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!