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Earthy ideals

The paraphernalia of old potting sheds is something of a delight to a gardener. The sight of old clay pots stacked up high awaiting this years seeds, the well remembered spades and forks for digging, the old machinery taking the toil away from back-breaking labours, and over the whole pervades an earthiness of compost and old soil, of damp hessian, and the faint underlying odour of engine oil.  I love that smell, its all so familiar and welcoming.

But when all of that has to be put into a painting, it certainly is something of a challenge for the artist, and a feeling of accomplishment to actually achieve it.
And all of that was what Stuart was asking me to paint for him. His memories of the old bothy at Calke Abbey in South Derbyshire, the years he spent working there as a volunteer as the old house and garden were slowly brought to life again for visitors to view and marvel at the changes in time from the current new and shiny, back to the old, worn and decrepit.
Stuart took me back there a couple of weeks ago so that I could view it for myself, take in the atmosphere and take some working photos for his painting. He didn’t give me many stipulations, other than removing some of the clutter on the floor, and to move a couple of the tools to different positions on the wall. Other than that it was as the photos depicted.

And that was what I drew, and then painted, and then went over with fine black pen to bring out the finer details of the drawing.

It sounds so simple saying all of that in one sentence.

But it wasn’t at all easy.

It’s the most detailed subject I’ve ever drawn.  And the details within it fascinated me. Particularly the textures. The grooves of the old wooden counter top, the peeling plaster, the faded blue of the aged paint, the sagging shelves, the missing draws in the seed cabinet, the cobwebs, and old bricks.

And within those areas there were odds and end of tools – the obvious ones hanging up – scythe, rake, spade, fork. But also as I looked closer I found two saws, a set of scales, two tiny keys, a spanner and a bird feeder, and even an old chair. 

And I drew all of them.

Because what he also wanted was for all of it to look interesting for anyone to see. Not just for his memories, but for anyone viewing it.

So it all went in.

I rang him last night to say I’d finished it, and we arranged for me to deliver it to him this morning. He asked me if I was pleased with it, and I said I was. He said an ominous “We’ll see” about whether he would be……

The minute I arrived at his house, he welcomed me in, and demanded to view it straight away, he and his wife clearing a space so that we could view it. He stood back, looking at it, and said how like the bothy it was, except it was perhaps a little too clean on the floor!

He looked and looked then said he’d look at it for ages, and fall in love with it, and I agreed that was the way it should be with paintings, to gently fall in love with it from constant viewing, and constant liking what is seen in it.

After he stood and looked at it for a while he said  “Its better than I thought it would be!” and I smiled at him. He went on to say “I knew you’re good at what you do, but you’ve made a better job than I expected!” and I smiled even more!
And just as I was about to go, after cups of tea and a visit to his garden to admire the latest blooms, he said “I’ve got to go and look at it again!” as he shot off to view his new painting. And as he and his wife stood looking at it in quiet reflection, he commented on the thing I knew to be the case, but others don’t always see. He said “That view of it isn’t real” and I agreed. It isn’t. The picture isn’t full reality as you can’t see what has been drawn in one go. Because there is a wall and a doorway which are in the way, and the room seems bigger than it actually is, because of that ability to stand back to see it all in one go, particularly the items on the right hand side which are behind the wall and in a corner.
And that is the anomaly of art, and particularly of this painting. Although it isn’t a totally true depiction, it is although a true feeling, a true memory, and the true remembrance, and true ambiance of that aged gardening room.
 And that was exactly what he wanted me to paint. And that is what he now has hanging on his wall.

2 thoughts on “Earthy ideals”

  1. Lucy Felthouse

    Lovely painting, Jackie. I love Calke Abbey and its grounds myself. It's certainly inspired a tale or two…

  2. Jackie Adshead

    Lucy – thankyou, I think it's a most amazingly interesting place and am delighted you find it so inspirational too!

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