y guilt-inspired post Christmas fitness drive has fizzled out, leaving me hobbling on swollen knee and in dire need of buttered toast to cheer me up. But no matter - 'tis an excuse to carry on with my painting. This painting's pretty big - I wish I was paid by the feather...
It's very interesting to find the parallels in the processes of painting & woodcut making. For me personally, they are both led by the discovery of lines, and shapes, and patterns. And then there is an austerity to the simplicity of the choices with cutting wood; what kind of mark, and black, or white? I am trying to keep that simplicity in my painting, whilst staying alive to the serendipity of the paint, and the sheer beauty of all those colours...
've picked up a paintbrush this week for the first time in a while, partly because I love painting and have a bit of a craving for colour after all my b & w printmaking, and partly to get my brain thinking about colour in my woodcuts. Also, I'm allowed, because it's definitely too wet and murky outside to be clambering around in apple trees with a pruning saw... Nothing finished yet, but fingers crossed. I do have a dreadful habit of washing my brush in my tea and spilling my dirty water all over everything.
The highlight of my week was sitting beside Anna (who's 11 now), and watching her design, cut and print her first ever lino print - of a Lion! My only job was to see that no fingers came to grief - Anna did all the rest.
It was bright and sunny at the beginning of the week, and the bees were buzzing busily from the hives, so it looks as if all three colonies will make it through the winter.
"You can not just accept the things you see around you as consequences of some random and unjust world. You are part of that very world".
ur week begins with a drive to Yelland, and a rare walk along the far shore of the Estuary to Instow, with the slenderest hope of spotting an over-wintering Spoonbill. No luck.... but we do see Redshank, Curlews, Moorhens and Wigeon, as well as a big flock of Canada geese and a grand deceit of Lapwings. There were two 'teenage' herons wading the mudflats. Without their adult plumes they looked for all the world like driftwood stick-sculptures just barely come to life.
While we ate a delicious Instow pasty we watched an Egret 'dancing' in the muddy rills,speedily shaking one foot into the silt to raise a morsel for its lunch. Even looking through binoculars on such a monochromatic day, the group of Shelduck on the flats looked far too colourful to belong here. Shelduck would make a brave colour print!
The highlight of the ramble for me ( well, ok, after the pasty...) was the sight of a small 'parcel' of Linnets foraging at the base of one of the abandoned jetties; they looked so pretty - and so busy.
All the sunny afternoons this week have been spent hedging and pruning the apple trees, with guidance from a good friend. Susanne says she hears the tree cry out when we take off a branch, but I hear ' Ah, now I can breathe again'.
There appear to be even more dreadful people in charge of the world right now than our usual quota, and the biggest twerp I'm going to try really hard not to talk about is Donald Trump. But I have just read a little article by a Ghanaian/ American author called Yaa Gyasi, from which I'll gratefully quote:
"For some people Politics is written with a capital "P". It is abstract and distant. For those people, this election is a quick thunderstorm; it will settle. A racist, misogynistic, xenophobic president is horrible, of course, but this horror won't touch your beautiful, blond four-year-old whose pictures you post in the aftermath with messages about how he is sunshine in the rain or "the future"....Safety is wonderful, but it is also precious because there are people for whom politics becomes a daily assault on their bodies, their wealth, their posterity. It is a privilege to look at your child and not be able to imagine all the horrible ways he might die the second he leaves your house. Black American mothers have been doing this imaginative work since the day the first mother was stolen from her home, child snatched from her arms."
n a wild and windy day we see three Gannets way out to sea, and watch the Fulmars on the cliffs, which somehow appear to fly effortlessly straight into the wind.
I've been reading 'Wuthering Heights' - the Folio edition, with wood engravings by Peter Forster. I think it's a marvellous synthesis of word and image; the pictures really play their part in bringing the whole to life.
A little book I bought as a Christmas present for myself was 'Beasts and Saints' by Helen Waddell, with lots of wonderful wood engravings by the Irish artist Robert Gibbings. His engravings are simpler and more linear in character than most, and really interesting to me. I particularly love his frogs!
I wrote my first - and so far only - book when I was five years old. When I proudly presented 'Art In Plain' to my Dad, he feared he might have a precocious little prodigy on his hands, until I explained that the title was not some profound statement on the Nature of Art, but rather on the fact that he hadn't yet bought me any coloured pencils.
he kids are back at school, and Susi & I beat the 12th Night Blues with a quick ramble on the Burrows, which we justify as a driftwood foraging expedition. I always have the best creative intentions for the wood that's washed in, sculpted by the sea. But then it gets cold, and the log pile lowers...
No sooner do we pay our toll, than a Kingfisher greets us from the fence. I've never before seen one so still for so long, with its bright white throat and gleaming chestnut front. And then something scares it ( which could possibly have been Susanne accidentally winding up the car window, I couldn't say...) and it's off. Most times what you see of a Kingfisher is a memory - by the time your brain can process the image, the emerald flash is gone, so this was quite special.
But then we hear shotguns on the estuary, and all the while we watch the ducks and geese through our bedrizzled binoculars we continue to hear the shots, and know that they are aimed at these same birds, just a little way off.
We arrive back at the car park at the same time as the wildfowlers, and ask them, 'why?' Their very politely delivered reply is 'Because we can'. I don't know what species they take, or how many, but that day's bag was mainly Teal, Mallard, Wigeon and Canada geese. I don't know if they ate their catch, but there can't be more than a mouthful or two on a shot-splattered Teal. All of these ducks are on the RSPB Amber list. Braunton Burrows Nature Reserve is at the heart of the North Devon Biosphere, and so it was quite a shock to discover hunting is allowed in such an important sanctuary. I'd like to know more about the accommodation that's been made here between conservationists and 'sportsmen', but so far the Biosphere Office hasn't got back to me.
A few Fulmars are back on the cliffs, claiming their nesting ledges. The gorse is in flower already, and today we saw the first snowdrop.
appy New Year! May we all make the most of it.
We saw 2017 in in style, on Sandy Cove, with the best of friends and a roaring bonfire. We leapt into the sea just before midnight, and toasted the New Year in with mulled cider toddy & roasted marshmallows. A most excellent beginning...
A couple days earlier we had another really good walk to Crow Point. It was a pretty grey old day, but the sun cast a beautiful red tint over everything just before it set. On the estuary shoreline we saw Brent Geese, Egrets, Oystercatchers and a solitary Curlew. Turning back towards The White House more small skeins of Brent Geese winged over us to land, and a big flock of Canada Geese came in to roost on the sandbanks. A 'coil' (?) of Wigeon swam up a narrow channel in single file from the river to the shore, near enough for us to see their lovely colours and patterns.
Then, close inshore, a Great Northern Diver! He was very busy fishing, and came up with three crabs and a dab while we watched. The crabs had to be somersaulted in the air a couple times so all those legs & pincers would go down the right way.
It was dimmity by the time we got to the Sunken Meadow, but we could just make out Teal, Dabchicks and Redshanks. Finally, as we drove away, a huge white owl flew from the hedge and roused and half-heartedly persued a flock of Lapwings. What a wonderful day!
I know I've used a lot of bird names here. I don't really think that a bird, or tree, or flower becomes more beautiful because we know its name. But 'naming' seems to be a very deep human impulse. I think it's the beginning of being able to find out and understand more about 'the other'; to endow that which is named with a life, and a story, so that we can imagine it as an entity in its own right, and not solely an impression on our senses.
My main sensory impression on January 1st was cold, wet misery. We had a muddy, drizzly hike to Heddon's Mouth, where Guy & I had a painfully abrasive dip, then we all huddled for our picnic in the lime kiln above the beach. On the way back there was a plucky Dipper in the river, heading upstream, bouncing from boulder to boulder. Home to fire, and tea, and Granny's finest Australian Boiled Fruit Cake!
The bees were flying on Christmas Eve morn, and Pipistrelle bats at dusk. I thought how mild it was, until I took my compulsory horrid Christmas dip.
There are some lovely art books awaiting me under the Christmas Tree, and a rather intimidating set of watercolour brushes. Susi's even more scared; she's got a Sable Series 7! Must get back to work, just as soon as I've had one last mince pie...
idel Castro has died. What will become of Cuba now? Will the Cubans be able to hold on to the best of their Revolution, in the face of their hulking girt neighbour? I hope they'll find a way.
I have not died, merely succumbed to tonsillitis. Curled up on the sofa with David Copperfield ( the novel, not the magnificently coiffed magician ) and a mug of honeyed lemon, being poorly's not so bad.
wo solid days of all-hands-on-deck apple pressing, and two hundred bottles of delicious, concentrated summer goodness!
We have a couple little apple trees on a steep bank in the paddock, and, coming home one day, we saw the West of England gander grabbing a slender trunk in its beak, and shaking as hard as could be. A few apples fell, and rolled away from him down the bank, to where his wives were waiting to gobble them. The gander made no attempt to race down the bank after the fruit; his labours surely demonstrated foresight and altruism, which puts him way up the ladder from our current guv'nors.
I've been thinking more about bringing colour in to my prints in a simple way, and have ordered a set of Ternes Burton pins, which are made in Minnesota, and designed as an aid to foolproof registration of the multiple blocks required for colour printmaking. I think the large scale of my woodcuts might be a bit of a stretch for them though - we'll have to see.
Happy Birthday Mick!
t last some Good News from The World Beyond Lee. The good guys won in Austria!A Well, we must make the most of what we can get...
I've finished a small woodcut - 'Storm Petrels', which I think has a rather medieval feel to it, particularly in the sea patterns I've found. Now I'm working on a tiny woodcut of Canaries. I think this will be a 'white line' colour print, as that technique suits the small scale very well.
Walking along the high tide line at Woolacombe Beach we stumble upon a washed-up baby porpoise, which is sad. It seems to have fallen to us from another dimension.
In the garden one morning I espy a Goldcrest in the bare branches of the apple tree. Goldcrests are even tinier than Wrens. They are on the Green List, though it's quite unusual for us to see them here. I don't know how such tiny bodies can hold the reserves they need to see them through the winter. Personally, I don't have that problem.
Happy Birthday Mum!
onald Trump is President Elect of the US of A, and so probably the most powerful man on the planet. It's been a funny old year, and the world seems upside-down. I really think there must be a little more to this Democracy lark than just putting a cross in a box every four years. That doesn't appear to be working too well right now. Head temporarily in hands, but not buried too deep in the sand. Sometimes it seems like everything's gone mad and there's nothing we can do to change the world. But then we must be doubly sure not to let the world change us.
I have just finished reading 'The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse' by Louise Erdrich, who is a wonderful and inspiring chronicler of a very different America - life over generations on and around a Chippewa Indian Reservation in North Dakota. I think the world would be a far more beautiful place if the writers and the artists were in charge, and could they possibly make it any more crazy?
Yesterday a call like a Raven's, but sounding much softer, and way up high, caused us to look up and see five Cranes flapping slowly overhead, with neck and legs outstretched. They looked enormous! They were probably part of the Great Crane Project on the Somerset Levels. A few years ago some Crane eggs were brought to England from nests in Germany, in order to re-establish a British breeding population after an absence of around 400 years. The eggs were artificially hatched, and the Crane chicks hand reared, and later released. Let's hope they stick around; they seem to be doing so far. To see them was a real blessing.
The 'Lapwing'woodcut is finished, and I am pleased. Sometimes everything just seems to work out well. It was finished just in time for the Christmas Show at The Burton.
make a start on a large square-format woodcut of Lapwings taking off, inspired by the flocks we've been seeing on the Burrows. Lapwings are on the Red List now. I read that they can be very vulnerable to extreme cold, so I hope it's not too harsh for them this winter. As well as being very beautiful birds, I think they have great character. Their tumbling, moth-like flight is immediately identifiable, as are their upright crests, and they often seem quite unpeturbed as one draws nearer.
A flock of Lapwings is known as a 'deceit'. Chaucer wrote that they are 'ful of trecherie'. This was because the parent birds would do all they could, including feigning lameness, to lure the human egg-hunters away from their nests. Base treachery indeed...
We go on an Exmoor ramble to Heddon's Mouth, and have the perfect sighting of a Peregrine Falcon high on its clifftop promontory. Back at home there's a pair of Nuthatches in the neighbours' garden, busily using a cleft tree stump as an anvil to split open the nuts they've gathered.
rather warm Planning Meeting re: The Lee Bay Hotel, at which I make an impassioned if somewhat incoherent speech, and narrowly miss exiting dramatically by way of the Rugby Club's Ladies' Toilet. Others do much better and, amazingly, the application is turned down. A wee thumbs up for community spirit!
We have a wonderful Sunday birdwatching jaunt to Crow Point. Birds too many to list, but the flocks of Godwits and Lapwings are a real treat, as well as the skeins of Brent Geese flying overhead to their evening roost on the mudflats. I've never seen Brent Geese before - they're small and compact, and beautiful! Brent Geese breed way up in the Arctic Tundra, live up to 25 years or more, and may travel 135,000 miles in their lifetime. They are named in Norse, for their 'burnt', charcoal-coloured plumage. Brent Geese seem to me a woodcut just waiting to happen...
We see the Kingfisher too,in the flooded field behind The White House, but it's just a flash, and then it's gone. The Egrets and a solitary Heron remain, slowly quartering the reedbanks.
he village turns out in force to demonstrate at the Lee Bay Hotel planning site meeting. There are some wonderful placards; ours are not among them. Mine falls off its stick, and Susanne's blows away. But the point is well made - those who love the Bay are united in feeling that the Developers' plans are too much of the wrong thing.
On Saturday we went to Bristol for the Opening of the RWA show. I think it's a very good and varied exhibition, and I'm pleased to find my 'Black Grouse' print hanging well in the 'Black & White' Room. I'm on a bit of an 'aviary' wall again, beside a beautiful collagraph ( I think ) of Rooks, which won the show's Print award.
wet ol' Sunday visit to Mortehoe Museum impresses upon us that The Ancestors were mainly proficient in the noble art of wrecking. It's good to know where my undoubted talent for wrecking stuff comes from. It seems the last ship purposefully wrecked on the English coast was the 'William Wilberforce', carrying coal, and lured in to 'safe haven' by a lantern tied to a donkey's tail. It sank off Lee Bay, and all hands were lost. The wreckers must have been hoping for a bit more than wet coal...
Beware of siting your beehives underneath a plum tree. My Moral Leader instructed me to harvest the juicy fruit today, but the buzzing of the bees sounded prudence. The greater fear won out as, with heavy heart, I picked the plums, and duly got stung on the chops. What a man will do for Plum Crumble!
n a very low spring tide Jasper leads us forth to the middle of the bay on an Appledore Rocks pool safari, though his interest is mainly in the edible. We find cowries, clinging by their tiny threads to the underside of the kelp fronds, and tiny blue-rayed limpets, with their veins of bright electric blue. Also brittle starfish, squat lobsters, shore crabs, velvet swimming crabs with their big, scary red eyes, a spiny sea urchin and a bizarre little suckerfish that looks like it's made of jelly. Jasper also finds edible crabs and a lobster, but luckily too small to bring out the hunter in him.
It's a most excellent safari; the abundance of little lives in these pools that only rarely emerge from the sea is amazing. They are a real nursery of the ocean.
trip to Plymouth Aquarium. Anna leads the way, and it's great! The tanks are huge, and you get to walk under, over, and right through 'em. Lots of the fish are huge too - especially the sharks! There is a strong bias towards education and conservation rather than just 'spectacle'. The biggest displays are of 'local' Atlantic species, living in water fresh-pumped from the sea. There are also big 'rockpool' tanks, filled with the kinds of creatures we might find at Lee. We could have spent a lot longer simply looking....A trifle disconcerting , though, that there's a very alluring scent of battered fish coming from the little establishment nestled right next door...
The school hols have come to an end, which makes me feel sadder than the kids; they're looking forward to what comes next. I always dreaded school, and all these years later, I still can't quite shake off the feeling, even though it's not me going.
razy wild seas, glowering grey skies and a strange, slippery brown algal bloom all over the rocks don't stop a small and intrepid (foolish, Susi says...) band of us from attempting the springing low-tide rock scramble from Lee to Ilfracombe. Which is a pity, because it's horrible. I slip and fall half-way along, taking a nasty tumble, and ending upside-down in a rockpool, which is a bit of a bruiser for ribs and ego. We search for the sharp barnacle-clad rocks to leap to for safe foot-hold, and when we have to jump in and swim through the waves, the great stems of kelp anchored to the rocks are our friends- we hold on tight and haul ourselves to safety.
It's all worth it though; the views back towards Bull Point are incredible - a torn and jagged montage of greys, with the tumbling white line of breakers roiling ever closer. Being proverbially caught on such a day between the cliffs and the still-frenzied sea, with no way out 'til journey's end, makes one feel very small & vulnerable, but also very keenly aware of being alive. We see the Peregrine wheeling over the cliffs, rather more in its element than us, and our penn'orth of chips when we finally make it to 'Combe are the best we've ever tasted!
The sea's not done with me yet, because on a lovely sunny afternoon a few days later the calm, blue, high tide makes off with my specs while I'm having a dip- what a beach bum beginner's mistake!
n Monday I've another insight into the putting together of an exhibition, as I spend the day helping with the 'hanging' at The Burton Gallery Summer Show. The team's already been busy arranging the selected works around the walls of the two rooms; we just have to stick 'em up, using our little wooden crucifixes. When the job's done, I think the show looks pretty darn good...The 'Print Room' holds its own well. I particularly enjoy Judith Westcott's subtly coloured cliff-and-sky-scape woodcut, 'Clearing Later'.
At the Opening, which was a really nice, friendly occasion, I was very happy and grateful to receive the 'Ken Doughty Prize' for my woodcut 'Exodus'. It meant a lot to me.
The 'Black Grouse' woodcut has been accepted for The Society of Wood Engravers' Annual Show, which is cool, and shows that all those hours of detail-cutting with my tiny gouges has paid off! It's a travelling exhibition, starting at The North Wall Gallery in Oxford.
aturday is 'Hand-in' day for the Westward Ho! & Bideford Art Society's Summer Show at The Burton Gallery in Bideford. I stay on and help out as part of the selection panel, which gives me my first glimpse into the dark mysteries of 'judging' other people's artwork.
There are seven of us on the panel, and we put all the
work into one of three categories, with decisions being made by majority vote. We have the time to look carefully, and slowly. There are some 'interesting' comments, and the odd tussle, but it's surprising how smoothly the process flows along. We have a relatively easy task. The Summer Show is a 'selling show', with a large proportion of entries finding a space on the wall as others are bought, so not too many pictures have to be 'rejected'.
I am very thankful we didn't have to whittle a submission down from twelve thousand entries to two or three, as is sometimes the case with bigger exhibitions. Beyond the simplest considerations, 'judging' and 'art' are words that sit uncomfortably together. Where we place value is inevitably subjective to some degree, and can say as much about the viewer as the work. Personally I do feel that there are underlying principles, but they have little to do with the kind of 'talent' that can be measured.
e've had some beautiful walks along the cliffs and swims at Sandy Cove, but mostly my time has disappeared in smallholding chores - beware 'the strimmer in the hallway'...
I've had a really good hatch of Old English Gamefowl chicks, in lots of different colours. Newly hatched chicks are still little fluffy time-machines for me, transporting me back to my four-year-old's joyous wonder. A chicken from an egg will ever be a miracle to me.
It was lovely to see our first Painted Lady butterfly of the year, and also the pair of House Martins solicitously tending their babies in the beautifully constructed nest on the neighbours' window sill. Do House Martins eat butterflies...?
fter a trip to the dentist, we treated ourselves to a visit to The Burton. My dentist is so gentle I don't strictly need an 'apres' treat, but it's a hangover from the good old days when dentists must have been paid by the filling - or even by the yowl. Any way, the exhibition we saw was called 'Red Work' by Rachel Howard. I think it's a celebration of the beauty in the humdrum every-day life of home. But there's a lot of banality in that humdrum life too - and a special vision required to see the one in the other.
For Susanne's birthday treat we had a very pretty walk from Hunters' Inn to Heddon's Mouth. It was great to picnic there while watching tightly drilled squadrons of Razorbills circling along the cliffs on short, fast wings. Highlights of the return journey were buzzard, kestrel, and beautiful Blackcap. Happy Birthday Susi!
his week I have mainly been the Garden Donkey; we must attend to our tummies' needs before we can get too arty!
But life can have its subliminal moments even when one's knee-deep in compost. Mine was looking up to mop my righteously sweating brow, just at the very moment a pair of Peregrines sailed effortlessly overhead towards the cliffs. Made it all worth while.
I've had my first EU referendum skirmish - must do homework.
e're breathing a sigh of relief on Anna's behalf; her school SATs tests have finally finished. The revision, and the tests themselves, seem to have gone on for ages. Kids of 10 and 11 have had more grammatical titbits drilled into them than I, possibly you, and certainly David Cameron or Billy Shakespeare have ever had to grapple with. Is this really the way to instil a creative love of, and aptitude for, language in children? Too much testing, and too little time for real learning. Anna used to race home from school every day to carry on with her stories, but she hasn't picked up a pen for fun in months; she's just too exhausted.
I have just finished a relief carving of a Sperm Whale , done on a piece of old oak driftwood I found at Crow Point. Haven't yet decided whether to take a print from it, or leave it as it is. The grain has sanded up beautifully, so I'm a bit hesitant about smothering it all in printing ink.
e went to the opening of The Simonsbath Festival Art Exhibition. I particularly liked some of the prints, especially the four big Spiders!
I've finished making my Shaving Horse, and it works a treat! A Shaving Horse is not a beard-trimming accessory, but a bench - cum - foot-operated vise that holds the piece of 'green' wood while you shape it , traditionally with drawknife or spokeshave. My Horse is made with pieces of driftwood, recycled pallet, and sycamore branch, and cost 80p for two bolts. Apparently it's a matter of Bodgers' principle that a shaving horse costs nowt!
The first chicks of the season have hatched, and they're little beauties. They're mainly Bresse - a French breed, and very tasty...
There have been Red Admiral & Orange-Tip butterflies flitting around the garden to give me reason to dawdle on my spade, and one day a beautiful Peacock butterfly on the beach, looking just a little out of place.
Closing up the hens in the evening I've been circled by big bats, flying low with slow wing beats as they hunt for their supper. I think they're Greater Horseshoe Bats, which are very rare. I've never drawn a bat...
usanne & I handed in the prints for the Simonsbath Festival, and then took off for a ramble on the Moor. We went up and up from Simonsbath to Prayway Head, wishing we had on a few more layers as we went, and keeping a nervous eye on the great grey storm-clouds overhead. We passed through a gap in an old beech hedge, and were suddenly looking at a herd of about fifty Red Deer, who pricked up their ears immediately, but didn't feel the need to do much else about us. It was a wonderful sight.
From Prayway Head you can see over Exmoor for miles and miles. The signpost urged us on a little farther; the rainclouds countered it, and my intrepid walking partner settled the matter: 'What's the point Jules? It'll only be another view...'
I bought a copy of 'Bewick's British Birds'. Thomas Bewick is of de facto import for all wood engravers, as he had such a huge influence on the evolution of the medium, and I love his work. But looking at these beautiful plates, I am struck by the blasphemous thought that his breasts are too big and his tails are too small. His legs are set too far back; most of these birds would have fallen head-first off their perches - but they would still be exquisitely rendered. The illustrations in my book are x2, which isn't helpful aesthetically, but does give a clearer insight into the wonderful range of graving marks that Bewick used.
I came across a quote:
Art, for Beuys, was " the sole, revolutionary force capable of transforming the earth, humanity, the social order".
So, must try harder.
've had to put my gravers down and pick up the chainsaw again, but my thoughts have turned to 'green woodwork', where the wood is fashioned straight from the tree, without being milled square first. The first tools required are a 'froe', a 'beatle' and a 'shaving horse'. I've ordered a froe; a steel blade for cleaving trunks and branches. The froe must be whacked with a girt club - or beatle - as heavy and as hard as you can manage. My first effort was made from limewood, as that was handy. Susanne told me it would snap in half the minute I gave it a decent dap, and she was proved irritatingly correct. Now I've cut myself a length of gnarled old Blackthorn, which should be proper job, if only I can find the strength to heft it.
I stopped the saw and heard the cuckoo call from the woods on the other side of the valley. It's a rare sound these days, a real signpost of the season.
n a beautiful sunny afternoon we had our first sighting of swallows, wheeling along the cliffs above Sandy Cove. At home there's a Blackcap pouring his heart out from the top of a willow tree, and the first butterfly of the year - a Comma - making the most of the Spring sunshine.
I've set the incubator, so fingers crossed! The chicks will hatch in 21 days, and ducklings in 28.
The first prints from the 'Jackdaws' and 'Sandpipers' prints came out well. I've entered them in the Simonsbath Festival Art Exhibition, along with 'Black Grouse' and 'Great Northern Divers'.
On Saturday I went to Hilary Painter's studio for an afternoon of wood engraving. Working there is quite magical. Hilary was putting the finishing touches to her exhibition of wood engravings based around the theme of 'Aging'. I finished my 'Sebrights' engraving. It will be in the exhibition as one of the works by Hilary's students. I went away full of enthusiasm, and with a pristine piece of limewood for my next engraving...
visit to The Burton Gallery for an exhibition - 'Contemporary British Watercolours'. The title was a bit misleading I thought, as the paintings were mainly by artists whose use of 'watercolour' was rather incidental to the main thrust of their work. Some of the paintings I thought were very lovely, but I didn't feel it was a very strong exhibition in total. The single most interesting thing on display was the visitors' book! Such affronted indignation on every page! Lots of Capital Letters & Exclamation Marks!!! It's not enough to say the paintings aren't quite one's cup of tea.... I was very glad to see that Anna had written a long comment about the beautiful shapes and colours, and how good the exhibition had made her feel.
I start logging up the Sycamores, but can't help thinking I should be doing something rather more imaginative with all this beautiful wood.
haven't managed to get any artwork done this week, partly because there are so many smallholding jobs to catch up on, and partly because my mind is still on the Potter's Wheel in Cornwall. I want to make the most of all I learned on Richard Phethean's course, and get my hands back in the clay again before I go too rusty.
We have a lovely walk along the River Barle from Simonsbath to Cow Castle. There are lots of tiny trout in the river, and I see a Dipper flitting down stream.
We see the first House Martins of the year flying over Sandy Cove, a courting pair of Stonechats, and a cormorant swimming close inshore, patterned with an unusual amount of white. Maybe he's showing off...
ottery Week!!! Off to Cornwall for a week - long throwing course with Richard Phethean at Tresabenn Pottery Studio near Penzance. We stayed in a little apartment nearby, and to look out of the window on the first morning and see the whole of Praa Sands Bay glistening below was heavenly! The Bird-Scaring Cannon firing off on the hour every hour from about 4a.m. was slightly more of an acquired taste...
The first day didn't go too well for me; I just couldn't centre the clay lump on the wheel, and spent a very long day making the same mistakes over & over. You can't do anything on the potter's wheel until you can centre the clay.I wanted to run away, but Susi wouldn't let me.
The next day got better. Richard and Blue gave me lots of time, and provided a constant supply of perfectly prepared clay to practise with. Centring is a skill that can be explained in 5 minutes, but takes considerably longer for your body to absorb - mine, anyway. You are harnessing centrifugal force to make the lump of clay symmetrical on the wheel, and dealing with a material that acts half-way between a solid and a liquid. I certainly wasn't a quick learner, but by the end of day two I could get the clay in the middle and raise a small cylinder. Result!!!
The rest of the week went by in a hugely fulfilling whirr of consecutive little challenges met, as cylinders grew bigger, with walls thinner, and slowly changed into recognisable jugs or bowls. Throwing is a learning proces that provides instant feedback, initially in the form of flying clay splattering you all over - or, much worse, the lovely lady on the neighbouring wheel. All the pots I made I sliced down the middle, and the resultant cross-sections tell exactly where the walls were pulled too thin, or too much clay was left behind.
There were nine students on the course, and it felt very special to be learning in such an atmosphere of intense and happy concentration. Richard's work and practical demonstrations were inspiring, and he has created a real place of happy clay learning. Tresabenn is beautiful, and Miranda was the perfect hostess. I saw lots of beautiful pots, met a bunch of very interesting people, and made some good friends. I didn't come away a 'thrower', but with the confidence that I could become one with practise; lots and lots of practise...
here is nothing like finding a tooth in your soup to ram home the message that we're not here forever...unless it's the sorry sight of two big old sycamore trees felled in the gales.Their sad demise will not be in vain; we'll have toasty toes through the winter.
We visited an exhibition of slipware pottery by Philip Eglin at The Burton Gallery in Bideford, which was inspired by the 19th century slipware collection in Aberystwyth Museum. A very individual and contemporary take on the old materials and techniques. I didn't really 'get' the work, but would be keen to find out more. I used to be a slipware potter with my Dad, and desperately want to work with clay again, so I have a particular interest. The permanent collection of old North Devon slipware pottery at The Burton, and especially the great sgraffito-decorated 17th century Harvest Jugs, is always an inspiring treat for me.
I've just finished 'The Poisonwood Bible' by Barbara Kingsolver, and I enjoyed it immensely. It came long at just the right time for me, and chimed with everything I've been thinking and reading recently about Western Man's thoughtlessly entitled and cruel usurpation of so much of the world. It's fun, too.
Happy Birthday Sonja! But just you wait...
e in whom I definitely don't believe conjured up a beautifully sunny and unseasonably warm birthday for me. It was a day full of wonders; the first being that I was able to creak out of bed in the morning with only minor age-related additions to my catalogue of woes.
We went to Sandy Cove for a picnic. The Spring Tide was way, way out, so we could explore Appledore Rocks in the middle of the Bay. Luckily we spotted a pair of a rare species - The Olive-coated Rock-pool Expert. We tagged along gratefully, and saw so much we'd have otherwise missed. You have to refocus your vision to really see into these little under-water worlds. The Rocks are a natural nursery, and we found all kinds of baby crabs & lobster. There were huge Snakelock Anemones and Yellow Honeycomb Sponges and, hidden under the kelp, tiny & exquisite beautiful Blue-Rayed Limpets, which I'd never seen before. And then we saw, dangling from the rocks by the thinest of threads, living cowries. I've collected cowrie shells on Barricane Beach for a lifetime, but never before seen the living creatures; that was really special. We get two cowrie species here - the Atlantic and the Spotted. Our Stone-Age ancestors made ceremonial necklaces with cowrie shells, so they must have thought they were a bit special too.
I am ashamed to say that even Susanne's perfect roast-duck supper couldn't counter my disappointment when I discovered my 'exodus' print had fallen at the first hurdle of the RA Summer Exhibition. I wished I was still out gazing in rockpools...
Next day I didn't feel any better, so I tidied up the workshop, polished the Bonnie, and had another freezing plunge in the sea. Atleast I'm all tidy now, with cobwebs blasted. What doesn't kill you...
his week I've painted all the spare Warre bee boxes, so they're ready to be added to the hives when it warms up a little, and will hopefully get filled to the brim with honey through the season. I've got all the boxes for a spare hive too, just in case we get a swarm. I've used blue and buttercup yellow paint, so the hives look quite jolly underneath the apple trees. Green's best avoided; bees don't like green....
Anna and I spotted a lonesome Sandpiper on the beach, 'piping' away, and not looking too happy. I came straight home and started a 'Sandpiper' woodcut. When I got stuck I turned the board over and planned out a 'Tumbler Pigeon' design on the back. Now I am bringing the two along together, which isn't at all prudent, as the maple boards I use really just aren't thick enough to be hacked into from both sides.
A beautiful 2nd hand book has just arrived; 'The World's Rarest Birds', by Erik Hirschfeld, Andy Swash & Robert Still. The pictures are a stunning eulogy for all those species hovering on the brink, and the book is an inspiring call to act before these few photos are all that we have left. This volume is based on data from the 2012 Red List, so it is probable that already some of these beautiful birds no longer exist. It will sit on my shelf beside 'Ghosts of Gone Birds', which is another book of feathered beauty & sorrow in equal measure.
Happy Birthday Anna!
e've had some beautiful warm and sunny days this week, and scurried out like lizards for the odd bask in the sun's rays at Sandy Cove.
I've managed to finish the 'Black Grouse' woodcut, and I'm pleased with the extra layer of detail the use of the fine wood gouges has given me. I've also left in the 'background' gouge marks on this print, hopefully gaining in texture what I may be losing in the crisp clarity of the image when the background is cleared completely. I think this approach will suit the Grouse as they hunker down in the undergrowth. A pure white background creates an extra job at the printing stage, as all large white areas have to be masked with acetate.
Susanne has taken a print of 'Jackdaws' for me, and it came out pretty good I think in a simple sort of way.
We had a lovely day at Blue Anchor Bay with our very good and inspiring friends Peggy & Richard, who made us a gift of a vintage set of wood engraving tools. We've no excuse now!
till working on my 'Black Grouse' woodcut. Using my new gouges gives me more options for tackling feather patterns. My hope is to add a layer of extra visual interest without diminishing the boldness that comes naturally with the simplicity of the knife. Have to wait and see...
I have entered my print 'Exodus' for the R.A. Summer Exhibition. I'm only risking £25 and my entire ego, so why not?
Contemplating the plight of the Refugees can lead quickly to consideration of one's own place in the world. Why are the lines on the map drawn where they are? Why are some regions seemingly forever mired in troubles, while others prosper? And what do we, the lucky ones in the West, owe in terms of historic responsibility and contemporary exploitation? It seems to me there's a Whole Story of the World we are never told.
I've finished reading 'Beowulf', which I picked up as a duty, and put down marvelling at the way a voice can sing to us in all its humanity over a thousand years. I've also watched the last episode of Germany '83. I thought it captured the feeling of coming of age under that looming Mushroom Cloud incredibly well. Maybe it resonated particularly with us as a family. Susanne went on CND rallies in Germany as a teenager, as I did in England. My step-mum's family were all across the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia, and my step-dad in the RAF. The idea of waging - and 'winning' - a nuclear war is the apotheosis of collective human madness, and we were so, so close. Hollow indeed is a victory that leaves no one standing.
torm Imogen has wrought her wicked ways upon us. Several elms have fallen, and smashed the fence below. The elms sucker up from the hedge and only make it to leg-thickness before succumbing to the Dutch Elm Beatle, but they still leave quite a hole. Also, one of the poultry houses - rather sturdily built by my own fair hands - was tumbled off its moorings and somersaulted down the field. The Bresse birds within were indignant in their clucking, but none the worse for their acrobatics.
Marvin came home for his birthday, and used up a roll of film to capture the craziness of the storm at sea. The waves have destroyed the slipway wall, and great chunks of concrete straddle the foreshore.
Then the sun comes out, and we bask in the warmest few hours so far this year. The bees fly busily from all three hives, making the most of this rare opportunity, and it's just possible I may have nodded off in the sunshine 'neath the old apple tree...
Susanne & Anna have gone to Germany for the week, so in theory I should be able to concentrate uninterruptedly on my artwork while they are away, but in practice I tend to fall apart without my girls.'Twill be a lonely Valentine's for me...
I finished reading 'Lorna Doone' by R.D.Blackmore. It is a wonderful book; the book of Exmoor, so joyously evoking the spirit of place in all its particulars. My Mum's a Devon 'Ridd', so I've always felt an affinity with the novel. The films have all been dreadful, but don't let them put you off. Lorna and girt Jan Ridd may be slightly fictitious I admit, but Tom Faggus the Highwayman really was really real, and he really survived a leap off Barnstaple Long Bridge astride Winnie the Strawberry Roan!
In utter contrast I watched Cormac McCarthy's dystopian film 'The Road', in which all local colour - nature itself - has been obliterated, and the few human survivors battle to stay alive, even as they struggle to find reason to keep going in such a dead world. And then somewhere, right at the end, a little bird sings...
n the past fortnight I've been a busy printmaker, as not even the hardest heart ( no names! ) could send me out to do 'proper work' in this foul weather. I have cut, but not yet inked up, a woodcut of two squabbling Jackdaws, and also finished cutting my 'Roul Roul Partridges' woodcut, which was inspired by Anna's love of the birds she saw at The Eden Project. I intend that one to be a 'white-line', multi-coloured print, so inking it up will be quite a task. Good fun, though, and each print's colouring will be unique.
I've also finished my first proper drypoint, 'Choughs', using a zinc plate, which was very, very hard! I don't know how that one will turn out as I haven't inked it up yet. Applying the ink with a coarse brush to get it into all the lines you've scratched, and their raised 'burr', and then using 'scrim' to wipe off the excess, is a very important and creative part of the whole drypoint process, and one which I'm as yet far from mastering.
We took 'Exodus' to our good friends Julien & Betsy for a 'professional' photo shoot. I have a pretty good camera, and I know roughly in which direction to point it, but the difference in results is amazing; no doubt something to do with taking the time to set things up properly, and not just straddling the picture in muddy wellies to take the shot - not that I'd ever do such a thing I'm sure...
I've been asked to take part in the Simonsbath Festival Art Exhibition again this year. I wanted to do one print with a real connection to Exmoor, so am working on a big woodcut of Black Grouse - surely as emblematic a bird of Exmoor as you could wish for. Sadly, I've now discovered that Black Grouse are almost certainly extinct on Exmoor, and probably haven't bred on the Moors since the 70's.If my picture goes up on the wall in Simonsbath, it'll show the only grouse for miles around, which is surely a crying shame.
'My' cock pheasant - ol' Half-Tail - has been taking on all-comers in the field. Yesterday combat was so fierce I could have picked both birds up if I hadn't had my arms full of sheep's hay. I was tempted - the 'bird-lover' and 'pie-lover' within me locked in almost as lusty a battle!
've finally finished work on my 'Refugees' woodcut, and Susanne's taken the first few really good prints. I am pleased, which is a rare feeling for an artist, as there are always faults to find, and different paths one might have chosen to explore. It is a fleeting feeling too, but right now I'm grabbing it. I think the picture does what I wanted it to do, and I know that at least I deserve an 'A' for effort; I'm well & truly drained.
Mick was pleased too, and bought the first print literally 'hot (or at least luke -warm) off the press'.
As my picture changed and grew, so did its name, from 'Refugees' to 'Eritrea' to 'Exodus'. I think that the evolution of 'Exodus' casts a little light onto the creaky workings of my somewhat enfeebled 'creative' brain, and so I'm going to try and write a bit about its unfolding on the 'What's New?' page.
We've seen the first wee bellowing of bullfinches and chaffinches doing justice to the plum tree buds, and the primroses, daffodils and snowdrops are all in bloom together. The morning birdsong seems to fill the valley again now the days are drawing out a little.
The fulmars are back on the cliffs, and the oystercatchers busy searching for food in the rock pools. They're joined by a few hardy old carrion crows eking out a living from what the tide's brought in, and the little rock pippits, so sprightly and impervious to all that the weather throws at them.
A big ol' spar's washed in all covered with goose barnacles, which are fascinating little creatures. Looking at them it is easy to see why the old timers thought they were the over-wintering barnacle geese.
There has always been a little flock of mallards that stays in the Bay over winter, but not this year. I think they know they'll get no bread from visitors to a ghost hotel, nor from Penny and Dave, who've moved now, but who used to live on the sea front, and care for the wild ducks nearly as their own.
Susanne and I had another lovely day wood engraving with Hilary and Leonie Paynter in Bideford. They were so kind with their time and advice, and their introducton to this art has been inspiring. We rushed straight home to the engraving tools catalogue!
ild winds, high seas, and plenty more mud! The cowl atop the chimney, which stops us all being smoked like kippers, has blown away. Never fear, we can still light our fire, except when there's a cold breeze blowing...
Ironically, I've been attending to the wood pile, splitting logs and carting them into the dry. In consequence, I've bust my axe - and my wheelbarrow. I shall now in good conscience down what few tools I have remaining, and sneak back inside to get on with my printmaking.
I have been getting long hours in on my 'Refugees' woodcut, and now it's nearly done. It has changed a lot along the way, and I think it's changed me a little bit too. Exhausted me at times, certainly; it's seemed like a constant procession of decisions to make. I've taken my concerns to bed with me, and had them for breakfast too. I really don't know at this stage how it will all turn out.
Anna has returned all excited from her school trip to the wonderful Eden Project in Cornwall. The Roul Roul partridges in the Rain Forest Dome particularly took her fancy, and she showed me some pictures. With their simple shapes and bold hues I feel a colour print coming on, perhaps.
I had my Sunday dip in a cold grey sea while Jasper lit up his wee Honey Stove on the beach and brewed us our tea - none the worse for being a little smokey! It was a real treat to be able to warm my hands over the embers afterwards.
A cock pheasant and his bride have adopted us. They both look very bedraggled and miserable in this dreadful weather, and are glad to scrounge a little supper when I feed the ducks I think. I do hope Foxy won't get 'em.
he rain just keeps on a-fallin', and every step on our steep & muddy slope is a lottery - with much raised stakes when the egg pail's full. So, good reason to venture out as little as poss, and to get cracking with the woodcutting instead.
The image I'm working on has 'Refugees' as its starting point, and is a bit of a new departure for me. Firstly, there are people in it; I'm way out of my fur & feathered comfort zone. Secondly, I am christening the wonderful set of palm-held Pfeil woodcut gouges which I discovered under the Christmas Tree. They are great to use, but, of course, they will only stay as good as my sharpening technique allows, so there's the next practical skill to brush up on. I find I still use my knife 90% of the time, but now I will be able to develop a new range of mark-making possibilities.
I found a cheap old copy of 'Making Woodcuts' by Warwick Hutton, writing in the early 70's. It was well worth the money. I like his spirit:
" ...it has seemed wrong to me to declare rules when I know that the principles that appear to govern the craft have all been successfully broken at some time or another; and to make it even more confusing, the best artists have often been the best rule-breakers."
lessings of 2016 so far:
New Wellies! Snug toes!!
Seeing the first snowdrop - and, oddly, the first daffodil...
Racing for shelter from the rain in Puff's cave after our New Year swim, and enjoying a delicious mug of rum - laced coffee.
Hearing the incredible singing of Rhiannon Giddens for the first time, thanks to Jools' Hootenanny. Spellbinding.
And, today, the first five beautiful turquoise-blue Legbar pullets' eggs from my little flock, though what gave the girls the idea to lay on such a murky and unpropitious day I don't know.
ell, here's my last scribble of 2015, and, if there's anyone still reading, thank you very much for your patience.
I hope as lovely a Christmas as possible was had by all, though that must have been very difficult for those who spent it under water in Yorkshire, or looking forward to a winter under canvas in Syria.
My Christmas Day dip in a rough, grey, old sea was as horrid as every year, though not as icy cold; it's still so unseasonally mild. No humans on the beach, just the fulmars' clamour as they claim their cliff-side nesting ledges, and the big ol' bull seal slowly traversing the Bay.
The bees were flying on Boxing Day, which I've never seen before. I fear they won't have found much at this time of year to make their little expeditions worth while. They mustn't use up too much energy before the Spring arrives.
I'm seeing the year out with 'The Phasian Bird' by Henry Williamson. It was first published in 1948, and seems very much to belong to a bygone time. Every few pages there's a heavy sprinkling of H.W.'s pretty darn reactionary worldview to plod through, and yet, when he writes of the bitter cold East wind blowing across the Norfolk Broads from the sea, you can't help but feel the damp chill seeping down your collar, and the aching splitting of your frosty fingers. Even the clods of mud themselves are animated, sullenly clogging everything that dares to bear down on those cold, wet, fields of clay.The life Williamson breathes into his animal creations is a million miles from the cute anthropomorphising we are so used to nowadays. He imagines us into the very being of these creatures, on their own terms, and we believe implicitly.
ur week's been book-ended by two days exploring the art of wood engraving with Hilary & Leonie Paynter in Bideford. Wood engraving is very different from woodcut printmaking. Engravers use end-grain blocks of very fine, hard, slow-growing wood, box being the favourite. The blocks therefore tend to be small, and the tools used are very fine. They have wonderfully evocative names such as 'spitsticker' and 'round scorper', and are a joy to use, once you get the hang of it.
Susanne and I both left the first session very frustrated with our efforts and exhausted of brain and eye by the intense concentration demanded, yet strangely hooked. The second session took place in Hilary's wonderful studio overlooking the Torridge, and went very well I think; everyone went home with a print from their block, pulled on the great old Albion press. Thank you, Hilary, for such a generous and knowledgeable introduction to a noble art.
Whilst technical & aesthetic considerations, and therefore artists' 'vocabularies', are very different from one printmaking technique to another there is much common ground, and I am all enthusiastic about ways to incorporate the wood engraving experience into my woodcut printmaking. Traditionally, engraving is concerned with using shade & texture to create a three dimensional image. My woodcuts are intended to live in two dimensions, but I think I can now see how to begin using patterns of tool marks to add visual depth rather than spatial.
The weather continues to be wild and wet and windy - nothing but grey skies and a sea of mud. Lots of little birds brightening up the garden though, polishing off the last of the seeds in the rose hedge, and a small flock of fieldfares foraging in the field.
Happy Birthday, Mum!
We've learnt that Acorn Blue will be submitting a revised proposal for The Lee Bay Hotel in January, so we must keep fingers crossed.
Finally, Britain is now bombing Syria. I wish we weren't, but I think J.C. was right to treat the vote as a matter of conscience. I cannot see how we can get to the root of this terrible situation with bombs. Recent history shows us starkly that it will not work. It seems ironic that we are now allied with Assad, Iran, Russia - and even the Taliban. Had Mr Cameron won the vote last time he wanted to bomb someone, we'd have been lobbing them at the other side. All we can hope for now is minimal loss of life. We must accept that our world is small, and that we will have to be prepared to deal fairly and humanely when our chickens come home to roost.
he good news is that I finished the 'Turkeys' woodcut and got it framed just in the nick of time for The Burton Gallery Christmas Exhibition. Bad news is I should have read the small print; it was 2" too big! Never mind - I was lucky enough to have all three littluns chosen. We went to the Opening of the show. It's only little, but there were some lovely pictures there, and I loved the incredible driftwood lobster sculpted by Ned Morgan, who is a very gifted man.
One day I spent a few hours walking around the RWA show in Bristol, looking at lots of very beautiful and varied work. Something different seemed to grab me on every circuit. Some pictures shout out strong, and others take time to unveil their gifts. A few paintings overtly addressed contemporary issues, particularly the refugee crisis. I doff my cap to these artists. It takes guts to attempt to create real art where misery, pain and indifference are so clear to see.
I had a quick plunge into a wild, grey sea, and Susi & I huddled under the cliff with our mug of coffee, which never tasted so good. The wind gave us a good battering as we climbed the footpath, and then we saw, in the midst of all this wild weather, a zephyr of long-tailed tits and a pair of goldcrests, going about their business all unperturbed.
The power people have cleared the lines, and left us with a fine pile of sycamore limbs. I can feel a spot of spoon - whittling coming on...
ur other press has been in action this week, turning this year's appley abundance into delicious juice and - hopefully - cider. We haven't had much luck with cider so far, but we have discovered that when all else fails we eventually end up with an excellent cider- vinegar, brim-full of health giving properties.
I've finished my 'blackbirds', and am now working on a large woodcut of turkeys - running away from Christmas, I think. I don't yet know if the turkeys are wild, or just livid at what the festive future holds in store for them...
Something to look forward to next year: I've signed up for a pottery throwing course in March with Richard Phethean at his studio near Penzance. I love working in the old North Devon technique of sgraffito slipware.My father and I used to make pottery at Ox's Cross, Henry Williamson's old home above Georgeham. I used to decorate the pots Dad made using the local red and white clays. Soon I hope to be able to make and decorate my own pottery again.
his week I have been mainly picking, peeling, hedging, strimming, mowing, trimming sheep's hooves and cleaning out old fowls' houses. But Anna & I still managed to collect a jarful of cowrie shells on Barricane Beach, and Susi picked us some lovely laver from the rocks at Lee. The proper preparation of laver is one of the Secret & Ancient Mysteries of North Devon. But, if you 'wash it an' wash it an' wash it, then boil it an' boil it an' boil it' ( for about ten hours! ) you won't go too far wrong.
It's been good to see the kestrels back, hovering over Morte Point, and also above Sandy Cove, and the little white egret's returned too, grubbing for morsels on the tideline at Lee.
he wasps have invaded, and gutted one of the Warre hives, which is very sad. I don't think they would have had such a dramatic effect if the bees had been strong though - or if I'd spotted the problem sooner. The other colonies appear to be thriving, and I have put the mouse guards in place to keep the hives rodent-free. Bees seem to be such intelligent and formidable creatures; why they allow mice to over-winter in their comb is a mystery. When it happens, it's invariably the end of the colony.
I'm working on a woodcut of 'blackbirds'. All's well so far.
I've had the good fortune to have two large woodcuts selected for the Royal West of England Academy Open Show: 'the Lobster' and 'the Ravens'. I think the pictures are chosen in seconds as they are 'walked' past the selection panel, so it's all very hit & miss. Still, I must enjoy the moment...
On our way to deliver the prints we drove past a fair-size herd of curlews grazing beside the Taw - close enough to clearly see their beautifully patterned markings. Then I picked up the day's paper and discovered the curlew's numbers have fallen by nearly 50% in the UK since the 1990s, and that they are among over a quarter of UK bird species on the Red List. Maybe in my next curlew print I should just hack out empty silhouettes where half the birds should be.
I've had my last couple long sunset swims to Sandy Cove. It's a wonderful feeling to be swimming in the sea at dusk, out of human sight, guided by the white water breaking on the rocks, and by the slipway light on the homeward stretch. All alone, and yet never more at-one with the world. Then I land clumsily & shiver into my clothes, clatter my teeth on my Wagon Wheel, and realise just exactly how frozen I've become...
eason of mists and mellow fruitfulness' - and pie! Susi's fresh-picked Blackberry & Apple Pie is a fine Autumnal consolation for the ending of a summer that never quite arrived.
I've finished three small woodcuts. It's quite 'freeing' working on a much smaller scale, but my knife is a simple tool, and there's a lot to learn about what works and what doesn't. We've run out of ink, so I'll be in suspense for a few days before we can print them out.
This last fortnight I've morphed into a lightweight version of The Ancient Mariner, bending the ear of all who chance to pass with my vision of the Woe that will descend upon Lee if evil Acorn Blue The Property Developer gets its naughty way. If you've a moment.... My beard and smock have even had their 3 seconds of fame on Spotlight TV as I, the token picaresque yokel, mumbled my thoughts into the wind. I have a 'traffic-light' set of 3 Cornish smocks now; mostly stop, with a little bit of go.
We had a lovely walk with friends along the River Torridge. The soft tranquility of such a large body of gently flowing water is something we never really get from the sea. Even on a calm day the insistent toing & froing of the ocean always makes itself felt.
On our walk we saw a 'herd' of curlews, and an 'RSVP' ( who knows why? ) of Little Egrets. The egrets are doing ever so well hereabouts. They are only mentioned as an occasional visitor from sunnier climes in my very much loved and well- thumbed Reader's Digest Book of British Birds, which is admittedly over 40 years old. That book was my 12th birthday present, together with my first pair of proper binoculars. My joy at being kitted out as a 'proper' birdwatcher was summarily dashed a week later, when I was told my eyesight was so bad I'd be wearing glasses for the rest of my life, which didn't seem like an ideal start...
We only saw one heron. I wonder if the egrets are gobbling up their dinners?
Yesterday I glimpsed an emerald blue flash along our bottom hedge. It was a kingfisher; a blessing indeed, if ever so fleeting.
Today I have my fingers & all other available limbs crossed for Jeremy Corbyn. He's the first flicker of hope I've seen in the politics of this country for a long time. He says what he believes, speaks out for the disposessed, and articulates an alternative, fairer, kinder and more intelligent way for our society to evolve. Even if he loses, he will have opened up the debate enormously.
e must abandon all hope and build - if an Ark's a bit beyond us - at least a coracle, with which to float away from this soaked and bedraggled August. Even the ducks have had enough.
The four gannets are still here. We saw one dive, and as it came up a couple Harbour Porpoises surfaced alongside; they must have all been after the same shoal of fish. The porpoises stayed fishing in one spot for quite a while, and were a mum & her calf I think.
Whilst supping my ever so well-earned cuppa in the vegetable patch, I became aware of a rather intense burning sensation in the backside department; a very literal case of ants in the pants. But no crazy leaping & swatting for me, since I learnt from Don that that tiny queen ant might be up to 15 years old! I spotted her, too, surrounded by her winged suitors, and then grabbed my mug and scarpered.
The Painter-Printmakers' show at The Burton Gallery was a real treat, with so many wonderful prints in a wide range of printmaking techniques. It was especially interesting because Ruth Uglow was there to talk about her work and the etching process she uses. It sounded very complicated, but produces some wonderful results.
This week the official plans for Acorn Blue's massive development of Lee Bay will be on public view in the Village Hall. Will plucky wee Lee do a David, and stand firm? I have a feeling this particular Goliath is already buying in the champers...
ike the White Rabbit, I was late; too late to support Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party leadership bid. I sincerely wish him well though. His detractors seem largely wrapped in a Looking Glass style of logic, whereby the Labour Party shouldn't say what it believes for fear of being rendered unelectable, and should instead continuously reinvent itself as Tory-Lite as needs be in order to grab back the Power. And this at a time when it's been trounced in Scotland by a party unashamedly of the Left.
J.C.'s campaign has obviously resonated with a huge number of people, perhaps especially the young and disaffected, and their greater political engagement is surely a good thing in itself. The 'Deep Capitalist' vision shared by the three main parties at the last election is not our only way forwards as a society, and increasingly seems at odds with the social and environmental imperatives of our times. A true Labour Party would be about inspiring us to believe in our better selves, and that might well take a little while.
I've no more energy left for ranting, so will simply mention here that Acorn Blue's plans for redeveloping the site of the Lee Bay Hotel are with the Council now. If, like me, you find it hard to imagine how 24 new dwellings right on the sea front of this beautiful bay can possibly be an enhancement, check out the plans at www.northdevon.gov.uk/planning, and then tell 'em what you think - you've a little under three weeks.
Predictably enough the first things the Developers scuttled were the 4 'affordable' homes, thus ensuring there'll be no place here for anyone on a 'local' wage, and also that we'll have a sizeable ghost village on the sea-front through the winters. Lee already has at least 60% holiday homes. How will it be to live here when that figure's around 80%?... oh, I did have a little more energy left...
The last couple evenings we've seen 4 gannets wheeling way out in the Bay, and travelling miles up & down the Channel while we watch. At one point they seemed to come in a little closer, and a convoy of fulmars flew from the cliffs to meet them and stake their claim.
On Sunday we visited the Open Studio of Emily Garnham Wright and Don Sibthorpe. Enchanting! We talked of Mesopotamia, Golden Meadow Ants, New Mexico pottery, gnarled old oaks, anemones, watercolours, Shetland sheep, printing presses, edible insects,and parched Californian lawns - all without taking a breath. And best of all, we came away with a delicate and tender watercolour painting, and a very characterful wee Nobody!
he family's all gone home, and we miss them so! The Bell Tent's down, and all that remains are two big, pallid discs on the lawn, reminiscent of aged & ailing crop circles. Do geometrically - inclined aliens still visit our arable lands?
A 5.30am trip to the lobster pots found us grappling with a pretty big conger eel who'd gobbled the rest of the catch. We felt we'd earned our conger steak supper that day.
There are still lots of butterflies in the meadow. The Blues and Meadow Browns have been joined by Peacocks and Red Admirals, and I've seen a couple Comma butterflies too. A sprinkle of white butterflies in the veg patch make an enchanting picture against a backdrop of newly planted deep-green cabbage plants...
Don't forget The Edinburgh & Lee Bay Nature Club, Ava!
ong swims out to Appledore Rock, rough & tumble dips around the rocks, and sunny afternoons with all the kids on the beach - well, when it's not been pouring down; we did have to dry off in the cave a few times.
We had a last trip to the Summer Exhibition at The Burton, which always raises the ol' chestnut of 'which is of more value to the soul: lovely Art or Lemon Tart?' We always end up in the cafe. My favourite picture didn't sell, and the one that came top in the 'You Vote' category really wasn't my cup of tea. You just never can tell. I'm eagerly looking forward to being involved in next year's show.
My pallet screens turned out okay. The pallets took a lot of power-sanding, of which my poor thumbs took the brunt. Now they're up in our Village Hall in Lee, and the prints look pretty good on 'em. The Art & Craft Exhibition isn't as varied as in previous years, but there are some lovely pieces, - and I do believe the cake slices are getting a little bigger!
Alongside the screens I've been helping Jasper to make a wooden lobster pot, and it's looking like the sort of pot any self-respecting crustacean would love to crawl into. Trying to keep up with Jazzi as he leaps over the farthest rocks on a big spring low tide is revealing a whole new world to me. There's a crab nursery under every stone, and beautiful snakelock anemones the size of frisbees. When it's dark the gullies between the rocks are alive with the tiny stars of sand eel eyes glinting in the moonlight. There has been the odd night when I've sat on a rock in the dark for an hour or so only to 'catch a dose of Saltash rig; a wet ass and no fish', but that's been more than made up for by the occasional crab sandwich.
I've started reading the art critic Robert Hughes' memoir 'Things I Didn't Know' before tackling 'The Shock of the New'. It's really interesting, but I think the word 'curmudgeon' must have been invented for Mr. Hughes. One of the things he says is how he never did enormous research before embarking on a new project. Rather, it was through the act of writing that he began to truly understand his subject. I feel very much like that about my drawing; the act itself leads the way.
ur lawn is making a very convincing impression of a particularly soggy Mongol Horde encampment, with far too many kids and tents to count. Yippee, Summer Holidays! We could just do with a little sunshine...
I am busy making scrounged pallet screens on which to hang some prints for our local Art & Craft Exhibition here in Lee. They are coming along fine in a rustic sort of way. Now I just need to do some fairly exacting calculations to ensure the whole ensemble doesn't come tumbling down and squash any potential buyers. Susanna says the formula I need is the ancient & venerable German 'pi x thumb'.
The exhibition is on in the Village Hall from 1st August til 16th August, and is a very good excuse for a visit to Lee. Plus, they do cakes!
t's been a week of incredible skies. One evening the grey clouds parted like great billowing theatre curtains, and individual shafts of sunlight filtered through like heavenly stage lighting, creating a 'Watchtower' sort of sky, far too dramatic to ever be believed. Another evening sky was filled with menacingly dark grey clouds, each with an intense, larger-than-cliche, silver lining. Susanna says one never sees skies like this in Germany; these are water-colour skies from over the sea.
The squirrel's polished off the strawberry crop, the blackcurrants have been pinched by the blackbirds, and I'm sure some little critter 'll nab the goosegogs just as soon as they're ripe. Susi's fighting a valiant battle against a plague of tiny black 'Spanish' slugs, but Nature seems to have the upper hand on all fronts. Atleast we have lived cheaply this week on Jazzi's seaside-foraged fare. It's surprising what a hungry chef can do with seaweed and limpets...
verything's sodden this week, especially me. At least it's a nice sort of summer for the ducklings...
Another swarm of bees meant knocking up a new Warre hive in a hurry. The simplicity of the hive design is one of their big advantages for anyone a bit handy with a saw.
We neglected to weed around the old fruit bushes - yet again - so picking the bountiful blackcurrant crop involves a very exact equation between the pain inflicted by nettle & bramble, and the anticipated delights of Pies to come!
The North Devon Arts AGM was preceded by a talk by a man who makes bronze sculptures, and told us he was very good at it. We made it all the way through the slide show of the portly nouveau riche London millionaire, bronze-sculpted life-size and standing on his reinforced mantelpiece in full Roman general's paraphernalia, with lance in hand and subdued 'sea stag' at heel. But the anecdote illustrating 'artistic license' via the necessity of "pumping up" a 'stunning' model's "less than perfect" body- complete with graphic details of her faults - was more than Susanne and I could bear. We never made it to the NDA AGM.
To Broomhill Art Hotel again today, for the Opening of the NDA Summer Show, which is small, but has some lovely work in a beautiful setting. I particularly liked the 'watery' print by Nicky Montagu. The exhibition continues until September 15th.
still haven't been able to settle to art work. I've only myself to blame, having disregarded that oldest saw of rustic Devon wisdom: "Never take on more garden than the Missus can 'andle". Never mind; Susi's fresh strawberries and mangetout are deliciously adequate compensation.
My abject failure to get the meadow grass cut has at least conjured up a butterfly's paradise this summer. Today I've seen orangey-brown Gatekeepers and a Fritillary. The names alone are a treasure.
Twice this week I've swum out to Appledore Rock in the middle of the bay. It's not very far unless, like me, you happen to swim around in circles, in which case it takes bloomin' ages. At least the sea's finally lost its chill. The last couple pairs of Fulmars are still hugging the cliffs - the chicks are as big as their parents now, and will soon sailing off be off over the ocean.
We've had another trip to the Summer Show at The Burton, and something new grabs me each time. It's quite a 'snapshot' of the artists of North Devon and what they are up to. I cast my 'vote' for 'Sleeping Figure', a tender and sensitive charcoal drawing by Stuart Allman.
n Monday morning I jumped on my bike and set off to Bideford, to lend a hand with the hanging of the WHoBidArts Summer Show at The Burton, which will be on throughout July. I arrived looking like a drowned rat, and was immediately set to work - there were over 300 exhibits to put up. The pictures were already arranged on the floor around the rooms, so the first and most important part of the job was making absolutely certain not to step on any of 'em with a size 13 Doc Marten! I spent the day with Tony Williams, who was jolly good fun and really knew the ropes - getting everything up on the wall is quite a logistical feat. One becomes quite aware of the 'physicality' of the work - and its precious fragility - whilst hanging (with bated breath) the wonderful big Pine Feroda woodcut!
Friday evening saw the packed Opening of the Show, and it seemed to be a real hub for the artists of North Devon and those interested in their work. My woodcuts were given a very favourable position, and look pretty good, though I say so myself as shouldn't. Susanna's print, 'The Listeners', looked lovely too. There was a great variety of work on display, but so many enthusiastic viewers that I'm really looking forward to nipping back for a more leisurely viewing.
Three people tapped me on the shoulder during the evening and were kind enough to say they enjoyed reading this little blog. Coincidentally, they were all rich, intelligent, strikingly handsome, and not a day over 24. I can only assume they value my musings for their fearless and favourless honesty.....thanks!
This week we have supped on shore-crab soup, thanks to Jasper and his crab-catching crew. He assures us that the common shore crab is an invasive alien, so turning them into soup is our patriotic duty, and a very tasty one at that.
I have entered my 'Peacock' print for the North Devon Arts Summer Exhibition at Broomhill Sculpture Gardens, so there's another free glass of wine to look forward to.
ummer Solstice was a dreary, grey old day this year, but there have been some beautiful evening
skies recently, mackerel-striped with purples and pinks.
Old Nog the heron slowly flapped his stately way down the valley on one such eve, and a pair of croaking ravens the next.
I've discovered that the ubiquitous little brown butterflies flitting about with the Blues in the long meadow grass are aptly monikered Meadow Browns. A green woodpecker's been doing noisy, flustered circuits of the garden, clearly a bit upset about something. I do hope the cat hasn't been up to mischief.
The incubator's switched off - hatching's over for the year. Now to keep up with all the little chicks and ducklings as they grow and grow....
On Saturday we delivered our prints for the Summer Show at The Burton Gallery in Bideford. This exhibition is run by The Westward Ho! and Bideford Art Society, and will run for the whole of July. It should be well worth a visit! Exhibits are chosen by selection, so Susanne and I have our fingers crossed.
verything's too green, and growing far too fast. Strimmer-birds call throatily to each other all day across the valley. At least the geese are keeping the lawn mowed for me, depositing as they go an abundance of little booby traps for the unwary barefooted, plus enough long white quill feathers to make a fine headdress.
Everything's broken this week too. Life stutters on with broken car and broken tooth, but the demise of the kettle brought on a bit of an existential crisis!
Another big box arrives to make us feel guilty about not making time for our artwork; beautiful inks for drypoint printmaking.
I missed a NDA talk by Jacob Van Der Beugel, who has completed a massive ceramic installation at Chatsworth House for the Duke of Devonshire, portraying his family's mitrochondrial dna. What a glorious tribute to the already luckiest genes in the world! I can't find anywhere any comment as to the social and political implications of this piece, so I suppose I have to understand it as an artistic endorsement of the hereditary status quo. I think it probably for the best we couldn't find a babysitter...
Happy Birthday Ava!
ll the blossom's gone from the fruit trees and the blackthorn now, but it looks like plenty of fruit has set, so the bees have done their job. I captured a swarm - worth a Silver Spoon in June - and so we've started our third Warre hive colony.
My grumble-ridden stints in Susi's vegetable garden have been brightened by visits from a Painted Lady - the butterfly version. The garden's slowly beginning to look a little less jungley now. It's always a late starter - the clayey soil takes a while to warm up.
At the weekend we took off on another Art Trek jaunt. Vicky Lindo's ceramics at The Pigeon Club Pottery in Bideford, especially her cats, are pure, exuberant joy - totally her own, yet with a nod to the slipware pottery North Devon's renowned for.
Then to Hilary Paynter's wood engraving studio overlooking the Torridge, which is the most inspirational work space I have ever been in, reflecting a life dedicated to art; such seriousness of purpose, but with lightness and humour too.
I've started sketching for a small woodcut. My intent is a series of songbird prints introducing simple colour shapes. However, my first scribbles somehow turned into a blue whale, which Susanne had the goodness to tell me looked far more like a tadpole on such a tiny scale; she obviously has problems suspending her disbelief... the current metamorphosis is a ewe with her babies. I presume that's because I've spent too long with our pet lamb.
mma the 'pet' lamb wakes us every morning with her bleating demands for breakfast, to the loud and tuneful accompaniment of a male blackcap, who sings from the willow-tops. He's very difficult to spot, but I've found out his favourite singing posts now.
The Opening of the North Devon Arts show at The Plough went well. The exhibition looks good and varied. My 'Lobster' has been given a prime location, as befits such a proud crustacean!
Susanne & I would have liked to participate in North Devon Art Trek this week, but at present that would involve asking people to queue up one end of the kitchen table to watch us working away at the other; maybe by next year we'll have more space.
We visited the opening of Jenny Smy's exhibition at The Landmark; her paintings perfectly encapsulate the feeling of the seaside on a sunny day.
Then on to eARTh studio - just as the final earth-pigmenty touches were being added to the chaise longe! Their space is so full of life - great fun and deeply serious all at the same time.
On Sunday we went to a lovely exhibition of textiles, prints, ceramics and willow baskets at Sam Packard's North Street Design Works - the kind of show that makes you wish you could afford more than just the ( rather beautiful! ) postcards. It was really nice to chat to Judith Westcott about her prints. She was about to be off to the R.A. show with one of the wonderful big Pine Feroda woodcuts. I think that the Pine Feroda 'collective' is writing the latest lines in the history of the woodcut right now. The scale and technical accomplishment of their work, and its completely collaborative nature, seems unique . It also makes me want to stick a few boards together myself and get hold of a bigger press!
The cuckoo changed her tune this week. She must know the seasons are rolling along. Hard for us humans to grasp when the 1st of June's as wintry as this...
ery little to report. A spot of dead tree-wrestling, but mainly trying to keep up with the chicks, ducklings and lambs - and all the weeds!
Our last ewe finally had her lambs - twins. The newborn girl was tiny, and needed a few extra feeds to begin with, but all the little ones are merrily gamboling around the field now, though we'll have to bring them in at night for a week or two yet for fear of foxy.
The North Devon Arts Exhibition at The Plough in Torrington runs from May 27th - June 13th. It should be an interesting exhibition.
Beautiful blue butterfles flitting about the meadow, and, in the evening, two different types of bat. Alongside the little Pipistrelles, there is sometimes a pair of much bigger bats with far slower wingbeats. I can just about make out their ears, so I'm guessing maybe Long-eared Bats? Nice to see them, whatever they are.
lue skies have returned this week. The apple trees are still heavy with blossom, so may be the bees will have had a chance to do their work. I've added more boxes to the Warre hives, so my apiary work is all done now until the Autumn harvesting of the honeycomb; surely the best job in our smallholding year!
There is a big box of printmaking supplies waiting to be opened; so many possibilities! If only the grass and weeds didn't grow so fast at this time of year...
I wish I could say that my fingers & thumbs have acquired their rather attractive turquoise hue through intense experimentation with coloured inks, but actually I'm just not a very good shot with the 'limping lamb' aerosol. Emma the lamb is all better now though, and looks very pretty skipping around the field in her pretty blue socks.
I am still fretting over The Jerwood Prize Exhibition, primarily I suppose because it seems so invidious to award prizes for Art at all, and especially so when the judging is so utterly subjective. One of the judges, Alison Wilding, says:-
'' From my perspective, the ability to recognise a drawing which stands out and immediately communicates is an instinctive response that I am totally confident with; it comes from my own experience of making drawings and is undoubtedly subjective and particular."
Fine, strong words for an Artist, but is it really so very different from saying " I know what I like."?
The drawing which has most stayed with me is 'Horsa Gliders' by Alan Bond, which is simple, and moving, and very beautiful.
he beautiful Spring weather has turned to grey skies and cold, raw, winds this week. The blossom-laden trees have taken a real buffeting, and much of the time it's been too cold for the bees to fly and do their job of pollination, which doesn't auger well for the Autumn fruit harvest. Must keep fingers crossed...
Yet in all the bad weather, no sky so grey as post-election morning. We will not all be in this boat together. The poorest and most vulnerable will bear the brunt of the forthcoming cuts. I am bewildered when I compare the scarcely imagineable sacrifice two generations of Britons were prepared to make for a better, safer, fairer world, with the fact that nowadays we - the 'English' - aren't even prepared for a bit of a tax rise in hard times, to safeguard what they built. Our islands haven't been split so absolutely along political lines for a very long time, and in my ocean of south-west Tory Blue I really, really wish I was somewhere else.
The Opening of The Jerwood Drawing Prize exhibition at The Burton didn't do much to help. We were told drawing is a language innate to us all, which is music to my ears. But how to understand and appreciate the grammar of that language was not elucidated for me at all. A few drawings I liked very much , a few I didn't, but their combined affect was to depress me at the narrowness of the range on display, if that is a true representation of 'excellence' in contemporary British drawing. Of course, it isn't; it's a totally subjective selection by three people involved in the Art Establishment, who in turn were chosen by another person high up in the Art Establishment.
If drawing is a language, it must have a duty to be intelligible and worth 'listening' to. In every other field of human endeavour the 'concept' is the springboard. The concept of 'War & Peace' was its very beginning. Why, in Contemporary Art, is it so often also the 'end'? This seems especially ironic when artists have evolved so many wonderful ways of adding value to their visual language, and also because many 'thoughts' which pass for 'concepts' in the Art World would seem pretty half-baked if discussed at face-value by philosophers, or scientists, or anyone else whose stock in trade is 'ideas'.
I have spent a month in the company of Mr. Pickwick. I think I'm missing him. That hasn't helped.
n 'Arty' week for us - but more 'looking & yapping' than doing, I'm afraid. Sandy of Simonsbath has worked miracles fitting so many pictures in to the Boevey Tea Room, and the Festival Art Show looks really good.
We greatly enjoyed the opening evening; some beautiful work, lovely food, and smashing company. Heard the Simonsbath cuckoo again, too.
Saturday was 'selection day' for the Westward Ho! & Bideford Art Society and I became a member,so hopefully I will be exhibiting at The Burton gallery this summer. I so wish we had an Arts venue like The Burton this side of the river...
Lee's been looking very lovely, with great drifts of golden gorse lining the cliffs, and the fruit trees in full blossom. I've seen more little birds around this spring than ever. This morning I saw a beautiful greenfinch watching me on my round. Maybe it's partly because all the 'sticks' we planted about ten years ago are finally beginning to look like trees to the feathered fraternity.
We have at last found two 'girlfriends' for Anna's budgies.One is an Albino, and the other a 'Spangled Sky-blue Pied ( I think), which definitely makes the name bigger than the bird.She is very pretty, in any case! I have been busy building them a big new 'upcycled' home.
Sadly, we lost one of our woolly girls. Found her in the barn with all four feet pointing skyward and no clue why. She's left us a week-old lamb to hand-rear. Anna's named her 'Emma', and is looking after her very well.
Our very good friend Steve has beaten me to achieving one of life's ambitions, and turned his first wooden bowl on the lathe. It's made of Ash, and very beautiful; the first of many, I'm sure.
hris the Framer has done a grand job with five of my woodcut prints. Yesterday we took three of them to Simonsbath for the Festival, which runs from May 4th to June 20th. We will be back on Wednesday for the exhibition opening, and are looking forward to seeing the prints in such beautiful suroundings.
The sun peeped out for us on a heavenly walk from Simonsbath along the River Barle to the ancient Iron Age fort of Cow Castle - deep Exmoor! I saw a Red deer hind high on a far ridge, and a Dipper speeding busily down the river. The Barle bends around Cow Castle, and there the crystal-clear water runs slow and deep. We saw a gathering of wee trout, some not much bigger than the Water Boatmen skimming along the surface. A pair of Ravens and a Buzzard soared way above us, and the valley echoed to the sonorous calls of two competing cuckoos - the first we've heard this year. Susi and I plan to return soon with our sketch pads. Meanwhile, it's home to read Lorna Doone!
The swallows and martins are here in numbers now. This morning Susanne was entranced by a beautiful yellow butterfly fluttering by the window, and then by a speeding swallow. Then the butterfly was no more...
I have dusted down my trusty ol' iron steed, unearthed my tummy-glorifying lycra, and taken to an evening constitutional on me bike. The up-side is watching the sun setting over a slightly different stretch of coastline every day. The down-side is that the hills of North Devon have undoubtedly become much steeper since I last bestrode my cycle, and my backside is lycra-wrapped in its very own little world of pain.
o see a pristine pair of Goldfinches on a newly minted spray of Blackthorn blossom is to witness a living Haiku to Spring.
All the little birds are keeping busy carrying the sheep's wool off to their nests just a soon as our girls shed it. Wiltshire Horns look pretty scruffy at this time of year, half-way through their moult.
We have our first sturdy little lamb, and expect a couple more any day soon.
Our first batch of chicks has hatched. They are Cream Legbars and Bresse, and are doing very well under their 'electric mums'. The day the first chicks hatch was my favourite day of all as a little boy - and it still hasn't lost its wonder for me.
I have two neat puncture wounds in my thumb, bestowed by my old Blue Game cock ( no sniggering, Anna! ) who thought I was attacking his wives, and speared me with his spurs. Luckily I had trimmed an inch off their lethal points the week before, or I fear my hitch-hiking days would be over...
This beautiful weather has meant plenty of outdoor work to be done, so no artistic endeavours to report, but lots of ideas and quick scribblings. I'm rather looking forward to a few grey-skied days now, to force me back to my woodcuts.
he Easter weather's been wonderful - sunny blue skies punctuated by one day when the sea mist rolled thick into the valley and filled it with an eerie purple haze.
Disappeared over night though; sometimes those deep sea mists roll in cold and stay all summer.
The place is looking pretty now. The magnolias are in glorious bloom, and the fruit blossom is on its way. The bees are very busy, and there seem to be plenty of 'em.
Butterflies too - we've seen a Tortoiseshell, a Peacock and an Orange-tip in the last couple days.
The birds have been very hardworking too, flying off with all the goose feathers and sheep's wool to line their nests. Their bundles often seem bigger that they are.
I have started my scribblings for a great big Blue Whale woodcut. I intend it to glide across two boards, but I'm off to a slow start.
We visited the White Moose gallery for the '5 Women Printers' exhibition. Very varied and beautiful work, and the artists really seemed to complement each other.
I must prepare for lambs & chicks now, and then I'll be glad of a few grey ol' days to scurry me back to my woodcut.
Happy 1st birthday, Quinn!
uckily the foul weather has forced me, ever so reluctantly, to abandon my fork in the still undug garden, and pick up the Stanley knife once more.
Not so lucky are our poor wee magnolia trees, which have been hit hard by this last blast of March gales just as their beautiful blooms are opening. Fingers crossed that some will survive the burning wind.
I have finished another large woodcut - 'Red Deer'. This is my first 'mammal' woodcut. Feathers and fishy scales are far more amenable to abstraction than fur I think - but there will be ways... The board I used was really beautiful to cut - the knife seemed to know exactly where I wanted it to go, and nothing got broken en route. These maple boards seem to vary a great deal - the 'Sunfish' one was a real pain.
Work has been revolutionised by the purchase of a set of cheap & cheerful felt-tip pens. My initial scribblings are in pencil; then I work my way through the colours from light to dark. I end up with a cobweb of colour-coded rainbow scrawls, and cut to the darkest lines. Water-based pens don't leave a residue or throw the printing ink off, and the tips cope happily enough with the wood surface.
till, sunny blue days, with the new colours of Spring peeping up everywhere, and the air dense with birdsong.
Our 'Happy Egg' box is overflowing; I think the whole of Lee must be on a diet of omelettes. 'Tis the time of year to start collecting eggs for the incubator. The first setting will be of our 'useful' breeds ( a relative term with pure varieties of poultry...). We keep Exchequer Leghorns for lots of big white eggs, Welsummers for dark brown, and Cream Legbars to lay us perfect porcelaine blue ones. Olive eggs come from a cross between the Welsummers and the Legbars, and that completes our egg-box palette. We also keep French Bresse hens. They are the most truly useful pure breed I have ever kept - lots of eggs, and ever so tasty!
I have been invited to exhibit at the Simonsbath Festival Art Exhibition from 30th April - 21st June. Definitely something to look forward to.
Happy Birthday Sonja!
y birthday fell on a dreary ol' day, which was immediately cheered for me by the sight of a great grey Heron rising up fom the stream and flapping slowly acoss the valley.
The icy trauma of my birthday dip was amply compensated with lashings of Susi's heart-warming Beef & Guinness stew!
I was given two essentials for the woodcut artist: a Newlyn smock in Breton Red (with which I am truly besotted); and a great big 'chicken' mug for tea, just in case I am not presently imbibing enough of said beverage to keep the creative juices flowing... The smock will save my woolly jumpers from becoming prickly porcupines that carry the sharp ply splinters everywhere. Even the bed had to be checked before we could rest easy!
I treated myself to the bran-new book 'Making Woodblock Prints' by Merlyn Chesterman & Rod Nelson. It is both beautiful and useful, clearly and concisely telling you all you need to know, whilst also inspiring you to jolly-well get cracking.
I have made a start on a large woodcut of a Sunfish. Sunfish are very strange looking creatures, and the biggest 'bony' fish in the ocean.They can weigh around 1,000kg and lay up to 300 million eggs at a time! Their main food is jellyfish, which they have to munch on an industrial scale to grow so huge.
Our three young Wiltshire Horn ewes have come home from their stay with a very handsome young ram who lives nearby. They appear plump and content, and we look forward to the patter of tiny hooves in a few weeks time. The field just doesn't look right without a few sheep a-grazing, and they save me hours and hours of mowing.
arch comes in with a fearsome roar, but now the sun is shining warmly, and it seems that Spring hath sprung. I dove into the sea on March 1st for my weekly dip, and live to report that the water's still bloomin' freezing.
I love March for all its promise of new beginnings, but 'tis also the time when Susanne nudges me toward wheelbarrow & spade, so there'll be less time now for all the Arty Things. I will keep going though - just a little, every day.
How many Long-Tailed Tits make a zephyr? Two are dancing around the orchard today.
Yesterday at breakfast we saw a young Sparrowhawk in the old apple tree. It was preening in the morning sun,paying scant regard to the two Gret Tits who'd come to investigate. He was here again today, so perhaps he'll become a regular visitor. The 'twitcher' in me is thrilled, the hen-keeper not so much...
A pair of gruff-throated Ravens and a wake of Buzzards flew over me whilst I plodded through my gardening chores, and later I met a pair of Tawny Owls in the Village Meadow. A day of wondrous natural connections, but I did begin to wonder whether all these raptors were not circling for their next meal...
Anna is 10, and had the sunniest day of the year so far to celebrate. She's keeping very busy; I am intrigued as to which pictures she'll put on her page next.
'The Peacock' is finished, and I am pleased.
ebruary departs in wild winds and a shroud of deep sea-mist.
We have lost another friend; a Fox-whistler and Trout-tickler; a Master Craftsman who put his Heart and Soul into everything he did; and a constant, kind and reassuring presence atop the hill. He will be much missed.
We watched two Oystercatchers combing the strandline on a particularly grey and blustery high tide eve.It is unusual to see them foraging so high up the shore. The Oystercatcher would definitely be my choice for 'bird icon' of The Bay; striking in voice and appearance - and always here. Oystercatchers pair for the whole of their long lives, and hold the same territory year after year. We are very much guests on their beach!
I start work on a 'Peacock' woodcut. All's well so far...
fter a fortnight's struggle with The Grebe, I sat down to cut a simple seabird - a guillemot, perhaps - in basic blocks of black & white.
But out popped a Sea Bream, of all creatures, and all covered in scales which are even worse to cut than feathers! I've never seen a live bream, nor worse still eaten a cooked one, and yet The Spirit Of The Bream was clearly with me, because in four long and relatively undisturbed days I don't appear to have put a foot wrong - though I say so myself as shouldn't - and The Bream and his Sand Eel companions are a veritable credit to their creator.
By contrast, The Grebe was wrestled in to existence, and I suppose that's when the real learning happens...
It has been a joy this week to meet Pete & Francesca of eARTh in Ilfracombe. They are engaged in a fascinating quest to unearth - quite literally - the natural pigments in the North Devon landscape, and to utilise them in as open-ended and creative way as possible, both in their own paintings and working with groups. Their colours come from the ground, and from plants, and are very, very beautiful.
I chose my Beloved One an inspired Valentine's Day present; an old Folio edition of The Complete Works of Jane Austen. They are very beautiful volumes, which have earned me many brownie points, and numberless peaceful evenings to come.
Jasper has lured us in to the wonderfully authentically ( I think; even I am not old enough to verify ) recreated world of 'Viking', which we're wolfing far too fast.I feel an 'Odin' coming on...
his week has witnessed the first real harbingers of Spring. Daffodils and primroses have joined the hardy snowdrops in flower, and there have been a few sunny afternoons warm enough for the bravest of the bees to buzz forth from their hives.
It's always heartening to see the bees flying again after the worst of the winter. Signs are good for the colonies, and thus for Autumn's honeyed toast, though there's time yet for plenty of 'weather'.
A week of quiet sorrows for us too, during which I have said goodbye to an uncle, and a cousin, and also to my oldest friend. Three lives lived to the full, and full of all kinds of goodness.
On Sunday, Susanne, Anna & I walked along Northam's Pebble Ridge. The estuary tide was way out, and we saw Old Nog the solitary heron, picking his painstaking way across the mussel beds. There was very little other non-human life evident, and I was glad to get back home to our side of the water. We popped in to the Northam Bird Sale to find a couple wives for Anna's budgies, and came across another zephyr of long-tailed tits - encaged this time. No flitting through the orchard for them...
Sunday was a big day for family milestones; my Father's 80th birthday, and my son Marvin's 21st. Well done, boys!
''The Grebe Abides''.
itterly cold winds, and plenty of driftwood borne in on the waves to keep the winter fires burning.
A 'zephyr' of long-tailed tits breeze in to the orchard, and then are off again on their travels, whilst the bullfinches continue to systematically, and very beautifully, destroy all hopes of future cherry crumbles.
I have had lots of kind and considered comments about the prints in the North Devon Art Show - all power to the woodcutter's elbow!
The Grebe is slowly coming to life; today I christened it with just a few drops of blood from my thumb...
alm, cold weather after last week's crazy gales. Lots of little birds around the feeder, and a wee 'bellowing' of bullfinches sedately nibbling their way through all the buds on our cherry tree.
At Sandy Cove the fulmars are busy noisily reclaiming and extending their nesting site along the cliffs. They will soon be back off out to sea, returning to the rocky ledges to nest & raise their single chicks in the Spring. It's pretty amazing to think that these beautiful birds wheeling in the sky above us pair for life and could well be anything from thirty to fifty years old!
I want to do a b & w woodcut of the fulmars, but how; they're so steadfastly grey!
The North Devon Art Show Opening went well.Chris the Framer did a really good job with my prints, and they scrubbed up well. The other exhibitors are a ceramacist, an applique - maker, Karen, an abstract painter, and Luna, a printmaker. It was very interesting to meet and discuss each others' work, especially for me, as I'm far more used to talking to my chickens.
I have started my first woodcut of 2015 - a Great Crested Grebe.Lots of feathers - it's going to be a long haul!
he North Devon Open Art Show at Barnstaple Museum starts next week (19th Jan ), and continues until the end of Feb. I'm one of four artists there. Please pop in if you're interested.
I've hardly found time for any 'proper' art work since Christmas, but lots of ideas are slowly simmering. The kids wanted tropical fish for Christmas ( well, not just for Christmas! All they got on the day was an empty tank...), so now we have a wonderful underwater world in our front room, inhabited by beautiful little living jewels. Time to get the paints out...
Today on our bluster to the Bay we saw a young cormorant hopping forlornly among the rocks. It seemed as though even he had taken a beating from these raging seas.
his year's Resolutions are all going very well. I've started smoking, and eaten far more chocolate cake than usual - and I have a website!
The website's been good fun to set up, and very interesting for me, but I wouldn't have had a clue without Jasper's nimble-fingered know-how, or all the ideas from Susanne and Anna.
I used to be terrified by the computer , that grim, grey-faced box of tricks in the corner, only intelligible to the totally unwrinkled members of the family. Now I've come to realise it's just a tool, to be used and respected like any other. I used to be terrified by my chainsaw too, but I've never actually used it to saw down the branch my ladder's been leaning on...... woops!
I guess that as with chainsaws, so with computers - we mustn't let them shape us!