July in the strawberry patch





Models in line, waiting to pose and pout for the paintbrush.


I optimistically thought that if I can beat the slugs, discourage the field mice and net them from the black bird that watches me from the holly bush (because we’ve clipped back the cobnut now, so it’s too stumpy to work as an all seeing power seat for the true proprietor of my vegetable garden), then we (the humans) might just be in with a chance of actually enjoying our own strawberries this year.

Every time I went down I’d discover a new little hole carefully chewed through the netting by the field mouse, so I’d dutifully adjust it to hold him at bay awhile. I also discovered that overwatering was like waving a white flag at the slugs “I give in! Slide this way and fill you boots.” So I’ve watered far less.  No wayward stem has been allowed to stretch beyond the netting and wave a curly tendril daubed temptingly with glowing digits of red. These are religiously tucked back in their corral every time I spot an escapee. And so with all these little tweaks and tricks I’m learning along the way, we’ve done so much better this year.

There’ve been times that I’ve crept down at silly-hour in the morning, gathered up a generous t-shirt pouch of them and wandered back with enough for my family to enjoy on their cereal/yogurt/straight from the hand. Actual bowlfuls!

It’s been the same with the other berries too. But these seem to be permanently guarded by that blackbird and as I open the gate to these fruit beds, he’s there, ready with a shouty stream of pure vitriol. I’d not realised that blackbirds actually knew such language.

But there’s plenty for all here, really.

It’s just the strawberries I don’t feel so inclined to share.

So this morning I woke early, and slipping on a t shirt and wellies, I grabbed a colander and took a wet-let walk through the field, such a whisper of grasses now prematurely brittle and bone pale. This Summer has been longer than the usual week we fondly joke about and has in fact stretched out for more than a month of relentless sun. It’s lucky we don’t mither over the rather middle class obsession of owning a perfectly green, weed-free lawn. The stretch that could loosely be called such looks scorched as if someone’s being playing with a blowtorch. But miraculously, the soft fruits don’t seemed to have suffered at all.

Burrowing under the netting I could see that all the fat juicy ‘domestic’ strawberries have long gone, their season ended last month, but still the wild strawberries keep coming, and some of them are the size of a Gobstopper! Their flavour is so much more refined and perfumed than their rather comical counterpart, almost soapy, but not in the frothy, gag-inducing way; there’s just the gentlest most comforting suggestion of Doves’ Beauty Cream bar… depending how ripe they are. I love them, in fact I’ve become just a little obsessed with them.

So in honour of these seasonal beauties that taste like no other outside of these few months, I found the biggest one, held back from popping it straight in my mouth, and instead took it up to the studio, sliced it in half and got my paints out.


Strawberry, painted in egg tempera, onto handmade paper


I could go headfirst into a dizzy rant here, you know, about eating with the seasons. In fact I know of quite a few folk who’ve written very eloquently on this. And I know I’m one of the lucky ones that has the space to grow much of my own veg and fruit.

But I will say this: very little can surpass the flavour and texture of the food we choose to eat, when it’s been grown and eaten in the season it was meant to be. The strawberry is a perfect example of this ‘truth’.






… began with enough snow to wholly cloak our little corner of the world in white.

Once this crystalline blanket had settled, all visual and audible noise became muffled, with only the most prominent features able to rise above the swaddling of snow. And we became housebound for 3 days.

On the first day, I made a slow and squeaky hike through the field to the veg beds, to find the plot dressed as some huge, badly made bed, its sheet barely tucked at the edges, with more than a few old marrow bodies slumbering beneath. I looked beyond and noticed for the first time, the stripped-back woody stems of forgotten purple cabbages; reaching out from their sea of snow they appeared as the tentacles of some exotic red-armed octopus, buried but still flailing.

Onto the tiny orchard to check on the new, young plum and pear trees, only to find their little arms bravely basketing at least their bodyweight in snow. A gentle shake and they were free to wave once more.

I realise that birds don’t have the luxury of marvelling at the ‘beauty of it all’, and no more clearly was this proven out than watching two male blackbirds perched and punchy, oblivious to the maelstrom of Winter in flux, and slinging verbal abuse at one another. It may have had something to do with the last remaining baubles hanging from the crabapple tree.

With the dogs almost in tow (somewhere, but probably rootling at a freshly laid cluster of deer poo) I carved a path across the bottom of the field. Through the fringe of silver birch I spied a gathering of Canada Geese and Mallard, two lofty and nervous Cygnet swans edging the group. All of their usual moorings in the lake were partially frozen, so territorial lines had to be renegotiated and possibly crossed in order to find food and new anchorage.

Through the woods we creaked, weaving among Birch and Beech, one footfall for ever two of deer, branding deep into untouched powder. A startled cloud of puffed-up pigeons lifted as one from their lanky Ash, clearly not expecting visitors in this weather.

This is my daily ritual throughout the year, and sharing it with an old terrier (Chewie) and a lurcher puppy (Billie) is a wonderful, if a bit of a pain when I’m hoping to listen out, and spot any new feathered or furred guests in the woods. However, during the snowy days… watching Billie in raptures, as she discovered the Marvellous Circus of Snow that had filled every bluff and badger hole, it was a complete joy. I found myself laughing madly, and joining in. Which of course seriously confounded the terrier. Humans just don’t do that unless they’re small and loud with grabby hands. And those kind of humans are to be avoided at all times.

Forging onwards we made it to my little studio. Negotiating the slippery wooden deck is always a bit of a challenge. I’d carefully placed a scavenged beach rock on the one sagging board so I wouldn’t step on it and bring it to an untimely end. But Billie likes stones, had picked it up and taken it to her place-where-all-special-things-must-go! We made it in, board intact, slid the wedge of fallen snow back out, and shut the door. Settling onto chairs, cushions and into corners, we all got on with our usual routine… drawing for me, sleep (and much farting!) for them.

Watching a season’s progress, through my studio window is inspiring, and admittedly quite distracting. Every nuance of colour as it blooms and fades has me running through paint names in my head, making up new ones. I’d like to fix a camera up and record a whole year of this kaleidoscope.

During these snowy days this little studio flared to an almost otherworldly state of bright. The hours of work played out till way beyond the usual sundown, such was the lingering gaze of reflected luminosity. But by the second day of being on this ‘island’, the weather turned. A gathering grey of raging winds stropped in from the east, grabbed great handfuls of snow and began hurling them to fly like torn bed linen across the glade beyond my studio. By sunset a spill of indanthrene blue had flooded the sky to brimming. Turning off the studio lights, we made our way down through the snowy clumps of rusted bracken to the edge of the field, finding it stirred and blurred by the gusting gales, yet it still retained its lucent glow like some deep and dwelling creature of the sea.  We could’ve been anywhere.

I’m writing this having spent a very early morning in dressing gown and wellies, walking with the dogs across the field and into the woods.

Everything has become green again and it appears that rather than killing off any new growth, all infant borage, mallow, and knapweed seem to have survived and thrived beneath their temporary blanket of snow. Beyond the birch line, the geese, ducks and swans are once more spread wide across the dark, still canvas of water, no longer forced into close proximity by a prison of icy confinement. There’s a level of noise that is almost deafening, such is their enthusiasm for open debate.

All is vivid, visible, and almost shouting out for Spring to hurry now.

And of course I feel the same. I’m more than ready for the cacophony and clamour of chatter and colour that she will bring.

But what a grand finale that was.

Yes, we were stranded, but I’d forgotten what peace of mind this aspect of ‘islanding’ can bring.


You'll need a chest freezer and labels that stick ...


I was recently asked to write down the ten most important tips for illustrating food. It’s not something I’ve ever given a lot of thought to… As easily as our terrier edges surreptitiously onto my chair in the studio, I kind of slipped into illustrating, just by following my nose. Rather than training to BE an illustrator, I just chased after what I love doing, and so here I am 20 or so years later.

Here’s a photo of our terrier, Chewy. (We didn’t choose the name. If we had it would’ve been Houdini or Hellion.)

And here’s the article in all it’s glory! Let me know if I’ve missed any salient points!

With many thanks to the ever-inquisitive Qin!




Dear Mrs Grigg...

Of all the days to launch my blog I chose Halloween. I can’t write for toffee, even those appallingly jaw dislocating “trick-or-treat” ones my 3 seem to accumulate every year. Nevertheless, I will endeavour to give the impression of eloquence, and in so doing placate the formidable Mrs Grigg my former O level English teacher. I would hate to give her any cause for concern (or have to hand back the end of year prize for “most promising student”)

She was 4 ft 9 inches, her furiously backcombed auburn hair and teetering heels making up the 9 inches. The bit in between was a force of Nature on Red Bull. When we – a slowly shuffling army of somnolent oofs – sat down for our first lesson with Mrs Grigg, she must have been filled with ‘pass me the valium’ trepidation. I was actually somewhat surprised to see her the next day, assuming she would’ve at least put in a request for “gardening duty”.

To my amazement she took us on, shook us up and served up English as we’d never known it. By the end of our time with her we were literally bouncing off our chairs in an effort to be chosen to reinact The Canterbury Tales. Having been through this cathartic and eye-popping journey of Chaucerian design, we’d not only discovered that we weren’t the first to swear, but also that humorists existed before we were born, yes really.

So here I am, Mrs Grigg *stands to attention*. I’ll do my best.