Most lunch breaks I take a walk down through our field. The grasses are measurably taller against my legs and the newly born hoppers are now big and bouncy enough to spring board into my wellies. There’s Clover, Birdsfoot Trefoil and Stitchwort,  large shifting islands of Yellow Rattle have appeared, and I’m easily distracted by the swelling patches of Mallow leaf that promise plump cushions of pink, later in the year. Since planting out the young and vulnerable seedlings, I’ve been making regular trips to my veg patch. I’m jangly with the anticipation of the new, the taller, the flowering and the almost fruiting. There’s also a palpable edge of dread. Often I find signs of visitors… the odd pheasant feather amongst the broadbeans, a silvered and neatly scalloped edge of a courgette leaf. But more recently I’ve been finding the occasional, oversized ‘blackberry’ of deer crap. We’ve done as much as is possible to at least guarantee some harvest, but it seems that over the last decade, each new generation of veg plot reveller has been gifted the genetic imprint of a map of this ‘free and full’ larder, and so my planting and protecting has had to become more strategic. Corn is bedded in beneath the cloak of a nut tree and the broad beans will be netted. Onions and garlic will always be the crops nearest the field side fencing as deer (and pretty much every other prospective diner) don’t seem to like aliums.

Regardless of this, each visit is a routine and a rhythm that gives great comfort… a little check on my fledgling broad beans, the resecuring of a wayward pea tendril, a hoe between the sturdy shoulders of the onions to disturb the roots of any weedy interlopers, and a quick chat with the newly planted out purple sprouting broccoli, so small and vulnerable in their earthy corral. The potatoes need little encouragement, and besides they can’t hear me at this point, with their heads buried deep below. (Tell me I’m not the only one who talks to their vegetables.)

I’m writing this in the month of June, and am now fully engaged in the annual Battle of The Broad Beans. My stealthy opponents have observed my daily routine and so strike when I’m working or sleeping. Already the earth is becoming littered with disemboweled pods. It’s too late to sow more, but now I’ve netted what remains and hope that the small crowd of beleaguered plants will manage to grow some more pods…

Broad beans make me smile.  They’re such a generous vegetable, giving pleasure throughout the whole process from the twist n pick of the plump and bumpy body, to the slip of the thumb and the slow reveal of the soft velveteen nursery within; a row of smooth skinned cherubs, tiny umbilical cords slowly plumping up these happy beans. The choice of whether to peel once cooked: I love them both ways… that kidney-bitter skin is such a rewarding contrast to the butter rich green of the bean within… I love them in a risotto, and adore them with a crumble of cheese and some wild rocket (perhaps some fried off pancetta stirred through).

Over the years, I’ve illustrated many podded vegetables, but have never felt entirely able to capture that freshness on paper. So having learnt to work with egg tempera, I decided that this might be the way to go, to mirror their depth of plush colour and form, and that undeniable sense of treasure revealed.

Of all the powdered pigments that nestle in the dark recesses of my studio drawers, Oxide of Chromium and Genuine Naples Yellow are the very essence of Summer. Dipping into egg, then into powder, stirring on porcelain to blend, then stroking onto cartridge. There’s a deep and rich melody that plays out in my heart as I work the layers of tempera to create the shape and shadow of the split pod.

The studio window is open most of the time now, any loose papers are anchored with a ball of flint or a slab of slate. The parenting blackbirds are too busy, too tired no doubt, to argue over curtilage rights, so for once there’s just the sound of a breeze cuffing at the sea of bracken outside.

 

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And then, inevitably, came the pea pod…

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If you’d like to know about my work, then do get in touch. I’m always happy to have a chat.

And for those of you who’d like to have a go at painting in egg tempera, then I’m delighted to say that I’m running a couple of courses in September! One is due to be held at the gorgeous Otter Farm, and the other is to be held at the very beautiful Thyme. If you’re interested, then do get in touch with them to find out more. They’re truly inspiring places and it would be very lovely to see you there! Meanwhile, for more egg tempera illustrations in amongst other work, head over to instagram.

Anna x