Month two and it's hot!

August 2018

We’re over a month in and it’s hot
Just give me another chance
This could be a new romance
Heat wave

Heatwave / Martha and the Vandellas

 Drawing in the evening light

Drawing in the evening light

I’m choosing my time carefully at the allotments. 

I’ve managed a few full days, but it’s been easier to work in the evenings when the temperature isn’t so scorchingly hot that my watercolours, painstakingly mixed, dry before I’ve had a chance to put them onto the paper.
***
There are clouds in the sky and at last a breeze. I place myself on the edge of a main path and started drawing. However, the sun being on its decent, is moving swiftly and the light changes every few minutes, which brings its own challenges.

 Bean Leaves in the evening light

Bean Leaves in the evening light

Two jays croak and cry their call while I can get completely lost in my work, again. I often forget I’m in the centre of London here, until from the south west, a helicopter’s rotor blades rhythmically slices through the peace and quiet. The breeze picks up and all of a sudden things come crashing down around me onto the path. I hesitantly turn round just as there’s another gust and suddenly the culprit is obvious, the bark from the tall London Plane trees that line the fence is falling off the trunks and tumbling down to earth.

***

It’s 10:20am Saturday morning. I’ve spotted one other person here so far, watering their plot, otherwise, there isn’t a lot of activity, yet.
My plan is to start understanding the plot boundaries, I pass forlorn apples that have dropped onto the ground to the utter glee of wasps, I see lavender awash with bees and butterflies.

The plots are a bit of a maze as I wander round I meet more people. I talk to J2 and I am cut a marrow and donated beans. I’m going to be torn between painting these beautiful vegetables and cooking them. If I’m lucky I’ll have time to do both. 

I sit with E2B for a while discussing the history of their plot, the process of getting the plot and how they tend it, every snippet told is fascinating to me.
As I leave, it isn’t the first or last time that I wish I was able to spend a full year working on this residency, not just part time, as and when I can afford time. I start to wonder about sponsorship again…

***

I am watching jam being made with gooseberries grown at the allotments, I learn and record the process. Intending to make it into a little artist’s book.
While I’m there we discuss how the plot is laid out, looking at notebooks recording day to day jobs and planting over the years, studying plot plans which I absolutely love. Plot plans are records showing the rotation of crops, these send me home with many ideas…

***

Saturday evening, clouds scurry by for, what feels like, the first time in weeks the rain has fallen and the temperature has dropped. The wind that steadily whips across the plot bring coolness. Clouds have turned a threatening grey and the heat that was so unrelenting is already slipping into a memory.

The sound of a breeze through leaves that edge the allotments, airplanes and distant sirens slide through when a momentary respite of the more playful wind allows.

It feels and smells very different here when the heat isn’t baking the earth. I am reminded of a new word I recently learned, Petrichor, ‘the pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather’.

This Saturday evening it’s quieter, people walk along the path at a faster pace.

 Writing, Painting one of the plots

Writing, Painting one of the plots

***

11am Saturday, I see only three people on plots but I hear so many more, rustling amongst the leaves as yet another promise of a hot day is borne out. I find dappled shade in the corner of Y1B. I throw fashion to one side and wear a hat I mistakenly bought a year or two ago. Again tucked away in the corner I can draw and paint undisturbed, thinking of nothing more complex than trying to identify the birdsong I hear. 

 Tiny plums fall around me like hailstorms

Tiny plums fall around me like hailstorms

Small plums drop from a tree is sited in the garden next to the allotments and which hangs over. They scatter around me.

As my arms become sticky with sweat flies on them, cabbage white butterflies float past and ants crawl over my pencil case. When the breeze picks up the plastic bottles sitting on top of the bean stakes dance and play their own tune.

***

I’m back on O6, this is my bedrock plot, I know O6 well, to every question I am given plentiful answers, to every query I am given history, to every rumble of my stomach I am given another fresh tomato! It is also where I leave my gardening/drawing seat and makeshift drawing board so that I don’t have to bring it along with me every visit. Today I sit in front of an espalier apple tree. 

 Espalier apples

Espalier apples

Hidden by trees children play on the plot behind, dipping in and out of water excitedly, squealing with delight and mock horror at spiders and bugs, trying to frighten one another with ever increasing large insects. O6 and I eat tomatoes warmed by today’s sunshine from the greenhouse while we take a break, there is nothing sweeter, more delicious, more fragrant than freshly picked fruit, particularly tomatoes from the vine, eaten seconds later.

***

 Under the shade of a Quince tree, I meet Harry

Under the shade of a Quince tree, I meet Harry

The day after I return and head to X2 where I sit in the shade of a quince tree on a bench. I’m visited by wasps, flies and Harry, an elderly chap with a personable character, a mongrel who has been sitting on G5 but meanders over to see who I am and if approved of. I didn’t realise how grateful I would be when first offered the use of chairs and benches by plot owners, although I have a drawing stool a bench offers me space to sit and put my paints and pencils down. And a back rest is sometimes a bonus.

Harry sits next to me and his owner appears. I learn how and when to prune soft fruit trees, as I am handed a greengage and although it’s incredibly tempting to eat, I must take it away to draw first.

 Figs

Figs

Shortly afterwards I am offered a fig straight from the tree, when I say this also has to come home to be drawn first I am offered a second and sit in a delicious dream as I eat this sun warmed fruit. With less than a minute from plot to palette its sweetness seeps into my very being.

 Aubergine

Aubergine

Next I am delivered a perfect shaped aubergine, but as this is going to be X2’s supper I don’t get to take this one home! I need to record this perfect specimen. I am frustrated and challenged by using watercolours which dry too quickly for me. I battle on, and work with pen on top of the watercolour to bring more structure into the piece.

I return the aubergine to X2 and I am handed a number of windfall cooking apples which I cook up that evening. As I turn to leave we spot a sparrow hawk swooping into the tree on the allotments’ boundary.

Arriving on Y1B the kettle is on and we sit to discuss the plot, I ask pre prepared questions but the conversation flows its own way and it is obvious that along with the other plot holders I have spoken to, Y1B love their plot, from the produce they grow to the sanctuary and happiness that comes hand in hand with the hard, but rewarding, work.

I return to O6 and am met by my new eight year old friend from O7A. She is interested in my drawings and paintings which I show her and we head off to her plot to draw together. I am on my stool, she on a chair beside me, while her four year old sister sits beside us, surprisingly quiet, watching. As her parents work on the plot we start to draw a rhubarb leaf together, the same leaf from different angles. We talk and work on our drawings discussing the leaf shape, marking out an outline shape so that we can correct it as we realise that elements are the wrong angle or in the wrong place. We both have our diagram and begin to draw detail, looking and studying together. She asks me questions about the leaf, how to draw it but she actually needs little help from me just the occasional piece of guidance. I look over to her drawing, there is such sensitivity, and such careful drawing I am delighted to sit and watch for a moment. We both work with coloured pencils, before starting to use colour we do a little work on how to merge colours, using blue and green to produce a darker, deeper green, and yellow and green (or blue) to produce a lighter, brighter colour. We also work with the weight of the pencil, lightly to let more of the white paper shine through, and heavily which covers the white paper to give a darker feel. Drawing together I have completely lost track of time and soon it is time for the family to go. My plot drawing partner finishes her piece, although I suggest she doesn’t rush it her enthusiasm takes over and  she is determined. I meanwhile leave mine officially ‘unfinished’ but in a state that I am happy with. I like drawings that don’t appear ‘finished’, they lead the mind to fill in and explore what’s missing. It’s a technique I sometimes use through choice.

 Rhubarb leaves. L's leaf left, my leaf right

Rhubarb leaves. L's leaf left, my leaf right

I am really impressed by the drawing of my new friend, she has worked hard and conscientiously and has produced a drawing she can be proud of. I’m sure I have gained as much enjoyment from this experience as she has, we hope to do it again. 

As I walk away into the evening light I am handed a beautiful bouquet of herbs, fresh mint, sage and rosemary, a wonderful gift.

 My herb bouquet

My herb bouquet

 

 

The first month of my residency

July 2018

Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city
- Summer in the city // Lovin’ spoonful

 Drawing in the shade

Drawing in the shade

I’m sitting on an old wooden chair on O6. Hiding from the blistering midday sun in the shade of the tree. She’s growing veg and that’s what I start drawing, but I have no idea what vegetables they are.

 Drawing vegetables

Drawing vegetables

In the distance the usual city backdrop of sirens carries on, but here, in this space, it’s calm and peaceful. There’s a rustling as a light breeze plays with the leaves while insects and butterflies silently flutter by. The sky is blue without a cloud, so no momentary respite from the sun.

Just like in my garden at home, there are old sash window weights by the side of the plot. I’ve kept ours because they look so useful, but whatever that use is has escaped me, perhaps I’ll find out what it is here.

The smell of hot sun baking the earth is so reminiscent of my childhood that the memories of my grandfather working in his allotment, memories from about 50 years ago, come flooding back. The heat on the earth has its own special scent.
I wished my grandfather and I had shared a common language, we used basic sign language and smiled at each other a lot, but we also spent companionable silences together on his allotment. If we’d shared a language I probably wouldn’t be sitting here unable to identify what it is I’m drawing.

 My insect attracting lanyard

My insect attracting lanyard

The bright yellow cord of my lanyard is attracting a number of little beasties who find the vibrant colour irresistible. A white butterfly and bee drift around me, but soon realise I have nothing other than perspiration to offer in the way of food. As they work away to their own timetable, mine slows down and relaxes. This is the perfect place to be to draw, I can lose myself in spaces and feelings like this, lose myself in the drawing, become completely in tune with the moment, what I’m doing now, and nothing else intrudes on that feeling or space. It’s not often I’m able to work like this, without interruption or my mind wandering, so it’s very special to find that I can tune in so quickly to that feeling at the allotments.

As I draw and time passes I’m beginning to realise what a formidable task I have ahead of me. I could easily become overwhelmed by the numerous things I want to draw and the season won’t last long enough for me to record everything. I could spend a year just drawing one plot, watching, sketching, recording growth and then decay. The sheds and signs intrigue me, but that’s definitely a subject for winter. The patterns of raised beds and rows of different leaves are beautiful. 

 Plant beds

Plant beds

And as I contemplate this, the metal end of my pencil has become so hot it’s difficult to handle.

 Drawing Sweetpeas

Drawing Sweetpeas

Another visit, in the evening, it’s still hot but there’s far more activity on the plots. The trickle of water is everywhere, surrounding me as people arrive to hydrate the earth. I’m sitting down, between artichokes and sweet peas, I can hear the allotment near to me on the left as it’s being irrigated. The pattering of water on leaves. That doesn’t stop numerous insects from landing on my arm and probably drinking jewels of sweat.

Drawing sweetpeas during my Artist in Residence at Highgate Allotments Association. Working in real time.
 Sketching an artichoke

Sketching an artichoke

I’m one of those people that find I need to take some time to wind myself up ready to talk to a lot of people. I’m not naturally outgoing, I’ve been described as a public introvert and a private extrovert and that feels like a good description. But, sometimes we just have to put ourselves out there and be brave and determined. I thought the annual allotment BBQ would be a good opportunity to show my work and introduce myself and my project to the allotmenteers.

It’s always a little disconcerting to put yourself and your work on the front firing line, nothing between you and unusual comments you don’t have a ready answer for. When an artist puts their work that they’ve spent hours working with on public display, it’s like putting your inner most secrets on show.

However, the allotmenteers I met were generous, many had read the newsletter and knew that there was a new artist in residence, so were ready to impart useful information, history, stand with me and chat. Those that weren’t aware of my residency were equally welcoming and interested to listen to my explanatory chat about my plans for the next year. I couldn’t have hoped for a friendlier audience.

Conversations were incredibly varied, there are so many different personalities, backgrounds, jobs and interests that are drawn together in allotments. It’s so exciting to find I have this ready source of fascinating information in this space. One person offered to help me identify the botanical names of plants, but I had to own up I was struggling to identify the common names so that was perhaps going to be outside of my remit and requirements! I even get a chance to talk to someone about my Bay Leaf Curl at home, but they didn’t have any folklore remedies to help me.

As the smells of the BBQ drifted towards my table by the shed, a plate of cooked vegetables also drifted over, along with a glass of wine. There were so many gestures of friendship and kindness in my day, I was moved by the generosity of spirit.

However even with a parasol I was finding the heat somewhat oppressive and regularly moved my table with work on, to hug the shade of the shed, with the occasional breeze attempting to play with my work and whipping away one or two of my artist’s books when I wasn’t keeping a close eye.

As the afternoon turns into the early evening the BBQ packs up and I see baskets full of stunning home grown produce and flowers, walking out through the gates. All of these I’ve missed a chance to draw!