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Thursday 28 February 2013

Some Willows and a Wren

This is my last Feb post and next month I will have to concentrate more on idea for the Residency. 
With this on my mind on Monday, in a bitter wind I went for a short walk on the muddy reservoir shore. It was my first visit since late November.


The reservoir is still very low which exposes thousands of shelly, fossily things which have washed out of the Blue Oxford clay. There are silvery fresh water mussel shells and bits of mud encrusted rubbish. All of which I find completely fascinating.

But my purpose was really to look at the willows. With the water so low the roots are exposed and of course the branches are bare. This time of year is wonderful for seeing the structure of trees.


One of the willows by Tern rocks


Looking East to a stand of willows on the shore, a favourite haunt of rooks in the summer.

I only made a couple of sketches, it was so very cold.


Rook willows: I am standing where the water usually is. At the right hand side there is an old fallen willow where new branches are growing up from the fallen trunk.


Scrubby willow branches, which grow up from fallen branches. Large blocks of stone mark the edge of the reservoir and the normal water level.

Willow Twigs and the Tiny Wren.

I know there are several willow species round the reservoir but I am not sufficiently sure of the species yet to be confident in naming them. I am guessing there will be both white willow Salix alba and crack willow Salix fragilis. But I do know there is Goat Willow, Salix caprea, because this is our lovely Pussy willow. I found some and brought a couple of branches back.

I put them in an old indoor watering can which I had bought for my mother many years ago.  I put the can by the French window where I hope they will blossom over the next few weeks.There are some other willow branches as well. The Pussy Willow twigs are more robust with the lovely silky buds.  The window looks out on the paving where the tiny wren has been very busy for the last few days, little stubby tail up in the air pecking between the paving slabs looking for insects.


Mum’s blue can with willow twigs and wren. She would have really liked this sketch :).

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Wednesday 27 February 2013

Finding February Colours

Nothing much has changed in the garden over the last few weeks, although there are one or two tiny white blossoms on the wild cherry. It’s easy to look out on our fledgling browny-green garden,  for the 8th week since January,  and not be too inspired, so I thought I should make a few colour notes, looking much harder at what is there and seeing what colours I can find.
Although it really is predominantly green and brown, the browns go from yellow to russet to greeny and to the deepest mahogany red.
The greens vary from soft yellow green, to olive and from the blue greens of the sage and lavender to the bright yellow greens of some of the struggling foliage.
By the pond are pinky terracotta pots, bluish purple stones and sandy coloured paving slabs.
Dead twigs and plant stalks which I left for something to look at and for bird perching are pale straw colour, black, dark brown or a gingery red.
Instead of worrying about drawing accurately I just noted down colours and shapes. It’s a good exercise in looking for colour when there doesn’t seem to be very much. Photos flatten colour so much. You see so much more if you are in front of your subject.
The results are sometimes abstract, but I know exactly what I was looking at.
Under the Magnolia tree. 
The stone by the herb bed with sage and twigs
The fence at the back and my neighbours house. A bit more obvious! Because, perhaps, I am further away. She has a lovely and well established garden. Ours is still new and struggling.
Another herb bed with rosemary and paving slabs and the ubiquitous blackbird.
Pond edge, with magnolia buds in the way.
Two Builders bags A more jarring colour note amongst the natural colours are two big blue builders bags which contain some chipped mulch. There is also the orange yellow of a plastic bin and some red pots. White blossom and jasmine by the shed.
These are all small sketchbook notes about 5 x 7 inches
Some of these colour combinations have turned out to be unexpectedly interesting, some not. No colour theory was involved, just what was there, but enhanced and clarified. They perhaps look brighter on the screen. My favourite painting colours tend to be much more monochrome but thinking about printmaking is making me reconsider. There is such an opportunity for clean solid colours in printmaking and these are good practice.

Friday 22 February 2013

Week 7 ... I have been OUT

Some sun arrived for a few days.  It was wonderful to feel some real warmth. It’s been a busy week with a rethink of my workspace(s). Artists can NEVER have too much space and the Ugly Bungalow is very small. Available space often puts constraints on what you are able to do and that can be very frustrating. I often have BIG ideas.

As a result,  this weeks daily sketches have been sporadic and indeed sketchy. But I did have my very first post op sketching trip on Friday morning. My painting friend Sue and I braved a bitter icy wind to make two very quick outdoor sketches and have one extremely long, warm, extended coffee and cake break. Our fingers were numb within excuse of course. 



Fri Feb15th: The shaky cold sketches. The river at Godmanchester is running very high and the nearby meadows are flooded. There were flocks of seagulls interspersed with rooks and a couple of little jackdaws.

Sunday Feb 17th: At this time of year I love to see the rooks stationing themselves optimistically by their nests, all so clearly visible in the bare trees. There are many rookeries alongside the A1. These I saw near the Buckden roundabout on the way back from Barnesdale.
I always wonder if they strategically place themselves by roads for the rich pickings of road kill, grain spills and unwanted sandwiches.


Monday 18th: Was cold but quite sunny. I am still mostly confined to the house so my sketches are still of the garden and its occupants. The birds are the most obvious. Although I saw a little striped jumping spider on the wall the other day. The fat pigeon loves this post. After eating as much as it possibly could this morning it snoozed there for an hour or so.


Tues Feb 19th: My first solo drive and a brief stop at the reservoir in the late afternoon. It was breathtakingly lovely. I had my note book and wrote this  “Everything is perfectly still and perfectly silent apart from the occasional mewing gull. The water is pink with the low sun. Anything on or just above its glassy surface must surely see itself perfectly mirrored. I am on the bank looking north. The reservoir is low. Small deltas of run-off cut into the mud. This would be a good time to look for fossils.”

I made a small sketch to remind myself of this occasion. I walked up to the back where all the small fishing boats are laid up waiting for the season to start. The jetties are deserted apart from perching birds. Sometimes I love the quiet of winter.


Wed Feb 20th: There was a very hard frost this morning and the birds were queuing up for food outside the kitchen door. The fat wood pigeon was there with 4 blackbirds and some chaffinches. We think the blackbirds would be wiser to eat more and fight less. The early sun cast long shadows across the paving. The blackbirds love apples.



Thurs Feb 21st: A bitterly, bitterly cold day .. true February, but a lovely brief visit to Easton to meet up with my painting group. The snow drops were beautiful and the gardens crowded so we sat and had coffee outside while white tiny flecks of snow drifted down on our freezing hands.

It was much too cold and busy for outside work so I brought back a little cedar cone scale, part of the leaf litter under the great spreading tree.  It’s a beautiful tiny woody thing it. A piece of delicate fairy carving. Feather like in shape and weight. Finer even than the Grinling Gibbons swags and pea pods in Belton House which I loved so much when I was a child. 

After my frozen fingers, toes and nose had thawed I sat by the fire with my sketchpad on my knee and drew this pretty thing. 

Thursday 14 February 2013

Seven More Feb Sketches & some Good News!

I am putting together a few sample “books'” to show on Sunday at Barnesdale for the Illustrated Garden Workshops. They are a bit rough and ready but more about ideas than anything else.

Here are more of of my sketches for the  “What I saw in February”  book. They are also my daily drawing practice. They are fun to do.


Old chard leaves gives some colour in the snowy garden. Birds are tossed on the sleety cold wind.


Vincas are flowering by the front door and fieldfares paid us a visit in the snow.


The wood pigeon pecks about under the birdfeeder, it sometimes rains seed from above and there was a slender waning moon the other night


And snowdrops, not mine but from Easton last year.. I will be there next week for the first time this year, for the snowdrop celebration and to meet up with the group.  I can’t wait to get started again.



The full set, 14 pages, and made into a swatch book.



Good News! Artist in Residence, Grafham Water

It’s always very nice to announce something on an auspicious day and what better day then Valentine’s Day. Starting officially in April, I will be “Artist in Residence” at Grafham Water for a year. A wonderful chance to do a body of work about this lovely area, hold painting and drawing workshops and get to know much more of the ins and outs of the reservoir and its surroundings. I will be keeping another blog to record progress…and… Ta da!… resurrecting Leaf of the Day”.

I had decorated this paper today as cover paper for one of the books and decided to add a lino cut of 2 willow leaves in celebration and in eager anticipation of more leafy images. I loved doing the Leaf of the Day posts back in 2008. I look back and can’t quite believe I drew and researched so many plants.  This time they will be a variety of techniques as I learn to become a hopefully competent printmaker and instead of the steamy paths of Leu Gardens in Florida, will be a record of cool leafy woodlands of middle England. I may not find anything as exotic as the dancing Telegraph Plant or the Midnight Horror Tree but it will be just as fascinating. So here as a prelude are two leaves of the lovely willows which line the water of the reservoir.


Willow, #1 Leaf, Grafham 14th Feb 2013  

More about the project next week…:)

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Saturday 9 February 2013

First February Garden Sketches

This week I have been thinking about my up and coming Workshops and preparing some ideas and samples.

I will be at Barnesdale Gardens on Sunday 17th Feb to advertise the Illustrated Garden workshops and I am putting together some materials, (while still getting in the daily practice).

Sometimes a plan is nice to start with. There are a million different ways of doing it.  I quite like to play with perspective so here is a rough sketch of the back garden as it was in January. I am thinking I should have made it snowy.


And  some small  images for a  series of “What I saw in the Garden in Feb” booklets which will have some text and some sort of cover.

image image

Trees, sometimes dark sometimes light and flocks of chaffinches


Hellebores with spiky leaves and magnolia buds


The thrush eating a snail outside my window and aconites in a dark border


In the pond, signs of life. The curious backswimmers


They are only 3 x 8.25 inches and are a nice size to work on quite quickly. The next 7 will be about simpler recording techniques.


I made a couple of rough zigzag books which are another possibility and fun to do. More of these when they are finished.

Meanwhile today I noticed that despite some frost and snow flurries, things in the Garden are really beginning to grow! Vinca, first snowdrops, hydrangea shoots and of course many weeds. How lovely!

Next week is dedicated to prints..Yea!

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Wednesday 6 February 2013

Cold Reservoir Sketches

Over the last week I made a few charcoal sketches of the wintery reservoir. Although I can’t get out much yet, I had taken photos of the snowy landscapes last year and Chris had been out in January with his camera. I know this shore line like the back of my hand now and I have a bank of knowledge and familiarity to draw on, so these sketches are as much about memory as they are about fact. 

I love charcoal. I wish it was taken more seriously as a valuable drawing medium. The marks can vary from softest smudge to sharp black and fluid lines. It can be worked into with erasers, fingers and paper stumps..wonderful. In our garish, colour obsessed world, monochrome images sometimes seem like a sigh of relief.

cold shore bg

The reservoir is very low at the moment, deliberately so I think. There are wide beaches, full of pebbles and fossily bits and pieces.

erosion bg

And the bank erosion is more obvious.

 snowy shore bg

Looking east from the reservoir towards the village.

 kite over Grafham bg

Over the back looking towards Spaldwick there is a roll to the land. I have seen the red kite there.


The shoreline plus sketched in coot. I do like these comical birds. I am hoping to make some work about the local birds later in the year.


One of the fallen trees by the water.. it sends new shoots up still and is close to where I saw the stoat last year.


Back on the lane looking south towards the reservoir, tangles of brambles and the ever present flocks of birds

Small charcoals 9 x12 inches, the large one 15 x 22. Materials: willow charcoal, plastic eraser and fingers :)..

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