Sunday 30 March 2008

Weeds & Wees

MEDIEVAL HERBALS are things that delight me .. old compendiums of collected folk knowledge about plants and how they can help us, filled with spidery words and strange drawings of plants both familiar and outlandish. Medieval ideas about our bodies and how to heal them were quite different to those of the modern medical profession, and the world's garden in those days was seen as an immense medicine cabinet full of mysteries to be written down and remembered ... thus leaving us with many beautiful books full of strange tales and magical imagery.

Some years ago I made a book inspired by these wonderful herbals... a collection of plant lore and superstition from A to Z ... illustrated with 23 woodcuts (no plant for U, X or Z!). I collected information from many books: old plant names, superstitions and stories surrounding each plant and beliefs about what they could do to benefit your health (or not!). And each plant was illustrated with a handmade wood engraving - carved on a very close-grained Japanese Maple wood and printed onto brown parchment-like paper. Below is a photo of the book itself and the woodblocks.

And here for those with patience and keen eyesight are the pages for Dandelion and Bramble ~ two so-called "weeds" with some humourous connections to weeing.

For more images like those shown, I recommend Medieval Herbals ~ The Illustrative Traditions by Minta Collins and the now out of print The Illustrated Herbal by Wilfred Blunt & Sandra Raphael.
Apologies for the post of epic proportions!

Friday 28 March 2008

It is Spring

SCOTLAND-IN-SPRING ... this evening there are dripping birds singing evening songs in the dripping leaves as the sun blinks a few times before setting. The air is crisp and damp and dripping and further off above the village roofs round white hills sit still blanketed by an ever lingering winter.
Stepping outside through the wet door to scoop more coal from the bunker invites a dripping, shivering evening of a wind to scuttle down my neck, the lumps of coal roll dusty wet black into the puddles and I drip back into the house to sit back down on my low yellow chair to paint a slow yellow painting.

Our days are peppered with walks in snows and wet windscreen drives to the post office. I am busy with plans for a little tale to be made one day into a book of my own and with the third painting in a series of seven commissions. Today I sold the original of Telling Stories to the Trees which will make its way to a hook on an old wall in rural Argyll.
Tui is hatching a nest of most wonderful tracks for the new Orla Wren album ... six eggs are hatched and two more are pecking to come out of the shell. While he tends this nest, I sit and paint over there and listen to talking books which I love ... my very favourite at the moment is the most wonderful 1963 BBC Radio production, narrated delightfully by Richard Burton, of Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood. I leave you with his wonderful wordsmitherly description of a sloeblack night in a Welsh village in Spring:

To begin at the beginning:
It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black, the cobblestreets silent and the hunched, courters'-and-rabbits' wood limping invisible down to the sloeblack, slow, black, crowblack, fishingboat-bobbing sea.
The houses are blind as moles (though moles see fine tonight in the snouting, velvet dingles) or blind as Captain Cat there in the muffled middle by the pump and the town clock, the shops in mourning, the Welfare Hall in widows' weeds. And all the people of the lulled and dumbfound town are sleeping now. Hush, the babies are sleeping, the farmers, the fishers, the tradesmen and pensioners, cobbler, schoolteacher, postman and publican, the undertaker and the fancy woman, drunkard, dressmaker, preacher, policeman, the webfoot cocklewomen and the tidy wives. Young girls lie bedded soft or glide in their dreams, with rings and trousseaux, bridesmaided by glow-worms down the aisles of the organplaying wood. The boys are dreaming wicked or of the bucking ranches of the night and the jollyrodgered sea. And the anthracite statues of the horses sleep in the fields, and the cows in the byres, and the dogs in the wetnosed yards; and the cats nap in the slant corners or lope sly, streaking and needling, on the one cloud of the roofs.

Dylan Thomas ~ Under Milk Wood ~ 1954

Sunday 23 March 2008

Eggs & Serpents

♥ ♥ ♥ Happy Easter friends! ♥ ♥ ♥

Two egg tales for you today ...
First a few pysanky ~ Ukrainian easter eggs, decorated beautifully using the wax resist (batik) method. The name comes from the verb pysaty ~ to write as the designs are written on with beeswax rather than painted.
So long as pysanky are decorated every year, the world will continue to turn. If, however, the custom is abandoned for any reason, evil, in the shape of a horrible serpent chained to a cliff, will overrun the world. Each year this serpent sends out his minions to investigate how many pysanky have been made.
Another old Ukrainian myth tells of giving highly decorated, intricate and dark coloured eggs to the elderly because their life is rich and full of experiences. In the same way, the young are given eggs with more white space on them for their life is a blank page.
Girls should never give their boyfriends eggs which are undecorated at either end as this can foretell baldness!
Have a look at this etsy seller who is making and selling some beautiful pysanky.

Second, the English folk belief surrounding abnormally small yolkless eggs sometimes produced by old hens. These eggs were thought to be cockerel's eggs; they were extremely unlucky and were thrown over the roof because if hatched they would produce a cockatrice ~ a legendary creature with the head and legs of a cockerel and the body and tail of a dragon or serpent. The cockatrice (often interchangeable with the basilisk) was venomous and could kill people with its deadly glance. It was often said that this creature had come from a cockerel's egg hatched out by a toad.
According to legend it could only be killed by a weasel (see picture below right) or by tricking it into seeing itself. At Saffron Walden (Essex), a knight is said to have donned crystal armour to destroy a cockatrice; and at Wherwell (Hampshire), where a man lowered a mirror of polished steel into the creature's den, it fought its reflection till exhausted.

"The Bazeliske the Serpents King I find,
Yet Weasels him do overcome in warre,

The Cyren land him breedes of Lernaes kind,

They to all other a destruction are:

And if we may beleeve, that through the heat of Sunne,

In old Cockes Egges this beast is raised first,

Or beastes by sight or s
mell thereof are all undone,
Then ist not good, but of his kind the worst."

Wednesday 19 March 2008

Leg Wheel & Jew Harp

A BENT AND STRANGE GIRL with legs inspired by my words in the previous post...
that perhaps one day my legs might curl up into a circle and grow spokes.
She is my new painting, made with watercolour and pencil and a quote by Sir Francis Bacon:

There is no excellent beauty
that hath not
some strangeness
in the proportion.

Sir Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)

This I believe very strong.
I love and see best all those who are broken-strange, crooked inside and out.

And while I write I listen to the most heart wrenching music: A Harvest, A Shepherd, A Bride ~ Village Music of Bulgaria. Wonderful recordings made over 30 years ago ... a delight of haunting, stark and rich acapella voices of Bulgarian women alongside traditional folk instruments of the region like the kaval flute and the gaida ~ a bagpipe made from a goat.
Go and listen to these songs ... they will take hold of your heart and place it on top of a mountain.

PS. If you like her .. you can have her on your wall ... here :)

Thursday 13 March 2008

Some turtles have nice shells

WHEELED HOMES stir something in me, something that is perhaps a mixture of delight in memory, in the imagery of wheels and in all things nomadic. My first birthday was spent in this lovely old Bedford removal van, changed by my parents into a travelling home which we took across Europe and to the snows of southern Bavaria where they worked as woodcarvers. And these memories, so fond and vivid have always stayed with me. (Yes that's a little Rima in the doorway)

Since then I have painted wheels on houses and wheels on people, wheels on creatures and wheels on teapots ... I think perhaps one day my legs might curl up into a circle and grow spokes.

There is something beautiful in the turning gypsy wheel and the colourful skeleton of a wooden home that can move itself to another place, all the while taking with it kettles and beds and fire and books and family and stories.

I have just found a most delightful book which houses a treasury of housetrucks - a sort of American cousin of the gypsy caravan, written by Roger Beck who himself built four of these strange and outrageously beautiful vehicles. There is a ridiculousness to these housetrucks which I love ~ intricate wooden shacks clutching like a tortoiseshell onto an old characterful truck, complete with shingles and little dormer windows, porches and hobbit doors. Somehow I think that this sort of thing would attract the wrong kind of attention nowadays in the UK; it seems that the wilder countries with more open space like New Zealand and America have been places where these kinds of vehicles could exist.
The book Some Turtles Have Nice Shells can be bought directly from Roger Beck's website, and I wholeheartedly recommend its 191 treasurechest-pages, full with pictures of housetrucks' and buses' rustic outsides and cosy ins.

And if you like this then also try ...
Rolling Homes: Handmade Houses on Wheels by Jane Lidz and
Freewheeling Homes (The House that Jack Built Series) by David Pearson.

We have lately been nipping out in between snow and rain to begin the transformation of our lovely Bedford TK. So far we've managed to rip out the innards to make a blank wooden canvas to build our ideas on. After a few months of hammering and sawing and sewing and dreaming, we hope to have made our very own horsebox home on wheels which will carry us and our chattels to nooks and crannies and festivals and forests far and near.

Saturday 8 March 2008

The Animation Attic

PARCEL TAPE and cobbled-together ideas of make-do animation studios have, in the past few days and weeks, been sensibly hurled into the Rubbish Bin Of Silly Plans and replaced with a quite state-of-the-art-yet-cosy set-up under our eaves, complete with all sorts of bells and whistles and contraptions to make animating easier.

Follow me up the ladder (which incidentally, I fell down the other day and bruised every bit of me!) ... to the Animation Attic, where I have made a comfy little hideaway for move-clicking.
You can't stand up in it, but on the underside of a legless table I have arranged my studio.

Following my first depressing attempts to secure the video camera with tape to some bits of clamped wood, and finding that the camera sagged over days as the tape melted, I was spurred on to track down a sturdy alternative. The gem of a find that has saved my bacon is a strange prehensile grabber sort of a thing called a Gorillapod (like a tripod of the simian variety) which was perfect for holding the camera still at a 90 degree angle. It is vital for stop frame animation that the camera is As Still As The Grave otherwise huge jolts occur in the film, lurching you out of your suspended disbelief.
Anyhow, as you can see the camera is clutching a plank of wood with its new monkey paw and I am able to happily move my tiny scraps of paper around to make my film.

Tui's Mac has also made life much easier, not that I know the first thing about them, having never laid a finger on one before now, but its smooth workings mean that I can concentrate on the task in hand.

I have been battling with the movement of waves on the seashore for the past few days. The beginning of the track is gentle and sparse and I had made a sea more worthy of pirates and leviathans, dark storms and lighthouse rescues! Though I am pleased with the movement of a gull in flight (made from several pieces of paper no bigger than half a nail-clipping). I have been pushing the pieces of the scene around with the tip of a sharp knife as my fingers are too big.

Today I have happily finished a 20 second segment of calm calm sea and am pleased. Another cheerful discovery was that I am able to animate at 8 frames per second, still achieving as smooth movement as I did with 24, and saving bucketfuls of time.

I have also begun my new attic animation with a different stop-motion frame grabbing program ~ Framethief, designed for use on the Mac and it is a wholly lovely program to use - simple and yet it does the clever things I need.

Tomorrow I will climb the attic ladder again with a cup of tea and a hot water bottle and sit curled up poking at little bits of paper until I have made some small seconds of film and my pin-needled cross-eyed body calls me back to the kettle.

Tuesday 4 March 2008

Ringing bells in other people's spirits

YOU KNOW when you stumble across another person's work and you are drawn into their world in a tumbling ecstasy of combined respect at their skill, delight at their creations and enjoyment of their mind?

Well the internet is a wonderful place for this sort of thing to happen and for this I applaud it and its magical wires that aren't really there and that seem to pass paintings and tunes and thoughts and words and films along them as easy as if all of us were sitting in one big room sharing stories. Not so long ago we would have fallen backwards off our chairs to hear of such a contraption. But now it has become an extra limb, and a very useful limb indeed for those of us who are trying to make things at home, trying to paint and create and make a bit of money (not that we like it really but it helps to pay for teabags), very useful it is indeed for those of us who want to hide away in our nests but also want to show people what we do in case others might like it, in case it might ring bells in their spirits.

And so that brings me to the odd world of blogs. I was a novice at this not so long back, but find that I have connected with others who are also making beautiful things and this is helping us all to make a living doing what we love to do. From time to time I have seen that people pass on "awards" or "memes" to one another for their work, thus promoting them.
I have never been a fan of those brash chain emails that under a charitable guise, whip up a sort of superstitious dread that some terrible luck might befall you unless you clog up ten more people's inboxes within the soonest few minutes.
The point of me telling you all this is to say that I received a one of these awards the other day from Cliodhna Quinlan and have found some other lovely things written about me and my work here and there and here and there and here and there. Thank you to all of these people ~ it is genuinely appreciated. I even found someone who included me in their commentary on artisan blogging.
As you may have guessed, I don't really want to follow the crowd in this matter, but I would like to show you some lovely work by some people whose creations drew me into their world as people above have been drawn into mine...

Carson Ellis paints and draws after my own heart. Her work is strange and sad and she seems to share my fascinations with lettering and Russia and accordions. She blogs here occasionally and her lovely website is here. You may have seen her work adorning the albums of the Decemberists.

Gretel Parker is a lovely friend whose work enchanted me as soon as I saw it. She is a fellow lover of wheeled creatures and tales and a master watercolour artist, conjuring tales of melancholy and loss in a far off toybox world. Here is her lovely collection of work and here in the middle of nowhere is her well read and so well written blog. I was lucky enough to have the loan of her studio where I painted my first watercolour.

Lisa Hurwitz I discovered via the lovely land of Etsy and I was very glad. Her paintings are scratchy and large-headed, melancholy and strange and her drawings are beautiful. I am a great admirer of her work. Read her blog here and see her portfolio here.

And finally the fabulous Cart Before the Horse folk art of Jo James makes me smile no end. Her creations are beautifully made and suitably strange and topsy-turvy for my tastes. Read her lovely bloggings and doings here.

These tagging businesses are supposed to include seven facts about yourself or somesuch.. but ... well... for that you'll just have to keep reading this blog! Suffice to say.. as you may have noticed, I like beautiful things with a little bit strange and a little bit of sad.

Saturday 1 March 2008


THE HAND is a wonderful instrument, linked to the mind as if hand and intellect were two halves of a hinged tool, one edified by the other. This has been a belief long held by philosophers and indeed the Latin based word apprehension meaning to grasp applies both to the physical ~ taking hold of something ~ and the mental ~ becoming cognizant of new ideas. I find endlessly fascinating the idea that somehow what you do with your hands changes what happens in your mind and vice versa.

The hand has also been a powerful symbol in cultures worldwide, as an indicator of many things.
The image above is a rare and anonymous hand coloured Netherlandish woodcut from 1466 showing the hand as a 'Mirror of Salvation' ~ using the five fingers as a kind of mnemonic for the stages of spiritual meditation.
Below are silver amulets from two religions ~ on the left the well known Hand of Fatima of the Islamic tradition and on the right a Jewish hand with a bent thumb very similar to the Muslim symbol.

In Europe the 'Hand of Glory' rendered assailants motionless. It was a hand cut from a man hung from the gibbet. It was soaked in tallow, and a wick placed in each finger, while the moon was waxing and not waning. Thieves were known to acquire such a hand and place it on the kitchen table of the house they intended to rob. It would ensure the inhabitants would be still as if dead, and unable to stir a finger against them.

On the left above is 'The Hand of the Philosophers' a representation of the alchemical secrets that old sages would swear to keep hidden by oath. On the right is an early manual alphabet from 1579. These manual representations of letters had by the seventeenth century become a vehicle for teaching the deaf to communicate.

My name Rima actually means 'a hand' or the number 'five' in Maori.

And finally some sketches of my left hand that I did today with my right hand.

Click on the images to enlarge them

Images and research from:
Writing on Hands: Memory and Knowledge in Early Modern Europe by Claire Richter Sherman
Amulets: A World of Secret Powers, Charms & Magic by Sheila Paine