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

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

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

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

Mussels

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