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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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Night Garden

Cave garden altered book

In the night gardenI’ve continued with the idea of a cave garden. It doesn’t make much sense having a garden in a cave where there’s no light, its as crazy as carpeting pavements. Still, I decided to create cave garden pages in my altered book and found some grass specimens in one of my collections; barren brome, wild oat grass and the ‘clapping hands’ of couch grass decorate the pages. I liked the idea of being in a garden inside a cave and looking out at a landscape and sunset. The page is really just a rough start but I thought I’d display it anyway.

I haven’t got around to visiting a garden yet although I have in mind a place called ‘The Breathing Space’ where a friend has created a willow dome and made it a place for people to go to meditate and enjoy nature. You can see her blog here. Instead I stayed in and worked on a few illustrations on the garden theme. Here is one of them called ‘In the Night Garden’. I’m aware of the children’s television programme of that title, but I don’t care!

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Shunning the light

Woman Shunning the Light

Altered book with woman's face

Buddha Head in tree roots

Woman with Candle

Days ago I imagined I was in a garden. Usually I like wild places but I definitely yearned for a garden of stillness and contemplation. I let the day dream unfold and take me to a cave, a cave garden, in which to meditate. Walking back with the shopping, my thoughts were adrift in powder blue, and I was surrounded by cave drawings of sea creatures, birds and flowers. Peaceful, it reminded me of a painting of Radha and Krishna in the Grove as can be seen here.

I need to find a garden.

The opalite light breaks into brightness. It has been glorious for days, but somehow too bright, too blazing. Its starkness has made me want to turn away and hide. I’ve felt inspired to draw and made this sketch that I’ve called “Woman Shunning the Light”.

I have now added the picture to my ‘altered book’.

She has the face that so often crops up in my pictures. It isn’t my face but the face of an unknown, mystrey woman that looks similar to the Buddha’s head in this photo taken in Ayutthaya in Thailand. She has appeared in my “Woman with Candle” painting, taking light from a dying sun to carry with her into the night. (I have altered the colours of the painting in photoshop to make it bluer – you can see the original on my website paintings page here.) It has an Edvard Munch/Van Gogh inspired sky.

I stumbled upon a passage by Bill Plotkin from his book ‘Soulcraft’ which makes me think about the light and the dark:

People who live excessively upperworld lives take a transcendental view of everything. They tend to see light, love, unity and peace everywhere. They are attracted to the Course in Miracles or aspire to, “enlightenment,” via an ungrounded approach to Buddhism….

…People who live excessively underworld lives see the world darkly. They tend to see hidden meaning, mystery, and the undoing of things everywhere. They gravitate toward the occult and the paradoxical. They want to penetrate to the center of everything and understand it all by standing under….

A holistic approach to spirituality interweaves the ascent and the descent, rendering balance to the experience of both the upperworld and the underworld.

You can read more of the passage here.

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Angel altered book

I’ve turned once again to my altered book. I was listening to the duet Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck, which is one of my favourite pieces of music. It was one of my mother’s too. I remember her when I listen to it and it means “Bread of Angels” in latin.

Ephesus faceAngel statueI kept thinking of flying swans so I decided to give my book wings. They looked like stone angel’s wings before their wash of blue, so I found some photos of angel statues I took a while ago in a cemetery and a haunting, “gasping”-faced statue I took at Ephesus in Turkey which I particularly like. I printed out copies and stuck them in along with some latin lyric scraps of Panis Angelicus. I tore up a page of notes that I’d made for my “about me” page (that I’ll put up soon) and stuck the pieces on to the wings. I intend to do more with shreddings, scribblings, fragments, messages and murmurings in other projects.

Angel altered bookHere is my stone angel swan carrying the night on its back.

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Water2

…the dry stone no sound of water…..

…If there were rock
And also water
And water
A spring
A pool among the rock
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
And dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop
But there is no water…

Quotes from T.S.Eliot’s poem, “The Wasteland”.

This poem has meant a lot to me since I studied it at school. The recurring theme of water and lack of it, put simply, probably symbolises “faith” to the poet. I have been looking up the many and varied symbolisms of water, but first, what inspired me to follow this thread, was my “altered book” project.

I decided to make a visual journal or art book by using an old book copy of Marivaux’s plays that I bought from a charity shop. I decided to start with a sea/water theme as it is one I’ve been drawn to before with my mermaid collages and box etc.

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Water in dreams is interesting, it often represents feelings and emotions. Like the waters of the womb, it can also represent security, life and birth. The nature of the water can reveal your emotional state of mind. For example, if you dream of crashing waves or rocky seas, this may show that your emotions are out of control. A fast flowing river may show emotions that are rushing ahead too fast but if the waters are peaceful then so are you. I have dreamt of tsunamis, big seas and fish tanks!

A more mystical meaning of deep pools and lakes of water can represent the unconscious, or the “Great Primordial Mother”.

Here is a link to an interesting article, Water Symbolism:The Great Mother and Return to the Primordial by Krista Wissing.

There is good information about water symbolism at Professor Chris Witcombe’s site.

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I got on to reading about Greek mythology and water gods and goddesses. I stumbled on a passage taken from Book X of Plato’s The Republic, about the newly dead. In the last step before rebirth into their new, self-chosen life on earth, the dead must drink from the “stream of Oblivion”, Lethe, an underworld river. Those who were not “preserved by wisdom” drank more, and as they drank they forgot everything. But if they were initiated followers of the mystical religious movement called Orphism, they were instructed to drink just a little and then find and drink from the river of memory, Mnemosyne. In so doing they secured an end to the transmigration of the soul.

This picture is my own loose interpretation, “Drinking from the Stream of Memory”.

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