Thank heavens, Spring is finally here. Having spent the morning doing our respective 'homeworks' - me reworking pencil roughs for 'woodland creatures' and poor Andy cramming his head full of tedious retail bumph for a promotional thingy - we escaped to the fields to enjoy the first really warm day of the year. What a feeling of glad gratitude to feel the whisper of balmy scented winds brush by, like a small child shyly creeping their soft hand into yours. Sticky horse chestnut buds are peeling open, bumblebees are wobbling their sleepy way to any available pollen source and even some hibernating butterflies giddily flitter about, to greet the blessing of the sun. The blackthorn and hawthorn blossoms are only just emerging, the tiny, tight button buds still cautiously waiting to see if sly Winter will pinch them unawares.
Andy found some owl pellets, which had interesting looking teeth in - too large for mice, possibly weasel? I saved them for further dissection. They are quite clean, being dry and dusty, rather like dust bunnies - but speckled with bones, fur, feathers, and various cadaverous remnants.
I came out determined to paint my favourite field, which at the moment is bare and ploughed. I adore huge stretches of earth...
I started with a really quick sketch, to get the feel of the landscape - another starting point for a lino-cut , working quickly and not getting bogged down in detail. It's simple, but comes close to expressing the vastness of the earth.
I haven't actually done an open air painting for about ten years...always 'too busy' doing illustration. Now I was determined to kick loose and just paint, no matter what the results. Such liberty, to be able to splash about without an art director in mind - no one to please, not even the thought of a possible sale - just ploshing about having fun. And it was. I had brought a variety of media; brushes, sticks and dip pens - I was only missing hog hairs, which later was a pain, as I couldn't 'spatter' properly. Here I'm dragging a pen nib through the wet paint, to scratch the paper and creat darker lines. (The wooden dip pen handle belonged to Andy's great grandmother; I use it on special occasions and always with respect).
Andy had mooched off somewhere, having decided that after his mornings studying the left hand side of his brain had taken over - so he wasn't in the mood to create. I was finding real problems trying to repicate the feeling of close up earth clods and stones. In the end I didn't 'get' what I wanted. I'm going to have to dig out my teenage hero, John Blockley, a master in atmospheric landscape painting. I learned so much from his books, which I think are out of print now.
The illustrator in me kept wanting to fiddle about with detail and 'make it look like what it really does', but I shut her up and after half an hour had inky fingers and a finished painting.
I still feel uneasy about its abstractness, and that I haven't laboured over it. But I do feel as if I got over that hurdle. And I'm going to do it again - I've got the bug now.
By now a hungry Andy was foraging about in the rucksack, so we ambled across to the stream in the next field, where the first swallows dived over our heads and fat yellow celandines basked in the sun.
It wasn't quite the sumptuous spread which Ratty provided to an awed Mole, at that first magical riverside picnic -
"There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrenchrollscresssandwichespottedmeetgingerbeerlemonadesodawater --' ( Wind in the Willows...but you knew that, of course).
There was - sesame seed bread, good Cheddar, nicely ancient Brie, pate, Mr Kiplings delicious but over packaged lemon slices, and a bottle of rustically cheap and rustically rough red wine. And Andy's feet...there was also birdsong, sunshine and no-one else around; they'd all taken their cars to a nice part of the country. Leaving us with ours. Afterwards, I did another quick preliminary sketch for a lino cut. I can feel the start of a series.
Later, replete and sun-sated, we wandered home, catching sight of a tawny fox as it scampered across the wide open field, through a hedge and towards a wood. No doubt heading homewards too.