Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Sharp Sting

Not of a bee or wasp, but of disappointment. Along with all the successes and highlights of being an artist, there are the untold disappointments and lows. This week has seen both for me, and although it has been lovely to spend time with my parents, get out and about and meet up with friends, there's no point in hiding behind a mask of a smile whilst inside you are beating yourself up with painful disappointment. 

As you can probably guess, not for me the dizzying heights of full-membership of the SBA but the call we all dread, not this year. Worse still, it wasn't even the quality of my work that let me down, but the works themselves. My poor 'little works' were exactly that, too little, "Not enough content". It would seem there needed to be, well, MORE! More plant, more flowers, more leaves. They would have been welcomed for any other exhibition, but when you are going for membership, you really need a full painting. My judgement was off in other words.  

Too little

Well, there needed to be more of the dahlia plant in this one

Well, I still stand proud behind these little pieces, I really enjoyed doing them and thought of them as a group of pieces that sat quite well together. Not quite enough for the judging panel for a candidate going for full membership though, so back to the drawing board for five new pieces. Specifically concentrating on more stuff going on in them. Enough said I think.


Too much?

Perhaps there is a bit too much going in this one 

So, how do you get over a disappointment? Well, there really are only two options, sink without trace, feel inadequate and give up, or take the fight right back to the source. I'm in the latter camp, and have always risen to a let down. Firstly with a level of rage and anger that could probably wake the old ancestors, just to get it out of the system. Then, when everyone has left me to seethe for a bit, a cunning and brilliant plan, (even if I do say so myself) is formed.

All my best ideas, clarity and logic seem to come from my deepest lows and fiercest rages, and like a dog with a bone, I don't give in or let it go. I just need to get to that stage, but it doesn't take long as really, in the grand scheme of things this really isn't anything to get heavy over. In other words, don't sweat the small stuff and get over it. 

So now to find, 'The Goldilocks' of botanical subjects. Not too little, not too much but just right. bring it on. Although to be honest, with so many other calls upon my attention this year, I am going to have a very full-on year. I just hope I can fit it all in.

Well, maybe it's time for this one to shine



  

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Purple Haze

Well, I have been listening to Jimi Hendrix, so I can offer no apology for the title of this blog post.or the play on song titles going on here today. By now, lots of you will know how much I love the colour purple. Indeed, to say I love purple is something of an understatement (even my wedding ring is set with a purple gemstone), but I can't really say why this is. 

Not that I adore all shades of the colour, you can keep those rather whimsical and dainty shades of lilac, (for some reason these always remind me of scented talcum powder!). No, for me it has to be the gutsy, saturated, really in your face, deepest tones. The kind of colour that looks like smoke on the water, (oh heck that's a song by Deep Purple!) that when you enter a room enrobed in such a colour in purest silk, just demands attention! Like Caesar! 

"Be eccentric now. Don't wait for old age to wear purple."
Regina Brett



After putting this purple collage together (as I do from time to time), I really started to think about why I like the colour, what its heritage is, where it derives from and how I mix my favourite shades. So, for this post, I delve into the passion of purple. 

(To be honest, I find these collage images really useful. A bit like how an interior decorator might use a mood board!)


A collection of the shades of purple I really like.


A Bit of History

Purple has a rich and lengthy heritage, with some scholars believing the colour to have been created from dyes produced by one or more species of predatory sea snails in the family Muricidae, (rock snails originally known by the name Murexp). Tyrian Purple also known as Tyrian Red, Royal Purple, Imperial Purple or Imperial Dye is believed to have derived from this dye.

Tyrian purple was expensive: the 4th-century-BC historian Theopompus reported, 

"Purple for dyes fetched its weight in silver at Colophon"


Well, who'd argue with that! 


Some of my favourite purple subjects and colours

My clematis pieces have just gone to the SBA for their next exhibition.

Hmm, those blackberries are calling me in again.



In Asia Minor the expense meant that purple-dyed textiles became status symbols, and early laws restricted their uses. The production of Tyrian purple was tightly controlled in Byzantium and was subsidised by the imperial court, which restricted its use for the colouring of imperial silks. Later (9th Century), a child born to a reigning emperor was said to be porphyrogenitos

"born in purple"

Well, I know I have expensive taste. Tyrian purple may first have been used by the ancient Phoenicians as early as 1570 BC. The dye was greatly prized in antiquity because the colour did not easily fade, but instead became brighter with weathering and sunlight. Its significance is such that the name Phoenicia means 'land of purple. It came in various shades, the most valued being that of "blackish clotted blood". Sounds a bit gruesome, but I know what he means. How about these mixes, anywhere close?

"If I could find anything blacker than black, I'd use it".

J.M.W Turner



A spectrum of black mixes, including a few very rich purple/black shades.

Blackinsh clotted blood?

Winsor Violet, Ultramarine and Lemon Yellow
Perylene Maroon, Ultramarine and Sennelier Yellow Light
For my favourite mixes, see below. 


Even the brands are starting to get into purple
My favourite may just be Imperial Purple, but that's just today, I'm fickle.  

A plethora of purples


So, after all that I think we can safely say that if I had been around during these times, I may have found myself in serious trouble for liking a colour! Lucky then that the 21st century has exceedingly liberal rules on such things.

Calla

Purple tones mixes with Perylene Maroon
Some Winsor Violet was used in this one too

And some lighter shades with pinks  

It might be a red onion, but I think it has some purple going on in there

Permanent Rose and Indanthrene was used amongst the other purple mixes


A palette of purple
Bittersweet and cranesbill compliment each other on opposite sides of this composition
For the bittersweet flowers, I used a warmer shade of purple than the cranesbill, which had a bluer, cooler tone.
For these, some Cobalt Blue was also used.

Favourite Purple Mixes


Anthraquinoid Red and Indanthrene Blue

Indanthrene Blue and Quinacridone Magenta

Winsor Violet and Quinacridone Red

Perylene Maroon and Indanthrene Blue 

Permanent Rose and Indanthrene Blue  

These are just a few of the mixes I have used in the projects you see on this post, and some of them are in the charts too. if you add a touch of Lemon Yellow or Sennelier Yellow Light, depending on if you are mixing a cool or warm purple, you get a deeper, blacker mix. When mixing these darker, blacker colours, it's always important to note that if you use equal quantities of blue, red and yellow, you get black. So for a bluer black, add more blue and for a redder black, add more red.

See also:

Paint it Black (Hmm, now isn't that by the Rolling Stones?) Well, back to Jimi and his 'Purple Haze'





Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Pleasure of Sharing

Whether it be a really good recipe, a favourite lunch spot or that last slice of cake, there is nothing quite so special as sharing the good things in life, (okay maybe not the last slice of cake, I would fight you for that). It has been my experience over recent years that artists are not the kind of people to hold back on a tip or a trade secret.(Oh, and I couldn't choose between some of my favourite quotes today, so I added 'em all)

"Share your knowledge.It's a way to achieve immortality."

Dalai Lama


(Ah, so not to come across a tall, pale stranger who doesn't go out in the sun then, damn! (I've been reading Dracula again recently, you can tell). Great quote though.)

You would think that we artists would be a secretive bunch, holding back the best bits for ourselves, whilst letting other poor souls find out the hard way. It's the only way to learn and all that! But no indeed, it is quite the opposite, and there is nothing we like more than shouting a really good tip from the rooftops. 'Look everyone, I found the Holy Grail of green mixes, everyone should try it. Here's the colours I used'.

"It is good to rub and polish our brain against another."

Michel Eyquem de Montaigne(1533 - 1592 

French Renaissance philosopher and writer 


So, let's rub away for today's post! I thought I would share with you some of the finest pearls of wisdom that I have been given by my really good friends and fellow artists. Of course, modesty prevents me from putting down for posterity the ones I shared with them, but as you can imagine, this is most definitely a two way street.


The bramble leaf, chilli and grass species with lots of variety of green mixes, (including red)
Looking carefully at natural greens helps too.

My original green chart that just mixed blues and yellows.
Looking back on it now this seems rather limited, and flat.





















Tip 1

Always mix a little red in your green mixes rather than using just blue and yellow.

This one came to me via a couple of friends and artists, Sharon Tingey and Sarah Morrish. By adding red, you get a much richer green that seems to have a multi layered luminosity to it that is absolutely delicious. It is so true and I have never looked back. So here are some of the pieces where I have used these tips. 

Favourite colours I use for mixing greens. Depending on the subject, a cool or warm green may be needed, or a combination of shades. The colours I choose to use are in both the warm and cool spectrum.
Yellows - Quinacridone Gold, Lemon Yellow, Sennelier Yellow Light. 
Blues - Indanthrene Blue, Ultramarine Light.
Reds - Light Red, Perylene Maroon, Anthraquinoid Red


Completing a tracing of a bramble sprig,
 before deciding where on the composition it will look best.

Tip 2

Thank you to Dianne Sutherland and Kay Rees-Davies for this one. When composing a piece that has a complex design, trace the different elements onto tracing paper, and move them around the paper to see which is the best composition.

Once happy with the composition, you can trace over the whole lot on a fresh piece of trace in ink before using on a lightbox. That way, if at any time during painting, you make a dramatic mistake, you have a 'master' tracing to turn to. This saves a lot of time if you have to start again.



Yep, here it is again, (but just a section this time)

This one couldn't have been done in the time allowed if I had drawn every single leaf and flower from scratch.

Many elements of this piece are actually the same, just used in a different way.











Tip 3

Also from Kay Rees-Davies, (and I have passed this one on to just about everyone). If you are making a complex composition of the same variety, again use tracing paper to draw several elements and use these in different directions. Backwards and reverse shapes will make for a totally new composition. Look carefully at the leaves on the above painting. Some of them look vaguely similar.



Not exactly technical or complex, but this seedpod just wouldn't behave.

I really wanted this seedpod to stay like this, but it kept rolling about.
A piece of tape held it beautifully

Tip 4

From Shevaun Doherty. If you need to keep a leaf or flower in exactly the same place, (say for a dissected flower, or my rolling seedpod!) for a while, use double sided tape to hold it in place. A classic, Keep it simple stupid!

Perfect form and function
a small reservoir and a little hole in the top keeps everything contained

Such a useful gadget.

My clamp stand holds the tubes at any angle I like.

And the tube stops the water dripping everywhere.   




You can improvise too.

This tube is glass and once contained vanilla pods.
Always a good idea to have a root through the drawers to see what you can use.



Tip 5

Another one from my good friend Sarah, but I know others who have these in their kit. Pop along to your local friendly florist shop and ask for some flower holders. They are the sort of test-tube thing used for orchids and corsages. So incredibly handy.

Oh, and they can be used really well with one of those school science room holder thingys, as suggested by Dianne Sutherland. I just wrap a bit of tissue around the tube and then use the gripper in the stand to hold the subject in any direction I choose.


Tip 6

Another one from Sharon. When painting tiny hairs on flowers such as Sunflowers and Poppies, don't just use white Gouache on it's own. Add a little colour to it to vary the tone and knock the edge off it. By using the colours you have used for the lighter areas on the painting, the hairs will blend in and give a more natural appearance.  

(Haven't tried this one yet as I have yet to paint a very hairy plant)

The far side of the leaf has glaze of Transparent Yellow on the high spots,
while the near side, has more Cerulean used as a glaze here and there



The leaves on the fruit spring have a final light glaze of Transparent Yellow,
while the leaf with the snail resting on it was glazed with Cerulean.

varying the temperature here and there increases the variety of tone you can introduce to piece.  

  
Tip 7

I'm not the only one who likes to glaze a finished piece with a light colour. Schmincke Transparent Yellow is my favourite over greens and cerulean is useful too, to cool the temperature of a yellow/green. But, I have also heard of Daniel Smith Cerulean Teal and some of the more granulating colours also being used in this way. This idea comes from several artists including Claire Ward, Rosie Sanders and Fiona Strickland.


Not just a pretty picture.

Photos that are good to work from, may not be the most interesting ones to look at.
Leaf joints, shape and size of petals and stems
are all important elements to take photos of when you want to work from them. 

Tip 8

This one came from fellow SBA Diploma graduate Denise Ramsay whilst at the RHS exhibition in London last year where she won a Gold medal for her series, 'A Brilliant Life'. When you are working with one subject for a long time when the flowers are likely to go over, make sure you take lots of photos, especially close-up macro shots of the fine details. Ensure you take lots of every aspect of the plant to refer to, as you may not have the actual plant to work from for very long.

Another one on this tip is to place either a small ruler or familiar object, such as a coin into the photo. This way you will have a point of reference for sizing. Also, try to take your pictures on a bright but overcast day to avoid harsh shadows, and to keep the camera at the same distance from your subject, (unless you want to take macro photos, to get into the details).


These are just a few, there are so many more I could share now, but these are my favourites that I have encompassed into my daily painting routine.

"Scientia potentia est: Knowledge is Power"

commonly attributed to Sir Francis Bacon
                                                                                        (my personal favourite)



It's good to share, so here are some posts from the Squirrel Archives with more of my favourite tips:-

Tip Top and Top Tips

Paint it Black, (or as dark as you dare)

Tasty Tips on Tackling Leaves

Black, Revisited

The Six Ps

The Big Move

And don't forget, pass it on

"If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it"

Margaret Fuller




Monday, 16 February 2015

Launching Plan Bee

Okay, so here's the plan. Remember I said that I have some important projects under way for 2015/16? Well I can now reveal at least some of the topic for one of them. It's a year long project that will see me painting a series of paintings containing bees as well as flowers, to raise awareness of the loss of habitat for some of our most important pollinating insects. For some time I have been studying the habitats, lives and food sources of two of the rarest bees that we have here in the UK. The Shrill Carder Bee (bombus sylvarum) and the Brown-Banded Carder Bee, (Bombus humilis).

There are a few more surprises yet to be revealed on this project, but you can have too much of a good thing. So, as we go along, there will be more insights to come.

Some of my favourite colours have come in handy to paint the bees

And there are lots of lovely new brushes to ensure a nice, crisp finish

Bring on the Bees! Let me re-introduce you to the fluffballs that will be the centre of my world for the next year.  


Gosh, can I get mine looking as good as the real thing?
Bombus humilis
The Brown-Banded Carder Bee

Getting the soft, fluffy appearance of the hairs and delicate colouring will be a tough challenge.
And as for the luminescent transparency of the wings? Crikey, that will be a task.
Reference photo
Image C/O touch arts data banken

Bombus sylvarum
Shrill Carder Bee
Image c/o wikipedia

As mentioned, the bees form the fundamental starting point for a project that will focus on just one of their preferred food sources, and where this can be found. As I am a Londoner born and bred, and this also happens to be the location of one of the last strongholds of these bees, I felt this would be the perfect back story. More so as one of the hot spots for one of the bees is in the borough where I was born, within a small, protected marshland reserve. Well, I say hotspot. This is all relative as these bees are so rare, sightings of them are few and far between and some of the data is sporadic and sketchy. But they are there and hanging on.

Making a start on sketches for a Worker of Brown-Banded Carder Bee species
Colour mixes in rich browns, neutrals and reds.

Shading on the wings
Greys, neutrals and blue tones, with some golden highlights

Getting the details on those very hairy legs
Mixed blacks and greys are used for this,
with touches of golden highlights.

It's also really exciting to have had some assistance from some really great organisations, and it's so heart warming to know that our fragile natural world has so many crusaders fighting their cause. The City of London Corporation is a special and unique organisation that controls many functions within the City of London, but also privately owns and manages some of the most important pieces of Green Belt land in and around London, (I am passionate about Epping Forest, one of these special places). They have been extremely generous, and patient, and have given me so much of my early research through their extensive wildflower data records.

In fact, the idea for the project that I am working on came from my work on 'The Green Belt' piece from last year, along with my ISBA painting and the 'Working in the Field' piece from my SBA course. Also, the study of sustainable development and the environmental impact on habitats of urban sprawl were topics I really got my teeth into at University. So really some years in the planning.


The Green Belt
Inspired by Epping Forest
The starting point for the project
  
Also offering their support and unparalleled knowledge on bees is The Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and I can't thank them enough for all of their assistance and access to their database information. They have also very kindly, given me access to their picture library. As I said, getting good images of these elusive little creatures is extremely difficult. Lastly for the bees is the London Wildlife Trust. Again, they have been really generous with their help and information on the habitat and recorded locations of both the bees, and my chosen flora subject. It really is all about the team you have around you.

Just for fun, here's Rimsky-Korsakov's 'Flight of the Bumblebee'. Enjoy!



As you will know, I started painting the bees this week, see Things With Wings and gave a little indication as to where this was heading. Well, now you know, and I am really looking forward to sharing more of the project with you as the year progresses. As to the flower species I will be painting? Ah well, I'll let you think on that one for a little while longer, but no, it's not a bramble.

Even painting the bee at twice life-size is still a very fiddly business 


It's going to be a full on year, with challenges left, right and centre. So, if I ever feel it's too damn difficult, and that I am just going to throw in the towel, give up and do something else. I will sit down, have a cup of tea, put on some Beethoven, (everything feels better with Beethoven. Trust me) and turn to Tennyson.

...but strong in will.To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

'Ulysses' - Alfred, Lord Tennyson


Nearly there
'Her Gingerness' has some decidedly red tones

Study pages like this are invaluable to get the anatomy right and to get a feel for how to achieve the
'character' of the little beast.

Well, here she is.
Really quite pleased with this for a first go, but I can see where I can improve on things.
So I will have to paint a few more.

Going for the look of a Victorian specimen collection,
where insects are carefully 'laid out'.
This can make them look rather flat in a painting and I want my bees to look nice and fat and round

Looking at this lay out, I may change it to give the bee a more 'alive' look.
So, the wing direction may change a bit and I might rearrange those legs.
Excuse me! 

Painting the floral subject in-situ would of course be the ideal, but this would cause all sorts of issues for a project of this type. And, with the subject being a wild species, it is illegal to remove the plants from their location. So, to help make sure I have the very best blooms for as long a period as possible, I can thank Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants. A bit more about the plant later, it's asleep just now. So, I hope you will join me as I delve further into the lives of these bees, the plants they rely on and the project to highlight their rarity and need for our help.


Other useful links

Daniel Smith Watercolours in the UK

M.Graham Watercolours in the UK

Bumblebee Conservation Trust

The Natural Year Blog  Natural history paintings by Sarah Morrish

Bumblebee.org All about Bees

da Vinci Maestro watercolour brushes


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Things with Wings

So begins my little foray into 'things with wings', (oh, and by the way, that little phrase comes from one of 'Husband's favourite books, 'The Barbecue Bible'). Now, I was going to have a go at a little butterfly, but as the iridescent paint that I ordered hasn't arrived yet, (or to be honest, I haven't ordered it yet) I can't start it. So, I thought that I might have a go at a little bumbly bee instead.

Bumblebee, having a good rummage for the best bits
I love this picture 

Although I love the big, buzzy garden Bumblebees that we get in the garden in summer, I thought I would have a go at one of the rarer species that we have in Britain. Bees are having a really hard time at the moment, as there are a number of factors that are affecting their numbers considerably. First up is the nasty little mite that weakens and confuses the worker bees, preventing them from foraging. Nasty little buggers. 

Unfortunately, loss of habitat is also one of the major factors affecting bee numbers in Britain. Wildflower meadows have all but disappeared, which makes it difficult for bees to locate an adequate source of food. Recent drives by the RHS, BBCT and Buglife, (see links below) to raise awareness to introduce wildflower and nectar rich flowers to domestic gardens have helped, and some city centres have become greener and a little 'wilder'. So there is plenty of hope, (especially in our garden). According to a report on the radio just this morning, urban bee numbers are actually quite healthy, and are higher than rural bee colonies.

“I like it when a flower or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. Its so fuckin' heroic  

George Carlin


I couldn't agree more, (excuse George's French there, so to speak, but a quote is a quote after all)



Fast and fuzzy
Collecting lots of pollen

The Rolls Royce of insect hotels and a dream home for any bug about town
Somewhere for solitary bees and Bumblebee queens to hibernate

I really want one of these


Myths, Legends & Folklore

Now, you know how I love a bit of folklore, especially those about our natural world. Delving into the myths and legends surrounding bees, I turned up a few interesting snippets.  


Bees have long been a fixture in mythology and folklore for many cultures and beliefs since ancient times. Bees are a symbol of divine immortality, resurrection, knowledge, purity, sexuality, industry and hard work, (gosh, busy little things aren't they). The Egyptian sun god Re was believed to have created bees and humans from his tears, (I like that one). And with this in mind, burying the nobility in honey was a common practise in Egypt as a form of embalming the dead. The Egyptians also placed bees and honey in tombs as offerings to spirits of the dead.

In ancient Greece, The Oracle of Delphi was known as “The Bee”. In fact the ancient Greek “dbr” means both “bee” and “word”, indicating the bee’s mission was to give the Divine Word or Truth. This since has associated bees with prophecy, truth and news.

In some customs, it is important to share news with the bees
Artwork by Rima Staines

'Honey bees, honey bees, hear what I say!
Your Master, poor soul, has passed away.
His sorrowful wife begs of you to stay,
Gathering honey for many a day.
Bees in the garden, hear what I say!'

Northern Europeans have a custom that when a beekeeper died, the survivors must go and tell the bees of their master’s death, persuading them to stay rather than take wing and follow the master to heaven. Also marriages, births, and other important events are, in tradition shared (whispered gently and politely) with the bees, and hives have been decorated accordingly during these events. These traditions were brought to the Americas with the honey bee and are mentioned in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and a poem by New England's John Greenleaf Whittier, 'Telling of the Bees' (1858) among many other popular American pieces of literature.

So, onto the paintings. I have chosen to have a go at a couple of rarities, the Shrill Carder Bee and the Brown-Banded Carder Bee, not just because they are rare, but because one of their last bastions of stronghold habitats is actually, and quite amazingly, near London. That really is heroic George Carlin. Who knew.

Shrill Carder Bee

Image care of BioLib


Brown Banded Carder Bee

Image care of BioLib


Now, I don't actually have a real bee. For one thing these little darlings aren't about at this time of year, (like sensible creatures, the new queens are still hibernating), and for another, I am hardly going to voluntarily end the life of something so beautiful and rare, and alive! So, it's either picture library time or visit a museum where they have some specimens to paint from. For a first go, the former will do nicely. In early traditions bees were believed to have originated in paradise and were known as "little servants of Gods". It was considered bad luck to kill one.


“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” 

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Here we go then. As bees are mostly hairy fuzz and fluff, the only washes are going to be those that support all the detail on top. Getting a convincing level of detail will also test the old skills here, so I will be utilising modern tech to help me to, 'get right in there' for a good look at the hairs and colours. Lots of flicking and careful strokes built up in layers will hopefully create the dense, hairy look that I am after.

Getting the mixes right is always the starting point.
So, what colour is a bee?

My favourite colours of Perylene Maroon, Indanthrene Blue, French Ultramarine Light, Lemon Yellow,
Sennelier Yellow Light and Raw Sienna and Cerulean made up the mixes.

Light blue / greys, neutrals, blacks and golden tones will be used to build up the colours for the bees

Lots of research materials and resources really help.

Bee charts, images, (care of Chris Shields)  

The high res on my tablet really highlights the detail I need

Every hook and hair looks enormous 

My painting is only twice life size, so actually quite small

Making a start on the wings.

Hmm, although this will be an initial sketch, I'm quite pleased with my first attempt.

The wings have golden highlights here and there and a bluish tone towards the edges.

Like tissue paper

Next up will be all those little hairs


Further info

Bumblebee Conservation Trust - A great charity that works hard to raise awareness and conserve our bees.

Buglife - In their own words, 'saving the small things that run the planet'

RHS - Wildlife and Biodiversity in the Garden