Saturday Art Challenge

04.07.2020

Live Sketching

Good morning everyone!

This week I have a simple little art challenge that I’ve been meaning to post for a while!

During the last few months I’ve had more time to discover other people online who relish nature. One of my favourite discoveries was a website run by Wildlife Kate. If you click on the name you can take a look.

Kate has a variety of live webcam feeds on her site that include bird boxes and small mammal boxes.

I have really enjoyed setting up my lap top and using the clips of video content to draw from. Watching the way that animals and birds move helps to bring a liveliness to sketches and helps them to feel less flat. When we draw from a static photograph we often miss the feeling of movement and structure . This can be a nice way to draw creatures that are also very hard to get close to in the wild .

For an extra challenge I also recommend using books and images to research skeletal structures of your chosen subject. This will help you to understand the movements of an animal and where natural shadows would fall across the shape of a body, especially one that’s covered in feathers or fur making it hard to see detail of the bone structure.

So my challenge is to have a look at Kate’s website, find a clip that captures your interest and use it to make some quick sketches. Once you have some favourites you could also try adding a drop of colour with pencil crayons or water colour as I have done in the examples above.

Enjoy! Have a good weekend.

Best wishes,

Emma

Friday’s Letters

03.07.2020

Reflections….

Dear Readers,

Welcome back to another Friday and the part of the week where I share your words and pictures. This week my best friend at the coast sent me the beautiful photo’s (above) of a fennel plant covered in dew at night time in the garden. Linking back to our theme of All Things By Moonlight on Wednesday’s Creative Writing Class they seemed very appropriate to share here.

It seems many people are very fatigued now with lock down, especially with the threat of a second wave. I try not to talk about it too much here, but I wonder if that reflects that I haven’t had many words or pictures sent to me this week. So instead I thought I would share how I have been coping with lock down alongside a busy job as a key worker.

My solace is through painting and writing. Sometimes I feel it is too hard to put into words the emotions that I experience so I prefer to stick some headphones on and put colours down on canvas.

I have been recently working on a painting inspired by the creative writing task we did on totem animals and natural finds in the Goldfinch session a few weeks ago. Here are some images:

The painting isn’t finished yet, but will eventually depict one of my cats Gizmo sitting under a honeysuckle bush gazing at the activity of bees and butterflies, and possibly a goldfinch…. Here are the reasons I chose to put these things together:

  • Cat – represents home and belonging. Cats have always been a very important part of my life and to me home doesn’t feel home without a cat.
  • Honeysuckle – in a book about natural symbols and signs that I was reading honeysuckle is linked to Greek Mythology, apparently the lovers Daphnis and Chloe could only see each other when the honeysuckle flowers were in bloom, this felt apt to represent the current situation with COVID and distance from those that we love. Honeysuckle is the favourite flower of my mother, so it also felt pertinent to include it while we have had to remain in isolation through lockdown as a connection to missed family, and it also symbolises my love of the natural world and the untamed plants and wild spaces.
  • Blue: (You will notice that the background is a deep peacock blue). I chose this colour to offset the colour of the honey suckle and the ginger cat, it also represents my love of blue and in particular Klein Blue . Although the shade I have used is darker as I wanted it to have a magical dusk feeling of a late summer evening.
  • Bees – Well who doesn’t love Bees?!! I love bees, but through studying bees I am also fascinated by hover-flies and hope to include some of those too. They represent my journey of discovery of the natural world over the last five years running creative writing at St Nicks in York and remind me that there is always so much more to discover!
  • Goldfinch: (I haven’t painted this in yet) I may include a goldfinch to represent growing into my own plumage (see the James Applewhite Poem about that here) and also the freedom of birds. The bird and the cat together also represent the cycle of nature and the contrasts of species.

I hope that this was interesting! It’s a slowly slowly process with painting but hopefully I will be able to share the finished result in a few weeks.

Whoever you are reading this I hope that you stay safe and well and find some solace through nature as I have done. See you tomorrow for a weekend art challenge. You can email me with words and pictures of your own at e.mckenzie1@yorksj.ac.uk if you would like to 🙂

Best wishes,

Emma

(Getting out in nature is all well and good ….until your dachshund refuses to walk any further, or cross bridges!!)

Connect to Nature Creative Writing Class

01.07.2020

All things by Moonlight!

Welcome back to my Connect to Nature Creative Writing Class. This week I started Monday off with a little bit of prose taken from a Thomas Hardy novel. (If you missed it you can follow the link at the bottom of the page).

In the paragraph that I chose, Thomas Hardy is describing the sound of trees, and how a group of men could navigate by the sound as well as the feature of the trees on a dark night. This got me thinking about how different our senses respond at night time and I thought it would be fun to write a Connect to Nature Class that involved thinking about the natural world under moonlight when everything is magical and ethereal. This is hopefully something we can all also experience now that summer is here, even if from our window we can appreciate a new moon and the way that the mood changes with the sky.

Task 1 (5 mins) Here is another Thomas Hardy quote to set us off:

'The white stars twinkled so vehemently that their flickering seemed like the flapping of wings.' (Thomas Hardy Under the Greenwood Tree)

Write ten words that describe star gazing!

Task 2: (5 mins) Walking at dusk (or even standing on your doorstep and looking out) adds a completely different feeling to the day time. Write a paragraph describing a late evening walk. Consider how the colours change, and the sounds. Contrast what is different to the day time hours.

Task 3: (10 mins) Using the three images above as inspiration begin a story that begins:

Under moonlight……..

See where the story takes you, try to include as many things from the natural world as possible. Here are some ideas of night time visitors to get you started (owls, foxes, bats, moths). You might also want to think about dusk and dawn, who goes to sleep, who wakes up, how does the flora and fauna change.

Or….if you prefer…write about a real memory of a night time adventure or experience outdoors.

Task 4: (5 mins) In my back yard I have some seating, lots of pot plants and some fairy lights for good measure! I really enjoy sitting outside on a cool evening. Often all I can hear are trees rustling behind the house, the odd whirr of a bicycle passing on the street and an occasional caterwaul! Find five minutes in your evening to spend outdoors (anywhere you like) or looking out of a window (you might want to switch electric lights off for clarity if indoors). Record your observations. Notice what you find.

Sometimes it’s really evocative to write from a different time of day. We touched on this before in the skyline sessions. I hope that you find it inspiring thinking about dawn and dusk and the evening hours. Have a lovely week.

Best wishes,

Emma

Monday’s Poem

29.06.2020

Hello Everyone….

Today it’s more Monday’s Prose – than poem! I was up in my attic digging out the fan to cool the house down last week when I came across a vintage copy of ‘Under the Greenwood Tree’ by Thomas Hardy.

I was blown away by the opening paragraph which I thought would be nice to share here:

‘To dwellers in a wood, almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature.

At the passing of a breeze, the fir trees sob and moan, no less distinctly than they rock. The holly whistles as it battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quivering; the beech, rustles while its flat boughs rise and fall.’

Taken from Under The Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
Trees in my local park this weekend

I thought that this paragraph was beautiful. It was written at a time when there were no electric street lamps or car headlights. A world closer to nature, in which people would have had a much closer relationship with the natural world around them. It makes me determined to re-connect as far as possible, to know the landscape and the trees intimately. To know from a sound the species of bird or tree, to be aware and to listen. To be in tune with nature and observant of all around me.

The paragraph was written to open a scene in which a group of men are coming together at night time to rehearse singing carols, finding their way by familiar sounds and under moonlight. Despite this being a winter scene in the novel, thinking about the natural world at night made me long for camping trips and nights under the stars. For now I will make do with my little backyard and fairy lights. I have lavender and sweet peas growing in ceramic pots which give off a wonderful scent, I look forward to more summer evenings when I can enjoy my little outdoor space in the warm air.

I hope you enjoyed Thomas Hardy’s words. I will leave this week’s Connect to Nature Class as a surprise, I have a couple of ideas up my sleeve – but I haven’t decided on which one I will choose yet!

Do send me your poems to include here! Happy Writing!


Take care,

Best wishes,
Emma

Lime Tree Blossom

Saturday Art Challenge

27.06.2020

Bees, bugs, beetles, butterflies……natural finds!

Happy Saturday folks!

I have a lovely task for you today, and I admit, it was stolen from a homework project that my Y7 son was set from his school!! Over the last few weeks my son’s art classes have involved line drawing using symmetry and observation and moved on to collage, using insects as inspiration. His final task was to use natural finds to re-create insects. This was great fun, easy to do and really got us observing the different components of the beautiful wildlife around us. If you don’t fancy insects, have a go making other patterns or flowers or landscape pictures….

Here’s how we did it:

Step 1: we went on a walk with our grumpy dachshund and gathered lots of natural materials! (Grumpy dachshund not essential, but very cute!)

Step 2: If you want to, use images from books or the internet for inspiration.

Step 3: Create your chosen subject in natural form. We enjoyed making and photographing our bugs, you could also glue things onto a page or press into the pages of a book if you wanted something more permanent.

I hope you enjoy this bit of Saturday fun! Do send me any images that you create. You can email me at e.mckenzie1@yorksj.ac.uk

See you on Monday for a nature based poem!
Best wishes,
Emma

Friday’s Letters

26.06.2020

Anyone else melting in the heat wave!?

Hello! As I write this ready for Friday, I am sweltering and hoping that by the time this is published we have some rainfall and respite from the heat!

Also suffering from the heat was this toad who took a swim in my friend’s pond and was captured here trying to climb out! (Don’t worry he was helped out of the pond, and there are areas at the other side to aid safe climbing in and out for amphibians!)

I was also sent this poem about Rosemary by Marianne Moore courtesy of @greenspacesyork on twitter, following on from this week’s creative writing theme on herbs. If you missed Wednesday’s creative writing class you can find a link at the bottom of this page.

Meg found this lovely damselfly taking a moment to rest on her window frame.

Mark sent a photo of this healthy little pepper plant that I dropped off at his home a few weeks ago and I am chuffed to bits that an orchid my husband rescued from the alley at the back of our home is thriving and growing a third stem of flowers, it had been chucked out after finishing flowering and was less than a third of the size it is now.

Mark also sent this lovely clip of film from York Railway pond, and I have now upgraded this site to add videos. I love the waterlilies and the birdsong. A little slice of tranquility for you all.

Hope everyone has had a good week. I have a simple and fun art challenge on the blog tomorrow – that’s great to do on your own or share with others.

See you next week!
Best wishes,

Emma

Pollen stained bee house at my allotment!

Connect to Nature Online Class

24.06.2020

Garden Herbs and Other Delights!

Hello!
Welcome to another online Connect to Nature Creative Writing Class.

To anyone new to my online creative writing activity, this blog is a little place where every Wednesday I post a set of four creative writing tasks, all designed to help you to connect to the natural world and feel more at one with nature!

This week I thought it might be nice to use some inspiration from my kitchen windowsills and allotment where I have been growing culinary herbs. We often use the senses in writing to bring a piece of work to life. For example instead of just saying:

‘Today I took a walk in the garden.’

I can take you there through words, for example:

‘Today, I stepped into the garden and shivered. Not because it was cold, it was because a warm breeze was blowing and I immediately caught the scent of fresh roses and lavender on the air.’

Hopefully a sentence such as the above will delight a reader and entice them to read further, helping them to have a sensory experience through words.

So today’s session was inspired by garden herbs, but I will also include flowers and other sensory experiences in the natural world – particularly focusing on scents.

Task 1: (5 mins) If you have any kitchen herbs growing on your windowsills or in your garden take a moment to break off a sprig. Inspect the cutting in your hand. What colour is it, how do the lines travel across a leaf, what does it smell and taste like? If you haven’t got any fresh herbs try a peppercorn, or some dried herbs from a spice rack, you could even use a herbal tea bag if you have any.

Write ten words about the experience – (E.g Peppermint: Tingly, fresh, green, spicy, minty, stems, leaves, peppery, bursting, flavour!)

Here are some examples you could choose to use:

Garden Herbs IdeasKitchen finds
Rosemary
Thyme
Oregano
Basil
Lemon balm
Peppermint
Peppercorns
Fennel seeds
Mixed herbs
Curry powders (be careful spicy!)
Teas – such as chamomile or mint

Task 2: (5 mins) Routines and rhythms inspired by garden herbs. There are many health benefits linked to our kitchen herbs. For example: Mint is said to ease digestion, lavender can help soothe the mind and bring on sleep. Marigolds are antiseptic and used to heal skin problems. Lemon balm is said to be the elixir of life and to strengthen the heart. Bergamot (used in earl grey tea) and St John’s Wort are said to lift the mood and ease depression. Thyme was often used to keep the breath fresh and healthy in Roman times!

Write about a day in which garden herbs and flowers are used to balance the day. You could write this as a diary extract, or perhaps medicinal advice for a fictional character. Or if you like you could write about one of the health benefits you have experienced from a favourite garden herb or plant.

Task 3: (10 mins) I have read that the aroma of Rosemary is said to boost our memory function. I even found an article on it here which not only sites current evidence from a recent study, but also says that Rosemary Garlands were worn in exams in Ancient Greece! Inspired by this knowledge write about a memory of freshly smelt flowers or herbs:

Here are some examples to get you started (but feel free to use one of your own):

  • A freshly cooked meal full of herbs and spices
  • A wild woodland full of wild garlic flowers
  • The smell of freshly cut flowers (sweet peas, lavender or roses are good for this one!)

Task 4: (5 mins) Now you have fully warmed up to using the sense of scent in your writing, take it further than kitchen herbs. Write a paragraph of ‘free writing’ (whatever pops into your head) using one of the following themes:

  • Freshly cut grass.
  • The smell of sea air.
  • The smell of the air after a heavy rain storm.
  • The smell of lime trees on a promenade walk (for York Residents – the lime trees along the river near Millennium Bridge and along Bootham Road smell amazing right now!)

I hope that this session has awakened your senses and left you wanting to go out and find lots more interesting scents and flavours! A sprig of mint in lemon water is a lovely cooling drink in the hot weather. Remember there are no rules to creative writing, the whole point is to have fun with words, no restrictions!

I look forward to hearing how you get on with these tasks. Have a lovely week, see you on Friday with words and pictures that are sent in to me in response to tasks. I have an easy and fun art challenge coming out on Saturday.

Best wishes,
Emma

Monday’s Poem

22.06.2020

Stones

Stones
Deep down below
Goblins toil
For their castles to make
They move mountains of soil
Hard rocks too big
Are fashioned to blocks
Leaving so many small pieces
From their stone axe knocks
“But where can they go?”
They cry, so discontent
Then lips curl in smile
- “Send em up the allotment!”

By Richard Morgan

Thank you Richard for sending me this poem! I had to include it today, after I spent the weekend lifting stones out of a bed I have been digging at the allotment. It’s back breaking work, but the pay off is worth it! We also found a little rabbit living on our plot, he has snipped off the tops of all my beautiful chive border! The top photo is of wild poppies that have self seeded, but I have left those alone as they are so beautiful!

Anyone else have any fantastical or cheeky visitors to their gardens or allotments!?

See you on Wednesday for the creative writing class. This week’s theme is going to be on garden herbs.

Best wishes.
Emma

Saturday Art Challenge

20.06.2020

Marvellous Moths!

Hi everyone,

This weekend I have a lovely nature journal idea for copying the patterns of moth wings to help learn about the species.

This was inspired by two things. First of all I found some unusual looking eggs in the corner of my allotment greenhouse. It just happened that my Dad had passed on to me his book of insects from when he was a boy, in a moment of synchronicity I opened the book and there in-front of me was a picture of exactly the eggs that I had found. I discovered that they were Vapourer Moth eggs….which then led me to do some more research.

Deciding to add this to the nature journal I made it into a bit of a nature based fun homeschool project from my children. We decided rather than making butterflies by dropping paint on paper and folding it over, we would try and make moths instead. Here’s how we did it:

Step 1: We found some old card (in this case it was card postcards that we hadn’t used). We soaked the card in tea….this wasn’t 100% necessary but gave a nice background colour for a moth and was of course just lots of fun.

Step 2: Once the card had dried we marked out our basic moth shapes in white pencil crayon and cut the moth out.

Step 3: We chose some colours to mix that we felt would represent our fairly basic brown moth. We then used thick water colour paint from a tube to make a nice brown and painted on one side of the moth wing pattern. We then folded the wing over to print the pattern on the other side.

We found that the pattern on the opposite side didn’t always print as strongly so we kept adding blobs of colour trying to mimic the shapes that we saw and reprinting. This gave a lovely effect of the mottled wings.

Step 4: Once the paint layers were down I drew into them with pencil crayons to give further details. We then also replicated the egg nest I had found and discovered that the female vapourer moth can’t actually fly. Once she hatches she clings to her cocoon where she lays her eggs.

I stuck them into my journal with little foam tabs so that they stand off the page when I open the book. Although it’s nice to be as accurate as possible, it’s the process of observation that is important. The whole time you are trying to be accurate you are memorising the shapes and colours and will remember the moth much more easily when you find it in the natural world.

After completing all that, I realised I had no idea what the caterpillar of this moth looked like. I was pleasantly surprised to find he was a funky little creature in 1970’s inspired get up! Lot’s of orange, green and tufts of hair everywhere! I had some painted paper patterns left over from another project so collaged a little caterpillar to complete my journal page before adding annotations.

While I was doing this my little girl was busy making her very own representation of a silk moth, I thinks she did a great job 🙂

For anyone that is interested – here is the original picture that set off my learning!

It’s a wonderful thing to start off with one tiny discovery to then go on to find out so much more, and to create a lovely art project. I hope it inspires you to do something similar! Happy Saturday Art Challenge!

Best wishes,

Emma

Friday’s Letters

19.06.2020

Incy wincy spider…..

Hello! Hope everyone has had a good week and looking forward to a rest over the weekend. Even when we are locked down it’s important to have delineation between days and something different to do. If you are stuck for ideas I have a nice Saturday Art Challenge tomorrow making paint prints of moth patterns.

Following this week’s creative writing class on ‘My Friend the Spider’ I received some lovely messages from my good friend Anna who is an amazing artist and crafter. You can check out her creations here and on instagram @louismakes .

Anna sent me this fabulous poem which made me smile:

I also received these pictures of a little spider adorning some craft work and her gorgeous rescue Lurcher Louis!

In other news Rich emailed me this stunning picture of the sky line over York earlier in the week. There have been some fantastic sunsets recently.

In my allotment I have dark velvet poppies blooming and the English lavender and Sweet Peas in my yard are starting to flower. Let’s hope for another burst of warmer weather. In the mean time stay safe and I hope you enjoy tomorrow’s art challenge.

Take care!
Best wishes,

Emma