The Language of Liquid

Evening. Time settles, quiet in the heart, but outside a storm builds. The day was spent inside, working steadily, irritated that even when away from the computer and emails the phone rang, and rang. But work was done, real work, at the drawing board.

This one began with a desire to somehow paint that thick muscled tail of an otter. This one began with a sketch.

Small in the sketchbook, this was a sketch like a map from the mind, to see how the piece would fit the page. Sometimes sketches can be this simple, other times they work themselves up to be more.

This one needed the work to be done fresh, onto the page.

Next came ink and water from the river at Abermawr, a mixture of ground ink and the bottled calligraphy ink that has a texture that eats light.

Next came words, and round and round the words I went, with the names of the otter. And still I only settled them as I wrote, one letter at a time.

It’s such a curious way to write this, breaking the language right down to its elements and things begin to unravel and you question every letter, every spelling.

I’ve been amused that when people talk about The Lost Words pages of absence they talk of a random scattering of letters. But they aren’t random. They are the twenty six. Because that is all there is. Twenty six letters. The alphabet.

Language. That’s the word on this page that I found most strange and beautiful. I love the shape of the g, and to see it used here, two in the same word…. Love the f too.

Anyway, it’s a good lesson in being in the moment, working one slow letter at a time, with no delete button! And even so I lost myself in the words, and there are two Water-snakes, the Anglo Saxon word for Otter.

Not quite finished yet. Needs more gold. There is English, Welsh, Irish, Gaelic in here. Dwr-gi and Dratsie are my favourites. And there’s the language of water and ink too.

Will be for sale. She’s quite big. And I will maybe make prints which will be for sale at £450, signed, limited edition.

Now it’s late. Rain on the roof and The White Cat has a new dog bed. Time to read.



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Otters, ink, progress; the shape of an otter.

I wanted to gather a romp of otters to see if I was finding the shape of an otter more or less easily. I’ve been practicing with fluid ink, because when I do events I want to be able to conjure an otter onto paper using Robert Macfarlane’s words and memory. The first otter was painted to help raise money for Jane Beaton’s crowd funder in Scotland. £1000 can buy a good many books and I think this week Jane took delivery of 4 1/2 tonnes of books, in the snow.

These inked otters began at the Foundling Museum, when I was talking about my work at the exhibition there. I drew a pair of otters, but then just painted two, small. Because watercolour is my first language really……tiny, they flowed off the brush, aware of themselves in a way the drawings weren’t.

And then it began. An obsession unleashed. River-wolf.

Second and third otters followed, flowed.

The otter below was painted for BBC Wales today, though I am unsure as to whether the piece has been shown yet on TV. This one was sold to help pay my own bills.

And the otters below were painted while I filmed myself, so that I could learn, what worked, try to pull back. Always, always, always I over paint, take it to far, step past the moment. They have a touch of gold in their whiskers.

Then on to a watercolour otter, and with this one the gilding came out differently to how I had imagined. So it goes.

And then the most free, painted on paper stretched in the wild from a river, and with spring water hauled from the well. Of all the otters this flowed most freely and was sold and the money donated straight to Water Aid.

The two latest move and twist over the page, a small romp of Dratsies, painted with ground ink, calligraphy ink and water from the waterfall at the south end of Whitesands, only accessible at low tide.

Once there was a seal in the cave there and I want to paint a seal with water from the cave too, maybe on paper stretched in the sea.

I left a stone with gold on the rock wall, and as the tide was coming in, and as it was evening, I think the stone would have been taken by the sea. A thank you, for taking some of the fresh that would have flowed into the salt. Who knows how far the water has travelled, from rain, to stream to river to sea and back and this small portion now flowing into otters.

I made a note on the tissue of gold, the labyrinth shadow, soul, remnant, from gilding the stone, and this will be for sale with the otter painting.

£1000 for the otter pair. 72 x 53 cms, not for charity or a crowdfunder this time. Just to pay my bills, so I can continue to wander and doodle.

This one is now sold, but please email me if you wish to be placed on a waiting list for otters. Each otter spins off more ideas, and I have so much and many other things  should be doing, but The names of the Otter are calling and I can do nothing until that is complete.

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Without Water

As the world became a little warmer frozen piped burst, and here in Treleddyd fawr it was as if the tiger ad come to tea and drunk ‘all the water in the taps’. Friday evening, I think it was, the water went off. We checked the website, reported the fault, but it seemed Dwr Cymru were in meltdown themselves, struggling to cope with a system under stress. But it would be ok. Two hours without water. No worries.

Next day they said it would be back on at lunch time. By the next day I had stopped believing. All the water was sold out in the local shop. It took until Tuesday for any bottled water to be sent round and then there was confusion over where the drop off and collection was from.

Still ok for us, in a way. There’s an old well in the village and we took buckets of water from there to flush the toilet. It’s amazing how much more economical with the flush you become when you have to carry the buckets from the well.

I took some of the water to paint with also. I work in watercolour. Hard to use, without water.

It was much harder for my neighbours. They have five horses, two donkeys, two pigs and two goats. Mixing food, carrying huge buckets to water the animals. No joke aged 60 and 65. Hauling water out from an old irrigation pond. When the water went off the pond was frozen.

As the weather warmed it became easier, but after five days I was beginning to think we might all be having communal bathing sessions in the spring fed pond also. It’s alive with singing frogs as it warms, beautiful, and newts.

I found not being able to wash my hands with ease one of the hardest things, and Jan struggled too, with the cold and the water, and the lifting and she has delicate skin so now her hands are ragged and sore. Hard working, ragged and sore.

Other neighbours are farmers, with sheep, lambs, cows, and no water….

One of my problems was that I stretch my paper before painting on it. Fed up with being told that the water would be back on by lunch time, every day, I took two sheets of paper down the beach to where the stream comes off the land to meet the sea.

I soaked them in the water, taped them to my boards and brought them home to dry.

And then I painted an otter, using the wild well water and the paper stretched at the beach.

Five days with no water, and such a relief this morning when I flushed the loo and heard the tank begin to fill. Cold water came out of the tap to wash hands, then hot. I washed hands, washed face, brushed teeth, tackled the washing up mountain, cleaned the bathroom….

but for some this is how it always is. No water, or water you have to carry, risking life and limb to fetch it. I’d been wondering how people with small children were coping during these five days. Imagine losing your child to death because of waterborne diseases, or no water. Imagine trying to cook, keep clean, grow food, with no water. Because five days without what we take for granted in the western world, turning on the tap, flushing toilets, washing clothes, five days was a trial is other people’s normality and a lifetime of this is another matter.

I spoke, in the end, to someone from Dwr Cmyru. I was aware that they had all been working so hard to reinstate our supply. Perhaps if communications had been managed with more honesty we would have been less frustrated. But now the water was back, although still a little unreliable, and we are so grateful to those who have found the problem, fixed it. And we were talking about Water Aid.

Water Aid changes lives and Dwr Cymru’s water engineers continue to work with Water Aid projects every year. So this otter is for sale, this otter who grew from frustration of being without something that is the stuff of life, who was born on the shore of Whitesands Beach, painted with ink and water from our well, to raise funds to help build wells in other lands. This wild otter who swam onto the page like a dream.

£1 000 (Sold, but there will be more otters and am happy to add people to a waiting list for inked otters, some for charity and some to keep the wolf from my door.)

All money donated to donated to Water Aid.

If you would like to buy this otter email me. I will send you the link to donate. If you could share, then that would be wonderful.

Thanks to all at Dwr Cymru. So glad you are a not for profit company. Of all the utilities sold off over the years this is the one I could never understand. No one can live without water. Water is life.




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Conjuring owls

Suffolk Wildlife Trust have a campaign to get a copy of The Lost Words into schools in Suffolk and Norfolk. To support them Robert and I worked on a new piece that will be printed and pasted into the front of each book.

And while I was painting the owl I filmed the process, speeded up.

I also painted a feather and the Trust will make a bookmark from the feather for each child in school. The artwork for the feather will be won by someone who donates to the appeal, and here’s the link for that.
The film is curiously meditative. I’ve watched it a few times to try and see how I paint.

I love these pieces where Robert writes on my paintings, and love so much that he is drawing words.

To be read aloud, albeit in a hush-winged way.

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A Survey

In clearing space in my studio, yesterday I found a small notebook. It has a couple of stories in, and something else.

I guess I must have been a bit fed up at the time. Perhaps with publishers, who when you have a new book out send you the same old questionnaire with unimaginative questions and you fill in the same dull answers, again. Or maybe it was a survey by phone or online.

Anyway, I guess I had written one with the questions I one day hoped I would be asked. So, now I am asking you.

You can answer if you wish, either in comments below or on your own blog. Invite others also. And I will pick people now and again who leave answers and send some gleanings from my studio.. cards, badges, the odd book, a sliver of gold….

So, here goes:

  1. If you could see through someone else’s eyes who would that be?
  2. If you could see something one more time, what would that be?
  3. If you could make something, anything, what would you choose to make?
  4. How would you describe your desire?
  5. Do you make wishes?
  6. Do you dream?
  7. If you could develop a skill before you die what would you choose?
  8. Do you have any regrets? if the answer is no please move to question 8a.

8a. What are your regrets?

I love finding these old notebooks. Writing becomes memory, and you never know what treasure lies within.

I can do something with this, now.

This was in the pocket in the back of the book. Treasure.

I will fill in my own questionnaire some time. And I have more otterwords coming soon, and more inked creatures.

So, if you wish to answer any or all of the questions, please do.

Look forward to hearing from you.



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Otter’s Stone Was Smoothed by the Salt Sea

It’s a while now since I worked on a book. I decided when I had finished The Lost Words that I was done with deadlines, would take some time out. But somehow I seem to have loads of work to do. And yet, am managing to take the time to do what I want.

Still playing with some things. Here is another strip of words for sale, for The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop’s crowdfunder. £100, (SOLD) but email me if you want to be placed on a waiting list for other pieces. (It’s one long thin piece so I have had to photograph in sections, and yes, there are mistakes, it’s the nature of typing over computer. Makes me think differently writing like this. There are three of these so far,  each unique, there will be more.)

Otters still haunt my dreams and still I try to catch the shape of this water creature.Latest otter is for sale, and again, email me if you wish to buy. Red-gold leaf and watercolour. 72 x 53 cms and £4 500 Called Otter’s Stone Was Smoothed by the Salt Sea.

Now I need to find words, for the names of the otter and afterwards I will begin to concentrate on commissioned work. Meanwhile I would like to thank all those incredibly patient people who have bought things from me over the past couple of weeks. Hoping to get to the post office tomorrow, with prints and paper and inked otters and other things. Sorry to have kept you all waiting.

Hoping to ink a hare today, tomorrow. And find the words, that speak the name, to summon otters.


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Inking, otter

This week I tidied up my studio and painted an otter while a film crew watched. Tidying up the studio was the hardest of these tasks.

This otter is for sale, but this time, just for sale. Painted for Wales Today, maybe some time she will be on television. On rough paper, with calligraphy ink. Not stretched, but the paper is heavy. She flowed from the brush, which was lucky as usually I use smooth paper. There’s something curious about summoning otters with such a liquid medium and thick brush, no pencil guide marks.

She’s £1 200, 66 x 102 cms (SOLD)


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From Scotland to Cornwall

Not long after the 6th October 2017, when The Lost Words was first published Jane Beaton took it into her head to fundraise to get a book into every school in Scotland. She achieved her target and then exceeded it. Meanwhile other campaigns were beginning. In Wales, in Gloucestershire, in Suffolk and now in Cornwall, and people were walking into bookshops and handing over money for bookshops to place the books in schools. In Cheptsow Bookshop Graham walked into the shop and donated money raised by the Gwent Wildlife Trust so that books could be place in schools in Monmouthshire as part of their ongoing work with young people. Their hope is to raise more money for all 150 schools in the area.

It’s an astonishing thing, as an illustrator, to watch this happen to your work.

My access to books as a child was through libraries, through schools. That is why I try to do what I can to support these campaigns.

And I have been practicing inking otters. So far these have been sold to raise money for the various campaigns and this one is no exception. These two are 53 x 73 cms. The ink is still wet on them. I am offering them for sale at £1000 and all the money will go to Edge of the World’s bookshop’s campaign to place a book in every school in Cornwall.

(NB: These are now sold. There may be more otters at some point as my practice continues.)

It’s been great seeing these campaigns grow, from people putting in £1 to people donating £3000.

If you wish to purchase the otters please email me and I will give you instructions on what to do next.

Also on offer is today’s strip of words. This is one long typed strip, but this time comes with a small sketch. It’s an odd thing. I have all these edges from paper, from print making and they are sitting by my typewriter waiting for words. This one is now sold, was £100. There will be more so if you wish to be put on a waiting list let me know. Some have drawings, some don’t. Ones without are £50 ( I have had to take photo in 2 goes as it’s long)

As with the inked otters, please email me and I will give directions for the donation.

And if you simply wish to donate to the crowdfunder you can find it here.

Edge of the World and the Yellow Lighted Bookshops are such wonderful shops both run by amazing and passionate booksellers. If you are in Tetbury or Cornwall do go visit them.

Meanwhile, this is how to conjure an otter, or two, using ink, words, water and dreams.

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World Book Day and International Women’s Day.

For World Book Day this year, as most years, I will be at home, painting, reading, walking, thinking. So, I’ve decided to read some books, starting with Mrs Noah’s Pockets, which I wrote for James Mayhew.

She’s everything I aspire to be, Mrs Noah.

Going to be tidying up my youtube channel, making more films of reading, painting. Any requests welcome. Just leave a comment and I will see what I can do. And I will learn as I go, so they might even get better.

Please share.

All of my books in print are available to buy from Solva Woollen Mill. You can even add a dedication ( not too long please)

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Follow the Adventures of Hannah Lily Sunshine

It’s unusual or me to have a guest on my blog, but I wanted to share some of the things my daughter will be doing. Her name is Hannah Lily Sunshine. And even if I say so myself, she is a bit awesome.

She is currently a student of Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology at the age of 23. Her route to this has been via Foundation in Art at Kingston, but while she was there, landlocked in England, all of her projects had a nautical theme, drawn to the sea. Realising art was not a career she wanted to pursue she returned to St Davids and worked on boats before heading further out to sea where she sailed into deep waters with Hal Whitehead. You can read more about her adventures at sea on her blog.

( Side note: Hannah is sitting dictating to me. On her blog, she says, she had started a weekly blog, either on paper summaries or topics she has found particularly interesting within marine biology. Due to health problems ( spinal surgery) it has had to take a bit of a back seat. She’s always wanted to make sure that in all her projects she can communicate her ideas clearly and she’ll be getting back to that soon).

The photo above was taken as she was coming round from her 4 1/2 hour spinal op. Did she keep her hat on during the operation? Who knows.

Hannah should be graduating next year and her ambition is to save for a research boat. People have asked why she isn’t crowd funding for this. It will be her home, and in the near future she will be seeking sponsorship and crowdfunding for research equipment for acoustic surveys, but is hoping to fund the purchase of her floating home in other ways.

Hannah says “As much as I love to draw and paint, printing has always been my forte/true medium.
This is a particularly special piece for me. I was lucky enough to spend some time aboard Balaena with Prof. Hal Whitehead and crew, conducting whale research in the N.Atlantic. This was a big turning point for me, as it is really kicked my butt into studying full time (I was Open University before), and is the sort of research that I will be doing once I graduate.
Hal Whitehead is one of the individuals who pioneered non invasive whale research (as opposed to postmortem research done through whaling), and has paved the way for what I will be doing. I am currently saving for my own research boat, which I will hopefully have by the Autumn, then I will be sailing/working on collecting data/researching from aboard under sail, trying to leave as little impact on the ocean giants as possible.
The dollar goes towards my boat and future research. Also if anyone Lino prints, it’s pretty damn impressive that all those compass points are the right way round”

Hannah has always worked throughout her studies, whether that be part time during Open University Study to teaching yoga ( she got her first job when she was 11- quite proud of that as her mum). Because of the spinal injury preventing the yoga teaching she has rediscovered painting.

She has a shop on her blog, selling original paintings, prints, hats, teeshirts.

And this is how she is hoping to fund the purchase of a steel-hulled 36ft yacht. She is also selling one of my paintings towards this project.

The original is Image Size 76.8 x 53.8 cms and for sale at £5 000. It has been exhibited in the UK and Bratislava and is published in The Quiet Music of Gently Falling Snow, but this is the first time it has been offered for sale. Prints are also for sale at £450 unframed.

Hannah has a growing gallery of work on her website. Below are a couple of examples,

She will be getting back to yoga teaching in the summer as her health improves and is hoping to run yoga workshops at The Grub Kitchen, near St Davids, with superfood lunches, during summer. In the meantime you can watch her Youtube channel for yoga sessions and more. And if all else fails she can always balance a spoon on the end of her nose, because she is talented.

So, keep an eye on her blog, for whales and all things sea related. And follow the adventures.


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