Animal Images from our Scotland/Ireland Trip!


Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (basement exhibits)

Greetings, Art Lovers!  If you’re an animal lover, too, this post is for you.  This week on my post for Poetry Friday over at my author blog, I included pictures of (actual) animals encountered on our recent trip across The Pond, with a shout-out to some new animal-themed books for young readers by a few kidlit buddies. I promised to feature some other animal-themed trip pictures here, so off we go!

(First, a pic of the human animals on our trip:)

The Fam at Loch Lubnaig, Western Highlands, Scotland

Starting with heraldic symbolism, we saw lions and unicorns everywhere. :0)

Royal arms of James VI (1567–1625) as depicted on a mantelpiece in Edinburgh Castle. (And the arms image inside the fireplace, too!)

I’d like to study up on all this much more, but basically, the Lion represents England and the Unicorn, which is chained, represents Scotland.

Doune Castle, Scotland

Christ Church Cathedral (basement exhibits), Dublin, Ireland

In Scotland, we saw solo unicorns as well, and the Lion Rampant.  “Rampant” refers to the position of the animal. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the word after a noun means: “(of an animal represented on a coat of arms) standing on its back legs with its front legs raised.” The Royal Banner of Scotland features a red lion rampant (with blue tongue and claws) on a gold background.

Atop the recently-restored Mercat Cross (market cross) of Edinburgh, Parliament Square next to St Giles’ Cathedral. The Royal Unicorn holds the The Flag of Scotland, known as St. Andrew’s Cross or the Saltire, and a shield featuring the Lion Rampant.

The Royal Banner of Scotland (Wikipedia)

These beauties were sculpted by Phillis Bone and flank the entrance to The National War Memorial for Scotland at Edinburgh Castle.  Inside the Memorial are Rolls of Honour of Scots servicemen and women from all the Armed Services, the Dominions, Merchant Navy, Women’s Services, Nursing Services and civilian casualties of all wars from 1914 to date.

Also at Edinburgh Castle, there is a dog cemetery!

Since 1840, it has served as a resting place for canine companions of high-ranking military members. It has more than 20 headstones.

Robert Burns wrote of it:

Berkin dugs here lie at rest
The yappin worst, obedient best
Sodgers pets and mascots tae
Still the guard the castle to this day

On our way to the Scottish Highlands, we were enchanted by the world’s largest equine sculptures. Officially unveiled in 2014, these 30-meter-high steel horse heads, The Kelpies, preside over Falkirk.  Created by Andy Scott, they weigh 300 metric tons each and celebrate the role of horses in Scotland’s industrial history. (Kelpies are legendary aquatic beings who can shape-shift, haunting rivers and other bodies of water ….)

At the other end of the size spectrum, I was enchanted by this wee birdhouse in the idyllic village of Luss on Loch Lomond:

A four-star B&B for birds!  Just 5 flies per night.  This coal-tit is a happy guest.

The house featuring these avian accommodations must be a haven for animals, as this sign also appears in the front yard:

Happy Wee Doggy Rosie Stays Here….

Another day trip while (whilst!) in Scotland found us meandering back from St. Andrews through the charming village of Falkland (where the opening scenes in Outlander were filmed, as Inverness!) .  Walking back to the bus, I had to snap some pictures of another residence.  There was originally a real bird perched in the garden vignette, but it flew away faster than I could capture it, so I have this darling little sculpture to share instead.  Can you find it among the flowers?

Also guarding this enchanting home was an irresistible Scottie dog statue:


And now for a a few animal-themed pictures from Ireland. One of our first stops was a tour through seven-story Guinness Storehouse. I was delighted to discover the third floor’s advertising exhibit, chronicling 80 years of imaginative ads!  Here’s a fun sample:

The Guiness Toucan first appeared in the mid-1930s; this ad dates from 1946.

Speaking of signs, one of my favorites was in Kilkenny, a beautiful village in the country outside of Dublin.  Here you will find Kyteler’s Inn, established in 1324!  (Yep – that’s not a typo.)

Black cat images abound here and there near the inn, paying homage to the original proprietress, Alice de Kyteler. She married four times, accumulating quite a bit of wealth.  Jealousy and accusations erupted, and she was eventually accused of witchcraft. Sentenced to be burned, she managed to escape to England before the execution could take place.

Alice de Kyteler, frog in hand, greets diners and visitors at the inn.   

Animal imagery also abounds in The Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript from about 800 A.D. and housed at Trinity College, Dublin.  My family indulged me in a morning visit.  You can’t take photographs of the actual manuscripts (under glass in a small room, with certain sections exhibited at a time), but here are some pictures of the display boards before you enter, featuring reproductions of illustrations from The Book of Kells and other related manuscripts.  (These large boards were curved, hence some wonkiness picture-wise.)  If you find yourself in Dublin and fancy hand-lettered scripts and decoration, you must get yourself there!

“Irish artists learned about Germanic-style animal ornament primarily from their Anglo-Saxon neighbors in Britain, adapting the motif to native Irish taste.”

Lion from The Book of Armagh

And, of course one of my favorites, a wolf:

And the style spills right over into signs on campus:

After Trinity College in the morning, we visited Christ Church Cathedral in the afternoon. Our hearts were warmed to read the story of this cathedral kitty who now has a loving home there, Laurence MagifiCAT.  (Um, you can find him on Twitter here. Another kitty at a different cathedral, Doorkins, is on Twitter and has a new book out to boot!)

Of course, not all animals pictured in the cathedral’s exhibits are of the warm, fuzzy variety… some are shining in heavy metal, like these priceless birds!  The exhibits in the medieval crypt – Ireland’s largest,  and the earliest surviving structure in the city – were well worth the meander.


And you have to have a king on a steed, right? Here’s King John hunting a stag in some 14th-century woodland.

The most popular exhibit in the crypt is the one I’ll leave you with.  “The cat and the rat,” or, as they are locally known, Tom and Jerry, make quite the impression. Here they are with the explanation reprinted:

THE CAT & THE RAT “The one, presumably chasing the other, became trapped in an organ pipe in the 1850s and were mummified. They are referred to in James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake” where someone is described as being ‘…As stuck as that cat to that mouse in that tube of that Christchurch organ…’ “

I’ll have to dig out this picture again closer to Halloween….

I hope you enjoyed this wee journey, and thanks for tagging along!  By the way, new animal-themed offerings in my Etsy shop include these “teeny wee notebooks,” featuring a “hairy coo” (Highland cow) and my little Writer Mouse, pictured & linked here:

And my animal-themed note cards are also bundled together (2 each) in an “Animal Combo Pack”:

Happy travels, whether you go by paw, hoof, feathers or flippers!

A Birthday Gift and a Doggie Detour in Acrylic…


Today is my daughter’s birthday, which prompted a fun artistic detour for me last week. It all started with a wedding gift she and her hubby received last summer from my dear friend and exquisite painter, Ann Goble. Ann surprised them with a gorgeous 12X12 oil painting of their beloved dog, Cooper. They treasure it!

13315807_10153879692813089_1858535773711045778_n morgan cooper and ann goble painting crop

painting ©Ann Goble.

Well, they decided their fur-baby needed a companion, and spunky four-month-old lab Maggie joined their family a few weeks later. She’s grown into a beautiful nearly-full-grown dog.  maggie 15747548_10154472617073089_4612668225072901288_n crop ps

I thought she needed her own portrait!  I bought the only 12X12 cradled canvas in stock at my local art supply store, and rummaged through my studio for tubes of acrylic paint.  (Ann’s painting is in rich oils, but I was working with available time and supplies. No way I could replicate her work anyway, but I was aiming for something along the lines of complementary.)

In recent years I’ve been swimming around in mixed media, collage, printmaking, and lettering, but I must admit it was fun to tackle a straight painting.  Hmm… Would it be like riding a bicycle?

Yes – at least it felt that way!  First I filled a couple of sketchbook pages with rough sketches and gesture drawings from a few photographs. (The one above became my primary reference photo.)  I remembered old tricks such as making a drawing upside-down, just focusing on shapes and lines.  (Remember Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain?) I also made a loose grid to guide my composition – folding a copy of my reference picture into 16 squares, and adjusting my drawing on paper accordingly if my rendering seemed too far off in one section or another.

Then I rubbed the back with charcoal and placed my sketch on the canvas, going over the lines again with a pencil to transfer them to the paint surface.  Now it was painting time!

So much fun making a messy mix of colors!

So much fun making a messy mix of colors….

Here’s a rough progression:

IMG_6320 maggie start c

IMG_6321 in process c


IMG_6326 final maggie c

Ant then the best part, giving it to Morgan:

IMG_6371 robyn and m organ and maggie painting crop p

If it makes them smile, that’s success enough for me for this little artistic side trip.

And, really, any creative project that gets our right-brain synapses firing helps nurture other creative projects, too, don’t you think?

Happy New Artsy Year!!



Greetings from the New Year side of the holidays!  Thanks to all my wonderful customers who’ve filled a stocking or two with artsyletters wares in recent years. It’s an honor to be a part of gift-giving traditions.

I look forward to creating all kinds of new items this year, and more of the offerings which need restocking.  My studio is my happy place. :0)  I’ll resume more “open” hours in February here in Beaufort on Bay Street (this month I’m hibernating with multiple creative writing projects and traveling some, too).  In the meantime, my Etsy shop is open 24-7.

Wishing you and yours an inspiring and creative 2017!

Featured on Elizabeth Dulemba’s Blog Today! (And open downtown this afternoon…)


Hi, Friends!  Happy to be featured on my buddy Elizabeth Dulemba’s terrific blog today (waves over The Pond to Scotland).  Be sure to check out the vast treasures at her place if you click the pic above and go visit!

Also, I’ll be hanging out at my studio in downtown Beaufort this afternoon – drop on by if you’re around.


Play. Work. Play. (Boxes of Surprises!)


DSC05777 box of blocks

My husband and I couldn’t resist.

We’d gone to the nearby town of Bluffton to the (wonderful!) HighTides Bead Shop – where I couldn’t resist either – and then popped into a few galleries along quaint Calhoun Street.

We came home with a box of blocks.  They are the end pieces that an artist couldn’t use, so he cleverly bundled them up and sold them, box and all.  Jeff wants to carve some, and I want to use some as “grounds” for art.  We have a new box of toys!

This has all reminded me of the importance of play in creating. In other areas of life, too.  I’d started the summer with a dutiful plan to add jogging to my walking routine – walk/jogging a few miles for two days in a row, then taking the third day off. I kept that pattern for a solid couple of weeks.  Until I ended up at my regular neuromuscular massage therapy appointment with a twisted knee in addition to major aggravation to my still-recovering injured neck.

“Did I say you could jog?” asked my therapist. “Most people, when they run, lead with their head!” (a big no-no for me).  “You can walk.  Or ride a bike.”

So I finally did what I’ve intended to do since moving here to the coast– I bought a simple cruising bike at the hardware store.

Robyn and bike 2015 06 crop


No gears!  No decisions!  Granted, it doesn’t get my heart rate up quite the same way as running, but I go farther and actually enjoy it.  And a magical thing happens when I climb onto the seat.  I become 10 years old.  Having grown up in Florida and spending countless hours on bicycles, I really do feel like a kid again whizzing by the water and ducking under Spanish moss.



One more box story.  This week I dragged a box out from under the house, where I put it a year or so ago.  My studio is upstairs in a wonderful historic building smack in the middle of downtown.  I walk in and out, most days, via the wooden stairs in the back. The building is owned by a family which runs a lovely jewelry store, and there’s an art gallery and interior design shop there, too.  I’ve been known to scavenge the boxes they’ve tossed out back.  Maybe I’ve salvaged bubble wrap and shipping boxes.

Anyway, right after moving here, I walked down and saw a large box labeled “Necks.”  Now tell me, would you have been able to just pass it on by?


Me neither.  To my delight, it was full of discarded jewelry displays for necklaces.  You can see in the pictures that I finally got around to sorting them and deciding some were worth cleaning up and spray painting.









Somehow I managed to spray a little paint toward my face.  Thankful for glasses.  But then I had to go to my studio and find some mineral spirits to get the specks off.  It was bright and sunny when I left on my errand, and left my sparkly “new” necks out to dry.  But a few blinks later, I was driving back home in a torrential storm.  Oh, well – at least the necks will be really clean.

I’m finally getting around to making some more adventurous jewelry with typewriter keys.  Here are a few examples of necklaces in the works, though I might still add a bit of vintage bling to the chains of the pendants.

1 necklace 2015 07 c

[PS - Got the pewter pitcher at a church thrift store last week for $1.00!]

[PS – Got the pewter pitcher at a church thrift store last week for $1.00!]

two necklaces one pin 2015 07 c

Or perhaps I’ll leave these simple. But  I’ve been amassing all these wonderful treasures to PLAY with… supplies 2015 07

If you’re in the downtown Beaufort area and in a playful mood tonight (Friday), swing by downtown for First Friday After Five.  Several galleries and shops will be open with refreshments and such, including my studio.

first friday poster

Here’s to a summer full of creative surprises!


Ahoy! Sea-themed artworks coming to shore…


sailors angle c

February winds have made for a blustery bay this week, but that hasn’t stopped visitors from coming to our fair little coastal town.  I’ve been busy conjuring up some “sea-themed” items to offer through artsyletters, especially at my kiosk over in Fordham Market. I wrote a wee bit about this in my author blog post for Poetry Friday last week.

In that post I showed the elements in progress, but above is one of the finished pieces.  These are miniatures, made from cradled wood boards into small shadow boxes.  I painted them black and covered them with acrylic gloss, then antiqued a self-leveling hanger and attached it to the back.

The featured text came directly from

    Crown Jewels
Gems of Literature, Art,
and Music
Choice Selections from the Writings and Musical Productions of the Most Celebrated Authors, From the Earliest Times

compiled by Henry Davenport Northrop, D. D., and published in 1888.

It’s actually a refrain to a song, “The Tar for all Weathers,” by Charles Dibdin (1745-1814).  Lucky for me, the refrain appeared a few times, so I made three of these. (I was able to find the author’s name in three spots in the book as well.)  I’ve put two of these at Fordham and listed the third in my Etsy shop.

three sailor shadow boxes c

Here are the words:

But sailors were born for all weathers,
Great guns let it blow high or low,
Our duty keeps us to our tethers,
And where the gale drives we must go.

(That line, “Great guns let it blow high or low” has been rattling around in my head since I read it!)

The text is placed atop an original mini-woodcut.  I hadn’t done any printmaking in the months since my neck/nerves injury in the fall, and it felt wonderful last week to carve a block or two and roll out the ink (love that smell) and print some images! The ship’s wheel hanging above the text is hand cast from blackened pewter, from a wonderful Etsy shop specializing in antiqued brass.

Here’s another 4″ by 4″ piece with text from a different poem, “At Sea” by John Townsend Trowerbridge:

DSC04696 trowerbridge poem shadow box c

The text reads:

A heavenly trust my spirit calms,

                my soul is filled with light:

The Ocean sings his solemn psalms,

The wild winds chant: I cross my palms

                Happy as if to-night

Under the cottage roof again

I heard the soothing summer rain.

This little piece features tiny vintage watch parts – a watch hand and a wheel, as well as a lovely vintage brass decorative element.  It was described as a flying mermaid; I’m not sure, but it is some kind of fantastical winged human creature! Fortunately I was able to purchase a few of these, so they will appear in other work, too.

Finally, here is a 6″ by 6″ shadow box/mixed media piece.  Again, I made the background by creating a wave-themed woodcut, printing the black image over a block print of mottled blue and green inks.  It’s from the same book, CROWN JEWELS, and features a poem by Thomas Lovell Beddoes, “To Sea.”  (I’m including a close-up below so you can read the entire poem.)  More vintage watch parts on this one – an ornate golden watch hand from France and a tiny wheel which perfectly shows off the decorative illuminated initial “T.”  The seahorse is a vintage pin, found by an Etsy dealer in eastern Europe!

DSC04703 to sea shadow box 6 X 6 c

TO SEA close up c

Thanks for taking a look.  Wishing you smooth sailing the rest of the week and right out of winter into spring…!

Wonders on the Way…


Confession:  Sometimes I drive to work.

It’s only a mile, so when I walk, that’s an easy two miles of exercise to add to the day.  But – when it’s cold, or rainy, or cold AND rainy, I can’t seem to walk past the car outside my door.

My creativity, though, is not fed by wending through traffic but by walking – taking in the surroundings which change each day with the tides, and noting what things remain more or less the same. On walks my wandering mind might be graced with a “haiku moment” or two.  All my senses are engaged.

When I walk to my studio, in the heart of downtown Beaufort, there’s always a wonder along the way.  This year I’ll share some of those here.  Maybe a picture will strike your fancy, offer a spark of inspiration, or simply give you something to ponder.

Like this:

Bay Street Treasures photo ©Robyn Hood Blackl

BAY STREET TREASURES photo ©Robyn Hood Black

Um, how could I not notice the clever use of an old typewriter?! It first caught my eye in the warmer months, and now it’s graced with bright pansies for winter.  This delightful gem welcomes visitors to Bay Street Treasures, a wonderful antique store at the corner of Bay and Charles Streets, across from the marina. It’s owned by Ginny & Allison DeBose and Barbara Marsh .  Ginny and Allison kindly granted me permission to share this bewitching garden art.

I’ve bought a gift or two at Bay Street Treasures, and my hubby spotted just the thing for when I set up on “First Friday” evenings – some vintage stacking metal shelves. display shelves outside narrow




From vintage jewelry to furniture to clever metal oddities in the garden, I’m always tempted in that shop!



Across the street is another little place you must duck in if you are vintage-inclined – Reflections Old & New.  Friendly proprietors will greet you there as well – Lynda and Doug Bransford  (and their parrot!).  You’ll find just the thing to class up your home or your closet with some elegant history.  I couldn’t resist these antique metal buttons:



Now, what will I use these for?  Oh, the creative wheels are turning.

Especially when I walk.

First Friday Fun in Downtown Beaufort


artsyletters sandwich board sign first friday 11 2014

I might have still been rushing around at 5:00 trying to package cards and bookmarks, but I’m so glad I opened my studio door (for the first time!) for Beaufort’s First Friday last night.  Thanks to everyone who came by to visit, have some cider or cookies, and do a little art shopping.  Special thanks to my hubby Jeff and to friend Barb Ettl, who did all the heavy lifting (literally) as I slowly get back into the swing of work and fun events like this.

Somehow I only managed to get a few pictures, but here’s a peek into the evening:

Hubby Jeff welcomes folks with a small display down at street level on Bay Street.

Hubby Jeff welcomes folks with a small display down at street level on Bay Street.


Lots of friends dropped by!  Here I am with Cyndi Allison (aka neuromuscular massage therapist/miracle worker.....)

Lots of friends dropped by! Here I am with Cyndi Allison (aka neuromuscular massage therapist/miracle worker…..)

And friends brought friends! Cyndi came with her beautiful friend, Takiya.

I enjoyed sharing my space with familiar and new faces.  Everyone loved the Modern Jewelers building, which has such historical character.

display shelves outside

framed letters etc.See you in December, when First Friday is on steroids, for Beaufort’s NIGHT ON THE TOWN on Dec. 5!