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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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St Mark’s Church Murals

We managed to get away for a couple of nights to the Hampshire/Surrey border. There we discovered a church with some beautiful murals painted about 100 years ago. The artist was Kitty Milroy (1885 – 1966), a woman local to the Upper Hale, Farnham area. When we visited, a friendly woman was about to hold a mum’s and toddlers’ play group. She said she had been aware of the murals all her life, but it was only last year that they were restored to their present state.

St Mark's Church mural
St Mark’s Church mural – the left side.

The left hand side shows figures standing beneath apple trees. Each one has a symbolic name. From left to right there is Showers and Sun united by a rainbow, then Moon and Clouds. Each of the figures stands squarely and was based on a local person.

On the right hand side there are a further four figures; Waters, Summer, Winter and Winds. I like how, at the bottom of Winds, there are wood anenomes depicted, woodland flowers we are trying to grow in the garden. They’re flowering around now.

St Mark's Church mural
St Mark’s Church mural – right hand side.

I like the pastel colours – especially the luminous, dusk blue of the sky and the glowing corn golds – and the delicate way the murals are painted. I also like how the figures are in natural surroundings. They remind me of the art of Watts Chapel (see Churches, Chapels and Frescoes) and were created around the same time, the time of the British Art Nouveau Movement.

Below the paintings of the figures are smaller paintings, quatrefoils (images shaped like a four-leafed clover) depicting some local and natural scenes – Crooksbury Hill, Crescent Moon, Stars of Heaven, Fire and Heat and others. I like the symbolism and the references to places local to the church.

St Mark's Church murals
St Mark’s Church murals – around the windows and altar.

The murals are inspiring. I have plans to paint the inside walls of our shed with a mural when it gets warm enough to sit outside. I can’t do as good a job as Kitty, but I can try. That will be a future post :)

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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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The Forked Forest Path at Fabrica Gallery

The Forked Forest Path
The Forked Forest Path – Olafur Eliasson at Fabrica Gallery

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.

Chapel ruin, Norfolk
Chapel ruin, Norfolk

On our April trip to Dorset, we came to a similar fork in a woodland path:

Forked path at Martin Down NR
Forked path at Martin Down NR

Left or right?

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.

Bark and moss covered diary
A diary covered with natural materials found in the woods – bark, moss, lichen, green woodpecker feathers, an acorn cup.
Forest Painting
Forest – acrylic gold and bronze trees washed over with blue. A recycled painting – can you see the wave-like figure in the landscape?
Forest Path
Forest Path – pen and ink. A similar illustration to the one on my website header.
the Forest Forager Altered Book
The Forest Forager Altered Book. I have nearly finished it. I wanted to make it a night scene, but then I thought ‘Who forages at night – apart from badgers?’

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.

Cards in Fabrica shop
Cards in Fabrica shop

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.

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Insect Altered Books – Bugs: Beauty and Danger Exhibition

At the end of last year, I was invited to create some altered books for an exhibition at Groundwork Gallery in King’s Lynn, Norfolk. The exhibition is called, Bugs: Beauty and danger and features some international artists including Nicola Bealing, Arno van Berge Henegouwen, Jeroen Eisinga and Sarah Gillespie. The exhibition “celebrates the beauty and power of insects at a time of increasing threat to many common species…”

Indeed, insects are declining at an alarming rate, especially bees, butterflies, moths, dragonflies and damselflies (see this article).

I have become increasingy interested in insects since I saw so many in France a couple of years ago. But, I was interested in them before that, especially butterflies, having done surveys at Castle Hill Nature Reserve and other places over the years. I have also liked seeing insects in the art of artist Irene Hardwicke Olivieri.

Closer to Wildness book Irene Olivieri Hardwicke
‘When you choose one you are letting all the rest go by’ – Painting showing insects from Closer to Wildness book by Irene Olivieri Hardwicke

My small contribution to the exhibition is three altered books – Insect Meadow, The Butterfly Tree and one featuring a tree covered in ivy and the insects and other wildlife associated with ivy.

Here is Insect Meadow:

Insect Meadow Altered Book
Insect Meadow Altered Book

I decided to work in colour for the next couple of books because I think it’s more effective. For The Butterfly Tree I was inspired by Monarch butterflies. Some species of Monarch migrate between North America and Central Mexico, where they overwinter. Trees and vegetation become completely covered with orange wings – it’s a sight I would love to see. However, the bioreserve where they overwinter is under threat from illegal logging and the deterioration of the habitat. Recently two reserve workers were murdered for reasons that remain a mystery and there is fear in the region, both for the people and the fate of the butterfly. (See this interesting article.)

I decided to create this altered book a little differently from my others, by leaving the underlying pages as pages of text. I’ve also added butterfly wings that reach beyond the edges of the book, giving the impression that they’re bursting out:

The Butterfly Tree Altered Book
The Butterfly Tree Altered Book

I’ll write about the third altered book in my next blog post.

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David Nash Exhibition – 200 Seasons

I am always drawn to artists who use natural materials. David Nash works mainly in wood, so when his 200 Seasons exhibition came on at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne, I made sure I went to see it.

I knew little about David Nash before the exhibition. I had heard of Ash Dome (here’s a nice little fim about it) and had vaguely heard about Wooden Boulder, but that was all. The exhibition shows a broad range of his work spanning all the years he’s been working as an artist – sculptures, drawings and film. There are piles of arranged cork bark, chainsaw-cut blocks of oak, cedar and other wood, small wooden ladders, oak balls, charred tree trunks. Among my favourites is a blue-black ring made of out bluebell seeds. I wanted to know what I felt when seeing his work, my immediate impression, without knowing too much about the background story.

David Nash sculpture
David Nash sculpture
David Nash cork bark sculpture
David Nash cork bark sculpture.
King and Queen - David Nash
King and Queen – David Nash. It reminds me of a musical instrument ready to be strummed or sounded.
Oak Hearth - David Nash
Oak Hearth – David Nash
200 Seasons David Nash
200 Seasons – David Nash

My first thoughts were – this is about the passage of time – years, decades and longer. It’s about weathering and the elements – earth, fire, water, perhaps air (his ladders reach up and are suspended). It’s about the interaction between humans and the natural environment. The massive nature of some of the sculptures – whole tree trunks or giant chunks of cedar – says something. What, I don’t really know. They are imposing and stately, with gravitas, and some of his charred pieces are almost shocking in their black denseness, their immediacy. Perhaps anything burnt is unsettling. David Nash says he treats his works with a light touch. His wooden boulder project is like a metaphor for a life’s journey – it suggests going with the flow and becoming weathered with moments of stillness and times of motion – acquiescing to the natural way of things. I also saw in it solitude, abandonment and the “is-ness of things”. His works impact me in a place beyond words, they are mystifying and I like them a lot.

The exhibition is on at the Towner until 2nd February 2020.

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Brighton Festival Open House

Yesterday I hung my artwork for the open house I’m participating in this May in Brighton. I had help from Kevin, my partner, and Chris, whose house it is. Together we tried to make it all look as good as possible.

Hanging pictures for the open house.
Hanging pictures for the open house including old favourites, Dancing at Sunset and A Letter at Twilight..
Table at open house.
Table at open house showing a couple of my altered books along with originals, prints and books..

There is some wonderful art in the house, including – Chris Durham’s photography;

Pier and starlings by Chris Durham.
Pier and starlings by Chris Durham.
Photography by Chris Durham.
Photography by Chris Durham.

Dawn Stacey’s paintings;

Dawn Stacey paintings
Dawn Stacey paintings.

Susan Evans’ – skyscape paintings;

Susan Evans skyscapes
Susan Evans skyscapes.

Keziah Furini‘s illustration;

Keziah Furini prints
Keziah Furini prints and cards corner.

Jules Ash’s jewelery;

Jewelery by Jules Ash
Jewelery by Jules Ash

along with Caroline Chalton Hellyer’s lovely ceramics, Stewart Furini’s woodworking and Jan Langdale’s dimensional glass painting.

My work looks somewhat shoddy in comparison. I do hope that I don’t let the house down. My artwork days are numbered. I’ll continue to do my folksy-crafty bits and pieces, but don’t think I’ll exhibit again and certainly not in such professional company. Sigh!

Anyway, if you’re in Brighton in May, consider visiting 51 Montefiore Road at the weekends between 11am and 5pm to see some lovely art, buy some lovely art or perhaps just a card :)

Here are a couple of original pen and ink mounted illustrations that I have for sale in the open house (I’ve become very interested in adding brambles to my pictures!):

Today I’ve been out delivering fliers. Aren’t they good! :)

Open house flyers
Open house flyers for 51 Moniefiore Road, Brighton.
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Journey Through the Forest Altered Book

I’ve just completed my Journey Through the Forest altered book. I’ve made two or three versions of this before, but this latest version has the most layers. It features a girl, a deer, a fox, a badger and trees. Here are photos of some of the pages:

Journey Through the Forest Altered Book
Journey Through the Forest Altered Book
Journey Through the Forest Altered Book
Journey Through the Forest Altered Book – fox page. I think I am becoming more influenced by Millefleur tapestries.
Journey Through the Forest Altered Book
Journey Through the Forest Altered Book – girl.

I’ve written a vignette of a story to accompany the book:

Above, a shimmering bowl of stars. Orion, looks on, while Sirius, the dog star, points the way. On this night of the full moon she is taking a journey, one soft footfall after another, the deer a few steps behind. The silvered path is cast with eerie shadow. She knows the trail, or thinks she does. An owl, silent on a perch in an old oak, watches. The forest darkness closes in.

I follow the dog star, she says, That must be the way.

The only way to the oaks her people planted.

Soon all the trees look the same and the path petters out.

Listen, say the trees in their secret, silent way. Listen.

So she stands still among root and fern, briar and dog violet on the softly trodden leaflitter. She turns towards the moon, a distant, knowing face in the blackness.

That’s it, she murmurs, I can hear.

The subtle moan of the boughs, the whisperings of the land all around her. She is not alone, no, she is no longer alone. The land, the trees, the sky, the moon are with her. She can find her way, with the deer a few steps behind.

Journeys through lands and forests serve as metaphors. I even include them in my little story The Memory Tree. There are journeys into the psyche and physical outward journeys. Sometimes a map composed of symbols is needed. I think like this when I am vaguely looking for something, something I may have lost, perhaps a part of myself I have lost. Who knows… Now I am wondering how I can create some sort of animation of the journey part of The Memory Tree story, something magical. Hopefully I’ll post more about this soon.

I am reminded of a small ‘magical’ exhibition I went to at Hove Museum in December, called Magical Wonderland. It was a collection of paper and card sculptures of traditional stories and fairy tales called The Story Cabinet and created by a group of artists called Fabula.

Story Cabinet Tree
Story Cabinet cardboard tree.
Story Cabinet - Boots
Story Cabinet – cardboard boots.
Story Cabinet
Story Cabinet
Story Cabinet - writing
Story Cabinet – writing

I like their miniature worlds within worlds within chests of drawers, wooden cabinets and suitcases. I like the use of cardboard and everyday materials, the use of words woven into the sculptures and the cardboard tree – The Wishing Tree – in particular. Better photos are on The Story Cabinet website.

During my visit to the museum I got talking to the curator. She said that she likes to display artwork that shows that it is made of everyday materials to inspire visitors to be creative. I’m looking forward to seeing what Fabula comes up with next and perhaps trying my hand at altered books that are more sculptural.

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Badgers and Vignettes

I’m always happy to see one of my pictures or pieces of writing in print. In the November issue of The Simple Things magazine I have a piece of nature writing, ‘Still’, about encountering a badger. It sits alongside pieces by good writers such as Tim Dee, Alys Fowler and Neil Ansell. It would have been nice if they’d sent me a copy of the magazine. Instead, I had to go and buy one. (There do seem to be a plethora of these cosy, classy, hyggey, crafty, lifestyle magazines around at the moment. Is it ‘our’ need for comfort and reassurance in these somewhat dark, unsettled times?)

Still - Writing Piece in The Simple Things Magazine
Still – writing piece in The Simple Things magazine

The piece was originally published in the Autumn anthology as part of the Seasons series by Elliott and Thompson. I’m now in the process of making little, A6 illustrated books using some of my previously published writings. Here is an example I’ve titled, Into the Wood:

Into the Woods Book
Into the Wood book

The last badger I encountered was in the scrubby area behind the cabin in France where I stayed in the summer. It nearly ran into me as I stood quietly waiting for nightjars; they have poor eyesight but a great sense of smell.

On the theme of badgers, I have a Two Badgers altered book currently available in my Etsy and website shop:

two Badgers Altered Book
Two Badgers Altered Book

I’ve just created some little vignettes in pen and ink that I’ve sent to Avocet Gallery in Rye for their Christmas Fair. One of these is of a sleeping badger – pen and ink with a blue copper sky painted with acrylic metallic paint and ink. The others are of a hare, a nest, an owl and, of course, deer:

Vignettes
Vignettes for Avocet Gallery
Badger at Rest
Badger at Rest

I love vignettes both in art and writing – moments captured! And I love the way Jay Griffiths describes a badger in her little book, “Twilight“:

“Then I see him touched by two light, day-streaked and night-stroked, a keyboard playing a twilight sonata in a minor key for the maligned creatures of twilight, the badgers themselves, the wolf, the hare and the bat – flittermouse in flights of arpeggios to catch moths. And owls.”

Avocet Gallery Art and Craft Show 2018
Avocet Gallery Art and Craft Show 2018
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Nests, Eggshells and Natural Finds

The breeding season for many birds is well underway. Some birds are even on second broods. In May I went out to the woods and surrounding countryside to watch and listen out for birds and other wildlife but also to see what I could collect in the way of discarded eggshells and any other natural finds. Below are my eggshells – so far this year:

Eggshells
Eggshell Finds.

In the photograph you can see two song thrush, a magpie, a blackbird, some sort of wild duck and a moorhen. In my wanderings I’ve also found a pike’s head, but that’s a bit too gross to show here! (I need to clean it somehow for displaying.)

I’ve been keeping an eye on a crow’s nest in an ash tree next door. I can just glimpse some frantic wing flapping through the leaves – fledgings? I’m guessing the young will leave the nest soon, but the parents are still tooing and froing and circling their territory.

On the subject of nests, in May I went to see the exhibition, Natural Selection at the Towner Gallery by Andy and Peter Holden. Peter Holden is an ornithologist and his son is an artist so they teamed up over a period of years to create ‘Natural Selection’. The exhibition shows a collection of nests from around the world:

Natural Selection Exhibition
Nests from Around the world – Natural Selection Exhibition.

a video installation, various creations inspired by nests,

Natural Selection Exhibition
Artwork inspired by the bower bird’s nest.

and a room of hand-painted egg replicas in boxes:

Natural Selection Exhibition.
Boxes of Handmade Eggs – very clever, but not as good as finding eggshells.

I like to think I straddle both arenas, the art and science of nature, sometimes art has a slight edge, but overall I’m a naturalist. Anyway, I’ve started to keep some of my small natural finds in a printer’s tray my sister gave me for my birthday:

Natural Finds Collection
Natural Finds Collection – jay feathers, piece of warthog tusk, vole skull, eggshell, piece of lava and a gemstone.

Inspired by the exhibition, I’ve decided to create natural exhibits using old cigar boxes. Here is one I’ve started:

Box of Natural Finds
Box of Natural Finds – including rabbit skull, pheasant feather, dried fungus and oak leaf.

As I have a thing about nests, I’ve made another altered book, Buzzard’s Nest and a Song Thrush Nest box frame. Both are in my Etsy Shop.

Buzzard Nest Altered book
Buzzard Nest Altered book
Song Thrush Box Frame
Song Thrush Box Frame
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