Lockdown Wildflowers: How I Made My Biggest Drawing Yet
I’ve recently finished my biggest, slowest, most favourite drawing ever. Here’s a little summary of how it came about:
Lockdown 2020. Sometimes I forget how extreme it was and then I remember a detail – like there being chains round the gates of play parks, or that we could only leave the house to exercise once a day, or that it was impossible to buy pasta in the supermarkets – and I get swept back to those strange, strange months. March to June 2020 will be months we tell our grandchildren about.
I couldn’t have been in a more fortunate position. I work from home anyway, I have a safe and happy home, and home is in the middle of the most beautiful woodland. Piglet turned one during the first lockdown. He was just small enough to still be carried on my back on walks. We still had Buddy dog. And the weather was, mostly, absolutely glorious. We spent hours and hours walking in the woodland (and picnicing. Don’t tell anyone that though). Doing the same routes never got boring because in the springtime there’s endless change. I fell in love with the waves of wildflowers that took it in turns to populate the woodland floor (and I wrote a blog about it at the time. See here.) I even learnt, and swiftly forgot, the names of all the flowers.
Since then, I’ve had a drawing in my head that I wanted to do. It was of one section of the path – between the steps and Kingfisher Corner – that was crammed with dandelions and bluebells. Walking along there at 6pm in the late afternoon sunshine was absolute heaven. I took lots of photos at the time. Then, a year later in June of 2021, I finally found time to plot my drawing.
There wasn’t one photo that captured what I wanted to draw so I pieced the layout together from four photographs. My process goes a like this: I print the photographs at the approximate size of the drawing, chop them up, select certain elements, and then make a paper template of the layout. I use that paper template to make guideline marks across my surface so that when I start drawing I know what goes where.
This drawing is 31 x 11 inches . That’s a big drawing for me. Laying it all out took several hours. Then it was time to begin the work proper.
I always begin in the top left-hand corner. So predictable. The first little bit always feels amazing. Making those first marks, beginning to build the atmosphere of the drawing. At this point, I always falsely convince myself that this is going to be a quick drawing to do. Four months later, I was still just managing little twenty-minute bursts of drawing here-and-there. Progress was slow. But then in the late autumn I managed to start putting proper time aside and made headway. I got just past the big fluffy dandelion head and realised I might be onto a good one. (Whether a drawing turns out good or not doesn’t really feel like it’s up to me. The drawing gods decide).
Hours and hours and hours later, the pencil work was done. I was really delighted with it. I was very, vey tempted to leave it there and not add any colour. But the drawing I had in my head all those months ago on my woodland lockdown walks showed the vibrant yellows of the late afternoon sun shining through the dandelion petals. That was the feeling I was trying to capture: the peacefulness and joyfulness of being free in the woodland in the early evening during lockdown. That feeling was not black, white and grey. I decided I had to go for it.
Shortly after I started adding watercolour, I was deeply depressed. I was certain I liked it better without colour. I felt like a very big silly billy. But I pushed forward, adding more colour, drawing back in on top of the colour. I realised that I needed to make my dark areas darker. That was the key. After that I began to enjoy myself again. Drawing in pencil on top of watercolour is a very nice process. The pencil comes out slightly darker and bolder because of the pigment on the paper. The layering of pencil, colour, pencil again, is quite satisfying. I used a little bit of coloured pencil, too, and a white gel pen. And then it was done. Almost two years after the pandemic altered our daily reality beyond recognition, I had finished my big lockdown drawing. Maybe it is nostalgia, or just because I’ve looked at it for 30+ hours, but I think it might be my most favourite piece of work to date.