Friday, 24 July 2015

Peony Progress

The peony has proved itself to be an interesting subject to do this week. The greens and browns have been lifted by the different textures, and sizing up the subjects means bigger leaves to deal with. Taking my time with the papery bits, using a tiny brush to get the textures and shading has also been quite therapeutic. There is something very relaxing about painting the details of folded up bits of dead papery plant.  

Crispy brown bits need lots of tiny strokes.

Indanthrene Blue, Lemon Yellow and Perylene Maroon
Ultramarine, Sennelier Yellow Light and Perylene Maroon. 

using a bright green mix to add a wash to the edges

Sennelier yellow Light, Ultramarine and a touch of Perylene maroon

Bringing out the character

So many bits to do

So what about Peonies?

Peonies are often seen as problematic to grow successfully and are therefore viewed as a bit of a 'dark art'. However, I was determined to have them and decided on getting some bare root plants to start with. They take a while to thrive and may not flower for a year or two, but we were lucky, and got a couple of lovely blooms. Species of Peony include the tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa), a woody deciduous shrub, and the common peony (Paeonia lactiflora), the popular herbaceous perenial, and the Japanese peony (Paeonia lactiflora "Nippon Beauty"), a scarlet common garden cultivar. 

Peony was known in China for over 2000 years when it was first used for its medicinal value. The roots, bark, seeds and flowers were all believed to be of some healing use, with the plant being held in high regard. The peony is so well loved in China that it is the national flower and symbolises honour, friendship, good luck and beauty. It always represents elegance and poise. Also linked to Greek mythology, the translation of peony from ancient Greek is 'praisegiving'.  

Greek Myth time:

It is believed that the Peony is named after Paeon (also known as Paean), a healing deity who had healed the wounds of Hades and Ares. Paeon was also a student of Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing. Paeon was instructed by Leto (Apollo's mother and goddess of fertility) to obtain a magical root found growing on Mount Olympus that would soothe the pain of women in childbirth. Asclepius became jealous of Paeon and threatened to kill his pupil, but Zeus intervened and saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius by turning him into the peony flower. In truth, peony seeds were used by pregnant women during ancient times. So there's something in it.  

'Bread feeds the body indeed, but flowers feed the soul'

The Koran 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Past it Peony

The last week has been something of an 'admin week'. You know the sort of thing, catching up with online messages and emails, getting to grips with the tax return and receipts, planning and booking the next load of workshops. Busy, busy, busy. Oh yes, and getting the next shiny edition of, The Squirrel Archives' out to my lovely subscribers. If you haven't got it yet, you can subscribe right here on the blog.

However, I have also got down to the old brass tacks, and actually started to get the next painting on the board. This time I fancied a complete change of pace, and have decided to pay more attention to flowers when they are past their best. Looking at flowers when they are 'past it' really should be a right of passage for floral artists, as this is the point where the flower really has done it's job successfully and the seeds are forming. Some seed heads are really spectacular, with as much, if not more interesting detail than the flowers. So, with some of my favourites now over, it was time to take a closer look.

Dear old Archie when he had done his stuff.

The bright sunshine on the artichoke is a bit too contrasty to paint from, so here's where I wish I had taken a few more considered photos.
Photos to work from are not the same as a photo for the blog or website
but I quite like this pic, so it might become a painting yet. 

The iris pod and seeds from last year

The painting in progress

Technically, fruits are seed heads too, protecting the seeds as they ripen.

Using some of the seeds from inside shop bought chillis and tomatoes,
I have grown new plants the following year with great success.

This year in the garden I planted some lovely new peony varieties. Peonies are beautiful, big, blowsy affairs with ruffles and candyfloss blooms that really are stunning, and the few we had were fabulous. As it's a good idea to leave the first flowers on the young plants to allow them to build up stamina to grow even better next year, I decided to hold the horses back and wait for the seed head to form.

Big on detail.

The forming seed head of a peony
The very fine hairs are more prominent once you enlarge the image.

Detail, detail, detail, and a bit more...detail.

Peony seed heads have some great textures, with fuzzy bits going on and all sorts of interesting details. As always, I started off by taking lots of photos, for both the close up and composition. Next, I made sure to do a study page of sketches, measurements and colour swatches, to get a feel for the subject.

A really comprehensive colour chart for each aspect of the subject will help me get an accurate representation.

Keeping to a limited palette gives overall coherence for the painting.

A few additions to provide a 'pop' of focus should give it some zing.

Making sure there is enough information to begin with prevents disappointment and error later on. It's really important to take photos in good, but not overly bright light, and it's better to use a white background to reflect true colours. From the photos, I can use a tablet to enlarge the details I want to see more closely, and if the subject has died, I can still continue to work from the images, measurements, sketches and swatches.

Plenty of textures and interesting detail to keep me occupied 
Next up is the accurate drawing. This time I drew the image straight onto the paper, as I wanted to enlarge the subject. Double size looks good on the size of paper, and should give me plenty of scope for the detail, colours and tones. Now onto the tough stuff. Painting it.

Using a really sharp H grade pencil and my proportional dividers, I enlarged the subject.

No safety net this time of a master tracing,
but I think it will be okay.

If not, then I will have to trace from the original image and have another go.

Lots of photos, so I'm not going to rush it.  

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Kit and Kaboodle

Like any one else, I love stuff, and any new stuff that comes my way is greatly appreciated. That's not to say that I like clutter, and am currently attempting to turn my house into a minimalist haven of calm, (with 'Husband' and all his tech that's never going to happen). Ah, one can dream.

Today is rainy old day and after being out of the studio for a while, I feel like a bit of a tidy up before the next painting gets under way. This got me thinking about what else is in there that I just can't seem to manage without, (lots of us have been doing this). Now, most of these treasures are not lavish affairs, some of my favourite bits and bobs are simple things that only really make sense to me to have. But, you may see sense in them too and think to yourself, "well I never thought of that"

So here are my top 10

1. Palettes.

These beauties were bought for me by a most generous and gorgeous friend and I just can't live without them. Just simple flat serving dishes from a home wares store, these little ceramic dishes are used for food, but why not paint. They give lovely smooth mixing, no stress on the brush and go in the dishwasher. With lots of little ones, I can mix colours for several pieces, cover with cling film or another palette, and keep it for later.

The new ones are about the same size as my old palettes with wells. used together, I can be flexible as to where to put the paint and how much I mix.

Perfect size 

2. Engineers Tool Box

My dad has one of these in his garage and it has been in there since I was very small. His one is of course a very vintage affair that I absolutely love, and you can still get them on eBay if you are willing to pay an outrageous price. Well, if you want to jump on the retro bandwagon that's up to you, but I want a working, practical piece of kit, and dad found this one lurking in a local wholesalers. Costco really does seem to stock everything, and I am ever grateful they got these in. They haven't since. A new favourite that has got legs to last.

With loads of drawer space, I can keep all my precious smaller or fragile items nice and safe. The felt lining stops things rolling and moving about when you open and close the drawers, and the front panel locks in place for transporting. The top also lifts open and there's a handle too. Not bad for little more that £30.

Lots of handy drawers, a lift up tray at the top, a carrying handle and a fold up cover and lock
make this practical piece 

3. Lightbox

You may have already seen this one before. A dad creation, made from off cuts of wood, some opaque perspex found in a skip and a tube light. This one has already made its debut on the blog, but it really is a vital piece of kit.

Perfect for transferring traced images onto watercolour paper, this one isn't as powerful as the new LED boxes available now but, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' works here. Cheap and cheerful, but it works.

from a while ago, but here's the lightbox in action

4. Proportional Dividers.

I could never have afforded these myself as they really are a precision instrument and fabulously useful. My parents bought me these as a Christmas present last year, and I have used them constantly since. Having used these sorts of dividers when I worked on architectural drawings, I have always wanted my own set. If you look around on eBay, you can find some, but there's no guarantee of their precision. Pricey but worth it.

Very worthwhile for sizing up subjects

5. Jeweller's Loupe

My brother bought me this little nugget and I love him more for it, (as a big brother he was a pain when we were kids, but actually he's not bad really). These are pocket sized, go anywhere bits of brilliance that give you the close up view when you really need it. Also great to magnify your finger when you have a thorn or splinter. handy when you paint brambles a lot.

Pocket size with a range of lenses

6. That Little Jar

Yes, it really is called that. One day we were digging in the garden (we do that a lot), when all of a sudden 'Husband' saw a piece of glass buried and stuck fast in the soil. Not wanting to smash it and get dodgy bits of glass everywhere, he carefully dug around it and found a completely unbroken jar. My dad recognised the style as a type of jar from his childhood. so who knows how old it is.

A quick go through the dishwasher and Ta dah! Now I use 'That Little Jar' for all my pencils and nothing else. Well, not all kit has to be sensible. I've got a fabulous mug my mum bought from Oxfam too.

Now how did you manage to stay intact

7. Ear Drops Squashy Thing

Once, I had to get some of those ear drops for 'Husband' as I really thought he was going deaf! The drops worked a treat, but it was the squashy dropper thing that came with them that caught my attention. Basically, it's a big soft pipette that you suck water up with to clean your ears out. Now it's found a new use for dropping just the right amount of Ox Gall into my mixing water. And, as it stands up by itself, you can leave some liquid in it for when you need to change the water. No need to get the bottle out again.

All cleaned out and ready to use for Ox gall

8. Ferrero Rocher Boxes

You can probably tell by now that I like things as cheap as I can get them, the best price of course being free. Who can resist a Ferrero? More likely, who can resist the boxes once they've all been scoffed?

Ferrero boxes are great for storing tubes of paint. Of course you can get all posh about it and get all sorts of expensive trays and boxes, but these plastic boxes have good fitting lids, can go through the dishwasher if there's been an explosion and you can see exactly what you've got in there. Perfect. I use three of them for my reds and pinks, blues and greens, and yellows and golds.

Don't worry if one gets cracked, just buy another box of chocs.
Double the pleasure

9. Rotring Pens

Another blast from the past, these pens have been with me since I was 16 and a trainee draftsman, (or draughtsman). All they have needed over the years is the occasional new nib. There may be new, shiny darlings on the market now, but for me, nothing quite compares with the sheer performance and range of the Rotrings. Lots of sizes for every job.

Oldies but goodies.

10. Panasonic Lumix Camera

Where would I be without my trusted old friend and constant companion. For all the years of the blog and from the day I bought it, I have used my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot every day. I can't take a photo of it, as it's doing it's continuous service taking the photos today. My dad has cameras galore and swears by Canon but if I was to get sentimental over anything, it would be this little camera. Alas though, it needs retiring as it is getting old and slow, and the functions don't always work now (well don't we all have a little trouble from time to time).

When I replace this little gem, it'll be with another, upgraded Panasonic Lumix.  

Back in the day.
All sparkly new and ready to go

11. Magnifying Glass

Well, there's always room for one more. Picked up in one of those mad places where everything seems to be a ridiculously low price, this magnifying glass ticks all the boxes. Good, comfy grip, light in the hand and even more exciting, it lights up! Yes, I kid you not, it really does. On the back, it has a rim of little LED lights to light up the thing you are looking at. Great if you need an extra blast of brightness, especially when closely checking your painting for marks, missed bits or errors. Big thanks to 'Husband' for spotting a useful bargain.

From the back, you can see the rim of lights

And what about the title?

Kit and Kaboodle (or Caboodle)

A collection of things


The words kit and caboodle have rather similar meanings.
A kit - is set of objects, as in a toolkit, or what a soldier would put in his kit-bag.
A caboodle (or boodle) - is an archaic term meaning group or collection, usually of people.
There are several phrases similar to the whole kit and caboodle, which is first recorded in that form in 1884. Most of them are of US origin and all the early citations are American. Caboodle was never in common use outside the USA and now has died out everywhere, apart from its use in this phrase.
The whole kit - the whole of a soldier's necessaries, the contents of his knapsack. From Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785.

The whole kit and boodle
"It is probably derived from the Old-English word bottel, a bunch or a bundle, as a bottel of straw. "The whole kit and boodle of them" is a New England expression in common use, and the word in this sense means the whole lot. Latterly, boodle has come to be somewhat synonymous with the word pile, the term in use at the gaming table, and signifying a quantity of money. In the gaming sense, when a man has "lost his boodle", he has lost his pile or whole lot of money, whatever amount he happened to have with him."

What we can't confirm is that the word caboodle migrated from boodle in order to sound better when matched with kit. It is possible that that's what happened, but the dates of the known citations don't support it. Whole kit and caboodle, (1884) is recorded before whole kit and boodle, (1888) and whole caboodle comes well before both, in 1848. Perhaps that's just the inadequacy or either records or research and that citations with the appropriate dates will emerge later.  from 'Phrase Finder' at


Thursday, 25 June 2015

In Defence of Pink

Think of pink, and immediately I get a smile on my face. Childhood memories of fun fair candy floss, my best friend at school who always wore pink, my dad's garden full of scented pink roses, strawberry ice cream, pink iced buns, warm and soft wriggly piglets. Pink is an evocative colour that many openly snub as 'girly' and sugary sweet, but secretly love for all the same reasons I do. A bit like saying, 'I'm an Essex girl and proud', I'm happy to say I like pink.

Painting pink is something of challenge though, with the myriad of shades and tones proving particularly tricky and can all too easily turn garish and false. I mean, where do you start? There's Cerise and Fuchsia, magenta, rose, bubblegum, salmon, baby, and a whole load more. With so many shades and tones to choose from, what's not to love? You've got to have a go.

Simple, but oh so pretty
Rosa 'Sweet Haze'
Loved by bees and me! 

Echinacea and Sedum

Painting a pink Dahlia

But there's more to it of course, so here's a bit of a history lesson.

In colour psychology and throughout history, the colour pink is representative of unconditional love and nurturing, showing tenderness and kindness. Hence it's popularity as a feminine colour and associated with baby girls. Or so you would think. For centuries though, it would seem that all European children were dressed in blue, because the colour was associated with the Virgin Mary and many European cultures valued this association. 

The use of pink and blue emerged quite late, at the turn of the 20th century, the rule being pink for boys, blue for girls. Since pink was a stronger colour it was best suited for boys; blue on the other hand was more delicate and dainty and best for girls. And in 1921, the Women's Institute for Domestic Science in Pennsylvania endorsed pink for boys, blue for girls. And who would dare argue with the WI?

Well, how about a compromise?

Let's just all like purple.
Not one for wearing pink too much, and not one for wearing blue too much, I go for purple.

Contemporary colour symbolism would also appear to confirm these associations. Blue is considered a calm, passive colour, hence feminine. Red (pink derived from red) is considered active and robust, hence masculine. Think how warm colours come forward and cooler colours recede in paintings. Red often represents anger and aggression, but also romance, whereas blue is cool and serene. Would the Red Room in Fifty Shades of Grey have quite the same impact if it had been a rather nice shade of blue? Hmm.   

One for the boys?

My favourite pinks from the garden, from projects and from days out and about.

The idea of associating blue with male babies may stem back to ancient times when having a boy was good luck. Blue, the colour of the sky where the gods and fates lived, held powers to ward off evil, so baby boys where dressed in blue. In Greece a blue eye is still thought to have powers to ward off evil, so you often see them on the bows of ships. The idea of pink for girls might come from the European legend that baby girls were born inside delicate pink roses.

Pink and blue, it's up to you.

A detail from, 'The Green Belt'

'The Green Belt'

This one featured a one of my favourite blue flowers.
Cranesbill flowers have a clear, bright almost Cobalt colour on the petals that fade as they age.

Adding the shadows of stamens on a Dog Rose

Petals painted with Permanent Rose with a touch of Lemon Yellow
Shadows mixed using the pink mix with a touch of blue to make a lilac.

Not too cool though, as the petals on the rose were quite warm. 

Picking out the stamens on a bramble blossom

Bramble blossoms painted using Permanent Rose, Lemon Yellow and a touch of Indanthrene Blue.

By using cool colours in varying quantities, the pales pink blooms didn't go too pink.

In English, the word "pink" could be derived from the Dutch flower Pinken, (see below) dating back to 1681. The flower's name could have originally been "pink eye" or "small eye." Another possibility is the verb "to pink" - to prick or cut around the edges, as with pinking shears. The jagged petals of the flower looked as though they had been cut, thus explaining why it became known as the "pink." (Jean Heifetz, 'When Blue Meant Yellow') The family of Dianthus flowers are also known as 'Pinks', and have the same jaggedy edge to their petals. Although, the word could have an even earlier use, the verb "to pink" actually dates from the 14th century and means "to decorate with a perforated or punched pattern" (possibly again from the German term pinken, "to peck") Well, now you know.

Finally, going as far back to the realm of ancient Egypt, the flamingo was the hieroglyph for the colour red. That's simple.

Lily bud and mixes.

Alongside, is a pale lilac freesia that recedes against the warmer pink of the lily.

Open lily flower and mixes.

Permanent Rose, Quinacridone Magenta, Perylene Maroon and even some Opera Rose came into play here

Another pjnk chart with some photo references

Pinks from around the garden used as a collage to assist with colour mixing

A Cosmos petal, flower and bud

My very first attempt at a pink flower

Busy Lizzie 

Roman poets also described the colour pink in their work. Roseus is the Latin word meaning 'rosy' or 'pink'. Lucretius used the word to describe the dawn in his epic poem. 'On the nature of Things' (de rerum natura).

"Then, when the child of morning, rosy-fingered dawn appeared..."

from 'The Odyssey' by Homer 800BCE

Pink was not a common colour in the fashion of the Middle Ages. Nobles usually preferred brighter reds, such as crimson, possible to enforce a sense of strength and power. However, it did appear in women's fashion, and in religious art. In the 13th and 14th century, in works by Cimabue and Duccio, the Christ child was sometimes portrayed dressed in pink, the colour associated with the body of Christ.
In the high Renaissance painting the Madonna of the Pinks by Raphael, the Christ child is presenting a pink flower to the Virgin Mary. The pink was a symbol of marriage, showing a spiritual marriage between the mother and child

'Madonna of the Pinks'
by Raphael

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The party for the defence rest their case.  

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Buds, Buns and Berry, (that's Mary Berry)

Oh my goodness, how time does fly. Still, never fear, I am still around and beginning to get back into the swing of some sort of routine in the studio. Slowly to begin with, but work needs to be getting under way again, before I forget how to draw, and look at my palette in a curious, 'I know you, don't I?' sort of a way.

Summer also seems to have decided to go on a little holiday this year, as the last week has been somewhat dull, breezy and just a little chilly. In June! Well, pushing on regardless here at Squirrel HQ we had a couple of workshops anyway. The focus this time around was on adding your own Sammy Snail to a painting and the summer flower garden, and as my 'Albertine' rose decided now was the time to put on her best frock, we painted some of the buds.

This little snail shell was found in the garden, (without snail)
Popped him on a clematis leaf to demonstrate how to add  extra bits and bobs to a painting

The workshop on painting snail shells and feathers was so much fun. This was the first time I had added this to my workshop schedule, but we all enjoyed it so much, I might just do that again. here's my effort on the day. Is that a cream bun or a snail parked on that leaf?

Rosa 'Albertine'
Sprawling all over the hedge and amongst the clematis.

The buds are to die for

“But he who dares not grasp the thorn Should never crave the rose.” ― Anne Brontë

For the occasion I also baked my favourite Lemon Drizzle Cake recipe, (thank you Mary Berry). The simplest of all in one methods, I was able to do this one myself without incurring the wrath of 'Husband' who scowls at me whenever he thinks I am doing a little too much. I feel like a well cared for museum exhibit.

So, back to those buds. The colour of Albertine buds is really hard to describe. The tightly closed bud appears as quite a deep peachy-pink, almost red colour. And yet, as it opens, the colour of the petals change almost entirely to a pale pink. Being quite a rampant specimen with ferocious thorns and arching stems, I have this one well reigned in by the fence, near some apple trees, but as she likes where she is very much, really goes for it and puts on a really good display. If you go anywhere near the vicinity, you get a great waft of spicy, rose fragrance. delicious.

A good comparison with the tightly closed bud to the left,
 this semi-open bud is paler

My life is part humor, part roses, part thorns.
Bret Michaels

As always, before the workshop, I worked on a sketch and some colour notes, to get a better grasp of the subject. Generally, I like to be quite spontaneous at my workshops, as this gives a personal feel and of course, if something in the garden is screaming, 'PICK ME', you can change the programme.


Permanent Rose and Lemon Yellow
Mix of Permanent Rose and Lemon Yellow with a touch of Perylene Maroon

Permanent Rose with Sennelier Yellow Light.

Ultramarine Light and Sennelier Yellow Light with a touch of Perylene Maroon

Borrowing an idea from artist and fellow blogger Billy Showell

Billy uses a mat with the names of the colours on it to show which ones are which.

I probably won't use all these colours.

With these palettes, all I do is wipe out the washes from the middle, leaving the paint blobs at the edges.

Ready for next time!

Having a play with the mixes
The sketch of the bud and stem, with a few leaves thrown in is already drawn out.

And a couple of practise washes with different shades

Tracing of drawing.
Just in case I fancy making something more of it.

Now here's a final thought. What do you do with a painting that has gone wrong? Well, in my case, you cut it about a bit, finish it off and make it beautiful again, and stick it in a friend's sketchbook.

Working a mistake.

I really liked these flowers, so have cut them out, added some colour notes,
and now it's ready for the next sketchbook