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.

Friday 29 December 2017

And finally . . .

Before 2017 ends I'll show you my illustration for the 2017 Special Plant Issue of Gardens Illustrated magazine, this was published just before Christmas and the subject was 'avenues' and the love of arranging plants small and large in parallel rows that lets the eye into the distance. Frank Ronan writes about Mulberries and Hydrangeas, pollarded Willows and Swamp Cypresses; but the paragraph that sparked my imagination was a description of an avenue of Monkey Puzzle trees ... I love the geometry of the branches.

I studied loads of photos and reference books and made careful sketches of the Monkey Puzzle tree structure. Then I scanned and played around with the sketches in Photoshop, creating an avenue of trees. I wasn't sure where this was going, but after a break I suddenly realised it looked like a snow scene and how appropriate for late December. To emphasise the distance and the path between the trees, I added two silhouetted figures and two skipping whippets making tracks in the snow.

As with the December magazine's illustration (in the previous post) I decided to use a second colour, this time for the sky ... a bright pink, the colour of the sunset on a frosty snowy winter day.
I printed the green and pink areas separately and layered them digitally, this is something I often do with illustration work as the colours can be kept clean and bright when scanned and it allow for tweaking of the digital artwork to get it just right.

So, after almost 3 years and 36 illustrations, this is my last illustration for Frank Ronan's column in Gardens Illustrated magazine. I've handed the baton on ... maybe it's to you?

And this seems an appropriate time to draw a line under the PurplePoddedPeas blog. 

Ten years is a long time in social-media-land and life now has a different rhythm.
You can find me on Instagram and on Twitter  
. . . and also soon on my new blog which I'll publish a link to in the new year.

Wishing you a happy and peaceful 2018


Friday 15 December 2017

Gardens Illustrated illustrations 2017 ... part 2

Here is my round-up of the linocut illustrations for Frank Ronan's monthly column in Gardens Illustrated magazine for July to December 2017 (the illustrations for January to June can be found here).
Frank's June column left him returning home after a few years living in California ... 
"The joy of being back in my own garden is overwhelming at times."
During 2016 Frank's writing had taken on a gloomy tone, so I was relieved he was happy and and back among plants he loves ... and I love too.

July 2017

Frank's garden has been left to grow wild and he's unsure what to tackle first. He decides that a large fir tree ... a Christmas tree someone planted out in the 1950s ... now dwarves the cottage and has to go; his decision made because he loves pruning things, climbing trees and using a chain saw. The fir tree's trunk already has a Clematis montana growing up it, so Frank leaves a 15 ft stump as its support. Our garden wall also has a C. montana ... and as it was May it was in flower  (I work about 2 months ahead of publication), so I could enjoy sketching from life. This isn't always possible but I prefer drawing from real live plants.

August 2017

This year I often had a very small window when I could work on the 'Frank' illustrations; the August Frank arrived in late May and I sat at my desk and carefully read and re-read Frank's words on Monday 5 June ... 2 days after the London Bridge attack, the 3rd terrorist attack in a only a few weeks last summer. Frank's essay on the subject of forgiveness, contentment and happiness was poignant and perfectly timed ... I may have cried (which doesn't happen often). If you have a copy of the the magazine or can get the online version, I recommend it as something to keep at hand if times get tough.

The editor suggested I include a Goldfinch in the composition, they are frequent visitors to our garden and one of my favourite birds, so along with grasses I sketched from life this became the image to illustrate Frank's words ...
"Happiness is no right, but an elusive privilege ... If you chase it, it will run ... The stiller you are the more it will linger. Any attempt to run after it and capture it, or even too direct a stare, and it will flit off like a goldfinch startled."

September 2017

More happy coincidences for September's Frank, the subject is meadows and I'd just spent a fascinating day visiting one and doing lots of sketches. Frank had been reading a book, 'Grass-fed Nation' by Roger Harvey, the agricultural adviser for 'The Archers' ... which is often on the radio as I work ... so I'm familiar with 'herbal leys'.
Frank discovers that his neglected garden borders ... now overgrown with a thatch of grasses, wildflowers and self-seeded perennials related to meadow plants ... are thriving! He muses about a new kind of garden border that is more like a meadow. Now, that sounds lovely, just my kind of thing too, Knapweeds, Burnets and Geraniums mingled in drifts of meadow grasses ... something butterflies would enjoy too.

October 2017

Autumn flowering bulbs is the subject of the October 'Frank', all those lovely sugar-almond pink flowers that surprise the garden with their clean sharp colour among the decaying leaves of autumn.
I chose to illustrate the Nerines and Cyclamen (Frank includes Colchicums too, but I decided they would overload the illustration). I included the toad that Frank says looks like a Cyclamen corm, and the drifts of Cyclamen are based on those at Anglesey Abbey which have a special memory for me.
I like his idea of planting Nerines in pots ... so this is a visual reminder to do that too.

November 2017

Apple trees and garden bonfires ... two more things I can draw from life and from personal experience. Frank is writing about how picking fruit and having a bonfire are great ways to get friends to 'help' in the garden. This was a lovely Autumnal subject and and excuse to carve decorative patterns to depict the flames and smoke.

December 2017

The December issue of Gardens Illustrated includes a lovely new series of articles by Lia Leendertz on identifying trees, part 1 covers Deciduous Native British Trees. To continue the 'tree theme', Frank writes about Ash trees at a time when time may be running out as they succumb to Ash Die-Back. The Ash tree I sketched for this illustration is one I can see from our vegetable plot, it stands on the bank of the brook in the neighbour's garden, and has a twin trunk which joins to make an opening big enough for a child for small person to squeeze through.
I've got used to spotting obscure literary references in Frank's writing, this month he makes a passing reference to Tennyson referring to the Ash tree's 'coal black buds in March' ... it took a request on Twitter for someone to point me to 'The Gardener's Daughter', so I thought a 2017 gardener's daughter should appear in the picture ... with her cat. The door in the garden wall is based on the one in my garden ... although I've played around with the scale and made the tree huge and the wall more extensive and further away.
A few more changes from the usual ... I worked slightly larger and inked the block in various shades of brown and dark grey. The red of the gardener's daughter's coat was added digitally after scanning the print (if I print an edition, I'll cut a special block to print the red).

So that's almost another year of prints complete ... there's one more, I'll tell you about the linocut for the Special 'Plants Edition' before the New Year.

Meanwhile, wishing you a calm run-up to the Christmas weekend. 

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Gardens Illustrated illustrations 2017 round up ... part 1

Times change and these days you'll mainly find me on Instagram or Twitter rather than keeping this blog up to date. But it would be shame not to continue to record here my linocut illustrations for Frank Ronan's monthly column in Gardens Illustrated magazine . . . so here begins a round up with the illustrations for January 2017 to June 2017 . . .

January 2017

Frank writes about the pleasure on a fine winter day, of pruning a rampant Wisteria and how a small cottage can be engulfed by a particularly vigorous Wisteria.
I aimed to give this illustration the feeling of a Grimm's fairytale.

February 2017

Frank's love for one of the native Californian shrubs, Manzanita, isn't put off by it's incendiary reputation, so he experiments with fire to promote germination of its seeds. 
"I might not be so open minded about the beauty of this native were I shivering in a silver blanket in a school gymnasium"
These were Frank's portentous words written a year ago about Californian wildfires which right now are devastating Ventura county with its worst wildfire in modern Californian history

March 2017

The plant hunter and nurseryman Michael Wickenden died while on an expedition, this is Frank's tribute to his friend.
I've included Michael walking out into a mountainous landscape, a humble bunch of flowers ... some of the species he collected and grew in his nursery ... and a postcard of the Mountains of the Moon, the scene of one of his adventures. 

April 2017

After reading Frank's piece about using some pink coloured rubble to create terraces and paths around his Californian garden, this design popped into my head fully formed ... it illustrates Frank's fantasy that one day his garden will be full of fruit trees and bushes that he can harvest from as he meanders up and down the sloping terraces.
This was one of my favourite designs from 2017.

May 2017

Flowers often invoke a deeply buried memories and for Frank it is his love of peonies that threads through the years ... his introduction by a cousin to the seductive flower and friends who have added to his collection. I saw this as a still from a whimsical film about a long forgotten childhood meeting.

June 2017

The 'June Frank' text arrived by email and to my surprise Frank is leaving California and on his way home ... where would that be? The magazine editorial and design team were as surprise as I was. We'd have to wait and see.
Meanwhile, as Frank packed his bags and left his Californian garden where he had tried to grow native shrubs, indulged his love of agaves and battled with gophers eating his palm trees; the rains came! His garden flowered, plants he had given up on and watched desiccate, sprang into life and bloomed! I designed the image in warm red/browns but after discussion with the art ed I printed it in a fresh green.

... part 2 of this round-up will follow soon.


Friday 21 July 2017

Uppsala and the Flower King

Last week Cliff and I went on holiday to Sweden, it was a quickly planned break and we chose the destination because we've loved previous trips to Scandinavia, there was a convenient flight from our nearest airport and I'd seen some photos of lovely gardens in Uppsala on Twitter.

Uppsala is the home of Sweden's oldest university, founded in 1477; and it has a magnificent red-brick cathedral which is the tallest church building in Scandinavia. There are also impressive modern buildings, pedestrian shopping streets with heated pavements that won't get icy in winter and miles and miles of cycle-ways. 

But this blog post is about the person Uppsala is most famous for ... Carl Linnaeus, The Flower King. If you know just a little about botany or about the scientific names of living things, you will probably have heard of Linnaeus but may not know who he was and where he lived.

In 1741 Carl Linnaeus was appointed professor of Medicine at Uppsala University, with the job he got a house and a garden ... this became his botanic garden, where his collection of plants was kept and his system of how to categorise them was developed. In the years after his death the garden was neglected but has now been reconstructed and planted as Linnaeus would have organised the plants, each with their neatly written labels.

In the garden there are cold frames and an orangery, sunken ponds and even houses for monkeys! While Carl was busy giving lectures and tending his plants, his wife Sara-Lisa ran the household and looked after their 7 children; she organised the servants and with the daughters even spun and wove the cloth for the household linen. Sara-Lisa also had to entertain guests who Carl often invited at short notice ... she had a reputation of being stern, but it sounds like she had a lot on her plate!

The house is beautifully decorated with reproduced wallpapers and the exhibits include some of the family's clothes. Carl seems to have been an energetic and enthusiastic teacher, he devised nature walks from the town out into the countryside to show his students wild plants growing in different environments. And he called his 8 walking routes "Herbationes Uppsalienis", here they are drawn on a map.

If we'd had more time and and our hiking boots we would have explored the longer routes, but we were happy to walk a short section of the Herbation from the church where the Linnaeus family worshipped to the farmstead at Hammarby that Carl purchased to provide an income and produce, and a home they would have when they no longer had use of the university house in town.
Our adventure began by catching a bus to the village of Danmark and before setting off on our walk we looked inside the church ... which today is a beautifully light and serene space. In the 18th century the walls would have been white-washed but now the walls have beautiful painted decorations.

The modern glazed entrance porch is etched with horse chestnut leaves.

And the organ with birds and intertwined tendrils.

The Herbationes routes are all marked with these blue posts, so the routes are easy to navigate.

We followed a lane out of the village and along a track between a fields of green peas and flowery meadows.

The weather was warm so we took a break under the trees, the little red house was owned by Linnaeus as part of his farm, in return for allowing a veteran soldiers to live there he was let off paying tax.

After about 4 kilometres we reached the edge of the farmstead and the fenced vegetable patch.

The Linnaeus farm house is a large red-painted wooden building, visits are by guided tour only because inside has been preserved exactly as it was when Carl and Sara-Lisa lived there. One of their daughters continued to live in the house before it was preserved as a museum, Carl Linnaeus was a celebrity scientist in his own life-time so no-one changed the house after his death. 

All the wallpapers are original and Carl's study and the bedroom he shared with Sara-Lisa are decorated with botanical prints pasted over all of the walls.

(borrowed image, source unknown)

Behind the farm house and buildings is a rocky hill and woodland, here Carl built a small museum to house his precious collection of specimen plants and fossils, safe from possible fires which often broke out in the town. He also grew plants grown from seed sent to hime by people from across Europe, including Siberian plants sent by Catherine II of Russia.

I sat in the wood behind the farm and looked at the Swedish 100K note we'd brought with us (from a previous trip to Sweden, the note ceased to be legal tender 2 days before this holiday!). On the note you can see a portrait of Carl Linnaeus with a drawing from his treatise 'Sponsalia planetarium' or 'The Nuptials of Flowers' of the plant Dog's Mercury which grows abundantly all around. It was this plant that he noticed has separate male and female plants, and so it confirmed the sexual nature of plants.

The study of botany at Uppsala university continued after Linnaeus's death at a much larger botanic gardens on the site of the castle gardens. Today it's a wonderful place to wander and enjoy formal gardens and modern planting schemes as well as experimental and educational planting. (The restricted summer opening hours meant we never did get to see inside the glass houses or try the cafĂ©.)

Around the city centre there are parks and plants on every corner. I loved the new planting in the new development behind the railway station. Alchemilla mollie and Alliums seem to be favourite plants throughout the city.

We noticed that many of the city flower beds and planters included vegetables, such as these huge containers right in the main square by the bus stops ... a huge abundant potager of herbs and vegetables. This is part of a scheme to get people to grow edible plants in the city in 2017 ... I wonder if it will continue after this year, I hope it does.

After all the walking and looking at gardens and plants, I think it's time for Fika ... a sit down with a cup of coffee or tea and a cake ... it's the Swedish equivalent of Hygge ... how very civilised.


Friday 30 June 2017

Meadow appreciation

Did you know that July 1st is National Meadows Day? so this blog post is aptly timed.

For the past 2 years I have designed Christmas cards for the wildflower charity Plantlife, and as a thank you I was offered a tour of one of their nature reserves. The nearest (70 miles away) is Seaton Meadows, and today I went there to meet Plantlife's Nature Reserves Manager Joe Costley.

Seaton Meadows nature reserve is in the small county of Rutland in the East Midlands, the 28 acres of meadows are in the Welland Valley and lie under the longest brick built viaduct in Britain. Architectural and plant heritage in one place. The reserve is dedicated to the memory of Geoff Hamilton who presented Gardeners' World on BBC TV and was on Plantlife's Advisory Council.

Joe explained that just over half the meadow land is flood-meadow and this is where those plants special to the now rare water-meadow habitat can be found ... such as Greater Burnet, Pepper Saxifrage and Meadow Rue.

As we walked round the meadows Joe pointed out that the moisture levels, the areas that have silt deposits from flooding, the hummocks and the dips, each support a slightly different mix of plants. So the meadow isn't a uniform colour and texture, it is a blending of areas different grasses and herbs.

Looking across the meadow at low level you can see the different heights of the plants, the dots of purple Common Knapweed and yellow Meadow Vetchling among the green grass; pale grass seed heads sway above; and even taller, the branching stems of the Greater Burnet with their burgundy bobble-like flower-heads.

As we walked through the dense thatch of grasses and herbs, we could hear the now dry seed-pods of Yellow Rattle. This is the plant that is included in 'meadow' seed mixtures because it is a partial parasite ... its roots attach to the grasses roots and weaken them, so other meadow herbs can flourish.

After my guided tour I decided to stay a while, I'd brought with me a packed lunch, a folding chair and my sketchbook and paints. I selected a pitch on one of the hummocks in the water meadow and settled down to look, listen and sketch.
I began to hear birds singing, a Skylark rose up out of the grasses nearby and started its song directly above me, so loud! then gradually fading as it climbed into the sky.

Sitting on my low seat I could see the movement of dozens of butterflies ... Meadow Browns, Ringlets and Small Tortoiseshells. I spotted a Burnet Moth, its red and iridescent indigo wings were like jewels. The sound of bees buzzing was all around me. Mainly Red-tailed Bumblebees and some Carder Bees.

Drawing the scene meant looking even closer at the colours and textures; the swaying mix of plant shapes; and at the vast man-made viaduct striding across the valley.

So, find a meadow ... it needn't be a special nature reserve or large. Just a wild patch of grasses and flowers. Sit still and let the meadow tell you its story.