Thursday, 15 March 2012

The Tools of the Trade.

One of my father's favourite sayings was, "It's a bad workman that blames his tools." It was quoted to us often when we blamed the brush/shovel/hammer we were using for a job badly done. But I have been reading about such things and have gleaned some interesting information which I pass on to you.

John Constable, when he was working on his picture 'The Cornfield' moved to London to finish painting it. He had always painted 'from nature' but this was impossible in London, so he wrote to the botanist, Henry Philips, asking him for a list of the wild plants which would be growing in the area during July. And just listen to the list: 'all the tall grasses are in flower - bogrush, bulrush, teasel. The white bindweed hangs its flowers over the branches of the hedge; the wild carrot and the hemlock flower in banks of hedges. Cow parsley, water plantain and the rose-coloured persicaria in wet ditches is now very pretty. The catchfly graces the hedgerow and also ragged robin. Bramble is now in flower, poppy, mallow, thistle and nop. Goodness me - how many of these do we recognise now? Thanks to two things many of these have disappeared from our countryside. One of those things is undoubtedly modern farming methods but I believe the other to be our obsession with keeping our villages neat and tidy. Almost everywhere now has a Tidy Village Competition, and almost every village therefore has a tidying up day when offending 'weeds' are pulled up. Thank goodness these plants were still around in Constable's day and are still around in his paintings.

And then there are the tools needed for writing books. Those tremendous books The Odyssey and The Iliad, said to be written by Homer and credited to him on many a book cover, were of course handed down through word of mouth for generations before they were written down. How do we know this? Well Homer was said to be blind. But they were such powerful stories that eventually someone wrote them down for posterity.

Henry James developed severe arthritis and could no longer write his books by hand. So he had to make quite a change and dictate the books to a chap who typed them for him. Martin Amis certainly used to use a typewriter and said that the bell at the end of each line spurred him on to write more. I wonder if he has converted to computer now.

Iris Murdoch, one of my favourites, wrote all her books in pencil in exercise books and that certainly never hampered her style until the sad day when she found out that she could no longer write and the dreaded dementia set in.

I could go on. For example how did Beethoven continue to write his magnificent music after he went deaf? Could he hear every single note and cadence in his head? He must have done because there was no noticeable deterioration in his work.

And how did Degas manage to achieve that incredible purple in some of his Dancers pictures - a colour which reduced my first husband (himself a painter) to tears when he first saw it in the Pushkin in Moscow? What incredible mixing of colour did he use to achieve it?

All food for thought on this glorious Spring day when the sun is shining and the flowers are opening in the garden. I am going to Thorpe Perrow Arboretum shortly with friends - to see the daffodils and (hopefully) the baby frogs and to have a lovely bowl of soup in the cafe after our walk. My tools of the trade today will be a fairly stout pair of walking shoes - that's all. My report will appear tomorrow.


Tom Stephenson said...

As a workman myself, I can tell you that - quite often, we are justified in blaming bad tools for bad results. The only difference is that a good workman will not carry on trying to use bad tools and end up with the inferior result.

As far as colour goes, you can almost say the same thing. You will never achieve good vibrant colours by using inferior 'student' pigments, but you may not ever produce a good painting with expensive colours anyway, if you're not up to it.

Tom Stephenson said...

Oh, and I doubt if Beethoven ever played a Honky-Tonk piano in his life either!

Elizabeth said...

Tess's hair-do most attractive.

This is a thought provoking post.
I love looking at the implements used for creating things and am a sucker for photos of writer's rooms/houses.
Good tools make tasks much more of a joy than blunt ones --think knives and very sharp pencils.

it's me said...

It saddens me to think of lost wildscapes...I enjoyed reading of the authors and artists who were not daunted by their disabilities--

hope you have a great visit to the arboretum--I am always rushing about in spring afraid I will a blooming flower or migrating bird--

Heather said...

That was a well used saying in my family too Pat. A good workman looked after his tools so seldom had to use bad ones.
Another fascinating post. No wonder so many species of butterfly, bird, etc., have declined or disappeared. They probably relied on some of those 'unknown' wild plants for food. Someone should start a not necessarily 'Untidy Village' campaign, but maybe a 'Natural' one.

H said...

I could recognise a few of those wild flowers but many are completely unknown to me. Haw sad to have lost so much. A wild-flower meadow is a wonderful sight!

I look forward to your Thorpe Perrow report :)

MorningAJ said...

Actually, the only ones from that list I wouldn't recognise are hemlock, persicaria, catchfly and nop. We still have lots of "weeds" on the public paths round here. I guess we're lucky.

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

A good workman produces good work so doesn't have to blame anything or anybody. Looking at prices of artists materials it seems unlikely that Van Gough would have been able to afford much at all.

Dave King said...

A bad workman blames his tools was one of my dad's favourite sayings, also. I was brought up on it, you could say. When one of his tools was not up to par he would make himself a new one.

Another delightful post, much of which was quite new to me. I thoroughly enjoyed every word of it, so much sincere thanks.

The Solitary Walker said...

Great post, Pat. I really enjoyed reading it. Luckily there are lane-sides and hedgerows round here where some of those wild flowers are still in evidence, but I really do take your point about prairie-creating, hedge-grubbing farming techniques. And tidy villages too. I'd rather have a village green with wild flowers on it than just a piece of bowling green turf to look at. Some churchyards are now adopting the natural-look 'God's Acre' policy — but not nearly enough.

Toffeeapple said...

It is always such a delight to come to your blog, so interesting and thought provoking.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Interesting to read Tom's comment - I am sure he is absolutely right. Thanks for all your replies.