The Library of Obscure Wonders

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Painting tip: Try using a limited palette. Use as few colours as possible by finding the right combination of colours for your subject. By limiting the number of colours you ensure harmony in your painting.

April, the Blue Eyed Mary’s have stared popping out, the hazel leaves sprout there’re maroon coloured leaves and the clocks turn to summer time.

This month I visited the Dorothy Tanning exhibition at the Tate, which was very good. The hotel room installation Chambre 202, Hotel du Pavot  was interesting but not quite as impressive as her paintings which were good from both the point of view of surreal subject matter and in the quality of paint and colour, something that was often overlooked somewhat by the surrealists. Her folded and unfolding sheets were great, rarely is sheeting rendered with so much symbolic wait. The Dorothy Tanning exhibition is on till  Tickets £13 or free for members.

I also visited Wildlife Photographer of the year exhibition at the National History museum. These were brilliant photographs but reading the text that went with them was saddening, the human race is destroying so much of the planet and the beautiful creatures that live on it. The exhibition is on till the 30th June. Tickets £13.50 full price, free for members.

The John Ruskin exhibition at Two Temple place is great. It is free for a start, Two Temple place is a beautiful building with amazing stained glass windows. The exhibition shows how Ruskin was influenced by and then influenced other artists of the time. Some of the pictures on display are exquisite, I particularly like Ruskin’s watercolour painting of a piece of brick with moss and mold growing on it. The show is on till 22nd April, Two Temple Place, WC2R 3BD very close to Temple tube. Free

I haven’t visited the Van Gogh exhibition at Tate Britain yet, partly because I’m told it is currently six people deep to each painting. I’m also told that his connection to Britain is rather tenuous. I will go later this month though. It is on till 11th August and costs £22, free to members.

Classes and workshops

With the Easter holidays coming up things will be a bit quiet in April.

The regular Monday “drop-in” watercolour class at Lordship Hub in Tottenham will continue . This is a lovely venue by a pond in the middle of the recreation ground. It runs from 11.30 to 1.30 and currently costs just £8.  This is good for learning and scratching up on watercolour skills, covering all sorts of areas including landscape, figures, still life and of course natural objects.

Starting on the 3rd May at City Lit is the Botanical illustration advanced. This is an exciting course taught by myself and Gita Hahn and looks at developing your botanical drawing and then using Photoshop and Illustrator to edit them for graphic and textile designs. See the CityLit website for more details.

All course dates can be seen on the website

For further information email –

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Nature illustration: The structure of flowering plants

Ever wondered how a flower works?

This Saturday we will looking at the structures of flowers as well as leaves, and the layout of these on a plant. We will also have a look at the use of dividers to measure accurately and that old Fibonacci spiral…

The Crypt, St John on Bethnal Green, London, 2-5pm. £15, materials provided.

For more details contact me at

Drawing detail and texture in nature using watercolours


This coming Saturday 16th February at the Crypt, St John Bethnal Green

How to slow down and really consider natural objects, come to know them as you draw them, learn how to get appropriate textures and details for your object using salt, clingfilm, and sponge. Equipments provided. All levels welcome from beginner to very experienced. £15, 2 – 5pm.

Nature illustration: drawing and painting plants, insects and shells


A new set of classes for the new year:

How to slow down and really consider natural objects, come to know them as you draw them, and how to use light and shade to create a 3D appearance. Equipment such as paper, pencils, watercolour paint, will be supplied. All levels welcome from beginner to very experienced. £15 per class

26th January – 2nd March. Saturday afternoons 2 till 5

St John on Bethnal Green, 200 Cambridge Heath Rd, London

How to find us: Very close to Bethnal Green tube station which is on the Central line. The class is in the crypt of the church. Meet at the front entrance to the church.

A soirée this Sunday

A gentle soiree into the new year.

Short talk on an obscure wonder, musical phenomena, drunken Tarot with Miss Roberts, and an art installation or two. Bring drinks and snacks. 3rd Floor.

A small donation to the library to give the performers a chance to get home that evening is appreciated. Since money is not allowed to change hands in the Lion House I’ve set up a ticket thing. Don’t worry you really don’t have to do this if it freaks you out. It freaks me out! Donation is £2. I’ll post the ticket page as soon as they let me.

5pm to 9pm

3rd Floor

Lion House

75 Red Lion Street





The problem with perfect

Oak tree in the woods

Perfect is a closed circle, static, fulfilled, existing out of time. An idea that does not really happen in nature because of the need for change and adaption in order to survive.

Take an oak tree. Imagine for now it is born from the perfect acorn in the perfect soil, it has every potential of becoming the perfect mushroom shaped oak seen in picture books. It grows into a stalk, and starts to develop leaves, but there are big holly bushes next to it, so it’s leaves can’t get much sunlight to photosynthesise. It is going to have to grow much taller than them. In its 30th year there is a harsh winter, so it drops some of its lower branches to conserve nutrients. In its 50th year a house is built to one side of it preventing sunlight reaching it from that side, so to make up for this it grows more on the other side giving it a somewhat crooked shape. The tree is a healthy oak that will live for a couple of hundred years, but it is not the perfect tree, it does not have that neat mushroom shape, it is crooked, tall, and sparse on the lower branches. It is the ability to change and not remain perfect that has meant it can live a long healthy life.

Now we imagined a perfect acorn, but evolution being as it is, that acorn probably wasn’t perfect, a genetic difference may have slightly altered the tree’s bark, or made it extra tasty for a particular insect. While in one case this could have been an annoyance and potentially damaging to the tree, in another the bark difference could make it particularly resistant harsh winds, so if it or one of its future acorns ended up on the Scotland Highlands it would have a better chance of survival than one that didn’t have that bark difference. Equally so being tasty to a particular insect could be damaging in one instance but if that insect happened to eat another more deadly insect that could infect the tree then being tasty to the first would be an advantage.

That is just one simplified example of the need to adapt and how the our idea of the classical closed perfect organism would not survive because it can not change and adapt to its environment.

If you get a compass and draw a circle on a piece of paper it may look perfect, you can call it perfect and others will agree. Yet time will smudge and fade the ink, it will tear and rot the paper, till eventually your perfect circle is nothing but mush. This mush will hopefully be put in the ground where if can feed another seed which will eventually grow into another plant that will feed another animal or maybe even a human who draws another perfect circle.

November – New classes!

Watercolour classes

I’m taking over the running of the Monday morning drop-in class in Watercolour at Lordship Hub in Tottenham. 11:30 to 1.30.

Currently only £8.

Paints and brushes are provided. Paper can be purchased. All levels are very welcome. A subject is covered in each week, from landscape painting to portraiture, still-life and abstraction. It has a very relaxed environment with a nice group in the middle of a beautiful recreation ground. No need to book, just come along. Contact me for further details –

Also at short notice I’m running a class at City Lit called Drawing into Watercolour which is very much for beginners who wish to explore Watercolour. Basic materials are provided. This is a 6 week course Tuesday evenings from 6 to 9pm. Full fee is £209, concession £127. Still time to book up but you need to do so quickly!

Geometry and Nature

This is a short course at CityLit for beginners. Learn to draw the patterns found in nature and find out about the golden ratio and the Fibonacci sequence.

Coming up early next year…

Drawing Nature – Botanical and Natural History Illustration

I’m starting a new class at St John in Bethnal Green every Saturday afternoon, beginning in January. More information coming soon.

There will also be my usual Botanical Illustration course at CityLit running from the end of January to mid March. For more info visit


beech2Charles Darwin, aside from evolution, came up with the “root-brain” hypothesis along with his son Francis, in their book The Power of Movement of Plants. This suggests the roots act like a brain network. Ignored at the time (evolution was enough to deal with without the suggestion of trees having brains as well) it is only now beginning to be taken seriously.

I have been sitting drawing beech tree roots today. They are fascinating indeed. Largely unseen they undertake a big proportion of a trees practices and are often the same size as the tree above ground. Their skin can have an interesting textured quality and they curl around each other like snakes which is very good to draw. Where I live in London you can see the roots bursting through the Tarmac, looking distinctly like monsters from the underworld. What happens in roots and around roots is just as strange as what they look like.

Roots search the soil for water and minerals that they absorb and then send up to the leaves for photosynthesis. A root grows from its tip which it pushes forward through the soil. The root tip can detect the pull of gravity and aims itself downwards into the soil. Behind the root tip are root hairs that grow into the soil to gather supplies.

Fungi have symbiotic relationships with roots, this is called Mycorhizass. There are two main kinds of mycorrhiza, ones that penetrate the roots and ones that surround the roots without penetrating. The fungi transfer essential minerals such as nitrogen and phosphorous from decaying matter to the tree. The fungi cannot photosynthesis so the tree does this for them, providing the fungi with energy.

Other advantages to such relationships include speeding plant growth, stimulating fine root development and lengthening the life of the roots. They can also protect plants from drought, predators (such as nematode worms), and micro-organisms that cause disease. In areas polluted by toxic heavy metal it seems fungi can buffer their tree partners against harm. A diversity of fungi is valuable to a tree, as different fungi will specialise in the various functions, so one species may be good at taking up particular nutrients, while another will be better at producing enzymes.

Trees have also been found to pass on carbon dioxide to other trees in need of it, even trees of different species, through the roots. This is also thanks to a symbiotic fungi in the soil. In fact new discoveries about roots really put them as essential and quite incredible things. I’m reading a lot about tree communication at the moment, I’ll write about it more once I’ve got my head round it. The idea of them having a “root brain” where the tips of the root are small neutron centres seems to fit in somehow.



Beech Tree



Beech leaf in winter. The drawing on the right is done in coloured pencil, and the one on the left done in watercolour paint about a month later.

I fell in love with a beech tree in Cornwall. A big beautiful tree on a hillside. It has a curious hollow in it’s trunk, triangular shaped and filled with water most of the year round. The water from the hollow of a Beech tree was traditionally used to help skin conditions such as eczema and scaly skin, and increase beauty. I thought I’d try out the Beech water’s beneficial effects on my skin so have been rubbing my face in this water. It does seem to make the skin more smooth.

A spell spoken to the roots of a Beech tree is said to come true. A curse spoken underneath its boughs is said to be effective if the tree approves. The Celtic God Fagus was associated the Beech, it is also seen as a feminine tree and associated with the god Danu, a female god of learning and knowledge. This isn’t surprising seeing as in Anglo Saxon the word for “beech” was “boc”, the source of the word “book” and beech wood was once used for carving words upon. A spell can be written on a beech leaf and buried to draw the support of the earth god.

In the winter this year when I was leaving Cornwall, going home to London, I went to say goodbye to the tree. I hugged it, it is a tree that feels good to hug, and whilst doing so I thought it would be nice to have a winter leaf skeleton to remember it by. I had been searching for leaf skeletons in the woods because they are good to draw but had not managed to find any so far this year. As I finished hugging the tree I looked down at my feet and there by my right foot was a beech leaf skeleton.