Friday, 28 October 2011

Lights, Camera, Action!

Well, 2 out of 3 isn't bad. The camera is sorted, there is plenty of action, (that didn't sound too good did it?), now it's lighting. Good lighting is a thorny issue for a painter, especially when there is painstaking detail to be done. Do you opt for full on school art-room lumination of strip lights that are so hot they can double up as heating and use enough electricity to run a Scottish island, be green and go for energy saving bulbs or strive to keep to natural light. Then there is the direction for right or left handers. Hmm, there is so much to consider and so many solutions to choose from, the mind boggles.

As October ends and the lights start to go on at about half past five in the afternoon, the loss of natural light in the studio must be addressed. At present I am using a small daylight lamp that has a bendy head and a large magnifying glass. It does the job, but only just. The arm is not very long so trying to illuminate a large piece is tricky and the quality of light from some energy saving bulbs can be a bit weird. What I really miss are those great Anglepoise lights with huge conical shades and an arm so long that it could poke someone in the eye about 3 metres away.

That reminds me of the first Pixar animated short from years ago about a little anglepoise lamp and a ball. Nostalgic moment alert!!

Wise and sagely advice states that the direction and consistency of a light source is vital. It should have a constant level of brightness and remain in the same direction throughout the day. All well and good but impossible with natural daylight and therefore there must be some form of artificial light to supplement what light there is. Staying natural, a north facing room is perfect as this direction never gets full, direct sunlight, creating a uniform quality of light that barely moves. I don't have a north facing spare room and I am not moving! Cloudy, overcast days, (such as today) cause all sorts of issues and then there is the issue of colour.

Sketchbook exercise demonstrating
different directions of light

Colour can be dramatically altered by light, especially greens as I was once told, so the job of mixing correct shades is made all the harder. That said, some artists are now opting to work in darkened studios, James Gillick creates his beautiful still life works in a barely lit studio. His recent summer exhibition of still lifes at Park Walk Gallery gave an extraordinary insight into his work. 

'Red Tulips' still life by James Gillick

  • Katherine Tyrrell of Making a Mark has given a full, and really helpful guide to choosing the right light and other points to consider in her post Night and Day - lighting your subject. Katherine really does understand the job of an artist and goes to great lengths to research her topics so her blog is always worth a visit. Finding the right approach to artificial and natural light is made a hell of a lot easier after reading the post and now I know what I need to change in my studio. Thanks Katherine!  

Katherine's advice to achieve the perfect balance is to use as much natural daylight as possible but to supplement this with the consistency of an artificial light source, always with a daylight bulb. Hooray! I can get my lovely Anglepoise with plenty of reach. Lighting Nirvana! 

Friday, 21 October 2011

The First Frost, (and Butterflies)

Red Admiral - Photograph by Jim Asher
Red Admiral Butterfly photo by Jim Asher, courtesy
of Butterfly Conservation

This week saw the arrival of the first frost. Just a light dusting but blimey it was cold. The heating had to go on and many of the plants in the garden looked a bit frost bitten. Ah well at least it looked pretty, especially when the sun finally made it's appearance. To think, it was only last Saturday when I caught a glimpse of a Red Admiral butterfly, (I had been keeping a record of the butterflies we see for Butterfly Conservation's 'Big Butterfly Count' in August), and the garden was full of birdsong. That reminds me, I must refill all the bird feeders so the poor little blighters have something to eat.

A few more faves
Nandina domestica, Lily, Cirrhosa
It has been a pretty busy week this week and I am sorry to say that I have got a bit behind with my daily leaves. Oops! Well, it is my first go at it and I am not experienced enough to work quickly. It is one of those times when you want to get something done, think you have bitten off more than you can chew and fear that it will all go horribly wrong. So far it has gone ok and I am not going to rush at it just to keep up and spoil the whole thing. Perhaps I shouldn't have tried a composition. Something to think about for next year.  

Friday, 14 October 2011

The (Leaf) Story So Far

Progress on the leaf challenge continues, and as the weather is still fine it has been no hardship to collect a range of suitable and interesting subjects to paint. Evergreen plants have proved extremely useful and I have included camellia, cotoneaster and grasses alongside the deciduous mix of nandina domestica and oak leaves (pencil outlines just out of shot).

'Autumn Leaves', work in progress. J. Godwin 2011

Work in progress shows the composition as it builds each day. My next few choices (already drawn in pencil) will have some strong reds and yellows to balance the leucothoe leaf on the far right and truly reflect Autumn. The clematis leaf in the middle with all it's burgundy shades was bright green only a week ago so I was lucky to catch this one at just the right time.

Cotoneaster. Detail from 'Autumn Leaves'
J. Godwin 2011

For this branch of cotoneaster leaves I used a mix of green that is one of my new favourites. Indanthrene Blue with just a touch of Perylene Maroon with either Cadmium Yellow Light or Winsor Yellow, (New Gamboge creates a more olive shade). The different shades of yellow change the mix from a fresh, bright green to a rich forest green. Although I have always mixed my own greens with a touch of red, I came across this particular mix after reading an interview with Scotland based artist Sharon Tingey on the Botanical Artists blog. It is such a versatile mix that  I can see me using it for nearly everything from now on 


Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Identifying Apples

As October marches on, this weekend saw me picking apples from the garden. When we first moved here one of the things that really made me happy was the sight of three established apple trees. As a child, back home in Essex, I had been lucky enough to be sent off to school every Autumn term with a home grown apple. Yum! Nostalgic thoughts indeed.
The Happy Haul
And so, over the past few years we have been munching our way through our apples not really knowing what type they were. Handy that The Apple Book by Rosie Sanders along with a good few ancient tomes from the family library were at hand to help with identification. And so we think we have got: Worcester Permain,a beautifully sweet fruit with rosy skin and creamy white, crunchy flesh; Cox's Orange Pippin (lucky me!!),the ultimate 'English' apple, and another one we're still working on. Since moving in we have also planted a Bramley Seedling (just for the hell of it).

Of course, at the time I was really trying to concentrate on finding more leaves to paint for the current project but these just looked so nice on the tree it had to be done. So for a couple of hours, eating (or at least the thought of it) took over from painting. 

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Colour Charts! And more Colour Charts!!

My first colour chart
Mixing so many leafy greens got me thinking about how I use colour to get the right mixes I need to make my foliage look luminous and real. The SBA leaf assignment last year needed so many different greens, it was advised to start with a colour chart of mixes.

Even with a relatively small palette of blues and yellows, with a few browns and Cadmium Red, I found a vast number of greens could be made. Acid, fresh greens with Winsor Lemon are my favourites but all are beautifully rich and complex. A great exercise that really got me thinking about colour and how we see it.

Having created a plethora of greens, I have made charts for all number of colours that I have found tricky to get right. Shadow tones are so difficult to judge, and I have found myself so often using the universal, 'botanical grey' mix of French Ultramarine, Cadmium Yellow and Cadmium Red. A really great tip I picked up form Jenny Jowett FSBA when trying to get the shadow mix right is to only use the colours you have used in your painting, (mix the flower colours for the flower shadows, leafy colours for leaf shadows. You get the idea). A careful mix of these colour will produce the colours of the reflected light and shadow tones in the subject, creating a more realistic blend of tone.    

My favourite Perylene Maroon, with some of the gorgeous mixes. I love using these colours as much as possible and they have been particularly useful in the latest leaf challenge. Mellow fruitfullness, I should say so!  

Keeping a record of all the mixes I make, especially when I buy a new colour or a new brand helps save time when finding the right mixes for a project. Practical help can also be found in books. The one which I find most useful and the book that many artist's recommend is Ian Sidaway's, 'Colour Mixing Bible'. Find out more about this book in the Recommended Reading page.  

Perhaps I did get a bit carried away on this one


Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Challenge Continues

The busy work place
After four days of furious painting, the first few leaves of the botanical challenge are done. It has been an unusual experience to just be painting a single leaf at a time. Normally I would be trying to paint an entire plant and continue working for a much longer period of time.

However, the challenge has provided me with just the practise I need to improve my technique and find new ways of painting. Using Mindy Lighthipe's technique of very wet-in-wet, stonger mix washes was terrifying at first but worked really well, particularly on the Basil and Leucothoe leaves.      

Using a more limited pallette and having more time to play around with ideas has been great fun. I have also got a lot quicker at getting something on paper which, as a botanical art student with limited deadlines is a bonus. I do have a tendency to dither a bit over composition and subject. Here there is no problem, just pick a leaf and away you go!

Before starting the challenge I gave myself a couple of goals to achieve:

  • Firstly, to include as many different colour leaves as I could find. 
  • To get a bit quicker at getting a painting done.
  • To have the confidence to not practice every detail in my sketchbook first.
  • To include as many different shapes of leaf as possible.
  • To get better at painting leaves.

So far I have kept these ideas in mind and, of course if you are trying to get better at something, practise, practise, practise is the way forward. Taking the time to draw every day, (life and work allowing) is the best advice I have ever been given, (thanks to Margaret Stevens of the SBA).     

Not every one is a winner, but I am getting there

Basil, smelt great whilst painting it

Those challenging Autumn colours
Leucothoe 'Scarletta'

Saturday, 1 October 2011

One Down, 30 To Go!

Ah, that's better. When the first wash goes on and behaves itself, I feel better. Deciding to play it safe and start with a shiny Skimmia leaf was a bit of a cowardly start to the challenge but I thought if this one went well, it would give me enough of a boost to keep on going.

A first, light wash of Cerulean and Cobalt was chosen for the highlights as these did not appear as bright white. As this wash dried, I added a second colour, this time using Indanthrene Blue and Winsor Lemon, allowing the mix to spread and mix with the paler wash, forming the highlights. Using a clean damp brush, I pulled out some of the colour to emphasise the highlights.

The First Wash

Working on one side of the leaf at a time and glazing with clean water before laying on each colour wash keeps the highlights clear and creates a more natural spread of colour. Like many SBA students this is a technique I picked up after reading Billy Showell's book of, 'Watercolour Flower Portraits'. It really works and keeps things nicely controlled. Continuing in this way, I built up a couple more layers of colour, being careful to pay attention to the areas of light and shade. The last job was to add touches of Perylene Maroon to the stalk and tip of the leaf.

Nealy there

What to do next?
Looking back at my Skimmia leaf through the day, I could see there were a couple of touching up jobs to do here and there. So I must go back and do that but overal though, I am quite pleased with it. Oh, in case you are wondering, no I am not going to blog about all 31, that would be silly.