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Saturday 30 March 2013

A Bee for Gardening for the Disabled

It seems to be a year for charity postcards. I was asked by Gardening for the Disabled to submit one for their silent auction in June.  Again I am pleased to do it. I have been rather disabled just recently and the little bit of gardening I have been able to do has been a joy.


“Our Lovely Leafcutter Bee, Can opener of the Bee World: LOVE YOUR BEES’
4 x 6 inch postcard:  pen and ink sketch.

I am determined that I get the bee conservation message across on these charity postcards. So on the back I write my “Bees need us and we need Bees” slogan which I also have printed on the back of my postcards,

Gardening for the Disabled Trust

The Trust is an entirely voluntary organisation, which gives grants to physically and mentally disabled people all over the UK to help them to continue to garden.  The money raised will go towards grants for individuals at home and also for special gardens in hospitals, community projects and schools.  These grants go Gardening for disabledtowards raised beds, ramps, greenhouses, access, paving and tools which act as a source of motivation and therapy, and though simple, they really change lives.

Baden-Powell House Conference Centre
65-67 Queen’s Gate, London SW7 5JS
on 8th at 6.30-8.30pm and 9th June at 9am-5pm 2013


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Tuesday 26 March 2013

Crowland Abbey on a Crow-cold Day and some Demons

It’s in the name, the Land of Crows, a conjuring up of a bitterly cold, bleak fenland scene.
That’s exactly how it was a couple of weeks ago when we went to have a look at the church and remains of, what was once, one of the most important monasteries in England.  It’s many many years since I last passed that way and it’s a curious sight, whalebone-like ruins attached to a later church set in flat fenland on what was once an “island”in the marsh.

It makes you wonder what form of madness drove Guthlac in 699AD, to find a home there. He arrived by boat seeking peace and quiet and made his home in the side of an opened, looted barrow. The land stayed soggy and inhospitable for centuries until the reclamation of the Fens. Guthlac became a revered man and the subject of pilgrimages so I am not sure his life was quite as peaceful as he had hoped… and then there were the demons.

Here is a marvellous description of what he encountered:

“The place for his retreat was a solitary and almost inaccessible  island in the Fens of Lincolnshire which was withal most grievously haunted by fiends.
Here he built a hermitage but the fiends were by no means pleased with the company of the holy man and formed a league, offensive and defensive, to expel him from their territories and did every thing that could enter into their demoniacal imaginations to annoy him.

They bounced through the chinks of his hut and scoffed at him not suffering him to say his prayers for their shouts of rude laughter. Often when he ventured abroad they bodily seized him and plumped him into a neighbouring pool or whisked him through thorns and bushes.
In fact there was scarcely a trick which they did not play on this holy man.

One very stormy night when occupied as usual in prayers and vigils, a whole legion of unclean spirits suddenly invaded his cell. They came through the door, through the chinks, through the roof, down the chimney and out of the earth like a dark cloud.  

Saint Felix gives a minute description of these visitors. They had, he says, truculent aspects, terrible forms, big heads, long necks, squalid beards, bat's ears and flaming eyes, fetid breath and horse's teeth, shaggy hair, knotted knees, cat's claws and whisking tails. Fire and smoke issued from grinning mouths and they roared and howled clamorously.”

One of several loose translations from Felix’ 8th Century account of Guthlac started in living memory of the hermit. From “Waldie's Select Circulating Library, Part 2”of 1835

The name Crowland, I read, was originally Croyland but Waldie again tells me that the crows became St Guthlac’s favourite companions. Bringing him food and that…”many other birds were wonderfully familiar with him and even the fish of the surrounding came to his voice”

The Isle Croyland or Crowland has had a tempestuous history,  attacked at various times by Danish raiders, earthquake, fire, Vikings and Oliver Cromwell, but the ruins and Abbey stubbornly remain. It’s part of the Lincolnshire character.   
Its fame made it a favourite subject for artists and both Cotman and Turner painted the picturesque ruins.

Croyland Abbey, engraved by B. Howlett published 1797
An engraving after Thomas Girton 1797  from the Tate Gallery. This is the opposite end of the Abbey from the view I chose.This view is currently shrouded in scaffolding.

I am not always comfortable following in the footsteps of such greats and it was very very cold. We did not stop long but I walked around to try to find an angle that I liked. The huge remaining arch is impressive and somehow the jostling gravestones looked almost like human forms, lining up to gain entrance to the Abbey, to find some some relief from the bitter wind or perhaps from Guthlac’s terrible tormentors. The sky was dark grey with the threat of sleet.


Rough sketch note.


Sketchbook tonal drawing


In progress


 Crowland with Crows and Jostling Gravestones. watercolour.

The sketch will be for the Lincolnshire Churches Trust art competition.

…and still the cold continues. Spring! Where are you??

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Thursday 21 March 2013

Willows: A Start. The whys and wherefores of a drawing

 Starting with Willow

I decided quite early on that I would make a start on the Residency with some work about the Willow Tree. Looking over my sketches from the summer the willows are so often there. It is an iconic tree of this currently sodden, watery area and they line the Reservoir.
There are local names for some varieties, the Bedford Willow, the Huntingdon Willow. They are everywhere and there are many different kinds. One book  notes 18 UK varieties.
I like to start things with drawing and research. The purpose of both are to get to know my subject. I can read and learn but I don’t think I really “see” unless I draw. 

What is the purpose of drawing.. for me

Drawing, for me, is all about learning. Initially it’s about trying to record what I can see.  Accuracy at this stage is important to me because the more accurate I try to be, the more I must study the subject. Through drawing I will learn about structure, line, colour and form, but most importantly I begin to discover what it is I like about something. And that is really important.

My first exploratory drawings of the willows are just a few leaves.  I am still not out and about much but I brought some tatty old leaves back from my shoreline walk about a month ago. Once inside they dry out,  twist and form wonderfully curled shapes.


My drawing and models

My way of arranging them for drawing is to throw them onto white paper and see what happens. This works much better for me than carefully and deliberately arranging things. It is also the way my Filipino gardener friend Pedro, back in Leu Gardens,  plants seeds and bulbs. His handling of plants was one of great empathy, respect and understanding. He was well rewarded.


“ Three Willow Leaves”  pencil on hp paper, 10 x14 inches

So here is a drawing of the leaves. I loved the curling shape and the way the cast shadows tell of a shape you cannot see. The desiccated surface of the leaf makes the central vein more prominent and I could see the layers of the surface, some were peeling away.  Tiny bits broke off. These things are very brittle and fragile. 
The hours it takes are all a part of the slow absorption of the information. It’s a very peaceful process and totally absorbing. It reminds me of my old “leaf of the day” drawings. 

I will be doing quite a few more study drawings and some sketches and colour notes. There may be a lot about willows this coming year!

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Wednesday 13 March 2013

A Bee for “Nature in Art”: Early Bees love Early Willows

One of my very favourite places, Nature in Art in Gloucestershire has asked artists who have been associated with the Gallery to contribute a postcard for their fundraising efforts. I am delighted both to be asked and to help, because as one of their Artists in Residence over the last two years, I have spent many, very happy, hours there.

“May 2013 marks the 25th anniversary since Nature in Art opened its doors to the public and to coincide with it we are holding a special fundraising exhibition called ‘Postcard Portraits’

The postcards will be reproduced on a series of specially prepared display panels. A commentary will accompany the panels and the artist of each card identified. The exhibition will be May 7th - June 2nd.
Each card will be allocated a secret number and the numbered tickets will be available for the public to buy for £20 each.

They hope there will be approximately 300 cards!

For my contribution it just had to be a bee. What a surprise.

I have not seen one bee yet this year and as I am typing it is snowing again. But last year, by this time, the bees were out and busy. I remember finding a bumble bee having a rest on a willow twig so I thought, for my card, a sketch of an optimistic early bee would be appropriate. Delicate catkins are springing out all over the willow twigs I brought in. Surely Spring is nearly here?

early willow bg


My Postcard Portrait for Nature in Art: “Early Bees love Early Willows’
watercolour and pencil. A5

Nature in Art is the world’s first museum dedicated exclusively to fine, decorative and applied art inspired by nature. It has wonderful exhibitions and courses I only wish it was just around the corner!

I will be back from 24th to 29th September this year, for another Artist In Residence week. I am so looking forward to it.


leonardo foot s Footnote….hopefully the last one. The offending pin is out ..hurrahh…I guess the injection trauma will fade with time.
The Foot is happier and so am I!

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Sunday 10 March 2013

Update, Artist in Residence Blog, Exciting Things and a Favicon

I realised on Friday that a whole week had gone by without much drawing at all. But I did have a day in the garden and then my creative energies had to be channelled into writing, letters, adverts, proposals, workshop notes and updating my blog, adding some extra pages for workshops and creating a quick new blog for the Residency. We also had two busy workshop days


We had the most beautiful day at Barnesdale Gardens for the first Illustrated Garden Workshop and the most horrible freezing and foggy day for our first Easton Walled Gardens Workshop day. Luckily the Easton Painters are a sturdy and resolute group who turn out, have a laugh, produce great work and always make my day a real pleasure. Thank you to all participants.

Artist in Residence Grafham Water


A small pen illustration to accompany a piece about the residency

and adjusted to B/W for our village newsletter .

Meanwhile I have started my research and planning for the Artist in Residence year. There are many different kinds of residency. Some you pay for (I have seen some lovely but very expensive ones recently), some will pay you (not many). I am self funding and wanted the local community and Anglian Water’s customers to rest easy, knowing that the company are not frittering away money on something so frivolous as Art! 

So why do this you may ask? Mainly because we don’t have very much going on in the arts locally and I thought it was time there was more! Jackie has done a wonderful job in getting the Village Art group going, but we have no local art spaces, no wonderful barn workshop conversions, no galleries, no art shops or studio spaces. We are neither underprivileged enough to get funding or sufficiently privileged to have huge amounts of spare money around.  We are on the edge of 3 counties, just in Cambridgeshire but quite a long way from its artsy centre.
Of course one of the things  I love about this area is the very fact of its curious isolation, bypassed and tucked away as it is, but I also think it is such a beautiful area with so much potential that it could be used and enjoyed by more creative people. 

So we have 5 workshops planned, exhibitions and a possible celebration for next Easter time which will combine my end of residency show and a project I am in the middle of developing which will be great if I can make it work!

I have written a little about the Residency HERE at the other blog. I hope you will join me there to see what is happening.

The Exciting Things
..are the opportunities that are beginning to arise.
As part of the residency I will be able to learn so much more about what goes on at the Nature Reserve over at the West side of the Reservoir, where we will hold the workshops. It is managed by the Wildlife Trusts the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire branch who also look after the nearby Brampton Woods. They organise some great activities and there are some fascinating species hidden away. Here is a link to a PDF about the Reserve

And our Easton Group show will be happening over August Bank Holiday from 21st to the 25th of August at Easton Walled Gardens. It’s a great opportunity to show our work at this lovely venue.

… and yes Pencil and Leaf Blog has a little bee  favicon (what else!) took a lot of time and bad language to make this tiny thing but it is rather sweet. So if you lose me in your tabs  look for the bee!


 leonardo foot
Meanwhile the Foot is back under the knife tomorrow, the pin has slipped and is sticking into the joint. Yes, excruciating, but hopefully recovery not too long this time. This is not my foot but Leonardo’s drawing. I think mine is nicer.
Reading is lined up:  “Fludd”  ( more Hilary Mantel bliss) and “Edge of the Orison” by Iain Sinclair about the poet John Clare’s eighty mile trudge home after escaping from the Asylum. Sinclair will be describing a part of the UK I know well. His insights will be interesting.

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