Monday, July 28, 2008

The Long Border at Great Dixter

"Not a lot of room for weeds"
The Long Border at Great Dixter

12" x 16", coloured pencils in sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

One of the things I love best in gardens is a big long herbaceous border full to overflowing with blowsy perennials. Such borders came about as a nineteenth century response to over formal gardens and were then popularised by garden designers such as Gertrude Jekyll in the Arts and Craft Period of garden design (see Gardens in Art: Arts and Crafts Gardens #1.)

Jekyll's partner in many house and garden design projects was Sir Edwin Lutyens so it's hardly surprising to find that there's a long herbaceous border at Great Dixter as Lutyen worked in collboration with the owner in the design of some of the house and garden. Not surprisingly it's called The Long Border - and if you click the link you can see just how long it is relative to what is a large house.

Great Dixter - The Long Border
looking north west to the house

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

It's been my ambition to have a go at sketching it for a while - but to do so I had to first decide where was the best spot. Then once I'd decided that the Lutyens Bench at the top end of the path was probably the best place I then actually had make sure I could sit on it as it's ALWAYS got somebody sat on it! (This is a garden with very few seats.)

However last Friday a couple got up just as I arrived at the Long Border and I scurried up the path which you can see in the photo below right (who am I kidding - I nearly broke into a trot despite the dodgy feet!) and managed to sit down on it before anybody else had the same idea.

The Long Border, Great Dixter - looking south east to the Lutyens Bench
(High Garden to the left and meadow to the right)
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

The plein air sketch at the top is the result. The title for the sketch comes from the comments from an elderly couple who came and sat next to me. "Not a lot of room for weeds" was the wry comment of the elderly gentleman.

This sketch started off as massive shapes of hatched colour which I just kept refining and refining until the end result was the above sketch.

People ruminate about composition - but sitting on this seat there wasn't a lot of choice - except where to crop! However I was helped by the huge dark shape of the tree which really set off the bright colours of the pink phlox, yellow verbascum and coreopsis verticillata and red crocosmia 'lucifer'. I loved the way that there were lots of different natural forms which intermingled. I think I captured the sense of profusion - although I don't think I've done as well as I would have liked with the cardoons!

I confess I added some more colour when I got home and also added some more "drawing by battery eraser" which I find works so well for producing lighter values and cleaning up paler patches and splodges. It is also fabulous for making a mark - quite literally - in lots and lots of different ways to create the sense of the different shapes created by the planting.

One of the outstanding features of the Great Dixter garden at this time of year is the Verbascum - which apparently are self-seeding and which are everywhere! The particularly large one is called Verbascum Olympicum and was very much favoured by Christopher Lloyd and his head gardener Fergus Garrett.
The biennial V.olympicum (2m/7ft) .....makes a heavy candelbrum (we need to give each plant a stake) which braches generously near the top, making a powerful head of yellow bloom. Some visitors think we have too much of this but Fergus and I think otherwise.
Christopher Lloyd - Christopher Lloyd's Gardening Year - July p141
Verbascum Olympicum in the Long Border, Great Dixter
copyright Katherine Tyrrell


Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Rother Valley from Great Dixter

The Rother Valley from Great Dixter
pencil and coloured pencils in Moleskine

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

...or more precisely, this is the view of the Rother Valley from the car park at Great Dixter at Northiam in East Sussex.

Great Dixter has very many people who visit this superb garden as it metamorphoses through the planting season. The garden was originally designed by Lutyens. It has become a labour intensive garden with heavy planting latterly maintained by Christopher Lloyd with the help of Head Gardener Fergus Garrett and his team and, since Christopher's death in 2006, by the Great Dixter Charitable Trust.

Friends of Great Dixter (and I'm one of them) know that that the choice of available refreshments is not great. Hence a lot of people tend to picnic in the car park before starting their visit or after coming out of the gardens! After all we have all come from miles around to visit the garden - it takes us a complete day!

I made this sketch while I eat lunch - being an inveterate "eater/sketcher". I've always really liked this view - it's even better when it has sheep in the field! I think I prefer the perspective from further over to the right and I'm going to make a more formal drawing out of that view one day.

The gardens were as fabulous as ever - much more rampant than in April when we last visited (see Great Dixter in the Spring). The gunnera down by the river and next to the pond is simply ENORMOUS!

Tomorrow I'm going to post my sketch of The Long Border and will also include:
  • a plan so you can see thr layout of the garden and where I've sat to do my sketches of the garden to date.
  • a small selection of the photos I took so you get a bit of a sense of the garden.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Carluccios - 12 West Smithfield

Carluccio's, 12 West Smithfield
12" x 16", coloured pencils in sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I had dinner with my 30 something god-daughter last night. She was in town for a training course and we went out for dinner at Carluccio's in West Smithfield.
South west of the historic Smithfield Market and opposite St Bart's hospital. Farringdon, Barbican and St Paul's are all close by. Originally a wine merchants, dating back to the 18th century. Original shop front, columns and wooden ceilings have all been restored.
Carluccio's - 12 West Smithfield EC1A 9JR
I like Carluccio's a lot - nice Italian food in caffès which are always well lit without being over bright, simple in style plus nice food.

I had the Calamari Fritti and the Fegata e Patate and GD had the Insalata Verde com Parmagiano and the Tortelloni di Cervo plus we shared Zucchini and Spinachi and a bottle of red. You can find translations (and the alternatives) in the caffe summer menu (but careful it's a pdf file - and you'll have to salivate over all the different options for Primi, Antipasti, Insalata, Paste, Secondi and Contorni!)

The major problem with Carluccios is getting in and out of the caffè while passing through the food shop! There's always a temptation..........

I sketched a little before dinner arrived and then again at the end over cappuccino - and then got up early this morning and used my coloured pencils while my colour memory was still fresh. I had to use the clone stamp to get rid of the join and I'm now looking at that central column thinking I could do with knocking that back a bit value-wise.

My awful foot (which is currently on strike) survived the trip into town so I'm just wondering whether I dare trying to get out this afternoon..........


Monday, July 14, 2008

Drawing trees in St James Park

St James Park - the Lake View, with trees
32" x 12", coloured pencils in double page spread of sketchbook copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This is a sketch of a view of the Lake in St James Park from the Horse Guards Road end of the park - Duck island is on the left, Buckingham Palace is at the other end of this lake (beyond the Blue Bridge and obscured by the Swire Fountain and the slight bend in the lake) and The Mall runs parallel to the park off to the right of my view. 

Which means this is what it looks like right in the middle of London! (You can download a pdf file of a map of the park from the Royal Parks website if you want the layout of the park in more detail and to see its location relative to other landmarks.) 

On Saturday I attended a National Gallery workshop on the Anatomy of Trees workshop given by Sarah Simblet - which you can read about in Drawing Trees with Sarah Simblet on my other blog Making A Mark. We were briefed about strategies for drawing trees in the morning and then drew trees in St James Park in the afternoon - and my drawing at the top of this post was the product of my afternoon's drawing. 

I thought it might be useful if I tried to remember my thought processes for the decision-making that went on before and during the course of making the drawing which you see at the top of this post - hence what follows which is.......... 

An anatomy of a drawing  

One of things which I battle with at times (usually due to the time available) is drawing a mass of different types of trees - especially in summer when we're faced with huge masses and shapes of leaf laden trees. 

 As I'm particularly partial to drawing views and vistas I decided to have a go at a vista - incorporating a range of different masses and types of tree where there was recession without much in the way of colour change to see if I could capture this. Plus I also had colour changes which seemed to contradict recession! 

The masses of trees which surround the lake on either side were the real subject of this drawing. Trees are one of my favourite subjects to look at and draw although I always tend to think every time I draw them that I still have some way to go in developing my tree drawing skills - hence the workshop!  

What I ended up producing is probably the largest drawing (albeit over two pages) that I've ever done while working plein air. It measures 32 inches by 12 inches - across a double page spread of a new large landscape format sketchbook. (12" x 16" format). 

Before I started I thought about:

  • the scope of the drawing - and where to crop! I had to decided how much was I trying to do - and where the four lines around the edge of the drawing (see Composition - the four most important lines) were going to come. Double page panoramic drawings are quite interesting because of course you move your head during the drawing which of course then distorts perspective lines! Once I realised I might do a double page spread I had to work out where the right hand edge came and decided to crop into a rather nice lime green willow. I left the left edge rather more undecided when I started - figuring that this could be an academic question in any case - as I intended to start with the right hand half.
  • Thinking in threes: I thought about thirds - both for the individual pages and the double page spread as a whole. (see Composition - thinking in threes)
The 'rule of thirds' is an approximation of the 'golden ratio' A diagram comparison - using algebra and numbers of "the golden mean" and "the rule of thirds" plus identification of the 'sweet spot' area and how this can be used for the focal point

  • Focal Point: The fountain in the lake is a dominant feature as was the dip in the tree line behind as that was the point of maximum recession it so I needed to work out a position (see Composition and Design - finding and creating a focal point). It ended up being in the bottom left hand sweet spot of the eight hand side and bottom right hand side sweet spot for the double page spread. Neat - huh? ;) In this particular instance, my main area of interest lay on the right hand side - but not so much with the fountain as the trees. However placing the fountain/dip on a sweet spot avoided the distraction they would be if placed anywhere else.
  • Foreground "fringe": I had a whole wodge of reed beds and other very attractive greenery in the foreground skirting the front edge of the lake and had to decide whether to include it or not. I decided to ignore it - too complicated for the time available plus 'fringe' bottoms always tend to look very odd unless carefully planned.
While drawing, I'm still making notes and making decisions:
  • Directing the eye: This was a very wide format - and all the trees were vertical and I felt the need for some more lateral lines. In this drawing I suddenly noticed that the clouds were creating an interesting and arresting shape - which provided a strong lateral line echoing the fairly obscured horizon line - plus the patches of blue got the eye travelling to the left. I often work on the principle that when cloud shapes 'catch my eye' that's when you need to start making notes of them and use them later - as they aren't going to last very long!
  • Height, width, depth and recession of trees: I had to work out the height of trees (some were very tall) and whether I wanted the height contained within the four lines or not. In part this was decided by where I decided to place the horizon as I didn't want this in the middle - so I placed it on the lower third which meant that the tops of some trees would be cropped - which was OK as this would tend to emphasise their height. I lightly marked contours of individual tree shapes while mapping out the trees - but then had to decide whether these would be blurred or highlighted as the drawing progressed.
  • Foliage and leaves: I thought about leaves - and then ignored them! What I did instead was looked for the main structural shapes of the tree masses and how these varied - on their contour edges and in terms of how they grew. For example I had three willows in different places where the habitat was lime green drooping branches in contrast to the London Plane trees which were massive and dense in terms of foliage and colour - apart from contour edges where the leaves thinned out and caught the backlighting. What was interesting about the willows was that they were all different depending on where they were situated and how the light caught them.
  • The colour of reflections: I looked at the colours of the trees reflected in the water. There's a neat way of remembering colour of reflections in - typically darks on the land have lighter reflections in the water and vice versa the reflection of light value shapes on the land and in the sky are darker/duller in the water - so darks are lighter and lights are darker and values of colours in the water tend to crowd around the middle range. Funnily, I find darks in the water always remind of how much darker my darks on the land need to be! I know that the relative balance of darks and lights in this drawing are incomplete (and therefore wrong) - partly because I needed to finish within the time available.
So that's the story of this drawing. It took about 2 hours during which I had a walk and a stretch on a couple of occasions. I'm definitely going back to have another go at some point - but also because I discovered the allotment garden for the first time - and it has wonderful veggies for me to draw! If anybody reading this would like to see more of my work you can see the following on my portfolio website
  • Views and Vistas - landscape drawings (currently offline)
  • Drawings of Trees and Leaves (currently offline)
Note: You can read about the workshop in today's post on Making A Mark - Drawing Trees with Sarah Simblet. Links:

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A hot summer's afternoon in a Kentish garden

The Garden Tower, Penhurst Place
8" x 11.5", coloured pencils in Daler Rowney Sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Yesterday was a glorious English summer's day - hot (but not too hot) with clear blue skies - so I headed out of town to spend the afternoon in a traditional English garden in the High Weald of Kent - also known as the garden of England.

I visited Penshurst Place (next to the church in Penshurst west of Tonbridge) which I haven't been to in years - mainly because I have a tendency to extract maximum value from my National Trust membership and Penshurst Place is independently owned and managed. Entry to the gardens is £7. To find out whether it was worth the entrance price read on!

On the plus side - I saw the best ever display of hollyhocks at the entrance to the property. They were presented beautifully against black clapboarding.

The garden also had absolutely masses of lavendar contributing swathes of lavendar blue in various places around the gardens.

The 11 acre formal walled garden is made up of a number of garden rooms and is one of the oldest gardens in private ownership. In principle, the model for the gardens is the same as Sissinghurst - and it even includes a grey garden - but in practice it's nowhere near as impressive in terms of planting and maintenance.

Some of the vistas are great - and you can clearly see what it could be like. The sketch at the top was done sitting on the top of the steps up to the west terrace above the Italian Garden - looking out at the lavendar and pink rose below the Garden Tower, down the Blue and Yellow Border to the path leading to "Diana's Bath" a pool with a fountain. This photo is of the same view in reverse.

However, the gardens were initially restored in the nineteenth century and then again in the 1970s - and I think they've maybe taken on a sense of the period in which they were restored. There's an interesting New York Times article I found which is about Lanning Roper the American landscape designer who helped with the 70s restoration. It's worth reading to 'see' what the garden was like in its prime.

Unfortunately, the gardeners seemed to be missing or lacking - I wasn't sure which. While some parts of the garden were well looked after I noticed that Lanning Roper's double herbaceous border was rampant - but not in a good way; the tall yew hedges had been cut in a very odd way; the extremely long peony border was impressive - partly because I've never seen so many peonies in need of deadheading, the nut garden appeared to need some attention - and I noticed quite a few areas which needed a good weed. Interestingly the National Trust gets quite a few volunteers who help out with gardening at the NT properties. I guess it doesn't work in quite the same way at other places.

Its website also lacks views of the garden and explanations of what it contains and how it is planted. Or why there are curious heraldic columns in one of the gardens!

In trying to view the photos which do exist on the website managed to crash my browser - so I wasn't at all impressed. Websites need to be set up so anybody can view them without a download - it's not difficult!

For me, what this garden is missing is a sense of it being planted with plants associated with the period - or even just planted in such a way that horticulturalists would want to visit. One tends to get the impression that the place now gears itself up more for coach tours, history events for people who like dressing up and school groups.

I have a very simple test of whether those who look after a garden are thinking about the visitors. Are there seats situated in the right place to look at the best views - or are they all lined up where it's easy to put seats? Penshurst Place has seats but placement of some of them is a bit haphazard - which sort of summed up the garden for me. Interesting to visit now and again but lacking that extra bit of thought, care and attention which makes it feel special in the way that places like Sissinghurst are special and justifiably attract masses of visitors as a result.

However if you like history, this is indeed an interesting place and a house and garden combined ticket costs only slightly more at £8.50 and offers much better value. The original house was 13th century and its history is explained on the website. It has been much added to and extended over time. Henry VIII owned Penhurst Place at one point - after its owner was tried for treason and beheaded. Penhurst Place has also been used to film Philippa Gregory's novel The Other Boleyn Girl - film website and wikipedia entry. It's also been used for filming Anne of a Thousand Days and the BBC series Elizabeth 1. (Hever Castle nearby is the childhood home on the Anne Boleyn)

But who wants to be indoors on a hot summer's day?

I did a couple more sketches - of an extremely ancient beech tree in the grounds with an absolutely huge bunch of mistletoe hanging from it and, later on, a view over the High Weald near Chiddingstone.

The Mistletoe Tree
11.5"x16", coloured pencils, double page spread in Daler Rowney sketchbook
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Summer evenings are always a nice time to sketch - the colours are warm and gentle. This last one of a view of the High Weald was done from behind the wheel of my car - having driven slightly off the road and up to a gate!

Near Chiddingstone
8" x 11.5", coloured pencils in Daler Rowney sketchbook

copyright Katherine Tyrrell