How Terence Happened

This isn’t really a how-to paint-in-egg-tempera story, because for that I think we’d be better off sitting side by side, drinking tea (or wine) and playing with ground pigments, brushes and egg. I’d show you a few tricks, we’d crack an egg, sip some tea (or wine) and have a go. It’s very much a doing kind of thing.

But suffice to say, it’s been a very forgiving medium to learn, with results that have left me stroking paper and marvelling at the depth of colours you can build up, and just how much paint I’ve managed to ladle on without the paper buckling under the weight!

For illustrating food it’s the most inspiring medium I’ve ever played with. It allows me to build up gossamer thin layers and subtle details that lend the painting a living and visceral quality that photographers managed to capture in a click, and yet has truly evaded me up until now.

So I thought I’d simply post a few photos of how one particular painting progressed, from the first tentative and rather ill proportioned comedy sketch (where I pretend to know what I’m doing), to finding Terence, the perfect model (with huge thanks to Dan, my local fishmongers, for his boundless enthusiasm), to at last standing up straight (phew!) and feeling properly happy with the result.

This study took 7 eggs, some 18 layers of colour and detail, and many mugs of tea and kitkat breaks, and it’s been a complete joy.

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Oh by the way, if you’d like to have a go, I’ve been asked by the wonderful Otter Farm and Thyme to hold workshops in September. It would be lovely to see you there; we could sip tea (or wine) and I’d be delighted to help you produce something beautiful!


Strange fruit

Listening to the Jackson Five, pinning down a skiddy, dry skinned cricket ball of a shell whilst jabbing at it with a teaspoon, is my first memory of a pomegranate.

And to be honest, I thought it was messy and all rather pointless (not exactly as easy as ‘a b c‘.). So I put down the teaspoon and the stubborn fruit, wiped my hands on the front of my favourite nylon dress, and lifting the Dansette’s needle back to the beginning of the ’45  I trotted off miming the words “as simple as do re mi…” I wasn’t exactly charmed. In my mind I likened it to the same disappointment that the Two Bad Mice in Beatrix Potter must’ve felt, on discovering that all of the luscious and promising food in the dolls’ house was made of plaster: utterly duped.

It was the age when ‘exotic’ fruits were beginning to appear at the local greengrocer, and mum perhaps felt more obliged rather than inspired to buy these strange fruit.

Visually I was utterly beguiled… the treasure trove appeal was not lost on a 5 year old’s magpie-like penchant for shiny brightly coloured jewels. But the seeds were dry, bitter even. Give me tinned peaches any day… so little effort for a sweet and easy kick. And at the time we had rather a lot of tinned peaches as a result of Dad ‘finding’ a large quantity of industrial sized tins from a lorry that had slipped its load on a narrow bridge at night. We worked our way through the tins of the syrupy sweet slugs for weeks, and rather sadly I now can’t even look at them in the aisle at the supermarket.

As a grown up their visual appeal never left me, but it seemed that no matter how many times I tried to find a liking for their flavour and texture, they would disappoint. I really couldn’t understand why you would want to eat them, let alone ruin a perfectly good salad with them!

Yet the bizarre thing is that regardless of my lack of taste for them, I found myself constantly drawn to paint them. It was perhaps my way of compensating for that elusive element.

 

Pomegranate oil

Oil on canvas

 

EGG TEMPERA

Egg tempera on cartridge

 

But then it happened, when I least expected it…

Last year I visited a market in Barcelona, nothing spectularly life changing there you might think. But it was here that someone casually thrust into my hand a plastic cup brimming with pomegranate seeds, and so I tried them, one more time.  The mouth explosion that occurred must be one that’s familiar to all those in ‘the know’. But for me it was a multi layered sensorial shock of the most undeniably sensuous kind. I was encouraged to spoon them into my mouth. But I somehow misplaced the spoon in my wanton, slightly untethered state of nirvana, and with eyes closed I ended up just simply pouring them into my mouth, red juice trickling as I bit and burst seemingly hundreds of these exquisite little ruby red grenades of flavour.

There are many theories on the best technique to cut, peel, and empty the contents of a pomegranate, and I think that I’ve tried every which way possible, but by far the most satisfying way is this one… no spoon required either!

I shall never see a pomegranate the same way again.

And I suspect I shall never paint them quite the same way either.


After some surprisingly early nudges and a few cups of tea...

Hello to you all!

It’s been a while since I wrote anything, and I should say that this is not going to be an essay, but simply a quick note to say that, yes, I’ll be offering prints for anyone who may be thinking of what to buy their nearest and dearest for (sorry about this) Christmas.

Here are my particular favourites… and some of them are also available as originals (of which of course, there’s only one!). These won’t be going up on my website as regulars prints at this stage, so do get in touch by email if you’d like to know prices and availability.

And of course, if there’s a particular image you’ve seen on my website that you had in mind, then do drop me a line.

Wishing you all the best of  luck with the almighty skid and slide towards the big day…. I confess that I’ve only bought one present so far, but then I’m pretty rubbish at forward planning.

Anna X

 

 

 

 

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Pear

 

Conference

 

If memories could be stored in boxes, this summer would have filled the multitude that still sit in our attic from our move here, 16 years ago. Except memories should never be allowed to be stored, sealed, and mothballed. This summer I watched and mentally ‘clicked’ on as many moments as I possibly could fit in my head.

Our children are growing up and it’s taken me until now to acknowledge just how fast it’s happening.

Spring always seems to be so busy amongst the veg beds (dig, sow, plant, water, weed, repeat) that often I forget to look over my shoulder and see what the fruit trees are doing. If I do, I’m lucky to be greeted by a riot of blossom; the trees become petticoated in layer upon layer of froth and flounce. It’s a sight that sends me right back to my grandpa’s orchard in Cornwall. As a child I used to spend hours lying on my back in the grass, surrounded by fresh goslings, gazing up through the gnarly bows of his ancient apple trees.

As Spring slips into Summer, the flowers wilt and their petals pool as confetti beneath our young trees. And miraculously, tiny embryonic fruit begin to emerge.

This year, for the first year ever, both of our young pear trees have decided to push on past the bloom, and braving ridicule from the more productive apple and plum, they’ve produced a total of five Williams, and two Conference. And I almost missed them. Yet there they are, dangling enticingly amongst the curtain of shiny, ovate leaves, ‘almost’ within my grasp… and definitely within a beak’s bite of a keen-eyed bird.

But now I know where they are I’ve been watching them closely, giving the lowest one a tentative squeeze. The second it yields under the pressure of a thumb, I’ll fetch the ladder.

To me, a pear, ripened on a tree, (or a windowsill, if the birds are queueing along the branches) is perhaps the most perfect fruit to eat as is, unfluffed or adulterated with any pastry or pomp. Straight from the tree, there are really only two ways to eat a pear. You can cup it’s round and plumptious bottom, and with the briefest of crunches you’re straight through and into the flesh… or you can use a knife. I have a penknife that I found while climbing in France. It’s a beautiful old thing… simple, elegant and with just one blade. To pierce the skin at the tip, and slip the blade down as the pear widens to it’s fulsome rump, and open out a perfect twin of creamy white, is a joy… and just as messy. That sweet burst of heady, perfumed juice, followed by an unconscious knuckle-wipe of a wet chin.

Autumn has arrived and I’m sitting in my little studio, and I’m finishing these conference pears, in egg tempera. And of course it’s difficult not to draw a parallel with my sweet children, who, like the pear trees, have blossomed and now fruited into young adults…. and I almost missed it. So I’m stashing away these precious moments in my head and heart, to the point where there’s a more than slim chance that I could just burst… this driving sense of urgency that I now feel, like trying to stuff the feathers into a pillowcase, before they float off, out of my reach.

But I won’t forget this Summer.


The plum

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I can’t remember the first plum I ate… though I suspect it was perhaps more of a tinned, rehydrated prune, the kind you’re offered in a pudding bowl with others, forming little shrivelled islands in a thick yellow sea of Bird’s Eye custard (which I love). I do recall the heated debates that would ensue, if either my brother or I got the ‘right’ number of prunes that would henceforth have the undisputable POWER to predict a future. In fairness, it was blatantly geared towards girls, and the assumption that they would aspire to marry, and marry a ‘rich man’ at that. The list of potential suitors could perhaps do with an update, to include, among others, ‘Angelina Jolie lookeelikee, yoga guru, ecowarrior, Tom Hollander, bearded person, heaven forbid:Donald Trump’…

Come Summertime, plums would appear in a bowl on the kitchen table, nestled amongst Cox’s Pippin apples and Conference pears. But I rarely reached for them, preferring the convenience of an apple that didn’t leak and make hands awkwardly sticky.

If only I’d known…

Now a ‘grownup’, with a family and a bit of land, we’ve planted apple, pear and plum. They hunker down in a little orchard that we’ve fenced off from the deer, who would strip the young trees within minutes, given the chance. In July it is one of the greatest pleasures, to slip down, alone, to the orchard, and pick a sun ripened plum.  Standing beneath the little tree, with the sun on my back, a warm and voluptuous plum in my hand… the wave of delicate perfume radiating from the blush and bloom of this Rubenesque jewel; a flavour bomb waiting to happen: utterly beguiling.

And then there’s that first bite… the lick-of-the-lips smooth skin as tongue guides teeth to the plump ‘give’ point… the give to the gave, as teeth pierce to flesh; it’s messy. Juice will always roll down from palm to wrist, and if unchecked, will trickle to the bony tip of an elbow as, throwing all caution to the wind, you go in for a second bite. It’s perhaps one of the most sensuous fruits, second only to a ripened fig. Summer love, in all it’s fresh and sweet abandon. And no one wants it to end… so you reach for another plum.

As I write this, I’m working my way through the left over ‘models’ from the egg tempera illustration above… “tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor…” I feel as if I’ve cheated a little, enwrapped as I am in this deliciously sweet moment before time… it is only May.

But it was worth it.


The Mussel

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I found these on Grenaway Beach, in Cornwall. They’re two halves of the same mussel. Worn, battle scarred, but lovingly built by a brave beastie that lived to quite an age, judging by its size and thickness.

The life that attaches itself to a mollusc is spattered and colourful, valiantly worn like some Pollock fashion statement. The algae bloom of different hues and textures, the grid of teeny eggs, laid by a limpet that thought this particular shell was a safe ride. There are holes bored into these shells… driven through by opportunistic whelks, hellbent on a free snack.

And then there’s the inside… the smooth, pearlescent cocoon, perfectly cupped to hold and protect the soft delicate body of the mussel. A little armoured haven.

They are quite beautiful.

I always gather at least one mussel shell, absent mindedly slipping it into a pocket of my coat, perfect for an idle hand to trace the slow graceful butter-knife-sharp curve, rough grey ribbing to smooth petrol blues. The thumb, on it’s blind journey, unfailingly catches on a tiny outcrop of micro barnacles and I find it circling and returning to this little world. Then I inevitably flip it to prone side up, presenting a sensuous thumb slide, from the palatial line and up to the hook of the umbo. I think I could draw these shells with my eyes closed. At least in my head and my heart.

On reaching home these treasures are usually washed, and dried on a tray in the bottom of the Aga. Then they’re stored in kilner jars to be admired and dipped into, when needed. When I flick the lever on these jars, I can just about sense the scent of the beach and sea spray.

I miss the sea, a lot.

But a bowl of these, cooked, and a decent tear of bread to soak up the juices would definitely go some way to salve this ache.

 

p.s. In case you’re interested….

Once finished, these mussels will be for sale on Friday 29th April 1 pm. Do shout if interested. There will be one other, and then no more, until there’s an R in the month…

 


An oink around the corner...

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“You’ve got pigs? Really? How brilliant is that?!”
We walk around the corner of the house…

“Oh wow… they’re adorable. Look how they roll in the straw. Oh they’re looking at me! Those ears… their noses! Oh my goodness! They’re beyond cute!”

Then…

“Can I feed them? They like apples? Haha, oh they LOVE apples. Look it’s gone! Oh they’re gorgeous.”

Then, finally…

“No! You can’t eat them. How can you? They’re so lovely. They’re as intelligent as dogs you know. Did you know that? Surely you’ll not be able to do ‘it’?”

It’s undeniable: they’re very endearing. And now, after two weeks of settling in to their new home, getting to know the rhythm of their day, their meals times, our comings and goings, they have definitely nosed their way into at least a corner of our hearts. For our middle child I suspect that they have taken up residence at the very centre.

But the truth is this: We like bacon… and ham, sausages, shoulder, neck… For me, and many I suspect, say the word ‘bacon’ and my taste buds get lost in a state of reverie! (Though there have been occasions when we haven’t sourced sensibly, perhaps the pig hasn’t lived the best of lives, and there’s no doubt the meat will always be a mirror for this.)

But over the years a deep seated nagging has taken hold of my sensibilities. If we’re happy to eat pork, then we should be prepared to take some responsibility for it’s provenance. The idea was simple. We’ve got a bit of land: we should ‘grow’ our own. In doing so we’ll have a more realistic understanding of the process… from field to fork… and all the bits in between.

The aim is to give them the most contented lives possible as they grow. And when the time comes, I’ll go with them to slaughter. I’ll learn how to butcher them. We’ll make our own sausages, ham, and bacon if possible. And if, during this journey, we become too attached, too squeamish, and indeed don’t fancy eating pork ever again, then this will be an educated response. Not an automatic ‘make mine a full English’ reaction. We’ve all ‘signed up’ for this in our family, and I’m pretty certain it’s going to be an unforgettable education.

I’ll keep you posted.

In fact it’s likely the next essay will be entitled: Running (wild and unplanned) With Pigs


Key in the lock…

It’s almost March.

And although this year started with such haltering steps to the point of almost turning on its heel like a worried child, to run full tilt into the open arms of last year, at last it feels as if it has settled in, is feeling hopeful, and a little less confused.

Why it was decided that January should be ‘the’ beginning of each year, god only knows. It really should have the sense to give us at least a month’s grace to stand up, shake ourselves down and brush off the dust from the previous year’s rollercoaster ride. In truth, for me it was a pretty appalling year.

But as the season offers up more than the occasional glimpse of blue sky above, and the brave army of snowdrops are bolstered by a starry explosion of crocuses, Winter – unhooking her long drab skirts that have snagged and caught on tired arms of Hornbeam and Oak – seems to be gathering pace a little. Perhaps she, like us is tired of ‘this’.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky to receive a particularly beautiful commission. It arrived on the most dismal of days; a real soggy floor cloth of a day… the request was to illustrate a tiny Bullfinch’s egg, in egg tempera.

I couldn’t have begun to predict how much this cheered me…

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Bullfinch

Painting this little egg felt like finding a long ago misplaced key, and then putting this key into the ancient, ivy covered door of Spring. As I got to work, slowly delineating this most precious object, every brush stroke brought with it a sense of promise… the simple pleasures that lay, fresh, green and unfurling, beyond that door.

There’s something about eggs… they touch one with a softness and innocence; a simple joy remembered, perhaps as a child. The magic of finding a tiny, brightly coloured egg shell resting beneath a hedge. Pure wonderment, right there in the palm of one’s hand.

Having finished the Bullfinch egg, and with my key now firmly in the big door, I felt beyond hopeful: all I have to do is paint more eggs, and then surely the key will turn and the door will swing wide onto Spring. So, that’s what I’ve been doing…

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Blackbird

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Mistle Thrush

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Song Thrush

Spring is almost here now. In between each tattered blanket of cloud, the sky lets slip a glimpse of the bluest of blues.. almost the colour of the Dunnock’s tiny egg.

 

A little note: If you click on the bird names, you can hear them sing… with the exception of the Blackbird… this will take you to perhaps one of my most favourite songs.


Jumping over

This little essay will be kept as short as possible. Simply because it doesn’t necessarily ‘fit’ within the small but growing pile of other scribbles I’ve written here.

But as much as these writings of mine are here to fill a moment in the day of the meandering soul that happens upon my scribbles (and hopefully make it a pleasurable moment at that) they’re also part of me. And as such, they allow me to martial thoughts and emotions into some semblance of order. I’m not one to linger on past experiences; I bawl with the noisiest… but I would always rather try to straighten them out in my mind, see them for what they were, and move on, hopefully with a wiser take on ‘life’.

So here I am using this as an opportunity to align my thoughts, thoughts regarding loss.

Throughout my life, like everyone, I’ve experienced loss: loss of family, of pets; I’ve howled and railed against the horrors of mass destruction broadcast across the media. I’ve wept over the premature deaths of dear friends, and I’ve stared at my miscarriages with shock and a deep welling pain at the loss of a future life that was meant to be lived and loved. Like many, I’ve usually managed to somehow ‘straighten’ these knots out, and move forward.

But recently, our dog died. My entire family have been devastated by this. She was our first dog and lived with us for some 13 years. And of course, the longer they live with you, the deeper the imprint, when they inevitably move on.

The hole she left behind was more than a run-and-jump wide. It was huge… and for me it was filled with so much more than just the memory of her, and her warmth and companionship. It was big enough to offer up a cozy haven for all the other times I tried to skip ahead and not look down.

But this time I looked down. It’s utterly pointless, this stiff upper lip, this “I’m a bit busy at the moment; I’ll deal with that at a later date”. The losses I’ve experienced all have their place, but contrary to my suspicious mind, it transpires they’re not there to trip me up, pin me down and suck the joy out living. They’re markers, waypoints, that delineate this journey. It doesn’t make it any easier to arrive at this denouement, but it’s allowing for a more gentle unravelling of the knots, a rearrangement of the threads that make them smoother, defining them as part of the weave and weft, no more no less. The sorrow is no smaller. It’s just not as raw.

We adored Seven. That was her name. Everything about her was about us too. And she defined for us what a family member should be… spirited, loving, a little naughty, bright, and very willing to throw herself into any new game. Oh, and she never left any food on her plate. I like that about a person.


Just in case you were wondering...

I get asked a lot, if I sell prints, originals, or take commissions, and the answer is, yes. Happily!

But the thing is, I’ve never shouted it about it, because I’m normally a bit preoccupied with illustrating books. Recently, however, I’ve received a deluge of emails, and I suspect it has something to do with the wonderful bit of press from the Observer Food Monthly magazine. They very kindly ran me as one of their suggested gifts for Christmas.. well not me (messy) but my illustrations. Added to this, there was the most flattering of bylines:

“Still-lives from artist loved by top chefs”

This is not where I name drop; I’d embarrass myself, along with my children. But I do like painting food, and luckily it seems that others appreciate it too.

So I thought I’d better scribble a word or two, just in case you were also wondering what I had available for sale. If you click on the link below, you’ll find some of my current work. And if you can’t find the one you’re looking for, there are plenty more examples (of fish in particular) in the portfolio section.

Anna Koska Illustrations

 Meanwhile, here are a few that I’ve been merrily working on…

If you’ve any questions, ideas or comments, just ping me an email or leave me a comment.

Anna x