Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Colour Casting Couch

"Well, it's lovely to see you, thank you for coming and do take a seat while I take a look at your resume".

Ha ha ha, I often see the selection of paints for a new piece as something of an interview. Which ones will make the final shortlist and which ones will face disappointment this time around. Of course I haven't gone quite round the bend and look at my paints as little actors all waiting eagerly to be taken out of the box, but it's a fun way to look at it. Well, for me it is anyway.

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

Regina Brett

For my latest piece, 'Fade to Grey' I had so many lovely comments it was quite overwhelming. Many of the comments focused on the colour, and quite a few were asking specifically which particular brands and colours I used for it. For this post, I decided to go down this road a little further and give you a flavour of how I choose my colours.

My current favourite watercolour brands are

Daniel Smith
Winsor and Newton
Schmincke - Transparent Yellow and Transparent Orange

A selection of my M.Graham paints.

Of these I love the Azo Yellow, Anthraquinone Blue (Indanthrene),
Quinacridone Violet and Maroon Perylene

Although there is a wealth of variety for the artist to choose from out there, I generally stick with these, as not only do I find the pigments really pure, but the texture, layering quality, transparency and general handling all superb.

Other brands I have in the box

Sennelier, but only Lemon Yellow and Sennelier Yellow Light
Holbein Ultramarine Light

For me, I like to keep a relatively spartan palette when I begin a piece and try not to introduce too many as I go along. In mixes, I try not to add too many colours together, and generally only add three. If I need to darken or make a shadow tone, I'll use some of the mix and add something to it, but that's about it.

Generally these are my starting colours, using only six on the palette, and I mix everything from them.  

Warm Yellow - Sennelier Yellow Light or DS Hansa Yellow or DS Quinacridone Gold
Warm Red - Perylene Maroon
Warm Blue - French Ultramarine or Ultramarine Light

Cool Yellow - Azo Yellow or Lemon Yellow
Cool Red - DS Anthraquinoid Red or Permanent Rose or both
Cool Blue - Indanthrene Blue

All the colours used in the painting.

The odd one in the pan is the Quinacridone Purple.

Here is everything used on, 'Fade to Grey'

Indanthrene Blue
Ultramarine Light
Quinacridone Magenta
Quinacridone Rose
Quinacridone Purple
Anthraquinoid Red
Perylene Maroon
Permanent Rose
Transparent Yellow
Lemon Yellow
Sennelier Yellow Light

No 3, No 2 and No 0 brushes

Sticking with six doesn't always suit the painting and you have to have more or specific colours, (especially primary colours) on the palette. Here I have used two or three more reds as I am working mostly in purples or pinks at the moment. For this I will also include my favourite Quinacridone Magenta, Anthraquinoid Red and Quinacridone Purple as well.

The ones here from Daniel Smith are fabulous.
My current favourites and the ones I turn to for a lot of purple subjects are
Imperial Purple and Quinacridone Purple.

Ultramarine Violet has a lovely, soft granulating quality and Cobalt Violet Deep is very potent.  

When I need to mix greens, I don't really use pre-mixed greens, (but did weaken to M.Graham Azo Green) but mix all my own from the palette. For me I find I can get a more accurate 'family of greens' from a custom built job.

Just now I have branched into some specific purple mixes by Daniel Snith. Shared via a fellow artist friend, I have used these colours several times on recent pieces, and find them superb both on their own, and in mixes. If I have a new purchase I tend to head towards the sketchbook for a trial run, mixing with my stable favourites and playing with techniques to see how they perform. if they pass the test, they get in the box, and then onto the shortlist. "Next Please!"

'I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere

 and don't notice it'.

Alice Walker

Strong words there Alice, but I think I know what you mean. Who can't be struck by a field of lavender in full bloom?

Fade to Grey
The finished piece

For this one I made sure there were plenty of warm and cool areas to keep the interest.
To the left is warmer, as is the stem and stamens.

Bluer areas and the cooler greys recede the painting to the centre and to the far right where
the light picked up the folds and wrinkled bits.

The area of palest shine against darkest shadow on the central petal throws this area forward somewhat more
and I have been really practising this technique.

'The forward violet thus did I chide:
Sweet thief, whence didst thou steal thy sweet that smells,
If not from my love's breath? The purple pride
Which on thy soft cheek for complexion dwells
In my love's veins thou hast too grossly dyed.
The lily I condemned for thy hand, 
And buds of marjoram had stol'n thy hair:
The roses fearfully on thorns did stand, 
One blushing shame, another white despair; 
A third, nor red nor white, had stol'n of both 
And to his robbery had annex'd thy breath; 
But, for his theft, in pride of all his growth 
A vengeful canker eat him up to death. 
   More flowers I noted, yet I none could see
   But sweet or colour it had stol'n from thee'. 

Sonnet 99 by W. Shakespeare

For this very pink and purple rich subject I seriously 'upped' the amount of reds in the palette to five, including a couple of purple and pink mixes. The main mixes for the pinks and purples were:

Quinacridone Purple + Quinacridone Magenta

Above mix + Indanthrene Blue

Permanent Rose + Quinacridone Purple

Quinacridone Purple + Quinacridone Magenta + Anthraquinoid Red

Anthraquinoid Red + Quinacridone Purple

Above mix + Permanent Rose

Adding a bit of this and a little bit of that alters the temperature and depth of each mix, so it's hard to be exact, but these were the main mixes.

Yellow / Stamens

Sennelier Yellow Light + Perylene Maroon

Lemon Yellow

Sennelier Yellow Light + Permanent Rose + Indanthrrene Blue

Green / Stem

Ultramarine Light + Lemon Yellow + Perylene Maroon

Lemon Yellow + Indanthrene Blue

Shadow tones and deepest darks were all mixed using the colours in the palette by adding just a touch more of  Lemon Yellow and Indanthrene Blue to the deepest purple mixes and to the green to get colour-rich greys and blacks.

A very purple palette
The cerulean and cobalt had been for a previous painting, so were not actually used here.
If there is paint left on the palette, I just wipe off the mixes from the middle and reuse

The main colours are squidged around the edge of the plate with the other colours in little half pans, ready to add a bit here and there should the mix need it.

And here's the latest little sketch for the sketchbook exchange. A small study of a Dahlia started as a demonstration in my last workshop and finished in the studio

Dates for the spring series of the new sketchbook study workshops, 'The Botanical Year' are now available on the tuition page of the website. x

Friday, 9 October 2015

Confessions of a Botanical Fraud

This week saw the crowning of the new Great British Bake of champion, and the winning statement by Nadiya Hussain will go down in chez Squirrel as one of the best TV moments of any Bake Off Final.  Struggling to get her words out, Nadiya highlighted something that I am sure affects many people when nerves, shyness, lack of confidence and apprehension prevents them from following their dreams. It certainly did for me.  

When you think you can't

"I'm never going to put boundaries on myself ever again. 

I'm never going to say I can't do it.

I'm never going to say maybe. 

I'm never going to say I don't think I can. I CAN AND I WILL

Nadiya Hussain, Great British Bake Off Winner 2015

For all of you who think you can't
For all of you who think your work will never be important or worthy
For all of you who think you can't do it. 

If you have the passion, if you have the drive and you have the determination, you can and you will. We all have a starting point and a catalyst moment in our lives that brings forth a change, whatever that catalyst may be, it is up to the individual to recognise it as an opportunity and grasp it. Don't get me wrong here, I am not someone who has a clear understanding or belief in fate, just that we need to take advantage of every opportunity that comes our way. The path less traveled by? Maybe.

My mum's curiosity in a small ad in a magazine was my starting point. "Now this is something you should consider". "It's a great idea mum, but I don't think I can, I'm not good enough..." Sound familiar? Eventually I sent off for the details and had a go.   

My very first attempt at a botanical watercolour.

Wrong paper, terribly old brushes and paints and with no knowledge of the historical botanical 'greats'
or Latin for that matter, I really felt like a fish out of water who didn't belong in the botanical art world. 

Veggie Trio 2009

After a stressful couple of days I thought my 'Veggie Trio' looked okay but knew it wouldn't be good enough to get me a place on the Society of Botanical Artists Diploma Course where precision and perfection was highly sought after. 

Well, I was wrong and so it all began for me. All through the course I still felt like a fraud, unable to compete with or match the knowledge or skill of some of my superb fellow students. Of course they are all, (mostly, all will become clear) lovely, and their support helped to bob me along. Their friendships through Facebook et al. has been incredible and I thank them all for being so loyal, cheery and patient. 

Nothing prepared me for the single piece of A4 paper that clearly stated 'Distinction'. For the briefest moment I did wonder if I had read it wrong in wishful thinking. Only a spiteful and devastatingly well placed comment by one individual (who will remain nameless) at my graduation, brought a crushing blow that ruined the rest of my evening and nearly stopped me from ever picking up a brush again. That took a while to get over, while to the rest of the world I was 'fine', in full possession of my 'shield of Normality'. Of course she wasn't to know that I operate best with a bit of anger in me, so once it was simmering nicely, her intentions had the adverse effect and I attacked new pieces with a vengeance. Awfully glad it. Ha ha ha.   

And my latest tulip work in progress

'Fade to Grey' 2015

It all seems like such a long time, ago but after five years and hours of practise, I feel I am getting there with it. Still a lot to learn though.

See also:

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

A Great British Tulipmania

Ha ha ha, well I couldn't resist a bit of a nod to the frenzy of excitement that always comes with the final of The Great British Bake Off, (yes it's tonight and I can't wait). Tulipmania! Yes, it really is a real word and captures a strange period in history when tulip bulbs where a mega craze with some worth more than gold. 

'How can you be content to be in the world like tulips in a garden, to make a fine show, and be good for nothing.'

Mary Astell

Well, they were good for a lot more than just a good show, and how!!

 History time 

So how did this all come about? Well, it would seem that the Dutch were not the first ones to go bonkers for these alluring specimens. Long before the flowers were known popularly in Europe they could be found in Bavaria - in 1559. The flower had enchanted the Persians and bewitched the rulers of the Ottoman Empire. It was in Holland, however, that the passion for tulips found its most fertile ground, for reasons that had little to do with horticulture.

Holland in the early 17th century was embarking on its Golden Age. Resources that had just a few years earlier gone toward fighting for independence from Spain now flowed into commerce and the trade boom took off, big time. Amsterdam merchants were at the centre of the lucrative East Indies trade, where a single voyage could yield profits of 400%. They displayed their success by erecting grand estates surrounded by vast flower gardens. All to display their wealth and success. The Dutch population seemed torn by two contradictory impulses: a horror of living beyond ones means and the love of a long shot. Hmm, nothing much has changed there then.

'Flowers heal me. Tulips make me happy. 

I keep myself surrounded by them...'

Rebecca Wells

Enter the tulip. It is impossible to comprehend the tulip mania without understanding just how different the new tulips were from every other flower known to horticulturists in the 17th century. The colours they exhibited were more intense and more concentrated than those of ordinary plants. Despite the extremely high prices commanded by the rarest bulbs that bore the most stunning blooms, ordinary tulips were sold by the pound. Around 1630, however, a new type of tulip fancier appeared, lured by tales of big profits. These ''florists,'' or professional tulip traders, sought out flower lovers and speculators alike. But if the supply of tulip buyers grew quickly, the supply of bulbs did not. The tulip was a conspirator in the supply squeeze: It takes seven years to grow one from seed. And while bulbs can produce two or three clones, or ''offsets,'' annually, the mother bulb only lasts a few years.

Bulb prices rose steadily throughout the 1630s, as ever more speculators wedged into the market. Weavers and farmers mortgaged whatever they could to raise cash to begin trading. In 1633, a farmhouse in Hoorn changed hands for three rare bulbs. By 1636 any tulip, even bulbs recently considered  unappealing or poor quality could be sold off, often for hundreds of guilders. A futures market for bulbs existed, and tulip traders could be found conducting their business in hundreds of Dutch taverns. Tulip mania reached its peak during the winter of 1636-37, when some bulbs were changing hands ten times in a day. The absolute peak of the mania came early that winter, at an auction to benefit seven orphans whose only asset was 70 fine tulips left by their father. One, a rare Violetten Admirael van Enkhuizen bulb that was about to split in two, sold for 5,200 guilders, the all-time record. All told, the flowers brought in nearly 53,000 guilders.

Ouch! That's not a graph anyone wants to see on a stock market.
How the mighty do fall 

Enough said I think!

What goes up of course, must eventually come down and soon after, the tulip market crashed utterly, spectacularly. It began in Haarlem, at a routine bulb auction when, for the first time, the greater fool refused to show up and pay. Within days, the panic had spread across the country. Despite the efforts of traders to prop up demand, the market for tulips evaporated. Flowers that had commanded 5,000 guilders a few weeks before now fetched one-hundredth that amount. (based on 'When the Tulip Bubble Burst' - Bloomberg Business Week, April 2000)

And so ended what was one of the most outrageous boom and spectacular markets ever to have existed.

All very interesting, but what has this to do with today's post. Well, dear reader I have been painting a tulip. Nothing outrageous, rare or fancy I hasten to add but a somewhat small, faded specimen that I photographed earlier this year for no other reason than I liked the colour. I guess that's no different to those earlier nutcases who spent their fortunes on a bulb! Cheers thanks, but I'd rather have the house!

Making a start

Taking shape

Just a little way to go now

Monday, 28 September 2015

Needful Things

Now, you all know how much I love a good sketchbook. Over the years I have collected published sketchbooks and have a fine collection of, 'stuffed to the max' books of all descriptions full of meanderings, sketches, old bus tickets, you name it and I'll stick it in. In truth, a book ephemera. And if I think it's beautiful, it goes in a book. (See the end of this post for an exclusive new idea starting in 2016)

According to the dictionary:

  1. things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time.
    "there were papers, letters, old boxes—all sorts of ephemera"
    • collectable items that were originally expected to have only short-term usefulness or popularity.
      "Mickey Mouse ephemera"

One of my great design heroes William Morris had the right idea:

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

William Morris

Thinking about it, It all started when I was at art college where a couple of tutors who were obsessed with collections of stuff really got us all thinking about how and why we surround ourselves, and seem to have a need for things. If we look about at what our most precious possessions are, they tend not to be highly valuable, but sentimental objects that have little monetary value, but we would be bereft without them.

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things,

 but their inward significance.


As an artist, you would think that my most favourite objects would be art related, a paintbox or a vintage jar, something like that. But actually one of my all time precious objects is a pebble picked up from a loch side in Scotland. It's nothing special, just a smallish, rounded granite pebble that 'Husband' thought I might like, so went wading in to get it. See, I'm easily pleased.

Song lyrics with an autumn flavour dance among the dahlia buds

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

Mother Teresa

Ah, I digress. Let's get back to those sketchbooks. A sketchbook in my hands is never a serious academic masterwork. No, it has to be seriously silly in places, and not take itself too seriously containing little snippets here and there of recipes, quotes, poetry, colour notes, observations, pressed flowers, drawings and stuff like that. What I really love is to look back at one of my old sketchbooks and be totally surprised by what I actually decided to put in it. For the sketchbook exchange I painted a small orange tent for one entry. And why not!

Some of my favourite sketchbook pages from a year of the sketchbook exchange and my own books.

That orange tent
Seeds, periwinkles and the March winds blew across these pages.
Perhaps I was reminded of my parents in their youth, camping in Scotland at Easter
 when the snow was falling and the winds were still sharp

Tree trunk against a snowy river bank

Thumbnails help when working out compositions

Clucky and friend

I love a good window

It's honeysuckle time, so it must be Shakespeare

Clucky returns
and leaf rubbing is fun
A more traditional botanical sketchbook page
Pink, and a slightly romantic sticker of a dicentra reflect the month of love 

And back to the added extras
An open window, a sky study
and adding salt to wet washes to create texture
Plus a cosmos sketch

Typography plays an important part on many of my pages 

The colour of the type, matches the season
Chilly grey January days pepped up by bright res rose hips


And now for an exclusive: Inspired by my lovely friends on the Nature Trail 

Starting in January 2016, (yes, it's not that far away now) I am planning a new series of monthly sketchbook classes at Squirrel HQ. Each month we can plan ideas for what to include and how to compose a really beautiful page to sum up the feeling of the month. Whatever you fancy, yes even a bright orange tent can be added and I will be on hand to demonstrate painting techniques, give some tips on composition and of course provide the tea and cakes. January class planned for Wed 13th or Thurs 14th. So if you fancy a jolly day in Hampshire, get in touch.

And what if you can't make it to Hampshire, or are one of my lovely readers from overseas? Well, look out on the new membership tuition website when it launches later this year as there will be an exclusive monthly sketchbook section to help you create a beautiful reflection of your year. Let me know what you think.  

When you have confidence, you can have a lot of fun. 
And when you have fun, you can do amazing things.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Fade to Grey

Crikey folks, I can't believe we are nearly half way through September already. Where on earth did 2015 go? With autumn workshops here at Squirrel HQ off and running and paintings being finished for exhibitions next year, I rather fancy in the blink of an eye it will be 'that' time of year again, (yes, that's right, Christmas).

Not to let the grass grow, it's been time for Squirrel to venture forth into new territories too. After a prompt boot up the virtual backside by my good friend and fellow artist and blogger Vicki Lee Johnston, I finally took the plunge and headed on over to Instagram, set up an account (find me as Sketchbook Squirrel), and duly got snapping on my phone and tablet. Pinterest has also proved a worthy seam of interest, so you can find me scuffling around there too. 

To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.

William Blake

It was a time of seed collection last week, and I am continuing to find some lovely things in the garden that I am really looking forward to planting again this year. Trialling some new annuals has been fun, with lots of really pretty flowers, particularly the little trumpets of the acid lemon/white nicotine flowers that have been on the go for months. Only this morning there was talk of an enormous moth the size of a bat taking a shine to nicotiana plants, so I will be keeping a watch to see if we get one. We get bats dodging about in the garden so it's not a completely outrageous notion.  To read more on this one, and see an extraordinary little film of said creature, head to the BBC for a little video and there's also an article from the Telegraph.

Convulvulus Hawkmoth

These palm-sized moths migrate through Europe in the early autumn
Conservationists are calling for us Brits to keep a beady eye out for them

Image c/o The Telegraph

Elsewhere, there is a new painting under way. If you recall a little while ago, I told you I was going all pink and purple again, (a bit like the new cushions in our sitting room, but that's another story) and apart from a small venture off piste into browns with a poppy sketch, the pinks are back. Oh happy day! Sneaky peek at the subject time

Love the ruffly, fading edges and subtle colour variation of pinks, purples and palest grey in the dying petals.

The centre detail will add a nice point of focus.

Hopefully, with this last one I will have all five of the paintings I plan to enter for the SBA next year. Working from photos, colour notes and sketches taken at the time will be helpful but I sense this one will be a challenge.

Perfect Palette

These have been lovely to use and I am happy to get back to this beautiful selection by the ever reliable DS

Just couldn't resist this from my favourite Ted Baker 
A major treat from 'Husband' and the lining is such a delicious cornucopia

Certainly don't want to attract any moths to these particular blooms.