Practical class: Medieval Manuscript Illumination

You know, I’ve always loved that glowing, golden Medieval manuscript illumination. Each time I’m at a museum I search them out. Something about the illuminated letters just makes my heart sing. Old botanical illustrations or old maps do that for me too. You know, huge books with torn pages and brown stains containing precious paintings.

Have a look at this 15C book page:

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I was thrilled to get into the Medieval manuscript decoration class, not only because it was something I had never done before, but also because here was my chance to learn about this from instructor Helen White, a master artist in illuminated manuscripts, with an amazing three decade long knowledge base.

The old Medieval artists used powdered earth pigments and real gold or silver, and I would have loved to mix my own pigments and use real precious gold leaf, but, again, this practical class was only 1.5 hour long, so had to settle for coloured card stock and metal based gold gouache paint from Winsor & Newton.

So, if you’d like to have a go at making yourself an illuminated letter like I did, then gather your materials, you will need:

Tracing paper
coloured card stock
gold gouache paint
white gouache paint
a hard, precise pencil, (I had an H)
black ink pen
a different colour to you card stock pencil or paint
two very small, very precise paintbrushes
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Putting this letter together was a bit like figuring out Celtic knots. Once someone shows you how, it’s really easy.

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Start with a square of coloured paper. The dimensions of the square I used are in the image above. The letter will sit in the middle of the square, so pick your letter first and them maybe cut your square.

I’m not sure what to advise you for the letter as we were given a printed page with the correct sized font, but for my next adventure, I’ll design the letter myself. Maybe you could have a look on line for a template or write to Helen; she might send you one.

But once you have a font, trace the letter on some tracing paper with a precise, sharp pencil, flip the tracing paper over and trace the letter to the back.

Now put the tracing paper on to the front of your card and go over it again tracing the pencil lead onto the card. I think that, except for an “I”, “T” or an “O”, you just can’t measure the middle and have to eyeball it, but it’s such a precise little painting that you’ll probably get it spot on in that space.

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Here is a breakdown of the steps with Helen’s demonstration, but I’ll take you thru them with my piece just below.

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Measure the central square, either according to the diagram above or according to your own wishes and transfer the pencil letter to it.

Here, if you had more time and supplies, you could use size and gold leaf, but I used gold paint. Outline the letter first and fill it in later. I know that I’m not a precise painter and so, to keep it extremely precise, I had to go slowly. If you are using a gold size and leaf, I would suggest leaving it till the end to apply; just draw the pencil letter on the card so you can do the decorating around it.

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Next, using your ruler and black ink, measure every 1/2 centimetre along the top and bottom, and sides and flip your ruler upside down, (so the flat edge is held a little above the card to prevent the ink from smudging), and draw black ink lines in a grid pattern taking care to miss the letter.

Now colour in each alternate square in the grid. Again, because of the time crunch, I used a pencil, but next time I’ll use some paint.

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Now get some white paint and a fine brush, and paint squares on each alternate square. Go slowly!!! Here, Helen is demonstrating on a large grid to make it easier. She applied the white to the red squares.

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I had a bit of practice on a scrap piece of card and preferred the white on the blue squares.

ARG! I can’t draw precise squares to save my life! This was a lesson in frustration. I joked with the lovely woman beside me that, if I had been a Medieval illustrator, my squares would have literally been the death of me!

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Once the squares are completed, I connected them with lines on the diagonal and used a bit more gold gouache for some dots in the red squares and to do a little golden outlining around the outside of my design.

And look! What do you think? I think it’s such a lovely art form to learn. Now I want to take my time and discover other designs and use gold leaf.

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Wouldn’t this lend itself so beautifully to Christmas cards or to one’s own signature on a piece of art? I think so.

Practical class: Felting 101

It took forever to drive to Waterperry House and Art in Action on the first day, (three stalled vehicles on the highway and crawling traffic.) The result was that the class I intended to take was booked up and so I opted for a felting class instead.

I’ve never felted anything before and I though, why not? Why not go and have some “crafting” fun. And here is the how to of this fun art form:

The tools which are needed are:
- wool felt
- a felting needle (careful, it has four sharp and barbed needles, and they will hurt you!)
- a foam support
- a needle and thread, scissors and, maybe some buttons or beads or other embellishments, (or not).

(What do you think of this cute felted fairy cake pin cushion? Don’t you love it?)

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The craft being made was a felted flower broach and here is the teacher demonstrating the beginning. She took a bunch of wool, formed it into a sort-of circle…

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…and began stabbing it with the felting needle. Her needle didn’t have a protective, retractable plastic cover, the student’s needles did.

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So I chose some colours and here is the beginning of my first flower. It’s really easy and fun actually and I think I had a smile on my face thru the whole procedure. In no time the wool began and to knit together and became a cohesive disk.

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And, in no time, I had three disks and two leaf shapes ready for my broach. I picked out some buttons and some red thread and began stitching it all together.

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And, here is my finished broach! (I stitched a broach pin to the back of it.)

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Look how well it looks on my little purse! I chose these autumnal colours because I’m looking forward to pinning it on my scarves later on in the year.

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This was a simple little thing to learn and I must say that everyone who saw it commented on how lovely it was. I think so too.

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But before you…or I…dismiss it as a “craft” take a look at this award winning Best of the Best Textile piece from artist Eve Kelly! Isn’t it amazing? It’s all felted, just like my flowers, and sold for 390GBP, (that’s over $700!). Here’s a link to another lovely website where you can see life-sized felted birds by Eve O’Neill.

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Happy felting folks. Let me know if you have done this and what you’ve made. :D

Practical class: Silk Painting 101

Here we go with the first practical class from art in action. :D

Have you ever wondered how to paint on silk? Have you ever seen those beautiful silk flags fluttering in the breeze or one of those exquisite silk paintings with the puffy backing and wondered about making one for yourself? Well, read on, because now you’ll be able to.

Painting on silk requires a few special products and a little practice and that’s all there is.

You’ll need special paints. The ones we used were already decanted into the little palette and so I couldn’t photograph the actual paint pot, but I know what they are. They are heat set paints and are called Silkcraft Iron Fixed Silk Paint. They blend like a dream, they rinse and thin with water and act a little like watercolours.

The special solution you need to stop the paints from bleeding together is called Gutta. It comes in a tube with a very thin nozzle for precise application.

The other things you need are:
- a piece of silk…obviously…lol
- a wooden support to pin the silk to, (I suggest going to your local thrift store, buying a tacky .99 cent painting on a wooden support, and tearing the canvas away.)
- and some pins to pin the silk to the wooden support (there are special pins with three sharp prongs that we were using, but I think any thin, sharp pushpin will work.)
- something to act like a palette. This paint is very watery so it has to be in little cup forms.
- a paintbrush or two, a jar of water, a piece of paper and a couple pieces of masking tape.

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So, the first thing to do is to pin the silk on the wooden support.
Then take your piece of paper and fold it in such a way that it fits inside the wooden support underneath the silk, then take the paper out. Now you have the paper the precise size of drawing surface.

Now draw something. :) (I had my robin drawing on my cell phone and so decided to replicate something like that. This class was only 1.5 hours, but you can take as long as you like.)

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE!!!
You will follow your drawing with the Gutta and, when you finally get to paint the colours on your silk, everywhere that lines do not meet, that is, everywhere where there is a little gap in the Gutta, the paint will bleed and mix together. So draw your design with that firmly in your mind.

When you have drawn your design, pour out some of the paints into your palette. A little will do, it goes a long way.

Now flip the wooden support with the silk pinned to it upside down and put your drawing underneath your silk. You will be able to see the design thru the silk. Hold the paper there with a couple pieces of masking tape.

Now flip the silk right side up and take your Gutta and trace the lines on your silk with the Gutta. You may like to have a little practice on a darker sheet of paper first, (newspaper, paper bag, your kid’s construction paper), to get the hang of how the Gutta flows.

You can see in my robin design, I intentionally left a space on the right side of the robin’s red breast area. I wanted to denote the red part, but wanted the colour to blend and bleed thru.

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Now you’re ready to paint your design.

I found that the paint colours were a little sharp for my liking. I mean, fuchsia, turquoise, minty green. lemon yellow…etc…, so I mixed them together to make softer colours and browns and oranges. I had a little practice on my sheet of paper.

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Now be brave!!!

What you need is loads of wet paint and dabs with the brush. For the robin’s red breast I used some red and yellow, and, while they were wet, they blended beautifully.

For his wings and tail, I mixed up a load of brown and, while it was wet, I added some blue.

For the background I mixed up a load of blue, (that wasn’t turquoise or midnight blue) and sloshed it on with the biggest brush there was. You can see how the brush wasn’t big enough for the blue sky and how it dried patchy.

But wait! Here’s a trick: SALT

I wasn’t sure how to describe the feathers on his breast. I wanted a dappled effect of soft brown and white. Our instructor, Julie, suggested I sprinkle salt on the area I want to disturb the paint. I used pickling salt, you know, larger crystals, but you can also use table salt. I presume it would give a bit of a different mottling effect. The best way to add the salt is to dump a generous amount on your work surface and then pick it up in your fingers and place it where you want it. The salt absorbs some of the paint causing a lovely mottled effect.

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I did the same thing with a second layer of blue on the sky background.

You have to wait till the paint dries and then shake the salt off.

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And, TAH DA! Here is my finished little silk painting. I love it and can’t wait to frame it. :D (Also, can’t wait to buy some supplies and paint some more.) This is the company I’m likely to order from here in the UK, but I’m sure that very similar products can be found all over the world.

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Here are a couple of designs Julie had as inspiration:

I’ve added the green arrows to show you how the paints will bleed into each other if the Gutta isn’t completely sealing the spaces.

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However, you can always do a crazy, zany design like this lovely one, and then it doesn’t matter so much at all. :D

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Happy silk painting.

First, Nathan Ford and the most brilliant idea!

As I was rushing thru the Painters marquee to get to the first practical class I booked myself in to. I saw loads of artists busily painting away or chatting to people in the middle of their stalls filled with paintings, postcards and posters, and then, I came to the stall of a young man named Nathan Ford.

This stall was empty except for a stool on which sat Nathan, a table with a box of used pencils and a large, toned canvas hanging on a wall.

He smiled at me and handed me a pencil.

I walked up to the canvas, completely overwhelmed, and drew a little ladybug on a small empty space, above someone’s heart.

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Then I stepped back and looked…

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and looked some more.

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And within two seconds of me moving away from the canvas, my position was taken up by more people with pencils, and then their position was taken up with others and so on and so on.

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And I stood there, took photos and watched, and it occurred to me that this is the most brilliant community project. Reflecting a community of people who share in the arts. Who are we there? We’re artists, and craftsmen, and laymen, and philistines, and children, and volunteers, and bored spouses, and ageing dreamers.

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And here, we’re all invited to make our mark.

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And, you know what? It’s irresistible. We all do. We step up to that canvas and mark it in our own way. We leave our own signature, or hand print, like a prehistoric man on the cave wall. It’s in our nature. I saw parents holding their children up to the canvas, I saw pensioners rolling up in their wheel chair, I saw strangers nudging each other, holding dog leashes, holding bags sunhats for each other, all for that precious mark on that wonderful canvas…connecting everyone.

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We’re royalty and we’re beggars, but we all come together to somehow celebrate art…somehow…in our own way, whether we disdain it and are being dragged along by our insufferable other, or whether we’ve flow half way around the world to be there. We are there, and we find something beautiful. And I don’t know if that something is simply the pretty girl walking past in the sexy sundress, or the amazing artistic expressions on display, we all find something, somehow, to admire.

And in that moment, we are all united. That’s the power of art.

By the way, Nathan won the Best of the Best award, chosen by all the demonstrating artists.

Art in Action 2014 part 1

Hey you!!!

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It’s Art in Action time!!!! :D

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Time to discover new things, learn new techniques.

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Have I got your attention?

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Are you sitting up in anticipation now?

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Good, then follow me… :D

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Over the next few days we’ll peek into some of the 30 marquees to discover new arts,

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We’ll invite ourselves into free classes,

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We’ll pick up tips for using new tools,

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We’ll learn new arts and new techniques in the practical classes,

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We’ll marvel at new designs and new ideas,

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We’ll see things we never knew could be done,

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We’ll flip thru artist’s sketchbooks, try our hands at artist’s designs,

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And find new ways and new products to express our art. :D

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I know I’ve posted about this wonderful adventure in years past, and, each year I visit, it’s newer and fresher and more inspiring than ever.

This year I’ll tell you everything I learned about silk painting, sculptural wood carving, mixed media, felting, illuminated manuscript illustration, freedom to draw exercises, woodcarving printing, and much, much more.

And, if I can do it, so can you. :D

So grab a cup of tea and join me for this year’s extravaganza.

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One more from RBG Kew: Glasshouses, plus that lotus keeps showing up

If I lived anywhere near Kew, you’d know just where to find me; right in a glasshouse. Every chance I got.

This is the famous Palm House constructed in 1844. Beyond it you can see the Waterlily House 1852.

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This year the Palm House is fuller and richer than years past because the second giant glasshouse, the Temperate House, is closed for rebuilding and refurbishing for a few years, and, while there’s a temporary glasshouse for the Temperate House plants, some have been relocated into the Palm House.

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I just caught the watering time of the day. Actually, it’s more like the misting time. Isn’t it fantastic? Loved the humid, green, fragrant air.

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So many weird and wonderful blooms.

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Then on to the waterlily house. There’s something about this glasshouse that brings about some sort of reverence.

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It might be the black water, or the reflected light, or it might be the glorious blossoms, but there were at least a dozen people in the glasshouse with me and no one made a sound.

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And just there, there it was, sighing among the grasses. The lotus! A pink one. How beautiful. I have a thing for lotus these days.

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You know, I dream of a glasshouse of my own. I dream of a magnificent pavilion as my studio, or a glasshouse to house fifteen massive palm trees, (although in truth I’d settle for a simple little garden variety greenhouse and my own studios are the most wonderful spaces in the world to me, and I feel so lucky to have them. :D ).

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But still had to show you one of my most favourite galleries in the world. This is the Marianne North Gallery. Marianne North was a Victorian botanist and artist and world traveller, and here, practically from floor to ceiling, is a collection of her paintings from all over the world.

Isn’t this the most magnificent space?

I used to take loads and loads of photos here, but last year someone put up a no photographs sign.

“Bah”, we say, and even, “stuff that for a game of soldiers.”

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And sometimes breaking rules is vital, because, here is Marianne’s lotus, and we must have a photograph of that!

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My week has been incredibly busy and I can’t wait to tell you all about visiting Bath, (Wednesday) and Art in Action, (today and tomorrow), taking over the charity book stall on Saturday’s village market, and visiting friends on Sunday, and, I’m also looking forward to the days calming a little next week. Big hugs from busy me over here in West Cottage to all of you. Hoping you’re having lovely, stress free and creative days.

Tell me about your days, leave me links so I can catch up with everyone. :D

Kew Palace

A couple of years ago, Robert and I watched a BBC program about the restoration of this big house. I found it fascinating how a tiny scrap of flocked green and black wallpaper could dictate the whole room scheme and lead to some hand made flocked green and black borders being reproduced exactly the way the Victorians would have made it, and that there was someone in E who actually hand made flocked wallpaper borders!!!

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Greeters at the entrance are dressed in Victorian costumes, and, although there have been three Kew Palaces, this one and the interior is a time bubble from King George III (1738-1820) and Queen Charlotte and stretches somewhat into the Victorian times.

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And it’s a lovely big house to visit. There is a collection of beautiful and important paintings in each room, lovely furniture, views to the formal gardens outside and, it’s easy to imagine living there.

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inside

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The restored parts of the house and the first and second floor. The third floor is still stripped bare and waiting for restoration, but visitors can have a look. The fourth floor is another story though. Temptingly lit staircases and servant’s passages abound, but access is restricted and CC cameras are in full view.

Darn, I really wanted to sneak around and explore everything, but I think old Queen Charlotte would not have been amused. I did ask about secret passages but was assured there were none. (Do we believe that?…lol…bet I could find one)

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R said I was being bad and so we walked back down the staircase to the main floor and looked at some of the treasures.

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And out thru the dining room with its celebratory supper. Apparently, this was the supper King George had when he recovered from his first bout of madness and was allowed to use a fork and knife again. Apparently he spent most of his time in straight jackets being fed with a spoon. Poor man. Who knew arsenic powders in cosmetics were bad for you!?!

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On to the conservatories next. :D

Also, please excuse the tragic lack of comments on my part. These days are just flying past and I’m just trying to catch up, but read every single comment and am so grateful for your friendship. :D

A beautiful kitchen garden plus royal kitchen

Well, I would say this would be just about PERFECT for me! And yes, I’d move in in a heartbeat and live in the little gardener’s shed if someone would let me. (I don’t take up too much room) :D

Of course, 200 yrs ago, the real kitchen gardens, which served Kew Palace and Mad King George were enormous, but thank goodness the land has been given over to the gardeners. Also, thank goodness this little representation remains.

Let’s have a look, shall we?

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It’s a walled garden! Isn’t this the absolutely most sensible way to garden in the world?

I’m thinking, “where can I get my hands on a few thousand beautiful old bricks to wall in my own garden?”

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The south wall and the north wall.

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How hard can it be to to make a bunch of these charming cloches? I’m going to try to figure them out. A bit of glass, a bit of leaded strips, a bit of solder…

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Here’s the charming gardener’s cottage. The perfect place to have tea.

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And now, I suppose all the beautiful produce had to be prepared somewhere. Let’s have a look at the royal kitchens.

The kitchens are somewhat below ground to keep them cool, but still have light and a view to the garden.

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I really would call this shabby chic to the MAX!

Lovely old wood burners, lime washed walls, stone floors, old patina on pipes, rustic wood.

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These were the food preparation areas…

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kitchen

…and this was the cooking kitchen.

This space is two stories tall to get all the heat to rise and vent out.

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And what’s on the second floor?

Accounting offices, chef’s offices, and offices where the Kew Palace staff organised meals.

Robbie read that the kitchen processed over 300 chickens per month in that ledger.

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I suppose this is also the place for a glass of something in the evening.

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Or a cup of tea.

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And, further into the kitchens, are larders full of processed seasonal foods stored for the future.

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Did you enjoy your visit? I did.

Do we all want to run out and build a walled kitchen garden and shabby chic the heck out of our kitchens?

Yup, I know the feeling. :D Kew Palace next time :D

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My birthday and RBG Kew

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know I love the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. And you probably also know that it’s my birthday treat is to visit each year.

You would probably not be surprised to know that Kew is a riot of flowers and colours, and that, each year, the Kew world changes. One year there was the most beautiful Dale Chihuly installation here. Hundreds and hundreds of colourful glass sculptures stood in gardens, floating on ponds and lakes, were suspended from trees and ceilings. One year the focus was on vegetables and other edibles, and this year the focus was on comfort, protection, healing and medicinal plants from all around the world.

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Robert and I had a ton of unexpected traffic into London and came to RBG Kew later than we wanted but just in time for lunch.
We walked past the palm house, past the brilliant flower beds, to the Orangery cafe.

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And while the hot reds, purples and yellows were very much on view, exciting and wonderful, what I noticed most were the white flowers. Each time I came on a brilliant white blossom, my heart skipped a beat and I had to stop.

It may have been the sunshine, may have been the terrible traffic jam, but I felt that I needed the cool, clear, peaceful white flowers that day, and so, this year, Kew became the year of the white garden for me.

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We did the usual tour of the gardens between the palm house and the Orangery, but then decided to walk out into the arboretum to see the Thames.

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We walked and walked and eventually made our way back to the Orangery, and R decided he wanted a rest, so he found a shady tree while I went on to explore the walled gardens.

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I love Robert, but I loved my alone time.

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I held hands with the trees…

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I waved with the grasses…

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And I captured as much of the peace in my heart as I could.

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Eventually, I walked out of the walled gardens to the Princess of Wales conservatory and explored the alpines and cacti.

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And made friends with some gardeners working in the grasses.

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Found Robbie right where I left him…

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And we went on to explore some more. :D

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More from Kew tomorrow.

What’s that? Carole’s wonderful drawing challenge

The other day Robert and I were out in the field test driving my Land Rover and our neighbour Polly came to see and ask if we wanted some fresh eggs from her chickens.

We were delighted and walked with her to the chicken coop.

We looked in on the girls and I said, “what’s that?” It looked like a shiny black bead looking directly at me from under the steps of the coop. It blinked and revealed itself to be the eye of a rat!

This rat wasn’t going to give up his eggs for anyone…oh no!

But we had Polly’s huge dog with us, (and he wanted an egg), and so eventually the rat saw the game was up and hopped away giving us the middle claw.

And me without my camera. :(

Today, I took a piece of lino and carved that daemon rat on it to show you exactly what he looked like…to the minutest detail!

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I printed him on a piece of newspaper with the article, “The Value of Disrespect.”

It seemed to fit…lol.

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Also yesterday I took this photo. Any idea what that is?

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It’s the after effects of a huge military jet from a nearby RAF base disturbing a cloud. Cool, isn’t it?

Sharing with Carole and all the gang. :D Pop over when you have a chance and see other wonderful interpretations of the theme.