Coun­try di­ary

Al­len­dale, Northum­ber­land

The Guardian - Journal - - Letters -

A curled and des­ic­cated bracken frond lies on the ta­ble in front of me. My pen de­scribes it, swoop­ing and twist­ing across the pa­per, in­ex­act but feel­ing for the spirit of the plant. I am on the fi­nal page of a lep­orello in a year of na­ture draw­ings that has cat­a­logued the chang­ing sea­sons. A lep­orello is a con­certina book; mine has stiff white car­tridge pa­per and hard cov­ers, and slots into a black car­ry­ing case. There’s a magic to the re­veal as the pages are opened out, light and shadow fall­ing across its zigzag sur­face.

Here is 2018, its slow start of shiv­er­ing snow­drops and frag­ile hazel catkins, lung­worts nec­tar­full in a late spring, grasses seed­ing and flow­ers go­ing over fast in the sum­mer drought. Seeds are blown from a dan­de­lion clock to float their way across sev­eral folds of pa­per. An ex­plo­sion of pollen bee­tles in July clus­ter in scabi­ous and sweet peas. Wasps feast on fallen plums, co­toneaster berries ripen, sweet chest­nuts tum­ble from their spiky cases.

The act of draw­ing needs a clear fo­cus of at­ten­tion. The learn­ing is in the look­ing and the calm that that brings. Find­ing things on a walk and tak­ing them home to draw teaches ob­ser­va­tion about the nat­u­ral world, a valu­able prac­tice, es­pe­cially for chil­dren. In some years I have done a sketch a day, the time lim­ited to five min­utes so it is pos­si­ble and spon­ta­neous: a wind­blown hawthorn, muddy walk­ing boots, a KitKat wrap­per, a car park sky­line; any­thing can be in­cluded.

A lep­orello lends it­self to un­fold­ing time. Mine has move­ment from the seed heads of lemon balm that run hor­i­zon­tally across three pages. Im­ages are not re­stricted to a rec­tan­gle, and rose­hips, rose­mary and cranes­bill go where they want. I get the most plea­sure from the new shapes made by fallen leaves, from the baroque curlicues of shriv­elled oak and the rolled edges of sycamore.

Dan­de­lion leaves be­come a map of fjords, sharply in­dented, eas­ily over­looked or dis­missed as weeds. These are all lit­tle in­ci­dents that might have been for­got­ten, but that I can now re­visit and that I’ve learned from in the process of see­ing and draw­ing.

Susie White

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