A Return to Painting


The above image marks a surprise return to painting after a good number of years during which I painted only sporadically and without much success. Life and all that.

An email arrived earlier this year, out-of-the-blue, inviting me onto a 12-week intensive painting programme. The course was principle-based, meaning the content was applicable to any of the art disciplines. A ton of techniques were included, the better to apply these principles. There was also a very supportive private Facebook group.

It was certainly intensive, the programme. And difficult for me in a number of ways. I was to be painting in series, using acrylics and on small 12″x12″ wood panels. I’ve not been accustomed to working in series, have never worked on wood panels and was accustomed to oil paints, rather than acrylics. Add to that I’d lost dexterity after so long an absence from painting (it felt like my fingers were arthritic throughout a lot of the programme). Gradually, I got the feel back.

I wasn’t able to complete all the modules by the end of the programme. I wasn’t the only one. Thankfully, all the modules, which include the many videos originally presented live via Zoom, are available for a full year.

A bonus for me is that the paintings will transmigrate into works on fabric.

Another bonus was getting to know other artists on the programme. Though international, several other artists are based quite near to me in real life and so I’m enjoying making new friends with similar enthusiasms.

Acrylic paints today are more eco-friendly. And one of the video presentations dealt with the disposal of acrylic paint leftovers in eco-friendly fashion. One method was a foolproof way of not ending up with any leftover paint at all, leaving only the very diluted paint in the pot of water used to dilute the paint and clean the brushes. I’ll go into this in detail in another post.

The painting above is one of a series of three. I have several series on the go. For me, that’s prolific!

It seems to be a year for series. Just before my invitation onto the painting programme dropped into my email box, I started another kind of series. I’ve not posted much on the blog this year. In respect of eco-printing and natural dyeing, I decided to start a series of writings taking a single plant and exploring it in detail – from as many perspectives as I could find. I decided to start with Nettle. In my research, I dredged up so much information on nettle, however, that it’s threatening to become a small book! And is taking a lot of time to finalise.

I was busy earlier this year studying and singing Puccini’s Messa di Gloria, which is a sort of series, of songs and choruses.



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Natural Dyeing and Eco Printing in Winter: Honesty and Hops I

“And herbes coude I tell eke many on,
As Egremaine, Valerian, and Lunarie,
And other swiche, if that me list to tarie,
Our lamps brenning both night and day,
To bring about our craft if that we may,
Our fournies eke of calcination,
And of waters albification.”
William Chaucer

Fresh plant material to harvest for natural dyeing and eco printing isn’t as plentiful in winter. With some forward planning, however, you can gather and store leaves and flowers for winter use. I have stashes in presses, frozen and layered between sheets of paper. I have a bucketful of orange onion skins and another of red, for onion dye baths; and also a bucketful of avocado skins and stones.

In the slideshow are images of some weld-dyed linen and silk and some eco prints, or – more accurately – resist prints, on silk, using seed heads from Honesty plants, and Hop flowers. The Honesty seed heads are from plants I grew from windfall seeds I came across on a walk; the hop flowers are from a hop bine – also called garland – I bought to hang along the beam in my kitchen – and which are now in the process of being converted into a spider tenement.

If you’ve ever hung a hop bine you’ll know what a nightmare that is. Once delivered to your door, it needs to be left outdoors overnight to rehydrate. Even then, tons will drop while you’re hanging it – onto hair, clothes, table, floor and the hop flowers are sticky. Yes, hanging a hop bine can be seen as a kind of self-administered tarring and feathering. And if you have a cat who likes to be in the middle of whatever you’re doing, Puss will soon be sporting hop flower boots and in her vigorous attempts to discard them, will spread the sticky stuff around the house.

If, as well as a hop bine enthusiast, you’re also an eco-printer, you won’t, however, mind the mess; you’ll be happy to gather it all up to keep for printing – even off the cat’s paws. I got my hop bine from Castle Farm in Kent. This is the second hop bine I’ve bought from Castle Farm and they are massive so can be divided. And once installed, they last for years. An occasional spritz of water keeps them hydrated. And in my case, quenches the thirst, and provides showers for, my spider tenants.

Honesty (Lunaria biennis) is called Lunarie in the Chaucer quote at the head of this blog. Honesty has a variety of names:

“It is called Lunary and Moonwort, from the disk-like form of its great flat seed vessels, or their silvery and transparent brightness. This peculiarity accounts for its nicknames of White Satinflower, Moneyflower, and Silver Plate. – The Lunaria biennis is mentioned by Chaucer as one of the plants used in incantations …”

Richard Folkard: Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics: Embracing the Myths, Traditions, Superstitions, and Folk-Lore of the Plant Kingdom, 1884

The Rev Hilderic Friend, in his section John and the Devil, (Flowers and Flower Lore. London: W. Swan Sonnenschein, 1883) writes:

“The plant Honesty, or Lunary, … is one of those plants which ” naturally possess the power of putting monsters to flight”; an idea which will be easily intelligible when we consider that, just as the Evil Ones avoid the light, so the Lunary (from Luna, the moon) represents it. The Evil Ones, or Spirits of Darkness, hate the light, neither will they come to it lest their deeds should be reproved.”

Rev Hilderic Friend: Flowers and Flowerlore

Lunary, lune, loon, lunatic. It’s not surprising that Honesty – Lunary – was once used in a spell or incantation, and otherwise as a cure for lunacy.

I like this: There is a popular superstition that wherever the purple Honesty is found flourishing, the cultivators of the gardens are exceptionally honest.

I try for honesty, though I don’t know that I am exceptionally honest. But maybe it’s no coincidence that the seed heads of this plant came to me during a walk, were strewn across my way for me to notice, to harvest and cultivate and introduce into my garden? To cultivate and develop a greater honesty into my life?

I’ll write about hops next, in : Natural Dyeing and Eco Printing in Winter: Honesty and Hops II

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Japanese Anemone 2011

“No-one ever steps in the same river twice,
for it’s not the same river
and he’s not the same man.”

About a month ago, my computer crashed. I was about to buy a new one, but …

and I hadn’t been backing-up for some time.

Chaos, until the new one arrived. It wouldn’t be too bad. I had at least the work I’d stored on the external hard drive. I then found that my external hard drive didn’t work. I’d lost just about everything since the start of the millenium. But … I had a second external hard drive. I have been able to rescue much of what I’ve lost. And I will be opening up my comatose computer shortly, to see if I can discover its sickness and heal it. From now on, I will be working in the cloud.

An artist friend whose entire work was ruined a few years back in a natural catastrophe, took each damaged work and even fragment of work and turned it into a new work. To me, the rescues were more beautiful for the history of damage embedded and visible in the new piece.

And so I thought I’d like to revisit some images rescued from my own disaster. And Heraclitus was right – one can never step into the same river twice. For that particular present is no more and only accessible as memory, an encystment of memory, for each visit adds a layer to the previous. And at the time I took the photo above, I’d not heard of eco printing. That adventure was yet to come.

The photo above is of a Japanese Anemone that came with my previous garden. I inherited Japanese Anemones again in my current garden. Below are images of some eco prints I’ve made from the last of the flowers and some seedheads. They’re all either on silk or silk satin. Few flowers give up their colours, but may print well as resists. In the prints below the pink petals have printed grey. The gorgeous gold of the circles of stamina have however transferred beautifully.

The anemone is also known as windflower. This is because it is the wind that opens up the blossom, and gets rid of its dead petals. The metaphorical implications are enticing. Red and pink anemone flowers symbolise death or forsaken love. In George Ferguson’s Signs & Symbols in Christian Art, he relates how anemones are often depicted in images of the Crucifixion or alongside the Virgin Mary as she mourns the death of Christ, the red anemones included in these paintings symbolising the blood that Christ shed.The Rev Hilderic Friend in his Flowers and Flower Lore, writes in the chapter The Language of Flowers: “The frailty of the Anemone has led to its being taken as the emblem of Sickness. Pliny tells us that the magicians and wise ones in olden times attributed wonderful powers to this plant, and ordered that every person should gather the first Anemone he saw in the year, repeating at the same time this sentence: “I gather thee for a remedy against disease.” It was then placed in a scarlet cloth and kept undisturbed unless the gatherer became indisposed, when it was tied either round the neck or under the arm of the sufferer.”*

“Youth, like a thin Anemone, displays
His silken leaf, and in a morn decays.”

When gathered in the woods, they fade and droop almost immediately. Some have thought that their name was given them because they could not endure the wind. but Pliny tells us the reverse – viz, that they never open but when the wind is blowing. An English poet has alluded to this in the lines which follow:-

“And when I gather’d rushes, and began
To weave a garland for you, intertwined
With violets, Hepaticas, Primroses,
And coy Anemone, that ne’er uncloses
Her lips until they’re blown on by the wind.””

In his chapter The Fairy Garland he writes: “Although the Anemone is generally associated traditionally with Venus, it has also by some been made a Fairy plant, the elves having been credited with the work of painting the crimson veins in its petals. The flower is a natural barometer, and indicates the approach of the night season or of a   shower, by curling over its petals in a tent-like fashion. This was supposed also to be done by the fairies, who nestled inside the tent of their leaves, and pulled the curtains round them.

The Japanese Anemone originated in China. The kind in my garden is Anemone tomentosa and they develop large, pale pink flowers on tall branching stems. After flowering, they become fluffy seed heads.

*Be well warned, however: all anemones are toxic if eaten: to dogs, animals, and humans, because of a substance they contain (all members of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)) called anemonin. Their toxicity for humans is minor and eating them may cause minor illnesses such as vomiting and diarrhea. The juice, sap or hairs of the plants can also cause dermatitis, or skin irritation. In respect of animals, eating anemones can be irritating to mucous membranes, cause blisters, hemorrhagic gastritis, shock, convulsions and even death.

And on that cheerful note, I will close.

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A Lot of Edges Called Perhaps

“I have a lot of edges called Perhaps
and almost nothing you can call
Certainty.”   Mary Oliver

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Work in Progress

Sample of layered work on silk satin using a range of eco, botanical, contact printing methods from Kathy Hays Design courses, and using plant matter harvested from my garden.

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Natural Dyeing: Making Green

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Linen and Silk Samples Dyed with a Decoction of Dyer’s Chamomile Flowers

Chamomile appears in a number of chapters in The Rev Hilderic Friend’s Flowers & Flower Lore.

Under Flowers for Heroes, Saints, And Gods he writes that it is to St Anne – said to be the mother of the Virgin – that the Chamomile is dedicated. The botanical name of the Common or Dog’s Chamomile is Matricaria, and the flower seems to have been dedicated to St Anne from a fanciful derivation of this word from mater and cara, or “Beloved mother.”

Within Flowers And Showers: Trees and Electricity he notes: “Many are the plants which were … used to ward off the evil effects of the thunderstorm, … Some trees and plants, however, were peculiarly liable to the stroke of the electric current. … we find that in Eastern Prussia wreaths of Chamomile-flowers are hung up in the houses on St. John’s Day as a preservative against storms.”

In The Language of Flowers: “The peasantry in Switzerland make the Poppy reveal their future. … It has been remarked by some that the flowers chiefly employed for these purposes have a star-like form, as the Daisy and Chrysanthemum, and are employed because people believed them to be associated with those heavenly powers which were supposed to rule the destinies of men. … It is true that the Daisy used to be employed, and still is, in some country places in England and France; while in Germany the same flower is the favourite among the anxious maidens for prognosticating their love fortunes. In the same country the Chamomile is also employed for the same purpose. “When Goethe represents Margaret plucking the star-flower, and crying, as its last leaf falls, ‘He loves me!’ and Faust saying, ‘Let this flower-language be thy heavenly oracle!’ he traces all our drawing-room fortune-telling with flowers to its true source.”

In Flowers And the Dead: Fresh Flowers On Graves: “No flowers or evergreens are permitted to be planted on graves, but such as are sweet-scented: the Pink and Polyanthus, Sweet-williams, Gilliflowers and Carnations, Mignonette, Thyme, Hyssop, Chamomile, and Rosemary, … many other beautiful flowers are entirely left out, through want of fragrance.”

Under Wreaths and Chaplets: “We have spoken of the use of garlands among the Greeks and Romans. That many of their garlands were made of flowers and leaves whose sanctity was Eastern we know. Even in Rome such wreaths were called ‘Egyptian.’. Among the flowers chiefly used were … and yellow flowers generally, Chamomile, …”

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Eco Print on Silk

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Another Test Eco Print on Silk Satin

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Eco Print on Linen

Learning how to print on linen (not easy) and how to resist print. I like the leaves of the Turkish Sage. They remind me of the heads of dervishes, whirling.

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