Monday, 28 September 2015

Needful Things

Now, you all know how much I love a good sketchbook. Over the years I have collected published sketchbooks and have a fine collection of, 'stuffed to the max' books of all descriptions full of meanderings, sketches, old bus tickets, you name it and I'll stick it in. In truth, a book of ephemera. And if I think it's beautiful, it goes in a book. (See the end of this post for an exclusive new idea starting in 2016)

According to the dictionary:

  1. things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time.
    "there were papers, letters, old boxes—all sorts of ephemera"
    • collectable items that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity.
      "Mickey Mouse ephemera"

One of my great design heroes William Morris had the right idea:

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

William Morris

Thinking about it, It all started when I was at art college where a couple of tutors who were obsessed with collections of stuff really got us all thinking about how and why we surround ourselves, and seem to have a need for things. If we look about at what our most precious possessions are, they tend not to be highly valuable, but sentimental objects that have little monetary value, but we would be bereft without them.

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things,

 but their inward significance.


As an artist, you would think that my most favourite objects would be art related, a paintbox or a vintage jar, something like that. But actually one of my all time precious objects is a pebble picked up from a loch side in Scotland. It's nothing special, just a smallish, rounded granite pebble that 'Husband' thought I might like, so went wading in to get it. See, I'm easily pleased.

Song lyrics with an autumn flavour dance among the dahlia buds

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

Mother Teresa

Ah, I digress. Let's get back to those sketchbooks. A sketchbook in my hands is never a serious academic masterwork. No, it has to be seriously silly in places, and not take itself too seriously containing little snippets here and there of recipes, quotes, poetry, colour notes, observations, pressed flowers, drawings and stuff like that. What I really love is to look back at one of my old sketchbooks and be totally surprised by what I actually decided to put in it. For the sketchbook exchange I painted a small orange tent for one entry. And why not!

Some of my favourite sketchbook pages from a year of the sketchbook exchange and my own books.

That orange tent
Seeds, periwinkles and the March winds blew across these pages.
Perhaps I was reminded of my parents in their youth, camping in Scotland at Easter
 when the snow was falling and the winds were still sharp

Tree trunk against a snowy river bank

Thumbnails help when working out compositions

Clucky and friend

I love a good window

It's honeysuckle time, so it must be Shakespeare

Clucky returns
and leaf rubbing is fun
A more traditional botanical sketchbook page
Pink, and a slightly romantic sticker of a dicentra reflect the month of love 

And back to the added extras
An open window, a sky study
and adding salt to wet washes to create texture
Plus a cosmos sketch

Typography plays an important part on many of my pages 

The colour of the type, matches the season
Chilly grey January days pepped up by bright res rose hips


And now for an exclusive: Inspired by my lovely friends on the Nature Trail 

Starting in January 2016, (yes, it's not that far away now) I am planning a new series of monthly sketchbook classes at Squirrel HQ. Each month we can plan ideas for what to include and how to compose a really beautiful page to sum up the feeling of the month. Whatever you fancy, yes even a bright orange tent can be added and I will be on hand to demonstrate painting techniques, give some tips on composition and of course provide the tea and cakes. January class planned for Wed 13th or Thurs 14th. So if you fancy a jolly day in Hampshire, get in touch.

And what if you can't make it to Hampshire, or are one of my lovely readers from overseas? Well, look out on the new membership tuition website when it launches later this year as there will be an exclusive monthly sketchbook section to help you create a beautiful reflection of your year. Let me know what you think.  

When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. 
And when you have fun, you can do amazing things.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Fade to Grey

Crikey folks, I can't believe we are nearly half way through September already. Where on earth did 2015 go? With autumn workshops here at Squirrel HQ off and running and paintings being finished for exhibitions next year, I rather fancy in the blink of an eye it will be 'that' time of year again, (yes, that's right, Christmas).

Not to let the grass grow, it's been time for Squirrel to venture forth into new territories too. After a prompt boot up the virtual backside by my good friend and fellow artist and blogger Vicki Lee Johnston, I finally took the plunge and headed on over to Instagram, set up an account (find me as Sketchbook Squirrel), and duly got snapping on my phone and tablet. Pinterest has also proved a worthy seam of interest, so you can find me scuffling around there too. 

To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.

William Blake

It was a time of seed collection last week, and I am continuing to find some lovely things in the garden that I am really looking forward to planting again this year. Trialling some new annuals has been fun, with lots of really pretty flowers, particularly the little trumpets of the acid lemon/white nicotine flowers that have been on the go for months. Only this morning there was talk of an enormous moth the size of a bat taking a shine to nicotiana plants, so I will be keeping a watch to see if we get one. We get bats dodging about in the garden so it's not a completely outrageous notion.  To read more on this one, and see an extraordinary little film of said creature, head to the BBC for a little video and there's also an article from the Telegraph.

Convulvulus Hawkmoth

These palm-sized moths migrate through Europe in the early autumn
Conservationists are calling for us Brits to keep a beady eye out for them

Image c/o The Telegraph

Elsewhere, there is a new painting under way. If you recall a little while ago, I told you I was going all pink and purple again, (a bit like the new cushions in our sitting room, but that's another story) and apart from a small venture off piste into browns with a poppy sketch, the pinks are back. Oh happy day! Sneaky peek at the subject time

Love the ruffly, fading edges and subtle colour variation of pinks, purples and palest grey in the dying petals.

The centre detail will add a nice point of focus.

Hopefully, with this last one I will have all five of the paintings I plan to enter for the SBA next year. Working from photos, colour notes and sketches taken at the time will be helpful but I sense this one will be a challenge.

Perfect Palette

These have been lovely to use and I am happy to get back to this beautiful selection by the ever reliable DS

Just couldn't resist this from my favourite Ted Baker 
A major treat from 'Husband' and the lining is such a delicious cornucopia

Certainly don't want to attract any moths to these particular blooms. 

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Seed Bank

'Dreams are the seeds of change. Nothing ever grows without a seed, and nothing ever changes without a dream.'

Debby Boone

'Tis the season of ,'mellow fruitfulness', or so the saying goes. With September comes the last of the summer blooms and the abundance of my courgettes and tomatoes. Fro some reason, whenever I think of September I think of the first day back at school and my dad picking one of the Worcester Pearmain apples from the tree in our garden for my lunch. It seemed that dad was making sure there was something reassuring and homely to soothe those first day nerves. Well, that's what I have always thought and daren't break that little bubble by asking him. 

They may not be the most perfect of specimens,
but from my own garden, they will be delicious 
Just now there are some lovely things to find other than apples in the garden. With many of the early spring and summer flowers well and truly over, there are many ripening seed heads to be foraged. I love collecting seeds, and always end up with tons of envelopes full of seeds, although quite often I forget to label them and and have no idea what they are until I plant them out the following spring.

Envelopes of seeds for next year.
Lupins, marigolds, cosmos and antirrhinums, (or 'bunny rabbits').
Well at least I won't forget the dahlia cuttings I took earlier this year. 

The architectural nature of some seed heads can be really spectacular and really make interesting subjects for paintings. Forget the dried up, crusty, brown boring poor relations of the plant world, look closely and there are great shapes, surprising colours and long lasting structures that are as beautiful as the flowers they once bore.

Two of my favourite Alliums also have great seed heads.
Christophii and Sensation.
You can also spray them with silver spray paint to make fabulous Christmas decorations

Poppies are always welcome and behave themselves beautifully when you want to paint them.

A quick sketchbook study and colour notes.

Lilacs, blues as well as the warm yellows and browns feature here

A collection of curiosities.
And a few more to try