This month I have been painting Hot Air Balloons - one of my absolute favourite things to paint.
See the whole series and find out more here…
This month I have been painting Hot Air Balloons - one of my absolute favourite things to paint.
See the whole series and find out more here…
I have been painting from photos that I took on a visit to the Rhododendron Gardens near me.
This photo habit seems to be something we all share these days. Part of the joy of always having a rather impressive camera with you wherever you go.
But what do we do with all those photos?
Sometimes I wonder if we miss soaking in the beautiful sights directly because we are so busy viewing them through the camera lens.
On the other hand, I am delighted by the thought that in wanting to take a photo we are celebrating the tiny delights of our everyday lives.
The desire to record and collect them has to be a very good thing.
As good as our cameras are though, there is always that little something that the camera just can’t quite capture.
The warm breeze on our skin, the burst of sunlight through the branches that makes you squint, and the faint smell of damp earth. These are the things I remember when I paint. The camera may not be able to capture these things, but perhaps the painter can.
Actually, I’m not sure it matters if the painter succeeds or not in that regard. Time spent revisiting the happy places and memories is never wasted. The whole point I think, is the painting experience.
Connecting wth your subject through observation and memory using all your senses if you can is just plain good for you.
Perhaps you will turn out a masterpiece, perhaps you won’t, but either way I bet you’ll feel just that little bit happier.
To paint a thing, you have to really look at it it. The mass of giant blooms of the rhododendron bush is a joy. Take a closer look and you see that each flower is actually a clusters of blooms - a composite flower.
Every blossom a collection of many individually wonderful flowers, each a marvel on their own.
To me, each one is like a little party.
And what’s better than a party? Lots of parties on a huge single shrub.
What is better than a party shrub? A whole garden of party shrubs.
Yes indeed a celebratory place to be.
Choosing the images from my photos let me think about all the best aspects of the garden and of the day. Stunning blue skies peeping over the top of sunlit blossoms.
So many textures in the different foliage.
Ridiculously frilly edges to some petals, variegations on some leaves and for me, possibly best of all the abstract shadow shapes.
I do love a shadow. I love the light -that is the thing that inspires me to paint most of all. Often, the best way to show the light is to paint the shadows.
When you paint something, it is important to connect with what it is about that subject that you like enough to want to paint it. That thing that intrigues, fascinates or delights you. What painting is doing then, is helping us to savour the best moments.
Psychology researchers have shown that having an opportunity to savour the past helps us to be nostalgic and positive about that experience as well as helping us to be more optimistic about the future.
Learning to savour the good moments is a very useful tool in our happiness arsenal.
I have to say that certainly matches my experience painting this Rhododendron Garden series. Sure, I haven’t forgotten the part where the kids were bickering their way up the hill. But as I paint, I can smile more about that and let it fade gently while I remember the sunshine and the laughing more.
Painting the parts of the day that brought the joy then, brings the joy now, perhaps more.
If you can have compound interest, perhaps you can have compound joy?
Are you thinking of starting your own creative journey?
This free class will teach you all you need to know about watercolour supplies to get you on your way.
Did you know that elephants purr? Yes, a bit like a cat!
I learned so much investigating my painting subject for this month’s series. They are such magnificent creatures you can’t really help being curious, can you?
Aside from the iconic trumpet blast that we know, elephants not only purr but are thought to communicate with one another over long distances using a subsonic rumble. These messages travel faster over the ground than sound through air and are detected through their feet and trunks.
Elephants are the only mammal that cannot jump. And even when they run (which they can do at up to 25miles (40km) per hour) they always keep one foot on the ground at all times.
So maybe that’s how you get to be a symbol of groundedness and wisdom….
Elephant tusks are continually growing, so the older the elephant the longer the tusk. Just like most of us, elephants are not ambidextrous. A ‘righty’ will wear down the right hand tusk quicker than the left as they favour it for picking things up, stripping leaves from trees or fighting.
I can’t say I ever thought much about elephant toes until now, but did you know that elephants actually walk on their toes? Yes, big as they are research shows that they put the most pressure on the outer toes of their front feet and the least amount of pressure on their heels as they walk.
Asian elephants might have smaller tusks, but they actually have an extra toenail on each foot compared to African elephants. All elephants have one more toenail on the front feet than they do on the back feet.
We all have our weaknesses, but did you know that the mighty elephant’s weakness is the humble bee?
Apparently elephants are instinctively afraid of bees. (I just decided I love them even more.) Conservationists use this to their advantage by placing bee hives around land that they need to keep elephants clear of.
A fear of bees feels like a very human thing to me, and it is not the only human-like trait that elephants exhibit. They are very social creatures that form tight knit family groups lead by the oldest, often largest female. Go girls.
They are remarkably caring creatures. When a baby elephant cries all of the herd will go and tend to it, not just the mother. They also greet other herd members with touch, even wrapping their trunks around each other.
Elephants grieve. When one of the herd dies they show signs of sadness and grief and they mourn the loss of the loved one for many years after passing. Using their feet and trunks they gently touch the skulls and tusks in homage when they come across the bones of their dead.
When an elephants passes through a place where a loved one once died, it will stop. Its silent pause of remembrance can last for several minutes.
Elephants certainly are one of the world’s treasures. There is something so special about them which I don’t think I can do justice with words, but Peter Matheisson did.
I have spent a thoroughly lovely month learning about them and painting them.
Want to paint elephants with me?
I chose very simple supplies making these elephants an easy painting project even if you are new to watercolour or a reluctant sketcher.
Fresh flowers are a joy to paint. Their sweet little faces are such a thing of hope. At the time of writing this it is spring so there is an abundance of new blooms about.
But the reality is that new blooms appear year round. Seemingly eternal geraniums, marigolds in summer and plumbago in autumn. Even snow will not deter the little snowdrop.
It is this relentless optimism that I adore. The stuff of fresh starts. An endless string of new beginnings if necessary.
There is such relief in that idea, isn’t there?
These little blooms remind me of the persistence of hope. They seem to prove that there is always the chance to begin again.
Doesn’t it always seem like there is a new habit you are trying to form?
From a consistent sketchbook practice, to a daily step goal or learning to meditate there is always something to be working towards.
A good thing, of course, to be constantly improving. Conventional wisdom is to make sure you don’t ‘break the chain’ as Jerry Seinfeld famously counselled.
That’s sound advice, of course. Doesn’t make you feel marvellous when that chain does break though. With the best will in the world, life happens. So we also need a helpful way to approach this rather likely eventuality.
I think it is this - the important thing is not that the chain has broken but how quickly a new one begins.
Let’s take a cue from nature and remember that a fresh start is always there for the taking.
The chance to begin again.
No guilt at having faltered, just hopeful persistence.
This month I took a slightly different approach. Usually I decide on not only a subject and a medium but also a particular approach or style to follow for each painting in the series. However this month I felt feeling a little wilful. I wanted to explore a few different ways of painting tulips.
This got me thinking about routines and habits. I enjoyed giving myself a little more freedom. How often do we contain ourselves a little too much?
Routine is all well and good but sometimes it is good to change things up. We are always being encouraged to establish good habits, begin each day with a 'power hour' morning routine.
We have a seemingly infinite supply of books and blogs and podcasts that advise on how to do this and things you must do for that. With so much research at our fingertips it seems like we ought to find out exactly what to do before we begin. In moderation of course this is all well and good, but what about the joy of exploration and discovery?
And do too many instructive resources leave you feeling a bit paralysed?
Scared to begin in case you do it ‘wrong’?
There comes a point when you have to stop researching and just do.
Of course we can learn from each other but we should not undervalue our own creative possibilities.
Just because someone else does something a particular way doesn't mean that you have to or that your way won't work.
Because someone else did a b and c before d doesn't mean you cant get to d earlier in the piece.
Your own path is valid too.
Brightly coloured flowers are irresistible ... not just to painters.
Did you know that the blooms are particular colours in order to attract what they need? Most flowers need the help of pollinators to reproduce. Bees are attracted to blue and violet flowers, while butterflies prefer bright pinks and reds, or yellows and orange shades.
Just as it is with us, the way the flower presents itself to the world attracts its tribe. The energy we put out influences what we receive.
Painting blooms and their bugs got me thinking about relationships. Blooms and their pollinating bugs need each other. These are the best kind of symbiotic relationships. Biologists call this mutualism - each party benefits from the relationship - just like the best friendships.
Every gardener delights at the sight of a ladybird in the garden. The little ladybird in her quiet unassuming way does a great deal for the plants. She can munch her way through many an aphid and her bright orange and black markings are actually a natural deterrent to some birds that may harm the flowers.
There are other relationships in nature known as commensualism where only one party gains from the relationship. A tree orchid for example, gains support and partial shade from the tree without causing it any harm. It made me wonder if it is possible to have a human relationship like that.
Can we have an exchange with another person that does not affect us in any way... or is it true that there is no such thing as a truly unselfish act?
One thing I do know is that not all our relationships will be beneficial. Just like in the garden - not all the bugs will be ladybirds. The odd pest is inevitable.
Most of us can identify the relationships we have that deplete us. At best we can remove ourselves from them completely. Unfortunately this is not always possible. But every garden can cope with a pest or two - so can you.
As long as we have enough of the positive, supportive relationships around us we have greater resilience to cope with the challengers. Like a butterfly in the garden, a good friend will brighten your day. Her warmth can lighten your heart and nurture your soul.
Sure, your best friend might not chomp the head off your foe - ladybird style, but she will buoy you up to handle what comes your way. Her support and understanding is enough to give you courage and strength when you need it.
So have a look around your garden today.
Identify the relationships that do not serve you well so that you can eliminate or minimise them.
And always cultivate your butterflies....
Explore more of this series in the shop - come and see if your favourite still available.
Roses can be one of the most challenging flowers to paint - intimidating!
But they are so beautiful, how could I not give it a try?
If you can approach it with a glad heart and a brave brush, painting offers an opportunity to embrace imperfection. And I am learning that the subject often chooses the artist, as it usually carries a message - a lesson not only in painting, but also in life.
I would be lying if I said I didn't worry that my loose watercolour style would not do all those immaculate layers of petals justice. A careful and accurate botanical drawing was my first instinct. However … careful and accurate… not exactly my way!
But one of my beliefs is that even a loose approach to painting should be able to capture the essence of a thing.
In fact, to me, that is rather the point.
So if it is true in painting that you don’t need to be perfectly precise to achieve an outcome, is this true in life?
I very much hope so. It means that if you fumble over your words when you are trying to console a friend, the chances are she understands what you mean anyway. You gave her some comfort even if you didn’t find the perfect words, or get them in exactly the right order.
Some of our parenting moments are prouder than others... it's not just me... is it?
A child does not need absolute perfection in their parents to grow up happy and healthy and know that they are loved.
Sometimes I think we fool ourselves into believing that you have to do something brilliantly in order to do it at all. That level of perfectionism stops us from trying anything new and limits our avenues for joy.
Where would we be if if we didn’t allow ourselves to write a bad poem or bake a cake that sinks in the middle. The joy is in the activity, the process not the final product. It is still fun to play with words and ideas, and I bet that cake was still tasty, sinkhole notwithstanding.
In the process we capture the essence of the experience - that is what we are really after anyway. Like the haphazard tangle of rambling roses, they are joyful expression, and truly beautiful.
Do you delight in the wildness of the rambling rose?
I do. Its long-stemmed cousin might be the florist's choice, and it has an elegant beauty too, of course. But there is such joy and abandon in the informal branches, leaves and blooms.
It might be an imperfect jumble and even have a thorn or two but it is always growing. Always striving. Ever reaching for the light. A chaotic thorny tangle does not preclude an exquisite bloom or two. In fact, it probably makes them seem even more lovely.
True for roses, true in life. Even when our lives get to be especially busy, messy or difficult there will still be at least one tiny bloom of joy somewhere.
The persistent rambling rose will continue to reach up any structure it can. Such a symbol of hope and perseverance.
I love to see a wild rose climbing a man made structure. The contrast of cold, strong steel and gentle blooms and petals seems to carry a message.
Find your strong support.
Let it hold you.
Be flexible enough to embrace imperfection in order to grow.
Follow the light and never stop reaching.
What should you do when you long for spring? Try these suggestions to bring joyful spring colour into your day no matter what time of year it happens to be
It is an enchanting idea to me that flowers express themselves so clearly that they have become recognised symbols of their own energy. They are, to me, a hopeful representation of the notion that if we could be truly ourselves, without the shroud of our doubts and fears and unobscured by our 'shoulds', that self expression would be effortless and that we would be completely understood.
There is a language, little known, Lovers claim it as their own. Its symbols smile upon the land, Wrought by nature's wondrous hand; And in their silent beauty speak, Of life and joy, to those who seek For Love Divine and sunny hours In the language of the flowers. –The Language of Flowers, London, 1875
We have been attributing meaning to flowers for so very many years that the 'language of flowers' now even has its own name - floriography. Victorians sent coded messages using flower arrangements. For example;
roses symbolise love
daffodils symbolise chivalry
lilies symbolise beauty
daisies symbolise purity and innocence
gerberas symbolise cheerfulness
The colour of the flower conveys meaning too.
red - passion and love
orange - expansion, growth, and warmth
yellow - clarity, truth and intellect
green - renewal, growth, hope, health and youth
blue - dreams, inspiration, tranquility
indigo - emotions, depth, intuition and expressive moods
violet - royalty, nobility and spirituality
If you are in the mood to explore the language of flowers a little further, Kate Greenaways' Language of Flowers is available to read online for free here. Vanessa Diffenbaugh has a more modern Flower Dictionary as well as a charming novel, The Language of Flowers.
The lotus is a mystical, ancient flower. It is native to Asia and Australia, and it is no ordinary plant. It seems to have super powers most other plants do not.
For example, the lotus is able to regulate the temperature of its flowers much like warm blooded animals regulate their body temperature. The lotus plant can live for a thousand years. The seeds are also remarkable. A lotus seed that was approximately 1300 years old was successfully germinated in 1994.
It is small wonder that it is a significant spiritual symbol in multiple cultures. Hindusim, buddhism and the ancient Egyptian civilisation all associate the lotus with purity, beauty and enlightenment. While each draws a slightly varied meaning from the lotus there is much similarity in the fundamentals of the underlying association as Dean Ravenscroft explains in this article.
One of the fascinations of the lotus flower is that no matter how murky the pond in which it grows, it always emerges clean and beautiful. Some ancient scholars believed the lotus closed its petals and sank beneath the water at night to rise from the water in the morning. Accordingly, it is sometimes associated with rebirth. In reality, the bloom rises from beneath the surface over a period of three days and then blooms in the sunlight.
The roots of the plant are in the pond bed, the leaves float on the surface, and large strong stems raise the blooms several centimetres above the surface of the water. The plant can grow very large - from 1.5 to 5 metres tall and 3 metres wide. Some lotus flowers can be 20cm in diameter.
The lotus also has more practical uses beyond its symbolic, spiritual value. All of the plant is edible, leaves, flowers, stems, seeds. In traditional Chinese medicine, eight separate parts of the lotus flower are used for a variety of ailments, especially those relating to fevers, irritability and bleeding.
The lotus appears in different colours. In Buddhism, each colour carries a different symbolic meaning:
By now, you might be wanting to grow and care for a lotus flower of your own. If so, you will probably want to head over here for some helpful tips. But if that sounds like too much hard work.... you probably just want to look at some photos of beautiful lotus flowers... try this instead.
You know and I know that flowers just make us feel better. Actually, they make us perform better too. You can boost your creativity, productivity and memory by ensuring that your environment contains plants.
At the Chelsea Flower Show in 2013, the Identity Realisation research group at the University of Exeter carried out 90 experiments in association with Indoor Garden Design. Results from the 350 participants that took part in the study show that allowing staff to make design decisions in a workspace enhanced with office plants can increase well-being by 47%, increase creativity by 45% and increase productivity by 38%.
An earlier study by Robert Ulrich found that workers demonstrated more innovative thinking, generated more ideas and came up with more creative solutions to problems in an office environment that included flowers and plants, relative to those in an office with no flowers or plants. And of course, plants and flowers improve the quality of the air in the office which also contributes to the improved well being and productivity of the workers.
In this study by Ulrich, the men generated more ideas than the women when the work environment included flowers. However, the women exhibited greater creativity and contrived more flexible solutions to problems when flowers were present in the environment.
According to Sherry Burton Ways, the integration of plants in offices has been proven to reduce absenteeism and stress levels and lower blood pressure. Other proven benefits include lower noise levels, lower room temperature and reduced humidity.
It would be a mistake to think that design decisions are nothing more than superficial and that decorating your work environment with flowers is frivolous. Scientific studies have repeatedly shown improvement across measures of psychological comfort and business performance in spaces that incorporate natural elements such as plants and flowers.
So get yourself a cheery plant or fresh flowers for your work environment and raise your creativity and productivity. It has to be worth a try, surely?
Explore more of the Flower Faces series
Flowers are designed to get attention. That's probably why we love them. Those bright colours certainly can lift our spirits but they serve a very specific purpose. The point of the flower is to attract pollinators.
Insects, birds and bats are all pollinators. Insect pollinators include ants, bees, beetles, butterflies and moths. Honeybees do more pollinating than any of the other insects. Purple is the bee's favourite colour. (It's mine too. Sensible bees.) Bees are attracted to purple flowers more than any other colour of flower.
The honey bee aims for purple flowers for an excellent reason. Purple flowers contain more nectar than other flowers. So it makes sense that if the bee is genetically primed to seek out purple flowers they have the best chance of survival. It is a symbiotic relationship. Likewise, the flower that has the showiest purple flowers increases its chance of pollination and also improves its chance of survival.
Butterflies prefer bright pink, red, orange and yellow flowers, while hummingbirds are attracted to red, fuschia, pink or purple blooms.
Flowers that bloom at night tend to have less vivid colours. These flowers tend to be pollinated by bats and moths, and there is little sense in their having beautiful colours that won't be seen in the dark. Instead, these flowers are heavily fragrant, using scent to attract their pollinators, rather than colour.
Interestingly, the honey bee doesn't actually see colours in the same way that we humans do. Bees see colours in ultraviolet. Primary colours to the human eye are red, green and blue. But to bees, primary colours are blue, green and ultraviolet. While the studies don't all agree on what the exact colour spectrum is through the eyes of a bee, they all agree that bees cannot see red. To a bee, red is seen as black.
We have been learning about the bee's view of the world from about the early 1900's and the work of Karl von Frisch. If you are looking for more recent investigations of the sensory perception of the bee you might want to start with Lars Chittka from Queen Mary University of London.
But on a more practical note... if you are wondering what colour to paint your hive..... go here!
Is there anything more cheerful than a bowl of Gerbera daisies? Daisies can be something of a humble, understated little flower, but the Gerbera is not easily overlooked. In fact, I think they look a little bit fancy.
They come in a glorious range of bold colours and can be single, double, quilled or crested double. See....? Fancy!
Like me, the Gerbera comes from Africa. It was discovered by a Scotsman, Robert Jameson, near Barberton in South Africa in 1884. My grandmother used to call them Barberton daisies. Now I know why...
Gerberas come in an impressive range of vivid colours. With their beautifully large heads and thick, sturdy stems they are an excellent choice of cut flower, that lasts well in the vase. In the garden they are perennial only in the warmer climes - tough winters are too much for African beauties.
All daisies are associated with innocence and purity. Gerberas have the added association of cheerfulness. But their benefits go beyond brightening one's day. They are effective at removing some chemicals from the air like the tricholorethylene that is used in dry cleaning. They also filter out formaldehyde and the benzene that comes with inks. So not only are they merry and bold, but Gerbera daisies may actually be decreasing our risks of cancer, asthma, allergies and auto immune diseases.
We are probably all aware that most plants absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen during the day. However, unlike some other plants, Gerbera daisies continue to do so at night. This means that having a Gerbera daisy plant in your room at night can increase the level of oxygen in the room resulting in a better night's sleep.
Columbia and the Netherlands are currently the largest suppliers of cut Gerberas. The Gerbera daisy is the world's fifth most favoured cut flower. In case you are now wondering, the four most popular cut flowers in the world are rose, carnation, crysanthemum and tulip, in that order.
So go on, brighten your day, breathe a little easier - get yourself a Gerbera Daisy...
If you set about drawing flowers, it isn't long before you hit upon a daisy. In fact, a daisy might be the very first flower that comes to mind.
The daisy has been appearing in artwork for quite some time - carvings dating back as far as 3000BC depict our beloved daisy. And the daisy predates us humans by quite a considerable period. Daisies appeared shortly after the demise of the dinosaurs about 50 to 60 million years ago.
I have to admit, I tend to only think of the yellow centred, white petaled variety as a daisy. That gave me pause today. I do love white flowers. But today I didn't really want to paint a white flower. I'm not sure why this troubled me at all - I am putting a face on the daisy.... Having made that leap from reality... surely the colour I choose for the petals seems neither here nor there!
However, I did some research and found to my delight that the daisy comes in so very many stunning forms and colours. There are over 4000 species of daisies. Daisies are found everywhere in the world except for Antarctica. They survive in both wet and dry habitats. Daisies have a biennial life cycle, meaning they last for two years. Some of their relatives include echinacea, arnica, artichokes and endives. If you want to see some wonderful photographs and learn more about the delightful daisy head over to this rather glorious website.
The daisy is said to have been Queen Victoria's favourite flower. Not only has it featured in artwork, it has inspired many a poet. Euripides, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Shelley, and Wordsworth to name just a very few.
It was Goethe's Marguerite who first pulled the petals from the daisy saying 'he loves me, he loves me not'. That cute, romantic notion has endured. In 1892, Harry Dacre wrote the song Daisy Bell which we all know....
Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do...
For a humble and commonly found flower, the daisy is certainly an impressively significant and enduring symbol.