A couple of years ago I had an extraordinary encounter - it was a cold, windy, spring day and I had driven to the nearby village of Hutton-le-Hole where I saw a crested, long billed, orange, black and white bird - very unusual type and colouring for North Yorkshire. I knew this bird as a Hoopoe, but I did not know that they were found in this country - understanding they preferred warmer climates. An incongruous local sighting, on the edge of the moor on a bleak morning.
Anyway, true enough it was a Hoopoe, which had perhaps got blown off course, or made a navigational error!
The hoopoe is an exotic looking bird about the size of a mistle
thrush. It has a pinkish-brown body, striking black and white wings, a
long black downcurved bill, and a long pinkish-brown crest which it
raises when excited. It does not breed in the UK, but
birds can turn up in spring (mostly seen as single birds) as birds
migrating north to Europe from Africa overshoot and land on the south
coast of England.
The reason this incident is in my mind is because my Sitting Bird, I think, may have been influenced by it. As I was carving it, and its personality emerged, it reminded me of a Hoopoe, and of the rather lovely call they have (listen here).
This morning is so lovely I've had my morning cup of tea in the garden. I love to spend a few moments wandering round, mug in hand, checking on growth, my seedlings, saying hello to birds and absorbing the loveliness - it is a favourite indulgence (though of course it does also include working through ideas and planning projects!).
Whilst pottering, I spotted this huge moth - wings open wide as if basking in the sunlight - at least eight inches across I crept closer to have a proper look. I wondered what on earth it could be and was desparate that it didn't fly away before I could see it close-up.
It turned out to be a flaky strip of peeling paint from something rusty - it convinced me! And I'm still marvelling at the beautiful pattern and colours.
What a beautiful marking for Spring Equinox, sun gleaming, light fresh breeze and birds singing. I worked outside all day, and it felt like the bobbing blossoms and buds were dancing in celebration.
via Pictures of Flowers
To make the day extra special, I heard for the first time this year, the cheery chirruping of a Pied Wagtail and its little running steps on the tin roof of my sheds. Back and forth catching flies, fluttering and singing joyfully. There were two, hopefully a pair come back to nest. I watched their antics. I love the Wagtails making their home at my workshop and I'm full of happiness to see them back.
Sometimes when working stone I come across colouration or marks, and these can help, or hinder a sculpture, depending on where they appear. It is one of the joys of working with a natural raw material.
Sometimes too I find little fossils, of what look like seed pods, and pieces like leaves or vegetation. These little treasures don't appear very often, but they can alter the direction of carving and test creative ingenuity.
There was nothing to be done however when I found this lump - the carving was abandoned and begun again with a new piece of stone - and this 'shape' is all that is left of the original piece, a natural sculpture.
It must have been a swirl of different material laid down as the stone was forming, and then caught in the sediment forever - well, until now. It is about ten inches high with beautiful iron ore colouring and shale stripes. When selecting stone for sculpture I try and avoid blocks with potential 'problems' but there was nothing on the outside of this piece to suggest it contained a surprise gift.
During a day in the workshop I must pick up and put down my tools dozens of times. I change chisels, or stop carving to step back and look at the sculpture work, sometimes because my arms, or back are aching. Usually when I pick my mallet and chisel up again, they are still warm from their previous holding, a comforting body temperature aiding continuity and giving a message they are ready to go. Today, each time I resumed my carving I was shocked by how cold the chisel was in my hand, and it was simply that my down tool time had been too long.
Some days run smooth, and others less so and the birth of a sculpture not necessarily without difficulty and pain. When things don't flow well I find a good brisk walk up and out onto the moors does wonders and I return refreshed. Other times I seek out my book of 'lovely words' - a collection of writing, poetry and words I have found beautiful, inspiring and moving. I remember having read this and being uplifted at the time, but couldn't remember it exactly, so needed to look it up. I don't know who wrote it or where I found it unfortunately - but thankyou to whoever it was - it is a good reminder for me to read, and got me unstuck, with the bonus and very welcome return of warm chisels.
'Proficiency in any art cannot be obtained without study and
perseverance. Stonework is certainly no exception, but difficulties
will soon vanish if you commence with the confidence that you will
When a lump of rock comes hurtling through space and burns up entering earth's atmosphere, fiercely aflame and leaving a spectacular trail behind of brilliant hues, searing across the night sky - it is quite a moment.
Image The Telegraph
This is what happened on Sunday, amazing and shocking all who saw it - a sort of stone sculpture on the move, captivating and incredible.
It is a mass of rock, the very substance that planets are made of and the same age as earth itself, travelling at such speed it heats and combusts. Was it small particles just fizzling out (meteor), or a meteorite - a larger lump which has crash landed somewhere in our landscape after its fiery journey?
I often get asked to carve remembrance stones, plaques, boulders or sculpture to mark the life of a loved pet and cherished member of the family. It is such a heartbreaking time when you lose your very best animal friend and I understand this well myself. It can be so emotional cutting the letters, or carving - but I do know that once the stone is in place, it makes for a special marker and in time helps in the recalling of all the happy times and special moments shared.
This week I have been carving a small stone for a dog named Charlie, and it brought back memories of a ferret I had called Charlie. I made a stone for him which I put in the garden at the base of a hedge he loved to run under, and through which he had such games of escaping into next door's garden, springing and leaping on their lawn knowing full well I could not get through the tangle of undergrowth to reach him.
It feels a great privilege to be involved with the making of a memorial stone and to be part of leaving a token of our appreciation and love. A big thankyou to all our beautiful animal pets - what it is to have known them.
This is quick pastel sketch I did years ago of the very best ferret on the planet, Charlie, playing with his wife Twiggy (the pretty blonde one).