Saturday, August 4, 2012

Sample the Local Magic

3-d digital reconstruction of the Moon Rise over the Octagon Mounds in my own city.  A little piece of pure magic in central Ohio.

A little over a month ago, the second part of the phenomenal round-table discussion with the Frouds, Rex Van Ryn, and Howard Gayton was published on the 'John Barleycorn Must Die' page.  Both parts of this discussion were chock-full of phenomenal and thought-provoking conversation.  Part 2 included a discussion of the madness of creation that inspired Terri Windling to start a thread of blog posts discussing the subject.  However, it was a different part of the same interview that really caught my attention.  In response to a question about landscape inspiring his art, Brian Froud says:

I have no imagination! Everything that I do is real, it’s based on reality. Years and years ago, when I first went to America and I was Guest of Honour at a World Fantasy Convention, I had been looking at American fantasy art, and before I arrived, I was convinced there wasn’t a single tree in America. But when I got to San Fransisco, the first thing that I saw was this wonderful tree! So I asked these young American artists, what are you doing, why are you not looking at your own landscape? You’re just looking at other people’s art, which has no relation to your own life. Look at where you are! Look at the land, and it will inform what you do. So when I first came here to Dartmoor, it was the same for me as it was for Alan. It really impacted my art. I looked at these rocks and these trees, and they were just so magnificent. I wasn’t then, and am still not, interested in traditional landscape painting though. I had an emotional response to the landscape, and it always seemed to involve some sense of spirit, and soul, and the land's inner life. I’ve always wanted to know what it is like on the inside of it all. It’s all about the interiors; everything I do is about an interior thing. 

I started thinking about the tendency among lovers of fantasy and imagination to long for another world.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with imagining other worlds.  However, how often do I really take the time to see the magic in my own?  When I draw a tree, I draw a fantasy of a tree in a fantasy landscape.  And yet as I've previously mentioned in my Windling Trees post, I have an absolutely mythic and fantastic Hawthorn tree in my own back yard!  The entire world around you, around where you live, is filled with such potential for wonder and stories.  

Here's what you need to do: pretend you're a child.  I know I've said this before, but it's just so very important.  Remember when you used to visit your Grandma's house as a little girl (or boy)?  You would run out to the yard and climb down into the thin line of shrubbery that divided her property from her back neighbor, and you would hide little secret objects in there, because it was your magical place.  Or a pile of dirt in the abandoned lot beside her house became a fort-hill or a burial mound.  A child's imagination is intrinsically linked with 'place', and the stories we told ourselves about the every-day places we would visit infused them with wonder. 

So have a child draw you a map of your home...inside and/or out.  Ask them to tell you all the magical areas you might have missed.  Is that hole in the trunk of your tree a portal to faerie?  Do sprites live behind the latticework under your back deck? 

But don't just rely on a child to tell you the story of your environment: discover it for yourself.  Walk through your yard and imagine what each stone could have hidden in the ground underneath it.  Walk down your city street and imagine what sort of ogres could be living above the pizza shop across the street.  And most importantly, when you talk about and think about your home and your environment, think of it in those terms.  For instance, in my house, we have to drive through Loch Jutlew (an area of the corner of our street that floods whenever it rains), say hello to the fawn children (two baby deer who have decided our neighborhood is home) and pass the Faerie tree (that Hawthorn) to come home to Catty-Corner Cottage.  It may seem a bit silly, but I think you'll find that it enhances your opinion of everything around you and makes your daily grind just that more magical.

Picture courtesy the Realm of Froud blog, doll by Wendy Froud

In addition, if you're handy with the brush or pencil, or even if you aren't, you should try to draw the spirits of your home's environment.  I hope to do an artwork very soon (once Mercury Retrograde is over) of the tree spirit in the Hawthorn.  But even if you don't have a tree you love in your yard, you could close your eyes and try to see the other spirits in your home.  Do you love to cook?  Perhaps you have a cinnamon sprite in your kitchen.  Avid car enthusiast?  A gas guzzler gnome may lurk in your garage.  Draw your best rendition of them, and put the art up on your walls as an acknowledgement both for you and for them.  This is the epitome of the situation where intention is more important than artistic talent.  The point is to acknowledge, not to create a work worthy of the National Gallery.  In our old apartment we had an enormous set of windchimes on our tiny patio right by the sliding glass door.  I painted a fairy named Meerla holding chimes and dancing by the door.  When the wind blew and the chimes made sound, we knew it was Meerla's mischief.
It may be tempting to grumblingly say 'well it's easy for those of you who live in the wild moors of Devon to see magic in the hedgerows and ancient trees'... but if you don't establish the habit of seeing magic around you every day, it won't matter if you're in Tír na nÓg or a trash still won't be able to find it.  It is the intention, and the daily practice that makes our friends in Chagford so artistically inspiring and inspired.  You can see it too.  All you have to do is look around you.
Picture courtesy the Realm of Froud blog, doll by Wendy Froud


  1. Wonderful, wonderful post, Grace...

  2. Love it! The next town over from me has an old, feral apple orchard that I really need to try and photograph with my new camera (the old one just could not capture it quite right). Most of the orchards around here are in nice, neat rows, with reasonably tended grass. This one is small, haphazardly planted, and the grass is chest high. It usually gets mown around harvest time, but for most of the year it gets left to do it's thing, and as such the trees are distinctly Their Own in a way that the other, more docile and tamed ones aren't.

  3. I love this so much, Grace. ♥ I was just watching the moon last night and thinking about feeling magic, and this fits so perfectly with that.

    Thank you!


  4. Thank you Mags!! <3

    Melissa, if you end up taking that picture, please do share it? I would love to see this wild apple orchard. You are familiar, I hope, with Charles de Lint's Apple Tree Man, from A Circle of Cats illus by Charles Vess?

    1. I am! I fell in love with de Lint's work mmmph years ago in high school. :)

      I'm planning on going by the orchard this weekend, and will definitely remember my camera!

  5. Shveta, I'm so glad it was timely for you! :)

  6. Something I'm always saying to alot of the young people I know is, "The world, the UNIVERSE is putting on a wonderful show every single day. For FREE. All you have to do is left up your eyes, unplug your ears, put away your various electronic gadgets, and PAY---ATTENTION!"

    So thank you for this post, Grace. May at least some of them see it and PAY---ATTENTION!

  7. I only hope that can be true!! SO true about the electronic devices.

  8. I went by the feral orchard today...

  9. Oh I am so thankful my friend Isabeau discovered your magical site and shared the secret of it with me! :) I live in the woods and have so many magical places to go out and discover with fresh eyes! Thanks for reminding my inner child it was time to wake up from her nap and go play!

  10. Wonderful post. Magic is where we are: when we understand that, the yard looks a lot different.


  11. Melissa, oh I love them!! They all have such personalities don't they? And I just want to lay down in the middle of that grass and fall asleep...and perhaps not wake up for 100 years? :)

    Laurie, welcome!! I hope you enjoy all the posts on here!

    Malcolm, that's it precisely! :)

  12. Thank you for such a lovely post. It was a great reminder to really *look* at what's around us.