Wednesday 30 December 2015

Personification of Leaves

I find myself lying in bed with a bad back/right arm combo. As I don't own a laptop I have dragged my bed across the floor towards my desktop and have pulled my keyboard out to full extension so that I can type whilst sitting in bed. This has suddenly become a very dark day (AGAIN). I have no idea what is going on right now only that I appear to be struggling with everything, which is ridiculous as I don't really have pressures in life at the moment. It just go to show you that you can't escape yourself. 

Me with plants painted by Piers Ottey 2004
Whilst laying in bed and writing in all of my diaries something extraordinary manifests in my thoughts - a realisation: I am my leaves, the leaves are me. Every leafscape is not only a portrayal of a dystopian ecology, every one of them is also a reflection of me. Stuck on the margin on the paper, unable to claim their space, full of life or slowly decaying, spiky or soft, they are all facets me. 

I mentioned my dreams of giant leaves and tree trunks in my last post. When reflecting on my plant-based dreams, one in particular still plays on my mind. It must have been dreamt back in 2012 when I was still living in Kew. In it I found my old bedroom in a house of many houses. It was covered in dust, and shafts of life erupted from the furniture and climbed towards the shuttered window. Disrupted layers of dust whirled around the stagnant, stratified air. Toys I had forgotten ever owning were left out, half drunk cups of tea, university papers, school journals - you name it, everything was inside this hexagonal room. The room held all the items every one of my rooms has ever held, it was a capsule of my space and identity. Stunned I had come across such treasure my eyes went back to the thing they noticed first - the bed, from out which grew a coffee tree. It was Caroline and she was in bloom, but her flowers were that of a Gardenia- big, white and showy. Her roots covered the bed and her branches, which were full of singing, electric green birds, spread out like an awning in their desperate search for light. She was incredibly stunted but able to function nonetheless and the entire room had developed its own ecosystem.

On remembering this dream I remember all the others I had during that year of trees growing in houses and churches, halls, bedrooms, cellars and attics. There were dozens of them, all different species and all dwarfed by their environment. I now see a theme developing... took a while for me to remember and piece it together, but the brain is an amazing muscle that always requires time (and space). So with that in mind I am left feeling rather stunned and a teeny bit sad, trying to work out what I need to do in order to move away from the margin and into that white space. That is, if I want to. I think I do, but the subconscious is a strange thing and maybe, just maybe there is something inside of me that prefers the margin. 

Sunday 20 December 2015

The art of polishing and partying

Still polishing this botanical illustration of an Artichoke leaf  (76 x 56cm)
(Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)...
I took a day off yesterday and drove across Spain. I needed to spend some time out of the studio, to travel under a big blue sky and see something new. The journey took me to the ancient city of Gaudix where the people still live inside caves, and onwards through the Alpujarras and to the towns of Yegen, Órgiva and Lanjarón. I saw great swathes of national forest, Roman ruins and Islamic castles. The weather has been incredibly unusual of late and as a consequence confused Almond trees have started to blossom again and there wasn't any snow to stop me in my tracks. Only fragments of mica piled up on the mountain slopes glistened in the sunlight shining like little mirrors, and the only a few deer and a partridge provided company - there was no one around - it was the middle of nowhere and incredibly silent. 

It has been a busy week in the studio - lots of darting about from painting to painting. A very restless energy has built up and it is being reflected in my work. I have been trying to finish the Artichoke, whilst also delving deeper into the giant poplar leaf - two paintings that couldn't be any more different to each other. I like this, it is keeping my brain busy, preventing boredom. I wish I could say that I don't get bored, but I do. After weeks painting the same subject in the same colour it can get a little overwhelming. Mid last week when I sat down in front of the Artichoke I felt my tummy doing somersaults and actually felt a bit sick, like I'd eaten too much chocolate. I usually take this as a sign to stop what I am doing and move away. The intensity of the Artichoke is also not doing my back any favours as I tend to tense up when working in that amount of detail, so the Poplar has been a useful tool in doing the exact opposite. 

Little and Large, although little isn't exactly little! Artichoke (on top) and Poplar (underneath) - a sense of scale
(Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus and Populus nigra)

I am still on a limited palette but have swapped my D&R Rose Madder for D&R Cadmium Red (an old one too, so its bound to be seriously toxic) and I have to say I am very much enjoying it. I had forgotten what an awesome colour this is, especially if you mix your own green and don't use any green pans. It just gives the green some depth and reality. 

Black Poplar (Populus nigra) leaf found in the plantations of Granada (1.5m x 1m)

I have been reading a fabulous book called On Longing by Susan Stewart which I recommend to those who are interested in the psychology of longing, especially in the context of art. I found some of my missing paints that had managed to hide themselves under the plastic casing of my Daler Rowney set when I knocked all of my paints on the floor after the catastrophe that was starting the Poplar leaf. Video link here:

Live from the Inky Leaves studio...
Posted by Inky Leaves on Friday, 4 December 2015
Had a Christmas party, but still not done my shopping... leaves took over my life. Shopping tomorrow...
Have a very lovely Christmas everyone if I don't see you in this virtual space before hand!

Friday 11 December 2015

Missing advent doors

December crept up on me. I had no idea that November had ended some time ago. I live in a bubble over here in Spain and all the days roll into one. I didn't get an advent calender, or know anyone else who has one and this hasn't helped matters. No talk of Christmas shopping here - the Spanish don't appear to regard the event as a commercial opportunity. A few baby Jesus' printed on shrouds dangle from balconies but that is about all. I only realised it was December after a double bank holiday this week - celebrating Constitution Day and Mary's Immaculate Conception.  I was left in a state of shock - is 2015 really wrapping up? Gosh. Stunned, I have decided to do what I normally do at the end of the year; panic, go over everything I have done to date and then tie up all loose ends (in the studio, hall, sitting room and kitchen) in a futile attempt to remedy the state of panic... 

Kitchen based tying involves me helping mum tie the string on our homemade Christmas pudding. Hall tying involves untying the wiry, white, fairy lights, Sittingroom tying requires a much needed spell of restringing on all of our Christmas baubel's and the studio? Well that doesn't really involve any thread-like products. In the studio I have just worked out that I could actually take a wad of paintings back for scanning in January if I pull my finger out and get on with some work. With this in mind I have put my dried leaves, including the massive leaf, to one side while I get on with these other pieces. I am having to use photographs for some subjects and with the Artichoke leaf (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) I am using a combination, which is what I tend to do towards the end of a painting (when I am painting anything that is 'alive'). There's still a field of green globe artichokes at the back of my studio, which, with the absence of a '¡Peligroso!' sign looked more inviting for a pick on one of my most recent walks.

Artichoke Leaf - botanical art
After 'weaving' basal layers all over the Artichoke leaf painting and putting in the darkest bits, I appear to now work in large sections across the leaf. This is a new thing - I didn't do this before. It began with my first Catalpa leaf and I liked this method of working so much I have stuck with it.

Artichoke Leaf - botanical art
Artichoke Leaf (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)
Not the whole leaf, but the better 'side' of it as the bottom section is still pretty drafted out.
Talking of walks... whilst painting I have also been listening to this fantastic series on Radio 4 which I really want to share with you as, although they are short programmes, they completely transport you. I am not really the Radio 4 type, but my mum was kind enough to draw my attention to this wonderful little programme on Virginia Woolf's walks. I myself am a walker. I could walk all day if I didn't feel so concerned about wasting my time all of the time. Walking is always my activity of choice when I have a day off. Even if I am stuck in London, I will walk. When I was looking for a place to rent in the city 5 years ago I remember I walked from Kew to Brick Lane as the crow flew, along a fictitious equatorial line, I sliced the city in half. It took a while, but it was one of the best things I could have done at the time as I found my bearings and with that, my confidence. 

So here is the link to the programme on the BBC. What I find particularly remarkable is that her walks are EXACTLY where mine have been, minus a stint I did in Edinburgh. We have London... Granada... Cornwall and Sussex. Remarkable. 

Flock of pigeons in flight - taken on my walk today near Santa Fe, Granada, Spain

Saturday 5 December 2015

Hands that do dishes...

The Hand Album

This afternoon, whilst sitting on a sunny wall eating my lunch I looked down at my hands. At first I was cross with myself for not having washed them, and once again a bit more manganese entered my blood stream (I often smudge in paint with my fingers when painting). As the inward tut-tutting subsided, I then began to study the lines. I turned my right hand edgeways, where, since I was 8, I have had a splinter. It's been entombed in a mass of skin at the base of my little finger since I rubbed my hands along an old wooden flap-desk in Miss Brullhard's class at Rose Green Junior School and has over the years made a home for itself in an underground bubble. It's a tiny little thing, but evidently there. However, this week I could see that rather suddenly it has decided to tunnel its way out and with a helping left hand that splinter of wood saw the Spanish sun for the first time. It's been embedded in there for 23 years.
My hand in 2010

Alex's hands out of their pounch

I love hands. To me there is something slightly obscene about them, providing a window that looks straight onto the soul. Just think of all the things they've touched. You can tell a lot from someone's hands. The texture, the lines, the muscle. Mine are very dry, scarred from both too much gardening without gloves and over picking scabs at times when I have been anxious. The joints bend where they shouldn't, there's a callus from writing and painting and freckles on the top from spending so much time outside. There's soot under my nails from scrubbing the fireplace. Yes, you can tell a lot.

Mum's hands

Matthew's and Dad's hands. Matthew's are big and thin, Dad's, chunky

I am fascinated by the lines. I have hand prints from all of my lovers, my best friends and my parents. I collect them, although haven't taken any since 2010. To me there are so deeply personal. I remember taking them so that I'd have a souvenir if I were to ever loose that person. Morbid I know, but that's just the kind of girl I am. It all started when I worked at Plymouth City Museum. I was studying some geological micro mounts and I found a fingerprint left in the wax on which the micro gem was perched. It had been there since 1799, left by Comte Louis de Bournon who had ended up in England after fleeing the French revolution. At the time I was deeply moved and felt instantly closer to a ghost and the absurdity that is time.  Time... just us casting shadows in space.

Henry's hands - which didn't come out very well sadly

Katie's hands in their pounch

My hand prints are kept in a yellow book which I later started to use for my Bare Necessities Project, which I will one day, when I am old lady, have time to actually paint. It was always meant to be a project about time -  looking back, looking forward - a comparison of diets over the years and what makes me - me. On reflection, it is quite a special book this one. It's full of the souls and food that nourished me. This book, in a way, has become my identity, my own digital print.

Bare Necessities Project - packaging album number 1 (there are 3 for the year)

Alex's hands

Thursday 3 December 2015

Never the same again

Last fortnight I was trapped in a maze. I sometimes refer to it as 'the maze' or 'a shadow', but most call it 'black dog'. Leaving Facebook for a while was a challenge set by said maze... It was pretty bad and I did a lot of soul searching and thankfully I managed to navigate myself out of it, the storm passed and this new week brought with it a fresh start. 
Monday/Tuesday - laying out in the studio...
 I have begun a new piece of work and so far it’s been a fascinating journey and one which I wanted to share with you. This Monday morning one could say I probably felt a little over confident after battling my way through an emotional thorny bush. As a consequence, I brazenly ventured into the spare bedroom and carefully peeled the first sheet of my new supersize paper away from the others and carried it clumsily down the marble stairs. On the drawing board it looked even bigger and over hung Drew (the drawing board) by about a foot on three sides. However, it is such heavy paper I think we can cope as it doesn't flop like the 420gsm. Still feeling self-assured I then draw out two compositions of three, as the plan was to do a triptych. Of course now I have got started I am not entirely sure if I have the time to successfully do a triptych, but we live in hope. 

Wednesday - drawn out on Drew
Yesterday… Wednesday, I telephoned St.Cuthberts Mill as I couldn't spot a watermark on my Saunders Waterford paper*, which made distinguishing the correct side to paint on a bit tricky. Added to this confusion was the fact that it wasn't hot press paper, so to my untrained eye both sides looked as rough as each other. Anyway, after a lovely conversation with an English lass I managed to work out the felt side and transferred the graphite image onto the paper (yes this took almost an entire day). 

My wonderful Series 44, size 12 Rosemary and Co. brush
which was kindly gifted to me from my Biology teacher
This morning, Thursday, I crept into the studio with a hang over... Not ideal but I didn't get much in the way of carbohydrates with my tapas the night before which was not only a little disappointing but negligent on my part. However, a pot of tea, two ibuprofen, two ginger nuts and some breakfast slowly sorted the issue out, thank goodness. So yes, back to the studio… In the daylight I was able to see that the graphite had transferred so I began to paint, but I found I couldn't straight away… 

Firstly I had to rearrange my studio - the lights, the stools where I keep my paints - pretty much everything. My 'clippy' angle poise no longer could ‘clip’ onto Drew, so I am now a daylight bulb down which is a bit of a nuisance but easily solved - just something else to keep me on my toes. I then found myself thinking about other botanical artists who have painted such big works, such as Rosie Sanders, Coral Guest and Heidi Willis. This is something I tend to do a lot at the start of a painting - it is almost like saying a prayer where I ask for their guidance in spirit (hi guys if you are reading!).

Finally, paint hit paper. The texture of the paper is completely different to what I am used to, but I actually rather like it. Like a butterfly trying to find a nice hot branch on which to settle, I danced around a bit to begin with. I seem to do this every time - it’s the same old routine - paint the scaffolding first, so in goes the far edges, the darkest bits and the main veins. This is done with big brushes. I then try to do the lightest area and eventually, such as at 1pm this afternoon, I manage to settle on an area that appeals. I feel I have to say though, that with this piece I was beginning to worry that firstly - I wouldn't settle down as I was ALL OVER THE PLACE and secondly - I was beginning to get concerned that every time I moved around I would have to move everything with me to that extremity on the paper. So all in all I can conclude that big paper = a work out.

So here are some images of the bare bones. I am showing you the bare bones because I think it is funny how my paintings often look this diabolically bad to begin with. It's something I don't like to reveal at the best of times, but there you have it, I have decided to reveal all. I am also working on this one very differently to my previous pieces - because it is big I find I have become incredibly free with the brush. I am painting like an impressionist. I don't want the end product to be impressionist in style, but I can tell at this early stage that it might have a completely different feel to it. Maybe it will be more abstract - who knows?! I certainly don't. I don't have a clue - I just found something I wanted to paint big and am doing it. Hopefully, when I am finished, leaves will never be the same again and neither will I.

*St. Cuthberts Mill apparently don’t watermark their bigger paper.

Sunday 15 November 2015

They dry like poppadoms in the sun

One thing is for sure, and that is that I'm still obsessed with the Catalpa bignonioides tree growing in our back garden. Everything about it is fantastic. Its leaves, its long spooky pods and its entire form. I have always loved these Cigar Trees. There used to be a large specimen growing at the end of my road on Brick Lane. I loved that one too, but there is just something extra special about this one. 

Spooky beans of Catalpa bignonioides at night
Like the 'Whomping Willow' in Harry Potter, or a wet dog on the beach, it is now shedding its massive leaves in one big shake. Scattered across the sunlit lawn they dry like poppadoms. A fan of the Indian snack, I later come along and gather them all up, study them, select the best leaves and paint those. Here's the latest:

Inky Leaves studio
Inky Leaves studio

Indian Bean Tree
 Close up on another one of my Catalpa bignonioides poppadom leaves
Apparently, the name Catalpa derives from the Muscogee name for the tree, "kutuhlpa" meaning "winged head". Later on, between 1729 and 1732, the spellings "Catalpa" and "Catalpah" were used by Mark Catesby and then Carl Linnaeus published the tree's name as Bignonia catalpa in 1753. Giovanni Antonio Scopoli then later established the genus Catalpa in 1777. I wonder what represented the winged head on the tree?

Observations #151115

One man in a cut field with a gun

One lady thrashing plants on the side of the road with a stick

Two men with radios

One man sitting on a wall looking pensive

Two dogs fighting

Two runners

One man throwing corn seed into a ditch

Two cyclists, both stationary. One at the start, one at the end

Observations,  11am on 15/11/15, Belicena, Granada, Spain

Hiroshima: after the explosion, shadows "fixed" in the walls and pavements 

It's been preposterously light here over the last seven days. A continuum of blue still dons every crown and seeps through the gaps until it’s halted by something opaque. Such is the nature of light, and I am once again rudely reminded that every light casts a shadow. What that shadow is, I am not entirely sure. I suppose it is just a different state of being. A wall can be in the sun in the morning and by afternoon not, but it is still a wall. Like a chameleon, it has just temporarily changed its skin. If there is light, then there are definitely shadows and so where there is light, there is darkness. On a metaphorical level, my greatest fear is that as I try to step closer into the light spiritually, someone or something else edges a little closer into the darkness.  Such is the impossible violence of light.

Still from the documentary film, The Effects of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, produced by Akira Iwasaki and Kihon Eigasa, 1945. Photographed at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum's daily screening by slavick.

Sunday 8 November 2015

Studio updates

It's been quiet again. I think I am getting quieter and quieter, going deeper and deeper underground. I am bored by social media and more entranced by the things outside my door. I suppose this isn't a bad thing. 

Currently, what I find when I step outside of my door are platoons of corn stubs,
shimmering Poplar trees and long, long shadows.
So I have been getting on with a commission of a wreath made up of Salvia officinalis, Lavandula officinalisMarjorana officinaleVeronica officinalis and Rosmarinus officinalis plants  for a new website.

Preparations are also underway for my upcoming show. I have worked out the time I need to build a collection of work together. I was aiming for February 2017, but with the RHS also in contention, I might have to wait until 2018. Lets see... So I have been very carefully selecting specimens for the job. I feel like one of those judges at a summer fete judging flowers, fruits and vegetables, except my criteria are slightly different in that I am looking for the perfection in imperfection. 

As for the RHS... well this has all gone awry in my heart. I still don't feel 100% happy doing what I wanted to do and all other ideas still aren't really fitting the bill. They are either too whacky, too difficult or not very me. I am finding it difficult trying to find something that I want to do that isn't going to be seen by the judges as madness. With this difficulty, I have decided to just step back from the whole thing and let the plant/theme/subject find me. 

After drawing after drawing, and fantasy session after fantasy session I have had a complete rethink on what I am doing. I often find that this is how I come to most of my pieces of work - there are those that come from dreams and fantasy and those that come from reality. Dreams come first and I tend to stick with them. Darth was a dream, as was the Coffee and Cos. They are usually softer paintings that come with an aura of uncontrollable darkness. Sometimes I dream so much I end up falling out on the other side and finding a simple solution in reality. I wonder how it will be with the RHS? So no blogging about this for a while now. Not sure what I will be writing about instead but I want to carrying on going deeper within in order to create something incredible and I feel I can't do that when I am spreading myself out on the web.

A spontaneous burst of pigeons - fabulous movement. 
Came across this the other day... a diary entry before I went to the UK in August... Made me laugh whilst also highlighting the importance of taking one's time in planning:

"Drawing it out and its the wrong size, only slightly wrong. Could go forward as is, but not happy with the size and that will ruin everything. I know it will. I got away with it on the pineapple, but not with this. I need Gertrude to be big. Bugger. Totally pissed off I have wasted 3 whole days  on this, sitting in a boiling hot room for nothing. Part of the process. The planning is so important and remember what Steven Moffat says - 'it is all the ideas that you didn't go ahead with that makes good writing'. It's all the silly doodles and ideas that lead to something ground breaking. I must remember this".

Saturday 7 November 2015

The fabulous work of Nancy Blum

Last night my mother and I discovered the work of Nancy Blum. It was a magical moment. So magical that I wanted to share it with you on here in case you hadn't heard of her. Based in New York, Nancy draws these spectacularly detailed botanical pieces full of vibrancy and colour. Each one of her carefully executed works is practically busting with life. She has a Facebook page which can be found here and a website in case you want to see more of these fabulously tantalising pieces. 

Botanical Art by Nancy Blum
Nancy Blum ©

Art by Nancy Blum
Nancy Blum ©

Botanical Art by Nancy Blum
Nancy Blum ©

For me, I feel that there is something inherently 'William Morris' about them, but they also remind me of the stylised botanical paintings of the 19th century, such as the illustrations made for John hutton Balfour for his students in Edinburgh (below) or the bright intense paintings of Walter Hood Fitch (also below). Add a dash of Georg Dionysius Ehret's more brazen works, such as his Opuntia and the intensity of Maria Sibylla Merian's work, and I believe you get something a little like this. They almost look a bit 'Indian' with their rich colours and never ending embellishment. However, despite all of this, I still find Nancy's work to be completely unique. 

Working clockwise from top left: John Hutton Balfour drawing aid, 'Blandfordia grandiflora' by Walter Hood Fitch, 'Opuntia' by Georg Dionysius Ehret and  'Butterflies sun' by Maria Sibylla Merian. 
Balfour botanical drawings
Artist unknown: "Stenocarpus sinuatus Endlicher (PROTEACEAE). Firewheel tree, tulip flower, Mr Cunningham's stenocarpus", c. 1846, botanical illustration, watercolour and ink on board, 95.2 x 60.3 cm. 
Botanical Art by Nancy Blum
Botanical Art by Nancy Blum - I would love to have this on my wall.

Nancy Blum ©

"Of all known forms of life, only about ten percent are still living today. All other forms – fantastic plants, ordinary plants, living animals with unimaginably various wings, tails, teeth, brains – are utterly and forever gone. That is a great many forms that have been created. Multiplying ten times the number of living forms today yields a profusion that is quite beyond what I consider thinkable. Why so many forms? Why not just that one hydrogen atom? The creator goes off on one wild, specific tangent after another, or millions simultaneously, with an exuberance that would seem to be unwarranted, and with an abandoned energy sprung from an unfathomable font. What is going on here?"

Annie Dillard
Pilgrim At Tinker Creek

Friday 30 October 2015

Killer Blackberries

Blackberry painting by Jessica Rosemary Shepherd
Blackberries (Rubus ulmifolius), 2015, Watercolour on Saunders Waterford Paper, J R Shepherd ©, Inky Leaves

I panicked then that I'd lost all my images, but I had filed them under 'Rubus' rather than 'blackberry'! I really do need to sort out my taxonomic system on my computer, it goes from Latin to English far too readily. So yes, here they are in all their glory. BEHOLD THE RACEME OF BLACKBERRIES!

I would certainly be lying if I said that they were easy to paint, but even though they were a challenge, they were really fun to do. I haven't painted shiny berries in ages and had forgotten how fabulous they can be. I did miss my leaves, but it was good to step back from them. So the good news is I managed to finish them on time. I dropped my brush which was on both occasions loaded with the blackest of paint twice and marked the white background, but managed to recover the damage with a magic eraser - phew! So now I only have three more pieces to do before Christmas and all will be merry! Easy-peasy.

Blackberries (Rubus ulmifolius), 2015, Watercolour on paper, J R Shepherd ©, Inky Leaves
So after some more days in London, which were an absolute riot, I now find myself back on terra España and I am left feeling a little disorientated. I unpacked as soon as I got in - I always do. Almost threw myself into the washing machine as I vigorously put my four outfits into the wash (goodness knows how I kept going on four outfits) and got to work on sorting out all of my images, my accounts and many other boring little tasks, which is most likely why I have been rampant on Facebook this week. Being sat at a desk with a desktop is dangerous and highly distracting. I had hoped to get into the studio on my birthday, but that failed and today was also a failure so I am lining myself up for Sunday. Can't wait.

So news... Well Lucy the Loosestrife is now with her new owner, the RHS is still brewing in my cerebellum and I have had the misfortune to discover that Walnut trees are deceptive creatures that should never be depended upon, as are squirrels and Spanish foragers.  I have worked out that what has been making me so poorly these past 24 months (yes it is really that long) were the hormone pills I was taking, so I am coming off of those and now drinking a lot of eco-responsible soya milk (I love the idea of responsible soya beans - would make a good cartoon). I fell in love, yes, I unfortunately did that and no, it wasn't with a walnut tree (luckily) or a plant but with an actual human being, but they don't know, so alas we shall leave it there on that note. I had two very happy unbirthdays, and one real birthday yesterday, which was super nice and basically did a bit of growing up.

Oh, and I got myself a gallery... In London.