Monday 23 December 2019

Work in progress: The Green Man series

For the longest time, in my first ideas book after finishing University I have had scribblings of series which are still patiently waiting to be realised. Every year I declare I’m going to finally start on my own Green Man series and do justice to these nature spirits I dreamed the faces of so many years ago. And every year things happen, other ideas crop up and I continue to keep them on the back burner.

But as this year drew to a close I decided enough was enough. I started working on progressing my thumbnail sketches into full size line work, and then onto paper, returning to my most common mixed media technique using biro and watercolour (as opposed to my recent dip pen experiments).

One daunting issue with this series has always been the sheer number of ideas I have. If I work on them all the series will be mammoth! So I’ve decided to be selective (for now) and initially work on what I’m calling ‘the four seasons’. It’s quite frustrating as I really want to realise a lot of the other characters, but that may have to be a battle for another day!

Because of the detail involved in these pieces they are proving very time consuming. Never one to make life easy for myself I decided to also incorporate some knotwork in the form of borders as a nod to our Celtic history and pre-Christian traditions and beliefs in Britain. This has proved a real challenge and is somewhat unforgiving if you make any errors. Complete precision is essential but tough. I can see why manuscript scholars claimed they would put one error on each page because only god is perfect, it’s near impossible not to make one! (Good cover story lads!)

So far with these pieces I’ve gotten a lot of pen work done, but as ever with this time of year there’s so few hours of daylight in which to work, making moving onto my watercolour layer difficult indeed.
I’m hoping that now with the passing of midwinter and the lengthening of days once more I can begin to get some colour into the pieces and truly bring them to life!

Wednesday 13 November 2019

Chester Cathedral Falconry

Every year I make a list of 10 places I’ve never visited but would love to go. Last year I managed to tick off 9 of these incredibly, only missing out on the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic. This year I’m doing considerably worse with my list, not because I’ve not made it to some amazing place, but because they are getting more obscure and further afield making them harder to achieve logistically.

So, I made a concerted effort for my birthday weekend and even though going back to my beloved Oxford was hugely tempting I resisted and chose new ground from my list; Chester.

This historic city is certainly very pretty, even on a cold and rainy weekend. The huge array of Tudor fronted buildings give the impression many buildings are actually far older than they really are, as most are in fact Victorian. But one ancient building hiding behind a Victorian facade is Chester Cathedral, which was truly a wonder to behold (but that's another story for another blog). Nestled behind this medieval marvel, sandwiched between Georgian grandeur and Roman walls is Chester Cathedral Falconry.

As a crazy bird lady it was only natural that this would be on my hit list, especially given my obsession with birds of prey. Strangely its made me realise I've never actually been to a dedicated falconry centre before! And I cant figure out why not!
As a child we had all sorts of birds from a Myna bird called Slade to various Parrots and one of my favourite birds (which has stayed with me as a life long love); Barn Owls (named; Barney, Betty and Pebbles by me). So every Barn Owl I see I have a particular affection for, and Boj was no exception! Falconer Kieran was kind enough to let us watch Boj feed, always a fascinating experience!

We timed arrival well for the next display, managing to fit in a quick observation of the birds, watch a few feeds and also for me to slightly fall in love with Tinks the vulture a little bit before it began!
Kay and Kieran treated us to lots of interesting facts and information while we marveled at the birds and their own unique adaptations and hunting styles. As a bird of prey obsessive I was in my element!

First up Tinks the Vulture was absolutely charming. I was pleased as punch to see him outside his aviary and strutting his stuff. Of all the birds we saw Tinks definitely had the biggest personality. His comical ambling walking style and minimal effort for food certainly gave him a humorous humanesque personality. Thinking with his stomach and loyal for food, I know plenty of people that fit this description! Tinks provided smiles all around as he repeatedly attacked peoples shoes, having a pop at mine several times and almost succeeding in untying my laces a few times.

Up next was a Harris Hawk who showed us skills at catching prey on the move, and saw off a few pigeons and a squirrel in the process. The home made fake rabbit on the move using a Dewalt drill and wire was an impressive use of creativity I have to say!

Indian Eagle Owl Munch was the biggest owl we saw during our visit, and I was lucky enough to don the gauntlet and support his impressive presence.We had a little chat and I told him how gorgeous he was (he already knew of course) while occasionally buffeting me with his massive wing span. Kay also showed how silent his flight is and how precise Munch is by getting him to fly over a few peoples heads (I have a hilarious photo of one couple recoiling in horror, the sheer terror on the woman's face is priceless, but I thought I better not share those!)

Id be lying if I said I didn't find the final bird of the afternoon Peanut the Red Footed Falcon utterly adorable. I just wanted to scoop him up in my jacket pocket and cuddle him. But, don't let his size fool you. I wouldn't mess with this guy for one second. His in air hunting skills were fantastic and while hes used to hunting things such as insects, I wouldn't fancy my chances against this tenacious little guy!

In all I had a wonderful time at Chester Cathedral Falconry. The passion of the handlers/trainers was simply infectious. All the birds were beautiful, fascinating and clearly so loved by the team. If you get chance to pay these guys a visit don't hesitate. A wonderful afternoon with some wonderful feathered folk, and their devoted humans! Thanks to all the team at Chester Cathedral Falconry for making my birthday weekend a great one!


Friday 1 November 2019

Derbyshire Woodland Festival

One day entirely by chance I stumbled upon an event on social media which I had never heard of before. It turns out I've been entirely in the dark because Derbyshire Woodland Festival has been running for some time. Quite how it passed me by I have no idea! I'd be lying if I said I had no reservations about what it would be like, but any concerns were totally unfounded. The event was much larger than I had expected and in all honesty, fantastic! There were so many highly skilled, very enthusiastic craftsmen and women making all sorts, from wood, inspired by wood or relating to the woods.

There were a whole host of different skills on display from chair making, carving, basket weaving, boat building, chainsaw sculpting, wood turning, survival skills plus many more. The Viking encampment alone had; a blacksmith, traditional weaving, ink making (as a fountain pen collector and ink obsessive you can imagine how exciting this was), candle making, food, herbs and cooking, arrow making and of course, battle reenactment. There was always something to see, smell and of course eat (were always happy if we spot Spondon Bakery at an event, you know your in for something tasty!).

It has to be said the friendliness and approachability of these craftspeople was second to none. Their enthusiasm for their craft was nothing short of infectious and I loved talking to the many makers who urged me to join them with my artwork next year. I wholeheartedly support the dedication and passion that these creatives are putting into keeping these skills alive, and in turn getting others interested and impassioned about them too.

My honest highlight was the Wild Man of the Woods wandering in the forest, telling tales and singing songs. He immediately felt to be the living embodiment of the ancient oral tradition of story telling and oral history which most cultures have lost since the advent of the written word. British Folklore was founded on people like this, they held all the knowledge of their world and passed it forth to the next generation using this ancient technique. My admiration and fascination with this Green Man was honestly huge. I hadn't quite expected to react in such a way and feel so moved, but he was truly incredible. It felt as though I was glimpsing just for a while, into our pre-christian past, and I felt very at home indeed.

Another heart warming part of the day was the 'hug a hen' stall. Where ex-commercial laying hens are offered a second chance in life after being saved by the charity 'Fresh Start For Hens' who help re-home them all over the country. I didn't personally partake in the Hen hugging (last time I held a hen in my arms was a small Bantam found lost in the road, whom I subsequently fell in love with, named Effie Millais and sadly couldn't keep - best not tempt fate to go through that again!). Hens are lovely, calming creatures and both them and the charity workers seemed to be enjoying themselves immensely!

The excitement of a Battle Reenactment is something I always enjoy, and the one by these vikings was no exception. An old friend of mine was surprisingly among the throng of battle hardened warriors, which bought a smile to my face and certainly made being a spectator even more interesting. I always enjoy seeing groups such as this bringing a slice of history back to life for us. Best of all they all seem to greatly enjoy beating the living shit out of each other! Perhaps I should take it up as a form of stress relief!

I whole heatedly hope that there will be another Derbyshire Woodland Festival as I enjoyed the event immensely. There was so much to see and do and so many wonderful folks to talk to it made for a wonderful day out I would recommend to any other like minded people. Maybe next year we might even get some fine weather to go with the fine entertainment!

Thursday 24 October 2019

'The Witching Hour' series

After last year releasing my piece ‘Fly High on All Hallows Eve’ to celebrate Halloween 2018, I decided this year I wanted to go one better and do a series for Halloween 2019, all based on the theme ‘The Witching Hour’.

I set my mind racing and conjuring up different ideas of what has taken place on Halloween throughout time. Ancient rituals, animals which have become synonymous with Halloween, and medieval takes on witchcraft and it’s surrounding imagery. A large inspiration was exhibitions like Spellbound at the Ashmolean, but also my countless books, which have plenty of historical reference material to spark the senses.

There was quite a lot of complex (and to my mind well considered) thought behind each piece and it’s development. Largely one goal I wanted to achieve was to create my own Witch riding a flying goat piece, as it’s such an iconic image in the history of Witchcraft. This was one of the main aims of the series, but in the end it became so much more and took on a life of its own all reflecting what goes on under the moonlit sky.

In the end the series wound up being the 5 pieces you see here today. But that doesn’t mean to say there wasn’t  more ideas! I had thumbnail sketches around the theme of ‘the witch and her familiars’ as well as more mystical animals to unleash. But unfortunately I simply ran out of time. I knew the series had to be complete well before Halloween, especially if I was to have cards printed of the designs. So, these unfinished pieces will, for now, remain in their embryonic state. Perhaps I’ve got a head start for next Halloween!

‘The Witching Hour’ is now available as A4 prints (individually or as a set of 5) and select designs are available as postcards and greeting cards! Check them out here!:

Thursday 29 August 2019

Doll Tor

For many years I have had a passion for historically important sites reflecting our ancient history. Over the years I’ve visited hill forts at Oswestry and the Wrekin in Shropshire, various castles and fortifications across the country, churches, guildhalls and many different parts of our islands history.

In recent years I’ve made a conscious effort to journey to sites associated with our pre-Christian past and the ancient religions of our land. Much of these traditions are shrouded in mystery and are half known truths and stories at best, and many sites have been lost forever, to later development, to Christianity or just to the ravages of time. But a few still remain, and I have been seeking out these echoes of the past nestled within the landscape.

One of these I made my pilgrimage to last summer was Doll Tor in Derbyshire. I wasn’t expecting the site to have an especially profound effect on me, as lots of reading online played it down as small and not hugely remarkable.

First of all actually finding Doll Tor was a challenge in itself. I followed my infamous sat Nav to the nearest village; Birchover, parked up and set off on what looked like the right path. No, barbed wire and farmers fences, forget that route! Try another way, down a seemingly never ending lane. The maps saying it’s just on that ridge, but this is a farmers land! There’s no signs for a public right of way and the fields full of hundreds of cattle and their calves! Eventually I plucked up the courage and go to the farm to ask for directions. The farmer kindly let me cross through his field and pointed me in the general direction of Doll Tor. Off I went, but which thicket of woodland did he mean?! This one? No it’s entirely walled. This one?! No I can’t get in there either. In the mean time I found Eagle Tor and the strange landscape surrounding it, as well as a ruined stone cottage I decided I’d happily own. All nice finds but not what I was searching for! Finally in a corn field I saw a vague path towards another wooded area. On a hunch I decided to follow it. And surprise, there’s a gate in the wall around the woodland! I’d almost given up hope, but this could be it! And sure enough it was! A short way into the woodland there was a clearing and there it was; Doll Tor. A small but perfectly formed stone circle.

The atmosphere and feeling to the place was undeniably wonderful. I felt as if I never wanted to leave. I was so happy to have taken a chance on what wasn’t suggested to be a miraculous place, yet to me felt utterly magical and moving. I sat and wondered what our ancestors did here, how they felt, what was their world like? The Tor is part of a later site including burial cairns and various other elements clearly important to it’s function during the Bronze Age, but we can only guess at its full meaning and use now.

Doll Tor is one of those moving, curious places which draws you back, and to have no idea why really. And when I return now I know a much better route to access Doll Tor without having to hassle farmers and their cows! But ... I can’t help but think the journey of discovery and searching for the circle on my first visit was honestly part of the excitement and enjoyment of my unforgettable pilgrimage to find the lovely little site of Doll Tor.

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Fantasy Forest Festival

I first discovered fantasy forest festival entirely by chance on a Facebook post which was utterly unrelated. A bizarre way to find out about a new event, but, the instant I read Brian Froud was in attendance, it had my interest. Although a pretty long round trip for a day out it wasn’t possible for me to make both days, so, I bit the bullet and ordered tickets for the Sunday.

Upon arrival I was a little worried we would be the only ones not in costume, however there were a few of us (all be it utterly in the minority.) The happy, chilled and certainly hippyesque atmosphere was evident immediately upon arrival through arches covered in foliage and being checked in by some bright eyed ‘creatures’. The site of the festival; Sudeley Castle is very pretty, and intriguing. I had hoped since the festival was being held in the grounds we would be able to visit and explore the grounds in their entirety, alas only a segment was used for the festival and the rest fenced off. A bit of a shame as I would liked to have an explore, but a reason for a return visit I suppose!

Lots of interesting stalls lined the entrance to the festival, and a Glastonbury dragon resting, hinted of the fantastical beyond. The guest speakers at the festival had their own little enclave, with Brian and Wendy Froud, Anne Sudworth, Anne Stokes and Linda Ravenscroft all facing Terry English in his huge marquee with all sorts of fascinating armour and interesting movie memorabilia. Each of them was scheduled to give a talk throughout the day. Unfortunately I only had time to attend Brian Frouds, even though I was desperate to hear Terry English’s tales the long drive home meant we couldn’t stay late enough which was a real shame.

Never for a moment were you short of things to do. With 2 stages packed with bands all day, knights fighting, vikings battling it out, dragons wreaking havoc and stalls full of the weird and wonderful there was always something to entertain and amaze.

As well as countless incredibly impressive costumes paying homage to lots of heroes and characters, there was no shortage of fantastical creatures at fantasy forest either. With a tame lady raven totally stealing my heart, some lovely lupine dogs and even a couple of mermaids floating around!

In all fantasy forest festival was a wonderful, refreshingly different event where imagination was truly king. I hope that the event was a great success for everyone involved and returns next year bigger and better than ever for another instalment.

Saturday 3 August 2019

Brian Froud

In all my years I can't say I've changed a great deal honestly. As a child, books and films were some of the biggest influences on my life and who I was, and the same is still true today.
As a young, impressionable girl I remember my love of picking up beautiful books filled with wonderous pictures (again, nothings changed). 'In Search of Forever' by Rodney Matthews, 'The Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were' by Michael Page and Robert Ingpen (with illustrations by various artists) and 'Faeries' by Brian Froud and Alan Lee were the ones which have stuck with me all my life and left a lasting impression on me, as well as moulding me as a person.
So when by chance I saw that Brian and Wendy Froud would be appearing at Fantasy Forest Festival, giving a talk but also present all weekend, I knew what needed to be done.

As a child never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I would meet these incredible people with off the scale talent in real life. And I admit, part of me still feels that way; disbelief. Meeting Brian Froud was a big deal, to 6 year old me reading about Kelpies and Redcaps for the first time, but also to aging Alice as an Artist herself.

Brian was certainly the most humble, down to earth artist I've ever met. I felt rather embarrassed taking my tatty old copy of  'Faeries' to him, but he signed it all the same, which was important to me as its been with me all my life, and I intend to keep it that way. He was more than happy to indulge my ramblings and also discuss the upcoming new 'Dark Crystal' series which Netflix are due to release, and we happily agreed on a passion for 'real' things and what they bring that CGI just cant.

Brian's talk was an incredible insight into his mind, methods and world. Clearly nervous and it would appear not particularly fond of public speaking, Brian immediately won us over jokingly asking if he could go home and he'd made a mistake agreeing to do this (though I do suspect there may have been some truth in his words), but he talked on about his work and the thinking behind it. He was truly in his stride when he got out a portfolio and began to share new artworks with us all. All previously unseen by the public, mostly painted in the last few months. I didn't fail to appreciate what an amazing, once in a life time opportunity this was. My eyes were out on stalks.

Brian shared pieces in his trademark style of a composition bursting with countless faeries, he discussed these pieces being quite 'flat', which I'd never actually considered before, but is entirely true. They were nothing short of stunning and moved me so much. I felt like a child thumbing through 'Faeries' seeing Froud's art for the first time. Then came pieces which were quite different, much more close-up, in your face faeries. Their personality really shone through, their naughtiness, their cheeky sidewards glances, their mystery. And though very different they are equally engaging and have the same curiosity-inducing, mystical beauty.   

Brian talking about his pieces in detail was fascinating. What different elements mean, and the fact one day he could simply no longer paint with watercolour washes anymore. It just wouldn't physically work, which is incredible! So started working in acrylic instead. His mention of 'The Green Woman' was also very intriguing as I am planning a Green Man series later this year myself, definitely food for thought!

For me, the most interesting insight was hearing Brian talk about being what being an artist is to him. Hearing him say he hates painting and its a total nightmare initially shocked me, but when he talked about wishing there was an easier way to get to the end result, without all the torture and torment, I began to understand what he meant. I remember for many years a hideous frustration at seeing what I wanted to create in my mind and not having the artistic skill to achieve it. While I'm not for a second suggesting Brian could ever not achieve what he put his mind to, art can be a difficult, heart wrenching thing. Something else I thought was fascinating was his comments that creating artwork is just constantly trying to fix what you're working on and resolve a piece, but knowing when to stop and not tip a painting over the edge meaning you have lots more fixing to do. A very true sentiment even though I never thought about painting like that.
Brian saying he thinks hes very boring and has no imagination was really quite baffling! He gave the impression its not really him creating these creatures, but they create themselves and come into being through their own will. He lets them take on their own personality and creates them all from shapes or lines, and doesn't seem to consider his own imagination to have any part in the matter.

Something which was honestly refreshing, was hearing Brian talk about his belief in Faeries. I think without this belief Brian couldn't really create the compositions which he does with such beauty and conviction. It is a wonderful thing to believe that there truly is still some real magic in the world, and Brian has helped capture that for countless people with minds wandering astray from the world which we live in. Brian may think he has no imagination, but I think him and Wendy have minds, and hearts nothing short of glorious.

Thank you to Brian and Wendy for their time, kindness and being absolutely wonderful souls!