Friday, 26 December 2014

Santa

An experiment in acrylic painting and a tiny bit of digital enhancement.


Sunday, 30 November 2014

Song Thrush



An early start to a long journey home finds me stopping in a lay-by overlooking the Teme Valley in Worcestershire near Stanford Bridge. The sun is warm, the sky blue and a thin mist fills the valley below me. I almost didn't stop he as a large hgv was also parked here, but I wasn't sure where else to stop. I could just make out the sound of a radio coming from the cab. As I heat up some water on my gas stove for a cup of coffee I hear a bird singing in a tree next me. My instant thought was that this was something different. It wasn't a blackbird or a robin and it was too late in the year for something like a blackcap. Unfortunately the bird was silhouetted between me and the sun and judging by what I could just make out amongst the branches above me I was sure it was a song thrush. I read recently that these birds are in decline in the countryside but here, I felt sure, was one making the most of the bright and warm late autumn morning. 


Slow walk, Croft Castle

After a day of walking around Hopton Titterhill and then around the parkland and woods at Croft Castle it was time to slow down a little and do one of my favourite meditative walks. I had sat for a quite a while on the edge of the promontory of Croft Ambrey overlooking the Vale of Wigmore. The air was misty and I could not see much beyond the nearest fields below me, certainly not to the middle distant hills and beyond into Wales. It was pleasantly mild and dry. Walking down off the hill, through the woods and then the parkland was a perfect way to end the day and to slow down and forget the world around me. I found a slow pace that showed no need for hurry or care about what I should do next. Just one slow step at a time. Looking. Observing. Listening, smelling. Sensing. With the distant view obscured by the mist I have to look close around me. To the trees, the fungi, the ferns, the colours, the brambles. As I have mentioned in other posts I just love looking closely at the natural world. Not always understanding it from a scientific point of view, but admiring it for its colours, shapes, forms, patterns etc.

High up on one of the conifers a crow caws. A deep loud crackly caw that echoes through the mist and the trees. I can barely see it, high up on an uppermost branch, a back shape amongst the blackness of the trees. It seems small and yet it's call is so loud, piercing the diminishing evening light and the misty space over the acres of newly felled trees. In the surrounding trees of the woodland edges that are still standing I can here the evening chattering of blackbirds, the occasional wren and the inevitable high picked cheeps of what are probably gold crests or tits. I think there should be a new word for these unseen small birds that inhabit woodland like this. I never quite know what they are but they are just small cheepy things.

I always enjoy this walk because it speaks to me of returning to civilisation after a venture into the wilderness. A sense of homecoming after a time away. A sense of saying goodbye to nature and saying hello to my normal world again. I never tire of this place and hope that I will be back many times in the future. It isn't MY land as such as I claim no ownership to it whatsoever, but it is a special place to me psychologically and spiritually. With thanks to the National Trust I am able to enjoy this place with freedom and find a sense of ownership and attachment to it though the inspiration I find here.



Hopton Titterhill Quarry



I have been to the top of this hill in Shropshire many times but haven't really walked around its lower edge. On the northern side lies an old quarry and yesterday I sat there a while to do a quick sketch. Some long-tailed tits passed by and one of them flitted around some of the seed heads of wood sage which had grown abundantly on the waste rocks. These are one of my favourite birds and they are always a pleasure to watch and listen out for as they flock together and move around the landscape chirping.


Darkness

find myself back on Hopton Titterhill in Shropshire on a late November night. It feels uncharacteristicly warm with a soft gentle breeze and there is no need for a coat. It is dry, but misty and overcast. I have been up here on moonlit nights and seen the landscape for miles around me but tonight it feels quite different. There is a heavy silence amongst the trees apart from a slight murmur of the conifers. I have to make a phone call and I almost feel ashamed to be speaking out loud. I am so conscious of every sound I make and so speak in a soft voice almost as if I don't want anyone to hear me and yet there are no people around to listen in. I go on a short walk and almost feel deafened by my munching on a chocolate digestive biscuit. It becomes all I can hear and I horridly finish my snack so that I can be aware of the subtleties of my surroundings. I venture along a track and out into a field. I had been planning to go for a longish night walk all week but, now I am here, the darkness forms an almost impenetrable blanket and I somehow don't feel confident to safely walk very far - and I haven't got a torch. Why? Well it feels wrong to use one when there is natural light at night; it pushes the night-time experience into the shadows and also immediately announces where I am to anyone for miles around.

I stand in the field and look around me. All the trees and hedgerow vegetation are just a solid, indefinable matt black. The sky, track and field are just a subtle shade lighter. It is almost impossible to make out and define any objects right in front of me and I have to feel my way over a gate and fence. We always seem to want to push darkness out of our lives and, when it is present, fill it with uncertainty, story, fantasy and fear. My mind is full of past images from films and tv and I have to try and reassign these thoughts to the back of my mind and readjust to being in a landscape that is exactly the same as it is during the light of day but just has the absence of light. We take night and day for granted but here I just want to experience and appreciate the difference that, out here, isn't defined by man-made time-keeping and calendars but is a natural phenomena that our planet experiences.

Owls hoot and screech in the woods. I always seem to hear them here. An occasional aeroplane rumbles far above me but otherwise it does feel awfully quiet.


Sunday, 16 November 2014

Pied Wagtail



This picture was inspired by a large pile of muck piled high on the edge of a harvested maize field near Wrest Park. I caught a brief glimpse of a pied wagtail moving around the heap and alighting briefly on one of the cut maize stems with the muck heap behind. I took a few photos and worked this sketch up quickly at home. The photos on the iPad didn't produce realistic colours so this turned into a slightly abstract piece.


Autumn Yellows

A path through the woods near Wrest Park, Bedfordshire. Sketched on a walk - loved all the bright yellow leaves. 


Oak




It isn't often I come across very old oak trees in this part of the country, but today I visited one near Wrest Park. With a trunk diameter of around 5ft this was once a very large tree but at some time in the past it had lost its uppermost branches above about 12ft leaving only a single main leaf bearing trunk continuing upwards of about 1 ft diameter and 25ft or so above that. What struck me was the the old craggy bark on the shaded side of the tree. It's age was very apparent by the deep ruts and distortions of the bark. I spent some time looking closely at this world of mosses, lichens and spiders and wished I had a magnifying glass. Various areas of the bark had evolved into different ecosystems possibly determined by light, shade, moisture, orientation, level of decay etc and this was marked by differences in the colours of the greens of the surface plant life. Where moses were covering the wood there was a dominant dark green. For lichens it was more of a pale whitish green and in areas of algae a more bright fluorescent like green. A rich brown dust covered some areas possibly due to the actions of woodpeckers delving into the rotten areas to find food. This is an incredible landscape that I am touching and exploring and which I am sure most people over the years have just walked by without giving it a second glance. I am reminded how in the past day or so man has managed to land a spacecraft on a comet orbiting Jupiter - on a surface that probably looks not too dissimilar in places. It is also amazing to realise that, from one perspective, these two very different places 300 million miles apart are connected through being a part of the universe. They were ultimately birthed in the same place, made of similar materials and are part of the natural world.

The wood here is incredibly still today. It is an overcast day, not cold, but no breeze at all. Even the last few very uppermost leaves are not perceptively moving. Tits, crows and the background rumble from a busy main road are the only sounds. How different a wood like this would be in the wind. There are, I think, several other trees like this in the woods and I expect at one time they stood in open parkland as the surrounding woodland (coppice?) grew up around them.


Thursday, 13 November 2014

Abundance



Reflections on Jesus feeding the 4000 (Mark 8: 1-10)

The performing of a miracle in this passage is well known but it wasn't this as such that caught my attention when looking at it recently. To me, this was a parable about the earth having sufficient resources to supply our needs if they are well managed and administered. The desire to be fed is a basic human need and here we have a large crowd who, having followed Jesus for several days, were no doubt hungry - hungry on several levels: spiritually, physically and certainly hungry out of curiosity. For me, this was an opportunity for Jesus to be a spiritual symbol of the earth that sustains all life. Here, He is able to produce and provide food for those around Him. The loaves and the fish become a sacred embodiment of the body of Jesus that is shared amongst others. This is a Communion service.  The food becomes a symbol of life, faith and of the provision of sustenance. It is a sign of the miraculous wonder of the ability of the earth around us to feed its people. All people are fed by the disciples and there is more that is leftover. This provision of food is well managed. It is amazing that a little can be so very productive and satisfying. This mirrors many ecological or garden habitats and permaculture ideas where the productivity of small area of land can be very high if well managed. This is a lesson against global exploitation and resource depletion.

A concurrent thought flowing along side this for me was about a 'Jesus Supermarket' mentality. Jesus is often seen as The leader, The answer to all problems, The answer to the provision of all our needs. Just like a big shopping trip to a local supermarket where we can buy all that we need to sustain us in our consumerist lifestyle, so we can see Jesus as performing a similar function. This can be good as long as we keep a healthy perspective. Sometimes it can be good to step away from an expectation of getting all we need, to put away the shopping list of requests and take a different look at what it is we really want or need.


Saturday, 8 November 2014

Swing

An autumnal sketch. I'm struggling to get the right lines that I want on the iPad - drawing on paper has much more freedom but at least I can play around with colours and textures easily.



Sunday, 2 November 2014

Windy Hill


Drew this from memory after a bike ride this morning. Cycled out to just beyond Warden Hill, north of Luton, and sat on a hill top looking back over the landscape reaching gently away below me. It was a showery and very blustery day but not too cold and I was able to lie on the grass in my well done up coat looking over the fields and feel fairly cosy. I had thought of doing a sketch whilst there but somehow I just wanted to sit and enjoy just being out in the wind and enjoy the space around me without having to feel obliged to create something.


Saturday, 1 November 2014

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Coffee Pot



Drew this picture to celebrate our new high table and stools that we now use for breakfast and lunches in our utility room overlooking the garden.


Friday, 24 October 2014

Box of White Flowers


A quick sketch of the gardener with a box of white flowers to plant out in the walled garden.


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Silver Birches


Three silver birch trees outside the garden tea rooms at Witley Court (Worcestershire). This was a bit of a quick playful experiment and I wasn't too sure where it would end up. It was beautifully sunny and I loved the horizontal stripes and textures on the tree trunks.


Witley Court woodland garden


This small, steep wooded garden valley at this English Heritage property looked beautiful this morning with bright sunlight highlighting leaves just beginning to turn colour and accentuating the greens of the lawn. Three alder trees stand in the forground by the edge of a small stream.


Autumn leaves


Autumn colours of hornbeams (I think) in the parkland at Croft Castle.


Croft Castle Tea Rooms


A very heavy rain shower forced me to take shelter in the tea room at Croft Castle (National Trust, Herefordshire). It was fairly empty before the lunchtime rush and I liked all the different colours of the bottles and things in the drinks cabinet.


"Look at Me".

The National Trust property, Croft Castle, is one of my favourite places to visit. Today found me sheltering in the cafe from a heavy rain shower and being inspired to draw the colourful drinks cabinet. The place was empty mid-morning, but at lunchtime it was packed out with visitors and I had to join a long queue to buy a BLT sandwich (which was worth the wait). I sat in the walled garden for a while and sketched the apple trees and then climbed up though Fishpool Valley up through the woods and onto the top of Croft Ambrey. The conifers have started to be felled here and a forestry machine was making short work of felling, cleaning and slicing the long tall trunks into shorter sections. The earlier mist of the morning had completely dissipated and there were magnificent views all over the Welsh borderland. As I walked back down to the castle the sunlight was spectacular. It was now late afternoon and the light was taking a golden turn beneath a clear sky. As the trees are well into turning colour, the scenery around me was spectacular. There was hardly any breeze and, with the sun low in the sky all colours, shapes and changes of light seemed to be accentuated to give a breathtaking beauty to everything.

If ever there could be a day in which Nature (God?) was saying "Look at Me" then today must be one of those days. It was day that brought a sea of mist, dramatic clouds and showers and a golden evening's sun. It showed me lots of wildlife from woodpeckers to deer. It showed me numerous different trees from the apple trees in the walled garden to the colourful hornbeams that I sketched. It showed me a landscape of hills and valleys. This was a reminder that we live on a planet where by the forces of nature will always continue to do their own thing. Mankind will, seemingly, never cease to evolve into a species that alienates itself from the natural world and seeks a selfish "I can do whatever I want" attitude with disregard for one another, other cultures and civilisations. We seem intent on destabilising communities and countries by greed, fundamentalism and selfish ideologies with no regard for a bigger Earthen picture or philosophy.

Sunrise, Hopton Titterhill, Shropshire.

The sheltered valley in the woods is surrounded by birdsong as I walk up Hopton Titterhill. It feels like a spring morning. As I climb higher through the trees their song gives way to the fine chirps of possibly tits and goldcrests that inhabit the conifers. I find a place to sit and I have only just got here in time.

The sky above is mainly a flat sheet of cloud with a few break here and there to the pale blueness above. This is reflected in the valley below me by a carpet of mist, an almost perfect blanket of white that fills the whole Vale of Wigmore and extends as far north as I can see up towards Church Stretton. It looks like a frozen lake before me, so distinct at its edges and so smooth. The sun, with a bright pale orange light, briefly emerges a little way above the horizon through a gap in the cloud layer lighting up the edges of the distant mist, before being shrouded in grey again.

The mist is moving slowly in the valley. All the hills above a certain hight have stood proud of the mist. Clunbury hill, that about ten minutes ago looked like a perfect island of green fields and topmost trees surrounded by water, has now almost vanished under a mist tsunami. The forecast had a been right to predict a mist and so I had anticipated a dull, damp morning with no promise of a sunset. This is magnificent. As I write, so Clunbury Hill has now reappeared again and the horizon is lit by golden rays of light emerging from the gently moving clouds. The light intensifies and I am now in morning sunshine. A the sunlight changes and evolves with the movement of the clouds so large areas of the sea of mist are lit up before me. These constantly move and change as it there is a giant spotlight that tracks over the landscape - randomly appearing in selected areas.

A greater spotted woodpecker taps away at on old tree stump about fifteen metres away. Small birds are chirping everywhere around me, unseen in the trees, and a blackbird sings out over the hillside. Later on I saw some deer on one of the forestry tracks.

During yesterday's long drive I was wondering whether I should make these trips in the future. When I spend my whole day glued to a computer screen it takes a while to adjust to this new perspective of being in the landscape. Sitting here, looking out over the mist and hills just forces me to stop and readjust to a different world.




Sunset on Black Hill, Clun.

It may have been a bit of a mistake to try and take a Friday afternoon off work today but I have been trying to get up to my homeland for a few weeks. I am, thankfully I suppose, incredibly busy at work and a major bit of work landed on my desk just a few hours before leaving which, because of the nature of it, ruffled a few of my feathers. Still, I sorted it all out by 2.15pm and then drove for just over three hours through showers and bright autumn sunshine up to Black Hill near Clun, Shropshire. A favourite parking place rewarded me with a place at which to cook tea and a have an extensive view over the Welsh hills to the sun on the horizon and the remainder of the storm clouds. I've watched several sunrises and sunsets here in the past and as I then walked up onto the hill I was rewarded with a gorgeous amber light, salmon clouds and a tranquil landscape. My focus for much of the past week has been intense concentration at my computer screen and now, here, I felt an openness and space that I have been longing several weeks for. After a short walk, the light seemed to be disappearing rapidly. It was a very still evening with just the gentlest of breezes beneath a clearing star-filled sky. It was cool but not at all cold. Where the sun had set some clouds had edges lined with deep pink and a little later there was a large block of deep grey shapes that lingered behind the distant hills. I wondered if they were rain clouds heading this way.

Saw a distant dear and a quick glimpse of what was possibly a woodcock silhouetted against the sky amidst some conifers. A tawny owl hoots and its call echoes throughout the woods. It is good to see the hills again; to smell the damp bracken; to see tall conifers; to hear the bleating of sheep in distant fields and to drive, twisting and turning along the step narrow lanes with revealing beautiful views. I see a shooting star in the sky and the gentle twinkling lights of very high aeroplanes. Condensation drips gently from trees around me. There is no total escape from noise of man though. I can hear the occasional car and the heavenly rumble of the aeroplanes.

I probably manage to get up here about once a year as it is on the distant edge of my homeland haunts. It is the conifers that seem to mark the passage of time more than most things for me. I notice their growth over the years and how felled areas are replanted and new trees fill the landscape. I look forward to the time when the trees around the car park at Hopton Hill are felled to reveal the views once again, but I think that may not be in my lifetime.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Beauty and Prayer. Part 2

This follows on from the previous post.

Prayer

What is prayer? I like this definition from the internet 'Prayer is, at root, simply paying attention to God' (Dr. Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of all desire). John O’Donohue calls prayer ‘A bridge between longing and belonging’.

I have thought a lot about beauty recently and now I have moved on to prayer. In many ways they are connected. Each is an expression of something desirable, something put right, something aesthetically pleasing. Each welcomes the desire to improve one's emotional balance. Each draws upon the soul to look outward into the world seek change.

Journal Notes

It is early on a late September morning and the sun has yet to break over the houses at the end of the garden. The sky is gradually brightening - an expanse of blue with a few high wisps of salmon pink clouds in the distance. It should be a bright day and I plan to go and spend a couple of hours just sitting on a local hilltop. A sort of mini retreat, and I will see what happens. I have no expectations. Being in Nature requires the suspension of expectation. I just need to let it ‘be’, for I cannot make anything happen. I am there to just let go and find a place from in which I can receive. I am not too sure whether I can really learn from Nature as such, but I feel I can definitely receive from a place that accepts my presence.

Prayer can possibly be said to begin with the placement of the self in the universe. The first thing that happens is that you acknowledge yourself. It is you that forms the starting point, you are the centre of what will follow. You are the initiator.

Can prayer happen without your presence? Can Nature pray in your absence? Imagine an empty cornfield. Where or when does prayer happen? I started to think that an empty field cannot pray but once I stand in that field then prayer will happen. It needs me to be the initiator and the focus or does it? My intention for the prayer is what matters. How does that prayer leave me and how does it affect the recipient of the prayer? How does what I am thinking about in that field touch something else? Can it? Will it? What are the factors that decide if, how and when a prayer will work?

What are the boundaries between my imagination and prayer? I could easily pray that a teleportation device would suddenly appear and by pressing a button I could be instantly transported back to my homeland. This is unlikely to happen and is this just wishful imagination? So does prayer then have to be something that could, in reality happen? I could pray for Alice in Wonderland to appear with a wonderful tea party accompanied by lots of English speaking animals. Well, this could happen, but not in the form that I imagine it. I could come up here one summer with my daughter with a few of her cuddly toys for a picnic. But then is there here just a wishful imagining of something that is based around a collection of varied subconscious thoughts that I have picked up over the past few weeks?

Prayer must be an idea about something that will manifest itself in someway though how it does so may not be quite as we expect it to. If there is a perceived answer to prayer then is it not just our consciousness taking note of something that may have actually occurred anyway? Is it just random whether prayer works or not? Is it just an over positive, intense emotional moment that affects us psychologically and alters mental processes in ways that could be construed as being attributed to a ‘spiritual’ moment.

Prayer is about me having particular thoughts and directing them at something. How can my thoughts influence something - say, internally for healing or externally to people or situations? And what about a group of people praying?

There is a hope that by praying there is a supernatural element that can change the ways the universe is. We pray because we want to change things around us that are unjust, unwell, painful etc. We have an emotional attachment to wanting to better our lives.

Back to the illustration of the field, I am in Nature, if I believe that Spirit is around me then I am not alone and I am part of a bigger picture and somehow I connect with that. I was born in to it and it sustains me. I cannot survive independently of nature.

Prayer is being in touch with beauty.
Notes made amongst the trees:
I've cycled to one of my regular haunts a wooded hill top where sycamore birch and ash form an open, spacious area. The tall slender trunks reach upwards to the high enveloping canopy. As a progression from the earlier thought of praying in an open field, I wondered how I would feel being in amongst the trees. I have enjoyed the freedom that is presented by open fields and hilltops before. Sometimes the liberated feel of the body away from any physical restriction is the right place to be in. Now I am exploring this patch of trees and wondering the following: does prayer exist here when there is no human present?

If I and nature are imbued with the same spirit then although I have a conscious mind and can entertain the concept of prayer, could not the trees around me also, in some way, be part of Nature's way of prayer - their presence being part of the eternal evolution of life on this planet.

In a place like this is am surrounded by objects of nature. Trees, grass, moss, fungi, nettles etc. Each is present as a thing of natural beauty and creation. When an empty field is transformed into such a tangible expression of creation, this is where life exists in proliferation. It is in our nature to fall in love with the trees and see them as a thing of beauty and as a multi-faceted resource. It is here, amongst the trees that I think the concept of prayer can be heightened.

In churches prayer is often expressed in groups of people. Here I am surrounded by other living non-persons, but could they not actually form the same function? Together with the trees I could pray. I could uses their symbolism and presence to help me form my prayers.
Here are some thoughts from Nimue Brown’s book (see Beauty and Prayer: Part 1)
'Essentially it is about entering a mystery, not getting a result.' John Pritchard, How to Pray, SPCK 2002.

'Prayer is, in essence, an attempt to start a conversation with something.’

'Much of the prayer work suggested by religious leaders, regardless of tradition, has nothing to do with petition. Prayer is more about entering into a relationship with the divine, being open to the voice of the spirit; open to direction and inspiration. Prayer is an invitation to the numinous to enter your life.'

'The important thing ... is being open to, and aware of, something beyond us. We break down the privacy of the world inside pour skulls, a little. Something else is then able to get in ... The actual existence of things beyond us. We might then learn to empathise with that which is not us, and start to care about it.'

'Everything we do brings us in contact with other living beings ... Everything we do automatically engages us with other manifestations of spirit. Everything is about such relationship and it all brings scope for meaningful exchange. If everything we do becomes prayer, then we should be listening to what is around us, with the intention to walk more lightly, cause less harm, use less, and live more harmoniously.'

What to pray for? Nimue sees much petition prayer as inappropriate because of the way it excuses the prayer from taking responsibility for their actions; it can be just an ego boost and a desire for a quick-fix, much like the modern consumerist culture we live in expects of us. We should pray more respectfully for:

Gratitude: our existence and expanding out to every part of our lives. That which hurts and challenges us can also help us to grow... these are the things that shape us. Look for what seems especially good, beautiful or precious... Seeing the good, responding to it, praising, appreciating and supporting, all help to make life that bit better for ourselves and others.

Strength and gratitude: although with petition prayer, if the solutions are given to us then we do not learn or grow, this can be useful. Asking for strength to endure, and the means to do the necessary work, is not about getting off lightly. It is about developing a quality of self.

Inspiration: as with the above, this is not a petition to get out of something. Inspiration solves problems, but does not take them away. Inspiration reduces insurmountable obstacles to hills we can feasibly climb. Inspiration allows us to look properly at the rock and the hard place, and respond by growing some wings.

Relationship: a way of seeking connection. We can pray to reach out, from a desire to experience, understand, learn and be changed by what we encounter.

Healing: prayers that seek to find a good way through. May be more effective than those that assume we know what the best method or outcome should actually be. Sometimes the most useful thing to do is to seek insight, not solutions.

Awen
There is a concept in Druidry of the idea of Awen which I like. I feel I can more easily identify with it as a Holy Spirit concept because it talks in a language that I identify with more easily. It is less paternalistic and personified (I am not a people person as such so this is more comfortable in my mind) and more in tune with a sense of creativity, inspiration, mystery and beauty. Here are a few random definitions from the internet:
‘Awen is the wisdom, truth and most of all the inspiration, Awen is Nature, the universal power behind life, yet it is never born and shall never die. Awen is a force or energy forged from an indivisible source that is the power behind the physical and non-physical or spirit forms Existence, and distinction between the natural and the super-natural becomes meaningless, as both are the personification of Awen Every link which is a part of nature, be it a man, animal, plant or elemental force, each holds its own little piece and together make up the whole chain which is Awen. Awen is the spirit of Druidy itself, it is knowing, sensing and feeling it in your essence and true being, it is the freedom to accept ones nature.(http://www.freewebs.com/nexusdruids/awen.htm)’

‘Loosely translated from Welsh, it means flowing spirit, or flowing inspiration. We know that it is a flowing spirit, a kind of life essence, a source of spiritual strength, prophetic insight and poetic inspiration.’

‘It is an awareness, not just on a physical and mental level but on a soul deep level – an awareness of the entirety of existence, of life itself.  It is seeing the threads that connect us all.  It is the deep well of inspiration that we drink from, to nurture our souls and our world and to give back in joy, in reverence, in wild abandon and in solemn ceremony.’



Beauty and Prayer. Part 1

Over the past few months I have been journaling as often as I can as part of a self-initiated healing programme to help me overcome anxiety issues. Two recurring themes seem to have presented themselves to me: the concepts of beauty and of prayer. I have come to see these two as being intrinsically connected to each other and what follows is a brief exploration of this.

The following books more eloquently expand various ideas and philosophies regarding beauty and prayer and have been helpful to me on this journey:
‘Timeless Beauty’ by John Lane, Green Books Ltd, 2003 (An artist takes a philosophical and cultural look at beauty)
‘Divine Beauty’ by John O’Donohue, Bantam, 2004 (A Catholic Scholar explores the human desire to belong)
‘Eternal Echoes’ by John O’Donohue, Perenial (Harper Collins), 2002 9(A Catholic Scholar explores divine beauty)
‘When a Pagan Prays’ by Nimue Brown, Moon Books, 2014 (A Druid takes an interfaith look at prayer and wonders why it works. An interesting look at prayer from a sceptics viewpoint covering prayer meaning, function, ethics, practice etc. I may not agree with all of it, but it was a refreshing look at prayer from a different and often useful perspective)
Some quotes to start with:
‘The human soul is hungry for beauty; we seek it everywhere - in landscape, music, art, clothes, furniture, gardening, companionship, love, religion and in ourselves. No-one would desire not to be beautiful. When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming. Some of our most wonderful memories are of beautiful places where we felt immediately at home. We feel most alive in the presence of the Beautiful for it meets the needs of our soul. ..... The Beautiful stirs passion and urgency in us and calls forth from aloneness into the warmth and wonder of an eternal embrace. It unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life.’ John O’Donohue, Divine Beauty.

‘For whatever we believe, beauty-beauty ‘whereof one cannot speak’-remains unchallenged as a fact of everyday experience. We can see it, we can feel it, we can know it as a sensuous reality that accompanies us throughout life. It is something we encounter on street corners, in public buildings, waiting for a train or looking up from a book. We can also know that there is nothing so inspirational, nothing so transfiguring, nothing so noble, nothing so elevating as transient beauty. But its origins, its significance and destination must remain a mystery. ... For a century or more it seems that we have been running away from silence, stillness and beauty. For all that time, modernity has engendered a culture that trivializes and feeds our discontent .... it is too seldom that we pay attention to the beauty of things. In the frantic unending hustle of contemporary urban life, it is easy to become unaware of the possibilities of acceptance-a total acceptance- of things as they are-just life as it is. .... We need to practice a new way of looking at nature: not to learn about her, but to learn from her. .... For it is a fact that our crisis is one of the psyche, not politics, nor economics, technology and the environment. It is not only the Earth but we who need to be healed-to become whole again. The quest for beauty can make a significant contribution to that healing. For the love of beauty heals and comforts, nourishes and inspires. It absolves and celebrates. It can help us recover our dignity. It is the bridge between time and eternity, earth and heaven’. John Lane, Timeless Beauty.
Here are some edited notes from my journal where I first started to think about beauty:
... I need to relax into my artwork. I can find it hard to relax and focus on things, there must be a way to do it and I should find that way. Keep it simple and all will be revealed. I wonder what I can draw? I wonder what I can create and I wonder how the elements can fit together? Beauty in the time here writing and beauty in the page before me. Beauty is everything, because beauty comes from God.

God and the beautiful reside together. Is that what I want: to find a connection between beauty, God and my artwork? So what is beautiful? Is God beautiful? God created everything and so created beauty. Thus God must know beauty. God must know the Original Blessing - that blessing was was bestowed amongst us in Jesus - His Son was beauty personified. Beauty and pain, peace and war - the juxtaposition of elements - anything can be beautiful in the right context.

In this place I pray for healing. I pray that as I discover beauty so I will discover healing. Beauty is healing - it is the opposite of pain - and healing can be found in the beauty of pain. Pain can be beautiful as can be the release from that pain. All that I create should be beautiful. When I begin to see beauty within me and in my art then I will begin to see God at work. Then God will be my healer.

On holiday in Wales I was awakened to seeing so much beauty around me and I wanted to reach out and touch it. It wasn’t just the landscape that I liked though. I was more inspired by the way that people find a need to make their surroundings aesthetically pleasing. For me it was a moment of having my eyes opened to this desire we all seem to have - to plant window boxes, to put up pictures and to improve our immediate surroundings. I want to create beauty.

“Recognise the beauty around around you and your pain will go. Recognise that you are a thing of beauty - part of the Original Blessing and thus always good. Find those things that are beautiful to you and use them to inspire your art. Make mistakes and yet persevere in all that you do. Relax into it and see where you are lead.”

I have wondered where one draws the line as to what is and isn’t beautiful. Usually it is matter of perspective by the onlooker. I recognise that there are times when there is deep trauma, pain, hurt and suffering where beauty seems to be absent and this just as to be accepted as part of the great mystery of life and existence. Nimue Brown talks about nature [and therefore I take it that means the whole of the Created world] being ‘good’. This is a challenging concept for it then implies that death, violence, suffering, disease and decay are all necessary parts of nature. It accepts that life includes all of the bits we don’t like. There are no optional things, nor irritations we should be able to get rid of, it is all intrinsic to existence. To ask God to release us from things is asking God for something for nothing. We just want to rely on God to get us out of a situation and to take no personal responsibility for anything that happens. We can do what we like, therefore why care? God will sort it out. Why bother living, I say? She also asks why does God let certain events happen? Well, what about the events God may have prevented from happening that we, no doubt, know nothing about?

When thinking about beauty I realised how similar it was to prayer in many aspects. Both are ways in which we seek the transformation of ourselves or our surroundings into something more aesthetically pleasing or that gives a positive transformation to some person, thing or event. It seems to be something that is ingrained in our psyche. Whether we are brushing our hair, hanging a picture on a wall or admiring a landscape, we are looking for a way of finding an emotional bond with something and increasing our identity and place in the world around us.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Inspiration flows

Over the past couple of months or so my journaling has taken me on an exploration of the concept of beauty and this has now progressed into me rethinking or perhaps, more more correctly, establishing my thoughts on prayer. This has rather distracted me from my drawing but, as I am presently so busy at work, it is a welcome use of another part of my brain. Once I have written something I am happy with then I will post it here. I just need to make sure that what I post is a well thought out and valuable article. I definitely feel 'inspired' to spend time on this at the moment and it will be a big dip into some spiritual thoughts that fit in with the essence of my previous writings.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Blackberries

Went out for a bike ride today and came across a hedgerow overloaded with blackberries. The photo shows just a small portion of the bountiful offering.


Saturday, 6 September 2014

Hitchin

A quick sketch from my drawing pad made this morning in Hitchin. It is a little rough and wonky but I was quite pleased with the result. 


Saturday, 30 August 2014

Wrest Park, Bedfordshire

Had an enjoyable day cycling to Wrest Park today and doing a little bit of sketching on the iPad. Here is an old gate post almost hidden amongst some blackthorn bushes and a couple of sketches made in the cafe.




Monday, 25 August 2014

Two for lunch

A wet Bank Holiday Monday found me having coffee in a certain department store cafe. This scene of two girls and a double buggy caught my eye. I thought they looked quite bedded down for a while so I scribbled away on the iPad and and at one stage got so focused on some detail that I failed to see them get up and go. When I next looked up they had gone and I had to fill in the other half of the sketch by guesswork. I am finding that sketching with my sketchpad is currently more enjoyable, but I am trying to keep setting myself challenges on the iPad. One advantage of working on the iPad is that people can't so easily see what you are doing!


Womb of Rain

August Bank Holiday Monday and it poured with rain all day. A walk through a deserted local park found me walking under some large trees that provided some shelter and for an hour or so this evening I was in the shed listening to the rain drumming on the metal roof. Both of these events reminded me of some of my journal writing from a couple of weeks ago. The following is adapted from the pages I wrote that evening:

This [the shed] is a place of peace and the rain is pouring down outside quite heavily. I am sure it is not just a shower and a strong breeze flows through the garden. It all sounds beautiful [a word that I am dwelling on quite a bit in my thoughts] and the rain is getting heavier and the sound louder. My thoughts are almost becoming drowned out by the torrential downpour and the breeze blowing in through the open door carries smell of damp earth and vegetation. And I just want to write about this beautiful place as the rain thunders down. I remember being up on a hill near Leintwardine sheltering in some old isolated farm buildings during a rain storm. I was outside - but in a place of shelter. Somewhere where I could experience the elements of nature and have my senses awakened to the weather but yet be out of the wind and in the dry. There are many times when I have enjoyed sitting in the car either at lunchtime or when out and about and and it has rained. The sound of rain is all dimensional - all around me - almost comforting as if I am in a womb of safety. I have never thought back to how I might have felt in my mother’s womb before. Of course, I don’t consciously remember it but there must be some vestigial sub-conscious recollection of those formative first nine months of my life. It must have been an odd feeling to be surrounded by water, not breathing, but yet to be alive. It is amazing how we start off our lives surrounded by water yet as soon we are born that environment can be deadly to us as well as water being vital for the continuation of life.

My future lies in the outside rain, in the seasons, but at the moment I just listen to the rain - the sound of it on the roof, dripping off plants and flowing in the gutters. Here I am in the dry - sheltering from the outside elements - like a baby in a womb.


Thursday, 21 August 2014

Dipper Song

The first morning of bright sunshine since we arrived by the river nearly a week ago finds me walking across heavily dew-laden grass down to the river bank. I've not often stayed for a lengthy of time by a river and the constant background tumbling of water over rounded stones is something that has taken a while to get used to. It is a sound that overrides some of the more subtle countryside voices and I am more used to tuning into stillness and silence. There is a constant energy to the flowing water that I am not sure I find relaxing. 

I have made many visits to the water's edge to try and understand the language of the river and see what it might teach me but I am not sure I have really bonded with the place.

Today, the light is bright and the air fresh with summer coolness with the promise of a fine day ahead. As I approach the river I hear the distinctive song of a dipper. Subtle and tuneful, a constant warbling that seems to mimic and merge with the chattering from the river. It can't be far from me and I search along the bank whilst standing motionless. Then I spot the stark bright whiteness of the dippers bib - its dark body merges with the stone backdrop. It bobs around the rocks and then moves out into the shallows and feeds, half submerged in the water. Soon it is joined by a companion and eventually they fly off, skimming the surface of the water upstream.

I look out again and see, about 400 yards downstream on the riverbank a tall slender white object standing in the sunshine. A heron. And then, I see something moving in the water just beyond that. I think it is an otter, but at that distance I am not sure. It certainly isn't the mink we saw here a few days ago. A hurriedly fetched daughter and a pair of binoculars reveals it is a duck, but I am not sure exactly what it is as it quickly disappears. Heron and daughter disappear too and I am left by myself with the river and dippers again. 

The river is a place where there are varied interactions between light and water. A few days ago I was down here in evening watching the sun set between the remains of rain clouds. The sky was full of various patches of pale orange whee the sun light was filtering through gaps in the heaven grey clouds. The river was flowing away from me directly in line with the sun and so this light was reflected in the ripples on the water. It looked beautiful and it felt a privilege to witness this combination of events. Each part of the river looks different depending on how it is observed. I. The shallows before me I can see through the trees to the pebbles about a foot below the water's surface. Elsewhere all the light is reflected off the surface to give a silvery shimmering where the water flows over the shallow rapids. Under the trees in the distance the water looks almost black.

The river is an interesting place. It is always here and yet the water is always on the move and never in the same place again. It is always different. Its calm serenity can give way to viscous flooding. Even in the past few days with just a little rainfall I have observed the height rise and drop again. It is a place of continuous energy, power and change.


River Sunset

A very quick sketch made by the bank of a river near Dolgellau at sunset.


Monday, 18 August 2014

Barmouth, Wales


The harbour made a pleasing place to sit for a while today and do some sketching. For a change I ignored the people around me and concentrated my attention on a pen and ink illustration of the sea-front buildings.

A reasonably warm day had brought out the holiday makers who filled the pavements with their chatter, ice-creams and fish and chips. Sea-gulls eagerly pulled at discarded polystyrene food cartons in order to find any remaining scraps of food. The high street was a busy mix of traffic and people dipping curiously into the many varied shops, many of whom adorned the pavement or shop fronts with tantalising merchandise. As with most sea-side towns it was the shops selling the must-have cheap and cheerful beach wear, bucket and spades and toys that seemed to shout out loudest for attention. All the plastic in the brightest colours you could ever want could be bought there. 

Did I really want to walk past the shops and sidestep burger filled holiday makers for a third time that day? Instead I turned up a small path that lead between two shops and climbed the steep hill that rises sharply upwards behind the town. I entered a different world. Suddenly silence appeared and the hustle, bustle and smell of hot people and streets was gone. Before me was a maze of small paths and steps climbing steeply before me. Slate steps worn smooth by generations of people, high walls that hid tiny gardens and houses that seemed to be tucked into any conceivable nook and cranny of the very steep hillside. There were no roads between the houses, just a maze of paths leading in varied directions. This was a place of angles, curves, twisty tight paths, unexpected corners, ivy covered walls, metal handrails and stunning views. I was surrounded by the architecture of old cottages, weaving stone walls, tumbling steps, rooftops, and chimney pots - all creating an amazing feast for an artists eye.

Everywhere I looked, the greyness of the slate was broken up ivy, hydrangeas, and numerous other seaside loving plants. Colour from wild and garden flowers flecked the walls, gardens and paths. Following on from my previous post about the Centre for Alternative Technology, I made a conscious note of how much the people living here had changed the environment around their homes by adding pots and planters of flowers, garden furniture, driftwood, decorative features and so much more to brighten up the small spaces that were theirs. We have a deep need, wherever possible, to bring nature and/or something aesthetically pleasing into our lives. We seem to want to make some sort of statement - for ourselves and that can be appreciated by other people. I wonder why we do this? Is it that we are attempting to create something we find beautiful? To satisfy a need for fulfilling a positive emotion? Down in the town there was the need to seek gratification for our consumerist and social desire for food, shopping and holiday pleasures. Yet just a few yards away was a world that reminded me of the deep connection that the history of the place has with the landscape. There was the slate industry that created much of this landscape; the steepness of the hill side and the precarious nature of building on the steep hillside reflected the harsh climate, the ruggedness of the people and a community full of history. Looking down at the buildings below me there were many more modern buildings that looked so out of place amidst the traditional architecture that if I were a planner I would not have allowed them to be built nowadays. Not many people would venture up these steps as I did today, but I just took a 'what if' step and it changed the whole view of my visit to the town.

Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth


A recent visit to this place left me very inspired. Although I was interested in the place scientific and sustainability point of view I came away from the place with ideas that were very much in keeping with the way my illustration work is developing. I have been intrigued by the concept of beauty recently and have just begun reading 'Timeless Beauty' John Lane which I purchased at the above place. At CAT my attention was drawn to the great amount of wood that was used in the construction of various buildings as well as for decorative architectural use, sculptures, fencing, garden features etc. It was a good reminder of just how versatile the material is for construction purposes from plant holders to high tech modern building design. I was also interested to see how plants were integrated into the environment either in the organic gardens, the poly tunnels, the forest garden or just wherever they happened to grow. Everything that was growing seemed healthy, lush and full of life and colour.

I found the place quite beautiful and I wondered what it was exactly that I was picking up that caught my attention. I like to see plants growing, yes, but somehow, when plants are growing in conjunction with other inanimate objects then the capacity to arouse a pleasurable response is greatly increased. For example: a wheel barrow and a pot of flowers look fine on their own, but place the flowers in the wheelbarrow and have them all tumbling over the edge creates a visible impression on a different level. It is almost like the feeling one gets when seeing something young and cute perhaps. I'm not quite sure what it is, but it may be the juxtaposition of the natural against something that is often man-made, but not necessarily so. We like to grow plants in pots, over arches, to walls, in old boots, in fancy containers... There is just something about plants that they can so easily create a visual statement when grown in particular ways. At CAT there was so much that caught my eye. There were the structural forms that had been created out of natural resources blending in with the natural growth of vegetables, fruit flowers and wild plants. Nature will always try and reclaim back what was hers. We cannot live in isolation from nature.

I could have spent many hours there drawing as I loved the wild lines, shapes and forms that had evolved in the place over the years. I took some photos to remind me of what I had seen and will feed some new concepts into my illustrations.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Mandala

Something a little different: a mandala I created to explore visually an idea of healing that arose in my daily journalling.


Round the Tree

Following on from yesterday's blog where I joined a group of people at the start of the Rhythms of the World Festival in Hitchin to do a spot of drumming, this has now been drawn.


Saturday, 2 August 2014

Rhythms of the world

Around the friendly tree we sit
Thirty faithful souls all join
With hearts and drums on a summer's eve
To pray for goodwill and worldly peace.

Tomorrow the festival starts anew
But now we meet to share the space
Amidst flowers, wood and inspiring art
We join together; woman, man and child.

Drum song forms and fills the air
Rhythms merge with energy and pace
A barefoot dancer circles the tree
In unity with drums our prayers released.

Lawnmower


This stunning piece of creativity caught my eye at the Rhythms of the World festival in Hitchin. It is an excellent example of horticulture being mixed with mechanical nostalgia and evokes in me all sorts of ideas and possibilities. I have occasionally broken out of 2-dimenasional limitations of illustration and ventured into the realm of garden sculptures but only with bits of wood and stone. I do have lots of possible bigger ideas floating around of what I could possibly do but I never spend the time, energy and resources in putting anything in practice. Mainly because it takes just that: time, energy and resources in sourcing materials etc. Perhaps this is now an inspiration to go out and do something constructive.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Harvest

A delightful selection of vegetables harvested either from the allotment or from the garden a few days ago. I am probably going to give up the allotment because it is easier and more time efficient to grow things in our new garden.


Sunday, 27 July 2014

Rosebay Willowherb and Gatekeeper Butterfly


One of my favourite flowers grows alongside a bridleway near Preston (Herts). Today I sketched some rosebay willowherb that was growing up to around 8ft high amongst some bracken and brambles. The four petaled pale pink flowers with four deep magenta sepals form at the top of a long single stem that was pale green on the underside and a deep red on the upper or sun-facing side. The long slender leaves vary in shade from dark to lime green - often tinged with yellow and with bright red tips. The colours are very vivid if you look close up. The flower spikes reach up above me and when flowering has finished the 10cm or so long seed pods develop which gradually split open from the bottom of the flower spike upwards to reveal the tiny brown seeds on delicately thin silky threads (apparently up to 80,000 per plant). They seem to grown well here but I don't remember the soil having been disturbed for many years.

The brambles seem very rampant this year. The long, strong growing stems seem to be on a mission escape the hedgerow and arc out over the bridleway. The blackberries in front of me are still a deep red and only a few have begun to turn black. A gatekeeper butterfly lands on some of the flowers and sits long enough for me to take the attached photo.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Gardener

Thought I would spend some time drawing on the iPad today and this appeared after a few hours.


Swifts and Stories

Swifts are ‘screaming’ above me as they dart though the warm July evening sky. I am inspired by the speed and agility of these birds that are rarely seen in close up. I wonder how they perceive the world around them? When I watch small birds and insects moving with such apparent speed relative to their size it almost seems as though they adhere to different laws of physics. They seem to be able to process information about their position in their environment so much more quickly than we humans can. They can run, fly or move with lightening agility between, what might seem to us if we were that size, such difficult terrain. I know that it is probably all down to ratios of size and mass and other things, but even so their perception of their environment must be quite different to ours. At the other end of the scale are plants and trees. How do they interpret their environments? I am not sure I would really class them as conscious individuals but they are still seen by us in human terms as living things. For an old oak tree living for potentially several hundred years in one place there is not the need to rush around like an ant might do on the woodland floor, but it still is ‘aware’ of its environment in terms of light, shade, moisture, nutrient availability etc and is able to adapt to changes where necessary.

Our perception of the world is unique in the way that we as human kind sees it and also how we see it as individuals. Our lives are spent trying to make sense of the earth we walk and attempting to build a sustainable life for as long as possible. On our journeys we each build upon our unique personal story and it is that story that creates a framework for how we view our lives too. Like all other living things we have to find food and shelter and yet we have evolved to do so much more. We have become a species that seeks constant innovation: the desire to better our place in the world. These are our own individual stories.

I have returned to my journaling again. This is an exercise in writing three pages of A4 longhand each day on anything that springs to mind. My motivation this time is to seek healing from what I think is a partly anxiety related illness. I have had chronic tummy problems since childhood and I decided to revisit my writing as a way of opening up a communication with myself and to try and break out of some boundaries that were closing in.

After a month and a half of writing two of the themes that have emerged are these: the need to recognise that each of us (humans and others) has a story - a story that has shaped the way that we think, act and live. Perhaps I don’t always recognise the stories that shape and form others around me. Also, I am trying to revisit my spiritual life. This has struggled a little recently due to a lack of suitable inspiration and motivation, but now that the summer is here I feel more refreshed and willing to explore a few things.

My personal artwork had to take a back step whilst I began the journaling. I can’t do everything I want to do and I have a whole bunch of ideas that I am awaiting to forge into something cohesive.

When meditating and appreciating Nature, observation and reflection comes alongside slowness and being more aware of the environment around me. There is an appreciation of space: the empty space and the space taken up by the humans and non-humans who belong in it. There is a language of discovery, a sense of beauty and awe and a feeling of belonging in the natural world. This is part of my story and after a good few years on this earth I feel I should open the doors and walk out again and discover new things. For me, it is a slow process. Things happen over weeks and months, time is almost like a natural time - a time that flows differently from the minutes and hours that govern commercial deadlines and the demands of family life. Like an oak tree that stands in a field, I just need to wait and see what happens.



Saturday, 19 July 2014

Spaces



A light summer rain delicately touches the many trees around me. Through the warm summer air the faint drops of water fall - just enough to create a softness of sound that fills the space. The diverse shapes and greenness of the many trees in the ornamental park form a frame for my field of view with a water lily filled pond and a soft close-mown lawn before me. Wood pigeons coo amongst hidden branches and tits and blackbirds flit here and there. A few butterflies, undeterred by the rain, create the only other movement on the otherwise motionless vista. Meadowsweet, one of my favourite wild flowers, borders the pool with splashes of cream. I love to perceive spaces around me. It is not just the observation that inspires me but the sense that I can sort of feel the whole 3-dimensional existence of the space. I can sense the shape and form of all that is around me and imagine that I am like a bird: able to fly and explore the space rather than being limited to the static place from which I observe. I suppose it is like imagining an out of body experience where it is possible to float up, touch the top most leaves of a tree and experience the place from all angles. There is so much to look at. I always remember as a child being fascinated by looking out of large windows onto the garden. I could sit for hours and just look. There is none of the draw that digital media exerts whereby emotions and adrenaline are fuelled by the desire to know everything about the world and who is doing what, when and to whom. This takes a different sort of seeing and fulfils a different visual and psychological appetite.

Why does this being still and just looking appeal to me? It is a form of meditation that requires me to forget who I am and experience the presence of 'others'. I have been thinking a lot in my daily journalling about the idea of beauty and awe. It is something that I am learning to find in everyday things around me, not just the big and wonderful. To me there is almost more beauty and awe to be found in a roadside verge than in a stunning Lake District view. Places where nature is visibly evolving in ecosystems independent of man's involvement.

The sketch of the tree was just a bit of playing around on the iPad when I arrived here. As I look around me I am deeply aware of the colours and patterns made by the different component parts of the vegetation. I notice how each of the plants occupies their particular space and habitat around the pond. The rain has stopped now and the light is brightening. I wonder what I can learn from this place? I want to walk out and dance barefoot on the soft damp green grass before me and experience the freedom the space provides. And you know what? After a week of being sat in front of a computer screen in a stuffy office I am going to do just that!


Roses at Wrest Park

Working on the iPad is so different to using my sketchbook. Although the lines are often not as accurate as if drawn with a pen on paper, the freedom to use varied line widths is a great advantage. Today I cycled to Wrest Park and enjoyed a god day sketching and writing there. 


Saturday, 5 July 2014

Fire



The evening is warm, but the overcast sky and brisk breeze brings with it a hint of possible rain. The light is fading as I pull an old wheelbarrow to in front of the summerhouse whose doors are open to welcome the summer night. The barrow has a layer of bricks in the bottom and on these I have built a fire with logs from the woodpile. The fire is lit and it takes only a few minutes before the logs are well ablaze and flames are reaching up warms with wild energy. Sparks occasionally jump out and add to the spectacle. As the darkness draws in so the firelight warms the woodwork of the summerhouse with a deep orange glow and the fire settles to a gentle steady burn that takes all possibility of a slight chill away. 

The garden feels incredibly peaceful. The low roar of the gentle flames is reflected in the sound of the background town traffic. Not far way the peace is broken by the crackle of some fireworks - presumably a small celebratory display of some sorts. Apart from this my peace is undisturbed. 

With me I have my drum. I haven't played it for several years. I never played it in our old garden, it never seemed right and I always felt self-conscious as neighbours were often moving about their gardens at night. Here, in the new house, the end of the garden seems much more private and remote and so it was with a gentle hand that I felt comfortable in returning to an old friend. So, by the warm light of the glowing logs I played and just relaxed into a special time of peace and reflection. 

I thought about how our earthly existence most likely originally began with fire and to fire it will return. In the middle of this we have come to an existence where by fire has become to be something more of something managed by man though nature still has the ultimate power to use it as she will. We are drawn to fire, we are mesmerised by its beauty yet destructive power. It creates, yet it destroys. To me it is a symbol of pain and also creativity that brings healing.

The fire burned down to just a pile of deep red charcoal and I was half tempted to sleep out beside it, but I was rather in need of a good night's sleep as the next day I would be out on the bike all day and I didn't want to get too tired. The fire and the drum were my friends this evening and we shared a wonderful time together.


Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Blackfly

This is a close up of some blackfly on a thistle that I found by the side of the road when out for a bike ride a few days ago. I was just intrigued by the pattern the insects had made. The adult blackfly were all feeding from the upper part of the main stem and all facing downwards, as were the baby blackfly. Being quite fond of patterns, I liked the way that the insects were all spaced out as if following a set placement at a dining room table. Often when I see these on runner beans or other plants in the garden they are usually massed together in clumps. I just liked this spatial arrangement and it looked rather more interesting in real life as I only clearly photographed part of the thistle



Sunday, 29 June 2014

Hedgerow

Cycled along one of my favourite local quiet country lane this morning and admired the profusion of what is probably hogweed. The verges haven't been cut yet and so the roadside was full of abundant growth. I love these umbellifer flowers and was struck by the different shades of colour from white to a murky pink.




Monday, 23 June 2014

Snails

Sunday 22 June, near Offley, Hertfordshire:

I am sitting in the earthen track of a local bridleway on a hot June day. This side of the hedgerow - a tall and unmanaged ancient double row of trees - is in the shade of the afternoon sun. I am looking at a patch of flowering nettles in front of me intertwined with goose grass, dock, hogweed, cow parsley, white dead nettle and a small bindweed. It is an area of about one square metre and my attention is caught by the sparkling silver trails left by snails all over the nettle leaves. With little effort I can easily count around 25 smalls, all about 5-15mm in diameter (probably white lipped snails and a few other species) and motionless in the summer heat. Once the night draws in they will probably start moving around to forage. I am amazed at how these small snails will happily move around the surrounding vegetation and will climb quite high over seemingly inhospitable surfaces to redt not just on broad leaves but to reach the ends of some distant stem too. It is interesting how 3-dimensional is the interaction between all elements of the ecosystem. Space is utilised in every direction and is quite different to how we humans interact with plants and animals around us. 

Whilst drawing the attached sketch I notice other things: a cranefly, tiny black leaf beetles on the cream umbellifer flowers, several scorpion flies, normal flies, a bumblebee, a tiny spider, a hover fly and the rustling of a mouse or other small mammal moving through the ground cover. It is amazing what you can find just by looking any patch of vegetation with a closer viewpoint and a few minutes to spare.




Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Stripes

This little sketch turned out ok on the iPad but in some ways I think it would have turned out better having been drawn by hand. The iPad is good in that there is always a constant flow of ink from the pen, but I do find the small screen size spatially limiting when working on detail like this. I am playing around with figure drawing and working on my personal style. I am fairly happy with this and I like the composition and line work with the absence of colour. 


Friday, 23 May 2014

Pages from my sketchbook

Although my blogsite postings have been few and far between recently I have been quite busy scribbling away in bits of paper and in my sketchbook when I have some spare moments. I've been trying to get back onto doing handdrawn work and, in particular, pen and ink illustrations. I love black and white line drawings and in many ways would rather work like this than in colour. I have always liked the fine art of detailed wood engravings and the cartoon/illustrative lines of people like Heath Robinson, Ronald Searle and Quentin Blake. There seems to be much more in the way of traditional line work around at the moment in much contemporary design rather than simple digital vector lines. Working on paper again is quite a liberating experience as there is no boundary of the screen edge or pages that have to be moved around and magnifications constantly being adjusted. I have been exploring quite a few ideas and trying to develop more of a personal brand and style that I can quickly and easily flow into with flexibility and creative freedom. This collection of scanned pages from my sketchbook is just my playing with ideas and seeing what will evolve and flow out of my trusty fountain pens. My aim is to translate these into proper pictures on white canvas or other media.


Thursday, 8 May 2014

Cat and bird

A cat and a bird amongst some flowers. I am doing quite a bit of hand drawing at the moment and will talk about this in the next few days. 


Thursday, 24 April 2014

House

I seem to have been rather preoccupied with things like decorating and other work/life issues recently and have't been nearly as creative as I would have liked. Here is a house that has taken me a few days to put together in odd moments. Will try and refocus now that I have a bright new studio at home.


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Flower Pot

I have been pondering lots of things recently as I am trying to work out where to take my personal art. I love black and white line work and I am almost tempted to abandon colour all together. A recent trip to various art and craft galleries in Dartmouth was quite inspiring and there are new creative avenues to explore. I'll write more about my ideas when they have evolved a bit more.


Saturday, 5 April 2014

Too many things to do...

Life is full of things to do. Some interesting, some not quite so, but on the whole I seem to fill time up more than adequately with things that interest me. I think I have seen the value of this at work this week for various reasons: always be creative, find things to do, keep being inspired, keep learning new things no matter how small, keep good relationships with people, embrace change and keep being positive. If you take a step forward then you are further forward than someone who hasn't taken a step. Must wash the kitchen floor sometime.


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Spring Bird

Here is a small bird with some blossom. Lots of birds singing in our new garden at various times of the day, which is nice. Spring seems to be well on the advance now with colour and greenery appearing everywhere. Have planted potatoes and parsnips on the alottment and seeds of lettuce and radish are appearing in the garden. Still a tiny bit chilly when sitting out in the garden in the evenings though.


Thursday, 27 March 2014

Foliage

Some plants inspired by an image on Pinterest I found today.


Kitty

I have been busy working on a few pen and ink illustrations recently and haven't used my iPad much. In a few other spare moments I have been playing around with some cute characters and here is a kitty though I have just realised it doesn't have an obvious tail. Can't decide if I should add one or not as in this pose it might look a bit odd. Meanwhile at work I am creating some traditional Santa characters for various products using Photoshop as my painting medium. It is a different subject matter for me but I am sure they will turn out ok. It is good to have a few challenges flying around at the moment. On a different subject, should I plant my potatoes yet?


Friday, 21 March 2014

Drink?

Have been trying to work with acrylic paints over the past few weeks and have come to the conclusion, for the moment at least, that they aren't taking me where I want to go. I like my line work and the paints haven't given me the flexibility, speed and freedom that defines my work. I will probably return to the good old pen and ink that I used to be so familiar with but I will take it in a new direction. It is good to be working with some non-digital media again even though it is so much slower and less flexible. Here is today's iPad pic.


Monday, 17 March 2014

Green pot

Drew a few quick lines and decided to turn them into a pot.