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.

Thursday 28 July 2011

Making the most of it (part 2) The Fitzwilliam Museum and shopping

After leaving the Botanic Garden, I walked back towards the city centre to the Fitzwilliam Museum; I realised I hadn't visited this year – doesn't time fly!

There are two temporary exhibitions on this month, neither had grabbed me as a 'must see' but as I had a whole afternoon to kill, I was more than happy to take my time and look around them. So, after a very tasty lunch and pot of tea in the museum café, I felt refreshed and headed upstairs to the shady quiet of the Shiba Room to see Flower Drawings: Redouté and his Pupils (the Fitzwilliam isn't big on sexy marketing of their shows!).

Of course, I've heard of Redouté (blousey roses meticulously painted by some French bloke that are reproduced on greetings cards suitable for great aunts) but I was taken aback by the paintings in real life . . . they are amazing! really really amazing! Reproductions simply don't do them justice. They are painted in watercolour on sheets of vellum, roughly A3 in size; the technique is stunning, no sharp outlines are visible and the modelling is so skilled that the flowers seems to float in space.

Nor did I realise – and I think that for me this was the most fascinating revelation of the exhibition – that Monsieur Redouté had a school of flower painting in Paris where he taught wealthy ladies (and yes, they were in the main female), in fact European princesses and the wives of aristocrats, diplomats and bankers. Look at them all in this painting by one pupil Julie Ribault, what an escape from stuffy drawing rooms and boring conversations about hankies and such!

Some of those ladies took their botanical painting very very seriously indeed, and they became (almost) as good as M. Redouté himself . . . look at those paintings on the postcards below – clockwise: by Louise d'Orleans, Adele Riché, Eugéne d'Orleans, Louise (again) and Pancrace Bessa.

Well, that was a totally unexpected joy! If you live near Cambridge it's worth a look.

The other little special exhibition is in the Octagon (I love this gallery space, the curators always seem to put on little treats here); this one is called Treasure Under Your Feet which is a nice title but needs a by-line . . . I'll call it "amazing archaeological treasures found in and around Cambridgeshire"

I spent a long time making notes about the exhibits; one was a hoard of 39 gold coins (staters) which were found hidden inside a cow bone! I'm making a collection of stylised animals from Saxon coins – this horse is a beauty!

There were so many fascinating things, not least the jewel depicted on the poster for the exhibition, a late tudor pendant, in real life it's teeny weeny! I was surprised by that, (the curator knew it would be a surprise, they had put a large photo of the jewel next to it) but nevertheless it is exquisite – apparently the metal-detectorist who found it, likes to imagine that it belonged to Elizabeth I, as she is wearing a pendant just like it in one of her portraits.

Next to the tudor pendant in the display was a gold ring, it had been found in the village just over the border into Cambridgeshire from my studio! And apparently a similar one was found in another village nearby – I must keep my eyes peeled when I'm out walking! I made a quick sketch, as the design was very intriguing (yes, I know my sketches are scruffy but I had hoards of Spanish students who were loudly chewing gum while looking over my shoulder).

Then I wandered off to make lots of reference notes I need for some prints I'm planning (all hush hush at the moment)

I'd filled up most of the afternoon, so it was time to get out into the fresh air and elbow my way through the 'rucksacks'* of language students to my favourite shopping zone in Cambridge – Trinity Steet and Green Street. I slipped into Cambridge Contemporary Art and enjoyed looking at ceramics by Bev Milward and Paddy Peters; prints by Clare Halifax and Liz Myhill; and paintings by Angela Harding. Then it was time to shop :-)

In the Rohan sale I found a perfect pair of trousers at a bargain price; and in Open Air I bought a present for Cliff and found a smart of new pair of walking shoes for myself! Of course when I went into Modish the evil shoe queen (her own description, not mine) 'made me buy' a pair of sandals (how does she do that?).

Phew! Quite a day!

And the Tardis has been fixed Well I have no way of telling if it is or not really, but after 6 hours I hope something got done – I know the Peugeot mechanics did something to it because the Bluetooth settings had been deleted and the clock was 8 minutes slow (guess who was late for Pilates!)

I now need to find the Tardis manual and work out how to set up the Bluetooth!


* 'a rucksack of language students'
thank you to Rachel for inventing this new collective noun

PS Bluetooth now reinstated in the Tardis, thanks to advice from the man at the hen feed store and no thanks to the experts at Peugeot - pah! what do they know! (gallic shrug)

Wednesday 27 July 2011

Making the most of it (part 1) Cambridge Botanic Garden

My useful car/van/tardis received a manufacturer's recall notice; apparently, a little thingamajig that monitors the temperature of something or other and would tell me if the car was overheating, basically wasn't and wouldn't. So, I had arranged to take the car into Peugeot HQ Cambridge yesterday morning, I was told the wait would be 2 to 3 hours but I'd get a free ticket for the Park & Ride bus into town.

Well, I arrived at P-HQ at just after 9.30am to be told the expected completion time would be 4pm! . . . there followed a pregnant pause while this sank in and I gave the receptionist a quizzical stare . . . So! (deep breath) with 6 hours to fill what was I going to do? To be honest I wasn't in the mood for mooching about town, but I had no choice, I'd better make the most of my day . . .

I walked south from the city centre to the Botanic Garden, I hadn't visited for years but frequently drive past; there's now a smart new entrance gate and inside there's a brand new café next to the new labs with new landscaping, none of which I'd seen. For those who don't know Cambridge, the Botanic Garden is bounded on four sides by Trumpington Road, Brooklands Avenue, Hills Road and Bateman Street; in the rush-hour, most drivers waiting for the lights to change at either end of Brooklands Avenue are oblivious that there are 40 acres of paradise just a few feet away.

The garden is a mix of big vistas and detail – after all it is a place of academic botanical research as well as being a visually pleasing garden; and it was heartening to see that, even on an overcast Tuesday morning, lots of people were there to enjoy it. The highlights for me yesterday were the muted tones of the New Zealand plants on rocky terraces; the stunning new landscape around the Cory Lawn by Bradley-Hole/Schoenaich Landscape Architects; the dry garden; the recreation of a fen (I loved the explanation of why a fen is not a bog); and the amazing variety of seed-pods on the trees.

Here's a slide show of my morning . . .

The gorgeous tune is 'Gabriel's Oboe' from film The Mission
composed by Ennio Morricone and played on the cello by Yo-Yo Ma

I felt re-ignited with enthusiasm about plants and gardens! Recently I've felt a bit fed up with designed contrived show gardens, I think all the TV coverage of Chelsea and Tatton etc has been the last straw and I decided to not renew my RHS membership – all that hype about show gardens alongside hastily put together 'garden tips' was, for me, a turn-off. As I left the Botanic Garden I picked up a leaflet about getting a season ticket – so I can just pop in when I'm passing by and have a half hour to spare.

Most of all, the Cory Lawn landscapes where stunning, I took a photo of the information board listing the matrix of plants used to create the mixed plantings – one for shade areas and another for sun – so I could study it in detail later (click on the image to enlarge or you can download the list here).

The use of colour – a palette of lavender through all shades of blue to purple and maroon with accents of scarlet and white – was calm and beautiful; the integration with the pre-existing mature trees was done with a light touch; I want to watch it change through the seasons and learn how such a complex mix of plants work together.

So, that filled up the morning nicely! The lovely new Garden Café was very popular and there was a very long queue, so I moved on to another place for the afternoon . . . I'll tell you about that in part 2.


Sunday 24 July 2011

. . . and then there was cake!

Yesterday we went to a marvelous party, although I'm not sure Noel Coward would have enjoyed it! no-one stood around a grand piano wearing smoking jackets (however our jackets did get smokey – but that's another story!)

The party hosts were Fiona and Danny of The Cottage Smallholder blog and forum, and the event: The First Cottage Smallholder Party.

I arrived early in the afternoon (Cliff joined us later) and already there was a happy buzz with people in the kitchen and scattered along the various "rooms" that make up the outdoor space at CS HQ; in the fashion of media phenomena like Top-Gear or Gardener' World, this was Cottage Smallholder Live, with all the main characters from the blog and forum there in person: The Chicken Lady and S, Ruthdigs and The Chap, Terrier, Danast and Sumprat (complete with smokers and fire-lighting flints!)

The afternoon and evening itinerary progressed thus . . .


Cold Buffet

Afternoon cups of tea and cake

Drinks and more cake while the barbecue got fired up

More cake while the meat sizzled

Chicken wings, steaks, sausages and burgers from the barbecue

. . . and then there was cake . . . THE cake!

Thank you Fiona and Danny . . .
it was indeed a marvelous party!


Tuesday 19 July 2011

Hollyhock love

They may be a cliché but I love Hollyhocks and Hollyhocks love my garden.

There were no Hollyhocks in our garden when we moved here twelve years ago and for a few years I felt there was something missing – after midsummer the garden lacked the colour of May and June. Then I noticed the Hollyhocks when we went for long walks between the local villages . . . they spring up everywhere in this part of England, loving the low annual rainfall.

So how to get the Hollyhocks to move in? You can forget buying plants in pots or sowing seed carefully in trays or cells in a greenhouse – Hollyhocks like to get on with growing their own way as they need to get that long strong tap root down deep right from the start! There's also no need to buy expensive packets of seed, just take a few seeds when you see some lovely Hollyhocks growing by a footpath ;-) and when you get home scatter them in dry sunny corners of your garden. That's just what I did, sometimes I remembered where a particularly fine coloured Hollyhock grew so I could return to gather a few seeds when they were ripe.

Then, slowly at first, the Hollyhocks grew . . . and the bees pollinated the flowers and more seeds fell and grew, and more and more. Yes, I suppose they could be a bit of a nuisance if you're a tidy sort of gardener – but I'm not a tidy sort of gardener, so I welcomed them in and now and again 'edit' out the ones I don't need!

This year I have the best ever Hollyhock show! None were planted by me, I haven't given them any water (even during the nine week drought from March to May) and they don't need staking (though one or two are leaning over a bit after the heavy rain at the weekend). A few have Hollyhock rust – but not bad enough to spoil the show, I don't fret about little things like that.

Let's take a closer look at those silky satellite-dish flowers . . .

. . . each one is a different shade from deep burgundy, through every shade of pink to the palest yellow (personally I don't encourage white and yellow ones as the flowers get lost against the cream colour of our house walls and I love the richer shades).

This morning I picked one flower from each plant – each one is different in colour, size and shape – the petals smooth or textured, regular or frilled.

I love Hollyhocks!


Tuesday 12 July 2011

Putting it on the map

I always enjoy drawing maps (and remember how disappointed my geography teacher was when she realised I'd thrown away my application to do a geography degree because I'd already got a place at an art college), so my most recent illustration commission was a pleasure to work on; and after a few weeks mainly free of complex digital artwork jobs, it seems that my printmaking has influenced how they turned out.

Like printmaking, digital illustrations are all about layers – so the mental leap isn't a large one; this time I applied some recent experiments with inks and overprinting to my digital work, building up layers of texture and colour.

Details of maps commissioned by eMC Design for Macmillan Education
produced using Illustrator and Photoshop CS4

I can't show you the completed maps or their context, as the book they are for won't be published for some time; but these small details give an idea of what I've been doing. It was a good opportunity to take my digital artwork down a new route and I was really happy with the results.


Tuesday 5 July 2011

Breakfast time in the coop

The Black Cochin hen is totally engrossed in teaching her new brood of nine chicks to peck their food – yes, the little weak chick is up and about with the others. I don't think any more words are necessary . . . I'll let you watch while I get down to work (a digital artwork commission for some rather diverse maps - I may be quiet for some time!)

In case you're wondering why there is a pretty blue gingham tablecloth in the coop – it's not just to make it look cute; tiny chicks' legs are very delicate and if their feet can't grip on the floor they skid and do the splits resulting in the bones setting at the wrong angle and a crippled chick; so a rough textured tea-towel makes a perfect floor covering for little feet.


Monday 4 July 2011

PPPHatch Plan B - success?

Sadly the first PPPHatch was unsuccessful, despite being quietly confident that Tarragon was doing what cockerels should do (eggs supplied to a hen-keeper in a nearby village for her broody Buff Orpington resulted in two healthy chicks) he obviously hadn't been on target all the time! In fact I've noticed that his 'wifelets' spend the hour before bedtime (when he's pretty frisky!) sitting on the back rail of the garden seat . . . mmm? I think the honeymoon is over, don't you?

So, back to PPPHatch Plan B, my neighbour and owner of the lovely big fluffy Black Cochin decided that hatching eggs and sharing the resulting chicks between us was a good idea; she had a bevy of other broodies (I love Cochins but I'd forgotten what a pain they can be in summer) so while I was having fun in Holt she hatched Plan B.

Well, in fact it ended up as 'Plan B amended' . . . the initial idea was to obtain some Cochin hatching eggs, but unfortunately the Cochin breeder she visited had lost her flock to a fox attack, so my neighbour went in search of hatching eggs elsewhere and came back with a dozen mixed breed eggs. Faced with a clutch of eggs, one by one the new broodies had a reality check and decided they weren't interested!!!! However the lovely Black Cochin would-be mum was still determined. So after a fraught and stressful afternoon she was allowed to continue her vigil and sit on the knew clutch of eggs.

Now - please don't do this at home folks! Letting a hen sit for six weeks isn't to be recommended, but sometimes rules are there to be broken. Phone calls to various experienced hen-wives reassured us that if our broody was in good health we should let her carry on and go through another three weeks sitting. It was a risk, not least to her health, so we've been very careful to leave her undisturbed apart from ensuring she eats and drinks at least once a day.

I know that something has been happening behind that door this weekend, so let's have a peep inside . . .

The Black Cochin mum does look weary doesn't she? I do hope she's OK. This afternoon we hope she'll have a good stretch outside and a well deserved crop-full of food – and show us all her chicks :-) I wonder how many there are?



12.30pm Monday 4th June
10 eggs reached the full term of incubation
There are 8 healthy chicks; 1 chick hatched but sadly died shortly afterwards and another is looking frail.

Black Cochin Mum has stretched her legs and we've washed her messy bottom feathers (not the most pleasant of jobs but very necessary) she had a walk about in the sunshine and dust bath! It looks as if she is being a good mum – she has been encouraging the chicks that hatched first to peck mashed hard-boiled egg and chick crumbs. All the chicks are now snuggled under her clean dry feathers in a clean fresh nest in the larger end of cleaned-out coop. We've left the door open a little and she has chick crumbs, fresh mashed egg and water nearby.