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


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

All photographs © James Forshall


I’ve just completed this painting of oyster shells.


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

Low Tide

I’ve been working on a large canvas of sea shells

Sea painting, shells, sea shells, marine painting, hand and brush painting sea shells on canvas


Detail, Lutaria Lutaria, Otter shell from painting 'Low Tide' by Catherine Forshall


My pallet, pallet of Catherine Forshall for painting of 'Low Tide'

This is my palette.  I use anything to hand: a piece of old card board, a used envelope, or in this case a pad of lined refill paper.  I do have a proper palette but I find it a bit heavy. In this case I used the palette for mixing paint but also to display the shells which I am using as reference.

Catherine Forshall painting, holding a brush in one hand and

Collection of objects used by Catherine Forshall in painting of 'Vortex' and 'Low Tide'

This is a collection of objects which I have used while painting ‘Low Tide’ and another recent painting, ‘Vortex’, the kind of things you’d find on the tide line, bottles, bit’s of bamboo, a yoghurt pot, a dead fish, seashells, a bit of old newspaper but all tidied, compressed into this rectangle after work. The liquid in the glass is diluted ink.

All photographs © James Forshall



Spider Crab

I’m sketching a spider crab on paper. I propped him up with a shell.

Spider crab, sketching, Catherine Forshall, maja squinadoThe spider crab (maja squinado) is common in British coastal waters. For some reason he or she is not a popular food here. Perhaps its their thorny appearance.  They are very strange looking.  Here most that are caught are exported to the continent where the strange appearance of food is sometimes part of it’s attraction.

Catherine Forshall sketching Spider Crab Maja squinadoSeen from above the body shell is almost heart shaped, though lacking the indentation in the top of the heart, but coming down to two horns either side of the small eyes on storks.  It has eight walking legs and two large front claws for fighting and harvesting.  Oddly the front legs on the one I’m sketching are thin and undeveloped. Perhaps it is a juvenile.

Catherine Forshall painting spider crab Maja squinadoI like their spiky architectural appearance combined with their curves.

Photographs © James Forshall


mussel shell, shell of Mytilus Edulis, painting of detail of mussel shells, acrylic on canvas, painting by Catherine Forshall I am preparing a few paintings for the Moncrief-Bray Gallery, Petworth.  This one, as you can see, is of Mussels (Mytilus Edulis).  I’ve always loved them, for the colour of their shells and their succulent, richly scented, golden flesh. As children we would gather them at low tide, wrenching them off the shining black rocks to fry them in butter.Hand holding a mussel shell above a painting of detail of mussel shells beside a paper pallet of paint It is thought that Mussels have been cultivated for 800 years. In Scotland prehistoric settlements can be identified by the piles of mussels shells beside them. Mussels feed on plankton and to do this, these little creatures filter up to 65 litres of water a day. Their mortal enemy is the unattractively named dog whelk which bores a hole in their shell in order to suck out the soft body, which may be greedy and unkind, but can you blame them? Their prey are full of minerals and protein, but with less fat than beef. If I had to come back as a shellfish I’d be a dog whelk. Mussels, Mussel shells, shelfish, painting of mussels in acrylic on canvas by Catherine Forshall, Mytilus Edulis The painting will be on show at 20/21 Art Fair with the Moncrieff-Bray Gallery at the Royal College of Art 14th to 17th May.

All photographs © James Forshall

Good Luck Clam

Catherine Forshall sketching beside the River Dordogne in France I have been in France for a week. I wanted to sketch the River Dordogne. I was looking for the autumn colours.   River Dordogne looking down river towards Roque Gageac, evening light, reflections I was hoping to see lots of autumn leaves floating down the river. For some reason there were not many. Downstream the river was in the late afternoon sunshine. Where I was sitting it was soon hidden by the limestone cliffs: not many leaves and soon not much sunshine. Catherine Forshall Picking Lucky clam shells from the River Dordogne Walking along the shore I found small brown clam shells. I was not sure what they were.  Fresh water clams.  Later I identified them as the Good Luck Clam. Good luck for me, not such good luck for the local variety, who are being wiped out by these non natives. Corbicula Flumea was brought to America with Asians in the 19th century. They were first seen on the River Dordogne in 1980. No wonder they are invasive. A single self fertilising individual of these rather dull, muddy shell fish can produce between 35,000 and 47000 baby clams a year. Self fertilisation! Where do they get the time? Lucky Clam sketches   Catherine Forshall sketching beside River Dordogne France   Lucky Clam sketches

Sketching Good Luck Clams

All photographs © James Forshall

The Common Otter Shell (Lutraria lutraria)

I’ve been drawing otter shells.

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When it is finished the painting is going up to the Oliver Contemporary Gallery in London and will show seashells at low tide.

_DSC1337 d                                                                   Photographs by James Forshall

Apparently the biolgist who first listed them misplelt their name, adding an ‘r’ to the latin stem for silt, turning it into the stem for otter.  These ones are worn by  the sea and the sand, and have lost their glossy olive varnish. There is a hole in the side, which might easily have been made by the tip of a seagull’s beak.


I love mussels, the blue of the outer shell,  as dark as a night without stars, and then the inside shading from inky blue to pearl grey, and the surprise of the golden body, as plump as your thumb and the colour of saffron.


I love painting mussels. I love eating them too.  I’m preparing a large painting of mussels.  The ones I’m sketching came from Gibson’s Plaice in Exter, and he gets them from Exmouth Mussels, a sustainable musselery.  I sketched them and then we ate them. Yes I know. That’s a ruthless way for an artist to treat her models. James says that it’s lucky I don’t paint nudes.


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My sketch book is made by Sollas Bookbinding at on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides.  I think the covers designed by Sollas reflect much of that beautiful and romantic island.



_DSC1896-2Jan Tregeagle was a wicked man, possibly a magistrate, who lived in the early 17th Century near Bodmin.  In order to keep his soul out of the hands of the Devil, and busy until judgement day, he was given a limpet shell and the task of emptying The Dozmary, a gloomy, bottomless tarn on Bodmin Moor,  and just to make sure that he did not complete his task before judgement day, his shell was one of those with a hole in the peak.


Jan Tregeagle must have hated it, bent over the cold black water, his knees aching with the damp, the skin of his hands white and gummy, rotting with exposure to the water, the pale shell clamped between his fingers,  and worst of all the hopelessness of his task.


I have always liked limpet shells though, and have been painting them for a long time. When I was a child they reminded me of those oriental hats, the chinese call doo li.  I like their subtle colours and the way that the lines cross each other like strands of different coloured wool in a scarf, or a natural and very restrained tartan, and the way that like all shells, though clearly of their own species, each one is noticeably different.

_DSC1617 I walked out at dawn to look for limpet shells at Gillingvase Beach.  The beach is loved by Fals. It is on the edge of the town, even early in the morning there were walkers, runners, art students making a film. Later on the surf shop opened and two boys set off on paddle boards, silhouetted against the rising sun, and the tankers on the skyline like fishermen from an earlier time and a different place.


Limpets are home loving creatures and having created a depression in the rock they leave a trail behind them when they graze so that they can find their way back to occupy the same place. They are prey for just about everything else in the sea, birds, crabs, starfish and even whelks, all except the seaweed upon which they feed. They do have a tactic to make things a little bit more difficult for starfish, rising up and rocking from side to side and then stamping the edge of their shells down on the finger tips of the starfish._DSC1765


At the moment there is a collection of my work at the Great Atlantic Gallery, in Falmouth. For more details see the links page.

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