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A New Altered Sketchbook and Notebooks

I have a new altered sketchbook that I’ve called The Badger Wood. I’m back into woods and all the wonderful, intricate textures and details I love about them.

I wanted to work in a sketchbook this time as I didn’t want to have to stick extra paper into the book as I do with a hardbacked, secondhand book. I can see the appeal of using old books and the surprise of finding the magic of original papercut illustrations inside, but with this one it’s all a bit tidier.

The Badger Wood Altered Sketchbook

As usual there are six illustrated pages each side of the central spread and as the title suggests, there are trees, badgers, a deer, lots of brambles etc as you go deeper into the book and into the wood.

The Badger Wood is available in my Etsy shop where you can also see a video and some inside pages of the book. It’s also now added to my website shop.

I’ve also created some new A5 notebooks using illustrations from my Goddesses of River, Sea and Moon bookWater Goddess Yemanja and Moon Goddess Hina – and another more recent illustration, Waiting for Rain.

Moon Goddess Hina A5 Notebook. Hina is a goddess of the Pacific islands like Tahiti. She is depicted here beating tapa tree bark into cloth.
Water Goddess Yemanja A5 Notebook. Yemanja is a goddess of rivers and the ocean. She originated in West Africa. Here she is depicted wearing a dress of seven skirts.
Waiting for Rain A5 Notebook.

Each notebook has different coloured inside pages. Water Goddess Yemanja notebook has 80 light blue pages, Moon Goddess Hina notebook has 80 lilac pages and Waiting for Rain notebook has 80 cream inside pages. They’re also available in my Etsy shop.

I’m pleased to say that my Waiting for Rain illustration has been included in the lovely 2024 Earth Pathways Diary along with my Forest Angel picture:

I’ve had enquiries about possible art prints of these two images. Contact me if you’re interested in A4 prints or prints of anything else on the website.

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Escaping to Temperate Rainforest

At the end of June we went down to south Devon where we stayed at the truly lovely Hearth Retreat in their little Apple Wagon.

At the Apple Wagon
At the Apple Wagon

It was so peaceful, roaming the fields and woods I was in my element. I just happened to be reading The Lost Rainforests of Britain by Guy Shrubsole – as I am a lover of all rainforests – so it seemed a good idea to visit some temperate rainforest in East Dartmoor National Par, as mentioned in the book.

The Lost Rainforests of Britain by Guy Shrubsole

Temperate – or Atlantic/Celtic rainforest as it is also called – is characterised by trees, often sessile oaks, bearing all sorts of epiphytes – polypody ferns, lichens, mosses, pennywort. The trees literally drip with verdant epiphytic life. Like all rainforests they receive a lot of rainfall that creates rich, moist, tangled layers of lush vegetation that I find incredibly beautiful in dappled sunlight.

We’ve visited smaller patches of rainforest in Wales in the past, but this area in Devon struck me as being more extensive and rich. Nothing beats a river flowing and muttering over rocks in a forest. Here it’s the River Bovey.

Temperate Rainforest
A tangle of ferns, mosses and trees with the river just visible below.

When we returned home I decided to work on another rainforest altered book, but this time of a temperate rainforest. I’ve featured an otter – they visit the River Bovey – a couple of stoats, a pied flycatcher and a jay among the ferns, moss, lichen and rocks.

Temperate Rainforest Altered Book
Temperate Rainforest Altered Book

Once again forests feature in my art. Like the author, Jay Griffiths, forests and woods make me happy. Temperate Rainforest Altered Book is available in my Etsy shop and in my website shop.

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A Dragon Encounter Altered Book

A Dragon Encounter Altered Book
A Dragon Encounter Altered Book

Twilight seeps through old, gnarled trees. The quiet is broken by a whisper as sparks of flame ignite; there is a fire aglow deep in the forest this night of the full moon, this night of the Dragon Moon.

Listen. What do you hear?

– A baying of hunting dogs far off; the muffled hoot of an owl; the plaintive sigh of a sleeping tree as it slumbers deep in time, ready to awaken, ready to rouse, ready… but not quite.

Wait, while the moon hangs potent and heavy, casting indigo shadows over the castle ruins, something else stirs. On to a mound of rocks climbs an old man, silvered hair and beard shimmering in the light of moon and flame, a whizened wizard of a man.

It is happening.

Suddenly the flames roll into a ball of fire and into the flames the old man raises his arms. In a powerful explosion of light, he brings forth a great dragon from out of the ether, broad as comet, sinewy as snake, as vociferous as any monstrous beast of night. This is the beast of the full moon, unleashed. This is it. This is it. A cry resounds throughout the forest. The awakening has begun…

An altered book commission now off to its new home.

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New Items in my Shops

To start the year I’ve added a few new items to my Etsy shop and website shop. First is another papercut concertina card, In the Hedge:

In the Hedge Concertina Card
In the Hedge Concertina Card
In the Hedge Concertina Card back
In the Hedge Concertina Card – back
In the Hedge Concertina Card - front
In the Hedge Concertina Card – front
In the Hedge Concertina Card - back
In the Hedge Concertina Card – back

I love crouching down and looking into hedges. Often I see birds skulking among an interwoven tangle of branches and leaves of various species. I love leafy detail :) To capture this view I papercut two holes in the card that frame a dunnock’s nest. Dunnocks choose to nest quite close to the ground and are often found in gardens.

When our resident fox visited our garden during daylight hours, we would sometimes find it curled up and tucked beneath a cotoneaster bush. I decided to put a sleeping fox on the back of this new card along with a magpie. It’s interesting that magpies have a special relationship with foxes, often following them about, possibly to benefit from any morsels disturbed by a foraging fox.

I have a few new sepia wildlife cards using images from my Into the Woods calendar. They can be bought separately or as a set of five.

Sepia Wildlife Card Pack
Sepia Wildlife 5-Card Pack

Finally I have a couple of new prints including Night Vigil, which is also a C6 sized greetings card.

Night Vigil A4 Print
Night Vigil A4 Print

I recently listed a new altered book, but it sold very soon after listing. Anyway, here is a photo of Still Deer Moon, that has gone to a new home:

Still Deer Moon Altered Book
Still Deer Moon altered book

I’m working on a small altered sketchbook that I’ll write about soon. I have ideas for more… meanwhile,

Wishing everyone a lovely new year!

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Inspiration from a Cave

I have a fascination for caves, as you may have seen from previous posts. Royston Cave in Hertfordshire has been on my radar for years. This year we were in the area and booked a tour to see the cave for ourselves.

Carving in Royston Cave
Carving in Royston Cave.

Royston is a pretty, unassuming town, but it has a Roman road running through it as well as part of the Ichnield Way, an ancient track that runs from Wiltshire to Norfolk. Royston Cave is under the ground in the chalk where the two roads meet.

On the tour we descended steps and then followed a moderately steep passageway extending underground beneath the main road. Soon we found ourselves in a round chamber lit by wall lights. I could see engravings all around the lower part of the cave – faces, figures, crosses, birdlike fish, horses. Apparently the carvings are thought to be of the 14th century – medieval – and may be associated with the Knights Templar. In the 17th century a ten year old boy was instructed to descend into the man-made cave to see if there was any treasure in it. On further investigation the carvings were found.

On the walls, there are many religious depictions and symbols, but also some pagan imagery such as a shela-mi-gig. This shows that the carvings were made when pagan beliefs had not yet been totally obscured by Christianity.

Horse and Sheela na gig
Horse and Sheela na gig in Royston Cave.

Our guide started explaining what she knew about the carvings, starting with a St Christopher figure carrying someone on his shoulder (see the photo below on the left). There are other saints depicted, including Saint Catherine, shown holding a wheel as she was sacrificed on a burning wheel. Today people light Catherine wheels on Guy Fawks night to remember her.

To the left of St Christopher is a rectangle representing the tomb where Christ was buried, along with a hand and a bird-fish, possibly symbolising the Holy Spirit or risen Christ. There is a sword and a shield, a horse and the holy family.

Holy Family in Royston Cave
Holy Family in Royston Cave. On the right you can see the top of a Templar sword.
Figures and Crescent Moon in Royston Cave
Figures and Crescent Moon in Royston Cave

There are many other drawings of knights, angels, rows of sinners and a figure holding a candle that may represent the light of the new religion that will lead believers out of darkness. Low down and to the right of the passage entrance is a crescent moon.

It was the figure of St Christopher that made the most impression on me. He is the patron saint of travellers and is said to have carried a child over a river who turned out to be Christ. I kept in mind the image of a figure carrying a rucksack, journeying on foot over the hills and drew and collaged a picture of this figure I have titled The Journeyman.

The Journeyman
The Journeyman – A pen and ink drawing with collage.

My figure is walking through a dreamlike, fluid, but fragmented landscape with the chalk figure of The Long Man of Wilmington in the distance. I like the idea of a traveller wandering the land without any particular destination, stopping here and there to find work. The ground in the picture looks unstable, symbolic of the unsettling times we’re living in.

I didn’t know what a journeyman was until I looked it up. Apparently the word originates from the Middle Ages and refers to a worker, such as a craftsman, who has acquired skills as an apprentice, but who is not yet a Master. He would work for an employee, often for a day (‘journée’ means ‘day’ in French) and was also known to travel around the country working here and there. There was a strong journeyman tradition in Europe.

When I googled ‘journeyman woodcut images’ I was surprised at how similar my drawing was to one of them.

I then decided to create an altered book titled The Journeyman.

The Journeyman Altered Book
The Journeyman Altered Book

I had in mind a present day journeyman walking over the Umbrian hills in Italy. I’ve never been to that region of Italy, but I imagined dry, rocky paths, leathery-leaved oaks, ibex and lynx. In my book you can see the spire of a church in the distance, a village in the valley. I’ve featured a cave and remember that there is the unusual, underground, spritual community of Damanhur in Northern Italy.

The altered book has seven illustrated pages on the left of the central spread and six on the right. It will be for sale in my Etsy shop and Reflections website shop soon.

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To the Forest Ball and Papercut Dresses

Back in 2016 I learnt about an intrigueing 17th century dress hauled up from a shipwreck off the coast of Holland. Apparently it belonged to the Countess of Roxburghe, lady-in-waiting to Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I. It’s a romantic story that you can read about here. From then, I decided I’d like to do an art project centred around a dress, something that has been done many times before.

17th century shipwreck dress
17th century shipwreck dress.

I forgot about the idea until it was rekindled by a visit to see the paper dresses of Stephanie Smart at both Danny House, ‘Maison de Papier‘, in 2017 and Firle Place, The Regency Wardrobe, last year. (Firle Place was where the film Emma was filmed.) Here is a photo of one of the dresses in Danny House:

Paper dress by Stephanie Smart
Paper dress as part of the exhibition ‘Maison de Papier’ by Stepanie Smart at Danny House.

You weren’t allowed to take photos of the dresses at Firle Place, but I managed to take a general scene. You can see photos from all exhibitions on Stephanie Smart’s website.

Paper dresses in ‘The Regency Wardrobe’ exhibition by Stephanie Smart at Firle Place.

I’m always curious about paper art. There are other paper dresses, dress illustrations and paper objects made by different artists that I like. Check out Marina Terauds‘ dress illustrations here and artist Chris Lines’ mixed media dresses.

I like the idea of dresses and stories, dresses and words, sea mottled dresses, dresses underwater… the latter reminds me of the tragic drowning of Sarah d’Avigdor-Goldsmid, depicted in the sea by Chagall in the beautiful windows of Tudeley Church, which I have written about before.

I decided, as usual, to do an altered book. I reached out to the sea for inspiration, but nothing returned to me. I’ve been too embedded in the woods and forests, too much with trees, so trees had to be involved. I started the book last autumn, but it wasn’t going quite as I wanted it to. After much experimenting with folding paper to create a paper dress that could be folded into the altered book, I decided the result was a bit too similar to a gaudy Spanish souvenir doll in a flamenco dress :) I stuck with it though. I’ve used gold pen and gold paint on the papercut pages along with coloured inks. Here is To the Forest Ball altered book on a stand made out of a metal coathanger:

To the Forest Ball Altered Book
To the Forest Ball Altered Book

And here are a few of the inside pages with a lot of gold brambles and blue, dusky trees:

To the Forest Ball will be available in my Etsy shop and website shop soon.

I hesitated a lot while working on this book, feeling ambiguous about the dress. I don’t wear dresses myself, but over the years I’ve found myself illustrating women in long, old fashioned dresses.

I embarked on a picture that will be made into a card. I’ve called it Waiting for Rain because the woman is holding out her hand. I thought that I’d work on paper collaged with brown paper using pen and ink, gold paint and metallic inks. I also wanted to pattern the dress with a bramble design. The drawing is size A3. It shimmers in the light:

Waiting for Rain
Waiting for Rain – mixed media on paper
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Nest Project

Nest Oracle Card
Nest Oracle Card – the deck is growing!

I could tell you about how grim the start of my year was and how, after one thing and then another, I caught Covid and am now recovering. Covid wasn’t so bad, but…enough about that. I’ll tell you instead about the Nest Project that I’ve been working on.

It’s time for nests. I’ve been watching a blackbird looking for suitable nesting sites in the garden and I’ve seen a crow diligently prising off twigs from one of our elder bushes for a nest in a tall tree a few doors down. I love finding nests from previous seasons, their intricacy intrigues me.

I recently went to an exhibition called Undercurrents by Louise McCurdy and Steve Geliot. It was about the starlings on the Palace Pier and their murmurations. Here is a photo from the exhibition of a giant starling’s nest. I love the interwoven flowers.

Nest in undercurrents Exhibition
Nest in Undercurrents Exhibition at the Phoenix Arts space, Brighton

Apparently flowers and bark have aromatic chemicals so if woven into a nest they can fumigate it and deter parasites.

I’ve got out of the library, Nests by Susan Ogilvy. The book is gorgeous with lovely pink/cream pages and her watercolour paintings are exquisite. Here is one of her wren’s nests made of fine twigs, grasses, moss, skeleton leaves, feathers and hair:

Susan Ogilvy's Wren's Nest
Susan Ogilvy’s Wren’s Nest

And here is a photo of a wren’s nest I found in the garden last year, deep in the ivy (photographed after the wrens had fledged and left). You can see that the materials are very similar:

Wren's Nest

Below is my feeble attempt at painting an old mud-lined song thrushes’ nest as a still life:

song thrush nest in watercolour
Song thrushes’ nest in watercolour, mud-lined with dry moss and grasses.

I’ve been working on my Altered Sketchbook and have added the next section, section 2, a nest in the undergrowth. I’ve based it on a willow warbler’s nest, which is typically domed and made close to the ground. I’ve made a short video showing the whole of the altered sketchbook so far, including the nest section:

Here are some images of the Nest section (click on the images to see larger versions):

I’ve started working on a Nest nature booklet/zine. So far I’ve drawn blackbirds at their nest in the undergrowth:

Blackbirds at Their Nest
Blackbirds at Their Nest for my new nature booklet/zine.

In Wolstonbury Woods, just outside Brighton, there’s a large circle of sticks in the shape of a beautiful, human-sized nest:

Nest sculpture Wolstonbury Hill
Nest sculpture Wolstonbury Hill

Who made the nest I had no idea, until I did a bit of research and discovered the website of artist Flick Ferdinando. You can see more photos of the nest and a film about it on her website.

I’ve collected together images of some of the nests I’ve found over the years – a lesser black-backed gulls’ nest; a dormouse’s summer nest; an unknown nest with woodpigeon and blackbird eggshells; a long-tailed tits’ nest; a blackbird’s nest(?) in a hornbeam; a wren’s nest. Each one has a story, told very  briefly below each image.

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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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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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Altered Book Commissions 2020

I’ve had my head down working on projects and not getting out as much as I’d have liked. It’s also been rather wet. Soon, I hope to have one or two new things to show that I’m working on. Meanwhile, I thought I’d put up a few of the altered book commissions that I’ve done this year.

Dragon in the Forest Altered Book

I was contacted and asked to make an altered book inspired by Terry Brooks’ magical kingdom. I haven’t read any Terry Brooks’ books, but I researched a bit and, along with a few guidelines from my customer, came up with the following:

Dragon in the Woods altered book
Altered book inspired by Terry Brooks’ magical kingdom.

There’s a dragon hiding behind the trees and a ruin of a house.

The Wintry Wood Altered Book

I was asked if I would make another Box of Delights altered book, this time based on the winter scenes in the story. It’s called The Wintry Wood. David Plaice gave me outlined drawings of what he wanted on each of the pages, apart from the last one which he said I could draw as I liked and make it a surprise. Below are three pages from the book…

… and a lovely video made by David Plaice of the book as a whole, with music by Ian Hughes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but The left hand pages of the book were inspired by my 2017 Romanian bear seeking excursions.

Deer in the Forest Altered Book

Finally, I worked on a pocket sized sketchbook and created Deer in the Forest. It wasn’t exactly a commission, until the first copy went missing in the US postal system and I was asked if I’d make it again:

Pocket Altered Book
Two Deer Pocket Altered Book

Two Deer Pocket Altered Book

I hope to share some more forest-related artwork soon.

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