Saturday, 28 December 2013

Lanterns for Dark Evenings

Back in November, we happened to visit Berlin just in time for Saint Martin's Day. A kind commenter here mentioned the tradition of lantern processions to me just before we left on our trip. I didn't think I would see any lantern parades in the city, but actually we happened to run into a few that weekend!

Most of the time there were just little trickles of people carrying their lanterns...

...but a little after dark on the 11th we ran into a whole street-full of children singing and carrying lanterns, following a Martin on his horse.

We thought it was such a charming way to start the holiday season, that when we came back I set to work to turn what we'd seen into a card to send out this Christmas.

 As in other years (see here: 2009201020112012), this took the form of a lino print.

Seeing the folded cards all piled up together with the image visible along their spines, had such a pleasing quality for me that I have begun to consider making a little hand-printed book sometime in the new year. We'll see!

Wishing that you continue to have a warm and joyful holiday season!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


The other day, hanging noisily, moving slowly eastward in a propeller plane above Scotland, we traced the outlines of mountains that had been entirely white with snow before three too-short days visiting friends in Dublin.

People were lighting bonfires on the hilltops below, and their smoke stretched homeward in long ribbons. Almost home and the day hardly begun, we were surrounded by the blush of an early-afternoon sunset.

As we came closer to landing, we were delayed in the air, circling in the gloaming. The sky was at the windows and on the screens of tablets. The sky was a pink reflection bent across lenses and retinas.

And then winter's slippery sun fell quickly. Glowering out from behind clouds, sometimes our angle as the plane turned made it seem like there were two separate half-suns separated by a writhing, angry patch of sky. By the time we were walking across tarmac it was dark and only fluorescent vests and small, cold lights shone for us.

Home with my head full to brimming with all the things seen in these weeks peppered with little wanderings. Ideas I had at the start of the month worked over and over in mind while walking, while gazing on European medieval masterworks, Indian miniatures, Ancient Greek monsters, surrealist treasures, and brilliantly-executed pochoir prints. Ideas that surfaced again and again while waking and waiting in trains and watching the way a stranger's nose or forehead curved.

There is talk of snow later this week. Only the last few leaves, the ones that will not fall, are left now. I want to settle in for winter, draw the curtains and huddle up close to the tiny warmth of my desk lamp and draw everything out that has been sitting by and waiting for all this time. Though, that is maybe a dream as real as a past holiday. December is always a long month that is short on time.

Thursday, 14 November 2013


A sandwich in the air, a cross-country train, for a few days staring joyfully hungry-eyed at rich medieval paintings and wandering streets full of the language my childish ears struggled with.

Somehow I came back from Berlin with not many photos in the camera, but many, many of them in stashed away in mind.

The nights fell early, but nothing seemed to close. We stayed up late talking in strange candle-lit corners; we ate cake for breakfast.

The city seemed under an enchantment where everyone was friendly, we were never cold, and a feeling of freedom hung on the breeze. Inside the great jewel boxes of museums we found not only incredible paintings, but wonders of all descriptions, like some giant lamassus and this tiny medieval wooden doll with articulated joints right down to its moving fingers and toes, which are not even as long as an eyelash.  

And back at home the days step back into their rhythm so quickly, as if we were never out of step with them for a moment. Or maybe I should say the hours come washing like waves do, always the same. Only, somewhere in the depths things have shifted slightly.  

Friday, 1 November 2013

1st of November

Always All Saints' morning in all ways the same: cold house, withered jack-o'-lanterns, piles of plates by the sink.

Turnips, rutabagas, swedes. Here they call them neeps. And that was what we carved out this year, scoring with knives and scraping with spoons at the hard roots for a long while to make 'neepy lanterns' that could be carried through the streets with glowering eyes.

They also keep bare hands warm in the cold, and give off a delicious burning smell.

A friend carved a pumpkin too.

And tonight there are roses and lilies on the table, and Hokkaido pumpkins that are waiting to be eaten. Outside there are crackles and bursts from firecrackers, and sometimes just a soundless burst of shuddering light from far off where sound doesn't reach.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013


Last week, late in the week, we went out walking to feel the leaves crunching underfoot and look for lank, lantern-ish orange leaves glowing against the grey sky, ready to fly off into it. As we were walking, there came some noises behind us. A small, goat-sized deer stopped time for a moment and we stared. And he stared.

If a unicorn had walked out of the woods it could not have been more magical. But we thought it best not to stare too long, we decided we ought to be moving. And so we walked on, but he followed after us.

Antlers grew root-like from his head, and he looked like a slick-wet tree that had sprung free of the earth. If we stopped, he stopped. If we walked, he let us go on for a little while, ran a little ways off. He played with fallen branches, pretending they were rival antlers he could clash up against. And then the desire for company would strike him and he would run up close to us again, like a tame and graceful dog.

I had a camera with me in my bag, but the battery died before I could take any photographs, so I wasn't able to capture anything of our strolling companion. Out walking in the woods, one is prey to peculiar feelings -- that maybe deer cast spells that are stronger than cameras. At home I sketched to remember.

We finally left our friend and walked out to the road. After a short stroll down a cobblestone way, we wandered downstream, through more woods, past the old well and the haunted tree that creaks and rustles all on its own. We followed the direction of the river along a high wooded path and beneath us we saw three more deer that had climbed down the steep ravine to drink at the water's edge. (Though, you can only see two of them in the very quick sketch below.)

At at the old medieval bridge (and which you may have seen in this post from long ago), we looked deep into the black waters below our feet and saw a seal swimming slowly, meditatively, on his back, just below the surface of the river.

Again, time stopped.

He seemed to hang still in the blackness, and then he would vanish, only to reappear a few minutes later. Even as we walked away along the bank of the river, from quite far off we could see his pale body hovering ghostly white against the dark, quiet waters that the bridge watches over.

Where the river empties into the sea, we startled a family of seals basking on the beach. I didn't draw them or the commotion as they shuffled off into the sea. Of that there is just the desperate feeling left by the last, littlest one that was slow to catch on. All alone on the beach, turning backward, stopping a second at sea's brim. One long look before dashing away.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Tower Music

You can hear them here. In the summer, when the doors and windows are thrown open and the carillonneur is playing in his windy, stone tower, I hear these bells while I am at work. I do long to sit and quietly listen, but instead there are many tiny tasks and conversations and  lots of running up and down. Happily though, a few weeks ago, we climbed old wooden steps up into the tower so we could watch the bells as well as listen. It was the last carillon music of the summer.

The tower was full of sweet breezes and the feeling of joy that tall, safe places hold, especially on gently windswept days. Beneath our feet, the carillonneur sat in front of what looked like an organ with sticks coming out of it instead of keys. He used closed fists to hit the sticks, which tugged wires running up through the the floor between him and us, and pulled the clappers to sound the bells.

Sometimes there were the high, sweet rushes of the smaller bells, and other times the tunes turned eerie, low, and minor-keyed, sinister and delightful in the way only bells can be.

The largest bell tolls to announce the hour. In the winter, when the tower is only for ragged winds and icy bronze, a machine counts the minutes on old wheels and gears, and pulls the wires to ring the hours all alone. But on Christmas Eve, passing in the dark, I have heard someone playing up there in the lonesome cold.

The ringing shook inside and through us as we stood and watched until just before the end. Then we wound down the tower staircases, out through the mute stained-glass glow of the church, and through the old graves that sit like stone tables in the kirkyard. And the music followed us, unending.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Pushing Print

Some prints from my studio for you today!

But if those are not quite the sort of prints you are interested in seeing, I will have two prints on display at the Pushing Print festival in Margate starting tomorrow and continuing until the 20th of October. La rencontre and Deux poids, deux mesures will both be there, framed and ready to take home. There will also be hundreds other prints in various venues around the town, as well as interesting talks and workshops, and tomorrow there will be a Giant Print Event where enormous monoprints and linoprints will be printed in the street using a steam roller!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Inside the woods. The woods inside.

Some days could be summer days, but for the breeze that rattles hoarsely through the trees that are already turning and the chill evenings with smoke on the wind. It is the season of jewel-like berries in wayside places, and of mushrooms glowing in the enchanted dusk of the forest. We have been out gathering and foraging. And we have been in drying and chopping and cooking and baking.

A little while ago, we went out mushrooming. Everyone set off to wander in their own direction, and when we all met up later to open up our sacks and present our findings to each other, my husband had not only a bag of mushrooms, but a full camera too!

Even in our best foraging haunts, it always seems to take a fair bit of walking aimlessly before any mushrooms can be found, before a sort of intuition kicks in and it becomes possible to feel and imagine where they will be.

Until then, there is the breeze and the thrum of the forest. Early in the mushroom season there are wild blueberries and raspberries. And then there are the rustling and jumping of the deer, giant bird nests overhead, and sometimes pheasants running by in a mad dash of colour. And always there are hypnotizing patterns underfoot.

And gradually, as the pleasure of being alone in the woods takes over, and mushroom hunting begins to seem less important, they start to appear....

...bright chanterelles, bursting out of the ground orange-coloured and smelling of apricots...    

...and rich, earthy boletes which are often enormous.

And there are certain parts of the forest that we wander to every now and again only because they are so pleasant to visit...

Though it is impossible to do it justice in a photograph, somewhere in the woods we often come across a great crater filled with strange and beautiful white mosses that contrast sharply with the green mosses all around it. It is stunning to stand and look down into it, and when you do, it feels like finding a miracle.

We never really want to go back home on days like these.

But when we do, the damp earth smell of mushrooms makes it feel as though the forest has stepped into the house.

Chanterelles are best eaten fresh, but boletes are for drying. So we sort them and clean them and cut them up.

Some of them bruise a rich blue when you touch their spongy undersides or cut into their stems. The bluing happens quickly, but fades away again after a while.

An evening was spent threading them together and hanging them up in the window.

For a week they bobbed in the breeze and at night they caught the candlelight and sent shadows dancing across the ceiling like wild geese flying overhead.