The Library of Obscure Wonders

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Autumn Newsletter 2021

As the autumn months appear I am fascinated by the changes occurring in plants and trees. Walking through Newington Green the other day I noticed two rather woeful looking hazel bushes sitting under a London Plain. They had been well and truly battered by London life and the severe cutting of a somewhat over enthusiastic gardener. Yet I noticed on the tip of one of the branches a small bunch of mature hazelnuts. Quickly I sketched it and took a photo. It’s quite unusual to see ripe hazelnuts on the tree, usually the birds have eaten them. To me it suggested a determined continuation of life. I painted the tree at home- watercolour with pencil on top- and did a little research on the hazel.

Hazel is a deciduous tree losing its leaves in the late autumn. Often growing underneath oak and birch; it is a small tree sometimes pruned into a bush. In managed woodland it is frequently coppiced which extends its life from 80years to several hundred. Both male and female flowers grow on the same tree, but hazel flowers must be pollinated by pollen from other hazel trees. It is mainly wind pollinated, bees find it difficult to carry hazel pollen as it is sticky and the grains repel each other. The male flower is a yellow catkin that comes out in February before the leaves. The female flower is small and bud like with red styles. Once pollinated the female flowers develop into round fruits that hang in groups. They mature into nuts with a woody shell surrounded by a leafy husk. Hazel leaves are hairy and soft to the touch, oval in shape they are toothed and pointed at the tip. Hazel leaves turn yellow before falling in winter. Many caterpillars live off the hazel, this is particularly good for the Hazel Dormouse, for they can eat the caterpillars in the summer months and save hazelnuts for hibernation in the winter.


Hazel was the tree of wisdom, according to Irish mythology. In the otherworldly realm there is a well from which the rivers of Ireland flow. In this well there swims a salmon and around it are nine sacred Hazel trees. The hazelnuts from these trees fall into the pool and are eaten by the salmon everyday so they themselves become wise. These wise salmon swim from the pool to the sea and back. If you manage to catch and eat the salmon you too will become wise and able to tell the future.


Exhibitions
Late Constable at the Royal Academy of Arts. Learn how, in his later years, John Constable used a more expressive style and a greater use of light and shade that’s evident in drawings, sketches and paintings from 1825 until his death in 1837.
Runs from 30 Oct to 13 Feb.

Courses this term
Drawing and Painting Nature Online. Tuesdays 6pm to 8pm. From 12th October to 14th December. In association with Imperial College and The South London Botanical Institute. Suitable for beginners and those with some experience. Follow this link for more information: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/evening-classes/autumn-spring-courses/october-courses-list/drawing-nature/

Painting from plants and flowers. City Lit, Keeley Street, London. Mondays 10am to 1pm. From 1st November to 6th December. Explore a variety of artists’ approaches for painting flowers from observation. Discover the rich history of this genre while getting inspiration from contemporary artists who use flowers as their starting point in painting. More information:
https://www.citylit.ac.uk/courses/painting-from-plants-and-flowers

A short introduction to botanical illustration. City Lit, Keeley Street, London. Thursdays 10am to 1pm. From 18th November to 9th December. Botanical illustration is both an art form and a means of scientific engagement. Learn about depicting form, colour and differences in plant species with precision and detail on this studio and location-based course. More information:

Painting tip – Breath slowly, into your stomach and relax. Relaxing will help mark making skillls.

All course dates can be seen on the website http://www.obscurewonders.com
For further information email – illustratenature@gmail.com

Summer Newsletter 2021

Drawing & painting Nature Classes

Now it is very much summer so time for another newsletter. 

Courses this term

Natural History illustration

30th June to the 14th July. Three Wednesdays from 10 til 4 at CityLit Keeley street.

Learn how to capture wildlife on paper, from fossils to fleeting birds and butterflies. Gain skills using a variety of different media including digital. Includes a trip to the Natural History Museum. Suitable for beginners.

https://www.citylit.ac.uk/courses/illustrating-natural-history

Summer School – Drawing and Painting Nature outside in a beautiful garden.

24th July to the 21st August. Five Saturdays from 10.30 to 12.30

This new Summer School is held in the beautiful garden of the South London Botanical Gardens. It is  in association with Imperial College and The South London Botanical Institute. Suitable for beginners. Follow this link for more information:

https://www.imperial.ac.uk/evening-classes/summer-school/summer-school-courses/drawing-nature-summer/

Free online workshop on drawing trees.

In July there will be a one off online tree class. Email me for further information and look at my website for updates www.obscurewonders.com

Exhibitions

Here are some summer exhibitions that caught my eye:

Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser, Victoria & Albert Museum

‘Lewis Carroll’s magical, mind-boggling story of Wonderland has been enchanting audiences for generations. Now Alice’s adventures are the subject of a major new show at the V&A charting the story’s evolution from manuscript to a global cultural phenomenon, inspiring the likes of Salvador Dali, Walt Disney and Tim Walker.

Described as a ‘theatrical, immersive journey down the rabbit hole’, Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser brings together over 300 objects spanning the story’s 158-year history. Highlights include original drawings by John Tenniel, set designs and models from the various film adaptations, album-artwork for Little Simz and Bob Crowley’s costume for the Queen of Hearts from the Royal Ballet’s 2011 production. Take the whole family on this extraordinary adventure. Just don’t be late.’

WHEN Saturday 22 May – Friday 31 December, 10am-5:45pm

WHERE  Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL

Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy, Whitechapel Gallery

‘Although best known as a Surrealist, Eileen Agar (1889-1991) experimented with Cubism and Abstraction, too, finding inspiration in a myriad sources, from the natural world and ancient mythologies to sexual pleasure and her own biography.

Eileen Agar: Angel of Anarchy, the largest exhibition of Agar’s work to date, celebrates a phenomenal career that spanned almost a century. It brings together over 100 paintings, collages, photographs, assemblages and archive material, much of which has rarely been exhibited, to chart the development of her uniquely spirited style.

Highlights include Angel of Anarchy (1936-40), a plaster-cast head covered with feathers, fabric and diamanté stones; and Dance of Peace from 1945. ‘I’ve enjoyed life,’ Agar once said. This exhibition looks set to prove that.’

WHEN Wednesday 19 May – Sunday 29 August, Tuesday – Sunday, 11am-6pm

WHERE Whitechapel Gallery, 72-78 Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX |

Michael Armitage: Paradise Edict exhibition, Royal Academy

‘An exhibition of riotous paintings has opened at Royal Academy. Brightly coloured and crowded with figures, the works of Kenyan-born artist Michael Armitage (who is a graduate of the Royal Academy) are large scale and dripping with political and social commentary – think Goya meets Gauguin. But while European painting is a powerful source of inspiration for the 37-year-old artist, Armitage, who divides his time between Nairobi and London, is most significantly influenced by the traditions of East Africa. of riotous paintings has opened at Royal Academy. Brightly coloured and crowded with figures, the works of Kenyan-born artist Michael Armitage (who is a graduate of the Royal Academy) are large scale and dripping with political and social commentary – think Goya meets Gauguin. But while European painting is a powerful source of inspiration for the 37-year-old artist, Armitage, who divides his time between Nairobi and London, is most significantly influenced by the traditions of East Africa.’

WHEN 22 May 2021 – 19 Sep 2021, 12:00 AM

WHERE Royal Academy

Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD

Paula Rego, Tate Britain

Paula is one of my favourite artists, ever since she asked politely if she could leave her empty coke can in my studio space with a cheeky yet nervous smile. This exhibition of her work looks good, I may have mentioned it before, but I think it’s probably worth mentioning twice.

‘Paula Rego is a phenomenal storyteller. Whether in paint or pastel, collage or ink, she conjures up images that speak of personal as well as social struggle. Over the course of her prolific career, Rego has drawn on a broad range of references, from comic strips to history painting, and experimented with both abstraction and figuration. 

This major solo exhibition, the largest and most comprehensive of Rego’s work to date, features over 100 works that chart the artist’s creative trajectory. Early works dating from the 50s will hang alongside large pastels and richly layered, staged scenes from Rego’s acclaimed Dog Women and Abortion series. Prepare to delve deep into her rich and fertile imagination.’

WHEN Wednesday 7 July – Sunday 24 October, 10am – 6pm

WHERE Tate Britain, Millbank, London SW1P 4RG

Painting tip – If uncertain, stop and have a tea break.

For further information email – illustratenature@gmail.com

Spring

At last it is spring and the blossoms are out on the trees. I love this time of year, the change from the sleeping branches to the beautiful blossoms is incredible. Though I notice on the weather forecast it is predicting more cold weather and possibly snow.

The Youtube video I’ve put up this time is on painting a freesia blossom in watercolour. The freesia was originally from South Africa, its beautiful colours and sweet smells have made it popular here. It flowers in the spring and summer and comes in many different shades. The difficulty when painting it is getting the colours accurate in tone and as bright as in the actual flower.

Winter Newsletter

December

Now winter is here, the leaves have fallen and the days are short. This is a good time to study the branches of trees, to observe and sketch how they connect to each other. Different trees have different types of branches, the oak for instance has knobbly branches and twigs.

Courses next term

The  Online course in Drawing and Painting nature starts again on Tuesday 19th January. It is a ten week course from 18.00 to 20.00. It is  in association with Imperial College and The South London Botanical Institute. Suitable for beginners. Follow this link for more information:

http://www.imperial.ac.uk/evening-classes/january/january-courses-list/drawingnaturejanuary/

There will also be an offline course at Citylit running all day on Fridays for 6 weeks, starting on the 15th January. Suitable for both beginners and those with some experience. https://www.citylit.ac.uk/courses/botanical-illustration-projects-2

Youtube Demo

I’ve put some more demo’s up on Youtube.

This link is to a demonstration I did on how to draw an apple using coloured pencils.

Exhibitions

I’m not sure whats happening with real-life exhibitions at the moment but here is a good virtual exhibition of drawings of Oak trees.

https://www.kew.org/read-and-watch/virtual-exhibition-mark-frith-a-legacy-of-ancient-oaks

Painting tip: The rigger brush is very good for painting tree branches in single strokes.

All course dates can be seen on the website www.obscurewonders.com

For further information email illustratenature@gmail.com

Raksha Patel – the use of botanical art with humour and social commentary

Weed.
The King of the Crop
The Endless Circle
Fanny

A link to an interesting article on Japanese Flower Painting

https://www.chiswickauctions.co.uk/news-item/birds-and-flowers-design-in-japanese-art/

Painting from Plants and Flowers

A new course at CityLit starting Monday 9th November. A chance to explore different media and painting techniques.

Starting next week…

It’s been ages since the last newsletter, mainly because nothing much has been happening as far as classes and activities go.  It has been a great time for going out and painting nature though. The tree outside my window is slowly turning a beautiful gold colour with the season. This month we have an online class starting, a Youtube demonstration video, and preparation for a tree project starting in the new year.

Classes and workshops

An Online course in Drawing and Painting nature  starts next Tuesday 13th October. It is a ten week course in association with Imperial College and The South London Botanical Institute. Follow this link:

https://www.imperial.ac.uk/evening-classes/autumn-spring-courses/october-courses-list/drawingnature/

 The Tree project will include free online workshops and discussions on painting trees and collecting stories about them. All of which will finally form an animation telling folktales about trees. I’m currently applying for funding for this project and will let you know more as things develop.

Youtube Demo

This is my first attempt at a Youtube video. I give a demonstration of how to do a flat wash, and how to do a graduated wash. I minted to do more soon. I hope it is useful:

Exhibitions

Wildlife Photographer of the year is now on at the Natural History Museum, book tickets from the website: 

https://www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year.html

The Hayward Gallery exhibition Among the Trees is only on till the end of October, so go and see it now:

https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/art-exhibitions/among-trees?eventId=855751

Painting tip: Relax, watercolour works a lot better if you relinquish control occasionally.