My neighbour sent me a video of an iris he is cultivating on his balcony. It is a very special iris, a Benton Deirdre. He describes it as “bred by artist and plantsman Sir Cedric Morris in 1945. Rose pink standards and ivory falls with lilac red margins.”
It is special also because it managed to bloom on the windy balcony high up on this tower block. He posted pictures on instagram, and then at my request, sent more pictures which I used as inspiration for a number of pictures. Here are some monoprints I made this morning.
On the left is the fire door, and on the right you see the carpet sweep up in a glorious curve to the underside of the window. This is a Barbican Feature, which is a challenge to carpet fitters.
At the bottom of the far wall, to the right, is the important box fastened into a power socket. This is the power line device which extends the WiFi internet through the re-inforced concrete walls of the brutalist building.
The chairs are “utility furniture” made in the 1940s and 50s, to standard designs making the most of scarce timber. New furniture was rationed at that time. I bought them in about 1998 from a shop in Brighton, and they’ve travelled with me.
Here is another view from the sofa, looking the other way.
Here you see my knitting, together with associated paraphernalia: instruction books, a bag, scissors and bits on the table.
That little table came from my parents’ house. The knitting wool came from Shetland.
The sofa came from the shop on the Tottenham Court Road that used to be called Habitat, and perhaps still is. It is long enough to lie on, full length. That was my criterion.
Just before Christmas 2018, our neighbour arrived at our door with an orchid. He was going away, and didn’t want to discard the plant. He told us he didn’t need to have it back, and we shouldn’t worry if it died. It came from M&S. We took it in.
We are not great gardeners. We just left it and it grew. Our neighbour returned from his holiday and said no, he did not want it back. And it kept on growing. Now it is a flourishing plant with several stems and multiple leaves. It lives in a tiny flower pot, with hardly any soil.
It threw out various extra stems and strange root-like protuberances, which seemed to be seeking new lands. I’ve been meaning to see if it would propagate. So last week I carefully embedded these extra stems in soil, as you see.
When I say “embedded in soil”, I am not strictly accurate. We live in a flat in a tower block, and there is no soil up here. So the orchid is rooted in coffee grounds.
If anyone knows anything about orchids, and can provide advice, I would be glad to hear it. This seems to be a particularly robust specimen, and produces flowers all the time. It is a delight.
Here is work in progress on the drawing.
I’m drawing in a large Saunders Waterford sketchbook. I originally bought it for urban sketching, but it was too heavy to carry about. I also found the huge pages, 11″ by 10″, meant I did huge pictures, which took a long time, standing outdoors in the cold. The paper is also more absorbent than I am used to, which means that my washes don’t go very far and I have to keep refilling the brush. So now, being at home, I am using it to make sketches in the flat, where I can sit down and be warm.
This sketch took about 2 hours, including hanging up the laundry while paint dried (another advantage of working indoors).
Colours: Prussian Blue (DS), Perylene Maroon (DS), Mars Yellow (DS), Burnt Umber (Jacksons).
Here is a postcard collage I sent to my friends in another city.
It is inspired by the website: sendmeapostcart.com, and shows the connections we make, the lines which bind us, the distances which separate us, and the pleasure I found in meeting this family again after many years.
The weather in the Jura mountains is changing. This is climate change, the residents tell me. Once, the snow came reliably every year, bringing skiers. Now, the snow is unreliable. “It shouldn’t be like this,” they said, looking out at the slushy rain. This is February: high skiing season. “It should not be like this,” they say again, sadly.
Here is a sketch made looking out of the window into the rain and melting snow. The lady at the Post Office added the stamp.
I made that picture with just watercolour: no pen.
The Hôtel de France celebrates the fine engineering expertise of the area with a collection of typewriters. There were several in the meeting room where we worked. Here is one of them.
This was a busy visit. My arrival had been delayed by a storm, and so work was compressed into a few hours. My next sketching opportunity was while I waited for a lift to the station.
Here is a machine that was used to make music boxes:
The machine is about 100 years old. It still works. It sits with its colleagues and companion machines in the workshop of Dr Wyss, in Sainte-Croix. Dr Wyss collected the ancient machines, as the music box industry declined in the region. They are now looked after in a dim and oily machine shop, in a semi-basement of an unremarkable building. Mr Théodore Hatt is their carer, curator and operator. I had the great privilege of spending some time in the workshop, quietly drawing, while Mr Hatt showed the collection to a visiting engineer from Germany.
The machines operate from huge and very dangerous-looking belts in the ceiling. At a certain point in his presentation, Mr Hatt sets all these belts in motion. They create a gentle rhythmic noise, rumbling down the length of the workshop. He connects different machines, driven by the belts. Each machine changes the noise slightly. His explanations, in German, come to me in harmony with the machine beats.
I drew the electroplating machine, and the drill:
Here are some work-in-progress photos, and a close-up of the cogwheel in the first picture:
On the way home, in Geneva airport, I drew the view:
From gate B32 Geneva airport
“Amidst runway fog a hawk circles and plummets. The crows are annoyed.”
At the Wellcome Collection there was a special exhibition on colour. It was called “The Pharmacy of Colour”. A short film pointed out that certain substances used as pigments were also used as medicine. A red pigment called lac, produced from grinding up lac insects, was also used as a medicine. Saffron is both a dye and a medicine. And the terribly poisonous Red Lead was also cheerfully described as a red paint on medieval manuscripts, mixed with egg yolk. Don’t lick the pages. It was also, alarmingly, used for treating intestinal disorders. A cabinet held jars of bright pigment, well protected behind glass. Yellow Ochre was there, and Ultramarine Blue, both of which I use. I’ve often wondered about the colours in my box, and the real chemistry behind the names.
Interesting though this was, it didn’t take long to look at, and it had been a long walk to the Wellcome Collection. So I went to their other current exhibition “Teeth”. This was mainly about dentistry through the ages. The images were alarming and I was unprepared. I found some of the exhibits calming though. Here is “Junior Dental Chair” from the 1950s. It reminds me of my very first dentist, Mr Gant. He must have had one of these. I can almost smell it, the leather at the back, and that hard, sculpted, bow in which you rested your head.
There were many people drawing in there. An art class, perhaps.
The equipment was strangely humanoid.
I read that “Patients from the 1960s and 1970s, when amalgam filling use peaked, are known to dentists as the “heavy metal generation”. That would be me then. Amalgam is mercury, silver, tin and copper.
I also read that “Tooth decay is the number one reason for child admissions to hospital.” I paused at that statistic. The woman next to me was reading it too. I commented that I found it surprising. She said it was because “People can’t afford to take their children to the dentist.” She spoke with authority. Dental charges have gone up, she explained. The hospital is part of the NHS and so is free of charge at the point of use. “So people wait until it’s really bad, and then take the child to A&E,” she said, speaking as though a practitioner. She smiled grimly and walked away. A strong woman, upright, informed, articulate, opinionated, caring. A dentist herself, perhaps, or an NHS administrator, or medical person, I thought.