Good morning! Welcome to "Morning Musings".

Musings: to meditate, think, contemplate, deliberate, ponder, reflect, ruminate, reverie, daydream, introspection, dream, preoccupation, brood, cogitate.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Year with Beatrix Potter & Friends - February

As you may recall last month Jemima Puddle-Duck agreed to be our guide for our walks in the Lake District. . . .

This month she is very keen to show us Near Sawrey where she lives at Hill Top Farm.  I have made a map for us to take along in case Jemima gets us lost. . . .
(click on to enlarge)

Stepping into the Lane we are to turn left.  The first building we pass is the Tower Bank Arms.   It is here that Kep gathered his friends to help him rescue Jemima from the devious Mr. Fox. . . .

Hill Top is situated just behind Tower Bank Arms.  Beatrix bought it in later years and gave it to the National Trust.  The oldest part of the building dates back to the late 1600s.  One of the first things Beatrix had built when she bought Hill Top was a stone wall between these two properties.....but I will let Jemima tell it her way. . . .


Pit pat, paddle pat! Pit pat, waddle pat!  Quack! Quack!  My story was first told to Ralph and Betsy.  They belong to Hill Top’s caretakers, Mr. and Mrs. Cannon.  This is Mrs. Cannon giving us our morning meal. . . .

And here is Ralph finding my eggs in the rhubarb patch.  Mrs. Cannon would not let me hatch my own eggs so I was always trying to find a secret place to hide them!. . . .

Jemima, we know all that.  Your story was told last month.  Could we please get on with the walk through the village.

Oh, right, sorry.  Oh, look.  Here come my sister, Rebeccah, and Mr. Drake Puddle-Duck. . . .
“We are coming to see you, Jemima,” Rebeccah quacked. . . .

It looks like I must take over the story for the ducks have been startled to see three kittens on the wall of Hill Top Farm throwing their clothing into the Lane.  The three have run off to the wall to collect the clothes. . . .
and try them on. . . .

Well, I think we've lost Jemima to her vanity.  She is quite enjoying how fancy she looks.  Earlier, Mrs. Tabitha Twitchit had dressed her children for tea and sent them into the garden while she finished getting ready for her guests. . . .

Uh, oh.  I see her coming down the garden path to see what Tom, and his sisters, Mittens and Moppet are up to. . . .

This is the scene I've chosen to draw and paint this month. . . .
You may have noticed I did not draw in the tails to the two kitties to the left because, frankly, they looked out of place to me in relationship to the bodies they belonged too, and secondly, did anyone notice that Beatrix (or was it the printer?) gave the grayish/white cat a brown tail!

After spending a day drawing and painting, then trying desperately another day to salvage the background to my painting, making it worse each time, I finally resigned myself to doing the whole thing over!  This seems to be my biggest obstacle in learning to draw--my belief I MUST get it right the first time.  I knew it would not hurt me to redraw the picture--in fact, I knew the practice would benefit why did I resist for so long?!  In redrawing it I could see I had the proportions all wrong the first time.  Then when it came time to paint, I took a much more relaxed approach.  Even though it doesn't look exactly like Beatrix's, I'm pleased with how it turned out. ← I wrote those words before I painted my picture, hoping they'd be true.....but alas, I'm not at all pleased with my painting, as far as it looking like Beatrix's.  I do wonder how she had such muted colors.  Here is my colorful rendition. . . .

After much dithering about whether I should do a third try I wondered if it could have been the printing process that gave Beatrix's paintings that muted look?  So I played around with my photo editor and decreased the color saturation.  This is what I get.  What a difference! At least now it doesn't shout at me . . . .

Rosemary Wells, a children's author/illustrator, had the chance to look at Beatrix's original watercolors when she visited England years ago.  She writes, "The first secret I found was that Beatrix Potter made mistakes like any normal artist.  She whited them out with white paint so that the camera wouldn't 'see' them.  Because her paper has faded and dulled, the white paint stands out now as it did not eighty or ninety years ago when she applied it.  At times she tried splicing."  (Note:  this is what I tried before I even read that Beatrix did it!)  She continues, "....the final art in The Roly-Poly Pudding where Tabitha Twitchit is mewing on the stairs beside a cherry velvet curtain....[her] head is spliced on."  Ms. Wells goes on to relate her own frustration of nearly finishing a painting, making a mistake, and having to redo it and how splicing almost never works.  This was good for me to hear.  Ms. Wells also gives me the names of the colors Beatrix used and brand and said they've held up really well.  The paper, however, has not because Beatrix used inexpensive paper full of time-released acids.  I found the paper I've been using for my paintings this year easily rubs off if I put too much water on it.  I will have to go back to using what I used last year even though the bumpiness makes it hard to draw on.   You can find Rosemary Wells' entire essay along with other encounters with Beatrix or her work in "So I Shall Tell You a Story..." Selected & Edited by Judy Taylor.


Beatrix bought Hill Top in 1905 after Norman Warne's death (her fiancee).  She never lived there full time because she was still looking after her parents.  When she'd go to Near Sawrey to supervise the improvements she lodged with the blacksmith and his wife at Belle Green.  Her garden was one of the first improvements she made.  Here is a map of it from Marta McDowell's book, "Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life". . . .
She acquired most of her plants from villagers who gave them to her or she'd steal them, as she put it, from their refuse piles.  Since she was a child her parents had rented various houses in Scotland and the Lake District during the summer months.  These gardens, and her relatives' gardens, influenced her plan for her garden.  The idea for the long walk up from the lane bounded by the stone wall on the right, that she had built as soon as she bought Hill Top, and the trellis on the left came from her uncle's garden at Gwaynynog in Wales.

As you see, The Tale of Tom Kitten's illustration drew heavily on Hill Top's Garden, while The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck's illustrations are not only from the garden but from the farm yard next door.  Beatrix had added on the extension to the left side of Hill Top for the Cannons to live in.  Jemima's trek out into the countryside in search of a place to lay her eggs is drawn from the surrounding area.

You can watch both The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck and The Tale of Tom Kitten below.  I enjoyed it for the beautiful watercolor landscapes--this is the style I hope one day to be able to paint.  The stories are introduced by Beatrix Potter, portrayed by Niamh Cusack, and filmed in Near Sawrey at Hill Top Farm.  At the end Beatrix walks through her garden out into the Lane and turns left just the way Jemima took us past Tower Bank Arms on her way to mail her picture letter to some special child. . . .

One of the books in my collection is "Peter Rabbit's Little Guide to Life". . . .
"The lesson to be learned from Jemima's story is in the Common Sense category:  Avoid making Jemima Puddle-duck's mistake of trusting strangers, no matter how elegantly dressed and refined they might appear. Gullible creatures willing to put faith in strangers usually come to harm.  The gentleman's sandy whiskers and bushy tail should have instantly alarmed the naive Jemima."

A wonderful book full of photographs of Hill Top Farm and the surrounding area is At Home With Beatrix Potter by Susan Denyer.

Until next month. . . .

.•*¨`*•. ☆ .•*¨`*•
Take Joy!


  1. Cathy, being a huge Beatrix Potter fan, I am thrilled to read your post. You have done a wonderful job researching the Hill Top area and have a wealth of information here. One thing that always stands out in my mind about her was her tenacity to be her own person. Her parents had an agenda for her. Of course in that day that was not unusual. I love your watercolor rendition of Tom and his sisters! How interesting about the coloration of the tails! ♥

    1. Thank you Martha Ellen. I'm so glad you found out something new about Beatrix.

  2. Cathy, you are just getting better all the time. Practice does get you there and if Beatrix Potter made mistakes then who are we not to follow in her footsteps?
    My artist's eye {such as it is} agrees that the tails do not belong, or if they do then they need serious readjustment, but look at any one of thousands of Old Masters and similar can be said of them. Our eyes do an amazing job of realigning things and our brain interpretations often mislead us and we blindly accept the alterations if we don't really look hard. Hope this makes sense.

    1. It does make sense, Deborah, because I often do not see how I've drawn something out of proportion until I've taken a photograph of it. Our minds are very good at seeing what IT wants to see if we have some idea (or opinion) too fixed. What I'm learning in my drawing adventure is to see things are they really are. I think this should be a yearly course for children as they move through school so that it becomes a way of life. Thank you for the confirmation that it's OK to make mistakes! Now, I hope you will let that be your own mantra as you pursue your artistic side. ☺︎

  3. I am so impressed with your painting! I actually like the more colorful one too but I see what you mean when you look at BP's original one. Thanks for all your work on this post! I had the BP books out when the grands were over the other day and I believe the youngest is really enjoying them. We read one of my favorites, Miss Moppet. Maybe because it's short and has a lot of drama in it. Then she proceeded to read them to herself--her newest thing is to do baby talk while reading a book. I look forward to your next post!

    1. Thank you, Dotsie. I think once I get comfortable enough to develop my own style I'll be a lot happier. I'm starting an 8-week watercolor class sponsored by the community college in March, so I hope to learn techniques and all about paints and brushes. Beatrix was adamant that her books be little and cheap so they could be given to children to handle themselves as opposed to being put up on the shelf. I gather it's hard to find an original edition in good shape!

  4. Very interesting post. I don't know enough about painting, drawing, watercolor etc to comment very intelligently, but I do think you're right about Beatrix's muted colors. They're probably that way because of the original printing and of course colors fade with time. I think they're a refreshing change actually since I'm NOT the biggest fan of bright, electric or neon colors. Although there are times when a sunny, buttery yellow can just take my breath away - LOL. I guess Beatrix was just trying to be true to the Lake District too, since I doubt there is a whole lot of bright color there most of the time. Flowers of course, during the growing season, but that's probably it. PS - I can completely relate to the "starting over" compulsion. When I was little and working on just about anything, my Mom said I was all about ripping things up or knocking them down when I did not do them perfectly, or at least as well as I wanted to. I didn't get angry about it, but I wanted to start over. She told me I did that a lot. Perfection - the curse of the firstborn child. Good for some things of course - because that striving for perfection tends to prevent the firstborn from giving up. But difficult in other ways, because most of us never do things as beautifully as we see them in our minds. Oh and that scene with the kittens on the stone wall is really precious. This SO takes me back to the little Peter Rabbit book series I had as a toddler. Loving it...

    1. If I have the confidence that what I am redoing is going to be right if I do it over, it's not a problem for me, but if I lack the confidence, having to redo it feels like pulling teeth! I think you're right about that it's hard to match our imaginations sometimes. Those who can are truly gifted I think.

  5. Very interesting post about Beatrix P. Enjoyed every minute of it. I agree with another comment that your work improves every time. I don't paint in muted colors, nor do I paint in bright colors...something in between I guess. I never use my paint straight out of the tube, I usually mix it with a little burnt sienna, it makes your paint a bit more subtle in color.Try it. As for mistakes, good grief, I make them all the time and erase things constantly. Sometimes I shudder at having to erase something I worked on for a long time, but I never regret it in the end. When something doesn't quite look right, but I can't figure what that is, I ask my husband, "What is wrong with this picture?"He can often see what I missed. I did splice a picture once, I actually cut out the entire background and redid it. No one knew but me!

    1. Thank you, Jeri. That is interesting to know about the sienna. I'm signed up for an 8-week watercolor class starting March 1st and am hoping I'll learn all these things. I find that photographing my paintings helps me see what's wrong with them--but then that's too late! I have to develop more of a critical eye during the drawing stage--and preferably before I'm too far along!

  6. Hi Cathy, a very rainy day here today. I enjoyed this post, your artistic abilities are getting better all the time, very lovely. I have done some practice drawings of Beatrix's, but only in pencil, as I am only beginning, I erase a lot. I have a question of a discovery I just recently read in A History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter concerning her miniature letters. The page describing them sparked in my mind, Tasha and her sparrow posts. I wondered if Tasha may have gotten the idea from Beatrix. I have always thought Tasha thought of the sweet idea as I have made special posts for my grandchildren and have begun sending them miniature letters. They enjoy them and it is so much fun for me.
    Thanks for sharing all you do, it is always a blessing to me.
    In Joy

    1. Thank you, Vivian. I have also wondered if Tasha got her idea for the miniature letters and Sparrow Post since I know she admired Beatrix Potter. I even wonder if she got the idea to do her borders from Beatrix's end papers.

  7. Just delightful, Cathy. Thanks so much for visiting my blog! I think the muted colors of Beatrix's time might also have to do with how they were pigmented. They were probably still using real minerals. I'll bet you're just as excited as I am about the new Beatrix book that has been discovered, even though the bulk of the images will be completed by Roald Dahl's illustrator.

    1. Thank you Debra! And thank you again for YOUR blog--a real inspiration for us late bloomers. That is interesting to know about the pigments. I'd like very much to see her originals for myself. As for the new book, Kitty-in-Boots, they made it sound like it was just discovered. That is not the case! You can read it in Leslie Linder's "A History of the Writings of Beatrix Potter," published 1971. I wonder, though, what Beatrix would have said about Roald Dahl's illustrations. She approved of the artist's illustrations for her Fairy Caravan story, but then they looked very much like her own pen and ink drawings in Roly Poly Pudding.

  8. Cathy, What a wonderful post I have learnt so much more about Beatrix and your painting is so good! Sarah x

  9. SO you start watercolor classes tomorrow, I hope you love it! I purchased one of the books you suggested on Beatrix, I thought I had all of them but not this one " So I Shall Tell You a Story"... Thanks for the heads up!


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