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.