Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary
Wednesday, 11th April, 2007
I HAD AN IDEA that I was going to get my life in balance and that the garden, my walks booklet and everything else I want to do would dovetail beautifully, leaving me feeling relaxed yet productive. I can’t complain; Barbara and I had a real holiday at home with no commitments over the extended Easter break.
But my plan of doing less reading fell by the wayside as I’d already started Colour, Travels through the Paintbox by Victoria Finlay.
It’s one of those books that is difficult to put down.
Last year I read An Artist’s Colour Manual by Simon Jennings, which is more studio based, beautifully designed, practical and inspiring with stacks of tried and tested advice. But I also like the traveller’s tales in Finlay’s book.
What difference does it really make whether someone gives you the information that the first pencils came from a plumbago mine in the Lake District or if they tell you how they went to Keswick, visited the pencil museum, hiked up onto the fells and squeezed into one of the narrow tunnels of the old mine? (OK, that would be no great expedition for Barbara and I, but Finlay is based in Hong Kong).
The first-hand involvement and experience does make a difference, at least it does with a lively writer like Finlay, as she conjures up vivid pictures in your mind. Her research is impressive too; for example, she explains exactly why and how the plumbago mine was run as a kind of state secret in the 1600s.
‘Now that the book is complete,’ Mo Wu of Random House asked Finlay (left), ‘is there a residual effect or transitional adjustment on your sense of vision?’
‘The one thing I have really noticed,’ she replied, ‘is that when I go to an art exhibition I find myself really puzzling through the colour choices, and wondering what the artist used. My friends joke that I don’t look at the pictures but at the paint. Perhaps that’s true.
‘Last weekend I went to the newly renovated Manchester Art Gallery and out of all the amazing images the thing that really got me excited was seeing a painting by Joshua Reynolds (of an aristocratic lady posing with her child to look like a Madonna). At first I wondered why she was so pale, like a ghost, and then I realized that he had originally painted her with rosy cheeks, but the pink paint (I'm not sure what he used — there were several choices — but quite possibly it was that fugitive beetle blood cochineal) had long-since faded. I still love that kind of story!’
Wu interviews Victoria Finlay