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