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Updated: Jun 4, 2021

Red fox gazing at you
Red Fox Forget-me-not

In recent months I have been trying to sketch more, sometimes nature journaling and while drawing I have really come to appreciate the portability and surprises that blend on the paper when using watercolours, either in pencil form or as a small selection of watercolours carried in a tin. Therefore, when I was asked if I would like to join a group of artists for the Brighton and Hove Open Houses this year, with pieces for Paula Fahy's lovely garden, I wanted to keep using watercolours, but realised I would have to find something sturdy to paint on.

Wooden panels primed with gold watercolour ground

I eventually decided to use various sized panels of wood and to prime them, I painted the panels with Daniel Smith's gold watercolour ground. The gold background which then reacts like watercolour paper was easy to use and supported the colours. I also hoped that the golden luminosity would help me convey a quiet sanctity for some of the beautiful creatures I regularly see and have included in my series of 'Forget-me-not' wildlife paintings.

watercolour paintings on gold wooden panels, the Forget-me-not series by Michelle Thomasson
Forget-me-not series

Here they are, presented in a small greenhouse with home sewn bunting from green and gold painted linen with a brighter metallic, tougher material to help weigh it down in the sea breeze. The watercolours are sealed with a watercolour fixative, to protect them from any humidity or condensation while on show in the little greenhouse. I had been searching for a varnish that could make them completely weatherproof but so far, I have not been able to find any exterior varnish that was non-toxic.

This week, which is the international week for nature journaling, I joined a workshop with Emilie Lygren, who gently prompted participants to write about their nature experiences. One of the prompts was to write in seven minutes about something we individually learnt last week. I just had to put words to paper about Belle and Bo, Paula's beautiful cats as they graced their humble greenhouse and my paintings.

Belle, a cat sitting in the greenhouse with the forget-me-not paintings
Belle in the greenhouse - photo from Paula Fahy
Bo, in the greenhouse with the Roe Deer Forget-me-not painting by Michelle Thomasson
Bo in the greenhouse - photo by Paula Fahy

Here's my workshop poem:

‘The Things I learnt last week poem’.

I learnt that I could see shapes and colours like a tapestry of hope, shining gold. They became small pieces of wood carrying faces and eyes with those Forget-Me-Not gazes.

Together like a symphony in a small greenhouse, whispering I am here, with the garland of green sage leaves sewn and draped in calm.

I learnt last week that I could dream and make it real enough to say: "they can see you,” while visitors smiled and Paula’s cats sat amongst the pebbles gazing too.

They purred: “I belong here, in fact I’m the one who makes your pieces beautiful.”

In the greenhouse I have also added a small selection of herbs and wildflowers in gold-painted pots, each of these plants, apart from looking lovely have a dual purpose of being good for pollinators and good for us.

Sweet Woodruff Galium odoratum, masses of starry white flowers in early summer, you can add a few of them to wine or tea for the scent of summer hay, bees and flies are pollinator visitors and the plant can be used as a moth deterrent. Prefers dappled shade, it is hardy but can be an invasive perennial.

Blue Hyssop Hyssops officinalis, lovely blue flowers loved by bees and other pollinators, adds flavours to soups, casseroles and as a garnish. It can deter the cabbage white butterfly. Prefers full sun and can be grown in pots, it is a hardy evergreen.

Sweet Rocket Hesperis matronalis, white or purple flowers that are night scented, loved by butterflies and moths, with edible leaves that are tasty in salads. Sheltered but sunny spot suits it best, it is a hardy perennial that can be grown in pots.

Ivy Leaved Toadflax Cymbalaria muralis, loves nooks and crannies, especially in walls, it likes a sunny spot, white and light purple snapdragon-like flowers loved by bees especially the wall-nesting solitary bee species which use the small yellow markings as a nectar guide. The leaves are edible with a flavour like watercress, a creeping hardy perennial, good for containers and can also tolerate shade.

Verbena Lobsterfest unique salmon-orange-coloured flowers loved by pollinators, becomes semi-trailing and likes pots and prefers full sun but keep well-watered.

Catnep Nepeta cataria, a pungent fragrance loved by cats, with the white flowers attractive to bees and butterflies. Young leaves can be used as a flavouring or as a tea. It is also medicinal (but to be taken with qualified advice), any soil in a sunny location, it is a hardy herbaceous perennial, also good in pots.

Camomile Chamaemelum nobile, is classified in the wild as a vulnerable plant on the Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain. White daisy-like flowers loved by bees and other pollinators with an apple-like scent, used in teas and also medicinally, an annual that is good growing in lawns and pots but don’t let the plant dry out.

Salad Burnett Sanguisorba minor, it has small green and red flower heads that are nectar rich and attract bumble bees, butterflies and other insects. It is also a culinary herb, the leaves have a tasty cucumber flavour and can be used in salads, as a garnish or even in a glass of Pimms. Because it is evergreen you can harvest leaves throughout the year, it is perennial, semi-evergreen, hardy and prefers full sun.

If you are an art lover and in the Brighton and Hove area this month of June, I hope you will visit the West Hove trail and the bright and bold, colourful artists showing their wonderful work at No. 40 Leicester Villas, information in the links below. Please don't forget to bring and wear a mask, the house is ventilated and Covid19 safety precautions are being followed. Emilie Lygren Words workshop. Nature Journaling week 1-7th June 2021


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