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.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Greenery and other colours

Each year Pantone selects a colour for the year and for 2017 the colour is 'Greenery' or to be more precise 'Pantone 15-0343 TCX', so be prepared for lots of green in the style magazines this year. The reason I've mentioned this is because it nicely links the first day of 2017 ... Happy New Year! ... to something I've been planning to blog about but haven't got round to, mainly because the first blog post evolved into something quite unexpected...

I'll begin at the beginning ... I was looking at a list of UK Butterflies' larval food plants, the reason to see if we could grow more plants in our garden that butterflies need - not just flowers. I saw that Brimstone caterpillars need Buckthorn. The Alder Buckthorn, Frangula alnus likes acidic woodlands - you don't find that in SW Suffolk - but Purging Buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartic, is very similar and that is the shrub our local Brimstones would be searching for on which to lay their eggs. And so began my search for  Purging Buckthorn in the local hedgerows. I eventually found some on the Devil's Dyke and more planted by the gamekeeper for Pheasant coverts along our favourite hare-watching walk.

I didn't expect to find more Purging Buckthorn when I visited the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge to see the fabulous exhibition 'Colour - the art and science of illuminated manuscripts', but that's exactly what happened! 
(By the way the last day of the exhibition is Monday 2nd January so you could visit if you get your skates on, otherwise do look at the online resources which are brilliant.)
The first part of the exhibition looks at the pigments used by medieval scribes and illuminators, ground up earth pigments and semi-precious stones and plants like madder and woad and BUCKTHORN BERRIES! The caption in the exhibition explained that the purple juice of Purging Buckthorn berries made green ink!

I picked some Buckthorn berries and found some basic instructions for making ink from berries ... which recommended freezing the berries as when defrosted the juice will extract easier without needing to add water.
I then mashed the berries into a paste, adding a tiny amount of water.
I then pressed this through a tea-strainer, the consistency of a fruit coulis (DO NOT EAT! it's called Purging for a reason)  
Then I added about a teaspoon of vinegar and a pinch of salt, this acts as a preservative, so the ink doesn't go mouldy.
And to make the ink slightly viscous so it holds onto the pen-nib/quill/brush, you need a teaspoon of gum arabic. 
Result - INK!
And the magic bit is that it's purple but turns green as it dries!

After further research I discovered that by using alum (as a mordant) the ink can be made a green colour and it was by a complex distilling process that the colour 'Sap Green' was made from Buckthorn berries.

I was keen to make some more colours ... 
I found a jar of dried Cochineal beetles, a holiday souvenir from a street market in Lanzarote, soaked in hot water they produced an intense red-pink colour.
But without alum to fix the colour, the ink dried a dirty grey-brown. In the next batch I added a pinch of alum and hey presto! PINK INK!

What colour next?

I remembered the Saffron harvested from our Saffron crocuses, this year the yield had been good so I have a small jar of dried stigmas in the kitchen cupboard. I put a small pinch of Saffron in a mortar and ground them to a fine powder.
Mixed with a little water and WOOOOO! Liquid gold!
The Saffron ink needed no alum and the colour is intense. No wonder it was prized as a colour in medieval times
Painting Saffron yellow over Cochineal pink creates a lovely bright red.
I used my home-made inks to make some Christmas cards, writing with a quill. The Buckthorn ink gradually changing from purple through indigo to green. I added red berries (and forgot to photograph them!)

One of my Christmas presents was the book 'Colour, travels through the Paintbox' by Victoria Finlay, it's a fascinating journey through the stories of colour pigments. It's certainly got me thinking about how much we take for granted the coloured paints, pens, crayons and inks we can buy so easily today. And it's sure to inspire more ink-making experiments.

Wishing you a creative 2017

Sunday, 18 December 2016

The months rush by when you have monthly deadlines!

There's nothing like monthly deadlines to speed up time! Already on my desk, I have Frank Ronan's words for 'The writer's plot' for the February 2017 edition of Gardens Illustrated magazine. January's illustration is done and probably at the printers by now.

Then I realised I'd failed to update this blog with the past six, yes a half year's worth!, of monthly illustrations. If you read the magazine you will have seen all of these already, but I like to keep a record of them here, and for those who don't see the magazine, here we go . . . 

August's theme was Frank's neglected English garden (he now resides in California) and his joy of revisiting the damp, green and overgrown plot. Much like the outer edges of my own garden, I thought - so I sketched some bindweed, buttercup, cow parsley and wood avens from life . . .
.  .  . and added some blackbirds - I'm sure there are blackbirds enjoying Frank's plot while he is away.

Then onto September and Frank was in a gloomy mood - plants were dying in his Californian garden, expensive large and precious plants. He blamed his dog. A tricky subject to give a positive and decorative spin, so I decided to play it straight and focus on the wrongly accused dog.
Because it was gophers that were to blame. Frank is now waging war on gophers! And I'm now thinking grey squirrels aren't so bad after all.

October, and Frank is back to writing about his English garden and the pleasure of dahlias and succulents still looking good as autumn fades into winter. I sketched the dahlias which were flowering right outside my studio . . .

.  .  . combined with sketches of succulents in pots by out kitchen door, it made a cheerful design of rosette shapes printed in a rich pinky-red.

November's subject returned to Agaves, at first my heart sank as much I like them (and Frank seems to have a passion for them) I was floundering for spark of inspiration. It didn't help that I had to shoehorn this illustration into a couple of free days in a very busy August which included a few days in London. While I was visiting the Sky Garden at the top of one of the City's newest high-rise buildings (by the way, do visit if you can, it's free and it's fabulous!) I spotted plant label - "that's what I have to draw for Frank's article" I said out loud, before kneeling down on the marble steps to get a good angle for some photos.

The plant at the Sky Garden wasn't in flower but I found some photos of the swan-necked flower spikes and they reminded my of fireworks, which seemed apt for the November magazine.

December, nearly the end of the year and the Christmas edition of the magazine . . . and Frank is musing about weeping (bear with me, he has his reasons) he needed to get something off his chest, the subject of weeping forms of tree and how some people are snobby about them. It's an amusing read and as with many of Frank's articles contains some references that had me scurrying off to google to check out their exact meanings (hence the copious notes in my sketch book). 
The idea for the composition arrived in my head fully formed – a weeping Cercidiphyllum (or Katsura tree) over a pond of golden carp.

To mark the end of the year Gardens Illustrated magazine has a Special plants edition, this year for the 13th issue of 2016 Frank returned to his favourite subject . . . yes it's another agave! To be fair Frank realises that he has written about succulents in more than a few articles this year, but he has a valid excuse - a specialist succulents nursery not far from his home in California has closed down and there is a liquidation sale! Frank is extremely excited by the chance to buy huge specimens of the agaves on his wish-list. I loved Frank's description: "There was the mother plant of Agave bracteosa with all her pups still peering out from under her skirts", it reminded me of a dame's costume in a pantomine, which is rather apt for the festive season.
After scanning my sketch I worked on the design some more using Photoshop, and added birds and a lizard - after all, neglected greenhouses would be sure to have wildlife sneaking in among the plants. And to mark the passing of the old year into the new I reversed out the left side and made the background the night sky with the sun rising on the opposite side. 

I'm not sure how I fitted these into the the past few months, but I still get a spark of excitement when a new article from Frank arrives via the magazine editors to my inbox. Yes even if it's another agave! I'm beginning to love them too.

Season's Greetings!

Some of my Gardens Illustrated designs from earlier in the year are now available as original limited edition hand-burnished linocuts and also as cards ... please visit my online shop.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Of whales and other creatures

I can't believe it's 3 months since our adventure in Newfoundland, so it's been interesting to look back through my photos and select a few for this blog post - the one I promised about the wildlife we saw on our road trip.

We were warned about Moose. Apparently many folk are injured and tragically some die in road accidents caused by Moose straying onto roads in Newfoundland. We saw huge road signs recording the year's fatal collisions. But we saw no sign of the giant gangly beasts. However while staying at Trinity we were looking forward to walking the Skerwink Trail and were warned that a family of Moose were on the headland. After the first bend in the path we spotted the youngster ... reading a house sign!

We slowly and calmly walked past as he munched on the vegetation. There was no sign of his parents ... although we knew they couldn't be far away - this made our return at dusk slightly un-nerving!

Beavers are one of my favourite animals, I find it amazing how a relatively small animal can fell trees and made such massive constructions. This lodge is on a lake near Rocky Harbour.
One evening just outside St Anthony we stopped by a lake where we thought we had spotted a beaver swimming back and forth carrying small branches. Then a much larger beast appeared - compared to the 'beaver' it was massive! The penny dropped, we had been watching a Muskrat. I didn't take shots as the light was failing, mosquitoes were eating me alive and it started raining.

This little squirrel was easy to photograph, he just sat nibbling a berry by the Skerwink Trail path.

And this Jack Rabbit - or Arctic Hare (wearing his summer coat) was even more laid back, he was just hopping around outside our cabin at Gambo.

Of course it's the giant beasts of the sea that Newfoundland is famed for. At St Anthony we went on the obligatory Whale Watching trip, this also included a close encounter with a massive ice-berg! We did see whales, and some were quite close to the boat. I think that these are Humpbacks.

And this is a Fin Whale, which was my favourite - they are HUGE, the 2nd largest mammal - over 20 metres long (70+ feet).

On a Whale Watching boat you expect to see Whales and Dolphins, but what surprised me was the fact that pretty much anywhere along the coast of Newfoundland you can just sit on a high headland and see Whales - it's just fantastic! This rocky cliff top at Bonavista was one of the best locations ...

... and because you are high above the water you get a great view of the whales - you hear them too, as they breathe out - a deep swooshing sigh and the white spray of water - apparently you can learn to tell the Whale species by the 'blow'.

Humpback Whales have long pectoral fins, like wings or arms, these are white on the underside so as the Whale swims the fins shine a pale turquoise colour under the water. Looking out to sea and watching for the 'blow' and then waiting to see if you'd see a fin or a tail or even a breach when a Humpback leaps right out of the water, is sheer magic. 

Of course there were lots of sea birds ... here are two Yellow Legs on a rock at Rocky Harbour.

Black Guillemots on a precarious ledge at Bonavista

and hundreds of Kittiwakes on a rocky islet off the coast near Trinity.

The bird I most wanted to see was the Puffin. I've never been lucky to see one in the UK and in Newfoundland there are a few spots that are easily accessible and near huge Puffin colonies - they like grassy cliff tops where they can live in burrows.

There were thousands of Puffins! Swarms of them filling the sky around the rocky islands off-shore, hundreds bobbing along in the waves below.

And Puffins are surprisingly small, a bit bigger than a Blackbird but not much, look how that Gull is massive in comparison. That Gull is after the Puffin eggs and young chicks! Luckily the young Puffins were mostly full grown and able to fly.

On the day we were there, a professional wildlife photographer had set up a toy Puffin decoy on the rocks to tempt a brave Puffin to land close to her cameras. When the tourist and bird-watchers aren't about, apparently the little Puffins land on the main cliff top as well as the off-shore rocky islands ... one brave little chap was curious and landed not far from where we were sitting, so we got close up view.

On a cold winter evening it's lovely to remember how beautiful Newfoundland was in summer. Where do the Puffins go in winter?


Friday, 14 October 2016

My Newfoundland crafts safari

I promised to tell you more about my Newfoundland adventure, when I'm on holiday I love hunting out the local handicrafts and especially the local yarn/knitting shops as skeins of the local yarn make perfect holiday souvenirs.

I knew that there is a tradition of knitting in Newfoundland, although yarn is no longer produced locally the traditional patterns for warm mittens, hats and socks is kept alive. 

Of course selling the knitted accessories to tourists is what keeps the tradition alive, I took these photos in a shop attached to an extremely popular restaurant in Rocky Harbour, while waiting for an hour for a table!

I somehow failed to take a photo of the 'thrummed knitting', here's a link to give you an idea of what it's like. Roving (carded but not spun fleece) is looped along the reverse side of the work making a thick fleece lining. It is used to make EXTREMELY WARM gloves and slippers! I put my hand inside some thrummed mittens and almost overheated (we were there in a heat wave! so I wasn't tempted to buy them). I regret this now, but I'm sure I could find the materials needed and have a go at making some one day.

We did a good bit of research before travelling to Newfoundland but somehow I missed appreciating how significant 'Grenfell' is to the town of St Anthony at the far end of the Great Northern Peninsula. By luck we'd booked a room at the Grenfell Heritage Hotel and Suites which is right next door to the Grenfell Interpretation Centre, so we had a chance to find out all about Dr Wilfred Grenfell.

Briefly, Dr Grenfell was a newly qualified doctor from England who travelled to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1892. He was shocked by the poverty and lack of medical services - there were no hospitals or doctors; so he made it his life's mission to bring medical services to NW Canada and his legacy still serves these remote areas today. You can read more here.

Dr Grenfell and his wife Anne and their children lived in a lovely 'arts & crafts' style house on the hillside behind the present day hospital in St Anthony. I could have stayed there for hours looking through the original photo albums and letters in this beautiful gallery/verandah running the length of the house.

Dr Grenfell needed to raise money for his plans to set up hospitals and fund nurses and doctors to cover the remote settlements. One of his main fund-raising ideas was to teach people to make things using traditional handicrafts and sell these to raise money and get lots of publicity. The crafts had to be high quality so patterns were designs for the makers to follow - although they were encouraged to interpret the designs and make them unique. Embroidery, beadwork, carvings, leatherwork and most famously rag-rags, made the Grenfell Mission famous.

High quality materials were in short supply, so Dr Grenfell asked women in England and the USA to send their laddered silk stockings to Newfoundland to be dyed and cut into strips and made into intricate rag-rug pictures. Dr Grenfell became an international celebrity - his daring exploits made him an action hero - and tirelessly worked to make the lives of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador better and healthier. 
I particularly loved this map design and it reminds me of our Newfoundland adventure.

Also at the northern end of the Great Northern Peninsula, not far from St Anthony, is L'Anse aux Meadows where 1000 years ago, Viking adventurers built a staging post where they could repair there ships and gear.

In the museum there is a spindle whorl and a broken bone Nalbinding (a fore-runner of knitting) needle which is evidence that the Vikings were doing some kind of wool-craft. I read somewhere that this is evidence that women had been living in the settlement, as Viking men would never had spun wool or made socks. I'm not convinced, I suspect that a Viking far from home could have spun some thread and mended his socks is the need arose.

Intrigued by this and by the reproduction woolen caps the 'Vikings' at the msueum were wearing, I wanted to know more about Nalbinding. I found a small kit in the museum shop, consisting of a birch wood needle, some yarn and a page of instructions. This turned out to be 'Coptic stitch' which didn't make a fabric like the Viking caps, more research was needed!

Back home, and determined not to be beaten! I've poured over YouTube videos of Olso Stitch and eventually managed to get the hang of it. A breakthrough was using Twool instead of wool, the stiffer yarn makes learning much easier and I managed to make a little storage bag.

Practice makes perfect ... maybe not perfect but an improvement at least ... and I've Nalbinded a bag, the button was bought in Alaska 2 years ago and is made of Moose horn ... which I though apt.

More souvenirs! Patterns to make traditions Newfoundland mittens and a book about Rug Hooking in Altantic NW Canada. I really want to have a go at rag rug making, or even just make a small hooked picture panel.

Our adventure began and ended in the Newfoundland capital and only large town, St Johns. But being weekends and with most shops shut on Sundays, shopping opportunities were limited! However I managed to find a lovely yarn shop, Cast On Cast Off, that I'd checked out online before the holiday – it was a good walk out of town! I bought the grey and red skeins of Briggs & Little Heritage so I could knit some Newfoundland mitts. And then treated myself to the gorgeous hand dyed sock yarn in blue/green/ochre to remind me of the island, it's by Fleece Artist from Nova Scotia. Also I couldn't resist a small skein by Rhichard Devrieve - just because it would have been wrong not to! and the colours reminded me of the painted houses of Newfoundland.
The terracotta and the black skeins are also Briggs & Little yarn bought as souvenirs from the Grenfell Handicraft Centre in St Anthony.

I have yet to decide what I'm going to make with all the lovely yarn; but when I do use it, it will bring back some wonderful memories.