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  • Kaaren Poole

Forest Wisdom - a Favorite Theme

Sometimes when I find myself drawn once more to a theme I've visited over and over again, I balk. What’s wrong with me? Can’t I think of something new? Then I remind myself that part of an artist’s voice is the themes which are so meaningful for her and to which she often returns. For me, it's ‘the ancient wisdom of the forest’ or, alternatively, ‘the sacred heart of the forest.’ So here it is I find myself once more.


When I first began thinking about this spread, I was inspired by the first verse of J. R. R. Tolkien’s poem “Riddle of Strider.” The original plan was to include the text:


“All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”


Accordingly, I began by thinking of a symbol for each line. I chose a hare with a golden breast, a doe about to wander off, an aged rat going about his business, and a huge beech tree with deep, strong roots.



But—perhaps largely determined by the double page spread format of my art journal—I felt I needed something more, which is when the ancient-wisdom-of-the-forest theme suddenly reappeared. Perhaps I needed a guardian for the wisdom. And what better guardian than a pair of bold animals who are now largely and sadly gone from England’s forests (as are the forests themselves)—the European Forest Cat, or felis silvestris?



So, that’s the story of the spread. Or, at least part of it. The other part is that I used it to further explore working with ink. What would happen if I tried to portray something fairly complicated? Would I be able to pull it off? What could I learn that might help me decide whether or not it would be a suitable medium for illustrating my next book?


The first step was to draw—in pencil—then ink the main components. I decided to create them separately, then us them as collage elements to arrange them rather than draw a completely composed piece from the beginning. I inked the pieces on drawing paper which is whiter than the paper of my art journal, and I liked the inconsistency which that would bring, as some of the art journal paper would show between the elements.


I used Staedtler Pigment Liner pens. These pens have waterproof, indelible ink which is just want I wanted as I would use watercolor or transparent fluid acrylic - both water-based media - over the ink. As it turned out, I found I needed to let the ink dry longer than I thought (i.e., longer than half an hour). After creating some disappointing smudges, I determined to let the ink dry overnight before I put anything over it. As long as I followed that guideline, using fluid acrylic ink washes over the ink in this spread worked fine.



But I found that once I added color, I saw places where I needed more ink and then, in turn, once I added more ink, places I needed more color. All of which is fine and what I would expect, as anything one does to an in-process piece of art has the likelihood of revealing a need for something more.


I definitely need more practice, but all in all, I enjoyed working with the ink and and find it a medium—or, more accurately, a combination of media—which can definitely work for me. In the future though, I'd like to see my work less pastel and with more value contrast.


What about you? Do you work in ink? How do you like it?

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