Line drawing of a thistle
I’ve been awol recently; work, holidays and life in general has got in the way of writing a post or two. And I’ve been waiting to get up into the local mountains to either cross country ski or snowshoe, but it’s been either a blizzard or raining, and on the odd amazing day of fresh powder and blue skies I’ve been at work. Never mind, it’ll come around.
In the meantime I’ve started a ‘back to basics’ art class, just to get the momentum going again. Good to be restricted to graphite pencil and line drawings, I’m so used to coloured pencils and blending endlessly that I’d pretty much forgotten how to wield a good ‘ol regular pencil. For two hours I got lost in drawing, and it felt really good.
From an autumnal drawing of acorns to an overnight ferry ride to see our good friend in Victoria – on the most perfect of days, the light low, sun skipping off the water back up to the sky …..
Ferry ride back from Victoria
…to a drawing of rosehips intended for a winter greeting card. It’s been quite a busy couple of months. And all whilst contending with a back that has nerves jumping and skipping (possibly a bulging disc/sciatica issue, probably from pushing too much on the bike) until I can’t sit still anymore and have to go for a walk.
View from the headland, Portmeirion, Wales
Amidst scaling back temporarily on activity (which has me looking with frustrated yearning at my mountain bike), I managed to fit in a trip to the UK to see my mum with my sister. Work was mad before and after the trip and it was, as always, too short a visit; but lots of walks in Welsh woods and along a sublime coastline with family fed my soul. Sometimes you just have to slow down, a little bit.
Instead of embarking on a drawing that I’m already planning to turn into a greeting card or postcard, I wanted to take some pressure off and just play with colour and shading. It was a good reminder to keep the drawing light-hearted and less stressful. It’s a looser feel, and always easier to draw when relaxed. And it’s so important to keep practicing and learning.
Lately, I’ve been working on a drawing of a hollyhock flower. I loved learning how I could keep the delicacy of the flower petals intact (lots of patient layering of colour), and for the first time used masking fluid to make sure I kept the white areas free of colour as I drew. Messy at first but ultimately it seemed to work. I also learned that hollyhocks not only are good providers of nectar for pollinators, but also offer up a much needed start to the life of the butterfly, providing a home and food to the caterpillars.
And I had to include a very good short film in this very short post.
We doggedly turned the pedals; eyes streaming, glasses fogged up, snotty noses cold and damp. My feet had long since gone numb and I noticed Scott slapping his frozen hands against his legs in a vain attempt to get some feeling back into them.
No, it wasn’t an epic trip along some ice-covered road in a distant Nordic country, just riding back to the ferry after visiting a friend overnight in Victoria on Vancouver Island earlier in March. The weather had changed overnight from cold and sunny, to frigid and sleeting. It felt in equal measures foul and fun (in a masochistic way, natch). We were dressed for the cold but not the wet, a point underlined as we disembarked on the mainland and booted it along the causeway to where we’d stealth-parked the car. Riding in full-on snow at this point as we sloshed through thick pools of water and slush, terrified yelps escaping my frozen lips as yet another truck barrelled past in the unofficial race off the ferry. My eyes were still noticeably swollen at work the next day, the after-effects of the wind and sleet that had somehow worked its way under, over and around my glasses.
Now that it’s finally warming up – cherry blossom bursting impatiently forth, a dusting of green on trees as leaves begin to unfurl – the first foray into mountain biking of the season has meant upending our tiny apartment as we dig out our bikes from a jammed closet. Three grinds up a gravelled road, and three runs down a bermy, easy run and we started to feel our bodies loosen up after far too long a break.
So March has been characterized by sporadic rides, lots of reading (Ashlee Pipers’s Give a Shit: Do Good. Live Better. Save the Planet has caught my attention for the last little while – plentiful ideas for upcycling, recycling, reusing – and I ploughed through Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, which frankly drove me a bit nuts with all the ‘thees and ‘thous’. I couldn’t put it down, but I have to admit I much prefer his essays from A Moveable Feast), and fitting in more drawing around work. Lately I’ve been working on some strawberries:
And I learnt a bit more about my backyard in British Columbia in This Mountain Life; both the staggeringly beautiful scenery this area contains, and the unique people who explore it, it’s well worth checking out.
I gave Grue his weekly feed today.
Grue is a bubbling, fruity or acidic or bready smelling (depending on the time of day and mood), occasionally slightly slimy surfaced sourdough starter. I haven’t had the courage yet to turn this brooding, alive, fridge-living monster into bread. I’ve just been feeding the little tyke once a week and sticking him back into cold storage until I a) get a digital scale, essential for accurate measurements of flour, starter etc etc. and b) have figured out how to transform the grommet into something we can eat. There’s a plethora of information on nurturing your starter and how to make bread, I just need to find enough time to study it as it does seem to require in-depth observation and dedication. I’m not adverse to the investment in educational time, quite the opposite, but I want to do justice to Grue and his tenacious will to live by being at least moderately informed when I begin the alchemical and essence-of-life process of baking bread.
Grue, our bubbling monster. The elastic band shows how much he’s grown. Ah, bless!
In other news I just swallowed an advil with a great gob of red wine, which I’m sure is verboten but it was the liquid I happened to have in my hand as I reached for a painkiller. I was bent over double with a sudden and excruciating stab of sciatic nerve pain so severe that I felt like I might throw up. The advil and a quick hot bath seemed to do the trick. I had gone for a run yesterday and decided that to shake things up a bit I might try sprinting every other block. A few times doing that and I was soaked in sweat and felt great. I was also stiff as a board later and spent the rest of the day sitting on my backside drawing. Cue sciatic purgatory.
The drawing has been coming along though. Sometimes I feel horribly slow but I grab what time I can and am gradually building up a stock of images, some of which I’ve started to make into greeting cards. It’s deeply satisfying and at some point I will start to sell the cards online.
Working on a daffodil composition
And after a very delayed start, we’re finally seeing a decent dump of snow here on the west coast. Essential for a healthy snow pack during the summer months of course but also great for snow sports. A few days ago I was out cross-country skiing. Just so beautiful and so good to be out in the sparkling, squeaky snow. The (mostly) blue sky was a lovely bonus.
Hope everyone’s week is going well!
Snow, trees and blue skies
Perfect cross-country conditions
Holly and ivy
A seasonal illustration: holly and ivy drawn with coloured pencils – I decided to use this illustration for Christmas cards.
If you happen to be looking for a vegan chocolate cupcake recipe (and why wouldn’t you be?!) look no further. I stumbled over this one and it’s perfect, and oh so easy. I’ve made it twice now in the space of three days, both for vegan and non-vegan friends, and they seemed to go down well.
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.
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.