Sunday, 6 May 2018

Becoming Blue II: Agapanthus - LOVE

'Love, at first sight, is always spoken in the past tense. The scene is perfectly adapted to this temporal phenomenon: distinct, abrupt, framed, it is already a memory... This scene has all the magnificence of an accident: I cannot get over having had this good fortune, to meet what matches my desire'.
- Barthes, A Lover's Discourse Fragments

Botanical art of blue flowers - Inky Leaves
Up close on The Kiss: Onslow Gardens. 2018
I wake up. It's February 11th, I am in Spain and feel flat. After a cup of tea, I stick my head into my wardrobe to see what I can wear. I have a lunch invitation so my usual 'hermit' wools will not do. The smell of an old fragrance comes out from between the folds of fabric. How I dislike delving into this heap of cotton and viscose. My hand traces the patterns of embroidered flowers, buttons and ribbons. My most prized dresses wait patiently for my return. Reds, yellows, greens and whites. Each garment holds at least one memory. I can feel my throat becoming tight, it's all too much. I am not that girl anymore. As I begin to grieve for a version of myself I grab the nearest black polo-neck, belt, and jeans and shut the door tightly, thanking myself in the process that I left most of last summer's bundle of clothes in the bottom of an English wardrobe. The famous yellow gypsy skirt being the most memory-filled weave of them all. I symbolically ripped a hole it as I hopped over the railings of Onslow Gardens on that fateful night. After the event I felt that I couldn't dispose of the yellow skirt and decided to deal with it another day, stuffing it into a bag at the bottom of my British wardrobe.

Botanical art by Jess Shepherd - agapanthus
The Kiss: Onslow Gardens, J R Shepherd, Botanical watercolour painting, 1.5m x 1m, 2018. SOLD

I guess I am still broken. I suppose we all are to some extent. I miss him. It's taking every ounce of my energy to focus on what I am trying to do, to regroup. Like a car backfiring I have good days and bad days. I stop-start. It's been 12 months since I fell under love's spell and it hasn't faded. It's still as bold and blue as it was the day it encircled me. In my desperate attempt to get these emotions out I have been slowly chipping away at a large painting (above) which has mostly been painted from my imagination. These are the Agapanthus flowers my friend Natasha gave me in Vida's Plimsoll blue flat on Edgeware Road (see the previous post 'Introduction') last August.

'Lost in the warmth
Of the blue heat haze...
Kiss me again
Kiss me
Kiss me again
And again
Greedy lips
Speedwell eyes
Blue Skies...
In beauty's summer
Blue jeans
Around ankles...'

- Derek Jarman, Delphinium Days

As usual, I have played around with the flower heads and the light sources to accentuate the blue petals. I wanted to generate a dark half and a light half and, most importantly have two heads. For me, it was essential to have two heads butting or kissing. Your choice - love seems to produce either effect quite sufficiently! It also had to be a big painting; a painted elegy.

'A good elegy is always a conversation between grief and celebration. The grief of the loss of the person and the celebration that you were here at all to share the planet with them'. - David Whyte

Botanical art by Jess Shepherd
The Kiss: Onslow Gardens, J R Shepherd, Botanical painting, 2018. SOLD
'The Kiss: Onslow Gardens' describes an event that took place, a moment of passion, a moment of lust. A lapse in judgment. It is both about love and the lack of it. It is the chaos of kissing, the budding of ideas, of hope and the awkward separateness of two people who don't really know each other. Two stems - two people. One is upright and proud, that's the gentleman, the other is falling, that's me, falling in love or falling into darkness, into grief.

'Some things are meant to be
Take my hand, Take my whole life too
For I can't help falling in love with you
For I can't help falling in love with you'.

- Elvis Presley, Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore, and George David Weiss.

This painting is supposed to be claustrophobic, rude and conflicting. The bottom buds are seeking different paths, growing in opposite directions. There is harmony but it is hidden under the spell of the moment. In the spirit of an augmented 4th, buds emerge from the darkness of a Medusa head. The flowers are the same, and yet they are not. Like my leaves, they are trapped in a space too small for them. They are holding one another whilst at the same time crushing one another. Respect has gone out of the window. It's beautiful but also grotesque. The buds in the foreground begin to look otherworldly, alien and mutant. Nothing is quite what it seems.

'And we have this physical experience in loss of falling toward something. It’s like falling in love except it’s falling into grief. And you’re falling towards the foundation that they held for you in your life that you didn’t realize they were holding. And you fall and fall and fall. But then there comes a time when you finally actually start to touch the ground that they were holding for you. And it’s from that ground that you step off into your new life.' - David Whyte.

In English, the word "love," which is derived from Germanic forms of the Sanskrit lubh (desire), is a broad term, which often leads to problems in its true meaning. I find that such issues can be resolved if we consider the Greek terms, eros, philia, and agape in our attempt to categorise love. The term eros (Greek erasthai) is used to refer to that part of love which constitutes a passionate, intense desire for something; it is often referred to as a sexual desire, hence the modern notion of "erotic". In Plato's writings, however, eros is also held to be a common desire that we have in our search for transcendental beauty - the particular beauty of an individual which reminds us of the true beauty that exists in our world.

Detail of the Blue Agapanthus botanical painting
Close up on the Blue Agapanthus flower. J R Shepherd 2018. SOLD
In contrast to eros, philia entails a fondness and appreciation of another without the passion. For the Greeks, the term philia incorporated not just friendship, but also loyalties to family, the political community, and a job/skill. Lastly, agape refers to the brotherly love for all humanity and our planet. Agape arguably draws on elements from both eros and philia in that it seeks a perfect kind of love that is at once a fondness, a transcending of the particular, and a passion without the necessity of reciprocity.

'The deeper blue becomes, the more urgently it summons man towards the infinite, the more it arouses in him a longing for purity and ultimately, for the supersensual'. - Kandinsky

Goethe believed that blue was a darkness weakened by light. Scientists believe that it is the light that got lost. For me, it is the colour of our desire. It is there to be lost, to be both far and yet near and to be both light and dark at the same time, like the sky, the sea or the bottom of a swimming pool. When I think of blue I think of Georgia O'Keefe signing her letters 'from the faraway nearby' and still wonder if she was describing a place, or a state of being.

Detail of the Blue Agapanthus botanical illustration
Close up on the Blue Agapanthus painting. Watercolour on Saunders Waterford paper.. 

As humans, I find we live day by day trying to eradicate the paradox of desire from our lives either through consummation or with denial and suppression. It seems we cannot simply watch and listen to the feeling of our desires bubbling inside of us without response. To touch them without grasping.

Western society has lead us to believe that desire is a problem to be solved. We want to close the gap between us and the object of our desire. We don't like the longing and so we don't like the gap. Sadly, we have not been taught how to deal with the distance involved in desire. We don't understand that we can enjoy it in the same way we can enjoy a vista without having to parachute into it... If we could live with our longing in the same way that we take in the beauty of a landscape or the texture of a musical composition I feel we could own that experience much more fully and be more able to deal with loss. As you move, the vanishing point moves - you will never arrive in that place you saw from far away, just as you will never have that person. 'Somewhere in this is the mystery of why tragedies are more beautiful than comedies and why we take a huge pleasure in the sadness of certain songs and stories. Something is always far away' Solnit (2005).

'Blue comes to us through silence and mystery and much argument. The word we use for blueness was not in every language and arrived late. In ancient Greek the word for black may have been used for blue.' - Rebecca Solnit

Its now mid-April and my vanishing points have moved. My studio is metamorphosing into a papery version of Francis Bacon's as I continue to work on Blue. I think I might have bitten off more than I could chew with this one. It is no easy task. But then I think how long it took to find the leaves and then I realise planning is everything and good ideas take a long time to come. Picasso shut himself in a barn for 9 months and did 800 drawings before he came up with Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. I am about eight months in and I am no Picasso, but despite this, things are starting to resolve. To make things complicated, in the months between I got places to study for a PhD at both Central St. Martins and the Royal College of Arts and tried moving back to the UK. I did this more out of fear than anything. A safety net in case it all goes wrong and to find a way of being pushed because I felt tired of pushing myself. I know I am not alone in this. There is a huge responsibility that comes with freedom and sometimes it is just easier or less scary to give it to someone else to sort out. To let someone or something else build the structures in your life and control you.

Agapanthus work in progress
Agapanthus botanical painting as a work in progress. 1.5m x 1m. Watercolour on paper. 2018. 

Maybe this is a sign of maturity and my coming to terms with the nuances of melancholy and the complexity of longing. Sometimes we can only have something fully by not grasping. I didn't lose the object of my desire, it's just he is far away and with that, I wonder if we ever really lose anything at all? If we can remember something or someone and carry the picture and sounds of them in our hearts and minds, then really these things are very close, and even in times when you think you have lost or forgotten them, after decades they return to you in the form of a dream and you reminded again, that the object of your desire, the love, was not lost, it was just far away, distant and beyond sight. Such is blue. It cannot be grasped but it lingers. It is not the light that got lost, but the light we forget. The light inside.

'Blue Bottle buzzing
Lazy days
The sky blue butterfly
Sways on the cornflower
Lost in the warmth
Of the blue heat haze
Singing the blues
Quiet and slowly
Blue of my heart
Blue of my dreams
Slow blue love
Of delphinium days'

- Derek Jarman, Delphinium Days

As I edit my second chapter on blue I begin to realise that for me love and grief are two edges of the same sword and go hand in hand. You just can't have one without the other so I had to touch on it. 

'Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.' - David Whyte

The unfolding petals in 'The Kiss: Onslow Gardens' documents a very short segment of time, just a few hours on a warm summer's night - June 28th 2017 - but it took months to paint. It is a painting of lust, but also of loss. For the first stages, I couldn't even see what I was doing with all the tears pouring down my face. My face was as wet as the paper. The first washes were applied back in October 2017. It is now April 2018 and I have only just put in the finishing touches. Despite everything, the 28th June 2017 is still very fresh. It wrangles out of the usual confines of time and space and transcends like the colour blue.  As I apply the last brush strokes I reflect on how one cannot construct a life without being vulnerable and with that, I decide to be a bountiful inhabitant of loss, for it is the only way to love. 

This painting will be featured in the next edition of INK Quarterly as an A1 spread. To receive your four limited editions of INK over 2018 you can subscribe here

Close up on the Agapanthus, Jess Shepherd
The Medusa head of love


Aristotle. Poetics. Trns. S. H. Butcher. The Internet Classics Archive. Ed. Daniel C. Stevenson. Oct 2000. Feb 15, 2008 

Bloom, Harold. Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Minds. New York: Warner, 2002. 122-130. 

Hamblet, Wendy. “The Tragedy of Platonic Ethics and the Fall of Socrates.” Feb 15, 2008;> 

Jarman, D., (1993), Blue

Kaufman, Walter. Tragedy and Philosophy. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1992. 

Knox, Bernard. Notes. Antigone by Sophocles. Trns. Robert Fagles. Sophocles: The Three Theban Plays. New York: Penguin, 1984. 

Philips, C., (2007), "Socrates In Love", Norton, New York

Plato. Symposium. Ancient Philosophy. Ed. Forrest E. Baird and Walter Kaufmann. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson, 2008. Vol. 1 of Philosophic Classics. 

Segal, Charles. “Spectator and Listener.” The Greeks. Ed. Jean-Pierre Vernant. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995. 184-215. 

Solnit, R., (2005), A Field Guide to Getting Lost.,Viking; New York

Sophocles: The Three Theban Plays. New York: Penguin, 1984, Oedipus the King, Trns. Robert Fagles. Sophocles: The Three Theban Plays. 

Love, Despair, and Transcendence: The Tragic and Platonic Views of the Human Condition 

Whyte, D.  (2015), "Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words", Many Rivers Press

Whyte, D.  (2009), The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self & Relationship, Riverhead 

Whyte, D.  (2001), Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as A Pilgrimage of Identity, Riverhead 

Whyte, D.  (1994), The Heart Aroused: Poetry & the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America, Doubleday/Currency

painting about love and lust
The end of a chapter. The Kiss being wrapped for transport to England - April 2018

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Becoming Blue: INK Quarterly Proofs

Botanical painting of a Hibiscus flower
Hibiscus flower, 11 x 14 cm, Watercolour on paper, SOLD

I am very excited to be able to tell you that on the anniversary of Leafscape we managed to get hold of the printed proof pages for our first INK Quarterly newspaper and, thanks to your support, they look great! 

For those of you who don't know, inspired by the work of Yves Klein, my intention was to make a newspaper as a piece of art - to question what a newspaper actually is and what it is supposed to do. With this, I decided that I wanted to make something that was both informative and good enough to put inside a frame. This entire adventure into newsprint explores not only how we treat print today, but poses questions about its future is in a digital world. INK Quarterly is a composite stage where artists, scientists, philosophers and historians can participate, exploring their ideas in a space without boundaries, without convention. This is a little different to what we are used to in the modern world. This document we have created without boundaries is rather like the internet or a printed 'utopia', but I guess we are just not used to seeing it in printed form. Print seems to have the association of being more logical. Yet it isn't the internet or a utopia because it is not limitless - these are limited in edition and limited in pages. Therefore really, when thinking about these things, this is something completely new. 

Sciart newspaper
Laying out the pages of INK Quarterly. Designed by J R Shepherd and Browse Digital

All of the editions will be limited in number and will be printed using lithography by the same printer who helped us with Leafscape. Therefore this is no ordinary newspaper. It is a collector's piece. I am only printing 250 for the first edition and worldwide postage is included. If you are interested in subscribing or want to know more, please follow this link or get in touch: I am happy to answer any questions.

Sciart newspaper
Close up on page 3 in INK Quarterly. Designed by J R Shepherd and Browse Digital. Article by Rob Kesseler.

Right at the beginning, I originally proposed for INKQ to be spread across two sides of an A1 sheet, but after laying out some of the amazing articles I have received, I have decided to add a page onto the first edition. This is inevitably costing more money, but I think it is worth it. Therefore please share this project with your friends and family or anyone who you feel might be interested, as having their support would really help. All funds raised go back into the project, so if we manage to get many subscribers, we could all end the year with a newspaper of many pages!

Botanical painting of a Hibiscus flower
Hibiscus flower, 10 x 10 cm, Watercolour on paper, £150
Other news is the painting aspect of Blue Flower is still being planned out and prepared in the studio. I am still waiting for many of the blue flowers to come into bloom, so I am hiding in my studio making small study pieces and trying to finish my large Agapanthus piece titled 'The Kiss: Onslow Gardens', which I am painting mostly from my imagination now. This often happens towards the end when painting live material on this scale. You can read more about what inspired this painting in this blog post.

So with that I will sign off. Big thanks go to all of our contributors who have kindly chipped in for the sake of the project, sending in their articles and artworks without a fee. Without their help and your subscriptions, INKQ wouldn't be possible. This is very much a collaborative piece of art. 

Don't forget if you want to support the work we are doing, you can find out more about INKQ here: 

Wishing you all a lovely weekend! 

Botanical painting of an Agapanthus flower
The Kiss:Onslow Gardens - a work in progress. 1.5m x 1m. Waterccolour on paper

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Becoming Blue I: Introduction

On a sunny September afternoon, as tired leaves rustled in the garden beyond her window pane, she opened her book 'An Inquiry into Blue' and took out a flatted, knotted mass of black and brown hair that she had collected from a bed at Kensal Green several weeks before. Then, with her other hand she opened an indigo bound copy of ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ and placed the hairs between pages 32 and 33. Once closed, she took the Antwerp blue scarf that was wrapped around her neck and tied it around the book before hiding it at the bottom of her wardrobe...

Agapanthus flower bud, watercolour on paper
Agapanthus flower bud study, Watercolour on paper, 21 x 30 cm. (2017)

I plunge a large fishing net into the depths of a turquoise pool to fish out hundreds of yellowing leaves that fell from the trees I watched so carefully for three years. Catalpa, Mulberry, Fatsia, Conker and Judas, they were all there, floating and rotting like ghosts in a blue haze. Funny how things can be so symbolic. I sit and watch for a while as the low December sun pokes its head over a roof top, casting a halo of light through a blue sky. White squiggles dance in the blue watery rectangle, playing with the lost leaves at the bottom of the pool.

The world is blue at its edges and in its depths (Solnit)

A story is not always what it seems. Life is a wonderland full of hidden mysteries, most of which will never be solved. After a year of deep introspection, I finally feel I can begin the written element of my journey into blue. It's taken me months. From the first moment when the seed of an idea was sown back in 2015, I have spent many afternoons trying to consolidate blue, but it is a colour that cannot to be captured or ordered and what I have come to realise is to have spent my afternoons under a setting sun on Worthing beach devouring books on blue was about as useful as reading a book on yellow. You see, to understand blue one has to dive into the shade. Blue has to be experienced.

IMAGE: Howard Hodgkin 'Swimming'

Project Blue flower is so multifaceted that I don't really know where to begin when it comes to the blog or the printed Inky Leaves newspaper. In the end, after six months of contemplation I made a bridging post called 'Down the Rabbit Hole' back in May when, like Alice in her blue dress, I was tiptoeing around the edge of an illusory chasm after Leafscape

IMAGE: Sir John Tenniel

Blue is the scattering of light. Like the soldiers under cornflowers, it is lost. This displaced light is like a inconsolable rubix cube. The colour refuses to be ordered into chapters; it won’t be bound by rules, grammatical or otherwise. Blue is nebulous and has mushroomed at different points of my life to date. Like a fungus, it is always there, lurking between the shadow and the soul and tends to only reveal itself during times of utter ecstasy or despair. It litters the optimistic blue skies of holiday snapshots and percolates through my darkest pain. It’s the colour we turn when we are dead and the colour we often are when we are born. It is the colour that sits between the physical body and consciousness. Like for Miro, it is the colour of dreams.

People often associate the colour red for love, but I have never felt this myself. To me love is always blue. Its purity, it’s escapism and its disorder is encapsulated by blue. For me, to be in love is to be lost whilst becoming totally aware of the vulnerability of your body and your soul, and when you enter that space and dive deep, you strike that blue vein like a pot of gold.

The earth is like a blue orange (Paul Elvard)

Henry, who I was with for almost five years, used to have Miro's Azul II Lámina hanging above his bed. I always thought it was a good place to hang a painting such as this. Blue was Henry's favourite colour, he wore it all the time. When I moved in next door I remember buying blue curtains in the hope he would spend more time in my room. Needless to say it didn't work. The bitter sweetness of blue. We spent our last holiday together driving a friends Chevy around California, the interior of which was all upholstered in the deepest velvet blue.

Joan Miro, 'Azul II Lámina'

Blue is the colour of longing for the distances you never arrive in (Solnit)

When I met my first love, Alex, he gave me a Decaisnea pod. He had just picked it from a tree on Mount Edgcombe. Also known as ‘Dead Man's Fingers’ it was a fairly odd thing to give someone. I remember seeing the pod and thinking how unnatural it looked. All that blue. I tried to keep it preserved, but like the relationship it decomposed and the blue faded with time. Refusing to be captured, it seems, 'for blue there are no boundaries or solutions' (Derek Jarman).

Decaisnea fargesii pods

The last three years of my life have been dominated by shades of green, and for a while I didn't feel blue, that was until this summer. This time my total submersion into the tone would be sudden and deep. It was like I had been transported into a David Lynch film with its blue keys, blue boxes, blue roses and blue velvet - nothing made sense, and yet it did.

Work in progress, Leaf 200820171240, Acer macrophyllum, Kew Gardens. 

So there I am, slap bang in the middle of a Lynch. I am trying to prepare for an afternoon coffee in Chelsea. For some reason I didn't have my burgundy beret with me, so my friend Natasha lent me her Navy blue one. I only realise now that I was wearing a blue hat, with a blue top and of course, blue jeans. This was the day when I opened my door to the Cheshire Cat. I'd already been following the White Rabbit of my ideas, but then this Cheshire Cat came into my life under the cast of a winter eclipse. There was something very 17th Century about him. I always felt that he should have had a musket, square buckled shoes and a plumed hat.

'Lord and Lady', Watercolour on paper, two paintings on separate pieces of paper as a pair. SOLD

I saw Mr. Cheshire again a few weeks later in Chelsea after having found a plastic sparkly unicorn on a chain on the floor. I was wearing my Laura Ashley blue corduroy dress and reading 'Blue Mythologies' outside Sloane Square tube station. He was late, and I was cold. After visiting an art fair we ate dinner in the Blue Bird on Kings Road and talked about how dangerous hope is, both coming from opposite ends of the lens of course. Me the optimist thinking it as a weapon for good, he the pessimist thinking it inevitably leads to disappointment. 

Blue is paradoxical; it is self-contradictory, yet true (Carol Mavor)

Three weeks lapsed and on the day of a full moon, we met in Brighton and visited its Palace. Then, after walking the length of the pier, he ended it. Just like that, like a bolt out of the blue. We walked in silence to the train station and parted ways after I gave him a love note I'd made on blue paper. It was terribly sad.

The last leaf of Leafscape - reaching out - Leaf 90520171506. SOLD

We love to contemplate blue not because it advances us, but because it draws us after it (Goethe)

In French bleu means both the colour and a bruise. I was bruised and alongside all of this I was desperately trying to keep all the Inky Leaves saucers spinning, which was quite a task. I had problems with the second book as I was dissatisfied with the quality and had to keep asking for it to be redone. Inconsolable, I ran away up to London and slept on a friends sofa. The sofa was upholstered in the same blue velvet as the Chevy I'd driven around California in 3 years earlier. I lay there, crying as she painted the walls of her flat a dark 'Plimsoll Blue' around me. Then my other friend came over with a bunch of Agapanthus flowers and placed them in a glass jar in front of the blue wall. The scene was like a Greenaway film. I felt like my mood was changing the set design of this flat. 

Like Cessil's invisible cobalt ink, the cat and our story line quickly became intangible and indefinable. I tried to retrace things, marching through the ecstasy and the agony of it all in order to define what had actually happened. Naturally I failed and several months on I am still failing to understand its bitter sweetness. I feel confused, lost and helpless - like man who was swept away by the (blue) Danube after picking his lover a blue Mysotis flower and shouting 'Forget-me-not!' It's now December and unlike the bruises on my neck, the bruises in my heart haven't healed. These are still blue. Blue from the joy that it actually happened to the blue me grieving having lost him and myself in the process.  

Agapanthus botancal illustration
Agapanthus work in progress 130 x 98 cm 
'Onslow Gardens'
Watercolour on paper

I died a little death this summer. I will never be the same person again. It happens, it's life, but this will take some time to recover from. With the blueness of nostalgia I think backwards and with its optimism I think forwards. I take the scarf from my neck and wrap it around the only thing I have that tells me he was real and not a dream and I start my first flower: the Agapanthus

Unicorns and cannonballs, 
palaces and piers 
Trumpets, towers and tenements 
Wide oceans full of tears 
Flags, rags ferryboats 
Scimitars and scarves 
Every precious dream and vision 
Underneath the stars, yes, you climbed on the ladder 
With the wind in your sails 
You came like a comet 
Blazing your trail too high 
Too far 
Too soon 
You saw the whole of the moon

(The Waterboys)

* All of these events are true.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Becoming Blue: Inky Leaves Podcasting

I am happy to announce I have published my first podcast

'Inky Leaves Podcasting' is a channel that will focus solely on promoting botany and botanical art through audio.  Here we get to listen to artists, collectors and curators and, as time passes, I hope to track my own adventures into blue when I begin my travels in search of blue flowers. The Inky Leaf broadcast will probably evolve over time to feature different soundscapes mingled with interviews. For now, I intend to post on a fortnightly basis in 30 minute slots.

I am very excited about the venture and hope that it will not only be of interest to us as botanical painters but also to other audiences who would not necessarily think about botanical art and its applications, but who tune in online via other portals such as iTunes or Spotify. 

If you would like to listen to our first programme where I talk with Denise Ramsay about painting in her studio in France please click here.

Denise Ramsay Botanical Artist
Denise Ramsay

Blue Flower Manifesto

(German: Blaue Blume) A central symbol of inspiration. It stands for desire, love, and the metaphysical striving for the infinite and unreachable.


Over the next three years, Inky Leaves will be immersed in the colour blue as she explores what this intense and captivating colour means to us culturally; why regardless of race or religion, it is the worlds’ favourite colour and why paradoxically it is so rare in nature. 

Jess will be travelling across the globe as she searches for the most beautiful blue flowers and exploring their natural habitats in order to determine their origins. It will be a journey not only of scientific value but also artistic discovery. While seeking out and documenting these rare and exotic plants, she will also be recording the sounds of the countries she visits, photographing some stunning locations and discovering new and hitherto little known pigments with which to paint blue.

As Blue Flower consolidates and evolves via the prism of Inky Leaves, Jess will be looking at new ways of depicting the nature and beauty of flowers in art. Blue Flower is not a theoretical and rational study of botanical art, but is an exploration of the visual directions in which the natural world can lead us. 

Blue Flower will result in a fascinating and diverse presentation. A traveling multi-media exhibition is planned and will coincide with the publication of an accompanying book, soundtrack and film. 



You can follow the project on blogger and the offical webpage for the project is:

Tuesday, 24 October 2017


2018 is the year of INK Q – a new art newspaper by Inky Leaves. 

INKQ countdown page

Printed on recycled, lightweight paper in newsprint font, this quarterly paper is here to deliver something that inspiring and interesting to your directly to your door. Focusing on art and the natural sciences, we have some of the worlds most celebrated artists, historians and scientists contributing to the paper. There will also be articles written by J R Shepherd. 

This paper is designed to be a piece of art in itself; something beautiful that can be collected and treasured by you. 

With the launch of INK Q coinciding with Jess’ own new adventure into blue the first editions will have a blue theme. Subscribers will also get the opportunity to be involved in a collaborative piece of work. The gateway for subscribers opens on 29th October 2017 here:

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Becoming Blue Prologue: The Rabbit Hole

by J R Shepherd

I knew it would be tough, the come down from Leafscape. It was always going to be so.  It was my focus for a long, long time. However, as usual with anything that concerns my life, the more 'contemporary' Leafscape plot was far thicker than what was immediately obvious and nothing was what it seemed to be on the outside. 

I realise that there are always lessons to be learnt when you reach big life goals, things to take stock of before you do something again, only bigger and better. However, my ability to allow such constructive lessons to percolate through me has been prevented by the colossal elusive shadows of other deeper, more primal life lessons that I have had to unexpectedly swallow this month. 

'You broke another mirror 
You're turning into something you are not.' 
Radiohead 'High and Dry'

I am currently hiding in Spain trying to give myself the space I need to recover. I am lucky to have this escape hatch, many don't. As the days trickle by at a slow Spanish speed, I am painfully aware that I am metamorphosing at the speed of light, but scarily as of yet I don't know what into. Usually I have a carefully planned out trajectory; not now though, because I am too tired to consider it and I yearn for the organic, less linear way of being. I am embracing a void to invite the next ideas in. So I have chosen to try and remain calm in Spain as I grapple with the confining responsibility that comes with freedom.

'To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive'
Robert Louis Stevenson

Recovering from the craziness of the last two months, I am now living in a cloud of mist as I navigate my way through myself. It is true to say that I wasn't expecting Leafscape to be quite the success it was. I did that usual thing of keeping my expectations low to avoid disappointment. As one can imagine, to have an exhibition that well received is on it's own enough to send anyone off kilter. It was totally unanticipated and overwhelming. However, unbeknown to many, a number of other startling events happened to me during that week, and the following weeks, that completely sent my world into absolute chaos. I realise I am exhausted, which does not facilitate my ability to make clear judgements, but with that mental tiredness the heart opens up and the soul feels things. You operate at a different frequency. The brain can't keep up and you utilise different facets of your life force to survive. Operating like this, on that plane, lead me to discover who I was - not only on a physical level, but on a spiritual one.  I learnt who I am in my work, and who I am in my relationships to both myself and others and how these relationships effect my work and vice versa. I fell into a cats cradle of interconnectedness and this made me feel, for the first time in my life, whole; even if only for three hours during a tense Sunday afternoon. 

'Did you exchange 
a walk on part in the war 
for a lead role in a cage?'
Pink Floyd: 'Wish you were here'

It really was the first time I had ever felt so solidly like 'me'. There was no ego, no history, no future, no fear, no hope - just 'me', and I have come to discover that feeling yourself this fully is perilous. Primarily, because you find yourself doing ridiculous things in the pursuit of feeling like that again. In my case, I associated this feeling with another person, so I immediately tried to schedule time to see this person in order to make sense of what I had felt. As if there was something about this person's aura that altered me. I can confirm that this was not the case. If anything, seeing them just sent me further down the rabbit hole of chaos. I found myself doing things I don't usually do, like a drug addict I was looking for that emotional hit that would never come again. I convinced myself that the other person might have had the same life altering experience as me, when in fact they probably didn't. I searched for the indefinable all day and night. I slept less post exhibition than on the lead up to it. It now wasn't about the work, it was about love. I had fallen in love but I also had experienced this epiphany - these were two separate existences which were happening simultaneously in a room. With the love thing, I asked myself if my brain was just trying to fill the Leafscape void, but I knew in my soul that it wasn't. Something incredibly profound was happening and I had unintentionally entered a nirvana-like state.  * 

'If I should die this very moment 
I wouldn't fear
For I've never known completeness 
Like being here' 
Gorecki: 'Lamb'

Minutes after this double-event, things quickly turned black and white. One minute I was hysterical, the next depressed. I understand that this is all part of the fall out after working so hard on a solo show, but there were several other issues that I was having to deal with beyond this. It was like everything that I had put on hold for two years was catching up with me. I cried for the first time in 18 months, I also howled on the floor for the first time in my life. As I did this, I uncovered my next lesson: that reaching a point in one's journey can be utterly disorientating. That achieving a goal can remove a sense of drive, but at the same time I also discovered how 'off piste' I had become. As I immersed myself in a world of people in London, Edinburgh, Bristol and Brighton, seeing old friends and new acquaintances, I realised how utterly detached I had become from reality. How Jess Shepherd was not real. She had become an illusionist of the highest order. 

'How can you have a day without a night 
You're the book that I have opened 
And now I've got to know much more...'
Massive Attack 'Unfinished Sympathy'

After being surrounded by people for such a long time I have come to realise how detached I actually am on a psychical level. Not only is the way I conduct my life not mainstream, but I also play games with myself. I constantly push the prize away from myself to keep me performing. Like Alice's white rabbit I don't want anyone to catch me, and yet I secretly do, but with all this work and hopping about and shape shifting no one dares go there. Who would? I am exhausting. With this realisation I have discovered that I write my blogposts and diaries to leave a trail of breadcrumbs so people can find me if I really do go completely off piste. My diaries are my life rope, my map.

'You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way'
Bob Dylan: Mississippi

With Leafscape I wasn't expecting this compounded life lesson. I was expecting to loose my mind with the show and the crash after it. I was fully prepared for that and considering my track record I feel I have managed it all very well. I have slowed down my work rate and taken the odd day off. I have been kind to myself. It's better to slowly unwind than to just stop. I have put into practice everything I have learnt when it comes to this. I know myself very well. However what I was not expecting was to feel so geographically and temporally confused and disorientated. Nor was I was not expecting to fall in love, to feel so inadequate, so hungry, so sexually frustrated and lost. I feel like a wandering mist, no one can see me or hold me - I waft in and out, ever restless.

'For he's touched your perfect body with his mind'
Leonard Cohen: Suzanne

I sat in the Poplar woods for an hour the other day listening to the song thrushes, soaking in the intense spring greens of the rustling leaves and the smell of damp soil. I made the effort to do this in my attempt to ground myself and be rested. For a brief moment I decided that this is what my soul needed and I would not move from this spot back to the UK. That it would have to be something pretty spectacular to get me to exchange my Poplar wood, but as the days roll on, I realise that even this is a silly notion. Another layer of the onion is shed, I loose another skin and I realise that you can't keep hold of anything. That the only way to have something is to let it go, so I do. I treasure the moment, the memory and let it go.

'If you don't become the ocean, you'll be seasick everyday'
Leonard Cohen

I will never know how that other person who made me feel so real felt. It is an unfinished symphony, that I cannot bring myself to complete.  I have decided for now that I will leave this story alone, just it as it was, like the Poplar wood, a moment of clarity amongst the chaos. Part of me never wants to know how they felt not only because I wouldn't know what to do if this person felt the same way. Of course, this is where I discover my biggest life lesson of all. I wonder what happened to me over the last 5 years to make me so driven to live a phantasmagorical life where no one can touch me. I now realise how much I need to be touched. My body craves it. The pain of the absence of touch is overwhelming, but the pain of the possibility of anyone wanting to touch is even greater.  

'I want to live, 
I want to give ,
It's these expressions I never give...'
Neil Young: Heart of Gold

I am acutely aware that painting is a solitary exercise mostly based on seeing and feeling 'essence'. For this reason, I find a careful balance needs to be maintained by a painter on living between fact and fantasy. One cannot help but start to question the effect that such a solitary life has on a painter's ability to interpret touch and sound in paint. As a full time painter you start to realise that you are imagining what it feels like in your mind when you want to covey that feeling with pigment. This is why I tell people to reconsider their judgement on the everyday distractions they find so irritating and interruptive to their practice. This is why I tell them how important it is to have family around. That family and fiends actually nourish the work, and do not deplete it. 

For me, I am the other end of the scale. I spend vast amounts of time in my head with little flurries of activity when I am in the UK and these moments are always intense. I was pretty happy living in this way and I thought I'd perfectly mastered the balance between painting and living. That was until a gentleman helped me out of a van on a sunny day in London two months ago. Now all I want is to feel more than the tiny vibrations of my brush running across the paper or the pictures in my head. In the space of two months I have fallen under a revelatory spell that is both excruciating and intoxicating in equal measures.

'Behind every beautiful thing, 
there’s been some kind of pain'
Bob Dylan: Not Dark Yet

Walking through this thick soup of personal discovery remains to be incredibly hard work. However, there is a perfect conformity in all of this, which is why I decided to blog about it, because it precedes my next project which was going to touch on all of these elusive aspects of the human condition. The universe has actually given me the seeds in which to completely feel the thing that I wanted to try to portray in paint. That constant striving for the indefinable - the perfection, the boundless optimism and blind faith. That's love for you. Like infinity, it cannot be contained, it cannot be held. Like a mirage it teases you.

'Chaos is a friend of mine.'

Bob Dylan

'We passed upon the stair 
We spoke of was and when 
Although I wasn't there 
He said I was his friend 
Which came as some surprise 
I spoke into his eyes 
I thought you died alone 
A long long time ago 
Oh no, not me 
I never lost control'
David Bowie: The Man Who Sold the World

Transitting Neptune square natal Venus and transitting Venus square natal Neptune during a Venus retrograde.

Lessons learnt:

1. How it feels to be real 
2. The heart knows
3. Achieving a goal is disorientating
4. It is important to interact with people physically
5. It is important to pace oneself on the lead up and come down from a show
6. It is important to make yourself vulnerable
7. Vulnerability sparks creativity
8. There is so much we don't know
9. I feel I don't belong anywhere
10. I don't belong anywhere because I belong everywhere

Originally published on 27th April 2017