I often wonder if I have just been lucky, or if fate intended me to have two creative careers.
My horticultural career lasted over thirty years and involved not just growing plants but also using them in the landscape in the design of parks, gardens, housing, highways, retail, industry and forestry.
I got immense pleasure from the creative processes especially returning a few years later when the landscape matured and the improvements could be seen and enjoyed by the public. Some schemes were on a small scale, a shop, a factory, a few flower beds then others were on a more grander scale with ample scope for your creative ideas. A new golf course in Darlington desperately needed trees everywhere, then Livingston new town needing a programme of daffodil planting of over two million bulbs over three years.
All this time I enjoyed a range of hobbies from wine making, swimming, travelling, hill walking and painting.
However, I changed careers in 1992 to become a full time artist and now my horticultural creations are of a more modest scale, such as a hanging basket or plant tub, and my painting has become the source for my creative energies.
Having been blessed, or cursed with the creative gene does bring great pleasure when your work is admired, whether it be a colourful garden, an immense pumpkin or a beautiful painting. The drawback comes when you consider the possibility of retirement. When I officially retire my two main hobbies will be gardening and painting. So, at what point can I tell myself I am retired.
Anyway, coming back from thoughts of retirement, I always seem to find a new project to work on in the art world, and it often starts in the garden or on the allotment.
A few years back I started growing saskatoon fruit bushes in pots around the house, but soon realised they needed more space to grow, so I decided to find an allotment for them.
It would also serve to grow other fruits, vegetables and flowers getting me back into growing plants again. Then of course there is the exercise value as well as the health benefits of fresh produce all year round.
The new plot needed a fair bit of tidying up to remove old wild brambles, weeds, broken fences and repairing the dilapidated shed. A meandering path in the wrong place needed removing and replacing, so since I have no problem working outdoors in all seasons these tasks kept me on site regularly throughout the winter.
Even when the snow came I couldn't resist a trip to the allotment to see how the plot looked covered in a blanket of snow.
The site was a winter wonderland of untouched pristine snow and as I had my camera with me I walked up and down every path as ideas for winter landscape paintings appeared at every turn. My digital camera was working overtime. City Road allotments have been going for years and now most plots have some kind of shed and greenhouse in every shape possible and in various degrees of hastily repaired dereliction.
Broken down fences, steps, scattered water barrels, pots, boxes, posts, wheelbarrows and old gnarled apple trees covered in snow made perfect subjects for a series of garden winter landscape paintings. One of my neighbours suffering from a bad back recently, had not kept a very tidy plot, but his stack of old boxes, pots, barrels and pallets piled against his semi derelict shed was just perfect. Another plot with an old apple tree pruned way beyond any sensible shape added another perfect image to be captured on canvas.
I enjoyed creating this series so much that I decided to run an allotment painting workshop in the spring.
This turned out to be very popular and at the time there were many plots covered in poppies and other summer flowers. However different people see beauty in different ways. One lady just loved the clever graffiti covering a large shed and for another it was the washing hanging from the tenement clothes lines blowing in the sun.
I also found more inspiration for another series of allotment paintings in both watercolour and acrylic balancing flowers and vegetables against the allotment furniture and structures.
Painting the “Winter on the Allotment” series took several months by which time spring had emerged and my garden was a picture of flowers.
This time I decided to throw caution aside and got out some of my biggest canvases. These images were to be very bold using large flowers with impact. My first was the Iceland poppies which brighten up the spring and continue right through the summer as long as you keep taking off the seed heads.
Next was some brilliant candy striped early tulips, Carnaval de Nice contrasting the illuminated blossoms against a deep blue background. A beautiful lemon narcissus was next then my flag iris started to bloom and gave me quite a choice for another large canvas.
I grow a wide range of iris which come in many colours supplied from specialist hardy plant growers in Shropshire, Claire Austin. I chose the deep purple, Dusky Challenger and again used a contrasting pale blue background.
Spring leads into summer and I was overwhelmed with choice of flowers to paint. There was not time to do them all so the camera captured hundreds of images to be stored on my computer so I can pull them out at any time. The digital camera allows you to keep the best and delete the rest.
The apple trees were terrific especially when you zoom in to capture the flowers as a close up, then my bright red oriental poppies gave a fantastic though short lived display.
Rhododendrons and azaleas seem to thrive in this mild wet climate so gave me dazzling blossoms which I like to zoom in on to capture individual flowers or small groups of them.
Another brilliant red tuberous begonia growing in a deep blue flower pot caught my eye. I look forward to getting that one on canvas.
Lilies and fuchsias will always give great value, but you need to photograph them in full sun against a dark background or sometimes I can find a low angle to get them against a deep blue summer sky.
John is showing some of his flower paintings at the Dundee Art Society Autumn Exhibition at 17 Roseangle open from Saturday 30th October to Sunday 7th November 2010. Open every day from 11am to 5pm.
I have created a garden blog to store these weekly articles in, so if you wish to look back to any previous feature they are stored in date order. They can also be viewed by title and keywords. The blog is called the Scottish artist and his garden blogspot.
Landward TV will be featuring John's saskatoon fruit bushes on their programme about growing and using Scottish superfoods on Friday 29th October at 7pm on BBC2