Painting through lockdown

Local artist, Diana Bell used lockdown as an opportunity to paint her local wildlife and nature reserves, creating a beautiful record of the nature that she's seen this year.

During the first lockdown, I decided to keep a visual diary of one observation from nature each day in an A4 sketch book. This is not the first time I have set myself a challenge, as I have just published a book, called Growth and Change, of one painting from nature per week with an accompanying poem, which I completed a couple of years ago. This was an extra challenge, which, in the beginning, I did not think would last as long.

I wanted to paint whatever caught my attention each day, so the drawings include birds, animals, plants, trees and insects, also often landscapes or paintings of special places I visited.  As we live close to Cothill Fen and Dry Sandford Pit, many of the paintings are inspired by my visits there, but I also walked in Lashford Lane Fen, Chimney Meadows, Bagley Wood, Farmoor Reservoir and many places along the Thames. On the fourth day, I drew Dexter cattle at Chimney Meadows lining up to watch me walk by!

The first lockdown began on 16th March in early spring, so there was the excitement of the first spring flowers – celandine, stitchwort and daisies. Then the first butterflies – brimstone and peacock are the first I see. I just choose to draw one a day. For example, on 7th May at Chimney, I drew the sheep with their new lambs jumping around, but I also wrote on that day that we saw a hare and a flock of house martins and heard two cuckoos. In the fields there were dandelions, buttercups, cowslips, cow parsley and bird’s-foot-trefoil. I also saw brimstone and orange tip butterflies and a blue dragonfly - all on the same day.

However, I am an artist not a botanist, so many days I painted the places I was visiting because they are so beautiful in different ways. For example, reeds and ivy covered trees at Cothill, the pond at Dry Sandford Pit, reflections in the River Thames at Abingdon, light and shade in Bagley Wood.

There is, of course, the delight of spotting something new every time I go out, but more importantly by making a painting I have had to really study what I was looking at.

I had never drawn a dead nettle and was amazed that such a common plant is so complex. The flower starts as a white ball, but then gradually uncurls into the shape of an orchid. I also looked at ivy flowers for the first time and saw that they are in fact constructed very like a covid virus!

It has been very exciting seeing or identifying something for the first time. I learned about marsh lousewort and hemp agrimony, and saw a lizard at Cothill Fen. I also saw a very rare marbled orb spider that an insect expert was photographing. At Chimney, it was exciting to see a heron and a peregrine falcon on the same day.

Some of the most exciting things have been close to home or even in our garden – for example, seeing a grass snake head across the lawn, seeing a brown hawker dragonfly trying to get into the conservatory, and finding a toad under a rock. It goes to prove that wildlife is around us all the time. We just have to open our eyes and look.

Now as we approach the end of our second lockdown, and having reached 250 entries, I hope to continue my sketchbook for a whole year – lockdown or not!

Diana Bell

Have you been inspired to be more creative this year, or discovered wildlife on your doorstep?

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