After such a hot and uncomfortably humid spell, we are now reaping the rewards with rather a lot of rain, how I love rain! Somewhat steamy combined with the heat of the last few weeks. Summer is moving forward, so another day out was needed, a change of scene. Perch Hill beckoned, although I know it well now, I’m always fascinated by the intelligence and artistic design of the borders and there is always something slightly different. Also a sweep by the sea with a study of clouds for future paintings was needed. I am now becoming a cloud photographer, particularly on the way home from work in London. With all the hot weather, the evening sunsets have been superb recently.
In search of more artistic inspiration it reminded me of my art school days. Although having trained as an artist, art school didn’t teach much about the technicalities when it came to paints. Recently I was asked to teach the daughter of a friend, a teenager. I was alerted by the fact that I knew more than I thought I did and for the first time I felt I had the confidence to pass this on.
At college we simply spent years experimenting: observing, life drawing, perspective, large scale, monochrome, colour wheels etc….. In foundation it was, for me, water based, mainly ink and gouache. At degree level for theatre, more so, with model making added on. Only when I graduated did I feel ready to teach myself oils, mainly on wood, I could never take to a wobbly canvas bobbing around. It was heartening to find that other great artists used wood and cardboard but not always canvas.
Over the years art shops always attracted my interest to see new materials and brands emerging. As a teenager one used Winsor and Newton for oils and watercolours, at art college Spectrum was favoured for students, but more or less anything else went. Lots of charcoal and pencil, everything had to be large scale to kill any idea of fear of the paper. Slight snag – I find it harder to paint small but I am overcoming this as watercolour does not lend it itself to larger scale anyway. I began to mix my own oils which prevents them from drying up if you abandon oil for a few years. Now I have a set of pigment bags (see above supplies at Cornellissens) from which I can mix up as I need. These will last for years. Mix Linseed oil for the base with added liquin to bulk it up to a jelly-like paste. Most are very attractively priced, but watch out for the best avoided, very expensive Lapiz Lasuli blue at £50 per 10g!
Experimentation was the key. I liked ink, it stayed put, you got what you put down, not some paler version once dry and it was fairly instant. Now the watercolour Winsor range, although promoted by the Royal Academy, is now being ousted somewhat by competing companies such as the ancient Old Holland, Daniel Smith, Schminke and Da Vinci, Rembrant, all of whom clearly wish to inspire to customers that these paints can transform your work into masterpieces! None of them will do that, except endless practise, mainly drawing to start with. But nevertheless I have become aware that the higher the pigment content the better. Changing brands will not change your work that much! With colour in mind, the Perch Hill open day, was on my wish list.
By the time I had left the art shop in Brighton, it was raining again, I love the rain, the sound of it, the coolness of it and the healing sense of it. Another wriggly drive and a few wrong turns, I arrived at Perch. There were plenty of visitors. Rain was pouring steadily, but with umbrella in hand and camera in the other, it helped to reduced the people in the gardens, so photography was a lot easier. The garden looked glossy and happy in the wet.
The famous cutting garden confronts you straightaway, as always. Another stunner this year, slightly different though. The side garden was filled with more flowers than vegetables, the rich velvet crimsons of the Dahlias were there as before, but I spent more time studying the large creamy peach Dahlia (Cafe au Lait I believe from her website), the Amus Maji and the Scabious this time. Round the side of the barn the gorgeous froth of the cow parsley and more Amus together. The new cladding had weathered down nicely even in one year and then I spotted the classic deer damage to the Valerian lining the grass driveway! All the stalks reduced to stumps…I wondered if the area was stuffed with deer in all the woodland surrounding the garden. The new Dahlia trial area looked vulnerable, rather low fencing….Cafe au lait, below, looked majestic and sensual whilst the ‘Pom Pom’, Jowy Morella (above) was a rich ball of velvet and stabbed crimson zing into the sky.
On another day, perhaps with less visitors, with a few more benches, it would make quite a nice painting, in pastel at first I think.
The shop had been redesigned which helped visitor flow and by now I was in need of a cup of tea and the cake was sumptuous. I can thoroughly recommend the low gluten, Almond and Orange cake. My Italian (half) aunt, Carla took to Almond cake and I have the recipe. Superb in every way and were it not for self restraint, I would have happily consumed several more large slices of all the other tempting cakes on offer. Below: swathes of Ammi Visnaga (and or variants of) and views of the meadow next to the barn.