"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

“Black Things from the Beach”: No 3: with added Indian.

As I open it, the carrier bag containing my “Black Things From The Beach” smells of the sea. It’s pure nostalgia because I have lived away from the sea now for 4 years.

In the bag are black bits of wood, a dark pebble or two, a piece of seacoal, some dusky egg cases, more bits of black seaweed and, very un-black, a bright green, plastic  American Indian chief, complete with magnificent headdress.  He is poised on one knee, taking aim with a rifle. Taking a shot, no doubt, at a pesky cowboy or two… if only there were any. But this Indian was quite alone. Without friend or foe.  I found him tangled up in some seaweed. An ignominious end for a brave warrior.

A tideline in September with a drizzling sea fret is not a place for the melancholic. It is full of loss.  Lost, rejected, discarded things .. “washed up” broken down, worn out and weathered. I am not immune to its cheerless aspect but, should I feel inclined to trudge on and on in a south easterly direction to meet a watery end, I would inevitably be stopped in my tracks by some curious thing with a wonderful story that I had yet to discover. You know how it is .. the more you know, the more you realise you know almost nothing at all.

And of course the tide line, with its fascinating, if forlorn, array of mysterious things, is different every day. I can understand the addictive nature of beachcombing. 

So Black Thing today is, I think, a spotted dogfish egg case, irresistible with its twining tendrils and its long slender shape. The egg cases are normally empty but if you should find one with a little dogfish embryo or two, go to kind Jim Hall’s page here at Glaucus.org where he will tell you about his successes and failures in raising abandoned dogfish. Its a tricky business.

I found a bunch of the egg cases all tangled up together, a mermaid’s charm bracelet of pods,  but drew just one,  lying like some beautiful sleeping thing and I had to add the ever vigilant Indian with his gun. They are on the windowsill again.  Behind the Indian is the net curtain.

I thought this elegant thing deserved an artsy title.. Henry Moore would surely approve.

 Recumbent Figure with Added Indian

black thing 3

I am wondering who lost the green Indian and thinking that “green” is a curious choice for a human of any kind.

Monday, 27 September 2010

“Black Things from the Beach” No 2. Mermaid’s Purse

Black thing number two was delayed as I had to travel north to see my father for a few days. I had optimistically taken a few with me, hoping for a moment to do some drawing, but they returned south with me yesterday undisturbed and undrawn.

They are the strangest things.The tide line here has many of them .

Colloquially they are known as “Mermaid’s, or perhaps more aptly Devil’s, Purses”  Blackened twisted pods with broad wavy seams which I thought might even have been the inspiration for ravioli. They are of course the egg cases of skates, dogfish and rays.  
 

CartoonWebThe Great Egg Case Hunt is a rather wonderful website by the Shark Trust which has very thorough and fascinating information about all these different egg cases. They are looking for help in recording where egg cases are found (and where they are not found), in order to implement conservation measures. If you live by the coast go, look and record and let them know.  And if you don’t know your egg case from your elbow, there is a very good identification page here .. amazing!

 SizeRangeWeb 

A variety  of egg case sizes from the above website 

The cases are hard and brittle when you find them on the tide line and often broken and  usually empty.  They are reminiscent of big black four legged  beetles. This one has 3 legs on the ground and one waving.  I drew it scuttling across the windowsill towards a little piece of black charred wood with two holes in it. It’s a ray or skate case.  I also have some daintier dogfish egg cases which I will draw tomorrow if I have time.

Black Thing No 2 plus charred wood

black thing 2 blg

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

“Black Things from the Beach”, No 1… and a white butterfly

This is not my territory. A beach of unforgiving shingle where each step forward is sucked back half a pace by sliding pebbles.  But I am loving seeing the sea again and the weather has been glorious over the last two days. So on Tuesday I trudged along the shingle’s edge accompanied by a little white butterfly who danced so effortlessly next to me through the fading summer flowers. I somehow don’t expect butterflies so very close to the sea.

You would think your average plant would take one look at shingle and decide to go elsewhere but there is a surprising variety of plants here. Red and white valerian, ragwort, mallow, brambles, yarrow, old mans beard and more and growing nearest to the sea, hardy clumps of grey green Sea Kale Crambe maritima whose long tap roots will twist 2 meters deep into the earth in search of fresh water. Even a bee, a pretty little Bombus pascuorum was busy in a patch of vipers bugloss.

On the tideline is the usual flotsam and jetsam, bits and pieces thrown up from the Channel plus a variety of “black” things.
I like them.
Here is one of them, a crispy bit of one of the “bladder” wracks left high and dry, contorted even more by the warmth of this sunny late summer day. I think this is Ascophylum nodosum or the Knotted Wrack judging by its linear form and single bladders.

The Bladderwracks, as I know them, are wonderful plants. I remember as a child squidging bare footed over seaweedy rocks in Wales, popping the slimy airfilled bladders. Fucus vesiculosus, the real bladderwrack was the original source of iodine and they all seem to be edible and have medicinal benefits of one kind or another.

I put it on a windowsill and drew it. Not really much more than a silhouette but with a curling cast shadow which I liked as much as the thing itself. On the dusty windowsill was a small dead fly who I thought should be in on the act too.

It is a neglected house with many dead flies and, not to push the Dickensian analogy too far, there is more than a touch of Miss Haversham about it. A large grandfather clock has just been removed displacing longlegged spiders and revealing a wall festooned with dust laced cobwebs.

More fascinating black things soon :) ….

black thing plus fly bg

Dried Knotted Wrack.. plus immortalised fly..

Monday, 20 September 2010

Landing and a Pause for Sea Air

We have washed up on the South Coast of England,  landed on a shingle beach not 100 yards from where Julius Caesar had his first encounter with some very hostile natives. 
It’s a temporary return to a small seaside town which seems to have been frozen in suspended animation for the last 7 years. We are here to attend to family matters,  a necessary pause in “the trip”.

And I have been transported back to a caricature England. An Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransom, England. It’s a breezy sunny Sunday on the beach. A bandbox smart brass band is playing a Sousa march on the bandstand, its audience huddled on plastic chairs wearing warm jumpers. I am sitting outside a cafe on the Green. It’s three o’clock, about the same time that Caesar landed. A mere 2,065 years separates our individual observations. There are striped deckchairs and  big dog called Alfie who is attaching himself to anyone who will throw him a ball. Two rosy cheeked little girls are asking to share a rock bun while their Mother and her friend have arrived, looking forward to “a nice cup of tea”
We have strolled the beach path between two castles where the same little fishing boats, the huts, the winding gear and the lobster pots are anchored on the pebbly shore. Halyards are still clinking against aluminum masts, dark marker pennants still flap as the wind quickens and, beyond and below the boats, the grey green Channel lies like a slab of cold marble.  

In the town seagulls as big as Rottweiler's walk the streets and slight, weasel faced men, surely from old smuggling stock, men with hunched shoulders and nervous eyes, scurry through narrow streets where the jumble of old houses lean and totter, holding each other up like good old friends and where now, wealthy London makes its weekend home.

We are not sure how long this pause will be. There has been a visit to a yellowing Dickensian lawyer’s office, where Jarndyce and Jarndyce might be considered a rushed case. .. so who knows how long…

beach

Caesar’s landing,  and mine… Sunday 19th Sept. The South Coast

Monday, 13 September 2010

Leaving Leu ....but surely it´s just "au revoir"

I went down to the Gardens to say goodbye. Goodbye to my best friends, the leafy, the creeping, the upright, the flowering, the dormant, the majestic and the minuscule, all the plants and animals who have been my steadfast companions in these last few years. They have been my joy, my solace, my confidantes and my mentors. Their wonderful stories have taught me so much, about history, extraordinary exploration, ingenious natural design, medicine, myth and magic, and sheer dogged survival.

I walked the paths I have walked so many times. I know every inch of this place. I have recorded some 400 of its inhabitants, but many more have slipped me by. Some are no longer there, my darling Lipstick Tree, my favourite woody podded Silky Hakea, the pretty Pima Cotton.. all victims of the severe frost. But the twisted branches of the huge oaks still criss cross the paths, providing squirrel highways and welcome shade. Some humans have gone too, retired or moved away. I will never forget Joel who tended the butterfly garden and its inhabitants and taught me the wonders of metamorphosis, who put a newly hatched butterfly on my hand where it stretched its beautiful wings then took its first flight.

I went to say "hi "to the Tea bush, the very first plant that, on discovering I was English, Pedro introduced me to. I hugged my little Soapberry Tree, checked that the Midnight Horror Tree was doing Ok. Smiled at the Sausage Tree and knocked on the Bull’s Horn Acacia thorns to see if dear “Ant” or his relations were home. I lingered by my favourite, ancient, Cycads wondering at their history and idled along the avenue of majestic Camphors. I buried my nose in a heady scented flower of the White Champaca, I ran my fingers over velvety leaves, rough bark and needle tipped thorns and listened to the crickets, the cicadas, the birds and the wind sighing in the bamboo. I chewed a leaf of Yaupon Holly for a caffeine hit and crushed Sweet Basil between my fingers. There is everything to please the senses here. I am finding it hard to leave.

But to the plants and the trees I am nothing, just a transitory little speck of a human thing, just another collection of cells and molecules, passing through. I paused for a while on the benches dedicated to dear departed ones, Garden ghosts and I contemplating the scene together, their quiet company just right for this occasion. I shared some time with Ben, Dora, Chad, and Jeannie, with Mildred, John and Dr Shao. The dedications are varied, fond, funny and sentimental by turn. But here is Myra´s bench. Myra who were you? You and I would have got along well. We share a particular view of life. Myra who “lived for the journey” and who “believed the true joy of life is the trip” .. right on the button Myra!

With a lump in my throat I had to say goodbye to Pedro my dearest friend, my garden mentor. He said look for the leaves that flutter in the wind .. they are waving to you, waving goodbye.. but also hello! .. that’s Filipino wisdom for you.

Meanwhile “the trip” continues, we are leaving Orlando, but, Pedro, I will be looking for those fluttering leaves wherever I go…and I will be back soon.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

“BUZZ” the BOOK .. (well, slender Vol 1 of Buzz!)

** this preview makes it look like a hardback .. it is not!

I have, eventually, got round to publishing “Buzz” Vol 1. It is a slender paperback, really in the style of an exhibition catalogue. It is approx 6.75 inches square,  40 pages and features 15 of the lovely British Bees.

This was my first online book and yes,  I am very pleased with it. I have plans for “Buzz” Vol 2 which will contain the rest of the bees and a few extras that I have yet to paint, or I may just collect the whole lot together into one single 80 page book… and yes it is available to buy on Blurb.

The bees featured are:
The Buff Tailed Bumble Bee,  Bombus terrestris
The Red-tailed Bumble Bee, Bombus lapidarius 
The Common Carder Bee, Bombus pascuorum 
The Great Yellow Bumble Bee, Bombus distinguendus
The Shrill Carder Bee, Bombus sylvarum 
The Early Bumble Bee, Bombus pratorum
The Red Orchard Bee, Osmia rufa
The Hairy Footed Flower Bee, ( female) Anthophora plumipes
The Leafcutter Bee,  Megachile sp
The Grey Mining Bee, Andrena cineraria
The Tawny Mining Bee, Andrena fulva 
The Slender Mining Bee, Lasioglossum calceatum
The Ivy Bee, Colletes hederae 
The Snail Shell  Bee, Osmia spinulosa

and three Seasonal Flower note spreads..

It has been an interesting (and very time consuming) project but…oh dear,  I do feel I have just slipped another volume into the huge sloshing sea of self-published stuff.
However it is wonderful to be able to make a little (or large) book of your own work without groveling to the bank manager for a huge loan! It’s a wonderful way of collecting stuff together.. and A Little Book of “Leaf of the Day” is also on its way!!  I bet you can’t wait! :)      

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Cockspur Coral Tree Sketches

We are on serious countdown now, 12 days to go before we leave, 8 days before the boxes have to go and I have been reluctantly throwing away much that I have collected over almost three years. So the nature table is no more.  All my beloved pods and seeds and bits of twigs, bugs, fungi, dried leaves are gone. A few things are lingering, things which I can’t quite say goodbye to yet,  the potter wasp nest, some red seeds, a large bug and a little lizard skeleton.

I have also been wistfully looking through my photos and remembered my  very first day at the Leu Gardens. I had taken a picture of the Cockspur Coral Tree Erythrina crista-galli in the Arid Garden. I had not drawn the tree itself before, just a single flower head but I did write about it here,  its somber legend and its “Cry Baby” name, given because of the abundant nectar which drips from its spur shaped flowers. Humming birds love them.

[coral+dec.jpg]

 My photo in December 2007

Today I went back to have a look at it again. I am wondering if, in-between the commissions and the packing, I have time for a small painting so I made a couple of quick sketches from different viewpoints. I didn’t stop for long as it was midday by the time I arrived and blisteringly hot…typical mad dog!

Two black and white

coral sm

coral tree sm 

and one with some colour

coral col sm

For me very quick initial sketches are a real help. They get rid of the “Oh-my-God-I-cant-possibly-do-this” fear factor and they begin to show me what really interests me in the subject.  For some reason I like the white planter at the front which has some little upright cacti in it.
Two and a half years on from my initial photo, the planting around the tree has changed and it has been pruned a bit more here and there, but it is still a lovely twisty shape.. maybe I will get a painting done.