Next to my field sketch kit, I think my bicycle and a cup of tea are probably my most valuable "art tools." Those of you who have read my blog before (and Thanks! if you have) probably know I get much of my inspiration from quiet cups of tea among my flowers and my long bike rides on country roads.
Artists, flowers, tea, and cats seem to always go together. One of my long time favorite books, Kazuko Okakura's The Book of Tea is a wonderful companion in consideration all this. Written for Westerners as an introduction to Japanese aesthetics and culture in the light of Teaism, it was the book Georgia O'Keeffe request be read to her when she was bed ridden near the end of her long life. I highly recommend the book. You will never look at things quite the same way again as this profound and delightful little book has a gentle way of opening your eyes a bit wider to the world around you with all its beauty, sorrow, joy and pain.
Yesterday I kitted out my bicycle for a very specific annual mission: collecting wildflowers. Normally, I would discourage anyone from going willy nilly flower picking. It really is nice to leave the flowers there for all to enjoy especially when I recall a quote from The Book of Tea:
“Why were the flowers born so beautiful and yet so hapless? Insects can sting, and even the meekest of beasts will fight when brought to bay. The birds whose plumage is sought to deck some bonnet can fly from its pursuer, the furred animal whose coat you covet for your own may hide at your approach. Alas! The only flower known to have wings is the butterfly; all others stand helpless before the destroyer. If they shriek in their death agony their cry never reaches our hardened ears. We are ever brutal to those who love and serve us in silence, but the time may come when, for our cruelty, we shall be deserted by these best friends of ours. Have you not noticed that the wild flowers are becoming scarcer every year? It may be that their wise men have told them to depart till man becomes more human. Perhaps they have migrated to heaven. Much may be said in favor of him who”
You may think me particularly cold-hearted to venture forth with my scissors (very sharp to keep the botanical shrieking to a minimum) and press after reading that quote, but my mission is a very deliberate, albeit somewhat futile one. I am trying to capture a season. And in doing so prod both myself and my students to truly see and see more. The contemporary Dutch artist Frederick Franke in his book The Zen of Seeing says that what he has not drawn he has not truly seen. These flowers preserved lovingly between the pages of my press provide endless opportunities for creativity and seeing throughout the year to come. They will be used as drawing and painting models, as part of art works and as ingredients to various art media, specifically dyes and papers.
In venturing forth yourself, I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the local pants (especially common allergens like poison ivy) as well as endangered or protected plants, such as the Black Eyed Susan in Maryland, which is the state flower and therefor protected. I also encourage you to make your own press. My husband designed and built mine for my specific needs and use. Here is a link to a DIY flower press:
I hope this post inspires you to read, drink tea, grow and draw the flowers and to go and see the world around you in a bit more detail. There are a few pictures below of some of my favorite local sights. As always feel free to ask me questions and/or leave comments below.