The ancient ones

I’ve never been into browns, either in my wardrobe or in my art. But having recently returned from a wonderful few days at The EarthHeart Centre in The Forest of Dean, I became curious about all the earthy tones at the bottom of my paint box.

I decided to make a palette and discover what these colours actually look like. Having always lumped them together under the heading brown, I was amazed to find these shades so much more beautiful, rich, and varied than I had imagined.

A palette of earthy tones

I started to get inspired, imagining ancient artworks and prehistoric cave paintings, and decided to start as I often do: simply laying some paint down on the page. Where I would normally find myself moving in some sort of narrative direction, this time I felt inclined to play with textures, scraping one layer away to reveal another beneath the surface. The piece below reminds me of a cave wall, rich in mineral deposits, layer upon layer built up over millennia.

When I posted something of my new fascination on Instagram, I discovered yet another wonderful aspect of being part of the Get Messy art journaling community: my fellow artist – the talented and inspiring Misty Granade – also became intrigued by these earthy tones. She had the wonderful idea to turn this exploration into a theme. Pretty soon, we were enjoying a week of adventuring in prehistoric territory together. Check out the hashtags #neutralsweek and #homemadecavepainting to see what we got up to! 

Dancing to the moon

I continued with layered backgrounds, now adding pictures and making marks in the spirit of prehistoric cave paintings. I drew on an ancient treasure trove of images to express something both archetypal and deeply personal, something from aeons ago that is also part of my recent 21st century experience. Dancing to the moon shows a group of women dancing together – a scene that took place, both thousands of years ago and also a week ago when I was at the second workshop of the year-long training, Initiation – Into the sacred feminine.

Grandmother touches the stars

It felt right not to include words in these pieces. The visual images remain free to shift from ancient times to the present and back again. This was also a relaxing change after the recent poetry-writing challenge of NaPoWriMo.

I’m so thankful to Misty for taking a moment of adventure into new territory and turning it into a themed exploration. It encouraged me to delve a little deeper than I might have done if I was just playing around with ideas on my own. And I loved all our exchanges about what we were discovering as the week progressed.

I’m now venturing back into the full range of colours. But I’m bringing a few things with me from my sojourn in prehistoric art: a new appreciation for earthy tones, a sense of the timeless quality of visual language, and an awareness that my own experience can connect me to a collective experience, thousands of years old. I look forward to seeing how all this translates into the forthcoming pages of my art journal!


I Am Thirsty Now

A woman is lying on the ground.
She can’t get up.
I think she will pull me down
into the earth.
I run,
I run from the earth.

My mother is lying on the ground.
She is sleep.
She is darkness.
She is tears.
She sucks the world into her belly
and it never comes out.
I run,
I run from my mother.

The ancestors are sitting in the corner
drinking wine.
They sing me songs of grief and joy
in an ancient language
my skin understands.
I do not want to go towards the earth.
The earth is sprinkled with their blood.
I run,
I run from their song.

Their arms are heavy and slow.
I think they want to put me in a box
and bury me beside them.
I become fast and light.
I run. I run. I grow wings. I fly.

Her arms were heavy and slow.
But they were arms that held,
that pinned me to one place
long enough to be loved

and the earth was a hill
we rolled down and down
and laughed at the tumble of our senses
and the earth
was my grandmother’s garden
where I picked raspberries
for the raspberry pie.

I am tired now.
Look at me:
I can’t even keep a single plant alive.
I walk on rubber,
watch landscapes on TV.
How long it’s been since I went outside.

I am thirsty now.
I cry when I see the men
dancing in a circle.
These are my people.
I long for them,
for the line of meaning
of bread
of hands
stretching back through time.

I am lying on the ground.
I am thirsty now
for a drink of that wine.