A splash of red

Gradually, life is stirring in the garden. The beautiful warm, sunny weekend saw many of us out there engaged in a general tidy-up in preparation of great things to come. Among the shoots pushing their way through the soil, the more advanced leaves becoming sturdier by the day, and the amount of buds appearing everywhere, unexpected splashes of colour reveal themselves among the winter debris of fallen twigs and branches. The snowdrops and hellebores will soon be joined by daffodils, tulips and primroses among other welcome visitors, and the range of things to sketch will continue to grow,

Early in the year though it is, and despite the global problems of recent months, Nature is not giving up on us yet, and in it’s own time will restore our well-being in the months ahead.

Winter field

Painting the landscape during the present lockdown restrictions reminds me of the accounts of artists working at the time of the first world war just over one hundred years ago, when anyone who was seen wandering in the landscape taking notes, was regarded with deep suspicion and immediately identified as an enemy agent gathering information to help an imminent invasion.

Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) was in Cornwall at the time and later recalled painting ‘Spring’ when she had to “lie on my stomach under a gorse-bush or other convenient bush in dread of being taken off to prison, to make a line or two in a sketchbook, memorise – rush back to my studio and paint.”

There is a similar feeling that wandering through the landscape during one’s daily exercise, making a line or two in a sketchbook, is still regarded as suspicious behaviour and must certainly mean one is up to no good and must be given a wide berth at all costs.

Luckily, given the weather conditions, I did not have to find a gorse-bush to lurk under in order to draw some lines for ‘Winter field’ (below), but stopped the car in an unusually convenient field gateway on my way home from a legitimate local journey – and the only person I met was a young lady upon a fine horse who gave me a wide smile and seemed not to have any concerns about my being an enemy agent.

Tulips after five days

Possibly the last of the tulips, we’ll see what happens. Some of the flowers have opened a bit more, as much as shop-bought ones ever do, and the leaves are beginning to lose some of their strength, which is a shame but actually makes the shapes more interesting. Also, being the third of three paintings in fairly quick succession I noticed I was being a little more adventurous with the colour here and there, bringing in some quinacridone magenta in the flowers and adding some prussian blue in the leaves. I’ve just noticed I seem to have lost a stem somewhere, but never mind!

Bird bath

They have been warning more snow was on the way for ages, and yesterday it came true. The bird bath was covered and once the snow was scraped off the top the water beneath was solid. The bare stems of the fig tree behind are usually hidden by it’s summer foliage when I paint this corner of the garden.

Winter tree

I have painted this tree before but never at this time of year. Usually it’s Spring and Summer foliage hide much of the cottage behind it. The notice pinned on the left hand side of the trunk is a long list of things you are not allowed to do on the grass beneath. At one time, a simple ‘Keep off the grass’ would have been enough, but these days it seems everything has to be spelt out and itemized.

Kitchen fruit

Drawing some fruit in the kitchen today, the banana reminded me of the cucumbers we grew in the garden last summer. How it passed whatever quality control bananas have to go through before sitting on the supermarket shelf, I don’t know!

I drew this in a Red Grey ink and used mostly a palette of Lemon Yellow, New Gamboge, Cadmium Scarlet, Permanent Rose, Cobalt Blue and Winsor Violet on some Bockingford paper.

The Snake plant

I saw this little plant sitting on a shelf away from others of it’s kind in the supermarket, looking as though it wished it was somewhere happier. So I brought it home. Not a lot of colour of course, but at least it is unlikely to wilt any time soon, so stands a chance of being painted more than once.

It’s proper name is Dracaena Trifasciata. Although I know it as ‘Mother-in-law’s tongue’ I didn’t know, until I looked it up, that it also goes by the name of ‘Saint George’s sword’ and ‘Viper’s Bowstring hemp’ Now I know why it was looking so miserable. I shouldn’t be surprised if it was suffering from an identity crisis.

I mostly mixed the greens from Lemon Yellow, Cobalt blue and Prussian blue, darkening them with either Permanent Alizarin crimson or Winsor Violet.