When I began the project for the Book of Apples I had no idea that there was such a diversity in the size, shape and colour of apples, mistakenly assuming most were of a similar shape, and colour palette. The variation in colour is wide. Amongst the cider apples, for example, Foxwhelp is an intense brilliant red and Kingston Black a deep maroon. The subtle and complicated hues and textures of russet, like on St Edmund’s Pippin, were particularly demanding to capture. Some are rough and cracked, others have a smooth silvery sheen. I use a very dry brush to capture these.
The flesh of some varieties can be tricky, as exposed to air it quickly becomes discoloured, so once cut, I have to work fast to achieve an accurate tone. I attempt to quite literally get under the skin of the fruit through close observation and handling of the apples, recording reference notes and colour samples in a notebook.
Joan provided me with typical samples gathered from the trees growing in the UK’s National Fruit Collection at Brogdale, Kent, which is owned by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and now curated and maintained by the University of Reading. She meticulously packed the blossom into plastic tubs and attached each sprig with fine wire onto the inside of the container so that it doesn’t move, and the petals aren’t damaged in the post. This method worked well, they arrived in perfect condition, and allowed me a couple of days to work on them before they start to fade. Keeping them in the fridge helps, so that during the blossom season, my fridge was full of little pots of flowers, with not much room for food!
Parcels of fruit began to arrive in early August and went on through September to late October. I stored the apples in a cool dark larder to ripen them, which can take just a week or so with the summer varieties, but a month or more with the winter ones. I kept a very close eye on them.
For each painting, I worked within a two-year time frame. I had the watercolour paper stretched onto boards with tape. This enabled me to paint the fruit and blossom from life as it becomes available throughout the second year. It meant that I could work on several plates at a time because they are all drawn out onto the stretched paper, ready to paint. It also allowed for the possibility of a late hard frost damaging the blossom, which could result in little or no fruit in a particular year. Plans can easily be upset by the weather!