Sunday, 9 December 2012


   Oh, what to think of these odd short days of so many faces, and so much holiday food?  There were oceans of people scurrying about in the dark clutching impossible amounts of plastic carrier bags as I walked home from work today in a nighttime hail shower (even though it was a Sunday afternoon).  And even in through the suffocating crush of wet coats brushing and rough edges of packages scraping, there was still the grace of a fresh wind rushing generously up against my face.

The other day, to cure a headache, I went to the winter gardens that are only a short walk from us now.  There was a brass band playing nearby and this angel's trumpet that seemed to shine light from inside its flowers.  I think that it may be the sweetest cure for any affliction.

Time seems to run in increasingly intricate patterns these days.  Thoughts and daydreams begin to burst their  barriers and run over into conversations about the weather. There are hours and hours for the selling and the buying of things, but no time at all for creating them.  And so, in the midst of all this, it feels to me more important than ever to grab at and steal any stray moment and to draw all possible pleasure from it.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Christmas on Fire Trucks

   It has been a snow-edged day of waking early to chocolates hidden in shoes, home-baked cakes shared in moments between work, and packages in the mail.  And I thought, since we have another Nicholas-themed card again this year that the 6th of December, being Saint Nicholas' feast day, would be the perfect time to share it here.

   As I sat down this year to work on a new linocut card to send around for the holidays, my husband thought back to his childhood and came up with an idea.  He told me that in America, where he grew up, there is a tradition for Santa Claus to ride through the streets on a fire truck around Christmas time.  The truck goes slowly, but with lights flashing and sirens blaring.  Apparently this happens in a lot of towns in America where local fire departments are volunteer-run and need to create close links with the community, as they are very dependent on donations for their funding.  This American incarnation of Saint Nicholas is quite different from Der Nikolaus who used to visit my father in Germany when he was a child, which was the theme of last year's card.  And though it is certainly not so poetic an idea as the themes behind our card of two years ago or the one from three years ago, I do see how this would thrill children, perhaps stuck alone at the dinner table to finish their vegetables, or writing out pages of times tables or cursive letters.

   The card is quite a simple one this year. Hopefully it will bring some relief to those people back home who believe, no matter what I say, that I only make strange things.  I only make these cards as a way of sending family and friends a bit of happiness, after all.  Still, next year, if I find the energy for card-making I am thinking of Snegurochka, or my mother's childhood worst fear, the Abominable Snowman.

So in the spirit of a randomly passing Christmas spectacle.... A Happy Saint Nicholas Day to you!

Friday, 30 November 2012

A Drawing of Chill Air

It has been dark for some time now, but in the afternoon we went out to walk high above a strange, crystalline landscape that retreated slowly, as the slanted rays of winter sun crossed it.  Now, as we sit inside with coffee cups and candles, the frost will be again stretching its fingers out, growing slowly, mineral-like into the night.  

The low angle of the winter sun has a blinding, dazzling effect as it passes sideways through the blue, misted air of late November.  And so, we walked with our eyes turned down, lost in frost patterns.  On a low stone wall, my husband found a tiny mushroom with a cap the size of a fingernail which was still growing in a patch of moss and frost.  

Everywhere there were diamonds and crystals, little boxes and angular rods of ice.  Our talk drifted to a winter visit to Romania full of clanking old cross-country trains which departed at midnight or later, pressing us in among the other passengers, rocking us in the forced familiarity of little berth benches where accordion music drifted in from the corridor all night.  

The Carpathian mountains sprouted hoarfrosts more impressive than those in any other place I have seen before or since.  While we were there it was persistently cold and fogs were always hanging about, which happens to be the perfect recipe for growing water into crystals as long as a hand.  

But truly every frost is stunning and magical and a sort of invitation into scarves and jackets and out of doors. 

At the same time, a lovely frosty day, where the morning curtains are drawn back to reveal that all the neighbouring houses' black slate roof tiles have become white and the garden has grown pale and shimmering -- that would also incline one to painting, I suppose... if there were not Christmas cards to be made.   

So we wandered, seeking out shaded corners and leaves suspended in ice.

Frosts that gathered on the ends of logs created miniature frozen labyrinths and sometimes we came across the icy shadows of old leaves that had rested a while and then flown.   

Lurking around every corner were fleeting treasures of light and water.

These days it seems as though lunch is hardly over before the sky blazes up into delirious reds and fuchsias and molten golds.  

And after that there is a moment of grey quivering light before the thick, rolling blackness of winter, the cold clinking of stars, the reaching and grasping of frosts.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Deux poids, deux mesures

It's been a little while, but finally I have something new to show here.  Over the weekend I finished a new etching and pulled the first few prints from it.  Though still rather small, at 20 x 30 cm this is the largest copperplate I've worked on so far and also the largest plate that I can get through my tiny printing press.  When I printed it I could only manage a very small border on each side, so I think I will have to find a few hours in an etching studio with a larger press in order to edition this print so that it can have reasonable borders around it.

I am planning this print to be the first in a series of five prints on a theme of doubles.  All of the plates will be this size, so I'll probably go and print them all at once when the other four are finished.  So far they are all drawn out in my mind (along with a whole host of other things), but not yet on paper, so I've still got a long way to go.  This plate took quite a while, with days and days of drawing out repetitive lines or stippling away for hours on end.

The title of the print is French and literally means something like "two weights, two measurements".  A better translation in English would be "double standard".  But rather than saying too much about my own motivations, I'd prefer to allow you the freedom to interpret on your own.  I hope November has been treating you well!

Sunday, 28 October 2012

First Snow

   I have been studying the leaves each day, keeping extensive mental lists of their progress and where around town the brightest and most beautiful colours can be found.  Since my last post, things have come a long way, and this has been the most brilliantly-coloured autumn I have experienced since moving to Europe.  My research has determined that, objectively speaking (of course), last Friday was the most beautiful day of the year.

On that day the leaves reached their peak, the sky was opalescent, and what is more, on that day the first snow fell.

   On that day too, two storytellers arrived from Poland to perform at an event my husband had organized.  Our morning was a blur of cooking and vacuuming and the fluffing of pillows, while flurries of snow whipped past the windows.  Later in the day, we ventured out to show the town to our guests, and I was sort of dumbstruck by the beauty of the day, trying to etch on my mind the exact colours and how the light fell, wanting desperately to understand how to paint out the spell of autumn and winter colliding.

 Just before the sun finally set we were walking along the river, where the trees glowed in the brightest hues of yellow and orange over the dark water, and from somewhere at the back of all of the layers of foggy sky a very pale peach colour glowed quietly beyond wet branches, until a person could cry from looking at it.  I am not sure, but I think this fact was largely overlooked as people hurried about, hoods pulled up and heads bent down.

When we lived in Japan, one thing I loved was the way people appreciated the turning leaves.  It is impossible to get a hotel room in certain Japanese cities in autumn because of the crowds of people that flock to them if they are considered to be exceptional places to admire leaves.  On the evening news there is a nightly update on how far the autumn-leaf-front has advanced, as the season makes its way southward across the country.  Yesterday night, standing in the park and watching a maple glowing in the dusk, we spoke about that.  I was thinking too about how after the leaves fall there, there are the bare persimmon trees that hold onto their bright orange fruit all winter.

   In a few days time, a friend from Japan is coming for a short visit, so we will get to look at Scotland through her eyes for a couple of days.

The clocks went back one hour last night, and suddenly the sun sets at four thirty in the afternoon again.  Around 4 am this morning a multitude of fireworks went off in the street outside our bedroom window.  Watching the glow from them on the ceiling, my sleepy mind decided that they were not really fireworks, but the sputtering of time as it adjusted to the clocks going backwards, just a few little jolts as time shifted tracks.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Leaves Like Lanterns

Goose cries and long strings of wintry birds passed overhead, quickly vanishing beyond the houses, with two weeks' worth of days caught around their ankles as they flew.  That's where the time went.

Or maybe the time got painted out and drawn over.  I keep meaning to post here, but everything I'm working on right now is somewhere in the middle stages.  Hopefully there will be an etching to show soon though.

Yesterday, in a small round hour of sunlight, we snuck through the back lanes, disguised as the tops of our own heads just peeking out above the stone walls.

The wind smelled of fires.  The sunlight had turned cold and sharp.  And everywhere we went magpies called out, clicking, clacking and croaking to one another.

May you find these longer nights to be lit by vast and vivid dreams.  Happy Autumn!

Friday, 28 September 2012


   When I first moved to Europe, I used to look up at big French cathedrals and wonder if the people who grew up with old statues of monsters walking down the walls towards them had some small, but fundamental difference about them.  Though I paint and etch very small things, I am fascinated by big art, by gigantic art that has a place in the everyday lives of a community or a city.  Even the most basic street art has a little thrill... that they managed to get their tag across the whole train(!), that this morning is a little bit unlike all the other mornings in the M├ętro, because now we are all swallowed up inside a pink belly and spat out at work, rather than just being jostled into a dirty and smelly, grey train car moving through a dark tunnel.

    In Aberdeen, there is not too much art spontaneously appearing on the streets.  We are filmed at every turn here and sometimes even voice recorded.  But, there are the lovely, old, sculpted, grey granite buildings and there's the monochromatic unity of the city, which certainly has an impact.  And in the countryside too, there are old sculpted stones that have been standing in place for longer than memory.

   A few weeks back, on one of our mushroom-hunting expeditions, we went a little further down the road to see a Pictish standing stone called the Maiden Stone.  This is a well-known sculpted stone in this part of Scotland and for a long time we'd been wanting to stop by and have a look, but sometimes not having a car does have some downsides.  These days, the stone is in a small, fenced enclosure by the roadside, but it still inspires awe.  Over a thousand years standing at the foot of a mountain and it stands firmly in the imagination of the people of this area as well.

   This stone is one of many Pictish stones in Scotland's northeast.  The front is carved with a depiction of a man standing between two fish, which may be a representation of Jonah.  Below this is a Celtic cross, and at the bottom of the stone there is an elaborate circular knot-work design.  Going down the back of the stone are centaurs and a dog, a z-rod, a Pictish beast which looks like a stylized dolphin, and then a mirror and comb.  These symbols are found on other Pictish stones, and it is possible to learn some things from them.  For example, the beast could be related to dragons found on brooches that were imported from far away lands, and we can see also that Christianity was coming into the picture and mixing with the pagan symbols.  But no one really knows what any of it meant, or why this stone was erected.  It could have been a boundary marker, maybe.

   And while the mysterious origins of this stone are very intriguing, equally interesting are the stories that have grown up about the stone.  If you listen to the the local legends, there is another origin for the Maiden Stone:  A beautiful young woman was changed into this stone as she tried to escape marriage to the Devil.  Some stories claim it was God that transformed her, more stories say it was the Devil himself, but all stories seem to agree that the cleft in the stone was made as the Devil grabbed at the woman's shoulder as she ran away.  Rather than giving summaries, two wonderful stories about it can be heard told by Stanley Robertson here and a shorter version told by Lucy Stewart here, and there are many more on that site (which has songs and stories recorded from all around Scotland). There are of course other versions on the tongues of people still living around here.

   It seems clear that art attracts more art.  I am so thankful that there are stones like this one standing out in the rain for people with sticks in their hair and dirt on their hands to look at and dream about on the way homeward.  And I wonder what ideas we will leave behind us for people to think on in a thousand years... stories, painted walls, songs, statues...

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Equinoxal Storms

   Last night the wind tore about so fiercely and so wildly it sounded as though the sea had risen to my window.  Even the bed shook when the strength of the gusts ran up against the stones of this home, and the door in the hall clattered all night.  A screaming and a whistling stole in through the gaps of these old windows and the curtains danced, though the panes were fastened tight against the rain that hissed upon them.

   The day before, down below the cliffs, we found the body of a great grey seal, which must have died only shortly before.  It was so beautiful, so almost alive that even though it was clear that it would not, it seemed all the same that it might wake up again any time.  And then we walked on homewards and night fell on the derelict school on the way, with the carved granite numbers saying the year 1904, as somewhere down the street a man hollered and wailed unhinged.

    And this morning, the people down in the old fishing town, the one the harbour never managed to swallow, they woke up to find sea foam covering everything.  It covered pavements, cars, everything, so that it seemed at first as though it had snowed.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


      Oh these pensive days!  At the end of them, if there is an end, there is only the absence of thought.  Every strand of reasoning and every hue of emotion has fled and maybe not much is remembered, the way it is when a song is over.  The mind moves like the sea, sometimes churning and frothing, other times calm... only the sea is greater.

But there are places, heron-haunted, where the air is big and fresh and blows through thoughts and moods and lifts them up, up, far from earth.  Bee-buzzing, plant-perfumed places of tansy, snap-dragons, and sweet cicely.

Forget yourself and talk in a loud voice if you like... but who needs words? There are blackberries, rowan berries, rose hips, and the first of the bright autumn leaves.

And then there are minnows at the calm edge of the river, eating the crumbs of your lunch; a crow and a heron that sit together in silent, sheltered places, and fly off together up the length of the river, loudly protesting your interloping; the green light off a low-flying cormorant's wings; a congress of swans and gulls and ducks in session on the river stones where the current runs fast; the quick legs of spiders in their many autumn webs counting down the seconds until the frosts come crawling in.  

Scotch pine, holly, oak, and ivy.  And crisp September breezes against weak, honeyed light. 

I have a love of lists, I treasure them.  At school I studied, among other things, Old Irish poetry, and I think it was maybe this tradition's great tendency toward cataloguing and alliteration that first drew me in.  A sentence might last a page, with all of the things it enumerates artfully arranged and the sounds sweeping on hypnotically with the reading of them until the richest tapestry has been created in the mind.  

So though English does not allow for that kind of poetry, I hope by naming a few of the things I have found on my rambles, to bring them back and hold them up to you, each word a sort of charm, so that you might have a little of the feeling that you have been out walking where great birds sweep and croak. 

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Brown Footprints on Green Grass

   These are some old photos, from about this time last year.  All of what lies around this city is a bit of a fairy tale: stone circles, cold mountain streams, crooked and mossy woods, endless sandscapes by the shore, bog-topped mountains, and an unreal amount of turreted pink castles. 

There are so many nooks and crannies that need to be visited.  Someone will mention a great crater where thousands of sea birds come to nest in the spring or a mountain top where they experienced glory or a brocken spectre and somewhere inside me a slow, nagging yearning will start. 

Luckily we recently got hold of some old bicycles.  There is a lovely organization in Aberdeen that gives people bikes for free.  Sometimes they are rusty and old and broken, but then they have tools and people with bike repair knowledge who can teach you to fix bikes yourself with the spare parts that are laying around in their work space.

I found an old green mountain bike with no pedals and no brakes, but with some help I managed to get it fixed up to the point where, while it could still use some new brake pads, it was good enough to drive home on.  I have an immense appreciation and respect for this entirely volunteer-run and absolutely wonderful group.  I wish every town had something like this!

So now the countryside is drawing nearer... it is as though our legs have grown three times as long. 

Meanwhile, this apartment has found three different ways to leak water: missing roof slate, broken hot water tank in the attic, and a slow gush from the washing machine which has apparently gone on long enough to have rotted the floor boards.  So, we have been a little bit tied down as of late, with everything pulled out of place and not too much getting done.

I suppose that's why I've posted a dream of an afternoon escape in here today.