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Kingley Vale – Old Trees and Altered Books

Beneath the Old Tree Altered Book
Beneath the Old Tree Altered Book. (For sale.)

What comes first the tree or the book? The tree of course – there would be no books without trees. However, having just finished an altered book, Beneath the Old Tree, I was inspired to find a really large, old, real tree. So, I decided to pay another visit to Kingley Vale, just north-west of Chichester in West Sussex, which has an ancient yew forest. Some of the trees are thousands of years old. Each time I go there, I’m in awe of this wondrous, magical place.

In the forest it was hushed beneath the elephantine old yews. There were other people about – families – but their voices were muffled. Quiet and peaceful, the air was still, the forest floor was dappled by sunlight that streamed through the tangled spiralling branches.

Yew at Kingley Vale

Within this sanctuary are trees with enormous muscular girths and heavy limbs as smooth and hard as ivory; tusks descending to and disappearing into the dusty earth only to re-emerge nearby as offspring trees, creating a shambling, rhythmical cascade away from the main trunk. Each ancient yew stands within a fortress of these spidery, fluid limbs, each a powerful presence, deep, self-contained and stoic with a desire to reach out and touch the earth.

Yew at Kingley Vale

A bullfinch sounded in a hawthorn on the periphery of the grove, its sad note sung as though the bird was lost on the other side.

Yew at Kingley Vale

Some trees bear bark that is dry and peeling, others raw but smooth. As I ducked beneath each weighty limb, I felt the underside, polished by countless hands, rubbed to a shine by shoulders of both humans and deer.

Yew at Kingley Vale

Sitting within the hook of a limb, I felt safe and secure – anyone needing comfort should seek out a low tree to sit in.

Yew at Kingley Vale

Trunks fold into fissures and hollows, bulge with muscular growths. Some trees are whiskered by fresh, verdant shoots, others have openings like doorways or mouths frozen in silent song.

Kingley Vale yew tree

We came across a tree with its sides split, perhaps by lighning. Inside, the heartwood was deep arterial red. I picked up a square shard from the earth, a piece of the yew’s heart, to take home. Most of the trees bear wounds.

Some branches are algal green, elsewhere purplish pink, like the irridescent tip of a pheasant’s feather.

Close up of yew - Kingley Vale

Little grows beneath a yew. They are both warm and inviting and brittle and repelling. A friend believes that here the yews talk to each other. She may be right.

Yew at Kingley Vale

After our amble in the groves, we emerged onto downland covered with chalkland flowers. Bees and butterflies busied around marjoram, birds foot trefoil and thyme-covered anthills in the bright sunshine. A roe deer leapt across the grassland and disappeared into the wooded hillside. Overhead a kite wheelled, it’s wings showing the gaps of its summer moult.

On returning home I wanted to create something in response to being in this forest. I decided to work in a looser, more carefree style and try out media I don’t usually use – chalk pastels and smudged penwork.

Pastel Forest
Pastel Forest – rough sketch with chalk pastels.

Below are some sketchbook drawings inspired by yews:

Pen and Wash Trees
Pen and Wash Trees in my sketchbook.
Ghost Trees in the Landscape
Ghost Trees in the Landscape – dusk, when the light is muted and trees become shimmering forms.

Perhaps it was fortunate that I missed the Hayward gallery exhibition Among the Trees because of the virus. I took this as an invitation to spend more time with real trees.

Among the Trees
Among the Trees

Back to my altered book. It’s of an old tree with a mass of roots within which hide a badger family. On deeper pages there is a squrrel, a fox and deer.

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The Sketchbook Project – Forest

Forest Sketchbook

Last year a friend told me about The Sketchbook Project. This is a crowdfunded art library in Brooklyn of sketchbooks created by people from around the world. I love looking at other peoples’ sketchbooks, although I find making them myself quite a challenge. However, I was very interested in getting involved and decided to set myself the challenge.

To take part I had to pay a fee and was sent a small 5″ x 7″ sketchbook in a little string and washer envelope. I could do whatever I liked with the sketchbook as long as it didn’t end up being thicker than an inch or have loose bits that would fall off. I like forests – it’s possibly quite obvious if you’ve seen a lot of my art on this site, (at one time it was rivers, which I still feel very drawn to), so I decided to title my book, Forest and see what I could come up with.

I have pretty much finished the book now, so yesterday I ventured out to take some photos of it beside one of those giant beeches in Dead Beech Lane:

I’ve used acrylic paints, scrim – basically mixed media – pen and ink, watercolour pencil and photos. The book is a mixture of different styles, images and writing more than sketches.

I like the poem ‘Lost’ by David Wagoner, so I wrote it out and incorporated a papercut overlay of pen and ink trees. I also wanted to include a fold-out page. I drew a forest scene based on the tropical forest I encountered at Seima Biodiversity Conservation Area in Cambodia some years ago, with myself as a tiny figure. On the back I’ve added quotes from a piece of my creative writing about looking for slow lorises in the forest (you can read the piece, Night Eyes, over in my writing pages here).

I did cheat a bit and stick in little drawings I’ve done in the past. Sometimes the white page can be a bit threatening :)

I’ve included my piece of writing, If You Are Lost You May Be Taken, that I wrote about in a previous blog post and finished the book with a mixed media collage of a ‘seed woman’ in the leaflitter.

I need to register my book and then send it to the US. I’ve been told to wait a bit for the library to reopen after lockdown.

On the inside cover of the sketchbook, I attached a small black and white image of myself communing with a pine tree in a Sussex wood. I’d hestitate to pose in the same way again :) (I was inspired a few years ago by Nikki Simpson’s Wild Women of the Woods project. I’m not exactly wild, but, sometimes, I like to think of myself as ‘of the woods’ – or, in this case, ‘of the Forest‘ :)

Me in William's Wood

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Concertina Greetings Cards

I am still working on the film poem I mentioned in my last post. I think it’ll take me a while.

Still, one thing that has come out of my Sea Trout project is the creation of new concertina cards. I call them concertina cards because they’re long cards folded twice. The idea arose from my long sea trout picture (click on the images for bigger versions):

Sea Trout
Sea Trout

I wanted to create a card out of the design and thought it would be good to feature a picture on the reverse side. So I drew a shoal of trout:

Sea Trout Shoal
Sea Trout Shoal

Here is the finished Sea Trout card:

Sea Trout concertina card
Sea Trout concertina card

I decided to create a further two cards, both with a “trees” or “forest” theme. The first of these is In The Forest. One side of the card features a daytime forest scene with deer and a fox beneath the trees:

Daytime forest scene
Daytime forest scene – one side of a In The Forest concertina card.

On the reverse is a night scene featuring badgers, deer, foxes, owls and hedgehogs:

It reminds me a bit of a tapestry :)

Here is the finished card:

In the Forest concertina greetings card
In The Forest concertina greetings card.

My third card features a badger sett. One side you see a badger family out foraging at night:

The Badger Sett
The Badger Sett – one side of a concertina greetings card.

The other side shows a cross-section of the badger sett with some slumbering badgers along with a rabbit burrow, tree roots and a burrowing mole:

The Badger Sett
The Badger Sett – one side of a concertina card.

Here is The Badger Sett card:

The Badger Sett
The Badger Sett concertina greetings card.

All cards are available from my Etsy shop and come with a little tag for a message and a square kraft envelope. :)

Sea Trout greetings card

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In Virtual Forests

I have recently learnt, via an email from Sussex University, about a virtual reality project called Tree VR that enables people to “become a tree”. Intrigued I looked up the project and found the Tree VR website and a couple of videos.

Basically, Tree is a multi-sensory exhibition in which participants can experience the life of a rainforest kapok tree from it’s time as a seed to it’s growth as an adult tree. As part of Tree participants are exposed to various sensory inputs to enhance the illusion of being in a rainforest – sounds, scents and breezes. Tree was shown at the Davos conference in Switzerland.

Here is a little video of the first part, Tree VR – Seedling:

There is another video with more about the installation.

After experiencing Tree, participants are encouraged to support the Rainforest Alliance,

“an international non-profit organization working to build strong forests, healthy agricultural landscapes, and thriving communities through creative, pragmatic collaboration”.

Rainforests and forests in general are so important for the health of the earth. Sadly, they are still being cut down at an alarming rate. Scientists have found that they are vital for carbon-capture and the best thing to offset the effects of climate change. More trees in the ground!

I really wanted to experience Tree VR so was pleased to find a website where you can download it. All I needed was somewhere with the right VR equipment to “play” it.

Luckily Kevin, my partner, has a friend, Andy Baker, who is well into VR. So we went to his house and tried it out. Tree was my first VR experience.

Experiencing Tree VR
Experiencing Tree VR

It was all a bit mind-blowing, not real but surreal. It was an excursion into an alternative world, an interior world like that of dreams and the forests of one’s imagination. I was amazed at the very real sense of space and depth all around me. As a seed I climbed through metres of soil. On the level of a giant mushroom and leafcutter ants I broke through the leaflitter and ascended higher and higher. Macaws, morphos and bats flew all around. At first my arms were leafy blades but soon they became proper branches with bark and leaves and hung with lianas. My body became the tree’s trunk. Looking down I felt a touch of vertigo. Night came along with a huge moon, stars and birds flying home against the darkened sky.

I won’t say how Tree ends as that would spoil it for anyone who gets the chance to have a go.

In the rainforest mood, I thought I’d make another rainforest altered book – another forest of my imagination – but this time in colour. Based on a Central/South American rainforest, it features a kapok/ceiba tree along with a tapir, agoutis and scarlet macaws.

Rainforest Altered Book
Rainforest altered book in colour.
Rainforest altered book detail
Among the trees in my Rainforest altered book with the tapir and a scarlet macaw.
Rainforest altered book detail
Lianas, cecropia trees and palms among the rainforest trees of my Rainforest altered book.

I plan to display this altered book at an open house I’m particupating in during Brighton Festival in May. I think I’d like to donate some of the sale price to the Rainforest Alliance or another rainforest charity. I’ll write more about the open house nearer the time.

I went a step further and decided to grow a kapok/ceiba tree. I bought a few seeds and have just sown them in a tray after soaking them in tepid water for 24 hours. Somehow I need to create an acidic rainforest environment and try and keep the seeds warm – they need an optimum temperature of 25C. With this warm, Anthropocene February we’re having, under plastic on the window sill might do fine.

Kapok seeds planted.
Ceiba pentandra seeds sown.
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A Prehistoric Forest and an Interesting Find

My interest in trees, forests and geology continues. On Saturday, Kevin and I went to Pett Level beach, east along the Sussex coast from Brighton. We arranged our trip to coincide with a low tide because when the sea is out the wave-cut platform reveals the remnants of a prehistoric forest. A peaty layer of ancient tree trunks, roots and boles can be seen covered in seaweed and pock-marked by piddock holes.

We were surprised at how easy it was to see whole tree trunks. Some of these may have come from shipwrecks off the coast, but the spongy wood is likely to be from the sunken forest, which is about 6000 years old. Evidence of alder, birch, hazel, alder buckthorn, yew, ash and willow trees have been found along with brambles, sedges, meadow rue, bedstraws and marsh marigold. This mixed woodland flourished when the sea level was 60 metres lower than it is today.

Pett Level beach showing sunken forest remains.
Pett Level beach showing sunken forest remains.
Tree trunk on Pett Level beach
Tree trunk on Pett Level beach.
Sunken forest on clay - Pett Level beach
Sunken forest on soft clay – Pett Level beach.
Pett Level Forest
Imagining the view from a cave overlooking Pett Level forest in Neolithic times.

It is strange walking over this ghost forest imagining the animals, large and small, that roamed among the trees and the people who possibly hunted there.

Our day was enriched by the sight and sounds of oystercatchers, cormorants, fulmars, curlews and a peregrine that sat on a cliff perch in the weak sunshine.

High up in the cliffs that overlook the area, we saw a cave now occupied by fulmars. but where archaeologists have found flint tools. They propose that it could have been a lookout used by Neolithic people for spotting game in the forest below. No doubt the cave was much more extensive in earlier times.

Cave in cliff - Pett Level beach
Cave in cliff – Pett Level beach.
Cliff strata - Pett Level beach
Cliff strata – Pett Level beach

The cliffs are eroding fast, up to a metre a year. On our way back we watched as a trickle of stones fell down a section of cliff, where people had been walking a moment earlier. This was followed by a loud crash as a bush from the scrub above came down. I have never heard the earth sound so loud. Fortunately no one was nearby when it happened.

Cliff fall - Pett Level beach
A fallen bush and rock fall – Pett Level beach

Further back in time the area was frequented by dinosaurs, their footprints have been found on the beach. We didn’t find much in the way of fossils or footprints, but Kevin found something else of interest and called me over. He wondered whether it was a piece of crab carapace. When I saw it I thought it must be a piece of skull as it had sutures, the wiggly joints between skull plates. We decided to take it home.

On Monday morning we contacted Archaeology SE to see if they could identify it. Their forensic archaeologist identified it as the back of a human skull and told us to contact the police as soon as possible! Three police officers came to collect it and took our details.

Perhaps it belonged to a sailor aboard one of the ships tragically wrecked along the Sussex or Kent coast. Such shipwrecks include RMS Alaunia in 1913, in which two crew members lost their lives. Hopefully we’ll find out a little more about it in a few weeks time.

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Time of the Deer

Time of the Deer
Time of the Deer

Time of the deer,
Wind and swirling dream,
Heavy, brooding skies,
Amber light,
And the coming of night,
So early.

I feel it in my bones,
I feel it in the river, swollen now with autumn rains.

In the honey and copper forest,
Glimpsed in the woodland ride,
A presence drifts,
Scattering pennies to the earth,
The accepting, gathering, honest earth,
Where all the animals hide.

I feel it in my bones,
I feel it in the river, swollen now with autumn rains.
Time of the deer,
Wind and swirling dream.

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A Forest in a Tea Box

I’m a bit of a tea addict and certainly get through tea. So recently I put aside a few empty tea packets with the idea of turning them into something instead of recycling them.

Empty Tea Boxes
Empty tea boxes waiting to be made into something.

In need of distraction at a very busy time, I started making a little box of ‘forest’ by first cutting a rectangle out of the front of one of the tea packets and covering it with some printouts of my Memory Tree book inside cover. I then created layers of a forest scene in the same way as I do for altered books and box frames (but a little more hastily as this was just a prototype to see if it would work. If it worked – who knows, perhaps printed card boxes to self assemble for fun :))

Here’s the result, a deer forest in a tea box!

A Forest in a Tea Box
A Forest in a Tea Box

I cut up more printouts of my Memory Tree book inside cover and stuck it on card. Then I cut around the images of the girl and trees to create layers. I stuck these inside another tea packet. Then I covered the tea packet with the leftover printouts and put inside some small, battery-powered LED lights. The result looks like a sunny day in the woods or a forest fire!

Tea Packet Light Box
Tea Packet Light Box

I think I’d better get back to doing something more useful!

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‘Into The Forest’ Exhibition

I’m having my first solo art exhibition at the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire. It starts today, 6th July and goes on until 30th September.

Exhibition at The Sustainability Centre
Screen shot of the Exhibition at The Sustainability Centre webpage.

Yesterday I drove with my partner and a car full of artworks to the centre near East Meon. We spent a few hours putting ropes and hooks on pictures and hanging them in the Beech Cafe under the supervision of Lyn, the curator.

I took a few photos.

Five A3 Illustrations
Five A3 Illustrations
Kevin Putting up Altered Books
Putting up Altered Books
Through the Forest Altered Book
Through the Forest Altered Book
A4 Illustrations
A4 Illustrations – A Fragment of Forest (Blue), and H(e)art Tree.
Steps to the Light
Steps to the Light
Triptych of Three Dryads
Triptych of Three Dryads

The exhibition features some old illustrations and new box frames and altered books and the theme is ‘Into the Forest’. In the shop I have cards, books and badges for sale too.

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In the Forest

At the beginning of June I spent a week in a little forest studio at the edge of King’s Wood in Kent. The idea was to take some time out to experience the wood at dawn, dusk and day, time to get inspiration for the book I’m writing. I was doing another mini immersion in nature.

The Forest Studio
The Forest Studio

I spent some time wandering in the nearby beech wood plantation, listening to the silence or gentle moan of the wind through the branches. It was like being within a giant underwater forest:

Beech Wood Plantation
Beech Wood Plantation

There was such a contrast between the dark interior and the light exterior:

Edge of the Beech Wood
Edge of the Beech Wood

Wandering and looking at the beech wood trees made me think about the way I create woodland and tree altered books. So I have been making an “In the Beech Wood” altered book:

The Start of an Altered Book
The Start of an Altered Book
Beech Wood Altered Book
Beech Wood Altered Book

At dusk I went out to see if I could see nightjars in the chestnut coppiced area. I was lucky. For several evenings I heard their uncanny churring song and saw the dark shape of the males flying against the sky clapping their wings as they do to display to the female or ward off any other males encroaching on their territory. They were too fast and it was too dark to photograph them but I can picture them in my mind’s eye.

Nightjar
Nightjar

Nightjars are mysterious birds, birds which have attracted superstition and folklore down the ages. They’ve had many names including the name ‘goatsucker’, which stems from their Latin name Caprimulgus which means to milk nanny goats. The myth arose as nightjars were drawn to the insects surrounding livestock.

Dusk Night Dawn Writing Book
Dusk Night Dawn Writing Book

I wandered into the chestnut coppice by day getting to know nighjar territory and was surprised to find an old nest site with a couple of hatched eggshells!

Nightjar Nest Site
Nightjar Nest Site

Plenty to write about.

The Chestnut Coppice at Dawn
The Chestnut Coppice at Dawn

My thanks go to Stour Valley Creative Partnership for allowing me to stay in the Forest Studio.

Stour Valley Creative Partnership

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River Voices

I have just got back from one of my favourite places, Penpynfarch, in a beautiful wooded valley in Carmarthenshire, Wales. As I wandered the river, lakeside and woods I listened to the many ‘voices’ I always hear when I visit, voices of the river and trees. It’s as though moments and memories from times past and future speak from the very soils, hidden spaces and waters. I found myself listening, searching and waiting, and the words ‘deep song’ came into my mind, the deep song of the river and woods.

Nant Gwyddyl
Nant Gwyddyl

With my new mp3 recorder I recorded the many voices of the Nant Gwyddyl; returning to rivers, that mean so much to me.

Listen,
Rock, cleft, moss, stone,
of memory and eternity,
the River speaks
voices of rock and root,
echoes of shoot and bark,
algal smooth
chasing
animal pelts of weed,
into
a whirlpool of laughter
an eddy of thought,
rush smooth,
babbling,
gone.

a kingfisher,
riot of dazzling blue.

A child’s voice,
A deep vowel,
sonorous tones,
silt of silk,
a current
secretly shifting the world.
A haunting harmony
carries me along by thought and dream.

I am river.

I have many photos from a few years ago, little has changed.

The ruin is a bit more overgrown,

Ruin

the wrecked caravan a little more hidden in its green swathe of undergrowth,

Wrecked Caravan
Wrecked Caravan

there’s no sign of goshawks in the trees,

Looking for Goshawks
Looking for Goshawks

and the lake is still peaceful.

The Lake Pen Pynfarch

Then rain came as it always does in Wales. So I walked in the rain and watched the herons flying to and from the heronry, the river rise, it’s voices a little stronger.

Now I am back home again I need to be patient and listen more deeply.

I am reading two books at the moment, both have “river” in the title. The first, The Other Side of the River by Eila Carrico, is a memoir and exploration of the meaning of water both physically and metaphorically in our lives, especially in the lives of women. It is written as a river flows, shifting gently here and there. The second book, At the Bottom of the River by Jamaica Kincaid. Perhaps I am drawn to anything with the word ‘river’ :) Both books flow with rivers of words or beautiful language, both weave in nature and hint at tropical lands.

Books I'm Reading

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