In the Dobies of Devon e-newsletter published last week, I referred to starting a garden- or nature- diary during the school holidays. You can’t say much in one paragraph, though I did suggest using an old map as a starting point, and sketching or collaging, adding napkin images; quite a lot of techniques in fact. So in this post are a few more prompts – visual images with explanations that should jump-start what you can do. Not knowing where to begin so often means you never do, or are afraid of that white page. Use offcuts of paper to sketch on, as I did above, when in the car visiting a National Trust garden somewhere.
Starting with children (or grandchildren) is different, for one’s aim is to encourage a love of gardening and the outdoors. On a wet day, an easy way to begin is to cut up old gardening catalogues or magazines, and then paste them down into a fantasy garden, as my grandchildren did when visiting during the school holidays. Had they been my own offspring, living at home, we’d have kept this going until we had a complete scrapbook. And these days, with inexpensive digital cameras, they can photograph and record their own plot as well.
Inspiring others: I have been word-journaling since childhood – until recently more a diary than a sketchbook or illustrated journal. But gardening is such a VISUAL activity, when our beds and borders are perhaps organized more like a painter’s palette. So I began simple collage exercises, which I have to admit are not really for show, but used to demonstrate what I am suggesting you could also do. I had begun to sketch – not in the finished book but on paper, which I then cut and paste. I return again and again to my favourite plants (here ivy and spring bulbs) and often plant them in pots in the greenhouse to bring indoors when I want to paint them.
By 2007, I had begun to create a proper sketchbook. I began to doodle on the page – loosening up. The sketchbook again comprised scrap papers, later bound into a book; the easy way to eliminate failures. I was finding that certain materials (inks, pens, paints, crayons, adhesives and even paper surfaces) were preferable to others. Was the gardening forgotten in all this? Not at all, the seeds and plants purchased regularly flourished as areas of the garden developed, too.
With confidence, I began to work direct into good-quality sketch books, combining images and words, embellishments (napkin motifs) with sketches. Our orchard inspired my ‘Sweet Fruit’ pages. And now, wherever I travel, I take my pen, little paint box and sketch book with me, and can be found working in strange places. It’s really a question of DOING, rather than wishing. Of not putting off what is a delight. Simultaneously, I was creating fabric pieces, and moved on to stitched booklets. But that’s another story.
And then last year I was asked to participate in a village art exhibition and subsequently, a few weeks ago, in an Open Studio event (crammed into our tiny caravan). I had amassed quite a body of work, and was honoured to be asked to organize and teach some workshops on journaling. (You can follow my journaling blog and experiments here.) But without my garden as inspiration, none of this would have happened – and my love of plants began long before I could read and write. So fill your garden and use it as your own springboard.