Art Journal: Peony petals, the first flowers of spring and a teapot

Welcome to my art journal, where I write about my drawings and how my little garden, the fields and woodlands close to my home and the seasons influence my art practice.

My screen this week has been filled with the blossoming petals of a peony. I try to concentrate on the clouds of colour, working in highly magnified detail, rather than trying to make the drawing look like a flower. I sometimes only zoom out to view the whole picture after a full hour of work.

I can see my little garden bursting into life from my desk by the window. The Elephant Ears were the first flowers to arrive this year.

I created a quick sketch to preserve the memory of the first flush of colour that celebrated the end of the colder months. Quick shading – not worrying if it was patchy here and there – just capturing the moment rather than aiming for a perfect representation. I save all these little sketches and they are really useful when I am drawing in the depths of winter.

Yesterday I took on a new commission to create a logo for a lovely client’s new community venture. For an early draft I created a fast sketch and used a light watercolour wash to suggest a colour palette. Below is a little detail from the centre of my picture.

We are now in one of my favourite stages of the project – where I get sent a lot of photos and pictures as inspiration, which I then get to interpret into the final design. I’ve been asked to add fairy lights and I’ll spend the next few enjoyable days playing with light and shade. I think perhaps early evening in a spring or summer cottage garden might be perfect.

I’d love to here your ideas for cottage garden plants to add to my commission. Please feel very welcome to leave me a comment below 🙂

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Potager Garden: The unearthly quiet, rabbit clouds and bare feet

We have spent the last week preparing for the shut down that we knew would be coming. It started fully today. Our business is now on hold and the charity library where I am a trustee has shut its doors on government orders. Even though we already worked from home whilst educating our five children, there is an absence of emails and phone calls that will take some getting used to.

Our friends and family have so far stayed healthy and we are in constant contact over text and Skype. Our children send drawings and letters to their grandparents over email.

I am glad it is spring and very grateful we have a little garden.

We cannot explain to our two autistic sons or little daughter what is happening in the world but this has turned out to have a happy side effect. The fact that they live completely for the present moment is teaching me how to do so too.

Today our daughter spent time just watching the clouds go by. Every time she spots a cloud that she thinks looks like a rabbit, she squeals, runs over to me, grabs my hand and pulls me over to see.

Our second son’s apple tree, planted last autumn, has leaves forming. He knows that insects help pollinate flowers and I found him carefully moving spiders from the bark to other areas of the garden, so that their webs did not catch any of the bees by mistake.

The ground has dried out enough in the spring sunshine for us to go barefoot. This is our daughter’s first spring where she can walk and run about (she was just learning to crawl this time last year) and she likes to scrunch her toes in the grass.

Each morning I hide little fir cones around the garden for her to find. She darts all over searching for them, handing them to me as she runs by.

I notice the unearthly quiet of a busy world ground to a stop. Usually there is a constant distant hum of traffic from the city outskirts and a nearby lane. Now I can only hear birdsong, the sound of children playing in gardens nearby and the ripple of our garden stream.

The bright sunlight this morning showed up my younger children’s fingerprints on the windows, and as I was polishing the glass in a bedroom that overlooks the green, I could see other people doing the same. Soon, many neighbours had flung their windows open and we all waved at each other, shouted hellos and gave a thumbs up.

The seasons keep on moving, even though we have all paused. As we come out of winter, my family naturally begin to change the rhythm of our days. Our school lessons move out into the garden, or at the very least we have the doors next to the kitchen table thrown open, and the breeze coming in. The house feels airy and fresh, no need for scented candles or oil burners when the real smell of grass and blossom is drifting in.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Potager Garden March 2020

Any faint glimpse of sunshine (which I am currently defining as “not torrential rain”) and I am out in the garden now. This morning, before anyone else was up, I was outside, checking for signs of spring.

In my second son’s little patch of garden by the patio, several crocuses have come into bloom quite late and lend the border little bursts of joy.

In fence baskets just above, the heather is far from being in flower and yet, if you peer very closely, it has the most beautiful blush pink tints of colour to its foliage.

I planted little baby forget-me-not plugs around the heathers last autumn and can now just make out the clusters of miniature, dark blue flowers forming inside. I have placed dozens of these about the garden, especially around the playhouse where I think their small scale will work really well in my attempt at a “model village” style garden, and cannot wait to see them all come to life.

Meanwhile in the veg plot, the garlic is thriving. Garlic is one of the few veggies that always seems to do consistantly well for me. I was a little concerned that the red onions had not survived the winter rains … I would have expected the green shoots to be making an appearance months ago and I check them every day.

Today it is great news – finally, a sign of life. I suspect the others will not be far behind. This will probably work out for the best – last year all of the red and white onions all matured in the same fortnight and maybe this year they will be a little better staggered for us.

Another small worry was that the rhubarb had been moved since last summer. It was very happy in the old raised bed (now recycled as the new compost bin) and I had been warned by seasoned gardener friends that it might be a year or more until it reappears. Imagine my happiness in spotting these little nodules amongst the bark, beside the bridge, this morning.

I get right down at ground level and there is this year’s rhubarb, curled and coiled, very much alive and ready to unfurl.

As I turn back towards the house, the first two wild English daffodils are in flower. I go back inside and jot down all of the things that need fixing in my garden journal. This afternoon, we’ll be planting more seeds 🙂

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Almanac: Searching for bluebells – watching the seasons with children

After the first few days of warm spring weather, any bluebell plants outside of the forest canopy, with full exposure to the sunlight, burst into flower.  One of our favourite spots is a quiet glade in the centre of the forest, and this is often where our first bluebells of the year are found.

Always, the woodland greets us with birdsong.

Just inside the forest, in a patch of light before we duck into the shade of the trees, we see our first bluebells…

… and where the main track carries onwards, we take our own less-known route to the glade.

The hidden path in springtime is more a trail of fallen leaves, that leads up to the highest point in the forest…

… and then down into a clearing.  We’re rewarded with the first bluebells of the season, not yet a carpet of blue, but it’s very special to see them just beginning to wake up.

Our eldest two boys are delighted to see their den is intact, and ready for some new alterations.

Our youngest boys love scaling the ancient rocks…

… and in the centre of the glade is our picnic stump, where we always place the snacks.

I try and remember to look upwards.  In autumn we lay back on a blanket, all wrapped up in hats and scarves as the red leaves fall downwards, but today, it’s the greens and blues of April.

Then it’s back home along the forest trails.  In winter, the boardwalks are needed to travel through this part of the forest without getting knee-deep in mud, but today the ground is completely dry …

… and we’re glad we made the most of the rainy winter days for river walking, as the stream beds are dried up too.

Our seven year old thinks this patch of unmarked forest looks very tempting, and we let him have an explore before it’s time to go home.

We’ll leave you with the first bluebells of 2017, waving in the breeze.

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