Dusk, when the edges of all things blur. A time of mauve and moonlight, of shapeshiftings and stirrings, of magic…
I have a new concertina card, The Wood at Dusk. I wanted to create one that was also papercut, giving the card a window on to a layered wood at sunset.
Here it is:
On one side of the card there are badgers beneath the trees, through which one can see a deer against the sunset. On the other side there are deer, a fox, a flying tawny owl and a hedgehog.
I went into the woods yesterday evening just after sunset. The sky was pink blue blending to flame red. It was still and the air was a bit cold. I saw no deer or badgers, but the blackbirds, song thrushes and robins were singing, and the odd mistle thrush flew across the land as it descended into shadow. As I sauntered back, the moon, big, bright, white and full followed me through the trees – Wolf Moon, Old Moon, Ice Moon. I think I’ll call it Chalk Moon – it was so white – or Watching Moon, the first full moon of the year.
From my winter retreat I need to revisit the woods and, once again, feel a sense of belonging.
Finally done, my Night Wood nature zine/booklet. I’m pleased with how it’s turned out. I decided to call it ‘Night Wood’ instead of ‘Night Forest’ because I started thinking about what the words ‘forest’ and ‘wood’ mean to me.
The word ‘forest’ conjures up a vast area of trees, sweeping over the landscape into the distance. On the other hand, when I think of a wood, I imagine a smaller, more intimate place of trees. So, my booklet title is Night Wood.
I do like the word ‘forest’ though. It is the Old French word, ‘forest’, which later became ‘forêt’. Forest probably came from the Late Latin words forestem silvam meaning ‘the outside woods’, or the woods beyond the fenced park.
The word ‘wood’ comes from the Old English word wudu meaning a collection of trees. Wudu may come from the Old Norse word viðr or the Swedish word ved, meaning tree or wood. Another possible source is the Welsh word gwydd, meaning trees. This website mentions a few other interesting forest words including Silvanus, the Roman God of woods and fields from which we get ‘silviculture’. Apparently Silvanae were goddesses who accompanied Silvanus… (I can see some further research and pictures that might materialise).
My Night Wood nature zine/booklet is full of wildlife, including badgers, deer and an owl, beneath the moon. All special to me. I like getting lost in intricate detail. There isn’t a story, just a few words – enough to set the scene and tie the book together. The book is A5 size and comes with a black, C5 tie and washer envelope. I like to think of it as a special gift, more than a card, a little book to treasure for anyone who loves woods, trees and wildlife as much as I do. It’s available in my Etsy shop and my Reflections shop.
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‘ :)
I have recently been commissioned to make a Harry Potter altered book. I don’t know that much about the Harry Potter books and I’ve only ever seen Harry Potter films on flights, however, this seemed like a good challenge.
I wanted to make the Whomping Willow the main feature and got caught up in the detail of branches and leaves:
It was fun overlayering the crashed car with the top layer:
I added an owl in the foreground and Hogwarts in the background against a starry sky:
Along with the Harry Potter altered book, I created another ‘Into the Beech Wood’ altered book as part of the same commission:
To accompany this I put together a little booklet with a piece of my writing called Time in the Beech Wood. I wrote it when staying in the Forest Cabin last year. I’ve wanted to do something with this piece for a while, so this seemed like a good opportunity. I played around with my World Tree and deer illustrations to create the cover in Photoshop:
(I think there’s a hint of cave painting or Cretan vase in the design!) I’ll add it to the book as a little gift.
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.
With the box frame I decided to hide a poem, Nature by Mary Oliver, written on parchment paper at the back of the box frame behind the final picture. I like the idea of hiding messages and hidden art for anyone who can’t resist opening up the back of the picture.
Below are some images of the box frame process including the back page of the box frame. From the front all you can see of this layer is a bit of sky and moon, but it’s a complete picture that features more trees and a badger.
Here is another tawny owl picture that I might make into a card:
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.
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:
There was such a contrast between the dark interior and the light exterior:
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:
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.
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.
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!
For a book I’m writing I wanted to experience the dawn chorus in both the city and the countryside. In February I sat on my balcony and listened to the city birds waking up the day. Now it’s April, I chose to get up before sunrise yesterday morning and visit Butcher’s Wood on the outskirts of Hassocks with my partner Kevin.
We set off at 5.45am in the mists and when we arrived we parked in a suburban road of bungalows, cherry blossom and magnolia trees – all now in bloom. The sky was lightening rapidly as we made our way along the railway line footpath to the wood.
The woodland floor is now carpeted with wood anenomes beneath oaks, birches, coppiced hazels and hornbeam trees. I noticed lesser celandine, bluebells just coming up and dog violets too. The wood was already alive with song and the sun was yet to rise.
I recorded birdsong along with the passing trains heading into Brighton or up to London. I expect the birds sing more loudly here as they have to compete with this extra noise.
On the audio you can hear a persistant nuthatch, a wren, a chiff chaff, blue tit, great tit and a train passing.
I love the shapes of silhouetted trees with their bare, zig-zag branches against the eggshell blue and salmon sky; some birches bore misty crowns of newly emerging leaves and the hazel understory was yellow-furred with drooping catkins.
We wandered into a field edged with blossoming blackthorn and blanketed in a milky fleece of mist. It felt colder than inside the wood so we retreated back into the trees.
A while ago I was searching for images of papercuts and came across one I like very much called “Night Gathering” by Ed Pien. There’s something quietly mysterious about the indistinct figures in the lattice of branches. What are they gathering for at night? Why in the trees? Are they children? The figures merge with the tree. It’s an amazing work of art.
According to his website, “Pien is not entirely sure what it is about trees that allure him and why they are recurring motifs in his cuts, but they speak to him of childhood adventure, of birth and death, and of fear and the unknown.”
My own art adventures with trees and forests continue with more altered books and box frames. Trees, woods and forests mean a lot to me. Within a wood my imagination can branch and grow. In a forest I feel protected in a complex web of secrets I wish to fathom. So often I have a longing for a secret place, a shadey forest retreat beneath the arms of a towering oak, or simply a forest in my mind.
Here is ‘Through the Forest’, which is currently on sale in my Etsy Shop. I hint at fairy tales with this altered book.
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.
Writing is as much a part of me now as making visual art of some sort. They are two channels in the river bed of my life, sometimes intersecting, other times flowing in parallel, two parts of myself getting to know each other. Perhaps one day they’ll blend. Writing my journal is something I’ve always done – and treasured – I’m excited now that my other types of writing are becoming just as important.
As part of the prize for winning the Creative Future Literary Award for fiction last year, I’ve been having mentoring with Amy Liptrot whose memoir, The Outrun, has just come out. I’m reading her book at the moment, enjoying the beautiful, clear writing; the contrasting phases of her life, the interesting steps she takes in her recovery from alcohol and her accounts of living and visiting remote Orcadian islands. I find myself wanting to gaze at the sky, watch the sea – even get in! I need to find myself an island. It’s a recommended read :)
It is a moment of quickening, of rebirth. the old, lovely story: life surging back, despite everything, once again. However spring finds you – birdsong, blossom or spawn – it is a signal: the earth turning its ancient face back to the sun.
In the book my piece is about seeing a stoat at Newtimber Hill on the South Downs. The Newtimber Estate is an SSSI. Newtimber Wood on the north side of the hill is one of my favourite local haunts and where I filmed part of Touching the Earth. It is also a bluebell wood. Here is a photo I took a few years ago in March.