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.

Moat Wood, East Hoathly through the seasons

I took up visits to woods in general and Woodland Trust woods in particular to give that part of my day no longer occupied with e-learning at GBMET a focus. This has seen me travel back and forth across East Sussex, with some trips into West Sussex and over the border into Kent (just). I may say that in time my current tramping ground is the South Downs. 

The Woodland Trust provides the detail on the history and management of the wood I visit, along with guidance on the flora and fauna to expect. I rarely get the parking right and can differ up and down local lanes several times before I get it right. 

My Sussex Woods

As petrol prices have gone through the roof my trips have spiralled ever closer to home, within 5 miles of Lewes, and on foot on local walks in every direction from the Winterbourne to Juggs Lane, Egrets Way and the Railway Land Trust, Malling and Southerham Nature Reserves, Malling Field along the Ouse to Offham and of course Landport Bottom and the Old Racecourse. 

I had already completed six or more visits to Sussex Woodland Trust woods before I took a punt on Moat Wood, East Hoathly. We know the village from ‘outlier’ bonfire events – always a nighttime November trip, so hardly an opportunity to take in the countryside. 

I’ve now been back to East Hoathly at least ten times in nine months, most times varying the visit a little, either parking up on South Street in the layby or by the Church. I’ve also wondered well beyond the woods into the surrounding fields. The temptation has even developed to move here, with a few properties coming up which have looked interesting (if not always affordable). Anything away from Lewes, its connectability, schools and ‘quality of life’ and resources becomes more affordable if you want a detached house, a patch of garden and somewhere to park a car. 

The Mission of The Woodland trust is to ‘improve woodland biodiversity and increase peoples’ understanding and enjoyment of woodland’. I can get behind that, and apply the same thinking to Chalk Downs and hedging and coppiced fringes into woodland and suburban back gardens. I apply this to the shambolic ‘rewilding’ of my own urban garden which has had ten years of ‘nomoever’ and a lot of mulching. 

Moat Wood is an easy, short circuit on the flat. The rides can be muddy and on some paths are best tackled in wellies or sturdy boots. There is one bench on the corner of one walk and some hefty downed trunks that afford a good bench and picnic spot south of the spartan remains of a mediaeval moated farm. It was designated a Scheduled Monument by English Heritage in 2000, which gives the site additional protection against unauthorised change. This might not be enough to prevent the site being closely fringed by busy roads and housing development. 

There are two recommended spots to park, either by the Church in the village car park or by the side of the road, or on South Street where there is a layby with space for several vehicles. I’ve always been able to park, often being the only vehicle in the lay-by. 

Location of East Hoathly in East Sussex, southern England (cc OpenStreetMap) 

I’ve not tried the entrance closer to the A22 because there is nowhere to park and I’ve learnt to stay away from the often busy and noisy A22. 

The entrance to Moat Wood off South Street, East Hoathly. 

I may try some early morning trips here when the traffic should be lighter. I’m afraid that traffic noise and overhead planes are impossible to avoid anywhere in Sussex as we’re criss-crossed with commuter routes and underneath some of the busiest skies on the planet for planes with Gatwick and Heathrow close, let along Luton and Stansted beyond and local airfields sending up small craft. 

My knowledge of the trees is limited but growing: I can identify a handful of trees though generally will need a leaf to go by, rather than figuring it out from a trunk or twig. I’m getting there. You also need to see the trees at different stages of growth from sapling, to mature and ancient trees. 

Hornbeam

Oak over the moat and April, June and January

Moat Wood offers all the stages through to mature trees of maybe 150 years old. For truly ancient trees of 200-300 years old you need to look further afield … of come back in a century. I know my oak:

I love to find woods through The Woodland Trust ‘Find a Wood’, read up the introductory blurb on the website and then download the Management Plan. 

The three strategic aims of The Woodland Trust that I’ve picked out are to: 

  • Protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future
  • Work with others to create more native woodlands and places rich in trees
  • Inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees

This is a fine balance which opens the woods up to access to the most invasive of all species: us, our dogs and behaviours while working with local councils, and land owners, which might include a property developer or farmer, or a wealthy individual with a philanthropic turn. Woods in Sussex are largely unconnected and isolated; either a patchwork of often visited spaces close to urban sprawl, or a wet or deeply incised space which couldn’t be commercially turned over to farming (or a commercial shoot) as well as apparently random spaces that few people ever visit which might offer the best sanctuary of all. We don’t take kindly to being kept out of a wood and protect our rights of way and footpaths stoically. 

It required significant donations from local people in East Hoathly and the East Hoathly and Halland Parish Council to purchase Moat Wood Moat for the Woodland Trust in 1999. 

The Woodland Trust Management Plan for Moat Wood tells us that:

The majority of the canopy of Moat Wood is dominated by mature oak, grown as high forest, with a mixed species understorey. 

This canopy was drastically opened up by the storm of 1987 and subsequent clearing operations. These cleared areas are now dominated by a mixture of natural regeneration and coppice re-growth, particularly of hornbeam, along with a few surviving planted oaks. 

My multiple visits to Moat Wood are shared on All Trails and a selection of my photographs shared to Google Maps. My photographs, trails and even these notes are essentially a personal aide memoire. I’ll revisit what I have written and build on what I know over the years. 

Moat Wood from South Street, around the ‘moat’ to the A22 perimeter. You could try and cross this busy dual-carriageway – I haven’t. 

The policy for Moat Wood is of ‘minimum silvicultural intervention’ which means there are no operations such as coppicing, thinning or felling.

All I’ve been aware of is the clearing of some of the saplings, bracken and brambles that were choking up the southern environs of the 13th century moat – cleared during a dry spell last autumn they became soggy over winter but at least make it possible to make out the old moat and what would have been a farmstead. It requires a lot of imagination to picture it. The joy though is to see the trees and plants change so much during the seasons, with autumn and spring by far the most colourful, while the contrast between mid-winter and mid-summer couldn’t be greater. 

The Management Plan for Moat Wood has more to say on these moated farmsteads: 

This type of moated site is likely to have been a prestigious domestic or religious settlement containing timber-framed buildings and been built between 1250 and 1350. 

There are around 6000 moated sites known in England, mostly built between 1250 and 1350. They form a significant class of mediaeval monument and are important for the understanding of the distribution of wealth and status in the countryside

Mature Oak 

Some of the mature oak is currently affected by chronic oak decline and ash is affected by ash dieback

There are ‘ancient woodland indicator ground flora species’ such as bluebell, wood anemone and wild garlic. These are glorious as early March, through April to May. 

The coppice regrowth around the moat will be re-cut on a short cycle (2-5 years) to maintain open views of the feature.

There is a ‘naturally regenerated understorey of species such as hornbeam, birch, hazel, holly, sycamore and sweet chestnut’. 

Conifers

According to the Management Plan parts of Moat Wood outside of the Trust’s ownership are ‘threatened by unmanaged conifer plantations’ in one area and ‘attempts to remove all vegetation prior to submitting a planning application in another’. It is one of the main principles of the Woodland Trust to protect, maintain and restore this species-rich habitat.

Help Save the Historic Lewes Bus Station

Read on then act. Responses must be in by a week on Friday, the 10th June 2022.

Lewes Bus Station

This is an article by Cllr Adrian Ross

“As you may know, the Generator Group has now submitted an application to South Downs National Park for the ‘demolition and development of bus station site’.  This is a full application for planning permission, rather than the request for advice that they submitted in August 2021.

The Green Party councillors of the town (Lewes), district (Lewes District) and county (East Sussex) have reviewed the plans in detail and do not think they are suitable.  The ‘elephant in the room’ is that the proposals fail to identify a suitable alternative site for the bus station.  Instead, they propose temporary on-street bus stops, or ‘three bus stops plus waiting and seating facilities on Phoenix Causeway’.  Neither of these come anywhere near the Lewes Local Plan requirements for ‘an operationally satisfactory and accessible site’ or a ‘suitable alternative town centre site … offering the same or better undercover waiting facilities’.

The proposals would leave bus passengers waiting under small shelters, directly adjacent to a very busy road, that they would need to cross to change services.  It would also leave the bus companies without space for buses to wait between services, almost certainly leading to gridlock around the town’s narrow streets.

Lewes Bus Station

We have many other concerns with the proposals too, notably:

  • the proposals offer no affordable housing
  • the plans don’t include enough one-bedroom properties, so badly needed by young local people
  • requirements for zero-carbon homes and the use of sustainable materials have been ignored
  • there is no assessment of the air quality impact of moving the bus station
  • viability calculations appear biased to justify not meeting policy requirements

if approved, the plans would severely constrain options for the far bigger North Street Quarter.

If you agree with our concerns, then please respond to the application – we need South Downs National Park to know the strength of opposition to these plans in the town. 

Comments can be submitted via the South Downs National Park planning site at https://planningpublicaccess.southdowns.gov.uk/online-applications/ by searching for application SDNP/22/02197/FUL.  

Objections need to be on the basis of planning policy, so we have written an extensive assessment detailing the policy non-compliance that we have identified. 

A summary is below, and our full Green Party response is available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1b8KGHFyrN1ZvCuZQ8Oy5cn0Q353jXgMW/edit?usp=sharing&ouid=102816289702924531298&rtpof=true&sd=true

Alternatively, to make it easy for as many people to respond as possible, we have developed a template response which can be submitted in a few clicks, or edited as required. 

Here’s a link to it : > https://actionnetwork.org/letters/respond-to-lewes-bus-station-application-sdnp2202197ful/ 

NOTE : if you put the objection in your own word it will carry more weight – Editor)

  • Please do take the time to respond to these proposals, which jeopardise public transport in our town. 
  • Please share this information as widely as you can and encourage others to record their objections too.

There is no agreed plan to replace the bus station, as required by South Downs Local Plan Strategic Site Policy SD57 (for ‘North Street Quarter and Adjacent Eastgate Area’).

Neither of the ‘two potential options to replace the existing facilities’ meet any of the requirements of Policy SD57, Policy SD19 (Transport and Accessibility), Lewes Neighbourhood Plan objective 10 (Village & Town Connections) Lewes Neighbourhood Plan Policy HC1 (Protection of Existing & New Community Infrastructure) or Lewes Neighbourhood Plan Policy AM2 (Public Transport Strategy).

Lewes Bus Station and Garage

The obvious solution to keeping a bus station in Lewes – i.e. retaining it on the existing site – has not been properly evaluated.

The proposals offer no affordable housing, in contravention of South Downs Local Plan Strategic Policy SD28 (Affordable Homes), which requires a minimum of 50%.  This is despite the apparent absence of any extraordinary costs such as flood defences, decontamination or provision of community facilities.

The mix of home sizes is not compliant with South Downs Local Plan Strategic Policy SD27 (Mix of Homes), with a significant shortfall of the one-bedroom properties that are in such short supply in the town, and so needed for local young people.

With the proposed relocation of the bus station, the development must be considered to be a ‘major development’ according to SDNPA’s definition.  South Downs Local Plan Core Policy SD3 (Major Development) requires that development proposals should be zero carbon and use sustainable materials.  Current proposals are not compliant with this policy requirement.

The ‘Air Quality Assessment’ does not consider at all the air quality impact of moving the bus station, so does not meet the requirements of South Downs Local Plan Development Management Policy SD54 (Pollution and Air Quality).

Regarding viability, Generator Group bought the site in April 2021 in full knowledge of all planning policies.  Government guidance is clear that ‘site purchasers should consider [policy compliance costs] when agreeing land transactions.

Government advice is also explicit that ‘the price paid for land is not a relevant justification for failing to accord with relevant policies’.  So, if Generator Group overpaid for the land, then that is their mistake and responsibility; residents should not have to pay for it through the loss of both a bus station and affordable housing.

Finally, South Downs Local Plan Strategic Site Policy SD57 (North Street Quarter and Adjacent Eastgate Area, Lewes) requires redevelopment plans ‘to be considered as one’ and proposals to be ‘consistent with other phases/schemes’.  If approved, the bus station plans (especially the proposed relocation of the bus station) would seriously constrain options for the far-larger and more strategically important North Street Quarter.  Therefore, SDNPA must not grant any approval for the bus station site ahead of the North Street proposals.”

Brighton Open Houses Festival 2022

We attend Brighton Open Houses Festival on at least one day of the four weekends in May each year; we usually make a better job of it. Discussions beforehand and having tried to gauge what to visit we made an overly ambitious plan. Rather than sticking to one trail and walking from neighbour to neighbour over a number of hours we’d cherry pick a few studios and move between them on foot, electric train and bus. We needed the car. 

It didn’t quite work out – we spent too much time on foot a long way between venues. Indeed the 12,000 steps was the biggest takeaway rather than the excitement of a particular venue or artist. 

Devil’s Dyke Farm 

That said, we made a reasonable start at Devil’s Dyke Farm, though we thought this would be an Open House; instead we found a wedding venue marquee and an event that had a commercial air to it. Devil’s Duke Farm was excellent for what it was: well signposted, ample parking, loos, coffee and even alcohol (but not food) and ample space for each of the artists/creators to display their work. 

Perennial favourites here included Sarah Jones and Helen Brown, as well as the charming Wolfram Lohr and his handcrafted wooden and leather hanging plant containers. 

The price was a bit steep and I was unconvinced that a pot full of water, crocks, soil and a plant would remain secured to the wall. 

The history of the location, the end of the line for the Devil’s Dyke Railway, was fascinating (it’s a shame that the train doesn’t still operate). 

The views are also panoramic with 15 or 20 miles out to the top of the horizon taking in the vast Rampion Offshore Wind Farm and huge shipping silhouetted on their traffic lanes in the Channel.

Our next move was to park up in Brighton Marina, dodging the Sunday morning car boot sale. We’d have 4 hours for the rest of our trip. The thinking was a dinky ride on the Volks Electric Rail would take us into Brighton and then we’d walk along the seafront dropping into a number of venues, then come back through town via venues near the station, the Lanes and finally Kemp Town. To achieve this we would have needed bikes or scooters – or taken an Über between some parts of time; I hadn’t realised the distances involved which explains why the ‘trails’ have been created. Yes, select a trail and walk between venues on this trail. No, pick and mix across many trials thinking you’d still be able to walk between them. Brighton and Hove is not Ditchling! The Ditchling Art Wave venues really are linked back gardens, shop fronts and venues that are neighbours. And we ought to have come on the first weekend and made our mistakes then rather than leaving it all to the last day.

The highlight of the Volks Electric Railway was to make the first purchase of a discounted ticket for a ‘Senior’. The train has had a renovation recently but is otherwise much as it was when constructed 150 years ago, and much the same as when I first made a trip into Brighton from the Marina in August 1980. On that occasion I was on a family sailing trip with my late father and his boat; his boat Canny Lass, a Fischer 38 was moored on the new marina. At the time the ONLY building on the site was the Portacabin like Brighton Sailing Club.

The Dog Show 

The walk from the end of the Volks Line to the 360 and into Brighton was far further than expected. At least the result was a typical Open House treet, a couple of rooms, a grand Georgian parlour featuring in this case a variety of artists, painters and makers on the theme of dogs. 

There were many lovely pictures and items, though we were not tempted to purchase any prints or cards. I have promised Wanda that I will draw Evie, from life, and see what I can do to add colour with paints or pastels. 

The second venue was a ground floor studio around the corner; a lovely space but the landscapes, though well executed in oil appeared somewhat kitsch and invented, not real landscapes but landscapes of the mind with certain motives repeated in that way that might appeal to a certain purchaser, but lacks authenticity. In all honesty I had no idea where the places being depicted were and no title invited us to think this was the Downs at sunset, the Pennines and Spanish Nivada.

Having taken up an hour and a half since leaving the marina we now found we had a 20 minute walk diagonally across town to pick up a venue, only to need a further 20 minutes to get up to London Road Station. We had miscalculated, our feet were tired, we needed coffee and possibly something to eat. We rethought our plan, instead staying closer to the coast. This had its disappointments because of course it took in crafty shops, though the Sussex Arts Club Annual Show was worth the visit to renew my interest in attending regular drop-in sessions here (£12 for 2 hours). I recognised a number of the models, for example the wiry and gymnastic ‘Peter’ and spoke to our host, one of the artists. 

The work is of a really high standard and wonderfully eclectic in the variety of approaches and results from oils to charcoal, pencil to watercolour. I took life drawing up six years ago and have, I feel, started to produce work that would be worth displaying. I’m best at doing several quick pieces in a few minutes – even the three minute pose can feel too long for me. I want to get it right, get the feel and look of the model and their pose with a dozen or some marks or not at all. 

There were some hidden gems around Hanningtons, quirky one off ideas executed with a sense of fun, such as the comical piece made of painted driftwood with cartoons and cheeky, rude or political comments.

By 4:15pm our options were running out. We had to get back to the Marina.

We had expected to use our return ticket on the Volks Electric Train, but wanted to visit a number of venues towards and around Kemp Town. We had left it too late, though we could have driven up to one venue which would be open until 6:00pm. Hunger was now the motivation and it started to rain. 

Patsy Mcarthur had a first floor lounge looking over the sea, the perfect Open House venue perhaps to show her large water themed paintings and charcoal drawings of swimmers young and old, in bathing costumes or clothes, frolicking and twisting about in a pool, lake or open sea, swimming hard or just enjoying the feel of the water. 

I could see these large pieces of art displayed by someone’s swimming pool, or recreated as massive murals to cover an entire wall of a 25m or even 50m swimming pool. That or where they are most likely destined in a home with the light and a pool.

I’d happily pay the £7,000 for one of the larger paintings though these days, even if I had the money, I am less keen to purchase prints for £200 – these still need to be framed well to take their place properly on the wall. There was a hardback book though. Not being the type to gush about being embroiled by British understatement, I failed to get a selfie with the artist, have her sign the book or even talk much at all about her work, her inspiration … and most importantly of all, how she does it. 

I rather think my days of purchasing art are long gone (I have a couple of peices bought through Artsy 8 years ago).  instead I need to be making my own. I am, and always want to aim at peices 8ft long and 6ft high – so scale. But I’m still, I feel ‘getting my hand in’ and learning some simple techniques. I can see, I can draw, I can compose, but I’ve never mastered colour beyond a light watercolour wash over an inked up drawing. 

Having a space to paint without having to clear everything off the kitchen table two or three times a day would help! In our excursions we admire the different studio spaces and wonder what changes we could make around our own home. My ambition is to take my life drawing to life sized pieces and any urban landscapes I am venturing towards a good 6ft by 4ft or larger. I’m not for diddling about as if I am painting an Airfix model, and I can see that it is the large image that is best reduced down for prints and postcards (If we go this far). 

Rodmell Food Forest

The Open Day on 28 May was a wonder.

A trip down to Rodmell wasn’t on our agenda as Brighton Art Wave was very much our plan for the weekend, but seeing something about a local so called ‘forest farm’ having an open day and being someone who gardens in a chaotic, partially informed messy way aimed at improving soil, providing shade, moisture and lots for local wildlife made this something I very much wanted to see. My efforts at turning a patch of urban garden into a quasi-allotment forest has largely failed as what crops did survive the onslaught of slugs usually gave up through lack of moisture/nutrients in the soil, are suffocated by weeds, give up for lack of light (or too much light) or get blown over in the first gale. 

Mill Lane to Rodmell Food Forest

We followed instructions about parking on Mill Lane to the letter. No one wants a stranger’s car blocking their drive and restricting movement of farm vehicles or horse-boxes in a semi-rural village setting. This meant an enchanting walk up Mill Lane – which in fact takes you onto the South Downs Way (something to note for a later visit).

Rodmell Forest Garden to Lewes and Mt Caburn

The views over the Ouse Valley are stunning as in one sweep you can look north to Lewes, north east to Mount Caburn, east towards Firle and south east down to Seaford Head/Newhaven and the Channel. 

Our timing could not have been more perfect, and a complete fluke, as the Head Gardener Marc Stenham was just starting his tour and talk around the garden – more of a huge, cohesive allotment plot (without much of the repeated allotment furniture of boundary markers, multiple sheds, greenhouses and benches. 

I took notes. I was tempted to hit record on my phone but know from previous experience that bird and human chatter or my own heavy breathing would probably feature enough to make parts of it unintelligible. I kept an ear on the talk while cutting in and out of the labyrinth of turfed over paths; I was in wonder at the lack of compacted soil or gravel paths as so many of us resort too. Limited footfall when visitors are not present must help. 

The ground here is awful : tips on soil improvement and management on the Chalk Downs of Sussex. 

Marc Stenham sharing his knowledge of gardening

“The ground here is awful … inches down to chalk” Marc explained. Any of us from roundabout here (I’m thinking everyone), could nod in agreement on this one. “The beds have had ten years of no rotation and mulching, using wood chips and comfrey leaves, though human waste from the composting toilet is the best”. 

Visits to the composting toilet followed

Compost Toilet, Rodmell Food Forest

I paid a visit early, spent my penny as it were and took some photographs. It reminded me of two other bizarre lavatories that I have used in the past: a similar hutment on the Masai Mara 40 years ago, a double seater in a thatched hut with large piles of National Geographic and the knowledge that there were crocodiles in the creek below; and ‘our own’ mediaeval long drop stone toilet in the wall of the south wing at Appleby Castle.

Composting bins at Rodmell Food Forest

“Mulching is key to keep moisture in the ground” Marc continued, still answering questions when I returned from the composting loo. As well as the all important ingredient of ‘night soil’, he recommends comfrey and wood chips from any source (he gets it for free from saw mills and tree surgeons). Wood pulp he explained is a huge bonus as it stops weeds, adds fibre and holds moisture. “The older it is the better” he added, though anything and everything works. I found ArbTalk which appears to indicate where free wood chips could be available. 

Intensity of planting

Marc advised us “never be precious about your plants”. Looking around the plot I would suggest that the extra volunteer hands of people who come and stay here are put to good use; my experience is that if you let things go for too long it is easy to brambles, docks, ivy, and couch grass. In Rodmell Forest Garden nettles are at home in many of the beds; i have no doubt where they are permitted and where they are not is carefully managed and done for a reason. 

Marc spoke of ‘keyhole plants’ in the beds; I’m thinking how a variety of edibles are planted directly into mixed beds where collectively they will thrive. 

The Toona Tree at Rodmell Food Forest

Marc told a story of how a volunteer from China took to regularly using leaves from their Toona sinesis tree in omelettes. 

The Siberian Pea at Rodmell Food Forest

There was also some talk of the Siberian pea; I just took pictures so I will need to ask others what was said. 

Let the birds do their work  

“We’re only here fractionally, the wildlife is here all the time”, said Marc. 

Another memorable comment and highly repeatable. It helps all round to create some kind of synergy if not symbiosis with nature. Marc explained that the “ecosystem of the garden is now working”. In particular he praised  bird life and especially the busy blackbird families. I have to wonder what I might do to save on bird seed; I like having the tits, sparrows and goldfinches around but can’t keep shelling out for bird food. 

Cardoon Lentil Stew at Rodmell Food Forest

“Most things are edible but they don’t necessarily taste nice”, said Marc. 

Other than what is being deliberately grown I’m assuming Marc was talking about random weeds which appear such as nettles and dock, both of which I have eaten, though best of all has been foraging wild garlic for pesto and soup.  We were able to help ourselves to a Cardoon Lentil Soup.

“I don’t like anything in pots: I would rather use trays and get things into the ground”

Marc then qualified this with “and then I don’t have to think about it’; he wants a plant to look after itself. I rather think this requires intelligent planting, a good deal of forethought and all the mulching and keyhole planting he has been talking about … and those volunteers coming in who must be given something to do. There is plenty around the plot to show ongoing work, organising, managing, sorting. 

The Rodmell Food Forest  Garden, allotment, South Downs hillside labyrinth is a gem. Wait for another Open Day, offer to volunteer, pick up tips, learn from enthusiastic experts and then put some of the ideas demonstrated here into practice where you live.

Ditchling Open House Art Festival 2022

This ‘Trail’ is a great way to ease your way into the annual Open Houses Art festival that sprung up in Brighton 41 years ago and now fills Brighton, Hove, Kempton, Saltdean, Ditchling and beyond. The beauty of the Ditchling ‘Trail’ is that is generally easy to park in the Village Hall car park then walk in and out of shops and galleries on the High Street, in and through a number of back gardens to a number of studios and workshops, and of course, around the Village Hall itself which hosts a dozen artists and craft makers. 

Entering the Village Hall visitors are invited to complete a slip of paper identifying their favourite. I chose Chris Dawson, a cartoonist – for his wit and execution. Being someone who does life drawing once a month I enjoyed his cartoon showing a life drawing class in a nudist colony in which the artists are naked while their model is clothed. I also enjoyed Karen Peters, see ‘Home for Christmas’, and David Hobden

A little coordination between neighbours since our last visit, there is now a rabbit-run of connected studios between four or five rear garden studios and lean-to spaces. Collectively they offer garden sculptures, paintings, prints, pots … and bespoke guitars and citterns.

I can’t indulge myself in any way with this but can enjoy how types of sculpture can add so much to a garden experience, complementing the planting and established trees and adding a feature to a corner of the lawn or as a centrepiece. My eye caught the bright daisy paintings. 

Caroline Todd,told us how she began creating a painting a day in January 2020 and kept it up for a year during lockdown, restricting herself to small, landscape Moleskine art pads. She  filled several books on display here. 

It reminded me of exhibitions at the Royal Academy of Arts, I’m thinking of Antony Gormley, featuring many notebooks that chart the thinking he has gone through and how one idea or another comes to fruition. 

Caroline was inspired by a fellow artist who said he had been wedded to the discipline of doing something every day for five or more years. 

Restricted to one location during lockdown she became acutely aware of the changing light through the day and seasons. 

I like the line in her blurb ‘there is always a danger of overworking the image and losing the magic’ – I have a habit of doing this (with paint, not drawings). I also like the discipline of doing something everyday, just as once upon a time I wrote a diary daily, kept a blog – every day; or would play the guitar, or go for a swim – every day. The guitar sits untouched like a wrapped sculpture in the sitting room – never touched: I will teach swimmers but haven’t been in the water myself for at least six years. Life moves on. I keep my fingers tapping, my hand in with a pencil … my mind alert and relieving itself somewhere, somehow. 

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