Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Sketchbook, Graveyard Studies, Day 21-30

Here is a selection of the final sketchbook drawings for the 30 day challenge, undertaken on days 21-30.  Drawn as preparatory work for my big 'doodle' style drawing and also as reference for a new painting on vellum. All are local wildflowers, I've completed 12 sketches to date using the graveyard next door for inspiration.

Day 21, Vetch, Vicia sepiens. Completely surrounds the grave of a woman named Kezia Beech, who died in 1877.
This post is actually more about the value of using the sketchbook and doing research but as always a bit of research grows 'arms and legs' and this place is really rather interesting.

The Checkley graveyard of St Mary' and All Saints has been my next door neighbour since moving in last November, I look out on to the gravestones from my painting window. Being neighbourly I now pop round on a regular basis, it's a beautiful place and full of flowers. During the last few weeks I've been sketching the plants and have become more interested in the history of the church too, it dates back to the 12th century,  it even has arrow sharpening marks in the buttresses, where the archers used to hang out! 

Detail, showing that it's a rough incomplete drawing with planning lines left in place and many notes
These are not polished or perfect drawings but merely studies to record information quickly - plants move on fast at this time of year so if I want to create two larger works using this theme its essential to get as much down in the sketchbook as possible.
All of the sketches will be used as reference for larger works, hopefully some will be completed this year but if not I'll return to it same time next year.
I like to 'get to know' the subjects by drawing them repeatedly in my sketchbook, this is a crucial part of understanding plants and builds knowledge about their biology and ecology. There is no better way of learning about plants than to draw them and makes notes in the field,  whilst referring to a good book of flora or ID guidebook.

There are many flowers! A grave full of forget-me-nots.The grave seems to creates a natural seed bed.
It's odd how certain plants are growing in fairly confined spaces of a particular grave, I suppose just as they do in the wild. Most plants seem to be native plants but I wonder if the have been put there deliberately or whether they just seeded from local populations.....I suspect the latter but actually have no idea.

Day 22. Forget-me-not ( Myosotis arvensis) A very apt flower for a graveyard. It grows all around the rectory too, I've seen these beautiful Orange tip butterflies amongst them and combined with some orange hawk weed, this would make a great collection for a painting. The blue and orange go perfectly together as complementary colours.  
Detail of Forget-me-not sketch page

There are lots and lots of wild garlic plants too! which smell extremely strong if bruised.
Day 25. Wild garlic, Allium ursinum

A mass of Alliums

Day 26 and 27 Alliums, I like them best before they open, papery spathes enclose the flowers which can bee seen trying to escape and there are little droplets of condensation inside!

Closer view, shows the flowers starting to escape!

 First of all I made a note of all the plants growing and made a positive identification using my old Bentham Flora Books and species guides. Most species are pretty simple but it's always good to double check and often I discover something that I didn't know.

I sill use the old Bentham and other old floras but have to be careful with these because of reclassification, so I also use other guides and more up to date floras, such as Stace. The graveyard species are all simple to identify but it's always worth double checking. Another great book for identifying features is the Cambridge Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms, which every botanical artist should have.
I've also been making a note of the graves or area where the plants grow. Noting the name of the occupant and taking a photograph, no idea why but it seems like the done thing!
The Grave of Elizabeth Ash, with its Spanish Blue Bells

Day 28 The Cuckoo flower, (Cardamine pratensis) is found throughout the graveyard. This is actually the reason that the orange tip butterfly is found here as it's the food plant for the species.  In folklore this plant is said to be sacred to the faries, it appears at the same time as the Cuckoo bird starts to sing in May. It's also thought to be very bad luck if picked and that's also why it's excluded from the May Day garlands.
I make drawings and extensive notes of all the key features for each plant and include basic colour notes and write notes using initial for the colours...saves space on a crowded page.

Day 29, British Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Bluebells in the shaded areas under the Yew trees. A mix of native British bluebell ( Hyacinthoides non- scripta) and Spanish (Hyacinthoides hispanica) bluebells and no doubt many hybrids between. It's fairly easy to tell the difference between the species, The native bluebell flowers has yellow pollen and the Spanish has blue pollen, and wider open flowers. It's not so easy to tell the hybrids. The Spanish bluebell is pushing the native ones out, so please don't pick the native ones.

The Graveyard some weeks ago, before the flowers started to appear....looking forward other plants appearing over the summer months.
That's the  end of the 30 day challenge, it run over the time limit but I got there in the end. I'll try to remember to add the remaining images once I've photographed them.

For anybody who is interested in sketchbooks, and is a member of ASBA ( American Society of Botanical Artists) I've also written a post on the Sketchbook Exchange Project for the June edition

On Earth there is no heaven but there are  pieces of it  
George Renard


  1. omg i have such graveyard envy...... is there a pill for that?

    1. Not sure about that vi, I would suggest that it's probably not a great idea to ask the doc for anti graveyard envy pills though ;)

  2. Amazing post. Forget me Nots and Orange Tips... what a gorgeous combination!