We recently returned from the West Coast of British Columbia and were pleased to see the 9 inch ice ruts on our neighbourhood street had mostly melted away. However, the weather had also turned and we touched down to -9ºC and more snow.
On a quick walk about the backyard to see how much of the 6 foot snow pile had melted, I was astonished to find some anemic snowdrops frozen in place in the sudden change of temperature. (They are growing in a little alcove between our house and the fence so this area has a warmer microclimate.)
In the years that I’ve gardened in this variable urban prairie environment, I have learned that spring bulbs are hardier than their dainty appearance and I shovelled some snow on them and let them be.
The last couple days it has been warm enough for that snow to melt and they have emerged again. Today I documented them before returning them to snowy solitude. (Tomorrow’s forecast is a low of -19ºC with snow and a windchill of -25ºC.)
It has become an annual tradition to document the Galanthus that appear in my tiny garden each spring. They are not as lush and prolific as their Coastal cousins, but they remind me to try to be a little more purposeful and graceful under trying circumstances and they are hopeful signals that nature will let spring arrive eventually no matter how much we want her to hurry.
(I was given the opportunity to temporarily try out Photoshop CC and used it to edit the above image. It has been over 15 years since I have used this program. An amateur attempt at relearning an old skill – there are too many other things to do to worry about perfection! Below are the original unedited photographs.)
I’m not sure how I found her, but awhile ago, I started following Lara Gastinger on Instagram. Her illustrations of botanical subjects are exquisite. At the end of December she described her perpetual journal process and invited others to join her in this way of working. I misunderstood at first and thought it was a daily drawing entry, but rereading her process again, I found out that she only enters one drawing a week. In this way, there is room for subsequent years of drawing.
I started by recording pieces of the winter wrapped garden and quickly realized that I was more inspired by my new fascination with houseplants. So I will record the houseplants I have and by the time spring arrives, I plan to move outside to record the garden.
This is a wonderful low commitment way of practicing observation drawing – especially during the busy months of work. It will also help me keep track of the plants I have and their development over the years (space allowing!).
Every garden year is different and this one was no exception. As our yard matures, some plants have settled in, new challenges have developed and I have shifted my focus from acquiring new specimens to editing and caring for plants that I have an affinity for. (But let’s be honest: I will always have difficulty passing up a good plant trade or garden centre bargain!)
Spring brought the welcome sight of botanical ephemerals. Hepaticas and the Jeffersonian dubia are favourites for their exotic and delicate appearance. Inside, I was surprised to see an orchid I had purchased on clearance years ago, finally bloom again.
In May, I started to see the rock garden perennials wake and the Oak fern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) is starting to spread. Sadly, I had no success with cultivating Mason bees that I had overwintered as cocoons. I did catch a photo of one below as it briefly visited some Dwarf Valerian.
I credit the mason bees for doing such great work pollinating the cherry trees this year. On both my potted ‘Nanking’ and ‘Carmine Jewel’ we had profuse blossoms which yielded large quantities of cherries.
Unfortunately, the beauty of our crabapples was marred by the discovery of Fire blight. I am carefully pruning away affected branches of our ‘Spring Snow Flowering’ crabapple and this was the first autumn where I had to dispose of the leaves which I would normally use for mulch. At least the distinctive leaf markings made for an interesting drawing study in pencil crayon.
Other lesser garden challenges included finding out a Martagon lily I planted two years ago was actually not an ‘Alba’ but some unknown magenta imposter as it finally bloomed this summer. The specimen Saxifraga borisii ‘Vincent van Gogh’ also spent most of the summer recovering from vole damage incurred last winter. (With the amount of snow we are currently having, I wonder if our lawn and perennials will be visited again by those marauding beasts!) And unexpectedly, a ‘Morden Blush’ rose which I thought I had dug up and given to a friend is back in full glory after I let a wayward piece of root have its way. This proves to me that roses need not be temperamental!
The last challenge which is a continual one every winter in Calgary is a long standing Chinook that led to 14ºC temperatures in December followed by the current -27ºC we are enduring. I took this photo of the seed heads of Clematis koreana ‘Brunette’ while watering the evergreens on December 10.
It has been a whirlwind trying to summarize my creative pursuits in three blog posts in 2 days. Now that I have reformatted this space, I hope to visit it more often in 2018 in this less formal way. Best wishes.
Have you ever been surprised by a habit you didn’t realize you had until someone points it out to you?
It appears that this year, I formed a mild habit of handspinning fibre. Until I started organizing photographs, I hadn’t realized I was spinning something almost every month of 2017.
I think of it as meditation in motion. The by-product just happens to be pleasingly tactile, beautifully coloured yarn that also looks great under a camera lens (phone camera lens that is).
Below are some of the images I recorded. I am still learning to chain-ply, took a great class on hand carding with Diana Twiss and practiced a bit of knitting too. (All images photographed with iPhone 5 or iPhone 6S. Notecard in mail image by Susan Stephen.
I’ve always been drawn to small. Takes up less space. Economical. Energy efficient.
As I reflect on another year gone, I see that this size parameter also measures the amount of posts I have added to this site and the amount of mark making I produced this year. So realize this entry won’t take up much time… and look closely!
For a month I was diligent about keeping a daily sketchbook practice. I spent 20 minutes to 2 hours every night recording mostly pieces from my garden. As garden specimens dwindled, I turned to recording words and other items. I am glad that I recorded a beautiful brooch my Mom gifted me, as it became the inspiration for the linocut Christmas card I designed this year.
I hope in the coming months I will pick up a more frequent drawing practice, but I know that work will be demanding between January through to March and then it will be garden season once again! (I have also continued with spinning, which I will record in another post.) Best wishes for a bright New Year. Peace and creativity to you – even if you find it in small ways.
One way of creating that has helped me deal with the challenges of a demanding teaching profession is spinning. It is highly process oriented and basic in its reduction of form through texture and colour. It is a linear (no pun intended) way of working through thoughts and can be fit in a few minutes here and there without feeling I’ve lost track of what I was doing (as happens when composing a drawing).
Today I thought I would pay tribute to the beautiful wheel my parents bought for me almost 20 years ago: An Ashford ‘Joy.’ Sometimes the things we need to help us settle into ourselves are right there waiting for us to pick them up again. I digitally processed the photographs in black and white to draw the eye to the elegant, minimalist curves and natural wood grain.
Two years ago, I started drawing skies and almost as soon as I posted them, I stopped. A critical mind is important until it impacts productivity.
I’ve truly enjoyed making this drawing the last few days. The challenge of adding architecture which I never draw was fun and I learned that I could improve the drawing through photographing it and seeing where shading needed to be fixed. It’s not perfect but it’s finished.
This drawing was made from a photo taken on the first day of winter. The Prairies often have beautiful sunrises and sunsets and this day was no exception. I have spent years trying to build a garden to block this view of our back alley, but that day there was a realization that even the suburbs and man-made structures have their charm.