I’m Lydia Thornley, a designer, creative director, reportage illustrator and prolific filler of sketchbooks. Dispatches from a Small World started as a lockdown project, reporting from my London garden in sketches. This blog takes that journey of discovery into a second growing season.

Tiny trees

“So how do holly trees have babies?” I had been telling a group of friends about a new generation that I was off to draw. Presents from the birds, we used to call them in my family – plants that arrive, neither sown, nor planted by us. It’s the wood pigeons … Read More

Green shoots, three ways

Fog. It’s the sort of bone cold grey day that never quite clears… But as I clip and shape the hebes, determined to have some time outdoors on a working Saturday, I get my eye in. Out from the murk shine shoots of iris, their surface-sitting roots like ginger. Undisturbed … Read More

Inside out, outside in

A soggy Saturday calls for drawing what I have indoors… And that starts with a view, surprisingly zingy, through raindrop-scattered geraniums. I bought them last year when desperate for windowsill colour. They’re flanked by two houseplants put out because I’m so terrible with them that however chilly it is, they’ll … Read More

At the turn of the year

Sometimes I go out into the garden with a story in mind. As often, I’ll draw what I’m given. And at the turn of the year, a flurry of toasts, hopes and fireworks, it’s soothing to see what nature’s up to on this unseasonably-mild day. The Forsythia is exuberantly in … Read More

Endings and beginnings

Boxing Day, garden glossed by rain, is a chance to see what the whole garden is up to. At a time of year that seems all about endings, its shapes, patterns, textures and colours speak of a place in perpetual motion. Peeking out from the late Winter hydrangea, handsome with … Read More

Short day, bright things

On dark days, this, near the Winter Solstice and dark of news to match, I’m happy to see any glimmer of brightness that the garden will offer. Here, bobbing in the chilly breeze, the first snowdrop of Winter. It’s a few weeks early, brought, perhaps, by mild weather but it … Read More

Prunings

I’m terrible at pruning roses. My late mum taught me to sculpt them, looking for the directions of the buds. But I let stems ramble until they’re finished with flowering, reach to trim them and accidentally, take off a stem still in flower. These opening buds, stopped in their tracks … Read More

Signs of life

This time of year, much of the garden is a palette of browns. Twigs. Bark. Seeds left out for the wildlife. But there’s more going on… The eucalyptus tree in the garden behind mine sheds its bark, wind blowing in curls of it, like chocolate shavings. I pick one up … Read More

Seizing the day

On a blustery day, in a pocket of sunshine, I nip out into the garden to collect things blown in for drawing in the warm. But on my way back, I spot a tiny snail on tidying-up duty, working through strawberry leaves in troughs that will host Spring flowers. So … Read More

Faded grandeur

In my urban garden, faded has its own grandeur. Once vivid, the roses are blooming in soft pastels edged with cherry pink, some round like little peonies, others presenting their petals to the garden. The jasmine’s sharp green leaves have only now taken on tones of russet, their rolls and … Read More

Starting with a tiny toadstool

I’ve been trying to draw it all week – a tiny toadstool in the improvised grow-bag that was home to the courgettes and now, with no intervention from me, hollyhocks. Studio work has come first but today, its neighbour nibbled, I’ve grabbed the last of the daylight and crouched down to … Read More

On nature day

It’s nature day at COP26 so I take a look at what nature is doing in the small world of my urban garden. Fashionably late, the cosmos is in flower. I associate it with Summer but looking it up, some varieties are happy in cooler weather. Getting closer to draw, … Read More

Small harvest

As trees fruit, winds blow and Summer veg go over, there’s an air of gathering-in about the garden, and not just for me… The rainbow chard, spindly this year, keeps going so I harvest little sprouting tops to add to a stir-fry. And it’s only in drawing it that I … Read More

In celebration of mess

The temptation to tidy is sometimes overwhelming – but aside from sprawling limbs of ivy and roses to dead-head, this is the season when I let things lie for a bit. This week, the garden has rewarded me with a hidden harvest…. hiding among leaves that looked done-for, I’ve found gorgeous … Read More

Foraging for colours

Chilly in the garden, spotting rosehips I gather some in and go foraging for more warm Autumn colours for kitchen drawing. The rosehips, red from a distance, have a subtle blend of reds, brick and brown, layers of colour needed, especially on this waste paper, coated for print. At first … Read More

Fresh flowers in October

It’s October – but just as I expect to be drawing all things Autumnal, the garden gives me fresh flowers. The ivy is alive with bees and wasps. Interested mostly in the top flowers, they let me snip off a sprig to draw, its yellows needing the glow of a … Read More