Saturday 7 August 2010

Five chapters of summer

A LONG SPACE there's been between the last time I poured tea here and this! Life has brought a satchelful of wonders and works and wanders, so I hardly know where to begin! Perhaps if I rifle through this satchel and pull out chapters one by one?...



So first and most delightfully of all, I'd like to introduce you to a dear new member of my family! I am an aunt for the first time, and quite amazed to meet this beautiful little boy, born in July to my brother Jan and his Maria. This is Lukas Jacob Staines, here just one day old. I cannot quite believe it, since I remember waiting for his father to come home from hospital when he was the same number of hours old (and I was just two)!

We waited a while for him to come, and while we waited, I stitched him seven linen mice. Slightly patched, askew, and lace-collared, they hang all in a row from a piece of linen-wrapped wire (so that they can be hooked anywhere) upon which I stitched words... there's still space at the end for me to add his name, which at the time of giving, had not yet been decided! There are seven mice for seven stories (and the thousand different ways of telling them...)

(do click to enlarge these)

I so look forward to seeing this dear little soul grow, and to see familiar and new in him. He has his father's useful crooked little fingers. He'll be tall. And he will be loved ♥



And second, a painting! Made for Jericho and Hannah, who are wonderful artists and good friends too across the miles, though we've not met. This watercolour of the dear couple flew all the way to them in the Philippines, where they lose themselves in fascinating artistic endeavour, bluebell woods of their imaginations and sometimes run away together as cat and rabbit. I'm quite pleased with the blue of Hannah's dress amid my usual rust-and-moss pallette. And it is painted on Two Rivers hand milled watercolour paper from Somerset. It was a joy to make a painting for two artists who appreciate my work so, and who also make beautiful works themselves.

Here above you can see my progress: pencil, then light washes, then finer more concentrated detail, then done. (Although, in reality, as you can imagine, it took far longer than that!)



And third, a trip across the sea to Brittany! Do you remember these Arthurian-Breton gold and red and black and white paintings that I found such a struggle to finish a month or so ago? Well, they now hang in the most exquisite chateau exhibition in the middle of the Breton forest of Brocéliande, and I was lucky enough to join some of the English and French artists taking part on a trip to this Nest of Myth and see the exhibition opening amid a fanfare of wonderful events: horse displays, storytelling, harp recitals, Breton music. All the while we enjoyed hospitality of the highest order, with wines and food and good things apparently springing up whenever we looked round!

This is the chateau pictured above, seen from across the lake. We watched moonrise over this lake, and heard how many pieces of the Arthurian myth are woven through this place.. Here the Oak that held Merlin, there the lake that hides the crystal cave. We were taken by horse and cart to the Valley of No Return... but came back nonetheless, wide-eyed mostly at the generous funding and support the arts are given in France compared to the UK.

Inside the castle, the works were hung beautifully. I think I had warmed to my paintings after not having seen them for a while, though had I had paint and brush with me, I might still have been tempted to tinker.

There were beautiful windows all around, I looked out across the lake through deliciously atticy cobwebs, or soft summer-breezed curtains to see audiences being told tales below, and boys playing bagpipes.

I was delighted too to meet a jovial old elf called Pierre Dubois, whose book The Great Encyclopedia of Faeries I owned some years ago. I got to practice lots of French and learned many intriguing things from him about Lutins and all the mischiefs of their realm. Pierre was also responsible for a forbidden foray with a few of us beyond this Interdit sign to find a beautiful old myth-soaked Oak tree and this lilied lake.

We stayed in La Gacilly, a town full to the brim with art. There were photographic exhibitions in the streets, art and craft shops everywhere, and cobblestones and hanging baskets too.

And all of our work, along with tales of the making of the accompanying film were put together in a beautifully produced book of the exhibition. The show continues in France until the end of August and the film will premiere there in October. Then for the winter, the exhibition comes to Exeter in December, and we look forward to welcoming our French friends here then and returning their wonderful hospitality. Much appreciation goes to all who put such efforts into this wondrous sharing of legends.



Now fourth, I bring more artwork, and pages too. A while ago I wrote about hedgehogs, telling of their significance amongst Gypsies and the superstitions that bristle around them. This in turn inspired Sam Rawlings to make a piece of writing about the hedgehog, and I was asked to illustrate it. This handsome little booklet which houses my hedgehoggery is the latest in the short story series produced by London based Arts collective Lazy Gramophone. Their books are beautifully done, with thoughtful letterpress and an eye for a good font. I am delighted to be involved with such an enthusiastic and creative bunch. You can buy a copy of this limited edition publication here for £4.99.

And I am selling prints of my drawing here in my etsy shop. He is a shaman hedgehog, with not apples, but amulets, collected on his wise old spines.



And so fifth, and onwards! Life is full colour at the moment, and blooming with all kinds of delights. I am busy selling work, and making work, as ever trying to dream up projects in between the ones I must make for pennies. Next weekend I will be hawking my wares at the Harlequin Fayre in Norfolk. The next chapter, I'll tell of soon. It has wonder-books and earth-adventures and beloved patchworks and cauldrons of goodness and the threetoed footprints of Baba Yaga's house in it...