Tuesday 29 August 2017

'Satan whispers softly ...' Belladonna Flora and Fauna

Belladonna has many names, deadly nightshade, banewort, beautiful death and my personal favourite; 'Devils Cherries'. When researching flora to feature in a more sinister piece I began to focus on plants used in ancient witchcraft and healing. Many were familiar to me from herb and medicinal gardens in French Abbeys and Monasteries. Plants with healing and even poisonous properties were often grown by monks in medieval times, and some abbeys have maintained this tradition to present an authentic view of the Abbey as it was. I had seen Belladonna growing at Abbey de Fontfroide, and knew it was a highly poisonous plant, but with a little more research about its misunderstood history and witchcraft connections I became more sure this was the flora for the piece. And honestly, 'Devils cherries' sealed the deal, there was just something about it I loved.

Abbey de Fontfroide - just some of the extensive gardens
Before starting the series I had already thumbed through my 1970s butterfly and moth book (another of my charity shop purchases) and seen some moths with glorious names with sinister connections, such as Goat Moth and Brimstone Moth and put them on a shortlist for a devilish inspired piece. So Belladonna felt like one of those pieces that formed fluidly as a 'meant to be' idea with great potential. Its a rare moment that everything snaps together in this way, so its a satisfying feeling when it does happen!

After completing the initial pen layer of the piece I realised just how many fine details in the piece required a lot of precision and delicacy, this piece was not as bold or forgiving as Silver Thistles and bulky beetles. The moths had many intricate areas of pattern to detail. but this was only preparing me for the real challenge. The Belladonna itself was particularly difficult, with delicate details such as the veins of the leaves and the fine folds of the petals a real challenge to capture. It was one of those rare occasions where its difficult to draw the line on where to stop and how much depth you should go into for the scale of the piece. As I progressed through the painting of the flora I developed a technique and approach to both the flower heads and the foliage which worked. Developing a system which would create reasonably uniform, aesthetically correct leaves was essential, and although I don't like working in a formulaic manner it was essential to complete this piece to the standard I have and have it look fluid.

The name for this piece came to me very late in the day. Some of the pieces in the series I had clear ideas for their title, or a series of scribblings I was still considering. But this piece, other than a reference to ancient witchcraft and the Satanic implications often wrongly connected with it (sometimes rightly also) in ancient Europe I had no definite idea. I had several phrases jotted down such as 'The Devil is upon my shoulder ...' 'Satan tempts me ...' 'I summon you from darkness ...', but none quite conveyed what I wanted to express. I wanted there to be a sense of mystery, what did Satan want? What was he bidding this witch to do? How on earth is Satan connected to this picture of flowers? The sort of questions I wanted to raise from the title. Quite a while after the piece was complete it suddenly came to me, when I was not particularly trying to think of one; 'Satan whispers softly ...'. Finally, I felt this was right, this was the one. The idea of the soft whisper refers to the gentle delicate appearance of the Belladonna, which may look pretty and innocent, but Satan hides behind this facade of beauty (in the form of the plants poison and its history dark history). The soft whispering of the wings of the Goat Moth as Satan swoops by and the Brimstone Moth lingers menacingly also maintains the idea that sinister and evil can hide behind a beautiful exterior.
The idea behind this piece was essentially Sinister, Satanic happenings, Dark thoughts which hide behind a pure face, evil which looks like nothing other than mere beauty and innocence, as you too, the viewer, fall under the spell of deadly nightshade.

What is Satan whispering in his persuasive dulcet tones? Only the Devils Cherries know ...

Saturday 26 August 2017

Memento Mori - St Lawrence's Churchyard, Eyam

My cemetery creeping activities have been more active than ever this summer. And I confess I find great peace and calm from wandering through graveyards and observing the wildlife, the flora thriving in a truly natural, unfettered way and the legacy of generations summed up in a simple stone.
Recently I have found myself observing more and more closely the designs of gravestones. It is interesting to observe the aesthetics of different ages, the favoured motifs of the day, popular phrases which came and went, strange symbols familiar in a time long since passed but now nothing more than a curious creation on an eroding face of stone.
One strange design which struck me was that of a hand pointing to the sky, surrounded by flowers, holding a scroll with words 'Meet me there', suggesting an eternal reunion together in Heaven. Later the same day at Spittal Cemetery I found an almost identical design, with variations in the scroll wording, the flowers used and shapes within the headstone, but the similarities could be no mere coincidence. I initially assumed these were perhaps by the same stone mason, however further investigation proved this theory incorrect. Then I began to compare the actual inscriptions of the stones and their dates, both late Victorian period (1890's), both men, leaving behind a widow and daughter, who naturally in the order of the grave followed afterwards. The inscriptions on both of the stones are lengthy, and their ornamentation is fine and extensive, suggesting they would have come at quite a cost. Are both of these grave stones towns apart desperate expressions of grief for the loss of the head of the household? Or am I missing the bigger picture of Victorian funerary tradition?

Observing and comparing the various graves from many hundreds of years there are certainly trends and fashions, even in death. Some years the cross was very popular, or a Gothic arch, the Victorians seemed to favour lengthy inscriptions, sometimes even detailing how a person died (my favourite one to date is lightening) and lamenting their woe, yet as time moves on our grave stones become plainer, more uniform and the exuberance fades. The varied sea of stones, some dating back to the great plague, sit like broken teeth jutting in and out of the undulating grass and wild blooms. The ravages of time have spared some, with their proud artistry still intact and preserving the memory of many below, others have been less fortunate, with their twisting and toppling being a slow ballet performed over the ages as the weather wears away names and sentiments of love that are forever lost to time.

I dearly wish we still had the pride and enthusiasm for funerary art that our Victorian predecessors possessed. The time and care that was taken over these designs, the incredible work by stone masons bringing them to life, miniature monuments to a memory, designed to cement their place in history and stand the test of time. Yet the majority of modern monuments in Britain do not have the same detail or dedication displayed as in years gone by, with the concept of design and individuality virtually being eliminated, doesn't choosing the colour of your stone say enough about the deceased? Keep your inscription short and sweet, you're paying by the letter. Lined up neatly like faceless figures, there's something very detached and distant about modern gravestones, which perhaps says just as much about our attitude to death, the morbid and macabre as Victorian headstones said about theirs ...

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Demonology Prints

My recent reworking of my Demonology series has finally come to fruition and the series is completed at last. As all conceptual work, research and planning was completed when the original drawings were finished a couple of years ago. Meaning the reworking as been a reasonably straightforward exercise in pure art, which feels like a rather rare, carefree experience.

I've enjoyed completing the short series which is certainly a contrast compared to the mammoth undertaking of my Major Arcana. But that doesn't mean there aren't other Demons that need some infernal imagining ...

My Demonology series is now available to purchase from the Etsy store, as a set of prints, or individual prints, for more information Click here!

Tuesday 8 August 2017

Danse Macabre Tarot Card Deck Release

The Danse Macabre deck is finally available for purchase!
The Tarot cards feature my 22 Major Arcana designs, in which each artwork was specifically conceived and created for the Danse Macabre deck.
The deck was inspired by the complex meanings and symbolism of Tarot, but also by occultism, nature, history, art symbolism and my own brand of weird wackyness.
Creating these artworks was a mammoth undertaking across 2016/17. This deck is the culmination of over 160 hours of work drawing and painting, plus countless hours of conceptual work, sketching, and finally scanning and photoshop.

The Tarot deck is now available from my Etsy store, priced at £19.50 (plus shipping):

Click here to check out my Major Arcana!

Tuesday 1 August 2017

Creating botanical beauty

Sometimes projects require a mammoth amount of planning, research and reading. The series I'm currently working on certainly falls into this category. On the surface this is often not evident, but there is always hidden meaning and symbolism behind my work, you just need to look for it. My current big series 'Flora and Fauna' In many ways harks back to some of the work I was doing 5 years ago for my final project at university. I conducted extensive research on The Language of Flowers and the historical use of nature in art symbolism, designing my final collection around the theme of sin and virtue.

For a long time I have wanted to do more botanical illustration, as I am a great lover of nature and all things wild and weird. But for me it can't just be an attractive image I'm creating, there has to be some meat on the bones, and that means symbolism and depth.

After countless hours of pondering and research I decided on a number of themes and phrases to form the basis of the pieces themselves, and began researching flora and fauna which reflect these themes. I already had a shortlist of moths and insects I hoped to work into the series somewhere. So after many hours with my nose in books, looking back over old notes, doodling and utilising my old friend Google I finally began sketching out some compositions. Happy with my progress and the way my ideas were shaping up the next stage was to complete full size line drawings of the compositions, compare them, see how they flow and work together.

Once I was satisfied that the series had the potential to work as a collection of artworks not just a stand alone piece then the really intensive work could begin. Firstly, I transfer my linework to paper, some details and essential parts are noted in pencil, followed by a detailed pen later providing shading depth and the basis for the compositions and finally watercolour, to make the pieces come alive and look more than just a monochrome sketch. Because of the level of detail and accuracy required I decided to complete tests of my colour palette and technique to ensure it was going to successfully achieve what I needed it to. Any mistakes and changes of heart over colour would be visible, so everything has to be decided upon in advance, planning is the key for this series.

As time moves on and the pieces progress I am pleased with how they are shaping up. This type of time consuming layering is hard work but ultimately worth it. As ever, the watercolour layer makes everything come alive and gives a sense of vibrancy (not a word I often use to describe my work) and realism to the pieces. Only time will tell if the series will work together and achieve my dream of a decadent, richly symbolic set of botanical illustrations ...

'Evil, be gone ...': Eguzkilore inspired Flora and Fauna

This design has particular significance for me. It was inspired by numerous trips to Southern France and Basque country, which has its own very unique traditions and beliefs. In the region many beliefs have existed which are almost unique to the area and have often been persecuted, such as Basque Paganism and the Cathars. The remnants of these beliefs live on in different traditions and daily life in the region. I first noticed visiting the incredibly picturesque Saint-Guilhem-le-D├ęsert 4 years ago a strange symbol adorning many doors in the commune, what I thought to be a dried sunflower, yet subsequent research revealed it to be a Carlina acaulis - a type of silver thistle (which I detailed in my blog 'Eguzkilore'). Research told me the symbol had originated from basque pagan tradition, symbolising the sun and protecting the home from darkness and demons. Yet again last year I saw the symbol, in Narbonne in a collection of archeological stones at the Lapidary Museum. The stones date back to Roman times, many are ancient grave markers. Many featured the symbol, which could be seen hundreds of times, obviously holding great significance and importance in Roman Narbonne.

When beginning design work for my flora and fauna series I began to consider incorporating Eguzkilore into one piece. The more I considered it, the more I thought what a good idea it was to theme one piece around the symbolism of the Eguzkilore and pay homage to the traditions of my beloved Languedoc-Roussillon.

When sketching for the piece I decided to draw the image of the Eguzkilore blooming in the wild, not dried and nailed to a door, however as far as I'm concerned the symbolism is still the same. When contemplating insects to feature in the composition I quickly decided on the cicada, as this is another strong symbol of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. I first saw a ceramic cicada in Aigue Mortes and wondered what on earth it meant, and the more I looked, the more of them i saw. It turns out the cicada, like Eguzkilore is a symbol of protection and against bad luck, but in the wider world the cicada is also represents resurrection, immortality and spirituality.
As a second insect it felt apt to include the Scarabaeidae commonly known as the Scarab beetle. The Beetle is one of the most well known symbolic insects in the world and of course represented the sun in ancient Egyptian culture. I felt this reaffirmed the symbolism of the Eguzkilore and ensured the piece was tied in with the sun, light and protection from evil.

The symbolism of this piece is so important to me because it pays homage to an ancient tradition which for many is a hidden piece of history only there for those willing to look. For me the symbol of the Eguzkilore represents the region I have come to love and adore so much. Its layers of history, its warmth and positivity and the richness and depth of culture waiting for those willing to scratch the surface. 'Evil, be gone ...' pays tribute to history, tradition and all things Languedoc-Roussillon.