Monday, 13 April 2015

Dig for Victory

Well, after four days of digging and hacking at the 'Bramble Paradise' that is my back garden, it certainly feels like something of a victory, (although I broke the handle of my favourite fork). Working on just little areas at a time is easier to handle, and gives me a feeling of great satisfaction when I can finally get the plants I want back in. So, instead of ground elder, brambles and ivy in this little corner, I now have a lovely spot for my big camellia, a couple of  David Austin roses, peonies and euphorbias alongside marguerites and knapweed. Should make for a pretty display. Now onto the next bit.

Planting time.
Lots of things for bees and butterflies.
I have been collecting the dead wood from the trees to make a wood pile.
Just behind the camellia for this feature methinks.

Not just a workshop space and place for me to sit with my morning tea.
The conservatory also becomes a greenhouse for me to get my seeds, cuttings and dahlias going

Plastic carrier bags are a great alternative if you have no room left in your propagator.
Just fit snugly over the pot and tie the handles together.
Check regularly for watering and take off once the seedlings have got going.

For cuttings, I make sure the bag doesn't touch the leaves by using three sticks stuck into the pot

Of course, taking time away from painting, (and blogging) is a nice diversion, especially when the weather is as gorgeous as it has been, but it's time to get going again, and fill you in on what's been happening at Squirrel HQ. So, back to the three leaves I started with. Working a bit more on the detail of leaves is always great fun as there are plenty of highlights, shadows, veins and imperfections that make each one unique and every part a piece of the whole. perhaps that's why i find myself painting brambles as often as I have been.

Using the blues, yellows and reds of the palette, I mixed up a good range of rusty reds and murky browns, ready to give the crispy bits and nibble holes their characteristic edges. By using just six main colours and a couple for glazing, the whole piece has a good uniformity, even though I am mixing more as I go. 

Using a dryish brush and strong mixes is the best way to work up plenty of detail.You can see that the right side of the leaf on the far right is not as worked as the others.
What a difference.

These ones will get darker and more tonal, but I'm happy so far. 

First watery washes going onto the next set of leaves.
Even at this early stage I remove some of the colour to give a good, strong highlight.
With the paleness of the first washes, you can see how much more colour goes on in stages.


Saturday, 4 April 2015

A Trip into Brambly Hedge and Other Diversions

Curiously, I got going with these three leaves first and have just carried on with them. It's always good to get the first washes onto the leaves and start to see the light and shade taking shape.

Making a start on the first washes

Laying colour wet-on-wet and allowing the colour to spread before dropping in a second shade.

These mingle and merge to create soft blending and highlights  

And a little bit more
Gradually building up the colour, whilst allowing the first layers to show through.

Some details are added

Thursday 2nd April, (Hans Christian Andersen's birthday) was actually International Children's Book Day and in amongst all the virtual posts and notifications that came my way, I was happily reminded of a somewhat forgotten childhood favourite. The Brambly Hedge books by Jill Barklem told the charming story of a community of mice through the seasons. As a child I was completely entranced by these books, and not just for their charming stories, the illustrations by Barklem herself were quite exquisite, executed with incredible detail and accuracy. As with the work of Beatrix Potter, Cicely Mary Barker and Edith Holden, these beautiful images shaped my early love of the natural world and my attempts to capture it. 

Of course there has to be brambles taking pride of place
on the front cover

Only recently I discovered that the author was born in Epping in Essex, just up the road from my home town, and like me travelled to art college on the Central Line of the Tube network. During these journeys Jill Barklem would enter her make believe world of Brambly Hedge, and created the beginnings of her stories. Many of the ancient trees she illustrated for the books still stand within the forest. Oh I love a bit of sentimental escapism, and I guess you get to know a bit more about how I got myself into this gig.

Oh, and as it is the Easter weekend I couldn't resist heading into the kitchen to make some sweet, sticky and spicy Hot Cross buns. These ones are a bit different though, as I didn't do the cross. Instead I piped simple flower shapes on the top, just for a bit of fun. I digress.

'Botanical Buns!'

So, bramble leaves. After building up the initial washes and getting the main areas of light and shade established, I generally work up individual segments with a greater level of detail. Using richer, more concentrated mixes of the washes, I keep a nice, coherent look while beefing up the oomph and detail. Looking closely at a bramble leaf, you will see very fine, but characteristic veining that really gives a particular look. So, mustn't miss that. Or the reddish tone to the serrated edges either. Plenty to do.

I always keep the original colour chart handy,
so I can keep the same mixes throughout.

It's bye bye to The Three Amigos
as it's time to start on some of the others 

And, as it's a bank Holiday weekend, something to keep me busy arrived in the post this morning. Roses are an absolute must for me in any garden, and I couldn't resist treating myself to some of the most stunning offerings from the David Austin English Rose Collection. The names alone were enough to get me excited and that was before I had to whittle my choice down to just four. The colours are simply to die for, the blooms ethereal and steeped in history, and then there's the scent. Oh my goodness.

So for our plot, I chose Fighting Temeraire, (a real nostalgic one for me as I have been looking at a print of the Turner painting of the same name for nearly all of my life); Boscobel, named after Boscobel House, built in 1632 and famous for the fact that during the English Civil War, Charles II hid there for a time, escaping Cromwell's army. Then there's Scepter'd Isle. Well, what can I say on this one:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself,

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in a silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England

Richard II, Act 2 (Shakespeare)

And lastly, Lady of Shalott. Well, where would we be without Tennyson. Hopefully, we won't have a situation where:  

...The mirror crack'd from side to side;
'The curse is come upon me,' cried
       The Lady of Shalott.

The Lady of Shalott. Alfred, Lord Tennyson 

A rose by any other name?
Can't wait to see them in full bloom.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Second Time Around

Crikey! it's been one hell of a week. After a couple of days planting up dahlia bulbs and sowing plenty of veggie seeds for the garden, it was time to settle back down to some painting. With everything starting to turn green outside it was nice to follow the lead, and mix some lovely fresh tones. or so I thought. This is not the post I had hoped to be posting this week.

Of course, painting is never that straightforward and after just an hour of starting the leaves, disaster struck! It happens to all of us, and an accident with a dropped brush loaded with green paint meant curtains for my painting. After many deep breaths, large amounts of cursing and swearing and an enormous cup of tea, (or two) I made the decision to start again. This is why it's good to have a master tracing immediately to hand. At least I didn't have to draw the whole thing out again.

The basic tracing saved me lots of times.
Of course, adding the serrations, fine details and adjustments took a but of time. 

Luckily some of my washes were ready to go too

As it is, I am only just now starting the leaves again, laying the initial washes and picking out the veins and highlights. Bramble leaves have lovely highlights with a colour contrast that crosses from bluish tones through to the freshest, brightest greens where they appear backlit and translucent. Hopefully I can reflect that quality. For the job, I am using Indanthrene Blue, Anthraquinoid Red and Lemon Yellow along with Ultramarine Light, Perylene Maroon and Sennelier Yellow Light.

Getting those tricky shadow tones all over again

Buds so tiny, it's best they are not to be rushed

Just catching up to where I was.

getting the initial washes on the leaves 

So, it's not always going to turn out well, and accidents do happen. The real trick, is to be prepared for that, not to lose your head over it, and have a couple of shortcuts at hand, ready to help you get back on track. Although, I really hope that second time around will be the last time around for this one.


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Tiptoe Through the Tulips

So, today I opened the studio, (well this time it was the conservatory) to the first students of the year. The freshly baked chocolate cake sat aloft on it's perch, awaiting break time, materials and paper sorted, and the subjects had been cooling in the fridge, ready for the day ahead. Rain was forecast for later in the day, but we weren't going to let that spoil our fun. All set then.

My very naughty chocolate cake looks a bit out of place in amongst my healthy fridge contents.
Still, as the saying goes, 'a little of what you fancy does you good'

This proverbial saying was first the title of a vaudeville song, made famous by the risqué Victorian music hall singer Marie Lloyd. 

'The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here' 

From, 'Tulips' by Sylvia Plath

With a few tweaks, the conservatory becomes a fair sized
art room.
With a chilly forecast, that extra heater will come in handy,
and a couple of chairs, along with  a little sofa, (just out of shot) make for a comfy spot
to take a break.

Tulip buds were the order of the day, and I had managed to get hold of some lovely pink and red ones, although they were slightly small. It seems everybody loves to have fresh flowers in their homes and soon as they become available, and there were only a few bunches left to choose from. Reminder to self. Grow your own!

The stars of the show take a break in their 'dressing room'
Nearly ready for your close up?

Tulip Mania

Tulip mania or tulipomania (Dutch names include: tulpenmanie, tulpomanie, tulpenwoede, tulpengekte and bollengekte) was a period in the Dutch Golden Age during which contract prices for bulbs of the recently introduced tulip reached extraordinarily high levels and then suddenly collapsed.

At the peak of tulip mania, in March 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.

Rather than just the flower and stem I wanted the students to include the leaf and think through their composition, to really show off the shapes. Tulips from florists and supermarkets are very straight stemmed, upright little soldiers all standing to attention. I love a curve or two, so demonstrated how to manipulate a subject where you want it to make it more interesting whilst still maintaining accuracy. So first exercise of the day was to study the subject from all angles, and get to know it better.

One subject, different elements and angles.
For this set of honeysuckle studies, I wanted a variety of pieces, including colour notes

As with this page of onion studies.
Maintaining a sketchbook of composition ideas and colour notes, helps with future pieces. 

Working through a small composition in a sketchbook

A simple palette of blues, reds and yellows

Now to get the best of the bunch onto paper and to get cracking with the painting. Starting with wet-on-wet wash techniques, I demonstrated how to successfully add two colours together without them going all muddy. When doing this, it's important to allow the initial glaze of clean water to settle a little before dropping in the first colour, then allow this to settle, before adding the second. as tulips often have a greenish tinge to the base of the flower where it meets the stem, it's nice to show how this blends into the main colour of the flower. 

After a couple of wet-in-wet washes, and an initial wash to the stem and leaf, it was time to do some dry brush work to get the texture of the petals on the flowers. By splaying out the hairs on the brush a little, I find I can get some lovely, 'feathery' features on the petals. Tulips have this most obviously towards the tip of the petal, so a light touch is needed or else it will be too heavy.

I'm always so busy helping the students I rarely finish the pieces I start.
Well, that's not really the point. For me, it's all about their learning, not my painting.

I find it so much more rewarding to assist a student with their own piece,
 and find myself demonstrating the techniques for them on their own paintings.

Some of the colour splodges here are to demonstrate the difference between warm and cool colours,
to someone who wasn't sure. 

To see some beautiful completed pieces, here are four of my favourite artists who do great tulips. Check out their work.


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

A Drive in the Country

This morning, I packed my trusty mapbook and compass, (ha, only kidding on that part), got Jimi Hendrix playing and headed out into the Hampshire countryside. Yes, it was time to introduce myself to the lovely Francoise at Roots, Shoots and Leaves, the new venue for my workshops.  

The sun was glorious and the scenery just as lovely, but as I turned off the main roads, and after a little unscheduled detour somewhere around a place called Botley, (with a small requirement to pull up on someone's drive to check the map), I sensed there may be trouble ahead, (my dad has always cautioned me to 'beware the large trunker (huge lorry) round the corner'. Heading down ever narrower and windy country lanes, I felt Jimi should quieten down a bit, and I should keep an eye out for oncoming 'Crosstown Traffic', (groan) and the little turning I needed. 

Great to see the hedgerows and different tree species

As it happens, the only 'traffic' I came across were a couple of fine horses with their riders. After giving plenty of room and a friendly nod, I enquired if I was heading in the right direction. A polite passing of the time of day seems the norm when the pace of life is slower, and after saying our cheery goodbyes I continued, carefully on my way.

A slower pace of life,
and the kindness to help out a slightly lost artist 

Imposing gates and a large house beyond was what greeted me next, and for a moment I thought I had gone horribly wrong. But no, the gates dutifully opened and in I went. Met by the delightful Francoise, we spent the next hour or so wandering round the garden and spending time in her glorious kitchen discussing subjects, chatting about our work and inspirations, laughing about just about everything and drinking tea. Days like this are why I really love my job and feel I have a great life.

The spring flowers looked so pretty in the sunshine

If you fancy joining us, there are still some places left on my April and June dates. And with nearly everything you need for the day, (including a delicious lunch prepared by Francoise) included in the price, it's really good value. Visit the website to book