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Monday 24 June 2013

Summer Sketching at Easton Walled Gardens

Recently I have managed to catch a sunny hour or two to sketch at Easton. The Gardens are looking particularly lovely there at the moment.

I take minimum stuff: sketchbook, board, a paintbrush, paints and water. It’s such a pleasure to just sit in the sun and draw.


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I had in the back of my mind that we needed a flyer for our group display of work in the summer so I have combined the sketches, played around with type and Photoshop and added a sketch of the Easton Towers to make the image.

Inspired by Easton; our summer display of  artwork from our workshop group. There will be paintings,drawings, prints, 3D work and more.

In our meetings the emphasis is on finding inspiration for creative work of all kinds. It is all about being in a beautiful ever changing place. It’s about the pleasure of working together, of experimenting with new ideas and techniques. Mostly it is work in progress, sketchbooks, notes and photographs, prints, jottings and drawings all made in response to the Gardens, the architecture and the wild life. I can’t wait to see what everyone brings on set up day. That is just 8 weeks away…. and counting….

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Wednesday 19 June 2013

Ruby-tailed Jewel Wasp

This is a first for me! I have been so hoping to see one of these exquisite little wasps. It was one of those occasions when you glance out of the window, see a little metallic shine on a leaf and think it might just be a fly. Then you realise it has some astonishing colours and rush around the house to find the camera .. hoping it will not fly away.

There are many very beautiful photos on the internet where you can see these wasps in much more detail but this is my photo, on a leaf of the hyssop which is growing just outside my work room door.

It is Chrysis ignita a cuckoo wasp which lays its eggs in the nests of other solitary bees and wasps. Read more about it here :

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Their colours are stunning and change with the angle of the light, and the surface of their body is slightly pitted when you see them in close up.

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I painted an American version back in the days when I didn’t know my sweat bees from my wasps. It arrived in the same box as a few little honey bee models for my very first bee painting. They had come from Joe, my Florida beekeeping friend back in August 2009. At the time I had no idea what it was. I wonder if I might find a defunct little UK wasp to paint. It would make a good companion.

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The USA Chrysididae wasp from 2009

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Sunday 16 June 2013

Poetry Painting and Bees at John Clare Cottage

I can’t think of a much lovelier combination. My idea of heaven with some very nice homemade soup and cake thrown in.

With all my UK workshops I plan for rain, but hope for sun and we had a bit of both but were able to spend a good part of the day outside in the pretty courtyard garden, bee spotting and sketching.

Sketching in the sun

A Common Carder bee in the garden, possibly Clare’s “russet commoner”

Thanks to all who came and made it such an enjoyable day. It really is the most beautiful and contemplative space. We looked at Clare’s poem “Wild Bees”,  talked about the possible identities of the bees he so affectionately describes, found some obliging bees in amongst the aquilegias, raspberry flowers, dog roses and herbs and made sketches and flower studies.

I am in the middle of designing a illustrated version of the poem, so more of that and his observations of bees later.

John Clare was a complex and much troubled man and his poetry varies enormously but I read that one of the most-used words in his poems is “joy”. It is his obvious joy in the natural world, the keenness of his observations and the simplicity of his language which make his work so appealing to me.  His own likings for work that “breathes of green fields and open sky” and for solitude make him endearing.

Would I have liked him? I am not sure. But he tells of things that I have seen and felt, in words I could not use. Say it for me John.

Sweet solitude, what joy to be alone
In wild, wood-shady dell, to stay for hours.
Twould soften hearts if they were hard as stone
To see glad butterflies and smiling flowers.
Tis pleasant in these quiet lonely places,
Where not the voice of man our pleasure mars,
To see the little bees with coal black faces
Gathering sweets from little flowers like stars

“From” by John Clare

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Thursday 13 June 2013

Six Skies over The Water

Practice practice practice. It’s my constant advice (nag nag nag) to my workshop students. It can sound very repetitive but, really, it is the only way to improve. We need to practice all aspects of creativity, practise looking, practise thinking, and practise the skills that enable us to work in whatever branch of “art” we have chosen.

I probably do pick up a pencil most days to either write down ideas, sketch or draw and in between teaching courses I have been doing lots of experimental odds and ends which is why the blog has been a bit quiet.  What is so encouraging is when someone returns to a workshop having put in a bit of sketching time and can really see their own understanding and confidence grow as their skills improve.

After my last workshop I realised that I still have a problem persuading people to make tonal studies before starting their final work or just as an aid to “seeing.” They can be so helpful especially in watercolour where you strive to retain the lightness of the white paper. So, as some experiments for myself and to have a few samples, I sketched some basic skies to show how tiny monochrome thumbnails can be made into simple coloured images.

Reservoir Skies

The weather has been strange, cold, sunny, windy, cloudy, still, clear and breezy so there have been some good skies at different times of the day.

I have started walking by the Reservoir again and realised I how much I have been missing the sky vistas. In the house we are a little hemmed in by trees and houses but down by the Water you have an unrestricted view… just water, a strip of horizon and then glorious sky.

So these small watercolour sketches are based on pen and ink thumbnails  made in a tiny sketchbook from my walks. I am also trying some different papers. Not impressed at all with the Fabriano block which buckled badly. Some old Langton was better!

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 Busy morning sky over Perry


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Big clouds on a still morning lit from behind by sun.

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Strip of pale yellow in cloudy midday sky

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Smudges of brown rain in a grey sky… but hopes of brightening up.

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Evening sky with cumulus. Dark greeny blue behind clouds.

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Sunset over the Water, heavy night clouds hang over a bright strip.

Watercolour sketches approx 5 x 6”. pen sketches in 4 inch sketchbook.

I am much more interested in the marks, the colour and how the paint behaves on the surfaces and the happy accidents than whether they look like clouds or not.  And, if I took these colour pieces and used them as my source material for another set of paintings who knows what they might become? Chinese Whispers in paint is a nice concept.

What does “finished” mean

I sometimes hesitate to put things on the blog because it might infer that I am either pleased with them or that they are “finished” .. whatever that means. I am seldom pleased and “finished” can mean many things.  Sometimes I have just had enough, sometimes I have run out of time. Many times I don’t stop soon enough and sometimes things need more work. Often I have to leave things face to the wall for a week or so, then go back to them.

Sometimes a week of work results in a complete and utter mess. Sometimes a few lines are so beautiful I can’t believe I made them.. but then how do you define “beautiful”? 

How are your skies today?…Beautiful  I hope.

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Sunday 9 June 2013

A Box of Bees and more…

It’s been quite busy in the Garden this last two weeks. At last some Bumble bees are out and about. Busiest have been the tiny Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) workers. They have been everywhere on every flower they can manage.  A patch of phacelia has just come into flower and because they are so small they find it very difficult to navigate the spiky stamens and have to adopt a head first, dive in strategy. Bigger bees have no problems.

A tiny Early Bumblebee worker contemplating a tricky landing through the long stamens of the phacelia. It is so attractive to them that they don’t give up easily.

Head first, in-between the spikes.

This bigger heavier Carder bee (Bombus pascuorum) easily accessing the nectar of this lovely green manure plant which seeded down from last year.

And there are other bumble bees too:


A Garden Bumblebee (B hortorum) worker on the hardy geraniums.

A Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) on the cotoneaster

A Box of Red Tailed Bumblebees

Just over a week ago now my very kind friend Matthew arrived at the door with a large buzzing plastic bag containing a tiny new Bombus lapidarius nest complete with about 10 cells 6 little workers and the magnificent Queen. Matthew had been asked to move the nest and not wanting to destroy it asked if I could look after it. You bet!

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The nest in the new box with some extra dried grass.  You can see the large beautiful Queen at the top. They were very busy attending to the cells and so not too concerned about me and the camera. I think things might be different now!

So the nest and its few occupants have been (rather gingerly) transferred to a box which I hope will allow for a reasonable size colony and added to the bee house. It’s above the ground and hopefully out of the reach of mice. I am very glad to report that there seems to be quite a bit of coming and going and at last the chive flowers which have been out for ages are getting some attention.

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Little red tailed worker on the chives, The flame red colour of these new bees in simply stunning.

Anyway I have given them the best chance I can. They have flowers, shelter and someone looking out for them.

 And not forgetting the solitary bees….

The mason bees have been filling up holes in the bee house and everywhere else. The Hairy Footed flower bees are, I think all done. Their strawberry pot home now filled up for the second year.

Here is a lovely little solitary mining bee which my bee guru Andrew thinks may be Andrena chrysosceles.

You can see how tiny it is by my thumb to the left. She stayed put very obligingly for a couple of photos.

And, joy of joys, at Easton last week, the so very chic female Grey Mining bee, Andrena cineraria with elegant black and white hairs on her thorax and glossy black abdomen. A little film star of the wild bee world.

From a sunny day last week at Easton, not the best photo in the world but lovely to see her.

I hope all your bees are buzzing and things warming up for summer and, yes,  I have been working as well as bee watching…honestly…more of that soon…

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