Wednesday, 25 March 2020

write, scribble, sketch, glue...start a journal

build the spring into your notebook
a pencil and a notebook

Give a gift that endures

How are you planning these next few weeks?
If you are one of our essential workers, thank you. I hope you find time to rest and recover between shifts and I hope the rest of us are supporting you in any way we can

If, like the rest of us, you are in a splendid isolation, then I hope we might be able to offer some ideas to keep you going

Creeping Toad along with Stone and Water, the BabblingVagabonds and the Green Man Gallery in Buxton are going to start posting activities. For Creeping Toad, these will often be the things we would have made/done in sessions at Buxton Museum or in the library. We’ll take it in turns to post and between us offer activities that will cover a variety of ages, abilities and interests (we hope!)

We would love people to come back to us with the results of these activities; the triumphs, the disasters and the complete detours you went on. We can’t promise to post everything but we will share what we can and keep our creative community communicating!
Facebook: Creeping Toad or Stone and Water

A starting point: but now, why not start by giving something to someone else? I like journals. A mix of diary, sketchbook, scrapbook and scribbling pad, my journals generally make very little sense to anyone else but are important to me. Why not start your own? Or better still, take a moment to order a notebook and a lovely pen or some coloured pencils to send to someone else. Smart notebooks are good, something classy, or just different (black paper always feels like a treat until you loves your silver pen!)

Then use your journal as a personal routine: first thing, last thing, somewhen. Stop. 10 minutes will do (it will almost certainly grow)….Me being me, my journals are about the world around me: looking, listening, feeling the weather, the plants, the animals, history, dreams and wonders. We'll come back to nature journals over the next few weeks. I make no apology for this: your journal should go in a direction that works for you. Nothing big or profound needed: just stop and make marks on a page: words, sentences, emojis, drawings or a carefully dated blank page

leaf print
When I look at useful journal sites or books (a couple of links below) they talk casually about sketching and seem to produce wonderful art just like that. I don’t.

This is yours. Your book. Share if you want to. And do not be ashamed of the mess you make. Writing, or drawing, practice helps. If something doesn’t work. Try it again. Try something else…..

When I am making books in workshops (building little books is a different activity and also lots of fun: concertina, 1-page folds, al good fun, for another day maybe) we have a working list of “things I could do”
  • Write
  • Draw
  • Scribble (very useful)
  • Sketch
  • Stick (magazines!)
  • Make pockets
  • Patch (coloured, patterned paper to write on)
  • Cut windows
  • Make pop-ups
  • Add maps
  • Add fold out pages
  • Do rubbings
  • Print (remember potato printing? Or leaves,,, more printing will follow, hang onto your Styrofoam pizza bases)
  • Paint
  • Stick
  • Enjoy

we always bring too much stuff
Enough to get started?
Go for it….

....and persist. It takes time for this to get going. Journals can become a place for you to have a conversation with yourself or with the world or just to pause and reflect but sometimes that takes time.

What to choose
Personally I use softbacked sketchbooks from Ryman. (no, I don't get any product placement allowance!) If I buy spiralbound notebooks I always manage to dismantle them. You could visit Papersmiths for some lovely small notebooks and beautiful fountain pens! Mayfly notebooks are just lovely but their journals are sold out just now (so many brilliant minds sharing the same idea?)...go window shopping online for lovely notebooks for someone else. Then get one for yourself! No money? Start working on scrap paper and we'll build books in a week or two....

Ideas for journal processes….
Try these sites for ideas - there are lots out there but don't spend so long looking at other sites that you don't have time for your own notebook!

Whatever you do, no matter how beautifully or how trollish (I go for a certain boggart style myself) , your journals are your own and are wonderful for that!
Boggarts often influence my drawing and writing...untidiness accepted

Sunday, 1 March 2020

Save the Frogs Day!

Save the Frogs Day
event in Buxton
"Come, hop into the garden, Maud"
Sunday 26th April*

1.30 – 3.30

part of an international weekend of action on behalf of amphibians everywhere. Using information about fabulous frogs from around the world, draw your own giant frog or make a model pond to hang on your wall complete with tiny tadpole puppets! Or crocodiles - even though they're reptiles....
(*most events are taking place on Saturday 25th but our frogs are waking a bit later....) 

Find us: we'll be at Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, Terrace Rd, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 6DA. follow the link for more information and directions
Details: this event is free (any donations will be hopped over to Save the Frogs)
Materials and vaguely artistic direction supplied
Tickets: no booking or tickets needed, just drop by and join in. Give yourself at least 30 minutes to make or draw something
Leptopelis, Malawi

From purple frogs to palm frogs, tinker frogs to sharp-snouted day frogs, ghost frogs, painted frogs, redbelly egg frogs, frogs are in danger across the world (not to mention toads, newts, salamanders and caecilians). Amphibians are important. They are the hunters of the slugs who eat your lettuces and the beetles that nibble your lilies. Their tadpoles feed just about everything else in the ponds where they live. More than that, they are delicate barometers of the state of an ecosystem: amphibian populations respond to water quality, air quality, even soil pollutions quickly and the health of their populations can be a call for help

Save the Frogs is an international campaign promoting greater understanding of amphibians. With projects ranging from Ghana to Nepal to Argentina, their work spreads a deeper appreciation of these wonderful creatures.
Save the Frogs Day in UK sets out to raise awareness of our resident amphibians and the delights they offer and the threats they face and give visitors to an event the chance to find out a bit more about some of the fascinating amphibians in other part so the world….

Common Frog on North Uist
At our Save the Frogs Day event in Buxton, we’ll have information about some of those strangely exotic amphibians from around the world (how can you not be fascinated by a Togo Slippery Frog or a Bornean Flat-headed Frog?), someone to talk to (mostly me: as Creeping Toad I am also a zoologist, a trustee for Froglife and a bit of an amphibian obsessive) and things to make and do: inspired by a frog you might like to draw one as big as you are. Or exercise your construction skills and make a pond of folded card and glue, with recycled plastic water ad plants and maybe the questing toes of a paddling child dipping into the “water” from above…..

This event is also part of the Celebration:Earth! project: encouraging people to stop, feel, think and reflect about the world around them: what have you done that you are proud of to help the Earth, what would you like to do next? Who could help you do that?

Useful links:

main painting: c/o the wonderful Ruth Evans
Small Leptopelis: me from about 30 years ago!
North Uist frog: me
Toad's eye: Kenny Taylor
Water lilies: me 

Wednesday, 5 February 2020


there is delight in everyday places.....
Taking time to pause: to reflect upon the world we live as part of, the world we are all working in different ways to protect and cherish. Celebration:Earth! sets out to invite people, to challenge groups, to reflect, share, celebrate their activity and to find new partners in environment, community creative and faith groups for the next steps they would like to take

From flowers for butterflies to solar panels, from a new pond to toad crossings, from a campaign to declare a climate emergency to convincing your neighbours to compost….

Is there an environmental success you would share?

From an atheist’s conviction, to an agnostic’s interest, a priest’s belief to a poet’s reflection

Is there a point of inspiration you act from?

Sunrise shining white through the mist that fills the dales, moonshine through clouds. Snowdrops. *

Is there a wonder that gives you strength?

Celebration:Earth! is a project based on hope and optimism. In these times of environmental despair and political melodrama, this project feels it is really important to remind ourselves of wonder. The anger and desperation that often marks environmental action might be great for immediate activity but to be lasting, sustainable and to empower its actions, we feel that environmental determination needs to come from a place of wonder and joy. We need to remind ourselves that this world is a wonderful place. Despite everything we are doing, despite the mess, it is still full of beauty and determination and life that just will not stop, and that can be what keeps us going

Supported by the Worldwide Fund for Nature, UK, and drawing together groups from across society, CE! is building a new network of partnerships of information and support, encouraging environment, community, art and faith groups to all find ways of working together. The “faith” element is important as when we draw on religious institutions or movements or eclectic anarchist networks, we can work with people whose motivations run deep, who can share a different set of perspectives from some of the familiar environmental ones, who care for spaces from small graveyards to tracts of open space and who are often already engaged in powerful environmental missions that the rest of us just don’t hear about

That’s what CE! comes down to: listening to each other: finding ways for groups to meet, to share successes and to find information or partners who might help them take their next steps, reach their next goals
village ponds hold treasures and wodners.....

Over the next few months we are finding people, challenging groups and inviting anyone to join in, building to a weekend gathering at St Albans Cathedral 18 – 20 September 2020 (see the website) but more than that, to connect, to share successes, to remind ourselves that there are good things happening. There is more action that is needed but there aren’t instant solutions and when we are shouting “we need X00 trees” we tend to miss the Y00 that are already being planted…..So how about stopping shouting and starting sharing.

and how can we not marvel at toads...
I am here as an artist – where art can be the vehicle that tells stories and that gives groups and individuals ways of expressing and sharing feelings
– as a pagan, because for me life in all its forms is sacred and I will (try to) work with anyone who comes to us open handed a
and I am here an environmentalist who can’t separate faith from science from creativity….

Within CE!, I am coordinating arts and education development and always looking for projects to share, people to talk to, connections to make

So how about it….
  • Join the growing network
  • Join us at St Albans (you’ll need to register)
  • Tell us what you are up to
  • Or just declare your own Earth Celebration event and find a way of sharing what you are doing with other people….they might come and help you or maybe you will inspire them to go and do something for themselves

determination in short grass

I don’t really care if people say this is too idealist to work (a recent criticism). We will only change the world for the better if we find ways of working together, if we learn to live and to think and to feel ecologically (experience the world as networks of connectedness) and I believe we need to remember that we live in a world that is worthy of celebration……

Rant over!

Visit the Celebration:Earth! website, or our facebook page (CelebrationEarth), or follow us on twitter (CelebrationEarth!)

Or keep an eye on things here…the CE! blog should be active soon as well


* I chose moments from this morning
 Photos: by me other than Toad's Eye: Kenny Taylor, and small toad in grass - Ian MacLellan - with thanks!

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Remembering David Bellamy


David Bellamy

1933 - 2019

photo by Alan Warren

view from Ngara Mountain
It feels like a long time ago, 1986, and I was the new Warden living in a damp old farmhouse in Low Barns Nature Reserve, Witton-le-Wear, County Durham. Not long back from living in Malawi and slightly out of everything, it was good to make a new friend

Just up the river a bit, lived the Durham Wildlife Trust's Trust’s then President*, who, every so often would pop down for a chat and to see how I was doing. Those informal conversations started a friendship that lasted the rest of David’s life. Sometimes the family would come too, a family of so many shapes, sizes and starting points that to this day I am still not sure that I remember everyone. They were a family that simply absorbed people growing, gathering, thriving.

I think there can be few naturalists of my generation who did not know of David Bellamy and his enthusiasm, that larger than life cheeriness that stomped its way across TV screens and inspired so many of us. To meet him as an individual was lovely: to find the enthusiasm was not at all feigned, that the field botanist lived behind the TV personality and revelled in the moss and the wet. 

David celebrated the accessible wild: he enjoyed the everyday places and the wet, boggy and squelchy. His excitement did not need the most beautiful shot, or rarest species, or most difficult to reach places. It just needed somewhere, anywhere. It just needed to be among growing things

We had a friendship that started there on the banks of the Wear but that lasted until David’s death last year. We didn’t see each other often but kept in touch and that cheery enthusiasm was like an ever present smile on the horizon.

A pair of thwarted dancers, we shared many experiences and many delights (moss, frogs, loud laughter, cheerful people, commitment). We disagreed, too. David’s stance on the human role in climate change lost him many friends, but the friendship endured and I always trusted that he acted from the strongest personal integrity. Being arrested in 1983 during protests over the building of the Franklin River Dam in Tasmania was always a good example and a moment he was proud of. He had paid his own way there and again this mattered. He had not been flown out as some celebrity photo-op but had gone because it a cause that mattered, something that should be done. There was always a readiness to act, to do what felt right, to say what he felt was right even if no-one else agreed.

That is what lasts and what I will remember: cheerfulness, enthusiasm and passion, a joy in the world and a readiness to act…

 Photos: all by myself apart from the picture of David himself by Allan Warren on Wiki Commons

·      Not sure if that was the right title….patron maybe?

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Lost dreams

Roe deer orbit
  Lost Dreams 

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery,

Thursday 9th Jan 2020

I have a bit of thing for bones – more than fossils, ancient bones still remember the lives that once filled them. This piece came out of sitting looking at the bones in Buxton Museum and pondering….
Cave Bear skull, Buxton Museum
This is bone,

Not fossil,

Not stone,

But honest-to-goodness,

Ten thousand year old,


A branch, a bough,

A giant’s club,

A woolly rhinoceros thigh.

There was marrow inside once,

Bony jelly,

A carnivore’s feast,

The pulse of life,

Wrapped in muscle and sinew and skin.

This skull,

The bone bowl of an ancient brain.

These were teeth that bit,

Jaws that gripped,

Eyes that saw,

And ears that heard.

The folded scrolls of these nostrils

Tasted a thousand scents,

Traced a thousand stories.

There is a richness of life beneath my hands,

A legacy of lost dreams.

Growing, waking,

Broad head, strong jaws,

Round ears twitch.

My hand on the hairy hump

Of a bear’s shoulders,

A dark mass heaving into movement.

Forest pools, deep and dark and still,

Eyes opening,

And I sinking,

So deep I cannot feel

Which eyes are mine

And which the bear’s...

Fox:whose bones would inspire you?

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Creativity with Christmas cards

A box, a scene, a Midwinter moment?

recycling Christmas cards

inappropriately summery scene?

Having a bit of a fidget?
Nothing to do?
And it’s raining again?


Make a little winter a scene to hang on a tree, a branch, a hook on the walll to stand on a shelf, or make a box to put that extra special present (or maybe just the key that makes it go) in

Why not dig out last year’s Christmas cards from the bundle at the bottom of the cupboard, or stealthily purloin one of this year’s, or the birthday cards you don’t quite want to throw out, or use a cereal packet (good card for making and folding, just maybe not as exciting in images as cards) and make a lovely little box?
You will need: a card or two, sharp scissors, a ruler, pencils or pens, glue (PVA is good here) and glue spreader, stapler, bradawl (or something for making holes - a pair of compasses would work), thin string

1. Cut the card in half along the fold - keep the “plain” half, you will need it later
Stage 1

2. Using the picture half of the card, on the plain side, draw a margin maybe 2 cm from each edge of the card

Stage 2: drawing margins

3. Where the lines cross at the corners, carefully cut along one of those lines to the point where the lines meet
Stage 3, cutting into corners

4. This card usually folds quite sharply, so now (use the ruler for a straight edge if you want to) fold up along each of those lines and where you have cut in, fold the short bit to make a corner
Stage 4: folding

Stage 6: glueing corners


5. Before glueing it all together, decide: if you are making a scene, keep the picture on the inside of the box. If you are making a box: you might want the picture inside or on the outside (you could always line the inside with some spare wrapping paper, or make a bigger box to become a lid.). Reverse the folding if you want to change the position of the picture

6. Making sure the sides of your box are sharply upright, glue the corner tabs onto the next side. A staple will hold it all in place. If the outside is too plain, you could colour it in or add some coloured tape. Or sprinkle it with glitter!

Stage 7: tab

Stage 7: an owl!

7. While the glue dries, prepare the scene to go in the box. Using the other piece of card (from stage 1 above), you could make a little tab to fix a figure to (we used some “embellishments” bought cheaply in a local craft shop), or you could draw your own character. Fix by glueing the tabs into the main scene. Again a staple might help. You might want to colour the tab so it fits into the background of the scenes. Some extra glitter might help again.

Finished scene

8. Use a bradawl or compasses to make a couple of holes (aim for places about 1/3 and 2/3 along the top side), thread a piece of glittery string or ribbon through, know it and hang your scene.

 Experiment with papers, colours, tapes, sequins.

Try different places to hang your scenes: a picture hook on the wall? from your ears? on your fingers (and create a fabulous dance around them)? a snowman’s nose?
box with picture on outside

Sunday, 15 December 2019


This blade of a beak celebration of ravens 

Raven, c/o Chris Foote
I like corvids. Big, black and thoughtful; smaller greyer and jesters or flamboyantly jay-bright and magpie striped, they are birds to command attention. They scare some people, annoy others and wake ire in still more but as a family they are a success story. And they have rook-walked into our stories across countries and centuries. They tend to turn up regularly in both the traditional stories I tell or the new poems and stories I write

Ravens, especially, are often sitting there, looking over the shoulders of my imagination and making “helpful” suggestions as I write (even more distracting when they do that when I am ‘telling!).  This is for them…


A blade of a beak
To slice flesh from bone
And shave hair from skin,
To free from blood from body
And hope from hearts.
A bright, black bead of an eye
To see now, and then, and maybe.

A dark, silent flight,
A snow fall of crows,
A blizzard for the dying,
To lift soul from pain
And into always.

Watching life’s beginning
And roisterous ending,
Ravenboy shakes a cloak of
Midnight feathers into wings, while
Ravengirl combs hair into quills
And Huginn and Muninn
Fly back to the claw-worn shoulders
Of the All-father’s throne.

And down in the woods,
On the rocks,
By the sea,
A woman,
All glamour and seduction and threat,
Rattles the bones in a bag
Of her own crowskin
And sings the hero to his fate.

The pictures used here are from members of the Facebook group “For the love of crows”
Many thanks to both Chris Foote (portrait) and Faye McNiven (flight). The raven strip pic is my own and is from Orkney
Ravens, c/o Faye McNiven