Updated: Oct 15, 2022
My hands, my ordinary, lovely hands, I know you so well,
You create and make and clean and move, as though under a wonderful spell.
Without thought, you practice and repeat and repeat the same,
And when I see you, recognise you, I see my mother again.
Hands & Coconut
I can’t believe that I’ve got to episode 7 of my blog and not mentioned hands!
I guess I didn’t think of hands as having anything to do with botanical art and yet without them, it would be very difficult to create botanical art, not impossible, but not as easy.
We take our hands for granted, they sit there at the end of our arms busily doing our command and without us actually thinking consciously about them.
I wrote my poem above on the anniversary of my mum leaving this earthly realm, any anniversary always makes me thoughtful and in need of verse. The poem allowed me to express how we move our hands without thought and yet now and then we are suddenly aware of them, and if you are like me, suddenly amazed by them.
I actually see all human history in my hands, from the familiarity of the shape to the incredulity of their dexterity in human development.
Hands mean so much without demanding attention and yet when injured or compromised we miss their use intensely.
Let me speak a while about hands in my family, I think now, looking back, that I can recall the feel and look of all my close past and present family members’ hands.
My paternal Grandfather would let me bandage his hands, I would delve into my playtime nurse carry case, inspect the imaginary injury and proceed to bandage his wrist and knot his arm securely into a tea cloth sling. I recall him pinching the skin on the back of his hand to show me how slowly his skin would sink back to normal, I can see the look of delight on his face as I stared in incredulity.
My Nanny's hands (my paternal grandmother) were always cool and soft, 'good pastry hands' as she would say, and like my mother's hands always busy with household chores. My Father's hands were very similar to Nan's, I could see Nan when I looked at his hands and of course his hands were so very talented through years of training and practice he could write and design so beautifully.
My grandmother's hands were usually well-manicured, she was a hairdresser all her working life but she also loved a 'do' she loved going out, loved entertaining, and loved holidays. She was amazing at crochet and she made a lovely piece for me when I was at art school It's in the little house on the right.Grandma was a great businesswoman and great fun too, I loved how mum and she were such great friends, she had given birth to mum when she was 19 so as they matured my grandma would love to pretend she was mum's sister, I am pretty certain mum wasn't as keen on this ruse.
My maternal Grandfather was a great carpenter and he did take up painting in his retirement, I only slightly recall his hands and remember that they were very hairy, he was completely bald from quite young, but his arms and hands had masses of gingery hairs. I loved him dearly but sadly as my grandparents were divorced we seldom saw him, high days and holidays only and even then as he was such a quiet gentleman it was often a quiet genteel visit.
So now to my mum's hands, the hands I knew so well, were the hands of a toiler and a gardener, there was nothing more hardworking than my mother's hands. I recall once her showing me her cracked thumbs and I was mortified, they looked so sore! I remember we used to buy hand cream for her on mothering Sunday or on birthdays as part of her gift but I never saw her use it. She would occasionally put on a pink varnish but generally, she was busy washing or cooking or weeding or digging, so polish would be surplus to requirement. My mum loved to dig, she was an excellent 'tidy' gardener, her borders were neat and weed-free and she would often be weeding well into the dark and sometimes we would have to go out with a torch to find her, her head peeking out from behind a heaped wheelbarrow of weeds. My mum was also very ambitious, she was so proud of where they lived (as they both came from very humble beginnings) that she was set fast on having a swimming pool, so set, that she began digging out the hole herself and while she was pregnant with me!
Mum was the sort of person that would make everyone comfortable then sit on the most uncomfortable chair or stool, it was a family joke that mum would see everyone fed then sit down to half a dozen peas and one slice of the roast, exclaiming it was 'fine' and she 'wasn't hungry anyway'. She was a lovely, frustratingly self-sacrificing mum.
She even dislocated her little finger once and never found the time to get it fixed and so she lived with the inability to straighten it, who knows why she would leave this fix undone? I would get cross with her for things like this but she would never change and I guess I knew that but it never stopped me trying to help. I like to think I have some of her tenacity and I know that when you are so busy one often puts one's health or well being to one side; when I think how busy her hands were it distresses me that they were the first thing to be compromised in her later years.
Mum was also a crafter, she loved embroidery and rug making as a young wife and once us kids had flown the nest she took up clay modelling and upholstery both really tough crafts for the hands requiring strength and agility. I loved that she never stopped being busy.
When I was a teenager mum gave me some beautiful gloves that she used to wear to weddings or dances as a young woman, it was annoying for me to discover that by that even by that time my hands had grown too big for the gloves and therefore not comfortable to wear with my new romantic outfits of the moment, and I would not dream of cutting short the fingers to get the Madonna look, so I just kept them to look at and admire. I think it's a bit sad we don't wear dress gloves anymore, it may have prevented me from becoming a nail-biter, maybe.
The Plant bit
There are so my plants that are used to help our hands, many in the pursuit of soft skin but also others in the fight against arthritis. Botanical illustration at its beginning was a way to record plants for their medicinal qualities, a way to perpetuate and share knowledge to help in the avoidance of poisoning ourselves as opposed to fixing problems and finding remedies. Some of the earliest books are on plants and their healing qualities and some plants have stood the test of time.
Coconut is one of those plants that has received greater recognition for its myriad of uses, not only does it smell and taste great but its oil is a beautiful ingredient to help moisturize and soften skin, in my bathroom, it's the 'go to' ingredient. Botanically, a coconut is a fibrous one-seeded drupe, a dry drupe, however in general conversation, it can be referred to as a seed, fruit, and nut apparently all are relevant.
The health claims on consuming coconut are many and it's easy to think of it as a miracle food, but I was always told just a little of what you fancy does you good and I think the coconut debate falls into this adage as it is high in saturated fat.
It is the coconut scent that draws me to it, in the days when I did try to go brown in the sun, sadly a waste of time, coconut was or seemed to be the main scent for most suntan lotions and any whiff of it now takes me back to being young and being able to wear a bikini in public, lol, as the kids say.
The Yogurt Year
I am digressing a little from the subject of hands to explore the coconut but as in past blogs, I beg you to stay with me.
I was asked to illustrate a coconut for Liberte yogurt a couple of years ago. The commission came at a very stressful time in my life when I was attending to mum and dad, trying to keep them safe and well-fed, etc I was traveling back and forth to their home and we would go from one drama to another, we did have some giggles but the stress was beyond belief.
I took the commission work as it seemed like a nice distraction and a lovely challenge and a girl has to work. It became a huge challenge, in the end, I had initially hoped it would be to paint lovely soft fruits as the first of the requests was cherry, I then moved on to painting a swirl of yogurt! which was so difficult, then once I had achieved that I was given coconut, coconut pieces then dark chocolate chunks, caramel fudge chunks, salted almonds, and sticky caramel almonds, all of which were to be rendered in high botanical detail! I will be honest, I had never painted yogurt swirls or roasted caramel almonds before, so I was in the deep end way outside of my comfort zone, but I was so honored to be chosen and didn't want to let them down. Eventually, I was thrilled to get the vanilla flower and pods to paint, after that stress, these were a delight to do, phew!
During this time I recall massaging mums hands with coconut oil hand cream, working it into those precious hands I respected and knew so well, little did I know that the scent of coconut has been known to help with stress and the oil is thought to be useful in treating some kinds of depression, maybe the coconut was trying his best to help.
I apologise for my reflections in this month's blog as they are tinged with a little sadness but let me sign off with some happy thoughts. I have known just in time that my hands are a blessing, I can recognise the hands of my family, my dear siblings, through our shared history and play, my husband's hands through our years holding hands and our time together and my children's hands that were so preciously fragile and now such adult capable hands and yet still so precious to me. Knowing that we are capable of training them to create things but still taking them for granted the automation of their actions throughout the day.
Are they not amazing?
Are you going to go and look after them now?
But do remember this! that hand cream and painting on paper are not well suited, always moisturize at night because if you lay your lovely coconut-scented, moisturized hands on the premium hot-pressed paper you will make a waterproof layer and that will not lead to happy painting.
I finish this blog with the image of my final yogurt swirl illustration on the yogurt pot, it took a long time to get it right I can tell you. Coconut dreams to you all x