Herb drawing workshop at the Courtyard Cafe!

This summer the Courtyard Cafe is organising a series of workshops for the community, Rose  Mason, an attendee of the workshop, shares her experience in this post. 

Please note:

The next herb drawing workshop will be on Aug 28th. For further details please e-mail Ela at [email protected]

Consider this,

What is your experience with planting?

When was the last time you drew or painted? How was the experience?

What is your favourite herb?

We met in a group of around 10 in the garden of the Jamyang London Buddhist Centre in Kennington. The sun was shining and a gentle breeze blew windchimes into song. 

Joseph Walsh led the session, introducing himself and explaining his journey, through a herbal workshop at Walworth Gardens and habitually drawing and writing about plants and herbs. We were each given a fresh cutting of sage, the chosen herb for this workshop. Before beginning to draw, Joe guided the group on taking a mindful approach. 

He encouraged us to drop previous knowledge on this herb, and simply encounter it. We may have used sage before for cooking, we may have grown it. We would probably have some awareness of its classification. Yet this workshop was all about creating a way of seeing this herb for the very first time. Stripping it back to simply looking and drawing. Joe was curious to hear from us too, eager to know, what feelings would this evoke? Which words would this bring to mind?

Everyone took a comfortable seat around the garden and the sound of our chatter reduced to the windchimes, water features, and the dancing of paintbrushes in water and pencils on the page. We drew in total focus. Looking at the herb and tracing what we saw, but also what we felt, following our own creative instinct.

I can’t remember the last time I drew before this workshop. Certainly, I was one of the most out of practice of the group. My pencil box was made up of hand-me-downs, cheap, scratchy pencils from Wilko, and even the odd Crayola Twistable (actually a very good sage-green). Packing my bag, I felt a little underprepared. But this didn’t matter at all. Any pencils would have been welcome for this workshop, and even my drawing ability wasn’t terrible.

I put this down to the meditative atmosphere that Joe, Ela and all the participants created. Everyone was keenly focussed on their sage, watching as it wilted in the sun, noticing the subtle changes in the droop of the leaves and the way the light and shadows covered more of the leaves. The way both the plant and the sun moved together in constant flux, filled me with a sense of aliveness.

The beautiful thing about herbs is their ability to take so many forms that engage all our senses. To bring us to a closer understanding of sage, Joe burned it and glided it around where we sat. The herb was also brewed into a tea that we drank as we drew. Someone in the group described this as a ‘global’ experience in the body. True, the herbal tea and burning sage awakened taste and smell which allowed the essence of the sage to travel further. It relaxed us into the moment even more.

After our drawing, we moved inside the cafe to eat sage pesto with tomatoes and fresh bread, and discuss our drawings and the thoughts that came up.

Someone mentioned how looking at the sage leaf through a magnifying glass made it appear like the Amazon rainforest. The magnification opened up a whole world of complexity, along with the realisation that just one leaf is a whole system of its own.

Another person described the categorisation of plants as a colonial activity. They said that while this has been useful, it is also a ‘prison’. 

The herb drawing workshop wasn’t just about turning up for a bit of creativity on a weekend. During this workshop we connected with the sage in all its forms, engaging multiple senses with this simple yet eternally complex herb in many different states.

We were invited to slow down and notice things we perhaps wouldn’t usually make time for, such as the thin yet bright pink lines running along the stem, the forest in the leaves, or how you could extract its moisture, turning the plant itself into a watercolour paint.

Encountering the sage in this way awakened our minds to the things you can notice when you see beyond your own prior conceptualisations. I took this as an exercise to be extended beyond drawing sage on a Sunday afternoon, but in the way we see in the world.

About the Author

Rose Mason, in the last photo of the first gallery, is a writer who often helped out at Bonnington Cafe volunteering alongside Ela and now helping at the Courtyard Cafe at Jamyang.
Rose took part in Bonnington Cafe Herb Drawing workshop at Jamyang  on 26th of June 2022.