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Sacred Time by Christine Valters Paintner

Sacred Time

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.

Here is Christine’s page on Amazon and on Barnes and Noble.

If you’re interested in buying a digital print of any of the images for Christine’s book, contact me.

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Prima Donna della Terra – First Woman of the Earth

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.

Prima Donna della Terra
Prima Donna della Terra – a Moss Goddess or Moss Bride

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.

Prima Donna della Terra painting
Prima Donna della Terra – painting on reclaimed scaffolding board in the garden.

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:

Prima Donna della Terra - night
Prima Donna della Terra – at night in the garden.
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A Night Walk on Wolstonbury Hill

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:

Harvest Moon - Samuel Palmer
Harvest Moon – Samuel Palmer

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.

Wolstonbury Map
Wolstonbury Hill Map

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.

Moon over Wolstonbury Hill
Moon over the Downs

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.)

Night Woods - Wolstonbury Hill
Night Woods – Wolstonbury Hill

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”.

You can see his photographs on his website.

Later I discovered the image below, Paradiso Canto by Gustave Dore, an illustration for Dante’s Divine Comedy. It features the ‘highest heaven’ which “… appears in the form of an enormous rose, the petals of which house the souls of the faithful. Around the center, angels fly like bees carrying the nectar of divine love.”

Paradiso Canto by Gustave Dore
Paradiso Canto by Gustave Dore

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:

Moon Animalia
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 :)

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Ethereal Images: a New Book Cover

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!)

Dancer in the Grotto
Dancer in the Grotto

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.

Turin Shroud
Turin Shroud – taken from Wikipedia.

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:

Gospel Voices

The book is “a collection of short stories told from the viewpoints of characters found in the gospel narratives.” It is out today and can be bought from Faithbuilders, Waterstones or The Book Depository.

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Another Harry Potter Altered Book

It’s autumn and my work desk has been busy – well, I have, sort of.

My desk

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:

Harry Potter altered book
Harry Potter altered book.

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.

Sunset from my living-room window.
Sunset from my living-room window.

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.

The Encroaching Night
The Encroaching Night
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Dusk Night Dawn Book

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:

Dipper
Bird of the Black Waters.

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.

Folding paper
Folding paper for making the book by perfect binding.
Homemade book clamp
Homemade book clamp.

I applied PVA glue to the vice-bound page edges and attached the cover.

Glueing book
While the pages were in the book clamp, I clued the spine using PVA glue.

Here is the finished book, front and back:

Dusk Night Dawn book
Dusk Night Dawn book
Dusk Night Dawn back cover
Dusk Night Dawn back cover.

The process was tricky but fun. I’ll wait to see what the publishers say before I do anything else with it.

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Walking With Trees – The Linden Tree

My mother's tree
My mother’s tree – a large leaved lime.

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.

Broad-leaved lime leaves
Large-leaved lime tree leaves – they are broad, floppy, heart-shaped and they darken as the seasons progress.

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.

Lime leaf

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.

Diary in the grass
My diary in the grass and speedwell flowers.
String of feathers and shells
String of feathers, beads and shells as an offering to my mother’s spirit and the tree’s.

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:

Lime Tree illuminated letter
Lime tree illuminated letter.

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.

Laima
Laima, whose sacred tree is the linden tree. She decides the destiny of new born children.

“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

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The Tapestry Fox

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:

Tapestry Greenery
Tapestry Greenery designed by John Henry Dearle for Morris and Co. Photo credit Plum Leaves on Flickr.

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:

Primavera - Botticelli
Primavera painting in my Botticelli book showing flowers throughout the painting.

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 Tapestry Fox sketchbook
A few notes, ideas and doodles for The Tapestry Fox.

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:

Fox in the Woodland
Fox in the Woodland – a possible illustration for my new little book, The Tapestry Fox.
The Tapestry Fox Cover Idea
The Tapestry Fox cover idea.

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:

Millefeuilles Fox
Millefeuilles 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….

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The Book – Badger Clan by Caroline Greville

Towards the end of last year I was approached by writer Caroline Greville, who asked me if I’d like to design a cover for her book, a memoir called Badger Clan. Caroline had found me via Twitter and we also both had pieces of writing published in the Seasons anthologies by Elliot and Thompson in 2016.

I was very happy to design a cover and had a strong image in mind when Caroline told me what the book was about and what she’d like. I’ve also been drawing badgers quite a lot recently too – badgers are never far away!

The book has just become available on Amazon as a paperback. Below is the front cover:

Badger Clan by Caroline Greville - front cover
Badger Clan front cover.

Here’s the blurb from the back cover:

Discovering badgers isn’t hard when you know where to look.‘The only badgers I ever get to see are dead ones.’ ‘Well, if you keep seeing dead ones, their family can’t be far away.’This throwaway conversation niggled, leading Caroline Greville to seek out her own neighbourhood badgers near her Kent home. She found them and was soon well-acquainted – so too were most of her family. A sense of interconnectedness developed as they had more badger contact than they could have hoped for. Badger Clan charts a simple quest that turns into a full-blown obsession. From loitering near a sett to working as local contact for a regional badger group, this memoir tells of wild encounters and gradual, intimate knowledge of the local clan. The story is rooted in rural village life, while the family are honestly depicted and relatable. A feel-good read in which enthusiast and elusive creature become inextricably bound.

Badger Clan by Caroline Greville

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Murmuration Over Brighton’s West Pier

The murmuration over the West Pier in Brighton is fairly well known. Whenever I go down to see it in the autumn and winter, there is always a crowd of people. Nevertheless, I chose to write about it for this month’s Preston Pages and the other free magazines such as The Post and The 7 Directory.

Here is a photo of my article with an illustration, Murmuration 1 (not exactly an inspired title, but still!):

Murmuration in The Preston Pages
Murmuration in The Preston Pages

Apparently the illustration is on the cover of The 7 Directory :)

Murmuration1
Murmuration 1

The original illustration has now sold along with another similar one, Murmuration 2. But I now have digital prints for sale in my website shop. They’ll be ready to go out next week if anyone’s interested.

I can’t help including a photo of the pier in the 1990s before it completely crumbled into the sea and later went up in flames, wonderfully derelict :)

The West Pier Brighton in the 1990s
The West Pier Brighton in the 1990s

The West Pier today:

The West Pier at Sunset
The West Pier, Brighton at Sunset

Chris Watson did a great radio programme of sounds and memories of the West Pier, Ghost Roost, that really brings it to life. It’s well worth a listen.

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