"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Saturday, 21 December 2013

“you could draw us - the small dragon - on your church spire ...”

Yes I could…with pleasure.

This comment was left on my blog after my last post: Puppets and Dragons.

I wrote:

“It makes you wonder about the “real sightings” of dragons.
On this black windy night we have just been for a walk. Fast dark clouds race across the face of the moon, twisted branches of bare trees flicker in the intermittent light. It’s easy to stumble, to lose your way, to misinterpret the wind shearing through the branches for something else.  In a flash of moonlight did I see a small dragon twisting itself around the spire of our village church?…Who knows.”

Diana commented:

“you could draw us – the small dragon – on your church spire….”

I am not one to shrink from a challenge. This is for you Diana, my faithful blog reader!

Initial thumbnails….

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The pencil sketch

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The ink sketch.

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Ahh black and white heaven. There is nothing this girl likes better than getting out the black ink and the old dip pen

Dragon on the Spire of All Saints Grafham …. almost done…

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I was just going to post this when I realised the small dragon seemed to be looking for something. But there is nothing there. To land on an unknown church spire on a dark winter night seemed a lonely prospect, so I added a welcoming figure.

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That’s better.

A Small Dragon seen on the the spire of All Saints Grafham Cambs. Recorded faithfully by Val Littlewood on the 15th Dec 2013

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Happy Solstice to you all….

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Puppets and Dragons

I am so delighted to be involved in the Puppet Challenge. The theme comes at such a good time for me as I have been researching aspects of folklore for some work for a while now. And both of my other projects will feed into the puppet project too.

I have never made a proper puppet but in my past work I used quite a bit of puppet/toy imagery and as dragons have been on my mind, I decided to base my dragon on the Henham Dragon.  A dragon reputedly seen in the Essex village in 1669. “Real” documented sightings are always so fascinating and Henham Village website has not only a splendid image of the dragon but also the front of the pamphlet which was published to describe the beast.

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Sighting were many and various but from what I have read, it seems the dragon was never killed, which also appeals to me.

This may be because it could have been a hoax. Reading more on the website I see that recent evidence from Alison Barnes suggests it might have been a hoax dragon made by a William Winstanley who,

" created a hollow nine-foot wood and canvas dragon or "flying serpent" activated by a man which made fleeting appearances in and around Birch Wood, Henham throughout that summer and caused great excitement and mystification in the neighbourhood."

So in effect this dragon was a large puppet. A perfect starting point for me. More of this wonderful Henham Dragon as I go along. Henham is also close enough for me to visit.

The 17th C seems to have been a good time for dragons in the UK because another was recorded in Sussex in 1614,  the St Leonard’s Dragon. The accompanying pamphlet from the Harleian Miscellany is  titled:

"Discourse relating a strange and monstrous Serpent (or Dragon) lately discovered, and yet living, to the great Annoyance and divers Slaughters both of Men and Cattell, by his strong and violent Poyson. In Sussex, two miles from Horsam, in a Woode called St. Leonards Forrest, and thirtie miles from London, this present month of August, 1614".

There will be more fascinating research to do. I see that Dr Andrew Hadfield has written a paper on the Sussex Dragon which I hope to read, and more.

Exactly what sort of puppet it will be I am not sure yet but I will be starting off with some drawings.
I don't think I am quite up to the full size Henham Dragon. But the description is reminding me of the wonderful Chinese New Year Dragons from the parades. I illustrated them years ago..so they too will be in my mind and, as a new printmaker, pamphlets appeal greatly to me.

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A Pencil Margin Book Illustration

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Half a full page spread, with the Dragon Head
Mine definitely won’t be on this scale.

It makes you wonder about the “real sightings” of dragons.
On this black windy night we have just been for a walk. Fast dark clouds race across the face of the moon, twisted branches of bare trees flicker in the intermittent light. It’s easy to stumble, to lose your way, to misinterpret the wind shearing through the branches for something else.  In a flash of moonlight did I see a small dragon twisting itself around the spire of our village church?…Who knows.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Looking Forward: Dragons, Pigs, Black Dogs, Puppets and more

In a weeks’ time the year will be on the turn and we will be going forward to light and spring. Wonderful!

And there will be much to do in this coming year because behind the serenity of my occasional blog posts there is lots of frantic paddling.  As always, so much more is happening than my limited typing and blogging skills can keep up with.

I am very excited about a couple of collaborative projects, an online shop and a contribution to an online puppet making challenge.

Project One: I am getting together with another artist friend to start a year of “Beautiful Beasts”, drawings paintings and prints with some poetry thrown in. Lovely bees will be there of course.

Project Two: Is a Transatlantic ideas exchange with another artist friend. A wonderful opportunity to make some work in response to the same inspirational source. We come to this from different perspectives so the results will be fascinating.

Puppets? Hmmm… it will be my first attempt at making a puppet and I am thinking simple… very simple! But it ties in with both of my collaborative projects, things I have done in the past and will be something different. So I am joining Clive Hicks Jenkins and Peter Slight for their Puppet Challenge. The theme is Myth and Legend and so I have decided on a series of simple animal puppets, starting with a dragon continuing to black dogs and other wonderful creatures. A dragon may seem a bit obvious but dragons have been on my mind recently see “Small Dragon” and I have a dragon print on the drawing board right now. And if I needed further justification my Chinese Birth sign is the Dragon.  More of the Dragon Project. Its whys and wherefores  tomorrow.

Pigs:  Salute the Pig drawings continue…it’s Saddlebacks next!

Busy, busy….just how I like things to be.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Broken Bottle

Number Three of my Lost and Found Treasures.
I tend to pick things up from my walks round the reservoir, as I am sure many people do. Together they form a particular idea of what I see and what interests me. Other’s would choose different things.
The shore line of a reservoir is not quite as exciting as the sea shore so perhaps we reservoir dwellers have to regard ordinary things as extraordinary.

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The muddy broken bottle and the sketches.
This is a very ordinary bottle but still capable of throwing some great shapes! 
See other still lifes at #stilldecember on Twitter.

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Found Treasure 3:  Broken Bottle

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Small Gouache Sketch 3 x 2 inches

Monday, 9 December 2013

Small Dragon

This month is #stilldecember (still life) for the Twitter group of artists. So I am taking the opportunity to make some more sketches based on some of my lost, and some, found, treasures.

This small ceramic dragon was a companion to Pig in Jacket and both pigs and dragons are going to feature in a future project so they fit in well with general plans.

Lost and Found Treasure 2:  The Small Dragon 

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……..with a little added fire and yes, print to come …

Friday, 6 December 2013

Unexpected Silver

On this bleak grey day I walked down to the reservoir. The storm has ripped most of the remaining leaves from the branches and the sky was leaden. It looked like snow. Then suddenly the sun came out and illuminated the water. At this time of the year the sudden light on the water is dazzling and brilliant. The shining water was visible through the trees by the shore, a seldom seen glimpse of silver from this particular path

I made some quick sketches and notes but it was too cold to stay long.

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There was a single white feather caught in the dark branches and many inky black coot on the shoreline.

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Sketchbook pages A4

Back home I made some black and white sketches:

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Sketches 6 x 4 inches


It’s dark at 4.30….

Monday, 2 December 2013

Pink Pig, Yellow Pig

I have made a few lino print cards (strictly speaking “vinyl” prints) based on my Pig in Jacket sketch. Progress was slow and success rate rather low due to being a bit ambitious and trying a 3, 4 and 5 colour reduction print with a very small block. Each new colour printing is accompanied by yet another possibility for error. There were many. But I have about 20 cards. I recorded the process over at Printdaily.

They are small. The image is 3 inches square.

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Four Colour reduction print Pink Pig. Image 3 inches square

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Three Colour Sunny Pig with three different plates. The blue here is what was left of the reduction plate.

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A few cards almost ready to go..

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Pig in Jacket and the Consequences of Fire

Over at Printdaily this week my printing adventures have involved etching. Yesterday I spent the day going through the process, at a bit of a gallop, from start to finish. The whole process is faffy and time consuming and I had dithered about an image but, eventually with Chris’ Salute The Pig Project in mind I made a scribble based on my sadly lost, but not forgotten, Pig in Jacket.

Etching plate and Print of Pig.. you can read about the lengthy process over at Printdaily here.

“Pig in Jacket” was one of the small treasures that I kept when we made the big move over ten years ago. He was a small, I think about 4 inches high, white porcelain figure. I cannot remember when or where I got him. He had been with me for many years. Today I went back to the photo I found and made some sketches.

Lost Treasure 1. Pig in Jacket 

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 The Consequences of Fire
Just over three years ago, on the day I set up my “Buzz”show in London. I received an email telling me that everything I had in the world, apart from the suitcase of things I had taken to the USA, had been lost in a “ catastrophic” fire in Spain. I had taken a small storage unit, not much bigger than a walk in wardrobe, in a new steel, self storage facility, just to keep the special things in my life safe. It seems so ironic now.
I lost all my paintings and drawings, all my sketchbooks, beautiful old watercolour papers, my stash of now unobtainable professional scraperboard, my fine tools and brushes, gilding equipment, precious pigments, paints, the very special selected books I had kept, all my personal treasures, small pieces of jewellery, hangings and silks from India that my grandmother had brought back in the 1920’s. My teddy, my old toy dog, my tiny old lead farm animals, my desk, my easel, my book press and countless other small but irreplaceable things which I had tried to keep safe. But the state of the art storage unit protected with alarms, sprinklers, cameras etc  had gone up in flames. It was Spain, at its worst. Probably arson, possibly an electrical fault. Who knows, and not worth wading through the corruption and concealment to find out. What is gone is gone.

I have not mentioned the fire before because I loathe “pity me” blogs and the very best thing to do in these circumstances is to shake yourself down, be thankful for small mercies and get on with life.

Anyway amongst the losses was this pig. Oddly enough I had taken a few snaps of my favourite small things just before I left as I had planned some drawings and the photographs were on my laptop. It’s been in my mind lately to have another look at them, now things are not quite so raw, and Pig in Jacket fits in so well with what I am up to now.

A Previous Incarnation of Pig

It’s not the first time I have used Pig in my work.  Some 23 years ago he appeared in my Devil’s Alphabet, which I am about to reprint. Pig here is rejecting the drunken advances of the Devil.

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The Devil with Pig… A tiny scraperboard drawing.

.. and I think there will be a lino cut too.. He was a nice Pig!

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Hedgehog Sketches

The sad story…
A while ago now, on a sodden cold evening a neighbour’s dog found a hedgehog under a nearby hedge. I know that a hedgehog out during the day is not a good sign and this one was not well. We are very fond of hedgehogs and I did my best: a warm hot water bottle wrapped in a towel, water, food, a deep bed of straw and many kind and affectionate words. 

I try hard not to be to sentimental about wild animals but it’s tough. Despite my efforts, this little one died in the night and is now buried in a box with a note and a print under the apple tree. ( Sentimental??? Moi???)

…and the opportunity
As a curious artist I also try to think of a dead animal as an opportunity for a study. I am not quite up to popping them in a pan or a bit of taxidermy but study brings both understanding and appreciation. So these sketches are both an homage and an opportunity to have a closer look at those amazing and beautiful feet with their silken hair and long curved claws.

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RIP Sweet hedgehog… We will be looking out for your relatives next spring.

Monday, 18 November 2013

A Motley Crew

A few more half hour sketches with the #portraitnovemeber  twitter theme in mind.

I cut up some old pieces of board to approx 8 x 6 inches and gave them a quick coat of gesso. They are by my desk for when I have a moment to create another member of the gang.

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It’s very interesting to see who emerges. I am fitting them in between pigs, prints and the other bits and pieces of life. This coming week I may try just one or two more finished ones.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

A Gorgeous Ginger Pig: A Duroc Boar

Some initial sketches of the extremely handsome Duroc Boar that we met on Saturday at Burwash Manor near Cambridge. (See also Chris’ post They Do Rock.)  We had gone to buy some interesting food from their very well stocked delicatessen ‘The Larder’  and to have a walk. This fabulous ginger boar had just been rounded up after escaping… and not for the first time it seems. He is big, lean, strong and has the most beautifully shaped head.
His coat is shades of russet, orange, blue black and ochre.

These lovely pigs have pricked ears that flop over at the ends. He reminded me of a huge terrier and with their wiry ginger black and tan coats there is something very dog like about them. He was being placated with buckets of apples. The girls who had rounded him up said he was a nice chap…”just boisterous”. I must find out what his name is.

Their faces are dished and their big heads have a high crown. Their jaw line is deep and their snouts are long.

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 Burwash Manor’s Duroc Boar.

“A Ginger Pig”… was the description of the baby Elizabeth I. In human terms this might be regarded as an insult, but to be compared with this super pig could be nothing but a compliment.

Burwash Manor cross their Essex Saddlebacks with the Durocs for a better quality meat. I hope to be going back soon to meet the saddlebacks.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Big British Lop Pig: First Sketches.

This is pig number two of Chris’ delightful pig and pork endeavour over at Salute the Pig. A couple of weekends ago we went to Cold Overton in Rutland to meet up with Jan McCourt at his Northfield Farm and talk to him about his lovely and rare British Lop Pigs. Chris has also written up some of their history here: “The British Lop Pig-As Old as Our Hills.”

More about Northfield Farm as I  make more drawings of the Lops, who we found blissfully snoozing in deep warm bedding. On hearing voices tiny buried  pink piglets burst out of the straw. I defy anyone not to find them utterly, utterly enchanting. Their capacity of joy seems endless. 

I am still at the “getting to know you” stages with the pigs, and still researching and sketching the Mangalitzas and curly coats. Just as I found each bee has it’s own characteristics, so do the pigs. There are breed standards, different temperaments, talk of being good mothers, hardy, easy to feed etc.

Visually British Lop Pigs are big, long, white pigs with silky hair and, again, like the Mangalitzas, with the most fabulous ears. Huge, soft, floppy ears that lie like draped hankies over their faces, as long their noses, obliterating their eyes. And they have lovely smiles! Yes.. I know … its just the way their mouths turn up … but it is still very endearing!

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More soon ….

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Fascination of Sloe Globes

I am fascinated by the sloes. Every time I go for a walk I pick a few more.
The colour version I painted last week (Shine and Bloom) just made me want to draw more.
Last year I wrote in my Walking Diary:

In every sloe there is a small world. Tiny continents nudge up against each other, swirling grey cloudscapes wrap themselves around others, some shine like black buttons, nearby branches leave scratches and striations. Your fingerprints are left on the ones you pick...imagine obliterating those small lands so casually.”

Imagine indeed. This year the tiny dusty worlds are back in all their infinite variety.

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On Sunday I sketched them, before making the last reduction cut for the Berry Print, you can see the progress over at Printdaily. The last cut was a rough (very rough) approximation of a world map.

We love to find imagined landscapes in things, don’t we. They are the possibility of escape,  the potential for a different life. Mountains of another place appear in cloud banks on horizons. Miniature deep canyons are cut by rivulets of water in the sand,  muddy flood pools clear to reveal tiny wet underwater lands with waving grass, and shimmering contorted other worlds stare back at us from reflections.

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Sloe World 1 : Pencil, Image 8 x 6 inches

I am going to make a series of drawings of these little worlds. Some have split, some have split more, their contents spilling out. Some have more sea than land and some more land than sea. One day I may jump ship and set off to seek my fortune in one of them, so it’s good to know the terrain in advance.

I still walk with my small notebook. Not everyday, but when I do it is illuminating. My notes are full of creative ideas. Many will never be pursued but some, like the sloe globes, will.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Four More Days of Portrait Sketches

In between other jobs this week I have set aside half an hour a day to continue the portrait sketches.

Tuesday: A few more doodles of faces. I tried to make these more “real” than the constructed heads of Monday, looking for a bit more variation and character in them.

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Pen and ink,  A4 sketchbook.
There are always one or two which seem to have the potential for life and some appeal more than others.

Two I liked from Tuesday.

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Wednesday
: A few  more real people.. well almost real.. again pen and ink

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and two I like. 

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Thursday

After three days of rather random sketching I needed a bit of focus and  I remembered a couple of ideas for prints/paintings. The ideas came for a couple of walks, for which I needed a figure and a head.

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Loosely based on Chris. None of them really look like him as all I need is a head and his is the nearest.:)

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Friday

A few more sketches to explore some ideas.

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I might use a profile or a figure. I think to try a profile in lino would be quite a challenge.

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Hmmm…  I know I will have to simplify the image and thicken the lines. It’s going to be interesting. My lino cutting is still a bit rough and ready and I can see Chris turning into an aging Bash St Kid. Actually, that is perhaps not too far from the truth.