Category Archives: the unknown

A New River Daemon

a photo of the view upstream where the river falls through a rocky cleft

the view upstream, looking into the river ‘grotto’

This summer we found the river had created a new daemon …

sculpted by the river, some grass has a monkey-like form

the new river daemon

nature sculpture - a small form created by the action of river water on grass

the daemon stares from its rock

a dog staring

the dog stares back

The new daemon appeared in the special place up the river, where rocks have faces and cliffs grow trees and flowers. This was a small daemon, a bit monkey-like and perched above the waterfall, very difficult to reach. I felt it might have been a bird in spirit and, sure enough, my mother produced a suitable skull that she just happened to have been keeping safe (for such an occasion?)

photo of a river daemon sitting above a waterfall, an assembled form made out of natural materials in the environment

a new river daemon perched above the waterfall

bird daemon, river god, assembled from natural forms in the landscape

a closer view of the strange bird daemon as it perches over the rushing water

The waterfall is usually impossible to climb because the rockface is covered in slime and there is nothing to grab hold of within reach. As if by magic, when my mother was visiting and had brought the skull the weather became very dry. The once-slimy rocks were bare and easily scalable. Once on top of the waterfall I discovered another way in and out of the roofless grotto via a natural staircase in the rocky cliff. My dog looked on, unwilling to join me. She decided that she preferred to stay in the magical pool below the waterfall – the place I always expect to find a golden crown one day …

ripples and sunlight

the magical pool below the waterfall

dog looking up

daemon watching

river daemon made from hay and bone, an art in nature piece

startled by my dog, the river daemon turns its head

There’s a beautiful tree that somehow grows in the sky to form a roof for the grotto.

photo of a tree with rocks and sky

the beautiful tree

The beautiful tree reminds me of my sister, once photographed drinking tea.

a photograph of my sister sitting in a tree drinking tea

Clare sitting in a tree with a cup of tea, an old photo from the 1980s

Further afield, we travelled to Scotland and I did some oil sketches, some more successful than others. At first there was the compulsion to be too relentless in pursuit of the wave forms, daubing away until they were deadened. Then there was the trap of getting carried away by the sunset colours and losing some tones here and there. In spite of it all some hints of the sea eventually crept in, as if nature finds its way into your paints no matter what. This is heartening.

plein air painting of Culzean beach, 6x8 in oils on canvas

light fading over the beach at Culzean, plein air, oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

small oil sketch, plein air, of Culzean beach during sunset

the sun well into setting with deep, rich hues – a plein air sketch from Culzean beach, 6×8 inches, oil on canvas

Culzean beach and Arran at sunset, quick oil sketch, plein air, 6x8 inches on canvas

Culzean beach and Arran in the distance. A quick oil sketch carried out at sunset, 6×8 inches, oil on canvas.

small plein air sketch of waves at Culzean, oil on canvas

rusty attempt at a wave study, Culzean beach, 6×8 inch oil painting on canvas

small plein air sketch of the sea at Culzean, oils on canvas, 6x8 inches

the sea and sky at Culzean in a pale light with Arran looming blue on the horizon, small oil on canvas, 6×8 inches

My sister Clare in the 80s, staring out to sea on the Isle of Skye

An old photo from the 1980s showing Clare looking out to sea (and I have no idea what she’s carrying)

Into the woods and out again

photo of figure striding into trees

heading into the heart of the woods on the path to the black tower

Sometimes you have to leave the sunny meadows and breezy hillsides and head into the woods. It can be terrifying in there because of the shadows and you are never quite sure whether or not someone else is around. When you are younger it is easier and you are always curious about what you might find around that next bend in the track.

At the age of 15 or so I thought nothing of heading into the woods and went there regularly, often climbing up to a sinister black tower that loomed on the horizon. Once up there, above the trees, you felt almost as if you were in a strange version of heaven, or on some kind of woodland shelf above the world, closer to the sky and clouds than to the trees below.

photo of a figure looking out across a wooded landscape

looking out over the woods from the black tower

photo of the artist when young

the artist as a youngster

The woods spoke to me strongly at that age, with their pleasing slight scariness and their ability to encompass the unknown, and I painted a picture of them, with myself in the foreground striding off towards the tower. Maybe the power of the woods infiltrated the painting because, when entered in a national competition, it won the prize for my age group. Perhaps fittingly it was later destroyed in a house fire, becoming truly mysterious for ever.

watercolour painting of a lonely tree

the lonely tree, small plein air watercolour sketch on paper,

Now it seems that going into the woods is a midlife thing. Some Jungian analysts see the woods as a symbolic place where people go to learn about themselves in middle age. It is difficult to go into that dark unknown but well worth the risk, they say. The alternative, to stay on the surface of life, in the easy meadow, is actually more dangerous in the long run as you could miss out on everything that matters.

photo of leafy lane

road through the trees

When painting I find myself drawn to compositions that lead towards a place you can’t quite see. It’s like going into the woods. You’re entering a landscape and heading for the hidden part. Something momentous will be there. Your courage will be rewarded.

Even urban places have their ‘woods’. From my kitchen window in Salford I could see the way that led into town, into the centre of Manchester where the unexpected, the glamour and the grime were waiting to be encountered. I tried to paint that route, which disappeared into the shadows between tall buildings.

painting of manchester view, oil on card

a view of central Manchester painted from my top floor kitchen window, oil on card with driftwood frame, approx 12 inches square

Back in Lancashire, there was a small wood where a wooden circle once stood. I visited it a few times and wondered why it felt magical there. Was it because I expected it should be or was there really something extraordinary there?

photo of Bleasdale circle

where the wooden circle at Bleasdale once stood, with Fairsnape (was there ever a lovelier name for a hill?) fell in the background

In the Lancashire hills I used to cycle through I sometimes saw lonely valleys running off into the heathery distance, with no footpaths in sight. I painted one such scene, with a house that is cut off from the world and some trees which, settling themselves here and there, seem to have positioned themselves on purpose to obscure the view of a distant valley. I think the house that ended up in my painting is derelict. I will probably never visit it and it still haunts my mind, symbolising unexplored territory and inaccessible places.

oil painting of hills and valley in oils on hardboard

The Hidden Valley, painting in oils on hardboard, approx. 40cm x 60cm

large painting in oils of trees in mother's garden

trees close to my mother’s house, large oil painting on canvas

oil on hardboard, painting of trees in a southern garden

trees lurking in a southern garden, oil on hardboard, approx. A4

woodland study, charcoal on paper

sketchbook charcoal study of light in a wood