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.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

John Clare - a voice for today

Last week I was contacted by the owner of a small gallery, asking if I could supply my cards for her sell. There was no link to the gallery's web site and a google search drew a blank – how unusual for today! 

I sent her my trade order details and my catalogue and swiftly received an order for cards, the gallery's address was in Helpston . . . only an hour and a half drive from my studio, so I decided to deliver the card order in person.

The Annakinn Gallery is a delight, here is the sign with a beautiful design by Carry Ackroyd.

Helpston was the birth place and for much of his life, the home of John Clare. I'd heard of 'the peasant poet' and I was aware of Carry Ackroyd's fascination with Clare, this week reacquainting myself with John Clare's story has made me realise how relevant he is for us today.

On Friday the John Clare Cottage would normally have been open, but due to volunteer staffs' holidays meant it was closed. It looks interesting so I plan to go back on a day when it's open.

Anna at the gallery had very kindly put together a 'John Clare Starter Pack' – she had correctly guessed from my work and my love of walking and the countryside, that I'd relate to Clare's work.

These are beer mats designed for the John Clare Society and The Bluebell pub which is next door to The Cottage and just around the corner from Anna's gallery. Cliff and I had fish and chips for lunch at The Bluebell and I can thoroughly recommend it!

Following directions from Anna, we walked across to St Botolph's church and easily found John Clare's grave, there is a modern marker post visible from across the graveyard.

Sacred to the Memory of
John Clare
The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet
Born July 13 1793 Died May 20 1864

A poet is born not made.

Also in 'the starter pack' were these cards depicting the 'Midsummer Cushions', a tradition of lifting a sward of flowery meadow as a floral decoration. Aptly this is how Helpston schoolchildren commemorate John Clare on his birthday, carrying their Midsummer Cushions through the village to lay around his grave.

The card on the left is an illustration by wildlife artist John Davis, he also illustrated these charming tiny cards depicting birds' nests. They reminded me of the work of Charles Tunnicliffe and those lovely Ladybird books 'What to look for in Spring/Summer/Autumn/Winter – I've recently rediscovered mine in a cupboard at my Mum's house.

Anna popped the cards into my 'John Clare Starter Pack' as a thankyou for braving the torrential rain and delivering my cards in person.

Thanks to Anna at the AnnaKinn Gallery in Helpston for reacquainting me with John Clare who was so much more that a peasant poet. Clare observed the countryside and nature in minute detail as he walked the paths and lanes, he observed how changing agricultural practices meant wild places were being lost forever and he knew those things were priceless. 

Clare wasn't an uneducated peasant, he was a clever young man who by circumstance had to leave formal education at a young age and endeavoured to read and educate himself. Sudden fame at a young age and the conflicts of his rural roots with the literary circles he had been elevated to, resulted in his mental health deteriorating. He was cared for by benevolent wealthy friends who tried their best to find the best care available at the time in an asylum in Essex. But pining for his boyhood life he absconded and walked 90 miles back to Helpston. John Clare's final 20 years were spent in an asylum in Northampton.

The life of John Clare has much to teach us about mental well-being, education and the importance of being grounded and aware of the natural world.

And if you are near Helpston, it's in the corner of NW Cambridgeshire between Stamford and Peterborough, please visit the Annakinn Gallery . . . it's full of beautiful things!


Friday, 26 June 2015

My illustration for July Gardens Illustrated

Once a month an email arrives from David the Art Director of Gardens Illustrated magazine, with Frank Ronan's text for his article The Writer's Plot. Usually there's a suggestion as to which paragraph I should illustrate. At the end of May the text for July's magazine arrived, David's message read:
Here’s the text for July Frank. It’s mostly about Frank’s cat dying, which is very sad.

I sat down with a mug of tea and read, yes it was sad BUT it's also a beautiful tribute to a rather majestic and loyal cat . . . and the apple tree Frank planted as his memorial.

I decided to start with the apple tree which was in blossom, so I drew some apple blossom from life. As the magazine is about beautiful gardens and plants, starting with carefully observing flowers and leaves seems a good way to find a composition.

The main question was, should I include Hero, Frank's beloved cat? I drew a cat that fitted the description in the text . . . then I worried that it wasn't quite like Hero and what Frank might think.

I considered sending a message to Frank asking for a photo of Hero. 

Then I had a rethink, if Hero was my cat, I'd like to remember him in a doing what he enjoyed . . . wandering the edge of the garden, the common and the hedgerows.

The cat in the illustration can be Hero, or it can be a cat you know or remember.

I printed the linocut in a cool mid blue, I wanted the scene to have a half-light feel when a crepuscular feline might be out walking and stalking.

If you have a copy of the magazine, I hope you enjoy Frank's eulogy for Hero, yes it brings a lump to the throat but I hope my illustration lifts the mood and is a fitting tribute to Frank's dear cat.

As with all my Garden's Illustrated illustrations, I will be producing a limited edition of original print and a range of cards of all the designs, available from 6 months after the magazine publication date.


Monday, 8 June 2015

The Red House

. . . plus unexpected delights south of the river

On Saturday we were in need of a plan – we'd been invited to a birthday dinner in south London, it's a long way to go and as the weather was good we thought we ought to make a day of it and find somewhere to explore on the way. A quick glance at possible National Trust properties found The Red House so that's where we went . . .

William Morris was only 26 when he moved into the house his architect friend Philip Webb designed for him and had built in a Kent Orchard, 10 miles from central London. A four bedroom red brick detached family home doesn't seem that unusual but in 1860 this house was the first Arts & Crafts style house, designed to be true to materials and function it influenced architects and design movements throughout the 20th century and to the present day.

William Morris moved in with his new wife Jane, this was to be his perfect family home and indeed it was where his children were born. He invited his friends to stay and help him decorate the interior - Edward and Georgie Burne-Jones and Dante and Lizzie Rossetti. What jolly japes they had skipping round the orchard and playing hide-and-seek in the house and garden!  

The interior was decorated in the medieval style – murals on the wall, embroidered hangings and painted plaster ceilings (the newly cleaned stair well ceiling in Morris's favourite blue and white colour scheme is particularly fine).

There is a small exhibition about Philip Webb including his paints – the ones he used to hand colour his architectural plans, a well as other personal possessions and his designs.

Webb was very fond of drawing birds – his contribution to the decoration included some delightful stained glass in the hallway windows. 

William Morris's utopian dream wasn't to last, setting up his new design business 'The Firm' and the realities of commuting to central London and back each day made him restless. Lizzie (Siddal) Rossetti died of a laudanum overdose shortly after her baby was still-born and Georgie Burne-Jones's baby also died; the Burne-Joneses and Rossetti moved to central London. William and Jane (who was already in a close relationship with Rossetti which lasted until his death) decided to sell The Red House in 1865, in five years many of their ambitious interior design schemes were started and then abandoned.

Subsequent owners of The Red House treated it with reverance and respect, some used Morris and Co. wallpapers to decorate the rooms – something Morris himself would never have done, but they look beautiful none-the-less. The house remains mostly unfurnished, gradually layers of white lining paper are being removed to reveal unfinished murals and ceiling patterns. One of the owners had acquired an original Morris woodblock for one of his printed wallpaper patterns.

If like me you're an Arts and Crafts fan, I can thoroughly recommend visiting The Red House – and take a guided tour, it really adds to the experience.

The National Trust web page for The Red House recommends parking a short way away at Danson Park. When we got there we discovered this . . .

a rather splendid Georgian house in a magnificent park with panoramic views across the Weald of Kent! Danson House is a popular wedding venue so the house is closed to visitors on Saturdays, though it has a very nice tea room on the ground floor (we had afternoon tea there). While drinking our tea we read a leaflet about another historic house and park nearby and needing to kill time before the birthday party, we headed off to Hall Place and Gardens . . .

what a lovely surprise it was! Magnificent formal gardens and lovely parkland around a Tudor mansion (again the house itself was closed for a wedding).

There were some stunning flower borders (somehow I failed to photograph them, probably because I was too busy admiring the plants!), mostly the plants are ones that thrive in sunny and dry conditions so need very little maintenance.

The magnificent topiary however must take some clipping! Especially the huge Queen's Beasts which where designed to celebrate the Queen's coronation in 1953.  

We had a lovely hour or so wandering about the park in the late afternoon sunshine before heading off to a very enjoyable dinner at an Italian restaurant for a friend's 'big' birthday.

If you plan to visit The Red House I'd recommend visiting Danson House & Park and Hall Place & Gardens while you're in the area. If you can, go on a weekday so you can see inside the houses, but if not the gardens and parks are magnificent!


Monday, 1 June 2015

My illustration for June Gardens Illustrated

I'm getting used to the monthly rhythm of commissions for Gardens Illustrated magazine . . . July's illustration is finished and has been sent to the Art Director and Frank's copy for August has arrived. The subject for May's linocut had been a gift - English wildflowers in SpringEach month I settle down with a large mug of tea and read Frank's words that have arrived by email - here's a behind the scenes look at how I do the linocuts, so I won't repeat that but I will show you my thoughts and working sketches as I put together this month's illustration.

For June's Garden's Illustrated, Frank's article is set in his new garden in California. I received no notes from the editor (ominous?) it was left down to me to choose something to depict. I jotted down a Californian place name and the two latin plant names that Frank had referred to – all three were meaningless to me, this time a lot more research would be needed!

I realised I had seen Quercus agrifolia, the Coast Live Oaks, on a Californian road trip; unknowingly we had also driven very close to the Matilija Canyon, the view from Frank's Californian garden. I began to relax, in my mind's eye I could start to imagine the scene.

A gnarled Coast Live Oak tree and some branches of rampant Pepper Tree make a good backdrop but I needed a focus for the composition . . . more research found a couple of bird species that are common in the area, I remembered seeing Scrub Jays – they are bold and characterful, and the little White Breasted Nuthatch apparently loves the coastal Oak forests – perfect! The smudge of colour is where I'm matching the mixed ink for the linocut to the colour of my rough - a dusky pink that reminded me of the evening light on the mountains in California.

But the article is basically just about Frank pruning a tree – so in the end I decided I had to include Frank in the illustration too . . . with a respectful nod to two favourite works by Eric Ravilious and Clare Leighton.

This is the colour sketch, with my notes to show David, the Art Director, what I planned to do . . .

June's Gardens Illustrated magazine has arrived through my letterbox, here's the page in the published magazine next to the original linocut . . .

. . . and as with all my illustrations for Gardens Illustrated, I will be producing an edition of prints for sale early in 2016 (and a little later, cards too).

Frank Ronan's copy for August's 'The Writer's Plot' is on my desk, at the weekend I bought some of the plants he's writing about so I can draw them from life, you'll see them in August's Garden's Illustrated.