Illustration complete: horse chestnut

Illustration: horse chestnut/conker

Finished at last…..horse chestnut/conker

Handling a horse chestnut is a delicate process. To look at it makes me think of a naval mine or, somewhat more benignly, a sea anemone.

I got a few holes poked in my fingers placing the horse chestnut the way I wanted it; no pain, no gain kinda deal.

For good or bad I’ve started an instagram account, primarily for illustrations, but with a few photos thrown in for good measure. Some drawings will make their way onto the blog, more on the insta. If you’re interested have a look, and perhaps follow and share. Thanks so much.

 

I Inadvertently Drew an Invasive Species (and ended up reporting it)

Drawing of orange hawkweed

The invasive orange hawkweed

On a day off this week we tootled up to Squamish with our mountain bikes to ride Farside – a tight series of techy little trails strewn with rocks and roots that bounce you off in all directions if you’re not on your game, and tired, as we were.

It’s a pretty area though, as were the tiny orange and reddish flowers I noticed, scattered amongst the grass at the head of the trails. They caught my drawing eye and I couldn’t resist plucking one stem to take home. (Instant disclaimer here, I know that sounds bad, and it is, but it’s the first time I’ve ever picked what I thought might be a wildflower; they seemed daisyish, i.e common, growing in a semi-rural area behind a housing estate, so I figured they weren’t fully fledged precious wildflowers – however I admit I didn’t know what they were so the excuse is lame).

Once home I propped the stem in a jar of water and had to wait until the next day to draw them – the flowers had endearingly closed their petals for the night.

A couple of hours work the following day and I had my drawing. But I had no clue what the flowers were exactly. An exhaustive search on the internet revealed nothing at first (I was looking for native flowers) until I reframed the question and there it was, orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum): native to parts of Europe but considered highly invasive here in British Columbia. It’s a feisty plant, spreading rapidly, starving out space for native plants, thereby reducing foraging for local wildlife. Dog walkers, hikers, and mountain bikers are encouraged to report any sightings of the plant and its location. Sigh.

I dutifully fired off an email to the local Invasive Species Council, indicating where we saw the flowers and admitting I had a stem of the pests sitting in our apartment. I was surprised how quickly they got back to me, thanking me for letting them know and sternly (my guilty interpretation) directing me to place the flowers in a sealed bag and take them to a transfer station or landfill – most definitely NOT to put them in the compost.

Sometimes things become way more complicated than you expect.

They are pretty flowers though.

 

An Apple a Day

Drawing an apple with coloured pencils

Apple. The kind you can eat.

I knew it would be challenging drawing an apple, reds are tricky. I rejected my first attempt, it looked like a red and green pumpkin. That had stomach ache. Relatively happy however with the choice of coloured pencils on the second try.

B is for Beetroot

Drawing of a beetroot

Beetroot

I’m jumping all over the alphabet here, not that I considered drawing in any kind of order, that would be expecting a bit too much of myself. I’m chaotic at best with my illustration workflow, something to get to grips with (perhaps) as the New Year begins. It would be fun to eventually draw an A-Z of fruit and vegetables. I’ve covered a few letters: C for carrot, or P for prune plum for instance. Some I’ve been happier with than others of course, but that’s par for the course. The important thing is to keep drawing – and writing, taking photographs and playing in the great outdoors – that’s my aim. In the meantime it’s time for a cup of tea and a fresh-baked ginger cookie, or two, straight out of the oven.

Happy New Year!

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Carrot and Stick

The stick was my admitting that I needed to get drawing again – once I’d said it publicly I felt compelled to get on with it, knowing I would feel guilty if I didn’t. The carrot is, well, the carrot. I’ve started to draw again and it feels good. Or maybe the carrot is the number of new coloured pencils I felt were necessary to treat myself to. Either way.

Drawing of a carrot

Carrot

There’s a quote attributed to Jim Davis, but I’m not sure if it came directly from his mouth or via that of his creation, Garfield: ‘vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie’. I like it.

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Monarch of the Glen – Getting Inspired to Draw Again

‘Writer’s block’, a ‘dry spell’, ‘a creative slowdown’…..there’s multiple ways to describe periods spent unable or unwilling to write. But what’s the equivalent for drawing and illustration? ‘Creative block’ I suppose. There are so many distractions around and subjects calling for our attention that it’s easy to neglect those very things that nourish us.

I’ve been circling (ugh, no pun intended) around drawing for a while now. And feeling terribly guilty for not getting stuck into it. Not sure why, since I enjoy it so much once I get going. Probably because I also know it’s good for my psyche to do it. It’s like eating well, you know it’s good for you, it makes you feel much better for it, so when you go off the rails too much (I’m looking at you milk chocolate) you feel sheepishly guilty for letting yourself down.

It was a good kick in the pants then when I stumbled on an article on the BBC about Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen (a bit of a dispute about where he painted the iconic masterpiece). It reminded me of something I drew years ago in school during one of our weekly art classes, just practicing with a pencil. My mum found it stuffed in my art folder back home, the paper a bit creased, and sent along a photo of it. Reminds me of how I used to draw without thinking too much about it too much, not worrying if it was ‘perfect’ or not. I love that sense of looseness and freedom when you care about creating something but not so much that it stifles you. What you end up with might be a bit rough, but no less satisfying for it.

drawing of Monarch of the Glen

Monarch of the Glen

Time to pick up those pencils again…..

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A Little Bit of Spruce

spruce_branch

For the first time in many Sundays, no commitments. It’s snowing again and unusually I’m very happy to be inside in the warmth with a cup of herbal tea at hand – and an embarrassing amount of coloured pencils. I’m not sure if I just drew a spruce, pine or fir branch, I’m think it’s a spruce!

Autumn Goodness

autumn_leaf_crop

It feels good to fly a little free and figure out the colours needed for a drawing, like this one of an autumn leaf, rather than copy faithfully from a book. The latter is a great way to learn and I’ll refer to those same books for suggestions when I get stumped, but the training wheels had to come off at some point (as they did with the plum).

The clocks have recently gone back and I never quite know how to feel about this, waking up is a little easier with more light, rather than burrowing back down into the duvet whilst the darkness lingers. But then it gets darker in the evening so much sooner, which is not really appealing to me. Perhaps though the autumn/winter seasons are some of the potentially most creative times? The energy is more withdrawn, less exuberantly outward, which can feel like a kind of loss at first, but if you can channel that saved energy it might actually be replenishing. With less time to be outside there’s more time to rest, to draw, cook, read, learn more about photography, to write…. (I’m just talking about what I enjoy, insert your own particular interests and hobbies).

Speaking of comfort food (we were weren’t we?!), I tried making a pumpkin pie, which I haven’t done for a few years. I used the same pastry recipe as I did for a fruit pie – once again omitting added salt as I used salted butter – and my own recipe for the pumpkin filling, which is as follows:

1 14oz (or 400mls) can of organic pumpkin

I cup of soy milk

2 eggs

1/4 – 1/2 cup of maple syrup

1 1/2 – 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Mix all together, pour into a nine inch pie dish lined with the pastry, cook at approx 350f for about 45-50mins or until the pumpkin is set. Voila! Delish with added whipped cream.

pumpkin-pie

“It was one of those days you sometimes get latish in the autumn when the sun beams, the birds toot, and there is a bracing tang in the air that sends the blood beetling briskly through the veins.” P.G.Wodehouse.

Enjoy the rest of the autumn!

Plum Pie With Coffee Ice Cream

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Prune plum

Autumn means many things to people. Windswept streets, leaves turning vibrant copper and red hues, falling rain. It also means for many, myself included, warm pies using the last of the summer fruit before segueing into pumpkin pies – a very North American tradition that we’ve just enjoyed with the Thanksgiving weekend (I also often turn to frozen fruit once the summer is over, it works well too).

There seemed to be an abundance of prune plums around in the late summer and I got the chance to not only draw one (see above) but also to make a couple of pies with them. For one pie I added in a couple of late season nectarines that couldn’t be eaten raw – they’d become very mealy.

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Plum pie, with a couple of nectarines thrown in

I also made coffee ice cream from a great recipe by Nigella Lawson, no ice cream maker needed. Unfortunately I made a tactical error by adding in not espresso powder, but espresso coffee I’d ground myself. A rookie mistake, the ice cream had the oddest granular texture. It tasted good though.

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Pie and grainy coffee ice cream

The only problem with making ice cream in Canada is the difficulty in finding fatty enough cream. I had tried to make a lemon & saffron ice cream recipe from a favourite food/living in France blog I follow called Manger. I couldn’t get the cream to thicken. Perplexed I emailed the author, Mimi Thorisson, for her advice. She very kindly wrote  back and suggested the lack of fat might be the issue. Hmm, what to do? And then I had a brainwave. In a recipe using 300ml of cream, I used 200ml of the thickest cream I could find here (whipping cream at a mere 33% fat) and added the final 100ml using imported English Double Devon Cream which can be found in quite a few stores (I found mine at Wholefoods). It’s so whoppingly high in fat, 48%, that it more than made up the balance. Not very scientific but it worked.

I used this pastry recipe, omitting the salt since I used salted butter. I cut the plums roughly into quarters and placed in the pie dish, removing the stones of course; added a little orange juice for moisture and about a tablespoon of sugar to the fruit then covered with the remaining pastry. I cooked the pie in a preheated oven at 350f for about 45mins or until the fruit seemed to be bubbling and the pastry was golden. Our oven runs hot so I may not have cooked it as long as some might need to.

Oh, and I remade the coffee ice cream with powdered coffee the next time! It was delicious. And, yes, smoother.

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Successful coffee ice cream