Friday, 26 July 2013

ARC - Into the Woods!

Time for the ARC hosted by the incredibly creative Darcy at Art and Sole again. Click HERE if you would like to find out more. This month I've been reading 'Gossip from the Forest' by Sara Maitland. I originally bought this book for my husband for Christmas because he loves woodland walks. After last week's rather disappointing choice, reading this has been heaven! Sara Maitland devotes one chapter to each of the different months of the year and in each she describes a walk she's taken in a different area of woodland. What she reveals is that woods are truly enchanted places! Not enchanted in the sense that you have to have a degree in necromancy to understand, but in an everyday way. Magic happens in woods, they are places of transformations - caterpillars turn into butterflies, tiny saplings grow into ancient oaks, fungi sculpt themselves into weird and wonderful shapes. Her descriptive powers are so vivid that you truly imagine yourself with her - or if you prefer - in the solitude of whatever area of woodland she is describing, your mind rambling along the paths she hints at. This book is not just about the woods alone, it is also about what fertile ground they can be for the imagination and Maitland discusses the importance of woods to Fairy-tale traditions. The sub-title is 'The tangled roots of our forests and fairy tales' and she skilfully explores both!
Curling up with this book has been like walking with a wise and well informed friend who never wearies you with information, but just stimulates your imagination and encourages your spirit of adventure and discovery! I love how before the book even begins she explains that the meaning of the word gossip has changed to become something quite negative as so often words associated with women's lives and lore have done. To begin with a gossip was a name for a godparent, someone contracted to be a spiritual sponsor at a baptism, then it changed slightly to mean a woman's female friends invited to be present at a birth until eventually it becomes a word for idle chatter! Maitland says the 'gossip' of her title refers to spiritual talk that 'we all need in times of trouble' and she goes to the woods and the ancient store of fairy lore for this! At the end of each chapter she re-tells a fairy tale for modern times.
I can genuinely say that I loved this book. It made me realize how magical our woodland heritage in Britain is and how much the forests have shaped our imagination. Of course forests all over the world are equally magical and equally under threat! The sun-dappled ambiguous light of woods is exactly the right light in which to see fairies, so for this reason I chose to decorate a fairy shrine from Retro Cafe Art Gallery for my artful response. If you click on the images you can see in a little more detail.
These shrines are basically fairy shaped with wings and a little chamber at the centre and you can decorate them any way you choose. I decided to make mine an Alice in Wonderland/ Through the Looking-Glass fairy. This is because woods are a kind of wonderland in which extraordinary things become ordinary like in Lewis Carroll's dream world. I made a stand for my shrine from chipboard dabbed with Paper Artsy Fresco paints to look like grass and I sandwiched a Crackle Glazed frame between the two sections to suggest a mirror opening out and leading into magical worlds. I gave my Fresco painted Alice Crackle Glaze wings. I gave her antennae because I imagine fairies to be like a species of insect and that they might actually resemble insects in this way. Alice is all about shape shifting, something fairies are heavily into! And woods are, of course, full of shape-shifting plants and creatures. Alice experiences being very tiny and very tall and complains about this, but the caterpillar explains that this is something he has to accept as the norm! The Graphic 45 butterfly resting on the toadstool at the entrance to my Alice Fairy Wood may well have once been that very caterpillar!
Here is a close-up of the miniature wood inside my Alice Fairy. There is a tiny imitation tree and a paper-cut bird's egg. Behind the mini-playing card is a painting of the miniature wood beyond. As I created this I thought about the magic of hearing a rustle in the undergrowth and a tiny creature darting across your path so fast you could hardly glimpse exactly what it was - a rabbit in quite a hurry to get somewhere maybe? Or sometimes that rustling is a bird eyeing you suspiciously, and what a magical metamorphosis happens every time a brood hatches from an egg in a nest cradled in the arms of some ancient tree! Maitland talks about the magic of the woods partly being about seeing that particularly butterfly land on that particular leaf!
Because the shrine is 3D I wanted to decorate the back too. This paper cut of a little boy's head from Retro Cafe Art Gallery reminded me very much of how my son looked as a child. Although he is 22 now sometimes he comes on walks with us in the woods and one of his favourite stories remains 'Alice'. The tiny block on the back of the shrine is meant to be a stand; I have turned it into a book, painting pages edged with gold onto the sides and adding a tiny piece of book text describing the white rabbit. Alice gazing at the little boy so far and yet so near to her is cut from a RCAG collage sheet and placed onto a tiny water colour I did of the grass and the sky. I like to imagine that Alice on this side has just emerged from the enchanted wood. I'm off now to view other reviews and artwork. Thank you so much for stopping by Magpie Heaven to read my review and take a look at what I created.


  1. This is brilliant Julie Ann..wonderful description of the book and your interpretation is fantastic...may have to read this one!!!

  2. These are fantastic & I'm adding the book to my 'to read' list.

  3. What a fabulous book this sounds...I fear if I started reading it I would be so far away with the faeries I may never come back. Your shrine is just wonderful :D XXX

  4. oh this book sounds wonderful! and your Alice fairy shrine is so detailed and perfect

  5. Reading your review of the book made me think of a city park in my neighborhood, where trees have been saved and a walking path has been built around. Although not a forest per se, it feels like one when you wander off the path and walk through the trees. This book sounds so inspirational. I loved all the analogies you wrote about.

    Your ability to take the written word and turn it a shrine was magical. Your attention to detail is flawless. I always enjoy your art, and this Alice shrine is no exception. I always look forward to my visits here.

  6. Oh my, it's another magical mini-world! So perfect! ♥
    Can't we just book a little cottage in the woods. I'll show you how to felt and you show me how to work miniature? :-)
    Thank you for adding another book to my evergrowing list to read!

  7. The book sounds wonderful... and lovely to see some more pictures of that amazing fairy shrine.
    Alison x

  8. SOLD,next visit to the library I'm going to get it, I'll check there website today. That book sounds amazing, I can't wait to read it.
    I loved your story of the making of this fabulous project it all seems magical now.
    I was all over the Chelsea Physic gardens, what a fantastic place sad no pics, but did you know they have a flicker page
    to see all the gorgeous flowers there.
    Thanks for sharing your fabulous story and you fantastic make from it, I loved looking around the gardens and here ficker page. Thanks for sharing Julie Ann and have a grrrrrreat weekend..

  9. Wow wow wow your detail of the book is amazing. Wow I certainly don't think I ever appreciated the nature of the woods. It's certainly sounds beautiful and something not to be missed. Wowser the shrine is wow, I can't think of a word that truly explains how awed I am. The details are gorgeous and it's so unique. And the back wow. I wish I had a bit of your imagination. Truly unique, stunning and really inspirational. Hugs :-) Kezzy xxx

  10. If the book is half as good as your fabulous review and artwork then it must be good. I liked your description of the link between woods and fairy tales as I have always loved both. As a child in WW2 we used to be out all day as little kids in our 'gang', a nice one, with a jam butty from mum for our lunch, which we called dinner. We played happily with no adults around, built dens and climbed trees

  11. (Ipad locked up)
    In the woods near us. Then as the sun went down we went home as instructed, taking bluebells or other wild flowers for mum. You review brought back those happy memories.
    I'll look on Amazon for this, it sounds magical. Your artwork shrine is marvellous, so small but so perfect and full of intriguing detail. Love it.

  12. Oh Julie Ann...this book sounds wonderful. It sounds like a spirit-picker-upper!! :) Your art is equally wonderful...the book seems to inspire much good creativity, both manually and emotionally!! I'll add it to my ever-growing list!

  13. wow I was enchanted just reading your review, this sounds like a wonderful book and it will go on my list. Fab Alice shrine, love the rabbit.

  14. First, I should say that your art always leaves me open-mouthed. Wow! You shape bits of life and words and colors and make them shine.

    Now, about this book... I might be in love. I checked to see if my library has it, but it doesn't. It's over $20 on Amazon (I like hardcovers or Kindle *sigh*) and I'm getting it anyway.

    I can't wait to go for a walk with it ;-)

  15. One for my list! Wonderful review, woodland is very dear to my heart. We planted a native broadleaf one here in 2002 and it is a constant source of joy to us even though it will not reach maturity until long after we have morphed into something else! Super fairy shrine, you have such an attention to detail. An inspiration.

    Janet xx

  16. I adore folklore and legends - this book has gone STRAIGHT on to my wishlist and am going to hint heavily at my Dad who usually gets me a book or two for Christmas (I'm on a book buying ban/declutter at the mo! *Huff!*)

    Your artwork and the thought that's gone into every detail is just gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

  17. Love your shrine. The detail is amazing, a wonderful piece of art. This book is definitely going on my to read list. Thank you for reviewing it.
    Jen x


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