Thursday, 19 December 2013

Venturous Harbinger of Spring, (hopefully)

Receiving new materials is always exciting, and this week I finally bought myself the Stillman and Birn Zeta series sketchbook I had been promising myself for ages. As soon as I opened it, it oozed quality. A beautifully bound, hardback book with 270g smooth, natural white paper, thick enough to support watercolour washes will be a treat to use. Of course, I have loads of sketchbooks in my collection (hence the name of the blog), as the family always think of them as useful gift ideas, but this one is a bit special and will be used for a very special project in the new year. But more on that later.

With Christmas just around the corner, I have been out and about, finishing off those last minute things that always seem to take ages and keep me away from the desk. Still, it's a fun time of year and I enjoy the smiles and joy that my efforts bring to family and friends. Alas, methinks the desk will stay rather empty until after the festivities. Well, I deserve a bit of a Christmas this year, as last year I was busy working on a leek and onion for my SBA Diploma. Very festive, ha, ha.

Lots of lovely fresh green, but the petals are a little too grey
This time around, I am working on something a little more seasonal, snowdrops. I love the simplicity and pure delicacy of these flowers, they look tender, but are in fact quite hardy little plants. In the language of flowers, snowdrops represent hope. Quite apt really when snowdrops are some of the earliest flowering plants of the new year, and herald the start of spring and the warmer weather to come, hopefully. Historically, snowdrops are native to damp woodland and meadows but are not believed to be native to the British Isles. The first recording of snowdrops growing wild here doesn't appear until the 18th century. However, they have certainly become very popular since.  

LONE Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they
But hardier far, once more I see thee bend
Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend,
Like an unbidden guest. Though day by day,
Storms, sallying from the mountain-tops, waylay
The rising sun, and on the plains descend;
Yet art thou welcome, welcome as a friend
Whose zeal outruns his promise! Blue-eyed May
Shall soon behold this border thickly set
With bright jonquils, their odours lavishing
On the soft west-wind and his frolic peers;
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget,
Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring,
And pensive monitor of fleeting years!

William Wordsworth 1819

If you fancy a wintry day out, top spots to see snowdrops planted breathtakingly en masse include Kingston Lacey in Dorset; Anglesey Abbey Gardens, Cambridgeshire; The Argory, Co. Armagh; Nymans, West Sussex; Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire and many other fabulous locations. It really is a wondrous site to see snowdrops peeking out from the snow in such huge numbers.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Accidents and Accessories

Yet again it has been an eventful week here at Squirrel HQ. 'Husband's' terrible near miss bicycle accident last week, with a trip to our local Accident and Emergency department certainly made for a nervous (and long) evening. Luckily it all looked worse than it was and no bones were broken, thankfully.

Preparations for the festive season are also in full swing, with wrapping paper, baubles, baking and ribbon rather taking precedent over any painting just now. However, things have not been neglected totally this week, as my delightful printer yet again works his magic on a couple of pieces, making them ready for printing. Updates on the website soon.   

Elsewhere, my little flower accessories have been doing really well, and I am having to source new bits and bobs and off-cuts of fabric to keep up with demand. As these were a bit of fun and an accidental side line, I have been really pleased with how well they have gone down. Thanks to everyone who has bought one, I am currently working on some pieces for friends and family who have birthdays soon. Here's how I go about making them. Oh, and now you know what you're getting girls.

Step by step
The cotton fabrics I love to use, have natural themes such as leaves and flowers. Colours are always bright and cheerful, so oranges, pinks, reds and purples are favourites, and work nicely with the greens and steely blues of the plain material to give a complimentary finish. Cutting, folding and pinning are the fiddliest bits before stringing and tying off. Then comes the fun bit, finishing off with the buttons and finds.

Making good use of the things that I find.

My family consider me to be something of a magpie, or more likely, a Womble. Whenever I'm out, I always seem to find something, and can often be found with my head down, scouring the area for dropped treasures. The flotsam and jetsam of life. The little bird was found a good few years ago, on a side street near Trafalgar Square, just after a delicious lunch with the family. The Mother of Pearl earring is something of an antique, but no use on it's own. If I see something pretty or useful on the ground, it finds a new home.

And you can never have too many buttons

All ready to go.
Just a couple more of these to finish off, then it's back to the botanicals for workshop ideas and that new piece I have been avoiding. 


Monday, 9 December 2013

The Revival Continues

Once again, Squirrel HQ was a hive of activity as the family again pulled together for another weekend of fun and frolics working hard on the shed. Of course, it is looking less and less like a shed every time we do something to it and now all the plasterboard is installed, it looks more like a proper room. The outside hasn't changed too much , apart from the new roof, but this will all change when the new door and windows go in.

All the plasterboard in place and power points fitted

This weekend, I had the added pleasure of seeing my brother for the first time in months. He and his girlfriend are currently in the stomach churning experience of buying a new house, so it was delightful that he was able to make time for the trip out to, 'The Sticks' (the countryside). Now, 'Brother' is no slouch when it comes to hard work, and I was really impressed with his determination to get the job done, getting to grips with some of the more 'unique' aspects the building poses to the unsuspecting. As it was his first time working on it, he was not prepared for the out of line walls, and not quite straight doorway. Ah bless you, you really did give it your best and I am forever grateful.

My brother and my hard working mum          

Mum and Dad of course did their usual swarm of locusts attack on the job and before I knew it, there was a completely finished plasterboard shell, plastered edges where the plasterboard pieces join, (there is a slight dip at the edges that gets filled with finishing plaster for a smooth finish), a skirting board, a door frame that actually isn't rotting away and the beginnings of a dado rail and some cupboards made from the window frames Dad made that he isn't quite happy with, as they are just a bit too big.

Finishing the edges of the plasterboard

The edges of the plasterboard gets finished with scrim. This is a kind of tape that secures the edges before plastering. Oh and all of the electrics have now been given life.

These were going to be my new windows

The window frames are now going to be the framework for a series of cupboards along the end wall. here I will have a lovely worktop where the all important tea will be made. Along the top of the worktop there will be a Dado rail as a finishing touch. Our old fridge is still in good working order, so I will have that in here too.

Skirting board. Hurrah!!

An unexpected disaster with the frame around our garage door meant that my poor husband was tied up all weekend with replacing all of the wood and rebuilding the frame to support the door. His joinery skills were certainly tested and he learnt some new skills, (as well as some new swear words). At the end of Sunday, all was well, thankfully.          

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Seasons to be Cheerful

With the chilly days of winter, (although that doesn't officially start until the 21st December, the shortest day) starting to set in, it's time to stay in and stay warm. And so, with the woodburner lit once more, it's time to snuggle up with the tomes from the bookshelf and dream of spring.  

Wishful thinking there. Of course not, there's no time for such musings, there is work to be done and no time to do it. Back to that sketchbook then, for ideas and practise and a romp round the garden to see how things are doing. Many of our trees still have their leaves on and the last of the roses are just about hanging on too with a couple of late blackberries giving the blackbirds a treat. The faded glories of summer are still there, if we look.

As you know, I have been pondering the next piece and it has been a real struggle to settle on a subject. Thinking about the pieces I already have, I don't really have any studies of flowers that I really like. That sounds a bit mad for a botanical artist really, but I haven't got a good, classical composition of a single plant subject, so now is the time to address that. Keeping it seasonal, interest in the winter garden may come from flowers, foliage, berries and dramatic evergreens. Classic winter blooms include Hellebores, Camellias, Witch Hazel and early flowering Iris, while foliage and berries can be found from Ivy, Holly and festive Mistletoe.

The ivy buds berries and flowers are always useful

An early graphite study of a variegated ivy leaf

Garrya elliptica has long tassel flowers. These don't arrive until Feb

My first painting of a Holly leaf for the leaf challenge last year

Last year, whilst completing the mixed and illustration pieces for my diploma, I had much the same problem and in the end settled for a mix of berries and catkins and an early flowering camellia. This time around, I would like something with a little more zing and I rather fancy the glossy evergreens and the architectural interest of cyclamens and early flowering rhododendrons, (they also have great looking buds). Although, I think I might keep it contemporary by selecting opening buds and backs of flowers as these are the bits that always hold my interest the most. We will have to see what I can get. 

Dahlia 'Party'

The back of a flower gives so much information as to the anatomy of how it forms and opens. The colour of the back of a petal can also be quite different from the front, so although this might be considered the 'showy' side, the back can also be quite beautiful. The dahlia I painted had a gorgeous 'raspberry ripple' effect that was more pronounced on the back of the flower, with green and burnt umber tones from the bud still in evidence. Really pretty. And buds too, I love buds.

Dahlia 'Party'