Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Battersea to Bognor

Sounds like a scene from 'Monte Carlo or Bust' and it felt bit like that last week. I broke down a few times as I struggled onward and needed to top up on fuel at my friends houses in order to keep going. Last week was difficult, non-flowing and complex and took the wind right out of my sails. It just goes to show you - you never know what is around the corner. Cut a long story short I almost gave up this botanical pursuit. Most unlike me - I never give up, but several times over the past several days I have found myself close to complete breakdown. I am tired and that doesn't help, both physically after marching across London, and mentally. Emotionally I am pretty stretched and all of these are dampening my spirit. But I mean to go on - not because of how much we have all invested or through personal pride, but because I know no other way. It has always been my belief that I was born to paint plants. To me, painting is like breathing fresh air. It's an innate need. It would be easy for me to blame my reason for giving up on the many pressures coming in from all directions, but I know the real reason is that all these pressures had no outlet at the time. I hadn't painted properly for ten days whilst being on the move and I felt it. Thankfully my brushes are now touching paper and I feel more grounded as a result. So my advice is when you are this close to giving up painting - paint.

Rubus ulmifolius fruit ripening
Blackberries (Rubus ulmifolius) ripening - a work in progress
With this in mind I have started a new piece - a raceme of ripening blackberries (very disappointed that every time I type 'blackberry' auto spell changes it to 'BlackBerry' - see here as to why I am sad about this). These are definitely now in my top five of all time horrendous subjects to paint. I was so entranced when my friend Tom and I spotted some ripening blackberries in Chelsea Physic Garden that I didn't even think about the technical expertise required to paint such a thing. Nope - it did not enter my mind even briefly. Wish it had, as I then would have saved this piece for another time as it is super hard. I wouldn't mind so much if it wasn't a commission, but it is, so I have to do this well. I'm just thanking my lucky stars that there aren't any yellow or white flowers involved as that would top it off. So my other piece of advice is if you are thinking of giving up painting - do not pick a subject that is difficult if it is for a client. It's a lot of pressure to put on oneself. I am just ploughing on and trying not to think about it's destination too much - it is the only way.

Rubus ulmifolius fruit ripening - close up

What makes this piece tricky is the spectrum of colour (yellow, peach, grays, blues, reds, magenta's, blacks, pinks, greens and white tints) and the two textures - shiny berries with many tints to the velvety stem. The leaves are not a problem - haha - I am lucky in that they rarely are. I am starting to wish that I had mastered the medium of masking fluid, but out of stubbornness I have not, so I am having to dance around every speck of white. Fun.

Rubus ulmifolius fruit ripening - a work in progress
My palette is: W&N Transparent Yellow, Permanent Magenta, Permanent Rose, Hooker's Green and Daler & Rowney Cobalt Blue,  Phthalo Blue, Rose Madder. The usual. Not much changes there. Teeny brushes. A painting like this, where the colours change a lot and bleed into each other doesn't half make it tempting to use lots of brushes all at once, but I am being a good girl and sticking to just three brushes and not putting them in my mouth. This is good news - I think I have re-trained myself.

A painting of ripening blackberries
Close up of the bottom of the raceme of Rubus ulmifolius - work in progress

So a little update from the Inky Leaf studio in Bognor Regis. I apologise that my posts are thinner on the ground these days, but there isn't much to report on and I am really trying to focus.  

Blackberry Painting
Close up on the ripe blackberry.

Rubus ulmifolius fruit
Close up on a ripening blackberry - work in progress

I hope that you all had an enjoyable Autumn equinox. Time to get the daylight bulbs out and bake blackberry crumbles!

Full painting view - a work in progress


  1. Spring here Jess so the garden is looking so interesting with all the new shoots and flowers and wonderful growth, every day the vista is looking different, it's a beautiful time. I love Autumn too, in fact as I get older I do love all seasons.
    As far as the way you were feeling about giving up - I feel your pain, I was at that point earlier this year and felt it would be so much easier to just stop. But really all those emotions just get transferred to whatever else you are doing, it's not about the work or the subject - it's about us and how we deal with pressure, expectation, disappointment etc. It's just that art makes it so .... out there somehow, very vulnerable - because we need to turn up with an open heart to do creative work.
    What helped me was to bring more balance into my life - family, work, art, health (and that should come first) - and fun! We need to feel joy to build our reserves so that we can draw on it during the most difficult times.
    As you well know, life comes in cycles and usually when we feel truly crap, something wonderful is about to happen x

    1. Thanks for your kind message Vicki, it meant a lot at the time and I am sorry it took this long to respond. I guess I was just really trying to look forward and not focus too much on things. Now I feel much more grounded and am taking much delight in reviewing the past two months and seeing how much I learned. It was substantial! My problems were in dealing with the seductive nature of material wealth in England, which somehow enveloped me as I saw all my friends in their pretty little houses with their pretty little children and handsome husbands. It would be fair to say that I entered a mire of self pity. Naughty, naughty.

      Anyway, thanks to your support, I have pulled myself together and am now back on track.

  2. Oh - and as I said on your FB page - this looks gorgeous already! Very excited to see how it comes together but you have captured the form and light and depth so well - the colours are beautiful. Hope you have something special planned when you have finished it and can celebrate your accomplishments x

    1. Thanks Vicki, delighted that you like the berries. I keep looking that the finished piece in the studio in Spain and because it wasn't painted in the that studio I feel like I didn't paint it at all. It's rather nice as I can study it as if I was looking at a painting in a gallery, as a visitor.

  3. Jess, I can see from your photographs this is going to be spectacular!

    I do sympathise, blackberries have to be the most difficult berries, but you seem to be rising to the challenge admirably.

    Might I suggest some Blackberry Wine to celebrate once they're done?

    1. Thanks Polly - I am glad you empathise with their trickiness. They are hard going. So many highlights...Haha! A glass of vino tinto would be marvellous, or a homemade blackberry wine perhaps?!

  4. Wonderful composition and delicious berries! Look forward to seeing the rest, but am devouring your post!
    All the best, Jenny

    1. Thanks Jenny! I am delighted to hear that you like how the piece looks. I will put the finished one up too. Best wishes,

  5. THE ONLY WAY IS UP !!!!!

    Well Jess, you've never made things easy for yourself and this challenge is a clear example of that. If you're feeling down, why not fight your way back with another difficult task in front of you.
    Of course, those of us who know your work, know that you will achieve another brilliant piece here, however long it takes. Those who know far better than me, can already see the potential in this piece and the stages you go through, building up the layers will provide an uplifting image and boost to your spirits !

    1. Thanks Chris, indeed the only way is up and I think I went up in the weeks following this one. Feeling much better now and restored. Back in the studio next week with any luck for another commission - a wreath

  6. I nearly missed this lovely Blackberry Medley! I love it! Keep going Jess, we are all cheering you on!!

  7. Thanks Shevaun - I did read this when you posted it, it just took me this blooming long to reply. Your support means so much and I am very, very grateful x