by Mirranda Norris, Oxfordmail 1st February 2021
A marbled white butterfly, mist in the woods, stinging nettles, flooded meadows – these have all provided joy, and inspiration, to artist Diana Bell during lockdown.
She has drawn or painted nature every day for the past 322 days.
Ms Bell embarked on her Nature Unlocked project on March 16 2020 – days before the first lockdown began – and has kept going ever since.
She has now painted or drawn 90 different wild plants, 52 tree species and 28 birds.
Did she imagine when she started she would still be doing the project 322 days later?
“Absolutely not. But by the time of the second lockdown I realized I would do it for a year. It’s going to be quite challenging for February because I have already drawn so many things.
“I started in a sketch book thinking that it would probably be just one sketch book. I am now on the fifth!”
Ms Bell, who is a well known local artist with public works of art around Oxford and in hospitals, has found her subjects all within a short distance of home.
“When we were a bit more free I was going further afield to the Thames, Shotover, Grandpont and the Chilterns. But I am very lucky as I live near Boars Hill and can walk to Foxcombe Woods, Bagley Wood and the nature reserves near us. You will see that I draw anything that happens to take my eye on the day.”
She said that drawing makes you look at things differently.
“Looking closely at nature in order to draw or paint is quite different from just taking a beautiful photograph. You have to really study and understand what you are looking at and this has been a wonderful exploration for me during lockdown.
“I have studied a white dead nettle and seen that it is as beautiful as an orchid. I have tried to draw hogweed and seen all its complex growth patterns and when I looked closely at an ivy flower it was a very similar growth pattern to the images of the Covid virus.”
Ms Bell said this proves that everything is linked and as humans we are just one of billions of organisms that inhabit the universe.
She added: “The paradox is that at the same time through our actions we can affect the planet in a negative way or we can look after the incredible system of our environment.”
Ms Bell, who used to teach at Sunningwell School of Art near Abingdon, also writes a couple of lines of observations every day.
She believes that getting out into nature is vital to our mental health and well being – especially in the current times.
“In the middle of lockdown we can listen to the birds, gaze at the sky or look closely at something wonderful each day.
“For all those people working, and particularly the health workers, I hope that they might have just a few moments to breathe fresh air and look at the sky.
“I am lucky to live where I do but people who live in the middle of the city can also see the beauty around them for Oxford has some beautiful parks and reserves which are so important. Now more than ever we realise how important they are.”