Happy New Year – Bring it On 2018

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A Christmas Carol

“I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”  (Dickens)

Whatever ‘Christmas‘ means to you, enjoy!
See you in 2018




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Taking a Walk in Negative Space

I’m attracted to  artworks damaged in the making process.

When trying to figure out why, I’ve focused on the word damage.

In looking at this on the left – a damaged eco collograph of some  elm leaves – it came to me that I was attracted to the negative spaces created by the damage.

Negative space was a whole new focus. Here’s a few things I discovered when I took a walk into negative space.

The image on the right is of a white vase; it’s competing for dominance with the negative spaces either side of it, which look like silhouetted human profiles.

They confront one another in silence. The negative spaces in my artwork seem to be having an animated discussion. I wonder what they’re quarreling about? I think it might be about politics, women’s rights or  climate change!


“Space is substance. Cézanne painted and modelled space. Giacometti sculpted by “taking the fat off space”. Mallarmé conceived poems with absences as well as words. Ralph Richardson asserted that acting lay in pauses… Isaac Stern described music as “that little bit between each note – silences which give the form”… The Japanese have a word (ma) for this interval which gives shape to the whole. In the West we have neither word nor term. A serious omission.”  Alan Fletcher:  The Art of Looking Sideways

I was drawn to Isaac Stern’s definition of space in terms of music, “that little bit between each note – silences which give the form.”  In music, space becomes silence. I was reminded of John Cage’s composition 4’33”. Watch the above You Tube vid. And then the equally fascinating video of the responses of the public at that performance.

And then on my walk I encountered Noble Silence, attributed to Buddha in reference to the 14 unanswerable questions (or 10 or 16). Noble Silence is a technique used by Buddhists, monks and nuns. Simplistically put, not speaking every word that comes to mind is a way of avoiding causing harm. (I certainly need to take heed of that piece of advice).

Silence also quiets the mind, allowing a space to open for contemplation, prayer, nothingness. I was reminded of Hesychasm – contemplative prayer.

I’ve written about Hesychasm in Chinese Poem and in The Light of Tabor.  Hesychasm is based on what Jesus purportedly instructed about prayer in the Gospel of Matthew: ” … when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.”

Go to your room. It’s not just about going to a physical space; it’s about retiring inwardly; cutting out the world; cutting out one’s own noise to make a space for engagement with God. For me, it’s about getting into listening mode (as opposed to demanding mode). This is negative space created deliberately for a specific purpose.  A positive negative?

I had quite a long walk in negative space. At one crossroads one sign read Ezekiel and the other Nag Hammadi.  I’ve been reading the Nag Hammadi manuscripts for a while. These are codices discovered in December in a jar 11km from Nag Hammadi. The story of how they were found, what happened with them – some pages burnt, some otherwise destroyed, the whole lot split up and dispersed, a blood feud, a lost 13th codex (not, actually) – I’m surprised there hasn’t been a new Indian Jones movie made from all this drama. For me, this crossroads is about the bits that were lost from these codices, just as there are bits lost from my damaged eco collographs. Again, negative spaces.

If it is possible, Ezekiel is even more dramatic and anybody who’s read Von Daniken (Chariots of the Gods) will know he speculates that the visions of Ezekiel describe space ships and visitations from aliens. Check out Ezekiel 1 for descriptions of apparitions of four-faced winged creatures filled with burning coals that light up as the creatures move about; that the creatures have wheels under them, each being a wheel within a wheel, the rims of which are full of eyes; and that it is the spirit of the creatures which moves the wheels. This is outer space.

And if you think space is just an empty void in which things happen, what about the phenomena of bending, rippling and expanding space?

Of course, this is another one for my Herbiarum Vocabularum. I’m in the process of writing a blog about elm, which is not exactly a herb, but it does have healing properties and figures in folklore and mythology.


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Eco Collograph from Red Cabbage

The health-giving properties of red cabbage are phenomenal.

I love it steamed with apple.

Great taste, good health.

Virtually no calories.

Turns blue when provoked.

Me, too.







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First Attempt at Dyeing with Mushrooms

“Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
Then the charm is firm and good.     Macbeth IV: 10-19″

Before I continue, the above image has nothing to do with All Hallows’ Eve and I am not a witch. Further, no fenny snakes, newts, frogs, bats, dogs, adders, blind-worms, lizards, howlets or baboons were used in the above concoction.  Nor am I encouraging nor am I condoning the enslavement and abuse of animals or other living creatures or their blood, in any way, for any purpose.


There are mushrooms sprouting up all over in my new garden which made me wonder if they could be used to dye with. I remembered the organic portobello mushrooms I used to have delivered. They came in cardboard boxes, the lids of which were always imprinted with an image of the mushroom, like this one above.

And yes, of course, mushrooms can be and are used to dye wool and fabrics. And to the right is an image of my first attempt, which is an assortment of silks.

As soon as I decided I must try dyeing with fungi, I stumbled – literally – upon a ravishing clump of Pleurotus ostreatus. Actually, it was more like they sprouted up around my feet.

And in case you think I’m a mushroom expert, I picked a few, left some, with gloves on as I had absolutely no idea what they were. Then I googled and discovered that I’d picked some oyster mushrooms, which are edible.

But there was no way I was going to eat them as I could be wrong in my identification and some fungi are deadly poisonous. Some don’t kill instantly, but over a period of months they destroy the major organs. Death is inevitable.

So take this as a:

!!! WARNING !!!

Unless you are an expert on mushroom/fungi identification, don’t risk eating what you pick and wear gloves when handling.

I love the subtlety of colour the silk took up from the mushrooms, which is a tadge more peachy than in the scan above. I chopped the mushrooms into small pieces, added them to my stainless steel dyeing pan (dedicated ONLY to dyeing and never used for food) to which I added tap water with a teaspoon of alum (aluminium potassium sulphate) mordant (fixative). Alum is also a brightener, in the dyeing process. I added the silk pieces and boiled them for two hours, rinsed them and let them dry naturally overnight.

My googling brought me to Ann Paulsen Harmer’s wondrous fungus web site Shroomworks. And I’m awaiting receipt of Ann’s book Magic in the Dyepot, which is winging its way from a rain forest on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast.

I’ve still got a cauldronful or two of the Pleurotus ostreatus in the fridge and some drying for storage for future use in the sun and heat of the polytunnel on our allotment.

I’m now going to eco print onto my ‘shroom-dyed silk pieces using vivid autumn sumac leaves.

And earlier today I spotted a clump of another kind of ‘shroom in one of the parks I pass through en route to the lottie and will be taking my ‘shroom harvesting kit’ out with me early tomorrow morning.

And there’s also lichen dyeing to explore.

I can’t help thinking that I’m soon going to have a lot of glass jars stuffed with dried ‘shrooms in my new studio (when it’s set up). I might just have problems convincing folks I really am not a witch.

Really, I’m not. The newts in my pond need not fear losing their eyes to my cauldron; the toes of the frogs in my pond will never be severed; though I live close to fens, the fenny snake need not recoil at boiling; the village dogs will keep their tongues, howlets their little owly wings. And the anguis fragilis will never have legs (well, they don’t have them anyway, nothing to do with me or witches).



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The Art of Slow Art: Encouraging Failure and Slinging a Pot of Red Paint at Doggy Death Row

Recently I came across the following and thought it worth sharing. It’s targeted at writers, but applies to all the creative disciplines. It’s an extract from American writer Louise Desalvo’s The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity.

“According to Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, “Everything can look like a failure in the middle. At the beginning of a project, we feel hope; at the end we might feel confident. But in between “there is a negative emotional valley labeled ‘insight’,” according to Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO. During this phase, it’s easy to become downhearted because it’s immensely difficult to figure out what to do next.”It’s hard to take a mountain of manuscripts we’ve written  –– starts, false starts, finished work, half-completed work, fine work –– and turn it into a book. Brown insists it’ll be easier to weather that trough in the creative arc if we anticipate, even expect, failure in the middle of the process. Brown encourages people to “seek out failure” because it’s the only way for genuine growth to occur. Without failure, our work stagnates. Without failure, we’re not frustrated enough to seek new solutions to the challenges we’re confronting.” ” ––  Louise Desalvo. The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2014

I empathise with this sentence: “During this phase, it’s easy to become downhearted because it’s immensely difficult to figure out what to do next.”

I was developing a painting from studies made in a plant nursery run by the university, probably for teaching purposes. It was a first-year assigned project. The nursery was situated, however, next to the city’s dog pound and I found myself in the peculiar situation of sitting in a polytunnel sketching plants to the accompaniment of the incessant and piteous howling of the captured, caged dogs, a good number of whom, I suspect, awaited euthanisation. So there I was, sketching plants next to doggy death row. My activity seemed trivial; I felt futile.

At that time, I was suffering from debilitating anaemia (that got progressively worse throughout my degree years). I can’t help thinking, looking back, that that diluted red paint had something to do with doggy death row and my wishy-washy blood, that I wanted to be loosened from the pain of both.  The painting was, of course, a disaster. Oh, how I wish I’d had, then, the tiny modicum of insight I have today. What a non-futile painting I might have made. I wonder what it would have been like? Plants or condemned dogs? Or somehow, both?

I was also being poisoned on a daily basis by turpentine and other toxins widely in use in the art department. On one occasion, after a session in the life room, making charcoal studies of the model, a number of the other students sprayed their drawings with fixative. It was a stuffy little room and the air became thick with chemicals.

A couple of hours later I developed a gnawing pain in the stomach and a headache. I had to take to my bed. I never set foot in the life room again. It was the same with the printmaking department: after a couple of hours inhaling God knows what, I was sick.

From WikipediaFixatives are more often than not highly toxic and potential health hazards to the respiratory system, hence should only be used in a well-ventilated area. Such fumes may also cause irritation to the eyes.


Shortly after leaving university I took part in a themed exhibition and during the painting process I felt the urge to cut holes in the canvas. I recall  a sense of relief, but had not the insight then to understand why I had done that; nor my relief. The work barely addressed the theme of the exhibition. In this, it was a failure. Now, I see that cutting into the canvas was an attempt to engage with the ground I was working on. I had to get through to it. (I had to get through it!) I had to initiate some kind of communication with my materials. It was a significant step, or would have been, had it not passed entirely over my head. And so I couldn’t figure out what to do next.

I’m not sure it’s necessary to seek out failure. I’m not sure it’s even possible. Failure is an inevitability. But maybe throwing a pot of red paint at a canvas qualifies as seeking out failure.

It seems to me that the way out of the negative emotional valley is insight and experience tells me that you can’t get it before you get it. Pennies only start dropping after developing an ability to read the signs.

Can one seek out insight? Yes, of course. That’s what you do when you recognise a sign. You follow it through, aka research. Knowledge can be actively pursued. For instance, were I to do that first-year assignment today, I’d have noted and acknowledged my sense of futility and investigated it. Maybe I’d have gone to the dog pound and made studies there, too. I might have recorded the wails of those poor dogs.  My painting would have reflected the clash of realities. In a way, the flung red paint was as valid a communication as anything else on the canvas, more valid, perhaps, in that it came out of my sense of compassion. And my anger. Distress at my state of health, in which I felt powerless.

I have not painted on stretched canvas in a long time. I rarely draw, in the traditional sense. It seems futile. Ha! Instead of painting, I have been drawn to dye, to stain, to boil, to steam … Fabric is yielding, yet enduring. Like people. So in a way, ground is sentient being. Ground is me. In this sense, ground, therefore, is also form.

Curiously, I’ve been thinking of painting again. I won’t be using oil paints; likely it’ll be some sort of eco colour. I might not use brushes. It won’t be on stretched canvas (or if it is, likely I’ll cut holes in it). I might stretch whatever it is after it’s done. I might even throw red at it; less watery red.  It is likely to be red from madder root, or blackberry, or pomegranate.

Here’s another curious thing: when I looked up Louise DeSalvo, of the books she’s written is one about the poet and painter Marcus Reichert (Marcus Reichert: Selected Works 1958-1989). It is described as “… an essential resource for anyone interested in the instincts of the prodigy and how those instincts are transformed over the course of childhood, adolescence, and maturity.” What’s curious? The foreword is by John Milner and there’s an introduction by William Varley. Prof Milner was my art history tutor at university and Bill Varley my first-year tutor; it was he who packed me off to paint next to doggy death row!

I think I’m emerging from that valley and my “… mountain of … starts, false starts, finished work, half-completed work, fine work …” (yes, I have done some very fine work but which has remained finely unintelligible).

Note:  it’s taken over 30 years. That’s very slow art indeed …

I’ve just bought the Kindle version:
Louise DeSalvo: The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity
Louise DeSalvo, John Milner, William Varley: (Marcus Reichert: Selected Works 1958-1989)

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TwitterArtExhibit (TAE)17: Funds Raised as of 28 April 2017 and TAE18

“Through art we can change the world.”

That’s the subtitle for TAE. I entered the Twitter Art Exhibit for the first time this year, which involved donating a postcard-sized work of art for auction, this year at Stratford-Upon-Avon. Proceeds went to Molly Olly’s Wishes, a charity supporting children with terminal or life threatening illnesses. The charity grants individual wishes and donates therapeutic toys and books both to children directly and to hospitals throughout the UK.

The opening night of TAE17 raised over £12,000 for Molly Olly’s Wishes. And I’ve just read that as of 28 April, over £15,000 had been raised. I was very pleased to learn that my contribution had been sold.

Twitter Art in 2018 is to raise money for Pegasus Riding for the Disabled of the ACT
Pegasus provides therapeutic horse-facilitated programs and activities for people with disabilities. They bring horses and people together to achieve their potential.  Horse riding helps to improve coordination, balance, muscle development and fitness. It also boosts personal confidence, self-esteem, communication skills, leadership and trust.

ACT stands for Australian Capital Territory, comprising Canberra, Australia’s capital, which is situated between Sydney and Melbourne and the federal district’s forest, farmland and nature reserves.

The address for Pegasus is in a town called Holt. I hope it’s auspicious that I live just over an hour from Holt, England. And given that eucalyptus is predominantly native to Australia, it seems to dovetail that I use some leaves from the eucalyptus tree that I have in my new garden.

If you’re an artist, think of taking part in TAE18. The picture at the top is of the work I donated to TAE17, an encaustic eco print of brambles and eucalyptus leaves on a watercolour paper postcard.

Let me know if you are going to participate so I can link with you.

“Through art we can change the world.”



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Secret Studio

This was my secret studio during the period of The Great Transition, where I began to discover the eco collograph.  It’s the shed at our allotment. It has a veranda which we closed in with trellising, including the trellis door you see below. We added frosted glass for privacy, which is actually temporary window plastic. The climbing plant is a passionflower. We bought it as a little plant and it has rampaged across the front of the shed. It even fruits, though they are not the passionflower fruits you buy in supermarkets. They are the size of small pears, bright orange on the outside, blood-red on the inside and delicious and full of seeds.

If you look closely at the bottom right corner of the photograph, you’ll see the purple sage from which I made the above print.

It felt very right to walk to the lottie, spend a couple of hours tending to whatever needed tending, then spending an hour or so making art from the herbs and flowers that surrounded me and that I had planted and enabled to flourish. I hope to emulate this set-up in the new home.

The weather this year has been extraordinary. I’m still harvesting potatoes, courgettes, cabbage and chard.

Do you have a wonderful studio? I’d love to see it. If you have pictures, please direct me to them.


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Chinese Lanterns and Draconids

I promised in my last blog to turn up by the light of Chinese lanterns. Well, here they are – some eco collographs using these spectacular flowers. And if you’re anywhere north, don’t miss out on the weekend’s Draconid Meteor Shower. I can’t wait to see if having transitioned to a dark skies zone, I will be as blessed with a shower of meteors above, as I am with a shower of Chinese lanterns below.

The botanical name for Chinese Lantern is Physalis alkegengi.  And guess what? It has healing properties. The dried fruit, in the Yunani system of medicine is used as a diuretic, antiseptic, liver corrective and sedative. It is known as the golden flower.

I’d not heard of  Yunani and its origins, which are Greco-Arabic, are fascinating. The Medical DictionaryAn Islamic healing philosophy that incorporates major elements of ancient Greek medicine. (Unani means Greek in Arabic).

But I haven’t time to write about Yunani at this time so you’ll have to look it up yourself. Please don’t start eating Chinese lanterns in the hope of a cure for something, as, like all medicines, correct dosage is everything. They may or probably will be, poisonous plucked from the plant.

Got to go. Lots of stuff to do before dark and those meteors.

My Chinese lantern prints remind me of parachutes; and molluscs, falling to earth, like  meteors.

If you’re wondering where the Chinese lantern is in the last image, there is one; it’s at the top left corner. It’s like archaeological remains or fossil remains – you have to know what you’re looking at. The other leaves are Sumac, from the Sumac trees in the garden here. The leaves are richly coloured and I’ve frozen some already for dyeing silk, along with some of the big heads of berry clusters.  I’ll be doing some dyeing early next week.

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First Art from Beyond The Great Transition: Eco Collographs with Healing Sumac and Turmeric, Light and Emily Dickinson

Picking up from where I left off before The Great Transition – which has taken all of six months and still living in some chaos – I was very happy to find a few hours to make a batch of eco collographs. I was overjoyed to discover that there were four staghorn sumac trees – Rhus typhina – in my new garden and they are right now aflame with autumn colour and I’ve already frozen a bag of leaves and fruits to dye with and sometime soon, I hope.

I couldn’t find my watercolour papers so in desperation used cartridge paper pages torn from a sketchbook. A couple of years ago I started off this book by dyeing a batch of the pages with tea and another batch with turmeric. Then couldn’t take them any further.

Sometimes, you just have to wait.

Turmeric is well-known for its healing properties.

I didn’t know about the medicinal properties of sumac. Vitality Magazine carries an article listing its various healing uses by Michael Vertolli, Living Earth School of Herbalism.

The berries can be used to make a refreshing summer lemonade, apparently; but note that some folks can have an allergic reaction to sumac, particularly those with nut allergy, as sumac belongs to the same botanical family as cashew.

I love the glow of the turmeric in the second print, above. It reminds me of stained glass and that not all light is white. Also known as polychromatic light.

And believe it or not, looking into the issue of Light led me to Diotima of Mantinea and his Ladder of Love. I will dally awhile with Diotima and write about the flirtation in a future blog.  Meanwhile, Hammeringshield – a collection of essays, one of which deals with Light, looks like an interesting read.

Light and Love.

And it seems I have another one for my Herbiarum Vocabularum – Sumac.

The great 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson created an herbiarum, I have read (vocabulary.com), which “… took the form of an album of dried flowers paired with notes that she assembled as a young woman, described in a New York Times review of a 2006 facsimile (see illustration) in this way:

‘In page after page of these richly detailed reproductions, the young Dickinson comes to life — in the delicate flourishes of the handwritten labels that fix the more than 400 specimens to the page, in the graceful and exacting way she arranged the plants throughout the album and in the selection of plants themselves, most of them picked within walking distance of her home in Amherst, Mass.’

The review then goes on to explain the significance of flowers to Dickinson’s work. She “sent her friends more than 30 poems accompanied by pressed flowers and bouquets. Flowers, both as physical objects and as the subject of her writing, became one of her primary means of communication.”

An insightful biopic of Dickinson which I watched recently is A Quiet Passion.

Dickinson also wrote many poems in which she used light as a carrier. Compare There’s a Certain Slant of Light, Under the Light, It’s Like the Light.

And enjoy the fabulous Barbara Bonney (one of my favourite singers) performing Copland’s 12 Poems of Emily Dickinson. I’ll have to have a go at singing this cycle myself.

Enjoy whatever of the above, discard the rest.  I’ll be back soon, lighting my way with Chinese lanterns.




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