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The Botanical Room part 21 - A world of 'colour familiar'



Ode to

COP 27 UNFCCC


I'll take off my shoes to climb the bent trees,

To see through the branches and the uppermost leaves.

I will reach out my arms and sing to the skies,

For all I behold and see with my eyes.

Like a bird, I will witness the glory of Earth,

And cherish all that who bring forth the birth

Of a new way of being,

A new gentle path.

The way we should have gone right from the start.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a leafy suburb of Surrey in England, and it was lovely,

it was particularly nice to grow up where all the neighbours knew and looked out for you and where the school was just up the road.


Down the centre of our road and separating the houses was a woodland. The woodland was an adventure playground for us children, and in those days, it felt very safe for us all to cross over the road and head to the woods to make traps for whatever wild animal we thought lived there. When I say wild animals, I mean, of course, mythical beasts, of which we caught none :(. Indeed every time we ventured back out to our little traps or the little camps in the woods, we would find them collapsed.

We would always blame 'other children' for destroying them, never thinking that perhaps it could have been the mythical beasts or the weather that had done the dirty deed.

The narrow strip of woodland was the place we went when we were leaving home, all those funny times when a five-year-old set out on their own because they have been told off for something or other. I recall when all three of us (as it was then) left home, we had broken an outside light during an innocent ball game, and none wanted to take the blame.

We decided, there was no choice but make for the hills (the woods across the road).

I recall I had a cold and wanted to bin a wet tissue, ewwww, and I asked my siblings if it would be ok to bury it in the woodland soil, as there was no bin. They exclaimed in horror that this would be a littering offence and that I should keep the wet tissue in my pocket until we reached our destination. In no time at all we had all decided against the journey, once we realised it was tea time, and a confession was better than no tea.


'Tea and iced gems'

Picture = My fellow hunters for mythical beasts (before I was old enough to go hunting)


As I grew up and my siblings moved on to big school, I often walked alone to and from my local school. Most of the time, it was an excellent opportunity to smell the flowers and squish the berries that hung along the garden walls. I recall the heady scent of suburban shrubbery from the pine in the centre of the road and the smell of lilacs draped over fencing. There were many plants I would know by scent or shape but would have no idea of their name or that they may have originated from another country far, far away.


I was nearly always late for school because of the plants, oh and

the bird song. I would place the plants experienced in my short walk to school within the stories of my imagination and become quite distracted on my journeys to and fro.



The Gang 1972

Around that time,

I possessed a colouring-in book filled with a myriad of suburban trees and plants reaching and tumbling in front of beautiful, grand, fictitious houses.

I remember having just primary colours in my felt tip set and thinking, 'surely I need more greens because I thought to myself, aren't all trees green?' But I started to notice that by colouring some of the trees blue, out of desperation not choice, I would get a more realistic interpretation of what I saw around me.

I became somewhat addicted to analysing the colours of plants. I even remember being particularly fascinated by looking into the garden through coloured cellophane.

I will explain.

I had a Christmas gift craft set containing colour cellophane, and the kit's instructions suggested making them into glasses. I recall putting the glasses on (which I had made poorly) and seeing a world drenched in yellow, pink, or blue. I noticed how looking through the different colour glasses made me feel. The yellow was quite sickly, the pink was quite surreal, and the blue was almost calming; it washed away the yellows and gave the same impression you get when you stare at the Sun or a bright light for too long. Children did lots of silly things like this in the 70's, they were simpler days.

Colouring-in was my go-to, me-time pursuit, there were never enough colours for all the colours I could see. Eventually painting was the answer, to fulfil my desire for more colours.

I have written some poems/rhyme if you wish, over the years, they are searching to name all the colours I see.


Soul blue

Soul blue, lost in blue

London blue, milk lake.

Harbour calm, mermaid blue,

City pearl I make.

Colours on my palette bloom.

Blue mix, cool mix,

Evening drift and deep lagoon.

Blue-green, mint green,

Magical blue moon.

Imagine blue waves lapping

Rapture blue and dolphin dream.

Blue opulence in robes of blue,

Bright blues from seam to seam

Deep rich, slumber blue,

Blue velvet and blue lavish,

I take the blues from wells to ceramic

To my paper for you to relish.

(from my book The Botanical Shoes)


We take for granted how we see colour. I remember having my mind blown at school when our art teacher suggested that colours are only familiar due to the specific light falling upon them.

For example, under the almost extinct, orange monochromatic street lights, all colours appear to drain away, leaving tones of dark orange-grey. Monochromatic light is coloured light with only one wavelength, which results in the human eye perceiving only in spectral colour (the spectral colour is composed of a single fundamental colour on the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum, as opposed to a mixture or blend of colours). Colours would be very perceived very differently if we lived in a world of darkness. We'd probably give them other names, and we'd probably have completely different relationships with them.

If we lived in a world of perpetual sunsets, we would invent glorious and multiple names for the fabulous orange-drenched colours, as that would be our 'colour familiar.'

White light through a prism will reveal the spectrum of spectral colours, the spectrum of visible colours, a smooth transition of colours similar to those we see in an atmospheric rainbow. Although a rainbow consists of mixed colours, so it is not a true spread of spectral colours.


There are infinite colour variations in the spectrum, so all the colours between red and orange really do exist in their own right. So, we have so many more colours we could name. No?


Funny monochromatic story :)

Back in 2003, I was encouraged by a friend to take my boys to see Olafur Eliasson's Weather Project at the Tate Modern in the Turbine hall.

The boys were young, 7 and 5, (see picture right)

It was the school holidays and we set off on foot to the train station, about a 20 minute walk, once there we were informed the trains were cancelled from that stop. So, undefeated, we rode a bus (a 40 minute trip due to all the added stops!) to the next town and then got on our train to London.

With all the waiting around, the packed sandwiches had been consumed well before lunch.

On arrival to Charing Cross, we crossed the bridge to the south bank and walked our way along the river to the Tate Modern, it's further than you think, and it was early to mid afternoon by the time we finally arrived.

All through our tedious journey I had told them all about the amazing exhibition how there was a beautifully weird, monochromatic light emitted from a false sun and the hint of cloud inside the hall, I had been recounting my friends experience and probably gone on about it a little too much, without knowing that much about it at all.

Well, I had to do something to keep their spirits and their little legs moving!

We finally arrived, climbed the metal stairs to bridge to view the art, exhausted and hungry.

Then William, who was five, turned to me, opened his arms, his palms facing skyward in incredulity and said,

'IS THAT IT?' with an adorable wet lisp.

I was somewhat deflated but he made me laugh so much, that we almost made an exhibition of ourselves.

Needless to say, I undertook future trips to shows with extra investigation and preparation before setting off. All trips from that day forward had food as the main event and art as a secondary feature, this worked well.

Check this link to see what it is all about http://bit.ly/3NQWHZx

I thought it was amazing but perhaps without an ice-cream, it lacked the wow factor for the boys.

Colour Dream

A morning vision came into view

A veiled and lilac illusion.

A spirit dream, sweet violet scent,

Of perfect pale profusion.

The early dawn left us adrift

In heavens landscape dream.

We came to rest in purple pool

Then vanished from the scene.


(from my book The Botanical Shoes)

When I am painting, occasionally, an area will dry and then appear dull or not vibrant enough. In such cases, I use a method called a tea wash. One lays a watery, transparent, yet tinted colour wash over an area to give it a different or stronger shade of yellow or pink or whatever extra colour is needed. Like a layer of coloured cellophane.

You can use this layering of tea washes to create form and colour; you lay on your lightest tone, then gradually add tea washes of colour to build to your darkest tone.

I prefer something different to this method, as I find the continual layers of wash can lead to dullness to the paper in that area; tired paper can fail you if you need to correct any mistakes.

I prefer to get close to the finished colour as fast as possible, I like to allow the paper to aid subtlety in how it reacts to the paint, and then finish with a brighter tea wash if needed.

I think my tutorial of an open deep pink peony shows my technique best.


These days we are so lucky to have access to so many beautiful colours in all mediums, all we need now is for the colours to send forth the scent as well, and my inner six-year-old self would be in heaven.

The colour poems in this month's blog are excerpts from my soon-to-be-released, wistful, coffee table book, The Botanical Shoes. It is in the process of being printed as I write this, and I am super excited for you to see it. :) Like all botanical creations, it has taken me a long time to illustrate and write but I hope it will be worth it in the end.



Happy, peaceful seasons to you,

Billy x


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