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.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Here we go . . .

a) . . . again

b) . . . here we go, here we go

c) . . . it's Christmas!

or  . . .

Here we go round the mulberry bush

Which is what Cliff and I were doing at Ickworth Hall gardens in October.

All in the interest of research for my illustration for the 'Special' 13th issue of Gardens Illustrated magazine - which is on the news stands in the UK now, lovely gardening reading matter nestling twixt the December (Christmassy) issue and the January issue which kicks off 2016.

I remembered seeing a Mulberry tree somewhere in the Italianate garden near Ickworth's famous rotunda, when we attended a summer evening outdoor performance of Round the World in 80 Days. It took a few circuits of the garden but in the end we spotted 2 small Mulberry trees with leaves turning to golden yellow.
On the shady side of one tree the leaves were still fresh and green and we found fruits!

It's always good to see plants growing rather than working solely from photos  . . . back in the studio I made careful sketches
And then started to think about how to illustrate Frank Ronan's pen-portrait of the Black Mulberry and its juicy purple fruits.
I wanted to include some of the historical and culinary references – blended together on a 17th century tin-glazed platter with a slice of mulberry pie and a silver spoon.

Here's the finished linocut, printed in a deep purple, alongside the illustration on the final page of the magazine.

Going back to the nursery rhyme . . .

Here in a 1951 book 'Fiddle-de-dee an other Gay Way rhymes' illustrated by Jennetta Vise.

One possible origin of the rhyme is from Wakefield women's prison where the prisoners exercise yard had a mulberry tree in the centre. There's no need to clap your hands or stamp your feet to warm yourself this December, the seasons seem to have forgotten to 'do' Winter! Spring bulbs are growing, some daffodils are even in flower, and garden birds are behaving as if they are thinking of building nests!

Hold on . . . the coldest weeks here on the corner of Suffolk/Cambridgeshire/Essex is usually late January and early February so cold and frosty mornings might be around the corner.

And finally . . .

Over on Instagram I'm posting an Advent diary of random thoughts leading up to Christmas.

Wishing you a happy and peaceful Christmas

Wednesday 9 December 2015

A festive wreath ... and December's Gardens Illustrated linocut

This morning it's bright, sunny and cold, it actually feels a bit like winter, which is a lovely change from the mild damp and cloudy weather of late. It was a good excuse to spend time in the garden collecting materials to make a festive wreath. 

My inspiration this year is the design of a small wreath I bought from a lovely local florist to hang on our newly decorated porch door . . .

I cut lots of box branches and made little bunches of bright berries and some faded Hydrangea flowers to nestle amongst the bright greenery - the doors in the front yard are now dressed up for the festive season.

Way back in September when I was anticipating the arrival of Frank's article for the December/Christmas issue of Gardens illustrated magazine, I really didn't expect the topic to be Californian native flora in high summer!

The plants Frank mentions in the article were unfamiliar to me, so the only way to start was to sit down and do some research and sketch the plants from photographs.

The more I thought about the illustration the more I wanted to end the year and the final page of the December magazine with something traditionally festive . . . how could I give the composition a Christmas twist?

I let that idea float around for a few days and two possibilities formed: 
- a path through a magical landscape of candle-like plants
- a festive wreath.

I collaged my sketches together in a wreath shape - this might work! And framed the view of Frank's Californian canyon and his new love, a shrubby tree Arctostaphylos glauca (which is closely related to one of my favourite evergreens for winter berries and flowers – Arbutus unedo or the Strawberry tree) and similar Christmassy looking bauble-like berries and tint lantern-like flowers. 

Here's the finished linocut and the printed illustration on the final page of Gardens Illustrated.

But wait . . . what's this email from GI HQ?! Gardens Illustrated publish 13 issues a year! . . . so there's one more to go before the year ends. I'll tell you more about that before Christmas.

Meanwhile in real studio time the January 2016 illustration has already come and gone and this morning I've received the text of Frank's column for February . . . and it's a gem!


Tuesday 24 November 2015

Heading north on a road trip

Last week Cliff and I took a quickly planned holiday - a road trip joining up some places we'd always meant to see but hadn't yet got round to visiting.

Our first stop was Durham, I wanted to see the great Norman Cathedral, the resting place of St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede. Not doing our homework, we had no idea our visit coincided with Lumiere - the UK's biggest light festival! It also coincided with Abigail, the first of this year's Autumnal Atlantic Gales (which now have names to give the media an excuse for more amusing headlines). 

We braved the elements and after spending a day exploring Durham and the ancient cathedral, after dark we managed to see most of the light installations - I shared some photos and videos on Instagram

This is one of the installations in the cathedral cloisters - it's made from plastic drinks bottles.

Which transform into a Rose Window when illuminated.

Our next stop was Kirkcudbright on the south Galloway coast, you may have seen BBC Autumnwatch which was recently from Caerlaverock nature reserve, which was a few miles along the coast. If you did, you probably remember Martin Hughes Games watching Salmon swimming in the river at Dumfries. He stood on a bridge near a picturesque weir...

This is my selfie by that very weir ... I was lucky to keep my feet dry, as the aftermath of storm Abigail had filled the river to overflowing!

At Caerlavrock we saw the flocks of Barnacle geese through the driving rain and fog and decided not to walk around all the reserve in the mud!

But the weather wasn't bad all of the time ... we drove to the most southerly point of Scotland, The Mull of Galloway, where the strong winds blew the rain clouds and almost blew us away too! 

Autumnal colours seen after soft Scottish rain seem to have a special luminous quality.

We did some short hikes in the Galloway Forest, where we saw lots of Red Kites - you can see one perched in the tree above.

Misty views to the Solway Firth in the far distance

and over moors, mellow with russet bracken and ochre grasses.

One afternoon we walked around the beautiful secret Rigg Bay on The Machers peninsula.

After 3 lovely relaxing days (staying here, which was fab!) it was time to start heading south again .... via Morecambe

where we stopped for lunch at the Midland Hotel ... if you like 1930s design, I recommend you visit

looking up through the stairs to Eric Gill's Neptune and Triton medallion (which was painted by his son-in-law Denis Tegetmeier)

and a beautiful wall freize - it's behind the reception desk and impossible to photograph but this detail gives you a taste of the whole.

In the rotunda bar/bistro are murals based on the original (sadly lost) designs by Eric and Tirzah Ravilious. The originals were photographed in black and white at the hotel's opening ...

That night while we slept in a hotel just north of Liverpool, another storm swept in from the Atlantic, Storm Barney was still blowing when we went for an early morning stroll to the beach - the tiny figures in the distance are the Iron Men of Anthony Gormley's 'Another Place'.

Barney blew the fine sand into our pockets and ears and mouths! (I'm not sure if this little film is going to work, if it doesn't you can try here)

Time to leave Liverpool...

but not before a stroll around Sefton Park ... that statue looks familiar!

It's an exact copy of the famous Eros fountain by Alfred Gilbert at Piccadilly Circus in London. 

I've never taken a close look at the lower part of the fountain, it's often boarded up in London so revellers can't climb all over it. But if you get a chance to - in London or Liverpool - it's an Art Nouveau treat ... 

The Sefton Park version has the added value of splishy splashy water trickling around the slithery fish and chubby cheeked children.

With the cobwebs blown out of our heads we're back home again and feeling strong enough to put all ghastly news reports in perspective. The cold weather is here and Christmas fast approaching ... and I'm already working on the illustration for January's Gardens Illustrated magazine!


Friday 6 November 2015

Making Winter brighter . . . and my illustration for November's Gardens Illustrated

It was back August that I received Frank Ronan's article for the November edition of Gardens Illustrated magazineFrank is writing about plants to enliven a winter garden, a subject that has been covered in many TV programmes, books and articles  . . . but interestingly he takes a different perspective - and it's one I'll share with you for the Making Winter blog hop organised by Emma aka Silverpebble - so if you crave ideas to brighten gloomy days, hop on over!

But first, I'll quickly tell you my inspiration for the composition of my illustration . . .

I had only a few days to come up with an idea for my linocut illustration, before I headed off for almost 3 weeks in the south of France. As usual, I sat down, carefully read Frank's words and looked up reference for all the plants he mentions - feathery yellow grasses, shiny red thorns, scented winter flowering shrubs, etc. But the editor had specifically requested "something atmospheric"

"you want to be drawn outdoors in the winter; to go and look for things and see and smell whether they are doing what they should"
Frank Ronan

I'd just visited the Dulwich Picture Gallery to see the much aclaimed exhibition of Eric Ravilious paintings and there were two that I'd spent a long time looking at, intrigued by how the subtle marks and textures  – they were full of light and atmosphere . . . 

"Interior at Furlongs"

 "Wet Afternoon"

The memory of these to Ravilious paintings was floating in the back of my mind as I worked on this linocut. And to continue the 'Bardfield Group' homage, when I needed a focus in the foreground I added a cat – in the spirit of all the cats that inhabit many of, Ravilious's friend, Edward Bawden's domestic pictures.

Re-reading Frank's thoughts in the gloom of an overcast and foggy November day this week, I decided to take his advice:

"the weather always seems so much worse from inside than it is when you emerge, so you might be stuck there until March were it not for a few judiciously placed things that can catch the momentary light and make you drop your work and draw you out"
Frank Ronan

From the bedroom window I'd spotted some vibrant pinky-gold leaves – outside they shone even brighter!
Miscanthus grass

I then saw some newly opened pink flowers and remembered that Su had given us some Nerine bulbs from her Mum's Norfolk garden – what a lovely surprise!

After being outside for a few minutes the light really did seem as brighter! A patch of vivid yellow drew me further into the garden - our small Witch Hazel bush's leaves had turned sulphur yellow edged with copper. Looking closely I could see lots of tiny round flower buds which will open early in the New Year and fill the air with their fragrance.

I hope I've convinced you to venture outside on even the dullest of days – it really does make winter brighter


Monday 26 October 2015

Woodland Craft . . . a book jacket (behind the scenes)

A few days ago, this book arrived in the post - Woodland Craft by Ben Law (you may recall the chap on Grand Designs who but a wooden house in a wood) and a foreword by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (River Cottage, etc). 

I was excited to see it . . . as the cover illustration is a woodcut by me!

Here's a confession - I dread working on book covers and usually go out of my way to avoid doing so. It's a hangover from my previous life working for educational publishers, the book covers were the result of endless meetings and emails and the opinions of Uncle Tom Cobley and all. But that's all in the past and this time it wasn't me that was pulling the whole thing together, I 'just' had to come up with a picture. And the subject was right up my street . . . I couldn't refuse.

I'd do a woodcut, after all it's about wood so an illustration created by carving wood seems apt.

Great! They said, here's a list of what Ben would like include in the scene . . . it was a very long list!

I looked at the piles of reference photographs of Ben working and the tools he uses and the items he makes from wood harvested near his house, then I sketched them all in a scene. It was getting a bit crowded. I really loved the textures of the twigs and woven baskets so I played with the scale and brought them to the fore. On the back cover I put two frisky squirrels like the ones I see from my studio window.

There was a long pause . . . comments came from the publishers and from Ben. The Squirrels had to go (not welcome in Ben's wood!) the Rooks also got the chop, but the Long Tailed Tits could stay. A Blackbird and wood pile replaced the Squirrels on the back cover. The chair, besum and basket got moved back so they were fully visible.

At this point I paced around and sighed a lot. The composition was OK but something was missing, it needed a spark of something.

I ploughed on . . . to get all the detail in I'd need to work big. Very big! The birch plywood block is about 1 metre wide by 80 cm (3 x 2 feet). I started carving the design for the back, there are a lot of twigs!

Here's the block on my desk . . .

. . . nearly finished!

This is the finished block. I inked and hand burnished separate prints for the front and back. These where down onto thin Japanese paper that had visible fibres in it.

Here are the prints, scanned and positioned in Photoshop. I knocked back the paper texture but didn't clean it out entirely.

The publisher wanted me to add a second colour, or maybe a third and fourth? Doing this as a multi block print seemed risky (especially if last minute tweaks to the design were requested!) 

I decided to add the colours digitally using textured 'brushes' and merging the colours with the scanned print. I settled on a retro palette or apple green, yellow ochre and grey . . . it was at this point that things started to fall into place (Phew!) and I knew I could make this work. Which was a huge relief as I was almost - but not quite - regretting taking this on.

So, here's the finished cover . . .

. . . and here's the back 

The book has a paper dust jacket, underneath is a nice binding with a linen spine. You might have noticed the dust jacket looks a slightly darker colour from the book inside . . . because, well, it is. The brighter colour was all settled on and printed, then after some thought the publisher decided darker more woodland tones would be nicer - so they tweaked the colours and printed the dust jacket.

I actually like both versions. The brighter version has the retro-look of my original artwork. But the dust jacket version looks great too.

It really is a lovely book, with lots of photos and beautiful illustrations describing traditional woodland craft projects. I'm sure it will find it's way under many Christmas trees this year.


PS: I've put this together on my iPad so will have to add the links later - now added x