Call Me Spike

Daily Draw March 25th, 2013



On the Queen of Diamonds is a pencil drawing by wildlife artist Gary Hodges. He donates a lot of his work to environmental and animal charities for fundraising, and the Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) that is depicted on this card is a species he used in a different drawing that he created for Greenpeace. His father was a fishmonger, so the Marine Stewardship Council that commissioned and printed this deck for raising funds, is a charity he favours.

What I liked when reading Gary’s biography is that initially he found it hard to sell because he worked in pencil and galleries thought everybody wanted colour. This is so much like the struggle of card artists who work in black and white, and find that their decks sell poorly in relation to full-colour decks. Be heartened artists, there are people who appreciate line drawing and illustration in black and white, whether digital or in pen and ink or graphite. When several grades of graphite are used for shading and toning, pencil drawings are really lovely, much more evocative than full-colour.

These sea turtles are so beautiful, but humans have led them to the endangered list. I did a small study of Green Turtles when I was doing write-ups for the various animals in the Tarot of Reincarnation, and also a relative of greenie here, the Hawksbill Turtle on the Hawaiian Oracle. The bitterness of human waste and greed is alive and well. It is illegal to harm them but if they aren’t blatantly poached, to be eaten or turned into souvenirs, they are often caught in fishing nets or damaged by pollution.

Greenie is called “green” because of the green fat under the carapace, in a layer between the organs and the shell. Otherwise you might mistake him for the Hawksbill. Unlike the Hawksbill thought, this turtle is mostly herbivorous rather than a meat eater, and likes to eat sea grasses. Such a gentle, beautiful creature!

The lavender is a botanical painting from the New York Botanical Garden found on another of the wonderful decks that Chronicle Books has published over the years. Lavender species have been renamed quite a bit and this one has generally been renamed Lavandula angustifolia, or English Lavender. However, the Spica species does have two variations as well as L. angustifolia: L. latifolia or Spike Lavender or Portuguese Lavender, and L. lanata which is known as Woolly Lavender or Spanish Mountain Lavender. There is also French or Spanish Lavender called Lavandula stoechas. It looks to me like the species on the card is L. latifolia. Oh, and to confuse it further L. angustifolia used to be called L. officinalis and on the antique painting on the card, it is spelled “lavendula” rather than “lavandula.”

The reason I’m trying to sort this out is that I have two or three lavender species in my garden. One was referred to as English lavender and I’m pretty sure it’s L. angustifolia. I also had Lavender Hidcote which is a subspecies of that, and I remember buying Spanish Lavender which was probably L. stoechas but I’m not sure as some has died back over the years and our markers have been lost. I would imagine, given the confusion of renaming, that even garden centres get the generic names wrong sometimes, thus confusing everyone for all eternity.

So, what’s this all about then for today? Man, when I see art like this I just want to sit down and draw and paint. This happened last Spring and I did some nice garden sketching and painting outside in 2012, when my Newfoundland dog and I fled to the garden to dispel the grief over our friend Abby the Labrador dying. Then something happened, and I stopped just when I was getting some good practice. Part of it is the chronic tendinitis I have which does make it hard to do long stretches of drawing. BUT part of it is something else.

Perhaps, like the naming of Lavender, I got too involved in the proper way, the correct way of doing it, over-complicating the matter, rather than just enjoying my art and practice, without an end in mind? I often talk about creating art, but get frustrated when it isn’t perfect. I get very uptight when I should be enjoying it, enjoying creating and being outside observing my garden.

Spike lavender just grows upward, bit by bit, and reaches for the sky.



3 thoughts on “Call Me Spike

  1. Yes, I know this.

    It’s easier for me to make suggestions than try and not be perfect in my drawings too. There are so many things I have begun with such enthusiasm, only to rip the page out or shelve the sketch book after one or two attempts.

    But … when I was at art college, I did manage to become less precious by having a book of sketches running alongside my main pieces. They were scratchy and informative and in many of my figure drawings, I didn’t take my pencil (or usually pen/biro) off of the paper as I drew. I made ‘clumsy’ and ‘awkward’ and ‘preparatory’ the beauty in what I did. Sketches ran into one another and I’d give myself something like five minutes on each. In the end, my sketchbook would fill with really interesting images. Not perfect, but energetic, with flow and character. I drew with sticks dipped in Indian ink and crayons and felt-tips. I’d brush coffee around ink drawings and make hap-hazzard notes bythem with words and ideas and things I’d heard. In a way, non-perfection became perfection. I still really enjoy that way of working.

    • I remember seeing those sketch books of figures!

      I have to sort this out Steve, it’s one of those things that makes me perennially uptight. Oh, to let go.

      • Sometimes, I have to make the ‘letting go’ a thing in itself. I end up enjoying the mess and ‘imperfection’ of it. It can become perfectly imperfect. But it can be fun to do all the same. At college, they used to call it loosening up. My tutors suggested that you have to get all of that out before you could get onto the real stuff. I really enjoyed making sketchbooks. Maybe have a go at letting go by trying the kind of techniques I tried – like biro sketching or having time limits. It’s hard to be perfect in five minutes, so it’s about getting all of the information down. You could see it as being like the training before the actual event.

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