Here be Midnight

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Sketch Book

Busy weeks hold an element of frustration for me. Lots of thinking about art, but little time to actually create. I try to think of these times like garden compost - a bit smelly but necessary to fertilise new ideas, or grow and develop old ones.

Even during my busy weeks I attend my life-drawing and portrait groups. They are a peaceful retreat from the everyday hubbub of life. Each week the familiar smells of graphite, pastel and oils greet me and seem to lull me into 'the zone'.  When I first arrive at my easel I like to sit still for a little and just take in the sounds around me - the little fan heater, the tinkling of classical music, and my favourite noise of all, the small and large scratchings of friendly people drawing and painting.

Below are some sketches from both  the portrait and life-drawing class.




Thursday, 23 February 2012

Of Trolls and Dark Places

The tendency to draw delicately and paint in light tones is one I find difficult to break away from. Even with a 9b pencil and all the effort I can muster my bolder drawings are still referred to as "lovely and delicate" by my peers.  My standard response to this is friendly sarcasm, "Oh well, that's me". Then I wander off to the hot chocolate machine and ponder my own fragility. 
I appreciate a sensitive touch in art and do not wish to strike it from my repertoire completely, yet  I am continually drawn to the atmosphere created by overlays of darkness in other artists work.
Below is my most recent attempt. The darkness has been created in layers - probably a few too many if I'm honest- but the paper does not look too over worked and has a lovely, warm velvety texture in the darkest places.

When people see my paintings, the first question that is often asked is -  "Is this for a story?" And then I tell them that I'm sure there are stories behind all the pictures, it's just that they haven't been written yet. When I took part in a 'sketch a day' thread in an on-line community I was delighted when people would muse about the happenings in my doodles. Their minds had been coaxed by the picture into the realm of creativity and they were making their own stories. Justified or not, I felt proud that the work could have such an effect. Once, someone was so affected she requested that I draw breathing apparatus on a mouse that was swimming under water because she was afraid he might drown. So, happy to oblige, I fixed the drawing and reposted my sketch.
Sometimes I find myself staring at the pictures wondering what they are about.  If I stare long enough, a small part of the story appears and it seems as if it was there all along....


She lowered her head politely and muttered her question to the Oracle.
"Speak tall," summoned the Troll. "My ears are fullness of forest moss and insects. You must speak tall." The words chimed rhythmically as the Troll ambled and swayed, hither and thither around the forest floor. With every slow footfall, the ground shook and the pebbles leapt but as Unn started to speak again the Oracle crouched still and listened through the scuffling of her earwigs.
"I wish to know why there is no one place called home for me." Unn said with a numbed sadness. "The trees have roots, the birds have nests and the snails have shells but I have none of these things. I miss my home very much , though I have never seen it. I want to go home."
The Troll closed her eyes slowly. She began humming a low and resonant note that rippled through the trees and filled the air with a rich and rounded hush. Rocking back and forth on her feet, the Troll sang her spell-laden song until the air was so thick with stillness, that even Time reverently muffled its footsteps. 
With a snort and a spit the spell was broken. The Troll grunted. She prodded her ear with her fingernail and hooked a wriggling creature from within. Holding it before her lips she said with a gravelly sweetness "Measure your mind with muchness and mostness. New prints are at your foot."
Then tipping her head back she dropped a millipede into her mouth and crunched it thoughtfully.  "Journey with me and you will find your home." And with that she twisted her feet in the dirt and swaggered off....

Original size 172mm x 148mm

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Hurry up, I'm being patient!

Sometimes in life, I get impatient. It is probably more accurate to say sometimes I get impatient with life. All those who know me are smiling and nodding vigorously at this point. My allergy to the word "later" is quite marked.
I've had a regular meditation practice for many years now and it has truly helped me find moments of stillness in amidst chaos. It has also made me very aware of my thought processes and my habitual reactions to them.  So when life doesn't go as I plan or as fast as I would like, I can hear the little voice in my head loudly saying, with a toddlers tenacity "Are we there yet?" Or "How much further?" Or "I only want this surely that's not too much to ask." My ingrained reaction to these thoughts is generally one of determined 'doing' and a sense of pushing things into being. Whether this "doing" is mental or physical it is far from peaceful.
Art, like meditation, is a great place for me to find peace. Curiously my drawings and paintings often provide me with a counterbalance to the thoughts I am clutching to in my head. If I'm sad my drawings are funny. If I'm bored with the mundane something quirky will appear. The picture below was started at a time when my impatience was peaking and I was about to throw in the towel and anything else within arms length.
When I look at this picture, after all this time, I can sense the stillness and the quietness. It is in the gentle deer and the meditative pose. But also present is the underlying yearning - the praying and the dandelion clock, full and light, just waiting for it's time to become petite parasols and float away on the breeze.

original size 100mm x 232mm

All pictures capture a moment. Unlike in real life we can look at this captured moment for much longer than, well, a moment. In our everyday, however, instants come and go. Things are ever evolving and changing and, I suppose, in that way, nature has provided us with the answer to impatience—impermanence. 

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Baba Yaga

I have a penchant for Russian/Eastern European illustrators and fairy tales. Ivan Bilibin's otherworldly and dreamlike illustrations, with their muted palette and rustic ornamentation  they have long captivated my fancy. His images often depict dense woodland, my favourite playhouse for tales of long ago. Always I have imagined the forests of Russia to be deeper and darker and more able to withhold a secret than those elsewhere.
The tales of the Baba Yaga belong to these forests, these deep woodlands of perpetual night. This ancient crone of Eastern European mythology is most often portrayed as an evil and terrifying witch with a necklace of skulls and an appetite for human flesh. Big nosed, boney legged and broken teeth. Curled fingernails, sagging skin and warts. She is the epitome of our fear of old age. 
But there is also something of the Shaman about her. She is a shapeshifter with the ability to fly and to govern the elements. It is thought that her origins derive from the archetypal goddess of death and regeneration,  and as such displays wisdom and healing powers, though not often kindness. She is deeply connected with nature and her chosen method of flying (the mortar and pestle) is evidence of her knowledge of healing and magical herbs. She is wise and all seeing, and like Mother Nature herself, powerful, wild and free.
Search Google images for this misunderstood woman and all you will find is a terrifying and skeletal old hag. I have always found it difficult to believe in characters that are completely evil or completely good. Stories are somehow more absorbing, more real and more frightening if the the contradictory nature of humans is exposed. Then nothing is predictable and anything is possible.
Below is a picture of Baba Yaga on a good day. This is her light side, her softness that makes her cruelty even more menacing. She has left her jewellery at home and has no evil plans for the evening, only a midnight stroll amongst the stars, before returning to her faithful chicken legged home amongst the trees. At any moment she is capable of extreme and supernatural wrath, but for now she is quiet....

Baba Jaga

Original size 112mm x 110mm