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.


Until 2024, 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

Sunday 8 October 2017

Inky Leaves goes to Moscow

This October I was extremely lucky in that I was invited to attend the International Watercolour Festival in Moscow as a guest artist for five days. Here are some of the photographs taken during this spectacular event. I was so impressed by the curation of this festival and recommend it to all. 

The team of organisers for the event had booked in a varied programme of talks, interviews, demonstrations and masterclasses by some of the best contemporary watercolour painters in the world. They also hung an small exhibition of works and invited representatives of all the top watercolour brands. 

My thanks goes to the Kalacheva School for inviting me and taking such good care of us all, to Nathasha Pollack who helped me with pretty much everything as well as to the hundreds of botanical art fans that came. Your support was overwhelming. For those who are interested, Russia has it's own botanical art society that often puts on exhibitions. Here is a video of their Autumn Show.

Inky Leaves at the International Watercolour Festival, Moscow

Inky Leaves at the International Watercolour Festival, Moscow

The International Watercolour Festival, Moscow

Inky Leaves at the International Watercolour Festival, Moscow

Inky Leaves at the International Watercolour Festival, Moscow

Vincent Jeannerot, botanical artist
Vincent Jeannerot was also there!

Botanical art by Jess Shepherd
Leaf 200720140950, Catalpa Tree, £1800 framed

Inky Leaves at the International Watercolour Festival, Moscow

Ginkgo biloba by Jessica Shepherd
Leaf 050520171129, Ginkgo biloba, £1500 unframed.

Inky Leaves at the International Watercolour Festival, Moscow

Sunday 3 September 2017

'This British painter is looking for rare blue flowers worldwide...'

This Hallowe'en, at a time when most folk dress up as white ghosts or pumpkins, I found myself dressed in Blue, sitting in an Agapanthus field in Amsterdam, talking about flowers. 

To read the full article visit:

For the English version, please use Google Translate. 

Friday 1 September 2017

Interview on Radio Talk Europe

On a gloriously sunny day in Belicena, Spain I was hiding in my studio talking with the excellent and very talented Ian Rutter, who not only presents, but also writes and paints. 

Rose Leaf by Jess Shepherd
Leaf  070420170959, Rosa sp.. Watercolour on paper. SOLD

Ian produces an fascinating programme called 'Life Stories' where he interviews non-Spanish guests who have chosen to live in Spain. He discusses their lives in Spain and what they did before they moved and what they intend to do in the future. 

During the programme guests are asked to choose 6 pieces of music that mean something to them. I naturally found this to be incredibly challenging as my tastes are broad and change frequently. In the end I chose pieces that I probably play the most and one that we all know about - the one that actually has the sounds of my own life, Leafscape.

Conker by Jess Shepherd
Leaf  090520171506, Conker, Watercolour on paper.  SOLD

The programme is scheduled to be aired this Sunday 12th November at 1pm, and then again on Saturday 18th November at midday. You can tune in on an FM frequency or via the website, and all details can be found here: Once the programme has been broadcast, there is a 7 Day on Demand function on the website, and you can download a copy of the programme via this feature.


Conker by Jess Shepherd
Leaf  090520171507, Conker, Watercolour on paper, SOLD

Happy listening and a big thanks to Ian for being so encouraging and patient with my ramblings!