I was looking at the artwork of Azul Thomé and dreaming about how I’d like to be able to paint like her. I thought for a bit. I have no real patience going on a course and, besides, usually I’m only really interested in what I can create from myself, whatever it’s like. I’m not interested in painting like anyone else. One only gets better by trying, by working at it. So I got out my acrylics and started decorating a couple of diaries and a piece of bark rounded like a bowl:
Pleased that the colour had come back into my life, I thought, if I decorate diaries, why not the wooden boxes I keep them in?
I have three wooden boxes from Hobbycraft and The Works that I store some of my diaries in. I dived in and started painting the outside and the inside of one of them and varnishing it. Here is the result, a monstrous, pink, shiny box painted with a tree, of course, and roots on the outside …
and a figure inside, the guardian of my diaries:
I wanted to paint the figure as a goddess. Then I added face paint and she began to look male. Perhaps the figure represents the sacred union of the Masculine and Feminine. Now though, I tend to think of her as a ‘she’, a woman of the Wild, Golden Sun and she’s discovered a nest (just as I like finding nests), a nest of memories, thoughts, dreams.
My diaries are strangely special to me. They are what I’ll leave behind, as I have no children, even if my writing is just banal or drivel. The box is a sort of treasure chest and that reminds me of the grave goods of the Ancient Egyptians. I’m not really thinking of death and beyond though, I’m enjoying making creations and painting. I may be improving a bit I don’t know, but it doesn’t really matter to me at the moment. Now to work on my other two, wooden boxes…
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’:
My unease has been growing steadily over the past six months. I’ve felt inclined to withdraw, retreat without really knowing why, other than being aware of a strange feeling of foreboding, of something bad on the horizon.
First it was the terrible fires in Australia. I despaired at what was and is happening to the planet. Then came the floods, the now usual floods upending people’s lives. Then came the locust swarms in East Africa. Now it is coronavirus. These are unsettling times for everyone.
One night recently I sat up in bed feeling a rising panic. I could see nothing in the future, but a dark mist over everything. It was as though a meteriote had struck the earth and we were now reeling in one long eternal night. It was frightening. It is frightening. Then an image of the earth appeared in my mind, the wonderful, luminous blue planet rolling in the dark void of space. The earth was not alone, it rolled with other planets, star clusters, galaxies. Earth has seen so many disasters and catastrophes throughout it’s long existence, it just keeps rolling. Life retreats and dies out, but it always returns. In the dark void of space in my mind the earth is so old. It is so silent up there and peaceful. I find it quite calming to think of these crisis situations from this perspective. The silence, so nourishing. Is this like the Buddhist’s silence and emptiness?
Spring time is a time to be joyous. Still, now I often wake up feeling a bit depressed, a deep worry inside that contrasts with the brightness of sunshine and birdsong. It is a grief that I feel and what a lot of people are feeling right now.
The value and beauty of silence has stayed with me. The day following my panic attack I set out on a walk heading north to the edge of the city. I pass a tree in blossom. It hums a song of nectar and pollen, of honey; the bees are busy. Further on. I reach Old Boat Corner, the boundary of Stanmer Great Wood where a fringe of elephantine beeches mark what I like to think of as the frontier, the edge of the countryside. Entering through the trees the din of traffic grows quieter the further into the wood I wander. I know I won’t find silence, but I do find the trees full of birdsong. I realise now how much I need both birdsong and trees. I need trees right now, the tall, majestic beeches, the gnarly oaks, the green, algal, mossy ones.
There is no panic here. The word ‘panic’ has its root in the Ancient Greek god, Pan, whose wild cries caused fear in the woodland.
I walk through a strip of woodland I’ve walked a few times before. On the map it links Upper Lodge Wood with Flint Heap. When Kevin came with me recently he named it Dead Beech Lane because it is a-jumble with dead and fallen beeches – great for fungi in the autumn. I have made a little map of this area, which has become my sanctuary, my haven to retreat to.
Some of the beeches must be at least two or three hundred years old.
There is also a beech stump where I once wrote my diary:
There is an interesting ruined farmstead in the area, Piddingworth Farm, that was abandoned in the early 1900s:
Sitting adjacent to the wood, I hear a green woodpecker call, then see a buzzard circling over a distant field. A flurry of gulls follows a tractor. Blue tits and great tits chatter in the hedgerow followed by jackdaws in the nearest beech tree branches. The drumming of a great spotted woodpecker echoes between the trees while a peacock butterfly follows me as I amble along the field-wood boundary.
Days pass and restrictions intensify. My unease is squeezed into a small space, home. I want to make this walk out of the city a regular thing, if it is still permitted. I consider it a sort of pilgrimage to visit the beeches. I want to sit with them. I want the land to dream me, to hold me. I feel grateful that I can walk out of my house and reach this patch of land that I could almost call home.
If I continue further into the woods and fields, I come to Green Broom, then Highpark Wood. The latter is a bluebell wood and currently has a verdant, leafy carpet soon to blossom to mauve. It is a popular spot with families and cyclists. Before they brought in even tighter restrictions, it seemed as though everyone was fleeing to these woods like myself.
Now more confined to home, I put my worry into words and images in my diary. I call these worry drawings. I’m not very imaginative with the images; anxiety constricts my imagination. I just let them come. Here are a few pages of worry drawings:
The coronavirus affects the lungs. Looking deep inside we see the landscape of our own hills, fields, rivers and trees. I must let the trees and land breathe me.
I mentioned in a previous post about how I’ve kept a diary for much of my life. Sometimes I decorate the covers. Having seen the David Nash exhibition recently, I thought I’d get out some of my old diaries and decorate them with some of the natural materials I’ve collected.
Last year I visited the Canary Island, La Palma, and brought back some pieces of dead prickly pear I found lying about. It was awkward fitting it in my rucksack. (I can’t resist collecting natural materials with interesting textures that I save for future projects :)
I covered a 2018 diary with a print out of a tree silhouette and overlaid this with some dry prickly pear. Then I added black and white paint. The result holds memories of the lunar, volcanic landscapes of La Palma:
I have a bundle of dried cocksfoot grasses and decided to arrange and glue a few stalks to the front of another diary. With the next diary, I played with scrim, made some hemp string plaits and attached the jaw bone of a rabbit and a small bivalve shell to the strings before glueing them to cover. It’s a work in process:
Some diaries get illustrated covers, front and back:
I’ve had a bit of a thing about rock and rock seams, especially this year. Stacks of diaries are like layers of sedimentary rock, accretions of thoughts and ponderings laid down over years. Here is my rock seam diary complete with a shell and seeds:
I thought I’d gather a few of the diaries I have decorated over the years and photograph them altogether – like a patchwork quilt:
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.)
We found some Pech Merle inspired graffiti while driving in the valley of the River Lot:
We were allowed to take photos in the mineral cave at Cougnac. It felt like entering a womb in the earth,
Many of the stalagmites looked like gatherings of people,
As part of the tour of the Sorcerer’s Cave we were allowed into some medieval cave homes in the rockface,
I’m always intrigued when I find a nest;
I didn’t make many sketches while away, just a few line drawings in my sketchbook;
But I found the caves very inspiring and I’ve started doodling images. Here’s the cover of my diary:
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.
I’ve experimented with overlaying tree photos in Photoshop to give a mystical, dreamlike quality to the image;
I’ve also experimented with creating textured surfaces. Here is a spread in a sketchbook:
I’ve added some animal outlines;
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.)
I have often had an image in my mind of a woman trapped in stone beneath the waves, a sort of Rock or Stone Goddess or Buddhess. I first drew a picture of this in my diary back in 1989. I think I was feeling reflective at the time.
The image has stayed with me so I thought I’d work with it on another altered book, a colour one this time. Playing with photoshop and layering several images, I put together the image below to help inspire me: (I might make this image into a small card.)
I have two large dictionaries, but I thought there’s something sacrilegous about cutting up a dictionary so I bought a secondhand history book from my local PDSA charity shop (I should, perhaps, have read it first!). It’s a bit of a tome as I wanted some depth to the images.
The result is below. It’s coloured with inks, a mixture of turquoises, blues and golds. The creation of it was a way of expressing a feeling of entrapment I feel at the moment and a reminder that there is treasure within even if I can’t always see it :)
Here are some of the pages. Click on each to see a larger image:
I have just finished reading “A Walk Between Heaven and Earth” by Burghild Nina Holzer. It is a lovely book about how to write a creative journal, written in the way of a journal. Burghild’s writing shines in its simplicity and beauty. There are many passages I like, such as the quote on the back of the book:
Talking to paper is talking to the divine. Paper is infinitely patient. Each time you scratch on it, you trace part of yourself, and thus part of the world, and thus part of the grammar of the universe.
There are many passages I relate to. One in particular, about when the author spends time beside a river, reminds me of my time beside the River Bure. Here is an extract from page 107:
On the last day of my journey I sat by a river with long green hair. It was like the hair of some wild river woman, swirling at my feet, as if she wanted to caress me. And the river woman whispered to me, she said, “Put your feet in the water, put your hands in.” And as soon as I did I saw the fish….And the green hair caressed my feet, and I forgot about time. And when I finally turned to go, I saw that my backpack had fallen into the water, as if the wild woman wanted to claim it, as if she wanted to claim my journal and make the task of translation impossible…”
I love all things natural, including books made from natural materials. I was very interested to read about the natural book Bridgette Guerzon Mills created on a Maker’s Foraging Retreat that took her out of her comfort zone. (I love all her work by the way!)
I wanted a make a natural book and perhaps one obvious thing would be to make handmade paper and bind it with nettle cord. One day. Instead I decided to collect natural materials – as I do for some of my paintings – and simply decorate one of my journals.
After a day in the woods at the beginning of June, these were my finds:
I took one of my small, kraft paper notebooks and covered it first with bark – I think it is hazel bark – then moss and finally lichen. The spine I have decorated with rushes.
A very earthy journal! The trouble is that bits fall off while I’m writing out my dreams first thing in bed!
Journalling or writing a diary is very important to me; I write most days but much of it is babbling thoughts that need sorting. I have written a journal/diary since the age of 13 when I read Anne Frank’s diary; it moved me a great deal. Now I have piles of old notebooks in storage boxes and I’ve decided to embark on a proper storage project: creating Diary Boxes that will contain all my journal/diaries as well as other memorabilia. In these ones I have feathers, eggshells, rabbit jaw bones, letters and, of course, diaries.
I’ve partly been inspired by The Library of the Forest created by Miguel Angel Blanco that I read about in Robert MacFarlane‘s The Old Ways. The boxes are a beautiful and natural record of walks the artist takes into the Guadarrama Mountains outside Madrid where he lives. It is worth reading the whole of his artist’s statement, but here is a passage from it in English:
It is still possible to plunge into nature’s secret life. In some places, earth emits a dense breath, which, when inhaled by man, immediately passes on to him knowledge and sensations he possessed in former times, when living in its bosom. The telluric sensibility of ancient man can still be retrieved. Our capacity to fathom the ancient to discover the new. Nature presents itself as a transcendent experience, a means of reclaiming man’s hidden greatness, so that he may grow spiritually and penetrate the dark. The forest is one of these privileged places, where it is possible to feel mother earth’s throb. It is where the sky takes roots in earth, a sacred space heavy with mystery.
I have also discovered an artist Jan Kilpatrick, who creates all sorts of boxes. They look great!
I have decided to leave my diaries to The Great Diary Project when I die – not that anyone would find them very interesting, but who knows?