A creative voyage

Clipper by Judy DarleyI’ve just come to the end of an art course at the RWA in Bristol, and am already missing it immensely. The course, Illustration for Picture Books with Sam Church, offered the rare treat of devoting three hours each week for five weeks to playing with ink, paint, pencil and words.

We were each invited to devise or find a story or poem to illustrate. As you might imagine, I went in fully equipped with that side of things, keen to bring one of my short stories to life in new, visual ways.

It was energising to be in a room full of people who have such artistic talent. While I enjoyed figuring out perspective and thrilling with the success of painting a scene that made sense to me, there was just as much pleasure to be had in wandering the room at the end and seeing what my fellow students had been working on throughout the morning. Some produced works of utter beauty!

Boy and merhag by Judy Darley

For me, the biggest challenge was drawing and painting the face of my protagonist, and I’m still not satisfied with that. I think I need to try cartooning to get the character from my head to the page. It was magical, however, to discover I’m able to recreate some of the villains and accomplices from my tale, as well as the setting of the sea, sky and isle.

The best part, however, was the chance to devote substantial chunks of time to exploring the artistic possibilities of my fiction under the gentle guidance of course leader Sam. It’s focused my growing passion for making as well as writing about art, and given me a new expressive outlet that fills me with joy.

Find upcoming RWA courses.

Writing prompt – rural

Golden Teasels by Jane Betteridge

This painting, Golden Teasels by Jane Betteridge, seems loaded with potential to me. I have the sense of someone wandering along deep in their thoughts, then unexpectedly witnessing something private and possibly awful unfurl.

Or perhaps this is a scene of bucolic beauty and innocence.

What does it bring to mind for you?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Unfettered nature

Snowdrop Wood by Jane Betteridge

Snowdrop Wood by Jane Betteridge

The fragrant half-silence of drawing a breath in, easing a breath out, as a woodland stirs around you is one of the most enchanting things about entering a patch of wilderness.

Likewise the headiness of standing on the brink of a stretch of land with the sea forming itself into endless shifting sculptures just beyond. These are the moments that remind us of  the sheer awe-inspiring beauty around us.

These are the moments Jane Betteridge transforms into works of art.

Despite this, Jane never imagined she’d become good enough to be a professional artist, Happily, “years and years of practise and experimenting, in between getting on with my day job and raising a family, finally paid off.”

And the pay-off is enviable, as Jane now has the pleasure of being a full-time artist and experimenting with paint daily.

“In my eyes there is no other medium that comes anywhere near the vibrant characteristics of watercolour,” she says. “The way they merge and mix together on the paper, granulating and changing colour is mesmerising. Their glowing luminosity adds life to a painting.”

Jane sources inspiration from the ever changing nature of landscapes, as well as ephemera and other potential new materials.

“Changing seasons, country walks, hedgerows, colours, textures, textiles, old stone walls, rusting metal, and peeling paintwork, the sea, the sky, new tubes of paint or unusual watercolour mediums, old postcards, tickets and wrapping paper can all stir a desire in me to paint.”

Teasles and Honesty by Jane Betteridge

Teasles and Honesty by Jane Betteridge

It all adds texture to her art, and enjoyment to the process. Jane’s ongoing desire to experiment are vividly evident throughout the pages of her beautiful book Watercolours Unleashed. But how did the book come about?

Crashing Wave and Gulls by Jane Betteridge

Crashing Wave and Gulls by Jane Betteridge

“I spoke to Search Press when at an art fair in Nottingham and then sent them some images of my work and they asked me to go to their offices for a chat about writing the book.”

An urge to capture the sense of a moment drives much of her work.

“It’s the atmosphere of a place that makes me paint. For example, an isolated bluebell wood with the sun streaming through can be ethereal, magical and peaceful,” she says. “A rough sea lashing against the rocks can be awe-inspiring. Whether or not I do actually capture the atmosphere doesn’t really matter to me as it’s the fact that it made me create a work of art which is the most important thing.”

Looking at her glorious, energetic paintings, I’d say Jane captures the atmosphere with every stroke, offering glimpse of the world that can quietly infuse any room in which you choose to hang them.

Along with teaching, which she finds “so rewarding”, Jane feels hugely fortunate to be able to devote so much of her time to creating new work.

“I feel like I’m in heaven working as an artist,” she says. “If I wasn’t a full time artist, I’d be painting every spare minute I had anyway, so how lucky I am to be able to earn a living at what is essentially my hobby and favourite pastime.”

Jane has studios in Leicestershire and in St Ives, Cornwall. “People can make an appointment to view my work when I’m there. I’m in a couple of galleries at the moment and you can view my work on my website www.janebetteridge.com and my Facebook page Jane Betteridge Art.”

Forest Blues by Jane Betteridge

Forest Blues by Jane Betteridge

She adds: “I’ll be taking part in the St Ives September Festival (from 9th-23rd September) this year when my studio will be open to the public. I do quite a few commissions and had solo exhibitions every year for around 10 years until recently when writing the book took all of my time.”

Watercolours Unleashed has been such a success that Jane is now writing her second book for Search Press. I can’t wait to see what she creates for us this time.

Read my review of Watercolours Unleashed.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Writing prompt – grave companion

Grave companion cr Judy DarleyMy local Victorian cemetery where I like to run is littered with tombs topped by curious effigies. When I spied the small horse above, my only thought was, “Funny, I never noticed that one before.”

I actually ran past, then trotted back for a closer look, and realised that what I’d taken for carved stone was in fact sodden fur, moss-stained and sullied by spending who knows how long in a graveyard?

Grave companion by Judy Darley

Who could have lost this precious companion? What lonely soul might have claimed it as their own?

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

Book review – Watercolours Unleashed by Jane Betteridge

Watercolour Unleashed by Jane BetteridgeThe cover of this beautiful book offers a vivid preview of the treat you’re about to experience. Mouthwatering shades and intriguing textures abound. Inside, Jane presents an array of wonderful techniques, using everything from clingfilm and tissue paper to threads, seeds and (my alchemical favourite) salt to create effects that will lift and transform your art.

With chapters devoted to materials, colours and preparing your paints, Jane ensures you’re equipped to make the most of any opportunity to capture a scene. A section on composition will help you present your subject in the most breathtaking or pleasing way possible, while a series of projects will ease everything you’ve learnt beneath your skin so that it becomes an everyday part of your artistic arsenal.

With Jane’s exquisite paintings appearing through, the book is also a pleasure simply to pore over for a hit of energising colour.

I spent a very happy Sunday afternoon dabbling with a few of the techniques, and watching the results. My painting, below, created using Jane’s tips and encouragement, turned out a bit clumsy and abstract, but was infinitely satisfying.

Textured Haze by Judy Darley1

As Jane comments in her intro to the book, it turns out that “Watching paint dry can be extremely exciting.” She also takes a moment to remind us that painting should always be a pleasure, never a chore. “Free yourself up. Unleash your passion for watercolour by keeping an open mind, experimenting with techniques, and enjoying yourself by trying new ideas. The watercolour medium has a mind of its own.”

Well, how could you resist? Watercolours Unleashed offers full, unreserved permission to play. Whether, like me, you’re fresh to your artistic journey and seeking the courage to tackle the beauty about you, or experienced and wishing to rediscover that early joy, Jane is the artist to take you there, and inspire you every step of the way.

Watercolours Unleashed by Jane Betteridge (RRP £14.99) is available to buy from www.searchpress.com

Discover more of Jane’s art.

What are you reading? I’d love to know. I’m always happy to receive reviews of books, art, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a book review, please send an email to Judy(at)socketcreative.com.

Writing prompt – crisis

Deceased March wasp photo by Judy DarleyApologies, I realise this post should have come with a warning for those entomophobes among us.

I stepped over this deceased wasp on a sunny day last week and was struck by how wrong it is to see a wasp, alive or dead, at this time of year. To my knowledge, they’re best known for spoiling late summer picnics, so what was this one doing out and about so early, and what caused its demise?

To me this insect corpse is a potent symbol of the climate crisis – a seemingly minor anomaly, but heralding potential catastrophe – the equivalent of a butterfly effect with a sting in its tail. It seems ripe with metaphor and satire for cli-fi (yes, that is a genre) writers.

Curiously enough, when I googled the definition of wasp, as well as getting lots of info about White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (go figure), I was informed that a wasp is A) a social social winged insect which has a narrow waist, and B) a solitary winged insect which has a narrow waist.

So there you go, plenty of tangents to fly with.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

How to use myths in your writing

Sphinx, Egypt, by Justin NewlandIn today’s guest post, author Justin Newland talks us through the ancient stories that helped to inspire his novel Sources of the Genes of Isis.

I guess I’ve always had an inquiring mind. I wanted to explore our origins. Where did we come from? How did we get where we are today? I wanted to conceive a story that offered the discerning reader a different entry point to these age-old questions.

I began by looking through the glass darkly into the past. I quickly ended up in Ancient Greece, and eventually in Ancient Egypt, the earliest recorded historical culture.

The Ancient Egyptians also imagined their origins though creation myths, of which one is the myth of Osiris. He was king to Isis’ queen. But Set murders Osiris, dismembers him and distributes his body parts all over Egypt. Isis gathers them together, miraculously brings him back to life, and bears him a son, the hawk-headed Horus.

This is a story of life and death, procreation, rebirth and the struggle for power, all of them archetypal themes. And the basic ingredients of the myth are not a bad template for a novel: start, weave the threads, spread them far and wide, then collect them altogether, breathe new life into them for a pulsating climax.

That wasn’t all. Many great men have set their feet upon the path to Egypt: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte. It was the first and oldest civilisation, and therefore influenced everything that followed. The first in any field always does. In this respect, Egypt is the Mother and Father of all things.

That set me going. 

Explore infinite possibilities

Next up, I discovered legends from other ancient cultures that mentioned cross-breeding between species, of mixed genetics, and hybrids. The apocryphal The Book of Enoch spoke of the Grigori, or ‘fallen angels’, who came to Earth and mated with ‘the daughters of men,’ spawning the Nephilim, an antediluvian race of giants. The Epic of Gilgamesh talked of strange beings such as fish-men, who came ashore for the day, and returned to the sea at night. Even today, you can see a stone carving of such a creature at the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut behind the Valley of the Kings in Egypt. (see above)

These and other sources fired my imagination. What if these ‘fallen angels’ manifested in human form and settled in Ancient Egypt? What if antediluvian genetics were unstable, in that the normal bindings that prevented the existence of crossbreeds had become loosened, spawning mixed genetic creatures and humans with the head of animals?

The germ of the idea for the novel was born: an alternative genesis of the human race.

Interwoven with these threads was esoteric information about such concepts as the astral light and the akashic record, referenced by the Theosophical Society and, more recently, the Emin Society. They conceived of the akashic record as a compendium of thoughts, events, and emotions encoded in a non-physical plane of existence.

This is where I derived the name for the novel’s heroine, Akasha, a Sanskrit word meaning ‘aether’ or atmosphere.

Also mooted was the astral body, a sort of personal spirit entity, which could leave a person (usually during sleep) and travel the astral light, there to explore the akashic record and so re-live any event or person from any time in history. This is what Edgar Cayce, an American mystic, claimed to have done. His profuse and profound writings speak of the time before the Flood.

All this nourished my fascination for the supernatural.

Doris Lessing’s Shikasta contained some original and interesting ideas about how humans may have lived in the times before recorded history.

I got the name Samlios, where the Akasha is born and where the initial action of the novel unfolds, from Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson.

Then the Flood. Where did that fit into the story? Now, think about it for a moment. If it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, how did all that water get up there in the first place?

What about this utterance from the Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts‘I shall cross the great lake in the sky and return home to my double on the sun.’

More recently, Old Mother Shipton, a Yorkshire prophetess, coined her answer: ‘Beneath the water, men shall walk. Shall ride, shall sleep, shall even talk.’

What if the waters were already up there in the sky, and the earth had shrunk like a dried prune, leaving the remaining oceans on narrow and shallow sea beds?

Another element of the world of The Genes of Isis was taking shape.

Egypt by Justin Newland

Build a narrative and characters

With two main sources, I needed two protagonists, one to speak for the humans, and the other for the angels, whom I called the Solarii. I envisaged the embryonic human race as blue-blooded, gentle folk, and kind. The Solarii on the other hand, were drawn as severe, powerful and dedicated.

A comparison of opposites yielded a girl and boy, young and old, Akasha and Horque. The main characters took shape.

The Genes of Isis cover by Justin NewlandThen in the novel, I twisted another Biblical weave: instead of having the Jews as slaves to the Egyptians, I conceived of them as willing helpers and servants.

When I started work on the novel, I began with the idea, a rough storyline, giving me the destination. Then the characters emerged out of the plot and suggested parts they could play. Sometimes I heard their voices when composing the dialogue. Sometimes my imagination revealed things about them, like what they carried in their pockets.

I found my characters crouching behind the plot lines, emerging out of the shadows of the narrative, and in the great halls of the unconscious (yes, even in dreams).

Looking so far back into pre-history, there was an abiding sense of peering into a dark timeless abyss, and where sometimes, as Nietzsche predicted, the abyss stared back. That was unnerving. Especially as most of what I was researching had no fixed points, no salient facts on which anyone agreed.

Then again, it did leave plenty of room for the imagination.

All this and more is in The Genes of Isis.

Justin NewlandAuthor bio

Justin Newland lives with his partner in plain sight of the Mendip Hills, in Somerset, England. His short stories published in anthologies: The Fool of Abbot’s Leigh in Hidden Bristol and Fisher of Men in North by Southwest. Vallum Hadriani is published in The Dark Half of the Year, a collection of ghost stories by the North Bristol Writers.

Justin’s debut novel, The Genes of Isis, is published by Silverwood Books. It’s set in Ancient Egypt, and draws on two main sources: the myth of Osiris and the story of the flood in the Book of Genesis. Find out more at www.thegenesofisis.com.

All images in this post were supplied by the author.

Strawberry Thief – a short story

Strawberry Thief by Judy DarleyJust as the birds are dashing around celebrating the start of spring, my flock-infused tale Strawberry Thief has found a new home with the deliciously named Straylight Magazine, biannual literary magazine of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

They say: “We look for innovative works of fiction, poetry, and art. Straylight takes pride in being on the edge of literary innovation.” So I’m feeling rather flattered.

The story begins: The hide is empty but for herself and Jonathan. In the clearing beyond the small, wooden structure, birds cavort—more species than she can name. Jonathan would know them all. He understood their code of feathers and colors in a way she’s never been able to grasp.

To read the full story, click here.

The thrill of illustration

A scene from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein

An illustration from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein

Hippos, pigs, seals and fish, not to mention the occasional elephant in swimming trunks, cavort through the pages of Henning Löhlein’s picture books. Designed to amuse and enthrall, they wriggle with life.

“I always liked drawing,” Henning recalls. “Having grown up in Germany, I spent two years taking foundation art studies in Toulon France, but I was torn between graphic design and fine art.”

A scene from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein2

A scene from Was Schwimmt Denn Da by Henning Lohlein

Henning travelled to Bristol on an Erasmus exchange programme, and here discovered illustration, “which formed the right mixture between working to a brief and having the freedom to express one’s own ideas. I finished my studies with an MA in editorial design and narrative illustration at Brighton University. Since then I have taught on the illustration course as a visiting lecturer.”

Illustration for the Financial Times by Henning Lohlein

Illustration for the Financial Times by Henning Lohlein

Henning’s editorial work includes illustrations for the Guardian, the Financial Times and Country Life, as well as magazine covers. “I like to find the freedom in the constraints of illustration, be it for editorial jobs, or in children’s books,” he says.

A scene from Das Leben Ist Bunt illustrated by Henning Lohlein

A scene from Das Leben Ist Bunt illustrated by Henning Lohlein

His love of children’s books began when, after 15 years of working as an editorial illustrator, he realised he wanted “to have a longer ‘shelf life’ for my illustrations. I had started drawing more and more animals in my magazine illustrations, so the step to children’s book illustration was not very far.”

Henning was fortunate enough to have been chosen to exhibit at the Children’s Book Fair in Bologna, “and that opened up the world of publishing to me.”

Henning has since published more than 40 books, translated into 12 languages, and counting.

A scene from Ich Ware So Gerne illustrated by Henning Lohlein

A scene from Ich Ware So Gerne illustrated by Henning Lohlein

Initially, Henning sought out commissions by attending two of the most prestigious book fairs, Bologna in the spring and Frankfurt in the autumn, seeing as many publisher, editors and art directors as possible.

“I’m now in the position where I can develop projects before hand, which I then try and sell to a publisher at the fair,” he says. “Having been in the industry for a while, authors come to me with projects, or publishers match my illustration up with a suitable text.”

But how closely does he work with a writer in this scenario?

“Normally I just get the text, and illustrate it, having no contact with the writer, just working with the text, and interpreting it in my way,” he says.

Henning is excited about writing and illustrating his own stories. “Ludwig the Space Dog, published last autumn by Templar, is my first written and illustrated book,” he says.

“I started from the idea about a dog living in a two-dimensional world, dreaming about another dimension, which he discovers, and the reader can discover as well with using 3D glasses. It’s about the power of dreams and thinking outside the box. I also liked the idea of doing a 3D book. The pictures are obviously two-dimensional, as they are in a book, so the magic happens in the reader’s head.”

Henning describes being an illustrator as “the best job I can imagine. On a Monday morning I look forward to going to the studio, and to drawing,  painting or inventing a new story. Doing what one loves doing and getting paid for it is a privilege. I can express my ideas, and with a bit of luck, a book will come out of it.”

Find more of Henning’s work online at www.Lohlein.com.

Are you an artist or do you know an artist who would like to be showcased on SkyLightRain.com? Get in touch at judydarley (at) iCloud.com. I’m also happy to receive reviews of books, exhibitions, theatre and film. To submit or suggest a review, please send an email to judydarley (at) iCloud.com.

Writing prompt – recipe

Grapes photo by Judy DarleyFlavour and scent are inextricably linked to nostalgia, making them the perfect means of ramping up the visceral-qualities of any tale. With this in mind, use a recipe as your starting point, whether it’s for something as sweet as a plate of heart-shaped cookies, or the particular mix of a dirty martini.

Your character may be a cordon bleu chef or a kitchen klutz – either way you have plenty of scope for hyping up tension through the drive for perfection. One final thing to ask them, and yourself, why is it so important to them to get this specific recipe right?

Today’s #writingprompt was inspired by this recipe for pickled grapes. *mouth waters*

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to Judy(at)socket creative.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.