Tuesday 21 July 2020

Time Enough for the Earth in the Grave ...

'Back unto the land from whence we came. Bones burrowed deep by decay. And in creep the beetles and creatures of this land. Forever companions in your grave. As you slip from this world, and fade from memory. The cycle is complete, and nature triumphs.' - Danse Macabre.

'Time Enough for the Earth in the Grave' is probably one of the most detailed artworks I have ever attempted. The concept was inspired by the quote from one of my favourite films; Conan the Barbarian. This idea arose through wondering what we can expect from our own time in the grave. From our own decay what life will thrive and spring? What will we give back to the earth in our final stage in the cycle of life?

The imagery draws on the idea of the forest floor and humanity finally reintegrating with nature. There are lots of details in the piece and tiny symbolic elements which are only truly appreciated seen in the flesh!

Taking a slightly different approach from my favoured technique I combined pencil and watercolour to create the piece. This allowed a more delicate approach than my usual pen base, but was also much more fragile and delicate, meaning I had to take special care to protect the bottom layer while I worked on the piece.

I must admit that no matter how time consuming and what a labour of love this artwork has been I have enjoyed it immensely. And I'm very happy with the final outcome of the piece.

Limited edition prints are available on the Etsy Store now!

Sunday 14 June 2020

Green Men - The Spirits of the Seasons

I'm so pleased at long last to have finally given my Green Man series the time and attention it deserves. These ideas have laid waiting patiently for so long I had been feeling serious guilt about neglecting them for so many years. But after months of work I can finally say I have done the pieces justice.

Initially I intended to simply create a series featuring as many of my Green Man ideas as possible. However as sketching progressed and the complexity of the pieces grew I decided I would have to limit which ideas I was exploring unless I was willing to dedicate the entire year to the series. After some consideration I decided to transform my favourite ideas into the Spirits of the Seasons.

The series is designed to capture the essence of each season, visually but also the personality and feel I get for each time of year. Spring is the awakening, sleepy and bleary eyed but sending out new growth into the world. Summer is joyous and vibrant. The happiness seems never ending as he chuckles to see the insects go by and the flowers bloom. Autumn is humble and quiet. His appearance is most fleeting of all, yet he knows he is the most beautiful. In creeps winter, grumpy and frostbitten. Sad to have lost his leaves once more and silently waiting for Spring to awaken him and give him life anew.

Creating these characters was quite important for me in the process of developing the series, which I wasn't expecting. It helped me to give the pieces real depth and feeling which is something I really wanted to achieve to do the series justice. Through this process I hoped to evoke some of what our ancient ancestors felt about the seasons and how important these changes were for ancient Britons.

My Green Man series is now available as A4 prints here, with postcards and greeting cards coming soon ...

Friday 17 April 2020

Mini Curios

As 2019 drew to a close I began to reflect on my artwork of the past year and most importantly what I wanted 2020 to hold.
For a while I have been thinking about doing a long running series which highlights some of the amazing sights I have seen in museums and on my travels, specifically curiosities and the weird and wonderful little exhibits which can be easily overlooked by a passer by. I made notes in my 2019 diary about an idea for a ‘Mini Curios’ series, but the idea was in its infancy. As time has marched on I’ve been able to think the idea over in more depth and ultimately decided I wanted to run this series alongside my main artworks throughout 2020. Honestly, largely as an exercise of appreciation and celebration of the amazing inspiration I’ve been lucky enough to be constantly exposed to.

When I reflect on some of the amazing items I’ve seen over the years I feel very fortunate indeed. Pitt Rivers itself is a treasure trove of these amazing curios ranging from Amulets, charms and Wands, to pierced animal hearts, ex Voto and magical bottles. These items rich in folklore, superstition and magic speak of a little known past which through drawing I hope to uncover and delve into further. The Victor Wynd Cabinet of Curiosities is also a great source of the weird and wonderful in many forms. Many museums I have visited such as; The Ashmolean, The Fitzwilliam, The peatrie Museum, Grants Museum of Zoology, Museu Frederic Mares, The Natural History Museum and many others will likely feature in the series in some way, as will others which I am planning to visit in 2020, including the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic which has been on my hit list for a number of years now.

For many these small items may seem easy to miss, especially alongside larger, more visually impressive and imposing items. But through this project I hope to raise the profile of these smaller exhibits and shine a much deserved light on their fascinating history and unique place in culture.

Sunday 5 April 2020

Parc Guell

Over the years during my time in Barcelona I have made it my mission to see as much of Gaudi’s legacy as possible. As a lover of architecture and all things a little strange, Gaudi and his style has long fascinated me. Weirdness is always bound to appeal to weirdos!

In previous years (and blogs) I’ve been lucky enough to see the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo and Casa Mila. But somewhere I’d hoped to go for the longest time was somewhere quite different; Parc Guell.

Sitting outside the hustle and bustle of the city, shuttle buses take you to the park, which it’s totally essential to pre-book to stand any chance of visiting. What I had envisaged being a tranquil place to catch a breather outside of the sprawling metropolis of this city was actually full of hoards of the most dreaded kinds, yes, tourists. Selfie sticks were out in force as girls posed as if they were being shot for vogue, not taking a second to truly look at the beauty around them, rather than that on their phone.

Luckily entry to certain parts of the park are timed, so this limited numbers to a certain degree at least and made things a little less cramped. As everyone trouped off ready to see the next ‘grammable’ spot I hung back to look at all the different tile fragments in the seats which were being restored, watch the workman with his angle grinder, and soak up a few rays.

Gaudi guarantees there’s always something to be seen. Nothing is ever mundane or plain, everything is so deliberate and detailed. The great stilt like columns leading up to support a beautiful mosaic ceiling, with every ‘crown’ section totally unique. Emerging from this shade one of the busiest places in the Park is heaving as people pose for photos with the famous mosaic iguana which is the star of every postcard stand in Catalunya. As ever getting a photo of him without the masses pouting was a challenge. But I was far more interested in a pigeon having a drink from the fountain anyway!

My favourite part of the park was incredible on many levels. It felt like I was walking through a location for Jurassic Park with curved cliffs enclosing the area and vegetation hanging down giving a prehistoric vibe to the area. The columns supporting this cliff, some of which were men and woman holding it aloft made it seem as though I was discovering an ancient Inca city. I felt so excited and curious, maybe that’s my lifelong love of Indiana Jones coming out! Other parts of Guell echoed this vibe with stunning wisteria hanging from curving rock faces while lizards darted around.

The buildings at the park, like the rest of the complex, were quite fun. It really feels like Gaudi let himself go with the designs here and had fun, which is an interesting contrast to buildings such as the Sagrada Familia which feel of such epic importance and seriousness to this mans legend.
The roofs spiral in colours and I feel like I’m in a sweet shop with all this amazing Mediterranean vibrancy and excitement.

Parc Guell was more than worth baring with the crowds to enjoy this beautiful slice of Gaudi's vision. Every so often you would find yourself alone in this paradise, grabbing a tranquil moment to breathe and relax in this wonderland. In some shady spot stumbling upon a busker, whose exotic rhythms transport you a world away from the busy city of Barcelona and to Gaudi's spring sunshine drenched dreamland.



Wednesday 25 March 2020

Burne-Jones: Forms Divinely Beautiful

Recently I visited an exhibition I’ve been looking forward to since I first saw its announcement. That one of my favourite local places; Newstead Abbey, was having a Pre-Raphaelite exhibition was a surprise to say the least! Having traveled across the country to see Pre-Raphaelite artworks and exhibitions for the past 10+ years this one is certainly the closest to home I’m ever likely to visit!

After a few weeks of waiting for the initial rush to have made their visit I could wait no longer and headed off to Byron’s pile to see some Edward Burne-Jones!
The exhibition is a little different to most Pre-Raphaelite exhibitions in the sense that what’s on display isn’t a collection of paintings, but is actually a folio of Photogravure prints. As a printer this interests me greatly as the value of etchings and prints are often played down and under appreciated by so many.

The folio on display is one of 200 which were commissioned by Burne-Jones’ son, Philip, to celebrate and showcase his fathers work. It was created by the Berlin Photographic company using photogravure, a technique using a photographic negative to create an etched plate to print from. This skilled technique produces high quality prints which at the time was a very popular method of reproduction and sharing art. Interestingly the Pre-Raphaelites were one of the first art movements to make use of photography in creating their work and to draw on this new technology, so it’s interesting to see how new and changing technology and techniques have been embraced in other ways.

Having seen lots of Burne-Jones paintings over the years his often very muted palette lends itself well to black and white reproduction, something which might not be said for more vibrant artists within the movement (Millais perhaps). The pieces on display are, to me at least, beautiful works of art in their own right. The depth of tone in these monochrome prints is truly stunning, and you don’t lose anything from these dreamy visions due to their lack of hue.

Learning from Rossetti gave Burne-Jones a similarly unique view and creative flair to his idol. The flowing hair, plump lips and long necks of Rosetti’s recurring female aesthetics all shine through in Burne-Jones work. All be it his own ideal of female beauty and perfection, but Burne-Jones style and stylisation of themes is unique in the movement, with a distinct nod to Rossetti.

Burne-Jones, like Waterhouse, is a great portrayer of myths and legends in his work. With many of his pieces focusing on tales and stories rather than the more religious tendencies of earlier Pre-Raphaelites. These later members of the movement were masters at depicting incredible far off places where heroes and monsters reign and damsels and their tantalising beauty await rescue. Burne-Jones escaped the real world through his art, and shared this beautiful world with us all in turn.
For me, Burne-Jones style only heightens the sense of ethereal, mystical realms and long forgotten times of our ancient past as he steers away from the photorealism of the movement and towards a more stylised portrayal of scenes.

My favourite piece on display, 'The Beguiling of Merlin' is captivating. Merlin's eyes pierce out at you from the paper, so wild and alive. They seem to follow you and hold your gaze in an eerie, haunting way, stirring emotions only art can make us feel.

This exhibition seems to have been quietly understated among the artistic community. Nobody I speak to knows about it, and online information is scarce. I understand that the current pandemic has caused the closure of Newstead temporarily, but the exhibition is still available to view virtually here: https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=cahQQShRaT1&hl=1&guides=0&kb=0&qs=1&ts=3&st=1800 
and when it reopens I urge everyone to go and immerse themselves in this dream world for just a time. Not that I think it will take any encouragement to get people out and visiting galleries and beautiful places again once this is all over!

My only criticism of the exhibition was I was hoping to buy a book, print, postcards, anything! But there was nothing sadly.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

Five Wells

Recently I spent some time compiling all my research into the best local Neolithic and Bronze Age sites to form a list of where I hope to visit in the near future. A number of local sites I have already visited. But that doesn’t mean I don’t intend to return, especially to see different seasons from these amazing sites.

One place high on my list was the Neolithic burial Cairn of Five Wells, located near Chelmorton, just south of Buxton. After seeing a few photos of this site and reading a little information I was impressed how intact the Cairn was compared to many and how visible the chamber was to visitors, so it went high on the list of where to go next.
In early March a perfect opportunity arose to visit Five Wells, so off I went on a 30 mile drive to discover another amazing piece of Derbyshires ancient history.

After some map consultation I parked near Chelmorton church and set out following a trail uphill in the general direction of the tomb. The villages original wellspring is en route and signed as a point of interest on the way.

The landscape is largely farmers fields and grazing livestock, but a strange, what I presume to be, natural rocky feature runs along the ridge of the hill as a seam dividing the space in two.  It’s quite rugged terrain and I imagine what the whole landscape would have looked like before agriculture moved in.

At a crossroads I managed to wander into a nearby farm, (still following a public footpath) when actually I should have turned left to find the Cairn in fields behind the farm. A little correction later (after thinking I was going to be savaged by dogs!) and I spotted the Cairn on the horizon at last.

It’s structure is quite imposing on the hillside. Like jagged teeth reaching out to the heavens it sits prominent and protruding. The moment I laid eyes on it, I loved it. The rugged and weather beaten hillside and these great stones erupting from the earth. It had an incredible feeling and atmosphere I wasn’t expecting, but wholly embraced.

One of the tombs is slowly being consumed by the earth, as much is covered by a thick layer of moss, while the more intact chamber exists like a miniature shelter missing its roof. Great upright pillars of the entrance give the feeling you are entering a mysterious and incredible time. As ever with these ancient places I stand and wonder what happened, were rituals performed when these people were buried in this great tomb? What did this place in the landscape mean to these people? The rolling landscape surrounding the Cairn is certainly one I’d be quite comfortable to spend my eternity in.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't find Five Wells to be an incredible, moving place. Though I will not attempt to provide any real reasoning why. For me personally these sites often seem to create an overwhelming sense of connection with our history and the traditions of our ancestors. Although this window into the past is only fleeting, for me it strengthens the feeling that these people, their values and respect for and use of the land is incredible, admirable and frankly far better than our own. These people had so many things right that we do not. They worshiped the land for the life it gave, we merely abuse it. For me, Cairn sites in particular always give a sense of ancestors rooted in the earth. For them, in life and death the landscape was clearly so important. I only wish I could know more about their lives and understand more about their world ...

Friday 21 February 2020


The cimaruta is an ancient charm, most commonly found in Italian folklore tradition, dating back at least to Roman times, if not further. It is steeped in fascinating symbolism and speaks strongly of a superstitious and incredibly rich culture.

If you have visited any museum containing magical or folklore related artifacts the chances are you’ve seen a Cimaruta and maybe not even realised. Pitt Rivers has a huge collection of them, which is where I first encountered these curious objects. They can also be seen at Frederic Mares Museum in Barcelona, the Museum of Witchcraft and Magic in Cornwall and many other places.

Typically the Cimaruta resembles a Rue sprig, which is a plant with an absolutely fascinating history and symbolism. Rue has been used since ancient times in cooking, herbal remedies and as a popular ingredient in spells and witchcraft. During the Middle Ages rue was used as a way for witches to recognise each other. As ever the church attempted to hijack this herb by calling it the ‘herb of grace’ and using it to sprinkle holy water on subjects.

There are also some fascinating folklore tales which feature rue. In Classical mythology it was believed that the basilisk could kill all plants with its breath, except rue. Weasels bitten by the Basilisk would eat rue to recover from their injuries and fight back. This may relate to beliefs that rue could help to cure poisoning. In other examples rue represents virginity, or regret.

The imagery of the Cimaruta itself is complex. With the herb closely associated to Diana and the three branches displayed are connected her Triformis nature. In addition, the small charms at the end of the branches each have their own meaning. The result of this is that each different Cimaruta’s symbolism is unique.
Commonly featured charms are the moon, a hand, a fish, a key, a serpent, a heart, a flower. The piece can often be dated by what charms it features, as later charms imagery is more influenced by Christianity.

Different interpretations of the use of these protective charms only serves to increase the mystery (and for me intrigue) surrounding them. It is generally thought that they were a charm against the evil eye and witchcraft. The overtly pagan imagery of the charms is argued as being valid as a weapon ‘against’ witchcraft as Christian elements on later examples balance out and defeat these heathen elements, thus protecting from witchcraft. I have to say this does sound rather illogical to me, and I’m far more inclined to believe the idea that these were worn by followers of the cult of Diana. The majority of the various symbols all represent and connect with Diana in some way, suggesting to me that this was more about the worship of this particular goddess, before being changed and bastardised later by the church. The fact that rue was used for practicing pagans to recognise each other is another major point for me in this. I can appreciate that for hundreds of years the Cimaruta has probably been a talisman against witchcraft, but I can’t help but think that it has a much deeper history than that statement suggests.

Cimaruta have been a great source of fascination since I first laid eyes on them quite a few years ago now. Since then I have delved into their fascinating symbolism and history, but because of the lack of knowledge surrounding them and conflicting information available I have only gotten so far. I fully intend to continue my quest to learn all there is to know about these beautiful relics of superstition and magic and shed light of their true and I believe very ancient history.

Saturday 8 February 2020

Museum of the Moon

One day by complete chance I saw an image on Instagram from a good friend which was utterly captivating and intriguing. I recognised the setting immediately having visited a number of times previously; it was Derby Cathedral. But I couldn’t quite understand why there was a huge moon suspended from the ceiling! But one thing was not in doubt; it was glorious!!

I immediately went and researched exactly what I was looking at, which turned out to be an art installation by Luke Jerram called ‘The Museum of the Moon’. The seven metre sphere is inflated, covered with high resolution NASA images of the moon and internally lit to mimic moonlight. It certainly has a huge presence even in a space as grand as a cathedral!

The installation is designed to evoke the thoughts and feelings we get when looking up at the moon and what it means to us. The cultural and historical importance of the moon is evident across the world, through this the installation aims to connect us all and get us thinking more deeply about the moon and what it means to us.

I have never been shy about the fact I have an inexplicable adoration of the moon and love it wholly. For me it has always evoked so much mystery, beauty and is the light in the darkness. As a teenager I had a map of the dark side of the moon (no I’m not talking about anything Pink Floyd related) on my wall for years and would spend many a hour looking at it in wonder. And as a keen child astronomer I would often sit inspecting each crater in depth through my telescope, secretly hoping I’d see something move or another unexpected turn of events.

Of course I had to go and pay the moon a visit while it was so close by! And while the boards of folk flocking to take a selfie with the moon was abhorrent, the installation itself and all its glorious lighting was fantastic.

Visiting the museum of the moon got me wondering when my obsession with the moon first happened and exactly how it came about. After wracking my brains the only possible  thing which I can think of is a strange one indeed (other than my lifelong obsession with space and stargazing - I still have my sky maps and some astronomy books and we’ve lost a planet since those were published!). Even as a child I had my strange morbid nature I still possess today, and I loved Halloween. I was told at around the age of 5 or 6 that on Halloween if I watched the moon long enough I’d see a witch fly by it on her broom. I can still remember sitting watching for hours waiting to see her. And suspect during this time formed my fascination with that wonderful lunar presence.

If you get chance to visit the Museum of the Moon in a city near you its an experience you shouldn't pass up!

Friday 31 January 2020

Fabulous Fungi

All of my life I have had a healthy interest in mushrooms. My late grandad was an avid mushroom forager and would often be known to fry up his foraged goods for breakfast. I always found this vaguely terrifying, but on reflection probably quite normal for someone from rural Lincolnshire who worked on a farm for most of his formative years.

I have many mushroom photos I’ve taken over the years. The most fascinating I found on the Ercall in Shropshire around 10 years ago and still remember it vividly to this day. As if it was covered in countless red jewels (subsequent searching for this photo and research has identified this as either a Devils tooth or a Mealy tooth thanks to my good friend Montalo).

But during the autumn of 2019 I decided to take my fungi fascination up a notch and instead of casually noticing fungi while out walking I became a self certified fungi hunter and started actively walking specifically to find the most amazing mushrooms I could.

Throughout 2019 I made a specific effort on different walks to focus on different things. This had a huge seasonal impact of course and spring was lots of trips to see the ducklings, then lots of looking at wild flowers, as summer progressed it was chasing butterflies and dragonflies, then as things changed I started suspiciously rooting about in the undergrowth for fantastic fungi!

Admittedly it did help that this autumn was an absolutely bumper one for mushrooms. Never in my life have I seen so many, and some staggeringly vast! Not to take anything away from the beautifully dainty fungi.

My goal for 2020 is to become far better at identifying them all! While I don't expect to become an expert over night it would be nice to be more aware and knowledgeable on the subject, so this is a good place to start. One of my first tasks of the new year was to buy a pocket identification book to keep in my camera bag at all times. To know nature is to be nature.