Encaustic Work in Progress (aided and abetted by Badger, Mole, Ratty, Toad and Mrs Ffleshe)


This is tiny.  Each of the two pages measures 4″x4″, the images within about 3″x3″.


It is an altered book, artist’s book, encaustic on Plaster of Paris, eco print, collage.

When it’s finished I will have added stitch and more collage. I will have upcycled recycled more materials and it will include a variety of techniques.

Some of the processes involved are lengthy. The eco prints from which the images originate took two weeks to develop.  That’s why I’m working so small at the moment. See what works. Then move gradually onto bigger pieces.

That way the content of my waste bin isn’t more precious than finished works.

I didn’t think this piece was going to work. Two nights ago what I had produced, I didn’t like. I left it overnight. I trusted the process. In the morning it looked totally different.

Perception is a funny thing. Either that, or elves were at work during the night.

Maybe it’s something to do with Christmas. I’m reading William Horwood’s The Willows at Christmas. For the first time. It’s a great tale. Full of moral ethics. Horwood always does a marvellous job of recreating the Wind in the Willows characters. Here, we find Mole, Ratty, Otter and Badger having to save Mr Toad yet again. He adds two new characters: Miss Bugle and Mrs Ffleshe.  One’s a goodie, the other’s a baddie. I think you’ve already guessed which is which.

The contrast Horwood has drawn between these two female characters is an education. I must remember contrast in developing my own characters. I must remember to ask myself: How do my characters contrast with each other?  Then there’s the question of light and shade within each one. Characters – and people – little balls of energy all knotted-up in harmony and dissonance, each fighting for dominance.

The book is illustrated by the illustrious Patrick Benson.

I often read and re-read children’s literature. I’m not ashamed of reading kids’ books. I bet there are lots of adult readers of children’s fiction out there.

This work in progress is an altered book, a discarded children’s board book.

How about you? Do you read kiddies’ books? Fess up and let me know your favourites.


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The Talking Knot, the Khipu of Rapaz and Cheese and Tomato Lasagne

Pavillon Chinois I Plaster of Paris Encaustic 4x4 Canvas 27 October 2015I wrote in my last but one blog – Trammels, the Cailleach, the Caim and the Gratitude Hot-Wire – about binding artworks and the variety of meaning that could be attributed to the process of binding and this in respect of my suite of 4″x4″ encaustic works-in-progress titled Pavillon Chinois. I’ve been beavering away at their bindings.

Here’s the first canvas I furthered in this way – pre-bound – (left) and here it is again, the binding started (below, right) by winding the edges round with recycled sari silk, adhering this to the work with encaustic medium.

I finished the binding of that canvas with the materials you can see in the third image, which is a shot of the top edge of the fully-bound canvas.

Encaustic Canvas Binding III 17 November 2015In a further development of this binding process, I found myself adding knots at intervals along the binding materials. The knots are most apparent in the cream-coloured twisted paper cord across the middle.

In this, I was re-visiting a past preoccupation with knots – some of which straddled hyperspace –  another abandonment at a crossroads, this one hyperspatial, even – a few years ago.  I recall, of that time, being gloriously entangled in all kinds of knots.  Even unknots.

Unknots (and unlinks) are aspects of  Mathematical Knot Theory which is a branch of Topology, which is about the Placement Problem – the embedding of one topological space into another.  This is the world of the Torus knot, the Tame and the Wild knot, the Framed knot, the Solomon’s Seal knot, the Trefoil knot, the Apache Door, the Satellite, the Trivial (aka the Unknot, which I suppose is, strictly speaking, a glorious entanglement sans knots).

You might wonder, you might not, but I certainly did, why mathematicians the world over would be so preoccupied with knots. What is in a knot?  Well – and I wish that just one of the mathematics teachers at one of the eight schools I attended before I reached the age of 16 had explained this and not left me to get to be 65-ish before having my eureka  moment about it – that Mathematics is about figuring out the design of the universe.  (It is, isn’t it?)

Had I known that this was what all my bumbling about with compasses, protractors, set squares, rulers, numbers called x or y was about, I would have tied myself up with the Joy knot. (I just made that knot up, it doesn’t really exist, but it ought to.) Ah, well, but many of my teachers were entangled in the knotty problem of personal traumas, vis-a-vis World War II.

What gripped me particularly about the subject of knots was the talking knot. The talking knots of the Incas, the quipu. Actually, quipu is the Spanish version of the word, and I’ve seen the plural written both as quipus and quipa. The Incan/Quechuan language version of the word is khipu, which is both singular and plural, so I’m going to use that word.

Inca QuipuA khipu consists of a primary cord, with knotted others, attached to it like in this photo of a huge khipu (in the collection of the Larco Museum, Peru). (I’ve seen a khipu on exhibit in the Musee de l’Homme (Museum of Mankind) in Paris).

Professor Gary Urton  – specialist in Andean archaeology, particularly the quipu (khipu) – advocates the theory that the quipus encode linguistic as well as numerical information. He heads the team of researchers engaged in Harvard’s Khipu Database Project.

Encaustic Canvas Side Binding I 17 November 2015Khipu were used for accounting purposes throughout the Incan Empire. The position of the knots on their threads gave them differing numerical values.  A knot might stand for 10 or 100 or more, but always in powers of 10. Fascinating as these accounting khipu are, more so are the khipu of Rapaz. (Here khipu is pluralised with an ‘s’. Aargh. You choose). 

Encaustic Canvas Binding V 17 November 2015Rapaz is a village in central Peru, where one will find a priceless collection of khipu, situated in their original building, known as Kaha Wayi, meaning Treasury or Counting House. To conserve the house and its contents, a team, consisting of Peruvian and international experts and the inhabitants of Rapaz, set up a project in 2005 for the purpose. This ongoing project is documented on the project’s web site.

Rapaz khipu aren’t like Incan khipu.  A Rapaz khipu consists of a single cord onto which objects of significance are knotted. Among the collection, there are 10 dolls or figures, two carrying bags of sacred coca leaves.

The story of Rapaz and its Khipu reads like an Indiana Jones film script. And is more sensational because it’s true.  And adds further layers of meaning to the knots I’m binding round my canvasses. They will now, additionally, represent the binding of story and history into the images they bind: the history of the image, its origins in place and time, all the stories of the people bound to those places and times, including my own and even the histories of those who come to view and interact with them and thus also with me.

Everything is connected to everything else. We are all connected. Anything any one of us does, impacts in some way on anything and anyone else. It’s the Butterfly Effect, but don’t get me started on the Lorentz Equations, or we’ll be here all day. I think I’ve blogged about it already, anyway.

Encaustic Canvas Binding VI 17 November 2015Now, how do I get my little khipued canvasses not to look like melted cheese and tomato lasagne? (See right, but in its defence, the photos exaggerate the similarity).

They also smell like honey (that’s the beeswax in the encaustic medium). Maybe when they go up for sale I should attach a health warning:  DO NOT EAT.

By the way, knots and a khipu are an aspect of my novel-in-edit Flint and Feather.

Some published literature which include khipu:

Inca Gold (Clive Cussler)
The Stone Dance of the Chameleon (Ricardo Pinto)
Letters of a Peruvian Woman (Francoise de Graffigny)
The Martian Inca (Ian Watson)
Forerunner Foray (Andre Norton)
The Wine Dark Sea (Patrick O’Brian)
The Kingkiller Chronicle (Patrick Rothfuss)

Here’s where I stole all my information from:

The Knot Plot Site
Knot Theory
The Khipu Database Project
The Khipu Patrimony of Rapaz, Peru

Enjoy (but not in the edible sense).





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Je Suis Paris

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Spectabilis)

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Spectabilis)

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Trammels, the Cailleach, the Caim and the Gratitude Hot-Wire

Pavillon Chinois Wrapped Canvas I 10 November 2015By sheer synchronicity :) just after posting my last blog – Beauty and Story in Unlikely Places – images of some of the exquisite works of artist Mary Snyder Behrens dropped into my email box. Trammels, she calls them.

She writes: “Beauty, genuine beauty, … is often found in unexpected spaces, in various states of being and decay.”

“By making art from these leavings, I interrupt their dormancy and renew their purpose and their worth. These trammels are, to me, homages to a life of utility, for it is in the work we do that we find our own dignity and purpose.” Also: “Trammels – containers for memory and experience, wrapped and bound in the discards of a society of  excess and waste. The materials that form these trammels are ‘found’.   The torn lining from an old jacket, or the scrim from the underbelly of a chair became tactile and visual metaphors for the invisible remnants that are inadvertently produced by our culture. Common materials that, having outlived their usefulness, have been relegated to the trash bin.”

I was pondering how to finish the little encaustics I’m making. I intuited that I had to use stitch and I bought some tough white flax cord, which I boiled in tea to reduce the glare of their newness. It’s been waiting (Ha! – another crossroads) for me to intuit exactly how to introduce it into the works.

My little encaustics are, on one level, like the Trammels of Ms Behrens, containers of memory. Some I am about to make will involve found objects, objects that once served a practical purpose. (In some cases these are unearthed; unearthing is one of a range of ways of finding an object and I look forward to a future walk from this particular crossroads). In this, that is, as containers of memory, wrapping and binding them would give them similar significance to Trammels.

There is always an overlapping, but others, including those I’m making now, of my Pavillon Chinois images, have different focuses. Some others are about experiences which could be said to be binding: in describing them I might say that they held me in thrall, rooted me to the spot in awe, were spell(binding).  Let’s call these peak experiences. It was a natural impulse to want to share these experiences and to express gratitude for them.

Wind-Warped Thorn St Margarets 2015Natural phenomena often stimulate peak experiences and the urge to express gratitude: a spectacular sunset, a chorus of birds at dawn; a ” … wind-warped upland thorn, …” (that line was pinched from Thomas Hardy’s poem, Afterwards).

Afterwards is in a way about gratitude. Hardy is pondering how his neighbours will recall him after his death.  It’s clear he wants to be remembered as “… a man who used to notice such things …”, things being aspects of nature that rooted him to the spot in awe, like ” … the dew-fall hawk … crossing the shades … “, “… like an eyelid’s soundless blink …”

Is this poem also an expression of gratitude not just for the gift of the natural world, but for his ability to observe and to feel?

I think so. I think man is hot-wired for gratitude. And we want to bind our peak experiences up in poetry, art, music, as an expression of gratitude. I’d add scientific exploration to the list, for the peak experience is not confined to those of an artistic and/or mystical disposition.

The gratitude hot-wire begs the question: to whom are we directing our gratitude? I think man’s innate desire to express gratitude is one of the most obvious and compelling apologetics for the existence of a Supreme Being. And having written that, I can instantly see a counter to my argument. Ah, well.

Bundling, binding, winding-round – a way of containing the gift of a peak experience, a spellbinding moment. A way of holding in thrall that which held us in thrall and as an object, a manifestation of gratitude for it, the spellbinding moment.  The act of winding and binding is about binding and spellbinding, placing and holding a peak experience in thrall; a dew-fall hawk moment.

There’s another kind of winding-round that’s also about peak experience. It’s about stimulating peak experience and about protection. It’s prayer. In particular, Celtic prayer. It’s the Caim. I found it in David Adams‘  Tides and Seasons: Modern Prayers in the Celtic Tradition. Here’s Holy Caim:

Holy Caim

Circle of Witnesses
be wound.
Circle of Apostles all around.
Circle of Saints
us surround.
Circle of Martyrs
hallowed ground.
Circle of God
love abound.
Circle of Christ
foes confound.
Circle of Spirit
glory crowned.”

“In time of low tide or of danger, the Hebridean Celts drew round themselves and their loved ones the caim. Using the index finger of their right hand they would point and turn a full circle sunwise; … This was no magic … no attempt to manipulate God. It was always surrounded by God, He is our encompasser, our encircler.”

” On the island of Barra an old dame said, ‘In such a peril draw the caim around you, and thou art in a fortress.”

Well, I think it is magic. (There are those Christians who denounce the Celtic Christianity movement as pagan. Personally, I don’t see a difference between praying by making a circle with a finger and making an arch with my hands).

There is also a Dressing Prayer, a prayer made while dressing for the day, “I bind … I wrap … I cover … I pull around me … I bind around me/The power of the Sacred Three.”

This is also about protection. In the Carmina Gadelica a 19th century collection of hymns and incantations, prayers, charms, rituals, omens and auguries, gathered by Alexander Carmichael during his travels throughout the Scottish Isles as an Exciseman – there is this:

“The cailleach

It was the custom to bind up a handful of straw, the last sheaf of corn to be cut in the field, to make it up into the likeness of a woman, with docken and ragweed stalks, and tied with threads of various colours, …”

Among the crofters of the Highlands and Islands, the last to finish harvesting would have to support for the winter an invisible hag (cailleach). When you finished your harvesting, you made your cailleach and passed it on to the crofter who hadn’t finished his. It was usually delivered on horseback, throwing it, at a gallop, into the crofter’s field, to the consequence, often, of violence.

The cailleach is elsewhere the corn dolly. The origin of dolly might be the Greek eidolon – apparition – that which represents something else.

If I bind an artwork then, I might at times be indicating that the work, while representing a peak experience (where it does) is also a representation of gratitude for the experience and its vehicle. It might also be that in the physical act of  binding, I am expressing gratitude, i.e. I am in prayer.  If I consider that, it is a far more personal and dynamic form of prayer than that found in the largely spiritually-bereft places that often are our contemporary churches.

Here is one of the little encaustic/Plaster of Paris (Pavillon Chinois) canvasses I’m working on. (It’s a close-up of the image at the top). I’ve started the wrapping process using the tea-dyed flax cord, some white upholstery stuffing threads and some gold-red recycled sari silk.

I’m fixing/embedding the various wrapping materials to the canvas using encaustic medium.

Do you bind and bundle? Does your work express gratitude? Protection?

I’d like to know – connect.



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Beauty and Story in Unlikely Places

Dawn Tree Reflection Sidcup October 2015

Beauty can turn up in the most unlikely places.

Dawn Tree Reflection Green Light on Satellite Dish Sidcup October 2015

A golden dawn, reflected.  Just what on earth is the source of that green light, emanating, it seems, from that satellite dish?  One could write such a story …

Let me know if you do.

I’d like to know.



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Singing: In St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square

St Martin-in-the-Fields Handel Coronation Anthem Come and Sing Performance I Saturday 31 October 2015Yesterday I joined a bunch of other singers in the famous St Martin-in-the Fields church at Trafalgar Square for a morning singing workshop on three of Handel’s Coronation Anthems, followed at 12.30 by a public performance.  (That’s me – soprano 24 – in the black and grey stripes – it was a very bad hair day).

The workshop was led by St Martin’s Musical Director, Dr Andrew Earis who made the event great fun. He told us a story of one time he was rehearsing these pieces. A bird who had flown into the church decided to ceaselessly dive-bomb the proceedings. When it came to the performance, the bird set about his bombing business again, only this time it also showered the gathered company with its blessings (my words).

St Martin-in-the-Fields Handel Coronation Anthem Come and Sing Church and Window Saturday 31 October 2015When it came to the performance, Andrew introduced us to the audience, pointing out that the performers had never sung together before.

Andrew Earis is a graduate of the Royal College of Music, Imperial College London and gained a PhD at Manchester University. He’s a regular contributor to BBC Radio and Television, as music advisor, conductor and organist to programmes including BBC One’s Songs of Praise. He is also Director of Music of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate, the National Musicians’ Church in the City of London. Andrew is an Associate of the Royal College of Organists and Fellow of Trinity College, London. He has given organ recitals in venues including King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey and Washington National Cathedral, and has performed as soloist of Poulenc’s Organ Concerto and Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony.

My husband came up to St Martin’s with me (he took the photos) as I was terrified. I’ve never done this before and I’d only rehearsed these pieces twice, though I’d done some work at home on them. I’m always worried not of making a fool of myself (at my age I’ve done that too many times to care any longer) but of letting others down and spoiling a performance. It was good that three ladies with whom I sing – a soprano, an alto and a tenor –  decided to come too and they knew some of the other singers taking part, from other choral societies.

Then, dotted about, were soloists from St Martin’s Choral Voices, St Martin’s professional vocal ensemble, made up of past and present choral scholars.  It was very good to sing with professionals.

St-Martins-Window--SaturdayIt was a joy and a privilege.  Not just because of the singing, but because the small fee for the workshop helped towards St Martin’s community work. Check out The Connection St Martin’s and in particular take A Closer Look and you will read about the Art Room, Food Glorious Food and what is being done for the Dogs of the Homeless.

This beautiful window was a replacement for the original, blown out during the Blitz.  I can’t find any information about it on the St Martin’s web site. It is even more lovely from the inside, looking out on the facing trees. I love stained glass windows. They are like jewels and static, as images. This is different, organic, alive, ever-changing, a reminder that nature, Creation, is always at work, even at the heart of one of the greatest cities in the world.

After the concert, we had lunch in St Martin’s renowned Cafe in the Crypt and so in the end, I had a jolly good adventure. And you have to have adventures, don’t you?

What adventures have you had recently?  Are you planning an adventure?

I’d like to know.








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Small Works on a Quantum Journey: Wax and the Wedjat Eye

Pavillon Chinois I Plaster of Paris Encaustic 4x4 Canvas 27 October 2015

4″x4″ Plaster of Paris/Encaustic Canvas: Pavillon Chinois, L’Isle-Adam.

I was asked – well, that’s my interpretation of the incident – in revisiting my artistic past, my dead ends – to pay attention to  focus.

Is focus the same as theme? As nouns, yes. Focus is also a verb. To focus. An action word. It requires the action of thinking.

Deliberate thinking. The sort of thinking that requires deliberate action, deliberate arranging – taking control of – the space and time in which to think.

I’ve been thinking. About my past artistic dead ends. And I saw that they weren’t dead ends but crossroads I turned away from, unable, for lack of focus, to choose which road-less-travelled to take. And there are millions at each cross-roads, aren’t there?

I’ve been thinking about the images I’m using in these small encaustics. About what drew me to take photographs of leaves being wind-tossed about the surface of a small pond,  of the endlessly shape-shifting reflections of the trees that overhung the pond-as-mirror, their constant coming into and out of focus.  A pond in front of a pretentious pretend Chinese Pagoda (designed by Fragonard) in the town of L’Isle-Adam, near Paris.

And why I felt drawn to include in my little history of the town and its forest, in which I loved to walk, the story of a woman who lived and died in the 1600s and who, as a girl, was tossed from France to Canada as a fille du roi (child of the King) by forces beyond her control, just like those harried leaves and tormented reflections; a woman who gave birth to 13 children, the first in her teens when she was unmarried, most of whom she lost to death; whose road ran out when she was discovered frozen to death on a bridge of the Beaufort River.

The woman – Marguerite Boucault – may have had, may not have had, a connection with L’Isle-Adam. The connection is only in her maiden name of Boucault, which is the same as the name of a path through the forest of L’Isle-Adam. I tried to find the origin of its name. I went to the tourist office. An assistant phoned a local historian. To my embarrassment and shock, I burst into tears in the telling of the woman’s story.

I’ve made several of these small works.  More is in the pipeline. I love that I can trap this story and its resonances with my own, in wax. That I can look through the glossy and glassy layers into that world, those worlds. Surfaces of frozen tears. And that I can look any time I like at the encapsulated chaos, tragedy and triumph. And this begs questions about control:

How much of our lives can we truly say we control?  When we aren’t in control, who or what is? How much art is driven by the need to control and contain? To stave off?

To embalm?

“Once the body had been dried, using salt or natron, the wound was closed and a plaque of wax or gold bearing a wedjat eye was placed over it, held in position by molten resin. The wedjat eye symbolized the left eye of Horus which was plucked out by Seth during a conflict over the throne. It was magically restored by the gods, and was regarded as a powerful protective amulet.

The wedjat eye was thought to heal the wound by magic and protect the body from demons, who might try to enter it through the incision. The plaque was often made of gold, which does not tarnish, thus the protection was believed to last forever. Wax also had protective associations for the ancient Egyptians, and was also used for figures of enemies or demons which were ritually destroyed.”

I’m thinking of all the bits of me that are still standing at crossroads, waiting for me to return and choose the road. And I’m looking forward to welcoming myself back to myself at different times and crossroads. That’s quite a quantum thought.

Are you in the process of revisiting yourself?





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Encaustic in Progress

Pavillon Chinois II Close-up Plaster of Paris Encaustic 4x4 Canvas 27 October 2015Still inching along my Plaster of Paris encaustic Pavillon Chinois images.  Here’s a section from one of the images I’ve been working on today.

I printed the image onto TAP (Transfer Artist Paper) then ironed that onto acid-free tissue paper and then incorporated it into a 4×4 inch canvas to which I’d added several layers of encaustic medium first.





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I’m posting this video about Koko the gorilla, because there’s an argument going on over on Linked-In about Darwinism v Creationism. Yes, that old chestnut.  This remarkable gorilla, who has been taught to communicate with humans by sign language, is someone for humans to aspire too. If I found her ancestors listed in my family genealogy, I’d be delighted.

Maybe Planet of the Apes isn’t as far-fetched after all.



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Drawing a veil over this: a final entry in the ‘Doom Book’


I’ve ‘liked’ this post because there’s no ‘dislike’ button I can press. I understand your reasoning. But I’m going to sorely miss you. There was a time when the only time I could walk in peace was to get up before dawn and stumble around my route in the dark until the sun rose. One winter morning the sky evolved into an intense flawless blue. A moon was full and large and white in this blueness. A grey heron flew soundlessly across it. I felt like I’d fallen into a haiku. I knew it must mean something. Well it did. There was a death. My friend sent me this Basho posthumously via her son:

Friends part
forever – wild geese
lost in cloud

And now here’s another sort of death. I hope you fly across the moon again as I stumble momentarily from darkness. (And why let the capitalists have all the good blogs). Ann

Originally posted on The Grammar of Matter:

in fact, the sameold gamebold adomic structure of our Finnius the old One, as highly charged with electrons as hophazards can effective it

Concluding a deliberation upon the theme of withdrawal from one form of activity to pass over into another form of (in)activity, this final post continues the theme of my last – ‘Gathering Splinters from Her Spindle‘.  The materials of metaphor and coincidence, mediated through personal experience, likewise are more than a stylistic device in the writing and arrangement of these words.  If this exercise appears somewhat ‘grandiose’, I qualify it by the fact that for much of the last three plus years I’ve pretty much put my heart and soul into the blog, so I would rather let it slip away into the ether in a way that’s consonant with those years of effort.


I had no idea, when I published ‘Gathering Splinters’ on the…

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