Yesterday I watched as a geat white swan flew low across the winter landscape in early morning light. Blue sky, gold moor, white wings. They say that swans carry the souls of the dead to heaven. I hope so.
An angel, a polar bear, the skull of a curlew, three chess pieces, a blue crystal, two hares and a heart.
A bright white swan against a clear blue morning sky.
A flock of snipe, calling alarm calls as they rise.
Ravens and slate headed jackdaws.
A pair of foxes in a field and a trail of bird feathers in the green lane that leads to the high hill top.
1. Check list from yesterday to see what didn't get done. 2. Make List 3. Wrap horses to put in the post. 4. Stretch paper. 5. Paint. 6. Don't forget to pick up Hannah, that Tom is cycling. no parents evening surprises in store. 7. Pick up washing from laundrette.
8. Walk dogs. Found, on the beach, a shell and the inside of the shell looked like the night sky, when the moon is full.
9. Tidy windowsill and play with chess set. 10. Read book.
1. Write list. 2. Stretch paper. 3. Pack angel with red wings to send to Scotland. 4. Pack painted horses and bears to send to Scotland. paking bought but not yet got together with horses, so maybe tomorrow.
5. Draw out new piece for The Ice Bear. 6. Roughs for Nursery Rhymes and start page on website. Also update Icebear page. thinking but no drawing done
7. Do blog posting. 8. Draw out the woodcock sprite. 9. Get lost in the labyrinthine delights and twilight world of pre gass-light Paris. only briefly so far, but hoping that super guests go early so that I can find out more about The Well of Birds.
10. Don't forget to pick up kids from school. But did forget that it was parents evening and had invited two people round for supper.
Yesterday we walked together over the hill, Robin, four dogs and me. The land is clothed in winter colours and as we walked through the rattling bones of heather flowers small snipe rose up with shouts and flew fast and low for safety. And then we saw a woodcock. Bigger than a snipe with a beadlike eye, coloured so like the moorland they blend so well and sit tight and still almost until you stand on them. Then they fly so fast.
Today I was supposed to meet Daf on the beach to pick up pin feathers from a woodcock he had shot, plucked and put in a pie, but had a strange assignation outside the surf shop instead as chaos had ensued at home and I was late. A small package exchanged hands and I went home happy with my feathers. I had heard that calligraphers had worked for centuries with brushes made from the pin feathers of woodcocks. They were supposed to be hard wearing and capable of producing very finely detailed work.
I painted a eulogy to a woodcock, so wrapped in my work that I forgot to go and pick up the kids from school, watching the paint leave the brush feather, amazed at how fine a detail I could get. I have always loved medieval painting and it was good to feel close to this ancient tradition of illustration. It seems that these feathers have been used for many things, including painting gold detail onto Rolls Royce cars. The only thing I used another brush for was the block detail covering behing the gold leaf, for the feather brush would work as a good wash brush for smaller areas too, very fine.
I am told that the birds have a wonderful flavor. I love to see them fly though, love the way they hide. They have an air of the ancient about them, a subtle magic.
detail from a medieval manuscript showing a woodcock.
Looking on the web for more about the feathers I found another painter who loves to use them, Colin Woolf.
Walking through the pearl light of morning we found a place where a songbird had sweetened its voice with a fragile feast.
Painting The Ice Bear and inching closer to completion. for a while this will sit in my studio as the balance is not yet right. The area on the left needs to be left light for the text. Until today I had not realised how much it echoes a later piece in the book. Sometimes they find their own rhythm.
Article for Western Mail about storyteller Daniel Morden and link to his website. Daniel and The Devil's Violin group are touring with a new show, The Singing Bones. If you can't get to his events the next best thing is to buy the cd's. I love listening to them while I paint, or late at night when I drift off onto a sea of dreams while images dance in my head. For more info of tour dates etc see The Devil's Violin website.
I love reading. I love that quiet time spent in another place, another country, another time, the place that books take you to. Ink and paper, the weight of a book, the smell of books, the texture of paper, beautiful. I love reading a book that has been given to me by Robin. It is almost like spending time with someone when you read their gift.
My parents gave me some money for Christmas, knowing that the year had been a hard one for me. For a while I just thought to let the everyday household budget eat the money up, but then I decided that there was something else I wanted to do with it. So I wrote to Mr B's.
Some weeks ago I had visited Mr B's and asked for a recommendation for a book that was beautiful both to look at and to read. They handed me The Girl with Glass Feet, a heavy hardback with silver edges and an elegant cover. How well it fit the desire, beautiful to look at, hold, read. So I wrote and asked them, if I paid them a set amount of money ( I did try magic beans first but they were having none of it!), could they do this once a month for me. Could they send me an elegantly wrapped book of their choosing, beautiful to read, something to transport out of the everyday, off and away. Mr B's run an amazing 'book spa' where you can go and talk to them about books you have loved reading, things you enjoy and they recommend books for you. They already have a service where they will, for a small fee, wrap books and send them out as gifts for you, sort of like Amazon but with more style. At Christmas when I went there there were piles of books stacked high waiting to head off in the post, wrapped in brown paper and string with a seal of The Book Monkey in red.
Anyway, it seemed that Mr B's had been thinking along similar lines to the way that I was thinking, although still unsure of the mechanics of the scheme, so would I mind being a guinea pig. A book guinea pig. Bliss.
So, for the next 11 months they will carefully select something that they hope will delight my senses. This morning when the first package arrived I was hoping to leave it sitting by my work table for a while, but curiosity got the better of me. ( Too much living with cats). You can buy this service for yourself, if you feel like spoiling yourself,a feeling that I often have, or give it as a gift, sort of like a magazine subscription only books instead, and what an amazingly wonderful way to show someone that you love them with Valentine's Day coming up. I think it would make the perfect present for a new born child, a picture book a month.
Beautiful. Now I must finish the Dragonflight which only has a few pages left, enter the world of The Coral Thief, meet the enigmatic philosopher-thief and wander the labyrinthine streets and gambling houses of Paris in 1815.
I need to make more time to read.
This is where it began. I was walking one day when an image came into my head, an image of a child surrounded by bears. He looked like a daisy with dangerous petals. I needed to find how he had reached this place in his life and what happened next. So I wrote The Ice Bear. Only six or seven spreads to go now to finish the book. Only six or seven month behind my deadline.
At night, in The House of Golden Dreams, while cats curl in sleep and storms rage outside, if you listen with your heart and ears you can hear
dragon stir and shake
bears claws on wooden floors
sometimes the beating of angel's wings, but rarely
a cello playing
the hush wing brush of a barn owl flight.
In the air there is a scent, of angels? Honey? Lilies? Fresh baked bread? Wild heather and honeysuckle mixed? Woodsmoke.
Yes, woodsmoke on butterfly wings. For somewhere in the night time gallery a woman dances to the music of dreams, slowly, in a dress that is a gathering of butterfly or moth wings. She is not alone. Careful paws wrap round her close but gentle, so as not to damage the dusty wings that clothe her.
Walking today, the song of lapwings on my right, the song of the sea to my left, buffalo in the fields, a raft of scoters in the sea and a seal. And the cold is back, and I have a fire blossoming in the wood burner.
Playing with words and drawing a hare. There are three big drawings of dancing hares now. I wanted to see how different the drawings would become if they had a different partner. Although the photographs are not very good as I can't get both good enough light and far enough away they do give an idea of how the dance changes. Would love to do a whole room full.
The new hare looks much more flirtatious when partnered with the old. She has the old moon in her eye.
( if you click on the link to the lapwings there is a sound file so you can listen to them too)
Some days are a struggle. This one started off in such a beautiful way and I was so full of good intentions until migraine got in my way. The House of Golden Dreams has been growing, and in between headache and sleep I managed to find a space to hang the Winter Feast painting, home from the Christmas window of Rhosson House Gallery, which has now closed. Winter Feast needs to be hung as the frame is hand gilded and so it needs to be cared for with kindness. A dancing hare drawing waits to be finished, my head, which still hurts when I cough, is full of rhyme and nonsense, and a dragon's story. Tomorrow is another day.
Yesterday I started reading an article, beautifully written by Angus Batey, and I was soon travelling through London in a car where I found myself agreeing with Dwayne Vincent from So Solid.
"I'm tired of people gettin' into the music industry and saying, 'I'm just in it for the music,'" barks Dwayne "Megaman" Vincent forcefully. "Well, don't go on TV then! Don't do any interviews, don't do any videos, don't put out anything: love your music and stay at home. Don't play at this game, because there's people who need that space. This business ain't for the light-hearted: it's a career, and careers generate income and revenue, and revenue generates popularity and exposure. And all of it is hard work."
Replace the word 'music' with the words 'children's books'.
For a few days now I have been wittering away ( like twittwering only not much different) over on facebook, about plum vodka. I promised to share, so, here goes.
I have many recipe books. Some I use a lot, some I dip into. Sometimes I get bored of making the same old things and flick through a book to see what I can find. Sometimes the writing draws me in, the enthusiasm for food, the images. Roast Figs Sugar Snow by Diana Henry is a favorite for winter.
I first heard about this book while painting and listening to Woman's Hour on Radio 4.
So, flicking through the pages one day and searching for inspiration for the children's supper I found this recipe. It takes a while. Be patient.
Russian plum vodka.
1 kg (2lbs 4oz) red or purple plums
700g ( 1ib 9oz sugar)
1.5 litres ( 2 3/4 pints) vodka.
Big shiney glass kilner glass jars.
Find some peace of mind and a sharp knife, put on some music and halve the plums, but leave the plumstones in. You can play 'he loves me, he loves me not' in a few weeks when they have steeped in vodka. More fun then.
Put them into a container that will hold 1.7 litres (three pints) and pour the sugar over them. Now drown them in vodka. ( I use two jars now as it is difficult to get one big enough, and I confess to adding more sugar, because the first time I made this my jar really wasn't big enough so had far too much sugar and plums and not enough vodka)
Close the lids and shake to mix the ingredients then stand the jars in a cool dark place for six weeks, but visit them now and again to shake or turn or just look at them. The plums shine like jewels in the darkening liquid as juice transfers from plum to vodka.
In six weeks time you are supposed to strain the liquid through cheesecloth and bottle it, but I just tipped it through a funnel into bottles and wondered what to do with the plums. I sniffed them, cautious as a cat, then curious as a cat I tasted one. Heaven.
Now, I am sure you are thinking, "Well, surely she didn't give Russian plum vodka to the children for tea?" and of course the answer is no. After all, even they wouldn't wait six weeks. We had roasted spare rib pork chops with pears, melting onions and Gorgonzola, roast potatoes and kale, another recipe from the same book.
Diana Henry tells of how her Polish friend, Kasia, put plum vodka into her tea in the winter. I would like to meet her.
So glad I bought this book. Lots of game recipes, small snippets of story inbetween, beautiful beautiful photographs by Jason Lowe.
Oh, and above I promised to share, share the recipe that is, not the plums.
This morning I have travelled to Pern and inbetween. I have ridden on the back of a great golden queen.I have curled in bed while Maurice sang a morning song of praise. I have lived through another time and place and tasted the air of another world. Don't you just love books. All these days I have been searching for a time machine while my house was filled with strange countries made of ink and paper where time exists in a different form, held between covers, waiting.
Each night I go to sleep with the sound of lapwings calling across the fields, their dreams disturbed by fox and weasel, or just lapwing thoughts,conversations.I have my friend, Ann Humble, to thank, in part, for the quantity of birds as she has worked for years now in conservation, as a field worker and then in policy making, and one of their main projects at work has been working with farmers towards the consevation of lapwing breeding grounds. So, yesterday at supper she was telling me about a plan she was drawing up for conservation of the Welsh Clearwing. She tells me that this is a rare creature, a moth with wings like a dragonfly and yet slightly flocked with soft dark veins. As she speaks about this moth her eyes shine and she paints a picture of the creature clear in my mind.Googling the creature I find there is also a Snowberry Clearwing.
Last night my dreams were filled with a moth like creature with a human face, not clearwings but wing like handmade paper, the size of a cat. It was so beautiful, so cat like a moth, and yet it would live for only a day. People ask often where I get my inspiration from. I would say, from people like Ann.
Later today I have an appointment with the bank manager. I wonder if I will find more inspiration there.
Lapwings outside calling in cold twilight. I have walked on the beach at low tide with small puppies, a new edition to the pack, a curious selection of motley mongrels ( and their owners ). I have painted, and I have hung some drawings in the hare room at The House of Golden Dreams. Meanwhile there are paintings and a drawing on its way to John Foley at The Imagine Gallery on the other side of the UK.
What I haven't done is look at the two emails from my accountants. Tomorrow.
Awake early I sit for a while, watching the fire wake from warm slumber to dancing blue flame. All is quiet, but for the singing purr of two cats curled on my lap, a clock tick, the metal heating as the firelight grows. Inside my head rhymes. The Hart, he loves the high hills; The hare, she loves the woods; The knight loves his bright sword; The lady loves her will. Medieval, romantic. Today there is not enough snow to stop the children going to school. Tom has an exam, seems a little worried by it. I want to paint, draw, stack more of the logs delivered yesterday, walk dogs and work on the walls of The House of Golden Dreams. Cover of Judy Dyble's cd looks good.
Yesterday I found my grandmother's wedding ring. So small, gold, over 100 years old. As I slipped it over my finger I could see, in my mind's eye, the slight, frail woman, dead for more than 30 years, as clear as daylight. Objects hold echoes of all those who have touched them.
Walking with the cats as the snow began to fall my mind was full of characters. A man who sleeps beneath a quilt of live birds, small heart beats his lullaby. A woman who can tell the history of each object by touching it. A wolf faced gondolier in a twilight cloak of stars. Dragons.
Stacking logs, thinking of painting, wanting to write. Painting snow.
Today is a day of birds. Early walking with the cats when a great peregrin, fluffed up against the cold, flew low overhead. Lapwings huddled close to hedge banks for shelter from the storm. Later as I watched a solitary lapwing in search of a flock saw a great gray harrier corsing the field sending song birds scattering. In the garden I put out food for the small birds, peanuts and seeds and cheese. They patterned the snow with delicate footprints.
Settling to work at last after days of restlessness.
Spent most of yesterday trying to squeeze too many paintings into too small a space. Everything stopped when kids called to say school was closing and as I drove to fetch them it began to snowand the world turned magical. With coal on the fire, the last I think from Tower Colliery in Wales, the house was warm and cosily filled with cats in various melting poses. Today I started working on a new gallery, The House of Golden Dreams. Now I want to clear space in my studio and settle my head to work and get my head around the gallery. Walking the dogs today, Maurice came too. There were lapwings and to the delight of the dogs a great fox, fleet footed, with a dark bush tail. Now there are a few hundred lapwing outside my studio window. No snow. The rest of the country is being greedy and not sharing.
Frost creatures danced in delight inside my car last night and painted icy patterns on the windows. On the hill the bones of heather flowers were kissed by frost making pools of white across the moorland by the sea. In the early morning sky the bright moon faded gradually as the sun came higher into the sky. The air was sweet and clear and bright sparkling cold.
All day taking the exhibition down at the refectory and now my arms and back ache and I want sleep, the house is full to overflowing with books and paintings and I really need to be making some marks on pieces of paper.
All images and text on this blog are copyright Jackie Morris unless otherwise stated. Should you wish to use any, for any purpose, please seek permission first from Jackie. Publishers have very large legal teams.