Monday, November 10, 2014

Time to explore

Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

Chris is very good at finding places that I just adore. The Weald and Downland Open Air Museum is a collection of very old buildings that have been moved here from all over the country and preserved as a complete town. The scent of woodsmoke drifted over the village, and I sat in the winter sun and sketched until bits of me went numb. 

Weald and Downland Open Air Museum

There were people here whose whole purpose was to wander round in costume and talk to visitors. I think this might be my dream job. And I just love those timber framed buildings and interesting brickwork.

Jelly fungus

My other current obsession is fungi (see previous posts) and I was pleased to add a couple of new ones to my collection, including these Jelly Ears.

The potting shed

There were some charming little scenes set up in the houses, and you could imagine that any moment the gardener was going to walk through the door. It appealed to my love of preserving garden produce - the strings of onions and garlic hanging up and the neatly stacked fruits are a bit of a dream of mine really. One day I would love to have a pantry where I can store dried vegetables and jars of home made jams.

Chickens and grain store

I can't help comparing life then with our lives now: rushing from one thing to the next, sending emails and writing reports, so busy that we have to do our shopping online and get it delivered. Don't get me wrong, I love the life we live and I am very lucky in so many ways. And I wouldn't change our centrally-heated home with electricity and running water for any of these cottages, however charming they are. But I think there is a lot to be said for living in harmony with the world around us, following the pattern of the seasons and using our natural resources wisely. 


I thoroughly enjoyed our morning exploring here, and I'm glad that we get the time to do things like this. Maybe modern life isn't so bad after all.

Monday, November 03, 2014

To be a better sketcher

Lugley House

Making sketching a regular part of my life became a resolution in 2012. My production schedule has gone up and down depending on other things are going on at the time, but two years down the road I find I am consistently filling a journal every couple of months. My loved ones are very good at waiting for me while we are out ("hang on a minute, I need to sketch this") but I am also getting more confident about standing on street corners and sketching on my own.


I'm also trying to record a bit of the world around me. If I only draw when I've got something pretty in front of me, it'll make nice pictures but I'd like to do more than that. I've lived in the same town for most of my life and I can already see changes from when I was younger...I have a feeling that in 20 years' time the sketches of shops and buildings will be interesting reminders.

Cafe Isola

And it's all practice isn't it? Even my worst sketch is better than one that never makes it on to the page. With each sketch that I do I feel like I am getting closer to SOMETHING. I'm not sure what that is, yet. People have commented on my 'style' but I don't think I've worked that out yet. There is still so much to learn. Still so much to sketch.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Too far gone

I think not posting anything since July qualifies me as a terrible blogger. I could go back and re-cap everything since then, but really I think it's too far gone. So instead, I shall start again with the best of intentions and see how far I get this time.

1.11.14 Autumn walk

It's been warm. Really warm. Like wearing t-shirts in October warm. Which is wonderful, if slightly confusing. We finally reached the end of bee-keeping season and the girls are settling down for the winter, which means we get weekends to go off and explore and DO STUFF. Mostly, this has been going for walks, seeing lots of amazing things, and generally having a wonderful time.

Honeybee on ivy

The honeybees are making the most of the long autumn and stocking up for winter.

Red squirrel

Autumn is a great time to see wildlife, and the red squirrels here made my day. You'd think that living with small fluffy animals, I wouldn't want to see more of them. But I do, oh I do. I loved noticing the differences between the squirrels and our degus, even down to the fact that the squirrels will come right up to you for food and yet it took us MONTHS to get the degus to eat out of our hands.

Birds feeding

I don't really think of myself as a bird-watcher. But as we go out and about, I find that I always want to know what things are. What's that bird? That tree? That plant? And the more I know, the more I want to know. Which might be why I've joined so many Isle of Wight nature groups on Facebook. I want to know ALL THE THINGS.


The last few weekends have been full of wonderful things. I'm quite emotional about it really - there's so much beauty around us and I love that we have the time to enjoy it together.


I love noticing all the little details, and feeling like we're making the most of every minute of this glorious autumn. These are good days, my friend.

Fly Agaric

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Round Up

I knew that the early summer months would be busy for us, and I wasn't wrong. We've both been busy with work, and our bee empire is expanding well and takes up most of our weekends. The summer term has been and gone and we are into the holiday season here, which changes work for both of us. We still have a few more weeks of busy-ness before our own break at the end of August.

The bees have (mostly) stopped swarming and begun producing honey in crazy abundance. This is such a good year and we are very lucky to be taking advantage of it. We have hives in new locations which are doing really well and also give us space to expand if and when we need to. I've learned more in the last couple of months than I would have thought possible - about combining colonies, dealing with laying workers, assessing viability, all topped off yesterday with a day's learning about queen rearing.

An unfortunate side-effect of being so busy with the bees has been that the allotment has suffered and we haven't grown as much as we'd have liked. There are only so many hours in the day and we've had to prioritise - the bees need us. It's a shame but I'm certainly not complaining! And we have still managed to grow some things - nothing tastes like fresh peas straight from the garden.

My sketchbook is full and still growing, but I am so far behind with scanning and posting things online that when I do get around to it there will be a deluge. I might leave that for the colder months to remind me how lovely summer was. 

In between all of this, the working and beekeeping, digging and tidying, picking and packing and putting things in jars...there have been so many moments of magic. Times when we went for a walk, had a picnic somewhere beautiful, or discovered a new place and enjoyed a beautiful view. And those are the times that remind me just how wonderful life is. 

You can see all the photos above on my Flickr page.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Stretching our legs

It's been a while since we went on a proper walk, and we certainly hadn't planned to this afternoon. But the weather was nice and we didn't have our beekeeping why not? I met Chris after work and we took a picnic lunch up to Brading Down. Lots of planes, microlights and autogyros taking advantage of the still, calm weather.


To work off some of the excess lunch we decided to stroll down, across and back up. We've done this walk before and there are always good things to be found. I didn't have my proper camera with me today but I was very grateful for my phone:


I do love bees. If I'm honest, I might love bumblebees a little bit more than honeybees. I mean, look at them! They're so cute and almost cuddly. And their ridiculous bodies that look far too big to can you not love a bumblebee? We saw so many all the way round on our walk, lots of different varieties as well which is quite pleasing. Definitely a sign of a healthy ecosystem.


Wild roses were out in bloom, and we also saw our first blackthorn. Late spring/early summer can be a tough time for honeybees to find forage as we traditionally get a 'June gap' when the early flowers stop but before the next ones blossom. But with blackthorn out already, it looks like we won't have to worry about that this year.


Chris and I have very different styles as we walk. He is very much interested in the animals and wildlife that we find, can tell what sort of bird is which and is always the first to spot something interesting like a lizard sunning itself on a leaf (we found one of those today too). I love to see all these things, but I also really love all the different plants and flowers that we see. I really want to get better at knowing what things are, and I think my next purchase is definitely going to have to be some kind of field guide to wildflowers. In the meantime, I shall settle for taking photos and identifying plants once we get home. I'm pretty sure this is the Common Spotted Orchid, but I'm happy to be corrected if anyone knows better! Quite a thrill to find as I've never seen it before, despite the 'common' in its name.


Even though we were walking on bridleways and established paths, the vegetation was so lush and overgrown that it felt as though we were exploring unknown territory. I could have easily stopped here for a long time and looked out at that landscape. I am constantly amazed by how beautiful this island is. 

Our path took us past a small farm in the middle of the woods that had peacocks - really - wandering around. And as we walked past them we noticed a kerfuffle in one of the trees nearby. As we watched, two young jackdaws emerged from their nest in the tree and took their first flight. Slightly uncertain and distinctly wobbly, they were shaky to start with and one of them even crashed into the undergrowth nearby and then had a hard time trying to extricate himself from some stinging nettles. We could hear their parents calling from the branches above, and finally a third fledgling popped out from the nest and flew precariously to a nearby branch. I was quite concerned about them, but as we watched they all seemed to get the hang of their wings and flew away. A magic moment indeed.


There was plenty more magic on our climb back up the hill: a group of four or five wrens hiding near a nest in the woodland; a baby rabbit that watched us get closer and closer before scampering to safety in the warren; and some neatly nibbled nutshells that are the sign of a dormouse - something Chris would dearly love to see. It felt good to stretch our legs and get out from the routine of Saturday beekeeping, and our efforts were definitely rewarded today.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Photo vs. Sketchbook

Wood anemones in Firestone Copse

I almost always carry my camera, and I definitely always have my phone on me. If I can't take a quick snap of something then I feel very lost indeed. I also generally have a sketchbook with me even if I don't have my full watercolour set. What I don't generally have is the time to sketch on the spot, especially if we are in the middle of a walk somewhere. I've been dithering a bit over putting sketches from photos in my journal, because it sort of feels like I'm not doing it 'properly'. Thankfully, I seem to have got myself over that now and I am enjoying transferring some of my favourite photos into my sketchbook.

0414 030 Firestone Copseweb

Like anything, it takes practice. I don't want my pieces to be photo-realistic because I don't have the time for that, but I guess I'm aiming for a certain amount of realism. Working in the comfort of home means I can also take the time to sketch in pencil first without adding ink, and I'm enjoying this new challenge.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Tea and scones

The trouble with sketching is that I need to sit down to do it. And I haven't yet got to the point where I feel comfortable enough to whip out a folding stool and leave Chris standing there while I do a quick sketch. Inevitably, this means that there is a fairly large number of food and drinks recorded in my sketchbook - mostly tea and cake. 

Tea and scones

Sometimes I feel self-conscious about it: "Oh no, I don't want to look as though all I do is eat." But hey, if it's good enough for this lady then it's good enough for me. 

More tea, more scones

This page at Dimbola was an experiment in working straight in with a paintbrush rather than sketching first. I found it very difficult and the blue pattern nearly drove me potty. Looking back with the benefit of a couple of month's hindsight, though, I can see things about this sketch that I really like - the shape of that vase at the back, and the shading on the cup which was an interesting shape. I should probably make the effort to work without a pen more often.