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bee on chives

Broad Beans

Sunday, 25th May 2003, West Yorkshire

broad beansWhen I worked on the film Watership Down as assistant background artist one of the scenes that I got involved in was the beanfield. The shade of the bean plants gives the rabbits a welcome respite from the dangers they've faced on their trek in search of a new home. Reading Richard Adam's novel, on which the film is based, I could picture the bees buzzing lazily between the flowers while the camera pans across the field then sinks gently down amongst the plants.

To get the full three-dimensional panorama there was no alternative but to draw scores of bean plants on layer after layer of transparent cell. There was so much work in this that even the man who worked on reception was drafted in to help. There he was behind his desk with a long strip of cell painting bean after bean.

Bean Ballet

I'm so pleased with the way these bean plants are coming along that I can't resist drawing them. We started them off under a layer of garden fleece which they've pushed up until, yesterday, we felt it was time to uncover them.

As I've said before, I particularly like drawing plants which have a clear structure. These strike me as being simple but subtle in shape. They've got both the no-nonsense vigour of the vegetable patch and the graceful unfolding I associate with art nouveau. In fact their gentle bending and stretching reminds me of Degas' paintings of the girls in the chorus of the ballet doing their warm-up exercises.


I spend an hour drawing these three plants. I can work faster but what I'm trying to do here is get the true shape of each leaf - each leaf vein for that matter - as near as I can to the way it appears. I'm not trying to capture a general impression, a retinal image, as I might if I was drawing a fast-moving animal, nor do I want just to take quick notes of the essential botanical details.

Repetitive Strain while Sketching

sketching on the Bass RockI'm so absorbed and I feel as if I'm relaxed as I sit one a comfortable canvas chair drawing with only the blaring of a neighbour's radio to distract me. It's only after I've been working for an hour that I become aware of an ache - it feels like tension - near my right elbow. This ache has puzzled me for months: I'd put it down to some minor injury that I'd given myself while I've been working on the house or in the garden but I'm sure now it must relate to the tension that I put my right elbow under while I'm drawing. I've never noticed it while I'm working because I get so wrapped up in the drawing itself.

Barbara says that whenever I work - whether it's drawing, writing or typing on the computer - she can see the tension in me. She thinks I try to do everything too quickly. I should relax more as I work and take more breaks.

I'll try but, if it's a choice between having an aching elbow and stopping drawing, I'm afraid I'm going to have to put up with the pain. next page

Richard Bell