Walking and inspirationLast year I was asked by author Lia Leendertz to illustrate the 2019 edition of her book The Almanac - a seasonal guide. I was both excited and daunted but had no time for either as work started almost at once and I spent May and June working on 50 linocuts. The publisher requested that both Lia and I kept the project under wraps ... no sharing of 'work in progress' on social meadia, which was frustrating as I wanted this blog to be a record of work in my studio as well as walks and the countryside that inspires me. So this year I'll do a monthly post about each of the chapters in The Almanac, with the sketches and linocuts and the countryside that I had in mind as I worked, starting with January ...
(click on the photos to enlarge them)
The two weeks I had to produce the 12 month-chapter opening illustrations were probably the hottest last year and there was no chance to do lots of new sketching from life, so I reached into my memory of walking the footpaths near my studio in the SW corner of Suffolk. I know these routes in all seasons, layers of images in my mind's eye. I scribbled a few notes, then freely sketched on page proofs. Working fast seemed to be the answer, gut feelings of the seasons.
And here's a vixon that features later in the chapter ...
the foxes will help me link the months together and provide a visual sub-plot.
Here are the carved lino blocks and the prints ... hand burnished on very thin smooth Tomoe River Japanese paper. I scanned the prints before varying the opacity to create the different grey tones in the final illustration.
So, let's go for a Winter walk into the January illustrations. I've been waiting for snow but it seems unlikely that we'll get any this January, so the glittering white frost and bright winter sun we had on Sunday, will have to suffice.
Sunday 20 January 2019
Weather: icy, -5˚C, still and clear, in the sun it feels warm
Along the Stour Brook on the edge of Suffolk as it approaches its source.
I only have to walk a few hundred yards before stepping out from the shelter of building and hedges into the open fields that surround the village, I love how the hedge-trees frame the view like a proscenium arch.
The footpath continues beside the Stour Brook (one of the two main tributories of the River Stour that rise near here and eventually flow through Constable Country).
No snow, but there is ice on the puddles.
In each month of The Almanac there is a pictorial 'identification page', January's is 'Native Trees - Winter Twigs'.
I love finding old nature guides in second-hand book shops and as a child remember looking through books my Mum and Gran had on their bookshelves; these were my inspiration for the vintagey feel of the ID pages.
The ID pages were the first illustrations I worked on for The Almanac, I spent a week researching and carefully sketching, before working on the compositions and the linocuts for each of the 12 pages.
The illustrations of twigs are a good reminder to look at the bare branches on the trees and hedges, see their distinct shapes and colours.
In winter tall hedges without leaves are like screens through which you can view the fields beyond and sometimes watch deer and other creatures.
Hedges are also shelter when the wind blows and perches and larders for birds.
My walk takes me to wider views on the very edge of Suffolk, the low rise of the green field (autumn-sown barley) is supposedly the site of a Bronze-Age ring-ditch. I like to think it may have been a safe enclosure for livestock and the people looking after them on this place where the rivers are born. The wood just beyond the field is just over the county boundary in Cambridgeshire and it's where I'll end my wander and turn back.
Just as I was approaching the wood I spotted a fox! so I made this little video to share with Lia on Instagram (I hope the video below works ... you can just spot the fox on the horizon).
The fields and tracks are the site of more recent history when they were a WWII airfield. On a day like this, in the sunshine and stillness when all I can hear is a woodpecker drumming or a pheasant calling, it's hard to imagine planes, trucks, military personel and munitions ... but the evidence isn't far away.
These Nissan huts are now often used by Barn owls for their nests or roosts ... I hope they'll nest here this year.
It's warm in the sunshine but the low winter sun ... even when it's approaching midday ... casts enough shade to keep temperatures below zero in the shadow of the tufts of grass in these miniature landscapes on the old airfield trackways.
I walk back heading south along the curving field edge.
My studio is just to the left of those two tall conifers you can just see in the far distance between the tree branches.
Nearly home and the corner-that-gets-no-sun is still white with frost and crispy underfoot. I could hear the high pitched twittering from a flock of tiny birds high up in the top of a tree in the sunshine ... Siskins! look ... or rather listen out for them in the cold months if you live in East Anglia, NE England or the Midlands, they are small brown-grey speckled finches, the males have yellow-green and black heads and backs but you're unlikely to get a close look unless they visit your garden bird feeder. They love to feed on Alder tree cones, high up in the top of the trees.
Siskins feeding in an Alder tree
a detail from my linocut 'Over the Moon' available from my online shop
and also as a card.
I hope my walks and The Almanac inspire you to go out walking and looking. I can also recommend looking at the hashtag #myalmanacmoment on Instagram where folk are sharing their seasonal moments with Lia Leendertz. and other Almanac readers. Something for looking at while you have a warm cuppa after a bracing walk.