All my life I have known my artistic skills are very limited. I cannot draw or cut straight lines and colouring inside lines was not achievable. I can’t remember what age I was when I knew I could not draw. I remember illustrating my written work in the junior class without any qualms (my primary school only had two classes – infants taught by my mother and juniors taught by Miss Bryan, the headmistress) and I took great delight in designing dresses for the princess of my dreams, even though they all looked the same shape.
I suspect my mother mentioned that my sister’s drawings were more accomplished at some stage, but the real embarrassment came on the transfer to secondary school. Art lessons were not a subject I excelled at. Yet I loved the lino-cut pottery and fabric screen painting we did in the second year. I was even quite pleased with my shading effects when drawing twigs in the third year, but everyone knew art wasn’t a valued subject.
Only people who couldn’t learn Latin and therefore would not be able to go on to learn German or Greek would continue with art lessons to ‘O’ or ‘A’ levels. Those of us destined for academically successful careers were not really supposed to touch art or music with a barge pole. I mean, how could you earn a living from such subjects, and as for sewing or cookery (home economics), those really were for people who couldn’t manage anything else!
So, forty years later, Kristine sets a challenge to draw our herbal ally. Kristine is incredibly skilled in art and design. How on earth am I supposed to do something like that? I quietly forgot about the task, but it remained in the back of my mind.
I know the violets will soon be over. I know I need to do as much with the flowers as I possibly can. Over the past week of glorious weather I have intended, each day, to make more vinegar or a honey or maybe even a flower essence, but work, exhaustion, having little voice and a recurring tooth ache meant I achieved nothing. (You can see I am really good at finding excuses for inactivity!)
Today, it is very cold, cloudy with a light, damp wind. I woke early with my mind determined to think about seed planting instead of sleep. I dug one third of the vegetable bed and planted some peas. We used prunings from the apple tree as pea sticks. I hung the washing out on the line and felt it grow wetter. We sat outside and drank coffee complaining about the cold while the radio cricket commentator complained about heat in Sri Lanka.
Chris disappeared indoors to watch the last of the cricket. I followed. In the middle of removing my jacket, I decided I really would go and sit by the violet bed with my notebook and a pencil and see what happened.
I’d drawn one leaf when Chris called me up to take a phone call. I didn’t use the excuse to go inside, but returned to my chair, pencil and paper. I drew two plants, each with the delicate violet flower hiding amongst vibrant green leaves.
What did I learn? The leaves have a serrated instead of a smooth edge. The leaf has two lobes where it joins the stem. The stem is a circular tube, three or four times as thick as the flower stalk. In the centre of each plant new leaves appear as green tufts. The markings on each leaf are delicate lines, almost like the lines on a hand. They stand out and yet are ethereal.
The violet flower is such a beautiful colour. She hangs her head modestly, reaching only half the height of the leaves. They stand tall all around her, protecting her. The plants felt like family groupings; each one growing one or two flowers, but several leaves with many more to come.
I didn’t hold out much hope for my sketches, but I was quite pleased with the two results. With my increasing long sightedness, they looked better to my naked eye than to the close up camera picture.
I still can’t colour in without crossing the line. I could blame it on a failure to keep a steady hand, but my hand has never been careful or meticulous. The colours are not exactly true, but they are what I had available.
All in all, I’m quite pleased with the results. They will never be great art. I think you can tell they are violets. I hope you can. Maybe I will be courageous with other plants and draw again because the only person I need to please is myself.