Celia Hart's blog about what's going on in and around her studio.
Art, printmaking, inspirations, gardening, vegetables, hens, landscapes, wild flowers, East Anglia, adventure, travel.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

When April with his showers sweet . . .

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage)-
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage

those are the opening lines to Geoffrey Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales' and they seem to pull together the random things in this blog post . . .

Back in early February when I received the text of Frank Ronan's column for April's 'The Writer's Plot' in Garden's Illustrated magazine, I breathed a happy sigh of relief that the subject was 'Green' and in particular, English bluebell woods. Of course bluebells were'n't in flower nor were leaves breaking from their buds, so I had to work from reference photographs and my memory, though I did find Dog's Mercury and Honeysuckle already in leaf in the tiny 'Wild Wood' at the end of our garden!

Frank makes the observation that . . .

"A bluebell needs the shimmering green

of the woodland floor for its magic" 


and he goes on to beautifully describe how all the varied hues of green transform the blue of a bluebell into

"an illusion of purity and blueness" 

Now is the perfect is time to find a bluebell wood and see this for yourself.

Having 'worked my socks off' during March, I was in need of a recuperative break. Cliff was going on a weekend away to Sussex with the local walking group, so I tagged along and we added an extra couple of days for good measure.

I discovered some new places . . .

The Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft is devoted to the artists that lived and worked in this village tucked in the South Downs north of Brighton, notably Eric Gill and his friends and family but there were others too, such as textile designer and natural dye specialist, Ethel Mairet.

The current special exhibition is about the calligrapher and type designer Edward Johnston (that's his desk in the display, above), coinciding with the 100th anniversary of his type designs for London Transport (with only small tweaks, they are still in use today).

The museum is a beautiful tranquil space full of inspiring things.

I bought souvenirs.

After delivering some of my prints to The Gun Room in Alfriston, which already stocks my cards I drove a little north along some tiny lanes and found Berwick Church. If you're in need of inspiration and don't have time to visit Charleston and want to avoid the crowds, I can recommend this tiny church with murals by Bloomsbury Group artists Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell.

I spent an hour there completely by myself just sitting looking at the paintings and the views across the fields through the clear glass windows and listening to the birds singing in the churchyard.

And revisited some old haunts . . .

A friend who recently moved to Brighton had been urging me to visit so that I could show her places I remembered from my student days. I wasn't sure I really wanted to re-live my past, especially if I found places changed beyond recognition, but I was looking forward to having a long chat, a good laugh and a nice lunch. In the end we had great fun wandering along the sea front (what IS that monstrous THING?!!!) and around the town.

The old fruit and veg market next to the Art College has gone and was a pile of rubble behind hoardings but opposite I was delighted to find the Market Diner was still looking just the same (except for new formica on the table tops). I like to think of all the art students who have enjoyed a calming mug of tea there after a scathing crit'.

Kemptown is a bit tidier but still familiar and there, still thriving, was The Bristol pub which was next door to the Seafront Hall of residence (now swanky apartments!). We went in for a drink and a sit down in the lounge.

Walking back to my friend's flat we past the building that was the subject of my first reduction linocut (a long long time ago! 

I now remember, we were paired to share sheets of paper, printing on the reverse of our partner's print; then we each got a set of all the printed pages and we bound them into books. On the cover of my book (I found it on a shelf in my studio) is an embossed street plan of Kemptown and foil blocking representing the 'sea'.

New discoveries and refreshed memories . . .

and having a jolly good break from the norm!

maybe that's what inspired Chaucer's Pilgrims too?
Wood engraving illustrations of
scenes from The Canterbury Tales
by June Chapman
(I bought these at an auction a few years back - and really must frame them!)


Monday, 28 March 2016

Happy Easter with Hares and Flowers

The Easter holiday weekend came in like a lamb and is going out like a roaring lion!

Good Friday was a glorious Spring day and reminded us how lovely a sunny day in the garden can be. I worked hard clearing dead plant stems and weeding flower beds . . . with a little help from my under-gardener Ivy! 

Then in the afternoon I went for a walk along my new favourite route, I was joined by one of my Twitter followers and her family, she'd asked if I might let them join me to see hares  . . . luckily the hares obliged so everyone was happy!

The weather has been changeable, I hope you managed to dodge the showers! 

On Saturday we went to Southend-on-sea, the main reason was to see 'Out of the City', landscape paintings of East Anglia by the East London Group – and almost forgotten group of talented artists for the 1920s and 30s. Their work appeared on some of the iconic Shell posters of the time, I like the graphic, pared down quality of their landscapes. If you're in the area it's worth a visit.

It wasn't 'sea-side weather', it would have been madness to brave a walk on the pier! we had fish and chops in a characterful 'caff' and managed to walk back to the car park without getting blown off our feet.

Twitter is amazing for discovering things that are right on your own doorstep but somehow you've missed . . . and this was just what happened when I saw a tweeted photo of a beautiful field of flowers and discovered it was just off my route when I visit my Mum. So on Sunday we went to see the National Collection of Hyacinths . . .

It's in a field in the Fens near the Cambridge-Ely railway line. Behind the farm buildings are row upon row of perfumed hyacinths growing out of the black fen soil.

Delicate species varieties and rich deep coloured named varieties . . . 

We timed our visit between the heavy showers and when the dark clouds loomed again on the horizon we quickly made our way back to the car . . . getting out of the car park in a neighbouring grass field was an interesting wheel spinning and very muddy challenge!

We joined my Mum watching the Boat Race on TV. Well done Cambridge! and well done to the Cambridge girls for bravely carrying on rowing while almost sinking.

So, as Storm Katie still rages outside, stay safe and dry and enjoy the rest of Bank Holiday Monday.


Thursday, 24 March 2016

On the trail of the lonesome pine . . . my illustration for March's Gardens Illustrated

Until the email arrives, I have no idea what Frank Ronan is going to write about for his Gardens Illustrated column 'The Writer's Plot'. And as he lives in California for most of the year, I can't rely on familiar seasonal plants making an appearance.

But even for Frank, the March article was something different . . . a road trip!

Over lunch one day when Cliff was at home, we sat down and followed Frank's route on Google Maps. If you have the magazine and read the article, Frank writes: 'I made a road trip the other day...' with a casualness of saying he popped down to the supermarket; BUT let me explain, Cliff and I have driven from Portland to San Francisco, we've also driven from LA to San Francisco, taking the coastal route in both cases, and each of those trips took us over a week! At our pace I think we'd need 6 weeks to do Frank's trip! So I suspect he took more than just 'a day'! 

As you can imagine, the landscape and the conifers change dramatically along the route from gnarled coastal trees, then mile on mile of uniform forest and on to the Avenue of Giants back in California. Not to mention the wide pastures of Montana and the beauty of the Lolo National Forest (somewhere I hadn't heard of and is now on my 'must see' list!)

I admit to floundering about not knowing what to draw. My sketchbook is evidence of this!

Frank's writing is always full of passing cultural and literary references, some I'm familiar with others have me turning to google (who's Smokey Bear?) ... I learn a lot. The key that unlocked my ideas for this linocut was this sentence: "spectacular mountains give way to the sort of cowboy landscape I'd dreamed of seeing since the first reading of My Friend Flicka" . . . I remember that book, it's one of my Mum's favourites and she recommended it to me when I was young. I was more taken by the black and white illustrations by Charles Tunnicliffe and noticed he'd also illustrated some of my favourite Ladybird nature and wildlife books. I think this was when the seed was sown in my mind that drawing pictures could be a real job.

So slightly inspired by Tunnicliffe and My Friend Flicka, together with my own memories of huge landscape views in Oregon and California and some unspecific conifers – here is my finished illustration in the March edition of Gardens Illustrated.

To my surprise I've managed to get my work schedules back on track, it's amazing how fast I can carve lino when I have to!!! I can take the Easter weekend off, knowing I just have to print and scan the linocut for May's Gardens Illustrated to meet the deadline next week. Phew!

Wishing all of you a very happy and peaceful Easter weekend. I hope the sun shines, but if not finding somewhere cosy is good option.


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Illustration for the Telegraph Gardening section

to paraphrase Jane Austen . . .

It is a truth universally acknowledged that nice commissions come along when you are already up to your neck in work!

It was late on Tuesday after that I got the email from the Daily Telegraph's creative director, there was no time to dither the deadline was the following Wednesday afternoon. Yes or No? Overload or miss a juicy commission?

I said yes.

The brief was to illustrate an article about growing edible plants in a shady garden. It was for the front page of the Gardening section of the Saturday Daily Telegraph. I found a previous week's copy and stuck a print out of the designer's layout on the front. The design could break out of the top and slightly overlap the header, I also noticed the bottom of the illustration wouldn't be visible when the paper is folded in half.

I then researched the plants mentioned in the article and did sketches. By Wednesday evening I'd come up with a design - this was a relief as I wouldn't be in my studio on Thursday. However after sleeping on it, I awoke the next morning with an alternative idea! So after frenzied scribbling while eating my porridge I supplied an alternative design as well. And this was the one the creative director liked best. (Moral: always sleep on a design before submitting it!)

Thursday evening . . . I drew a more detailed version of the design and traced it onto the lino ready for cutting on Friday.

Friday was spent carving the lino! I was determined to get it done by 6pm as we were going out for supper and then to a Katherine Ryan gig. Gosh I was tired! but the laughing was a great distraction.

Saturday . . . I printed the lino. A few tweaks and once I had one good impression that was it - hung up to dry.

Sunday was Mothering Sunday - my Mum came to lunch and tea and I did lots of cooking (and eating)

Monday . . . now for more colours . . . the brief was to emphasise the shadiness of the garden by using dramatic blocks of colour. I scanned the printed image (thank goodness for my new studio toy - an A3 scanner) and settled down to work in Photoshop.

Each colour is on a separate layer and is set to 'multiply' with the other layers. The result is just like printing layers of transluscant ink over the scanned linocut. Radio 4 on iPlayer and a mug of tea are also essential.

And there it was finished. 'Just' the last "flight-checks" and the image whizzed by email to the newspaper on Monday evening.

And here it is in this morning's paper . . .

I was pleased with the colours, they looked so zingy on the screen but printed on newsprint they are muted but still bright enough. And the folded paper shows the shady garden and then turn over to see the small sunny area utilised to grow salads in a raised bed and herbs in pots (great idea)

And opened out, here's the illustration in full . . .

If you can't get to read the paper, Lia Leendertz's article is in the online Telegraph (my illustration is only in the print edition) and it's full of interesting ideas for growing edible plants in a shady garden.

Now, what was I doing before I was interrupted! A commission for a music festival programme, a local landscape print and May's Gardens Illustrated magazine illustration. I'll need a holiday in April!

And I haven't yet blogged about the March Garden's illustrated linocut . . . that was an interesting challenge! I'll tell you about that in my next blog post.

Before I finish . . .
on my website I've updated the news and events page, there are some new stockists and in the online shop my Gardens Illustrated linocuts are now available as prints and cards (more are being added over the coming weeks/months).

In my shop you can use the discount code MADMARCH16 to get 15% off your purchases of prints and cards (offer ends midnight on 31 March)