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Tuesday 28 August 2012

Daily ”Somethings” and a (Sad but Sweet) Hedgehog Tale

Following up from the daily walks I am trying to get something visual done each day. Like all artists I need to practise, to explore and refine ideas and techniques but I don’t know what to call these daily exercises because words such as “sketch”, “drawing” or “painting” are loaded with different meanings and expectations. So perhaps “Daily Visual Notes” will have to do.

What are these DVNs for? They are for working out ideas, recording things, they are technical exercises and experiments so might seem to be nothing more than a muddle of lines and marks, but they will mean a lot to me.
So should I post them on the blog? I am indecisive. Somehow posting things on the blog indicates that I am happy with them. But my feelings about these things are neutral. They are like practising your scales on the piano.

But I do want them to become a good and regular habit, and in the past blogging has certainly helped my resolve ( I am so easily distracted!! ) and does keep a chronological record of work which is interesting to look back on.
But I don’t want them to be the point of the day. Hmm I’ll just have to see how this develops but here is Number 1.

Number 1 DVN:  Ruts and Puddles

This morning I didn’t take the camera on my walk but did have my sketchbook. Up on shady Damson Path a deep water filled rut was reflecting the sky so I made these notes, 10 mins under trees dripping with last nights rain.  I like puddles there is a mysterious other life about them.

The notes say;  “RW extension, 28th Aug 7.50 am. ruts and puddles: the thin strip of light at the edge is really important, 10 mins sketch water drips from trees above, 2 patches of sun appear as I am standing.”


The Hedgehog Tale

On Saturday while out cycling we saw 2 dead hedgehogs. This made us very sad and we hoped that neither of them was our garden hedgehog. One little thing was curled up on the grass by the Church. It looked asleep but was sadly very dead. I resolved to return later (rather hoping for an intervening hedgehog resurrection miracle) to bring it home and give our little spiny friend a fitting and honourable burial. 
Next morning it was still there but overnight either fairies or kind children had bedecked the tiny body with leaves, small pebbles and pretty flowers and what looked like a large sweet. A little hedgehog shrine. It seemed such a kind and compassionate act that it gives me hope for humanity.

Would that we all have such a sweet send off.

Monday 27 August 2012

A Week Of Walking

I now have a week’s worth of “good intention” walks under my belt. It has been fertile territory for ideas, thoughts and observations and the weather has been kind.

Each morning, bar one, I have walked the cycle paths, tracks and side roads within an hour of the house. I write the odd word or two in the small notebook as I walk along. My routes radiate to each and every point of the compass and amongst many other things I have been thinking about the simple pleasure of walking.
Some days I could just carry on, and on and on. On to the next village, town and county and on till I bump up against a coast line, to bounce back at an angle, zig zagging my way across the country.
Close to the village I meet dog walkers. Away from the village I am the only one on the road. I think about how unusual it is nowadays to see lone and dogless walkers. People used to walk from village to village, to work, to market and to neighbours and to church.
I remember the familiar and oddly comforting figure of an old tramp from many years ago. Just a harmless loner always wrapped in an old coat and knitted hat whatever the weather. He would call at the house for food, sleep in the old glass house along the lane, move on and be back in a month or so. I can understand that life. But now, in this paranoid world I am aware that lone walkers, found away from accepted tracks and footpaths are viewed with suspicion. I carry an obvious camera to legitimise my walking and wish I was invisible.

I have loved being out in the weather. One day it rained, just summer rain but heavy enough. With no shelter nearby I walked on. The rain seeped through to my skin, dashed against my face and dripped from my hair and I thought how we avoid rain at all costs now. But there was nothing to spoil and it was just another sensation and a part of being out there. One grey chilly morning a 4 x4 passed by. It was all black, windows, paintwork and heart. Its unseen occupants cocooned and so far protected from the vagaries of the natural world that they could have been on a different planet. I wondered if they pitied my trudging, while I pitied their separation.

Walking is slow so it’s hard not to notice things. There are visual things, from the tiny sleeping bees in the ragwort to the magnificent apocalyptic skies of recent unsettled days. There are sounds, of waves, of the wind and of the cries of birds. There are smells of heat and cold, of wet and dry, of life and of death.
There are physical things, the sun on my back, the pain in my joints, stones in my shoe, nettle and thistle stings and the elephant grass cutting my face as I walk the narrow field track. And there are metaphysical things the whys and wherefores of life and those big questions that come to mind as you walk along. Some of these are troublesome so I leave them on the path, to pick them up and wrestle with their complexities another day.
And it occurs to me that walking is a sort of gathering up and letting go activity, at best, collecting the good and jettisoning the bad.

These thought gathering walks will hopefully continue. It’s a good and easy habit while the weather is fair. Cold, rain and dark will be more testing. I am getting to know this area well and ideas for The Project are beginning to form. Next week’s good habit will be some daily drawing of some kind, but now the sun is almost up and my walking shoes are by the door.

Sunrise on yesterday’s shining morning…

the reservoir path…

a constant shoreline companion…

gull bg

and the road home…


Tuesday 21 August 2012

Thought Gathering

I am embarking on a couple of projects. One is to create a body of work about this area, exactly what, is not quite clear to me yet. The other is to write some teaching notes, both for my own classes and for a Local Authority “Starting Painting and Drawing” class in St Ives.

Luckily for me these two projects dovetail in nicely as I can begin at the beginning of all things creative, for both projects. I love the “The Beginning”. It’s that exciting, all-things-are-possible stage where you dream and for me starting something new is all about gathering thoughts and visual info. I decided to try to blog about the process as it keeps my otherwise random methods on track and may be interesting to look back on…it may not.

Good Intention Walks

So for thought gathering I have started to take a walk every morning and make notes as I go along.
Working on the excellent KISS principal I just carry a pocket note book, pen and camera. I vary my route a little and, as the walk has to be long enough to act as a thinking space to separate the night and the working day, it takes about an hour.

walking kit bg

Camera, note book and pen and a page from yesterday. 20th August. The bird is the pied blackbird that we often see. It has one white feather in its wing. The bottom line says, ominously, “the conkers are falling”….

To start with, the notes are just words and a few diagrams. Sketching may come later but, I think sketching outings are something different. 
I may transcribe the scribbles and keep the notes as a separate Page on the blog. They are just random words and thoughts, so would be indescribably boring, and might appear contrived as a daily blog post but it will be interesting for me and for my students to see the process, if/how it works and what develops as a result.

After only 5 days some foibles are emerging. For some reason it seems important for me to know when dawn and sunrise are. I think it’s because I regard light as my lifeblood.  So I record the times, today for example:
Dawn:( from Old English  dagian "to become day) is 5.18 am   
Sunrise: 5.53 am
The difference? Well, dawn is the time after which the sky is no longer completely dark, astrologically when the sun is 18 degrees below the horizon. and sunrise is when the upper rim of the sun first emerges above the horizon, in reality a fleeting second.
The sun did not appear until later this morning due to thick cloud but it comforts me to know its official, if unseen, arrival time.

A neat diagram from Wiki “Types of Twilight” It’s rather simple and beautiful I thought.

My walks are paved with my good intentions. Some will hopefully grow and flourish and some, inevitably, are destined to be toast.

Friday 17 August 2012

Stops, Starts and some Starlings

General Progress
If the blog is quiet it generally means that I am not, and over the last few months there has been so much to do, including trying to pretty up the Ugly Bungalow and fill the Empty Garden. “Ongoing” is, I think, the best way to describe progress.

The garden is certainly filling up and if anything has been brave enough to attempt to grow, including weeds, they have generally been left to get on with it. Field poppies and tiny pretty corn pansies sprang up everywhere and it was fascinating to see bees and hoverflies queuing up for an early nectar hit as the poppy flowers unfurled. The bee-flower planting despite the poor weather has been very rewarding. I am trying to make a list of what has worked and what has been a complete surprise.

Birds, bees, dragonflies large and small, frogs, mice and joy of joys a hedgehog have all arrived and will hopefully stay awhile. My Bee House is filling up and the Wasp Tower nearby (an up-ended old log) has been enthusiastically colonised by many tiny black Pemphredon lugubris the wonderfully named “mournful wasps” who seem far to busy to be sad about anything and an awesome hoverfly killing wasp Ectemnius cavifrons.

Swallows and Starlings

The birds have been delightful. Blue tits almost nested in the nest box but moved on, flocks of whispering longtailed tits collect in the trees. Finches of all descriptions come and go, and sparrows, robins and blackbirds are always with us. A tiny wren lives in the hedge and a solitary black crow stayed for 2 days and ate every one of the 6 cherries on our new tree.

Ever since we arrived, there has always been “The Gang of Three.” Three glossy spotty starlings, always a trio and always hungry.
They must all have found love this year because a few weeks ago gangs of shrieking young starlings arrived to squabble over the bird food and just fight in general. I am very fond of the starlings and may make some drawings later this year but I did make a few sketches to try to get “essence” of starling.  At this stage they are a drab brown with hints of the handsome spotty plumage to come.

sketches 1 bg  sketches 3 bg sketches 6 bgsketches 4 bg  


Probably most charming was watching the swallows teaching their young ones to fly. One evening at dusk we noticed swallows flying round and round our small garden. This was unusual and then we saw they were a family. The little ones balanced uncertainly in the tree branches while the adults made brief circuits of the garden, swooping up to the eves of the bungalow and back to the babies, calling and calling to them.. “come… fly”.
You could hear the dry snap of their wings and feel the rush of air as they circled round and round.

The hesitant baby swallow.

One little bird was very unsure, hopping from branch to branch while its brothers and sisters launched themselves into the air and the darkening garden. A safe haven I guess for flying practice. Three days of aerobatics and they moved on.

Goodbye to Buzz for a while and back to Sketching

The Yewbarrow House day was the last “Buzz” show for this year and activity in the bee world begins to slow down generally. I will still be painting my lovely bees (of course) but have a couple of new projects in the wings and some teaching to prepare for.

Meanwhile with a little more time I will be out and about and back to sketching, and to blogging my varied results, along with some more observations about life, art and nature. :)

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Buzz at Yewbarrow House in Cumbria

This Sunday 5th August, my Buzz bees and I will be up in Cumbria at Yewbarrow House Gardens. I am so pleased to be able to show the bees at this wonderful venue which will be open from 11 to 4 as part of the National Garden Scheme. Here is a plan of the gardens from their excellent website.

Garden map

I do hope I have time to  wander round the Gardens especially because the owner Jonathan Denby has an interest in bees! In July 2009 he exhibited his award winning “Beekeepers Garden”at the Hampton Court Flower Show. 

Jonathan, like many others, is concerned about the plight of bees and  kept a blog about, The Beekeepers Garden, and here he explains what was behind the planning and design.


“We want to encourage every gardener either to keep bees or to grow plants which are attractive to bees. The Beekeeper’s Garden is filled with plants which are attractive to bees- plants of all kinds: flowers, fruit, vegetables and herbs.
The garden is entered via a wrought-iron pergola which, most unusually, is completely enveloped in climbing vegetables. A path leads to the central feature of the garden, which is an Apiary, which was inspired by a sketch in Victorian garden writer Shirley Hibberd’s journal. The Apiary is fronted by a pebble-mosaic by Maggy Howarth and is flanked by espaliered apple trees and an apple orchard. Apple trees have been chosen as a central feature of the garden as the apple crop is dependent upon bee pollination and is under threat because of the decline in the bee population.
The theme of the garden, to echo the words of William Morris, is that it will contain nothing which we do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

You can see a film of the BBC’s review of the garden on the Yewbarrow website here.
Beekeepers G shoot 
A shot of the finished garden from Shoot Gardening Website. Their excellent review also has a plant list.  Go here to see and read more more

Part of the Beekeeper’s Garden is now at Yewbarrow.  Here is the relocated apiary.

apiary bg

and Maggie Howarth’s wonderful pebble mosaics will be there as well..

MH mosaic detail

I have been wondering about a bee mosaic here at the Ugly Bungalow….. another lovely project to dream about!

Do come along on Sunday if you are in the area. It’s all for a good cause too!

Yewbarrow House

National Gardens Scheme
Hampsfell Road, Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria, LA11 6BE
Opening dates and times: Sundays 5 Aug 2 Sept (11-4)
Admission:Adm £4, chd free

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