37 - Eye to eye with a dragonfly
Painting outdoors is lovely. But life is busy, so there isn’t usually time to travel to a wonderful beauty spot. Often I just take a sketchbook or some paints along with me on my walks from my own front door. On this particular day in late October last year, I didn’t have time to go searching for spectacular views, but I did have a full oil-painting kit with me. So I tottered up the road with it all, and plonked myself down by a sludgy pond in a clearing in a local wood. Not much happening here. But I sat and looked around me in the stubborn certainty that there would be something worth painting. As I stared into the muddy brownish, duckweed-congested water, sludge green gradually gave way to the reflected Wedgewood blues and soft powdery greens of lichens, more acidic greens of grasses growing upside down and gashes of red and yellow where the reeds had injured themselves and, as the clouds parted to let the sunshine in and I continued to stare into the depths, a deep midnight blue with starry sparkles.
I began to paint. When I’d got a nice sticky layer of colour down on the surfaces I’d brought with me, I became aware of a presence. I was being watched. An electric blue and green dragonfly that had been hovering on the edge of my field of vision darted up and whirled madly round me, curious to know what I was up to sitting in his pond.
He zig-zagged and zipped as I tried to focus my eyes on the wonderful alien. His interest in me was obvious, and I, of course, was entranced and mesmerised by him. A human trying to paint a dragonfly on the wing is just plain silly, but it didn’t stop me from having a go. I didn’t manage to get anywhere near the vibrancy of the movements or the electric greens and blues that blurred before my eyes, but it was fun trying, and this was a very curious dragonfly.
I returned four days in succession to paint by that sludgy pond, and each time, after half an hour or so, the dragonfly would appear, sometimes hovering in front of my nose so I was scared he would land on his portrait and come to grief. At other times he would hover by my shoulder, casting a critical compound eye over my efforts.
These were magical and mysterious moments. The weather turned colder and my friend had gone, but I continued to work on my series of dragonfly paintings throughout the winter and on into the spring, holding my memory of a special time by that unpromising sludgy pond, and of that strange intelligent life form that was my companion.
If you would like to see more of my series of dragonfly oil paintings, they are now part of “Painting Poetry”, a virtual exhibition which came online just today and will be available to see throughout May. It is an exhibition that I have put together with my art collective Artikinesis. You will find my dragonfly paintings in the middle section of the exhibition space. You will also find work by Adeliza Mole responding to the coast of southern England and words by Virginia Woolf, and by Amanda Bates responding to poems by Philip Larkin and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Tennyson was my choice of poet. His “living flash of light” is beautiful, mysterious and more than a little disconcerting. I can relate to that.
To enter the Painting Poetry exhibition, go through my GALLERY page, or just click here.