“As the light burns more persistently, and rain showers reflect the ever-changing landscape below, I seem to spend an inordinate amount of time just staring about. Knowing I could never capture the fleeting delights in front of me, I try and store them in my mind and notebook for future reference.. raindrops on prickly stems of briar rose shimmer impossibly ruby then sapphire in the spring light.” [ed. Oh dear, it looks like I began this piece months ago but wilful inattention to public relations triumphed for the pursuit of practical application to craft.]
Sadly I didn’t get to the Royal Academy Show, so this isn’t going to be a critical commentary on that event. Monet was the show’s most obvious choice of pin-up, but there were millions of potential understudies; fortunately my favourite French painters of real life, Caillebotte, who after a fleeting 6-year art career retired to his garden in his early thirties in 1879, made the final cast.
Ask most living artists with an interest in landscape, and you will find they will admit to an almost addictive compulsion to get their hands on the sod – especially at this time of year. And yet I believe gardening is a natural companion to painting – not simply because of the appeal of a subtly ever-changing visual dialogue we have with our tamed wildernesses, or as a living canvas on which to express ourselves. Gardening presents a most tangible opportunity for us to interact with our environment.
Just how we approach the tasks in hand is also an indicator of our relationship with our work – do we tend our patch by guiding and coaxing, removing discordant elements patiently, teasing out roots with our hands? Or do we smash out roots, leaving fragments to re-emerge below the surface? Do we try to dominate and control, bring in alien elements to disrupt the space? Do we use chemical or organic agents to improve productivity, or tolerate the rhythm dictated to us by our materials? How we wrangle with the tougher elements in this verdant composition speaks volumes about our present attitude and attention span.
At the moment I give myself an hour most mornings for this meditation before heading into the studio. It is helping me look, at myself, and the interfering thought processes that distract me from my day. It helps me both clear my head, and to limber up my hands – although it is a fine line I tread between developing strength in my wrists and stiffening them. As Cennini preached in his Craftsman’s Handbook, you should be ‘saving and sparing your hand, preserving it from such strains as heaving stone, crowbar, and many other things which are bad for your hand, from giving them a chance weary it.’
Easier said than done…