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.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Chaos theory . . . and carrying on as normal

What a lot has happened since my last blog post on 17 June, not only has the UK decided on Brexit and to swerve onto a different course leaving everyone on both sides of the argument bemused and *insert words of your own choice* but also here at home we've had a chaotic few weeks - stuff happens sometimes! - but we're all OK and that's the main thing.

When life gets messy it's good to take the long view and get things back into perspective . . . to help us do this we had a lovely day out at Wrest Park, somewhere we discovered a few years ago; since then English Heritage have done loads of work and there's now a lovely café and more of the house is accessible. But it's the park and beautiful pavilions that are the main attraction.

On the day we visited the unexpected bonus was that there was a brass band concert, add to that sunshine and some delicious ice creams and it was a perfect Sunday afternoon in the park

So . . . what's been going on in my studio?

I've designed 2 more Christmas cards for Plantlife, they'll be for sale online later in the year; and I spent an intense 5 days working on a packaging project for a Scottish design company, drawing and then carving lino faster than I thought possible! I hope to show you the finished design sometime, maybe early next year.

Then there's Gardens Illustrated, I illustrate Frank Ronan's column 'The Writer's Plot' a few months ahead of publication, in fact today I'm carving the lino block for the October issue. 

Here are the illustrations I did for the June issue . . . Camellias - do you like them? I confess that I don't but maybe that's because I've never had a garden where they grow happily and look good, frosted buds and clumps of brownish petals aren't a good look in my opinion. In the article Frank discovers that Camellias can be pruned in the Japanese cloud-pruned style, known as Niwaki. If you follow my blog you know I love Japanese design so this immediately grabbed my attention and cheered me up; so I took my inspiration from Japanese blue and white ceramics.

As I've come to expect, Frank's next article was a complete contrast; in the dry oppressive heat of the Californian summer Frank encounters a little weed, it's Groundsel which as you probably know is a common British native weed. Frank seems homesick for a damp verdant English garden:

"you know how it is when you are abroad and lonely and you meet someone slightly disgraceful from home whom you never really liked, and suddenly you feel they are full of charm and you get drunk together and talk too loudly"
Frank Ronan

I hunted around our garden and soon found a Groundsel plant that I could draw from life; looking carefully are the complex curves and points along the leaves, how the leaf wraps around the stalk and the cluster of flower buds and the fluffy seed heads, I'd begun to find Groundsel interesting too! And this sparked an idea for a project of my own through June ... 30 Wildflowers From My Garden, each day I sketched a different wildflower and posted the picture and some facts about the plant, on Instagram.  

It became fascinating ... I learned new botanical terms like 'dioica' and 'achaeophyte' and 'neophyte'.

I found that even the most mundane and common weeds have amazing stories to tell.

And at the end I realised there were many many more still to sketch, I could probably find 100 wildflowers!

So, this is something I'll probably return to from time to time and start another sketchbook of 'More Wildflowers From My Garden'.

Last week, at the end of another hectic weekend, we we went for a walk on the high fields between our village and Cambridge ... we hoped to get a glimpse of some of the air displays at Duxford Imperial War Museum and we weren't disappointed - a flypast of 19 vintage WWII planes just for us!

And on the way home, this glorious view across the cornfields and the sky full of skylarks singing - that's the tonic we needed to start another week and just focus on getting one thing done at a time - it's as good a theory as any to sort out chaos.


Coming soon: 
FolkEast 2016 and Cambridge Original Printmakers Biennale

Friday, 17 June 2016

In Arcadia - the sublime and the almost ridiculous

Earlier in the year I was contacted by Emily from the London Conchord Ensemble, she wanted an illustration to publicise this year's Conchord Festival. You may recall the design I did last year, when the festival took place in Sussex. This year the festival relocated to Twickenham and the theme for the illustration was to be 'London's Arcadia'.

I wasn't familiar with the places and buildings along the banks of the River Thames in SW London, but I was sent lots of photos and web links, so I immersed myself in pastoral views, Palladian architecture and swirling river eddies. The design also includes a rowing boat, sand martins and swans. 

My design was used on the festival posters, advertising and programme - in addition I produced a set of greetings cards to be for sale at the concert venue, St Mary's church, Twickenham. I'm thinking of getting a reprint to sell in my web shop.

St Mary's Twickenham and the riverside garden featuring quotes from Alexander Pope whose home was nearby.

Emily kindly offered me 2 tickets to a concert of my choice, I chose the opening concert of music by Bach; so last week Cliff and I drove down to South London - a burst water main on the Edgeware Road made this a very very long trek, as all roundabouts for miles around had become gridlocked! 

But is was a sunny day and we arrived mid afternoon, in time to deliver the boxes of cards to the church and have a lovely walk along the river in the sunshine.

At the church I discovered my linocut design had been printed on a HUGE banner!

And onto VERY TALL flags! they looked splendid.

On our walk I was pleased to find the Arcadian landscape along the river just as I'd pictured in my mind. 

Marble Hill House

Orleans House

Across the river from St Mary's church is Eel Pie Island, if the Palladian palaces and gentle leafy parks are sublime, then Eel Pie Island is it's ridiculous neighbour - there are about 150 quirky residences, studios and shacks on the island which can only be reached by a foot-bridge or by boat.

Back in Twickenham 'village' pedestrian high street we had time for a snack before the concert, a small Lebanese tea-house/café looked inviting and the owner kindly moved a table outside for us.   

Tea with a timer!

However it wasn't calm and tranquil! Friday evening was also the start of the Twickenham Summer Festival, and that means Tug-of-War!!!

 This was happening right beside our café table!

The Tug-of-War teams were still battling for the prize when we had to leave and take our seats for the opening concert on the Conchord Festival. The church was packed and the music was beautifully performed; it wasn't surprising the audience demanded an encore! You can see a photo of two of the musicians, Daniel Rowland and Michael Foyle, inside the elegant church, here on Facebook.

The concert was recorded and filmed, so I'm hoping there will eventually be a video on YouTube. In the mean time you can see some of the Conchord Ensemble's past performances here.

There are so many places to visit along the 'Arcadian Thames', I can recommend a wander. If you look at the last page of the Conchord Festival programme you'll find a map and a list of some lovely places to visit.

This weekend the entertainment is closer to home . . . our village fete on the green just around the corner from my studio. I'm busy baking cakes for the teas!


Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Orange is THE colour

It's nearly the end of May and I haven't written about my linocut illustration for the May issue of Gardens Illustrated magazine . . . so here goes

Have you been following the media coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show, I'm not going to be there in person but I've enjoyed looking at photos of the gardens and displays while I've been packing a big order for greetings cards for the Conchord Festival. From what I've seen, there's a lot of zingy colour this year and orange seems to be 'in', geums, verbascums, irises and those very sexy orange foxgloves on Andy Sturgeon's 'Best in Show' garden.

So it seems I was 'on trend' when I chose a vivid shade of saffron for my linocut illustration for Frank Ronan's column about the summer heat in California and two native poppies that enjoy the baking temperatures - the huge white Matilija Poppy and the orange Californian Poppy.

I began with sketches of both, getting to know the shapes of the petals; and I made a quick sketch of an idea for the composition.

I then worked more on the composition - using negative and positive shapes I could place the white poppies on one side and the orange on the other, joining them together with the rocky canyon landscape and sizzling mid-day sun.

It needed something to focus the attention and add a quirky touch - I imagined the scene and in my head heard the rustle of dry leaves as a lizard scurried out of view - that's it! So I added a little Californian Alligator Lizard.

And then . . . Oooops! do you see what I did there? I flipped my design on the tracing paper then I flipped it back again and without even realising I cut the block and finished the print as a mirror image of my rough design. AND I didn't notice until I was showing a customer my sketchbook on my stall at a craft fair. Oh well, we all have our 'embarrissing moment'. And the composition still looks OK, even though it's back to front! 

There are no Matilija Poppies, Romneya coulteri, in our garden (though I know some people grow them in the UK) but I do have a few Californian Poppies grown from seeds from Ben at Higgledy Garden . . .

I sowed the seeds last year, they survived the winter and are now large healthy looking plants and the flowers are a lovely cream colour.

The variety is Eschscholzia 'Ivory Castle' and petals are like expensive wedding dress fabric.

So my Californian poppies aren't the fashionable zingy orange but I do grow another lovely orange coloured poppy, Papaver atlanticum, the Atlas Poppy, which is a beautiful shade of earthy pale orange.

I think this is my 'signature plant', I love how it seeds itself into just the right spot and then the transient flowers (each lasts no more than 2 days) on tall wire thin and almost invisible stems, seem to float above the foliage like vivid butterflies.

Before I finish, if you're interested in original prints here's a date for your diaries:

The Cambridge Original Printmakers Biennale takes place from 22nd to 28th September. I'm excited to have been selected to take part and I'm also doing a demonstration on hand-burnished linocuts - details on the web site. The exhibition and all the talks and demonstrations are free of charge, though you need to book a ticket for the talks (and you need to be quick to grab one)so, I recommend keeping an eye on the web site/facebook/twitter for updates of when the tickets go live. 

And the next thing on my work list is . . . Christmas Cards (not joking) the fabulous wildflower charity Plantlife have once again asked me to design some cards for them.

Hope you all enjoy the Bank Holiday weekend

PS: I'll try to do a non-work-related blog next time.

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!)