Saturday, 20 July 2013

Delightfully deadly digitalis

Foxgloves are probably one of the most easily recognisable plants and are currently in full bloom around the island.  

These colourful spikes of flowers can grow up to 2.5 meters tall and vary in colour from deep purple through shades of pink and even pure white. They are particularly fond of acidic soil, which is probably why they do well on Arran.

The name foxglove can be traced back to the 1300’s and maybe even further.  The Latin name Digitalis purpurea refers to its shape which can be fitted over a human digit (fingertip). In the south of Scotland it is sometimes called ‘bloody fingers’ and in the north ‘deadman’s bells’.

The tubular flowers, seen between June and September attract a range of insects, but are mostly popular with bees.  

The insects enter into the flower and become covered in pollen.  Once the flower falls away a pod of brown rectangular seeds can be found. A plant can produce over 2 million seeds in its lifetime!

The foxglove has been used for medicinal purposes for over 200 years and is best known for its production of digoxin – a drug used as a stimulant to treat the heart.  As it is rich in digoxin it can also be poisonous if taken unawares and although poisoning is rate it can be confused with harmless plants such as comfrey which can be made into tea.

Friday, 5 July 2013

To and from photographs

A few weeks ago I posted an article on photographing smoke not realising how this would go on to influence a totally new experience that I was going to undertake.  I regularly try to do something new, just for fun so I had booked a weekend with Brodick Castle rangers to have a go at wood carving. Never having picked up a wood chisel before it could be amusing (if not dangerous!).
The beginning 
The two day course was run by Marvin  Elliott who lives and works on Arran and has work in both public and private collections around the world.  His little studio sits opposite the harbour in the lovely village of Corrie.
Marvin's studio
The weekend started with a short talk before heading off into the forest, chainsaw in hand (that’s the professional hand of a ranger!) to pick a piece of wood to carve. And this is where the influence of the previous photography started to take effect.  In the wood I looked at, I could envisage the wonderful swirls of smoke and hidden patterns and had a perfect picture in my head of a finished wood carving!
Work in progress
Needless to say my skill lacked sadly behind.  I had never tried to carve wood before and I happened to pick a well seasoned piece of beech – a piece of concrete would have been easier to chip at! But I did persevere with pictures of smoke roses, periwinkles, hands and general swirls in my head.  These were modified as the day went on and I envisaged drafts destroying my smoke images as the chisel when where it wanted and wood split and refused to bend to my will.

The end result was not quite how I had imagined it but undeterred I went on to carve a sea serpent, on a slightly softer green piece of wood, which now sits proudly in my garden.

Sea serpent in the making
Now resident in my garden
Whereas my inspiration came directly from taking a photograph, I found it fascinating to listen to Alex Boyd this week, whose inspiration led to a whole series of photographs.  Alex is an internationally recognised photography, most known for his Sonnets series see some on this link which features a character called Henning who features in all the images, wearing a white shirt and braces, in remote / iconic locations around Scotland.  Alex was on Arran and gave us an interesting talk on how he developed the idea to take this series, along with the trials and tribulations along the way!  His love of photographic and art history, and influenced by people such as Caspar David Friedrich and Anselm Kiefer, motivated him to take a fresh look at locations around Scotland.  The resulting enigmatic photographs often have a dark hidden message.   Alex is currently exhibiting at the Douglas Hotel – worth popping in for a look. 

Sign outside Marvin's studio