SPARROWS are chirping monotonously in the Hawthorn hedge. A Smooth Newt swims up for a breath of air at the edge of the pond. A couple of wolf spiders scamper around in the pop-up shelter that I’m using as a sunshade. It’s warm in here; climbing to a sticky 34°C in the sun, according to the keyfob thermometer on my artbag.
After several months mainly taken up with business, I’m finding it difficult to get back to drawing from nature. I can’t yet slow down enough to see things in anything but a blur. Drawing these Kingcups – also known as Marsh Marigolds – by the pond is an easy step towards focusing on the everyday and getting into the drawing habit again.
Talking of seeing things as a blur, yesterday afternoon I did this drawing (left) of limes and a holly from a shady bench by the war memorial in Horbury Memorial Park, locally known as ‘Sparra’ Park’. It’s the first drawing I’ve done with my new varifocal glasses – I’ve only ever used reading glasses until my latest eye-test. With a band of long-distance vision across the top of the lense and a smaller patch for close-focus across the bottom, they work well for drawing.
Putting them on as I walked back from the opticians was a revelation. The light was perfect anyway; a sunny spring morning with fresh green leaves and blossom in the gardens, all of which now appeared to me in crisp high definition. I felt that I could see each stamen as I passed a branch of blossom.
It reminded me of Frederick Franck’s memories, recalled in his book The Awakened Eye, of looking at Victorian 3D photographs – of cows in a meadow, for example – in his grandfather’s elaborate stereopticon. As a child wandering in the meadows around his home town, Franck came to realise that he could recapture that sense of heightened reality by ‘turning on’ his own stereopticon. He credits his grandfather’s steropticon with setting him out on his lifetime journey exploring seeing and drawing.
From Monet to Millais
When I compare a view of trees with and without my new glasses I realise how much my long-sight has deteriorated, something which I hasn’t really troubled me as my brain has been compensating for it, filling in the gaps as it were. Wearing these new glasses is rather like suddenly switching from the broad brushstrokes of a late Monet to the luminous glazes of colour and sharp detail of the early Pre-Raphaelites. Artistically, you might not consider this to be progress but for me as a naturalist the wealth of extra detail and information about the natural world that is now available to me is very welcome.