Here are a couple of pen and wash sketches I made in a beautiful Essex country garden this summer, with the bees humming in and about the lavender.
After many years admiring other people’s summer hollyhock displays I finally managed to grow some from seed this year. My Mum loves hollyhocks too, she had collected the seeds from some beautiful plants that were growing out of the concrete at the edge of a car park in town. I think the fact that such delicate but exuberant loveliness can thrive on apparently nothing adds to the wonder of the hollyhock. The name is also a bonus for a Hockey!
I noticed recently that my Mum’s bookmark had been well used into tattiness so I painted her a new hollyhock bookmark for her birthday.
Water resistant pen, watercolour paint, 300gsm watercolour paper.
I love food!
I love thinking about what I’m going to eat. I love looking at food; in shop windows – especially cake shops – but also on Instagram and the telly. Eating it is my absolute favourite thing (expanding middle years waistline attests to that) and painting food was, for a while, an irresistible urge. It’s like the super slow version of an Insta lunch snap.
I’ve collected my best watercolour food paintings and posted them here as a sort of portfolio. Some are simple representations of pretty edibles and others have more of a narrative. Some were quick sketches done on the spot while for others I worked more slowly from photos I took before eating the subject.
These food illustrations also form a travel journal of sorts so I’ve divided them by region – London, West Bengal, Cape Verde and Andalusia – and put them in loose reverse chronological order.
These first two illustrations are from my ‘Painted Snapshots of Bermondsey’ project, which aims to take the reader on a guided stroll through the streets of Bermondsey to see some of my favourite places.
As I said in the intro, cake shop windows are a magnet for me; Comptoir Gourmand have a stunner.
I had admired the view through the window of Casse Croûte many times before I ate there. Its double checked interior promised cosy continental conviviality amid steaming plates of deliciousness; the lure being greatest on dark, chilly nights. And it lived up to expectations in every way.
The combination of the cake stand loaded with colourful, tasty morsels; the striped crockery and the reflective tea pots in the late winter sunshine was quite spectacular. Smitten, I took some photos in preparation for future painting sessions. Then I tucked right in. Afternoon tea at The Goring Hotel – a lovely way to celebrate a birthday with special friends.
As soon as I saw this Yen Burger nestled in its little bamboo steamer lined with festive stripy paper my painter’s urge was tweaked. I was on my way to an appointment with no time to paint on the spot so I took a few quick snaps for reference and tucked right in. Yummy Japanese take on the fast food classic.
These gorgeous mushrooms are from the Puntarelle & Co Saturday morning fruit and veg market under the Spa Road railway arches. All their produce is lush and carefully laid out in traditional wooden boxes – the antithesis of supermarket shopping. The fungi had a certain sinister drama about them and proved to be delicious.
Too Good To Go:
Returning to London after a long absence gave me a ‘kid in a sweet shop’ feeling. All those cultural and culinary delights on offer. But the foodie indulgence comes at more than a calorific price.
A friend told me about the Too Good To Go app. It lets you know which local outlets are offering discounts on good food which would otherwise be thrown away at the end of a shift.
It perfectly combines my ‘thinking about what I’m going to eat’ and ‘looking at food’ loves with the bonuses of getting delicious food at bargain prices and combating food waste.
There’s also the surprise element; you’re not sure what you’ll get in your magic bag of rescued goodies until you pitch up at collection time with your online receipt.
These next three are all ‘paint it then eat it’ exercises of Too Good To Go swag.
Lola’s cupcakes…mmm…yes, I shared them, they were mini but mighty at the same time. Pretty, cheap and exceptionally tasty!
Sushi Shop …well sushi is a work of art in every sense. The high fish and soy content of Japanese food also makes regular eaters less likely to suffer from some classic menopause symptoms. What’s not to like? My rescued sushi was actually one box (at less than half the retail price) but I liked the way it looked as a triptych and it made for an Insta friendly square image.
At the end of the last century I worked for a few months at the Konditor branch near Borough Market. I knew from that experience that the magic bag (box in reality) contents would be divine. Inspired by the promise of eating I worked really fast when I painted these fat wedges of carrot, red velvet and chocolate cake – which I did share with my flatmates.
I was lucky enough to spend six months traveling in India. It was an amazing experience and a huge culture shock.
A banana split is not an inherently Indian dish, but to eat one in close proximity to actual banana trees is an exotic experience. I tried to capture my travel companion’s ‘joy through dessert’ moment in this portrait cum food cum botanical illustration.
Here I’ve used the repeated orchid motif to represent the horticulture of Kalimpong and the background is inspired by the glorious decoration in the many Buddhist Monasteries there.
We boarded in a few home-stays where we were fed delectable, hearty and healthy home-cooked meals several times a day for very little money. We could really taste the love in this food – it was phenomenally satisfying.
Darjeeling was bitterly cold and very damp for our first few days which made venturing outside quite an undertaking. Since I caught a cold as soon as we arrived I was happy to spend hours in front of the heater inside paying pen and watercolour homage to the culinary delights we were experiencing.
When we did go out there was usually a visit to Kunga Restaurant involved. My interest in the wanton soup was verging on the hysterical. Momo (small steamed dumplings filled with chicken or vegetables) were ubiquitous in West Bengal and Sikkim – that made me very happy.
In 2017 I went to see a friend in Cape Verde. She was staying on Sal, the most touristic and least beautiful and interesting of the islands I visited.
Cape Fruit restaurant was a great consolation – a beautiful oasis of rustic charm where an expert team of local women made and served healthy, tasty food and drinks. What a joy to order something lovely, paint it at leisure while sitting in the shade and then eat it.
At the end of 2014 I was invited to join the Vejer Sketchers, a small but enthusiastic group of artists who met on Saturday mornings in the southern Spanish town where I’d been living for a while. So that following year I finally undertook the regular sketch practice I’d been intending to start for ages.
There can be a ‘safety in numbers’ aspect to ‘urban sketching’ in a group. OK, so you still look like weirdos but you’re a band of weirdos and the inevitable attention of passersby is divided and therefore less intimidating.
Sometimes we joined or were joined by groups of sketchers from other towns, like Cadiz and Jerez. There is always something new to learn from the methods and materials of other practitioners, and their passion for their craft is infectious. I also found that working in a sketchbook freed me up. There was no way I was going to tear a sheet out of that book so the paintings were for just for me. With no pressure to paint something saleable I started to draw and paint in a quicker, rougher, looser way than before, which made it more fun and more relaxing.
I didn’t often paint food with the group but I did apply my new, looser skills to my depictions of food.
Marcel commissioned me to paint the cover for his play “Green Tea” (Té Verde) in the sketchy style he liked. He stipulated this complimentary colour combination and left the rest to me. There’s a sinister aspect to the play which is why some of those red splatters look like blood.
Annie B is a force of good nature; her food and wine tours and cooking courses are ranked amongst the best on offer in Spain. I was delighted to complete these two commissions from her: to create an Andalusian food and drink map (above) and a food and drink themed Christmas card (below).
One of the best aspects of living in a small rural town in southern Spain is the seasonality of the fruit and veg.The seasons for local produce may be very short but the produce itself is perfect while it’s in the green grocer’s.
The subtle combination of mauve and green on these tender asparagus stems was utterly beguiling.
Strawberries from Conil taste and smell like those from my pick-your-own childhood. They’re so perfectly ripe that you must eat them on the same day you buy them; resistance is futile.
I was never aware before Vejer that cherries were graded so fastidiously in Spain. The size of the fruit and presence or absence of a stalk will dictate how much you pay per kilo of these juicy explosions. I never learnt to tell the varieties apart by taste though.
Tiny, sweet, tender and so, so pretty. I adore peas – and the additional meditative pleasure of popping the pods.
To be honest I’m rarely up for the faff involved in making aubergines edible but that jewel-like burgundy-mauve shade is beguiling.
The pear – emblem of feminine strength and creativity, sweet of the autumn. That lichen-like mottling on a pear skin really is splendid.
And so on to winter, here’s an actual cold cure that I used to treat an actual cold.
A massive and famous advantage of living in Spain is the culture of tapas. A bite or two of a tasty something – usually home-made, with a glass or two of a tasty something – usually alcoholic.
In Vejer (as in other places) there are a couple of special weekends a year when tapas competitions are staged. Maps of the Tapas Trail or ‘Ruta de Tapas’ show the locations of the establishments taking part and what they’re serving. Those restaurants work flat out to put their best tapas forward for the delectation of the hundreds of people who work their way around the trail before voting for their favourite dish.
This particular weekend I decided to record as many Ruta de Tapas dishes as I could in a ‘paint it then eat it’ way. So I had to work fast and loose…
Three turned out to be my limit. My best advice for making the most of a Ruta de Tapas? Skip breakfast and start early to beat the crowds.
This painting of the facade of Vejer’s Corredera 55 Restaurant is a lovely one to end on. It features food in the bike basket, food in the orange trees, food on the facade and drink on the inside. Ellie the owner commissioned me to make this piece; the original is hanging in the restaurant alongside mini reproductions on the business cards. As it says on the flipside: Eat – Love – Live
A note on method and materials:
My sketchbook is a Moleskine Watercolour Album, with 200g/sqm paper – that’s the minimum weight of paper that will take good watercolour washes without too much buckling. It’s 21x13cm; small enough to be portable but the double page length of 42cm allows for a nice big span. If I’m working on a pen and wash commission I’ll use 300g/sqm paper and cut it to size myself.
I always start with a 2B pencil drawing; when I’m happy with the layout I go over the outline with water resistant pens. Adding squiggly lines to the main outline makes it more lively.
I erase most of the the pencil before layering watercolour washes; when I’m happy with the intensity of the colours I’ll add shadows. The finishing touch is a bit of coloured splatter which unifies the image and adds a bit more energy.
By preference I’ll scan the finished painting at a fairly high resolution and slightly tweak the image in Photoshop with a soft light filter before posting a lower resolution version to my ‘Latest Work’ blog.
For Instagram – @kathrynhockey – I just post photos of the work.
Scanning generally gives ‘truer’ colour reproduction and there’s less distortion of the image.
While I was traveling I didn’t have easy access to a scanner so the original ‘Latest Work’ posts of some sketches feature the same Instagrammed photos.
I recently scanned all of the food travel sketches to improve the quality of the images for this blog. I have added links to the original posts.
Himachal Pradesh was on my wishlist from February but the weather was just too cold to make the trip pleasurable until spring finally arrived halfway through April.
I kept seeing gorgeous photos on Instagram and eventually booked two sets of accommodation in the Tirthan Valley. It was still damp and rainy when we arrived but we had a wood burner and electric blankets in our room to turn the chill into cosy.
To reach Himachal Pradesh from West Bengal we took a taxi from Siliguri to Bagdogra, flew to Delhi then on to Chandigarh (both steaming hot), then hired a car and driver to drop us in the Tirthan Valley.
Flights from Delhi to Kullu Manali (Himachal Pradesh’s airport) are extremely expensive and unreliable due to the weather conditions, and while night buses from Delhi to Kullu are cheap, they take about 10 hours and don’t have proper sleeper berths (just reclining seats).
So that’s why we opted for the car and driver; door to door convenience, comfort and a reasonable price. Salman the driver loved the trip too, it was his first visit to Tirthan and he was mightily impressed by the phenomenal landscape.
A landscape which I found impossible to capture well in watercolour. I made one attempt which ended in frustration so I covered the mess with a collage and did a simple sketch on top. Life is too short to labour over landscapes when you can simply admire them.
Still with an eye on the weather in desirable destinations like Manali and Mcleodganj (the Dalai Lama’s base in India) at higher altitudes we decided to stay put in the Banjar region until we had to return to Delhi and then to London. Comfort won out over curiosity; a sign of age perhaps.
Himachal Pradesh is a fantastic place to finish my trip. The weather is gentle as are our generous hosts here in the Tirthan Valley.
I also found this epic book in our guesthouse and was immediately hooked.
India had been a profoundly wonderful and confusing experience, there were many points when I felt like I’d had enough but then something amazing would happen and I’d bounce back.
Arundhati Roy, perhaps as only an Indian woman can, weaves a beautiful tale entwining the tragic, seemingly eternal (and universally human) threads of sexism, racism, classism, religion, corruption, exploitation and violence in ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’. The book is mostly set in Kashmir and Delhi but encompasses the whole of India.
“They aren’t very good at other people’s pain. But then who is? … What we have on our hands is a species problem. None of us is exempt.”
A sad but funny and fascinating read and a great Indian history lesson.
Europe will undoubtedly seem pale after India but I will be happy to dress and express myself as I wish again without worrying that I’m offending anyone.
That’s a huge luxury, as is white privilege – being born in a relatively rich, secular and democratic country.
Himachal Pradesh is so beautiful in the springtime and the people of the Tirthan Valley are so warm, kind and hospitable. We climbed up a really big hill today; up a dirt track, stone steps, through flowery meadows full of butterflies, we passed a waterfall, a few slate roofed cottages and a tiny school. Near the top a dog started barking at us quite enthusiastically; his lovely family gave us a glass of cold cordial and invited us in to see the temple in their new wooden house. We had very few words in common but they worked.
Little sketchbook homage to the humble bidi (or beedi) a cheap but tasty Indian smoke. Basically it’s a leaf rolled around a tiny bit of tobacco, secured with a string. There was a bidi factory in Bundi, a beautiful town in Rajasthan that I visited in January. The bidies in the image above are painted, the rest is a collage of beautiful bidi packaging.
Next stop Kolkata, West Bengal (3 hour taxi from Khajuraho to Satna then 20 hours on the train to Howrah Station), which we approached with some trepidation.
For a huge city it was, however, a revelation: friendly, fairly relaxed, fairly clean, really beautiful and easy to negotiate on foot.
With cheap, delicious street food to boot; Kolkata is famous for kati rolls – egg dipped flat breads which are fried and rolled around the tasty filling of your choice.
We passed a few fun days wandering around the Park Street neighbourhood, exploring the city’s green spaces and crossing the Hooghly River by ferry.
Our next target destination was Darjeeling the famous tea town. I had a romantic idea of Darjeeling – quaint and charming, nestling up there in the Himalayan foothills and the opportunity to arrive there in the heritage ‘toy train’ was irresistible.
We flew to Bagdogra, spent the night in Siliguri and the next morning promptly arrived at New Jalpaiguri Station for the advertised 8:30am departure of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway service from the narrow gauge platform.
At least an hour late, the tiny engine pulled up with three little carriages in tow. It took at least another half hour for the engineers to prepare the train for the trip up the mountain.
The journey (scheduled to take seven hours in total) was indeed picturesque; the little train pluckily chugged upwards taking several fascinating ‘z reverses’ to accommodate the incline.
Then, 15km short of Darjeeling a piece of the engine fell off, the train stopped and it became apparent that we would have to make our own arrangements to finish the journey by road.
Luckily, at dusk, after an hour or so of flagging down vehicles with little or no space for hitchers the lovely man (second right) in the photo above pulled over. He breezily packed us and our new German friends and all our luggage into his warm, comfy car and expertly drove us the hour to town.
The first first thing that struck me was the cold. A see your breath in the house cold. A wear all your clothes in layers, in bed, cold. Luckily our homestay host provided a heater and hot water bottles and the view of Kangchenjunga from the balcony (at 6am before the clouds rose) was stunning.
The food was fabulous too, inspiring me to immortalise this delicious and typical Indian breakfast of puri sabji. The puri are fried flat breads which puff up and are chewy and crispy at the same time. Sabji or sabzi is the generic word for cooked vegetables, usually in some sort of gravy.
We met up with our new German friends in a local Tibetan style restaurant to reminisce about our toy train misadventure and feast on momo and wanton (both dumplings)…a meal so delicious I was again inspired to capture it in paint.
Of course we drank some excellent tea in Darjeeling too and took the obligatory tour around the Happy Valley tea factory. But Darjeeling is not the charming hill station town of my imagination; it has a few pretty parts but is generally damp and dank, congested with traffic which makes the air foul with fumes and suffers from cascades of rubbish dumped down its sprawling labyrinth of terraces.
We spent our last Darjeeling days at another homestay, the beautiful Little Singamari and were treated to yet more fantastic home cooking.
This is a fantasy amalgamation of my favourite dishes cooked by Ramila, our hostess.
We set off for a few days in Kolbong and stayed on an idyllic organic farm. The two hour jeep ride to reach the farm was a bit of a roller coaster ride, one local lady promptly threw up as soon as she exited the jeep at her stop.
Luckily the driver made a slight detour for us so that we didn’t have to drag our luggage up the last kilometre of track to the farm.
The weather was warmer, the air cleaner, all our food was home cooked, mostly homegrown and organic. Our hosts were delightful but could only accommodate us for a few days as they were busy with another project. It was hard to leave.
We decided to head for Kalimpong, a chilled out town with a similar climate to Kolbong where we could wait for the weather to warm up before we set off to explore higher altitudes without freezing.
We both succumbed to bugs, one respiratory and one gastrointestinal, nothing major but enough to make us grind to a halt. Luckily we were in safe, comfy accommodation with a nice view…a good place for rest and recuperation.
I was inspired by the gorgeously bright colours used to paint the murals in the prayer rooms at two of Kalimpong’s Buddhist monasteries when I made this portrait of Rob. I also love the way they include the cloud and flower motifs. Kalimpong is well known for its orchid nurseries hence my choice of flower.
My lovely friend Amalia (herself a talented watercolourist) asked me to design and paint a mural for the back room in her Vejer pharmacy which she is renovating.
The room has an impressive archway and will be used as a venue for workshops on health related matters such as diabetes, pre- and post-natal care and managing stress through yoga and meditation.
Amalia’s brief for the mural was that it should include plants and impart a sense of harmony and tranquility.
I selected various plants with tranquililising properties during a web search, printed photos and set about developing drawings in my sketchbook.
I came up with two options for the mural; one using the arch as a frame for a botanical drawing of an entire valerian plant
the other embelleshing the arch itself with a more stylised arrangement of kava, valerian, passionflower and chamomile.
Amalia selected the second option which I then developed into a more detailed drawing (below).
I drew just the left half of the design in detail. I then photographed it and used Photoshop to duplicate and flip it to create a mirror image. I printed out the drawing and packed it in my suitcase in readiness for my trip to Vejer.
Being faced with the actual wall was quite daunting at first, I had to be up and down a ladder to gain proper perspective as I worked which took its toll on my neck and ankles!
I drew the left side of the mural onto the wall in pencil. When I was happy with the layout I traced it in sections, flipping each one over so that I could copy the mirror image to the right side of the arch.
I painted the white parts first; then came the colour…I made a chart as a mixing guide.
Using the grey-green wall colour as a base I added tiny amounts of acrylic paint to get all the subtle shades required to colour the mural.
The mural is certainly subtle and elegant and has been received very generously.
The pale colours do make it difficult to photograph the entire mural well however, so here are some details:
To herald the arrival of springtime the good folk at Mary’s Living & Giving Shop in Bermondsey Street (where I work as a volunteer for a few hours each week) invited me to design and execute an illustration for their window.
What a lovely project – and right up my street!
Before embarking on the window I had a little practise with the chalk pens on a small sheet of glass and assigned colours to the different elements of the drawing….
…while Kerry kindly cleaned the window in preparation for the obligatory ‘before’ photo.
(You can just see my two remaining ‘Pre-Loved Fashion’ drawings hanging up there behind the manequins.)
Artist at work!
Here are a few photos of the completed drawing, which took a couple of sessions to finish… …needless to say the ‘here comes the sun’ caption is more of a wish than an observation during springtime in Britain!
I really had so much fun with this project and am so grateful to the Mary’s Living & Giving team for trusting me with it – thank you!
As well as being right up my street this project is also a trip down memory lane (pun central…sorry!). About 20 years ago I did some window painting at The Honest Cabbage Restaurant, 99-101 Bermondsey Street (below left)
and her sister restaurant The Honest Goose on The Cut in Waterloo (above).
The Cabbage has since been converted to The Garrison Public House – my artwork didn’t survive but that tends to be the way with mural art unless you’re Banksy.