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Tuesday 3 February 2009

Rediscovering my passion for trees

Trees in Norfolk, by Susie Mallett, 1977

As readers will by now have realised the slight lull in blog-writing recently has been due to a visit to my family and my homeland.

This was my first mid-winter visit for many years and the first time for even longer that I have seen the flatness of Norfolk covered with an icing sugar topping of snow.

England was different in other ways too: this will be the topic of my next posting, with both the best of British and the worst.
Reminded and remembering

I spent my last evening on British soil tucked up in bed in a cold, three-hundred-year-old house, with two hot-water bottles and a pile of books.

Not just any old books, these were something special, old sketch books that I had dug out of a damp corner, dating back as far as 1975 when I first began to keep a book and a pencil in my pocket.

I was at art school from 1975 –1979 , four whole years drawing and painting all day, every day. What bliss. Never again to be repeated. I enjoyed every single minute of it. I even put up with having to do the very small dissertation and the half-a-dozen essays necessary to receive an honours bachelor's degree.

I spent all these precious years learning to draw, investigating techniques that today come so naturally to me. My friend Nick (see my "Oscar" acceptance speech posting) taught me to draw, although he will insist that he just drew it out of me. He tells me that because the interest and talent were there to be encouraged, the rest was easy.

I continue learning to this day but these old sketch books are full of evidence of how I spent every minute of every day doing my first-ever investigations into light and shade, tone and texture. Even when I was out picking blackberries with friends, or travelling around Norfolk in the car with my Mum, I always had a sketch-book and I now realise that I wrote notes to describe everything that I saw, the colours, the textures and even my emotional reactions to a scene.

I wrote notes describing my ideas and design developments, and even then I was writing about my soul. I described how I was expressing myself through pictures in a way that I found difficult to do with the spoken word.

A lucky discovery! I now have enough photographs from these “Susie Mallett archives" to fill my blog for several years and I can share some of my surprise discoveries.

Words and pictures

I painted from nature, landscapes and sometimes townscapes, I loved to draw trees, I suppose I can say that I was and still am fascinated by them, passionate about them. Their spiralling trunks and branches, their bark patterns and their overpowering greatness were a never-ending source of inspiration and awe. I wrote my dissertation on the wind something else that fascinates me, with a power even greater than that of a tree, able to fell a tree in the blink of an eye.

All of this I read about in these “ancient” sketch books. The writings I have no recollection of, and I read the words as if someone else had written them. The painting and drawings that accompany these I remember as if I had done them yesterday, every stroke of the brush and every mark made by a pencil.

As I was drafting this posting on the bus on my way to the airport I looked out of the window at the passing landscape and made a few marks in my note book. I began to think about how I look at things, about how I described this in my sketch books all those years ago, and how I do it automatically these days. I contemplated how I make quick observations just as I do in my conductive work, and how I can translate these into pencil marks and perhaps have enough stored information to elaborate on it later. I still look at landscapes as I did then, like a sheet of music, the receding lines of the fields being the staves and the black trunks of the trees with their dark clumps of leaves and needles, the notes dotted on them. The landscape or a townscape is music in my ears inspiring me to put pencil or paint to paper.

I have carried a book and a pencil in my pocket since 1975. Once this would have been full of pictures, with a few words, but for over a year now, since just before I started my blog in fact, this has changed, there are now more words than pictures.

It was so interesting to see where my ideas and interest in shape, form and colour began and follow its progress through the years through these sketch books, right up to the present day.


As I finished writing this in the plane (Air Berlin), out of the corner of my eye I could see Mr Bean on the television screen. Mr Bean is one of Britain’s “greatest” exports to Germany. He is on a German television channel somewhere all the time, the Germans just love him. On this clip as I write he is in an art room, what a coincidence, and he is learning to draw!

“British humour”, the Germans love it, they import a lot of it, especially anything with Rowan Atkinson in it. The children I work with often comment on my Mr Bean Englishness when I ask them to put their socks in their shoes so that we don’t get them mixed up. Apparently only I and Mr Bean do this! As long as this is the only similarity that I share with him I don’t mind, I wouldn’t like to think that I run around with my head stuffed inside a turkey!


Mr Bean and the turkey
My "Oscar" acceptance speech

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