Tag Archives: painting

The Art of Gardening

“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…


garden scene with chicken feeder wm
No Spring Chicken

The Art of Stalking

This isn’t a piece about the genre of stalking art, like Sophie Calle’s Venetian Suite –last month a friend took me deer stalking with dog and gun. He thought the experience might be useful to my work, assist in my understanding our relationship with Nature. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the gun, but knew something about herd management from my time living near Ashton Court in Bristol: those with least talent are dispatched, as they are destined to merely disrupt the herd and be sorely injured in the competition for dominance in the hierarchy … of course you might question any parallel with the art world on that score alone.

I Bone

Covering my face and head, and guided down-wind to begin our quest, we headed down into an ancient local valley. Winter light warmed the afternoon, illuminating the old woodland, the silver lichen glowed, and the canopy shimmered. Creeping up and down the gully, past the scars of the recent storm, uprooted trees, jet-washed rocks, freshly hewn water-courses in the overhanging banks, I kept close in the footsteps of my experienced guide, mimicking his movements. In silence we looked for tracks and to the Pointer, her nose to the ground or scenting the air; we took pause, crouched low, then would sit and wait for maybe quarter of an hour or so, waiting for signs of movement.


After a few hours of this slow, intense yet meditative perambulation, we gave up on the hunt. There was no bloodshed, no finale, and no ‘product’. My guide wasn’t sure how useful the experience had been, but I began to get a sense of its relevance: “Making art is born of necessity and it’s an ongoing process—responding to the world and continuously moving forward, occasionally hitting on something then plodding ahead,” Katy Grannan – photographer/curator of “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” exhibition at Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco (Andrea Denhoed, The New Yorker 11/08/15)

We track our thoughts and ideas, waiting a while for a path to our quarry. Those moments when we allow a soft gaze into our creative process can be most fruitful. Sometimes our goal is revealed, other times it is absent, just passed, or overlooked, and we have to return again to our expedition. The challenge is to do this without expectation, but full of anticipation, and sensitive to our own mood, energy and environment. To assume the outcome of our enterprise and find ourselves wanting denies us the joy of the chase, can stifle the organic development of our work, and leads us to overlook the clues to our success.