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3 barns (watercolour sticks)

3 barns (watercolour sticks)

From the wood I turned south and began walking out along the sea wall. Swallows scudded overhead in twos and threes, moving with fast wing flicks…Inland were vast fields, on which three or four black barns sailed like barges. To the seaward of the wall were the marshes, tinged purple.
-Robert MacFarlane, ‘The Wild Places’.

It has been awhile since I was this moved by a non-fiction writer. Moved in the way the best art moves us: to quote Lewis Hyde, from ‘The Gift’: A work of art that enters us to feed the soul lets us experience a gifted state, and depending on our own abilities, we respond by creating new work (it doesn’t have to be art,  but inspired by the artist we may find we can suddenly make sense of our own experience). The greatest art offers us fresh images that light up our imaginations and open up alternatives for our own lives.

The last time this happened I was in the middle of my career as an artist and calligrapher, and for years, I calligraphed one quote of Barry Lopez’s continually.  Here is a straightforward handling of this particular quote-

Inner landscape  (pen and ink and mono print)

Interior landscape (pen and ink and mono print)

But I also used the text as a starting point for work dominated more by imagery than by letters.

Arctic sunlight

Arctic sunlight (collage, and mixed media on paper) sold

And I also did a series of collages, I think from the same book by Lopez, ‘Crossing open ground’.

Black throated sparrow (collage, pen and ink)

Black throated sparrow (collage, pen and ink)

So anyway, what I’m getting at, is that for the first time in years, I feel inspired by MacFarlane’s writing and sensibility to start to combine letters with my imagery again.

Anyone who loves walking, nature, history of place, or good great writing should read this author. He sets out on these walks which take him and the reader to surprising places, both literally and internally. He’s exploring the theme of how landscape acts on us and we on it, and how outer landscape is formative for one’s inner psychic landscape. His experience resonates in a deep place with me, though I’m not drawn to emulating some of his other adventures – sleeping out on mountains and moors, by the sea and in dunes- sometimes in the winter!

I’ll leave you with some more of his words- here he is speaking about how being connected through technology has replaced and so robbed us of direct physical contact with the natural world:

We have come increasingly to forget that our minds are shaped by the bodily experience of being in the world- its spaces, textures, sounds, smells and habits- as well as by genetic traits we inherit and ideologies we absorb. A constant and formidably defining exchange occurs between the physical forms of the world around us, and the cast of our inner world of imagination.

The feel of a hot dry wind on the face, the smell of distant rain carried as a scent stream in the air, the touch of a bird’s sharp foot on one’s outstretched palm: such encounters shape our beings and our imaginations in ways which are beyond analysis, but also beyond doubt.

There is something uncomplicatedly true in the sensation of laying hands upon sun warmed rock, or watching a dense mutating flock of birds , or seeing snow fall irrefutably upon one’s upturned palm.

 

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Abstract (watercolour sticks)

Abstract (watercolour sticks)

Watercolour sticks are affording me a new freedom. Believe it or not, the drawing/painting above started out as, ‘Beet still life with pomegranate’, you can see the shadow of the open pomegranate in the top right quarter. It was acceptable still life, but is was boring, so I rubbed it all out with water and just worked into some of the shapes that were left.

Next, a magazine photo caught my eye and I did a quick study using the watercolour sticks full strength.

Ceramics (watercolour sticks)

Ceramics (watercolour sticks)

So, the medium can be used to create powerful forms and light and shadow. I refrained from working on this too much.

Next, I drew a loose grid in the way I usually start my oil pastel drawings- filling areas in as I went. The main influences were the books I am reading right now- Robert Mac Farlane’s wonderful, ‘The wild places’, and ‘Women who run with Wolves’, by Pinkola Estes.

Wayfaring (watercolour sticks)

Wayfaring (watercolour sticks)

In the lower left corner, a little fox makes his first appearance. And there is a lighted house in the woods where the old  lady sits near a roaring fire, waiting for the tired wayfarer to come in and be held and healed.

When I was in London in January, staying in my aunt’s flat after her death, I remembered a similar time 13 years earlier, staying in the same fifth floor flat while my mother was in her last days. There were several things that comforted me at that difficult time, one was looking down on a row of garage rooves and sighting a little fox curled up, resting after a night’s hunting in the city. He had made a nest of leaves on the warm roof, under some overhanging branches. I always looked for him after that, and derived an extraordinary sense of peace from seeing him safely ensconced in his little refuge.

I found myself looking for him this time as well, silly after 13 years, of course. No fox.

But one morning a few days before I left, I looked down and there was a fox, sleeping in the same place as his predecessor (well, who knows? How long  do foxes live?). He returned every day, late in the day, secure in his little warm place under the branches, curled up with his soft bushy tail wrapped around him in the weak January sun. So he became a sort of totem for me, and an important part of my time in London. I decided to draw him, and what emerged was a sort of visual journal after the fact.

Visual journal - Fox (watercolour sticks)

Visual journal – Fox (watercolour sticks)

There was already a peacock appearing, (top right) which led me to the next drawing -of the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park. My grandparents, aunt & uncle, and mother all lived very close to this wonderful park. It has been as much part of my psychic inner landscape as anywhere I’ve ever lived. After my mom had died, I stayed in the Holland Park youth hostel, also right in the middle of the park. One more letting go for me- this past trip, I went to visit some of the staff who had become friends by now (hi Sally and Simon), and the hostel had been closed down.

Peacocks run wild all over the park, my mom and I, and later my aunt and I always walked though the gardens, wandered through the formal Kyoto garden, looking at the carp and waterfalls; we smelled the roses in the rose garden, looked in wonder at the gorgeous meters-long mural near the Orangerie,  and stopped for a cup of hot cocoa in the little café.

Visual journal- Holland Park (watercolour sticks)

Visual journal- Holland Park (watercolour sticks)