Survival of the Fittest – or the least delicate/tasty

Like many gardeners I have fistfuls of labels from all the plants I’ve bought over the years. Coming in from the garden this evening I thought you might recognise this scenario.

Clematis Blue Angel

You are rifling through your box/tin/drawer to find the name/height/growing requirements for a shrub you remember planting earlier in the year and you find more and more tickets piling up from all those now lost choice specimens chomped into oblivion by fat slugs and snails.

It is a sad little moment when you remember a favourite plant that has been disappeared. My favourite clematis ‘Yukikomachi’ has not been seen this year neither has ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’, but I do have some survivors – as you can see.

Clematis viticella alba luxurians
Clematis viticella alba luxurians

This will have to remind me to be more vigilant next spring protecting the new shoots and keep up with the feeding and watering regime.


Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2013 – hmm

Last weekend I was in London and had time to visit this year’s Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy. I’ve been a few times before, but not recently and it was heartening to see they don’t seem to have crammed in the work quite so ferociously as they did in the deep dark past.RA-SummerExhib13

But still some rooms have such densely packed walls that it is difficult to extract the wheat from the chaff.

A tricky hanging - balancing very differing content.
A tricky hanging – balancing very differing content.

With the usual restrictions on photographing exhibitions I have found that The Economist’s Culture Blog has a small gallery of the show which gives a good overall impression.

Now, it is very easy to be swept along by other people’s views especially where ‘art’ is concerned, but in the end you are the only viewer in your head and so your personal opinion is your personal opinion. WorkNotesI make a point of not reading reviews before I go to an exhibition, a performance or even a film – I try to go in a state of openness to a new experience, but I am also aware that I bring my own prejudices. Sometimes it is virtually impossible to avoid the great and the good giving us the benefit of their wisdom when an event is endlessly trailed and heavily promoted. However, this time I’d missed all the usual fuss associated with Summer Exhibition and arrived early with catalogue and pen ready.

TateMoss-with- space

First impressions, well lit, light in feel and light in content. This painting bucked the trend. Neither of these photographs do the central picture justice. It is a striking oil by Jock McFadyen RA called Tate Moss. It is quite large, it even felt large in a spacious gallery room, and shows a derelict, industrial warehouse with graffiti. Despite its sombre theme the blues and green lighten the impression and I could see it gracing the boardroom of a FTSE 100 Company to remind the directors of their own business mortality.

Jock McFadyen
No.76 Tate Moss Jock McFadyen. £55,000. Oil. 200 x 300cm. © Jock McFadyen; Photograph courtesy the artist from the RA Image of the Day on Pinterest.

I don’t normally speak to strangers (I am very English), but I had just written a brief note about a grouped set of canvasses when I heard the stern comment ‘Derivative’ as the man in front of me turned to his companion. He glanced at me seeing my smile and I explained I’ve literally just noted ‘quite derivative’. “Absolutely” he barked and left for the next room, thinking about it I hope he wasn’t the artist, a well-known RA, – he did look the right age.

Note on abstract works that need contextual information and detailed explanations to appreciate.
Note on abstract works that need contextual information and detailed explanations to appreciate visually.

Don’t you think that a work of art selected for such a prestigious show as the Summer Exhibition should step out from the banal and the mundane and agitate some kind of response in the viewer? Maybe more of these pieces achieve this when viewed alone or in a less art-filled environment. I thought this ‘Little Blue Pinocchio’ stepped out (actually almost out of the frame) despite being hung high on the top row – also visible in the second photo above.

£7,825. Digital print and lithograph with hand-painting. 87 x 100cm. Photo: John Bodkin/ DawkinsColour. © Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day Pinterest.
No.211 Little Blue Pinocchio Jim Dine. £7,825. Digital print and lithograph with hand-painting. 87 x 100cm. Photo: John Bodkin/ DawkinsColour. © Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day Pinterest.

Walking through the galleries I was struck by the overall paleness/monochrome nature of the show as if the low key presentation was attuned to the general art mood (there have been many cuts to art organisations’ budgets). The most striking of the monochrome works was a series of large ink drawings consisting of three studies of Icelandic geological features, by Emma Stibbon RA. Again, the photograph does not do justice to the work as in real life the scale and detail combine to generate an intense yet restrained visual impact.

£4,700. Ink and volcanic dust on paper. 130 x 183cm. Photo: John Bodkin/ DawkinsColour. © Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day on Pinterest.
No.57 Hverir, Iceland. Emma Stibbon RA. £4,700. Ink and volcanic dust on paper. 130 x 183cm. Photo: John Bodkin/ DawkinsColour. © Royal Academy of Arts from the RA Image of the Day on Pinterest.

But as usual, and it is always the way, the most stunning and interesting work – the one for me anyway – (other than the splendid Grayson Perry tapestries) had no reproductions available. It was No.580 an acrylic with gloss by Gulcehre Ciplak called ‘The Long List, You Are On It Too!’. It depicts a dining table with unused, empty plates and three turkeys wearing collars and ties staring indignantly directly out at you. The direct gaze is challenging and seems to say ‘What are YOU going to do about this?’

OCTOBER 2013 – update if you want to see Gulcehre Ciplak’s fascinating painting she has now uploaded a photo to her website

If you are in London and have a spare couple of hours then I recommend a visit not least to see the grand finale of the Grayson Perry tapestries. The exhibition is on until 18 August 2013.

High Summer Lilies

It has been nearly five years since I first spotted the scarlet lily beetle (Lilioceris lilii) attacking my lily bulbs, but despite their annual attempt to annihilate my plants, I’ve won enough skirmishes this season to achieve a reasonable display of blooms.

Not all bugs are bad news and this little fellow sheltering from the sun is a welcome visitor.

grasshopper on lily

Busy City Centres – Now and Then

A few weeks ago I was in Norwich’s City Centre which despite having two covered modern shopping malls still really radiates out from the old market place. It was a sunny, working lunchtime and the market was busy. I took some pictures, but nothing special.

People shopping
Norwich Market 2013

Then The Reluctant Retiree posted about her visit to Warsaw and uploaded this stunning photograph of a pre-war Warsaw.

Credit – Museum of the Warsaw Uprising.

The contrast between these two images prompted some questions. Firstly, does our familiarity with our own everyday surroundings numb us to their intrinsic charm and energy? Or, are we always wearing our rose-tinted spectacles when viewing images of the past? Or is it much more to do with the art of the photograph and the difference between an image constructed by the professional photographer and the happy snaps of the amateur?

Starting from Scratch – Part Four & Finished

The painting of my new banner is now completed and has been left overnight to ensure it is entirely dry.

It has been rolled in paper along with three other pieces, steamed for three hours, washed thoroughly, pressed and is now finished. I think it is very clear which prints contributed most to this creative process. Oddly, it’s all blues and greens considering the starting point was the photo of a pale pink hollyhock.

Ophelia I Blue GreenUkiyo-e woodblockSnow Scene in Garden

Starting from Scratch – Part Three

I have now settled on the design for this new banner. I’ve worked up the sketches and have drawn it out on the silk. It will also be a scarf.


It takes me about an hour to mix up the dyes in the shades and dilutions I’m looking for. I dab them onto a small off-cut of silk, but quite often I find once I start painting that I need to mix up one extra special highlight colour. This time it has been the dark green of the sheath-like leaves.

Like many people who work from their own studio or from home I spend many hours engrossed with my work – not great company and often resentful of interruptions, sorry. Whilst painting I listened to unabridged audiobooks borrowed from my local library. When I look at some of my past work it triggers memories of the novel I was listening to at the time of painting especially if it was a deeply moving or passionate story.

Painting with dyes - about halfway done.
Painting with dyes – about halfway done.

As I’m working on this piece I’m listening to ‘On Green Dolphin Street’ by Sebastian Faulks – it is beginning to get moody and intense.

Starting from Scratch – Part Two

Now, today, I have returned to my mood boards and the world of Japanese woodblock prints.

Since I was a teenager I’ve been interested in Ukiyo-e prints. I remember accompanying my mother when she went to visit a German friend who had come to live in Suffolk. Whilst they chatted I looked through her art books and found one about the art of Japanese prints. The text was in German (I couldn’t understand), but the images caught my attention they were so refined and pared back to convey just the essentials. It is a very appealing aesthetic and, of course, in the West has inspired some of the great Impressionists and Post Impressionists. There were some interesting comparisons made in a 2009 exhibition about Monet which can still be viewed online.

Now that’s all a bit awkward – I’ve never been great at sketching and now I’ve got the ingenious ghosts of Monet, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec and Van Gogh buzzing round my head. Must say bye to the thinking brain and rev up the creative brain.

Finished design for scarf.
Working up some ideas.

Starting from Scratch – Part One

Ukiyo-e UtamaroLast week I was reading round some great blogs and noticed some people have really beautiful top banners. They have beautiful photographs capturing a sense of place or images of their own art or pictures of the inspirational work of others. Of course, some people are amazingly savvy about coding and I take my hat off to them, but for folks like me it’s a case of uploading jpegs. Anyway, it has inspired me to make a change.

Usually my creative process starts with a single inspirational photo and in this case I’ve started with this pink hollyhock which I took and uploaded last week.
Pink Alcea, Hollyhock

Then I put together images with a similar feel, colour and tones, a bit like a mood board. And, as the process continues quite often shape and pattern themes develop.

I tend to do this over several days, leaving it, returning to it, making adjustments, adding and erasing.

Then finally I sleep on it!

First Beans Friday

Runner beans
Runner Beans variety Moonlight.
Back in June I posted about growing your own fruit and veg, well the strawberries have just finished, but this morning I’ve picked my first runner beans.

Last summer the weather was so terrible here in East Anglia I had a very sorry crop of runner beans. So instead of saving a few bean seeds (White Lady) from last year I splashed out this spring and bought fresh seeds of a different variety. I chose a variety called Moonlight as apparently they’ve been bred to flower and set even in poor weather. And, success, I think this is the earliest I’ve had runner beans and they look like they are going to crop well. Also, I gave my father some seedlings to grow on in June and they are doing well and are about to crop too – so, at this stage Moonlight is looking good.

Now, just have to see what they taste like!

Ah yes, and this delicate beauty has come into flower. Isn’t nature just splendid sometimes?

Pink Alcea, Hollyhock
Very pale pink single hollyhock.

Summer Evenings

Breathing in a warm, relaxed summer evening despite being a romantic cliché, is hopefully available to everyone. A city version is pavement café tables, customers spilling out from the pub and a spot of evening window shopping.

Hampstead, London
Flask Walk, Hampstead, London – A fine summer’s evening.

(A brief aside, Flask Walk has often inspired those with a visual sensibility especially when decked out for a celebration – see

A summer evening home version is a garden terrace perfumed with lilies.

Trumpet lily, Pink Perfection
My favourite lily, the trumpet lily – lilium Pink Perfection.
Lilium regale
This summer’s white trumpet lilies.
Showy, but still beautifully scented.
Lilium regale

Meanwhile, back in the city, the sun has gone down on Hampstead Heath. Hey, let’s see if we can synchronize our mobile phones? How long are the summer holidays??

Mobile phone flash photo

A Quiet Sunday After Lunch

Everywhere else in England this weekend they’ve had sunshine, but here in East Anglia all yesterday and again this morning it’s been mizzle. Mizzle – a great word I first came across when I lived in Devon for three years. My first experience of mizzle was driving down the A38 on the southern edge of Dartmoor when I thought I’d hit fog, but it was mizzle. It is a cross between mist and very fine rain. If you glance out the window it looks like mist, but step outside and you see it is amazingly fine rain and you get wet!

Sunday newspaper magazines
The interesting sections of the Sunday papers.
Well, that’s only in my humble opinion.

This afternoon has been better weather, but not good enough to put the Sunday newspapers down or even transfer to reading in the garden.

Reading on a Sunday
Three generations reading the papers.

Meanwhile in my head I’ve been modelling for a Russian artist.

Girl reading artist in mirror
Me in another life – am I the sitter or the artist?
Oil on canvas. Aleksei Harlamov (Harlamoff) 1875