top of page

A Smaller World

Sketchbook studies of poppies

There has been an unforeseen break here on my blog and I have been debating as to whether I should explain my absence, especially after setting out my commitment to walk and draw my local area in my last post, or wait until things had passed.

But I have decided to explain, as saying nothing has proved just as tricky as saying something.

A few years ago I quite suddenly developed severe arthritis. I had a few months before decided to exchange my career in teaching English, before it was too late, to pursue art again full time. The most debilitating effect was the inflammation in my right hand, which of course, made printmaking and drawing painful and difficult to control. It was very frightening, but thanks to the brilliant support and help of the rheumatology team at Bury St Edmond’s hospital, I was able, after a few months, through diet, drugs and physio, to resume.

Although I have still had periods of pain and inflammation in the interim period, It has been under control, until a few months ago when it flared badly again, but this time would not respond to the drugs and, of course, lockdown made treatment at the hospital impossible.

So, I had to put printmaking aside, and tried to change tack. On good days I was still able to draw, and could use watercolour, as both activities put less pressure on my joints and so the project of drawing and exploring my local patch was born. I loved walking the fields and paths of my local countryside and began to find spots that I would be able to draw and paint later in the summer.

A study in charcoal of poppies among my broad beans

Then my world became a little smaller. While everyone was emerging from lockdown, I was stuck. Walking for more than a few yards had become very painful, my spine and hips had become affected, and I had to think again. Instead I started to draw within my garden.

A bed of the veg garden had become seeded with poppies and I had decided to let them bloom, instead of planting the proposed beetroot. And I am so glad I did. The bed of 6 feet by four has been a riot of garish colour, with bees whirring about my head and riffling through the pollen, as I sat among them. Being among such beauty, lifted both my spirits and distracted me from the pain.

A sketchbook study, sitting among the poppies

Watercolour painting

It is the first time I have been able to successfully grow poppies in this garden. Many years ago, in my garden in Norwich, they would spring up everywhere and I would rise very early, sit among them and paint. Doing so again brought back the joy of working outside in my garden again, sitting amongst the tall, floppy heads to the hum of bees. I remember painting one livid, vibrant poppy and a large bumble bee landed on my hand as I painted and sat for some while, shaking the collected pollen on to my finger. I sat gazing at him and then he alighted returning once more to rummaging among the dusty stamens.

A painting called "Where the Bee sucks", taken from a slide image SOLD

Those oil paintings have long since been sold, but I still have a couple that I decided to keep, which are shown below. I can still vividly recall sitting in the bathroom with my paints perched on the loo, on a damp, dull July day, very similar to the days we have been having this year, peering out of the raindrops on the glass at the poppies spread below that seemed to glow in the gloom.

An oil on board study painted while looking down on my garden poppies

And so, while things have become difficult for a while, other things have grown and blossomed and I have been given the opportunity to return to a subject I have loved and forgotten.

New paintings of my garden and moths will be added to my shop in a few days. Please sign up to my newsletter to be the first to hear of their arrival along with an early bird discount code.

Poppies painted from my studio in Norwich on a rainy day

Recent Posts

See All


Dear Sue,

Thank you so much for this and really think it is something I should look into. I have no idea how to start, but I am sure I can find out. Your pages are beautiful. It never occurred to me to develop my drawings in this way but did feel that there was something that I could do with them!

Before all this happened, I was preparing to teach workshops but it all came to a juddering halt. It would be wonderful to be able to pursue this in a different form.

with love,



Jul 12, 2021

I didn’t know you wrote a blog Deborah, and I am delighted to find it via your Instagram page! Now I will have a happy time reading your back issues and marvelling at your drawing ability. I’m sad to hear you have suddenly developed such difficulty and pain. I had noticed a change in your drawing subjects and maybe it was because of that. I do hope there will be an improvement soon for you. In the meantime the poppies in your sketchbook are wonderful and you inspire me to go and sit in my veg patch. I too have given up growing most vegetables as I had such a poor return. Now I grow a few beans and peas…

Jul 13, 2021
Replying to

Dear Deborah,

just a thought, I have had a lot of joy during lockdown from day classes on line, Michelle Hughes , a print maker in York teaching Lino cutting for beginners is an example. You can find her on Instagram and she has a website too Or maybe you know her already. I love your botanical sketchbook pages and at the self drawing group I go to I have tried something similar to that too. Not so well drawn of course though!

Lots of the other group members have said how much they like my pages, they may be just kind people ! But would you think of teaching something like this on line? I do think that thi…

bottom of page