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The Botanical Room Part 23 New year-new ideas

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

This Blog features my new feature 'Notes from the Painting Table'

Firstly, Happy new year!

I would like to say a big thank you for reading my posts.

I love to write them, but I would love to know if they interest you, so if you enjoy the odd read of my memories and notes, please let me know in the comments. It's great to know if anything I have written has been of interest to you. xx

My new year did not begin with resolutions, just a horrid cold, and I know I am not alone in that. It seems we have all been affected by the new array of seasonal coughs and sneezes, not to mention covid.


What to do this year? Now that my Botanical shoe book has been completed and the last remaining stock of the first edition is steadily heading out the door, my mind turns to what challenges I will put upon myself in 2023.

I would love to get my 'stuff' sorted. I live in a home full of packed boxes squirrelled away and full-bursting drawers; are you the same? I need to declutter, but my things get rearranged and replaced in the same place whenever I try. It is exasperating! The trouble with kicking off the year unwell is that you don't have the inclination, even if my hands are willing, my head says tomorrow, tomorrow.

However, tidying up is not the challenge I am looking for.

I think some lovely big paintings would be the way to go, and perhaps I can journal the progress for you?

I have longed to do more beach-themed studies combining plants and shells, flotsam and jetsam, as my mum used to call it. I am heading to Truro in Cornwall to run a couple of days of teaching, and while I'm there, I hope to scour the beaches for suitable studies.

I entered my seaweed pattern painting into the annual SBA show in London a few years ago. At the time, I was told that seaweed was not a plant, so it was, in general, not eligible; however, on further consultation, the painting was allowed, phew! I was thrilled that it also found a buyer. I enjoyed arranging the pieces of seaweed; balancing items on the page has always been a passion of mine.

So that will be my challenge this year: some large and small seaside compositions and a few lovely big studio pieces. Let's see if I manage it.

Often seaweed is misidentified as, in general, we are less aware of sea treasures.

I have recently come across this site

The Marine conservation society website has information on seaweed and a page to upload your seaweed finds. This information helps them track the health of the seas flora.

There are, of course, many phone apps to help us identify such things, but it is always best to go to an expert to be sure.

Oddly, I find the seashore on the south coast near me a little depressing in winter and summer, too, if it is raining.

The long stretches of shingle beach with breakers can send me into what seems like a sad state. I have no idea why but my hubby thinks I am mad not to love the bleak beauty of it.

I am also not very keen on the smell of the sea. It depends on where I am of course.

I am a cove kind of girl.

Enough of the negative, because all melancholy is instantly forgotten once I start searching for the perfect shell.

Beachcombing is so exciting; I never tire of the joy in finding treasure.

When the boys were young, they would love the energy of the seaside, swimming, throwing Frisbee or kicking a ball. I was always tasked with calming them down and finding an occupation that would keep them busy and engaged once their energy waned. My solution was a game called beach darts, performed on strictly empty beaches!! and with a large circle drawn in the sand.

Our first task was to make the darts. We would search for small sticks and a small piece of soft shale or broken shell; we would then find short lengths of string from old, broken, fishing nets and bind the broken shell to one end. We would then search for dry seaweed and feathers to attach to the other end. Each dart was unique and rather weird and beautiful.

Standing at the edge of a large circle scratched into the sand, we would each take turns throwing a dart to the centre bullseye; the one throwing closest to the middle was the winner.

Sometimes the making of the darts was the best fun, as it was thrilling to find the perfect ingredients. I wish I had some photographs to show you, but alas, we were often too much in the moment to think of taking a snap.

I am sure you can imagine them.

As children, my sisters and I hated seaweed; I was interested to read that it is a recognised phobia named Fykiaphobia. Our brother would often pick up a piece of weed and run after us to make us scream... brothers!

My elder sister lives in Australia, and I was surprised when I heard that her fear is still ever present, despite the many other dangers around her local coast, being more terrifying. Because of this, even now, she prefers the pool to sea swimming.

The seashore can often be a fascinating place; one time, we took the boys for a picnic on the beach on the south devon coast. The Mackerel came close to shore in fast, black shoals, chasing the silver sprats, so that the poor, wee fish were washed in on every breaking wave, leaving them stranded in sashes of silver on the beach as the tide retreated.

Charlie was distressed at seeing all the tiny dead fish, so we had to find a safe place away from them to eat our sandwiches in peace. My husband, a keen fisherman, fashioned a small silver fish from our sandwich foil and attached it to his fishing rod. Within seconds, he was pulling Mackerel from the sea. The boys were mightily impressed, as indeed was I, you can imagine.

Weird confession, it was many years before I realised that the famous crispy seaweed dish was, in fact, just finely chopped fried cabbage.

Weird crispy seaweed-inspired story; no matter what clothing I wear, every label irritates me. Even if I buy the softest clothing, the manufacturers seem to find a label whose close cousin is a slice of crispy seaweed. Removing such tags has become an obsession for me.

Some people cut out labels because they can't face the size they're wearing. I cut them out because I couldn't bear the crispy seaweed-inspired tag from irritating the back of my neck!


Notes from the Painting Table

As you can see the seaweed painting

above was of very dry, dark seaweed.

When I paint such dark colours, I usually try to see the colours in the reflected light and highlights.

This is easier to see on the tulip progress painting on the left. I look and interpret the soft changes in colour across the black areas.

One can often detect the 'petrol' colours and I apply these in quite soft areas, slightly exaggerating them as I go.

If you have the colours ready you can often drop them into a glaze of water at the same time.

While the colours settle, and before the glaze stops glistening, I will wipe or gently lift out the lights and highlights.

This painting was on Strathmore watercolour board which has a dusty surface so the first washes can be quite tricky. It can look like the colours have granulated but the glazes dry to allow quite a good surface for building on top with dry brushing.

I always use a very heavy paper or board for large projects as the ground has more stability.

You can see on this other smaller tulip painting below that laying the gentle tones on first allow you to create good form to build upon.

So, I hope my notes will help you get started on your own projects this year, and as always you can see and learn more in my school, there is a link at the top of this page.

I have just made it to posting this on the last day of January in the northern hemisphere, we made it folks! February here we come, let's hope the world find some peace and love this year.

Sunshine and moonbeam wishes to all

Billy xx

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