Figs

We first came to the house in 1988. The limbs of the fig tree had been killed by the terrible winter of 85-86, when the mercury fell to -25 degrees C. Fig trees are very tough though, and when we first saw it, the lumpy twisted trunk was shooting out vigorous young stems.

Catherine Forshall's hand and paint brush figs in back ground

In the years that followed it grew and grew. By the mid 90’s we were able to take down the loggia we had built to give us shade, and eat under the fig tree,  a fountain of cool green, that in heavy heat of summer became another room.

The tree developed a two tier ecosystem, humans picking the fruit from the lower branches, insects and birds taking the rest. In the early October mornings they are ice-sweet, but slightly tart, becoming sweet, like warm jam in the afternoon sun. Sometimes in spring we hear the cries of golden oriel, who love figs. They are very shy and at the slightest hint of humans, shoot off in a blurred flash of yellow. As soon as the spring crop of figs has been consumed they leave. It is as if they have come all the way from Africa to eat our figs.

Figs and fig leaves

This autumn I’ve been sketching and painting figs for the Christmas show at the  Moncrieff-Bray Gallery, opening on 24th November. For some of my generation figs will always be associated with the scene in Women in Love, when Alan Bates shows Eleanor Bron how to eat them. Lawrence thought that the open fig had a feminine aspect,  though for me these these tightly packed, swollen to bursting globes of hanging seed have a more masculine feel.

Green figs strong shadows

But Lawrence was nearer. The the common fig, Ficus carica, is a relation of the Mulberry tree. It fruits not, but flowers. These do not open. It is gynodioecious which means, having ‘hermaphrodite flowers and female flowers on separate plants’. It is pollinated when the fertilized female wasp enters the fig through the scion, which is a tiny hole in the crown (the ostiole). She crawls on the inflorescence inside the fig, lays her eggs inside some of the flowers and dies. (1)

Hand and brush painting figs

As I sit under our fig tree, harvesting in a different way, I think how this tree, with no planting, no feeding, no watering, gives and gives and gives to all those generations of birds and humans, and wasps, who visit it, with only the help of a tiny specialised insect, which lays down its life with its eggs.

Green figs, basket, shadow, harvest, crop

Painting by Catherine Forshall of figs

My figs, quince and pomegranates will be showing with the work of other gallery artists at

The Christmas Exhibition at the Moncrieff Bray Gallery

Ramsay Gibb’s Scottish seascapes,  Stephen Palmer, Jackie Philip, Lucy Powell, Sarah Warley-Cummings and Sandra Whitmore –  who have produced a series of smaller works for Christmas.
Thursday 24th November – Saturday 3rd December, and by appointment until Christmas Eve.

Opening Times:  Wednesday to Saturday 11 am to 4 pm. We are delighted to see visitors outside of these hours but please ring ahead to confirm a time.

Moncrieff-Bray Gallery logo

Catherine Forshall painting figs

(1) taken with thanks from Wikipedia

Photography by James Forshall

For directions to the Moncrieff-Bray Gallery click here

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The Sea in my Barn

It’s hot here. 40° degrees C or 104°Fahrenheit. It’s hard to work outside, except early in the morning. We’re under siege. The shutters on the house stay shut until after sunset. It works. The house stays cool and most of the windows in my studio face north.

Catherine Forshall painting sardines in her studio in France

Was that why I started painting the sea and its creatures? To bring the cool blue into this hot dry place?  That might have been part of it, part of why I enjoy it, why it makes me feel happy.

Shells, pencils, a star fish in a wooden trug

I’m painting sardines, Sardine pilchardus. I am calling it Sardine Shoal, though in the sea it would be only a tiny part of the huge murmurations of sardines that makes up a shoal.  Like many fish sardine numbers are under pressure from over fishing. Some scientists think that sardines help to keep the sea healthy and reduce the amount of methane sent into the atmosphere.

Woman in blue denim, Catherine Forshall, painting sardines on canvas in evening light

This painting will go in my forthcoming show, Coast, this November at the Flying Colours Gallery in Chelsea.

Here is a detail.

Two Sardines against a blue background, acrylic on canvas, painting by Catherine Forshall

If you would like to be kept informed of forthcoming exhibitions please email me at catherineforshall@yahoo.co.uk

Photographs taken in the Lot, France © James Forshall

Sketching Sea Thrift at Gwenver Beach, Cornwall

Evening light, pink flowers, beside background of breaking waves

We’ve been down to Gwenver Beach. We walked along the path towards the cliffs in the evening light. There was quite a swell and the waves were breaking on the rocks.

The next day we picnicked on the beach. Even though the sun was bright the wind was cold. I sat sketching in the dunes. I’m working for a show to be called ‘Coast’ at the ‘Flying Colours Gallery’, Chelsea, in November. There is a lot of work to do. I’ll be showing fish and shell paintings but also paintings of flowers associated with the sea.

Sea thrift heads against a back ground of breaking wave

Much of the sea thrift was already pollinated and had gone to seed. As well as the bees it attracts a daylight moth, the Five Spot Burnett, Zygaena Trifolii, and a small snail, the name of which I do not know, which happily munches its way through the pink petals, pollinated or not.

Pink Sea Thrift flowers, Zygaena trifolii, Five spot Burnet, blue sky

It’s a lovely place, not far from Sennen Cove in Cornwall. There is a long steep walk down but it’s worth it.

Sea thrift, shadows on sketch

Ink and acrylic sketch on Paper by Catherine Forshall of sea thrift Armeria Maritima at Gwenver Beach Cornwall

If you would like to be kept informed of forthcoming shows please email me at catherineforshall@yahoo.co.uk

All photographs © James Forshall

Goblin Gloves: painting foxgloves

Foxgloves, digitalis purpurea, against a back ground of blue and ochre on canvas

The weather’s filthy: wind, rain. It’s gusting 60 mph down on the coast. So it’s nice to be inside painting something that reminds me that summer really is here…somewhere. It’s certainly not outside.

Foxglove laid across canvas, paint brush in background painting flowers on canvas

Aren’t they strange? They must be one of the largest British wild flowers. I remember as a child being drawn to them, taller than me, graceful and yet..what is it. They had presence. They beckoned. An old saying about Foxgloves is ‘They can raise the dead and kill the living’. I remember, doing as all country children do, taking off the flowers and putting them, over my fingers. I didn’t know then that everything of the Foxglove is poisonous, leaves, flowers, stem, pollen, roots but I came to no harm.

Foxgloves in foreground, Catherine Forshalls hand painting Foxgloves on canvas in back ground

The flower is mentioned in a list of flora compiled during the reign of Edward III, (1327-1377). The botanical name is Digitalis purpurea, but there are lots of lovely folk names for them, Goblin Gloves, Dead Men’s Bells, Fairy Gloves, Gloves of our Lady, Fairy Caps, Fairy Thimbles, Witches gloves, bloody fingers, Virgin’s Glove, Floppy Dock, Foxbell, Flowster-Docker, Finger Hut, Flopper Dock, King Elwand….. The Celts considered them the most magical of all herbs and called them Lus Mor, the Great Herb

Woman, Catherine Forshall painting foxgloves on canvas, monochrome, behind her deep shadow

The painting will be part of a series of canvases of wild flowers with the sea in the back ground for a show called ‘Coast’, which will take place next November at the Flying Colours Gallery in Chelsea.

If you would like to be kept informed of forthcoming shows email me at catherineforshall@yahoo.co.uk

All photographs © James Forshall

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

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