Two Rivers, Otters and Rest

Far away from home, hiding in a beautiful house, over the last few days I have settled to work, although I find myself painting when I should be writing. I’ve hung a bird feeder in the garden and have been rewarded by a slate-blue and peach coloured nuthatch, chaffinch, wren, robin, sparrow, both hedge and house, bluetit, coaltit, greattit, and all the while pheasants. I can hear blackbirds too and an owl calls at night.

My work table has changed over the few days I have been here. I’ve prepped a print to take to Kenilworth for a customer, and one to leave for Number Seven to add to their stock of my work.

On Monday I visited one of the few hand made papermills in Britain, Two Rivers, with Chris and Davina from number seven and saw how they turn cotton rag to the most beautiful textured watercolour paper.

It is a great delight to me that the paper is made from stuff called ‘stuff’. A great porridge like barrel of it, mixed with water from the two rivers well.

With trays they lift the stuff, and water is sucked away, then the paper is bedded onto felted sheets and placed in a press for water to be squeezed out and away. It is then air dried. Thicker sheets are easier to make I am told. I love the organic quality to this hand made artefact. The ink sits differently on the surface. I’ve not yet used it with watercolour. I love the deckled edges of it. Going to see how it takes to gold leaf next.

We had picked up a warm but dead pheasant on the road on the way there and Chris cooked it for our lunch.

I painted otters onto the paper, with well water, the same that is used to mix with the stuff to make the paper. With left over ink I painted a couple of otters on some of my usual Arches, to sell to add towards the crowdfunder total for Devon. Dulverton is so very close to Devon. Bellow are the two for the crowdfunder: £180 each. Email me before donating to the crowdfunder, with Devon Otters as subject matter, and top, or bottom otters, as desired..

There’s a wonderful map of the UK, created for us by Harry, and it shows where campaigns to place the Lost Words in schools has succeeded. So many people have worked so hard to get our book into schools so that all children and teachers can have access to it.And there are new ‘Challenge Cards’ for teachers, parents, libraries, anyone who wishes to use them, again written by Eva John and supported by our wonderful publisher, Hamish Hamilton.

I will be in Dulverton, signing books next Thursday 25th October. We have a Heartwood stamp we are using. If you can’t come you can still order signed books by calling the shop, Number Seven Dulverton. If you can come you will be sure of a warm welcome in a beautiful place.

My owl has been watching over me, beautiful Heathpoult, tawny, wise.

I need to go. I need to see if I can catch a nuthatch in lines of a pencil. Chris found a dead dipper after the storm. The feathers on its back shimmered like dark damask. Beautiful creature. Built to dive, swift in the streams, a dark and waterproof dart of a bird.

We didn’t eat it.

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A soundscape of the natural world

Listen.

Coming soon.

It is beautifully crafted with sonic space and human voices.

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Two days. And a lark. A Song of Ink and Water.

Days at home are precious. This is a short post, about two days, and about a book.

Yesterday I took the dogs, walked through the woods and down to the sea.

In this small part of the world where I live autumn usually comes as a fierce wind that strips the leaves from the trees, tears them off. But at Abermawr it is more sheltered. Here, autumn happens more slowly, but leaves that fall are the colour of a small golden dog.

The wind braids and pleaches tree branches of beech beside the beach.

At the beach a bank of pebbles is a wonderful hunting ground, though not so good when your small golden dog child discovers a dead seal to roll in.

Back home I worked on prepping prints that people have waited for for so long. Peacefull work.

Also, time to pack up otters, bought by Cecelia  and Graham, the word Slopsh, written in otters. Love how otter language swims on a page. This was for a crowdfunder. There have been so many now I can’t remember which. So many, and that means so many books given to schools.

There’s new crowdfunders every day, for schools, hospice, carehomes. Here’s a link to some:

Our book, one year old now.

So, today I walked where the golden grasses grow, and the smallest dog ran wild and crazy, nose to the ground searching for birds. She put up a snipe. Autumn is coming. Goldfinch flocks are in the fields and edges. Bramble leaves flash crimson, as do the hawthorn berries.

The Icelandic horses are so gentle, and smell like sweet grass. Their coats held the warmth of the sun.

Back home I packaged up more things to post tomorrow. These included Bramble, won in another crowdfunder and delivery long overdue….

There’s a crowdfunder for London. I decided to paint them a lark. This, painted on one of the letterpress proof pages from the Compton Verney exhibition, is a lark, painted with sumi ink. The lark changed as she dried and this last image in these three is more accurate.

The yellowing is because the light is fading from the day, so not natural.

This lark is to be a ‘raffle prize’ for the London Crowdfunder. Donate any amount to be entered into the draw. I will send the painting to Robert Macfarlane to sign also. The words are his, from The Lost Words. Anyone who donates, from anywhere ( happy to post to any address) will have an equal chance to win, whether it’s a £5 or a £5000 donation. The draw will be done when the funding target is reached.

The small inked hare (25 x 10cms) below is also for the London Crowdfunder. £200, but email me first to secure before donating, with ‘hare’ in the subject matter.

Also this otter with butterfly at £225.

It is a curious thing for one’s work to be at the centre of this ‘movement’ of people passionate about making a gift of the book, to schools, hospices, carehomes. It’s also very humbling. How to say thank you? The only way I can is by trying to contribute. For me, my access to books was through libraries in schools and libraries changed my life. I’ve been watching how the crowdfunders help each other, teach each other how best to do this, how best to place the books in the right hands. I’ve been seeing the response of teachers and the astonishing and powerful work of children created around the book. The Lost Words is becoming a powerful community, working for change.

There are two lots of teaching resources now, both crafted with skill by Eva John. One is hosted here, at the John Muir Trust, the other in a few places. Please share. They are free to download, and i would like to say a huge thank you to Penguin Books for supporting this. For the first time ever I look forward to seeing World Book Day Costumes, if children follow the challenge on one of the challenge cards.

And there’s a wonderful piece from Rob Bushby on the Penguin Books website, about this first year of The Lost Words. It’s been quite a year.

I will be in Number Seven Dulverton on Thursday 25th October. Mine and Kerry Andrew’s event the evening before has sold out and there’s a long waiting list for tickets, but if you’ve a mind to you can watch our performance with Nicola Davies at Hay Festival. It cost £10 to subscribe for the year, but there is a wealth of wonder in that archive, a treasury.

And I will be in Yoevil on 27th at the festival. Tickets still available I think.

Dark outside now. I’ve much to do, otters to wrap, things to think about.

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665:14hours and 2 minutes:days like this

Comfort is so much what I turn to at the moment. I’ve a small book of grasses that I carry in my pocket, to learn the names of grass, and the comfort of books has always brought me peace. And I love this bowl, from the exhibition at The Canwood Gallery, an exhibition to raise money for St Michael’s Hospice near Hereford where I visited on my birthday, before heading to Symonds Yat.

I left there a small stone, gilded, beside one of my pieces of work that is included in the show.

And I just adore the frame that John, from Robel in Haverfordwest adorned my otters with. How that man makes my work shine! I’d not seen it until then as I had left it wrapped. I know that people expect me to have carefully chosen the frames myself, but with John I leave all the framing to him. Together we have learned our craft after years of graft, and he knows the balance, colour, weight and finish that will make my work shine.

Next to my work on one side, the beautiful work of Simon Dorrell who I was at college with, and the images of Pembrokeshire tugged gentle on my heart. We had a long road to travel and I am becoming unravelled by distance from home and hearth.

   

On the other side the beautifully lit woodland paintings of Richard Bavin, a place to rest the soul.

It was lovely to meet up with Janetta, one of my publishers also. And The Canwood Gallery is in such a beautiful place, a green bowl of land.

In the afternoon Robin and I drove to Symonds Yat. It was my birthday. We walked along the riverbank. A kingfisher flashed past, ‘too fast to follow’ and then we saw the bright white of egret. But it flew with a raven and when we looked again a creature of myth had landed light beside a dark raven. A white raven. And when she opened her wings to fly it was as if time slowed, stopped, and a window opened into another place. Pure beauty.

 

So beautiful a place. And the second night we rested in the harbour of friendship at Tamsin and Mike’s house, before heading on the long road north. But what magic awaited us there and how rich is life.

We collected Robert from the train station at Penrith, drove to the beautiful Greta Hall to meet with The Spellsingers, for two days of magic.

I painted, we spoke of The Lost Words, its origins and travels, and listened as Kris Drever read Raven, Fern, and Jim Molyneux read a barn owl. Julie Fowlis, lit by an inner light, read a song spell of a grey seal, and the musicians all listed their many languages of song and instrument while Robert and I sat back in awe.

Later they sang, played, and Robert made a fire and again it felt as if we had stepped out from time to a small slice of heaven.

 The next day The Spell Singers went their separate ways, for now, Robert ran off up a hill and we headed to Grasmere where I was due to work in a small school the next day, and do an event for the bookshop in the evening.

I don’t do many school visits these days, but I have a very soft spot for Grasmere, both the school, the place and the bookshop. And although I visit many bookshops there’s something about the stock in Sam Reads!  I can’t remember the last time I went into a shop and bought so very many books…. If you find yourself in the Lake District, go to Grasmere. There is something very very special about this place.

I accidentally met with Wordsworth, not realising he was buried there, beneath the shade of a yew tree he planted.

And thank you so much to Elaine and Paul for looking after us and opening up your hearts and home to us, and to Polly Atkin for taking me swimming in the lake and arranging a flypast of a heron….to see the hills from the silvered surface of the lake was a very special thing.

The day in the school was hard work and wonderful, and thank you to all the people who turned out to listen to Polly and I in conversation.

I left Grasmere with a heavy heart. Something about this place draws me back. The light? And now the water. And new friends, and old.

665 miles in all. And more travelling to go before I can enter into painting again. Along way. And I need to work on a spell to speak to the wind to call to the heart of a wild raven. Not a summoning spell, for I would not seek to summon, just a wild wish and prayer to see such a creature again, to watch her spread wide her wild, white wings, to dance in the sky in the clear salt air.

 

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An exhibition at Canwood Gallery

I have work in a mixed exhibition at The Canwood Gallery in Herefordshire. The exhibition is organised by St Michael’s Hospice an a percentage of the sale of all work goes to the hospice.

 I have 12 pieces in the show. The exhibition runs from 8th-16th September.

I can also invite 4 people to the preview, so, if you would like an invitation, and can go ( please remember there are only 4 invites) then email me 

The preview is Friday 7th 6-8pm. Sadly I will not be there, but hope to visit the show some time on Saturday afternoon, all being well.

The work I have in the show is new, and only one piece has been shown in public before. It includes the gold soul of the walking woman, as above.

 

 

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Busy, painting.

There is too little time to blog, but I’ve so many things that I am keeping ‘under my hat’ I need to let a few out. But first thing to say is that the exhibition at Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh is still on until 2 Sept, so if you can go, do. It is such a beautiful place and I would like to say a big thank you to all at the gardens for supporting the show, doing such an amazing job curating the work, and being wonderful.

And a big thank you to the lovely Anji Spangle, who looked after us rather delightfully.

Huge thank you to Rob Bushby, forever to be known as The Fixer, not just for getting us tickets to see Amanda Palmer in the astonishing Pianodrome. Rob has been a tremendous supporter of The Lost Words and the exhibition at Inverleith House would not have happened without him.

And this was me being very bad outside the Gardens. Sorry Robert.

So much to talk about, but no time, as one of the other things under my hat has been a huge commission to adorn the walls of a hospital. I’ve so much to do, and only 2 weeks to accomplish the work, which includes a new spell, Buttercup, written by Robert Macfarlane, specially commissioned for the children’s ward. My work for this was to first find buttercups, second, lie down and draw them, and third, to paint. I’ve butterflies and ladybirds to add, but also many other things and there’s an ongoing thread on twitter of works in progress.

And every day I need to walk, even though I’m struggling to do so at the moment. Too much travelling, not enough exercise. I need to stay home and paint! And the world is beautiful and green, and I want to swim….

And there are still ongoing crowdfunders. In support of The Lost Words for Powys I am printing this scarf. It will be an original piece, hand woven in India, in partnership with Maiwa, khadi cotton, a shawl, scarf approx 37 x 78 inches. Hand stamped with the wren stamp made for me from one of my drawings by the English Stamp Company, it will be unique.

I am offering this piece for auction, starting at £50. To bid please leave a comment on this blog post. The winning bidder will be the one that is highest approx 48 hours after bidding stops or an hour before the crowdfunder finishes, and I will contact them about donating to the crowdfunder. You can also, if you wish, donate £10 to be entered in to a draw to win an inked otter, but, make sure you chose the ‘reward’ option when donating.

I will be monitoring comments regularly, but as I need to action them, sometimes there can be confusion!

There will be more scarves.

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Wheels

It’s taken a while, but I have finally got around to putting some signage on my van. Not as flamboyant as my old dragon van,

but I think it looks quite elegant.

Both vans were done by Sigma in Haverfordwest. they are brilliant to work with. The dragon van was a complete wrap. This one is just signage.

There were two spare wrens left over from a trial printing. They are pixelated, but look ok, just not as sharp as the finished birds. I can cut around them with a scalpel if you wish, so you can peel off the backing and stick on your car, a wall or anywhere. I’m offering them for sale at £60 each (SOLD) for Lost Words for Powys. There’s only two so email me first to secure before donating. Put Wren in the subject matter.

And it would seem the van works as a magic charm, for who should appear beside it, but Mr Macfarlane himself. Not sure whether he was trying to rub the letters off!

I put him to work, writing, with ink made by his dad from oak galls and a quill made from the feather of a greylag goose. The first, below, on a card from The Lost Words, was a test to see how the ink flowed……and this also is for sale for The Lost Words for Powys. £50, and again, email me to secure, with ‘ink’ in the subject title.

The second was the start of a spell, Acorn, written in the oak gall ink, but the chaos of what was whirling around us led to mistakes. I think it’s still curiously beautiful. It is edition 6 of the book, and carries an extra line on the Magpie page and £125 will secure this copy, (SOLD) with words from Robert and acorns and leaves from me…… we both forgot to sign it, but in our own way, with hand written words and drawn image, both have. So, email, with Book as subject, to secure before donating.

There’s something about mistakes made that I love more as I get older, and make more mistakes, I guess.

Driving to Edinburgh via Ludlow tomorrow. Watch out for us on the road. I will be painting at Inverleith House on Saturday, and talking at Edinburgh Book Festival on Sunday, Golden Hare Bookshop on Monday.

 

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Old dogs, new tricks.

I met Tamsin Abbott first in the pages of Earth Pathways Diary. Her work shone out from the pages. We met in person at Art in Action and became friends, and so we met Mike Abbott, her husband. I’ve stayed with them many times, and love them both very much.And ever since I have met Mike I have wanted to go on one of the courses that he runs.

Last year I realised that years were going by and I wasn’t giving this time, so, with Robin and Nicola Davies and Astrid De Groot we block booked a week in July.

So, what did we learn?

I learned the names of some tools, some familiar, some new. The saw (hasume crosscut saws from Japan), the froe and the greenwood club, the draw knife, the push-knife, spokeshaves, tenon cutters, sawhorses and auger bits, clamps and vices.

Then there’s the chair. Rungs, seat rails, legs, spindles, crest-rail, cross-rail.

How to measure. That’s another thing I learned and how to use the tools to take greenwood logs and make a chair, in the company of good friends and with the help of a marvellous teacher, because that is what Mike became for us during that week.

He took three people who were convinced that by the end of the week they might have made some curiously shaped firewood, and one woodworker, Astrid, and he gave us the knowledge and confidence to fashion the most beautiful chairs. As I write this I am sitting on the one I made.

Sometimes we worked together, helping to site lines and angles for drills and saws, lending weight to cleave logs.

And this was one of the most fascinating things to learn- how to go with the grain to use the growth of the wood to split the log and use the strength of the wood and the shape of the drying to hold the joints. No glue, no screws, just the natural material of the drying of the wood, holding all together.

When to cut with the grain, how to saw across the grain, when to work together, when to work alone. Learning to size things by eye and not to be overly worried by measurement.

And through it all Mike was patient with us, empowering, never laughing at our failure to understand how to do the simplest tasks, but showing us again until we understood. Bending the wood for the legs and the crest and the cross rail, after steaming it was amazing, then holding its shape with drying.

And most of all I loved these things:

Using the draw knife, which silvered the wood and smoothed it.

Hearing how the wood sang, from the spokes to the legs and then how the squeezing of the separate parts, with the force of the vice made the wood sing.

Learning to go with the truth of the wood.

Working on the seat weaving while Nicola sang.

The frog that we found, under a platform, so green, like a jewel.

The robin and the wren, the blackbirds and the butterflies.

The wonderful company and the lunches and suppers we shared.

And the moment of confusion on Robin’s face when he stood back having squeezed together his chair, and realised that what he had thought was random collection of sticks he had been shaping and sanding was now a thing of beauty. That he had, indeed, made a chair. And that is is, indeed, beautiful. And even now, with the woven seat, and the chair complete, he still seems beautifully bewildered by how that happened.

Mike’s knowledge of wood and the growth of trees is wonderful. He reckons to have facilitated the making of over 2000 chairs over the years he has been teaching. Probably more when some people go on to be chair makers. I wonder if some time a ‘bring your own chair party’ could happen, a celebration of so much learning given to so many people.

This blog post could also have been entitled The Philosophy of Wood.

 

And there’s something more. Nicola Davies wrote the most powerful book, as a reaction to our government, our parliament, voting against allowing 3000 lone child refugees to find a home in our land. 3000. That’s not many. But even one child left alone and vulnerable in this world where mankind can be monstrous is one too many. She is going to auction the chair that she made to raise money for Help Refugees. There will also be many drawings of chairs for sale.

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Being on holiday

On the way to ‘being on holiday’ we called in at Booth’s Bookshop in Hay, to sign books and pick up a painting.

And then we wove our way to a place near Cradley, a beautiful place with a view of a willow tree, duck, and distant wooded hills where buzzards call and overhead, high, high in the sky, swifts scream with the delights of hunting and flying.

I seem to think that holiday is a time for sleeping…. but also I have pitched an idea for a  book to my agent, painted some otters, written a blog post, or two, if you count this one, and, well, given myself some time to pull otters out of my head with a brush and some ink.

Below is a small giant, £150, 10x25cms,  a questioning hunt for a small fish.

Below, two small giants, 10x25cms, in an infinity spell, £200.

And below, large, flirting otters, 105x 75cms, with dark sumi ink, a love spell at £2000.

Inking otters is a curious meditation that brings me peace of mind.

And on Tuesday, on my holiday, I will be in Blue Ginger near Cradley, with Nicola Davies, talking about books. Almost full, now, as there is supper also, but still a few tickets available. Sue has a set of the premium Lost Words prints for sale.

More of the holiday soon. I’m almost certain there will be drawings of ducks at some point.

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Read Between the Lines

A long time ago I lived in Hereford. I was 19 years old, with a heart full of hopes. My first time away from home. I’d been to my interview at the college dressed ( by my parents still) in a grey flannel suit, pleated skirt, waistcoat, blazer. It was an interview, after all. I needed to be smart. Hereford College of Art for a Foundation Year. School was behind me. I had ‘achieved the rather modest A level results of an E for English, a D for Art and a B for History, but also had the require pass at English and Maths O level, which was all I needed to enter the course. And I had a heart full of dreams.

I loved this place, with its cathedral and slow river running through it. Within weeks of being there I was dressed in Millets dungarees, granddad shirts, Dr Martins and a donkey jacket.

It was all a long time ago. At some point I was taken aside and told that I would never pass the Foundation course, nor achieve a place on a degree course. ( Later, at Exeter College of Art which had been my first choice, and where I had completed two terms, it was loudly pointed out to me that I had been very lucky to secure  transfer to Bath Academy as my work was as substandard as my attitude, I would never make it as an illustrator and they were going to throw me out).

On Thursday I joined a small and select group of artists and makers and became a Fellow of Hereford College of Art. This involved wearing a cap and a gown ( for the first time, as I didn’t go to a graduation ceremony at Bath) and making a short speech to the wonderful students who had made it through to the completion of their courses.

Such an honour. And I was a bit nervous. I muttered away at some things, sidetracked myself, got a laugh here and there, but this is, in retrospect, what I should have said:

1. Be brave. You will need all your courage to be an artist in this world.

2. Artists contribute so much to society, are often undervalued. You take your places among a long line of dreamers, many of who are only recognised after their deaths having lived a life of poverty. Many people will ask you to, expect you to, work for free. They will say that what they are offering you is ‘good exposure’. I’m here to tell you that people die of exposure. Value your time- even artists need to eat. You can pick your causes, when you choose to give your skills for free, don’t let others bully you into it for the ‘exposure’.

3. It is possible to earn a living as an artist. Usually this takes a long time. Doing other work to facilitate your move into being a full time artist can be very good. Some choose to keep this balance their whole lives. Treat all the work you do as you treat your creative work, it is all a part of the whole. 

4. Check out Arts Emergency. They are there to help.

5. Whatever your discipline make work that makes your soul sing. Speak from the heart. Find your voice and know that your voice is as relevant, as deserving to be heard, as anyone’s. Don’t follow fashion. Create work that excites you.

6. Look. Read, read, read. Stories from near, from far, from long ago, fiction, non-fiction, poetry.  And do not ever forget to listen to the voices of others.

7. You will have to learn how to make friends with your monsters. Mine has always been self-doubt. Making the monster your friend is a part of the working process, but this has been one of the hardest things for me to do. I’m learning to dance with my demons, to embrace it as part of how I work.

8. Understand that as you walk out of college, degree in hand, that your learning has only just begun. Every day of your working life you should be learning, with each thing you do, each mark you make.

9. Don’t chase money, or be flattered by this false idol. If you earn enough to feed yourself, your family, house and clothe them and buy materials you need to then spend your time making work, creating. You can always get more money, but once time is spent it’s gone. You can never reclaim those lose minutes, hours, days, years.

10. Do not ever underestimate the power of daydreaming. This is the space where ideas dwell.

11. Whatever you do, do it with a real passion.

12. Be open hearted, open minded. Eyes wide open to the whole world. Believe in the arts as a powerful tool for change, to communicate ideas, to bring about change, to educate, inform, as a harbour for the soul, as an expression of what it is to be human.

And above all question everything, even advice given in good faith. Question, interrogate, read between the lines.

 

So, that’s what I should have said.

Thank you Hereford College of Art. I hope I can help you to inspire a new generation of makers and dreamers.

 

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