In a Cornish Garden – Sketching Magnolia Stellata

I’m very lucky. The garden I’ve been asked to paint is so beautiful. It feels so loved. I’m down here to sketch studies of Magnolia Stellata. Just being here makes me feel happy, and in the spring sunshine….

Magnolia stella, hand skeching drawing pad

Magnolia Stellata, I love this flower. You only have to look at it to see why, but like all the magnolias its petals bruise easily. By the time I had finished the sketch this one was smudged with Indian ink too.

Magnolia stellata, Yew, garden, Catherine Forshall sketching

Catherine Forshall sketching in background, Magnolia Stellata in foreground

Hand holding bottle of indian ink and flower, magnolia stellata, sketch of flower in back groundPhotography © James Forshall

Sketching Cornish Spring

I’m sketching Cornish Spring.  It’s a camelIia, Cuspidata Japonica.

Sketching Camellia Cuspidata x Japonica Cornish Spring

The tea plant is a camellia. The first camellias grown for their flowers in this country were those of Robert James, Lord Petre of Thorndon Hall. Other plants were brought to Britain by the East India Company.

Sketch in preparation of Camellia Cornish Spring, Cuspidata x Japonica which lies on a table beside the sketch pad


Photography © James Forshall

Sketches for paintings of a Cornish garden

I’m sketching the flowers of a Cornish garden in preparation for a series of paintings I’ve been asked to do.

magnolia, sketch of magnolia flower, tubes of paint on table

Sketching is important to me.  It allows me to learn to observe the subject, to learn about it’s shape, its line and how they work on a flat surface. It gives me time to absorb these things so that when I come to painting I can do so without hesitation. I like to work quickly.

Helliborus niger beside sketch of helleborus niger on white paper, white flower with green leavesSketching also allows me to experiment with mixes of colour.

Magnolia flower lying on sketch of magnolia flower in sunlight

Photography © James Forshall



The Red Cliffs of Budleigh Salterton: sketching seaweed

On Saturday we went to the Beach at Budleigh Salterton.

Woman, waves, gulls, shingle, beach

The sea was a pinky mauve from the earth washed down by the river Otter.   I wanted to find seaweed to sketch for a large canvas that I am about to start. I thought that with the recent storms there might be much washed up, but I only found a little Oar weed and Egg wrack on the upper shore, the Oar weed, a burnt sienna/sepia colour.  William Harvey  , an Irish naturalist, an inspiring draughtsman, produced 3 beautifully illustrated volumes of seaweed illustrations, in which these two are shown. Curiously he died not far away in Torquay in 1866.

Oar Weed Pebbles

I’ve always been attracted to the red earth of the cliffs above the beach at Budleigh. I found a clump of red earth that had fallen and took it home to use as a pigment for the background of the sea weed sketches. I used to do this when we first moved to France, nearly 30 years ago. There I did a series of landscapes using the pigment from the rusty orange earth above the Lot Valley, near Lherm, the same pigment that was used in parts of the cave paintings at Cougnac 25,000 years ago.  The medium was spit and animal fat. I use something out of a tube.

Red Cliff, seagull, sky

Red Cliff, cliff erosion, Budleigh Salterton

Fishing gear, bouys, beach,

Hands, seaweed, Oar Weed, shingle beach

Boat on Beach Budleigh Salterton

Oyster Creels, white washed wall, beach

Silhouetted figures above Beach Budleigh Salterton

sketching, oarweed, handsSketching Oar weed

Earth pigment rubbed into page of sketch book

Rubbing in the pigment for the background

Sketching, Egg wrack, seaweed, red earth pigment

Sketching Egg wrack

Photography © 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.

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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.


Meadow Clary

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 I’ve been painting a series of wild flower paintings.  When we lived in France I used to paint landscapes and flowers.  The pictures here were taken early one morning in the fields around our house there.  I wanted to do studies of Meadow Clary. It is a very common flower in this part of France,  coming out to decorate the fields after the hay has been cut.  In Wales I understand it is extinct and due to the intensity of the way we farm only exists in a handful of places in the rest of the country. It is a lovely colour and reminds me of the end of late summer and the rentrée, a time when life quietens after the summer visitors have left, and there is subdued dread and excitement about the new school year after the long holidays.

As usual you look for one thing and find another.

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In this case a flower sometimes called Bishops’s Lace, or Wild Carrot (Daucus Carrota).


But we did find Meadow Clary

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Meadow Clary’s latin name is Salvia Pratensis. Salvia comes from the word for health salus, and meadow clary was used as an eye bath, the name derived from clear eye, and also as a gargle for sore throats.

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21st September to 12th October the Elspeth Montcrieff-Bray Gallery is showing my flower paintings alongside works by Victoria Threlfall, Annie Field, Tuema Pattie, Stephen Palmer, Lucy Powell, Sarah Warly Cummings, Sandra Whitmore, Hannah MacAndrew, Ostinelli and Priest, Diana Tonnison, Diana Baraclough, and Adam Binder

Private View 3 p.m. to 8 p.m, 21st September.

Opening Times 11 a.m. to 4 p.m and after 12th October by appointment.

Moncrieff-Bray Gallery, Woodruffs Farm, Woodruffs Lane, Egdean, Petworth, West Sussex RH20 1JX

07867 978 414

Gwenver Beach


Gwenver Beach is just to the north east of Sennen Cove.  On a clear day you can see the Scilly Isles.


On the day we went the sun shone all day. I took my sketch book and was rewarded by finding Sea Thrift growing along the fringe of the beach.


It is also known as Ladies Cushions, Heugh Daisy, and Cliff Clover.


The Sea Thrift plant was on one side of the old brass thrupenny bit minted between 1937 and 1952.






And I also found Sea Holly growing, though not yet in flower.

Photographs all rights reserved

Billingsgate, LONDON 1.00 a.m. to 5.00 a.m.

   _DSC8403Billingsgate, 1.00 a.m.

_DSC8513I went with Xanthe Mosley to Billingsgate Market.  She is artist in residence for some of the London markets and has asked me to do some work for a show in the City Hall in May 2014.  She had given me a very good supper so I felt bouyed up and excited by the prospect of working through the night. When we arrived the place was deserted except for the market constabulary.

We had a cup of tea in one of the market cafes. The walls were lined with old black and white photographs of traders and porters.


Gradually the lights in different parts of the main hall came on as traders came in to set out their stalls.  It is a very physical business. Porters in white coats haul in huge pallets of wet or frozen fish from lorries and refrigerated store rooms. The traders shake the boxes, deftly hefting fish. It is almost as if they are juggling them. They arrange them on the stalls scattering ice over them. Everyone works quickly to be ready for the customers .  Everything gleams, wet fish, silver scales, the stainless steel stands, and reflections of the halogen lights in on the wet floor. You can place orders, but cannot take fish away from the market until 4.00 a.m. Soon the telephones are ringing, loud old fashioned land line bells.




I moved from stall to stall sketching the fish. I like the barracuda, the long silver ribbon fish, the beautiful mirror carp.  For me this is a wonderful place. Most of the fish are familiar, sleek, bright scaled salmon, trout, hake, cod, bream, sea bass, oysters mussels from different parts of the Britain, but there are three stands with exotics from the Indian Ocean.

The traders are friendly. Some even stop for a moment to see what I’m doing. It’s fun. At 2.30 Xanthe took me to the cafe for hot sweet tea.













Billingsgate Market, 5.10 a.m.

photographs © copyright James Forshall


_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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