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1st February. January was a month of salads, juice and bean sprouts, walking up hills, trying to get to bed early, composting and recycling. Feeling healthy, working hard. On the beach first thing this morning the world was once again wrapped in cloud, soft light, but not cold.

Nighteyes, cover for Robin Hobb, The Royal Assassin

Working on "Singing to the Sun", "Starlight, Starbright" and covers for the Robin Hobb "Farseer" series all at the same time and craving chocolate, so I made "Chocolate and Rosemary Pots" from Bill Sewell's "feasts from the Place below". The bookshops are full of high gloss celebrity cook books. This simple, straightforward paperback lacks all the glitz and packaging but has all the taste, and wanders through the seasons with fantastic vegetarian recipes. ( The book is very expensive from Amazon, but they are for sale in Bill's restaurants in Hereford, London and St Davids.) The combination of the chocolate and rosemary is fantastic.

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen and using Bill's recipe as a base I wandered off into heaven.

25g caster sugar

180ml white wine

juice of an orange

600ml double cream half a red chili

225g chocolate ( milk or plain depending on how rich and dark and sensuous you like your chocolate)

 

1.Warm the sugar and wine and juice in a pan until the sugar has dissolved, stirring and breathing in the smell of wine warming.

2.Stir in the cream. The mixture will thicken and the spoon will glide through it. Then add the half chili, cut down from stalk to tail. ( now wash your hands before you put your finger in your eye). And break up the chocolate, making sure you have a few pieces spare to taste.

Stir and watch as the chocolate melts into the cream. If it separates then wizz up with a whisk and put back on the heat. Bring the mixture to the boil and allow it to simmer gentley for 20- 25 mins. Be sure to stay around, to breath in the smell, and stir when it gets just a little too warm.

3. Leave it to cool slightly then strain into ramekins and allow to cool for a while in the fridge, to set. But don't forget to taste while still warm. The house will now smell like a house in winter should do.

Chilli and chocolate pudding

And while you wait for them to set and cool, paint a dragon and gild a wolf.

Verity's dragon, for The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb, book three, The Assassin's Quest, watercolour painting of a dragon, by Jackie Morris, on a white gold leaf background.

Trying to paint the first three covers for the Assassin's trilogy, and working on all three at the same time, but they don't photograph well because of the gold leaf. So my studio is full of paintings of a heron, wolves, dragons and jesters.

At night the sky looked like a mackerel's belly with the full moon lighting clouds and stars showing through the dark spaces.

moonset over rocks, with herring gulls waiting for the day to begin, Pembrokeshire, Feb 2007

3rd February. Early morning and the moon was setting over the hills as the sun was coming up. Yesterday was a day of sunshine, warm, and in the evening the light was still warm though the air took on a chill. Martha, the oldest of the ginger cats, decided it was time she came out for a walk too.

At night the stars were blotted out by the bright light of the moon. Moonshadows danced all around and bats flew and sang all around. Painted all day, and gilded the third of the Robin Hobb books, so now just have to work on the three covers together to strengthen the colours and pull the designs together.

 

Martha on a walk in the evening light.

a stag, watercolour painting on green gold leaf background for The Assassin's Aprentice by Robin Hobb, painting by Jackie Morris

Ramsey Island sitting in a calm sea on a warm day in February when the gorse flowers scented the air

4th February. Walking with Tom all morning to the top of the tallest hill. Bright sunshine and deep shadow. The first faint smell of the coconut perfume from gorse flowers brought out by the heat from the sun.

From the top of the hill the air is so clear that the hills of Mid and North Wales can be seen.

Tom walking down the stream towards St Davids Head

Penberi with Strumble Head in the distance

6th February. Surface of the sea blue-gold in the early morning light. Two razorbills and four chough.

Later, in Narberth, I listened to Mererid Hopwood tell a tale about a Roman Emperor and a Welsh princess. She held the audience of children and moved like a mermaid as her voice wove a spell around their imaginations.

Later still a woman told me of an early morning in a stubble field, with a curlew under each arm as the sun rose and she was happy.

Night was brim-full with stars and a red moon rising.

Carn Lliddi from the top of the hill with Ramsey in the background and a ceiling of pearly cloud

8th February. Raven over the beach and in his beak a perfect small egg. All morning the clouds held back snow, then cleared to blue in the afternoon. While the rest of the country hushed in a blanket of white I saw............ not a flake! The birds fed, frantic at the feeders. I had thought they seemed scarce this year, but it seems that birds eat only as much as they need, so while the winter was warm they didn't need much. Now it is cold they need more to get them through the cold cold night. Chaffinch, bright as can be, hedge sparrow and house sparrow, blue tit and great tit and blackbird and robin, with the cold weather calling them in for food.

musicians play while Thorfinn waits to make his choice, watercolour for Singing to the Sun by Vivian, illustration, Jackie Morris French

musicians play while Thorfinn waits to make his choice, watercolour for Singing to the Sun by Vivian, illustration, Jackie Morris French

9th February. The winter seaside town is at its quietest best, half asleep, waiting for the business of half-term. Evening light paints the distant city, sharpens its edges and sculpts the cliffs behind the finger of sea with its brightness. The world seems closed in, to working in my studio, walking up the hill and watching the birds on the feeders outside the kitchen. Today green finch joined the flock.

St Davids in teh evening with light catching the cathedral tower and Skomer Island, and clouds

11th February. Big waves.

12th February. Children took the dogs for a long walk for me while I painted and then started a blog. Trying to wrap my head around a new way of working on line made me realize there is much in sayings about old dogs and new tricks, but I struggled on regardless and hopefully over time the blog will grow into something useful and interesting.

Max the cat wandered off and lost himself for a while, causing much anxiety, fueled by watching Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King.Too many orcses, and too long an ending. Cat came back looking quite pleased with himself in the early hours of the morning.

Watched two rooks getting ready for Valentine's Day on the roof of the fire station in St Davids.

14th February. Flocks of starling rise from the field with a dry, dust rattle of wings. Ravens call and flip in flights of courtship. So still the air that the wind through a raven's wing sings in the silence. In a twisted branch of gorse a saffron flame of fungus creeps, slow motion, bright. A bumble bee, to early drawn from sleep by the unnatural warmth of the winter's day, heavy and thick from hibernation, stumbles a flight. And on the path beads of moisture shine in the sun, iridescent opals of fleeting magic.

15th February. Through life books have sometimes called to me, from a library shelf, from a book shop....

It called first in Milton Keynes, in Waterstones. Large, hardback, stocks piled high. "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak. Familiarity rang in my head. I had heard of this book from somewhere.

I picked it from the pile and held it, weight, size and smell as the pages turn all satisfying. The endpapers beautiful. I read the first page and shut my ears to it, put it back on the table and walked away. It seemed a conceit, an irritating device, not for me after all.

But it continued to call. On the radio, reviews, in the newspaper even more. An interview with the author and in my hands the feeling of something missing. The weight of the book.

Then someone gave it to me, a friend, and I read past the first page and the words are beautiful.

Almost at the middle of the book now, moments of blissful reading, dangerous and breathless, it is a thing of beauty. Now it fills my time in segments as I slip into other people's lives and I have learnt again that when a book calls it is best to listen and to answer.

old family photograph from 1965? with Mum and Dad not looking old enough and sister Max on right and me, wearing fetching hat that looks like a lampshade

Found an old photo of my sister and I in unfortunate hats, and a feather on the sand, made transparent by water. Outside now it is dark and the clouds have eaten all the stars.

transparent feather on the beach at Whitesands

sparkling pool of frog spawn

16th February. Walking with Tom we were followed up the hill by a young raven, hopping from post to post and singing complicated songs. Ravens bring messages from the spirit lands.

Further up the hill and down again the other side, followed by cats threading through the brambled path that tripped and tangled, Tom led me too a sparkling pond where jellied frog spawn lay beneath the surface.

Worked late into the night, painting for Singing to the Sun

17th February. Took a selection of paintings to Milford, to The Waterfront Gallery, in The Old Sail Loft on the docks. The gallery works as a co-op and members are drawn from all over West Wales.

 

photograph of juvenille raven

Waterfront Gallery, Milford Haven

half finished painting of Thorfinn's mother and father arguing, for Singing to the Sun by Vivien French, illustrated by Jackie Morris

photograph of female seal swimming against the tide

18th February. Walking in sunshine from St Justinians to the headland searching for porpoise. Seals in the water and porpoise cresting, as we sat in the spring sunshine that made the lichen covered rocks golden. In the middle of the channel seabirds mobbed a seal with a silver fish caught in its sharp teeth. The sea was blue and Ramsey looked beautiful, peaceful. The best time of the year where only the sound of ravens breaks the soundtrack of water. Few walkers and still no boats.

Ramsey Island and the channel of water that separates mainland from island

Later, went to Whitesands beach. The tide was far, far out, a spring tide. The air was still, the sky heavy and gray. The beach felt as if a huge bowl had been placed over it. Winter has pulled sand from the beach. At the edge of the sea and the land old trees from ancient forest curve and twist through the sand. The old wooden bones of the prow of a boat claw through the sand, fingertips of smooth, sand-carved wood reaching for the sky. A day when magic lies close to the surface of the world.

At the far end of the beach the rocks stood like a castle, twisted and smoothed and hollowed by stones and water and sand, deep pools with stranded sea creatures. Everywhere the shapes and forms of Henry Moore sculptures.

pools in the rocks worn by centuries of tones twisted and turned by rocks and water and sand

19th February. Long day painting into the dark hours.

illustration for Singing to the Sun, written by Vivien French, illustrated by Jackie Morris using watercolour paints and lots of time

20th February. Early morning light was pearl gray with fog. Walked in the morning carrying a story and chasing words, and the cats came too. Eight ravens flew overhead, chasing away all-comers from the ridge of rocks. Fresh leaves of wild honeysuckle threaded through the brambles, and tiny bright spears of bluebell pushed up through the earth by the badger sets.

Back home settled in the kitchen to write up the words I had gathered up the hill. The exhibition in Birmingham was cancelled, but another opportunity opened up with a chance to enter work into an exhibition in Italy. Then I settled to draw and paint a dragon, through the afternoon and into the dark night.

Carn Llidi with the fog sailing over the land but the sun breaking through.

 

 

20th February. Eight ravens fighting for the rights to the sky. Two choughs in a field of pasture. Fog painting the world in a pearl light. Walking in the morning chasing words, painting dragons in the afternoon.

21st February. More than 20 ravens. They are gathering for parliament on the craggy rocks above my house, these robber barons of the sky. Some have wings spans of five or six feet. Huge black birds with finger tip wings and deep cronking cries.

There are tight buds appearing on the dark blackthorn branches. Daffodil flowers are for sale again and the fields are dotted with yellow and stooped figures of people picking golden flowers. Dragon flight is almost finished.

22nd February. Oystercatchers sheltered inshore in the fields as the huge tides ate all of the beach, almost turning the Ram's Nose into an island. A bundle of reviews came from Barefoot for the poetry book. It is funny how books fade into the distance as new projects take over.

Later in the day sad news from London where Red, Nick Green's cat, met an untimely end. His book, Cat Kin, is eagerly awaited by Hannah.

watercoloue painting of Moondog, slipped into a picture of a flying dragon.

highland cows, looking medieval on the craggy rocks where the ravens gather

25th February. The weekend was frustrating. It seemed that every time I sat down to work something or someone turned up. At one time this was friends and daughter on horses. The horses did not seem so big, until they stepped into the garden and grew to the size of giants.

By Sunday I had given up before frustration and irritation got the better of me. The day was heavy with cloud and I was tired from so much painting. Messed about on blogs and discovered that many of my problems stemmed from using a Mac and Safari, so now have firefox and all is well and easy. And though blogging is so easy there is something about the format of the journal that I prefer. More homemade? But still I learn something new every day, and tomorrow I will paint again and meanwhile whilst not working I have some up with ideas for Christmas cards which crept into my mind whilst I was not looking.

woman holding cathedral, sketch of an idea for a christmas card for Shalom House Hospice, S Davids, by Jackie Morris

 

 

photograph of the coast looking towards St Non's from Porth Clais, showing that the sun does not always shine in Pembrokeshire, but sometimes things look very dramatic.

26th February. Ravens were paired up on the cliffs and jackdaw whirled around the rock walls.

The sun shone on the statue of St Non. There are stories tangled up here in the treasures she has at her feet, most of them sad tales of heartbreak and loss. Many tiny children's shoes are left here, small jewels in the moss, and messages and flowers. She looks down at the ancient well that has run here as a spring of pure water since before Christianity. In the field behind horses crop the grass short.

photograph of the statue of St Non at St Nons, Pembrokeshire

jester with Baby Thorfinn sitting by the fire with the tabby cat. Watercolour painting by Jackie Morris fr Singing to teh Sun by Vivian French

cover for Robin Hobb book
cover for Robin Hobb book
cover for Robin Hobb book

27th February. Harper Collins sent through images of the covers for the Robin Hobb books with the type in place.

Worked until late, painting, in peace and in between bouts of concentration, made bread. After a few hours sitting and painting my eyes get tired, and making bread fits around breaks, and waiting for paint to dry.

700 gms white flour

15 fl oz warm water

2 teaspoons salt

4 teaspoons quick yeast

some olive oil, about 2 fl oz

 

Put the flour and salt and yeast into a large bowl and add warm water with olive oil, then mix. There is something about making bread by hand, the feel of the flour on your fingers, the warm water and the smell of flour and yeast and oil mixing. The change in the texture of the mixture as it blends and becomes smooth and silky in your hands. When the flour and water and all are mixed to dough, knead for about five minutes.

Then put back in an oiled bowl and place in a large plastic bag or cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise.

When the dough has doubled in size knock it back down and take out of the bowl. For a couple of minutes knead the mixture then break into small balls of dough and place in an oiled circular tin. Fill the tin with balls of dough, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds, then cover again and leave to rise for 30 minutes while the oven warms.

With the oven at 220, uncover and put the bread in the oven for about 25 minutes. It will begin to fill the house with a wonderful smell, and after 25 minutes there will be a glorious tray of small rolls. Leave to cool a little on a wire tray then break off bread and eat.

 

photograph of bread rolls

 

baby Thorfinn listens while his parents fight

next.......

 

 

 

 


©Jackie Morris