Candles (Aesculus hippocastanum) at Great Fulford

Horse chestnut flower, Aesculus Hippocastanum, in front of painting of same by Catherine Forshall

When I think of horse chestnut trees they always seem to be in public places: a village square in France, near a statue, by a park, on the edge of a cricket pitch. Perhaps that is because they are so flamboyant, exuberant, decorative. They are not really natives being imported from northern Greece or Albania in 1616, the year that Pocahontas, her husband John Rolfe and their son Thomas arrived in England,  and the year that Sir Walter Raleigh was released from The Tower to lead his doomed quest to find El Dorado.

Figure out of focus in background, Catherine Forshall, painting surrounded by blue bells in dappled shade, chestnut candle in foreground

The nearest one to our cottage though is hidden in the woods, near the tennis court at Fulford, which is also hidden in the woods and which as a result spends a lot of the year covered in moss and leaves.

Hand of Catherine Forshall sketching horse chestnut candles at Great Fulford

The tree is on the edge of the track which leads through the woods to the house, so perhaps it used to be a more public place. Now, though, it is almost hidden and probably not seen in flower by anybody from one year to the next. When I see the candles I know that spring has sprung and summer has begun. I walked up to the wood to sketch them, breaking off a candle and pushing away the branches to kneel among the bluebells and ivy in the shade of the tree with my sketch books.

Hand holding paint brush painting on canvas horse chestnut flower seen standing up on left

Later I took the some flowers home to paint. They don’t last long. I had to work quickly.

Horse chestnut candle flowers in front of blue background, painting by Catherine Forshall

Detail from Candles and Sea painting

You can see my work now  at the Montcrieff-Bray gallery near Petworth in Sussex.

The show has just started and is on until the 20th June.

http://moncrieff-bray.com/exhibitions   

All photographs © James Forshall

Woman, Catherine Forshall, painter, walking down hill along track towards small white house, holding chestnut flower in hand

Snake’s heads

I’ve been sketching snake’s head fritillary in the spring sunshine.

Mauve flowers, sunlight shining through petal, snake's head fritillary, mauve flowers against a dark background

Aren’t they beautiful, …and strange? With their checkered petals, drooping heads and narrow tendril leaves. I wish I could say that I found them growing in the wild, but I bought these in B and Q.  I find they have very good healthy plants.

A pair of hands sketching in ink on paper in the shadow on the left hand side a snake's head fritillary in the sunshine on the right

By coincidence, well not exactly coincidence, since it at this time of year that they flower, I found another snakes head, this a Mediterranean plant, called Widow’s Iris, which is cultivated in this country by a Cornish grower.

Lilies in a glass of water on a trestle against grass and dark back ground in sunshine

That was a few days ago. Since then we have had little but grey skies and rain.  The well outside the house is full and oozing rusty water into the ditch.

Now I’m painting the flowers as part of a seascape.

The hand and paint brush of Catherine Forshall painting Snakes head fritillary

speckeled move bell shaped flowers, snakes head fritillary

speckled purple flowers in front of painting by Catherine Forshall

Snakes Head Fretillary, fritillaria meleagris against a painting of the same flower by Catherine Forshall

All photographs © James Forshall

Spindrift

I’ve just completed this painting of oyster shells.

Spindrift

They are the shells of the Pacific oyster and they are on the way to the Moncrieff- Bray Gallery, which will take them to the 20/21 International Art Fair at the Royal College of Art, Kensington Gore, London SW7 2EU, running from the 14 – 17th May 2015.

Photograph by James Forshall

Gurnard’s Head

I’ve been sketching on Gurnard’s Head.

Catherine Forshall sketching on Gurnards Head, waves, sea, foam and rock in background

We walked down to it through a farming hamlet.  A cat looked at us from  the top of a pile of old tyres.  Black and white cattle waited in a yard. The sun shone through a cold wind. We walked over fields walled in granite, past flowering gorse.

Gorse flowers, pasture, sea, brown cliffs

Gurnard’s Head is a thin promentory of rock, jutting out into the Atlantic. On the sheltered eastern side its slopes are covered with short wiry grass, on the west side black rock cliffs fall vertically to the violent sea.

Ink sketch on paper of the black cliffs on the West side of Gurnard's Head, by Catherine Forshall

It’s very steep and I suffer from vertigo. Although I love this wild beautiful place I am not sure if I could live here. It is so dramatic, so elemental. I think I would find it very tiring, even though I think it is one of my favourite parts of Cornwall.

Two gloved hands, belonging to Catherine Forshall, one holding paint tube sketching on paper against a background of Rock

But it is  inspiring.View from Gurnard's Head cliff top, lichen covered rocks, foam, sea, black rocks

Mixed media sketch of rocks and cliffs near Gurnard's Head by Catherine ForshallIt is  exhilerating.

Gulls coasted on the wind, and further out we could see gannets fishing. These beautiful birds dive from great height to prey on shoals of fish. They hit the water at 60 miles an hour. As they fall they bend their wings back making a W shape, allowing them to refine their aim, and in the second before they hit the water they fold them completely, making themselves into a streamlined, blade of white. On impact they vanish below the surface and in the same instant throw up a white plume of water. It is as if the bird has been atomised. They can dive as far as 50 feet. Their eyes face forward giving them binocular vision, allowing them to judge distance. Their nostrils are inside their mouths and their chests are padded with sacs of air against impact. We lay in the grass watching the gannets work, and fell asleep in the sun.Ruins at abandoned tin mine near Gurnard's Head by James Forshall

Sadly gannets, like so many other species, are under threat from the number of humans and the amount they consume,  a story which started around about the time the wheel house of this abandoned tin mine was built.

View north east from Gurnard's Head

That this wild, beautiful place remains so unspoilt is almost entirely due to the National Trust. Become a member:    https://join.nationaltrust.org.uk/join/start

Black, white, blue and orange sketch of sea and rock at Gurnard's Head by Catherine Forshall laid on grass

Photographs © James Forshall

Periwinkle

 

I’m painting periwinkles. There is a shell fish called a periwinkle but as you can see this is the flower.

Hand holding blue periwinkle flower in front of periwinkel painting by Catherine Forshall

I think of it as a southern European plant. They were some of the earliest flowers to come out around the house when we lived in France. At the end of January I was surprised to see one flowering in the Devon lane which leads to our house. The snowdrops are out and there are couple of very bold primroses which have been out for over a month encouraged by a heating pipe which leads to the studio. I love the violet blue of the periwinkle and the modest, simple, five petaled structure of it’s face. It is an omen of warmer days, of shorter nights, and spring.

Periwinkle painting by Catherine Forshall, blue, five petaled flower on green background

 Photographs © James Forshall