Tiny Sketchbook Project: Page Spread with Teaspoon

Another page spread from the Tiny Sketchbook.

With teaspoon.


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Tiny Sketchbook Project: Front Cover

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Tiny Sketchbook Project: A Two-Page Spread

Almost finished. A two-page spread from my Tiny Sketchbook for the Tiny Sketchbook Project touring exhibition.

I’m sending this from The Forest of Souls, where I’m holed-up writing my next very long blog.





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The Tiny Sketchbook Project – Some of the Eco Prints

A couple of shots of the tiny eco prints I’ve been making for The Tiny Sketchbook Project that’s touring Brooklyn/London/Paris later in the year. These are botanical prints from leaves gathered in my garden last autumn. The group picture is of some of the prints wet, right out of the pressure cooker, so they’re darker than when dry.

They’ve dried paler, of course. Here’s a finished one. Or rather, two. In fact, four: there are two more prints on the reverse side of this page. Yes, the book’s that tiny – about half the height of a teaspoon.

If you’re participating, get in touch. I’ll be going to the London venue to see some of the other sketchbooks in real life; and will check yours out.


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New Year’s Resolutions? I’ve Only Got the One: Clean Up My Room

I was painting the kitchen ceiling and in between brushstrokes came upon a newspaper article headed How Dangerous is Jordan B Peterson/The Right Wing Professor Who Hit a Hornets’ Nest? And I thought, “Who the hell is Jordan B Peterson?”

And so I looked up Jordan B Peterson. And I was still painting the ceiling at 3 am as I listened, while I painted, to back-to-back You Tube videos of his talks.

In fact, I’ve spent much of 2018 cleaning up my room. I’d already figured that I was going to get nowhere very fast unless I established dictator-like control over my chaos. And it is no surprise to me that as I was painting the kitchen ceiling, bracing myself to the knowledge I had six other ceilings to paint (not to mention the walls) I was introduced to Dr Jordan B Peterson, the doyen of Order and Chaos.  As he has himself said, once you start cleaning up your room something will turn up to help you in the task.

Actually, when I write that it came as no surprise to me that while in the process of painting the ceiling – restoring order to chaos – that I was introduced to Jordan B Peterson (in the form of this atrocious newspaper article) – it was a great shock. It is always a great shock to my system when something synchronous happens. Because it’s always accompanied by a special kind of energy and that isn’t mine.

I’m looking forward eagerly to those other ceilings (and walls, floors, doors) because I can listen to Jordan B Peterson talks while I paint. Oh, and his first book is called Maps of Meaning. Given my predilection for mapping, that’s no mean synchronous event I’ve had here. And double oh! – it’s no coincidence I was painting the ceiling. If you’re going to clean up your room, your own ceiling – your head – is going to get cleaned up too. Which is the point, really.

So, my wishes for you in 2019 are:

Go Clean Up Your Room!


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Mark Making, The Zen of Seeing, the Byzantine Monocondyle and the Seven Bridges of Königsberg

Warning: really long blog coming up. (I had to do a really long poetic walk this time).

The quote opening my blog of 29 August was from  The Zen of Seeing: Frederick Franck. Intrigued, I sent for the book. In parallel with my discovery of the book, I had begun exploring in pencil the watery, waterlilied space of the pond in my new garden. And had found myself drawing without looking at the paper. It is not the same, but it reminded me of automatic writing.

The Zen of Seeing is presented in the author’s handwriting. He explains in the foreword it’s because his book is, “… a love letter, and love letters should not be typeset …”  It was going to be a book that demanded intimacy. The book fell open on a section in which Franck advises drawing without looking at the paper.  Can you hear those synchronous cogs grinding into motion?

When next I was able to sit in front of my waterlilies, I saw that I hadn’t drawn without looking at the paper in my previous drawing, but from time to time, had looked down on and corrected the drawing into a semblance of what I was looking at. Unconsciously, I had been looking for physical verisimilitude and engaged tricks I knew from academic drawing. I was re-visiting a road I’ve travelled in the past that had driven me away from the love of drawing. I saw that I should have been drawing a love letter – to waterlilies.

Franck explains even this. Opening his first-ever workshop with a lecture, he posed a rhetorical question: “Who is Man, the Artist?” and answered it: “He is the core of everyman, before he is choked by schooling, training, conditioning until the artist-within shrivels up and is forgotten. Even in the artist who is professionally-trained to be consciously “creative” this unspoiled core shrivels up in the rush toward a “personal style, …”

As a child, I drew and drew. I have a faded childhood image of sleeping in a bed made up in a bath. In later life I learned this was because I persistently ruined the wallpaper in every room, by drawing on it. I was enhancing every room with skirting board-level friezes of my drawings. I could do little damage confined to the bathroom. (I must have been a very determined draughtsgirl to have deserved incarceration). Drawing made of me a problem to be solved by removing me from society.

By the end of my fine art degree course, drawing had become an agony. I hardly draw any more. The university’s Fine Art department had the reputation of being largely hands-off, of letting the student develop in his/her own way. The concept is benign, but there’s a flaw. This approach fails to dig out the student’s own pre-conceived ideas and misperceptions. I had already developed a notion of how I was supposed to draw. Before arriving on the course, I had been ” … choked by schooling, training, conditioning.”  I needed de-programming. I was left to kill my love of drawing. I think I should have been made aware that I needed to love first my subject matter/to find subject matter that I loved. I might have discovered then that in drawing (as in all endeavour) love is the goal.

I made my way back to the pond and set about Franck’s exercise in drawing without looking at the paper and the second image here is the result. The drawing bears neither  resemblance to a pond, nor to waterlilies. It is closer visually to automatic writing. It is not automatic writing.  Or is it? Reflecting on the exercise afterwards, there was some other engaged, in drawing only by looking at the subject matter. You can’t not engage with the subject matter. What happened in that terra incognito between the eye and the hand?  I think it’s love.

Some of this unknown land has been mapped, in terms of science. In A Painter’s Eye Movements:  A Study of Eye and Hand Movement during Portrait Drawing (Miall and Tchalenko) I found this in the conclusion:  The artist’s actions are essentially driven by the picture’s progress—they are goal oriented.

Drawing by looking only at the subject has a different goal. My drawing is a (poetic!) map, tracing only my walk through the subject. It’s heading towards an act of love, for if I suggest that drawing should be an act of love, walking I also suggest should likewise be (and in fact is) an act of love and not just for the terrain. I’m looking forward with new enthusiasm to exploring drawing again – making my mark, through love. When I approach mark-making from now on I will attempt to become again the child that had to be shut up in the bathroom to stop it from being destructive – to stop it from loving and mark-making.

Franck goes on to say: “SEEING/DRAWING is … a way of inscape from the overloaded switchboard, (his  metaphor for the “non-creative environment” … that constantly bombards us, overloads our switchboard with noise, with agitation and visual stimuli.”)  Seeing/drawing “…establishes an island of silence, an oasis of undivided attention, an environment to recover in …”  Here, drawing parallels meditating.  From this view, I see that as I draw I will become aware of surfacing thoughts and memories. In meditation, these would be acknowledged but allowed to move on as distractions from the goal. In drawing, they may end up incorporated into the work; as part of the journey to love.

That first day I began drawing again, drawing the pond, I had my usual sense of imprisonment, my out-of-loveness, with the process. Then the means of re-gaining my freedom and love had fallen into my hands – almost at the same time – in the form of Franck’s book. Those synchronistic cogs were to continue to grind when I stumbled upon another relative of automatic writing, the monocondyle. I read, at Evangelical Textual Criticism:

“Recently a student of mine came across this subscription to 1 Timothy in Greg.-Aland 1977 (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana ms. laur. Plut. 10.9):  The problem was how to interpret what is in the frame on the picture, a so called monocondyle, a conventional scholarly term formed from the classical Greek adjective μονοκόνδυλος, “having but one joint” (said of the thumb). The term designates a word or sentence written without lifting pen from paper. Monocondyles occur in Byzantine MSS [dating] from the 10th century [onwards].

Monocondyle, [monokondylos] … a word or sentence written without lifting pen from paper. Monocondyles occur in Byzantine MSS [dating] from the 10th century [onwards].” Tommy Wasserman

Bibliotechnique Nationale de France: L’aventure des écritures: La calligraphie: D’un seul trait c’est ainsi que l’on pourrait traduire le mot grec savant monokondylos qui désigne à l’époque byzantine et postbyzantine une écriture enchevêtrée, faite de boucles et de courbes et dont la caractéristique matérielle essentielle est précisément la continuité parfaite du trait : aucune séparation ne vient interrompre le tracé de la plume sur la page.” With apologies for my translating abilities:

© Bibliothèque nationale de France: Traité d’arithmétique (Page from an Arithmetical Treatise): Byzance 1350-1375

“The Adventure of Writing: Calligraphy: ‘With a single line’ is how one could translate the Greek word Monokondylos which in the Byzantine and post-Byzantine eras was a sort of tangled writing, a writing constructed of buckles and curves, the essential characteristic being the continuity of the line: there must be no interruption in the mark being made by the pen on the page.

“Affecting most often a few words only at the end of a document or book, this style of writing seems to have appeared in the Byzantine domain towards the 10th century BCE. The origin of the monocondyle seems to be in documentary writing, in Acts or Diplomas public or private, in which most often the monocondyle is found in the names of the signatories.”

“The originality of the mark-making guarantees the authenticity of the signature and thus the Act.”

Cette fonction rend parfaitement compte des caractéristiques principales du monocondyle ; virtuellement illisible et donc inimitable, le monocondyle doit rester déchiffrable et visible. Réduire la transparence du signe sans détruire sa signification, voilà la délicate opération que doit accomplir le scribe. Again excusing my translating abilities: “This function accounts perfectly for the principal characteristics of the monocondyle; virtually un-readable and thus inimitable, the monocondyle must remain decipherable and visible. To reduce the transparency of the sign without destroying its meaning, this is the delicate operation which the scribe must accomplish.”

Maybe the most important aspect of the monocondyle is that it was used to embellish biblical text and was, in this light, an act of love. Here’s a link to the web site of textile artist Stéphanie Devaux (Stéphanie Devaux Textus) who has made art working with the monocondyle.

In the monocondyle I am reminded of Paul Klee’s definition of drawing, quoted on Artsy as “An active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal.”  Klee: Pedagogical Sketchbook. I was interested to read: Klee studied nature obsessively, and took a particular interest in the branching forms of plants, organ systems, and waterways. In his lectures, he described these patterns with scientific specificity, mapping mathematical equations and arrow-filled diagrams on the board. He explored how seeds sprout, how leaves develop ribs, and how lakes break off into streams, almost always ending with an awe-inspiring assertion about the magic contained in nature’s growth and development.”

It occurs to me that mark-making by way of the monocondyle is drawing by use of all available resources until they are completely exhausted. The carrying-out of the mark requires an astonishing number of skills. Some would be (in no particular order) conscious looking/seeing, contemplation, planning, forethought, weighing up, physical materials and knowing their extents and limitations, timing, concentration, balance, self-knowledge/examination, spiritual/emotional state.  It occurs to me also that drawing in this way, whatever the end result, would be totally honest. The crudest and shortest of marks is honourable, if it is the best one can do at that particular time, with the resources available. It is also a way of drawing that acts out a good rule for living.

On the metaphysical level, the monocondyle by my definition, points I suggest to a parallel between the mark-making of the artist and that of The Great Originator, who/which would have an infinity of resources. Originator can (and did) draw the perfect monocondyle (the whole of existence and Us!) and infinitely and maybe it would be useful to consider ourselves as at origin, each one of us, perfect monocondyles – an absolute drawn by the Originator without lifting the pen from the page. Any mark made by an artist emanates from and is an extension of the artist. Each of us, therefore, by this logic, would have to be an emanation and extension of the Originator.

I didn’t invent this idea (ha! as ever); it’s stated in different ways in religious teachings. Christianity: The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17.
Hinduism/Krsna: It’s written in the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Spirit) that God dwells in everything. The Upanishads reveals that God is hidden in all living beings.

As an aside, yet also synchronous: scanning the Gita (Song of the Spirit) I found: One’s inferior natural work is better than superior unnatural work. One who does the work ordained by one’s inherent nature incurs no sin.  I seem to have echoed this when I wrote, above, that: The crudest and shortest of marks is honourable, if it is the best one can do at that particular time, with the resources available.

The path that had led me to Klee’s definition of drawing was bifurcated and re-tracing my steps back to the crossroads I took the second road less travelled (for there are always more than one, you know) and soon found myself lost among the Seven Bridges of Königsberg (SBK). Königsberg, once part of Prussia and now Kaliningrad, Russia, is situated on both sides of the River Pregel and includes two islands connected to each other and the two mainlands, by seven bridges. SBK is also a mathematical problem set by Leonhard Euler in 1736 and which gave birth to a new branch of geometry known as Graph Theory. Of interest to me artistically, was that Graph Theory prefigured Topology, which deals with the properties of space preserved under continuous deformations, such as stretching, twisting, crumpling and bending, but not tearing or gluing. The Mobius Strip would be a form of this nature.

I was warned not to confuse Topology with Topography (the study of the shape and features of land surfaces; or with Tomography (an imaging method which combines slices or sections of a form and used in disciplines such as radiology, archaeology, quantum physics). I won’t heed the warning, as they all apply to drawing, to looking and seeing, to mark-making, as they are all just different ways of trying to see and understand the world. I see it as a warning to inspect my waterlilies from more than just the linear.

I will finish with some marks I made recently using a rusted trowel I found under a hedge. I swaddled it with a length of silk from the Bursa silk market in Turkey and bound it close against the rust with rubber bands, left it exposed to the elements for a week, spraying it every day with a vinegar/water solution.

Here’s another warning: drawing can be dangerous. I accidentally walked into the pond in the dark the other night. Oy, oy, oy, it was cold. The pond’s hip-deep in the middle.

Having had to spend much of 2018 setting up (including building with my own hands (as well as my husband’s) an extra exterior room) in 2019 I will be progressing a project to develop artwork from ideas expressed in some of my blogs and then compile the results into small books. And other projects. I’m looking forward to 2019.


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On the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice: Shanks, E., 100 Years Dead, Not Forgotten

Edwin Shanks

‘O lad that I loved, there is rain on your face,
And your eyes are blurred, and sick with the plain.’  –  Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967):  I Stood with the Dead (June 1918)

My maternal grandfather’s younger brother Edwin was killed in action in the vicinity of Arras, near the Belgian border, one month before the 1918 Armistice. He had enlisted twice, underage. The first time, he followed my grandfather – granda – out to France and granda had him sent back home. He wasn’t aware of his second enlistment.

Like countless others, Edwin has no grave. As commemoration his name is carved into a stone on a wall, at a small Canadian Cemetery in Vis-en-Artois. My grandfather, who was decorated twice for bravery (once for leaving his trench to go into no-man’s-land to drag a wounded officer back to safety) mourned his brother Edwin for the rest of his days.

George William Shanks, wearing his Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM)

After the war, granda returned to his job as a coal miner. He retired at 65 – having risen to the position of deputy and a framed certificate, presented by the Coal Board, hung on the wall of the sitting room. It honoured him for 50 years Meritorious Service.

Another framed certificate hung on the  wall. It proclaimed that he was being presented with the keys to the city of Ypres. He visited Ypres not many years before he died in 1965, with a group of veteran soldiers of the First World War. He was already ill – enough that his doctor warned him he ought not to go, but adding that he knew very well he had to, and would. Something to that effect.

Menin Gate, Ypres

Granda always spoke of Ypres as Wipers – the deliberate mispronunciation adopted by English-speaking soldiers of the 1917 Battle of Passchendaele, in which nearly half a million souls were lost.

Granda also fought in the Battle of the Somme.

During WWII he served in the community as a special policeman.

Granda loved his garden. He grew vegetables on one side and roses on the other. His favourite rose was the yellow rose called Peace. I have a vivid memory of him showing me a beautiful blossom and telling me it was the rose called Peace.

He won a scholarship to grammar school, but his family were abjectly poor and at 11 years of age he was sent down the mine to earn a few pennies extra income for the family. He never owned a house, nor a car, nor amassed any wealth. After he retired, with just a state pension, he yet would never come back from a trip to the local town without having bought me a sketchbook, exercise book to write my stories in, or a pencil. He had the gift of Love.

My granda’s war efforts along with those of innumerable others made it possible for me to have a secondary education where they didn’t. I was just 14 when he died. I’m glad that he lived long enough to see me go to grammar school. I was the first in the family.

Later I went on to university which opened my life to travel abroad and it was while I was living in France that I visited the Normandy villages and beaches of the Second World War and wept among those rows upon rows of white crosses that stretched endlessly into an impossible distance. I also visited Vimy Ridge where trenches have been preserved and was able to walk – to stand with the dead – in one of these. The ground around undulates – green waves –  from crater to crater and some areas are cordoned-off where there may still be live ammunition.

And of course, I have visited that Canadian cemetery in Vis-en-Artois, to stand in front of the stone which carries my great-uncle Edwin’s name, on the spot where my granda had stood in the early 60s. I went into the town and found a florist, where I was able to buy a single yellow rose – to represent the yellow Peace rose my grandfather cultivated in his council house garden – and I took it back to the cemetery and leaned it against the wall and below the stone on which was writ: Shanks, E.

Shanks, E: 100 years dead, not forgotten.

Weeping Window: Ashington Colliery, Northumberland (Michael Whitehead)


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Black Bean Dye and Black Bean Soup

Silks and Cottons Dyed with Black Bean Dye using Alum as Mordant

“Beans, you know, are beautifully shaped, like a new church, like modern architecture, like a planned city”  ― Janet Frame, Scented Gardens for the Blind

My love affair with Titanium oxalate continues …

In my search for blue, I’ve wanted to try dyeing with black beans again as my first and second attempts failed. The first because I used black beluga lentils instead of black beans. Duh! Both, I suspect because I added Soda Ash as a mordant.

Black Bean Dye

I soaked the beans overnight, using one cup of beans and three cups of cold tap water.
I drained the beans and put them aside for soup.
I divided the liquid (now a lovely dark blue) between two large kilner jars.
I added a teaspoonful of Alum mordant to one jar and a teaspoonful of Titanium oxalate to the other.
I placed an assortment of silks and cottons in each jar with some of the beans on top to keep the fabrics from floating above the level of the dye.
The dye with the alum mordant turned a rich purple-blue.
The dye with the Titanium oxalate mordant turned a sinister shade of blackberry.
I left the jars outside for three days and nights, shaking them up at regular intervals (during the day!) and shifting them around to catch the sun.
After three days I took the fabrics out, rinsed them under cold running water, washed them with organic vegan liquid soap, rinsed and dried them.
The fabrics soaked in the black bean dye with the alum mordant turned a variety of gorgeous blues.
The fabrics soaked in the black bean dye with the Titanium oxalate turned a variety of  equally gorgeous subdued greens

Black Bean Soup

The fabrics soaking in the dye jars, I turned my attention to the beans and decided to make a soup from them.

There’s a huge quince tree in the garden hanging low right now with its crop of ripe quinces. I harvested three huge specimens, peeled, cored, chunked them and set them aside in water with a little salt added to prevent discolouration.
I peeled and diced three small red onions, then sautéed them in olive oil until soft.
I added a couple of cloves of crushed garlic towards the end of the sautéing period.
I added a teaspoonful of smoked paprika and the same of cumin.
I chopped a red pepper and added that.
I halved some cherry tomatoes (freshly picked from the plants in the greenhouse) and added those.
I added a tin of organic chopped tomatoes.
I dissolved an organic vegan stock cube in half a pint of boiling water and added that.
I added some sweet potato squares from a pack I had in the freezer.
I added some dried red lentils (no need to pre-soak lentils).
I added the quince.
I added the soaked black beans.
I simmered this for about an hour (until the beans were palatable) adding extra water to achieve the desired consistency.

Silks and Cottons Dyed with Black Bean Dye using Titamium Oxalate as Mordant

While the soup was simmering, I made a loaf of French bread (white bread with a nice hard crust) in the bread machine. This took three and a half hours and was baked just in time for us to sit down to dine on the soup.

I wished I’d taken a picture of the soup. It was a lovely autumnal orange colour. Ah, well, next time. It was delicious, tangy from the quince, sweet from the sweet potatoes and smoky from the smoked paprika. Spicy from the cumin. I recommend it. If you can’t get quince, just substitute with apples.

Nothing wasted.

The results of my dyeing experiment were difficult to photograph; the last shows the truest colours. It also shows the radically different results obtained by use of mordants: in this case Alum and Titanium oxalate.

Silks and Cottons Dyed with Black Bean Dye using Alum as Mordant and Titanium Oxalate as Mordant

Do I have to remind – folks – not to cook and dye at the same time, using the same pots and pans and utensils? You don’t want to confuse bread flour with Alum powder, do you? And I don’t think Titanium oxalate soup would taste very nice, somehow.

The blue reminds me of the Blue Damsels which haunted the pond in the summer. The greens are the colours of the herbs I’ve dried.

I think I’m on the way to achieving some some good architecture with black beans.

Acknowledgements (in no particular order):

Crafty Katie Gates
Osborn Studio
The Easy Blues
Free People
Wild Colours UK
The Silk Thread
Botanical Colours

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A Titanic Love Affair, Horse Chestnut Husk Dye and Mordanting with Moses the Chemist

Photo: Jonathan Billinger

My titanic love affair has little to do with those 12 sprogs/pre-Olympian gods of Uranus, less still the ill-fated ship of that name. I’m in love with the oxalate of a mineral element,  Titanium Oxalate (C4O8Ti) which is a new kid on the block in the mordanting (fixing) of natural dyes. And a very dynamic love affair it is going to be.

I’d not found any UK suppliers for it, didn’t want to risk importing it from the US (given that it comes as a white powder in little packets); then was excited to find it listed on Wild Colours.

Titanium(Ti), a mineral element, was discovered in 1791 in Cornwall by William Gregor, clergyman and amateur mineralogist. He discovered the mineral after he moved to the rectory of Creed in Cornwall and began an analysis of the minerals of Cornwall. The first image here is of St Crida’s church, Creed, where Gregor preached when he wasn’t mineral-hunting.

King Mark of Cornwall: ill. Howard Pyle

St Crida’s  today is active in the Celtic Christianity tradition. Crida is said to have been the youngest daughter of King Mark, who ruled middle Cornwall from 515 to 560 AD. During his reign, Britain was invaded from the east by the Saxons. The Brits fled west, some to Wales, others to France by boat. Crida built a nunnery – by the river Fal – for the welfare of refugees while they awaited boats to take them across the Channel.

King Mark is famous in Arthurian Legend as the uncle of Tristan, whom he sent as his proxy to Ireland to fetch back his young bride, Iseult. Tristan and Iseult fell in love on the way back, with tragic consequences. The Wagnerian opera Tristan und Isolde ends with my most favourite Wagnerian aria Liebestod (the Love-Death Song) and I have not been afraid to tackle this aria myself. I should have been. But then it doesn’t matter because nobody will ever hear me singing it.

The opera had to overcome so many difficulties before it premiered, that it gained the reputation of being unperformable. Here’s my favourite rendition of Liebestod:

I like the legend which tells how Mark’s daughter Crida required her nuns to pray in different places each day, the reason being that when they prayed Jesus would come and stand beside them and wherever Jesus’ feet touched, the ground was made Holy. Praying in this way would effect, eventually, the sanctification of the whole land.

Titanium is very strong, which is why it was named in 1795, by Martin Heinrich Klaproth,  for The Titans, those first (very strong) gods of the cosmos. Klaproth was a German chemist who discovered uranium, cerium and zirconium. In 1787, he was appointed lecturer in chemistry to the Prussian Royal Artillery. It looks like he was on the way to nuclear fission long before Otto Hahn in 1938.

Trying to sanctify the earth by prayer has got to be a better way of passing your day.

My titanium arrived just as I was about to try and extract dye from green horse chestnut husks. There’s a massive horse chestnut tree in the garden and it hurls down bucketfuls of the green spiky things at this time of the year. Some of the husks were so big they contained three chestnuts, each in its individual nest within the husk.

I chopped the green husks into smaller pieces. It’s important to use fresh, green husks and the husks go brown quickly once they’ve left the tree, so you have to be quick about the harvesting.

WARNING:  HORSE chestnuts, as opposed to SWEET chestnuts are POISONOUS to humans, ingested, in case you didn’t know, so don’t eat them.

I simmered the husks in rainwater for a couple of hours to release the dye. I then added some sample pieces of a variety of cottons and silks and continued simmering for about another two hours.

I left the fabrics in the dye to cool down overnight – in the end about 24 hours – then rinsed them and dried them. I then washed them with organic vegan soap, dried and ironed them.

Next I added a teaspoonful of the titanium oxalate to the dye pot and – wait for it – the dye and husks turned blood red right in front of my eyes.

Moses Striking the Rock: Bible Boskovicka

I felt like an alchemist.  I felt like Moses. When he used staff or rod to turn the Nile into blood in front of the pharaoh’s eyes. And killed all the fish. It made me wonder about a scientific explanation as to how Moses and the pharaoh’s magicians might have turned river water into blood. Was it really blood? Did he use Titanium oxalate? And how?

Research soon taught me that Titanium oxalate isn’t such a new kid on the mordanting block and mordanting (fixing) dyes dates to Ancient China and Ancient Egypt. Pharaoh’s magicians were early chemists? Moses was brought up in the courts of two pharaohs. We don’t know their names as they weren’t named in The Bible, so are known as The Pharaoh who enslaved the Israelites and The Pharaoh of The Exodus. Did Moses’ schooling include instruction in the chemistry of magic? Even though Titanium oxalate wasn’t discovered until the 1700s, that was in the West. It may very well have been in use in Ancient Egypt. It was still a candidate for the water-to-blood trick.

Moses: The Burning Bush: St Isaac’s Cathedral: St Petersburg

Moses would have needed a lot of it. Or would he? I used a teaspoonful it in a reasonably large pan of water. I may have got away with using much less. A few grains perhaps. Moses used a rod or staff to turn water to blood. The Rod or Staff of Moses is first mentioned in The Bible when Moses encountered God in the Burning Bush, when God seems to have endowed the staff with special powers. “And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs”. Moses, like most magicians, had an assistant in his water-to-blood trick: his brother Aaron, who too had a magic rod. 

Moses’ Staff is of great fame and legend, mentioned both in The Bible and The Quran. Likewise the Rod of Aaron. According to Jewish tradition, Moses’ rod and Aaron’s were one and the same and handed down through the ages from Adam onwards. It is even said that it still exists, in Turkey, the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul.

Many paths lead from the crossroad marked magic rods. I’ll enjoy these walks. I find I am brought back full circle to the drawings I’ve begun of the pond. What have magic rods to do with these? The pond (water) has been populated this summer by blue, green and black, and orange dragonflies. They are rod-like. And very magical. Rods with wings.

And if it wasn’t Titanium oxalate that turned the Nile into blood, there’s a chemical experiment that appears to turn water into wine or blood, using sodium carbonate and a few drops of phenolphthalein.  And you can turn the bloody liquid back to clear water again by blowing on it. How wonderfully magical is that? How wonderfully chemical is that? And maybe Moses’ rod was just simply, miracle-bringing.

As far as my dyeing experiment is concerned, horse chestnut dye without mordant produced lovely soft pinky shades. The image on the right doesn’t bring out the pink. Trust me.

The addition of Titanium oxalate culminated in  these stunning saffron and gold-yellow colours on the left.

Both sets of colours are pertinent to my subject matter. The horse chestnuts are from a tree in my garden close to the pond. Yellows and golds abound in the garden. During this first year of occupancy I’ve noticed the garden has a purple and gold theme. It will be magnificent fully restored. (I hope).

When I am more settled in my new home, and able to find time to think for longer periods, I will be developing some work that pulls together all these different walks off of crossroads. I will be following Moses the alchemist across the desert, searching for the Philosopher’s Stone, aka freedom from (spiritual) slavery and oppression, aka eternal life.

I’m not going to fling Titanium oxalate into the pond to see if it turns red. It won’t free anybody from slavery. I don’t want to kill my fish. Or my cat Keeks who prefers to steal water than drink the legit (natural spring) water provided for her daily in her posh water bowl indoors.

I’m thinking more along these lines of The Metaphysical Bible Dictionary:

“Moses means drawing out, extracting, i. e., from the water. The birth of Moses represents man’s development in consciousness of the law of his being, from the negative side. Water represents universal negation; but water also represents the great possibility. Out of seemingly negative conditions comes the new growth.”






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Be strong, even if it breaks your heart –  Dr Who

This resonated.

I wondered for a brief moment how being strong would break the heart. Then thought: Sophie’s Choice.

I reckon there comes a time we all have to make Sophie’s Choice, one way or another. Over and over, even. Every day, even.

If this quote resonates with you, I send you a cyber-hug. You deserve it.




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