Drawn to Drawing and Ditchling

I met up this evening with the aptly named Sussex Sketchers, a drawing group brought together loosely from a pool of talented creative women. Unfortunately being in London, I am perhaps the one who has to travel furthest to meet the others in Sussex or Surrey, but it has proved worth the journey every time. So when it was suggested that our latest meeting should be at an evening lecture in Ditchling Museum of Arts and Crafts in East Sussex I didn’t hesitate!

I had not been to Ditchling before and, arriving at sunset, I drove around a little to find the museum. As I walked across the green to meet my fellow sketchers for supper at the White Horse, I saw the beautifully lettered sign for the museum and took a photograph. This was a little clue as to the history of Ditchling. The title on the sign was picked out carefully in Gill Sans, the typeface designed by the sculptor and Arts and Crafts figure Eric Gill who lived in the village for almost two decades and set up an Arts and Crafts community there which remained long after he left in 1924.

The lecture was given by Ditchling resident John Vernon Lord, whose name rang a bell but I couldn’t quite place until I saw his fabulous drawings. He has illustrated many children’s classics as well as writing and illustrating his own books, including The Giant Jam Sandwich. I have been thinking a lot recently storybook imagery from my childhood, and these pictures felt familiar and nostalgic and, published in 1970 as they were, I wondered if I might have seen this story at school.

As he spoke on, showing some of the thousands of drawings he has made over his 40 year career, the penny dropped… he illustrated The Nonsense Verse of Edward Lear (above left) which we had at home when I was a kid. I knew I had seen his drawings before!  He described in detail how many of his illustrations incorporated houses and roads from Ditchling, as well as being full of hidden references and personal mementos. One of his pictures displayed two perfectly rendered keys which he had drawn from his real life house and studio keys. When he locked himself out one day he managed to get a keysmith to make workable duplicates from the details in the drawing!

Time was beginning to run short so he sped through what I thought were the most beautiful images of all – the sketches he had made in his little notebook. Wonderful, carefully draughted sketches covered every double page spread accompanied by notes and dates.

One could tell this was a man obsessed by drawing… there was even a drawing of his end of his bed, made from bed while ill with flu. The questions at the end of the talk uncovered the fact that he has never spent more than four or five days in a row not drawing and that his illustrations are incredibly labour intensive, taking up to 50 hours each which he times with a stopwatch that gets paused for every coffee break or telephone call. Somewhat dolefully, he described his need to draw as a disease.

The combined temptation of a gorgeous book in the museum shop and the added bonus of an autograph opportunity had me purchasing a copy of “Drawn to Drawing”, which charts Lord’s drawing work over the past 40 years. I marvelled that even his writing demonstrated an illustrator’s deft touch, unlike my illegible scrawl, and I promised myself I would get back to drawing in earnest, inspired by one of the best.


A Break in the Weather

I spent a wonderful day yesterday with a drawing group in a beautiful garden and nursery near Lewes. We were planning on sketching outside all day and despite overnight rain, the morning light on the drive down was very promising. By the time I arrived, the gardens were bathed in a gorgeous autumnal light and we were rather pleased with ourselves for having chosen the perfect day for it.

Marchants Nursery and Garden in Laughton, East Sussex, is one of the leading small nurseries in the country attached to a beautifully kept garden with stunning views of the South Downs. Owned by Lucy Goffin – one of the ladies in the drawing group – and her husband Graham Gough, the garden at Marchants was the perfect spot to sketch and paint.

At every turn there were plants and flowers, creating a maze like walk through the centre of the gardens, paths lined with planting and a general movement down the garden leading visitors towards a large pond at the end of the plot. Everything was well kept without being fussy, and you could tell that this was a garden created with love. Further up towards the house, one got a longer vista across the gardens and beyond. After a morning’s work we came back together inside. As if by magic, another fantastic spread was created from dishes brought by various members of the group and we had our post lunch cups of tea from the balcony outside the lovely first floor studio.

Of course with eight creative women involved, lunch and a cup of tea is no quick affair! Those of us who hadn’t seen Lucy’s studio were curious, and Lucy obliged by inviting us in to see the studio and her work. She is a textile artist and she draws greatly on the nature surrounding her, with plants from her garden often being depicted in her textiles designs. It was all so inspiring, let alone the incredible views across the South Downs from her balcony. But alas the afternoon felt as though it was already half gone, before we got back to work, and far too soon I had to jump back in the car to make my way back to London for an evening lecture. And so I left Marchants at about 4 o’clock, marvelling that I had spent an entire October day in lovely autumnal sunshine in barely more than a thin jacket.

And then the heavens opened! The two photographs above were taken 20 minutes apart! I had left myself enough time to get back on a good day, but I’d forgotten the Friday afternoon traffic and I certainly had not counted on such appalling weather conditions that the A22 was literally turned into a river. That, plus the typical English signposting which sent me twice around a standstill traffic jam on the East Grinstead ringroad before I realised I would have to retrace my steps back. After two hours in the car, I had gone only 35 miles of my journey and had practically given up on getting back in time for the lecture which was to start in 45 minutes.

But driving through Sevenoaks I had an inspired moment! I parked in the station car park, jumped on the first train to London Bridge (which thankfully turned out to be the fast train), had a couple of crowded tube rides in London rush hour and then sprinted from Holborn tube to make it just in time to Queen Square to grab a glass of wine and a seat for the lecture.

And I am so glad I made the effort, as the lecture was superb. Dr Nicola Gordon Bowe spoke with verve and passion about one of my all time stained glass favourites, Harry Clarke. He was a remarkable Arts and Crafts artist working in Dublin from about 1910. He produced book illustrations and taught graphics at the Dublin School of Art, but it is his idiosyncratic stained glass for which he is remembered best. He was prolific and produced an unbelievable number of outstanding works during his relatively short career which was cut short by his early death in 1931 from – what sounded like – over work.

After the lecture, we were so excited to have the opportunity to look closely at a Harry Clarke glass panel, which demonstrated his unbelievable, almost microscopic, painting technique. There is always more to find in Harry Clarke’s work – little faces, small details, tiny inscriptions and his almost hidden signature. I think his work is also strangely timeless – it has an Arts and Crafts sensibility but it looks like it could have been created by a modern master. Even better, I love that his work also often looks like it could have been painted by a woman – it has such a feminine aesthetic and the decorative detail is mindblowing. But, as we found out, he also had a taste for sauciness in some of his pieces and the good citizens of Dublin were affronted on more than one occasion by his depictions in glass.

We stayed for a meal at the Art Workers’ Guild and I was delighted to spot an Angie Lewin print on the walls – someone else whose work has lovely decorative detail and is also an old friend from my Central Saint Martins days. We were chatting away and ended up being the last people out of the building. On my way back to the tube I remembered with a sinking heart that I’d have to train it back out to Sevenoaks before making the long midnight drive back home.


Garden of Delights

Yesterday I spent a nightmare three hour journey driving down to Surrey – getting lost, missing my turns in all the road rebuilding, and getting caught on big roads going in completely the wrong direction. My route was so convoluted, I actually manged to cover four different counties and I almost made it to the south coast!

So after all the frustration of a hot, sticky journey which was about twice as long as it needed to be, it was heavenly to finally reach my destination, the Hannah Peschar Sculpture Garden. Tucked away in a quiet pocket of Surrey, this is a lush oasis of a garden with plenty of peaceful, shady spots to sit and take in the scenery. Dotted about the ten acres of landscaped garden are a changing collection of  contemporary sculptures.

I was there to meet a group of like-minded artists and garden designers and spend a day drawing and sketching. Organised by landscape designer Annie Guilfoyle, the day was a perfect opportunity to connect with other creatives and it was wonderful to get back into drawing, something of which I don’t do enough.

We had the entire garden to ourselves and Hannah herself came out intermittently to admire the work going on and give the odd word of advice. An impromptu picnic for lunch turned into a veritable feast as each member of the group unpacked more and more food, but the bonhomie over lunch was a good social recharging before the quiet calm of the afternoon sketching session.


The garden truly was the perfect setting for a perfect day…. right up to the miserable prospect of the long drive home.