I’ve created a new zine/booklet titled ‘If You Are Lost You May Be Taken’. It’s different from my Night Wood booklet in some ways, although both have 16 highly detailed, illustrated pages of my pen and ink illustrations. It is an illustrated book version of a piece of writing that featured on the RTE Irish radio programme, Keynotes, a few years ago.
The piece was written as a sort of response to David Wagoner’s poem, Lost and loosely inspired by the myth of Daphne in Ovid’s Metamorphosis. I like to describe it as a strange, poetic tale from the forest, haunting and the stuff of dreams.
The booklet/zine is now available to buy in my Etsy shop and soon on my website shop.
When I went on holiday to Hvar back in September, I took few drawing materials with me, just a small sketchbook and my Art Pen. I made a few drawings and I’m wondering where they will take me:
i’m thinking of creating a new booklet/zine that includes some of these images and more to be drawn. I want to journey into a dreamscape of mythical figures – nymphs, women of the woods, mystical beings – as I have been inspired by goddess myths in the past. I have Ovid’s Metamorphosis to dip into and I’m curious about the Ancient Greek mystery cults like the Eleusinian Mysteries. I’m also interested in exploring folktales and stories once again, perhaps creating one of my own.
I have loved the work of the artist Flora McLachlan for quite a while, her etchings, collagraphs and, more recently, her paintings. Some of her work reminds me of one of my favourite artists, Samuel Palmer – there’s often a crescent moon or moonlit shadows. I like the darkness, the dream-like quality and looseness of her style. So much about her work evokes night in all it’s ambiguity.
In her more recent paintings, I like her figures in the landscape – she becomes the figures in her paintings – or rather, her figures become representations of herself; she embeds herself in the lush landscape of her home country, Wales. To use her words:
“From the time when the undergrowth reached over my head, I have been fascinated yet at home in this weedy, sappy place, this path-frill, this edge-land. Among the stems are striped snails and jewelled insects, sharp shadows and sharp, green smells. Now I am only waist-deep in this greenness, I am half human half wild, a weedy mermaid; it’s a place of transformation, shape-shifting and wild imagination. I can enter this magical world at will, loop myself with goosegrass and move empowered through the dew of every morning.”
Perhaps my figures in the landscape are versions of myself, i’m not sure. What I have done is try to lose myself in the leafy greenness of my home place through movement, to feel at one with it. I have gestured and dialogued with birdsong. Here is a short video I made back in April:
I wondered about how I might see myself in the landscape. Where do I feel most at home? In what landscape do I belong? In the woods? It is not here in the rigid walls of the city. Or is it? When I lean out with feelers to connect with nature I confront walls and pavements, tarmac and SUVs.
Some of the drawings I’ve made since returning from holiday include three pen and ink pictures, Night Vigil, Goddess of the Harvest and If You Are Lost. I might include one of them in my new nature/myth booklet, but in the meantime they’ve been sent off to Obsidian Art for their Once Upon a Time exhibition:
Earlier this year I was contacted by author Christine Valters Paintner, who asked me whether I’d like to do some illustrations for her new book, Sacred Time: Embracing an Intentional Way of Life. Of course I would! I was very pleased to get involved.
Christine describes herself as a poet, a hermit and a mystic. She is also Abbess of Abbey of the Arts, a photographer, spiritual director, pilgrim guide and teacher. Originally from the US, she now lives in Ireland.
Sacred Time takes the reader through the various phases of time, as marked out by the breath, by the hours of the day, the days of the week, etc. and by the different stages of life. It is a beautifully reflective book with poems and practices that encourage us to slow down, to contemplate and consider how we spend our time. We become more aware of our own path through life and the rhythms and cycles of nature that can give perspective as well as serve as anchors and inspiration.
I illustrated each of the eight chapter headings in pen and ink. Below are a couple of my illustrations. Click on the images to see larger versions.
The journey through the Hours is a poetic and symbolic journey through the movements of the seasons in each day. Each moment of the day has a certain kind of quality and invitation and we are invited to make those conscious and to live our lives in response to them.
From Chapter Two: Rhythms of the Day
You can see all my illustrations on Christine’s website here.
Sacred Time: Embracing an Intentional Way of Life comes out in February 2021. Keep an eye on Christine’s website Abbey of the Arts for updates and check it out for information about her programs, poetry and other books.
I’ve just read Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer. In one chapter she visits an environmental artist, Jackie Brookner, who created an installation covered in living moss and ferns and titled Prima Lingua (First Tongue). As soon as I read these words, I stopped reading and looked up; a strong image came into my mind. It was the image of a woman’s profile, dark against the light, emerging from the mossy rocks and ferns of earth.
Perhaps it was the word ‘Prima’ as in Prima Donna, First Woman, that conjured up this image for me. I don’t know. I researched the artist and found that her Prima Lingua sculpture is composed of volcanic rock and concrete, a giant ‘tongue’ covered in mosses, liverworts and ferns, which ‘licks the polluted water in which it stands’. Water is pumped over the tongue and cleaned by the moss and other life forms on the rock. You can see a photo and read about the art installation here.
I decided I wanted to create a First Woman of the Earth artwork and call her Prima Donna della Terra (Italian is easier than Latin). She would be one of my reclaimed scaffolding board icons. I just happened to have a board put to one side a year or so ago, ready for a painting.
One day I’ll train vegetation and encourage moss to grow over one of my board paintings.
I was curious to see what I would find if I googled ‘First Woman of the Earth’. What came up first was a narrative poem based on Lilith by a nineteenth century American author. Lilith was Adam’s first wife according to Jewish mythology and ‘made from the same clay’. I liked that. I learnt that she refused to obey him and also refused to return to the garden of Eden. I smiled at that thought.
Lilith also has other, complex identities, sometimes she is seen as the spirit of a tree. In Hebrew, the name Lilith means ‘night creature’ amongst other things. I am attracted to dusk and night wildlife, so that pleased me too.
My Prima Donna della Terra is not Lilith. Nevertheless, I like to think of her associated with the night and I’ve painted some night creature imagery on the painting that includes a bat, a deer, a moth and a young boar. Her origin I imagine to be Babylonian or Assyrian, perhaps Ethiopian as, once again, I think I’ve been inspired by Ethiopian religious art (see an earlier blog post).
I decided to paint both the front and back of the board. The woman on the front is looking out from the present to the future. On the other side, a figure looks back at the past. The front holds the day, the back, the night. Here she is at night in the garden:
Last December, before lockdown, Kevin and I went for a night walk up Wolstenbury Hill beneath a near full moon. The hill is one of my favourite local downland sites and I’ve mentioned it in a previous blog post. We have been on various night walks over the years, but this time I was inspired by the paintings of Samuel Palmer and wanted to see if I could get the same feeling beneath moonlight in a rural setting as I get from looking at his work. I also wanted to try to take a good photo.
My favourite work of his is Harvest Moon. I have a tatty postcard of it that I bought on a visit to the Tate Gallery years ago. You can read an interesting piece about Harvest Moon here:
Our walk began on the road to the north of the hill where we parked. There was no need for a torch except for the dimnest parts of the path where it was quite muddy. The moon was bright, almost full and beamed with it’s cool rays through the trees.
The wood was silent, no bird sound or rustle, but we could hear the A23 to the east and once we were clear of the wood and ascending the hill, we could see the bright glittering streams of cars and the jewel-like clusters of Hassocks and Burgess Hill. The sky was the colour of burnished silver. A dark bird flew low and silent over the hillside.
We paused to take photos, balancing the camera on a stile post. Then we proceeded up the hill, our shadows leading the way – moonlight shadows. (I am reminded of the song by Mike Oldfield that I used to listen to on my Walkman while sitting in the willow tree of my childhood home at night surrounded by the nightlife of the city streets.)
The woods looked so quiet, still, self absorbed and eery. It felt as though we were being watched. Perhaps we were. I didn’t feel the tranquil, nostalgic feeling evoked by Samuel Palmer’s Harvest Moon. Instead I felt the night and moon as impersonal, the feeling reinforced by the sound of the main road. How the traffic encroaches!
On our visit to see the David Nash exhibition last year, we popped into the gallery library where there was a small display of photographs by Allan Grainger, Downland Gloaming. I was curious about whether I could also capture the downland at twilight. Allan Graigner has been inspired by Eric Ravillious and Edward Thomas, who both cherished the South Downs. His work is informed by “…the way the land holds a palimpsest of memory in the twilight, revealing itself and feeding the imagination”.
Inspired by this image, I’ve created a large pen and ink illustration of the moon surrounded by a chaotic ring of animals, Moon Animalia:
I realise I’ve just missed posting this at May’s full Flower Moon.
I started this illustration last year and put it aside to do other things. It is drawn on four separate sheets of A3 paper – I chose to do this as I can only scan A3 and then only in two separate parts. Looking closely you may see a few mangled animals where I haven’t joined the sheets very well! I’ll endeavour to work on this at some point :)
Back in December last year, I was sketching a drawing of Jesus while listening to Jocelyn Pook’s film music until I could take no more, my pen or pencil sometimes scratching in time to her unusual phrases. (One score was based on Romanian priests singing an Orthodox Liturgy and then played backwards!)
My sketches were for the cover of a new book by author Caroline Greville, who wrote Badger Clan, a book I designed the cover for. I was given a few guidelines in the brief – joy and celebration; perhaps Jesus talking to a group of people as a shadowy figure. Caroline liked my Dancer in the Grotto card, so I had an image to start from.
She also mentioned that she liked the images of the Turin Shroud. I like them too. I like the serene face with closed eyes, the light shining above the head imprint and the ethereal quality of the images. I also like the story and controversy behind the shroud.
I chose to use another grotto photo that was taken in the shell grotto in Margate a few years ago. The date of the grotto is uncertain, but there was a fad for creating shell grottos in the 18th century so it might date from then. The photos, enhanced in photoshop, have a haunting beauty with my drawings super-imposed.
Here is my final cover design with the title text:
It’s autumn and my work desk has been busy – well, I have, sort of.
Among the feathers, nests and skulls I’ve found this year, I’ve been working on a new altered book, another Harry Potter commission. Knowing little about Harry Potter – OK I’ve seen a couple of HP films on long haul flights – it has been a challenge for me. However, I know there’s magic in the books and I like that.
Here is my finished Harry Potter book, featuring some of the characters along with Hogwarts School in the background:
Recently I sat with a friend telling her I was working on a Harry Potter altered book. She sighed and said how she would have liked to have read Harry Potter to her children as the books are full of magic and fantasy. When we were young there were the C.S.Lewis books and books like Lord of the Rings. I also remember Anne of Green Gables, The Little Prince, Tom’s Midnight Garden. There was a little bit of magic in them and we all need an element of mystery and the unreal in our lives sometimes.
There’s much said now about how we need stories and storytelling has made a resurgance in some quarters. As autumn progresses and the darkness descends layer upon layer, I find myself wanting to withdraw and bring in more of the imaginary into my life. More stories, myths, metaphors, images. That’s the thing about darkness, it brings out the imagination.
Below is a picture I did some time ago. I’ve included it to remind myself to welcome in the imagination, something I’ve missed of late.
Over the past couple of years I have been putting together a little book, Dusk, Night, Dawn. It is a collection of nature writings about my encounters with wildlife during the twilight and night hours here in the UK and on trips abroad.
The book started when I was having mentoring with Amy Liptrot. She commented that much of my writing was about dusk. I then collected a few pieces together and set out to have more experiences that I could write about. These included the time when I saw nightjars in King’s Wood, Kent and looking for bears in Romania. Some of my pieces have been published in magazines, on websites or blogs and in anthologies, but I have put them all together in one book and have included pen and ink illustrations to accompany many of the pieces. Here is an example:
I submitted my book to WriteNow in 2017 and it was shortlisted. I submitted it to Spotlight Books and again it was shortlisted, but it didn’t win. It was suggested that I should include more of myself in the book and make it into a narrative. Well, it is what it is, a collection of writings like an anthology. I have sent it to a couple of publishers but I am expecting to hear the same problems with the book, so I won’t be surprised when I hear back from them. In the meantime I’ve put together a mocked up copy with the help of my partner Kevin.
It took Kevin quite a while tp format and lay out the book ready for printing and help design the cover. He took it on as a project.
Having got the printing done, I was keen to investigate ‘perfect binding’ to put it together. This means that when the pages are put together, there is no creep. I researched how to do perfect binding and Kevin made me a page vice. Some commercial printers only do staple bound, so I chose to do the whole thing myself.
I applied PVA glue to the vice-bound page edges and attached the cover.
Here is the finished book, front and back:
The process was tricky but fun. I’ll wait to see what the publishers say before I do anything else with it.
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
In my previous post about my latest altered book, I mentioned that one of the pages – the fox page – reminded me of the Millefleur(s) art style. Millefleurs means “thousand flowers” in French and was a style using many flowers in the background of European tapestries between 1480 and 1520. The style was brought back into fashion by William Morris and his company Morris & Co.
I looked again at tapestries and particularly like Tapestry: Greenery designed by John Henry Dearle for Morris & Co. It hangs in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, US and features deer, rabbits and a fox beneath chestnut, oak and pear trees:
I love botanical detail in tapestries and paintings, especially with my recent rekindled interest in plants. i like the way individual flower species are depicted. I first really took note of millefleur in Botticelli’s Primavera in which there are about 190 species of flowering plants depicted and many have symbolic meanings:
I have decided to write/illustrate another little book that I’m titling The Tapestry Fox inspired by Tapestry Greenery and of course, the foxes that live around my way.
The fox as totem animal is coming back into my life. it is a good luck animal for me. I’ll follow it wherever it takes me. I’ve worked on a few ideas for the book:
In the first picture above I’ve added teasel, bramble, oak and hornbeam – I try and add plants that can be identified. i haven’t managed the sinewy trunks of hornbeam. I particularly like adding bramble (of the rose family there are over 300 species in the UK and deer love it so you can often tell if a deer has passed by the bitten ends of new bramble shoots. Bramble was used for fencing where barned wire is used now and then there are blackberries! A great plant!)
While on the fox trail, I’ve been experimenting with the idea of millefleur and foxes at the woodland edge in a larger, A3 picture. I’ve called it Millefeuilles Fox – Thousand Leaves Fox:
In the picture stars are sprinkled among the leaves and plants so the sky becomes the land and the land sky. I like to think it might be an allegory of some sort with a hidden meaning :)
I’m looking forward to visiting the woodland edges, making sketches, taking photos and gathering a few plant specimens. With spring comes primrose, white dead nettle, yellow archangel, lords and ladies, stitchwort, herb robert, red campion, nettles….