Watercolours, in all their simplicity, make my list of indispensable art materials. Like a set of good, rich drawing pencils, and a fine black pen, a paintbox of fine colours is essential.


I like to make sure my children have professional materials to work with, and watercolours are an inexpensive, non-toxic, easy-to-clean solution. We share our materials, though I must watch that the best paintbrushes aren’t left in murky water to permanently turn left!


Archival watercolour paper is tempting, and gorgeous brushes are needful things, never mind box easels and palettes, but I am regularly amazed at the effects that can be achieved with the simplest materials.


Water, pigment, paper. These are so elemental in artistic expression, and we return to the old materials again and again. I bring out the watercolours in the summer especially, inspired by that wonderful old tradition of painting en plein air. Peaceful habit. Ever so grounding. I’d like to sit down to paint more often.


p>These paintings are my children’s experiments, very old and very recent; they’re completely different from their pen and pencil drawings; I love how materials can break you out into new territory. You might like to see some gorgeous pen and ink drawings that my lovely friend Sania Pell made with her child. Ever so inspiring.

painted bathtub

For months I’ve been casting sideways looks at the roll-top painted bathtub in the four-hundred-year-old cottage. The colour! That particular shade is dramatic on the inside of the craft cupboard, but I was searching for something else for the tub.

bathtub before © elisa rathje 2012

My wonderful, perceptive friend Heather visited us, and being a brilliant colour consultant and interior designer, she solved the problem immediately. The greys of the galvanised bucket. Oh yes!

bathtub after © elisa rathje 2012

Now, paint has a life of its own, and the same french linen chalk paint that I used on the daybed and the bellows turned rather a warmer dusty cocoa shade on the tub. I’m quite surprised by the hue. What do you think?


My sweetheart is fond of marmalade, so I got some Seville oranges to make it for him. I’ve just begun to learn to preserve. Sometimes it isn’t as easy as it sounds to me when I’m inspired! Still I highly recommend it. This recipe is from a glorious book, Sloe Gin & Beeswax, which a dear friend of mine gave me when we moved into the cottage.
It’s old fashioned marmalade, though unusual in that it begins with cooking the oranges whole.
Then halving them and scooping the pulp & pips into a separate pan;
marmalade pulp
Slicing the peel and dissolving sugar on low heat, along with the pectin and lemon juice, then boiling til set. This is where I ran into trouble, and didn’t get an expert set. This is okay. My jars were no longer hot, so I needed to juggle hot jars, stubborn rubber rings, and dinner. However it did give the marmalade time to settle, so the peel didn’t float to the top!
I’m awfully pleased with the result, despite the wobbly set. We had it on toast for breakfast, and it was like eating a little bright bit of morning sunlight. I’d like to store them where I can gaze at their wonderful colours.
Speaking of colour, I’ve been painting the antiques in serene shades, and got through half of the chairs, finished painting one table, and I’m ready to polish the wax on another. Very exciting!