each time I go there, I’m in awe of this wondrous, magical place.
In the forest it was hushed beneath the elephantine old yews. There were other people about – families – but their voices were muffled. Quiet and peaceful, the air was still, the forest floor was dappled by sunlight that streamed through the tangled spiralling branches.
Within this sanctuary are trees with enormous muscular girths and heavy limbs as smooth and hard as ivory; tusks descending to and disappearing into the dusty earth only to re-emerge nearby as offspring trees, creating a shambling, rhythmical cascade away from the main trunk. Each ancient yew stands within a fortress of these spidery, fluid limbs, each a powerful presence, deep, self-contained and stoic with a desire to reach out and touch the earth.
A bullfinch sounded in a hawthorn on the periphery of the grove, its sad note sung as though the bird was lost on the other side.
Some trees bear bark that is dry and peeling, others raw but smooth. As I ducked beneath each weighty limb, I felt the underside, polished by countless hands, rubbed to a shine by shoulders of both humans and deer.
Sitting within the hook of a limb, I felt safe and secure – anyone needing comfort should seek out a low tree to sit in.
Trunks fold into fissures and hollows, bulge with muscular growths. Some trees are whiskered by fresh, verdant shoots, others have openings like doorways or mouths frozen in silent song.
We came across a tree with its sides split, perhaps by lighning. Inside, the heartwood was deep arterial red. I picked up a square shard from the earth, a piece of the yew’s heart, to take home. Most of the trees bear wounds.
Some branches are algal green, elsewhere purplish pink, like the irridescent tip of a pheasant’s feather.
Little grows beneath a yew. They are both warm and inviting and brittle and repelling. A friend believes that here the yews talk to each other. She may be right.
After our amble in the groves, we emerged onto downland covered with chalkland flowers. Bees and butterflies busied around marjoram, birds foot trefoil and thyme-covered anthills in the bright sunshine. A roe deer leapt across the grassland and disappeared into the wooded hillside. Overhead a kite wheelled, it’s wings showing the gaps of its summer moult.
On returning home I wanted to create something in response to being in this forest. I decided to work in a looser, more carefree style and try out media I don’t usually use – chalk pastels and smudged penwork.
Below are some sketchbook drawings inspired by yews:
Perhaps it was fortunate that I missed the Hayward gallery exhibition Among the Trees because of the virus. I took this as an invitation to spend more time with real trees.
Back to my altered book. It’s of an old tree with a mass of roots within which hide a badger family. On deeper pages there is a squrrel, a fox and deer.
I have a new concertina card out now, Foxes Abroad, available to buy in my Etsy shop and website shop. It features a family of ‘country’ foxes on one side and a family of urban foxes on the other. The urban foxes are based on the foxes I sometimes see in the garden or out in the street at dusk.
Most people are familiar with foxes in the city, but if you haven’t heard their cries, here is a brief sound recording I made – it’s rather quiet so you may need to turn up the volume:
And here’s one of them bickering – it really sounds like a banshee!
There’s a fox earth at the back of the garden – where it’s a bit ‘wild’. My neighbours downstairs have just moved out, so I went down into the garden to photograph it. Overgrown with nettles, brambles, ivy and sycamore saplings, there was no fox smell, just the earthy scent of elder flowers:
Fox cubs are born around the end of March, so there may well be cubs venturing out now – I’ve certainly heard them. Apart from the hole and a few scrapings in the earth, I could see no obvious sign of the foxes. Fox prints are similar to some dog prints, but they are narrower and it’s possible to draw a cross between the digits and the pad on a fox print.
Thinking about paws and hands, I sketched a fox paw print. With colour, additional details and inspired by the Middle Eastern Hamsa Hand symbol, it turned into a Fox Hamsa Paw print.
The Hamsa Hand depicts an open right hand and is worn for protection, especially against the evil eye. It is sometimes thought of as the Hand of Fatima, the Hand of Mary, the Hand of Mirium or the Hand of the Goddess. The Fox as Goddess – now that’s an interesting thing to investigate… :)
Today, we saw what looks like a youngish fox sunbathing in its favourite spot. Kevin took a photo from our balcony:
Last year a friend told me about The Sketchbook Project. This is a crowdfunded art library in Brooklyn of sketchbooks created by people from around the world. I love looking at other peoples’ sketchbooks, although I find making them myself quite a challenge. However, I was very interested in getting involved and decided to set myself the challenge.
To take part I had to pay a fee and was sent a small 5″ x 7″ sketchbook in a little string and washer envelope. I could do whatever I liked with the sketchbook as long as it didn’t end up being thicker than an inch or have loose bits that would fall off. I like forests – it’s possibly quite obvious if you’ve seen a lot of my art on this site, (at one time it was rivers, which I still feel very drawn to), so I decided to title my book, Forest and see what I could come up with.
I have pretty much finished the book now, so yesterday I ventured out to take some photos of it beside one of those giant beeches in Dead Beech Lane:
I’ve used acrylic paints, scrim – basically mixed media – pen and ink, watercolour pencil and photos. The book is a mixture of different styles, images and writing more than sketches.
I like the poem ‘Lost’ by David Wagoner, so I wrote it out and incorporated a papercut overlay of pen and ink trees. I also wanted to include a fold-out page. I drew a forest scene based on the tropical forest I encountered at Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area in Cambodia some years ago, with myself as a tiny figure. On the back I’ve added quotes from a piece of my creative writing about looking for slow lorises in the forest (you can read the piece, Night Eyes, over in my writing pages here).
I did cheat a bit and stick in little drawings I’ve done in the past. Sometimes the white page can be a bit threatening :)
I’ve included my piece of writing, If You Are Lost You May Be Taken, that I wrote about in a previous blog post and finished the book with a mixed media collage of a ‘seed woman’ in the leaflitter.
I need to register my book and then send it to the US. I’ve been told to wait a bit for the library to reopen after lockdown.
On the inside cover of the sketchbook, I attached a small black and white image of myself communing with a pine tree in a Sussex wood. I’d hestitate to pose in the same way again :) (I was inspired a few years ago by Nikki Simpson’s Wild Women of the Woods project. I’m not exactly wild, but, sometimes, I like to think of myself as ‘of the woods’ – or, in this case, ‘of the Forest‘ :)