This beautiful Tawney Owl lives in a back field not far from the row of Bedford cottages I live in. I always go past his house on my morning run, he sleeps when I wake, I don’t sleep when he wakes!…….like an elusive unseen neighbour, living our lives parallel to one another but never crossing paths….although I’m glad of his sound.
A Quick look at my current work in progress , my side project of a book into the female side of Dartmoor’s tales.
After visits to Vixan Tor, and Glassy Well pool ( a pool were witches swam) I found my self down a rabbit hole of story based on the so called witches in the area and the vilified female ghosts. As a result a series of poems and portraits emerged in my sketch book and I though they deserved there own light to shine in a book.
Poems and Portraits celebrating influential women, The modern day Witch !
Our Modern Day “Witches” owe allot to the Wild Women of the past. This modern-day witch book of poems and portraits celebrates the women who should be celebrated for their courage in their time. Our female Doctors, healers, entomologists, herbalists and surgeons would not be practicing their craft if these heroines from the past had not faced their martyrdom.
During times when women were often not allowed to attend universities or publish scientific papers (unless using a male pseudonym) their knowledge and studies into the natural world, healing and botanical endeavours was often seen as a form of witch craft.
They were often forced to hide who they truly were for fear of persecution, and in a particular dark era they were burned or drown as witches.
It is this particular era that originally drew my interest after moving to Dartmoor.
I started to research local legends and folklore for my art pursuits but ended up opening a can of worms.
So many stories of forsaken ladies, tors named after witches and hauntings by vilified females. I felt I had to do something to highlight the plight of these poor forsaken ladies.
After researching their stories, I found old court records showing that some did nothing more than disobey and disrespect their husbands, some endured rape situations by monks and other high profile male historical figures.
There are child brides (a 12-year-old girl marrying 35-year-old men who wanted her inheritance) and witch hanging trees, alongside pagan ladies seeking solace on the torr’s only to be accused of being responsible for deadly magic fog.
Not to say that these women were all innocent and the males were all in the wrong, but I strongly believe that in the majority of cases if we were to look at them through todays eyes a different picture would emerge to that of historic tales.
And so my book took shape with portraits of women who are there to represent the various fields in nature that women have suffered for.
Their modern clothes aim to show these women in a different light. A light shone on there stance of knowledge and learning that was passed on. A strong confident fighter and a poem to honour an aspect of their study.
There is a list of faint names on every poems background, in remembrance of some of their names, so you can follow up with your own study into each lady.
I live on the foot of Dartmoor and most of my inspiration comes from my bike rides up into the moorland.
The ancient landscape is full of tors with tales, ancient woods and burial tombs. It can be an era place on a cold misty morning ride.
I love a good folktale or old legend and Dartmoor has many. One of my favourite tales is the tale of vixanna of vixen tor.
This tale has it all, a witch , a knight, a magic raven feather and a deadly storms. All the aspects of a Disney epic although the princess is missing?.
The print on my Storm Raven design is a result of this tale and as I love to illustrate birds (ravens being one of my favourites ) this has to be one of my favourite designs.
I still have a lot of tors to explore and there are many folktales still to tell and design blocks for .Only time will tell whether I get to hear them all but hopefully there are more epics like the Vixanna tale.
(You can read about vixanna and a few more of these tales ,and resulting prints, in my mini book, Whispers in the Wood ,on sale in my Etsy shop).
Most of my work is based around myths, legends and folktales and the root of traditions and customs. The history of our ancient ancestors can be a fascinating exploration into another world, full off Gods and goddesses, based around sun and moon cycles and the natural environment. Some of these Traditions are still alive today ( many have died out) but New year is one such festival which has been with us for thousands of years.
New year is one of the oldest holidays with the exact date and nature of the festival changed over time. Originating in ancient Babylon the sun and moon cycles were used to decide the “first” day of the year.
More traditionally on the stroke of midnight people in England would open the back door to let the old year out. We now see it as an opportunity to learn from the prior year and make positive changes in our life. Introspection and contemplation
For me New year marks a date of newly found happiness and a clean slate. The start of new plans and habits and to close the door on the past year (be it good or bad) A fresh change and lighter nights are to come and new plans are afoot !
Inner contemplation print, Celtic knotwork lino design
Traveling on my bike, up into the misty moorland in the early hours of the day. Sketchbook in my backpack, pencils and cutting tools crammed in with puncture repair kits and energy bars. This is how my design process begins. Sometimes a sketch just can not sum up a mood as well as a pattern or colour, and so a series or patterns and photo splice work has slowly developed.
My dark, mood-filled, Cornfield design or my blue, fresh and sharp, porthole design are all a product of play and print.
My Cloud Gorse and crystal design all emerged after a mirror splicing and photography experiment, and the characters of the trees, still pools, and rock formations really shine through this pattern and print range.
Tamar Tales Print
All my design inspiration starts with a local tale, a fragment of legend still floating about in the modern day.
My Tamar Tales print tells the tale of witch bitten fingers, poison paint, and a William Morris scandal.
His famous arsenic paint wallpapers were slowly poisoning people until it was discovered how dangerous this mineral was and mining for arsenic finally stopped.
His poison papers left a scare on the Tamar valley landscape with vast contaminated woodlands still dangerous to this day. The great consol mines on the Tamar trails lay testament to this deadly industry.
There are also witch burnings, murderous monks and not so friendly fairy folk tales around Tavistock and the surrounding moor.
Tamar Hare Print
You might not realise that the beautiful hare was once a common sight along the Tamar, They were however hunted by the Duke of Bedford estate, to near extinction locally, as they were believed to be witches that had transformed into hares as a means of disguise and a fast escape. They were blamed for the gangrene fingers of the arsenic miners, known as witch bitten fingers. The miners and local townsfolk could seek some consolation by eating the hare in pies and pasties.
The Tinners Hare Print
My interpretation of this circular motif tells an interesting tale, not just locally but it goes very far back to the ancient Silk roads and trading posts of China.
No one actually knows its origins but it has been adopted by many including Buddhist monks, Christianity and also the Tin miners ( hence the tinner’s hares or also known as tinners rabbits ). Many Devon churches have used it as decoration, seen as the three holy trinities
Each of the ears is shared by two hares so that only three ears are shown. Although its meaning is apparently not explained in contemporary written sources from any of the medieval cultures where it is found, it is thought to have a range of symbolic or mystical associations with fertility and the lunar cycle.
My design brings in a few other interesting tale aspects.
The William Morris ode to his famous clover print, ( seen in the background ) as I feel the link with local devon hare cullings due to Morris’s arsenic paints is intertwined.
Also the fact that miners use the symbol, again intertwined with the witch bitten miners fingers as explained above.
I also wanted to add the circle which indicates the Buddhist links to the hare. They have a belief in hares being intertwined with the Luna Cycle. They see the hare as a symbol of fertility and rebirth as the hare’s gestation period is the same as a full lunar cycle.
I could go on……the subject of these three hares is fascinating and whole books have been written on the matter.
My personal belief is that its origins can be traced back to the Vikings ( Norsemen) that invaded Britain.
The Norsemen would have traded their amber on the silk roads in China long before invasions of Norsemen hit the British shores and in their religion, they had three Norms (three witches) that lived in the roots of their world tree (Yagisdril). these three norms shared an eye (Shakspere link?), which to me represents the central point and these norms would transform into hares?….now that seems like an interesting coincidence ) As the Viking religion is one of the oldest known religions ….long before Buddha or Christianity was formed I believe that its root could have started from here, but with no real evidence, only an educated guess is all I can base this on.
I have been reverting back to my roots lately and picking up the pencils again.
I did a lot of life drawing and portrait work during my fashion degree and after buying a pack of blendable pencils on a whim at the start of the year, I have found the love again for my drawing.
My current project was inspired by my walks onto Dartmoor and all the folklore associated with this area.
I recently visited Crazy well Pool, a wild swimming spot thought to have been frequented by witches a few hundred years ago.
My train of thought went on to imagine what these women must have done to be suspected of witchcraft. I imagine them to just be ladies who did not follow the conventions of the time, possibly practiced healing through the fauna and flora in the area or followed the ancient ways of the Druids and Celts.
They may have followed the seasonal change and Luna cycles and would have had a more wild way of life, linked to the earth and the sky, than the current norms.
Their botanical knowledge could possibly have been far superior to some of the gentlemen of the time, and I’m sure their study of the therapeutic use of plants would put them into the realms of a Herbologist.
They may have also studied the insects (Entomology) or the local trees (Dendrology) and used their knowledge to feed themselves and become healers. I think these ladies would be more akin to zoologists rather than just being labeled a witch!
I decided to start a modern-day witch project, with a possible book at the end, and draw some modern women who would represent these misunderstood ladies who in today’s times may well have been scientists, zoologists, and doctors, hence the suits and modern appearance.
Its very easy to go down a route of dark art, scruffy bedraggled wild women and atmospheric moorland scenes when you talk of witches, but I didn’t want to show these women in that light.
My work hopes to celebrate the notable and influential women who, through their activism in their chosen field, made contributions to history and society and hope to highlight that females can do many things other than being the housewife or caregiver and that a road traveled in science can be a fruitful one.
Hi and welcome to my website .
I am an Artist Illustrator and Printmaker working from my garden studio in Tavistock Devon.
I sell my prints and homewares in various shops and galleries in and around Devon and Cornwall. I generally work in three mediums…Lino cut and block cut prints….Pen and Ink sketches and paints….mainly acrylics on canvas.
please feel free to contact me through the contact section with any queries or commissions.
Many Thanks Chloe
Pen and Ink;
line drawn sketches in modern monochrome ,Pen and Ink.
these initial drawings are often moved on to screens for my screen printed upcycle range ( wooly soup ) and some coloured for various homeware collections ( boxing hare, Blackberry Theif collections)
Lino Cuts and Block prints , modern Rustic, arts and craft style country living
Watercolour and acrylic paintings, classic colour pallets and modern artisan style