It is no secret that I have a great fondness for foxes, and regular readers may remember several posts outlining or illustrating various reasons for this. Although it has been many months since I have mentioned them, do not assume that this is because I no longer think of them; it is merely because I cannot seem to find the time to make as many declarations of my love as I would like!
I have, however, been taking quite a few country walks recently, and these have given me some lovely quiet moments with a sketchbook. In true British summer style, the weather has been a little intermittent in the last few weeks, pouring with rain one moment and overflowing with warm sunshine the next, but on the dry occasions I have taken a few art essentials with me on my wanderings. There are some lovely worn footpaths which trace lines across fields of long grass and it is not uncommon to spot wild rabbits and deer in-between the occasional dog walker.
I quite often find a seat on a dry-stone wall or patch of mossy grass and fill a few pages with doodles and thoughts. The process verges on therapeutic, and these quiet moments are wonderful for planning new designs for my shop. Last week was perhaps a more obvious example of this, when I caught sight of a red fox along the edge of the wood across the field from me. Without my glasses on she looked like an orange smudge in the distance, but she slid into focus once I had retrieved them from my bag.
Perhaps she wasn’t used to humans, or perhaps she didn’t see or smell me sat upwind, or perhaps she simply did not care that I was there, but she came towards me in an unconcerned trot.
It was one of those instances when you daren’t move for fear or spoiling it, so I sat very still as she approached. She was a healthy fox, unlike the ones that has moved into my garden some years ago who had been covered in mange. She had a sleek coat, and a thick tail, although she was a little smaller than I had expected so I wondered if she were young, or if it were just because she was a vixen? I briefly wondered what she was doing out, being a nocturnal animal, but then decided it was relatively early in the morning and she may be on her way home for bed.
When she was about five meters away she caught sight of me and froze. We had one of those frozen and assessing moments, that seem to last longer when you’re involved in them than they do to those on the outside. Then she turned tail and melted into the shadows of the wood.
I had been thinking of heading back to my studio at that point, but instead I rummaged in my bag for my flask – for I sometimes bring a flask of tea with me on these occasions, never knowing if I will stay out longer. It is a lovely mustard coloured flask that came with a picnic set I got last winter in the sales, and I am very fond of it. Settling down with a cup of tea, I began another series of drawing of foxes. But once I had finished a few, I moved on to rabbits, who had been frolicking on the other side of the field during my drawing, and then an Eurasian Eagle Owl, which I had not seen, but had been on my mind a lot these days.
When the weather began to turn, I packed up my sketchbook and pencils and continued my walk home. Back at the studio, over another cuppa (raspberry and Echinacea herbal tea, this time, my favourite right now,) I coloured my drawings and scanned them in for preparation to transfer them onto tote bags for my etsy shop.
My weekend was well spent with a visit to Prinknash Abbey Deer and Bird Park. Being the nearest animal park to me and one that homes beautiful deer that eat from your hands, I have made a point to go to Prinknash as often as I can. This visit was, thankfully, full of sunshine and friendly birds. I fell in love with a peacock, and spent an hour drawing him in my sketch book, whilst he pranced about proudly in front of me. One of these doodles made it onto a tote bag and is for sale in my etsy shop.
I am working on some more of my deer doodles, planning on making a papercut or illustration from one or two of them.
I also have a great fondness for the goats at Prinknash, having spent well over thirty minutes stroking one lovely black and white goat who seemed to love the fuss. I wonder how much proper strokes they get, considering many children visit the park and tend of give a few giddy pats and squeal with delight when the goats eat from their hands.
I am hoping to upload my new drawings and designs this week, and have so many exciting plans in the making, so expect more animal inspired crafty goodies soon!
I have set up my video camera in the garden at various points over the last few days to capture footage of the birds. I’ve managed to collect clips of sparrows, blue tits and robins so far.
Back in my second year at Dartington College of Arts I discovered the installation work of Claire Morgan. At the time I was working on Imitation of Life, exploring the use of birds within contemporary art, and I stumbled across her use of taxidermy. Hanging in mid-air, these installations seem almost magical, a stunningly detailed frozen image.
Looking back, I remember a sense of wonder of her use of strawberries, as they slowly drew mould throughout the exhibition, joining together and creating an almost-solid suspending form. A year later, when I was working on Childhood Field Studies, I had completely forgotten about Claire Morgan’s work, although the subconscious part of my mind had apparently clung onto the inspiration for dear life. A shame really – had I consciously remembered her work I could have referred it in my documentation.
These days I find myself draw to her even earlier installations – Fantastic Mr Fox (2008) being perhaps the most obvious relation to my current project.
I have recently been feeling a sense of loss over the digital SLR I borrowed from the tech store at university. We only had one precious week together, but it was a week filled with beautiful focus and wonderful photographs even when I wasn’t trying too hard. Everything was easy, it flowed. We never argued and when we did have disagreements we worked it out quickly, and no tears shed. That SLR never let me down; it was always producing wonderful and accurate colours, and reassured me that my choices were okay: whether it was offering me files types or light balance, it went along with my decisions, without a question asked. It made me a better person and a better photographer. I could depend on it and I could envision a long and happy future with it, filled with photographs and multiple lenses.
But it wasn’t to be. I had to return that SLR to the tech store when I finished my course. My train journey home felt empty, as I realised it would be a long time before any SLR would share my life again. In my desperation I turned to my old camera, a Canon A360. No SLR, to be sure, but lovely in its own way. I remember the beginning of our relationship, when I set eyes on it in the shop and realised how much I needed it. I lusted over the ability to alter aperture, depth of field, light balance and focus on a point-and-click sized camera. I admired its light, small frame and its charming swivel screen.
But now I’ve tasted better things and what I loved beforehand is bitter sweet. Five years since taking that Canon home and the swivel screen has scratches on it, there’s dirt in the lines of the casing and smudges on the lens. 10 megapixels doesn’t seem what it used to be and four AA batteries don’t last long. Despite all this, deep down I remember my love for this Canon, and I know its positive qualities, the qualities I had longed for in a camera. And I know that I never fully appreciated these, with the exception of manual focus, so now I am taking time to appreciate them. I am re-exploring it, testing out aperture and depth of field and light balance – the little things that make it different from the rest, the things I loved about it. It will never be an SLR, but if I can improve my photography skills it won’t matter. And because one day another SLR will come into my life, and on that day I will be able to appreciate it properly.