Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Drawing Process: Pastels, Pencils & Papers

A picture is a poem without words...
- Horace

I have a great appreciation for the arts, not so much 'Modern Art', but the classics. I simply can't appreciate the majority of modern art, how can one appreciate a plain blue canvas with a red square slightly off centre? For me, the art of Sir John William Waterhouse, Monet, Turner, Michelangelo, Lord Leighton, Millais & Degas come to mind (to name only a few); I can certainly sit in front of their work and think I'm some place me, artwork is like a good book, you should be able to loose yourself, stepping over that invisible line of reality & fantasy; it should move you emotionally...

From an early age, I have loved to draw and more recently illustrated Georgiana: Pemberley to Waterloo for my dear friend Anna Elliott and have sold a pastel work or two for people who fell in love with my wolves.

The drawing process for me is firstly deciding on what to draw and what medium I wish to use then I set about sketching the outline, followed by the detail. If I'm working in graphite, it's a simple process of ensuring the shadows are correct and the expression of the subject matter is just right, if I'm working in pastel, then it's a long process of adding layer upon layer, adding the detail in, again, the eyes in my wolves are particularly important to me; they're my focal point, the part of my artwork you are drawn to and make it seemingly come alive...

Below are some of my completed pastel works all centred around the Timber Wolf, unfortunately they are all framed & hanging in my parents house which explains the glare off the glass:

This is an unframed study of a Wolf cub and below that, a large (100 x 40cm) pastel artwork I am currently working on for my son James to hang in his bedroom:

The following drawings are all in pencil/graphite of varying softness, they include studies of my son James, drawings from Georgiana: From Pemberley to Waterloo and also a few others:

Drawing for me is a means of escape - I simply love being able to pick up a pencil and loose myself for several hours in the drawing in front of me and create something beautiful.

All the above drawings are copyright and were drawn by my hand, please discuss with me should you wish to use any. Thank you

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Book Review: The Tudor Secret by C.W. Gortner

The Tudor Secret follows Brendan Prescott, a foundling raised in the Dudley household who finds himself new at court, squire to none other than Robert Dudley. With word travelling around that King Edward VI is dying and the Lady Elizabeth walking amongst the Londoner’s, Prescott is drawn into the secrets and dangers of the Tudor court. Whilst running an errand for Robert Dudley, Prescott finds himself being dragged into a back alley, thrown in front of Master Cecil, whom he befriended on his first day at court. Thinking the worst, Prescott is shocked to learn that Master Cecil wants to hire Prescott as a spy at court, to try and discover what the Dudley family are plotting and ultimately to see the Lady Elizabeth safe. Fuelled by his own desire to learn the truth of his birth and knowing that Master Cecil has the means at his disposal to assist him to discover so, Prescott agrees.

I was drawn into Gortner’s scandalous Tudor England instantly; it was cut throat; I was so drawn into the story that I could envisage smoggy London, the fear of the people tangible and smell the urine, rotting food and dirt in the cobbled streets with the dreaded Tower of London looming above...

Most Tudor enthusiasts will know the history behind the setting of this book, for those who don't; rumour was running like wild fire around London that the death of the young King Edward VI was eminent, Northumberland plotted and successfully placed his son Guildford and the Lady Jane Grey on the throne, unfortunately Mary overthrew them and was crowned, correctly so, as rightful Queen ; Guildford and the Lady Jane paying the ultimate price for their treason. Death. Gortner manages to turn this period of history into a mystery entwined with a plausible secret, linking Prescott to the throne of England, he captures the rivalry of the Dudley boys, who you love to hate (it was nice to see Robert Dudley portrayed like his family, the need to rise above, to seize the throne. That women, could be bridled as most novels tend to portray him as the handsome romantic who would do anything for the Lady Elizabeth).

The novel is fast paced, I could have easily have read it within the day, but managed to drag it over two just so I could savour the remaining pages. I honestly didn’t want it all to end. It was refreshing to read something that blended two genres; historical fiction and mystery well and set in none other than Tudor England; one of my favoured periods in history.

I haven’t read any other novels by Gortner, but this has certainly piqued my interest and I will be sure to add his others to my increasingly large shelf of books to read! I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a good historical fiction with a scandalous mystery to boot!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Book Review: The Countess by Rebecca Johns

‘For, when perfected, is the best of animals, but when separated from law and justice he is the worst of all; since armed injustice is the more dangerous, and he is equipped at birth with arms meant to be used by intelligence and virtue, which he may use for the worst ends.
Never have these words seemed more true to me than they do now, as I sit isolated from the world’

Ferenc is distant, showing little interest in Erzsébet even after they are married, he believes their marriage was a political match by their parents and nothing deeper; that is, until he observes his wife disciplining a servant cruelly and suddenly their relationship develops depth and passion. Ferenc acknowledges that he has not only married for political reasons, but has married a beautiful women who shows the same intelligence and stomach as any man on the battlefield able to run and look after his land when he away campaigning with the King; clearly a sadist, Ferenc goes on to teach Erzsébet cruel techniques he has been shown on the battlefield for her to administer to her servants who require disciplining. 

After having children together and losing two to plague, Ferenc’s health deteriorates and he passes away, leaving Erzsébet alone without a protector; Ferenc encouraging Erzsébet to remarry as soon as possible as a wealthy widow on her own makes a tasty morsel to any noble wanting to further themselves. And with the Nadasdy’s lands being the most enviable in the land, Erzsébet will be most venerable. nfortunately with Erzsébet ‘s inclination to punish her staff and her loyal servants doing so in the same manner to maintain order in the Nadasdy household, too many  servants going into the service of the Countess seemingly go missing, providing her enemies with the perfect opportunity to set up her downfall.

I was a little disappointed with The Countess because I was expecting it to be largely set around the deeds of Erzsébet Bathory; the darker,  gothic side of Hungary’s history. When you hear someone mention Erzsébet Bathory one thinks The Blood Countess; her madness and her crimes; not her childhood and what led up to these accusations. We have snippets of her madness throughout the novel; Erzsébet revels in cruelty, observing the cruel execution of a gypsy at the hands of her father as a child and later her own increasingly cruel punishments to her servants triggered by seemingly insignificant events. Was this due to her upbringing? That nobles needed to administer such punishments in order to maintain the status quo? Or was their some underlying satisfaction of beating, humiliating and murdering innocents under her will? Rebecca Johns still manages to masterfully pull the reader into Erzsébet’s perspective, her reign of terror almost seeming justified and the disciplining of servants being normal. After all, didn’t Erzsébet Bathory run a well managed and highly productive household which made her one of the most enviable households and land in Hungary? You can’t help but feel pity for Erzsébet  and wonder whether if her upbringing and marriage to Ferenc had of been different if she would have turned out the Blood Countess that she is notoriously remembered for.  Overall, the historical picture Rebecca Johns paints of Hungary and Erzsébet’s early childhood is quite insightful and I still very much enjoyed this book; I would still happily recommend it to my friends but mention that one shouldn’t jump the gun and assume it’s a gothic portrayal of Erzsébet Bathory’s dark deeds.   
Rebecca John’s novel, The Countess, spins a dark web around Hungary’s infamous Countess Erzsébet Báthory, who was walled up for her crimes within the walls of Castle Csejthe meeting her demise in 1614. Rebecca Johns takes us through her early childhood, the daughter of a noble family, she was educated as well as any male, a quick learner, and beautiful, promised to be betrothed to Ferenc Nadasdy, a strategic marriage seeing the houses of Bathory and Nadasdy united as a powerful manoeuvre by the families for Hungary’s preservation.

Book Review: The Arrow Chest by Robert Parry

There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
The Lady of Shalott.

- 'The Lady of Shalott' by Lord Tennyson

The Arrow Chest by Robert Parry is set in London 1876 and centres around two main characters; Amos Roselli and his muse Daphne. The title subtly hints at, haunting parallels between their lives and that of the famous Tudor Queen Anne Boleyn and her assumed consort Sir Thomas Wyatt.

The book opens with Roselli having been commissioned by an Archaeologist to record their recent findings at the Chapel of Saint Peter ad Vincula at Tower Green where they have discovered an arrow chest, with what they believe hold the remains of none other than Anne Boleyn. It is here that Roselli finds himself alone, sketching away in the dark by lantern until he is later joined by a presence of the past…and so the story begins.

The mutual love shared between the two main characters is evident, although, like Daphne’s 16th Century counterpart she is tempted by a life of extravagance when introduced to one of Roselli’s new clients, an industrialist, Oliver Ramsay and within months, wed. Daphne’s new found life of luxury is but short lived, and Daphne realises what a brute her husband really is knowing only too well how easily it is for men to cast their wives aside, having already seen that Ramsay  has cast his eye elsewhere and Daphne having produced no heir.

Roselli having been commissioned by Ramsay to execute a self portrait to hang ostentatiously in his stately manor is reminiscent of Henry VIII’s famous pose, is also asked by Ramsay, to paint a likewise portrait of his wife, Daphne (enticing Roselli with the forbidden fruit). The theme of Daphne’s portrait changes from that of self portrait to that of the Greek Nymph who was pursued by Apollo (who in retrospect shows characteristics in parallel with Ramsay & Henry VIII) is shot by one of Eros’s arrows, a blunt lead arrow which dampens her desire to ever fall in love. Apollo on the other hand is hit with a gold tipped arrow, infusing lust and pursues poor Daphne. It was a stroke of genius having this legend entwined with that of the arrow chest, the books sense of history, mythology and past ghosts seems to entwine, pulling all the parts together but ultimately to the same tragic end.

This is a beautifully written novel set in Victorian England and parallelled alongside Tudor England, glimpses of which are perceived through Roselli’s fleeting encounters with spectres and dreams. It is also filled with the beauty of the Victorian artists; with Roselli’s aspiration to achieve what the Pre-Raphaelites achieved and earn a place at the Royal Academy. The novel is also filled with beautiful poetry, the haunting ‘Lady of Shalott’ read by none other than Lord Tennyson himself and shadowed by ‘My Lute Awake’ written by Sir Thomas Wyatt. The historical authenticity of the novel is engaging with the author having a beautiful sense of place, capturing both Victorian and Tudor England incorporating aspects of the attitude, lifestyle and landmarks of both periods exceptionally well. This novel was an absolute delight to read and I would recommend it to anyone who has a soft spot for Anne Boleyn, Victorian England and an appreciation of the arts.

Now cease, my lute; this is the last
Labour that thou and I shall waste,
And end that I have now begun;
Now is this song both sung and past:
My lute! Be still, for I have done.

- 'My Lute Awake' by Sir Thomas Wyatt

In which I am doing my bit for the environment: IKOU

IKOU Eco cleaning products; laundry powder, dish washing liquid & multi purpose cleaner

I have been a local in the Blue Mountains for 20 years and although ikou has been around for quite sometime, it was only recently that I faced the tourists and ventured into their flagship store in Leura. There, I spoke to one of the lovely retail assistants who recommended I try their laundry powder as my son has quite sensitive skin and I had been having trouble trying to find a laundry powder that I could use without him coming out in a rash or complaining about being itchy. Not only does the Eucalyptus Laundry Powder small good, but it cleans effectively and my son has had no skin irritations what so ever, it is now one of my staple cleaning products. I also recently tried their dish washing liquid and their multi purpose cleaning, both of which I will continue to use.

Ikou believe in a Greener Australia, none of their products are tested on animals and everything is Eco friendly and their beautifully scented candles are 10% naturally produced.

I have tried several of their products including their heavenly Organic Italian Orange & Jojoba Body Buff which I swear by, it's THE best body scrub which leaves my skin feeling soft and smelling delicious! Their tea light candles with accompanying Himalayan Salt Crystal Candle Lamp are just beautiful, they  give off the loveliest glow when lit. They also have a great organic tea range and being a self confessed English tea addict, I am now a Green tea (Zen) convert and I have found it difficult to drink anything bar the delicious concoction at the moment.

Ikou also run a day spa in Leura and I had the honour of enjoying a de-stress hot stone massage a few weeks ago, compliments of the lovely ikou owners Paul & Naomi having won a $500 voucher. What can I say? Not only is the soft green decor of the spa relaxing, but massage itself combined with the beautiful oils heavenly, the hot stones are my favourite massage therapy and the ikou day spa did not disappoint.

So if you're looking to try some Eco friendly cleaners or spoil yourself with one of ikou's many massage treatments or rituals I couldn't recommend their products enough.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Book Review: The Dark Enquiry; Lady Julia Grey Book 5

Absence from those we love is self from self - a deadly banishment.
- Shakespeare

Although happily married and content with their domestic lives, Lady Julia & Brisbane start getting edgy whilst they await for an investigative opportunity to open. Lady Julia seemingly happy that Brisbane has ensured her that she will play the role of partner as long as she grasps the menial tasks set out for her (including picking locks) and follow his orders to the T, suspects that her husband isn’t being entirely honest when he persists that he has nothing ‘of interest’ on the books. So it comes as no surprise when Lady Julia seeks to prove her own worth, sensing her husband’s dishonesty setting out in pursuit of a ghost investigation, following her husband only to discover that he is secretly meeting with her brother Bellmont who is seemingly linked to the mysterious Spirit Club where the likes of high ranking officials (all men nonetheless) meet to connect to the dead.

Disguised as a gentleman, Lady Julia manages to talk herself into admittance into the club, after nothing out of the ordinary occurs during the séance; Lady Julia begins to wonder what all the fuss is about until she is dragged from behind into a secret passage by none other than her beloved Brisbane. After duelling with his wife for attending the club, Brisbane explains that he needs to search Madame Seraphine’s boudoir to look for some letters; after a failed attempt at locating her brother’s letters, they retrieve back into the secret passage, only to witness Madame Seraphine’s murder first hand.

The book weaves around Lady Julia & Brisbane, unlikely partners in crime unravelling the mysteries of the Spirit Club, the murder of Madame Seraphine and trying to prove Bellmont’s innocence after a brief romantic liaison with the murdered spiritualist. Unbeknownst to Lady Julia at the time, the Spirit Club is a place where spies meet in order to receive coded messages to pass on to their respective parties, all cleverly orchestrated through Madame Seraphine and her messages from the dead, there is seemingly much more at stake involving the British Royal Crown and Germany who are trying to overthrown the British government.

This book delves deeper into the relationship between Lady Julia and Brisbane and reinforces the depth of their love for one another. Although opposites when it comes to tactics and approach (when pursuing lines of enquiry) an equilibrium is reached, or at least some form of mutual understanding, but it isn’t until the very last chapters of the book that Lady Julia understands why Brisbane constantly fears loosing her on a case, that above all else, she is the most important thing to him in the world, which is why he continues to insist that she doesn’t get too involved in his cases.

I have been patiently awaiting this book, since discovering the series through The Burton Book Review (and silently kicking myself for having not discovered it much earlier) and was not at all disappointed. Deanna Raybourn’s The Dark Enquiry lived up to all my expectations. Not only is it a tale filled with espionage and surprise, we revisit old friends from previous books who make up the series some of which include; the Gypsies, Portia and the baby, Plum, Lady Julia’s hot-headed father and his disobedient hermit, with the addition of some new characters whom I’m sure will make an appearance in future novels, in particular, the allusive Mr Morgan. Like all the previous novels, I thoroughly enjoyed each and every page, it was every bit as good as it’s predecessors and I must admit, I am saddened thinking about how long there may be to wait for another Lady Julia Grey novel…(they really are THAT good) and I honestly couldn’t read it quick enough, I also enjoyed the few moments of ‘oh, didn’t see that one coming’ and of coarse, after falling in love with Grim in the earlier novels, very much enjoyed the addition of the sweet little dormouse… to get the full enjoyment out of this novel, you really do need to have read the whole series or else you won’t fully understand the characters, all of which, I highly recommend.

Book Review: Silent on the Moor; Lady Julia Grey Book 3

“To be, or not to be, that is the question’’
- Hamlet

Silent on the Moor is Deanna Raybourn’s third instalment in the Lady Julia Grey Chronicles and by far, my favourite thus far. Deanna pulls us onto the ghostly Yorkshire Moors where none other than Nicholas Brisbane has purchased an old run down Manor once owned by the Allenby’s who recently fell into disrepair after the death of their spoilt & gambling son, leaving the estate to his mother & sisters who are without the resources to keep it standing.

Enter Lady Julia Grey, who has travelled from London with her sister Portia and brother Valerius to discover whether her feelings for Nicholas Brisbane are reciprocated, resigned to the fact that if they’re not, she will simply return to London and forget Nicholas Brisbane forever.

This novel is a little darker than the first two novels although I dare say I imagine it was the scene Deanna intended to create; a rundown Manor swathed in Mist, isolated out on the Moors... Even the mention of the ruins and graveyard on the property add to the eerie atmosphere the novel creates. Unlike the previous novels, there is more of a focus on Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane so I felt some of the background characters could have been developed a little further. Having said that, everything comes together very nicely in the end and I felt completely satisfied.

This novel again is brilliantly Victorian! I just love the little historical tit bits about Victorian London, their ‘very proper' ways of thinking (particularly when it comes to women) and the fashion. And this wouldn’t be a Lady Julia Grey novel without the murder & mystery, throw in a few Egyptian artefact's (including two mummified twin babies), a few Gypsies,  and an inevitable romance, and you have the perfect Sherlock Holmes a la Lady Julia Grey style.
I look forward to loosing myself in the next Lady Julia Grey novel...

Book Review: Silent in the Sanctuary; Lady Julia Grey Book 2

Silent in the Sanctuary is Book Two in the Lady Julia Chronicles and finds Lady Julia enjoying Italy with her brothers, Plum & Lysander as well as their handsome Italian friend Alessandro. Lady Julia’s recuperation is short lived as their father calls them home to Bellmont Abbey, a former monastery for Christmas. Bumping into her beloved sister Portia upon disembarking she discovers that her father has not only invited all the family home for the festive season, but also a few friends, including Nicholas Brisbane whom introduces Julia to his fiancé.

The book includes a mixed party of characters who are all as charming & unique as one another including a jewel thief, an eccentric aunt (who has the time of her life with the Gypsies), her poor cousins, and a few resident ghosts and we mustn’t forget Grim the talking Raven (who I have quite a fondness for), who rather enjoys his sweeties. Full of secret passages, poisoning, stolen family jewels and a rather large, costly Royal diamond, this sequel has it all including a gruesome murder taking place in the inner sanctuary with none other than a candlestick!

I enjoyed the first book in this series immensely so felt quite anxious diving into the sequel as one often wonders whether it can live up to the same greatness as the first, but it did. For me, this series invokes an air of Victorian glamour with a splash of Sherlock Holmes, but in this case, our Sherlock Holmes is the Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane is the side kick Watson (although a darker, rasher version). Albeit reluctant partners in crime, the Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane make an excellent team and I enjoy their constant sparring. This series has it all, an unconventional heroine; a dark handsome hero battling with his own demons, humour, a compelling storyline combined with Victorian creepiness, mystery & madness…I simply can not wait to begin reading Book Three and can not believe that I have left this series sitting in my mountain of to be read for so long.

In which I must rave: Etsy

My wonderful friend Sarah introduced me to the world of Etsy and I can't possibly thank her enough; I have found so many beautiful items; from hand knitted baby blankets and booties to unique one of a kind jewellery pieces. I think it's fantastic having a centralised place for like artisans to advertise and sell their works, it's wonderful being able to purchase and personalise a gift that's a little extra special.

A few of my favourite Etsy shops include:

Peaces of Indigo by the beautiful Dawanna Young who creates stunning one of a kind as well as customised jewellery. She customised a beautiful gold pendant with my two son's names engraved on the back and I have purchased several rings. She uses recycled metal (silver & 22ct gold) and the stones are all Fair Trade, each ring band stamped in her own unique embossing and hidden inscription reminiscent of Medieval poesy rings; I think her work is simply beautiful and each purchase arrives lovingly wrapped, tied with the most divine velvet ribbon!

(Left to Right) Blue Sapphire, Pink Sapphire, Garnet & Yellow Sapphire

Customised necklace (quite small) with Tudor Rose design

Another of my favourite Etsy shops is Tafferty Designs; the lovely Judith created my gorgeous baby blanket which now graces her advertisement on Etsy (thank you Judith). All her work is hand
knit/crocheted and she is only too happy to customise or create something is you do not see it in her shop.

There are honestly too many good Etsy shops to rave about; other favourites include steelgoddess who I continue to purchase stationary from, Tartx who creates various unique pieces including (my personal favourite) a scarf with a screen print of Anne Boleyn, Brookish (for Jane Austen fans) create lovely (and comfortable) tee shirts, sweats and mugs; Lastly Lapaperie who I've only recently discovered as I am very much coveting her large leather bound sketch book to hold all my Georgiana drawings; a luxury perhaps, but for my drawings, a worthwhile one *wink*

In which I have neglected...

Not all who wonder are lost...

Where did 2011 go?

For me, the last nine months seem to have disappeared & now I find myself in 2012 with an already huge agenda. I welcomed my beautiful son, Oliver into the world on the 29th November (who is now 11 weeks old and is just starting to smile and giggle which is terribly cute!), I also had the enormous honour of being asked to illustrate the sequel to Anna Elliott's Georgiana Darcy's Diary, so spent several months lost in Georgiana's world.

All excuses aside, I will endeavour to spend more time blogging and sharing snippets of what is my life at the moment; children, animals, illustrating and perhaps even a move to London!

Oliver Quincy, 2 days old (2.5Kgs)

Book Review: Sunrise of Avalon by Anna Elliott

Her raven locks caught on the wind.
She calls the magic from her heart
It runs through her fingers,
Like sand, like time.

- Sunrise of Avalon

Sunrise of Avalon picks straight back up from where Dark Moon of Avalon ended; Briton on the verge of an inevitable war with the Saxons and Isolde pregnant with Trystan’s child. Isolde spends her days tending to the sick & wounded, glimpsing what may or will be in the waters through use of The Sight, leaving herself in a state of constant anxiety fearing for her beloved’s life. Trystan, recently having set out on another quest in order to rescue his friend Fidach from the bloody paws of Octa the Bloody.
Trystan, has always held himself responsible for any ill or death that befalls any of his men and insists to his closest comrades that he is not worthy of Isolde’s love, little does he know that Isolde carries his child and that they are ultimately, each others perfect half. After all they have been through and their personal sacrifices for the greater glory of Briton and her people; the new dawn shines down upon them, banishing the darkness leaving Trystan & Isolde united.

The Legend of Isolde & Trystan is legendary and I’m happy that Anna chose to steer away from the traditional tragic ending to that of the earlier Welsh version, a much happier ending where the lovers remain united. An ending which I had been secretly hoping for all along as I had become quite emotionally attached to the characters and believed they deserved the ending Anna bestowed upon them (I would have settled for nothing less).

Anna is one of those amazing author’s who invoke a sense of place within her novels, you feel as though you’re able to draw back the veil, standing like a wraith watching the story unfold before your eyes, you smell the herbs, the sweat & anxiety of battle, hear the cries of the injured and feel the bond of eternal love between Trystan and Isolde. This had to be my favourite of the three novels, not because it was written any better than the previous two but because it tied the story up with a neat bow; it quenched my thirst for Arthurian legend but at the same time, satisfied my longing for a happily ever after.
The conclusion to a wonderful love story made me laugh and cry and I have no doubt that it will remain forever one of my all time favourite Arthurian series and books read to date. I couldn’t possibly recommend it more, if you love Arthurian Legend, Fantasy and a well researched & written novel, then go no further, for you will not be at all disappointed!

Review copy gifted by the author, Thank you Anna, you know how much it meant to me x