I could title this an escape into teacups. Autumn always brings the appeal of a drawing project on the blog – a month of penline drawings or flowered objects from the V&A. This year, more than ever, I want to refocus my mind away from the incessant and scary election palaver.
So, sourced from the Internet’s byways, I offer a selection of teacup encounters, planning to share them till Tuesday the 8th. (And daily on Instagram.)
Rather than fretting about what’s next in my real work (or for the country), I’ve loved being absorbed in thoughts of these comforting objects, as I sit under the circle of my desk lamp with pen, watercolors, and tea to hand!
One January day the wordsmith came by bringing me “A Shakespearean Botanical,” a beautiful little volume by Margaret Willes. In it woodcut illustrations from the 1597 herbal by John Gerard accompany quotations from Shakespeare. Willes also includes bits about the medical and cooking uses of plants and gardening in Tudor England. She mentions a new theory that Gerard and Shakespeare were friends, certainly they were contemporaries.
Willes has much respect for Shakespeare’s familiarity with plants, and she’s plucked lines from the plays containing familiar names – rosemary, roses, and rue – and less familiar, long purples and mandrake.
Many criticize Gerard’s illustrations for inaccuracy (they are copies of copies of woodcuts from continental sources), but in this lovely volume they are regular and rhythmic illustrations. Willes uses the copy owned by the Bodelian Library as source material, and notes that perhaps because of copper in the pigments, colors in leaves have sometimes turned from green to turquoise.
Looking at these five hundred year-old woodcuts I think of the flowers that remain the same – violets and the tiny daisies in our scrubby lawn. But also I think about the changed nature of others like primroses, colorful offerings outside the grocery store this time of year.
So Gerard’s illustrations will be my starting point for February days with a line (or more specifically brushstroke). In the tradition of medieval woodcut artists, I’ll copy – not for accuracy but to see where it takes me.
A good way to have a good time? Spend a Saturday at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, in a classroom full of sunshine and students eager to try their hands at sumi-e painting.
The instructor, petite and gracious Louise Kikuchi, told us a little sumi-e lore – about the indelible ink and how it is made, about absorbent paper and brush strokes: “the only stroke you can make at this moment.”
On large pieces of newsprint we copied each introduced character, beginning with the symbols for one, two, three, graduating to horse, cat, willow tree. We finished the day with a landscape.
Each time after we did our best effort on a piece of rice paper (often not so interesting as practice marks), Kikuchi would hold up our offerings and gently comment, describing her impressions of our lines: lively, fierce, graceful.
I loved having a brush in hand all day – making me realize yet again how important it is to focus, devote time, and have materials ready. So if I fix these lacks, posting results will bring some color to February.
And I will use color, because luckily I haven’t a sumi-e ink bar, or I would get sidetracked grinding the bar and making ink rich and dark like Kukichi’s.