Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Five Challenges

With New Year resolutions a long and distant memory for many people, I am only just now making a few of my own. Inspired by friend and fellow blogger Dianne in one of her earlier posts this year, I feel now is the time to get organised and motivated. So, concentrating on what I would like, (want isn't really the right word and my Mum has always said that 'I want' doesn't 'get') to achieve and focus on for the rest of this year, I have followed Dianne's efficient strategy of a top ten checklist. Well sort of, here's the first five.

1: The Blog:  Starting with the blog, a few changes have already come into effect, as I really want to focus on posts with more work in progress, step-by-step projects and trials. There was a really good response to my step-by-step chilli post and I know you all like to see what's on the drawing board. Also, I will try to get back in the habit of posting a couple of times a week, to keep things fresh and up to date.

2: Tuition: Leading on from the blog is the tuition. I have really enjoyed getting back into teaching and although workshops are very different form a formal school classroom setting, I feel very much that this is an area of my work that I would really like to develop. My first workshops this year have been extremely successful, with a waiting list for places. The venue have been very pleased with the response, with lots of lovely comments from the students. Here's hoping for some more dates, later in the year, and perhaps some more venues.

Lily Bud Workshop
The chilli pepper workshop

3: Challenge: I feel that I really need to introduce some challenge to my work, something to really stretch the skill base. Keeping within my comfort zone has become a little too comfortable, and before I get stuck in a rut and become a bit of a one trick pony, I am going to paint lots of different and more difficult and unusual subjects.

Looking at pieces by artists I really like, I can see where I can improve my own work. it's important I think to be critical and honest about your painting and to identify areas of strength and those that can be improved. This 2004 piece by Regine Hagedorn recently caught my eye. Her rose paintings are just exquisite, gentle but with a real depth of focus and detail.  

A beautiful study of rose Bouquet d'or
by Regine Hagedorn
Published in 'The Golden Age of Botanical Art
by Martyn Rix 
4: Daily Painting: A couple of years ago, I took part in a 30 day painting challenge which involved leaves, and last year there was a lovely daily project to paint found things. Much as I would have loved to participate in this one, life got in the way. This year, I am taking part in the Nature Trail sketchbook exchange, which is already giving loads of scope for daily additions.  

The next page ready and waiting
A green theme methinks for April.

5: Exhibitions and Submissions: This one is terrifying but necessary. As you know, I have been gearing up for the SBA annual exhibition in May. Of course, this is not the only exhibiting opportunity for botanical artists and I hope to offer my work for consideration in a few more exhibitions this year. This part is mostly down to confidence, (funds) and a level of conviction in your ability as an artist, something I find quite difficult as I am surrounded by so many highly talented individuals.

My first exhibition.

Next on the radar:

The Studio; New Equipment and Kit; Fieldwork; Research; Feeling Good.

Monday, 14 April 2014

At the RHS (By an Exhibition Newbie)

This weekend has been so full of inspiration, my mind is buzzing with excitement and new ideas. Saturday saw myself and my good friend Sarah Morrish of The Natural Year having a fabulous day at the RHS London Orchid and Botanical Art Show. It was lovely to meet up with new friends and to put faces to familiar names. All of the artists were so knowledgeable, and happily shared their experiences of preparing for a large show and what the judges had critiqued them for. Quite overwhelming, the generosity of others.

All set for a day of fun.

Of course, I didn't take enough photos and I must remember to take a proper notebook and more business cards to these sort of things. Just handing out an email is difficult as you can never seem to put your hand on a pen when you need one. Comfortable shoes and lots of water are also a must as I felt like I had walked miles and talked forever. Luckily my good old plimsolls held up their end.

Surprisingly this was actually my first visit to the RHS Lindley Halls for this show and the visual treat of seeing so many styles of botanical painting was stunning. It was interesting to see the amount of graphite artworks on display, colour pencil was beautifully represented by Gaynor Dickeson's stunning Malus paintings and Dianne Sutherland showed her skill of working on vellum with her stunning Snakes-Head Fritillaries. Having seen these pieces take shape over a number of weeks, you tend to feel quite maternal towards the work of friends, and I of course would have awarded Golds to both Gaynor and Dianne. Who knows what goes through the mind of a judge?   

Wild flower and plant habitats were also on show with, Wild Orchids of Britain by Valerie Dugan and Plants from the Woods and Forests of Chile by Isik Guner who won the award for Best Botanical Painting. Sunflowers, anemones, grapes and winter branches all added to the unusual mix, although the large trees 'inhabiting' the hall's display areas did distract somewhat and cast unsightly shadows over some of the pieces making it difficult to fully enjoy the viewing experience.

More Silver and Silver-Gilt medals were given out this year, with fewer Gold medals than 2013 being awarded. The quality of work was amazing, so it must be a very difficult task to decide who gets what. As a mere observer, I cannot really tell the difference between a Silver-Gilt piece and a Gold. It really must be the minutest things that the judging panel spots and it's quite a daunting prospect to think that I would like to put my own hat in the ring.

To make a superb day even better, Sarah gave me the most gorgeous gift. This little box with stunning pyrography details, complete with acorns and beautifully finished with lining paper will take pride of place in my new studio, and will only contain beautiful things. Thank you Sarah for a most special and memorable day.

Complete with acorns

Lots of space for little treasures.

Useful Link:

Making a Mark: RHS Botanical Art Show 2014 - Medal Winners 

Monday, 7 April 2014

April Showers and Mad March Hares

Drip drip drop little April shower
Beating a tune
as you fall all around

If you're as sentimental as I am, you will probably recognise this opening from the song from the favourite film, Bambi, but I hope April showers will stay away, at least for the next couple of weeks. Mum has a birthday, the RHS have their London show, and I am hoping to enjoy lots of days out with 'Husband' now that he has his Easter break.

The latest March entry in the sketchbook exchange is also nearly complete. Humphrey the Easter Bunny made an appearance and I have festooned the pages with studies of Periwinkle and a tent! Yes, a tent. Well, as a child we went camping in the summer, and my Mum and Dad used to tell us stories of camping trips to Scotland at Easter and getting snowed in.

'Humphrey' The Easter Bunny

Camping in the snow, at Easter!

This tale got me thinking about how we mark the changing seasons. There is much folklore and 'old wives tales' (I have never actually met an old wife) that follow with the months and seasonal symbols of change. Although March has passed, there are some choice subjects to study. Starting with red skies.

Red sky at night, shepherd's delight. Red sky at morning, shepherd's take warning.

This one is taken from an ancient way to tell the prevailing weather. The red in the sky is the glow of morning or evening light reflecting on haze or cloud, often associated with storms. The evening red sky often indicates the glow is in the east, hence moving away.

In Europe, the song of the first Cuckoo is often recognised as the earliest sign of spring, as the breeding season kicks off. The composer Frederick Delius even wrote a piece of music named 'On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring'. And very lovely it is too. If you are a very early riser, you can hear the 'Dawn Chorus' throughout Spring. There is even an International Dawn Chorus Day on the first Sunday in May, encouraging us to get up nice and early to fully appreciate their efforts. Starting as early as 4am with the Blackbird and ending some time later with the Goldfinch, (they like a bit of a late start), with a plethora of other species getting involved along the way. 

March is also a month with a few lion and lamb connotations, reflecting the seasonal wind and rain that often comes in the early Spring. Oh, and here's one of those pub quiz questions that would impress. Did you know that March begins on the same day of the week as November every year? And if History was your bag at school, then we could all recall that March is the month named after Mars, the Roman god of war, who was also regarded as the guardian of agriculture.

March roars in like a lion in the sky
and makes us shiver
as he passes by

When winds are soft
and the days are warm and clear
just like a gentle lamb
Then Spring is here


And finally we have 'Mad as a March Hare'. This one comes from the observed antics said to occur only in the March breeding season of the Hare. Similar phrases are attested in the sixteeth century, in the works of John Skelton (Replycacion, 1528). "Aiii, I saye, thou madde Marche Hare"; and in the 1529 Magnyfycence the hare was described, "As mery as a Marche Hare". More recently, the popular illustration of the March Hare is at The Hatter's tea party in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol

The March Hare with Alice, the Dormouse
and The Hatter from
Lewis Carroll's 1865 book
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Image care of Wikimedia

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Lily Bud Workshop

With the next workshop next week, now is the time to get the prep under way. The last few days have been glorious here, and there is always the temptation to spend the days outside rather than painting in the studio. The garden has had some attention, but now I really must get on with some work.

The lily bud for this next workshop will be painted using a photograph as guidance. First, the photo has been enlarged so that the lily bud is life sized, making it easier to draw or trace. All of the focus can then turn to the mixes and washes and the techniques. Some of the students last time found it difficult to draw the subject, and as the day is more about the painting techniques, I felt a photo would be more helpful here and I quite like working from photos myself.

The finished study 

Step one
Getting the drawing and composition

The colours

As before, I will create a series of colour charts, with all the mixes used in the study. In the palette I have got from left to right, Transparent Yellow, Permanent Rose, Perylene Maroon, Quinacridone Magenta, Ultramarine, Indanthrene Blue and Lemon Yellow. By completing the the study myself first, I get a better idea of how to change things or add other colours before the workshop.

The Steps

As always on hot press paper, I work with wet-on-wet washes to get the initial colour base of the flower bud in place.  Dry brush techniques are used in the later stages to establish details and fine areas of tone. Using too many wet washes in the later stages can lift the carefully painted washes underneath.

Working with light washes in the early stages, establishes the colour and variation
Pink mix uses Permanent Rose and Lemon Yellow 

Dropping in a mix of Indanthrene and Lemon at the tips

Pale but interesting
A light wash of Permanent Rose and Lemon Yellow to the petals.
Indanthrene Blue and Lemon Yellow is used as a mix for the stem and mid ribs.

A light shadow wash of the pink with a little Perylene Maroon
and Ultramarine was added to the right  petal

Once the main washes were laid it was time to get down to the detail. Here I have used the same pink but made to a stronger mix. By continuing to lay wet-in-wet washes, I was able to gain lovely movement as the paint settled.

More of the strong pink but with a little Quinacridone Magenta
The fine detail begins to take shape.

A lilac toned 'grey' made from the pink mix with a little Indanthrene,
is used on the paler petals, and the shadows start to take their form.

The mid-ribs are accentuated with a stronger green mix of
 Indanthrene, Lemon and Perylene Maroon.
And the stem gets a couple of washes.
Ultramarine and Lemon with Perylene on the stem.

The first on the leaf is added

As the lily bud was quite pale, with many neutral toned shadows on the lighter petals, greys and neutral mixes had to be mixed. For these mixes, I always find the best ones are made from the existing colours in your palette. Here I have used the pink mix again but added more blue and yellow to get a lilac toned mix for the shadows nearer the top of the petals. For shadows nearer the base, a buff coloured shadow mix made of the pink mix but with a heavier yellow tone and some maroon was used. The finished painting will be photocopied, so I have made the colours a bit stronger.

The 'buff' tone of this shadow mix is perfect for the base of the petals 

Dropping in a stronger green mixed with Indanthrene Blue,
Lemon Yellow and a touch of Perylene Maroon.

While the area is still wet the paint can be pulled around
or removed with a 'just damp' brush.
Too wet a brush at this stage will unsettle the paint.

Starting the leaf with the lighter green wash
of Indanthrene and Lemon

Establish the veins using a wet-in-wet wash of the stronger mix.
Allow the paint to settle.
Again, using a damp brush to move the paint around will help achieve
the surface texture of the leaf

More strength to the shadows and the mid-rib.
here a stronger lilac shade was mixed again using the pink
 but with some Quinacridone Magenta and a little Indanthrene 

It's important to check your source material
regularly whilst painting.
Here I can see I need to add further shadow to the right side of the bud,
but I don't want to go too dark here.
Ultramarine added to the lilac wash makes a good blue tone
to the shadow of the whiter petals.

Remember that photos are affected by the light conditions and surrounding influences.
Here, the desk is grey but shows up as blue and the photo was taken on an overcast day.

This one might need a bit more of a tweak here and there, but for now.
A very light final yellowish wash of the buff shadow mix with a little
Transparent Yellow was added to the base of the right hand petals.


Friday, 28 March 2014

Adventures with Vellum

Well now, after all the excitement of the last few days, it's time to come back down to earth and get on with some work. My next workshop is looming fast and I have yet to paint the lily bud project ready for the step-by-step demonstration. This time I will be using photos to work by in the class, as the lighting in the room is not that great. Photos can be really useful, especially were a flower is opening too quickly and it is difficult to maintain the composition. For this project, I already have the photos ready and the materials list went out a while ago, so really, I am nearly there with it. Thinking about it, I might put the step-by-step onto my You Tube channel.

Now that I have achieved my first BIG goal, I am looking forward to keeping the happy momentum going by getting some new pieces under way. One of the challenges I have set myself for this year is to work on vellum, a surface I have little experience of, but am eager to try. Artists I admire who have really mastered this unique surface include Kate Nessler and the late artist Rory McEwen. Their work has a truly luminous quality with a purity of colour that is not possible on paper and some have said that once you start on vellum, it becomes quite addictive and you don't want to go back to paper. Well, we'll see.     

This week I took the plunge and contacted William Cowley Parchment Makers in London to find out more. Their staff are really knowledgeable and helpful and gave me the option to buy some offcuts of smooth Kelmscott Vellum to try. Having announced this remarkable feat on Facebook, I was immediately applauded and given lots of helpful hints and tips on how to approach the challenge. Thanks folks, I knew you would come up with the right stuff.

The vellum arrives

After unwrapping the many layers of carefully
wrapped card and paper, here it is.
Lots of small offcuts will help me to get the techniques right
before moving onto a bigger piece.

Vellum is most associated with manuscript production, think about the medieval illuminated Book of Hours and you're not far off. There are also a number of sources, with calf, goat and sheepskins all being used for the manufacture of vellum at different grades, with Manuscript Vellum being the finest and Cloudy Calfskin or drumhead vellum being used for, well drums! Natural variations in colour and texture on the vellum can also add character that may be exploited by the artist, placing their subject to incorporate this. Kate Nessler is a great advocate of this, (see link below).

One of Rory McEwen's tulip paintings on vellum

The book 'Colours of Reality'
that accompanied the highly successful exhibition of the artists work
at Royal Botanic Garden, Kew.

Many of Rory McEwen's pieces are single subjects
such as a flower bud or leaf on vellum.

The surface of the finer vellum for writing or painting is prepared with a fine, powdered pumice that almost acts as a very fine sandpaper to ensure the surface is completely smooth and free of any greasy residues prior to painting. Even oils from our fingerprints can prevent the paint from adhering. The pumice is best used as a 'pounce' with a small amount formed into a tight ball within a fine mesh (old tights work well), and worked by pressing the ball in small circular movements across the surface, (see Dianne's link below). Vellum is also very expensive, depending on what type you get, smallish pieces of Kelmscott can start from around £9.00, so start small and work up. Oh, and don't forget to practise first, that's what I plan to do. By cutting a small piece and using it to produce little colour swatches, I aim to practise the dry brush technique to achieve a smooth 'wash' of colour. Then I will plan a small study. 


Robersons : Pumice Powder 240 mesh 1kg
L.Cornelissen & Son powdered pumice
available from Jackson's Art Supplies

Now to find a suitably elegant, classy but simple subject for this most particular of watercolour surfaces. If I get this one right, I will really believe I have arrived at a turning point in my work. But before I get too carried away, I really must get something into the next exchange sketchbook that is starting to gather dust.    

Other helpful links. Dianne and Kate have really hit the nail on the head with their informative posts, so do read them if you have an interest in painting on vellum. I have bookmarked both links and will probably wear them out!

L. Cornelissen & Son Artists' Colourmen. Also: parchments and vellum

Dianne Sutherland - Botanical Artist. Dianne is extremely knowledgeable and shares her experience on her blog.

Kate Nessler: No Really, That's How I Do It. Painting on Vellum. A blog post on the ASBA website giving loads of valuable advice on painting on vellum.