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Life Drawing at Charleston with Silvia MacRea Brown

Life Drawing at Charleston – Model ‘Dave’ (C) Silvia MacRea Brown (2022)

I look forward to the first Tuesday of each month with trepidation; I’ve been attending a life drawing class at Charleston (in the Hay Barn conversion for the last few years). The models are always very well chosen: good at their job! able to hold an interesting pose and ready to try all the things that Silvia suggests, which includes continual movement, as well as movement into a short poses, and then of course the class short pose (one to five minutes), the longer pose (ten to 20 minutes) and about as long as we go (45 minutes).

I was brought up on the 3 hour pose. The single, carefully executed effort to reproduce exactly what the eye can see. This is not Silvia’s approach; this is art from the heart and soul, on the fly, capturing the sense of the movement, the essence of the model. I’ve come to prefer sketches completed in a few minutes, while last time I ran off more than 30 ‘doodles’ onto a lengthy sheet of wall liner paper using wax crayons – the movement continual, each sketch possible a few seconds each.

This has been invaluable on my recent efforts to capture the ‘essence’ of club swimmers slogging it up and down the pool. Capturing the feeling, sense and movement of limbs and water, with the added complication of reflections is proving one heck of a challenge! Going out to sketch trees is proving easier – though fraught with its own problems. Does a tree keep still? How do you fit it onto the page? How do you different between tree species without going into the detail of a leaf or the bark?

The cost is still £55 for the day – which is excellent value for 6 hours at Charleston. We start at 10.00am and finish at 4.00pm. It isn’t all drawing. There are a few coffee/tea breaks (coffee/tea, milk and biscuits provided). And we break for an hour for our picnic lunch. We can sit in the Charleston Café (they are closed on Tuesdays) or find a spot in the yard. Or make a dash for Middle Farm along the A27.

I go away mentally and even physically exhausted. I like to ‘knock ’em out’. I also keep everything – religiously. This was my later mother’s mantra. I still have drawings I did with her in my early teens, and a few self-portraits done even younger, and the odd girlfriend from my mid to late teens (clothed I must add!). I never attempted a nude until my early twenties (and the drawing wasn’t what either of us had in mind). Then one class in Primrose Hill in the 1990s and nothing until we moved to Brighton in 2000 – and the first classes with Sussex County Arts in Brighton from 2014 or so, with Silvia at Charleston since November 2016.

With the unusually fine and dry weather the back ‘yard’ here in Lewes is a temporary studio. Feeling like San Diego I feel confident to leave boards, easel and all the accruitments of my ‘practice’ out – currently just watercolour onto cold-pressed cartridge paper.

Liz, the model, while she moved continually (Crayola Wax Crayon on wall paper liner) CC SA-BY 3.0 J F Vernon 2022

No budget sees me being resourceful. I have come to love wall paper lining and wax crayon. The very materials my mother started us kids off on when we were little: I cannot remember when I started to draw as it would have been age 3 or 4, as soon as I could hold something in my hand and not be inclined to eat it or shove it up my nose or into my ear.

I’m wasting time. I have two drawings marked up to paint and want to press on. Both are someone in water – both are of one of Silvia’s models ‘Dave’ in this instance (my wife has said she is fed up of seeing naked women all over the house so I’ve been working up sketches I have of ‘Dave’ and ‘Tim’).

Come to think of it, that is ‘Tim’ falling into the water (clothed as a swimming coach who someone has pushed into the pool, while the swimmer is ‘Dave’ – as Dave is bald which makes it easier to turn the top of his head into a swimming cap. Neither actually look like they are swimming, which is the problem.

I have been drawing swimmers in action – a challenging task! All swirls, shapes and somewhat reminiscent of a series of too short time-lapse photographs in which everything is blurred.

Students at one of Silvia’s recent classes in the Hay Barn, Charleston (C) Silvia MacRea Brown 2022)

I digress. There is a class coming up, this Tuesday 2nd August, at Charleston – in the fancy new Hay Barn rather than in the infamous Farmhouse. If are planning to attend or have questions get in touch with Silvia by email: silviamacreabrown@btinternet.com. If you want a lift from Lewes email me: joanthanferugsonvernon@gmail.com

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Kenneth More appearing in “Reach for the Sky” got me thinking

My late mum, Sheila Vernon and me as a ‘King’s Guard Special’ on the set of ‘King Arthur and the Spaceman’ at Alnwick Castle.

In 1978, though suffering from Parkinson’s, Kenneth More was working on one of his last films ‘King Arthur and the Spaceman’ at Alnwick Castle. Separated from his wife of 10 years he asked my mother out to dinner. My dear late mum, then 47 years old, had a ‘steady boyfriend’ and had dubious thoughts about what might be expected if she dined with the elderly Kenneth. I think they would have enjoyed each others company. Kenneth went back to his wife (or she had him back). He died a few years later.  I’m just reflecting. I was 16: it was not the start of any film career (though one assistant producer I became friends with did try to persuade me to run off to London to work on another film. I had A’ Levels and Oxbridge in my sights) Other aging actors on set included Ron Moody and John Le Mesurier.

I’m only dwelling on any of this because for the upteenth time (it would seem) I caught ‘Reach for the Sky’ on Channel 4 Films, or BBC Two, or Four, or somewhere, the other day. It’s dated, stilted and of its time. Badder has a closer relationship with his batman than his girlfriend. It is gosh and coy. Anyway, I like the few flying shots because it gives me an impression of what my grandfather must have experienced.

Flight Cadet John Arthur ‘Jack’ Wilson MM, RAF Crail December 1918

In 1918 my grandfather, then 22, was learning to fly with the RAF. He flew Avros and Bristol Fighters. My interest in Kenneth More’s film “Reach for the Sky” is that it features flying sequences using these planes (mostly from the Shuttleworth Collection), as well as planes of #WW2. So that’s what it was like? Just as I thought, a 2-stroke lawnmower with wings attached (and a Vicker’s machine gun).

So there you go. My daily drivel.

Goings on

I promise to ditch this URL in favour of a .blog to reflect what it is – my ramblings. Why I even make it public is another matter. Ever since I started blogging in 1999 all I ever wanted was a ‘mind dump’, somewhere to gather thoughts, express ideas and set down in one place stuff that I would then be able to readily find at a later date. Thus the tags and categories. Thus the eclectic nature of it. But remember, I am ADHD. Or was. Or still am. Depending on if I pay for a diagnosis or turn to the NHS! Or whether I am seeking medical advice in the UK or the US.

I thrive on it – most of the time. For the rest there is CBD.

I have promised a friend to make a start blogging about my activity on social media – on Twitter in particular. I used to be very content dependent – as if I could be a one-man publishing industry with Tweets at the ready, several a day, ready to fly, retweet and regurgitate every year. Now that I am reaching out to a global community of Greens I find I am more likely to be seeking out the content produced by others, identifying themes, sharing, liking, commenting … and retweeting with comments.

The outcomes are in the stats: not simply followers/following all the rest of it from Twitter Analytics: shares, likes, links and so on.

Ultimately, with Greens it has to be about influencing change, increasing membership, developing activities, nudging policy and … raising funds. Not surprising that big business and those in it are least likely to push funds our way, so I rather think we need to be attracting the wealthy philanthropist with a hankering for nature conservation and saving the planet and all the things in it: plants, animals and people. I am ready to be corrected. I would hope renewables as they take over from fossil fuels, if not an offshoot of the oil/gas industry, would wish to back us.

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to my trees, shrubs, life drawing and swim lesson plans. Trees are shedding leaves early to save water I have notices, shrubs are doing the same. My fern is dead, along with a 15 year old beech I replanted early this year and failed to water thoroughly these last few months – and the mint has died. The succulents are thriving, as is the ivy and brambles. I encourage both.

Life Drawing is on next week. I should ‘get my hand in’ a bit over the next few days reworking previous drawings and drawing anyone who will sit for me.

As for swimming? The club has a handful of elite performance swimmers at the Nationals. We’ve had several in finals, a gold and a few bronze medals too. Did I teach them seven or eight years ago when they first joined the club? Most likely. I have coached them the odd session while covering for the Head Coach. The amount of work they have to put in is quite extraordinary, truly superhuman (and the time parents need to dedicate to their elite athlete too getting them to training and galas).

Onwards. The day is young.

Companion Trees of Markstakes Common

I can’t find much written about so called ‘companion trees’ in the world. We marvel at some of the contorted shapes trunks create as they appear to bounce off each other and imagine the relationship is symbiotic: I’ve come to believe that this is not the case. Whilst horticulturalists and gardeners may speak of ‘companion’ planting, this is not the same as two or more trees or shrubs competing in the wild for light, water, nutrients and a footing.

Oak and Birch ‘companions’ Markstakes Common July 2022

Visiting Markstakes Common often over the last few months I have come to know the area reasonably well and with the aid of a map created by the Friends of Markstakes Common in 2011 I can pick up some, though certainly not all of the 34 ancient trees one or two of which have notable companions.

It would appear that dominant tree survives, more often birch over everything else, with oak and hornbeam in a close second place, followed by birch while holly, though often abundant, becomes leggy or where there is little light simply dies away. To my eyes birch trumps all others, though it depends clearly on which tree gets a 10 or 25 year head start. It is also clear that where both trees are able to survive their ‘companionship’ my last many decades. Of course in depends very much on the context as to which tree may weaken and fail.

For example, this birch and oak, both of which continue to thrive – although the holly tree identified in 2011 has clearly died back and since tried to reestablish itself with little success: it is barely a bush.

Around the wood, on closer examination as many as 1/5th of every mature tree shows some element of companion growth at some time. The overwhelming pattern however is that the companions eventually fail … leaving a hollowing, rotting trunk, or breaking off and falling to the ground.

These ‘messy’ companions and the amount of dead wood littering the woodland floor is a feature of a natural deciduous wood. It is litter that in a warming climate must be distinctly vulnerable to fire especially where a visitor is careless or thoughtless.

End Investment in Fossil Fuels

Organised by Divest East Sussex, Eco Action Families Brighton, Lewes Climate Hub, Lewes Green Party, Seaford Environmental Alliance, Transition Town Hastings, Transition Town Lewes, XR Brighton, XR Eastbourne, XR Lewes a large group gathered outside Lewes Station on Tuesday morning. On a Lewes scale this was a modest enterprise of eager activists who were armed with drums, whistles, placards and flags. For a larger turn out we’d need to do this outside working hours (and probably at night with burning torches and fireworks).

A good humoured group, I was amongst their number. I looked around for familiar faces: Green Party Candidates for the 2023 District Elections, three current District Councillors and a fellow Town Councillor.

I took along my poolside whistle from the swimming club. I had had ideas of creating a large paper drum to wear, or a top hot in the style of an oil drum but decided to give these a miss. Being, aptly, the first day of a heatwave, like everyone, I kept to shorts and a T-shirt. Stripes were there thing to wear; whistles the simplest thing to take along. Though I admired the ingenious drums some had made from pots and pans. We were out noised by a band of drummers and the occasional blast from a portable speaker system; could we have faced arrest? Hasn’t noisy protest been banned?

Thinking I’d be on a short amble from the Station, up Station Street and onto the High Street to East Sussex County Hall I was surprised when we turned right at the Lansdowne and headed towards Friar’s Walk. I went along with it. Outside the Bus Station, itself a subject that is generating a lot of noisy protest, we met up with the Lightship Greta.

The two groups, approaching the size of a small bonfire society now, or some Year 11 students from a village school doing their ‘Moving On’ parade, made their way up School Hill. I had my white Green Party umbrella to deploy – as a parasol. Its message is ‘Down Blame me for the Weather; I voted Green’.

Onwards past the War Memorial and a wave from the steps of the Town Hall from the Town Clerk and two of her staff. Along the way people hung out of windows to watch and wave, or said supportive words and took a leaflet. We passed one grim looking gentleman in a Porsche SUV; caught in the march like a giant turtle in a fishing net I was surprised he had his window down. In Edinburgh there was a spate of letting the air out of these monsters of the road.

March Steward at the top of Station Street, Lewes

It was both a colourful and a noisy march. Lewes does this kind of thing with aplomb. There were stewards everywhere monitoring and managing us, and also managing the traffic with Stop/Go signs. Stuck for 5-10 minutes most occupants of cars/vans etc: appeared good humoured. I don’t suppose they could protest.

On the High Street I made sure I got plenty a photos that included the elms planted by Lewes Urban Arboretum which I would like to feature in a painting that imagines the street 50 and 150 years hence. I’m still conjuring up the story I can tell, beyond a dull set of before and after pictures showing trees that have grown a bit bigger (or died, fallen over, been replaced …)

Finally on to the ground of East Sussex County Hall, a ghastly edifice of concrete and glass declaring boldy its 1960s origins. We ‘made a lot of noise’, stopped at the entrance for TV and photo ops, then circled the building with the intention, clearly picked up, of rattling the councillors then in session voting on investment by East Sussex County Council in oil giants Shell and BP.

Does it have an impact? Would it make councillors more stubborn than compliant? Are marches, however noisy and colourful effective? They attract interest and build their numbers. I wonder if it changes the minds of those who matter though. Rather, local and regional elections needs to see progressive and Green councillors elected.

Life Drawings Reworked in Colour

My first Tuesday of the month life drawing class doesn’t come around quick enough, so, for the first time in nearly eight years of doing this, I’m making time to take pieces created during the class to rework. For the first time since an A’ level in art 50 years ago I am using colour; it’s taking time to figure it out!  This is Liz from Life Drawing 7 June 2022: redrawn onto cartridge paper with a fineliner pen then a watercolour wash added.

Above: Liz, from June 2022. From Qi-Dong movember drawings where only her arms were moving. Various attempts at adding colour.

There are new skills to learn (and costs to meet). I prefer to work on A2 sheets or, ideally larger … which requires a lot of paint: good watercolour can cost £15 for a 15ml tube. I am still trying different approaches: from a small set of watercolours to a few tubes of primary colours (red, yellow and blue) and mix everything up. This is what my late mother did with us as children: only primary colours, no such thing as black, that sort of thing. 

Having started with some of the individual and sets of drawings I did of Liz at the June session I then went digging around in my archive. I remember the session drawing Dave back in November 2016; it was only my first or second session at Charleston with Silvia MacRae Brown.

Above: Dave from 2016, from the original charcoal drawing reworked and painted up in various ways

In due course, so long as it doesn’t bring too much additional expense, I will finally use boxes of acrylics, even a set of oil paints, gifts I believe from as long ago as my 18th, 21st and 50th birthdays bought for me either by my motheror a girlfriend. I’ll need to get some tips before I start.

My mother will come into this often. From as young as I can remember we were learning how to create an observational drawing: each other watching TV, a bowl of fruit, other still life: shoes, toothpaste, flowers in a vase – that sort of thing. Each of my siblings and I developed our own styles and interests: for older sister Jane it was female fashion, for my older brother Nick it was racing cars, for me it was portraits and for younger sister Joanna it was animals; in particular horses and dogs.  We were told never to throw anything out: I still have some of my efforts kicking about, self-portraits age 12 or 13, old girlfriends from my teens, a pair of cowboy boots … Over the last 7 or 8 years of life drawing (I started out going to Brighton to attend sessions at Sussex County Arts Club) I have kept every sketch, the good, the bad, the half-finished, the overworked, the misshapen, the clumsy … It is to these piles extracted from folders behind or under the sofa that I am now seeking inspiration.

I rather prefer my technique of November/December 2016 when I first visited Charleston. We sat, six together in a small room in the farmhouse. I couldn’t use my learned technique of carefully and very slowly marking up and measuring out proportions, limbs and muscles – there isn’t time. But at least I combined the two: take a moment, take a careful look, figure out where the drawing will sit on the page, get a few ‘landmarks’ in place: bellybutton, head, hands and feet, the external genitalia … 

Above: Dave as Tim in the style of Egon Schiele. Tim as Tim – in the style of Egon Schiele.

Over the last few weeks I have ‘had a go’ with watercolour, watersoluble pencils and charcoal. I am yet to break out the acrylics or oils though I have a few canvasses that have been kicking around for years. 

Frankie; Charcoal on paper. June 2021 (CC BY SA 3.0) J F Vernon 2021

If I’ve learnt anything in the last month, for me, at the moment at least, it is very much a case of ‘less is more’ – a wash on a sketch yes, but adding layers of colour is not yet something I can do with any accomplishment. For a start, I need a colour reference – the model in front of me ideally, if not a photograph to work from. This is colour added to a Frankie image:

Frankie, Watercolour on paper. From life drawing 5 july 2022 (CC BY SA-3.0) J F Vernon 2022

Life Drawing, Charleston

The Barn at Charleston, East Sussex

5 July 2022

Life Drawing with Silvia MacRea Brown

Charleston

I attend life-drawing sessions with Silvia MacRea Brown on the first Tuesday of every month at Charleston. (I don’t think we have a session in January). Last year we had some extra classes in a barn (and outdoors in a closed garden) at Friston Manor.

We arrive before 10.00am and aim to start around then.

Unusually this time round we were convened in a semi-circle against one of the barn walls rather than the model on the podium at the end of the barn with its huge window and the potential problem of silhouetting and the distance from the model. 

There is always a warm up session. Historically this has been a series of short poses of around three or five minutes. The last two sessions, in an interesting change, we had a 10 minute session of continual movement. After this we have a series of slightly longer poses, sometimes coming from a threaded movement, but held for three minutes or so. And then, I think poses held for 10, 15 or more minutes.

Wax Crayon on backing wallpaper. Model: Frankie. (CC BY-SA 3.0) J F Vernon 2022

I’m still learning what I enjoy and where I feel I am playing to my strengths. Today I took in a large whiteboard on which I taped lengths of backing wallpaper. This would give me a large landscape sheet on which to draw. I also used, for the first time, a box of children’s wax crayons. Working from left to right I then put down a series of rapid sketches, each taking around 10 seconds, or at most 30 seconds before I moved onto the next pose. The model was moving continually, albeit slowly. I’d give up on a doodle or sketch once the move had shifted too far for me to continue with it. 

I worked on three sheets. The second two didn’t go as well, upright didn’t work. And I feel I’d lost the rhythm of it by sheet 3.

Frankie, wax crayon on backing wallpaper (CC BY SA-3.0) J F Vernon 2022

I had another go doodling across the page at elbow height.

Frankie ‘movement’. wax crayon on wallpaper lining paper (CC BY-SA 3.0) J F Vernon 2022

Over the day I tried a number of different things: pencil in a sketchbook, fine-liner in a sketchbook and returning to an apparent strength, wax crayon on backing wallpaper. 

Frankie, 35 minite pose, wax crayhon on wallpaper lining paper. Charleston (CC BY-SA 3.0) J F Vernon 2022
Frankie, 35 minute pose, wax crayon on wallpaper lining paper (CC BY-SA 3.0) J F Vernon 2022

In past sessions I have used an inkpen – exclusively. Or charcoal. I have moved away from soft pencils simply because they favour the long pose – at least 45 minutes, but in my experience, 2 or even 3 hours.

Above: Sketches (10/20 minutes) Fine liner on cartridge paper. Model: Frankie. Charleston (CC BY-SA 3.) J F Vernon 2022

Unusually, enabled by a spell of dry weather, and using  the space at the back of the house as a pop-up studio, I took some of the day’s work and transferred it to sheets of paper. I then, helped with some YouTube videos, looked at how to add colour. I’m happy adding a simple wash of colour to a fairly complete drawing, but I am yet to figure out the methods required to get paint onto the page without making a reasonable sketch worse. This will come.

Lake Wood, Uckfield – early summer visit

Lake Wood, 12 June 2022

I am still a few months short of visiting Lake Wood across all seasons. My first visit was on 19 October. I wonder if I was making a visit after a busy summer season before a clean up, or after a warm summer weekend as I couldn’t help but note then, as I did today, on the discarded coffee cups (Costa), beer bottles (Budweiser), vodka battles (Stolichnaya), crisp and sweet bags. Since that trip I have been prepared to collect some litter so long as it doesn’t require gloves or anything larger than a large poo bag … I have filled a shopping bag on one occasion, and then again a bin liner.

Solutions to such problems of litter, graffiti, a few fires and frequent abandoned deposits of dog waste are welcome. I rather think it starts with trips to the site with local primary school children on litter picking and other trips so that in the decades to come they want to take care of the place. 

Lake Wood (panorama view) 12 June 2022

But please don’t let me put you off – the litter and graffiti is low-key. I’d like to say it is idyllic, and visually it is indeed a treat for the eyes to enjoy a late 18th century early 19th century landscaped garden in the style of Capability Brown. Idyllic for me, however, requires minimal interfering noise from traffic hurtling along the Uckfield Bypass, or negotiating at speed the chicances – despite poor visibility around Rock Road, which takes up two sides of a triangle – so 2/3rds or more of the perimeter of the wood.

Parking, and especially departing the lay-by here requires nerve as from both directions, both hidden corners, vehicles can emerge at speed and they are never sympathetic to find you pulling out. 

Something needs to be done about noise pollution and behaviours which I struggle to deem ‘anti-social’ so much as ‘lazy’, ‘thoughtless’ and ‘unsympathetic’ – people who can’t be bothered to take their litter home with them having walked in with an energy drink, MacDonald’s milkshake or Wild Bean Coffee. Certainly the take away outlets need to do more to advise and educate their customers – indeed, I think local councils should demand that such outlets as a condition of their licence have clearly visible and well communicated posters regarding litter and the environment. 

Rock Road entrance to The Woodland Trust, Lake Wood

The current signage that relies on a collection of icons that misunderstood or ignored is not the answer. Or use emojis … at least apply a language that is in common use. Actually, I have come to understand that a lot of signage attracts its own problems by providing confusing, multiple messages. Just two would do: take your litter and dog’s shit home. Digital might help.

This is what I made of Lake Wood in March 2022 > https://bit.ly/3xG3v5S 

Lake Wood and The Woodland Trust Mission

Whenever I visit a Woodland Trust wood I go to the Woodland Trust website, read up on it (no matter how many times I have already done this) and download the Management Plan which, as the name suggests, is a dry, practical description of the space, its opportunities and problems and the plans for the immediate 5 years and then 50 years hence. Few of us visit these woods unless as children are likely to care – another good reason to develop interest and love for the woods at the youngest age. I’m thinking age 4 and up – though I can’t see a local nursery, even a primary school, visiting given the health and safety risks of a deep, boggy lake and rocky outcrops, let alone fallen trees and decaying trunks. (Which to my mind age ten sounds like bliss).

Lake Wood, AllTrails 12 June 2022

I would like an illustrated map. The above is what I produce on AllTrails.

Nothing overly revealing if the ancient trees and some habitats need to be protected, rather than advertised to the world, but a map matters for habitats and paths. And here, as in many woods these days, people treat a track/path or ride as a guide or point of reference and eagerly venture off into the woods whatever the time of year, emerging and blossoming plants. 

The Woodland Trust Mission

All management plans open with this statement: 

To realise all the environmental, social and economic benefits woods and trees bring to society, we:

  • Create Woodland – championing the need to hugely increase the UK’s native woodland and trees.
  • Protect Woodland – fighting to defend native woodland, especially irreplaceable ancient woodland and veteran trees; there should be no loss of ancient woodland
  • Restore Woodland – ensuring the sensitive restoration of all damaged ancient woodland and the re-creation of native wooded landscapes.

I’m learning as an elected town councillor for the Green Party (any surprises here?) – that wishing for everything even where there is a conflict of interests, that delivering a generous management plan such as they requires wider collaboration, positive communication and engagement with the very group that is always the issue when it comes to the environment – us! People! 

Lake Wood, Uckfield 

From the Woodland Trust Management plant I read that this is a “3 acre spring-fed lake created from an earth dam”. It includes ‘aramatic outcrops of Cretaceous Ardingly sandstone covered in mosses, lichens and ferns’ – indeed it does, though in places every inch of the stone has been carved into with a knife or chisel so that Gary can declare his love Courtney. 

This is ‘a semi-natural woodland’ – ‘although much of it was extensively modified in the late 18th and early-19th centuries in the style of Capability Brown by the enlargement of the lake and the planting of exotic trees and shrubs’. Indeed. Though Capability Brown couldn’t see 250 years ahead to the space coming into public ownership and the burgeoning time engulfing the garden with the modern essentials the residential dwelling: easy access to the countryside and roads that allow you to drive at the greatest speed possible for that road. 

We learn that “Trees planted at the time included beech, lime, horse chestnut, sycamore, coastal redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), Wellingtonia (Sequoiadendron giganteum) and Monterey pine (Pinus radiata)”. I am too early in my woodland journey to be able to identify some of these readily. I have learnt that both mid-winter and mid-summer offer valuable indicators. I am starting to visit woods with a mind to picking out just one tree at a time until I know it. 

Some of the trees sit like giant bonsai on the tops of the stone outcrops overlooking the lake. This, the huge specimen trees, some touching 60 or 70ft I am sure, the twisting hornbeam and the views onto the lake, as well as discovering its steps, tunnel and boat house dug into the stone are all fun. 

We learn that the October 1987 hurricane took down a lot of trees here. Many have been left in situ have well and truly bedded down. Many have produced an abundance of new shoots, or support ‘companion’ trees and shrubs – others will rot down over 100 years or more. 

We learn that ‘​​the northern part of the site is largely overstood mixed coppice of hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnut with semi-mature birch with oak standards’ – which is also where, if I recall, there is the densest carpet of wood anemones I have seen anywhere. 

Over the next 50+ years

 “Many of the existing over-mature trees will have died or been windblown but another cohort of mature trees will have been recruited as potential veteran trees across the site”. 

Areas with a light tree canopy tend to have a ground flora dominated by coarse species such as bracken and bramble.

There is a Woodland Trust to ‘connect people’ with woods. 

However, I would like to see parts of the woods close to trampling feet, dog mess and littering. I cannot see how any space on the edge of a rapidly growing urban area can otherwise protect its intrinsic value. Volunteers are already involved, so if there isn’t a ‘Friends of Lake Wood’ there needs to be one.

The site has a WT access category A: high usage site, regularly used at all times of year with more than 20 people using one entrance every day. There are 2 pedestrian access points from Rocks Road although parking is very limited.

There is ‘anti-social behaviour including litter, fires, camping, swimming, boating and vandalism. I’ve never seen boating, swimming or boating, though the odd fire is lit – the constant problem is litter. Today’s haul included the usual sinners from takeaway outlets McDonalds, Costa and Subway as well as bottles of drink (beer, Coke, water, milkshakes, a yoghurt) and sundry bits of sweet paper wrapper. Last September or October I filled an entire shopping bag with the remains of a large alcohol and energy drink fuelled picnic. 

Graffiti on a 230 year old birch, Lake Wood, 2022

There’s lasting damage to the trunk of a 230 year birch which now features a large wrap around penis and balls. I think an arborist is required here. Soap and water? Careful picking away the affected bark? A strong detergent or a power hose would surely risk killing the tree? 

The sound of aeroplanes coming into London disturbs the peace frequently enough, though nothing is shocking as the first time (and last time) you sit outside at the The Hurlingham Club and have a 747 jet land on your head … every 7 minutes. 

Noise Abatement

The management plan says that the 19th century sandstone wall will be replaced by a wire fence when it fails. This unfortunately has been done and what is left is a large gap which filters the noise of traffic on the busy raised Rock Road. The ‘Slow’ signs here are ignored – with people stopping in pop-up lay-bys left and right of the road the speed limit ought to be dropped to 30pm and traffic calming measures put in place.

As for the Uckfield-by-pass …

Why should any through traffic be allowed to blight the lives of the local residents? Speeds should be reduced with signage to explain why and better noise screening put in place.

Ash

Markstakes Common : June 2022

I came to Markstakes Common today looking for a noted ‘ancient’ ash which according to the map is hidden away in the north-west corner of the Common close to Furzeley Farm. It took me quite a bit of meandering around as you can see from my AllTrails to find it, not least because there are several other Ash in various stages of growth or decrepitude, with one or many stems in the same area. All no doubt from the original tree?

The 160 year old Ash in Markstakes Common, June 2022

This 3-stemmed ash had a girth of 302cm in 2010, which to my reckoning makes it around 160 years old. 

The Observer Book of Trees

I turned to the Observer’s Book of Trees (written in 1937, revised in the 1960s and reprinted – my copy, in 1972). The language is redolent of Wilfred Ewart who was writing before the First World War I and used references to the Classics. Here we read that the ash is the ‘Venus of the Woods’ for its ‘grace and strength of a goddess’. I don’t see this myself, not hemmed in my brambles, bracken and nettles and unable to view the tree from the cut lawn a few metres away over the boundary.

I have taken to giving the trees I visit regularly names based on their approximate year of germination. Growing since around 1850, and traditionally female, I was thinking I’d call this Ash ‘Victoria’ (the Queen rather than Beckham) – although Victoria covers a reign of several decades) or perhaps ‘Crystal’ as the Great Exhibition at Crystal Palace opened in 1851. For now ‘Crystal Ash’ it is.

The Observer reminds the reader that a tree’s character is very much down to its context, that hemmed in by a forest a tree is significantly different to one growing in an open meadow or hedgerow. Weather has an impact too, through its history, notably the significant storm of October 1987 and the more recent storm of some impact in February 2022 – a tree may lose a branch, be tipped off centre or be felled. We now have climate change to content with too: with hotter dry summers in southern England, and storms that are potentially more powerful with greater rainfall. Trees that were pollarded will have many stems if they have since been left. A tree has an impact on everything around it too, potentially starving out plants of light and nutrients or providing support to a bank with very deep roots. 

Ash, according to the Observer ‘was used where iron and steel have long since supplanted it’ (p.95)

As I am still at the start of my journey of recognising and understanding a multitude of trees I take note of its ‘leaflets’, which I read are ‘late to arrive and early to leave’. Initially I thought the ash tree leaves were distinct, only to find there are other quite different trees which might have fewer or more so called ‘leaflets’.  This is when the winter tree with is black leaf-buds is so handy. It also explains I’m sure why the Markstakes survey was done in January 2010, not in spring, summer or early autumn.

I am yet to see any of these trees in summer, having started my visits in autumn. I know I need to look out for distinct flowers and in the case of the Ash, the seeds or ‘keys’ with their singed ‘spinners’. 

I learned from the Observer that the Ash only produces seeds that germinate in its second year, matures at 40+ years, and has a natural span of 200 years. And a bit of history – they were coppiced to make oars, axes and hammer shafts. 

Life Drawing with Silvia MaCrea-Brown at Charleston Farmhouse

The barn at Charleston Farmhouse – Artists’ Studio and Musuem

I took up life drawing in 2016; until then I’d only even drawn portraits and things: buildings mostly. Initially I attended Sussex County Arts Club in Brighton, turning up a couple of times a week over many months, possibly 18 months on and off, before I heard about the day-long sessions run by sculptor Silvia MacCrea-Brown at Charleston Farmhouse. I’ve been a regular ever since. I think we try to make 10 sessions over the year, always the first Tuesday of the Month. Maybe we don’t meet in January or February (too cold for the model), whereas in late July, certainly August we are in the ‘summer barn’ at Friston Place which can see us in the enclosed garden – life drawing outdoors. Though the model may need a parasol and sunglasses!

My late Mum (who gained an MA in Fine Art from Durham University) would be proud of me; and intrigued though this wasn’t her style or approach. Coincidentally she was taught by Quentin Bell when he was a lecturer at King’s and says she baby sat for his children Julian and Virginia I suppose. She was from the school of art where you sit carefully observing a single pose for several hours and execute it with scientific care and a soft pencil. She draw us like this, and in due course I was drawing my friends too in a similar fashion. What we get with Silvia is art as being, the heart and soul of putting marks on a blank sheet of paper, drawing from the shoulder, drawing at speed. At least that is how I have come to see it.

Today was a challenge like no other.

Usually a model will make a series of poses, say ten poses each lasting 3 minutes (minimum) or six poses for 4 minutes or some such. We may follow up with poses of increasing length, say a couple of at 30 minutes that a ‘long one’ of 45 minutes. Not today. Never with Silvia. She always has a trick up her sleeve which I feel conjures out of us a playfulness, and character that would otherwise be lacking.

My 11th sketch of Liz as she does Qi-Gong.

Liz is a wonderful model: beautiful, intelligent and keen for ‘her’ students/artists to have a chance at creating some magic (even if we’re everything from novice to professional). The ‘warm up’ of a series of short poses was instead a series of semi-constant movement using Qi-Gong. Her feet and torso solid, Liz moved her arms synchronously in the same repeating pattern. This was one heck of a challenge. I like a 1 minute pose that I may complete in 10 seconds, but here the movement is constant. I made it up as I went along, at first establishing the torso/trunk and head as best I could, and then picking a moment that I would return to hoping to capture that moment. I then found myself trying to add to my initial doodle in the fraction of a second that position was repeated.

Image 3 of 13 of Liz as she performs Qi-Gong

After several attempts at this I then tried different things: making the trunk as hesitant as the arms/hands would appear, and then getting as many stages of the hand and arms as I could – forgetting about the torso/trunk and legs, only adding these later. It felt like trying to capture a moment of a hummingbird feeding, yet Liz moved really slowly. It was a challenging ‘warm up’ – far more challenging that lots of ‘short’, static poses of 3 to 5 minutes, and more challenging than drawing with your non-dominant hand only (left in my case) or drawing with your eyes closed. I proposed ten drawings. I used a fountain pen with black ink. I tore them from a pad so that they could be shared with the class. We do this: all work out on display to view and discuss. 

A collage of images of Liz kept to a single A1 sheet

We took a break: coffee/tea and cake.

Next up a 30 minute pose. Liz sat. Looking at it I think I rushed setting out the pose. I do chance it which means I can dislocate a shoulder or shorten a leg, and most easily of all, turn fingers into a bunch of bananas/broken twigs. I tried some pastels. I wonder if I can ever get away from black ink on white paper – that or lumps of charcoal. I lose something I feel when I take my time and it gets fiddly. Or I make it so. I admire the artist who gets the pose as simply as possible than adds a few dashes of watercolour.

Lunch. We bring our own packed lunch as the Farmhouse and kitchen is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. I usually bring something or make a dash for Middle Farm.

An hour to make friends and catch up with others. May of us have been doing this for a few years. I was missed at the last three sessions; the first I had Covid, the second I had a terrible cold and the third I had a family funeral.

After lunch we began with the only long pose of the day. I think it was 30 minutes, or was it 45 minutes? Liz got herself comfy on a sheepskin rug and pillows and by all accounts fell asleep. We drew. I ventured into colour – a new development for me. So far I’m only having success adding a simple colour wash to ink drawings.

Liz in pastels. 30 minutes (or was it a little longer?)

After that we returned to movement, but this time with a pose frozen for a few moments, even a few minutes. For me this was enough (usually), to get a flavour of the pose, everything positioned just about in the right place with an opportunity, very tentatively, to try and get a sense of Liz by adding features to her face.  Liz had music to do all of this too, haunting songs, nothing familiar but all beautiful.

Liz while still for a few minutes between a series of movements

These multiple poses are something I could work with – on even larger sheets, recreating what I was doing today, trying to fit in the ‘right’ combination and number of poses: say three to five main poses, with eight or nine minor ones.

And so the day came to an end – it was 4.00pm. Like others I felt I had been sitting an exam it was that intense, though far more fun.

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