A friend (and TMA contributor) and his 13-year-old daughter recently walked the 40 miles from Goring to Avebury along the ancient Ridgeway. Its track cuts a chalky path through some of the most glorious landscapes that southern England offers.
It doesn't have the drama of the Inca Trail in Peru, nor the romance of the Silk Route through central Asia, but it is undoubtedly comparable in importance and represents a very real challenge to all who undertake to walk in the footsteps of our ancestors. It is a place I love.
For 13-year-old Hannah to accept the challenge and walk it with her Dad is a great achievement and her Dad is justifiably proud. So proud, in fact, that he asked me: "do you reckon you can make a painting of it for her, something that reminds her of the incredible thing she did... I'm thinking of something that captures the distance, the white path and curvy green landscape…" With some trepidation that I could pull this off, I accepted the commission, of course.
My challenge was to not only incorporate the shopping list of essential elements such as the chalky path itself, the hillforts including Uffington castle, Liddington castle and the rolling green beauty of the landscape; but also to express the sense of time, of age, the skies of history scurrying overhead, the magical feeling of having travelled it as ancient peoples had done, whilst simultaneously making the painting pleasing to look at! I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew.
Getting my brushes wet
Once I started drawing, the composition flowed as naturally as the path itself. I allowed the line of the path the draw the eye in from the bottom of the picture which means you read the painting vertically much as you would do if you were walking it, but I have squashed the space, like in a Japanese print (a la van Gogh.)
It isn't meant to be read literally or necessarily as a precise geographical map of what was there, it's more about the wholeness of the time Hannah and her Dad spent walking the chalk.
Nearly all the elements that my friend described to me are included: a hillfort, round barrows, Wayland's Smithy long barrow, signposts,sheep and mud-bathing pigs. I didn't, however, include the M4, burned out cars, suicidal mountain bikers, communications masts and other 21st century detritus as these would have detracted from the story of this young woman and her relationship to moving through the landscape itself. I needed to stay true to this.
The top of the painting culminates in Avebury on the left and Silbury Hill on the right, which pokes through the horizon beneath a starry sky and a bright shining full moon which casts purple shadows onto the landscape below. I hope that making the bulk of the painting appear to be daytime, but rendering the night sky at the top gives a sense of tension and of the passage of time.
The goldfinch flying over the landscape is a metaphor for the young woman herself - a beautiful red-headed 'bird' on the threshold of adulthood with the potential to fly wherever her dreams lead her and face whatever challenges occur.
But would he like it?
I had great fun making the painting, remembering all the things I have seen whilst out walking and riding on the track myself, trying to imagine how Hannah might have felt. I was pleased with the result: Hannah's Ridgeway walk. Click on the thumbnail above to see it full size...
It's always nerve-racking presenting an image for the first time. This is what my friend said: …it's taken me a while to reply - I'm a bit gobsmacked. Not often I shed a tear over a work of art, but I think it's safe to say that you have caught the atmosphere of the adventure … you've created something intensely personal for someone who will hopefully treasure it forever ... It's absolutely beautiful, and I can't wait to present it to her at Christmas … absolutely fantastic!
That's real Ridgeway magic at work.
PS (bit of blatant, unapologetic piece of self-promotion follows) You can send this painting as an e-card from my website...Go to this page, and scroll down a bit till you find the painting, click the 'send e-card icon', et voila!
Posted by Jane
24th September 2003ce
Edited 30th September 2003ce
Jane's TMA Blog
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