Oh, you lovely people, thank you so much for all your kind thoughts after my last post. Sadly, it's a week since the wisdom tooth extraction and I'm still suffering. I'm told it's not the dreaded 'dry socket', and the antibiotics should have seen off any infection, so I just have to sit it out and wait for everything to heal. A diet of porridge, soup and ice cream is beginning to pale though, so I'm consoling myself with some scrummy Green and Blacks choccy. But enough of that, I want to tell you about something else.
If you're a regular visitor here, you might have wondered how a lot of the stuff I describe doing and having done connects. Someone actually asked me that question just yesterday. It's a bit complicated, and that's without all the gap year/holiday job stuff from my student days. But it started with insects, with beetles and butterflies and bugs. And with a book, Introducing the Insect, by F.A. Urquhart, with illustrations by E.B.S Logier**.
I remember vividly the first time my father lifted a large stone in the garden so that I could marvel at the unimagined invertebrate life that teemed beneath it. I have no idea how old I was, but I was very small, I'm sure of that, there was a pram nearby and from its depths my sister could be heard, warbling happily. The same sister who the following summer was found sitting cheerily amongst the cabbages, eating worms*.
And I remember lying in the long grass at Grandma Eva's and catching grasshoppers, or trying to; A.A. Milne's poem about Alexander Beetle in Now we are six**, and wanting so much to have a beetle of my own; pond dipping for mayfly larvae and water boatmen; a dusty case of long dead moths, carefully pinned and labelled, on the wall of an elderly neighbour's dark hallway; and taking greaseproof paper from the roll in the kitchen table drawer, sharpening my pencils, and spending many happy hours with Urquhart's book, tracing Logier's amazing drawings.
Fast forward a few years and you'll find me studying fine art - print, photography and textiles - and art history at university. Artist's books were my 'big thing' for a while, and drawing, in the broadest sense (and working with natural dyes, but that's a whole other post). Later I taught for a bit, in a prison once, and kinda' got into art therapy and counselling. And later still I became a doctoral student, researching eighteen-century travel journals as art historical sources. That was when I stumbled across the illustrated diaries of my biographee, the entomologist Mr. M. It was like coming home.
The Beetle Correspondence was completed years ago, a one-of-a-kind for a travelling exhibition of artist's books. I had thought I'd sell it afterwards, but I simply couldn't bear to part with it. The envelopes are cut from the pages of various decrepit books, including a tatty copy of Urquhart's tome that I'd picked up at a rummage sale - the bindings were past repair, she hastily adds, I'd never cut into something salvageable - and the 'letters' from 'C' to 'A', concerning all manner of beetle-y shenanigans, are also printed on old book pages. As with most such epistolary bundles only half of the story is told; for the reader part of the fun is filling in what 'A' might have written to 'C'.
I grew up in a house where old letters positively poured from bureaus and creaky desk drawers. Letters from beaus, from business partners, and from battlefields (notably, one from Isandlwana, written January 21st, 1879) were always part of the furniture, almost literally. And, unsurprisingly, a lot of my book works are letter related. But it's been way too long since I last made anything properly arty and I've been missing all the mark making, and the cutting, folding and sticking. So, I am joining the Art House Co-op's 2013 Sketchbook Project, and I'm going to take The Beetle Correspondence as my starting point, though I'm sure I'll manage to sneak some knitting related stuff in there somewhere.
Art House Co-op and the Sketchbook Project are American in origin, but don't let that put you off if you're outside the US, this is open to anyone, anywhere. And you don't have to be an artist either. If you can fill a 32 page, 5" by 7" blank book, and are prepared to pay for digitisation, archiving and admin, then you're in. The rules are few, and the fun's only limited by your imagination. So, what are you waiting for!
Goodness, the block, I nearly forgot. It's my latest from the super-talented Fee of Chipper Nelly. It has a mini block sitting atop it, complete with silver heart, but that didn't make it into the photo. I asked Fee for something that would match the blog, and this beauty was her response. As you can see, one face is adorned with a vintage butterfly illustration, totally serendipitously as Fee didn't have a clue about what I've written here. It's perfect.
* With apologies to entomologists everywhere. I know that bugs are actually a specific order of insects, Hemiptera. And worms of course aren't insects at all.
** Doesn't almost everything start with a book? Or is that just me? Milne's book, Now we are six, is I'm sure responsible for my love of poetry, and quite possibly books.