Thursday 30 October 2008

The Spoon-Eared Child

The Spoon-Eared Child

A new drawing, drawn in snatches, in between many other busy-nesses ~ one bit one day sat in town and the next bit another day some weeks later sat at home by the fire. It is finally sort of finished and I think I like it, but don't know if I should paint it or leave it as a drawing. Any thoughts?

Sunday 26 October 2008

Dusty Bookshelves

THE LEAVING DAY is approaching fast and Tui and I are building & dismantling in clouds of sawdust & bookdust respectively. He has made more wonderful shelves and cupboards and the truck is getting more and more nookish by the day. The days here are not at the moment quite what you'd call days.. the darkness of the nighttime gets a little greyer between morning and afternoon and then it's night again! And all the while we are lashed with freezing rain.
Anyhow, from nookish things to bookish things ... I am now sitting amongst stalagmites of books, towering in teetering spires around and about me, and breathing in the floating blankets of dust that have been softly mustering atop the bookedges over time. I think I have selected my most used and treasured and least heavy books for the invitingly lovely bookshelves ready in the wheeled house. Some more good but un-squeezable-inable books will go to my parents' house :) and the last lot ... is for you! Yes.. indeed, I thought that you discerning Hermitage-reading folks would be interested to virtually browse my book shelves and avail yourself of a bargain. There's to be a Hermitage book sale! I have been a book hoarder for a long time, and I have had to be brutal. So there are some great books there .. on such diverting subjects as: tree lore, book arts apprenticeships, elvish, devils, medieval books of hours, runes, nursery rhymes, holy wells, tin whistles, fairground transport, children's book illustrating, fairy tales, anarchism and a plethora of stories...

I have put the books all on one long page, in sections by subject. And the sale can be found by clicking on that there rusty book sign to the below right. As soon as a book is bought, I'll remove the paypal button, but if two people should buy the same book whilst I am sleeping, I'll send it to whoever got it first, and I'll refund the unlucky one! If anyone can suggest a more hi-tech way of dealing with this problem I'd be grateful, but as it is I have spent two days listing everything on here... I'd love to write a little something about each book, but I think I might be going crosseyed with the effort.
Just imagine yourself standing in one of those old rickety-shelved second hand bookshops in cathedral towns where the proprietor is reading a tea-stained newspaper and customers shuffle past each other apologetically peering up and down the bookspines. There'll be a spiral staircase up or down to a chilly room with even more interesting and obscure books in difficult piles and a damp anorak draped over the radiator. To leave, you'll have to cough quietly, step around many boxes of unpacked unshelved books (possibly from the houses of dead people), and you'll emerge into the day having left a substantial number of hours behind, wedged between the yellowed pages of silverfish-nibbled academia.

Thursday 23 October 2008

Treescapes & Seasons (..Seascapes & Treasons?)

UP IN OUR CORNER of Scotland where the clouds are almost within reach, we are being buffeted and blown, whipped by the tails of gales and peppered with ices and hails. Even a flurry of snow happened upon us the other day. It is freezing and wet and the shortlived warm autumn colours are being blown off their branches and lay sludged at the roadside in a brown puddled patchwork.

I have just finished a small commissioned watercolour painting of a crow, sitting up in winter branches overlooking a small hamlet in the hills where a chimney smokes and reminds him of the origins of fire. This painting is for Melanie who loved the Lenape legend of the rainbow crow and the smoking chimney is a remnant of the fire in this tale. I delved into my lovely brand new box of watercolours for this painting and used a smidgen of gouache for the snow on the branches.
As he is packaged up and readied for a trip to the post office (a windy six mile journey for us) I am stacking books upstairs into "going", "staying" and "mum and dad's house" piles... there's rather a lot to fit into our compact little rolling home.

The other day I bought a tiny locally grown pumpkin which we roasted in the oven, and after we'd eaten it we curled up to watch a lovely film which we had already seen at the cinema, but wanted to see again. It is a Gaelic film, a tale of a grandfather on the isle of Skye and of the tales that he tells to his grandchildren, and of the mystery in the seas and trees of the island. It is a beautiful film, all spoken in Gaelic using unknown actors and painted sonically with a haunting musical score. Here's the trailer... I highly recommend you buy it, download it, enjoy it. It's called SEACHD: The Inaccessible Pinnacle.

Wishing you all warm ends of Octobers with no draughts blowing down the gaps ..

Tuesday 21 October 2008

The Clock Tarot

CLOCK number six has been drawn from the hat, and with it a hand of tarot cards. This commission was a little bit of magic for Allegra Smith who asked for a clock with sprinklings of gypsies, of tarot cards and Egyptians, and a suspicion of a well loved cat.
I had a deck of tarot cards when I was young but have never known a great deal about the history and meanings behind the tarot, so for this clock I read a little and learned of the history of the iconography and significances. The early tarot decks are delightful, mostly woodblock printed and hand coloured. For more delvings into the history of these 78 images, I recommend this excellent tarot history site.

As this is to be a gift from Allegra to her beloved, a gift of time for someone whose time may be short, I chose the ace of coins for an important or valuable gift, the hermit for time and triumph over it, and the star for hope and rejuvenation. I hope that this little painted "spell" will wend its way over the ocean and be enjoyed by the recipients. The cat is a sphinxy version of their own cat, and time ticks around the Egyptian coin and over a broken palette of ochre-sand and azure sea-browns.

I so enjoyed my explorations into the history of the tarot that I am inspired to illustrate a whole deck. I like symbolic imagery with a central figure and text surrounding it; I like the characters that appear amongst the cards: Hermit, Fool, Magician; and I like collections of symbols: zodiacs, alphabets, calendars... This, of course, will be a job for another day.. another year!

Friday 17 October 2008

Hark Hark

HARK HARK the dogs do bark
The beggars are coming to town

Some in rags and some in jags

And one in a velvet gown

This nursery rhyme is an old one, and is said to have its origins in the society of Elizabethan England, when bands of wandering beggars were so numerous that people considered them a nuisance. "All through the Tudor reigns, the beggars coming to town preyed on the fears of dwellers in lonely farms and hamlets, and exercised the minds of magistrates, Privy Councillors and Parliaments"*.
These ragged and jagged vagabonds, sometimes with music amongst them and likely missing a limb or a wit or two would approach the town walls where the dogs would put up a great howling. I like these peripheral peoples as you know and I like nursery rhymes, and so I painted them in this oil painting on a lovely knotted piece of burr walnut a few years ago now.
Scattered at the beggars' feet are coins, real coins, stuck to the surface of the painting. They are whisper-thin slivers of old Arabic money I think, with holes in the tops from where they adorned a jingle-jangling costume. I bought them in an antique place in London even more years ago and still have a few left to use in something else.

This is the painting I have chosen for the first in the series of original painting sales that I mentioned a while ago. These are now our last six weeks in this little Scottish cottage .. we have planned and hope to be off for good by the beginning of December, and of course there are a million and one things to do before then. The truck is looking just lovely and Tui is working like a man possessed to get it ready, making a cupboard a day almost! I am finishing off clock orders and other things, I have an animation to get finished as well and on top of all that there's a house full of stuff that we've to squeeze into a truck! Therefore .. things will have to go! We cannot hang all the paintings I have here on the wooden walls of the wheely home, and so I thought to have a wee sale, so that anybody who might feel inclined can snap them up. These sales will help us get on our way too... for though we nip out weekly to earn a penny or three in town, it is usually spent before we get home on the weekly wood and screws for more house building, a bag or two of groceries and a thimbleful of diesel. I am selling these at a lower price than I usually do for original oil paintings on wood so that perhaps someone who might not have been able to afford it before can do this time.

I have always loved this piece of walnut wood with its coggly greened edges, and I like the dark almost halloweenish atmosphere in the nursery rhyme edge-of-town scene. I hope that one of you might like it too and want to take this topsy turvy bunch of marginal folk into your home. And if you do like them and have three hundred English pounds** to spare ... follow me ...

And if another painting takes your fancy instead, then hold your horses, there'll be more going for a song in the next few weeks. Meanwhile we are running about like a couple of barefooted bees on hot coals as the autumn leaves turn red and fall into the puddles ...

* taken from The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes by Iona & Peter Opie .. which suggests other political inspirations behind the rhyme as well as this one, but I liked this one best!
** indeed American Dollars and all other currencies are just as welcome!

Monday 13 October 2008

Three Red Things

New boots ...

Autumn berries ...

& A cosy growing home ...

Thursday 9 October 2008

Paintspoons & Teabrushes

THIS BLOG is one year old this October, and to celebrate I thought it time to give it a new hat. So as you see, I have painted one. My parents gave me some gouache paints for by own recent birthday and this is my first ever experiment with them. At first, having only used oils and watercolours before, I was unsure how to wrestle with these strange opaque yet watery paints... I tried painting in great sloopy washes and scrubbing it off again with loo roll, and then tried dense thick colour which I laid on with the finest of brushes in lines as thin as a ladybird's eyelash.

Gradually I warmed to the gouache, and found my own way of using it. I build layers and model with both watercolour and oil paint as if I am drawing with it, putting in little colour washes, then darks, then lights, and more washes, and it seems I attack gouache in much the same way. I found it excellent for lettering.

Though with watercolour I use pencil lines as an integral part of the final image, this time I wanted to see if I could do it all with the brush. I am moderately happy with the result.. though last night I hated it. I have much to thank photoshop for - because I thought my final painting altogether too blue and dingy, and by employing the clever modern digital tools of colour level adjustment and contrast boosting, I have rescued a painting that might have otherwise gone on the scrapheap. It's only a first attempt anyway, I shall most definitely enjoy my further gouache adventures.

Also in my birthday parcel were a couple of photos of a little Rima that my mum had found in her fossickings. Here I am drawing at age five and three quarters, sat at the kitchen table with pens and pencils, more of my drawings on the walls behind me and a milk-toothy grin that I seemed to wear in all photos at that time :)

I find it fascinating to think that those little hands are these hands and that those eyes saw to draw people like that then and see to draw them somewhat differently nowadays. Odd isn't it?
I'm off to paint another clock, make some attempt at clearing stuff and put the kettle on.

And speaking of tea, if any of you should be pining for the old blog hat Penny Farthing Tea, you can now buy it beautifully glazed into a handmade stoneware mug by Gina at Phenix Pottery, providing they've not already been snapped up. And if they have, there are more in the kiln as we speak!
I drew that image yonks ago for the front door of my website; its title is a play on Pennyroyal Tea and it depicts some strange tea-powered travelling contraption.
You'll see teapots and kettles a lot in my paintings. Tea is one of life's essential fuels I believe. I drink copious amounts of it, mostly good ol' builder's tea: strongish with milk and no sugar.

PS ~ If you want a closer look at the painting, you can click on the snippets up there.

Tuesday 7 October 2008

The Jeweller's Clock

THE FIFTH CLOCK is done! Here for you to see is my newest Once Upon O'Clock creation ~ a clock for narrative jeweller Nina Bagley, who asked for reds and rooftops and moon and moth, because moths have been visiting her rather a lot lately. I also decided to include some text in this one. I am fond of entwining words around my images and thought it appropriate for this one since Nina puts words inside her jewellery. I hunted for suitable moth poems and found just a few.
The words that curl out of the moon's pipe smoke and chimney are from the T.S. Eliot poem The Burnt Dancer about a moth. O danse mon papillon noir is the refrain ... and on further investigation I found that a "papillon noir" is also an antiquated French expression for a melancholy thought, and I liked that.
For the small cluster of houses below, I took inspiration from medieval woodcuts of towns, where the whole group of buildings in enclosed within city walls, and the perspective is knowledgeably awry, with rows of houses piled simultaneously on top of and behind one another.
The moth is a Luna Moth, since it is sitting on the moon, and since they visit Nina from time to time too.
I think she likes it, and I do too... it'll be fluttering over the atlantic now, and I hope its fragile dusty wings can manage the long flight ...

Thursday 2 October 2008

Sharmanka & The Chronophage

I THINK I HAVE FOUND work by another artist that is the closest thing to my own sensibilities that ever I have seen, and I'd like to show it to you ...
A few months back I was given a little local Scottish magazine by a neighbour who thought a particular article in it might be up my street. And Oh it was. I read in there of a Russian kinetic theatre of wooden sculpture hidden in the heart of Glasgow. And two days ago I went to see it.

Down a narrow alleyway and round the corner was a door, and on the door was a drawing of a behatted crow with a bell in its beak. Behind the crow were stairs, and at the top of the stairs was the most unusual wonderland I could ever have hoped to come across. A roomful of contraptions, huge automata-like machines, moved by and moving small painted woodcarvings with hooked noses. There were endless wheels, cogs and clocks, old pieces of scrap, sections of sewing machines, typewriters and lawnmowers, bicycles and bells, and delightful characters ~ melancholic, strange and grotesque in the best possible of ways.
Fat bellied mice, nuns and hunchbacks, clowns and skellingtons, monkeys with donkeyheads for hands, grinning jesters and snap-jawed monstrosities, bears, saints, artists and alchemists, monkeys with wayward willies, and organ-grinders and ravens of all sizes and sorts joined in a mechanical dance ~ macabre and humourous, sad and wise and utterly fascinating. They seemed to be telling me tales of the world turning, of lives and deaths and back again, of torture and spirituality, of the wheel and all its spokes. Lights shone on the pages of this kinetic story and took me from one character's part to the next, and all the while music played ... something from a far off circus, a dusty street musician, an echoing dungeon, a shtetl in winter.

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre is the work of Russian artist Eduard Bersudsky. Born an outsider in St Petersburg in 1939, he is a self confessed black sheep or "white crow" as the Slavs say, who began his work amidst the struggles of Soviet Russia and and left in 1994 to settle in Scotland and bring with him his magnificent theatre. His work has been brought tirelessly into the public eye by Tatyana Jakovskaya, theatre director and critic who he met in 1987. Sharmanka (which means organ grinder or hurdy gurdy in Russian) has its base in Glasglow at present but a touring version can be seen here and there and elsewhere, and Eduard's works have been commisssioned to stand in various town centres, museums and private collections in places as far an wide as Scotland, Jerusalem, Russia, Denmark, America.

Eduard requests that he never see his audience nor they him, and speaks only a handful of English words. I was lucky enough however to meet him briefly and see his workshop and new piece in progress which will incorporate an old set of bellows into its heart. He is a man dedicated utterly to his work and collects like a magpie more bits and pieces of machinery to incorporate inside his creations, which have names like The Clock of Life, The Hunchback, The Tower of Babel, The Little Organ Grinder, Time of Rats, The Rag-n-Bone Man, Willy the Barrel Organ, Brainwashing Machine, The Tower of Medieval Sciences, The Leg, Eternal Triangle of Love, The Tree of Life, Druid's Clock, The Autumn Walk in the Belle Epoque of Perestroika ...

I cannot express adequately quite how in thrall I was to these little wooden men and the wheels that turned them. Bersudsky has been described as "an icon painter for our times" and that he is. Really it is impossible to convey in words how brilliant this kinetic theatre of woodcarvings is. You simply MUST go and see it. Even if you do not live in the UK ... get a plane, a boat, a train, a bicycle, a tricycle, a donkey, a snail, a unicycle! Just come to a show! They are on thursdays and sundays. Photographs cannot evoke the magic enough, so here are a few videos, but even they are like weak imitations compared with standing close to one of the beautiful Sharmanka machines as it creaks into life. Thank you Eduard.

all photographs copyright
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Now, if your senses are not overloaded, I thought I'd invite another guest to this clockish automata-party: The Chronophage.
It was recently brought to my attention that on my just gone birthday, a new and astonishing clock was unveiled in Cambridge. The invention of John Taylor, clockmaker and admirer of John Harrison, who solved the problem of longitude in the eighteenth century, is a 24-carat gold-plated clockwork clock, that keeps accurate time whilst showing that it time is relative. On top of the clock, time is measured out by the grasping legs of a demonic locust-like chronophage or time-eater.

Taylor says:

“Clocks are fixed, whereas we all know, time is fluid. It drags and it flies. Like Einstein said, an hour sitting next to a pretty girl can be like a minute, and a minute sitting on a hot stove can seem like an hour. I wanted this clock to reflect that, to play tricks with observers.”

Dr Christopher de Hamel, Fellow Librarian at Corpus Christi, says:

“I wanted it to be a monster, because time itself is a monster . . . It is horrendous, and horrible, and beautiful. It reminds me of the locusts from the Book of Revelations. It lashes its tongue, and flicks its eyes at you. It’s bonkers.”

And here it is in action ...

So I leave you with all these lovely mad tickings and ringings of bells and will return soon with my own clock ... Once Upon O'Clock number 5.