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…
In a recent blog post I mentioned that I was creating three altered books for the exhibition, Bugs: Beauty and Danger. I wanted the third altered book to be a close up of an ivy-covered tree with moths, bees, wasps and other wildlife. I often draw ivy around trees as it’s ubiquitous in the woods and parks. I thought I’d start looking at it a bit more closely.
There is something dark about ivy and not just because it has dark, green leaves. It actively seeks out shade. It conceals secrets, covers long forgotten tombs, reclaims ruins silently.
Dark places like woodland floors and the feet of trees, crumbling walls and the damp Victorian corners of cottage gardens are its abode. There is something ancient about ivy, it carries a message from the past. It creeps over everything. I think of the cloven-hoofed god Pan. I think of ivy wreaths. I think of death and churchyards, tombs and the hands of ivy linking lovers beyond the grave.
The Ancient Greek goddess of youth, Hebe, was associated with ivy, serving nectar and ambrosia to the Olympian gods and goddesses. There was even a secret festival called Kissotomoi or Ivycutters in the ancient Greek city of Philos. Ivy represented the grapevine and was a symbol of Dionysus, god of wine, festivity, wild pleasure and vegetation.
Ivy has long been a symbol of fidelity and marriage and was made into a wreath and given to newly wedded couples. The Ancient Celts made evergreen plants symbols of hope, rebirth, protection and good fortune and brought them into houses around the winter solstice. Ivy was adopted by early Christians along with holly as symbols of prosperity and charity. Both feature in Christmas carols, ivy representing the female aspect, holly the male.
English ivy, Hedera helix, has two stages with different leaf shapes. The vegetative stage has large, lobed leaves and is found in all sorts of places, climbing up trees and buildings. It is negatively phototrophic, which means it is drawn to shade because this often means there is a structure that it can climb. The reproductive stage of the plant has oval, pointed leaves. From this part of the plant come clusters of greenish-yellow flowers that attract insects including the Pink-barred Sallow, Angle Shades, Green-brindled Crescent, Yellow-line Quaker and Lunar Underwing. Beautiful names, beautiful moths. There is also a mining bee associated with ivy, the Ivy Bee, Colletes hederae. The flowers are followed by blue-black berries enjoyed by blackbirds, thrushes, jays and other birds.
Apparently, hederagenin, a substance found in ivy leaves, has been shown to kill various tumour cells.
I went on a short walk from my house picking ivy leaves wherever I came across them. There seem to be quite a diverse range of leaf shapes:
In my altered book I have included moths, bees, wasps , a bees nest, a speckled wood butterfly and a treecreeper. I love treescreepers, they often join mixed tit flocks at this time of year. They feed on small insects and forage in the bark of trees. I was fascinated to learn on Winterwatch recently that treecreepers roost in bark crevices if there is a tree with suitably soft bark.
Here is my Ivy Tree altered book ready to be sent to Groundwork Gallery for the exhibition:
One can use ivy in basketry work. Anyone in the Lewes area wishing to make ivy woven bags – check out Native Hands workshop in November.
After noticing the lime tree in Withdean Woods (see last blog post), I remembered that the tree planted in remembrance of my mother, is a large-leaved lime, Tilia platyphyllos. I took a mini pilgrimage across town to the woodland cemetery to spend some time with my mum’s tree.
There are three lime trees native to the UK, small-leaved, large-leaved and common. Large-leaved limes like to grow on lime rich soils.
Lime trees are also called linden trees in Europe. They are pollinated by insects, so will not produce as much pollen as wind pollinated trees like oaks or beech. After the last Ice Age small-leaved limes dominated the lowland forests of the UK, especially in the south and east.
The lime tree was considered a sacred tree in Eastern Europe. The Polish word for the month of July, Lipiec, is named after the word for lime, lipa, and the names of many villages translate as Holy Lime.
Within the dark branches of this beautiful tree dwelt goddesses and gods. In countries such as Lithuania, Laima, a goddess of fate, fertility, childbirth and death held the linden as her sacred tree. She was worshipped by women, who prayed and carried out rituals within the tree’s leafy shade. When a child was born they made offerings there to the goddess. Laima is often associated with the cuckoo, Gegute, who watched over time and the seasons.
In German folklore the lime tree was an important tree of Freyja, the goddess of truth and love. It was thought of as a lover’s tree, perhaps because of its heart shaped leaves. In pre-Christian times it was believed that it was impossible to tell lies while standing beneath a linden tree. For this reason communities held judicial councils, along with celebrations such as weddings and festivities, beneath the tree that was often found in the centre of the town or village.
Sitting for a while in the grass in the shade of my mother’s tree, I listened to the birds, wrote some notes in my diary and pressed a few leaves between the pages.
Then I replenished the seed in the bird feeder and hung up a simple string of feathers, shells and beads. The feathers once belonged to a green woodpecker, the “Rain Bird“, so named because it was thought to foretell the coming of rain. I think the trees need rain, but I’m quite happy with sunshine at the moment.
Goddesses, cuckoos, lime trees and rain birds – I’ve drawn an illuminated letter for the lime tree, beneath a sun and a crescent moon. Click on the image to see a larger version:
I have decided to research and write a small book about tree and forest goddesses to accompany my book, Goddesses of River, Sea and Moon. Below is a picture of Laima.
“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering
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:
Towards to end of last year a friend on Facebook, Meryl of Black Cat Floral Designs, suggested that I create some wedding invitations with woodland, wildlife or Goddess themes. It’s taken me some time to work out quite what’s required as there seem to be so many variations out there, I’m a bit in the dark about the whole subject.
Anyway, I’ve created some designs and had a few samples printed to see how they look.
They include Woodland Wildlife – with rabbits;
A springtime leafy one;
A ‘Goddess’ one;
and Two Deer one which might work best for an autumn wedding;
They are currently simple and unfolded on stiff white card but I plan to make some ivory ones on folded card.
Based in Chester, Meryl creates wonderful things with flowers for any occasion. See below and check out the galleries on her website.
I’m hoping to create a page on this website with more details and options soon. In the meantime if you’re interested, contact me here.
I’m very into natural sound recordings and came across Be:One last year. It was created to accompany The Hive installation. The Hive was an installation by artist Wolfgang Buttress at Kew Gardens last year.
“An open-air structure standing at 17 metres tall and weighing in at 40 tonnes, The Hive encapsulates the story of the honey bee and the important role of pollination in feeding the planet, through an immersive sound and visual experience.”
Here’s a video about the soundscape:
There’s something hypnotic about the bees’ droning.
In the Ancient Greek world bees were worshipped as they represented a link between our world and the underworld. There were special priestesses refered to as “bees” or “Melissas”, the Greek word for honey bee. In Ancient Greek myth Melissa was a nymph who nursed the baby Zeus, feeding him honey instead of milk. It was from her that the cultivation of bees for honey was supposed to have come.
I’ve worked on a Bee Goddess illustration with this ancient bee nymph in mind. I’ve now made it into a card available in my Folksy and Etsy shops.
Since February I’ve been noticing many large bumbee bees while out walking. They’re queen bees seeking nesting sites. I came across a carder bee nest one summer which I was a little wary of but it was also quite charming like any nest!
I have decided to open an online t-shirt shop, Designs by Alexi, as I thought it would be good to have some of my designs on t-shirts. I discovered Teemill whose t-shirts are ethical, organic and sourced sustainably.
I enjoyed creating the shop using one of my woodland photos and a couple of my images for the banner. My images are often inspired by the natural world, myth and folklore so the t-shirt images reflect this. There are other items such as tea-towels and tote bags for sale as well.
My Long Man of Wilmington features on one of the t-shirts:
So does one of my moon goddesses, Hina:
and the Green Man along with other images:
Originally I wrote about The Long Man of Wilmington a few years ago here. Since then a version of my Long Man picture has appeared on a CD cover for the band Athelstan on their album The Ride.
In June I visited the islands of Malta and Gozo. I’m writing about them now as I’ve had plenty of time to digest the visit.
I am drawn to islands and have been curious about the ancient temples and early Goddess worshipping culture of these two. I’ve read quite a bit about ancient Venus figurines and “The Myth of the Goddess”, so it seemed like a good place to visit. These sun bathed islands of desert scrub and rocky coastlines made quite an impression on me.
Malta gave me: temples of limestone – sometimes pink limestone,
portals through pitted stone,
interesting obese goddess figurines,
and other curious figurines.
Sometimes what is needed is a shift in perspective and that is what I returned home with from my visit. Before going I had a feeling of being constrained, running along tram lines. Every so often I shake out of my mindset and refind what I want, which is a feeling of wholeness to my life and not a narrowness.
In Malta, the temples, portals, giant slabs of pink and white fashioned from raw limestone that have stood solid, timeworn and pitted down the centuries, spoke to me of silence and endurance.
On returning I felt more open to new sights and experiences once again and had a desire to take a more oblique path. I am being asked to lean towards the left, closer to the earth, like a sailing boat close hauled, leaning into the wind. I am setting off on an oblique course to find my way back to myself.
Malta had plenty of other things I liked, mainly natural things that include all the different sorts of limestone; sun bathing and sea urchin fossil finding on the rocks at Dwejra; the lizards, purple flowers …
Some years ago I tentatively researched into the “goddess” in her varying forms. I made a little book on Goddesses of River, Sea and Moon, and found myself painting faceless images of female figures. They weren’t all faceless but many were, just like the goddess figurines of the ancient past.
Once again I’m experimenting with faceless figures inspired by the female figurines and colours of Malta. I tell myself that it is not necessary to create something good, but simply to do it, indulge in the process of making a mark, marking a point in time and painting a simple figure is one way to start. The work by the artist Laurie Doctor resonates with me at the moment. She incorporates calligraphy into some of her paintings and sometimes her figures are faceless in a desert-like landscape. I especially like the one I found below – whose title I don’t know – and Night Vigil:
In an artist statement for one exhibition, she wrote:
I wish to communicate moments of fluidity between this world and the world of dreams. I want to share the sense of confirmation that happens when a dream steps right through the daytime door.
Good words. The desert colours of red, gold, faun – colours of earth, sand and rock – work for me at the moment.
I have painted a few little canvases in acrylic incoporating string, leaves and cloth pieces. Here are Desert Dreamer, Desert Icon, Gold Icon and The Pilgrim.
Avocet Gallery in Rye is currently holding The Magical Land exhibition and I am very pleased to have some of my work on show as part of it.
Here are a few of my illustrations in the exhibition:
Along with the illustrations are cards and two of my long painted boards. One is very much a river goddess board as it is covered with flowing lines of lyrics, poems and words about rivers.
my eyes have been closed so long, cried the river
I see this world but I cannot see
whispering near the surface of the water comes a voice
let all emotions flow from our dreaming together
I am afraid to heal my soul, said the river
then your spirit connected to mine will die
whispered the wind
do not hide from me river, find your ocean
if you listen deeply
wind and river coming together as one
in the great ocean we’re born of the mother.
This is the way she hears your voice now, all of your feeling
easy or difficult,
do not be afraid
all the rivers are dying
I will open my eyes to see inside
so my soul whispers with the wind.
Take a deep breath…
Words taken from a YouTube video by Condor Shaman that is no longer available.
Today is the Winter Solstice, the day the sun stands still, waiting. The year hangs poised on it’s fulcrum, about to turn us once again into lengthening days and the long journey back towards the light. Today felt subterranean. Beneath a sky of grey lace, Kevin and I found ourselves on a hill beside a spring near the village of Sharpthorne, Sussex. We were there with seer and shaman, Wind Singer to bless and honour the waters, a slightly different way for me to spend the shortest day of the year.
There is something I have always found special about bodies of water and rivers and springs are no different. Springs have been honoured for millenia – where there’s fresh water straight from the ground, it is life-giving and carries the note of the rock from where it issues, iron or other minerals which are beneficial. The waters of many springs were – and still are – believed to heal. The spring we visited today is a chalybeate spring. The word chalybeate derives from the latin word for steel which originally comes from the Greek word khalups, single for Chalybes, a mythical people who founded iron working from Mount Ida in Anatolia and where, incidently, Cybele, an Anatolian Mountain, Mother Goddess was worshipped.
In the russet landscape beneath an intensifying sky, We stood in a triangle around the spring pool. Bubbles rose up to the clear surface periodically – it seemed to be alive. Wind Singer felt the landscape energies and led the blessing. We laid holly for the male, mistletoe for the female and ivy for the light. And then we placed a woven square of twine beside the pool and scattered flowers on its surface to drift above the last water boatmen. I put my hands into the water and was surprised by its warmth and softness.
We will revisit this little spring and would like to give it a name. Something to do with Cybele perhaps, or iron or even a still, frozen sun.