I've been a fan of Anna Koska's work for a good few years now - a while back I commissioned an egg tempera painting of a Curlew's egg to give to my father (kind of wish I'd kept it, much as I love him), but the first time I saw her work was on the label of Douglas Laing's Rock Oyster Whisky. It was the label which attracted me to what turned out to be a really good dram, and then a little later someone pointed me in the direction of her Instagram feed.
It's at the back of my mind to have an egg painting for myself someday - or maybe a mussel shell (do have a good look at Anna's Instagram, it's full of beautiful things) but until I'm rather more solvent 'From Field to Forest, An Artist's Year in Paint and Pen' is a fair substitute.
I've actually had this book for 2 months (since it came out) and have happily dipped in and out of it throughout that time, but a bank holiday weekend seemed like a very good time to sit down and really read it. It's an absolutely charming book - the illustrations are beautiful, as you would expect, but it's also a pleasure to read.
I think the best way I can describe this book is to say that it's the context that balances the occasional envy that a little bit to much Instagram scrolling can spark. Insta shows the beauty of a frosty morning but doesn't really convey the bite of the cold, and it's much easier to vicariously appreciate a nice pile of logs than it is to feel the twinge of back ache that carting them around brings. When you write about something there's a lot more space for unsatisfactory plumbing and slugs in the garden - it's all a lot more real.
Beyond that it's a pleasure to follow the seasons through the eye of an artist who specialises in food illustration. She notices things I would easily miss, and brings me up short with the beauty of something as every day as an apple or a plum. I loved the descriptions of bee keeping, and the changing seasons, tales of an annual swapping of bean seeds between Anna and her mother, and the voluptuous mix of colour from her work, and the flavours and scents she describes.
I also really like the scrap book feel of 'From Field and Forest'. It's a series of memories and impressions; snapshots of moments that we're invited to share, but it does not feel like a lifestyle or how to manual. There's a sensible amount of reserve here which is another thing I appreciate, and which I think makes the book better company.
I'm at the point in this Covid world where the interactions I miss most are not with my friends and family - who I do miss, but can also reach out to fairly easily. It's the casual conversations with acquaintances, work mates, the chance met friends of friends, familiar faces in shops and cafes that you always used to have a chat with - the web of conversations that go into building our own personal communities. And that's what this book feels like to me - a pleasant conversation with somebody that I know in passing, and about mostly pleasant things (there are horseflies which I think we can all agree are not pleasant). If that sounds like faint praise, it really isn't - it's exactly the kind of thing I've been craving and I've been more than grateful for the distraction and escape this book has given me so far.