Tag Archives: artist

In the Court of the Raven King

Carrion Crow Sketch
Not actually a raven.

I fell in love with Susanna Clarke’s ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ about a decade ago, I suppose. A copy was handed to me reverently by a friend who told me, ‘I think this is the next ‘Harry Potter’!’. The book was indeed received with the wildest rapture by an enthusiastic portion of the reading public. Looking at online reviews now, though, I see that it’s not for everyone. I imagine that if you don’t read pre-twentieth-century literature you might find it hard going. Otherwise, it’s basically Jane Austen with fairies, so…what’s not to like?

The rest of the world discovered Jonathan Strange et al last year, when the BBC TV adaptation came out. It was satisfyingly atmospheric and Childermass, Arabella and Jonathan Strange himself were wonderfully portrayed. Some of the magic looked brilliant on screen (Strange’s sand horses come to mind) but I was a little less convinced by the fairies. Perhaps this is because the evocative language used to describe the fairies and their realm in the book simply cannot be translated into something as definite as a filmed image, without losing most of its mystery. How, for instance, can the costume department create “a gown the colour of storms, shadows, and rain and a necklace of broken promises and regrets”? The fairies in Clarke’s novel are just beyond the reach of our imaginations; but fairies on screen are seen, revealed, defined, pinned down; and so, I think, inherently less magical.

The fairies were one of the aspects of the novel I thought was exceptionally interesting (besides the humour, the totally convincing magical Regency world, the characters and the intricate footnotes…). Susanna Clarke’s fairies are so ‘other,’ so much more fairylike than other fictional fairies. In comparison there is something rather disappointing about Tolkien’s elves – which are basically nobler, better-looking humans – or Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairies, which are diminutive, dressed-up kindergarteners. Clarke’s fairies are wilder, much less comprehensible, far less rule-bound and, above all, far less human. They are the fairies of traditional English folk tales.

All of this is on my mind, because I have recently bought tickets for the Raven King’s Faery Ball, this October, in Glastonbury. I’ll be selling my artwork at the associated Faery Fayre that same weekend, so I’m planning to develop some artwork loosely inspired by Susanna Clarke’s novel and the folklore which informs it. (I’m feeling slightly daunted, because drawings and paintings of fairies share the drawbacks of TV adaptation – it is difficult to maintain mystery whilst visually portraying it!) I’m intending to research the Regency fashions which appear as part of the backdrop to the book – and which are adopted by some of the fairies; I think a sketching trip to Manchester Gallery of Costume might be in order. I also need to draw ravens and revisit some of my books of English fairy lore. I need to get busy…

International Vulture Awareness Day – and Some Owls

The weather today is distinctly unsummery, fittingly, as it’s the beginning of the Autumn term and I’m back to work with a vengeance.

Apparently today is Vulture Awareness Day, so I’m going to share some sketches I did over the summer at Gauntlet Birds of Prey, Eagle and Vulture Park in Knutsford.  Only one is of a vulture, because they’re a lot harder to draw from life than owls – they don’t tend to keep still!

Black Vulture Sketch
Black Vulture Sketch

Vultures are often perceived in a pretty negative way, but they perform a vital role in cleaning up carrion that would otherwise be a breeding ground for disease.  However, vulture populations are declining worldwide, with decreases of 97% for some species in  South Asia and West Africa over the last two or three decades.  The most significant causes seem to be the deliberate poisoning of carcasses, often by poachers (in Africa) and the use of the banned veterinary drug Diclofenac (in South Asia).  Traces of this drug in recently treated cattle are lethal for vultures.  The consequences of vulture decline in India include drinking water being contaminated by rotting carcasses and an increase in feral dogs, which spread serious diseases such as rabies, anthrax and plague.

Many different organisations across the world are trying to help endangered vultures.  If you are interested in donating, SAVE, standing for Save Asia’s Vultures from Extinction, is a consortium of some of these organisations (including RSPB and WWF).

Snowy Owl and European Eagle Owl sketch
Snowy Owl and European Eagle Owl

I also sketched some owls and a Marabou stork at Gauntlet, as you can see above and below.  If you’d like to see some of my finished colour drawings of owls, there are some in my Etsy Shop – both originals and prints.

Unidentified owl (!), Marabou Stork, Barn Owl and Boobook Owl
Unidentified owl (!), Marabou Stork, Barn Owl and Boobook Owl

The Loveliest of All was the Froggicorn

Some of you will know that for the last eight months or so I have been almost-but-not-quite-officially going ahead with the illustrations for a children’s book about a froggicorn! In fact, it’s been on the back burner for years, but for many reasons – not least the fact that I wanted to devote a considerable amount of time to it – the project hasn’t been able to get properly under way until now.

The Loveliest of All

The story, entitled ‘The Loveliest of All was the Froggicorn,’ was written by Kay Green of Circaidy Gregory Press some years ago, but has never been published until now.  I’m incredibly excited to be illustrating it, partly because it’s a perfectly formed and very appealing story and partly because it features a whole variety of mythical beings, so illustrating it really is a fantasy artist’s dream!

Early sketches
Early sketches

We’re planning to release the book by September 2015, so it will be my main project for the next year and a bit.  I want to illustrate it lavishly, so there’s a lot to do!

Shiny New Blog

Imagine me, staring nervously at my laptop, wondering what to type.  Blank pages are terrifying, aren’t they?

OK, never mind the terrifying blank page.  Come in, sit down, have a cup of tea.  In fact, why not a glass of wine? Or a hot chocolate with plenty of cream and marshmallows if that’s more your style.  Comfortable? Good.  If you’re comfortable, then I’m a little more comfortable.

So.  Why start writing a blog, you ask? Helpfully, for the progression of this post.

Well.  Several reasons.  For one thing, I’m a writer.  Not a very prolific writer at present, but a writer nonetheless.  It ought to be easy for a writer to blog about her work, her projects, her inspiration (it ought…).  For another thing, I’m an artist and I’m increasingly realising that when people connect with a piece of art they usually want the story.  They want to know more about the artist, the inspiration behind the work and the process of creating it.  So perhaps I can do a little explaining here.  Also, I get a lot out of other people’s blog posts.  There are so many people out there generously sharing their ideas, experiences and expertise…their craft tutorials, their preschooler activities, their free crochet patterns…and I make use of them all the time.  (I read today that Pinterest users spend an average of 98 minutes per month on Pinterest.  Really? I’m sure I chalk up 98 minutes every two or three days…).  I help myself to other people’s freely shared information so liberally that I think I ought sometimes to make a contribution to the general pool.  I’m hoping to share ideas which have worked well for me and maybe attempt a few tutorials.  Perhaps I’ll start with a tutorial for a woodland faerie garland – what do you think??

Ah yes, faeries.  What, you wonder, has any of this to do with faerietales? I do love faerietales.  (Forgive my self-indulgent spelling…)  I love listening to storytellers, I love the beautiful illustrations which often accompany faerietales (I’m thinking of Arthur Rackham, Errol Le Cain and my childhood Treasury of Fairy Tales by Hilda Boswell…anyone else have that?) and I love modern, faerietalelike novels and short stories.  I would dearly love to create the sort of tales produced by the likes of A.S. Byatt or Angela Carter…and my recent writing does seem to be heading a little further into that kind of territory.

Strangely, faeries don’t very often crop up in so-called faerietales…but I’m at least equally drawn to the idea of faeries.  Most of my artwork is faerie or fantasy related and I go into a frenzy of delight (mostly in the privacy of my own head, I have to say) over the faerie and pixie inspired clothing and accessories which abound at the faerie balls and festivals I sometimes attend with my artwork.  ‘Faerietales’ seemed appropriate because the word draws together many of my interests and enthusiasms and also because – not coincidentally – the name of my online art portfolio is ‘The Faerietale Gallery’.

So there you have it.  Have you finished your drink already? Sure you won’t have another one? Well, I hope you’ll drop by again soon and check how I’m doing…and do please leave a comment if anything springs to mind!