Friday, 29 July 2016

What a Week! (and Painting a Lily)

Phew! What a truly exciting couple of weeks it has been. With the Squirrel Website already proving popular, the tutorials and Technique Tool Box tip videos going down pretty well, and the first of the sketchbook in practice exercises going online, it's been a happy whirwind of a month. Many of the new members have said that being a member is like a lovely get together. Just how I wanted it to be. 

Thank you to everyone who has dropped by, left a lovely message, signed up for the Freebie or taken out a subscription. 

Elsewhere, the You Tube channel has had something of a boost, with lots of new subscribers, eagerly waiting for the preview tip video for the next tutorial. It's been such a surprise, as just now I only have two videos on the channel. I'll have to make sure I keep adding plenty of lovely content, so everyone has something new to watch when they come on by.

Here's the trailer I made for the channel.






Speaking of which, the next tutorial for August will be a delicate pink lily bud. It's quite a challenge to capture white and pale flowers without them looking overly muddy, or flat. The disappearing edges are the most tricky, as without enough colour here to give them an obvious placement, the flower can have little shape or form against the white paper. A lovely challenge, even for complete beginners to tackle.

Here's the Pink Lily Bud, with some insights into it's progression


Starting with a sketchbook exercise to get the colours and tone right.


Generally, with all my botanical paintings, I start with a worked up sketch in my sketchbook. This one was actually done some time ago as a demonstration for one of my workshop classes, just to give a general look at how to tackle the subject. As I go, I make loads of colour 'dabs' in the margin, and if I remember, jot down the initials of the colours I used, and in which order I applied them.

It's a good idea to start with the palest colour, or hue that you can see and work up from there. In pale flowers, it's down to the shadow tones mostly, to bring forward all the dimension, forming the roundness of the subject. This can be very difficult as shadow tones tend to be quite grey. By deciding which colours I will need for the complete painting, I find I can mix naturally harmonious shadow mixes from these. But I won't spoil it for you, the rest is on the tutorial.

It was ages before I finally got the chance to work this little study into a final piece, and thought it would make a wonderful tutorial for students wanting to paint a pale flower.


Working the early washes and beginning to get the shape and form


My 'first wash' is actually a series of washes, to build up the whole piece to an even level of finish. Subsequent layers build up the initial layers to give a greater depth of tonal variation
  

The finished piece
     
After working wet-in-wet washes, the dry brush techniques can be deployed to really work up those fine details and surface textures. This one was an absolute pleasure to paint, and as it only took a couple of days to do, quite a quick little project.


Final thoughts: 

Last week, I was asked by the lovely Charlie O'Shields over at the amazing blog Doodlewash, to be a guest artist with the ever popular Guest Doodlewash series. It was a great honour and a lovely surprise to be asked, and be among so many wonderfully talented artists. In the interview, Charlie asked me about how I got into botanical painting, where I started, how I paint now, the kit I use, and what keeps me going. It was great to share my experience, and read back all the wonderful comments from the readers. Take a peek  


My happy badge of homour
Proud to have been Doodlewashed!




Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Lift Off...

Ta Dah! Oh my, what a busy week it's been here at Squirrel HQ, and there's an awfully big reason why that has been so. The new tuition website has reached lift off...

Visit the shiny new home of Squirrel HQ, the Botanical So Beautiful video tutorials website at www.sketchbooksquirrel.com


With huge thanks to my lovely web design group at
Design Image

The site launched, with very little fanfare on Wednesday (also my wedding anniversary), just to see how things went, (and to get any early glitches and gremlins out of the way). And boy, did it go! 

It's been something of an outrageous whirlwind, and you all know me, I'm never one to go over the top with the me, me, me thing, so I was very surprised how quickly the whole thing took off. It has been so delightful to welcome so many people to my new site,(it's been hard to keep up) and with lots of wonderfully supportive feedback emails from many of the new members, I really hope we all continue to have loads of fun with the tutorials for many years to come.  

Already, the Little Red Chili has gone down a storm, and the Technique Tool Box videos, offering lots of practical tips and advice are proving popular. In the production line are the new In Practice... Sketchbook, and tutorial project videos for July and August, so I've got a busy few weeks ahead of me here at Squirrel HQ.

Little Red Chili and Prickly Bramble Leaf videos from the You Tube Channel, are now available as full tutorials on the website.








It would be really lovely to see you over on the new website. To welcome everyone, there is a FREE package on offer, as well as all the usual Squirrel quirky style. I'm not going to ramble on, telling you all about it, I'll let you all see for yourself. 

So, grab a cuppa, a nice slice of cake or a favourite biccie, settle down and have a good browse. I would love to hear what you think, but, be kind, it's a bit like my first day at school. Fun times indeed. An enormous thank you and huge hugs to absolutely everyone who has supported me on this one. You are genuinely wonderful.

www.sketchbooksquirrel.com


Normal service will, of course resume once the pace slows down a little. We'll all have a get together here in a few days time, for a quiet regroup and a nice little chat. 








Thursday, 30 June 2016

From the Ashes

Crikey chaps, it feels like an absolute age since I last posted something for you. Well, even artists need to take a break now and then, and for the first time in a good few years, I went on holiday! Nothing outrageous, just a lovely relaxed week on the delightful island of Crete.

Across the Alps...



While on the island I came across the most wonderful botanical park. The Botanical Park of Crete is a delightful place, and even in scorching heat, there is much to see and enjoy. Tropical, Mediterranean,vineyards and citrus fruit orchards combine with a beautiful lake and even a small menagerie of goats and peacocks across the hillside site. As a welcome wherever you go on Crete, there is always something to intrigue the taste buds. For us at the park, it was slices of their homegrown oranges.

The flora was of course stunning, but this is a place in transition, and is still relatively new when compared to other botanical gardens. The fact that the place even exists is something of a miracle.






Even familiar species seem more vibrant in a sunny setting.
The colours have so much more zing too


The area around the park 20km from the main town of Chania is home to many small villages, including the small hamlet of Skordalou. In October 2004, a severe fire, caused by the strong winds from Africa bringing down an electrical cable onto the hot dry forest trees devastated the entire area. Within 24 hours sixty thousand 400 year old olive trees had been lost, and an area of 200km had been destroyed.





A family of four brothers lost their entire livelihood but immediately could see how the land could be used once more. The idea for the Botanical Park of Crete for education and enjoyment was formed. It's still very much a growing idea, (pardon the pun) but having got to know the Cretans, they are not people to give up.

Crete is an island full of flowers.
Even their highway roadsides are ablaze with colour



Rats! At this point my SD card gave up on me. Still, I've got some happy memories of this exotic corner.



Due to the economic recession in Greece, much of Crete is an island in waiting. Across the island there were many areas due for development that have yet to be completed. Many houses are built as a concrete outer skeleton that is then filled with brick and blockwork. Earthquakes occur in this area, so buildings must be pretty strong. Plans were in place for more homes on this hillside, and one or two were started. Many still lie empty.

The people were gorgeous, and so welcoming, Everywhere we went we were brought delicacies and wine, just for coming. Somewhere I hope to return to again.



Wednesday, 1 June 2016

It's June. Why So Grey?

Here we are on the 1st of June, the start of the Northern Hemisphere's Meteorological Summer, and it's pretty nippy if I may say so. Cold winds, rain and a very dull, grey day is forecast. Hmmm, not very inspiring. Well, here at Squirrel HQ something is always made out of very little, so here's a post about greyscale, (or grayscale if you are Stateside).

Def:
A range of grey shades from white to black, as used in a monochrome display or printout

In the world of Game of Thrones however, Greyscale is somewhat different and described as:

  ...a dreaded and usually fatal disease that can leave flesh stiff and dead, and the skin cracked and flaking, and stone-like to the touch. Those that manage to survive a bout with the illness will be immune from ever contracting it again, but the flesh damaged by the ravages of the disease will never heal, and they will be scarred for life.

Well I never. Luckily in the real world of botanical painting, greyscale takes on the formal definition by taking in the shades of grey from white through to black, usually in the form of a graphite pencil drawing. Thank goodness.

White to black and back again

And everything in between.

Think about it in terms of your pencils and practice the chart.
Leave the first block white, then use all your grades of pencil to gently shade each block,
 all the way to the darkest black with your softest, darkest pencil.

Looking at the top row of the diagram above,
the middle grade is HB, with everything lighter to the left being H grades, and everything darker to the right, B grades. 

Working in graphite pencil is a lovely way to capture the beauty of plants, by bringing focus to the more architectural aspects without the distraction of  colour. Very often, courses in botanical illustration and painting will introduce monochrome pencil exercises, and studies as an initial element. By doing this, students can really focus their skills in drawing and understanding tonal contrast, without the pressure of colour recognition or watercolour technique.   

Rendering shapes such as spheres, cylinders and blocks is something I was very used to doing when I trained as a draughtsman, and luckily I haven't lost my touch. To shade the shapes below, I used all my pencil grades from the hardest 3H to the softest 9B, and a technique of gently, circular movements for the spheres, and strokes in one direction for the sides of the cylinder.

It's a really good way to get the hands and fingers warmed up for the day, and I still like to do little pencil exercises in my sketchbook now, especially when working on a new piece. For this exercise, I was asked to render a cylinder, block and one sphere. As I wanted to study the change in the direction of light and its effect on the sphere, I completed three. To get the shading right, I used a large ball bearing, and moved the light around it.        



Moving on to a larger pencil study of a dwarf rhododendron, again using all the pencil grades, and the same techniques as used for the exercises.









Pencil can also be used to lovely effect in combination with watercolour. For one of the hedgerow pieces, I decided to combine colour and graphite on the cranesbill element. Here, I wanted the focus to be on the flower species with the grass as a background suggestion of the growing habitat. The bright blue of the flower looked particularly pretty with the shades of grey.  









Botanical illustrations can look really good when you combine graphite pencil details with the watercolour painting of the subject. Here on the study of Iris reticulata I decided to use pencil for all of the dissections, and kept them to a margin to the right of the painting. Allowing the bud of the painted element to come slightly into the space of the dissections brought them together.   




Dissection of Iris reticulata


Greyscale is also really useful when you want to judge tonal contrast in your paintings. Very often I will use the scanner or phone to take a greyscale image of a work in progress to see how the contrast is looking. Without the distraction of colour, it's much easier to see where the areas of light and shade are, and where things could be improved. Here's how some of my paintings look without their colour. Weird, but somewhat satisfying  



Even when a scan goes wrong, it can create a useful image

Just the hint of colour amongst the greyscale.

Like one of those really old black and white photos that has been hand coloured
  
Without the colour, you are not wowed by the visual impact you expect. Instead, you may find yourself focusing on the finer detail, textures, shapes and contrast. Even when I think a piece is finished, I may look at it in black and white later, and think, oh that could have done with a bit more. 








Give it a go, and be surprised.


Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Wednesday Motivation


Start by doing what's necessary; 
then do what's possible;
and suddenly you are doing the impossible.

Francis of Assisi


Following on from the post  I wrote the other week, Are You Ready?  where I discussed the idea of being ready for anything and taking life's chances, this got me thinking a bit more about the reasons why we wait or let artistic opportunities pass us by. In the post I put it down to these main points.


  • My work's not good enough
  • I'll go in for that one next year
  • I've got too much going on
  • I'll make a fool of myself
  • I can't do it    
  • No-one will buy it
  • No-one will come
  • I don't have time

After some thought, I can also add lack of motivation or inspiration to that list. Some of the nicest comments I had recently came as feedback from one of the Squirrel Archive pieces I wrote. I focused on inspiration, and motivation, where we get it from, and how we can keep it going. Well, as it was so popular with the readers, and Wednesday is always said to be 'Peak Efficiency Day' when we are meant to be at our most inspired, motivated, and work orientated, I thought I would post it here.


One of the hardest things to maintain over time is motivation, and where to find our inspiration to keep our work fresh. Without inspiration, we find it hard to get going, our motivation flags, and painting becomes a chore rather than a pleasure. There are however things we can do to keep us cheerily painting away. 

Here's my Top 5



  • Draw everyday Sounds obvious this one, but keep up the skills by spending at least 10 minutes of everyday on a small drawing. Nothing too big or complicated, but maybe something new or challenging.
Sometimes just a chart of colours and a few thumbnail sketches are enough to keep things fresh  


Off the beaten track 

A really new challenge

Worked up a bit

Got there in the end

  • Find inspiration everywhere. Flowers on a cafe table, a wallpaper design, the park where you eat your lunch, the veg aisle at the supermarket and even good packaging. If you think about looking for the next big thing everywhere you go, you will find something exciting.


Hello there

Spotted on a street in Greenwhich, near the old Naval College

  • Keep a mood board. Inspiration can take the form of a 'mood board'. Mostly used to demonstrate an interior design idea, mood boards can also really boost confidence and motivation. Favourite things, pictures from magazines, fabrics, wallpapers, cards and our own paintings placed in sight are all positive messages to keep us going.



If you don't have room for a mood board, create your own online,
 and look at them from time to time.

  • Take pictures. With superb cameras on our smartphones, we can take great pictures wherever we go. If you see something beautiful, take a picture of it, (mind out if you need permission though). The way we see things can influence many aspects of our lives, so take time out in your day to look around you. Even in the middle of a city, nature finds a way of being around.


And who says builders don't care about nature.
Spotted at a very busy junction on a massive building project.

The amount of bees buzzing around this little oasis of green was quite astonishing

These guys get the award for best use of a hard hat

  • Be brave and get out there. Being an artist working away in a studio can be a very isolating business, and not everyone is blessed with a whole army of friends cheering them on. It's still important to get out and about. Joining a local art group is a great way to meet like minded people, and if there isn't one in your area, why not start one yourself, or join a group to do something totally different but enjoyable. Pottery, Zumba, Yoga, walking or even an evening course in wine appreciation, (as if we need help there), anything that keeps the positive messages flowing.  


Didn't have to go far for this one.

It's not every day a Dalek rolls on by


Vintage fabrics are a passion

True inspiration

This guy cycled his way from China to London in 2012 to promote the Olympic message

He was so lovely

Someone to share the moment