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 third growing season.

And the ivy

The holly and the ivy… This time of year, I draw a lot of holly. But wandering out into the garden on a day so grey that it’s barely got light, it’s the ivy that’s singing out. I think of the ivy as one thing, sprawling over the back of … Read More

Berry bonus, mini trees

On late Autumn days of mud and gaps, the garden seems spent. But on a warmer-than-it-looks Saturday, nature coaxes me to the far end, where berries drop and ivy sprawls. There, purple-black and glossy among lime green leaves, is one jasmine berry. Eyes tuned, I look up, at the holly … Read More

Texture to colour

I’ve started my drawing day bimbling around sketching the lilies given to me by a kind neighbour, partly because I promised myself that I would and partly as an excuse not to go outside. It’s chilly. This should be no surprise – it’s November. But in this year’s strange climate, it … Read More

A surprise harvest

It’s clearing day for the sunflowers. The squirrel has done its best to hurl itself at the one seed head spared by wind and rain but there’s a full head of seeds, which I hook over a tree for the birds. Tough stems cleared and saved for plant supports, I … Read More

Nature’s fireworks

A dark, dank day has me reaching for soft-toned, soft-textured paper. Not, it’s called – a tactile surface somewhere between smooth and rough. It was my dad’s choice for watercolours (I always wondered at the ‘not’) and today, it’s mine because I have small things to draw, in a posy foraged … Read More

Snails’ pace

Snails. They have a reputation for slowness. But after overnight rain they’re making the most of a garden going over, edibles ready for last harvests and composting. I spot a yellowing squash leaf teeming with them. It’s a bit like a one-minute pose in a life drawing class – swift marks, … Read More

New leaves

Blustery showers blow leaves and windfalls into the garden so I head out in search of Autumn colour. I’m diverted by the hydrangea. Topped with dry flowers that owe more to a parched Summer than seasonal turn, it’s grateful for the rain. Pairs of buds are tucked into each pair … Read More

Rabbits’ ears and roses

Rabbits’ ears. That’s what we called these soft, furry leaves when I was a kid. I was going to write ‘so visiting the plant sale at Copped Hall in Epping, I couldn’t resist buying some’ – but I can never resist a plant sale. I sketch them before planting them in … Read More

Going again

I had planned to draw the sage. But the pull of the borage was too much. After a Summer too hot for it, it’s going again and the flowers are what I call ‘hot blue’ – a vivid, almost-purple that needs layers and blends of colour. Its buds and leaves are … Read More

Gathering in

Last week, I promised radish seed pods – and here they are. Sculptural, like ancient wine carriers, they have fine grooves along the pod. These lovely things are my bonus for growing useless radishes and letting the rest of the plants run to seed. Each holds just a few seeds, now … Read More

A September welcome

Home in London after a week away, I head into the garden expecting something – well – Autumnal. Mellow fruitfulness, that sort of thing. As I get my eye in to draw, what it gives me is Autumnal but more in the sartorial sense, when nobody knows quite what to wear. It’s … Read More

Keeping on

It’s been a sombre week. As I step into the garden, I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for. Permanence, maybe? Timelessness? No – nature shows me something else. Just as the giant sunflower heads dry, two smaller sunflowers are bursting into bud, tight little knots of fresh green on hairy … Read More

Fruits and visitors

September. After the dry, hot Summer, some of my plants are only just catching up and some are surprises, presents from the birds. I had given up on the chilli. Its sibling had gone to local friends who are good at coaxing them into abundance indoors. Mine had been nibbled … Read More

After the rain

Snail poo. It’s not what I expect to be drawing on a Saturday morning. Wandering out into the garden to see what the week’s welcome rain has brought, I spot a snail – well, half a snail, peeking out from a squash leaf, and I’m not entirely sure which half I’m … Read More

Late Summer colour

I go into the garden to draw a one-out, one-in story about new growth and moulted feathers. But today, the garden has colours to show me. The fennel is reaching its mid-point between flower and seed. It’s full of colour I’m not expecting – dusty blue, turquoise, mauve, blended with … Read More

Plot hot

The garden hangs heavy in the mid-August heat. This month has always been the month when leaves drip, petals curl, fruit blushes – but today is not, was not, London-hot. And yet my one ripe tomato is doing its thing, green to yellow to pink, its neighbour just starting to get … Read More