Thursday, 14 July 2011


      "Before the world, there was only the sea, and the high, bright sky arched above it like an overturned bowl.
    "For as many years as anyone can imagine, the people in the stars looked down at the ocean’s glittering face without giving a thought to what it was, or what might lie beneath it.  They had their own concerns.  But as more time passed, as is natural, they began to grow curious.  Eventually it was the waterbug who volunteered to go exploring.  She flew down and landed on top of the water, which was beautiful, but not firm as it had appeared.  She skated in every direction but could not find a place to stop and rest, so she dived underneath.
     "She was gone for days and the star people thought she must have drowned, but she hadn’t.  When she joyfully broke the surface again she had the answer: on the bottom of the sea, there was mud.  She had brought a piece of it back with her, and she held up her sodden bit of proof to the bright light.
     "There, before the crowd of sceptical star eyes, the ball of mud began to grow, and dry up, and grow some more, and out of it came all the voices and life that now dwell on this island that is the earth.  The star people fastened it to the sky with four long grape vines so it wouldn’t be lost again."
from Homeland by Barbara Kingsolver 

I don’t know how my artwork got into the offices of Faber and Faber; I suppose that in a fit of mysterious efficiency I must have actually sent out a few business cards.  They wanted a cover for their publication of Homeland and for some reason they thought I was the right person to do it. 

The commission was completely blessed.  It came without any effort on my part and I had no difficulty creating the roughs and then a finished piece; I have rarely had a project run so smoothly.  Maybe it was because the subject matter was inspiring and suited to my own kind of imagery, or maybe it was because I knew I had to do it all properly; roughs on time, finished piece on time, invoice in on time.  All the stuff that was anathema to me had to be done promptly because it was for real people who would notice if I didn’t.

I made three roughs – one of a circle of animal spirits including the waterbug dancing in the sky, one of a rocking chair and Indian smoking pipe that the grandmother in the story might have liked to smoke, and one of the waterbug climbing back into the sky, dripping wet, with the earth clasped in her claws, as flowers fell upon her from the heavens.  The publishers chose the waterbug in the sky, which was my favourite one, so I was happy. 

I did the finished piece in my favourite medium at the time; chalk pastels.  A tortuous process, but worth it for the unique powdery texture.  When I use oil paints now I find I am in some way trying to recreate the softness I used to get with pastels; the pastel surface is vulnerable but has a lot of life.  Chalks are made of tiny crystals that reflect the light and if you look carefully you can see them glittering in direct sunlight.  I have never used oil pastels as I don’t much like the feel of them.

When I had finished the final piece it was only a short time before I received a proof from the publishers and then saw the book in the shops.  I was so proud of it and went into many different bookshops to see my name on the back cover. 

When I got paid I also got a message from the publishers saying that Barbara Kingsolver wanted to buy the original and how much was it?  I had no idea how to price originals in those days so I gave them a figure out of the air and then didn’t follow it up.  Useless!  I was too shy to phone Faber and Faber and ask them what an appropriate price would be, so I just never got back to them.  Sad, but there you go.  The picture now adorns one of my mother’s walls and is much admired by all so I’m sure it’s happy where it is. 

Homeland by Barbara Kingsolver at Amazon
Barbara Kingsolver at Wikipedia
Homeland New York Times review