I have been reading John lewis-Semple’s book, “The Wood”. This writer paints beautiful pictures of nature using wonderful word choices instead of paint. At one point he describes the death of Mayflies in his local ponds. Mayflies are a spectacular feature of English Chalk Streams . They are an exquisite aquatic insect that leaves the river during May to mate in the air and then to fall to the water, lay their eggs and die. A visit to a chalk stream on a mild, late May, evening will reveal what is truly a wonder of nature. Many thousands of these insects fill the air. and the trout feed on them wildly as they collapse on the water. John describes the “fall of spinners”, as it is locally known, as a fall of tragic ballerinas. So appropriate!. In spite of the fact that the expression also has associations with cartoon strips, this seems to me to be such a beautiful expression to describe this magical event. I have painted them many times, and have just produced a limited Edition print which is being sold on Leckford estate where I work as an artist.
The biomass of mayflies during late May has been estimated as many thousands of tons of food which nourishes the river system and enables fish to recover from winter spawning and grow large and fat.
Leckford Estate was the home of John Lewis who founded the Department Store chain. The Estate is still maintained by the partnership and, as well as being a large and important farm, has various leisure facilities which it offers to partners and occasionally to outsiders like me. It also owns about 11 miles of fishing on the River Test in a valley bottom full of wet pasture and willow carr, This is a glorious example of a chalk stream eco-system; some of the pasture has NEVER been ploughed, the botany, bird and invertebrate life is of national importance.
I have visited it many times over the last 25years and often spent most of the day sketching and painting its wildlife. I showed a book of sketches, and the maps that I did or the Wylye Flyfishing club to the head keeper at Leckford last summer, and as a result was asked to use my ideas as an artist to promote the ethos of the estate.
I have recently completed a hand drawn map of the river bottom for the Fishing club, showing members and guests where they are permitted to go. It is also created to convey the value the estate places on their custodianship of such a precious resource. A version of it will be made that can be sold to the many visitors to Longstock Park Nursery and farm shop, which is also part of the estate.
I have painted trout in local rivers for many years now and the fascination never goes away. As a naturalist, there is the wonderful experience of patient observation and understanding a wild creature. But there is more.
Chalk streams are very rare eco-systems. There are less than twenty in the world and the majority are in the UK. they are fabulous places. In the summer, the clarity of the water and the richness of the greens is truly dramatic.
I will never forget the first time I looked down off a bridge into this amazing aquatic world, and learned to see things that most people pass by. This is a confection of rich greens, violets, and oranges tossed about by the dancing surface and the emergence of form out of the chaos of flickering lights; sometimes disguised by reflected UV, sometimes not. It appeals to the artist whose best work often brings form out of chaos and serendipity.
Understanding the way light is reflected off the surface of water is a challenge.
Combine all that with the capacity of water colour to describe the richness of the colour and the fluidity of the subject and you have the reason why I endlessly paint trout in the water, often standing up in very awkward postures.
These places are under huge pressure from water abstraction and pollution; it would be an unmitigated tragedy if they were to suffer continued degradation and efforts must be, and are being, made to restore them.
I have always loved maps,and almost the first thing I do when I go to a new place is to buy one. Wylye Fly Fishing Club had poor maps that were inaccurate and/or very hard to read and I spent two or three years walking the water and re-mapping them from the perspective of would be fishermen. The sketchbook referred to in my last post contained a complete set of maps as well as sketches which reflected my experiences on the river. Here are a few pictures of the contents.
I have produced several small sketchbooks for friends which follow a theme. Two of them now have been for fellow fly fishing addicts.
Producing a book of sketchbooks so all the images are consecutive and in manageable folios, is quite a challenge. Presenting them so they can be made into a book which is reproducible is even worse. I have recently been helped by a very talented Professional Book Artist called Meg Green who I met when I was at Art School. https://www.someoddpages.com/
Here is the front age of a book I made for Wylye Flyfishing Club. This is a very conservation minded group of people who love the small chalk streams that flow into the Hampshire Avon above Salisbury. They are trying to restore these streams to how they were 50 years ago with the help of the Environment Agency and the Riparian owners, a process called re-wilding; which is very close to my heart.
I have enjoyed fly fishing for about 40 years and, living in Hampshire, I have been in a position to enjoy some of the best of it. The Hampshire rivers are a stunning eco system which I have learned to understand and appreciate as a consequence. Nowdays, I am more interested in watching, observing and enjoying than actually putting up a fishing rod. Of more recent years I started doing sketches by the river and later filling sketchbooks with small paintings, as this way of doing art has taken root in my life.
Latterly I have been reviewing some of my work and realised that it is a very effective visual diary and that a narrative comes to mind sparked by each one. This is pretty important to me as time fishing has often been the time when really big ideas and solutions to knotty problems emerge.
Quite a lot of time has been spent on the Estate at Leckford in Hampshire which is owned by the John lewis Partnership and where John lewis himself used to live.
Here are a few of the earlier sketches which have evoked the mood of this lace at times when I have been very glad to find a refuge.
Last autumn when we went to the Great Barrier Reef I wrote the experience up for the travel agents because they were very kind to us when we were very poorly earlier in the trip and ended up in hospital after eating bad food somewhere. I have attached the link for you to see if you are interested. http://www.audleytravel.com/magazine/2014/march/travellers-tales-australia.aspx
I wrote a rambling dissertation last year about the place of nature based art in the so called “Art World”. In it I posed the question “Was cave art the precursor of modern sketchbook art”. I think there is a link and that the “Cave Art”exhibition at the British Museum last year presented some new insights.
In my final year show, my sketchbooks were the bit that was assessed as really good art, which surprised me quite a bit. I was encouraged to do more watercolour work and to try to build a style from my direct observations of the world around me. So I have had my head down for about 6months.
In the Autumn last year, I visited my Son in Australia and we went to a coral cay in the Great barrier reef for a holiday. It was a spectacular place and I did loads of sketches as well as writing an article for the Travel Agent who arranged the trip.
Here are some examples of the work I did out there, and the development process.