My love of the hazel (Corylus avellana) began with an early and disastrous summer holiday pony trek in the Black Mountains with my Mum and my sister. We parted company with the trekkers having variously fallen off (my sister and my Mum) and burst into tears (me) and wandered the lanes foraging from the hedgerows eating the unripe soft hazel nuts, hoping that somehow the message would get back to my Dad to come and find us. It did and we didn’t starve thanks to those hazel nuts!
The leaves grow at slightly different angles along the length of the stems so that although they are not shiny, they seem able to reflect the light and sunlight can find a way through the plant. As the hazelnuts swell during the early summer, they are difficult to see and only when you get your eye in, can you begin to spot them. Then during the later summer and early autumn they become much more obvious, in singles or clusters of two, three and four. The bracts around the nuts are beautifully shaped, almost gothic in their structure and some clusters also have a tiny catkin ready for the spring.
I knew, due to time constraints I would not be able to paint a “life cycle” of the hazel which would include the catkins but I wanted to capture something about the way the leaves are arranged, typically from the twig; the changes in the leaves and nuts during the early and mid summer and then of course the ripe hazelnuts in the Autumn. Seeing the article about the work of Kate Furbish in the June issue of the Botanical Artist (Journal of the American Society of Botanical Artists) inspired me to put in a graphite outline of leaves and twig and then superimpose the leaves and clusters, trying to recreate the way they hang from the tree.
So… to find my specimen. I have various young hazels in my garden, courtesy of squirrels burying the nuts and then forgetting to eat them but my neighbour has a beautiful large tree. He had never heard of botanical art when I asked for permission to take some plant material and I think is still somewhat bemused but hopefully when I have finished the painting, all will be clear!
Making studies, testing colours, working out how to draw my subject is a favourite part of the process for me. There is no pressure and it’s a fascinating opportunity to observe plant growth and detail and play with my paints.
I also like to research who else has painted my subject and see what approach they took and what I can learn. Denise Walser-Kolar has produced some beautiful hazels, often on vellum which are an inspiration.
At the end of August when I am writing this post I have almost finished two clusters; one is luscious bright fresh green, the nuts themselves almost totally enclosed within the bracts and the second is a more subtle and soft green, the leaf is now looking a bit battered and the nuts are beginning to be exposed.When I return to finish the work, which will be a race between me, the squirrels and the deadline of 27th November I shall be hoping to include some golden brown clusters and ripe hazelnuts.
Adrienne Roberts 220817