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, 7 October 2015

Behind the scenes - working on October Gardens Illustrated linocut

Each month I look forward to an email from David at Gardens Illustrated magazine with an attached text file of Frank Ronan's latest column. Sometimes there's a hint of what the editor would like me to illustrate . . . in mid-July the October Frank email arrived with no accompanying notes.

I settled down for a read . . .
Frank is replying to a letter from a gardener in California who wants to do the right thing and plant drought tolerant plants; but she lives in a historic wooden house, built in 1904 and is worried the plants won't 'go' with the house.

OK. A bit of research was needed and some sketching  . . . 
. . . a cute early 20th Century Californian house and some suitable succulents. Yes I could juggle them into a composition but like Frank's correspondent, I wasn't happy with it. I wanted to show the over-the-top 'Belle Epoque' decor that is loved so much more in the US than here in the UK. I remembered some of the B&Bs we've stayed in on our road-trip holidays - all those velvet tassel-edged curtains, curvy swirly jardinaires and pottery dogs . . . I'd sleep on it.

Then! as often happens when I'm drifting off to sleep, I had an idea. I have a small sticky-notes pad and pen on my bed-side cupboard, without switching on the light I scribbled "2 Staffs dogs looking miffed" and stuck the note onto my spectacles so I'd find it it the morning.

In the morning, as soon as I got into my studio, I quickly drew what had been in my mind's eye.
And then worked on a more detailed study of a pair of Staffordshire pottery dogs. 
I've just noticed the note, bottom left, I painted this using some very special paint, Egremont Red, it's wonderful stuff and this has reminded me I must use it again, very soon.

Using Photopshop, I pulled all the parts together into a composition - a close-up of the lower half of the window of a historic clapper-board house, showing lace and bobble-edged curtains and a pair of Staffordshire pottery dogs looking out at an impressive array of Aeoniums and other succulents. I decided that a rich magenta would add to the 'Belle Epoque' and Californian vibe.  

Here's the page I sent to David to show what I had in mind, below is a reversed print out on tracing paper that I use to trace down the design onto the lino.
Having got the design sorted (sigh of relief) now comes the fun bit - the carving . . .
I enjoyed carving the lace curtains and the dogs . . .
I mixed some luscious magenta ink . . . the block comes to life when you roll the ink onto it!

And here's the finished print and the illustration printed in the October edition of Gardens Illustrated.

Despite, maybe because of, the stuttering start; I think this is my favourite GI illustration to date.


Saturday, 3 October 2015

Metalwork in the Midlands

Do you know where this is? I'm sure some of you do, but for this who don't, it's The Library of Birmingham
Yesterday we had a day out for my Birthday - we visited Birmingham. I wanted to see the new Library and also the even newer New Street Station, as well as revisiting the Staffordshire Hoard in its new gallery in the Museum and visiting the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter.

We parked near the Library, you can't miss it - a huge silver and gold block covered in steel filigree. The golden dome on the top houses a room saved from the original Victorian library, a Gothic extravaganza of remarkable craftsmanship in wood, plaster, ceramics and metalwork.

The shelves house books and documents relating to a local Midlands lad called Will Shakespeare; it's a shrine in the sky to the bard.

I was really impressed with the new Library, inside had an atmosphere of relaxed calmness and on floors 7 and 3 there are outside terraces with beautifully planted gardens.

There are lovely spaces to relax and look out over the busy city square below.

The recently opened new New Street Station is equally impressive and even more shiny, in fact it is very very shiny - clad in undulating polished steel that reflects the surrounding buildings like ripping water (dazzled by the shinyness, I completely failed to take a photo!) Inside it's like every other airport or shopping centre.

On to the Staffordshire Hoard, we'd visited the Museum to see the hoard when it was first put on public display (another birthday treat) now it was interesting to see how the jewels had been cleaned and interpreted. The hoard is a huge pile of scrap bling, probably looted from a battlefield and intended to be presented to a victorious warlord. It's anyone's guess as to why it got hidden by a main road and never retrieved. The exhibits explain what is known about life 1300 years ago and what the hoard consists of - basically it's man bling - warrior's swanky accessories. Again I didn't take photos but I did buy this book and I'm looking forward to reading it - because THE astounding thing about the Staffordshire hoard is the craftsmanship, the mind-blowing intricate patterns made of gold and garnets.

We then walked to the Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, I'd heard it was interesting but wasn't prepared for such a treat ... if you go, you MUST go on the guided tour! Behind the small museum galleries and tea shop is a time warp - the Smith & Pepper jewellery business which was in business for nearly a century and closed its doors in 1981, leaving everything untouched.

Smith & Pepper kept everything, it might come in useful! all the paper work and records, all the engraved blocked for their illustrated catalogues, all the moulds and punches for stamping out components for brooches and lockets, bangles and pendants lined up on slightly wonky shelves which cover the walls.

The craftsmens' benches are left as if they're having a tea break and will return to carry on work.

I was impressed that Birmingham has two glorious new shiny metal-clad buildings - it seems very apt in a city built on the talent of Midlands metal workers and they have given the city energy and pizazz.

I'll finish with a photo of my present from Cliff - a quirky curvy flower brick. Cliff spotted it when we were looking around a bric-a-brac shop on our holiday in Provence last month and he bought it for my birthday present. It's perfect for making a few flowers picked from the garden look fabulous!


Sunday, 13 September 2015

R.I.P. Phoebe 2006 – 2015


November 2006 – September 2015

Our beautiful speckledy Coucou Marans hen has died at the grand old age of 8 years and 9 months . . . which in hen-years is very old indeed. A few weeks ago she lost the use of one leg (no visible sign of injury or swelling, it may have been paralysis after a stroke) in all other respects she retained her indomitable spirit and quiet determination. But I knew this would be her last summer.

Phoebe's first appearance on this blog was on Saturday 17 March 2007, my third ever blog post. I paid tribute to her on the 6th anniversary of her arrival in our garden, when she shared a special cake. She was an old lady then, we were so lucky she went on to enjoy two and a half more years laying the occasional egg, giving the younger hens old-fashioned looks and skilfully chasing and catching flies on the lawn before going to bed.

What a privilege it has been to get to know her so well (she loved porridge oats but wasn't keen on potato or anything sticky). I'll miss stroking her feathers, which were as soft and silky as a vintage Hermès silk scarf, while I thought through a problem and put things in perspective – Phoebe was a good listener.

R.I.P. dear Great Aunt Phoebe


Thursday, 27 August 2015

My illustration for September Gardens Illustrated - hands up! who loves Alchemilla mollis?

I know it's not quite September, but the September edition of Gardens Illustrated has already been published and is on the news stands, so I'll tell you my thoughts as I devised the the illustration for Frank Ronan's column 'The Writer's Plot'

Frank now spends most of the year at his home in California, but this month his inspiration is from his English garden in Worcestershire. Having been away, Frank appreciates its coolness as summer draws to a close.

The illustration needed to depict particular plants and celebrate their shapes . . .

I don't have Heleniums in my garden, so had to use photographs for reference (note to self: plant Heleniums!)

The other plants I could sketch from life . . .


Oriental Poppy leaves

and last but definitely not least . . .

Alchemilla mollis or Lady's Mantle

Frank was - how can I put this gently? - not particularly polite about its virtues and claims that "You hardly see it anywhere now". Gosh! Really?!
So, hands up! who loves Alchemilla mollis, or Lady's Mantle to give it the more romantic English name, ?
Between you and me, I suspect Frank doesn't pick posies of flowers and put them in jam jars, because if he did he'd appreciate those frothy lime green flowers and blue-green velvety leaves and know how very very useful they are. I think I'll start a Lady's Mantle Apreciation Society :-) who's in?

Now I needed to entwine the plants together, I took my inspiration from William Morris fabrics and created and vignette with Alchemilla mollis is prime position. I played around with negative and positive shapes and transitioning one into the other - I think this is one of the things I most enjoy doing and why working in a single colour is so interesting.

The finished linocut is printed in a mossy green. Like all my Gardens Illustrated designs, after 6 months it will be available as a limited edition original hand-burnished print. Card designs will follow too.