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From the Sea to the River – Sea Trout and Nautical Charts

When you are lost, you look for landmarks to get your barings, a map perhaps and tools to navigate. This year I have felt lost and adrift, but paradoxically anchored like a buoy and going nowhere. I suffer from a sort of sea vertigo, clutching at nothings. Time has passed and I have little to show for it. When in a state of quasi-suspension, like a trout caught mid-stream, I need a project.

Recently I received the e-newsletter from Dark Mountain and read Charlotte Du Cann’s piece, Sea change, which resonated very much with me. I was especially moved by the little video included in the post, Manta Ray, from the film Racing Extinction. Why watching zooplankton is moving I cannot say, but I felt very humbled and loving towards all of life after watching the video. Here it is:

I mused about the sea and being lost. Soon a project started to develop. I wanted to work with paper, ink, maps, currents, islands. I had few clues as I was feeling ‘at sea’, amniotic and floating. So I returned to an old motif, the fish, and thought about sea trout and their amazing life cycle. Like salmon, they hatch in rivers, go out to the sea and return years later to breed. They undergo a transformation, a metamorphosis – they shapeshift between fresh and saltwater, their lives mysterious and subtle. I like that change and adaptability.

Sea trout spawn in some of the rivers here in Sussex. You can read a well written description of their life cycle on the Ouse and Adur Rivers Trust website. I have been doing river surveys for OART for the past few years, looking for ‘redds’, the piles of gravel the fish make for breeding.

Sea trout redd?
Sea trout redd?

Occasionally I see a trout and once I watched several jump up a weir. Sea trout are not lost, they recognise the ‘taste’ of the water where they hatched and return to the same river to breed themselves. Each river has its own olfactory signature. They may pick up other clues to find their way to their native waters, such as the magnetic field. Who knows. I think it is amazing. Follow your nose… find your way.

The river pulls me too.

In the River Rother
In the River Rother

I doodled in my sketchbook, sea trout…

Sea Trout Sketchbook
Sea trout sketchbook

and drew a foldout image of a sea trout.

Folded Sea Trout
Folded Sea Trout

The Dark Mountain piece was illustrated with photos of artwork by the artist Leya Tess. She draws marine designs on sea charts. I decided to take my inspiration from her as I have some old nautical charts, acquired from an auction some time ago and waiting for a project. I used a chart that shows the area of coast where the Sussex rivers – the Ouse, Adur and Cuckmere – enter the sea. Here is my finished artwork:

Sea Trout Art Chart
Sea Trout Art Chart – click on image for a larger version.

I also visited one of the gravelly streams where sea trout come to make their redds and spawn. I filmed under the shallow water:

Filming under the water
Filming under water in a sea trout stream.

I am going somewhere in a way. I have made a start and hopefully it will lead me futher. I’m now working on a brief film poem.

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The Cabin – Inspiration, Sourcing, Creating

As I’ve mentioned in my previous post, while in France we visited three caves of palaeolithic art, Pech Merle, Cougnac and the Sorcerer’s Cave. Pech merle made the biggest impression on me and the frieze of the spotted horses especially. (I have written about the visit in detail for TOAST Magazine.)

Pech Merle
Pech Merle Cave. Photo from
Horse Drawing - Pech Merle
Horse Drawing – Pech Merle

We found some Pech Merle inspired graffiti while driving in the valley of the River Lot:

Pech Merle Inspired Graffiti
Pech Merle inspired graffiti on cliff overhang.

We were allowed to take photos in the mineral cave at Cougnac. It felt like entering a womb in the earth,

Cave at Cougnac
Cave at Cougnac
Cave at Cougnac - Stalactites
Cave at Cougnac – Stalactites

Many of the stalagmites looked like gatherings of people,

Cave at Cougnac
Cave at Cougnac

As part of the tour of the Sorcerer’s Cave we were allowed into some medieval cave homes in the rockface,

Medieval Cave Homes - The Cave of the Sorcerer
Medieval Cave Homes – The Cave of the Sorcerer

I’m always intrigued when I find a nest;

Nest in the Cave
Nest in the Cave – what bird I wonder? I’m finding a few nests.

I didn’t make many sketches while away, just a few line drawings in my sketchbook;

Sketchbook and Finds
Sketchbook and Finds – nest, wasp nest, owl feather.

But I found the caves very inspiring and I’ve started doodling images. Here’s the cover of my diary:

Diary Cover Two Horses
Diary Cover – Two Horses

I made a small sketch painting on cardboard layered with brown paper pieces to give it a surface texture. I like the magic of spotted horses, they bring to mind circuses and merry-go-rounds and the art of Chagall.

Two Horses
Two Horses

I’ve experimented with overlaying tree photos in Photoshop to give a mystical, dreamlike quality to the image;

Tow Horses
Two Horses

I’ve also experimented with creating textured surfaces. Here is a spread in a sketchbook:

Sketchbook - painting idea for The Silent Herd
Sketchbook – painting idea for The Silent Herd

I’ve added some animal outlines;

The Silent Herd
The Silent Herd Idea

It hasn’t worked yet, but I’ll persist with the experiments :)

I’m not typically drawn to horses, but seeing horses canter aound a field one day while I was at someone’s house made quite an impression on me. It inspired me to draw the picture, In the Rock Cleft, in this post. (And all along I find that there’s a song in the back of my mind, Wild Horses by The Rolling Stones :) Listen here.)

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Spirit Boat Project

I’ve been thinking about boats and the idea of a Shamanic boat. When I googled ‘shamanic boat’ I found a website about Finnish Shamanism, Spiritboatblogspot (which is very fascinating and worth checking out if you’re into shamanic practices.) I also found a link to the Living Shaman Museum and a workshop that took place by a ‘spirit boatist’/artist, Jennifer Ewing. Her work intrigues me. She started making boats when her father died to help her deal with her grief.

My Uncle Ken made boats – it’s one thing I remember about him. Sometimes boats make an impression on me and one such boat was the Vasa ship in the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. It has some lovely carvings of sea spirits, tritons and mermen decorating the sides:

Vasa Ship Mermen
Vasa Ship Mermen
Sea Spirit on the Vasa Ship
Sea Spirit on the Vasa Ship

Another boat that comes to mind is Grayson Perry‘s ship in The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman.

Grayson Perry's Ship
Grayson Perry’s Ship in The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, British Museum 2011.

I like boat ruins too and featured one in a previous post that’s supposed to be haunted.

There is something lovely about the idea of a container carrying you over the waters.

“At night I sleep and dream reed-lined, silt-laden dreams, drifting channels in my skiff, hugging the shallows, calm and sheltered from a ravaging sea beyond.”

I decided to embark on my own Spirit Boat project, making boats and putting night lights inside them before placing them into a river at dusk as another river project.

So I started by making a simple origami boat and covering it with pieces of a letter written to the river with my hopes and dreams, words and poems. (I tried to write in the language of the river!) I stuck a rabbit vertebrae in the bottom of the boat to hold a gull feather. This became my Boat of Words.

Origami Boat
Origami Boat made out of an old drawing of a fox I no longer wanted.
Boat of Words
Boat of Words

The second boat I covered with used coffee filter papers that were stained a nice, natural coffee brown. I sewed on to the sides rabbit bones with scrim twine and used a rabbit skull as a figurehead. This became my Boat of Bones. At last I have a use for the natural materials I’m always collecting!

All the materials have a story. I collected my rabbit skulls and bones during a visit to Morfa Dyffryn, an extensive stretch of sand dunes on the coast of Wales. We visited on a cold April day when the winds off the sea chilled us to the bone. It must be a harsh place to be a rabbit.

Boat of Bones
Boat of Bones

My third boat I covered in coffee filter papers and scrim and trimmed it with dried grasses that I’d collected from a basket making day last year. I put some sheep’s wool that I’d collected from the Downs on the first really sunny day in April. This is my Harvest Boat.

Agricultural Spirit Boat
Harvest Boat
Nest Boat
Nest Boat

Finally I covered a boat with dried, used teabag papers to give it a rustic, natural look. I then placed moss inside to finish off my Moss Boat.

Moss Boat
Moss Boat
Spirit Boats in Process
Spirit Boats in Process

In my boats I placed a night light.

Five Spirit Boats
Five Spirit Boats

One evening in July as the moon was waning, my partner Kevin and I set off for the River Ouse at Barcombe Mills where the river is gentle and accessible. It is a popular place by day; people have picnics and swim in the river. I have swum there once myself….

Swimming in the River Ouse
Swimming in the River Ouse – I can’t resist a bit of wild swimming when I get the opportunity!

We waited for dusk and then lit the night lights. I can’t help thinking the boats look like shoes! ( I think ‘shoes’ and then ‘footprints’ and have ideas for another project! Watch this space :) )

I slowly put the boats into the water and filmed them while Kevin took photos. When I looked at the footage I found it quite meditative, so I made the video below and set it to some deep, Tibetan chanting. You may be able to hear the odd chaffinch singing from the hedgerows.

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New creations

It’s the time for nests! Everywhere I hear birdsong even in the middle of town and it’s lovely. As a child I would climb trees in the hope of finding a nest. Sometimes I did, but those I found – and collected – never had any eggs. I wouldn’t have disturbed them if they had. It’s very special getting a glimpse into a nest with eggs.

In our garden there are a couple of magpies building a nest in the top of a dead sycamore tree. The nest looks oval with a sort of thatched roof. They’re probably not yet tending eggs – my egg book says April – May. It’s good to watch them in action. I like magpies although they have a bad name and are so numerous these days. I remember a lovely animation featuring magpies on the IPM Radio 4 website that accompanied a short programme about bird watching and dementia.

Magpie Page in Egg Book

Magpie and Nest
Magpie and Nest

I have a few new creations that feature nests, apples and wings – altered books and small canvases. My Blackbird Nest altered book was on Folksy and sold very quickly:

Nest Altered Book

As it’s Spring, I had to create a Spring altered book which depicts a blackbird nest and woodland scene.

Spring Altered Book

Another one illustrates the poem, Song of the Wandering Aengus by William B. Yeats. I have chosen to illustrate the last few lines of the poem:

..And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

The left side of the book features the moon, half the tree of silver apples and a woman. The right side features a man sitting in the sun below the half of the tree with gold apples.

Silver Apples of the Moon Golden Apples of the Sun

The poem is an old favourite of mine, first heard to music sung by Donovan in a youtube video with some lovely, loose illustrations.

The altered books are part of the Words Exhibition at Obsidian Gallery in Buckinghamshire. I also have Memory Tree Books, a little “Winged” canvas and some cards in the exhibition. The Wings canvas is similar to a commission, Stone Angel Wings, that I did last year (see photo below) It was originally based on an altered book I created some time ago.

Stone Angel Wings
Stone Angel Wings
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Hummingbird has entered my life. I’m not quite sure what I think of Spirit Animals, Animal Totems, Western Shamanism, I try and keep an open mind about it all and find myself drawn to it sometimes.

From left to right: 3 tawny owl, feral pigeon, carrion crow, 2 magpie, herring gull, 4 jay, 2 buzzard, pheasant and an unknown.

I’m always interested in animals and wildlife, although this rarely creeps into this blog. A jackdaw has taken to frequenting the scaffolding outside my bedroom window; we were curious about each other. Sometimes it feels as though nature/wildlife has a message and that I should listen. I’ve found myself collecting feathers from woodland paths and even the street. Recently I found a buzzard feather and now I actively search for them – owl, jay, woodpecker – any feather of any bird. Summer may be the best time to find feathers when birds are moulting, but now is OK as well. Feathers give me a tangible link to the natural world; I even had a dream about one. I’m being drawn to birds, to the sky, to flight and freedom.

So often I’ve thought (symbolically) that my “wings” are torn and broken and however much I wish to “take off”, I can’t. It is a sort of freedom I seek, but something has always held me back or down.

My first experience of hummingbirds was in a garden in Mexico. The bird came quietly like an apparition to visit some red blooms – probably hibiscus flowers. It seemed as though it was an uncanny link with an “Otherworld” at the time, as though this was a special, silent messenger. I’ll never forget the memory.

Hummingbird on reclaimed wood block.

I mentioned another hummingbird encounter in a piece of writing recently published in the magazine Earthlines:

“…After a few minutes I hear a noise, more like a vibration than something audible, coming from my left. It is like feline purring, a soft tinnitus, another sound in this place of voices. A fragment of the forest’s heart splinters off and a tiny hummingbird comes into view unlocked from its own chasm of sound, beating within its own silent bubble.

A coil of memory, recalling a poem by D. H. Lawrence, spools out in my mind,

‘Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.’

The bird hangs needle sharp, chest out, suspended in a brief blur of wings, threading the air. No brilliance here, more like a moth it hovers, patiently in the half light. But, there’s something misplaced, unravelled, something lost and found in the single, graceful poise of this tiny bird fluttering like an off key note against some invisible membrane.

I feel privileged to be caught in a moment with this bird. When the Sun seeks the Moon, says Mayan legend, it becomes a hummingbird. I feel like the moon, feel as though the bird has a message from another world just for me. The moment passes and the White Bellied Emerald is gone, disappeared into the gloom.”

Now I’m painting hummingbirds. And not just in blues! So much of my painting is in blues and turquoises – that I love – but I’ve broken the blue spell and want to paint in yellows and maroons and golds and ….

According to various sources, hummingbirds can symbolize many things – energy, joy, perseverance, flexibility, Eternity and Infinity. Apparently hummingbird wings flutter in a figure of eight, the symbol of Infinity. Hummingbirds appear playful and light encouraging enjoyment of life and positivity. I do feel joy, after sometime of shadow, should I trust it I ask myself…

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Whispers from the forest

I am, once again, in the forest. An aqua forest… of dreams… caught up in an entanglement of roots, alert to the breath and whisper of rock, of clod, of underground river.

As in the poem, Lost, by David Wagnor, I must listen… stand still… let the forest find me.

In the Marine Forest of Dreams


Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

— David Wagoner

New Year and change. Letting the silt of the old year settle; lingering in shifting currents. I took a wander through a nearby wood, the sun, bright, cold and clear through tangled hands of branches, taut and white like a drum in the sky. A forest seeded in my mind…

Before Christmas, I listened to a play by Kneehigh Theatre on Radio 4 called “The Wild Bride”. The story was based on the fairy tale, The Handless Maiden and an overview of the tale can be read on the theatre website here.

In the tale a poor forester accidently sells his daughter to the Devil. When she goes feral and becomes a wild thing in the forest, I began to listen a bit more intently;

“Her dreams became deep rooted and full of forest”.

Wild or feral people, animals and characters intrigue me right now:

– The Thing in Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast… “something human that stood dappled with leaf-shaped shadows, a child, with its thick hair hacked off close to its head and the face freckled like a bird’s egg. The body, slender, indeed thin, appeared, when the child began to move, to be without weight.”

– the wild child in David Malouf‘s An Imaginary Life“He has not yet captured his individual soul out of the universe about him. His self is outside him, its energy distributed among the beasts and birds whose life he shares, among leaves, water, grasses, clouds, thunder – whose existence he can be at home in because they hold, each of them, some particle of his spirit.”

Perhaps they represent a freer, more primitive self, a closeness to the wild spirit and nature we once had millenia back. Perhaps they simply remind us of the untamed child of our own past, I may have been somehow closer to nature then.

I took a biro, a large sheet of brown paper and inspired by Eva Jospin, doodled a forest. Here is my first Forest on Brown Paper and a photoshop-inverted one because I love blue so much. Wild child sketches follow.

Forest on brown paper

Inverted Forest

Wild Girl

Wild Child

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Dusk Portraits

Night River GoddessStar Goddess MemoryBack in November when seeking a good river site to release my Moana River Goddess, I visited the River Adur. Dusk was falling quickly and a mist was seeping up from the adjacent fields like some ghost of the land. In the fading light, I walked into the mist’s embrace and tried to capture photos of a sunset, dying pink behind the trees. It was very beautiful.

Now I’ve decided to overlay some of the photos with recent paintings and pictures. Here are the results, my Dusk Portraits. I like the underwater feel to the pictures and wanted them to look like old portrait paintings seeped in a twilight blue of age or paintings that have been x-rayed to reveal hidden images beneath.

NocturneA Letter at Twilight

“When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.”

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

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Art in the woods

Face sculpture at Hannah PescharReflection in sculpture at Hannah PescharReflecting triangle sculpture at Hannah PescharGreen sculpture at Hannah PescharI visited Hannah Peschar sculpture garden in Surrey recently. It is a beautiful setting for sculpture with plenty of water everywhere. I took photos of several pieces I liked – a giant rusting face/mask; metal triangles that reflected the environment so well they were almost invisible; a metal ball that was like a crystal ball and a green marble-like statue that blended in perfectly with its surroundings. (I’ve used part of a metal ball photo to change my blog header, I thought it sums up the changeable autumn weather.)

My favourite piece was a sound installation by Robert Jarvis. Walking beside the Japanese Maple, the Umbrella Bamboo, the Silverbell Tree and the Giant Rhubarb – all growing around the Oriental Pond – music starts to play. One can’t see where it is coming from. Robert Jarvis created the music based on patterns derived from the DNA sequences of the plants and the processes that determine their growth and ageing. The result is simple and interesting. You can here the music here.

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Dancing through the Elements

Earth Seed WomanI went to a new drop-in movement session on Monday evening run by Caroline Carey founder of Alchemy in Movement. It’s called ‘Movement Medicine’ or ‘Medicine Dance’ and has grown out of the 5 Rhythms. We were taken on a dancing journey through the ‘elements’, Earth, Fire, Water and Air. There’s something special about the elements that never fails to ignite me, something profound, something simple, natural and, well, elemental!

Earth is heavy, I imagined it encasing me like soil, sticky, fertile, moist with moss, wood and roots. I have had a thing about roots recently, a need, perhaps, to refind mine. We sent imaginary roots down through our feet for stability and grounding. To dance earth I think of strong, low movements and trees with only their upper most branches swayed by the breeze. At first my legs were stiff as cinnamon sticks but soon it felt good and I liked the idea of drawing up sustenance from the depths. The music was deep with digeridoos and natural sounds; I bathed in it. My picture of Earth is of a seed harbouring an embryo self, like an insect imago, roots reaching out.

We moved to Fire. Looser music, looser dancing; I travelled the length of the room, to dance with the fairy lights and candles. I cared less about how I moved, fire shooting up within me shredding the overlay of Winter. Burning, smouldering flames, the gentle creep and heat of lava. That did me good.

Swim to the Stars

Water transformed me into waves, moving back and forth, bobbing with flotsum and jetsum. I was adrift, tumbling with breakers, moving constantly. Then I became a weed, tethered in a stream, helplessly flailing in the clear rush of torrent, washing debris away downstream.

And Air, the zephyr, feather light and soaring, a floating miniscule pulse. Air was for me, still, quiet, paused, a tired sigh. I was happy to lie and roll on the floor while Caroline took us through a closing meditation. The evening had been gentle, but alive with imagery, music, sounds, subtle and not so subtle dancing by everyone. It was good to be dancing freely again with other people.

I felt inspired to create so I’ve worked on a couple of pictures in mixed media – acrylics, collage, scrim and stitching – Earth Seed Woman and Swim to the Stars. However, other people’s artworks come to mind. For example for Water, Bill Viola’s films like The Messenger or Brighton based Mim King’s lovely dance film, ‘Dust’ an excerpt of which can be seen here.

I think of Ana Mendiata for Earth and for Fire. I’ll work on my own Fire and Air creations soon :)

Ana MendiataDust by Mim King

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The Boat Project

My knotched piece of drift wood

I’ve just found out about a great “art” project in the South east – Emsworth, Chichester harbour to be precise – that started today, The Boat Project. The project involves creating a 30 ft sailing boat out of bits of wood donated by the public. Each bit of wood has to have a story, so the finished product will be a “boat of stories”. Truly a boat of the people.

The project is a collaboration between artists Gregg Whelan and Gary Winters of Lone Twin, acclaimed sailor and boat builder Mark Covell, and international boat designer Simon Rogers. I was very excited to learn about it as I like any wood, boat, sea, art connection.

There’s a wood donation day in Brighton on 8th May and I thought I’d make a humble donation in the form of a piece of drift wood that I found when doing turtle monitoring for Archelon in 2004. Each day I made a knotch in the wood to count off the days til I would leave – a bit like Robinson Crusoe! I enjoyed the monitoring but was still keen to get home! Perhaps they’ll accept it, perhaps they won’t, I’ll see in May!

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