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 (, 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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I’m Back – And Befriending the Rohingya

I am at last on the other side of my Great Transition and to kick off anew am very happy to have just donated a tiny sum to the Avaaz Foundation help the Rohingya, in the process of transiting, in their case aka ethnically cleansed (what a sparkling expression for mass murder/genocide) out of Burma (Myanmar) to safety in Bangladesh. My tiny donation is for the hire of boats to get these persecuted men women and children across the river dividing Burma and Bangladesh and safety. I ask that you too please think of helping these peoples via Avaaz .

I cannot but be acutely aware of the vastness of the difference between my transition and that of these poor people, who have recently been described as “… the most friendless people on the world …”, and to be glad to be a drop in the ocean of aid. A drop isn’t much, but when it’s part of an ocean of drops … that’s an ocean of friends, isn’t it?

Avaaz – The World in Action

And I hope by this time next week I will be able to publish some pictures of my new artistic territory and some new art to showcase.




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Passing It On: Rob Stevens

I’m not able to progress much of my own work to blog about in what has been a difficult and prolonged transitional period (I’ve already had to set writing and singing to one side quite a while back). I am often uplifted and encouraged by the work of my Internet friends, however and thought that Passing It On is something I could do in the interim. Passing it on might just be the no. 1 best aspect of the Internet, anyway.

Passing It On might just become a regular feature of my blog. As it has occurred to me during the writing of this, that in these very troubled times, when yet another terrorist attack has been enacted in a large city – this time Barcelona – it is even more important to emphasise the positive, the creative, to reinforce and continue to reinforce the Truth that hate is the domain of the minute few. Creativity is the domain, mindset and activity of the vast majority. A creative act being (to me) synonymous with an act of Love, hate will never prevail; hate will never prevail; hate will never prevail.

So here I am passing on a musical composition by my multi-talented Internet friend, Rob Stevens. I’ve known Rob online for maybe seven or eight years now. In addition to this piano composition, which I’ve praised elsewhere for its insistency (which speaks to me also of persistency – a fundamentally necessary quality of the artist – and life in general).

Rob has a beautiful singing voice and he kindly allows me to continue to use his breathtakingly lovely and haunting composition, sung by himself, In This Simple Place Called Love. Here it is and here he is, on my You Tube video The Healing Power of Animals.



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Post-Walkabout, I Run into Archimedes and Tangerine Meg in the Pursuit of An Eco Collograph and Its Ghost

My Internet friend, and artist, Tangerine Meg, has just posted a blog listing different apologetics for Art, mentioning, among other things, the apparent dichotomy between Art and Science. That the dichotomy is just that, an apparency; that Art and Science are just two different routes to understanding the world.

It’s true that there’d be no scientific progress without imagination. What d’you think propelled Archimedes from his bath to run naked through the streets shouting, “Eureka!”?  And he did have it – Archimedes Principle (which I can to this day recite by heart only because when I was 13 I was made to write it out 500 times by my science teacher for failing to do my Physics homework).

Likewise, there’d be no art if it failed to progress beyond the idea: an idea comes into being through the development of technique. Both Art and Science are about problem-solving.

I am reminded of my very first art project at university. We were sent out onto the streets of the city to make drawings to translate into one huge drawing – a work of art in black and white. We were to go out and …”activate a space.” I didn’t have a clue as to how to activate a space, so I went out and did some drawings. I do recall being chased off a piece of land belonging to British Rail by a very angry official – I escaped by climbing up the side of a multi-storey car park, clutching a small section of abandoned rusty rail while shouting, “I’m an art student!” at the official as he accused me of theft of British Rail property. I used the rail in my second project, which was to develop a piece of sculpture from the spaces I’d activated (drawings). It never occurred to me at the time that I could have developed a project around the car park climbing incident.

The sculpture was hopeless and fell apart, as did British Rail, some years later. During the process of the first project, however – the large black and white drawing – I found myself going back to the departmental art shop time and again in frustration, in search of something to make blacker blacks. My professor came up behind me on one of those occasions and said something to the effect that black was black you know and maybe my problem was one of contrast. That was a Eureka! moment for me, though luckily it didn’t inspire me to run up and down a (British) rail track naked, shouting in Greek. That was the last time I trespassed on railway property, too.

I am back from my Walkabout as you see. I’m transitioning through a big change in my life. More on that another time. And I’m picking up where I left off with my Eco Collographs, but with an especial aim. More on that, also, another time. The above are from a series of prints of Purple Sage. For the first time, I made prints on both sides of the paper. As I’d noticed that the colour seeps through the paper during the printing process, I wanted to make use of that aspect. The first two images here are of prints made on one side of the paper and mirror images of each other.  The third image is a shot of the other side, on which there is a ghosting of the print on the reverse. Oh and these prints are longer at each side – too big for the scanner. So I’m back to contrast – a way of adding dimension and many other things. In fact, contrast is going to play a big part in  developing these works into something meaningful, what may be called Works of Art.

I wondered if there was a subliminal reason I was drawn to the Purple Sage and went to my delightful copy of Flowers and Flower Lore: Revd Hilderic Friend. I found the following about sage in the Plant Augury section of his Introduction:

“… a farmer recently informed me that the same plant [sage] would thrive or decline as the master’s business prospered or failed. He asserted that it was perfectly true, for at one time he was doing badly, and the Sage began to wither; but as soon as the tide turned the plant began to thrive again. This curious association of plants with the weal and woe of individuals and nations is widespread, …”

My tide is turning, I hope. I will soon be in a more settled position in which to give better form to my ideas. Like Archimedes and his Principle.

Flower and Flowerlore, in the chapter entitled The Magic Wand, makes mention of Red Sage. Apparently it will afford “… sight of one’s future husband. On Midsummer’s Eve, just at sunset, three, five, or seven, young women are to go into a garden in which there is no other person, and each gather a sprig of Red Sage. Then going into a room by themselves, they must set a stool in the middle of the room, and on it a clean basin full of Rose-water, into which the sprigs of sage are to be put. When certain other operations have been gone through, it is thought that the lover of each will appear at midnight.”

I already have a husband and am keeping him, but all ye young maidens out there, take note. It’s a great pity that the Revd Friend wasn’t more specific about those “… certain other operations …” that have to be gone through during the ritual for the apparitions to be brought forth. If any of you reading this have the rest of the spell, do let me know and I’ll pass it on to the world’s maidens.

The latin name for sage is Salvia – salve. It is a healing plant. I have sent away for some Red Sage, in the form of tea. Apparently, there are properties in Red Sage which lower cholesterol and as mine is sky high – despite the fact I’ve been a vegetarian for about 25 years – and I won’t take statins, it’s worth a shot.

And so you see that my colourful Internet friend Tangerine Meg writes true – Art is a way of understanding the world and Art and Science are not dichotomies, but intertwined. The practice of both Art and Science is an activity that leads to uses to humankind on all levels.

Have you had a Eureka! moment? What did it lead to?  I’d like to hear about it.








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