Kingfishers and Kent

This time last year there was a crowdfunding movement to raise money to place a copy of The Lost Words into every school in Scotland. The campaign raised so much, and it was possible to send with each book the printed notes for teachers to help them use the book to inspire learning. On the success of the campaign more grew, and a community of people blossomed, helping each other to find ways through large and small donations across Britain, colouring the country with places where mine and Robert’s book has been given to schools. We’ve seen amazing work produced by incredible children with teachers just astounding us with their creative use for this tool, this book, that we made.

In Suffolk the campaign was led by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, and books often flew into schools accompanied by owls.

Harry, who makes murals, has made this wonderful map that he updates regularly as new areas spring up and new campaigns become successful. Robert and I have tried to support where ever we could. For Suffolk we made a piece of art that became something like a ‘raffle prize’, a feather of a barn owl, and also a print of an owl with a new barn owl spell that became a book plate for each book. Inked otters became a new form of currency.

The movement spread and in Wales Earth Science Partners raised money to place the book in care homes, and in Oxford, a movement grew to put a copy of the book in every hospice in the land, and work onto the walls of Sobell House Hospice. Amazing.

In support of The Lost Words for Kent Robert is donating one of the few remaining limited edition prints, of the kingfisher, for auction. This is produced by Aquarelle Publishing who are a joy to work with. They worked and worked to find a way to gild the prints, and this is Robert’s personal artist’s proof of the special edition gilded kingfisher.

Kingfisher was the place we began The Lost Words, in 2015. Robert wrote the spell as his first acrostic, and I painted, not this one though. This was my third attempt, and this is the one used in the book.

There are only 2 of these artist proofs. The other belongs to my sister.

I’ve held auctions before on my blog. This is how it works. The reserve for this is £350. To bid you leave a comment on this blog post with your bid in £s. All money will go to The Lost Words for Kent schools. 

All comments have to be actioned by me, so sometimes things get muddled, your bid will only appear when I have authorized it, but I will email you if someone has bid more, and usually, somehow we make it work. The auction ends 24 hours AFTER the last bid has come in. It’s not like eBay where you can wait until the last minute and sneak a bid plus a quid in. And as the last few bidders are left standing I will email to let bidders know if they’ve been outbid to see whether they want to  place another bid.

Although it is a print it is unique in that it has hand written piece on front and Rob is happy to write the whole of the kingfisher spell on the reverse of the print and dedicate if requested. You can find out more about the pieces here at Aquarelle’s website.

If you would please share the post that would be wonderful.

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How a book became a building

At the beginning of the year I was asked to ‘express an interest’ in a commissioned piece of work. The request took me by surprise, but once I had written, confessed my ignorance, had the procedure explained to me I thought about it for a while.

The commission was for the atrium and walls of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore. The history of the hospital linked the outside, the natural world, to health. The site had been moved from central London to the greener edges of the city where the air was purer.

The Lost Words had already brought us many stories of healing, so it seemed the best idea to pitch to somehow take the core of the book, the close connection with the natural world, as the central idea for my ‘pitch’. For this I needed help, from Robert, for his words, but more especially from Alison O’Toole, who designed The Lost Words. Together we put forward our pitch, moved on to the next phase and then I had the terrifying experience of my first job interview in my life, before a board of interested people, from the chair of the charitable trust, to doctors, nurses and surgeons working in the hospital.

Over the next few weeks Alison helped me to show how the book could work, transferred to the walls. My initial vision had been a kind of freeze along the walls, but Alison, well, she had better ideas. What followed, once we had won the job, to decorate the corridors of four floors of the hospital, eighty panels in total, was a very steep learning curve.

Each floor was colour co-ordinated, and the children’s ward was the Buttercup ward, so Robert was commissioned to write a buttercup acrostic, especially for the ward. I looked around and found out of season buttercups growing at the airfield. A morning lying down in the long grass, a few days painting buttercups and Alison magicked up a meadow.

Alison took elements of images from The Lost Words and other books, and paintings of mine, and made a tapestry, rich with colour, but also singing with space and light. On each of the panels in the Buttercup Meadow there is a small vole to find. We both thought long and hard about the people who would use the building, see these walls every day. The patients, parents, visitors, doctors, nurses, cleaners, surgeons, clerical staff. Alison thought about how people move around, on stretchers, in wheel chairs, walking. She is also a nurse, or was before design won her away, and she knows how people move around in a hospital environment, so words where placed where people could stop and read and not be in the way. And we thought about those patients who would spend considerable time in the place, trying to leave small gifts for them to find. And at the nurses’ stations, something special. Here, a small otter, playing.

Each floor tells a story. And somehow Alison has made the place seem lighter, filled with air, fresh, alive.

I painted seven bluebells, Alison made of them a bluebell wood.

She took a handful of finches and made a charm.

A single minnow, painted in the margins of my time in a shepherd’s hut in Derbyshire became a shoal of minnows, and the waterweed also, a few strands, threaded into a wonderful underwater world where otters play and kingfishers dive.

    

Newts hide in the waterweed, and a frog, and tadpoles. Some of these were newly painted. Alison gave me a list of ‘things required’. A diving kingfisher, a rising otter, a heron, pond weed, a fox, and I painted as fast as I could and sent them for scanning.

A few willow branches were made, by Alison, into a dense tree, with luscious green foliage.

It is remarkable to see the finished result. Anyone who knows the book well could have a great time working out what was drawn from where, and what is new. Bees buzz through the walls and on the top floor a ladybird had come to join them. I  had painted a ladybird, but this wasn’t mine, but a real one, seeking a place to hibernate.

This could not have happened without the skill and courage of Alison. She worked until 4 am many mornings, taking the small vision I had for the work far beyond anything I had imagined and enhancing my paintings beyond my imagining. We were lucky to have her as the designer for The Lost Words, luckier still that she helped to shape this project.

I hope people who are patients of the ROH find peace in the images on the walls. I know the education program there have plans to use the walls in their work, which makes me glad. This isn’t my work. It’s mine and Alison’s. Together I hope we can go on to do other things.

Below is my favourite image. The heron and the moon are from The Lost Words. Some of the willow boughs are from the kingfisher page, coloured by Alison, some from the new work. And the breeze blows gently through the boughs.

 

 

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About an event.

The dark seemed to come early, outside the mullioned windows of a city pub where I drank herb tea in the afternoon with Robin. City lights, the edge of winter and a curious numbness that descends before an event. Often this is a time for quiet contemplation, but in this case it was sound checks, stage managing, and here, Robert making sure I draw things in the right way and don’t make too much mess.

But this wasn’t an ordinary event. This was a fundraising event for Sobell House Hospice, to hopefully bring the art from The Lost Words into the walls of the new wing of the hospice.

The event had grown, in the same way the crowdfunding for books into schools had grown, from a tweet. Robert Macfarlane had tweeted about hospice architecture and mentioned, in passing, that he and I had begun work, with designer Alison O’toole, on the artwork for four floors of the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in London. Rachel Clarke saw this, and knowing how the book was being used to help patients in the hospice she works at find peace, a voice, escape she got in touch. And so together the three of us planned.

Around 500 people joined us in the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford, to talk about art, writing, nature, life and death. I’m still trying to understand what happened next. It wasn’t like being on stage.

We talked a little about the book, its genesis, and some of its wild life, the connection first made between Robert and Rachel, that lynches upon a stone from the Arctic circle, that fits and sits in the palm of a hand and carries with it a deep time in every sense of the word. Joe, who paints birds, spoke, words shared with strangers, precious moments of his life shared as he is so close to the end of his life and how he shines. Such a beautiful man, and such life in his paintings. God but how lucky we all were who shared those moments with him. And Valerie’s daughter. Valerie who has written her own words, illustrated utterly beautifully by her grandchildren, to make the genesis of a family book, a treasure, and how she wrote of the joy of life in a feathered thing. And Ed. Ed who teaches children to see such beauty in the world. His words are shared here, so that those not fortunate enough to be in the audience can share a celebration of a life and a love.

What made this special? The music, both Kerry’s and Diane’s, woven around Robert’s words, Diane’s words. Rachel, whose fierce intelligence and desire to help people live to the last moment, orchestrated the evening. The coming together of people to celebrate life and the wilder world. The strong feeling of hope that thrummed through the room like sap through trees. That warmth. And outside the city buzzed with commerce but in that space, for a moment it seemed it was time to stop, take stock, move forward with life. Did others feel it so? Did everyone there take away something different?

I think it was good that there was a reception at Blackwells afterwards and can I give a huge thank you to Blackwells for donating a percentage of sales to the hospice. Thanks to all who bought at the auction.

I would love to hear what others thought of the event, how it left them, what they took away. Do others feel that connection with the natural world that stills the heart, drops away the tensions, lifts the soul? I come back again to that brief moment in time, watching a sparrowhawk take out a small song from the sky as it hunted. It’s not that the natural world is a benign blanket to wrap up in. It’s fierce, can be deadly, and yet always it is the trees I turn to, the birds, weather, the sound of wild water in the form of rain, river or sea. Do others feel like that? Please tell me.

These words haunted me through the evening, by Raymond Carver, and then, later.

And did you get what

you wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself

beloved on the earth.”

We wanted to leave the audience with a gift. I had asked Chris Jelley if he could put a film together with the music for the bluebell song by Kerry Andrew. The beauty of Kerry’s voice entwined with Robert’s words is wonderful. I find myself returning again and again to the peace of it. Do listen with headphones.

Bluebell Spell – The Lost Words from Christopher Jelley on Vimeo.

And what was that evening about? Partly to raise money for the artwork to be on the hospital walls. The costs arise in printing and design as Robert and I are donating the words and the images. But mostly to celebrate the work of the hospice, the love and the light.

If you were there can you tell me, what did you take away from the night?

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Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford: A Talk for Sobell House

It feels a little as if I have stepped out of time. This year has been such a round of being at home, being away. And sometimes if I feel I have to pinch myself to see if I am dreaming it’s hardly a surprise.

I grew up in Evesham and Broadway, not so far from Oxford, but never went there until I was much older. Last October I found myself beneath a T-rex, signing books with Robert Macfarlane. We had just finished a talk at the Natural History Museum in Oxford.

Just over a year on and we are back, but this time we are in the Sheldonian Theatre. Oxford always seems a little surreal to me.

What an amazing venue. Like walking into the very best parts of a Philip Pullman book.

The event is a fund raising event for Sobell House hospice, and Robert and I will be talking to Dr Rachel Clarke, woman of genius, with a big heart, the biggest, about hope, love, the power of the connection to all that is natural in the world, about life, death and words. Spells will be spoken and otters painted and there will be songs inspired by The Lost Words. Kerry Andrew’s beautiful Bluebell song will be played, so haunting, and we hope that the evening will be a place of peace.

Tickets are still available, priced at £8, with a hope that people might donate towards the movement to bring artwork from The Lost Words into the new annex at Sobell House. Already the money has been raised to provide copies of the book to every hospice in Britain. ( The money is to pay for design and printing and installation only.)

After the event there will be an auction of artwork and book signing in Blackwell’s Bookshop.

It’s hard to know what to say about this event. I met Rachel in Hay on Wye during the festival in May. She is an amazing woman. She is a passionate advocate for the NHS. She has so many stories bound up inside her.

 

I don’t think I can describe the event, and I don’t think there will ever be another like it, so please come, if you can, and please tell people who live near by, or those who might wish to travel to be there. Oxford is such a wonderful place to visit. There’s also the Spellbound exhibition on in the Ashmoleum Museum.

Hope and wonder. Joy. Ink, otters, words. We will do our best.

 

 

 

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Made from time, plants, water.

Today I ground some pigment, Bideford black again, mixed with water from Dulverton leat and painted some hares.

These are all for sale for the Crowdfunder in Devon. The pigment is so dark, and I am still trying to get the mix of gum arabic right with it. Going to try soon mixing with egg yolk, and also with egg white to see if the sheen is different. There’s something rather lovely about making your own paint. I also have some Velour a sauce, that I want to play with, both with a stump and also maybe with gum arabic and water. I have one tube of the velour, at least 200 years old, a test tube of fine, dark powder that was in the old paints I bought in an antique shop in Llandeillo. It’s beautiful, a glass vial with a cork in the end. Almost full, but not quite, so it must have spoken years ago for someone else.

Anyway, the hares are £200 pounds each.

25 x 10cms.

Email me to secure before donating, stating which hare you want, with Hare in subject title.

Hare below now sold.

Two hares below have now sold. 

Hare below is now sold.

The photo above shows all of them together for easier comparison, and the one below is me thinking aloud with ideas of composition.

Robert and I are hearing wonderful stories of amazing generosity, with people offering to help deliver books to save money on delivery so that more books can be bought.

Email me to secure a hare before donating. And if you wish to contribute any amount to the crowdfunder you can do so here.

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Words and gold

This, then, is for sale for The Lost Words in Devon.

£250, words and gold leaf. It’s a walk at Abermawr in early summer.

It is made from Chinese paper, typed on my dad’s old typewriter, stitched, using an old handle Singer sewing machine, with pure raw silk to 3 sheets of gold leaf that are remnants from an otter painting and the ghost of a labyrinth from the stone that was left on the beach at Abermawr. An idea of its size can be gauged by the fact that the gold leaf is 8 x 8cms, and the words are typewritten. It’s signed, dated 2018.

The words are:

Otter is a small god

 

and

 

Beneath summer trees a green darkness spreads.

Breathe in the scent.

A narrow stream runs fast between the trunks.

Ints song winds and twines with the wind in the leaves

that sound so like the sea,

and with the song of birds.

 

Fast between the tall trees,

then slowly the water spreads

across a wide reed bed where

martins, fast as fierce arrows fly

to gather food for broods hunkered in

burrows at land’s edge.

 

The stream finds its way then

through a bank of sea-smoothed stones

to stitch its way to the salt

where land meets sea meets sky.

 

Otters live here, between the dawn and dusk.

 

 

So, if you wish to purchase email me, and then, once secure, donate to the crowdfunder.

The Devon crowdfunder is on a stretch target now, as is the Doncaster one and the Hospice. All crowdfunders can be found here.

 

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When it seems the day has never dawned

I have not done today the things I meant to do. Dark and wet, cold and miserable, I begin to understand why swallows fly south before winter. This is no weather for owls. And although there is some comfort to be taken in the election results when I hear the voice of Trump, how he speaks to people, how he talks to the media…. well…….

The weather is true Mrs Noah weather. Outside the paths remind me of how some of the words came, as pathways turn to streams and roads to rivers.

This is the path to my house and the road to the path, singing with water fast flowing down the road from a spring that flows when the water table rises.

This week James Mayhew and I heard the fantastic news that Mrs Noah’s Pockets, written by me, illustrated by James, has been nominated for the Greenaway award. James’ first time, for the beautiful illustrations. The Lost Words, written by Robert Macfarlane, illustrated by me,  also has a Greenaway nomination, AND a Carnegie for the words. Robert’s first time.

Today I sought solace, distraction, peace of mind in ink and in pigment.

Sketches of tumbling otters lie in my book from a film I took of an otter swimming. It was the only way I could ‘see’ the movement, understand the shape.

First I painted small otters, made from spring water from Devon, 25 x 10 cms. The top two  otters are for sale for The Lost Words for Devon. These are 25cms x 10cms and otters are sumi ink and spring water- £180 each. To purchase, send me an email, With ‘Otter,Devon’ as the subject matter, to secure and then, once confirmed, donate to the Devon Crowdfunder.

The third pair of otters are for the Doncaster campaign. Again 25 x 10 cms and again £180, but please email to secure, with ‘Otters, Doncaster’ as the subject matter.

In Doncaster they have made a wonderful film to accompany the appeal. Love seeing the animated whole body encanting of the enchantments.


Then I turned to the Bideford Black, the 300 million year old pigment made by plants, made by time. With pestle and mortar I crushed some of the pigment, mixed it with ‘gum water’ bought from Cornellissen some time ago.

I had seen on Samhain, a picture of an otter, found beside the road by someone, I wish I could remember who, and taken and placed on a bed of gold autumn leaves. It stayed with me, and I wanted to honour the small, wild life also, and so, with ancient pigment and spring water I painted the curl that I remembered her body being placed in, so that she swims now forever in memory and in paint. And with gold leaf I gave her a halo.

Now I am offering her for sale. She’s a big otter, approx 75cms x 57cms. She’s on thick, beautiful watercolour paper, and if framed should be floated so the deckled edges show. She is £1 200, bideford Black, Spring water and white gold leaf and is called In Honour of Beauty, Samhain 2018, and the buyer will be asked to donate the money direct to The Lost Words for Devon. But please email me first to secure, with Samhain otter as subject, as the artwork is an original piece. I do love how the black pigment sits on the paper.

Next, hares, of Bideford Black and spring water.

Top- 25x10cms-£200 to Doncaster Lost Words. (SOLD)

Middle- 25x 10cms- £200 to Doncaster Lost Words campaign.(SOLD)

Bottom- 25cms-10cms- SOLD.

Again email me first to secure before donating, with ‘hare’ in the subject line.

Have I painted myself back to a peaceful mind? No. Not yet. But I guess that’s what keeps me painting.

Outside now it is dark and wet. The road sings as the stream tumbles down it. Time to read.

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Away from home.

I travelled, leaving behind a small flock of swallows souls waiting to be stitched.

I stayed for a while in a small house where I drew, and wrote and thought and watched the birds.

The small house was a harbour to rest, but then back out onto the road, and to Compton Verney, where the walls are now decorated with a flock and a charm.

Below, though, are the limited edition prints from The Lost Words, produced by Aquarelle, and now for sale through Compton Verney.

Then on to Kenilworth books where Tamsin had one of the three known perfectly ironic copies of The Lost Words.

( and meanwhile Robert was holding the fort doing a wonderful radio interview for Canadian radio with Sabine Jessen) 

Love this photo of Tamsin, who never ceases to astonish me with her wisdom. She had helped to put books into a school, building a library, for children who have no books at home, changing lives. This is the power of a great indie bookshop, that they care enough to help a school find funding for a library ( Siobhan Dowd Trust and Foyles Foundation) and then help them choose the books.

Back then to Dulverton via a visit to my Child in Plymouth and via otters.

 

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At Number Seven Dulverton the shop looked beautiful. Working with Davina and Jan and Chris is like working with family. They create enchantment and the evening with Kerry Andrew and Nicola Davies was just that. Blissful, wild magic.

Kerry began with the wren spell. Listen. Listen. Hear the bird’s wings.

 

The Lost Words Supper with Number Seven Dulverton and Loyton Lodge from Christopher Jelley on Vimeo.

Kerry Andrew’s You Are Wolf set was just the most amazing thing. Listen with headphones. She sculpts sound.

In the shop next day I painted hares and otters, played with Bideford Black, a pigment found locally and 300 million years old! So black, deep black, dark as the darkest moonless night and darker still.

Home, after Dulverton. Davina still has a few signed copies of the special edition Lost Words, with goldfinch print enclosed. And more can be found at Solva Woollen Mill where they have signed copies of all my books in print, and Bookish in Crickhowell, where Emma successfully fundraised to buy 163 copies for schools in Powys.

There’s now a wonderful map of Britain that lights up where The Lost Words has been funded into schools.

Home now. There are Christmas cards for sale, for The Suffolk Wildlife Trust, with goldfinches.

There is an audio book of The Lost Words. It’s beautiful. The sonic illustrations are by Chris Watson. You can only find it on Audible at the moment, but physical copies will be available after Christmas. It is balm for the soul, beautifully spoken.

 

Time, now, to sit by the fire and read.

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Read between the lines; learning the shape of home.

It’s the shape of a cat curl.

 

It’s a golden dog on a high hill.

It’s a grey dog with mischief on its mind.

 

It’s a blue plate on a wall.

It’s listening to wrens stitch the hedges together with song

and

watching the bluetits,

finding peace in the shapes of small birds, learning the shape of a sparrow.

It’s the lie of the land and the fall of the light and the turn of the tide.

It’s the wings of a raven in flight and the rise of a pair of chough, from land, to sky.

It’s conversations with friends, and the silences between them that hold comfort.

It’s knowing, more or less, where the right book is, on the right shelf.

It’s log fires and its winter washing that always smells, just a little, of smoke.

It’s a small dog running on the beach.

It’s time to think, and peace to draw.

It’s reading by the fire while the rain beats on the roof.

It’s familiar mugs, cups.

It’s washing up, cooking.

 

And for you? Take a moment to think, then tell me, what is the shape of home for you?

 

 

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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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