Monday, November 03, 2008

Maggie V. Jones: Goddesses, Bugs, and A Twinkle in the Eye

Maggie V. Jones is the creator of the image used for the cover of my book Finding Creatures & Other Stories. I was moved to interview Maggie for two reasons. Most obviously, there is a clear audience. The first thing people do when they see the book is to exclaim about the beauty of the image. The second response is often to ask, who did the cover? And, when I tell them, to frown. They have never heard of her. I wanted to do something about that.

The second reason is Maggie herself. Intensely personable, with a lively intellect and lightness of heart, she is such a lovely person I wanted to know more about her and what better way than to pepper her with nosey questions? Thus this interview, which Maggie kindly agreed to do.

CJW: But who is Maggie V. Jones? Where does she live? What is her life like? How does art fit into it? And where can we see more of it?

MVJ: I'm a forty year old nan, mum, wife, daughter, sister, aunt and cousin to others. I also hold the title of chief bottle washer and dog walker, in the home.

I live in Warwickshire, UK (yep, Shakespeare county). I have three contrary teenagers (bless 'em), dogs that think they own the home (they do), a husband that continuously leaves his dirty workboots on the kitchen floor (good job I love him to bits), and a three year old grandson who keeps fetching bugs into my home from out of the garden (he has a bug fetish).

Check out my latest picture, 'The Bug Collector'. Aston was the inspiration behind that one. My life, with all the people in it, is never boring, and they all provide me with an abundance of ideas for my art. My biggest critic is my daughter Pearl, and I value her input .

CJW: People are very drawn to the beautiful green androgyn on the cover of Finding Creatures & Other Stories, and the soft brown owl soaring behind her. Can you tell me the story behind the image, and its significance for you?

MVJ: It's interesting that you use the word 'adrogyn'. A lot of my artwork features characters in it that are suspiciously like people I know, and some have a mixture of family features in them, both male and female. It's never intentional, it just happens I think on a sub-conscious level. This image is a combination of my older sister Jeanette's features, when she was younger, and my youngest niece.

My younger niece is very petite, waif-like and pale; I'm always telling her she needs more iron. Nevertheless, she's a gorgeous looking girl, but she sometimes hid her femininity when she was younger and she wouldn't wear a dress ever, much to her mum's annoyance. I think I've portrayed her as a very beautiful boy and hid her modesty in the flora to save her embarrassment. She's going to go ape when she reads this

The image came into being after a very good friend of mine, Pen, told me the tale regarding 'flower face'. She had been very supportive of my art in the past, and loved this story of Blodeuwedd, which is from the Welsh Mabinogi. She tried to push me into my art (she's had teacher training, and can be bossy and scary if it warrants), and I hoped the image would not only please her but also inspire her to pursue her own dream of a writing career. So you see Blodeuwedd came about to inspire and empower two women who also happened to be like-minded creative souls, and friends.

On the surface the tale of Blodeuwedd seems to be one of a hard and cruel woman who betrayed her husband. However, it is really a tale of trials for kingship. Celtic tradition is such that kingship came about via matriarchal lineage. In order to be king you had to marry the land, and prove your devotion to the sovereignty, and show his willingness to protect it. The trials that Blodeuwedd's husband endured because of both her and his mother (the goddess Arianrhod) are symbolic of this, and his near-death and healing are symbolic of the ritual death and rebirth usually required of the Druidic priesthood. Many Celtic tales have women within them which represent the land (the land being seen as definitely feminine).

CJW: What a wonderful pair of stories—both about Pen and you and how you support each other's creativity, and of the kingship trials behind the Blodeuwedd tale. And in the end, of course, your image has inspired many more people than you and Pen. I count myself in that number.

...And the truth is out. The image has nothing to do with anything in my book. But it is so gorgeous, and the feel is so right, that we have asked Blodeuwedd to cover for the Green Man, who appears in the final story in the collection.

MVJ: In retrospect it has everything to do with the book, especially the Green Man in your story, and his intended meeting with the like minded soul, St. Francis. Like the Green Man, Blodeuwedd, who was made from broom, oak and meadowsweet, is a spirit of the land, and the land connects us all. My image of Blodeuwedd was looking for a home. Not in the sense of placement, like the hanging of a picture on a wall, but purpose. I originally created her to empower, to inspire and connect. I think Blodeuwedd found you, Casey. Throughout your book there are references to the land, and I have to admit the story of Mr Cowmeadow's Sky made me cry a little.

CJW: Ah... Yes. And you know—I doubt I've mentioned this to youbut we looked at hundreds of images before finding her. Though there was much of great beauty there was nothing that felt like it really connected to the book till Blodeuwedd.

A lot of your art involves myth and faery, but not all of it. In fact, you have quite a wide range of styles and sensibilities in your work. I have a couple of questions here. First, what is the relevance of myth in your own life?

MVJ: For me myths are that connection that ties you to people and transcends time and space. Myths are also a bridge between the living and dead. It is interesting that I place people I know, or aspects of them, unconsciously within my art. By placing my kin within the myth or in folk tales I believe I'm aiming to keep the essence of them alive. Myths and folk tales endure.

CJW: Which really completes the circle, doesn't it? Because myths and folk tales are born of our people, and preserve our kinship with those who came before us and shaped us and our world. Putting your living kin into those myths is like completing a stitch from then, to now, to then.

MVJ: I love how you worded that, "a stitch from then, to now, to then", so apt. Yes it's all about connectiveness. It gives us comfort and strength, I feel.

You know, it isn't always living kin I place in my art, its also loved ones that have passed on. I love seeing my brother Clifford's features pop up in my art (that happens quite frequently in sketches). It's like family are popping in to say hello! One minute I could be drawing a little elf and the next I see his eyes twinkling in its face. He passed over ten years ago, when he was thirty-nine, but I still feel he's close. My art is important to me for providing solace, laughter and warmth and preserving family and memories. It does that admirably, and if I couldn't ever lay a mark on a piece of paper again I'd be lost, I think.

CJW: My second question on style: When you have decided to draw a particular image, or pursue a particular theme, how do you decide what stylistic approach to take?

MVJ: The stylistic approach I take depends very much on who the audience is and the type of art they like. I try to read the person, in an intuitive sense. Whenever I've created something for someone they always say to me afterwards it isn't how they would have envisioned it would turn out, nevertheless they then go on to say it is what they wanted. Funny that.

I also draw a lot for the children in the family, and they love cartoons. And I have a bit of a macabre and wicked sense of humour, which sometimes comes out in my work as well.

CJW: When people look at the cover to Finding Creatures one of their questions is "How was this done?" I give my idea of what you did and it is met with incredulity. So why don't you tell us? What techniques did you use in creating this image? Is that your usual technique, or do you vary in medium as much as you do in style?

MVJ: Blodeuwedd was pencil sketched, scanned into the computer and digitally painted using a stylus pen on a Wacom tablet, and that brilliant software, Corel Painter. This software is the nearest thing you can get to using traditional media with a computer.

Sometimes I mix my media and scan in traditional watercolour backgrounds that I've painted using watercolour pencils, or maybe pastel backgrounds, and then paint over them some more digitally. Mostly I like to keep to a restricted colour pallet, and introduce lots of texture. I've always loved the traditional media of pastels but it can be very difficult putting in details unless you work quite large. Digital art gives you more freedom to experiment, I think, and also has a wonderful undo button!

CJW: Good point!

Finally, the discerning art appreciator will notice that a lot of your subjects have beauty marks (or in some cases, ugliness marks) on their faces. Is that because you have a beauty mark? Are these all parts of the hidden woman who is you?

MVJ: You made me laugh with this one. I haven't a beauty mark or a mole. When I was a youngster an old lady called Rene used to live in a caravan opposite us. My Mum and Dad worked full time, my siblings were a lot older and had left home, I was lonely and so ambled over to see her quite a lot.

I loved it inside her caravan; it was quite old fashioned. She used to make jelly and proper custard and serve me some up in this fancy glass sugar bowl, with this delicate silver scallop-shaped sugar spoon. I used to feel quite regal eating out of that bowl.

She also had some items in her home that fascinated me. There used to be a design used on plates and crockery ware called the 'Crinoline Lady'. Rene had some of this ware, but also had some cushions with the design on as well. She gave me these grownup pens once (better than my usual crayons) and I copied this crinoline lady, over and over again. I liked the oldy worldy large- skirted dresses, and so started looking at history books with pictures of times past. To these ladies I drew I added beauty spots and also sometimes masks, as well as showing them wearing ever enlarging and toppling wigs. So it's a quirk of mine, which connects me to my childhood.

CJW: Lovely! Maybe some day we will see Rene and her wonderful caravan in a piece of your art. She sounds wonderful.

Where do you see yourself going with your art--if that is a fair question. You seem very grounded in the moment, painting by painting. Do you also look ahead and have some sort of plan, or a path that beckons you?

MVJ: I think I'm evolving all the time, ever ready to experiment, try new things, and hopefully improving myself. There's a cauldron of ideas bubbling in my head all the time, I even dream them at night when I'm asleep. Many a time I have to wake up in the early hours and scribble a sketch down. There's never enough hours in the day for me.

I have a goal of mine that I'm working on now, in fact it's two projects. One's an illustrated story called the 'Sun King', and the other is a collection of poems for young children, again illustrated.

My philosophy is that the creative journey in itself is what makes it worth all the effort. Simply, I enjoy it.

CJW: And finally, where can people see more of your work, either online or on the hoof?

MVJ: I'm none too quick with this internet malarky. It's a painful process for me, creating and updating web pages, there's much cussing and swearing at the monitor. It seems to take an ever an a day uploading pictures correctly, despite me having broadband.

However, I'm quite proud of myself because I did manage to scramble together an online homestead, so I could gather my family around me on the net and have a place for my art and poems. I have also just created an online blog. Be warned though, I'm inclined to post waffle. There's the odd corny joke, or me mentioning some antic my Grandson has been up to, or sometimes I refer to how many lemon puff biscuits I can eat at once. Some of its about as far removed from artistic professionalism and sophistication as you could get. That's just me though, I have no pretences. I also happen to think eating three lemon puff biscuits at once is a tricky thing, requiring much talent. You can find me at: And my blog web address is: Maggie V. Jones Rabbits And Rambles

CJW: Thanks, Maggie, for taking the time to answer my questions. Best of luck in the future with life, family, art.


Maggie V. Jones said...

It looks quite wonderful Casey, thanks a bunch for that! My Mums going to be in her element reading it :)

Julie H. Ferguson said...

I was fascinated by this IV. I loved the cover from the moment I first saw it and wondered, as you did, who created it. Now I know, and I am even more fascinated.

Thanks for posting this and tell Maggie she's brilliant and then some!!

C. June Wolf said...

All is well with the world!

C. June Wolf said...

All is well with the world!