There's nothing like monthly deadlines to speed up time! Already on my desk, I have Frank Ronan's words for 'The writer's plot' for the February 2017 edition of Gardens Illustrated magazine. January's illustration is done and probably at the printers by now.
Then I realised I'd failed to update this blog with the past six, yes a half year's worth!, of monthly illustrations. If you read the magazine you will have seen all of these already, but I like to keep a record of them here, and for those who don't see the magazine, here we go . . .
August's theme was Frank's neglected English garden (he now resides in California) and his joy of revisiting the damp, green and overgrown plot. Much like the outer edges of my own garden, I thought - so I sketched some bindweed, buttercup, cow parsley and wood avens from life . . .
. . . and added some blackbirds - I'm sure there are blackbirds enjoying Frank's plot while he is away.
Then onto September and Frank was in a gloomy mood - plants were dying in his Californian garden, expensive large and precious plants. He blamed his dog. A tricky subject to give a positive and decorative spin, so I decided to play it straight and focus on the wrongly accused dog.
Because it was gophers that were to blame. Frank is now waging war on gophers! And I'm now thinking grey squirrels aren't so bad after all.
October, and Frank is back to writing about his English garden and the pleasure of dahlias and succulents still looking good as autumn fades into winter. I sketched the dahlias which were flowering right outside my studio . . .
. . . combined with sketches of succulents in pots by out kitchen door, it made a cheerful design of rosette shapes printed in a rich pinky-red.
November's subject returned to Agaves, at first my heart sank as much I like them (and Frank seems to have a passion for them) I was floundering for spark of inspiration. It didn't help that I had to shoehorn this illustration into a couple of free days in a very busy August which included a few days in London. While I was visiting the Sky Garden at the top of one of the City's newest high-rise buildings (by the way, do visit if you can, it's free and it's fabulous!) I spotted plant label - "that's what I have to draw for Frank's article" I said out loud, before kneeling down on the marble steps to get a good angle for some photos.
The plant at the Sky Garden wasn't in flower but I found some photos of the swan-necked flower spikes and they reminded my of fireworks, which seemed apt for the November magazine.
December, nearly the end of the year and the Christmas edition of the magazine . . . and Frank is musing about weeping (bear with me, he has his reasons) he needed to get something off his chest, the subject of weeping forms of tree and how some people are snobby about them. It's an amusing read and as with many of Frank's articles contains some references that had me scurrying off to google to check out their exact meanings (hence the copious notes in my sketch book).
The idea for the composition arrived in my head fully formed – a weeping Cercidiphyllum (or Katsura tree) over a pond of golden carp.
To mark the end of the year Gardens Illustrated magazine has a Special plants edition, this year for the 13th issue of 2016 Frank returned to his favourite subject . . . yes it's another agave! To be fair Frank realises that he has written about succulents in more than a few articles this year, but he has a valid excuse - a specialist succulents nursery not far from his home in California has closed down and there is a liquidation sale! Frank is extremely excited by the chance to buy huge specimens of the agaves on his wish-list. I loved Frank's description: "There was the mother plant of Agave bracteosa with all her pups still peering out from under her skirts", it reminded me of a dame's costume in a pantomine, which is rather apt for the festive season.
After scanning my sketch I worked on the design some more using Photoshop, and added birds and a lizard - after all, neglected greenhouses would be sure to have wildlife sneaking in among the plants. And to mark the passing of the old year into the new I reversed out the left side and made the background the night sky with the sun rising on the opposite side.
I'm not sure how I fitted these into the the past few months, but I still get a spark of excitement when a new article from Frank arrives via the magazine editors to my inbox. Yes even if it's another agave! I'm beginning to love them too.
Some of my Gardens Illustrated designs from earlier in the year are now available as original limited edition hand-burnished linocuts and also as cards ... please visit my online shop.