Painting Dove Cottage Garden

A quiet Sunday afternoon , I’m drinking coffee and looking at work in progress in my studio. It is early July and the summer heat has been building for several weeks. The studio is so warm now that even oil paint is quick drying. All the night paintings are collected at one end of the room. There is a deep dark twilit vibe in that corner as they fill the surrounding space with cool night air. At the other end, summer is in full swing. Colours and marks are bounding and careering across little boards – vibrant hues, dots and dashes are engaged in loud and lively conversation.

All of these tiny paintings have been made on site in Dove Cottage garden and measure 22 x 11 cm . Some of them come from peering into the shadows and undergrowth, others are dappled patches of light, or the dance of flowers in the sun. Some whisper in low tones, others are a garrulous romp of colours and shapes.

One or two of the paintings are more like musical phrases or notation. I am struck by how some of the lines and dashes I put down remind me of the quill marks and deletions in Wordsworth’s manuscripts. Perhaps a similar rhythm underpins both? All of these paintings have a rhythm, pace and direction.

They’re building into quite a collection, a personal dictionary of snippets. They chatter and buzz, excited and jostling for space. Small but loud, they’re an unruly reference library of moments spent in Dove Cottage garden.

Like snatches of time, each holds a tiny sliver of experience… a detail noticed and recorded. There’s something in this noticing. Taking time, drawing, slowing down, allowing this place to seep into me is a vital part of what I am learning here.

As I become more familiar with the garden, I find that I can focus in on details and on one area in particular. The transformative encounters, ideas and conversations that have occurred here through the centuries all feed into this place. If you spend enough time listening and watching you start to pick them up… You can almost sense the levels of thought that have occurred here, the pacing and treading and retreading of these paths, criss crossing this ground and with each step a new thought, an idea, a moment of clarity. These walls seem to hold a depth of creative experience, they urge you to slow down and notice.

As spring turns to summer, the flowers change from one week to the next and each has its own pace. Some of the flowers and grasses have a lilting, harmonious flow, others are throbbing and pulsing. Some are very light on their feet, others solid and booming. The speed and brightness of noon in midsummer is a very different rhythm than the subtle grey of pre-dawn. I am making connections between these underlying rhythms and the quality of light at different times of day and year.

This is a wonderful summer garden. The wildflowers and grasses are allowed to grow tall…whispering and shifting in the breeze, their drifts of colour bringing a new type of rhythm and palette. In late summer everything shuffles and as seed heads ripen there is a reassuring sense of continuity.

As I drain the coffee pot I have a sense of where all these studies might be leading. It occurs to me that by focusing on individual moments, these little pictures add together to create a harmonious whole. Not something I particularly intended but if viewed as one piece of work they are a portrait of the place. I am massively grateful to everyone at the Wordsworth Trust for patiently putting up with me appearing with my box of paints at random moments!

This is an ongoing process. I am not aiming for one finished piece of work, it’s rather an enquiry into this place and how it affected Wordsworth’s creative process. I’m aware that as I learn it’s having a huge affect on my own artistic practise. It’s broadening my thinking and my approach, opening up new possibilities and removing unnecessary boundaries. This is about learning to let go and allow things to unfold.