Mum always liked to tell the story of how when she met my dad he owned five things: a saucepan, 2 watercolours, a wood carving and this book of poetry. It’s inscribed from St John’s School in Battersea – he got it as a prize, Summer 1948. Sentimental was not a word that could be used to describe my dad, and yet he kept hold of this book all those years. It came to me as a teenager and now it’s my treasure.
The shell is from my mum’s collection of sea-worn glass, pebbles, driftwood, coral, shells. She was happiest floating silently over a coral reef. She wouldn’t eat fish – saying she preferred to watch them. I know nothing about the tin box except that it was in the house as long as I can remember. I think it came from my mum’s childhood – an old German penny is glued to the base.
The lizard is of heavy cast iron and the first thing I bought when we moved to France. I was entranced by a country hot enough to be home to lizards, cicadas, scorpions.
The plant is not from my past but my future. Mum was great with plants, stealing cuttings from front gardens and growing a jungle with them. Last year I was given two plants, both died. This year I have bought three – ambitious – but I am determined to pick up where my mum left off. That this plant survived the time is took to draw it – that has to be a positive sign.
While considering the objects, shuffling them about, I had been looking at Ben Nicholson’s View of the Harbour at St Ives (1929). I love the spareness of line contrasting with the sudden blocking in of objects. The way sea and hills become architecture holding cats and boats. I also had in the back of my mind the ink and wash drawings of Richard Diebenkorn and Hockney’s line drawings.
I tried out different mediums in my sketchbook: ink, pencil, charcoal, loved the way the plant became architecture in ink and decided that would be the way forward. However once I got beyond the plant (using a chopstick and ink) I floundered. I have so little experience painting, and getting a delicate wash down to explain shadow and highlight simply wasn’t working. So I shifted to charcoal on my second attempt. It felt like I was taking the easy option, but I remind myself that I picked up my first stick of charcoal this time last year so it’s still an adventurous departure from an HB office pencil.
What I like
The graphic elements of the stiff fabric bag holding the plant and the plant itself. The way the lizard looks as if he has just scampered out from the behind the box. The sagging cover of the book with its frayed edges.
What I don’t like
My uncertainty over the plant. I started out with bag and plant utterly flat and graphic. Then I added a touch of shadow to the bag and now the plant looks a little lost – alone in it’s graphic-ness. Unfinished.
However there is an aspect to this I like. The objects are all from my past – except the plant. The plant is unfinished business – can I keep it alive?
Unwittingly I have mapped out my life with these objects – the box, book and shell from my past, the lizard scurrying forward in my current life. And the plant – will it have a future!?
I am happy with that crazy whiteness, a blinding light behind the still life. But perhaps the graphic background is enough architecture and I should have filled in those leaves.
Other things that went a bit wrong: I had moved my own drawing position about, and somewhere along the line I placed the shell too far back on the book. Consequently it doesn’t ‘sit’ firmly on the book. I’ve added strong shadows which help to pin it down but it’s still levitating a bit.