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

Painting native oysters

I’ve been painting and sketching native oysters, Ostrea edulis.  I buy them from oyster fishermen at Mylor in Cornwall near Falmouth. It was bitterly cold then and it’s pretty cold now.

_DSC4569 Detail of sketch of native oysters © 2016 Catherine Forshall

It takes a long time to establish a native oyster bed. They were a major source of cheap food. In 1851, for example, a round 500 million oysters were sold through Billingsgate. Our oyster beds were destroyed by a series of cold winters, surely not the first though, in the mid 20th Century, and then pollution, the parasite, Bonnania Ostrea, the beastly slipper limpets and oyster drills which drill holes into them and eat it contents, they are a big threat for commercial oyster farms.

Painting Native Oysters

Now they can only be collected under license in Scotland.

Sketching Native Oysters

Oysters change back and forth from female to male according to the temperature of the water. You get in the bath nice and hot, go to sleep, and wake up in cold water, surprisingly different. Well, surprising the first time, but native oysters can live for 20 years so they may get used to it.

Native Oysters

Native Oysters, acrylic on canvas 50 cms x 100 cms

You can see my work in London at the The Flying Colours Gallery and at Oliver Contemporary

All photographs by James Forshall

Zeus

Hand with bangled covered wrist cutting canvas with scissors guided by stretcher bar, monochrome

It did get cooler. We had a couple of days of rain. The plants around the house are lifting their heads with relief. The stinging nettles are particularly energetic.

I took the opportunity to stretch canvas.

Woman, Catherine Forshall, crouching to cut canvas with scissors, on cement floor, using canvas stretcher as as template, stone wall, bicycle and table in background

The canvases are the platforms for paintings which I will show in November at the Flying Colours Gallery in Chelsea.

Face of fish, St Pierre, John Dory, Zeus Faber, in profile, against bluish background from painting by Catherine Forshall

This is a detail from one, Zeus, a painting of a John Dory, (Zeus faber), or St Pierre in French.

The Flying Colours Gallery have taken some of my work to the Edinburgh Festival and are showing at 6A Dundas Street 11th – 19th August, Monday to Saturday 10.00 a.m. – 6.00 p.m.

If you would like to be kept informed of my shows and other events please email me at http://catherineforshallpainting@gmail.com

All photographs © James Forshall

Stretching in the Lot

We’ve had a couple of days respite from the heat. Now it is back to 38° C / 100.4°F in the shade and a baking 46°C / 114.8°F in the sun. Ooph. Step out of the shade and you’re toast.  But yesterday evening it was cooler so I assembled a few stretchers.

Bicycle, stretcher bars, canvas, stone wall

Not my bicycle. You don’t need a bicycle to assemble stretchers. In fact, definitely don’t try it on a bicycle.

Woman in blue, Catherine Forshall, assembling stretchers, against background of stone wall

I like these stretcher bars. They are good and solid, the best I’ve had. They are from Russell and Chapel, London’s oldest supplier of fabrics to artists and the theatre, established in 1770. Captain Cook first sighted Australia on April 19th of that year, leaving the British in North America another 6 years, in which to declare independence, though by 1770 trouble was brewing.

Hands of Catherine Forshall, one with hammer one holding stretcher bars,

Yes, I know that I should be using a mallet not a hammer. I can’t find the mallet.

Woman, Catherine Forshall, assembling stretcher bars

Wooden canvas stretchers against a stone wall

Here they are. Waiting for me to stretch the nice clean white canvas on them, which I will do if it cools down later.

If you would like to be kept informed of my shows and other events please email me at

catherineforshallpainting@gmail.com

all photographs © James Forshall

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