I’m working on an’altered’ hardback sketchbook, which differs from any I’ve done before. One difference is that every page is illustrated, the backs of the pages as well as the fronts. Someone will be able to open the book anywhere and see a double page spread illustration with papercut work.
The other difference is that most of the book will be illustrated and cut – not just the central 12 pages. I stick two pages together between spreads for strength and because I like to papercut thick paper. I intend to make about five sections, each with a different scene. It’ll be like five books in one – and will be a lot of work!
So far I’ve done the first section – a night wood scene with badgers and owls beneath a crescent moon:
Sections to come? Perhaps, deer, foxes, nests… I’m not out of the woods yet!
I woke before dawn to see a crescent moon high in the southern sky. Now it’s a beautiful bright cold day with frost on the lawn and on the rooftops. I am longing to get out into the woods, but the car is broken, I’ve put my back out and we’re in lockdown. I’ll have to wait. Instead I’ve found a patch of sunlight to work on my new ‘forest’ book.
This book is about the forest at night. It’ll be titled Forest or Night Forest and will be mostly made up of illustrations with minimal text. It’ll be similar to a zine, but I like to think it’ll be more than a zine – I’m printing it on good quality, 160gsm paper.
So far I’ve drawn three two-page spreads of nocturnal forest scenes. One is of a nightjar flying at the edge of a forest on an early summer evening:
Nightjars are such special birds, I have a bit of a thing about them.
The other two-page spread is of a family of badgers in a forest glade. The full moon has risen higher, it’s bold and bright in a dark, starlit sky:
I intend to make limited edition prints of these illustrations on white, linen paper. I’m hoping the printers I use are able to take on print jobs during this lockdown. Meanwhile, I’ll plan the other pages in the book. These will feature owls, deer, woodmice, moths and possibly bats.
I have a bit of a thing about forests. I guess I’m a nemophilist – from the Greek nemos, which means grove, and philos, which means affection. That also means I’m a dendrophile, a lover of trees. And then I’m also a bit of a nyctophile, someone who loves night and darkness. Interesting, but right now I love sunshine and am looking forward to the light and warmth of spring.
Note: A4 digital prints of both of these illustrations are now available in my Reflections shop and Etsy shop.
Imagine it’s all quiet, except for the rustlings of woodmice and voles on the forest floor. Listen. In a shadowy tree top close by, sits a tawny owl hunched in his ruffle of feathers. Soon he’ll call to his mate. Be still and sense the forest; its blend of blue shadow, its lonesome shafts of bone moonlight outlining naked branches in shimmering white. Watch as a badger ventures out, rummaging in the leaf litter for earthworms beneath the tall oaks and beeches. Then a hind appears at the edge of the trees…
I’ve created an altered book inspired printed book, Deer in the Night Wood, because I was curious about whether it would work. There are no words in my book, the paragraph above just sums up the atmosphere of the night forest I had in my mind when I was drawing the inside cover.
The book is made of six sheets of card, including the cover, which is in colour.
My pen and ink illustrations are printed on both sides of the card in mirror image, so the scene is on the front and back of each page. The printer did his best to align them, but it’s very difficult to make the fit exact.
I papercut each sheet separately and folded them in half. Then I trimmed off the edges of each folded sheet – except for the cover – because the pages creep out beyond the edge of the cover and I didn’t adjust the size of them before printing. Finally I sewed the pages together with two stitches along the spine with a strong needle and embroidery thread.
Here is the finished thing, handsewn and slightly smaller than A5 in size:
I had a few of these books printed as gifts for my family. Each book may be printed, but the papercutting is by hand, which is quite a bit of work. I’m wondering whether they would sell? I’m not really sure. What do you think? Perhaps they are just meant as gifts, my gifts.
I’ve been creating mini box frames in natural wood. One is for my brother’s belated birthday, depicting a little badger scene, and the other is of the cabin where we stayed in France to give to the owners:
I’ve also recently created a larger box frame commission for a friend, a woodland scene with a badger, deer and owl:
If you’d like a box frame made, contact me with your ideas.
I’ve also just added a Woodland Gift Box to my Etsy shop that contains a mini box frame, a The Memory Tree book, an Owl Notebook and some Nightlife Badges.
It started with my neighbour having a clear out and leaving a pile of white box frames on the wall outside my house (it’s common for people to leave stuff on the pavement with a note saying “Free, please take me!”). The box frames were in excellent condition and I had an idea of creating a layered illustration inside one similar to the way I make altered books.
My first attempt was of a deer in a glade. I took it to Studio 45, a little gallery near the Open Market in Brighton, where it promptly sold. I created more layered illustrated papercuts and bought some more box frames to continue the project. Those I’ve completed so far can be seen below. Some have gone to good homes, some are for sale in my Etsy Shop and Folksy shop and a couple are in galleries. They reflect my current themes of woodland, woodland edges and the wildlife that lives there.
I am creating a separate page for box frames in the same way I’ve created a page for altered books. I’m still very much into pen and ink but soon I’ll get into colouring again.
It’s the time for nests! Everywhere I hear birdsong even in the middle of town and it’s lovely. As a child I would climb trees in the hope of finding a nest. Sometimes I did, but those I found – and collected – never had any eggs. I wouldn’t have disturbed them if they had. It’s very special getting a glimpse into a nest with eggs.
In our garden there are a couple of magpies building a nest in the top of a dead sycamore tree. The nest looks oval with a sort of thatched roof. They’re probably not yet tending eggs – my egg book says April – May. It’s good to watch them in action. I like magpies although they have a bad name and are so numerous these days. I remember a lovely animation featuring magpies on the IPM Radio 4 website that accompanied a short programme about bird watching and dementia.
I have a few new creations that feature nests, apples and wings – altered books and small canvases. My Blackbird Nest altered book was on Folksy and sold very quickly:
As it’s Spring, I had to create a Spring altered book which depicts a blackbird nest and woodland scene.
Another one illustrates the poem, Song of the Wandering Aengus by William B. Yeats. I have chosen to illustrate the last few lines of the poem:
..And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.
The left side of the book features the moon, half the tree of silver apples and a woman. The right side features a man sitting in the sun below the half of the tree with gold apples.
The poem is an old favourite of mine, first heard to music sung by Donovan in a youtube video with some lovely, loose illustrations.
The altered books are part of the Words Exhibition at Obsidian Gallery in Buckinghamshire. I also have Memory Tree Books, a little “Winged” canvas and some cards in the exhibition. The Wings canvas is similar to a commission, Stone Angel Wings, that I did last year (see photo below) It was originally based on an altered book I created some time ago.
My little booklet, “Goddesses of River, Sea and Moon” is now available to buy on Folksy here. It covers the mythology of 24 goddesses from around the world, each with a detailed pen and ink illustration. And now I’m working on a colour version!
So much water this year, the news seems to be inundated with stories of floods and storm surges. Water is taking over, spilling over banks, uniting oceans, seas, rivers… and it is seeping into my art themes once again.
I am into pen and ink once again which takes me back to my days of doing many illustrations for the Brighton based organisation, RiverOcean. In those days my drawings were all about sea creatures and the sea. Well once again my pen and ink drawings are water related but drawn for a small book I’m writing on River, Sea and Moon Goddesses, a theme that I’m especially interested in… back to that underground river that flows beneath my life.
My illustrations here are of perhaps some lesser known goddesses. Take Ved’ava for example, a goddess of the sea or water spirit placated by fishermen of Finno-Ugric peoples. She is sometimes portrayed as a kind of mermaid with a fish tail, playing, singing and seducing humans. If a fishermen saw her it was not a good omen as she was believed to be a drowned person’s spirit.
Then here’s Vejama, or Yemoja, she has several names. A goddess of pregnant women and the River Ogun, a river in West Africa, but she is also a goddess with namesakes in other parts of the world. In Brazil, she is Queen of the Ocean and a goddess of fishermen and shipwreck survivors. She is a mother goddess, a fertlity goddess, a spirit of Moonlight too. I wanted to base my pen and ink illustration on the photo collage of my River Goddess, Moanna. I’m not sure it works, what do you think?
A better-known goddess is Sedna, or Nerrivik, goddess of sea creatures and the Underworld in Inuit mythology. There are various stories about Sedna but most tell of the chopping off of her fingers from which are created the seals, walruses, whales and other marine creatures the Inuit hunt. If angered she withholds the sealife from hunters in her undersea domain and it requires a shaman to metaphorically dive to find her at the bottom of the sea and brush the tangles from her hair to calm her. I am particularly inspired by Inuit culture and myth right now. My goddess still has her hands and she looks a bit wooden so I’ll need to work on her.
This is a ‘taster’ for my book. I’ll be keen to get back to working with colour again soon.
This morning I thought about a pen and ink drawing I did years ago titled “Walking Blind the Night of the Comet”. It’s dated 14th April 1997 so the comet must have been Hale Bopp, the Great Comet of 1997. I’d been invited by a friend to go to Devil’s Dyke in the South downs to take photos at night. Fortunately the night was clear and we had good views. I have a photo of the comet somewhere as a faint smudge of light, but here is the drawing I did a few days later.
I’ve looked a lot at the work of Samuel Palmer one of my favourite artists. I love his sepia, moonlit scenes; like him I have put the moon in many pictures. I feel drawn to black and white drawings and photos, and enjoyed looking at the small sketchbooks of Julien Bell in a current exhibition at Brighton Museum and Art Gallery called Dreams of Here. The exhibition also features works by Tom Hammick and Andrzej Jackowski. I was interested in seeing Tom’s work as the flier read that he “uses landscape as his starting point, but a landscape shaped by memories and dreams”. I’m becoming increasingly drawn to landscapes both inner and outer and how they feature in art and literature. Tom Hammick’s work did not disappoint and I appreciated his dark scenes of trees, figures and obscure imagery as well as his vivid colours.
Feeling inspired by my old drawing, Samuel Palmer and the exhibition, I decided to visit some local woods in Brighton and look at trees and paths. I like paths. Paths are worn with stories. I took photos but my creative result is a pen and ink sketch from my imagination featuring a crescent moon once again! I’ve named it “Pathway Through the Wood“. The spindly trunks and coils of bramble stand out at the moment, late winter, hence the swirls in the foreground.