Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Autumn glory

We have explored miles and miles of local footpaths, it's amazing that we're still discovering new routes. This afternoon, in mild - almost muggy- weather, we set off following the map to explore paths new to us . . .

We found ourselves in this beautiful wood - moments before I took this photo a herd of fallow deer ran through the woods from right to left right in front of us.

And after the woods there was this panoramic view - Suffolk doesn't get much higher than this (120m). It's so difficult to capture the subtlety of fading light and distant fields (click on the picture to enlarge it) there's so much in that strip of landscape between ploughed earth and sky.

The hedgerows are full of autumn fruits . . .

The unlikely combination of the vivid pink casings and the orange seeds of the Spindle bush - a spangly explosion of colour!

Plump clusters of inky blue sloes tucked among the leaves turning buttery yellow on the Blackthorn bushes.

And blood-red haws on the prickly tangle of the Hawthorn - a feast waiting for the arrival of the winter thrushes from the far north. My mind is stuffed full of images to keep me happy through dark evenings and cold nights which will arrive very soon.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

One year on . . .

I'm twixt projects this week ('twixt' the local estate agents love that word . . . "situated twixt Newmarket and Haverhill" it always makes us smile.) More time to do some extended lunch time gardening and enjoy being outdoors.

We're having amazing mild weather at the moment, so I decided to check what I was posting about a year ago and see what the weather was like in late October 2008 (frosty actually). But :-O ooops! I had completely forgotten! Exactly a year ago last Monday the Spice Girls moved in to live in our garden and started work as trainee under-gardeners.

I think that's what Ginger has been trying to tell me every time I go to the out-house to get my gardening gear.

OK Ginge' what would you and the girls like as an anniversary treat?

"To do whatever we want in the vegetable garden, please!"

There was certainly no hesitation when I opened the green door in the garden wall . . . LOL!

And they soon found lots to do . . .

I suppose I ought to give the Spice Girls a one year appraisal, have they been working hard?

Nutmeg is fast and nimble, she can even steal a crust of bread from head girl Ruby, this is admirable given that she is bottom of the pecking order! She also lays the most beautiful pale turquoise blue eggs. However she tends to go broody quite frequently and when she does her behaviour disrupts the whole flock - so much that they stop laying in the nest boxes and hide their eggs under the hedge to avoid a confrontation. Nutmeg needs to address this issue before next summer.

Saffron is a quiet and unassuming hen, but her character has developed over the months and she has an independent streak - laying her pale teal-blue eggs in 'the other nestbox' and standing up for herself against bullying from Phoebe. She has been broody and stubbornly refuses to leave the nest but her behaviour is tollerated by the other hens. She has also been through the moult and is now laying again. Safffon is still quite nervous, although recently she has been learning from Ginger to be more sociable, this is something she can build on in the future.

And last, but in no way least, Ginger - an extremely confident and quick witted hen, a born leader (but with Ruby still very much in charge her chances of promotion are slim). Ginger hasn't been broody or been through a major moult, she consistently lays large sage green eggs of very high quality. She enjoys learning new skills and has great potential beyond her current job as an under-gardener.

Well done Spices! We've enjoyed the past year, hope you enjoyed your anniversary treat :-)

Monday, 26 October 2009

Fractured colours

There has been a slight delay in the next brief for digital illustration work arriving, so today I had the perfect opportunity to finish the prints I started over a week ago . . . remember the stripes?

Well, here they are in the backgound of Version II of the night hares prints.

Silhouetted trees on an ancient hill fort . . .

and glowing sunset colours behind dancing hares . . .

I just completed printing them and got them all pegged up to dry, as the light faded away and it wasn't yet five o'clock.

There was just enough light to photograph them using the 'night' setting on the camera. As I was looking at the pictures a memory sidled into my mind - pictures I was fascinated by a long time ago . . . and there they were in a book on the shelf, a 'First Primer' with my Mum's name written neatly in the front. It's very old fashioned even for 1933 when this copy was printed, it was first printed in 1900 and the children in it are dressed in neat starched pinafores, knikerbockers and sailor collars. But it was the printing, with fractured not quite registered colours and the inky black lines printed over the top that used to fascinate me. Ideas seem to slow cook with me, sometimes for years and then pop into my mind as if from nowhere.

Not quite the end of the working day - after printing there's always the cleaning up and it's the bit I like the least. It helps that I work on my own - I hated those printmaking sessions at art college when the inked glass slabs had become a disgusting melange of every ink on the shelf. At least cleaning is now made slightly less toxic by using vegetable cooking oil, I use this vintage oil can (rescued from my Dad's workshop) to dispense squirts of sunflower oil onto the block and the glass ink-mixing slab. Ooops, just look at those messy fingers - I'll never get work as a hand model!

Saturday, 24 October 2009

An invitation to pop along to Long Melford

This morning I went to one of my favourite villages, just a flying visit between buying meat at my new favourite butcher's shop and the big Saturday shop at the local supermarket. I would normally want to linger for longer.

To walk up the hill to one of the most spectacular churches in East Anglia; or have a delicious lunch at The Black Lion; or to browse around the many antique emporia; or wander along the very long main street and pop into all the lovely little shops . . .

. . . and galleries . . .

like this one, which I did go into this morning to deliver my framed prints. Jean and Jessica who run The Jessica Muir Gallery, spotted my prints in Verandah in Norwich and when they realised that I lived in Suffolk (not far from Long Melford) they invited me to exhibit in their gallery.

My prints will be on show alongside a wonderful range of art and crafts – I spotted some beautiful pictures, jewellery, ceramics and very special Christmas decorations. So if you live within reach of Long Melford I can recommend a visit as the festive season approaches; after you've got the Christmas presents and special foodie treats sorted you can warm your toes by a real fire in (my fave) The Black Lion or one of the many other traditional hostelries and have a seasonal tipple.


Friday, 23 October 2009

Core activities

We are lucky to have a Bramley apple tree in our garden, it is low and spreading and very productive. This year the crop is exceptional; Cliff has picked and stored lots for later in the winter but the tree is still laden with beautiful apples. The ones that fall off will attract a visiting Muntjac for a midnight feast.

The autumn sunshine has given the Bramleys rosy cheeks this year. They make perfect baked apples, with their tummies stuffed with sultanas, brown sugar and a knob of butter - can there be a more perfect autumn treat!

The leafy greens and herbs I sowed in early September have been a huge success. Last night I picked greens to accompany salmon steaks. Mizuna, Pak Choy and some gorgeous Dill. I think fresh Dill is one of my favourite flavours, this year the late sowing has produced lots of blue green feathery leaves. I don't think it will survive the frosts so I'll have to eat lots or maybe put a cloche over it for protection.

In the studio I've been printing stripes. I had a sudden idea and just had to try it out. The plan was to complete the prints on Monday, then the phone rang - a design studio I've been doing some work for - a major crisis - all hands on deck - please - please . . . oh, OK then. That's what it's like when you're freelance . . . the stripes will have to wait. I'll show you the finished prints one day.

The weather has been splendid and my cold is much better (not 100% but getting there) so I couldn't resist getting stuck in to a new gardening project. I got an idea when Cliff and I were dismantling the fences that were around what is now our Wild Wood; we had gained lots of wire netting. My enforced rest last winter and the enthusiasm the under-gardeners have for UGPs* has resulted in the garden borders being out of my control. I need to put my foot down and the wire netting was just what I needed to make boundaries to separate plant from hen.

During my lunch-time garden workout today I completed the first border boundary fence - Sylvie inspected it. I know the under-gardeners are quite capable of hopping over the top, but my cunning plan is that this will stop them from a favourite UGP, merging the border with the lawn.

Meanwhile back in the studio my two assitants have been hard at work all week - they never get flustered even when there's a deadline crisis and the editor changes her mind at the last minute. What would I do without them?

The Tabby One

The Ginger One

* UGPs = Unauthorised Gardening Project

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A festival of light

What's the weather like where you are? Here it's very bright and very very still . . . and quiet - or is it my ears? I'm trying to kick off this pig of a cold and rather glum that I don't feel up to a few hours gardening. Oooooo no, my ears are working - here come the Apache helicopters doing a low level swoop over the village (they always whizz over this way when it's nice and sunny!).

I don't feel like getting out the fork and wheelbarrow, but I did stroll over to the greenhouse to pick a chilli to pep up the leftover pasta bake for my lunch. Are chilis good for colds? It feels like they should be. My hearing may be a bit rubbish but my eyes were assaulted by colour and light; how apt on the eve of Diwali, the Festival of Light.

On the old metal watering can a beautiful red dragonfly was soaking up the rays, he looks so exotic - another dragonfly species to add to our garden visitors list. I've checked on the excellent and very useful Field Studies Council 'Guide to Dragonflies and Damselflies of Britain' and it seems he's a Common Darter, Sympetrum striolatum. I think he deserves a more poetic name, don't you?

The hens are taking full advantage of the sun and are basking. They descend into their basking poses like hovercrafts slowly deflating - it always makes me smile. Our head girl and boss 'senior under-gardener', Ruby is moulting; as is little Nutmeg and although they are usually at opposite ends of 'the pecking order' they are now being sisterly and stand together, preening (it won't last). It must be very uncomfortable and undignified when ones feathers get pushed out by the stubby quills of new plumage. Don't worry, they'll be the belles of the ball when their new feathers have grown.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Warm reds

Do you remember I started making little crochet squares while in the 'sommerhus' in Denmark? Well, they're all finished and joined together - just in time, the evenings are getting chilly (and so is my studio first thing in the morning).

I'm thrilled - the colours are friendly with my cosy Gudrun Sjoden dress and my favourite tomato soup coloured cardi :-)

Oh . . . and it's an excuse to wear the beautiful silver fish Cliff bought for me in Scotland the week after we got engaged.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Weekend garden tasks

Some garden chores are planned, some take you by surprise . . .

Walking through the vegetable garden a few days ago, my eye was caught by a beautiful lilac flower - a saffron crocus! Of course it's time to watch for crocus blooms and harvest the delicate golden stamens. Checking through past postings I realised that sure enough this exact same week last year I posted about saffron.

Here is this year's harvest of precious fragant stamens. I'll have to find a recipe to make full use of our home grown gold - any suggestions?

Another 'must do' job was to pick the squash and put them somewhere dry to cure so they would store for another couple of months. After all the hard graft digging out the Three Sisters bed and tending the plants, just five squash from four plants is disappointing - but you can't win them all and the sweetcorn has been wonderful. The five squash are a good size and each will easily make four meals for two - can't complain about that.

The lovely blue-green smooth skinned ones are a Spanish variety, Dulce de Horno - the flesh should be very sweet, I'll have to try some dessert recipes. The onion shaped green knobbly squash are Chicago Warted Hubbard, grown from seed from the Heritage Seed Library. I was attracted by the photo in the HSL catalogue - a gorgeous pale copper coloured squash. Mmmmm? mine are green, will they go copper coloured as they cure in the sun, I wonder?

Here's another job that had been waiting to be done - planting the garlic and over-wintering shallots and onions. The soil has been so dry for weeks, I've waited for rain and at last we've had some, enough to make the soil moist and just right for planting.

Another thing on the list, 'make sloe gin' - I'd bought the gin (Tescos value gin - do you think it's good enough?) and decided to hold on as long as possible to pick the sloes from our blackthorn bush on the bank of the brook that runs along the side on the vegetable garden. Some sloes had started to wrinkle and the nights have started to get chilly - it surely must be time to pick the sloes.

I picked all I could reach, washed them and pricked them with a bamboo cocktail stick and stuffed them in a clean olve oil bottle with a nice rubber seal stopper. I added some sugar and then poured in 70 cl of gin - hey! how about that - it exactly filled the bottle! That gave me such pleasure!

Here are our lovely home-grown sloes bobbing about in the sugary gin . . .

Before I go I'll tell you about this afternoon -we went for a walk, about eight miles zig-zagging along the Suffolk/ Cambridgeshire border along the edges of woods, over fields, alongside rivers and paddocks. We stopped briefly to watch a herd of Fallow does - spotted backed and stripy tailed, some 'melanistic' does - dusky and dark. Here are a couple of photos I took along the way -

green pastures and blocky woods on the skyline . . .

and at the end, the most perfect glimpe of Ely cathedral on the rising ground far far away across the fens - colours and textures as sublime as a painting by Gainsborough.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Now showing at The Riverslade Gallery

I'd better tell you why I've been busy framing prints . . .

A selection of my prints and cards are now for sale at The Riverslade Gallery in Saffron Walden. The gallery is run by members of SWAT (Saffron Walden Arts Trust) all the art and craft for sale is made by local artists and makers. After being 'approved' by the committee I was given the thumbs up to deliver some framed and unframed prints and some cards to the gallery. I've just returned to my studio after delivering my work to Tony, who was looking after the gallery today, it's lovely to be part of such a talented group of local artists and a great excuse to go to Saffron Walden more often - I love the market and Sceptred Isle (the lovely deli) and there's a brilliant Oxfam bookshop (bought three novels today).

If you're in the area, you'll find The Riverslade Gallery in Hill Street, just at the end of the little lane leading to Waitrose - you'll see the sign on the railing . . .

when the gallery is open you'll see a board at the end of the lane - don't be shy, pop in and have a browse . . .

you'll find lots of beautiful things and it's a great place for Christmas present buying - I'm going to drop hints about the gorgeous jewellery ;-)

Tuesday, 6 October 2009


Taking some framed prints to a gallery tomorrow . . . nearly ready

Monday, 5 October 2009


On my way to the kitchen last night, my eye was caught by the silvery light outside. I ran for my camera and although I knew I wouldn't be able to capture the scene perfectly, this one came close . . .

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Birmingham and the kings of bling

If I wrote a 'Things to do before I'm 50' list, I not sure that 'Go to Birmingham' would have been on it, but when I said that for my birthday treat I'd like to do just that I realised (and I'm ashamed to admit this) I'd never been there before.

Walking around the historic Jewellery Quarter you get the message in big bold type - this is the UK capital of bling . . . we're talking serious sparkle here and not just for the girls, there's lots of serious heavy duty bling for sale.

But, as we assured the man outside the diamond shop, we weren't in Birmingham to buy rocks; we were here to join this queue . . .

. . . to get a glimpe of some very special boys' bling . . . warriors' bling over 1200 years old . . . in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.

Cliff and I had stood in a few queues over the years: the Vatican (very wet); the Alhambra (very hot); the Reichstag (very very cold). This queue was very English - polite, reserved, well informed by a lovely lady with a megaphone who told us where the toilets were and how much longer we would have to queue. Just across the square was a convenient branch of Greggs, so we could get a cup of tea and a mince pie (yes, that's right, October 3rd my first mince pie of the season!). And just when we were getting a little bit bored, along came some Morris Men to entertain us . . .

. . . just look at the swanky gear these boys are wearing!!!

After nearly two hours it was our turn to look at The Staffordshire Hoard - well, not all of it, about sixty of the 1500 fragments unearthed from a Midlands field a few weeks ago. If you can't get to Birmingham next week and can't wait three or more years, there's a very good web site dedicated to the archaeological find of the century.

Here's a sneeky look at just one of the stunning gold and garnet pieces (I've borrowed it from the official web site). This is part of the hilt of a dagger, it's about the size of a matchbox and is decorated with the most beautiful inlay work made of shaped and polished blood red garnets set in gold with engraved gold foil under the gems so they sparkle more - even with the mud from the field still sticking it.

So, who left a pile of gold lying around in a field? Perhaps we'll never know . . . or just maybe . . .

He fell beneath his shield,
in the same gem-crusted, kingly gear
he had worn when he crossed the frothing wave-vat.
So the dead king fell . . .

They took his breast mail, and also his neck-torque,
and punier warriors plundered the slain
when the carnage ended.

The captain saw treasure in abundance
but carried no spoils from those quarters
except for the head and the inlaid sword-hilt
embossed with jewels . . .

now that they were left
masters of the blood-soaked battleground.
One warrior stripped the other,
looted Ongentheow's iron mail coat,
his hard sword-hilt, his helmet too,
and carried the graith to King Hygelac;
he accepted the prize, promised fairly
that reward would come, and kept his word.

These are quotes from Beowulf, the dramatic epic Anglo-Saxon poem in this recent translation by Seamus Heaney. Once a poem for the serious study of the roots of the English language, it's dramatic descriptions of brave warriors, battles and the burial of a heroic chief were considered a Saxon poet's fantasy on myths of olden times. Then the finds at Sutton Hoo showed us that the burial described in the poem was was no imaginary scene - it was reality in seventh century Suffolk. Now, perhaps, the warriors who stride through the stanzas of Beowulf wearing 'gem-crusted' gear were like the ones who fell on the battlefields of seventh century Staffordshire and had their riches stripped from their bodies - perhaps to present to a King in return for great rewards . . . but the plundered gold and blood red gems were left buried in a field . . . for over a twelve hundred years . . . until this summer.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

It's October!

I could just write "see below" because this week has been more or less just like last week - I've popped out to see the under-gardeners from time to time; I had sweetcorn for lunch; I've been spending most of the time at the computer with Photoshop - the studio-assistants keeping me company; and it hasn't rained.

But, let's celebrate the fact that IT'S OCTOBER - hurrah, my favourite month. I love the hedgerows full of lovely fruits and colours, the days which are often so bright and sunny and the slight chill in the air which is an excuse to put on snugly socks and jumpers (I'm not a hot weather girl). And also, tomorrow is my birthday – no NOT the big one with a zero at the end, but nearly - as Cliff reminded me this morning, tomorrow I'm entering the last year of my first half century! Better make it one to remember then!

Before I get back to the grindstone and draw and colour more illustrations (I'm helping a studio to sort out a revision/re-print - if you've ever worked for a publisher those words will probably strike dread into your heart!) I'll show you some pictures of our garden taken this lunchtime . . .

Most of the garden looks like this . . .

The under-gardeners think that this is a vast improvement, Cliff and I have other opinions!

However there are some things in the garden which have thrived in the dry heat, like the containers in the courtyard planted with scented geranium 'Snowflake' which has grown huge and has beautiful lemon-cream fragrance and a lovely fresh green colour and Pineapple Sage - a plant I've had for years and thought it hadn't survived the winter - just look at it! it smells wonderful too.

Behind you can just the tomatoes, after a very slow start they are wonderful this year and without a sign of blight.

In the borders there are some gorgeous splashes of colour from plants which don't mind the arid conditions. Here is salvia greggii with it's cloud of salmon red flowers and the yellow autumn foliage of thalictrum glaucum.

The vegetable garden is very 'end of season' with dying vegetation and seed pods. But a late sowing of salad leaves just before we went on holiday has done really well - look at these lovely lettuce leaves, a variety called 'Summer Marvel', seeds bought in La Palma last January.

Must get back to the task in hand, line drawings this afternoon . . . quilt, chick, cake (might need reference for that one)

I'll keep you updated on Twitter - there are exciting things in the diary this month.