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.

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

Morning, garden!

Early, pottering through tasks, lists in my head, the garden calls me outside with my coffee. The second sunflower is out, glowing in the morning sun. Taller than the first, it’s thrown its petals back, like some young buck with a pot of hair gel. The bees are already at … Read More

Setting fruit, setting seed

The garden is a place in perpetual motion. But sometimes, what stops me in my tracks is the sheer joy of plants’ engineering… I love how hollyhocks just keep going, throwing out flowers at one end from their dumpling buds and setting seed at the other. The cucumber is climbing … Read More

Hovering

I draw very quickly – gestural sketches that are more about the essence of a thing than its detail. But drawing little creatures also needs me to be still, seeing what lands, noticing how it moves, taking in as much visual information as I can, as quickly as I can, in … Read More

Quiet work

There’s show, and there’s the quietly impressive stuff that the garden does when I’m not looking… I’ve grown my first giant sunflowers this year. After a decade of tending them at a community garden, it’s only working from home, with the same view through the day, that I’ve noticed that … Read More

Full fluoro in July

It’s 8.30am. I wander out with my coffee, my improvised cardboard offcut drawing board, handed-down paper, biro, white fineliner, watercolours, a jam jar of water, my favourite brush held together with impact adhesive and hope – and a fist-full of highlighters. The reason? Nasturtiums. Even just peeping out from their grey-blue-green … Read More

Oddly oblong

I went out to draw the fennel. Over the week. It’s been showing me how its umbrellas escape their rolls of leaf and today, there are tiny yellow bobbles of flower, a few starting to throw out pollen for the pollinators (for which I use an bit of kitchen scourer … Read More

Showtime for the flowers

I’ve been waiting for the right flower for a heavily-textured piece of paper and here it comes – the first courgette flower, like an elaborate piece of smocking. Drawing a bud, I swear that the petals are emerging as I watch. Over the past three years, the garden has taught … Read More

A good year for jasmine

Normally, I pay it attention only to give its tangled limbs somewhere to go. But this year, the jasmine is in flower. And today, it rewards my stillness with glorious wafts of scent, echoes of perfumes gone by. Drawing, I notice that its flowers have just four almost-oblong petals, curled … Read More

Poppies popping

There are early morning errands to do. There are new poppies open, and bees. Poppies and bees it is, then. That’s less frivolous than it seems – in an hour, the sun will have moved and the bees will have moved on. So I take my coffee outside, taking care to … Read More

Pods and pollinators

I’ve been doing No Mow May. Showers forecast, I should cut the grass before it turns into a June jungle. But as it’s grown, so has my love for its floral loveliness, self-seeded nigella dotted amongst the daisies. So I honour it with a sketch, in early morning, daisies tinged … Read More