Saturday Art Challenge

13.06.2020

Ruskin Inspired Feathers!

Hi Everyone!

About a year ago St Nick’s Environment Centre was lucky enough to partner up with York City Art Gallery to run creative sessions as part of a Turner / Ruskin Exhibition which was curated by the fabulous Dr Suzanne Fagence-Cooper.

The exhibition aimed to highlight the plight of the environment and the incredible work that both Ruskin and Turner did ahead of their time charting landscape and natural details.

William Davidson (St Nick’s Book Club) and I ran a series of literature and writing sessions inspired by the exhibition, it was great fun and it also gave us the chance to keep re-visiting the paintings and drawings and to become very familiar with the work.

In particular I was really taken with Ruskin’s feather drawings. The attention to detail was immense, you felt as if you could literally just pick the feather off the paper, so beautifully had it been crafted on the page. So I thought I would have a go!

The lovely thing about drawing feathers is that you can really start to get to grips with using tone and light and dark shades to draw the feather out. You can also play about with the the weight of line – changing how hard you press into the paper to start to mimic the lightness of the feather.

As many feathers are so delicate and often pale colours, I have found that drawing on brown paper gives a lovely effect and also helps the lighter tones to stand out. These pictures are taken from a basic brown paper sketch book that I found in PaperChase but simple brown packing paper would work just as well.

I used water soluble pencil crayon’s which are lovely and soft and blend very easily, although for most of the pictures you see here I used them dry, rather than going over with a paint brush or dipping them in water. You can, however, use just a basic pencil or pencil-crayons to sketch with. As Ruskin often taught – the act of drawing is not to be an excellent artist, but to actually observe properly and to take your time with detailed observation of the natural world.

So, your Saturday Art Challenge is as follows:

Task:

  • Find a feather! If you aren’t able to go outside at the moment google images of feathers on line, you could even draw a fluffy Jackdaw’s feathers – as featured on this week’s creative writing class.
  • Choose your pencil, or drawing tools.
  • Choose some paper, this could be the back of an envelope, some plain paper, or the inside page of a book (Yes! I am one of those terrible people that adds sketches and notes to the books that I am reading!)
  • Begin to draw your feather. Note where the lines are clearer down the stem of the feather – here you can press harder to create a bold delineation of tone. For the actual strands of feather imagine the softness of the feather as you draw your lines, use that softness in the stroke of your pencil against paper.
  • For darker areas of tone, browns and blues give deeper colours and hues and blend nicely together to create shadows.
  • A white pencil crayon is excellent for highlighting where light falls on the shiny parts of the feather. White pencil crayon also captures those lovely wispy feathers at the base of the feather spine.
  • Really try to copy exactly what you see, where is light, where is dark? Take your time, get lost in the moment, enjoy!

If you are anything like me you might find this addictive. You will be picking up feathers everywhere you go!

If you are interested in the work of Ruskin, Suzanne Fagence-Cooper wrote an excellent account of his work in her book Why Ruskin Matters. I highly recommend it.

Yes my bookmark is a battered page from a book that fell apart!!

If you are interested in Ruskin’s feathers – google Ruskin and Feathers and then click on images at the top of the search engine – you will find many examples.

Hope you enjoy sketching feathers. Remember the most important part is not the end result of the drawing, it’s observing all the fine and beautiful details of feathers!

Take Care! See you on Monday for our next nature based poem.

Best wishes,
Emma

Friday’s Letters

12.06.2020

Surprises!

Happy Friday Everyone!

Hope you all enjoyed this week’s theme of Crows for the creative writing tasks. If you haven’t caught up with that one yet you can find it here!

I’d also like to welcome those of you who are new to this blog site. Friday is the day I post a letter from my allotment and readers responses and pictures. This site was initially set up for a small class of 10 that I run at St Nicks in York. It moved online due to COVID-19, however we absolutely welcome new people to join us and a shared love of nature. It’s fascinating for us in York to hear from different areas around the country and world, so please do write to me and share your pictures and words.

Last week Meg sent me this awesome picture of Shield Bug eggs! They look like miniature grapes. They were taken with a special lense. I also recently found some newly hatched shield bugs at my allotment – which are so cute! You can see from my photograph just how tiny they are, they were resting on a honeysuckle leaf and safely returned to the plant.

I also have these gorgeous pics of Meg’s hedgehog, I haven’t managed to work out how to upload a video yet, so I tried taking some screen shots instead. I thought the picture I accidentally caught of the hedgehog’s bottom was just as cute as her little face – so thought I would include both! Hope this makes you smile like it did me!

A lot of people said that they enjoyed reading about crows in Wednesday’s class, and my sister sent me this brilliant poem and sketch that she made a couple of years ago and dug out especially to send in (thank you!).

You might also remember a couple of week’s ago, I posted a poem called ‘Willow Learns to Fly a Dragon’, if you didn’t see it you can find it here.

My lovely niece sent this response to the poem and the gorgeous picture of a dragon featured underneath:

I have a dragon swirling around in my heart
love in my heart
one heart in my love
my heart with you
and your heart with me
One two three
together our hearts become one

My final thing this week are two book recommendations. ‘K’ from my usual class sent me this beautiful book Way Making, which I can highly recommend. It is a gorgeous collection of poetry, prose and art all about the natural landscape. It’s great for dipping into before bed, or first thing in the morning to start the day. It’s like stepping straight out onto the hills.

The second book was recommended by a friend and is a real visual treat, it’s all about natural structures that are created by animals and insects across the globe. There are some truly beautiful photographs to drool over.

I have a lovely task which is gentle and thoughtful for Saturday’s Art Challenge – we will be sketching feathers (one of my favourite things to draw).

I hope you have enjoyed these lovely images and words. Please take care, and please do send any of your work to me at e.mckenzie1@yorksj.ac.uk I love to hear how everyone is getting on.

With kind regards,

Emma

Connect to Nature Creative Writing

10.06.2020

All About Crows

Hello! Good Morning….or Good Afternoon (depending when you are catching up with this post!)

Today’s online creative writing class has the theme of Crows. This session came about after a socially distant visit to Meg’s garden, Meg was telling me about the Magpies that land on her roof and hang upside down from the drainpipe to tap on the window at her budgies!

It got us talking about the mischievous and spirited Crow Family of birds and I thought it would make for a brilliant creative writing class theme. We did a previous session on crows at our physical class at St Nicks back in 2016 or 17, so I have re-visited some of the tasks we previously enjoyed. Having done some more research on crows, I was surprised to find that the Jay is also a member of the crow family. That’s what I love about running these classes, there is always something surprising and new to discover.

So here is the class:

Task 1: (5 mins – or 50 mins if you take up my extension challenge!) The RSPB website has a whole page on the Corvus family and lists all the birds that belong to this family:

  • Carrion Crow
  • Chough
  • Hooded Crow
  • Jackdaw
  • Jay
  • Magpie
  • Raven
  • Rook

Can you use alliteration (when two words begin with the same letters or sounds) to give all these crows fancy names?! (e.g Colin the Chough, or the Jubilant Jay) Perhaps some of them deserve titles and double barrelled surnames!?

Extension task: If you have enjoyed having fun with this task you could take it one step further. Research each crow and their character and invent a flash fiction story about each one. (Flash fiction is a tiny story usually around 100 words long). For example: Ravens, despite being from the same family, are larger and more shaggier in appearance than crows, let’s say a little bit more punk rocker. Could you turn these characteristics into a story??

Task 2: (5 – 10 mins) I found a lovely news article about a girl who was brought gifts by crows, you can find it here. Studies have also shown that crows are highly intelligent and able to use objects as tools to achieve gaining food (you can read more about that here if you wish to).

Write about a walk in nature that you have enjoyed, although this time there is a twist. A crow swoops over the path and drops something at your feet. What is it? What is the story behind the object? Is it something natural or manmade? See where your imagination leads you…… (if you joined in last week’s class on the whispering trees you could continue your woodland walk description).

Task 3: (5 – 10 mins) Crows have fascinating links to mythology, sometimes being see as a good and sometimes as the bearers of bad luck or bad omens. In Norse Mythology the God Odin was often depicted with his familiars, two Ravens named Huginn and Muninn. On a site I found here, I learnt that crows in Greek Mythology symbolised Apollo and his gift of prophecy. Have fun making up prophecies for the following sightings of crows:

  • A crow flying low at dusk symbolises……
  • A jay’s feather found at full moon means ……
  • A crow on a bright summers morning is a sign that…..

Task 4: (5 mins) If you observe a crow flying you will see that the span of the wings curve at the tips and spread like fingers. If you can, spend five minutes observing any type of crow.

Top tips: Jackdaws have grey feathers and can often be found nesting in high places like church steeples and cliff faces. Jays and magpies have beautiful colours and love woodland areas. I often see black crows flying across the fields by my allotment. If you are shielding see if you can spot any through the window, or you can watch this great identification video here which has lots of great images and footage of crows.

Write a list of character traits for the crow that you observed. Eg. how curved is the crow’s beak, how does he/she walk or fly. Are their feathers ruffled or smooth, shiny or matt? See if you can get 10 traits.

I hope that you have enjoyed this theme! There is so much more I could write about, if you are interested in reading the latest research into crows gathering shiny objects I found a great blog post here.

I will end with this little rhyme about magpies, does anyone else count magpies when you see them? Are you like me, do you find yourself saluting a lone Magpie to cancel out the sorrow and ask him how his wife and family are?! I would love to hear about any superstitions you follow.

Magpies....
One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret 
Never to be told.
Eight for a wish
Nine for a kiss
Ten for a bird
You must not miss!

See you on Friday! I have some nice pictures and a book recommendation for you! Do email me any pictures or writing to e.mckenzie1@yorksj.ac.uk to be included in Friday’s post.


Best wishes,

Emma

All pictures courtesy of pixabay. Top cover picture original art work by Eloise Clark (Thank you!)

Monday’s Poem

08.06.2020

Hello, I hope you all had a good weekend.

Today I have chosen a short poetic quote that I found in the Taschen Book of Symbols. If you haven’t heard of it this is a great coffee table book – full of intriguing things. When we did the creative writing session on goldfinches I decided to look up birds in the symbol book, as I was thinking about the totem task (see previous session details) and all the beautiful colours that birds carry.

I stumbled upon this gorgeous poetic quote:

‘Know that the psyche has it’s own

Fame, whether known or not, that

Soul can flame like feathers of a bird

Grow into your own plumage, brightly,

So that any tree is a marvellous city.’

James Applewhite: Prayer for My Son

I’ve been thinking that this is a delicious way to start the week! To be bold and brave and beautiful. To be yourself and make the most of any given situation. Inspiration from nature!

I hope to see you all on Wednesday, this week’s class is all about crows (not the most colourful birds but certainly very interesting)!
Best wishes,

Emma

Saturday Art Challenge

06.06.2020

Sketching with Shadows

A couple of weeks ago I experimented with sketching using a shadow as a template. This was a happy accident after I was given a sprig of Japanese Acer to draw. It was a hot sunny day, the delicate acer leaves fluttered in my hand and created beautiful shadows on the pages of my journal.

For fun I got out a soft 4b pencil and started to fill in the shadows as best I could. Soon enough a delicate and beautiful sketch emerged. It didn’t matter if the shadow moved or trembled, I just sketched over new places and continued.

When I had drawn my pencil sketch I started to think how nice it would look in colour, so I moved the position of the cutting to create new shadows and started sketching patterns with pencil crayons too. As it looked so Japanese we decided it should be finished off with some washi tape to add to the effect.

Saturday Art Challenge Task: Your task is to have a go at creating shadows with natural finds. You could do this with a vase of flowers or cut grass and a desk lamp. Or if it is sunny enough where you are, sitting outdoors with a sprig of a plant, paper and pencil will work just fine. You might want to use masking tape to stick your paper to a board if you are outside to keep it stable. My page was nice and secure in a heavy note book.

Look out for more interesting shadows when you are outdoors, or for shadows cast through your home.

Happy Sketching!
Have a great weekend.

Best wishes,

Emma

Friday’s Letters

05.06.2020

Roses and Bumblebees!!

Hello!
Welcome back to another Friday post, and also a big welcome to anyone new to this site! I seem to have had a flurry of new visitors, I hope that you are enjoying the classes and words that have been posted. Friday is the day when I post up readers words and pictures, please do send me anything that you would like to be featured on the blog, it’s lovely to hear how people have responded and also to connect others through nature 🙂

This week I have noticed lot’s of roses when I have been out and about walking. The colours and scents are so beautiful. They timed nicely with an email I received from Phil who runs our Discover Nature Class (For anyone not in York – Phil is our fabulous wildlife education tutor – you can check out his You Tube channel here for his lock down guides to Discovering Nature.) Phil had spent some time completing the creative writing tasks that on Bees in the session I posted up entitled ‘Tell it to the Bees’ which seemed a nice combination with these lovely roses.

I also made a socially distant visit to Meg, who showed me this absolutely stunning rose named the ‘Scarborough Rose’ which she has growing in her front garden. I love how delicate this rose is, it’s going to look even more amazing in years to come when it has grown even bigger.

Here are some lovely words from Phil in response to the bee themed session tasks.

The first task in the session Tell it to the Bees was to write a charm for the bees welcoming them to summer:

A Charm for the Bees

Pollen-heavy bees are welcome,

To and fro in a haze of flowers,

Like the clockwork passing of spring to summer.

The second task was to describe which type of Bee you would be! Being an expert on the natural world Phil has done a brilliant job with this task and chose a leaf cutter bee for his theme:

If I were a bee…

If I were a bee,

I would be a solitary bee,

And of those bees, I would be a leafcutter bee,

I would be alone, keeping to myself,

I would spend my bee days working on a special bee project,

You would see signs of my being:

Neat circles cut from leaves by tiny bee jaws,

I would fly these green quilts back to my bee nest,

I would craft their shape into rooms for my bee sons and daughters,

Laying a single egg in each one, stocked with pollen, this is where they belong,

Cocooned in a leaf house that tells of a leaf bee story:

Of visiting roses, be they red, yellow or white,

Of leaf cutting and sticking and knitting a leaf bee home,

My larvae will grow, be strong, and emerge next spring,

But I am a solitary bee,

And I will be gone.

The final task in the class was inspired by the tradition of telling Bees your secrets! I asked my readers to write a secret down to tell to the bees.

A Secret to Tell the Bees

Little fluffy buzzing one, while you sip nectar, let me tell you a secret, before I convince myself it is a lie…

My secret burns bright, like your tail in the evening sun, but could so easily be lost in the darkness that is my faithful companion…

It is a precious secret, not for prying eyes, I have kept it swaddled deep inside, like your sleeping sister-larvae, pale and helpless in the nest…

I am scared that if I say my secret aloud, it will break the illusion, like the curtain drawn back in Oz, and I will be left with nothing…

Listen little fluffy buzzing one, my secret is this: 

Despite my pummelling heart, dry lips, clogged throat,

The slither-cringe shoulders and screaming at night,

The guilt-tingle and slime dripping down my bones,

I feel… I know… that there is hope.

I think you will agree with me that we are all experiencing varying levels of anxiety at the moment. It helps to know that other’s feel the same and also to use nature to hold on to hope. I have found a lot of solace and interest in the natural world since being a child. The fabulous thing about the natural world is that the more you start to look, the more you start to see and the more fascinating it all becomes!

I often get people returning to my classes after going out walking with friends reporting that it just wasn’t the same, their friends didn’t take the time to look at nature and observe the magic happening all around them. Watch out! Once you start you can’t stop!

Take care, see you tomorrow for a Saturday Art Challenge! I have a little fun task to do with drawing from shadows! Have a good weekend everyone.

Best wishes,
Emma

Connect to Nature Creative Writing Class

03.06.2020

Whispering Trees….

Welcome back to another week of Connect to Nature Creative Writing. I’ve been thinking a lot about what to do for this week’s class, as for previous sessions – I have been re-visiting some of the classes we have covered at St Nick’s before lock down over the last few years – as well as adding in a mix of new things.

Prior to lock down I had planned to run a ten week Connect to Nature Class all about Trees, in fact, I used the theme of ‘All Things Twiggy‘ for our very session on here. Although services are slowly starting to make plans to return, it still feels early days in terms of getting groups back together, so I thought it might be nice to have another creative writing class on the theme of trees as I have some wonderful resources that I had collected together in preparation for that course.

Before we start – just a quick note re future sessions – I would love to hear from anyone who is enjoying the online classes and would like this blog to continue in the future. This was an accidental blog as the result of COVID and not being able to run my usual classes in person. There is potential for the online blog posts to run post COVID, I would be interested to hear thoughts on this – you can leave a comment or email me at e.mckenzie1@yorksj.ac.uk . For all those who are shielding and attend my regular class, don’t worry this online blog will continue for as long as it is helpful and there will be a regular class at St Nicks in the longer term when we are allowed to meet in public again 🙂 I’m really enjoying connecting with everyone online, and it has been nice to make some new friends from around the UK and worldwide along the way! Thank you for everyone’s lovely comments and the feedback that has been given already!

So that’s enough from me – this week’s theme is ‘Whispering Trees’, as I have been reading this brilliant book – all about how trees communicate! (Yes that’s right they communicate with each other!) A tree can send resources to another via the route systems, some trees also emit a chemical reaction when being eaten to warn other trees to do the same and make the leaves taste bad! So that’s where my inspiration started.

Task 1: (5 mins) A walk in the woodland. The other day I went for a beautiful walk along the River Nidd in Knaresborough. The river runs through the Nidd Gorge which is a gorgeous woodland valley. As I walked the trees were whispering in the breeze, branches creaked as they rubbed together. The birds were in full song and the river was babbling away.

In ten words can you describe the sounds of a woodland that you have walked through??

Task 2: (5 mins) Tree Stumps! I discovered through reading The Hidden Life of Trees that sometimes when a tree is felled its neighbours will continue to feed the roots and keep the stump alive for many years. Tree stumps make great seats to sit on, or a little picnic table! They are often homes to beetles, woodlice and other insects. If you are able to go out for a walk and find a stump spend five minutes observing it closely. What do you notice and find, is anything living there? Are any new shoots growing?

If you aren’t able to get outside choose one of the pictures below and try to describe it in detail. If you are stuck – imagine that you are trying to describe it as accurately as you can to someone on the other end of a phone! You might like to expand on what you think happened to the tree and which creatures inhabit it now.

Task 3: (10 mins) A special tree in my life! Artists and Writers often like to track the journey of the natural world around them. One lovely task is to choose a favourite tree and write about it at regular intervals between passing seasons. You can start today by choosing a favourite tree. This might be a tree in your garden, or a local park, or perhaps it’s a special tree that you only visit once or twice a year. Write from memory about the tree, when did you first encounter this tree, what are you drawn to about the tree, why do you like it?

Save your writing. When you can, visit your tree again, take time to observe the changes in your tree, make notes on the detail of the tree, what does the texture of the bark look like, does it have a full canopy of leaves or are its branches spindly? Perhaps it is a little sapling that you are nurturing? Make observations of the tree a regular habit and chart it’s progress across the year.

Task 4: (5 – 10 mins) The Life of a Tree. This is another book recommendation task! This beautiful book is full of prints made from slices of wood. You can read the lines of tree rings like fingerprints.

The rings of a tree can tell its life story, they show when there was rapid growth and when it slowed down. You can see where the bark cracked in dry weather, or where a new branch formed. Choose a cut tree either from one of the pictures below or from this link and write about the life of a tree in no more than one page. Where did the tree grow? Was it in a forest, a woodland or was it a lone tree? Did anyone visit the tree, did birds nest in the branches? Tell me about the tree’s journey.

If you have enjoyed these tasks you might also be interested in the Writing Maps company.

Writing Maps publish beautiful fold out A3 maps of creative writing tasks, there is one map all about trees – which is fabulous (see picture below – if you click on the pic it will take you to the website page for this map and a sneak preview at what’s inside!). I’m not under any commission from Writing Maps – they are just a resource that I found and have really enjoyed.

We have some lovely words due to be posted up this Friday – including some responses to the Tell it to the Bees Creative Writing Class that was posted up a few weeks ago.

Happy Writing!

Best wishes,
Emma

Monday’s Poem

01.06.2020

Willow Learns to Ride a Dragon

Upon a dragon

She if flying

Against the skyline

She is soaring

Catching the gales

She is sailing

Up

and

up

and

up

and

up

and

round

and

round

up in the clouds

and now she’s flying

upside-down!

Against the clouds she is flying on high

Soaring through her hair as she sails the sky

Far beneath her are all the towns they pass by

To say she’s not happy would be a great lie.

Spitting a fireball out with a cry

Willow’s dragon sets all the night-life awry 

Running round screaming in fear that they’ll die

Villagers leave their own homes in a sty.

Willow’s dad stands below with stomach awhirl

At the sight of the beast his toes start to curl.

Afeared for his daughter he threatens to hurl

As the dragon flips through the air with a twirl.

Looking at its wings their nerves mount and churn

Yet all in the village do not come to burn;

Neither grown-ups, children, forest nor fern

Would ever have to end up stuck in an urn.

For a greater delight she never could yearn

Grinning so widely her head swerves astern

At the sight of her dad her ride does she turn

And lands not expecting a lesson to learn.

A fretful expression etches his face,

Yet fades upon Willow’s joyous embrace.

Her arms tightly wrapped makes all fears erase 

Squeezing her firmly they leave with no trace.

Having no clue she had caused such a stir –

All below had passed by in a very swift blur –

Her heart now pounded with a powerful whir 

As folk viewed her as nothing more than a cur.

Standing in-between the townsfolk and her

Willow’s dad addresses their leader as ‘Sir,

No hair on the people nor leaf on a fir

Were singed whenever the dragon did purr’.

Saying they were fully just in their rants,

Willow speaks of her love for people and plants

Repenting for scaring them out of their pants

And making them scatter all over like ants.

Accepting their speech the folk say no more,

And whilst giving out an elated roar

The pair saddle up on the dragon to soar 

Up high and on towards the home they adore.

Up

and

up

and

up

and

up

and

round 

and

round

Joy has been found

As now they’re heading

Homeward bound!

A brilliant poem sent in by Llykael Dert-Ethrae.

Llykael Dert-Ethrae is a writer based in York, he is currently working on his first publication. Dance of the Heart is one of three poems sent to me by Llykael, it is from a series of works concerning a character named Willow who features in Llykael’s writing. I hope you enjoyed this fantastical poem!

See you on Wednesday for Creative Writing!
With best wishes,

Emma

Saturday Art Challenge

30.05.2020

Creating Waves

Hello!! Welcome to another weekend art challenge!

The images above are of the progress of a painting that I created using scrap paper, a sponge and a palette knife. Finishing off our water themed week – I thought it would be nice to create some waves on paper. The great thing about doing this, is that it’s fun, easy and any mess just creates great texture for your ocean picture.

Here are the steps I took:

Step 1: Create a basic background with dark colours. I used a sponge to make a textured blueish sky. A palette knife to create lines of dark blue for an ocean, and another clean sponge to create a sandy / rocky beach texture.

Step 2: I found some old tracing paper and cut out jagged wave shapes. I stuck these over my ocean and onto the beach to try to represent the white horses washing into the shore line.

Step 3: Once I had my background sorted I used a painting sponge to keep adding layers and splashes of colour. You will see that I left a patch of white in the sky to represent the sun and light filtering through clouds.

Have fun! See what happens!! Scrunched up paper tissue also makes great textures, as does water colour paint when painting on to a wet surface.

Let me know how you get on!
Best wishes,

Emma

Friday’s Letters

29.05.2020

Bees, bugs and butterflies!

Hello everyone,

Thank you for all your interactions and lovely words that you have sent me this week. Some of these words have been sent just for my eyes, so instead I am going to share these beautiful stag beetle sketches. They were drawn back in the 1990’s, but my stag beetle Saturday Art Challenge prompted a memory and the sketches being dug back out by ‘M’ who kindly sent them in to share.

‘M’ also sent the the following two sketches, the butterfly also from an old sketch book, the moth a recent sketch. I think you will agree that these are gorgeous, and inspiring, I want to draw more!

At my allotment the honey suckle is blooming and I’ve been busy enjoying the bees visiting to enjoy the heady scented blooms. I also found these tiny little critters on a leaf – I think they are shield bug babies!

Look out for the Saturday Art Challenge tomorrow – where we will be making waves on paper!!

With best wishes for a calm and happy weekend.

Emma