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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

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