Friday, 30 September 2011

One Day to Go!

With just one day to go before the start of my epic month long leaf painting challenge, I decided to see what the garden could provide in the way of shapes and colours. Many of the leaves I have attempted before have been of similar shape and colour and I really want to take on something different, like an Acer or something equally difficult.

On venturing outside it was just as I thought, the Acers were looking fabulous and everything else was looking a bit tired, (quite literally as the plants drop their foliage due either, to the unusual heat-wave or simply because they have run out of steam). After 10 minutes in the garden I came back with handfuls of leaves and began to lay them out onto my prepared paper. Then the fun began.

Acer; Photinia; Skimmia; Clematis: Nandina Domestica
and Peony leaves  

Finding the right type of composition for all of these shapes and sizes, remembering that they will all need painting at different times will be enough of a challenge. Although, I will need to spread all 31 out over a number of pages some might look nice on a smaller page with only three or five leaves on each. Odd numbers always look better and there is no rule to say I can't paint a series of the same type of leaf say, Photinia which always look so rich at this time of year. My favourite colours of Perylene Maroon; Brown Madder and Permanent Rose will all feature in this gorgeous Autumn selection. It reminds me of the 'Nature Table' we used to have at Primary school. Ah, such happy days!   

Thursday, 29 September 2011

The Fruits of my Labour

Something from the garden and something from the studio. Hard to know which is more rewarding. These are the last of the tomatoes, but still looking good. These will make a good composition on paper as well as be delicious in a salad!

This summer has not been too good for tomatoes, until the last few days when temperatures went silly. They have taken ages to ripen and once they do, you get loads all in one go! The freezer will come in handy. Maybe I should have a go at making chutney as well. Hmmm.

Last September and October was the assignment on fruit. For this, I could have painted these gorgeous tomatoes, but alas I didn't have any growing at the time and therefore had to venture once more to the market and supermarket on the hunt for something good looking.

I had never eaten a Persimmon before deciding to paint one. These lovely, bright orange fruits grow across Europe and ripen in the Autumn. The fruits look like baubles hanging off the plant, which loses it's leaves before the fruit are ready.  

Persimmons - detail. J. Godwin (2010)

Deciding on a group of 5 Persimmons, showing a range of angles, I worked the composition as a landscape and spent ages getting the right shades of orange. The fruits are quite smooth and shiny, so getting the angle of light was crucial to showing them as realistic as possible. The leaves had turned to a crispy brown and the many textures and folds proved tricky.

In amongst all the orange, there were pink and lemon highlights. As the fruit ages, the colour becomes more intense and a pinky/orange hue becomes more prominent. When young the tone of the fruit is more lemony so getting the mix of tones right meant very close observation of the highlights and shadows. The last detail to include was a few streaky markings on the skin of the fruit. Again, as they age, these blotches are a distinctive characteristic of persimmons, so I couldn't miss them out.   

Monday, 26 September 2011

Paints - What I Couldn't Live Without

When deciding on what type of watercolour paints to use, there are a number of considerations I take into account:

  • Should I use pans or tubes?
  • Should I remain loyal to one brand, does it make a difference?
  • Will I be painting in a studio or outside?

My trusty old Cotman Field Box
filled with Winsor & Newton Half Pans
When I first started painting, I was painting the odd landscape sketch of the Scottish Highlands whilst on family holidays. A small field box filled with the basic range of colours in half pans was the easiest way to complete something that I was generally pleased with. But at 15 years old I was generally pleased with just finishing something that looked remotely like it was supposed to be.

My lovely oak box, hand crafted by my Dad

This oak box was made by my Dad many years ago and has taken years of punishement as it has escorted me in the back of the car on holidays ever since. Not exactly pocket sized, it is about the size of an A4 piece of paper and weighty, but inside is a treasure trove of pans, tubes, pencils, sketchbooks and brushes to keep me occupied.

Tubes v Pans
As I have now taken up Botanical painting and illustration, there is a very different focus for the paints I choose to use. Working mostly in a studio environment I tend to use tubes instead of pans, which although portable do not provide enough paint in one go to make a good quantity of mix. Often, pans mean using lots of water which dilutes mixes far too much. A tube provides a greater quantity of pure colour and the amount of water can be more easily controlled. 

A Question of Brand
I use a range of brands depending on the colour, size and, in these economically stretched times, price. Some mixes, such as Terre Vert can be very sticky according to which brand is chosen, so sometimes there is a degree of trial and error to find the right one. The core colours which always end up on my palette are shown below. The larger tubes are the colours I tend to use most frequently and are generally the primary colours of red, blue and yellow.

All my favourite colours
Unless otherwise stated, all colours are from Winsor & Newton

The Colours
The Ultramarine Light from Holbein has great coverage and creates the most luscious greens when mixed with a range of yellows. The lighter shade also lends itself well when used to mix a 'botanical grey' for shading. Cerulean and Cobalt are valuable blues for light shading on white flowers and also mix well with other colours. Cobalt can be very strong and opaque, so this I use sparingly.

Neutral Tint is a relatively new one for me but immediately takes a mix down to a darker tone and is therefore useful for shadows without losing the clarity of the mix. The yellows I most often use are the Sennelier Cadmium Yellow Light and Winsor Lemon. The lighter Cad Yellow has a lustrous finish and great coverage. Both yellows are brilliant in mixes and a range of pure, clean greens can be achieved.

Naples is an opaque yellow with a creamy consistency, I like to use this pure for stamens as it sits well on the paper. Naples also works well in mixes, but sparingly as it can make colours muddy. I tend to use it mostly with other yellows to provide the opacity I need. I do not tend to use white. The last yellow is Schmincke Translucent Yellow. This is a gorgeous product which looks very doubtful in the palette but is an absolute wonder on the page. If you need something to give your yellow flowers or green leaves a lift, this is it. Use it as a watery finish over dry washes. 

Dahlia 'Party'. A range of yellows and shadow mixes
were used to create the flowers

Reds are my favourites as they are so rich and full on. Quiancridone Red and Magenta, Permanent Rose, and Alizarin Crimson along with Cadmium Red are my most frequently used reds. Also, Perylene Maroon which is a strong, covering deep maroon is brilliant in mixes and used in it's pure form. I love it!

Ultramarine Violet is a special colour. This is great for all sorts of mixes. Mostly I use this one for a more colourful 'botanical grey' which is good for yellow and white flowers. I hate using anything too grey and bland but with 'U Violet' a touch of colour can be introduced, and of course using colour theory, violet is opposite to yellow and they go perfectly together. 

A few extras to consider, including that tricky Terre Vert (Sennelier), Oxide of Chromium; Indanthrene Blue; New Gamboge (Holbein); Aureolin (Sennelier); Indian Yellow; Opera (Holbein); Translucent Orange (Schmincke), and Carmine Genuine (Sennelier).    



Thursday, 22 September 2011


Playing conkers is indeed a dying art, no children play this game anymore and, as the trees prepare for their Winter slumber they are getting full of them. Remembering the times when, as a child, (and that is not too long ago, I'm not that old) the selection of the right, winning conker and the preparation of it for battle was all important for the gladiatorial performance awaiting us in the school playground every Autumn. Just in case you have no idea what I'm going on about watch this fine demonstration by Matt and Miranda.

For anyone else who laments the passing of such an important social skill and the cuts and bruises that went along with the annual collecting and opening of these prickly little numbers to get to the gleaming gem inside, here is a little reminder. Not exactly botanical with the detail but who cares, they make the child inside smile!   

'Conkers! Just for fun' Sketchbook detail

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

For the Love of Veg

Dark mornings and chilly days herald the beginning of the end of the Summer glut of homegrown veg. Having had great success with growing tomatoes, courgettes, broccoli, chard and a multitude of herbs, I can see the growing list for next spring getting ever longer.  
Radish detail J.Godwin (2010)

Earlier this year I completed a study of vegetables. As I wanted to use a range of textures,colours and shapes, I decided on a selection of delicate vegetables including spring onions, asparagus, garlic, including a couple of cloves, and a bright pink radish. 
Lots of sketches and colour testing later and the fun of the real thing could begin. The texture of the spring onions was particularly difficult to get right. The papery layers and subtle greens led to the use of a multitude of greens and blues and an eye-wateringly tiny brush!.

Spring Onions (detail) J. Godwin (2011)

Initially, I had considered using a gorgeous selection of red onions, but I could not get the composition right with so many round shapes going on. The garlic bulbs reflected the papery texture of the spring onions and, of course there was the added benefit of the lovely pink cloves.

Getting the colour of red onions right

Red Onion. J. Godwin (2010)

Solitary Garlic Clove (detail). J. Godwin (2010)

In the end, I was pleased with the overal effect of the composition. A bit quirky and cheeky with the two asparagus spears standing casually at the back, (can asparagus be casual?), and my tutor called it 'interesting' but good. Well, anyway it all went well.

A Selection of Garden Veg J. Godwin (2011)


Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Botanical Challenge!

Painting really good leaves has been a bit of a hit and miss affair for me since starting the SBA course last year. Sometimes I get it right and they look fab, but with others it's all a bit sad. Getting the greens right does not seem to be the problem as I have had some really complementary comments about my colour mixing, (these will be in the Sketchbook page soon). So. it must be the actual shaping or technique that is not quite right. The real problem is that leaves are not straight. They bend and fold and their veins aren't symmetrical and you can't always see where they join and... well the list goes on.

Help is at hand. Starting on the 1st October, an international group of acclaimed Botanical Artists will be painting a leaf a day for the whole month. Not for any reason I don't think but it sounded like fun and a great way to practice and practice and practice my leaves. I found out about this challenge whilst reading Mindy Lighthipe's recent blog. She is one of the artists taking part in the challenge and was recently voted as the groups first Artist of the Month. The You Tube masterclass on how to paint a leaf using the wet-in-wet technique given by Mindy is quite good and although I couldn't get sound, (I am not sure if there is any as other videos worked ok) the visual process was helpful.     


As Autumn would appear to be well on it's way it will be good to capture the beautiful shades now taking hold of the trees in the garden. So far many of the plants I have tackled have all had green leaves so now I will be looking to mix reds, oranges, yellows and and all shades in between. There will also be the extra challenge of texture as fallen leaves tend to be brown and crinkled. Oh, well I have said I will do it now.   

Here are a few of the stunning examples Mindy produced for the 2009 30 Days/30 Leaves challenge.  

Monday, 12 September 2011

A Good Decision

After a good few weeks of not being able to get back to the drawing board, (it's a very long story that I won't bore you with but needless to say it was a real pain!!!) this weekend I took the plunge and got back in the saddle. Like riding a bike, it is the familiar feeling of brushes in hand that feels good and although the advice of drawing every day had to be put aside I was glad to see that I hadn't got too rusty in the interim breather.

It was a good thing that I decided to trawl the garden for a suitable subject on Friday, being ready to go this morning as, well today is just going to be one of those typical, 'bad weather', hold on to your hats kind of days. Already it's been pouring with rain, blowing a gale and causing havoc in the garden. Anyone out and about today, especially 'up North' may well get swept off their feet, (and not in a good way).
Clematis 'Arabella' is a truly stunning example of a simple flower that really does make the most of itself. The flowers, although quite small begin as a deep purple, turning to a beautiful deep blue that eventually fades to a paler shade as they age. The stamens create a lovely little halo around the centre giving a great contrast to the colour of the petals.  

Having used this example earlier for one of my assignments, Arabella has become a favourite and as it lasts for ages in the vase while you paint it, a great choice for botanical painting.  

The fine specimen in my garden has been flowering it's heart out for months and, as I stepped outside this morning to inspect what carnage the wind had caused overnight I was met with overturned pots flowers left on my little 'Arabella'. They are probably making their way to Brighton by now. Oh well, It always pays to be prepared, the couple of blooms I cut on Friday are still looking fresh as they cool their heels in the fridge, ready to go! 
As my camera issues have yet to be resolved, these fine examples of Arabella come from CrocusPioneer Clematis and Deeproot.    


Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Camera Quandary!

Taking photos of botanical subjects is something of a 'dark art'. The advice given in many of the botanical art books suggest that being able to judge distance from the subject is an absolute must. Having lots of pictures of one plant where the flowers are all different sizes will not be helpful. Also, it is important to have images of the different parts of the plant. After all how can you hope to paint an accurate plant without the leaves or stem? See what I mean, a 'dark art'.

Not being a natural David Bailey or Mario Testino does put me at a slight disadvantage. Most of the pictures I have taken over the years are the usual holiday snaps of family. The sort of shots where some people are in shadow or the legs are cut off or they are out of focus. Not great if the idea is to build up a library of images that can be used to paint from.

Most of the professional artists working today will, at some point have to work from photos. After all, card companies or commissions may require images of species that are out of season. As these cannot wait until the flower decides to open, a photo is essential. Recently, I was told that many artists are working on Christmas designs at Easter!!

WDC Oct2011 cover
The October 2011 issue
What makes the situation even worse is that, (and here is the real problem) I don't have a camera. What do you go for? The world of camera kit is vast and scary. Digital would seem to have made things easier, no more waiting for the film to be developed before the results are revealed and a rubbish picture can be instantly deleted.    

Whilst checking out the What Digital Camera website recently, my eyes were drawn to a thing of beauty. For me, this would usually be shoes but this was indeed a camera. Small and light with a whole host of accessories, this camera was screaming, 'BUY ME!!!'. Who cares about comparing ratings or, does it have a longer battery life or anti-blur or a high ISO (pardon!), or continuous shooting capability. Quite!

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-GF3

Just like new shoes or a cake, I don't care if I really don't need it with all those functions in order to take half decent pictures of plants, I have been swept along by the new joy of Digital SLR Cameras and my first love is the The Panasonic Lumix G3. Of course, this is just the object of my affection and other perfectly nice cameras are available.



Thursday, 1 September 2011

Sketchbook heaven

The arrival of stuff in the post is a bit like Christmas. A package arrives, all carefully wrapped and when you open it, oh joy. The crisp new pages of a brand new sketchbook, invitingly waiting to be filled with a myriad of colours is quite exciting. Such was my joy when the postie arrived with my latest order. Two Winsor and Newton hardbacked, A4 wire-o sketchbooks are now sitting on my desk, and I couldn't be happier. It is my view that when you have the right book good things go into them. When it's something you are not happy with, you do not do your best work.

As well as getting giddy over new stuff, I have also been rummaging through my existing kit, thinking it might be a good idea to renew some of my worn out brushes and nearly empty tubes of paint. A bit like the books, many artist's have their favourites and although I am only a student and therefore have only been at this for a short time, I do have a few things in my kit that I would not part with or change and woe-betide any manufaturer that decides to 'discontinue' one of my faves. 

Meanwhile, out in the garden I am disappointed with the 'Bishop of Llandaff' Dahlia's I planted earlier this year, which had come into bloom early and now point blank refuse to produce any more flowers. Nature is such a pain when it doesn't play ball as I had really wanted to paint this gorgeous plant for one of the rooms in my house.

Feast your eyes on this beauty from Anglia Bulbs  

At least there are some nice apples to munch on whilst lamenting my loss.