I’ve always wanted to do fine art. The idea of deciding what I want to create and not being in any way held back by the commercial dictates of a third party is very appealing. It’s why, many years ago, I self published my own comic book; a brave, noble and ultimately doomed attempt to provide myself with an income from the creation of a comic book story that was entirely my own. Sapphire was great fun and a valuable experience (and was even reasonably well received) but a source of income it was not.

It’s also why I self-published Haunted York, a guide to the best known ghost stories in my home town (allegedly the most haunted city in Europe) and although doing somewhat better commercially than Sapphire it still didn’t provide the full freedom of creation that I crave (and there was no drawing involved).

However, Spirits is not about ghosts, nor is it about alcohol (much) and I know what you’re thinking; stop wittering on about things that have nothing to do with fine art and tell us what you’re planning to do. Right, good question and one that I’ve been asking myself repeatedly for the last few months. The main problem is actually deciding what not to do, certainly in terms of themes.

In which case, let’s focus on the actual art, which is in all likelihood why you’re here in the first place, although the style and execution of the art developed as a result of a theme. But first things first.

Most of the work I’ve done in comics has been pencil work. I’ve always liked graphite as an art medium and although I’ve worked with paint I prefer something that is more immediate and works well with portraits and collage, which is the main focus of the work I’ve begun. Not portraits of particular people (although I’m working on some of those as well) but faces that capture the sense of a theme. Ah, we’re back to those themes…

Given that the whole point of this fine art idea is creative freedom, I’m planning to use subjects that are of interest to me, which might sound a little self obsessed but they’re not radical or elitist in any way so hopefully they’ll be of interest to lots of other people too.

The Spirits theme came about as a result of a friend of mine suggesting that our gang go on a small jaunt to Pendle to check out the history of the witches. Being a fan of Forteana and anything a bit weird in general it occurred to me that the Pendle Witches would be a good subject. Great, I thought, my first idea for my first piece of work. Only problem was i had no idea how I was going to do it.

Although I knew of the Pendle Witches I wasn’t as familiar with them as I felt I should be so research on the subject seemed the first logical step. As I read about the hapless folk that were hanged on Gallows Hill in 1612 (eight woman and two men) and the interest that the trials still inspire today (helped by the always beneficial tourist industry) I imagined that those witches were still around, certainly in spirit, and that they were very much the spirit of Pendle. Also, the idea of the accused, the trial and the contemporary documents created an image of wanted posters (maybe that’s just me) and the layers of torn paper and print that are often seen on boards used for such things (although today it would more likely be for gig adverts and lost cat appeals) and it occurred to me that this would work really well as both context and texture.

It was all coming together (at least in my head); I envisioned a portrait of one of the witches (I decided upon Alizon Device, the unfortunate young woman who was responsible for kickstarting the whole affair) torn out of the cartridge paper that I would use to draw her on and pasted, along with additional torn papers (both plain and printed) onto some suitably sturdy board.

The pencil drawing that graces the top of this post is the start of turing the idea into a reality. I’m now gathering materials and I shall post the completed piece once it is finished.

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For those who’ve read my previous posts on the elusive nature of Brigantia (or the elusive nature of my ability to draw her) the content of this blog entry will come as no surprise.

Which means I’m still not sure if I’ve got her. At the moment I’m still not happy with the actual drawing but a bit more work should sort that out (hopefully!) and then it’ll be a question of whether I’ve caught what I’m after…

I may decide that, even if I haven’t, I’ll at least finish the piece and see what I think then… I can always have another go at a later date.

It also occurs to me that her ideal look may be different to other people than the way I see her (or more accurately, don’t see her) so multiple versions might be a good thing.

Although I have a horrible feeling that after about a dozen attempts I’ll be no closer and will realise that I am doomed to keep drawing her forever.

Still, there are worse things…

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There’s been a couple of occasions when I’ve mentioned the Haunted York book that I’ve recently re-written (with maps!), partly because it was relevant but also as a shameless piece of self promotion (thought it best to be honest) and I’m mentioning it again for the same reasons.

The book plug is just to let those of you interested in ghost stories know that the publisher I mentioned have decided to go ahead and the book is due for release next month (hurray). It should be easily (I hope) available in retail outlets in York (I’ll publish a list when I know more) but if anyone has trouble getting hold of a copy just let me know and I can supply you directly.

In terms of relevance, that’s the drawing posted here; a picture of Jenny, who features in the book. This is the second Haunted York piece (the first being YORK | COLLEGE STREET) and I know what you’re thinking: why is she called ‘green’ Jenny?

Story time again:
Jenny (the ghost, as oppose to the original girl) has only been seen once and that was way back in the early years of the eighteenth century, so it’s a very old story. She was a serving girl at the pub that is now known as the Watergate Inn (and previously known as the Five Lions) in York’s town centre. Apparently an ostler (the olden days’ term for a stable boy) had seen a young lady wearing a vivid green dress ascending a set of stairs in the pub that led to a room used for blood sports such as rat baiting and cock fighting (both of which were made illegal by the Cruelty to Animals Act in 1835). Startled by the fact that a woman was about to enter such a room he at first thought that it was the innkeeper’s wife. He was then doubly perturbed when the girl acknowledged him with a wave and he realised that it was in fact Jenny, who had recently died.

So the dress is the reason for the name, possibly because, as with dreams, it’s unusual for a colour to be so apparent during a ghost sighting. Which I suspect is due to the fact that people are so surprised to see a ghost that any colour involved with the experience just doesn’t get noticed, unless it is very vivid, such as bright red hair, or Jenny’s green dress.

Given that the colour green is an important element of the story I feel that not only should the collage materials reflect this but that there should be some actual green in the artwork. If you look at the thumbnail gallery it may be obvious that green is not a colour I use a great deal, and so I’m going to have to give some thought as to how to approach this.

I’ll let you know what I come up with…

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Graphite and collage on plywood board
22” x 32”

For those of you old enough to remember Basil Brush (the original, far superior version voiced and puppeteered by Ivan Owen) I feel I ended the last post on a distinctive ‘what, you can’t stop there Mr. Derek’ note and I think it only fair to open the story book once more and finish the tale.

After the poor Emma had met her watery fate (with her brother, possibly, following shortly behind her) word of the dastardly act by King John reached the ears of none other than the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton who, suitably appalled by the King’s disrespectful behaviour towards a young lady, avowed to bad mouth the monarch at every available opportunity and, having gathered a well sized gang of Barons around him, ultimately caused the King so much trouble that his majesty agreed to the signing of the Magna Carta. Well done Archbishop!
There was, apparently, more to this tale than the rightful avenging of a poor girl’s death. The Archbishop himself had been the victim of King John’s thuggery when they were both young men and John was still a prince. At the same location as Emma’s unfortunate meeting with the King, the Archbishop, free at this point of the restrictions of the church and happily in a relationship with a girl named Alice, had accompanied his beloved on a walk through the woodland around the Silent Pool. At this point our villain of the story made his appearance along with a gang of ruffians who beat the teenage Stephen Langton unconscious and made off with his girlfriend. Although both victims recovered from their ordeal they had remained separated and each assumed the other had met an untimely demise. As a result they did what any self respecting bereaved lover would do in such circumstances and joined the church.

The ghostly form of Emma has apparently been witnessed on a number of occasions, usually walking into the pool without creating so much as ripple and, obviously, making no sound. Once in the water she then vanishes.

All this is makes for a fabulous piece of dramatic history with the slight problem that none of it’s true. The whole thing was fabricated (with the exception of the use of real historical figures) by the poet Martin Farquhar Tupper in 1857 by way of attempting to make the area more interesting (presumably he ran some sort of tourism business as a sideline) and bestowed his own seal of credibility upon the tale by claiming that it ‘may be depended upon for historical accuracy in every detail’. Yeah right, and the Loch Ness Monster uses the pool as a holiday get away so keep your cameras handy.

What is true is that the area became the focus of the disappearance in 1926 of Agatha Christie. Almost as though she had slipped into the imaginings of one of her own novels, her car was discovered abandoned with its headlights still on and the celebrated author was nowhere to be seen. An extensive manhunt of Guildford and the surrounding areas ensued, which included the dredging of the Silent Pool. No body (of either Agatha or Emma) was found and the mystery of the lady vanishing barely left the newspapers until, eleven days later, she was finally located living it up in a hotel in Harrogate.

Although she couldn’t provide any details as to how she got there it seems fairly clear that the recent request by her husband for a divorce had all been a bit too much for the poor woman and travelling over 250 miles north was clearly the best way to deal with it. It was significant that she had booked into the Swan Hydropathic Hotel using the name Mrs Teresa Neele, the surname matching that of the young woman that her husband was leaving her for.

Our tale concluded (you’ll be relieved to know I shan’t be singing a song) I can get back to some artwork. I’ve started yet another version of Brigantia which I’m determined to finish and I’ll include a photo of the drawing in my next blog post.

Original Artwork : £290.00

See more information in the gallery

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Although fascinated by creatures of myth and fantasy I hadn’t intended to use such subjects at this point as I have an awful lot of ideas for artwork that are more rooted in history and legend, and delving into a world that I consider to be fictional (I know, it’s a fine line… and who says faeries don’t exist?) wasn’t in my plan.

However, one must be adaptable and I had an idea (oh dear…)
Do not fear, it’s a good one! I think…

Being a regular visitor to Haworth (the inspiration for my Wuthering Heights | Let Me In piece being the result, plus an as yet unfinished portrait of Emily Bronte… must get back to that) I always drop in on Steve Jarrett to see what he’s been up to and see if any of his hand made jewellery takes my fancy (I already own a fabulous bracelet he made) and on one such visit in August he mentioned driftwood. Ah ha! I thought… I wanted a driftwood frame for my Whitby | Sea piece so that the Silver Street Gallery can take it off the floor and hang it on the wall. I enquired as to whether Steve could create such a thing and the answer being yes, I duly gave him the commission and the frame was picked up a few weeks later.

Something I hadn’t accounted for was that Steve, being a bit of a craftsman, had created something a bit more than just a standard frame (albeit one made of driftwood) and I was now the proud owner of a multi-layered frame decorated with pieces of sea washed branches and coloured stones.

This, I felt, called for something a bit different. As a result, I consulted Mr. Google and came across a very old story concerning the north east coastal village of Staithes, itself host to an annual and quite amazing arts festival and a beautiful place to visit (and also once the home of a youthful Captain Cook who, before moving to Whitby, worked as an apprentice in the local grocers).

The story, oddly similar to the Merman of Orford tale, involves the plight of two mermaids who became so exhausted after battling against a storm that they ended up on the beach at Staithes where they intended to rest and recuperate before heading back into the sea. Unfortunately, a number of sailors who were also waiting out the storm found them, imprisoned them in nets and hung them up for the villagers to stare at. Even more unfortunate was that a number of residents decided that just staring wasn’t enough and took to hurling stones at them.

Obviously this was not very friendly, but during the months that our hapless sea creatures were detained the locals began to get used to their presence and some would even speak to them. As a result, they were able to talk a fisherman into letting them out of the nets for a temporary reprieve and, the freedom of the ocean beckoning, they seized their opportunity and legged it (obviously not literally as they didn’t have legs). Having made it safely back to the sea they were never seen again, unlike the previously mentioned merman story where, having gained his freedom, he apparently returned to captivity as though it was some sort of game. He escaped again, hung around for a bit, then finally disappeared, never to be…you know the rest.

The pencil drawing isn’t finished yet but here’s how the mermaids are looking so far… when it’s finished I’ll photograph the artwork complete with frame.

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