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

Friday, 30 September 2011

Buzz updates & B Hortorum and Honeysuckle, early stages.

As I said in a recent post my Dad was not one to mope about ..so its back to work, back to bees, commissions and design work. 

In between all the ups and downs of the last couple of weeks there have some good things happening on the bee front. Excitingly I will be teaming up with the Bee Guardians next year for some projects.  Also for next year more exhibitions are planned at Easton Walled Gardens and  Nature in Art, both a week long this time and with painting workshops attached. There are some talks, some one day exhibitions and painting classes planned. On the products front there may be some ceramics, some jewelry and more prints and cards. And I have a million other ideas. Waiting in the wings there may be a house and a garden, with….joy of joys….a workshop.   Busy is good.

And on Monday 10th Oct I will be at the London Honey Show, 6 –9 pm with prints, books and cards .. will be fun.  More details tomorrow.

Bombus Hortorum and Honeysuckle

But right now I am working on B hortorum and Honeysuckle a commission for Peter and Di. In preparation for teaching people about painting insects and bees next year I decided to record a step by step for this one.  Here are the first few stages of the bee.

Sketches for pose and ideas for flowers, positions etc… but all may change:

horto sketch sm

sketch1

Positioning on the paper:

col bee 1

First Colours: built up with directional strokes and refining as I go

bee1

 bee 2

bee 3

I had roughed in the shapes of the flowers with a few faint lines to be able to position the bee. I use a soft pencil and very light strokes so that I can erase what I don’t want.
Now I start to think about how they will really work with the bee. It’s best to experiment on tracing paper first. The paper underneath really must be kept clean for this sort of work!!   aggghhh…..

 bee4

So close after my father’s death there is an extra poignancy to painting this bee, because I based the design on my observations of Bombus hortorum, the Garden Bumble Bee, which I watched for hours on Dad’s honeysuckle last year.
I had seen how they hold onto the sides of the flower and sometimes rest their back legs on the lower petal. So I decided to show this one on its approach flight, front feet outstretched to grasp the sides of the upper petal. Tongue, I think, will be outstretched. The long tongue is such a feature of these bees and allows them to access nectar from these long tubular flowers. But I am not quite sure yet. I do change things as I go quite a bit!.. paper permitting :). Sometimes it’s such a struggle to keep that pristine white paper clean!

hortorum dads garden

Bombus hortorum, Dad’s garden, 2010

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A Village “Do”

It is a glorious day and friends and relations are gathered at my father’s house to bid him our last farewell. Amongst them, our small immediate family; my sister and I and two cousins  We are sad because it sees the end of our parent’s generation. On the table we spread photographs of the eight of us. A Mum, a Dad, an Uncle, an Aunt and 4 kids, snapshots of our shared lucky 1950’s childhood. There we all are, smiling and laughing, our hair wind blown or neatly ribboned. These were beach days, hill walking days, tree climbing days. There are little sundresses, short trousers, hand knitted jumpers and elasticated swimsuits. We linger by this table, it’s hard to drag ourselves away from such happiness.

But the hearse arrives and we have a ritual to observe. In this small village where the church is just along the road and down the hill, we walk with Dad, in the sun. Our elderly kind undertaker, an old friend, leads the procession, just as he had for my mother. He uses a stick and limps a little now, but so do we all.  There is a timeless resonance to this last rite and, for a few minutes, busy village life pauses, the traffic is halted, and dog walkers and passers-by stop to look. We seem to be the only ones moving in a frozen tableau. 

We chat and laugh as we go, along the road and down the hill. The Church is full and pretty with its Harvest Festival decorations. How fitting for a man who made his living in the seed trade and whose garden was such a delight. The service is a celebration of a life and my sister’s tribute is eloquent, funny and touching. We round off with the rousing and  appropriate hymn “ We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land.” I am thinking the wheezy church organ needs some attention.

In the village hall there are cups of tea, sandwiches and cake, tears, memories and stories. Strange things, funerals. It’s a time when you realise what “other” lives your parents had. People came who I had never met before and will never see again, just to say some nice things about Mum and Dad, to share a funny moment, reveal a kindness or acknowledge a helping hand.  Not so many now, because at 94, as Dad would say, quite a few old friends had “dropped off the edge”.

Then back to the house again and to the happy photos and to saying au revoir to the relations and friends. People are leaving, walking home, driving north, taking a train south, back to partners, to jobs, exams and busy lives.  It has been a lovely day and Dad would have been delighted to have stopped the traffic, “an excellent “do”” he would have said.

And for me,  it’s back to my bees.

family 1

A bracing Welsh holiday in the 1950’s for the Littlewoods. Dad, far left, next to him Auntie Bessie with the sunglasses. Mum sitting next to her looking right. At the back between them cousin Jennifer. The little boy looking down at Mum is cousin John, my sister Eileen behind him and me, standing next to him. I am not sure who the lady is who is holding my arms…Sitting at the front holding the pipe is my fathers brother, my Uncle Frank. Happy days  We are not sure who the other family are … just one of those holiday get togethers! 

family tree

Family Tree: Cousin John, sister Eileen, me and cousin Jennifer.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Clearing the Air

Last evening there was a terrific thunderstorm. Apocalyptic in its intensity and ferocity. Enormous hail stones rattled the car roofs and sheets of rain sluiced down the road outside. It was one of those storms where the sky is so black and the clouds so low that you feel if you step outside you might be gathered up into an inky oblivion. But the storm wrack rolled on east and from beneath its westerly tip, just before slipping over the horizon, the fiery sun lit up the last of the rain.

It was the most perfect double rainbow I have ever seen. Projected onto the retreating darkness it was huge and luminous and almost overhead. Too wide for a full camera shot, which anyway could not have described the majesty of its presence. It held its brilliance for just a few minutes and within its shining arc a flock of white terns danced and then dashed away. I was left wondering if birds can see rainbows.

rainbow remnants s

This morning is calm, clear and peaceful. It’s been a hard week, so much harder than I had thought. I cleared the silent and still house of pills, medical notes and the awkward ugly hardware of infirmity. My sister and I made the calls, arranged things, searched for contacts, ploughed through 50 years of paperwork, much of it annotated with my father’s small accountants handwriting. We have opened ancient shirt boxes tied with string and found wonderful things, old identity cards, a ration book, the poignant death certificate of a baby brother. Medals never worn or cared much about. Army stuff, old cameras. We are doing well. But there are some things I am not quite ready to tackle. The box marked “Wartime letters”, letters between Mum and Dad, they just have to wait awhile.

But Dad was not one to dwell on things so neither should we. He was a practical man and forward looking. He regarded his failing health with frustration rather than self pity, never mentioned the possibility of death and defiantly left no “arrangements”.  I think he felt he would live for ever. In response to the recent suggestion that I whisk him away for another Spanish holiday to beat the winter blues, he said “ Well, why not?”.

Why not indeed Dad! I might just take half those ashes to the Costa del Sol!

Dad at a sprightly 89 sporting what we laughingly called his film director sunglasses. He is in his element, basking in a sunny little bar on top of the magnificent El Chorro Gorge close to where I used to live.  We had sun-kissed olives, manchego cheese dripping with olive oil, slices of tortilla, albondigas in rich tomato sauce and thin slivers of buttery Serrano ham, warm bread, cool beer and a little glass of delicious icy fino. The plates were clean. On the back of the photo we wrote “ Dad, as film director, El Chorro “ he wrote. “A good holiday!”

Thank you all, my lovely friends for your wonderful comments, emails, Skypes, cards, calls and messages. They are so very welcome.. He would be thrilled!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Au Revoir

Last Thursday started grey and dull. In the morning I was busy with some design work, at lunch time I went to look at a couple of houses for sale. In the afternoon I rang the hospital as Dad was about to go to surgery. He had broken his hip a couple of days before in a silly fall, just missed the edge of his chair as he was sitting down.. we’ve all done it!. At 6 the sky had cleared the evening was beautiful. I walked east, along the shore line, through the wood and up to the road.

Half way there I heard the geese coming. They flew overhead noisy and low. Just in small groups but all heading the same way. I followed them up to the top field. There in the low sun was a convocation of geese, a great noisy wonderful gathering. They flew in from every direction, in pairs, in groups of 6 or 7, in small arrow shaped flights, lone birds and stragglers. The sun caught their wings as they circled for landing. They kept coming and coming. I searched for my white goose, the single white goose I had seen the other day, but it was not there. Gone home perhaps, back to the farmyard after its taste of freedom? I stayed to watch for a while before turning west to go home.
Banks of night clouds had built up over the water and a lowering red sun was picking out the details of their puckered and ribbed underbellies. Great shafts of light soared up between them into the sky like lasers. It was a beautiful evening.

At 7 I rang the hospital again. Dad was fine, out of surgery if a bit groggy, nothing to worry about, all went well etc etc.. but then at 9, a call from them.

I got there in time. In time to hold onto his hand, to kiss his cheek, stroke his hair and tell him how special he was. I wish I could say it was a graceful and gentle slipping away, it was not. It was a battle, but one he could not win this time.

The nurse was wonderful. I went to make some calls and returned to find a white flower placed over his heart. “I’ve opened the window” she said, “ Just my little ritual”.

I thought about my white goose. Perhaps, being a knowing bird, it had winged its way north, waiting patiently, hour on hour, to do me one last service, to carry the indomitable spirit of a good and much loved man up, up, up and away.

Au revoir

grafham evening sky

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Back to the Drawing Board

Saturday in Battersea was excellent. The sun shone and the English wines were heavenly. They were mostly sparkling wines supplied by Gifford Hall Wines from Suffolk, the Bolney Estate and Meopham Valley Vineyard. The Ros├ęs were particularly beautiful, Gifford Hall’s was pale and pretty and a recent prestigious Waitrose award winner. Think “fruity but dry wine with overtones of strawberry, lemons and roses” All served with equally delicious English cheese and home made bread. We do some things very well in the UK!

So thanks to Marco and Harriet of North South Wines for lending the space and a big thank you to Nathan for organising it all. On their site they have a lovely old photo of the shop from 1847.. I have to say that not much has changed except of course the inevitable irritable traffic warden.

Broomwood Road in th 1800's

I was also delighted to meet James Hammil from the fabulous “Hive” shop in nearby Northcote Road. My only regret is that I didn’t have longer to look around the shop. There were so many things I would have liked to buy. James and I may organise something bee related next year. Perfect location!

Meanwhile I have now finished the little B. hypnorum with the small addition of a beautiful weeping ash which makes it special for my client.

The next one on the drawing board this week will be B hortorum and honeysuckle. But I have just heard that poor Dad has broken his hip, so progress might be slow!! :(

The Tree Bumble Bee, Bombus hypnorum busy in the spring garden.

with tree copy 
Watercolour and pencil 10 x 10 inches.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Bees to Battersea tomorrow.

Carefully avoiding the siren cry of the lovely geese I have spent the day getting the bees together for our trip to Bees and Wine in Battersea with Nathan tomorrow. It should  be fun and will be so interesting to meet the English wine makers.  I know nothing about wine so it will be an education.
I have an assortment of prints and am getting round to some new cards. My much loved “Fly Bee Night” and two favourite etchings from last year.

cards bg

Available on the blog from next week :)

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Morning Glories and the White Goose.

It was the noise of them that woke me early… the sheer exuberant, cackling, honking, wing flapping  thrill of them. The geese from the reservoir are circling the house, hundreds of them.  They are irresistible, uplifting and so on this peerless sparkling dawn I leave the house running, running down to the shore line to watch.

It is 6 o’clock the sun is just rising and the water is alive with birds. Squadrons of formation flying geese rise up and fly over my head. Banking to the right they are lit by the sun. Up, up up  they go, up to the stubble fields and  back down to the water. Their wing beats are heavy on my eardrums. They are so low and so close.  How much I resent the leaden pull of gravity and how much I wish I was up there with them. 

Flocks of screaming terns circle dive and glide, a lone black cormorant skims low and silent, its mirror image flying close and perfect in still glassy water.  There are flotillas of noisy ducks, solitary grebes who suddenly dive leaving nothing but small rippling circles and, in amongst all the noisy clamour, glide the beautiful swans, always regal and always aloof.

As I walk back the geese return again to the water, the air is thick with their grey plump bodies but in amongst them is one shining white shape. One fat white goose .. I wonder if, like me, it saw these wild geese from its farmyard home and yearned to be up there too, winging its way to wild and reckless freedom. Did it just occur to this bird that if it ran and ran, its comfortable lumbering body might be transformed into a thing of weightless soaring beauty, and it could be whisked up and away with that whirling gypsy crowd.

These beautiful magical early dawns are fleeting things, within the blink of an eye things change. Turning for home I see the wind is rising, my shadow is shortening and the day becomes ordinary again. 

But I kept thinking about the white goose and not ever wanting this lovely day to end or be forgotten I returned to the reservoir, but the geese were gone, replaced now by small fishing boats. Disconsolate and unsettled I wandered the tracks and cycled miles on side roads and bridle paths, startling tiny muntjac deer, looking for bee activity and picking more plums before returning to the shore line. Still no geese. I consoled myself by sketching  snoozing ducks and little terns squabbling on Tern Rock and finding a patch of sun kissed blackberries. 

ducks grafham sept 1 terns grafham sept 1

Later at 5.30 I went out again, The wind was fresher still, the fishing boats replaced now by gay little white sailed yachts which were dashing about by the far shore.
At 6.00  flocks of terns came drifting in from the fields, and five Canada geese performed aerial acrobatics low over the choppy white topped water.  I sat on the grass wondering if the geese would return. At 6.30 I came home. At 7.15 I walked out to the yard and looked up to the stubble field and there, streaming in over the horizon, as dusk was falling, complete with their gleaming white companion came the geese. Happily I returned to the house. But then at 8.00 I hear them again, honking, whirring and on the wing. We open the door to see them flying over the house. I run out again, I run through the tall crop and down to the water.A slender waxing sickle moon hangs in the sky and the geese are just dark shapes on the shining water.  My day is complete.

Today I should have been in the car driving, I should have been at the computer and I should have been doing a million other things. But I decided they could all go hang! Sometimes you need to look after your soul and when the days are dull and the demands of routine and duty are oppressive, the memory of the white goose and this sparkling day will keep alight that burning wild thing inside which is the essence of my being.

 sun on the white goose

Morning sun on the white goose amongst its grey companions, Grafham Water Sept 1