A picture paints a thousand words

For those of you who have bought a copy of ‘Never Forgotten,’ will be aware of the wonderful illustrations, done by artist Paul David Jackson http://www.pauljacksonstory.com/.

Several months ago BGSG commissioned Paul to produce a piece of artwork that would depict estrangement from grandchildren, and today the piece is complete. Here is a screenshot.

The piece has very subtle changes, which you discover the more you look. at it.

Here is Paul’s narrative:


The Tree of Hope

The Motivation behind the Illustration.


Once I had been asked to create an illustration for Bristol Grandparents Support Group my first thought was; How can I portray this without only illustrating despair, sorrow and frustration along with all the other emotions that grandparents and grandchildren experience. Well, simply my idea was not to portray one moment, but a narrative that would be made up of a series of moments.

BGSG very own ‘Tree of Hope,’ created by Marc and Jane every Christmas, became quickly the central moment. When we are in despair the most effective response is a positive action that is both physical and emotional. If possible that positive action also encourages others to be involved and take positive healing steps, then all the better. Hence ‘The Tree of Hope’ is a perfect example of turning our personal hopelessness into hope. Without hope we all feel lost and have a sense of disconnection and a lack of ability to change anything. therefore, positive change is a vital first step to healing ourselves.

The same positive effect can be achieved in similar ways such as keeping notes, writing letters, enjoying photographs and sharing memories.  All of these became part of my motivation along with trying to give a sense of the bigger picture. A family is made up of many parts including our parents, our grandparents and the stories that make each of us who we are.

Symbolism and metaphor

 As a Storyteller, as well as an illustrator my task is to express emotions through the power of symbolism and metaphor. We don’t have to know or understand these intellectually more we just allow them to be what they are; age old understandings that traverse cultures and need no words to explain them. However here I have been asked to explain something of my thinking process in the illustration and so I want to include my use of symbolic and metaphorical references.

The Trees

The Oak; It Represents Strength. Grounding. It acts like an umbrella protecting across the whole of the ‘Heaven’ of the illustration and even on the left side it continues to do this by being the paper that makes the books. Oak is also connected with Druids, groves, knowledge, and also Thor, thus Thorsday who represented strength. and is now one of our days of the week.

Apple: The Apple represents Love. The apple is the shape of a heart of course. It represents the Goddess Freyja which became our Friday. the Apple tree represents Friday.

Silver birch; Represents new beginnings. It’s the tree of Sunday, day of the Sun and of course the sun represents a new beginning to a new day and another chance to begin again.

The Wren

This little bird in the British Isles is known as the King of the Birds. It loudly defends its territory and despite its diminutive size will see off many larger birds. I had already drawn this lovely fellow for Jane Jackson’s beautiful book of Poems, so I have used that drawing as a central instigator and go between in the main part of the illustration.

The Cat

Cats are often portrayed as familiar’s to wise woman. Cats and dogs also play strong and constant roles in stories and usually engender company and a source of solace.

Threes and Fives

 Keen eyes may notice the use of three’s and fives in the illustration. Threes are prevalent in traditional stories all over the world…they are part of our rhythm when speaking; thus, we often give three references to a point we are making. Threes are used to emphasis success the first two who try to overcome an obstacle fail but in failing the one who makes the third attempt is seen as even more successful because of the previous failings. So there are 3 trees, 3 Wrens, 3 egg shell fragments, 3 elephants.

Light and Darkness

 Essential to the illustration is the use of light and darkness. The Light that shines on the grandparents, The Light behind the Tree of Hope, The light that comes from above and bursts through the trees to illuminate the repeated journey of the 4 children  (the incomplete 4th, where the fifth is forbidden to leave yet the light beams out from behind her making the adults (we assume are parents or guardians) faceless but the symbolic barrier is actually broken) This child looks out to the world to the viewers conscience.

The darkness can be all consuming, night never leaves us and can remove or destroy our feelings of Hope and loneliness unless there are others who know our situation.

The Illustration

The ‘Tree of Hope’ is the central positive force. The Oak reenforces that and encloses and holds the Tree of Hope. They both fully embrace the Grandparents. I used a photo of the ‘real’ Tree of Hope in the illustration. Developing my tree from it. This felt the right thing to do energetically.

The Grandparents chairs like the trees fully embrace them. Their central narrative is based on the first moment; this is what we don’t have, this is what we have lost, these are our loved ones that we don’t see, are denied the right to see. In that moment, the situation has no compromise and all is lost. It in itself uncompromising.

The Five acorns represent the Children, the ten letters the same. But in this moment the wife is seen clearly to be comforting her husband. She is not wearing her glasses, yet they are there. He is bent forwards into the photograph. Molly the cat is at his side to show more comfort and also to introduce us to the thought that animals know when we are sad. They come to us and will be with us. At this point I wanted to introduce positive change that would then drive the narrative of the illustration. The Wren observing the grandparents takes on an active role to change the days ahead. To bring about Hope.

We the viewer have to presume that the tied-up bundles of letters written to Little You , all returned unopened act on the wren who then introduces Hope and breaks the unbreakable chain of letters always being returned unopened. In the far left corner, we meet those who the grandfather was looking at in his photograph. They are both in their home situation with drawings of grandparents, books about their grandparents and the things they used to do, but they are also seeking, with two children either crying or looking lost with a gift of love in the palm. Yet at the same time the child looking out is looking into the everywhere. Looking for my family is written on his tee-shirt. We see the Family there represented by the closeness that elephants show with one another making chains of connection.

The fourth child, the girl we can presume has been writing on her wall wishing that Grandmother lived next door and so on. However, at this new moment after the first, the wren brings a letter from the grandparent and lets the child know that they are missing her as much as she is missing them.

For me family stories give a sense of belonging. There is an old African saying that goes;

‘only when you know where you have come from will you know where you are heading.’

Thus, there are 2 copies of the Yellow book of personal stories from the grandparents that underpin our own needs to understand our heritage and our lineage.

Reading right in the illustration we then get the journey of the four children. They traverse the dark place where the fifth child is being kept and begin their search for their grandparents. This action is essential for change. I have depicted the children in the colours of the seasons, starting with spring (remember the birch represents new beginnings, so i didn’t want to start with Winter)  The doors in the journey are in reverse so Autumn, Summer, Spring and when they reach winter it is yellow not black for winter. The narrative continues then in the left corner with the Yellow door. But one other point to the right-hand corner is the light that brightens their way as they seek their grandparents.

So, in the lower left corner we return to the same image as above only there are subtle changes., The boy in green is now looking up, because the door is opening, and light is coming out. The boy holding the apple is looking at the apple, his gift of love. He is no longer downcast. The room is gone, and the walls are blank behind the children.

New things can be written.

The right lower corner is all about returning to the wren, to new beginnings, to apple seeds in the bowl, to the rich embodiment of knowledge and love and comfort of all that is family and the ‘Tree of Hope’ is still there. The Wren is both on the Tree and looking down at the situation with light shining in its beak. The empty nest can become a positive, can mean flying the nest and welcome to return when needed. The trees are wound around the legs of the two grandparents not to restrict but to emphasize connection to all the narrative and our own connection with nature and of course our connection with Hope.

The Process

 I have spent many years creating illustrations with watercolours, pencils and also with pen and ink. I do tend to work with intense detail as I like hiding things that can be found by the viewer. I have also in recent years have been working with digital tools as I have done with the ‘Tree of Hope.’

Basically, I created the illustration with a digital canvas that was 80cm x 60cm.

I work on a 12-inch iPad and can make sections of image very large to then be able to work in fine detail.

In place of a pencil, pen or brush I use a digital Pencil. It has tiny sensors at its tip and for about 80% of The Tree of Hope, I have used the Digital Pencil like an old-fashioned pencil. If I press lightly it will give me a fainter or finer line and the reverse if I press harder. It can also become a brush that paints as if I am using watercolour or I can change that, and it is like a spray paint or a chalk and so on. All of this of course can easily be too much, so choice and practice play a large part in the many other possibilities.

For instance, in places I have copied in real Low-res photos so that I have to completely rebuild them but use the colour formats embedded within the original which are put on the digital canvas almost out of focus. I used that process for the Tree of Hope and for the Children, building layers onto the original blurred area.  Other areas where the digital pencil can be very helpful is in reproducing a drawn image. So, I drew the apple on the digital canvas, then I made a digital copy of my finished apple and then put it in other areas. The Bowl is a good example. Here the apple can be stretched or squeezed to represent perspective for instance.

I used this copy and paste process because I wanted the apple to be the same on the tree, as it was on the bowl and also in the hand of the boy, this is where the digital process allows exploration and new ways of working.

I hope you enjoy exploring this narrative of moments and its many images.

Paul Jackson

October 29th


A3 prints now available on our website https://www.bristolgrandparentssupportgroup.co.uk/shop/product/tree-of-hope-art-print/  a copy of the full narrative will be included with each print.

About Jane

Jane setup Bristol Grandparent Support Group in 2007 after a string of incidents led to the loss of contact with her Grand Daughter.

View all Jane Posts


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