Wednesday 22 June 2011

A Brush in the Blue Paintwater Jar of June

WE ARE FROGS crouching disgruntled at the water's edge of a doubtful Summer. So far, this June feels like Mr Jeremy Fisher's slippy-sloppy larder; the air hangs damp and grey; we nip out between downpours to do late things in the garden, and nip in again to light the woodburner in a most unsummerly fashion, and to work at our desks in the warm. There were predictions of parched earth and hosepipe bans here in the South West, but standing under huge wet trees, their barks black with rain, we listen to the the drip-drip from the points of the green glistening leaves, and shake out our webbed feet, and disbelieve the weather forecast.

Here are a few painterly-printerly goings-on, some new, some past, some blue...

This old man in a wooden boat on a green garden sea is the Ancient Mariner, painted for an exhibition at the Imagine Gallery based around Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem. I chose to paint the old man himself rather than any scenes of ghostly stormy torment. And for canvas I found a piece of Sequoia redwood amongst the offcuts from the chainsaw carving at the wood fair, which had the heart of a branch-knot like a spear running through it. How perfect, I thought, to make this into the arrow with which the Mariner shoots the Albatross; and the slice of wood was boat-shaped too. So I fitted him into the shape of it, the albatross hung around his neck, so that the redwood arrow ran through both the bird and the Mariner's own heart. 

The original painting, in oils, is for sale through the gallery now should anyone like to own it. The Mariner's right hand holds an anchor rope which winds around his boots... echoing a sad and true story in my ancestry: My great grandmother Elsie had a sweetheart when she was young whom she called "Blue" ... but she lost him away at sea - he was drowned when his foot got caught in the anchor rope, and she never really forgot him. I still have a tiny elephant made of ivory which belonged to her, into its flank she scratched his name.

And talking of the Imagine Gallery, I'm mighty pleased to announce that there's a limited edition (of 33!) of fine quality giclée prints of a few of my works available for sale there now too... they're hanging handsomely framed on the gallery walls, and the paper and print quality is so good, even I could hardly tell they weren't originals!

At the moment prints have been made of Baba Yaga, Snowflight Under the Seasky, Anja in the Horse Chestnut, A Girl Mad As Birds, Father Christmas and The Goods & Chattels Man, and they've all been hand embellished (i.e. signed, titled and numbered) by me. This edition of fine prints is all roughly at the size the originals were painted, which in the case of Anja in the Horse Chestnut means almost A1.

I also intend to start selling smaller giclée prints through my etsy shop soon for folks who would like a posher and more knobbly paper quality. Any recommendations of companies who offer this print service with good results would be most welcome - I've been sending off for sample packs from various places, and can't decide.

There've been quite a number of interesting jobs over the past months... some of which I've waited for apter times to tell you about. This is one of them. Tess Giles Marshall, (a hearty cheerer for my work who has commissioned a clock from me before) asked me to paint a banner for her superb new site Pilgrim's Moon - a celebration of cronehood and all that that enfolds. It is a "countercultural path for women, ageing on their own terms" and it's gathering crones and crones-in-waiting left right and centre: Women who rage against the madness of trying to look younger as they age, women who are interested in the wisdom-knots and fascinations that greater numbers of years bring them, and best of all, women who have chosen to take back demeaning old-women words - crone, hag, harridan, witch - and reclaim them for the power-words they are.

These are pictures of the painting in progress - from pencil beginnings to watercolour end. A small band of motley pilgrims make their way from one village to the next under the blue of a wide wild white moon and the strains of a fiddle tune along the way. Do go and sit round the fire that Tess is building...

And the last painting in today's gallery was another commemoration of a loss... this one was commissioned by Janey to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of a cat she loved for many years.

As with all commissions involving people, it isn't a portrait of either Janey or her cat, but rather a painting of her sadness and of a girl and a cat that might be Janey or someone else. I rather liked it in its blue circular simplicity. The original hangs on her wall in Australia now, but you can buy prints from my shop here.

And whilst I painted a tiny ragged moth came to rest on my thumb, and then flew off again.

I don't know whether the sun will come back again, I hope it does - we are planting vegetables, and thinking of warm evenings of summer adventure and bare feet and songs under the stars and golden picnics in August.
Even frogs like to bask from time to time don't they?

Monday 6 June 2011

The Wide Skies

GOODNESS! It's June! Somehow we have leapt over Spring and a wet May, and stand barefoot and blinking on the other side in the tall dry grass. The green is no longer just emerging: it is wild and abundant! The hedgerows quiver and the leaves are warm. I'm sitting writing this looking out on trees and plants alive with industrious bees and sparrows, and scuffled-under by our three resident chickens. Since last I wrote, we've moved to our wonderful new house on the hill and spent time nesting in under the thatch. House moves are rather momentous and exhausting apparently, and it's taken me some time to gather my wits from amongst the fluff and old twopences at the bottoms of all the cardboard boxes as we've unpacked. We're hallooing at the wonder of our happily-found home and I shall tell you tales of this new and idyllic residence in due course, but there's rather a lot of other news to report too, not least an adventure to the other side of England (during which we visited both our families, Tom sat a Chinese Medicine exam and I completed two oil paintings!!) to tout our wares at my favourite fair: Weird and Wonderful Wood. So for today, I'll show you the wonders of that wonder, and hope over the next weeks to bring you a few more regular updates on things painterly, homely, masked and summerly...

This year's Weird and Wonderful Wood fair welcomed us in its own friendly arboreal way on the Friday evening to set up camp in good time for the weekend's impending festivities. This year I'd chosen to be outdoors again: I like it better on grass, and under the sky, and I am coming to a conclusion that the outdoors is my favourite gallery too. 

We came equipped with the most excellent tent: A ten man ex-army Arctic bell tent, which came in part-exchange for a painting still in progress for tipi-makers Ian and Merle of Hummingbird Tipis. It's brilliant to be able to stand up in your tent, we have space to wander about inside... in fact if you'd wanted to swing a cat you could've. And to add to the luxury-under-canvas, we had our new portable woodburner to keep us warm in the evenings and on which to cook all our meals and brew all our teas. This fold-up wonder, The Frontier Stove, originally designed for use in disaster situations, just works so well. The stove pipe comes apart and stows away inside the burner, the legs fold up and you can carry it away in one hand; it burns hot on just a handful of gathered wood, and can be closed down with the damper to burn quietly for hours. It even has enough space on top for a frying pan of bacon and eggs, a pot of coffee, a pan of milk and two small breakfast breads. And so we ate and lived like Wayside Royalty and sat out under the wide East Anglian skies with mugs in hand and thoughts of summer. 

In front of our tent (which sagged a bit round the edges due to the fact that the guy ropes are measured for horizonless Arctic wastes, not snug festival pitches – this will need to be further mulled upon for a solution, though it was fine inside) we constructed a canvas emporium with an ochre roof, alder supports and garden trellis for walls. Ropes tied to trees and ground pegs held it all up and the interior was a patchwork of assorted fabrics and old carpets. Pictures were hung inside, and bunting triangles (cut out gallantly by Tom's mum from her vintage fabric collection) were attached to guy ropes to prevent midnight accidents. The Mad Hatter grinned from a tree, and a witch perched atop an easel on which rested a brand new painting (about which more soon).
But the crowning glories of this year's display were Tom's Magnificent Masks! We hung them between tent and tree and all down the tent-mast where they watched passers by with mischievous interest. These beautiful Smickelgrim Masks are exquisitely handmade from oak-tanned leather, hand painted with leather dyes and polished with Tom's own-recipe beeswax polish made with the help of local Dartmoor bees. I'm dearly and immensely proud to see our creations displayed together like this, don't they match perfectly?

But this brilliant project of Tom's is only just beginning, and awaiting a website and all (which the multi-talented maskmaker will create once he's finished his end of year Acupuncture exams!), so I'll not tell you the whole masquerade here, I'll just whet your appetite with a few pictures and with a whispered hint that there are some masks appearing for sale in Tom's etsy shop now for early birds (or indeed discerning vagabonds, incognito Romantics and stylish revolutionaries) in need of a disguise. This is just a trial price too, so be quick to be the first canny owners of these harlequinned works of art!

The fair passed in a whirl of faces and fascinations, and I'm sorry to say my photo-documenting was a little thin on the ground. I got none of the cosy interior of our tent, so you'll have to wait until its next outing for those. But our shop was busy with old friends and new friends and everyone in between. I was delighted to meet the flesh-and-bone versions of a few folks from this online world, particularly Francois Latreille, who was travelling the UK for some months before heading home to Canada and the beginning of his studies, and whose path steered him through Suffolk for this fair and to give me a poem, and Julie Howe who gave us candles :)


Friends and families came too: here I am with young Taliesin, dear son of friends Poppy and Curt (and Macha who is looking more like some sort of heraldic weasel). And we were happily pitched by Ash and Sarah whose wagon was the scene of last year's idyllic firelit evening

This year they were selling vintage books and their own glass-etched brilliant signs. Their daughter Tilly was proffering wares too...

In between us Candy Sheridan had her resplendent Roma caravan and old-time Gypsy-painted wares. On our other side were Jon and Amalia, makers of the artfully blacksmithed Windy Smithy woodburners.
And the rest of the fair? Well I hardly left my perch, but in brief dashes to buy lemonade or nip behind a bush, I spied many inspiring and industrious folks conducting a thrilling range of workshops for children and adults alike... all with wood in one form or another.

There was puppet making, paper making, withy weaving, spoon carving, and a myriad other distractions. That's our friend Jason Parr teaching folks to carve spoons – he gave us one each too; aren't they lovely?

There was impromptu music and wandering stilted tree-people, there were pole-lathers and artisans, timber framers and axe carvers, chainsaw carving using a fallen trunk of sequoia from which I squirrelled offcuts for future paintings, and drawers of old tools through which to rummage: we brought home a mallet of wood and a mallet of copper, and a handsome machete which now chops our kindling.

These fairs are always an exhilarating melee of inspiring and enjoyable and exhausting talk, earth and wooden tent pegs and woodsmoke and damp socks, money changing hands, faces familiar and new and half-remembered, children and animals and ice-creams, dirt under your fingernails, wandering performers and minstrels-in-the-distance, wonderful handmade artefacts and battered old bric-a-brac, ale and bunting, and the glowing tiredness of sun-browned cheekbones.

At the end of it all, wares and wherewithal packed small, we took Macha and a bottle with a mouthful of cider left in it and a small tray of halva for a walk in the wide green Suffolk fields under the wide blue Suffolk sky and we sat amongst the stems, jangling-eared and happy, and Macha swam like an otter through the barley.