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Tags >> Africa


Posted by: JillyBeanPottery

Tagged in: sunset , inspiration , hurricane , elephants , colors , african , Africa


What is it about sunsets that is so all consuming?  The sheer awe-inspiring beauty of the reds, yellows, blues, shades of colors that don't even have names, but resonate with my soul has long been a source of calming comfort for me.


No matter how many sunsets I've had the pleasure of seeing, each one gives me something new and special.  I think my favorite sunsets were viewed from my balcony when I lived in Miami, FL.  Daily, well almost daily, I would take part in this evening ritual.  There is something about the regularity of viewing a sunset from the same spot that allows you to truly notice and appreciate the tiny nuances.  Never before had I been in tune to the shifting of the sun's position in the sky.  Never before had I been in tune with the effects of weather patterns.


Hurricane season was always the most beautiful time for sunsets.  The shifting clouds and atmosphere made for particularly spectacular views.  Almost as if it was nature's way of making up for the potential for destruction during this time of year, a gift of beauty for the risk endured. 


I recently met another lover of sunsets, Kimberly Turnbull, an artist from Gibraltar whose inspiration comes from the realm of African art and Georgia O'Keefe's approach to sunsets to create a wonderful piece called African Elephants at Sunset.

African Elephants at Sunset (Original Watercolour) - Kim.T 2011

I love the colors in this piece.  Kimberly has managed to capture so many of those colors that I've seen but never been able to name in my favorite sunsets.  The dark outlines of the elephants highlight even more the brilliance of the setting sun much like the clouds during hurricane season did for me in Miami.  Kimberly learned to draw and paint at a young age and has loved painting ever since.  You can see more of her work online at


So early in the morning as I draft this blog, all my memories of sunsets are crowding into my head urging me to go find one now to re-experience the wonderful calmness and connection to nature.  I'll certainly seek out a front row seat for tonight's show.  I hope you join me and find a little inspiration as well!

Out of Afrika - New Impressions

Posted by: thornwoodstudio

Tagged in: Thornwood , Impressions , Africa


There is no feeling quite as secure as knowing that you are accepted, recognised, at home and safe among friends.

As a little boy I spent most of my early childhood at boarding school in a hostel and away from my home.  Those were the days when it was deemed very necessary for a border to bond with their hostel and school in order to fulfil the systems obligation to deliver one’s education successfully. It also caused the most crippling moments of homesickness, insecurity and longing. I am not comparing my fifteen years in England away from Africa as an immigrant to the experience and memories of being in a hostel or implying that I am in some form of forced exile but simply that being away from “home”, forced or by volition has its moment’s of  homesickness, insecurity and longing.

On the rare occasions when there was a home weekend scheduled and our parents were permitted to whisk us home on a Friday for one full day and two sleeps, the world would become a brighter place. The best feeling would come early on the Saturday morning, at first light, when I would awake in my own bed and feel the comfort of the warm freshly washed, sun dried and ironed flannel sheets against my skin. With this sensation would come the realisation and affirmation that I was home where I was accepted, recognised and safe among friends.

My parents, the hostel and our family home and farm have long since  morphed into someone else’s story.  As I stepped off the Virgin Atlantic flight from London Heathrow, at Oliver Tambo airport in Johannesburg, heard the loud familiar banter of African tongues, felt the warmth of the Southern Hemisphere against my face and breathed in the thin Highveld air, I had that old familiar realisation and affirmation, I knew exactly where I was; I was home.

The first few days back in our home town Queenstown were consumed with wanting to rush to and fro touching, seeing, tasting, listening and greeting. Suddenly, even a mundane drudge to the local supermarket, turned into an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the familiar and to gain new impressions.

Of course the added joy to this trip was that I was sharing these moments with my wife and twelve year old daughter. My daughter was born in the UK and only ever visited Africa once when she was two years old. Her memories of that visit were very unclear so now to see her experiencing the country she had seen and heard so much about from her sisters and had seen on video and in photographs, was a great joy. It was becoming part of her safari of the spirit and her personal experience; African was now sowing its own special seeds in the fertile soil of her memory and imagination.  The impact of those moments will resonate with her forever and, just as the billboard outside East London airport say’s, “the first commandment of adventure is, Thou shalt return” .She will need to return sometime again in the future, for her own reasons and not mine.

When revisiting places which hold permanent residence in ones memory the fear is always that somehow, in ones absence from them, they will have changed their character. It seems that the longer one is away the more it is likely that fantasy and reality will combine to create an illusion of an original memory; dimensions change, colours change and the pictures fade a little.

The original question I asked myself, while standing in my silent studio the night before our departure from England was, “will the colours be the same and the memories as vivid?” I need not have been concerned, the colours were as bright and clear and the memories just as vivid as I had hoped for. I knew this as we feasted our eyes on the first stunning sunset, while our car weaved its way from the coastal airport and city of East London, up through the mountains of the Eastern Cape towards Queenstown.

It was however the first early morning, sitting in a duck blind waiting for the first flight of Teal, Yellow Bill, African Shell Duck and geese to land on the mirrored water of the wetland area that nudged my attention to the detail around me. It was while watching the day quietly creep over the ridge of the mountains to the east of Harrison Farms borders and observing how the warm morning light washed the distant mountains of the Winterberg Mountains. It was while soaking in this silent application of the colours of an African morning pallet that I learned a great secret. The Spirit of the Great Heart, which Africans believe shapes this continent, mixes a fresh pallet and applies new colours each morning without fail; there it was happening before my eyes, a picture taking shape, wash by wash in vivid colour.

My time “back home” delivered all I had hoped for in terms of refreshing my memory of colour and the new impressions I so need. We enjoyed the generous dynamic of “still times, safe places and special friends” which rekindled and refreshed our hearts, minds and spirits. From sitting under the clear sky’s surrounded by the sounds of the fire and the smell of thorn wood fires to being sniffed by wild elephants; I have returned to my studio with vivid memories, colours and stories to tell the canvas’s and boards which await their opportunity to host my new impressions. I have just enough inspiration to last me untill I must, once again honour the first commandment of adventure and return to the familiarity of home and “the spirit of the Great Heart” for another lesson under African sky’s.

In the language of the local Xhosa people, until then, Nkosi SikeleliAfrikaGod bless Africa

Posted August 2, 2010 by thornwoodstudio
Evolving, Journey, Travel
Tags: Colours, Home, Journey, Safari, ThornwoodStudio, Travel

My studio is quiet, almost as if it is waiting, knowing that I going away.

A good friend of mine used to have a dog that was very good at reading the signs. It seemed to know when preparations were being made and the family was getting ready for a vacation. It would sit silent, head down, and perform the saddest portrayal of rejection, worthy of an Oscar for a tragic character from a Shakespearian production.

That’s how my studio feels tonight as I gather and select the materials for my trip to South Africa. I find it amazing how this space, Thornwood Studio, has taken on a character, a personality, an almost human nature. Of course I tell myself that it is simply a room, a pre-fabricated room full of paint, canvas, bottles, brushes, books and music…..damn it, it’s my studio and an extension of me…that’s why it feels almost human; it’s a part of me and it knows it’s not going to Africa with me.

I have selected, for this trip, 12 fine pieces of watercolour paper, my, as yet unused Windsor Newton watercolour Travel set and a very limited selection of brushes, pens and watercolour pencils. I have limited space so am travelling light.

It is four years since I was last in South Africa, a land seldom far from my thoughts and longing. I have lived in England for fifteen years and love this beautiful land and the opportunity it has afforded my family and me; yet always there is this distant voice, almost like the sound of a drum beat in the night which draws my attention south and to the constellation of The Southern Cross. To deep, dark, velvety African nights enjoyed under the Milky Way and in the company of the hot crackling Thornwood fires from where my studio derives its name.  

My visit is mostly for family reasons; firstly I must deliver the ashes of my late cousin to those who will inter them in the family burial grounds at the foot of nTaba Temba a mountain in the Eastern Cape. Then I must acquaint my twelve-year-old daughter, who was born in the UK, and has little knowledge of her roots in Africa, with her family history. She will learn of her grand parents and ancestors and how they established themselves and prospered in the area known as Queenstown, a settler town named after Queen Victoria. She will tread the paths I once ran on as a little boy and she will inhale the sights, sounds and smells that will, in time to come, become the drum beat which will draw her back on her own pilgrimages and towards her own longings.

When we have visited all the sights, left our footprints on ancestral land and enjoyed the reunion of family and friends, I shall steal-away and rekindle deep memories of my own. If the spirit is willing, the flesh strong and the eye true then the twelve watercolour papers will return to England, having captured something of the colours of my memories, the scenes and the emotions of what was once my life in Africa.

Wish me well everyone and pray for creativity, vision and interpretation. That my African trip would truly be a safari of the spirit and that I would return to Thornwood Studio with tales to tell to my canvases, colours to relate to my palate and instructions to give to my brushes.   




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