Tuesday, 1 June 2010


Having a non-verbal moment. Feel whacked out. All dried up. Been busy planting out seedling annuals - veg and flowers. Ground very dry. Planting. Watering. Planting. Watering. Tired.

Found some time to paint. First ink border piece. Bright red tulips First a sketchbook page - nice new paper, nice old watercolours. Loved it. Then canvas. Reed pen and acrylic ink. Didn't like it much. Painted it out. Drew in pencil. Rubbed and scrubbed. Added paint. Played around with more paint, abstract shapes, bright colours. Not my usual style. Fun to do. Finished details.

Coat of acrylic matt varnish. Picture hooks on the back. Hung in hallway en route to the said border.

Today rain and the first poppy out. Bliss oh joy!

Now drawing Iris Germanica ____________

Saturday, 1 May 2010


Think of ink. Inky blue-blot, leaky pen, inky fingerblues, indigo, Quinkbottledriedblack, penscrape on school desk, pink blotting paper. Will the inky blue-blot come alive and do something interesting?

Making a garden border out of this creative notion is something of a challenge. Moving from the inkiness in my head to the reality of a growing garden is quite a leap - coming down to earth a bit. But, it is this very earth, literally which will support my artform. Squirting squids, inkcaps, calligraphy ink, art shop, seed packets, garden centres, money. Dark blue watercolour poured down the page. Seedlings all in a row.

The challenges (so far).

Making these inky flower colours work in my border will have to be reconciled with all the green that is inevitably in the garden anyway. The answers come from unlikely places. Sitting in a coastal nature reserve carpark for example. Relaxing by the sea in true old lady fashion - coat- scarf-blanket-round-the-knees-comfy-chair-soaking-in-the-sun. Looked up at car park. Three cars parked in a row. Dark blue, crimson and deep purple. Background landscape, bright spring green. Colour scheme for garden. Sorted.

Well not quite, but very helpful. Last years Chelsea flower show helped too. A planting of bronze fennel, deep red paeonies and an indigo coloured bearded iris stuck in my mind. Bronze fennel arrived in the form of free seeds with a magazine last year. Grown, turned out to be ordinary green fennel. Mucho disappointed.

Tracking down iris and dahlia tubers, and crocosmia corms from garden centres has to be done early in the year. They are increasingly kept in warm cosy conditions on display units that were warmer than my own house. Makes for a comfy shopping experience, dries up the plants or makes them grow prematurely. Plants are outdoor creatures or have we forgotten? Seed packets a similar problem. Overhead heaters to keep customers warm and displays in sunny windows don’t help seed germination at home.

So, shopping done. No greenhouse so every home windowsill covered in polythene and filled with pots and trays. Looks a total mess. Soon get sick of it. BUT. BUT, but when it all starts to grow its magic-magic-magic! Check them every morning, lift and raise their polythene covers, water when needed. On warm day open windows promising them a better life to come.
In-between jobs. Ground preparation. Digging, removing stones/weeds, adding bonemeal, moving existing plants, re-arranging, marking out with sticks, backache, rest, legache, hipache, everythingache, rest, bed, sleep, recover - just. Sunny days-lovely-too-dry-rain-plants-thrive. Whole business exhausting and frustrating. And then the dark red tulips flower. Mouth waters, heart leaps.

No time to paint.

Plant list so far........

Tulpa Black Parrot, Tulipa Norma Major, Tulipa Doll’s Minuet, Iris Germanica Night Owl, Iris Germanica Black Dragon, Crocosmia Lucifer, Papaver Patty’s Plum, Clematis Warszawska Nike, Zinnia Red Spider,Rudbeckia Cherry Brandy, Aquilegia Miss Huish, Cornflower Double Black, Cornflower Tall Double Blue, Sunflower Ruby Sunset, Love Lies a Bleeding, Scarlet Kale, Poppy Paeony Black ........ and a selection of existing perennials/shrubs.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Get What You Want


We are taught that to get what you want you need tohave a clear and concise picture of it in your mind. It also helps to be able to write a full description of it on paper. For an artist this is not always easy as the act of creation often means that we are not sure of what the goal is - or at least not in the conventional sense. Planning a strategy for a painting and taking appropriate action is hard to do.

A while ago I started off with an idea for a painting about spa herbs. I had sketchbook, paints, canvas etc all at hand, a lifetime of painting and drawing skills under my belt and an in-depth knowledge of plants. So far, so good. But how you turn these resources into a painting about certain feelings attached to a set of plants is a bit of an open ended question. After a certain amount of research on spas and sketchbook studies of relevant plants I made a start and got on quite well. Then ‘life’ got in the way and extremely cold weather put my studio out of action for a while. Painting ground to a halt.


Then it got warmer and I got on again but I didn’t like the way the painting was going. It wasn’t what I wanted. I decided to change its title to ‘Healing Herbs’ and the slight shift in feeling got me moving again. I had a strong structure going but I needed to get that sense of healing in the image. So I had to fire up my intuitions. When I get stuck like this I often listen to loud music whilst I work - the wireless is tuned to Radio 3 or Planet Rock depending on my mood. This greatly helps to shut out thoughts of balancing my cheque book or getting the washing done or whatever. An artist has to trust in those deep seated intuitions to bring some life into a canvas that is merely good structure. Once there is a marriage of intuition and structure the image takes on its unique life.

I altered the flow of the composition, added more plant material and modified the colour balance.Now I looked at the painting and thought “ah that’s better!” At last. It has taken months. People often ask me how long it has taken me to do a painting as if expecting me to say a certain number of hours. I have never understood this question. Do people imagine you just sit down each day and clock up a certain number of brushstrokes? Clearly there is an element of this but sometimes a painting day is not fruitfull. At the end of a day a painting can look lifeless, be lacking in meaning and the colour all wrong. Some days absolutely nothing works and it is better to walk away and leave it alone.


So here it is.....’Healing Herbs’. (rosemary, calendula and sage). Acrylic on deep box canvas, 90cm x 90cm. Price £525

You might want this painting to grace your home or office ...........

In order to get what YOU want you need to find the money, look at my website for contact details, come and view it, make the purchase, decide where you will hang it........... Good luck.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Seed Packet Heaven

This month is seed packet heaven! Sleepy gardeners suddenly come to life now and it’s numerous trips to the garden centre. Such temptation with all those seed packets luring us into believing we can so easily have all that is promised in the photo! I fall for it every time. I notice that Kew Gardens, the Eden Project, and Johnsons World Botanics have lovely photos on their seed packets and all made of nice paper too. This of course puts the price up but I still love them. I might send for some heritage seeds which often come in those brown envelopes with nice old prints on them.

Last year I thought I would make the effort to design my own seed packets, just for the fun of it. I got partway started but the time it took to harvest the seed didn’t leave much drawing time. I shall have to get better organised next time.

This year I have subscribed to Gardens Illustrated magazine and was very taken with Julie Toll’s Bright and Beautiful border in the February issue. To attempt this border is a great excuse to go out seed hunting and I love the thought of all that propagating. I am drawing out a much bigger version of her plan so that I can learn something from it. With all this inspiration I am also going to plan a border of my own using some of my existing plants and adding some annuals of deepest indigo blue and dark carmine red. It will be called the ‘Ink Border’. I shall have to try to limit the ammount of green foliage to get the effect I want but it will be interesting to try. When it is all planted up it will then be lots of good subject matter for me.......all those wonderful inky colours and lots of drawing.

Speaking of drawing....... I recently bought a great book... Sarah Simblet’s ’Botany for the Artist’. She is a lady who can REALLY draw and practically any subject matter too. Her latest book is all about drawing plants and it will spur me on in my own endeavours. If you love drawing plants check it out.

I still haven’t finished the Spa Herbs painting. It is now to be called ‘Healing Herbs’. I recently spent a good day at Bradford-on-Avon and thouroughly enjoyed the old apothecary’s shop in their museum (in the library building). The town also boasts a couple of herbalist shops so I was well into healing plants that day. Back at home I finished some of the studies of the rosemary specimen I had been working on. It is quite a tricky one to do but the studies help a great deal to sort out the painting, even if the painting ends up being a more imaginative interpretation of the original plant. More on this soon.

But back to the seed packets. Right now I am off up the garden to sort out some seed compost , find some plant labels and start sowing. I am on my way to heaven!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

All Loved Up

It’s Valentine month. Women dream of romance and men mostly try to avoid it - or so it seems to me. Are there any romantic men out there I wonder? For those who want to enjoy being all loved up the florists abound with beautiful roses at this time and I just adore looking at them - everything from designer minimal to traditional romantic.

I enjoy making flower arrangements and I have experimented a lot with material from my own garden. At this time of year I add a few bought in flowers. A plain bunch of roses from one of the better supermarkets is a good value buy, leaving you free to add garden material, artificial pieces and any number of decorative items found in home stores or hobby shops. This will give you a lovely and individual personal bouquet. I believe that wonderful plantwoman Beth Chatto finds flower arranging very relaxing and admittedly I find the same. Also for me it often sets off an idea for a painting.

Here are a few of my flower ‘arrangements’.

And here is a painting developed from one of them. It is entitled ‘Romantic Bouquet’, an acrylic on a shallow box canvas measuring 40cm x 40cm priced at £280 and available now.

These are some other images I have made of roses.

February is also snowdrop month - time to look out for the first shoots and to begin to feel uplifted by them believeing that spring is on its way.

On the subject of flower arranging again ( an artform that dangles delightfully between earth and easel), I have been reading up on Constance Spry, a very enlightened lady for her time. In her book ‘Simple Flowers’, published in 1957, she speaks of how we have a natural desire to make things beautiful and express our personalities in our homes. When money is tight we can spend a small sum on flowers and she quotes Vita Sackville-West in saying that it can make us feel like ‘a millionaire for a few pence’. Put a modern slant on her writings and you are well away. Inspired by her use of wild plant material in her arrangements I went off to a local conservation wood I work with to get a bit of inspiration. Then from garden, hedgerow and wood (with permission of course) I collected snowdrops, ivy and ash saplings to make some interesting contemporary designs. No painting here but you never know!

A note from last month. I have almost finished the embroidery and it will make an absolutely fabulous cushion!

The ‘spa herbs’ painting has made a little progress but it has been too cold for me to work in the studio - arthritic joints and low temperatures don’t do too well together I’m afraid.

Well, I hope at least some of you have a romantic month. If it’s a good weather day on February 14th it will just about be light at 6 o’clock. Look out for signs of spring , love them and make the most of them.

'Rose partners'
Mixed watercolour media on paper. 260mm x 185mm. Unframed £50.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Loving the Winter Artwork

I am something of a pagan. In midwinter when everybody bangs on about the Xmas thing I prefer to sit and think of nature slowed down for its winter sleep. There is, after all, the winter solstice to remind us of this. Rest and renewal. Burning the yule log as a symbol of fertility and abundance. Candlelight and log fires. And may I remind you that pagan means ‘of the country’ or ‘one who lives with nature’.

As an independent self-governed person I can mostly manage this. Shorter daylight hours means I work less in the studio (I prefer to work by natural light) and spend more time in bed or a comfy armchair. Maybe you could too. This conserves both personal and planetary energy. It’s a great relief to stay away from all that Xmas ‘do buy’, ‘do buy’ - or is it Dubai? Boy, am I glad I don’t have their debts!! Mind you I am happy when people buy my work!

work in progress 1

My main current painting is about spa herbs and their cleansing and healing properties. Its initial destination is my bathroom wall as a way of testing it out but it would look better on someone else’s wall or maybe in a reception area of a health spa or alternative medical practice. I have chosen a rich dark blue as one of its main colours and picture it in a room of pale light natural colours with perhaps some dark blue glass accessories. If you want to create a spa feel in your own bathroom the trick is to keep it spotlessly clean and tidy and only have in it what you really need. Nice towels, good soap, scented oil pervading the air. A natural medicine chest is nice too. And no pale blue paint - too cold in winter. Set it all off with one really good individual item - may I suggest a painting?

work in progress 2

This painting in progress is an acrylic on canvas 90cm x 90cm, safe in the steamy atmosphere of a bathroom and cleanable. A couple who bought one of my kitchen paintings were horrified when I suggested they could wipe it down with a cloth moistened with a weak solution of washing up liquid. I think they thought they hadn’t spent all that money on a painting only to ruin it with a damp cloth. But acrylic is tough. It can take it.

Sometimes I get quite physically involved with my painting. Lots of rubbing and scrubbing. This also helps to keep me warm in a cold winter studio. Some unlikely artists have used various rubbing, scrubbing and scraping techniques in their work. Helen Allingham, of chocolate box Victorian garden image fame, did so much of it that her work was unreproducible by the then current printing methods. Much to her delight I am told. Turner used many techniques in both his oils and watercolours but the brush loving society he moved in condemned his ‘too much use of the handkerchief’. The modern day artist Kurt Jackson not only rubs and scrubs but splashes and throws paint and even walks on his paintings, using every paint mix under the sun. Customers worrying about wiping a dried acrylic painting with a damp cloth seems a bit wimpy by comparison. But they were not to know.

Sketchbook pages

The work on the ‘spa herbs’ has come to a bit of a standstill but I get out my preparatory sketches and composition studies from time to time. it will all come together when the time is right.

sketch 'tea pot'

More time in the armchair has meant more sketchbook work and toying with some new ideas for the coming year. As usual it will revolve around images of plants but perhaps with a different twist. I am very into tea rooms at the moment - if you know of any interesting ones I would love to hear about them. Flowers in tea cups, their decoration or displays in the tea rooms spring to mind. Cup cakes are great too. Sitting in a warm cafe drawing a teapot is a lovely winter activity.

embroidery in progress

I am also doing a bit of embroidery based on memories of my summer garden and historic textiles I have seen. Again visiting museums is a great winter activity. I work on some white cloth drawing in part of the design with a soft pencil. Then I embroider in a few of the coloured threads and then draw a bit more. It is all done instinctively. I love the way a few simple materials can yield such beauty and am also reminded of those nomadic Indian tribes who managed to embroider anywhere they went.

So, I am enjoying my winter artwork and other activities too. Collecting kindling wood, digging up parsnips and sitting by candlelight enjoying the log fire. A slower shorter day. Oh, and cinnamon spice tea too.