“the earth the colour of a hare” Picture Six

Picture six

This picture in my series, “the earth the colour of a hare”, contains a lot of allusions. The impetus for the montage came primarily from reading about the early eighteenth century antiquarian and scholar, Thomas Hearne. He found out about a find of Roman coins and a tessellated pavement at “Stunsfield”, Stonesfield, in Oxfordshire, at the end of January and the beginning of February, 1712. Hearne soon walked across from Oxford northwest to Stonesfield to see the remains for himself:

“This Day at five Clock in the Morning I walk’d over to Stunsfield, 8 Miles from Oxford, & return’d to Oxford in the Evening.” (Feb. 2 Sat., Vol.III, p.297)

Hearne later decided that the mosaic was Roman, and considered that the central figure was Apollo, holding some sort of dart, beside a large animal. Contemporaries held that the figure was in fact Bacchus. Hearne also believed that there had been a Roman camp there, and that the pavement was from the home of a Roman officer; the Roman road of Akeman Street is nearby.

Thomas Hearne walked over from Oxford repeatedly to view the antiquity; Graham Midgley says of him: “the great walker of the first decades of the century was undoubtedly Thomas Hearne, visiting and noting monuments, inscriptions and antiquities, but not neglecting the pleasures and adventures of the road”. (University Life, p.106)

Hearne was still writing and thinking about Stonesfield years on. There were other Roman finds in the area too. In 1724, Thursday, 26 November, Hearne notes in his diary that Mr West of Balliol College told him that there had been Roman coins found and some other antiquity at Wilton, within three miles from Witney and one of Stonesfield. (Vol. VIII, p.299) By the nineteenth century, the Stonesfield mosaic had disappeared, prey to people taking away fragments as well as to the weather. In 1813, there was an excavation of a Roman villa in the vicinity, at North Leigh.


In this picture, I have used two large white scraps: one is the flint arrowhead, and the other is the classical torso. The flint may remind us of the antiquarian world of John Aubrey too. Here, it has become part of an abstract landscape. The scraps lying on top of it come from a picture of a classical mosaic, and suggest a road or a bridge. By the side stands a labourer, with a hammer, ready to do stone work, or to chip away a piece of the precious tessellated pavement.

Around the torso are subtle indications of Oxford and of Hearne. Hearne’s college was St Edmund Hall, and I have put in its blue sundial. Hearne was second librarian in the Bodleian Library, and a tiny representation of it is there too.

The face to the left is another part of the classical mosaic picture which I have cut up. On one side of the face is a leg with an Aescupulian rod, and on the other side is part of a wine bottle top and wrapper. In this way, we can satisfy ideas of Apollo (Aesculapius is his son)and of Bacchus. The grapes around the torso emphasis the wine of the Romans, and of the area!

Today, you may get excellent wine produced very close by, at Bridewell Organic Gardens at Wilcote; and, a little further south, by Bothy Vineyard, at Frilford Heath.

If you would like to support my artwork, you can find a print of this sixth picture in the series on my prints page.

Picture six

Ed C.E. Doble. Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne, Vol. III, Oxford Historical Society, 1889, p.297

Ed committee of the Oxford Historical Society. Remarks and Collections of Thomas Hearne, Vol. VIII, Oxford Historical Society, p.299

Graham Midgley. University Life in Eighteenth-Century Oxford. Yale University Press, 1996

Joseph M. Levine. The Stonesfield Pavement: Archeology in Augustan England, in Eighteenth-Century Studies , Spring, 1978, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Spring, 1978), pp. 340-361

M.V. Taylor. The Roman Tessellated Pavement at Stonesfield, Oxon. Oxoniensa, VI, 1941, pp.1-8

“the earth the colour of a hare” Picture Five

Picture five

In this picture, my thoughts were on the rural and domestic aspects of the diary of Parson James Woodforde. The large component, which I made first, has a frame of cutlery, and fruit. Inside, we have the wildlife of the countryside, or the game for the table, depending on how you look at it. This component encapsulates a part of rural life, with the suggestion of a larder.

Parson Woodforde, as the Folio Society edition of his diary makes clear, took a big interest in the pond in his garden, which supplied him with fish. Not every animal is to be eaten, however, and the owl (headless), in the bottom left, is part of the fabric of that world. It often happens that when I use scraps of people or of animals, I do not use the whole shape, and, in particular, you get a different effect by using the head, on its own, or the body, without the head. I feel that when headless, the creatures stand for more than one individual.

Both James Woodforde and John Aubrey mention dogs, domestically or for hunting. There is a man with a barrow, too. So far, I have not managed to get a female figure on my pictures. This was a very difficult picture to glue up, partly because of the minute alignments, and partly because there were several layers and textures of the pieces, with some being thick and slippery! The positioning is very close to the original in the finished version, but not identical.

Although I mentioned Parson Woodforde and his household as my leading thoughts, in fact, the world which this picture conveys, seems to me to be more widely relevant. It might also evoke Reverend Gilbert White, or even the slightly earlier time of the scholar, Thomas Hearne, or of the antiquarian, John Aubrey. But really, it could evoke something of seventeenth and eighteenth century life more widely.

I did not plan the component with the candle; I made it on the day after the first component, and when I added it, I felt that the picture was finished. The brown, cream, and yellow swoosh is the spout which I cut out from a picture of an eighteenth century coffee pot.

If you would like to support my artwork, you can find a print of this picture, and of the others in the series, on my prints page.

“the earth the colour of a hare” Picture Four

Picture four, Salisbury plain, John Aubrey, and Elias Ashmole

In this latest picture, I was thinking initally about the seventeenth century antiquarian, John Aubrey. I fortuitously had a small picture of him from somewhere, and some scraps of Stonehenge, which he investigated. Aubrey liked to record information in case it might be useful to posterity. When he was visiting the prehistoric monument in 1666, he recorded holes in the ground. In the 1920s, when Robert Newall in an investigation run by Colonel Hawley, found pits at Stonehenge, he named them after John Aubrey, and they are called the Aubrey holes. Whether or not the holes which Aubrey and Newall spotted are the same, and they may well not be, this shows the attention to landscape and the energy to record which Aubrey had.

In my picture of Aubrey, which is not exactly a cartouche, I hoped to capture something of his freshness and openness.

In fact, Elias Ashmole crept on to the picture as well. Elias Ashmole was a contemporary of John Aubrey, an intellectual with varied interests from antiquarianism to alchemy and astronomy. Today, he is very much remembered for the donations which he made, of his own and of the Tradescant collections, to the University of Oxford, which led to the founding of the Ashmolean Museum there. There is also an ox in this little image, an animal which belongs to the landscape of the time, and which is also the symbol of Oxford. John Aubrey too had studied at Oxford.

These pictures were taken before I had glued up the components, so the little pieces will have minutely different positions. This was one of the hardest pictures to glue up ever. The pieces are minute, and I also briefly lost a scrap on the carpet.

The main component is the one which I made first. A cherub sits atop a column and watches the scene. The bottom part of the landscape comes from an old eighteenth century painting, and the stones themselves have a different order to their actual one. I like the way that they appear to blend into the landscape. I was rather surprised to find the flaming colour of the halved apple bush, but I did make this component on 22 June, 2021, close to midsummer, so maybe it is not inappropriate. There is a labourer on the landscape with a tiny spade, who is perhaps digging agriculturally at the foot of the apple bush, or even aiding an antiquarian investigation.

The little beige scraps, which appear as fans or as leaves on the pillar, the frame under Ashmole’s chin, and the roundel to the left of Aubrey’s head, have all been cut from a picture of the ceiling of the divinity school, at the Bodleian Library, at the University of Oxford. The grey column itself has been taken from an old print of the Ashmolean Museum.

Please consider supporting my unique artwork, by purchasing a print.

“the earth the colour of a hare” Picture Three

Picture three in the series, more wintery.

Although I didn’t have any idea how this picture would look, when I began making it, I wanted to introduce a more wintery atmosphere into my series, “the earth the colour of a hare”, and to suggest more human effort and strain too.

I had been reading Gilbert White’s and James Woodforde’s accounts of really severe winters in the eighteenth century. White describes “the remarkable frost of January 1776″. On January 7th, there was driving snow all day, then a frost, and more snow, until “a prodigious mass overwhelmed all the works of men, drifting over the tops of the gates and filling the hollow lanes”. On 31st January, White records that “During these four nights, the cold was so penetrating that it occasioned ice in warm chambers and under beds; and in the day the wind was so keen that persons of robust constitutions could scarcely endure to face it.” (OUP, 1977 reprint, pp.277-9) The temperature which he measured was at one point zero degrees Fahrenheit, nearly -18 Celsius, although it warmed up slightly to 16.5 degrees Fahrenheit, about -8.5 Celsius!

James Woodforde felt personally afflicted by the severe cold. In his younger days, when a student at Oxford, he relished the winter weather more, and, in 1763, skated to Iffley, and, with a friend, even to Abingdon and back, along the river. When he was rector at Weston Longville, Norfolk, he notes on December 12th, 1791, that the temperature dropped as low as 42 Fahrenheit, about 5.5 degrees Celsius, in his study! (Folio Society, p.319) In the same winter, on 14th January, 1792, “The Milk in the Dairy in the Pans was one Piece of Ice and the Water above Stairs in the Basons froze in a few Minutes after being put there this Morn’ ” (F.S., p.322) On 28th December, 1798, “Frost last Night & this Morning & all the Day intense – it froze in every part of the house even in the Kitchen. Milk and Cream tho’ kept in the kitchen all froze. Meat like blocks of wood. It froze in the Kitchen even by the fire in a very few Minutes. So severe Weather I think I never felt before. Even the Meat in our Pantry all froze & also our Bread.” (F.S., p.405) Travelling by foot, carriage, or horseback was very difficult in these winters. Households and the wildlife were affected.

For this picture, I have kept a limited colour palette with winter colours.

The scraps which evoke snowy drifts and the whitened landscape with tracks or with furrows actually come from pictures of eighteenth century dress. In the early 2000s, there was an artist who exhibited in the Vale and Downland Museum, Wantage, ceramic pictures of the nearby countryside. Some of these ceramic pictures showed ploughed fields or wintery landscapes. I believe that the style of these has influenced the bottom components.

Perhaps this montage could do double duty, because Parson Woodforde also refers to “moonshine”, receiving contraband liquor which locals, sometimes the blacksmith, would drop outside his house at discreet times.

If you would like to support my art, and help me to spend more time on this literary inspired series, then please see my prints page, where you can also find this work.

The books which I have cited are,

Gilbert White. The Natural History of Selborne. OUP in The Worlds Classics series, 1937 edition, reprinted 1977.

James Woodforde. The Diary of a Country Parson. Selected by David Hughes; engravings by Ian Stephens. London: The Folio Society, 1992

“the earth the colour of a hare” Picture Two

I describe the stages of the second picture in my new project.

This picture took me a little longer than usual to make. I had a fruitless beginning on one day, and then on a following day, I completed the bottom frieze. After that, it took a while and a lot of thinking to add further components. I added the right hand component, terram, first, and but it took a couple more days of experiments, before I was satisfied with the third component, at the top of the card.

I began the picture thinking about travelling across the countryside in coaches and stopping at inns. I had recently been reading Parson James Woodforde, who does a lot of this. The horses in the picture have been detached from their carriage, separated, and their order reversed. I hope that they do suggest dashing over the countryside. Nature took over in this picture, and the frieze at the bottom conveys economically a landscape with creatures in it. The fox himself is part of the ground for the horses.

The frieze clearly owes a lot to my familiarity with medieval friezes; although, I did not seek a medieval atmosphere in this montage. The upper components suggest sky and heavenly bodies. Terram is Latin for land, earth, soil, in the accusative. This word is a piece cut out from an illustration of a manuscript which I have had for years. The bronze half disc shaped pieces are two parts of a picture of an old plate. The red, white, and green scrap is a leftover piece from when I cut out the leaves. Sometimes, I fortuitously add a leftover piece like this.

The top component was the hardest to get right, and I made several attempts with many different scraps. One image in this component is that of a hazelnut, another is a small wooden dish, and a loaf of bread sits on the top. Acorns connect the dish and the loaf.

I am at once suggesting the fruits of the land, perhaps even refreshment at inns, and suns, moons, perhaps cloud, and planets. The circular shapes and light work towards this. The texture on the loaf make it look like a landscape in minature.

If you would like to support me, you can find a print of this new montage picture here on my prints page.

“the earth the colour of a hare” Picture One

I discuss in this post the allusions in my picture and show the stages of creating it!

This montage picture is the first for my new project, “the earth the colour of a hare”. In this project, I am taking literary inspiration from seventeenth and eighteenth century writers and diarists, as the starting point for my montages. The inspiration comes out of the world of John Aubrey, Thomas Hearne, Reverend Gilbert White, Parson James Woodforde, and perhaps more.

The phrase which gives the project its title actually comes from the antiquarian, John Aubrey, 1626-1697, in The Natural History of Wiltshire, when he evocatively describes the soil between Gloucester and Chippenham (Folio Society, The Worlds of John Aubrey. Ed. Richard Barber, 1988, p.198).

When I began making my picture, I had no idea, as usual, what would emerge! In fact, I was mulling over Thomas Hearne being locked out of the Bodleian Library, where he had been second Librarian. The end result of the picture proved rather different. I made several attempts over one day, but only produced sketches, which were too literal. However, on the second day, I produced the first element, which is the main one in the centre of the card. The next morning, I made the bottom element, and felt that this finished the picture.

Here, you can see how my table looks. When I say finished, I mean that the picture is in place; however, all the little scraps which make it up are only sitting on top of each other and on the card. So this is a finished but unglued montage! Best not to have draughts or to sigh on the picture heavily…

I had a break for a couple of days, and then it was time to glue, to preserve my montage. I can’t leave it like that forever. I had taken photos of the picture, so I printed them out to help me. I cut up my paper tabs as usual and got my glue pen. You can see the size of them as they lie on A4 paper.

Sometimes, it is possible to glue all the little pieces where they sit, or mainly so. With this montage, I had to take off some of the pieces first, to glue underneath. Sometimes, that just has to be done. If you don’t do this, you can’t get enough glue under the bottom components, and likely, the pieces will all shift and slip anyway.

Glueing takes a few hours, and you have to concentrate hard. It’s looking more like itself below, hope that is right.

Finally, all done. Except the spade has accidentally moved! It comes from a separate source to what it lies on, and will need reconstructed later.

The allusions in the montage picture come out of my reading. This is rather a baroque image with ideas about gentleman scholars in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. You meet coffee, coffee houses, wine and fruit in diary entries, fruit as a common dessert or in the garden. There is a deliberate richness and luxuriance here. But the spade and chart and finger show the antiquarian scholarship. As does the tiny building in the lemon at the bottom, which is the Old Bodleian Library, Oxford!

I had to remove the scraps on the lemon when glueing, and replace them by eye at the end. The jewel on the peach in the main component is a tiny roundel from the Battersea shield.

All in all, this montage makes me think of a bright baroque world of rich landscape, and also of learning. I hope that the picture suggests an atmospheric little world, which is bigger than the sum of its parts.

If you would like a print of this artwork, you can find it on my prints page.


The way that I make my pictures is by cutting up, with scissors, printed paper images from source materials; I then combine these elements, by arranging them on card, and finally, glue them into position, so as to form a completely new picture.

I do all my artwork by hand, and never use digital manipulation.

I need lots of tempting source materials for these printed images, such as leaflets, from historical houses or museums or art galleries; catalogues; sometimes newspapers or magazines; even books. These are all paper, or very occasionally, think card. I much prefer high print quality, and this makes a big difference to the sort of image which I can create.

When I begin a picture, I look out all sorts of images from my store of those which I have previously cut out, any which take my fancy! I never begin with a plan of how the picture will look. I have no idea how it will turn out myself!

These images I lay out on the table, and I then choose a colour of card. Normally, I work on A4 scale. In practice, I often cut up further the picture elements which I have already cut out. This means that I might use a hand or eye from an image of a figure, or I might use only the body with no head. Sometimes, I cut out a piece, simply depending on colour and shape, such as part of the backdrop from an old oil painting.

I am very careful not to use too much of one source, or at least, not too much of one piece of one source. This I regard as plagiarism, and my new picture must be substantially different from my source. However, I do sometimes cut several pieces from one picture, providing that I recut or rearrange them so considerably, in combination with other pieces, that the result is quite new.

The colours of the potential sources which I have on the table in front of me are important. I can see what colour goes with what, and perhaps introduce a sympathetic colour for element into my picture from another source. Sometimes, I am lucky, and the colour of the card which I have chosen, and my images work right away; sometimes, I have to choose a new piece of card for the backing.

The coloured card which I use is A4 size, with a slight texture. I liken it to a small canvas.

When it comes to assembling the images, or, indeed, parts of images, on the card, I place them on by hand and move them around carefully, sometimes using my fingers, and very often using a pair of tweezers. I can leave the images the right way up, or turn them around too. If my arrangement doesn’t work, then nothing is lost, except my time and energy! I can take off the images and start again. This is quite normal when I am making a new picture. Sometimes, a picture can begin to emerge, but not quite cohere, so I think of this as a sketch, and I try again.

I usually get a sense of when a picture is working, by how tightly and fluently the little printed pieces cohere into a new element on the card. The colour must signify too. I often but not always create a picture which has more than one discrete element, perhaps two, or three, or four components in total. I am never tempted to fill in the blank areas of card, perhaps with a backdrop. These empty areas around the picture components seem to be important.

In the end, if I am lucky, I will have created a little world in my picture on the card, with jewel-like elements, holding together in their composition.

However, this is only part of the process! I cannot leave my paper scraps sitting on top of the A4 card forever, as they will shift or flutter away sooner or later. To finish the picture, I need to glue the little pieces into position, on the card.

The picture in the photo at the top of this post has not yet been glued. If you look carefully, you can see that some of the little printed pieces lift slightly where they sit balanced on the card. This in fact means that once they have been glued, and flattened, they will never look precisely the same.

Before I begin to glue up, I photo my picture, and print out the photo, so that in the case of mishap, I can reconstruct what I made. I don’t know if early twentieth century montagists did this. To glue, I use a glue pen with glue which is repositionable; that way, I can shift the pieces slightly if necessary. The glue will still be tacky the next day. Before I start, I also cut out plain paper tabs from sheets of A4 paper, about two to five cm long and a half to one and a half thick. These are what I use to carry the glue. I invented this way of glueing myself quite early on. I do not know exactly how early montage artists did this part of the process.

Finally, I am ready to begin. This glueing stage is a trial of nerves, because I have in front of me a complete picture which I want to preserve, but which cannot be preserved unless I glue the pieces successfully. The little pieces on the card may lie one on top of another, creating layers which need to be recreated; even if not, their position on the card is important. Also important are all the little alignments of the tiny pieces. If you look at some of my pictures, you might be able to see this.

What I generally do is to choose a piece which looks like it might not move around too much. Then, I apply the glue pen to a paper tab, loading it with what I hope is just the right amount. I hold down the picture piece which is to be glued with either the sharp or the reverse end of my tweezers in one hand, and then gently slide the gluey tab under the picture piece with the other hand. If this works, and the piece stays where it is, then I press down where on the image I have glued, with my fingers or with the reverse end of the tweezers. If the piece moves around during this process, then I need to reposition it, with the help of my photo; if it moves out of position, and so do several other pieces, then I need to reposition the whole lot!

Once I get edges of glue under some of the images, I become more heartened. It is important to try to get enough glue under the paper pieces and not tack them down only, otherwise they will shift in the long run. So, sometimes, I just lift a piece off, glue it, and then position it. With layers of pieces, there is no alternative but to lift off the top pieces before glueing underneath.

The glue is colourless when dry, but you do have to be careful not to get excess glue on the card, as it will show slightly. Also, it is important not to damage one of the paper pieces, by glueing it too much or by pulling it off and repositioning it repeatedly. You can get away with a little repositioning. Ideally, I want my pictures to be very flat and smooth; I am not aiming for a textured effect at all.

Glueing sounds painstaking, and it is, but I find that I can glue up a whole picture in a day. Then I leave the picture aside to dry for a day or two, sign the back, and finally frame the card with the glued picture on it.