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Breach of promise

I told myself I would never try to paint bluebells, too much of a landscape painter's cliche and their colour is never right. Yet here I have painted blue bells, not in a traditional wood under beech trees but in an area of recently cleared hazel coppice.

Once again this painting comes from a particular memory of a walk we take on the Etherly Loop on Leith Hill. There are bluebells there, growing conventionally under beech tree but I saw these ones on a section of woodland which had recently been coppiced by a hurdle maker. Sunlight had reached the ground and the flowers responded. It felt very different to the traditional setting, the mark of human management very visible. The hazel stools were regularly spaced and cut back to encourage new shoots.

The drawing I have included below is my original A5 sketch, made with a black ball point on a folded file note. It was not meant to be a finished piece but a tool to help me to contrast the impacts of man and the reaction of the natural world. There are three inverted and truncated pyramidal coppices in which I indicated the way the stems spread out from the root stock and three horizontal lines indicating different levels on the bank on which the coppices were growing. These are aligned with the tops of the coppices, making three "fields" in which I intended to show bluebells.

I liked the simplicity of the arrangement and the way three played three. I offset two of the coppices to the left, leaving the third to make a triangle on the right. And that was that.

The image below shows the three coppices placed in similar positions on the canvas, although the shapes have been varied slightly to make them less mechanical. I do not know if this was a good idea or not. Would it have been stronger to leave the geometry more hard edged?

Having set up those elements, I added a series of lines running from top to bottom of the canvas in each "field" that started parallel to the edges of the coppices, about the widith of a No.6 brush apart, to suggest the spacing of the blue bell plants. As a result each "field" has a different grain, recalling how the plants respond to the contours, nutrients and light available to them. Using the lines as guides I painted a series of bright green shapes, either as arabesques around them or as centred ovals. I then backfilled with a yellowish green to suggest a carpet of foliage, altering the lines of bright green as the picture prompted me, even leaving an occasional patch of white canvas. I do mean I let this happen, making no conscious decisions.

When that had dried I painted in a few lines of dark blue to indicate stems; (you can see these most clearly in the left hand side "fields"); and then the bluebells as streaks of violet blue wherever the pattern of greens suggested.

There is a deliberate contrast between the hard edged foliage on the coppices and the free flowing rendering of the bluebells, to emphasise the man made intrusion into the natural order.

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