Monday, June 30, 2008

Wild Peas

My garden is full of sweet peas but the road beside my house has a beautiful display of wild peas.

My initial feeling about this gorgeous show was to enjoy how pretty it was. I photographed them and then came home and my brain kicked in. I did a google search. What is their latin name? Are they native or not? Invasive? Poisonous to cattle? Am I supposed to be enjoying them? I found one mention of how the dried plants in the countryside are a forest fire hazard. Sigh. Nothing is simply "pretty". But that's ok. I am glad for life's complexities and the chance to learn about them. Now I can say "Look at that field of flammable, invasive and mildly toxic lathyrus latifolius. Oh how pretty".

The pearlescent colours of the aging petals are like fairy wings.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Sweet Peas

The sweet peas are blooming!

I cut just one stalk to take into my studio and I could smell it the whole time I was painting it. I wish this painting could be scratch and sniff.

The painting took me longer than I had expected since it turns out that the shapes and structures of sweet peas are more complex than I thought. I don't know anything about botany but, whew... I feel like I do now. The strange square stalk splits into three with two funny little leaves that I am sure must have a special name. One stem is for the flower and the other two are for leaves and tendrils. The flowers themselves are fascintating too.

I can't describe them in words but, if you are lucky enough to have sweet peas in your garden, you can take a minute to look and puzzle it out. Personally I am lazy about really looking at something unless I am drawing it. This style of painting doesn't allow for fudging either and that is why I like it. I demands clarity of thought and vision. No pretence or fancy brush work. Just looking.

You can click on these to see them bigger, if you want.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Not About Gardens or Art

I just watched this video twice and got teary eyed both times. "Where the Hell is Matt, 2008" has nothing to do with gardens or art but it will still make you happy. Oh and Matt lives in Seattle. Cool. Happy happy. Joy joy.
(It seems to take a long time to download. Why not dance badly while you wait! And I can't seem to get the sound to work on my Mac while the PC is fine. Don't persevere if the audio is screwed up.)

Daniel's New Blog Address

My blogger friend Daniel Mount has a new blog address so you can find him at or by clicking here.
He is a beautiful writer and well worth checking out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

My Alley

After mourning the seasonal end of my garden poppies (and admiring the poppy pics on fellow blogger Maritime Gardener's last post) I was delighted to find this welcome and unexpected guest in the wilds of my back alley this morning. I haven't seen this poppy anywhere else along the road-sides so I'm guessing that it has wandered from someone's garden.

My studio door opens onto this sight, and while I know that environmentalists see this as a collection of non-native nasties, I can't help but enjoy the jumble, or should I say jungle. That red blob is the poppy and there are also blackberries, bindweed, foxgloves, wild peas, blackberries and blackberries. For those who don't live around Seattle I will point out that the Himalayan Blackberry has taken over this area. If Seattle were to be abandoned by people in the apocalypse, it would take about a week for blackberries to take over all the roads and building. But I still look forward to blackberry muffin season in a month or so.

I step over this little charmer to get in the door. Please don't tell me it is something invasive. I like it too much.

Someone else is enjoying a morning stroll through the honesty plants in the alley.

(PS Just minutes after posting this I got email from my Mum identifying my lovely poppies as opium poppies. Wow. Can I expect ATF agents to storm my alley? How thrilling. I wonder if these poppies are the kind that Uzbek suzani embroideries are based on? (see previous post)
My mum also also tells me that the little cutie growing in the gravel is Nigella or love-in-a-mist. Thanks Mum)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Big Red Circles

Ok so I chickened out about fixing my failed oil painting of a peony and instead focussed on a little peony study in acrylic.It is happy, I think.

My painting style has changed dramatically over the past few years from large painterly abstracts to these very precise botanicals. I was interested to notice last night, however, that I have always been drawn to big red circles. These appear in my paintings so often that I have given some thought as to why. There are some powerful associations. Stop signs. Kissing lips. Bullet wounds. Nipples. Drops of blood. Setting and rising sun. The birth canal. Red toe-nails. Peony buds. Berries. None of these are easily ignored. Some are wonderful. Some are awful. Wow.

A few years ago I did a series of large oils inspired by embroideries from Uzbekistan called suzanis. Here is one of those paintings. It measures four feet accross.

And here are some suzanis.

This image comes from California interior designer Kathryn Ireland.

Here are two watercolor paintings by Washington State artist Martha Worthley. Aren't they gorgeous? One is based on suzani imagery and the other is a painting of dianthus. The power of big red circles!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Birds, Cats and Tender Hearts

Yesterday's post was unusually thoughtful, maybe even a bit sad. I know what the problem is - lack of sleep and constant anxiety. I have been waking up with the birds at 4:30 and staying awake. The only chance I have of getting back to sleep is if both my cats are asleep beside me and I know that they are not outside terrorizing the birds. Our older cat, Huckleberry, seems to have outgrown his desire to hunt and mame innocent creatures but our young kitten, Opal, has already brought in five baby birds this summer. There were three young robins who, with some intervention from me, managed to fly away, seemingly unhurt. Who knows. I don't like to think of the trauma and bite marks did to their life span. The other two were baby chickadees and were very much dead. There is a nest in an unused light socket on my front porch which I thought was a safe spot until I saw Opal jump from the porch railing and dangle from the new light fixture on the wall, jaws snapping at the small hole in the wall. It must have seemed like a snack vending machine to her when baby birds popped their heads out. I immediately nailed a sheet from ceiling to railing preventing her from doing this again and making my porch look like a scruffy children's tenting project.

chickadee vending machine

I know I should just keep the cats inside but they howl at the door and scratch at the windows making me crazy. I am not sure what the answer is in bird nesting season. Valium? It has got to the point that the simple sound of birds makes me anxious. Whenever there is a commotion in the trees outside my studio the squalking of crows, the squeeking of the hummingbirds and the lovely songs of the robins makes my heart race and I rush outside to try to do what...? I don't know.

A lot of gardeners are cat lovers and bird lovers and I wonder if I am not alone in this dilemma. Tender hearted friends of nature: it is a rough world out there. I am sorry pill bugs when I move a plant container and inevitably squish some of you. I am sorry earth worms when I chop you in half with my spade. I am sorry cats when I inexplicably lock you in the house all morning to save birds. I am sorry little birds that I can't save you. Whew. I am exausted and stressed out.

So that explains my anxious comments yesterday about parenthood etc. I love summer but it's wearing me out.

Monday, June 16, 2008

How to Kill a Peony

Oh dear. This attempt to capture the fabulous ruffliness of a peony has started with disaster. This poor thing looks like it is made of a clump of wax. I think it has something to do with the brown shading (raw umber) and the shine on the petals which I will get rid of. In fact I will have to repaint each petal this morning to try to revive this dead old thing. It is so much easier to take a snap shot with my little point and shoot. But the end result of a photo wouldn't be the magical world of flowers and dancing weasels that I have in my mind's eye. It will be worth the effort to get this little oil painting right. I hope.

It is always nerve-racking at this stage in a painting in case it all ends in failure. Just like growing a real garden I suppose - tending living things brings the risk that they won't make it. But also the chance that they might turn into something magic.

I always forget who described having children as being like watching your heart walk around outside your body. We are all so vulnerable to hurt - parents, gardeners, painters. We put our hearts out there every day knowing that we are risking heartbreak. But the rewards can be so huge that we keep loving the children, weeding the garden and struggling with the paintings. And mostly, it seems, our bravery is rewarded. Here's to the bravery and hard work of creative people.


Thursday, June 12, 2008


There is a peony garden in Queen Anne. Maybe I should call it a collection. Venus, the gardener, says that she has 130 different peonies as well as lilies and some other collections too. I have been stopping by throughout the spring to visit this extraordinary sight and I took my camera last time. We had just had a week of rain with gale force winds the night before so I should have chosen a different day for photography. But some of the battered flowers look quite beautiful too. Unlike roses, peonies have a ragged quality to them - a kind of debauched rococo extravagance that reminds me of Marie Antoinette. Maybe that is why they suit the tatty after-the-storm look. If Venus is the meticulous gardener I think she is, I'll bet that many of them will have lost their heads when I visit next.

The smell of this garden is heavenly and the place buzzes with delirious bees.I took my camera in my car afterward to wait for Isobel to finish her dance class and as I scrolled through the photos I could swear that I could smell the peonies. I am not usually given to such flights of fancy but I think there may be some sort of crossed wires in my brain. I even sniffed the camera and then told myself I was being silly.

I am working on an oil painting of these peonies that I will post when it is finished. I feel a little sad to move on from the poppies but there is just too much to paint this time of year.

Some of these are worth clicking on to see them enlarged.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Another Poppy Painting

Another poppy painting. I am enjoying the big fat buds and the funny little pseudo leaves that grow on the flower stems. This painting looks less graphic than the last one. I use a painting style developed before the Renaissance of shading a figure darker the further away it is. Usually this makes the outside edge the darkest part as though a black line is drawn around the object, as in the previous poppy painting. This new painting looks different because the open flower is concave, not convex, so the furthest point, and consequently the darkest point, is the interior of the flower. Fun, eh? The buds retain the dark outer edge because they are spheres.

I enjoyed comparing my work to William Morris' in a previous post. Let's look at another poppy painter - Georgia O'Keefe. Her work is hugely popular and some of her pieces were seen as shockingly sexual in their day. (pistils and stamens etc up close) Perhaps because of her influence or because we are so familiar with her work now, it looks rather unshocking. But still beautiful. She painted flowers larger than life, encouraging people to take time to see what they might otherwise overlook. I have a quotation from her on my wall "Nobody sees a flower really - it is so small - we haven't time, and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time"

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sorry Mum

My master-gardener mother visited last week from Vancouver and I anxiously showed her my garden with all its inadequacies. She was gracious and appreciative, as always, until we got to the Fatsia which I have in a container on the patio. "I have always hated those plants", she said. A week later, as though in response, the Fatsia has produced something else my mother has aways disliked. Sorry Mum. I think they are cute. For now. And the Fatsia will also stay. For now.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Poppy Painting

There were so many wonderful things to paint in my poppy patch that I may have crowded too many into one painting. I like the out of control craziness though, because this is also the character of poppy plants.

This, and the last painting of the poppy weasel, are starting to look a bit medieval or like some of William Morris' gorgeous designs. I am a long way from being as orderly as his work is though. I wonder if other aspects of his life were as organized and tidy as his designs just as my life is as clutterd and disorderly as my painting. I once did a series of paintings of the clutter in my life including all the dirty dishes in my kitchen, a large pile of dirty laundry and a floor scatterd with children's toys. I was trying to reconcile my desire to paint with the time it took me away from my children and housework. Did William Morris feel guilty too?

Poppies in the Rain and a Lupin