COP26 : Why We Must Not Look At Goblin Men

As a gardener as well as an artist – and gardening for this artist means growing plants for food, for natural dyeing/eco printing and for the spirit – the 2021 gardening year has been notable for its length. The images in the slideshow are all in bloom as I write, on 16 November, with the exception of the Japanese Anemones, which, however, have only just finished blooming. The tomato plants, which are growing outdoors, not in the greenhouse, are still bearing fruit.

I know of gardeners who are rejoicing. I started writing this as one of them, but as I was writing, I found myself thinking of Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market and wondered why and so I dug it out to read again. And as the saying goes, was reminded of the errors of my ways.

This extract from the poem reminded me of the dangers of intensive farming which relies for it success on the use of insecticides and genetically-modified crops, resulting, for instance, in the decimation of bee populations. The protagonist in the poem is Laura, who is warned by her sister Lizzie:

We must not look at goblin men,
We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed
Their hungry thirsty roots

But Laura bought their fruits and marvelled at their perfection. Fruits which bloomed at all the wrong times. She kept one kernel stone:

One day remembering her kernel-stone
She set it by a wall that faced the south;
Dew’d it with tears, hoped for a root,
Watch’d for a waxing shoot,
But there came none;
It never saw the sun,

It never felt the trickling moisture run:

Laura was saved by her sister Lizzie.

I hope we know who those goblin men work for, and that they aren’t only those who stayed away from Cop 26 (for what harm can goblins do if they do not go among the folk and tempt them with their fruit). I hope we know who Laura’s sister works for and that COP26 will be the sister who will save us.

Rossetti wrote Goblin Market in 1859. Like all great art, its message is as powerful and as valid today as it was when it was written 162 years ago.

It’s funny when you sit down to write one thing and end up writing the opposite.

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Remembering today …

My grandfather George William Shanks, DCO; and his brother, my great-uncle Edwin Shanks (commemorated in stone at the Canadian Cemetery, Vis-en-Artois, France).

My grandfather won this medal for bravery in the field; he went out and fetched a wounded officer back into his trench out of No-Man’s-Land. He won a second medal for bravery later in the war.

His brother enlisted at 14 and followed my grandfather out to the French trenches; when my grandfather found out, he had him sent back to England. But Edwin re-enlisted and was killed in 1917, his body never identified, near the Belgian border.

Not forgotten.

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Eco Printing on Deli Paper

I’ve done very little eco-printing in 2021, concentrating instead, on a return to painting. The programmes I’ve been taking part in have introduced me to a good many different ways of starting and progressing a painting, including various ways of incorporating collage. One idea I’d not come across before is through the use of deli paper. Deli is short for delicatessen and deli paper is used by delicatessans to wrap takeaway foods. Waxed on one side, unwaxed on the other, it’s thin and virtually transparent and when drawn or painted or printed onto, can be glued onto an artwork, adding another dimension to the work and can be made virtually or wholly undetectable as collage material.

I noted, in my experiments with deli paper (which can be bought in A3 sheets in large quantities at little cost) how strong it was and this made me wonder if it was sufficiently robust to survive the eco-printing process. I managed to produce the eco prints in the slideshow above, using some of the autumn leaves now littering my garden. I’m pleased with these first attempts. I used leaves I know will give up their colour – Sumac and Dogwood and St John’s Wort. I’ll be experimenting further with different kinds of leaves.

I like the idea of using colour in my paintings derived directly from plant matter gathered from my surroundings, and in this, making my paintings site-specific. I’ve already begun some paintings using the results of these deli paper eco prints.

Deli paper may not be acid-free and archival, but are rendered archival once glued-down and coated with acrylic medium (I used gloss, which also further enriches the colours).

If you’ve tried eco printing on deli paper, I’d love to see some of your works and any tips.

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Autumn Is Come

“Everyone must take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.” – Elizabeth Lawrence

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The Last of the Handmade Markmakers – for Now

Here’s two mark-makers, out of one. It was originally a sponge roller. The sponge had deteriorated a bit. I took it off and replaced it with rubber bands. I cut notches into the sponge and now I’ve a sponge stamp as well as the rubber band roller.

I’ve now about forty handmade paintbrushes, rollers and stamps, equipping myself with the means of approximating, interpreting, representing many patterns to be found in nature. And I’ve used them to make a big stash of large monoprints to be cut or torn and used as collage material. I’ve made the monoprints, about 50 of them, on deli paper. Yes, that’s the paper used by delicatessens for wrapping food. More on that later.

All that’s left to do is to create some sensational artworks of staggering genius.

The easy bit.

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Even More Home-Made Paintbrushes

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them
as an artist.” Pablo Picasso

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More Home-Made Brushes

Though comical to look at, I do like the double-ended home-made brush with shuttlecock at one end and paper bag handles at the other. I had this plastic tube in my stash of stuff waiting to become useful. I decided to use it as a handle for a brush using some of my collection of paper bag handles as bristles.

Paper bag handles are made by twisting paper around a wire. This makes for a stronger handle. And the handle can be twisted and bent. And the handle, as the wire is fine, is easy to snip. I decided not to snip the handles, but to leave them as loops.

I’ve had a set of plastic badminton shuttlecocks for years. I can’t remember how I came to possess these, though in times gone by I was a keen badminton player. And I discovered that a shuttlecock base fitted exactly into the other end of the plastic tube. I got two brushes in one.

I like the delicate circles of dots made by the frilly skirt of the shuttlecock.

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Tubes and Triangles

“A house that has been experienced is not an inert box. Inhabited space transcends geometrical space.”

― Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

I haven’t had much time for art this week. I was determined yesterday to grab some, were it a mere 15 minutes, to try out my 12-set Derwent’s Inktense watercolour pencils. I’d bought these about five years ago and hadn’t used them.

So here is my 15 minutes of art: my house with the round tower of my local church beyond. There’s some acrylic paint in there too. And tea. I accidentally dipped my paintbrush in my cup of tea. But it was just the shade I needed for the church tower. As I couldn’t then drink the tea, I made myself a fresh cup and continued to use the other on the painting. I think, anyway. It’s entirely possible I ended up using both cups of tea as brush cleaners, as well as drinking he second one. I’m still alive 24 hours later.

Even in just those 15 minutes I’ve picked up on some formal relationships worth pursuing: the vertical tubes and almost-tubes of the (birch) tree in the foregrounde, chimney stack and church tower – Norman in character and with twin narrow romanesque windows. Even the paint runs are tube-ish. Then there’s the triangle in a triangle at the top of the side-of-house facade. The small triangle is an attic window. That roofline is a problem. Getting the angle right might mean a trip up a high ladder with a very big protractor. I’ve tried several times to draw this and haven’t managed to get it right and it’s crucial to the positioning of everything else around it.

Inktense watercolour pencils (you can get pans and sticks as well, by the way) are different to some other watercolour pencils as they dry permanently on the paper which allows for a layering of colours. To be honest, I didn’t know that. I thought they were inks in pencil form when I bought them. My set of 12 colours is a bit limiting, but you can make up your own tins – selections of pencils – at the Derwent site.

I sound like an ad for Derwent. No, Derwent is not paying me for this blog. But I’m going to experiment further with these pencils; and compare them with other watercolour pencils I have. I’ll report back.

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Books and Bookmarks

“She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.” Louisa May Alcott

160 Quotes about Books and Reading

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An Art Challenge: Day 1

Art2Life Creative Breadcrumbs Challenge: Day 1

Limbering up, loosening up much as a dancer or a singer does before a performance, with nothing in mind but a single word. For me this was EXPLORATION. I explored acrylic inks, watercolour inks, graphite pencil, felt tip pens, a couple of the brushes I made last week, kitchen roll.

I was interested in some of the forms that turned up and will be exploring those further. As well as the word exploration and finding sub-words to explore, for after all, you can’t explore without equipment: compass, map (or in the case of terra ingnita, means of making a map), markers, flags, … And their metaphysical equivalents. So, it wasn’t just limbering up; it turned out also to be a mining expedition.

I like it where one colour over another has created a third. Some of the forms are revealing themselves to me as seed pods, seedheads and there are some three-pronged forks. I do do a lot of gardening! One of the forks is clearly a trident, I see. I shall need to dive into some research on all those marine divinities (pardon the pun). And I read that the Hindu God Shiva carries as a weapon a trishula (three-pronged spear); I’ll need to know what that’s all about.

This was only about an hour and a half’s work, while at the same time watching and listening to the accompanying video. I’m going to do this every day I get to do some art from now on, before I do anything else. Fill the well on a daily basis.

Curious. This is a seven-day challenge, with different breadcrumbs in the form of questions to answer, emailed out every day; it’s like a treasure hunt. There’s also a daily video to watch while working. And you write answers to questions around a sketch of a compass. I’m being given my compass. It’s been a long time coming. But at least I’ve some hope now of getting out of the woods, which I haven’t been able to see for the trees.

Do you limber up every day? What’s your practice?

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