‘The Lost Words’ by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris.

Note: I began this post early in October, but circumstances conspired to delay things… Hope you enjoy anyway… Since The Lost Words’ release it has already won several awards, including The Sunday Times Top Ten Bestseller. This book is absolutely extraordinary…. A great idea for a gift… for yourself or someone you might enjoy sharing it with : )

There has been a noticeable buzz on social media recently, especially on Twitter. A new book  called The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris was announced in September. Anticipation ran high, and, in the first of an extended tour by the authors, the book was launched on the evening of 5th October, at Foyles Books in Charing Cross, London. I was visiting the city, having arrived that afternoon after a long flight. I knew of the event and had reserved a ticket. After finding my lodging, taking a few (jet-lagged) deep breaths, I set out in a taxi… running a bit late… We left Chelsea with almost an hour and a half to spare before the event ended.. The fates, however, were feeling capricious. Forty minutes later, through heavily traffic-snarled streets, I arrived, with only a half hour or so to go, at the venue – Foyles theatre. The room was packed. Chairs surrounded a smallish stage, where Mr. Macfarlane, Ms. Morris, and Gareth Evans, the MC for the evening sat on a low stage, near a screen showing a range of delightful images from the book. I was very sorry to have missed most of the evening, but grateful to have not bypassed it entirely, and to have a chance to see this book I had heard so much about.

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Robert McFarlane and Jackie Morris took questions from the audience, and, as it was a smallish, intimate space the interchange was informal, humorous at times, informed, and very congenial. Discussion and questions ranged from the ways we might encourage children to connect with the natural world, whether the term ‘environment’ is a good one to use when introducing children to nature, (Mr. Macfarlane thought not… better to teach the specifics and show how connected we are with it). One of Ms. Morris’ instructors from Bath Academy, Brian Dunce, was in the room. He praised his former student, noting that Ms. Morris had been a stellar student, one who followed a style few of her contemporaries have chosen, and remarked that, disappointingly, representational art, especially focusing on wildlife and the natural world, is currently not often encountered. Further questions revolved around the digital world; how it is affecting both children and adults, and the tenuous relationship, increasingly, we all have with the world of nature. Both Ms. Morris and Mr. Macfarlane are on Twitter regularly, with Macfarlane posting a daily ‘word of the day’ that has attracted many followers, often leading to compelling and extended comment threads. Ms. Morris also has a delightful blog…

Around 9:00 discussion wound up, and many of us lined up to have our book signed and to meet the authors… both, gracious, personable and genuine. It was a great pleasure to meet Jackie and Robert, who were each kind enough to agree to an email interview about their  recent collaboration.

 

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The Lost Words’ is a large book, physically, and in its aspirations… The size is perfect for drawing the reader into the immersive text and captivating renderings of the creatures and plants portrayed. Described as a ‘book of spells’, it is designed to conjure some of the ‘ordinary creatures and plants that, though common, are becoming less so…’ These include badgers, otters, hares and herons, along with acorns, bluebells, ivy and dandelions.  Seemingly a children’s book, the spells and stunning, oversized watercolour renderings will nevertheless, with their subtle wordplay and evocative imagery, appeal to all ages. Twenty words are evoked… with subjects that move, play, dance, frolic and flee –  then are further brought to life by Ms. Morris’ paintings that thrill, spill, float, fly and rollick across the pages.

The arrangement of this volume is also incantatory… repetition, colour (gold), and rhythm weave a dense tapestry of words and imagery. Each word’s spell is preceded with a double page that suggests it, but its presence must be detected amidst a skein of other letters, to be teased out… incarnated. Following pages contain the actual spell, bringing life and context to the chosen word. Immediately following each is a setting containing the real thing… vividly manifested by the incantation. It took a few readings to decipher this, yet it is this sort of  patterning that, especially when shared with young readers, will resonate and enrich the experience.

 

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In a recent interview on BBC6 with Cerys Matthews, Robert Macfarlane noted that the spells were intended to be read aloud, in the best spirit of incantations. By happenstance, I had the opportunity to read the entire book to a couple of young children, on a very crowded train to Oxfordshire a few days later. The older one, around seven years old, paid close attention to the words and proudly told of her experiences picking berries in brambles (one of the words), and of a hare that lives in a field near her house. The younger sibling, a toddler, was more interested in the enchantingly vivid illustrations.

The words and images in ‘The Lost Words’ are full of musicality, motion, vitality and artistry… they evoke creatures and plants we might see on a walkabout in almost any neighbourhood, or in the countryside. Also, to make it even more compelling, (especially for those new to the magic of reading), each spell is written as an acrostic, with the first letter of each line spelling out the word. This would be a delight for a child beginning to decipher the potential of letters… to invoke words that allow entry into entire other realms…

This will be a volume to share with young and old…. then head out for a walk to see if the spell has worked its magic. Of course, the mere act of slowing down, paying close attention, looking and listening to the wonders of the natural world is certainly reward enough. At a time when populations of wildflowers, birds, butterflies and wildlife are rapidly declining, a book that invites us to take notice of and savour the beauty of common flora and fauna, especially with the next generation, may be just the spell we all deeply need.

 

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Robert Macfarlane noted in an earlier article, ‘The bird which became the guiding, gilding spirit of The Lost Words is the goldfinch.’ Goldfinches flit across its cover and gleam from its pages. They are present in part as a sign of hope, for those bright birds represent a rare conservation success story in Britain, their numbers having surged by almost 50% over the past 10 years. They are there, too, because the collective noun for goldfinch is a “charm” – a word which also means “the chanting or recitation of a verse supposed to possess magic power” and “the blended singing of many birds, or children”. Books such as The Lost Words help children discover the wonders of the natural world, and the words that bring it alive. This is absolutely vital, for a generation which has grown up with a close connection to the wild world and its flora and fauna, may take care to nurture and protect it, when they become the decision-makers of the future.

Interview with Robert Macfarlane:

  1. Such a stunning book you and Ms. Morris have created… Did you know one another before this project began? Can you let us know a little of how your collaboration on The Lost Words was born?

Robert: Thank you, Jo. We didn’t know each other in person, but we did know each other’s pages, as it were; Jackie’s books, especially The Snow Whale, had lived in and been loved in our house for years, read to all three of my children as they grew up. And Jackie had read The Wild Places and Landmarks. So when we finally met – under a vast polar bear at a Greenpeace protest outside the Shell HQ in London – it felt like a renewal of a friendship rather than the beginning of one. So it’s proved; working with Jackie these past 2 ½ years has been a total joy – being invited into her wild world, and watching the magic she works with her brush

2. Certain books that we come across as children can have a major lasting impact on us for our entire lives.. I recall finding C.S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles, beginning with ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’… the wonder of encountering that other realm, and revelling in it.  Also books by Eleanor Estes and Beverly Nichols, especially his ‘The Tree that Sat Down’, and so many others. Are there certain books that had a major impact on you as a child?

Robert: Yes – as you suggest there are certain books that, when read in childhood, drive deep into the imagination, setting their roots and growing through a person’s life from there. Sometimes the flourishing can come unexpectedly late – I’m only now understanding how powerful some of that early reading was in shaping my writer’s imagination in, as it were, my heavyweight books (especially The Old Ways and The Wild Places). I discuss some of my most powerful childhood encounters with books in this essay, but I guess I would re-name and acclaim here in terms of teaching me nature, so to speak, books such as Cicely Mary-Barker’s The Flower Fairies, Arthur Ransome’s novels and also add the Reader’s Digest guides to British Birds, Animals, Insects etc, one of which I bought each year with the money I’d saved up: they were beautifully illustrated hardbacks, and I have the whole run still. I also loved Observer books, though didn’t collect them. Later came some of the fantasy novels I talk about in the essay, including Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood cycle, Susan Cooper’s magnificent The Dark Is Rising sequence and Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea series, as well as TH White’s The Once and Future King. In all of these books a kind of magical naming is practised, that exhilarated me when I first encountered it (and rather still does).

3. During discussion at the book launch of TLW in London, in response to a question about lack of knowledge of the names of common creatures, plants, trees, etc. you made a point of emphasizing you are definitely not judging people who lack knowledge of these words, and that no one, especially children, should feel ashamed about this.  You also noted there appears to be a hunger to connect with, and learn about the natural world on the part of adults as well. Can you elaborate a little?

Robert: Well, again, the essay linked to above elaborates more fully and formedly than I could here, but yes, I value the chance here to re-emphasise that lack of familiarity with the living world around us is not for a second the fault of a child; and that this separation, if we want to call it that, runs up and down the ages. We’ve had some people scoffing at the idea that a child in 21st-century Britain might not know what an acorn is, or a kingfisher, or a wren. Unfortunately, that scoffing is itself usually a function of ignorance on the part of the scoffer. Access to nature, and knowledge of it, is massively unevenly distributed across our society at present, affected by poverty, ethnicity, postcode and what we uneasily call ‘class’, among other factors. To remedy this we need to restructure our entire relationship with the natural world and the species with which we share our landscapes, building a need for nature into our infrastructure projects, our planning laws, our education system and our culture, seeing it not as a luxury but as a necessity. Again and again research has shown that what is good for nature is almost always good for children, too, growing confidence, happiness, social skills, play, self-awareness…

4. There has been a petition by Mary Colwell earlier this year to implement a GCSE* in Natural History. The idea was to help young people become much more familiar with and knowledgeable about the natural world. The petition says: ‘Young people need the skills to name, observe, monitor and record wildlife. It is vital to understand the contribution nature makes to our lives physically, culturally, emotionally and scientifically both in the past and today.’  The petition got over 10,000 signatures, but was halted due to the general election last spring. Would you be in favour of this?  If so, why, and if not, please elaborate…

Robert: I greatly admire Mary Colwell’s work as a writer, activist and change-maker. She’s inspiring. As it happens, though, I would prefer not to see a Natural History GCSE – my wish would be to integrate ‘nature’ across the curriculum at primary and secondary. Don’t hive it off into a separate qualification, and don’t treat it only as a ‘science’ (i.e. as ‘biology’ or ‘ecology’), but also as something that is vitally part of the arts, the humanities, design and technology, citizenship and of course politics and history. The John Muir Award* is a good example of a game-changing initiative that is making connections across the curriculum, and thereby supporting whole-school priorities. A subset of this: include nature and environmental well-being in Section 78 of the Education Act (‘General Requirements in Relation to Curriculum’). Nature and our relations with it become part of life, behaviour and ethics.

*The General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) is an academic qualification, generally taken in a number of subjects by pupils in secondary education in England and Wales.

*An environmental award scheme for people of all backgrounds – groups, families, individuals. It’s non-competitive, inclusive and accessible. Here’s a link: https://www.johnmuirtrust.org/john-muir-award

5. You mention the group ‘Action for Conservation’ in some of your interviews. Also, in the book it notes that some of the revenue from The Lost Words will be donated to AFC. Can you talk a little about this organization, how you became involved, and what sorts of programs they create?

Robert: Yes, well, it’s a dynamic young charity on a rocket-shoot to the stars right now. I’m lucky to be a founding trustee, and to have been involved with the charity’s shaping from the beginning. People can find out more here: http://www.actionforconservation.org But briefly, our mission is to work with secondary schools to inspire students to become the next generation of conservationists. Our workshop programmes are led by young conservation professionals working in the field, bring the magic of nature into classrooms and empower students to take action through a range of opportunities. We also run summer camps in conjunction with the National Trust and other organisations. Most importantly to me, our focus is on those schools and students who might otherwise be excluded from access to nature. Conservation is often caricatured as a middle-class need or echo-chamber, but more than 80% of the schools we work with have more than 50% of their students on Pupil Premium. I knew from early on with The Lost Words that I wanted to connect ‘creation’ with ‘action’, and finding a way to return some of any money made from The Lost Words directly to Action For Conservation was the obvious way to do this. It’s been a joy to be able to talk about the charity’s work as part of the discussion that has emerged around the book.

6. There seems to be a very special chemistry between your words and Ms. Morris’ images. Have you considered any future collaborations? Any possibility of a sequel?

Robert: Ha! Well, I’m still writing spells. Five or six more so far, new ones. Goldfinch, egret, beech, peregrine & barn owl among them. Jackie is painting in response to these, slowly, among her many other commitments. And yes, we have one major project in mind, which if it works out might be bigger even than The Lost Words (in outcome if not in size of book). But there are a number of problems to solve with that before we can move forwards with it, so I’d better zip my mouth at this point…

Here is Robert MacFarlane reading a spell from The Lost Words, along with an interview: https://youtu.be/j9WrlGZirPs

Interview with Jackie Morris:

  1. I read you were at Art College in Hereford, Exeter and in Bath….

Jackie: Hereford was where I did a Foundation. Exeter was where I began my degree, but when I realised the college was not right for me, they suggested that I might like to leave rather than transfer as I would never make it as an illustrator. Fortunately I had an interview at Bath Academy and Brian Dunce recognized my absolute hunger to learn. He said he wasn’t interested in talented students as they were often lazy. What he wanted was those students with a desire to learn.

2. Since you and Robert MacFarlane have published several other books on your own, how was this project different, working in collaboration?  What were some of the joys of this project? Did you find there were any challenges?

Jackie: Every book is a challenge. I had collaborated before, with Caroline Pitcher, James Mayhew. And at the time I was also working on a book with James Mayhew, but in that case I had written the text for Mrs Noah’s Pockets and James was illustrating it. I loved seeing how James put the flesh on the bones of my words.

Each collaboration is different, and there was something very different about the way Robert and I worked together, shaping the book, words, images, design, with a wonderful team to back us up, but also I began to feel that we were also working with the creatures and plants we were painting, writing. It sounds strange, almost mystical, but that was how it was.

The joys were being given those incredibly sharp moments of focus that the words give you. And every single moment was a challenge. To live up to the natural beauty of the wild world. How can that be anything other than a challenge?

3. The Lost Words is a book that may become a classic, one of those books that people read or are read to as young children, that stay with them for life, as an immersive introduction into the power and magic of words and images to bring nature to life within the pages of a book… Are there certain books that had a major impact on you as a child? Also, are there any current authors or illustrators you particularly admire?

Jackie: I always loved the work of Brian Wildsmith. I adore the work of Angela Barrett. Clifford Harper has been a hero of mine for years.  Shaun Tan, Nicola Bailey, Pauline Baynes. Nicola Davies is one of the best authors for children working today. She weaves a rhythm around the natural world that slides facts into a child’s mind. She tackles subjects that are so hard, with no sentimentalism, just an honest heart.

As a child I loved the books of Jack London, I loved Tarka The Otter, and My Friend Flicka. I wanted a horse and a hound and a hawk, to walk through standing stones into other worlds. I was a dreamer. I am a dreamer.

4. You two have been undertaken a fairly intensive series of public events since the London launch of The Lost Words. Can you tell us some of the highlights? Were there any surprises?

Jackie: Everything was a surprise to me. From the moment we launched the book, seeing how people took it to their hearts. Walking in to independent bookshops and seeing the book in so many bookshop windows. Meeting so many booksellers I had worked with for years, from Penzance to Carlile who were delighted that the book is selling so well. All the events were wonderful in their way. The pre-launch at Solva Woollen Mill gave us an idea of how things were going to be. We met so many amazing people who waited for so long to get their books signed. The twins, 6 years old, at Hay Winter Festival, were just amazing. They came with parents and grandparents. I had wanted the book to be a book for everyone, not only for children, and people have sent us photographs of readers aged 6 months, to old and wise.

5. Just recently a crowdfunder by Jane Beaton was launched, with the aim of providing every primary school in Scotland with a copy of  The Lost Words. Here is the link: https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/thelostwords/? Like many children, I spent happy hours as a child totally engaged in books that a kindly librarian helped me find. Libraries ensure that everyone has access to special books, whether or not they can afford to buy them… How does it feel to have this sort of initiative launched for your book?

Jackie: It’s been astonishing to have worked so long and so hard in isolation, to then have a period of waiting, painting, thinking and then to see our book out in the wild, taking seed in people’s lives. It’s only been a few weeks now since the book was launched in Foyles. It took 2 1/2 years to make, from idea to launch. Jane’s initiative is just an astonishing thing. And I know other people are buying the book for schools too. The book is in some senses a protest, but I hope a different kind of protest. I hope it is a beautiful one.

6. With ongoing news of the effects of pollution, wildlife population declines, global warming and then recent political developments in America and the UK, where do you find hope and refuge, in order to continue your work?

Jackie: In the wild world that gives no heed to the stupidity and the games of humans. Watching birds fly, the movement of water, the slow time of trees. If things get too much I stick my head under water. Now and again knitting helps. But mostly walking, walking and looking and listening to the wild.

Also standing in the dark looking up. Where I live there are no street lights. You can see the stars. That usually puts things into perspective. That and learning things.

And losing myself in paint.

7. Any ideas for future projects, or ongoing ones?

Jackie: I’m working on a novel, with a few differences. Hopefully it will be published early autumn next year. And Robert and I, we have ideas, yes.

 

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Congratulations to you both for creating such a unique, evocative work, invoking the words/world of nature, and the joys it, and reading, bring us all. Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions at what must be a mind-bogglingly busy time for you.

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Robert Macfarlane is a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and the author of a number of bestselling and prize-winning books including The Wild Places, The Old Ways, Holloway and Landmarks. His work has been translated into many languages and widely adapted for film, television and radio. The American Academy of Art and Letter awarded him the E.M. Forster Award for Literature 2017. He is a word-collector and mountain-climber – and he has three young children, who have taught him more about the world than any book.

Jackie Morris grew up in the Vale of Evesham and studied at Hereford College of Arts and at Bath academy She has illustrated for the New Statesman, Independent, and Guardian, collaborated with Ted Hughes, and has written and illustrated over forty books, including beloved classics such as The Snow Leopard, The Ice Bear, Song of the Golden Hare, Tell me a Dragon, East of the Sun, West of the Moon and The Wild Swans. Jackie Morris lives in a cottage on the coast of Pembrokeshire.

 

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Wordless Wednesday

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Interview with Jess Shepherd:  ‘Capturing the Essence of a Leaf’

 

Posted on January 17 2017 by joturner57

 

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Jess Shepherd is a peripatetic UK botanical artist. She studied botany to ensure that her paintings would be botanically accurate, detailed renderings, based on an intimate knowledge of her subjects. Her most recent project is a series of thirty-four watercolour leaf paintings. It began in 2014 when she decided to paint leaves in her immediate environment. As she found each leaf to paint she noted its location; she then made audio recordings of the sounds she encountered around each. By manipulating these, sound artist Derek Thompson has composed a continuous soundtrack where place, time and space become intertwined.  The composition of these field recordings is ambient, yet totally immersive. The intermingling of natural and human worlds encourages listeners to pay more attention to the diversity and beauty of their surroundings, both in the city and countryside.

 It all began when Jess was living in London’s East End. As she walked along a street one autumn day, she noticed a leaf on the ground, and became fascinated by its intricate details. She decided to do a watercolor painting, on a larger-than-usual scale, and to record the ‘found sounds’ around it. Over the next couple of years, she expanded on the initial idea by creating a collection of thirty-four watercolour paintings.

Recently Miss Shepherd embarked on a Kickstarter project to raise funds so that she could publish a limited edition book, (500 litho-printed copies), entitled ‘Leafscape’.

Each volume has been made with a great attention to detail, from the selection of the paper to the overall design and layout, and each copy comes with a CD of the soundtrack. The project was highly successful.

There will be an exhibition to launch the book from February 16th – 25th, 2017: 

Abbott and Holder
30 Museum Street
London, UK
WC1A 1LH

www.abbottandholder.co.uk

+44 (0)20 7637 3981

Private view: 16th February 2017

6.00pm – 9.00pm

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To begin: Thank you Jess, for taking time to talk about your work at an especially busy time for you. Can you tell me a little about how the project began?

Well, the story of Leafscape began 18 months ago when I picked up a Catalpa leaf from a London pavement in July 2014. At the time I was moving house and felt that the condition of the leaf told my own story. It had been scuffed by the streets of the city and was no longer attached to the tree, just blowing across the floor in the wind. I began to paint it in larger than life size so that I could carefully document every scratch and blemish.  Once finished, I was drawn to paint another one and then another.

After months of painting these leaf portraits, all from different moments in time and different geographical places, I had accidentally documented a visual story.

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 1. By pairing sound recordings with botanical paintings, you created a multi-media approach to connecting with these iconic representations of  nature… so familiar, yet represented in such detail, and at such a scale, that they may open people’s eyes to the exquisite beauty to be found in the everyday… Do you have any particular artists or musicians who have influenced you, or whose work you especially admire? 

I very much hope that Leafscape brings botany to people in a way that they didn’t expect. In all my work I encourage everyone to be aware of the diversity and beauty to be found in both the city and the countryside. I paint to give plants a voice… I admire a great many artists, so it is difficult to chose. I have always been interested in the work of David Hockney and his approach to painting. I am inspired by the work of Richard Long, Rory McEwen and Katie Paterson. I have a very large music collection that I dip into every day. I listen to Pink Floyd a lot, and have been repeatedly inspired by the work of Derek Jarman and Coil.

3.  On your website your approach to botanical painting is described as being ‘based on very close observation’, but then you take it even further. You write:

“I believe that a good picture is made using not only sight, but also touch, sound, smell and movement. One has to be aware of all of these elements in order to portray the plant well and describe the space that the plant is growing into, both over and underground.”

 By adding the sound component, is there anything in particular you are endeavouring to convey?

The idea behind adding sound is to add a new dimension to botanical art; to communicate the importance of plants and our environment more poignantly in our modern day. Sounds are different than pictures; they bring experiences closer to us by entering us, and are therefore deeply personal. As we listen, we become vessels; as space and time meld inside our bodies, we begin to contain a lost landscape in our minds. Pictures, on the other hand, are always separate from our bodies and we judge them from a distance.  By using sound I am able to bring the leaves closer to you than I could with paint alone.

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4. Can you tell me a little about how you got into botanical painting, your training, and how long each picture takes?

I haven’t had any training in how to paint. I am self taught. I studied for my bachelor’s degree in botany at Plymouth University. I chose this course because a large part of the assessment at Plymouth would require students to learn about the history of botanical illustration. We also had to submit a portfolio of work. This appealed to me. I liked idea of including art in a science-based program.

I was already painting before this point, and had decided that I wanted to be a botanical painter so it really was a no-brainer! During my time at Plymouth I studied what was a science degree; plant physiology, biochemistry, genetics, ecology and identification were just some of the themes around our syllabus. After completing my undergrad degree, I secured a scholarship with NERC to study botanical taxonomy as an MSc at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (Edinburgh University). Here I was again expected to submit a portfolio of anatomical drawings, mostly of dissected flowers, for assessment.

ginkgo-leaf-painting5.   With your choice of leaves, do you have any favourites? I noticed one of your images is a Ginkgo biloba leaf. Such an ancient species, with lovely golden fall colour, like tiny amber fans… As a horticulturalist, I can appreciate your fascination with the intricate details in deciduous leaves, and their evolution through the seasons. Are there any particular qualities you look for, or like to highlight, in the leaves you select to paint?

Oh yes, I am a big fan of the Ginkgo tree. I admire its tenacity, and like the hidden symbolism in the heart shape of its leaf. It’s one of my favourite species. I do like trees – I have many favourite species. However, when it comes to leaves there aren’t really any particular qualities that I select for. Leaves just come to me, sometimes they are flat and in other times they are shaped. I tend to be drawn to big leaves.

6.  For your paintings, do you work from the leaves themselves or from photographs? If from the leaves, are they dried when you start? How do you maintain them? Are your paintings renderings of particular leaves, or are you working from your observations and memories of them, or is it a combination?

I begin a painting directly from reference material, which means you have to paint quickly when painting fresh leaves, I then move onto photographs if the leaf dies mid-painting. This is why I chose a lot of the mummified leaves for this collection as these didn’t wilt and they retained their colour. When working on different projects, I often press my reference material in a flower press to create the same effect, and I will take colour notes. After I finish a painting I tend to ‘hide’ it for a few weeks,  then revisit it, adding extra bits from my imagination. This last stage takes a long time and can be pretty exhausting because one has to use their eyes in a different way.

 

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7.  I have noticed several of your paintings show leaves in a state of decline, or with ‘imperfections’. It reminds me of the designer Piet Oudolf, and his frequent use of structural perennials that ‘die well’, often with seed-heads that add interest to the fall garden, as well as providing food for wildlife. Was this a conscious decision, and if so, were you making any sort of comment? 

It wasn’t a conscious decision. I actually prefer my leaves to be green like my big artichoke leaf. I like dense green canopies that are teaming with life. In Leafscape, the semi-decayed leaves are mostly the Catalpa leaves which had ‘mummified’ under the searing Spanish sun. After having been dried so quickly in such a dry environment, these leaves kept their colour for months, and in some cases for years, in my studio. This made them ideal to paint from as they were frozen in time. They didn’t decay any further. Having said this, I am happy that there are some leaves in decay, as this refers to the temporal aspect of the collection and of life in particular. In Leafscape every painting has been coded by a man-made measurement of time to mark the point of acquisition. These codes guide the observer through a two-year journey, a man-made journey which is regularly intercepted by the lives of the leaves themselves, each at their own point of decay.

8.   Regarding the printing of Leafscape, you mention that you chose a local printer. Can you tell us a bit about the process involved?

I am using a printer in Sussex to print the book using litho-press. I have opted for a white textured cover and a slip box, and then have found another company to make the CD. I have chosen a local printer as I have dealt with them in the past and they always deliver a fantastic product. It’s quite a complicated process to have all of these parts. In addition to this, I am also working with another company who make bespoke postal boxes to ensure that the books are delivered all over the globe safely.

9.   This is quite an elaborate project. Can you tell us about some difficulties you encountered along the way? Any surprises? 

There are always going to be little problems, life is like that. However, I have been incredibly fortunate in that I didn’t come up against an obstacle that was too difficult to surmount. I have a fantastic support network of friends and family around me, without whom none of this would have been possible.

 

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10.  Will there be a copy of the book in a public library?

Yes, I am donating copies to British Library, Linnean Society of London, Lindley Library, The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, New York Botanic Garden, Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, Denver Botanic Gardens and Real Jardin Botanico in Madrid.

11.  Any future projects on the horizon? Do you see yourself working independently mostly, or would you like to collaborate with others at some point?

I have two projects which I am currently planning out, but I am keeping these pretty low-key as I work out which one to run with first.

Thanks so much for your time Jess… Congratulations on your work and the new book! I look forward to your future creative endeavors.

 Jess Shepherd’s upcoming exhibition: ‘Leafscape’   February 16th – 25th, 2017:

 

Abbott and Holder
30 Museum Street
London, UK
WC1A 1LH

www.abbottandholder.co.uk

 

To find out more about Jess Shepherd’s work:

Twitter:  @inkyleaves
Facebook: www.facebook.com/inkyleaves
Instagram: www.instagram.com/inkyleaves
Website: inkyleaves.com

 

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Wordless Wednesday

“The past is history, the future is a mystery but the present is a gift.”

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Wordless Wednesday

“In silence there is eloquence. Stop weaving and see how the pattern improves.”
Rumi

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Wordless Wednesday

 

 

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The Joys of ‘Autumn’

17 November 2016

 

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Autumn: An anthology for the changing seasons’ edited by Melissa Harrison. This is third of a four-part seasonal series.

 

  • Firstly, thank you so much for taking the time to talk about Autumn, Melissa…We will be mostly focusing on the third volume of the quartet, but before that, can you tell a little about how this series began? Did you initially envision a quartet of seasonal anthologies, or did you start off wanting to cover one particular season?

Elliott & Thompson had already come up with the concept of the series, and in fact had begun the initial research for Spring . They were looking for a series editor, someone to help steer the tone and content of the books, and who could help with the commissioning process. When they got in touch I was interested straight away, but a little worried aabout whether I’d be able to do as good a job as I knew the series deserved, what with having a day job and also writing a new novel in my time off. But I loved the idea of the books, and I was already buzzing with ideas for writers and extracts we could include, so I said yes. Fortunately, the team at E&T were so good that I never felt overwhelmed by the commissioning or editing process.

  • Can you tell me a little about The Wildlife Trust, and how it is involved?

E&T had previously published an anthology in support of The Wildlife Trusts, called Nature Tales: Encounters with Britain’s Wildlife, so the relationship was already there. I’m a member of the London Wildlife Trust and have links to other Trusts, too, so I was very keen to support their work, which is of vital importance across the UK.

  • How did you select the pieces you included?

Our researcher, Bronagh Woods, spent a lot of time in the British Library, looking for extracts from classic works of literature and nature writing. I had my own list of older and more contemporary works I wanted to see represented, and established nature writers I wanted to commission. Meanwhile, The Wildlife Trusts put out a call for submissions among their members, and both E&T and I spent time looking for nature bloggers and conservationists who might be persuaded to contribute. Throughout the process, we kept an eye on the balance of male and female writers, the geographical spread of the pieces, and the range of subjects covered; we also looked for pieces by writers of colour, who are underrepresented in writing about nature.

  • Did you encounter any particular challenges along the way?

There were some extracts we weren’t able to include, either due to space constraints or because of copyrights issues, which was a shame – but anthologies can never be exhaustive. And the editing process was necessarily different with new and less experienced contributors than with established writers, who are used to being subbed. But overall, the process was very smooth – and really enjoyable.

  • Any future projects?

I’m working on my third novel at the moment, which is taking up most of my time. And I have another couple of ideas I want to get cracking on once it’s done…watch this space!

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20151001_163258In her introduction Ms. Harrison describes her love of autumn…She notes that although this time of year has qualities sometimes associated with dying (or at least dormancy), we can definitely discern in it the vital interconnectedness of decay with new life. Although plant growth slows or stops as fall progresses, it is also harvest time with its bounty of food for wildlife and people. At the same time it’s a key season for saprophytes: fungi, moulds and relations, the recyclers of the world…A few writers take us along as they forage for fungi…Kate Blincoe writes, ‘It was macabre from a distance; a pure white, human-sized skull glowing out from the darkness of the woodland glade…It was a giant puffball mushroom, the size of a football.’

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Through a variety of accounts, we experience the seasonal bounty ready to nourish humans and wildlife; sloes, blackberries, elderberries and more. In a piece from The Farmer’s Year: A Calendar of English Husbandry (1933), we are transported to apple harvesting in Kent where one of the party has picked ‘this seventy year’, and horse-drawn wagons are filled with bushel baskets. More recently, Janet Willoner brings the reader along with her into an old Yorkshire orchard, picking apples with fanciful names like Keswick Codlin, Blenheim Orange and Peasgood Nonesuch, and then through the fragrant (and sticky) steps of making cider.

For bird watchers,  fall migrations are full of anticipation and activity, both in the skies and on the ground. Dr. Rob Lambert describes frenetic annual pilgrimage of birders to the Scilly Isles or Shetland, where birders can witness mass migrations and ‘make or break reputations.’ Chris Murphy shares a similar autumn ritual at St. John’s Point, where he observes the return of hundreds of seabirds, including gannets, kittiwakes, razorbills and occasionally Sabine’s gull or storm petrels.

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Each piece in this collection conveys  its author’s unique voice, which combine to create an ode to autumn. We are drawn into each writer’s experience of the UK landscape at this particular, often poignant season… Most are contemporary pieces, but there are a few works (usually short) from the 19th and 20th centuries. Several are by Thomas Furley Foster, from The Pocket Encyclopedia of Natural Phenomena, published in 1827. Here’s a portion of one:

‘Fieldfares, when they arrive early and in great abundance in autumn, foreshew a hard winter, which has probably set in, in the regions from which they have come. They usually come in November.’

It is comforting somehow to read observations of nature from previous times, as they punctuate a cycle of appreciation for similar plants, birds, wildlife and landscapes that we continue to experience today…

Some of the entries from current writers are particularly lyrical. Ginny Battson gathers strands from natural history and ancient Greek philosophy to weave a poetic tapestry on the ever-changing connectedness of the natural world:

‘A leaf is not a leaf forever. It is in a state of flux between leaf and particulate, living and dead. A leaf that falls in the stream is the beginning of a chain. Spin, yaw, pitch and submerge, it’s hurrying downstream in a thrum of fluvial energy and I lose sight of it.’

Another current contributor, Jo Cartmell, eloquently shares her experiences of wildlife at her local wetland, Barton Fields, in Oxfordshire, where her patience is rewarded with sightings of water voles and Tawny owls. She writes:

‘I love this season of gradual withdrawal. It is not only a visible withdrawal by nature, but a subtle inner withdrawal, too; a slow imperceptible retreat into ourselves…A chance to recharge the soul after a spring and summer of almost constant activity.’

Louise Baker creates a multi-faceted tour of the sensory pleasure of the season, from the plethora of berries, the perfume of wet leaves, the crunch of leaves underfoot to the soft sounds of wildlife in the growing stillness.

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The format of this volume offers several benefits, apart from the pleasure of reading each piece. It provides an opportunity to discover new writers, (there is an index with short bios of each contributor), and to follow up by reading more of their work elsewhere. It also presents a diversity of styles and voices, whilst remaining under the umbrella of the theme… yet within that framework are a delightful range of perspectives and experiences.

I thoroughly enjoyed this entire book. This volume or the entire set would be a great gift for anyone, especially a nature-lover, or anyone who appreciates good writing. The length of individual pieces makes it perfect for busy people…easy to dip in and out of, yet satisfying to delve into for a satisfying bout of seasonal immersion.

Autumn: an anthology for the changing seasons, edited by Melissa Harrison, is published by The Wildlife Trusts and Elliot and Thompson.

Postscript: A boxed set of the entire series: Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter (boxed set of four paperbacks) is now available at the usual outlets and online at: http://www.amazon.co.uk.

Very highly recommended…

 

 

 

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