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Autumn Treats

“Every leaf speaks bliss to me, fluttering from the autumn tree.” Emily Bronte

Autumn is a visual feast for botanical artists. No season in all the year is as radiantly glorious as the early autumn, particularly when the weather is as pleasant as it has been this week.

“The time of the falling leaves has come again. Once more in our morning walk we tread upon carpets of gold and crimson, of brown and bronze, woven by the winds or the rains out of these delicate textures while we slept.

      How beautifully the leaves grow old! How full of light and color are their last days!” 
  John Burroughs (The Falling Leaves)

This week, I’ve been busy with a commission, and whilst painting a non-botanical subject has been a pleasant change, I must confess to feeling a pang of longing every time I step outside. The beautiful russets and golds of fallen leaves lie everywhere, and every hedgerow seems festooned with an abundance of berries and fruit- scarlet, jade, crimson and purple.

Everywhere the delicate green flowers of the ivy beginning to peek out from their glossy  coat of green leaves, attracting a host of nectar-hungry insects.

Conkers (the fruit of the Horse chestnut tree Aesculus hippocastanum) are also starting to fall, some still encased in their spikey green coats, whilst others lie gleaming like polished wood amongst the leaves. I want to pick them up and bring them all home. 
Conker -Fruit of Aesculus hippocastanum
As a child, my brothers and I would forage for hours seeking out the biggest, strongest conkers. The chosen conker was threaded onto a string, and then the conker battles would begin. The idea is to hit your opponent’s conker and smash it. Some people would ‘cure’ their conker by putting it in a warm place to harden, but I must confess to cheating and giving my conkers a secret coat of clear nail varnish.
Ready for battle!

During the First World War, there was a campaign in which everyone (adults and children), were asked to collect horse-chestnuts, and donate them to the government. The conkers were used as a source of starch to produce acetone, which was then used to make the cordite in military armaments. Conkers were chosen because they are rich in starch but not edible, Unfortunately the process was not efficient, and the factory closed after a few months. However, it’s easy to imagine the happy respite from the horrors of war that this conker-gathering would have brought to families.
Immature magnolia seedpod
Damson study
This month a number of my botanical art friends are taking place in what has become an annual online event, The 30 day ChallengeEvery day in the month of September, artists from all over the world have been painting small found treasures, and sharing the images online. I’ve missed the first two weeks of this year’s challenge, but with such an abundance of Autumn treasures, I’m really tempted to join in for the final flurry. You can read more about the challenge (and also how to take part) on my friend Sigrid Frensen’s blog- http://sigridfrensen.blogspot.ie/2014/09/30-day-challenge.html 
Dianne Sutherland Ball’s 30 day Challenge painting is a real feast for the eyes.
You can read about the challenge on her blog-  http://diannesutherland.blogspot.ie/2013_09_01_archive.html
“Autumn, the year’s last, loveliest smile.”

-William Cullen Bryant

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