April flowers

The riverbanks are full of red campion, white dead-nettle, cow parsley, and hawthorn blossom. I barely notice hawthorn all year then suddenly these columns of creamy froth appear like friendly flower aliens beamed down from outer space. No wonder the colloquial name for hawthorn is often the May tree. I have read that the saying “Ne’er cast a clout ‘til May is out” actually refers to the hawthorn flowering rather than the month, which makes a lot of sense as staying in your winter clothes until the end of May always seems particularly risk averse to me.

So spring is here! If I were in any doubt I spotted some cuckoo flowers last week. The cuckoo flower is so called because its flowers are supposed to bloom when the first cuckoo arrives. I have never heard a cuckoo and thought I’d never seen a cuckoo flower either, but have realised where I’d been going wrong. The flower guides describe it as a pink flower but from a distance I would say it looked white, and only had a mauve tinge on closer inspection.

Here are Margaret Erksine Wilson’s beautiful illustrations of hawthorn (which she calls ‘May’), red campion (which isn’t really red but pink), and archangel (which is another name for white dead-nettle but Margaret’s looks more like the yellow variety).

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British ABC - A illustration by Hannah Foley. All rights reserved (www.owlingabout.co.uk). atlantic white-sided dolphin, Hannah Foley, illustrator, illustration, children, kids, education, wildlife, natural history, orange, grey, white, blueDid you have a lovely Easter? We did. Highlights for me were a meadow full of delicate white and purple fritillaries here in Devon, and banks of wood anemones like little white stars in a wooded glen in Yorkshire. I find the seasonal gradient across the country fascinating: up in Yorkshire we caught the end of the daffodils but down here the bluebells are now carrying the baton for spring.

The only low point of the holiday was the day I lost the car keys on the beach. The whole day was a litany of disasters including rescuing a lady from a toilet, getting severe sun burn (while I waited for my dad to get the other set of keys from Big Dreamer who was going into a job interview), and a potty training accident in my mum’s conservatory that I think will be forever scorched into her memory. It wasn’t a good day. Fortunately I did get my keys back, via a very kind man who turned out not to live too far from us. Thank goodness for honest people! And no, Big Dreamer didn’t get the job.

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Transforming Conflict

Hannah Foley, illustrator, illustration, SCCR,Here’s a piece of work I did back in February for the Scottish Centre for Conflict Resolution (SCCR) for their annual conference called Transforming Conflict. This illustration was massively inspired by a wonderful piece of film created by Felipe Bustos Sierra at Debasers Filums for the SCCR about family conflict. You can view the footage here together with my illustrations. As always it was a wonderful privilege to work for an organisation making such a huge difference to people’s lives.

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Dry point

Whale in drypoint and chine colle x4 by Hannah Foley. All igths reserved (www.owlingabout.co.uk)Do you remember me mentioning the Devon-based artist Lynn Bailey back in 2015? I saw her work at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen gallery in Bovey Tracey and loved it. On Saturday I was lucky enough to attend a printmaking workshop she was running on dry point and chine colle. For those of you who don’t know, dry point is the process by which you scratch an image into a metal or plastic plate using sharp implements (and power-tools in Lynn’s case!). You then ink the plate up and run it through your printing press in the normal way.

I have always been very bad at it. My natural tendency is for the flowing lines you get with ink work. I love the variety you can achieve within one stroke with a dip pen. Dry point is my polar opposite. But sometimes it’s great to challenge yourself, and Lynn’s work is full of life and flow, so I signed up and had a marvelous time. I worked on this whale character here and you can see me trying out all sorts of different things. The chine colle process is a way of adding colour using very thin tissue paper and kind of embossing it into the print as you print the plate. It was great and lots of food for creative thought!

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In like a lion…

March has been all lion down our way (if you hold with the old saying that is). We’ve had endless grey skies and blustery winds. All my daffodils are bent at right angles. In the fields towards the mouth of the estuary wild geese graze contentedly, oblivious to the gusts. This morning I saw a heron stood stock still in the pools that have collected over the water meadows, his feathers being teased by the breeze.

My seeds got all of three days in the soil before Finch dug them up and turned the soil into a car run. He got an absolute earful I can tell you. He smiled sweetly at me, nodding, yes, yes mummy, won’t do it again. But there was a little look in his eye that said, the car-run was pretty good wasn’t it?! In fact he’s been on top mischievous form this last week. In a brief moment of lax supervision he and my niece got into Little Owl’s bedroom (using a stool to get to the high door handle) and smeared one wall with Little Owl’s favourite lip balm. His protestations that “it was for her birthday” did nothing to help his situation when she got home from school and he got another earful.

Here is Margaret Erskine Wilson’s illustration of lesser periwinkle from Wildflowers of Britain. We saw some lesser periwinkle in full flower at the weekend, clambering about in a gale-bent hedge outside an isolated cottage along the estuary. Other flowers to look out for in March are green hellebore, bittercress, vernal whitlow grass, golden saxifrage, yellow star of Bethlehem, white butterbur, primroses, sweet violets, lungwort (very important for hairy-footed bumblebees I have learnt) and scurvy grass. Did you know that people in the 17th century used to drink a glass of scurvy grass water every morning, just as we might drink orange juice to get our intake of vitamin C? It’s also not a grass at all but a member of the cabbage family. There’s a couple of fun-filled facts to get your week off to the right start!

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A skunk stripe

sea, ocean, blue, cuttle fish, spiny squat lobster, starfish, white-sided dolphin, seahorse, quahog clam, sea pen, marine conservation zones, blue belt, children, the wildlife trusts, illustration, illustrator, Hannah FoleyI am now catching most of the dawn on my early morning bike rides. The sky ahead of me is full of radiant hues of pink, apricot and lilac. The bright Lenten moon sits on my shoulder. The air is full of the sound of bird song, and far above my head, a skein of geese rhythmically beat out the pace of their journey.

In the garden we have been planting seeds. Sweet peas, peas, tomatoes and sunflowers are uncurling their toes in the warm dark earth. Much to my surprise my rudbeckia purpurea, which failed to flower after planting out last year and which I was ready to give up on, is putting up dark red leaf tips.

Wren is sporting a white stripe down the back of her head, just like a skunk. I had been glossing a doorframe and she’d come looking for me. Pat, pat, shuffle, pat, pat, shuffle. Hello Wren. She gave me an enormous smile as if to say, I have found you mum! Then she noticed the paintbrush. She peered quizzically around my leg. Wren is not a speedy crawler by any stretch of the imagination but she does have this amazing trick of suddenly flipping from a crawling position, across a right angle, to plant herself on her bottom, sitting bang in between me and whatever it is I’m trying to do. It’s fast as lightening and she did it right then. Her back hit the corner of the freshly glossed doorframe. She looked up at me beaming and the tilting action against the doorframe spread more paint right across the top of her head. She frowned. She had just picked up on the strange sticky sensation on her fuzzy scalp and my alarmed cry. She turned and put out an exploratory hand to pat the paint. Bemused, she shook her head and in a neat reversal of her right angle trick she was off across the room. Pat, pat, shuffle, pat, pat, shuffle. Leaving a little white hand print pattern across the carpet as she went. We have scrubbed and scrubbed but it’s going to be another week or so before she finally loses her skunk stripe.

This is a poster I did recently for Wildlife Watch magazine (the in-house children’s magazine for the Wildlife Trusts). A nice thing about doing this poster was that I wrote the text too. The team at Wildlife Watch were super lovely to work with. The poster is going to form part of the Wildlife Trusts campaign on Marine Conservation Zones. You can find out more about the campaign here.

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A booky inheritance

I was recently given a book that belonged to my Great Grandfather. I never knew him so it was like a hand reached out of the past and gave mine a firm shake. From photographs of him I imagine he would have had a firm handshake.

Grandpa Evans, as he was known to everyone, was a school teacher in Wales. The book I was given was the only remaining volume of a collection of books he would have used to teach from, called the Teacher’s Encyclopaedia. The reason the book was given to me is because it is full of the most incredible illustrations with all sorts of amazing flaps. I’ve put a short film of some of the pages here. It is honestly the most beautiful book. Grandpa Evans studied natural history at university and I can just imagine him pouring over the wonderful imagery with the same delight that I do.

Even in his last days Grandpa Evans used to put on his hat, take up his stick and stride out across the hills to go ‘visiting’. He would plague my Grandma, sitting in the living room of an evening. At last he would pick up his hat and stick again to go home. He would pause on the doorstep, gaze out into the deep Welsh night, and tell her about the constellations high above their heads. Then with a final shout of “Nos da!” he’d be away into the dark. Have you ever really wished you could have met someone? I wish I could have met him. I’d have drunk in those doorstep chats about the stars.

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February flowers

The morning Storm Doris blew in I’d put the washing on the line. I heard the news and promptly brought it back in again. Apart from being very windy we seemed to get off lightly. Although we did have a few a interesting things blow into our garden, including an empty bag of pig feed! I hope you were all ok.

Wren is going to be 1. A whole year old! And she is finally crawling. She’d been sat on the kitchen floor playing with pots and pans when I heard a massive clatter from the lounge and realised she’d vanished. I found her sitting in the lounge with the poker in her hand, grinning from ear to ear.

Here is an illustration of hazel catkins from Margaret Erskine Wilson’s book Wildflowers of Britain. We have been spotting them along the river banks. Also look out for green daphne, alder catkins, elm buds, daisies, colt’s foot, bird’s eye (also known as Buxbaum’s speedwell), false strawberry, and lesser celandine. We’ve got lots of daffodils and tulips out in the garden. At this time of year I’m always glad I made the effort in the autumn. My wood anemones arrived. You can see them laid out on the saucer in the photo. It’s not an inspiring start is it? Don’t be fooled. There’s life in those funny little bits of root!

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Half term

mosquito, children, education, illustration, illustrator, Hannah Foley, natural history, insects, brown, orange, goldHalf term ambushed me from out of nowhere. I was merrily making my way through the term when it suddenly leapt out from nowhere and held me hostage. I was forced to bake heart-shaped biscuits, build extensive train set layouts, climb trees, make salt-dough candle holders, swing on swings, collect seaweed in jam jars, see-saw, laugh heartily, enthusiastically lose races, and create elaborate hairstyles. It was all very traumatic. Thank goodness I have been released from captivity. But I’d better be careful. You never know where the next school holiday is lurking, just waiting to leap out and grab you!

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Sunshine, flowers and…hackers

First of all I would like to apologise profusely for an expletive laden message that was posted to my blog yesterday afternoon. As you have probably already guessed, I was hacked. A big thank you to some dedicated blog readers for flagging the offending message up to me (Anne and Frances, gold stars for you).

About a month ago WordPress sent me a message advising me to update to the latest version. Was it real or was it some nasty phishing exercise by someone out to scam me? I conferred with my friend Rob (who helps me with the mechanics of this blog). We didn’t follow the link in the email but logged onto my blog and indeed, there was an update waiting to be installed. I said something along the lines of, whenever I update my phone it seems to break everything, but Rob is a super computer whizz so, with everything backed up, the update was installed.

Fast forward to yesterday morning. I wrote a little blog post entitled ‘Sunshine and Flowers’ and posted it. Any of you who viewed my blog between 10am and 2pm yesterday would have seen it. I talked about how much it rained last week and how we all had a tummy bug, and how I ordered some wood anemones (inspired by an article I read about Sibylle Kreutzberger of Sissinghurst fame) to cheer myself up, and how I went to a local nature reserve with Finch and Little Owl where we enjoyed the sunshine and jumping over bog pools and following rabbit roads between the heather, and how in the photo I took of the reserve (see above) you can see the waterlilies under the surface of the pond, and how they will cover the water in the summer with their big yellow flowers.

But at around 2pm my blog post was deleted and replaced with the hacker’s post. The message that the hacker posted had a particular political agenda. Whether it was really posted by the group it advertised is anyone’s guess.

I think I’m fairly politically engaged. I understand that there are all sorts of causes and ideologies being fought about all over the world. Some of these causes and ideologies I have quite strong feelings about, however, the exact point of this blog is not to talk about those things. Wars are raging and people are starving and it’s overwhelming. Even in this country, where things are pretty good, people still die of cancer and can’t afford to feed their children. And then you turn on the TV and, if it’s not the News at Ten full of more wars and starving people, it’s the latest cutting edge ‘challenging’ drama. Don’t get me wrong I think being challenged is very important. You can’t do better than a dose of the Today programme or PM on Radio 4, or Big Dreamer’s wonderful cousin’s articles for the Palestine Monitor. There are really important things we should be actively trying to change. We shouldn’t try to live in a cosy world where we turn our backs on the problems of the world, but the reality is that for most people just walking out of the door is challenging. Everyone has problems.

So here, in this blog, I wanted to create a little safe space to not be challenged. A small corner where people can not think about the fact that they have cancer, or they’ve just lost their job, or people are starving in the world. Instead they can have a little chuckle at the comments of a toddler, or smile at a story about sunshine and flowers, or enjoy tracing the movements of the seasons, or get pleasure from a pretty illustration. Here, moaning about my neighbours’ cats should be as political as it gets.

Lessons to take from this unpleasant episode are:

1) Don’t update things, ever. The hacker got in through the update.

2) Small wonders are what life is really all about. I have a bunch of daffodils in a jar on the kitchen table and Wren was mesmerised by them this morning. I realised that she has never seen a daffodil before. Never. In her whole life. What a very wonderful and precious thing to be seeing your first daffodil, and giving it all the appreciation and wonder the miracle of a spring flower really deserves.

3) Hackers, if you’re open to life lessons, please would you devote your obviously extensive creative and intellectual talents to something really serious…like climate change. Your political agenda won’t mean much when we’re all extinct. How about a solar-powered AK-47 to start things off?

4) Get a brilliant friend called Rob who is a secret super hero and can fix your blog when it is hacked and has probably already got climate change all wrapped up for us.

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