This, the second of the Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper, tells the story of seventh son of a seventh son Will Stanton who discovers on his eleventh birthday, also the Winter solstice, that he is the last of the Old Ones, a select band of mystical beings charged with fending off the forces of Darkness. It’s a densely atmospheric fantasy and I haven’t come near to comprehensively capturing the story in this illustration, and would love to do more. But I liked the elemental nature of the rooks attacking the Walker, and it gave me the excuse to draw another tree.

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School Run

A few years back I did an access course at Exeter College, with a view to going on to do an art degree. The degree never happened but the access course itself was a catalyst. I'd all but abandoned any artistic notions I might have had as an arrogant and v annoying youth and was living in a dreadful hovel on the top of a draughty hill in Devon when I started to think that I should maybe start drawing stuff again. The course was a largely enjoyable, quite intense arty gauntlet which took in a bit of most visual art disciplines. My favourite remained boring old drawing, but I also got to do an awful lot of photography, using a variety of cameras exploring a wide range of styles. I had previous experience in a dark room having been taught how to develop photos as a teenager slightly mysteriously by my dad who seems to know how to do about 80% of everything. But I'm not naturally suited to the darkroom. I've got little patience with tweaking exposures and test prints and all that guff, hence the pictures I took as a kid were largely technically dreadful. Under the scrutiny of a tutor things slightly improved and although I knew I was never going to become a great photographer I could see how using photography, especially using film, could really lend itself to my drawing. The other day I was clearing out my studio, and as it happens and in the interests of transparency I did not find the photographs stashed away but it made me think about them. I found the tin can I had made as part of a book cover for William Boyd's brilliant novel Any Human Heart which set me off on a quest to find the photograph I had taken of it.

I can't find it, and having found the contact sheets, think I may have been underwhelmed by the final result but I did find lots of the other photos I took and printed. They were all taken in 2015-16 in mid Devon. Here are a few - they are technically pretty dreadful as I am far too slapdash but I think some of them are pretty nice images. I'm really not sure how interesting they would be to anyone else, I can't be nearly objective enough about them but I thought they were sort of indicative of where I was going style wise, and where I've ended up.

Steps, Fingle Bridge

Two trees in the small field

Outbuildings, which I turned into a Lino print

Dudders in the wood, Fingle Bridge

Path through the wood, Fingle Bridge

Edith and a chicken

Edith's tree

Edith's Emu

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An antiquarian treasure hunt ends in terror and madness in James’s tale of curiosity and greed. A disgraced late medieval abbot leaves a series of ecclesiastical clues which lures the unwitting but determined Reverend Justin Somerton to his treasure’s hiding place. Unfortunately he’s left it guarded by something very unpleasant indeed, (obviously - when will these scholars ever learn??). Abbot Thomas is one of James’ characters like Rant in the Tractate Middoth or Nicolas Francken in No 13 who torment the living from beyond the grave with deliberate unearthly glee, here revealing the diabolical cruelty of a mind that sets a puzzle so elegantly complex and witty with the apparent sole intention of sending the ‘successful’ treasure hunter out of his wits with horror. This illustration is based on the BBCs A Ghost Story for Christmas adaptation broadcast first in 1974, and logically it doesn’t make much sense as far as the story is concerned. But I loved the image of the seance plate so I imagined an alternative version where a vision of the twisted Abbot Thomas appears, summoned by the fraudulent medium.

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