Monday, 31 December 2012

Mixed Nuts

Well, it will be mixed flowers actually, but this latest one is driving me nuts! That post Christmas lull of 'cabin fever' where you have been slopping about the house for so long that getting back into any sense of 'normal' just feels weird. Still, work I must, and this next mixed study will be a wintry cornucopia of twiggy and flowery loveliness. One hopes anyway.

Full of spring promise.
Camellia 'Anticipation'

Against a white background, the green of the mistletoe
really sings of festive glory. 
Mistletoe featured in our Christmas decoration around the house this year and I am in the middle of some sketches of this little curiosity. To compliment the pearlescent white of the mistletoe berries, I am hoping to include some of my camellias. Alas, 'Yuletide' didn't live up to its name. Perhaps the plant I have is a little small and will need to grow up a bit before it can bloom. Then, to round off the lot, some sprigs of viburnum tinus berries. Gorgeously purple and shiny like buttons, these berries will offer a bit of depth and as they are blueish in tone, should recede and cool things down a bit. The evergreen leaves should come in handy too.


Sunday, 23 December 2012

Mmmm, It's Christmas

Well now, the vegetable study is finished, hooray!! I know, I know, I said I wouldn't show you. But, hey there you go.

Moving onto the next two, I have been out and about on my annual foray into the shops on the hunt for foliage and flowers for the Christmas table and to make the house feel a little more festive. 
I can't be secretive, it's not in my nature.
I know I said I wouldn't but here it is.
Here's the almost finished veg, the roots were completed after this pic.
As I was sitting at the table scoffing another mince pie whilst admiring the large bundle of mistletoe, I was suddenly struck by how many things at Christmas time begin with M. Mince pies, mistletoe and mulled wine of course. Then we have mayhem, merriment and manic last minute buying. Music is important to make the day go with a swing so we will probably have Mum's favourite, Mahalia Jackson, and a bit of Boney M (the wrong way round but who's counting?) 
Mistletoe is a strange plant. Filled with folklore and mysticism, this parasitic plant grows on native trees such as Poplar and apple and is traditionally hung in houses at Christmas. The bit I like is that you get to have a kiss under it, so plenty will be hung about the place I can tell you.. More importantly, I am seriously considering using mistletoe in a festive arrangement with holly berries with either Camellia or Hellebore niger. Lots of gorgeous reds, greens and fresh whites from the mistletoe berries and hellebore. The other bonus is that we have an old Poplar tree in the garden so I will have a go at growing the stuff.
Last but not least, I would like to say a big thank you to all of you who have taken a peek at 'The Squirrel Archives' this year. Without your support and comments this Blog would fizzle out like a damp squib and more importantly, I have really enjoyed your company.
Wishing You All A Very Merry Christmas   

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Apocalypse, Now?

According to the Mayans, the end of the world is due on Friday, at midnight to be precise. Now this post is not going to go into the ins and outs of, 'End of Days' predictions and philosophies, (although Nostradamus had a lot to say on the subject and had something of a knack for these things, although not so much on Lottery numbers!), all I will say is that it will be dashed inconvenient and will rather put a dampner on my plans for Christmas. Although, thinking about it, 'Husband' is something of a Ray Mears survivalist and would rather relish the idea of testing his skills.

Friday will however see the start of, 'Husband's' seasonal break from work, and therefore, for us at least, the start of Christmas. This year is extra special as we will be celebrating with the whole family, the first time in a good few years. At this point I would like to pass on a warm Merry Christmas message to my fabulous uncle Michael, (who, rumour has it, does occasionally tune in) who will be escaping on his annual exodus to Paris. Good on you Michael, and have a good one! 
Of course for me, painting will have to take a major role, and although I will get to have a couple of drinkies and a mince pie here and there, that darn onion must be finished! Already, I am thinking on the next one, so the sketchbook will not be too far away. Now, should I tackle the dissections or the mixed study? Hmmm, perhaps I will ponder that one over a Sloe Gin and tonic and a mince pie.

Portfolio: Check
Sketchbook: Check
Paper: Check
Kit: Check
All present and correct and ready to go.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Stop Giving the Game Away!

'Husband' has put his manly foot down and told me to stop revealing too much of my portfolio pieces. This is a tough ask for me as I love to share what I am up to, (good or bad) and offer any little handy tip I pick up along the way. However, as 'Husband' pointed out, you never know who may be tuning in and that might very well include, Your Assessor! This issue was brought up recently by a couple of other students on Facebook. It's a good point. If you 'reveal' your finished piece online before posting to your tutor for marking, is this unfair, and might it cloud an opinion? Hmmm, it's a point to ponder.
Generally, I have been pretty good, only posting my work online after my tutor has received it or has at least seen some of it, (I do sometimes email an image of work in progress to a tutor just for a little insight). But, maybe one or two slip through the net, sheer excitement of completing a major challenge gets the better of me I'm afraid. So far so good though, I haven't been told off yet.  
Not wanting to tempt fate, you'll forgive me for not posting my finished veggies until 'The Three Piece Suite' is finished and has safely arrived at it's final destination. Here's a last tantalising glimpse. Look out for it again in Feb when all three are finished. I will keep you posted...

The finished leek leaves.

A final watery glaze of  cerulean mixed with Lemon Yellow and a touch of Perylene brightens the greyish leaves
where they meet the root.

A bluer shade where the leaves are getting older and tougher varies the temperature against the brighter, fresher tones. 


Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Three Piece Suite

This time of year always has the feel of a warm blanket. Nostalgia, and cosy memories of times past are all wrapped up in our preparations for the festive season. Making the Christmas cake, the kitchen filled with the scent of warm spices and brandy-soaked fruits, using the same recipe our family has used for years, wiped away all those years back to when I was about 7 and helping my Dad do the exact same thing.

Nostalgia will always have it's place but nowadays season's greetings are sent via Facebook, Twitter and email, shopping is all done online and many of us fly to warmer climes to escape the gloomy, winter chill of Britain. And I don't blame you, just now it is miserably cold and wet here, and any snow just means that the airports close, trains don't run and the roads get blocked!

Moving on, ahem! The veggie study is coming along quite nicely but the true enormity of the, 'Three Piece Suite' as I call it, is just beginning to take effect. Waking up at about 3.30am thinking about flowers for a mixed piece is no fun, and now every time I see flowers I am looking to see how I could carve it up to see how it operates! Desperate times indeed.

The almost finished leek.
Just the onion to go. 

If you were to ask me how many hours this has taken, I don't think I could honestly give you an answer. All I know is that it has taken a very long time and I am delighted to see the end of all this detail. Of course, I could go on, and on with it, but there has to be a time when time is against you, and enough really is enough.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Beware The Arctic Blast!

"Colder than the North Pole". As quoted last Friday by a presenter on Radio 4's Today programme. No kidding! It's blooming freezing here, luckily the wood burner is performing a supremely sterling service, chugging away keeping me toasty warm. As a housewarming (quite literally) gift from my ever generous parents, our wood burner takes some beating. After years in cold flats, it makes a gorgeous change and I love it. If ever we move, I'm taking it with me!

With the wrapping all finished, the cake made and lots of 'festive fare', (including a sneaky bottle of Sloe Gin) tucked away in the cupboard, 'Husband' and I are pretty sorted for the 'Christmas Lockdown'. Not that the holiday is a riotous affair. With just the two of us, Christmas is usually just an excuse to sit, do very little and eat quite a lot. However, this year we will be joining the rest of my little troupe in London, (and that includes the neighbour's cat, who appears to have taken up residence!).

With the veggie study in full swing and two more to go, work can never really be that far away, so the sketchbooks, paints and general botanical paraphernalia will also have to make the trip up the motorway. Hmmm, I wonder what's looking good in Dad's garden? Ah well, no rest for the wicked.

Starting to get down to the nitty-gritty of detail 

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Adventures with Alliums (and parcels!)

Paint is on the paper, hurrah!!, I have overcome that dreadful 'expanse of white paper' feeling whenever I start a new piece. It really is an affliction, hands shaking, I get a bit sweaty palms and make any excuse to have another cup of tea, do some ironing, bake some bread, anything but start that painting. Not this time, with a feeling of focus and purpose, the first washes for the leek leaves are on. Phew! It never looks particularly promising at this stage, with just some streaks of colour here and there to give the general idea, but it's early days.

The first, watery wash 

Making a start on that leek.
Mapping out the cool and warm shades

Postie has been delivering a lot to Squirrel HQ recently, with lots of festive treats now awaiting the final flourish of ribbons and wrapping. Amongst the purchases this year was something for the garden. Normally, I wouldn't normally buy plants over the net but I couldn't resist this yuletide favourite. Appropriately named, 'Yuletide',  my new camellia has deliciously red but simple flowers from November to January and is usually blooming in time for Christmas, so expect some sketches and photos of this one, (once it arrives that is!). 

Thursday, 6 December 2012

It's That Time of Year Again

At this time of year I am reminded of how quickly ordinary people turn into major tacticians, with lists, plans and even suitcases on wheels to do their gift shopping! Scary stuff on the high street I can tell you.

It gets worse too. Some years ago I was standing in the checkout queue at Marks and Spencer when my Mum became aware of two men acting strangely behind me. At any other time of the year this would seem sinister, so what were they doing? Well, one of them was buying a slinky nightdress as a gift for his wife and was using my back and height for measurements, apparently we were of a similar size. Ask her next time, silly!  
As with last year, the knitted reindeer are making a comeback. Yes, they're back! This time, 'Brother Dearest' would like one for his girlfriend to decorate their little flat, and I am happy to oblige. Mum and Dad already have theirs standing in the porch, welcoming visitors, and of course, postie. By this time next year, I should have a fair sized herd!

Can you guess what it is yet?
Rudolph takes refuge in the wood basket.
The rest of him is still in production!
A handmade Christmas always feels a little bit special, with care, thought and quite often blood, sweat and tears in every little offering. So, my family can expect homemade 'Squirrel' items of every description under the tree this year. However, I think I will give the hand stamped wrapping paper a miss. Good luck with any festive preparations you may be undertaking yourself.


Monday, 3 December 2012

Alternative Alliums

Erm, confession time again, I have changed my mind, again. After completing some initial sketches and idea thumbnails, the red onions were not really floating my boat, or working well as a group, (naughty onions!). So, after some thought, I have changed the composition and some elements.
Keeping with the allium theme, and still putting an onion into the composition, I am currently working with some leeks. The range of textures and colours are looking good together and the 'fan' of  leaves on the leek give weight to the scheme. These veggies seem to be working better together, and I have got the layout already sorted. Working back from the submission date, and taking a short Christmas break into consideration, I will have just over three weeks to get this one out of the way. Better get started then...

A really quick sketch of a white onion.
Some of the composition ideas

Those thumbnails came in handy again. When in doubt, get a cuppa, a notebook and a pencil and hammer out some ideas. Just anything that comes, go for it and the answer will present itself.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Knowing Your Onions

So, onions it is then. Now, although I do dabble in a spot of gardening I am not 'up' on the names and varieties of red onions that out there. They are red, and they are onions what more is there to know? Only kidding of course, but I will need to have a good trawl through the Squirrel Library Archive to discover exactly what my onions are.
That aside, work has begun on the sketches and planning for the final piece, and I am actually quite looking forward to painting this one. Now I know what I am doing, the stress levels have subsided a little and I am getting myself, 'in  the zone' to get cracking with it. Pinks, reds and purples are amongst my favourite colour mixes, (as you all know) but the papery textures will be a challenge.
Although I have not yet finalised the composition, I am planning to include a cut half and some green shoots from a sprouting onion for some contrast. You know how onions tend to split into separate little 'onionlets'? Well I am hoping to find one of those too!

The first sketchbook page for the Diploma Portfolio.
Hmmm, perhaps a leek might go with those...

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Tears Before Bedtime?

I change my mind like the weather, although to be honest there hasn't been much change there for about a month! Anyway, last time I said I was going to tackle the botanical illustration first, well I'm not! Looking at the red onions I was peeling for yesterday's dinner, I had that eureka moment and decided that they would be perfect for the vegetable study. Red onions are just fabulous, with great colour, texture and endless possibilities for interesting angles, and just delicious roasted with some red peppers, tomatoes and courgettes. Not forgetting some crushed garlic and a touch of salt and pepper and a good glug of olive oil.

And here's one I made earlier!
Whilst working on the A8, the vegetable assignment,
I completed a couple of onions.
See, they can come in handy!
So, whilst defrosting in front of our toasty warm wood burning stove yesterday, I came up with a mass of sketches. I must try to get out of the habit of using envelopes, old receipts, backs of magazines, in fact any old scraps to do my sketches on. There has been more than one occasion where 'Husband' has gone to chuck something out, only for me to rush at him, and not in a romantic way to prevent some disaster.

Notebook, colour chart and scraps of paper.
There is even a recipe for some cheese scones on one piece!
So, red onions it is then, but I am not going to do that classic string of onions thing that have become so popular of late, I am not in France! Others can go down that road and jolly good luck to them, there is only four weeks to get this thing done and I am not the 'Speedy Gonzales' of the botanical art world. In the composition I plan to include a cut onion, that should be fun!!

Monday, 26 November 2012

The Final Furlong

Well, there it is, the final assignment piece has been dispatched and the end is in sight. All that stands between me and the end of the course are the three last pieces making the Diploma Portfolio. These will be quite possibly the most important pieces of artwork I will ever do and the last chance I will get to boost my final grade. Of course there will be important pieces to come, but these ones are a bit special.
The eventual outcome for me will be to gain associate membership of the SBA, hopefully leading to full membership. As with many of my DLDC colleagues, making botanical illustration the next career step would be the ideal, but there is a lot to do and plans to make in order to make that happen. Wheels are in motion already, so watch this space.
As for the next three, I am working on the illustration first, (or maybe the veg!). This will be the hardest one to tackle as I will need to dissect the subject and choose a layout that is pleasing. My last one of these came out a little less than perfect, no chance of that this time. One change will be to complete the dissections in graphite rather than watercolour as I think it looks better. So, thinking on a subject, Hellebores are a perennial favourite as are orchids, but I will complete some quick sketches on both before the final decision.

Helleborus niger
White on white? Hmmm
Always a tricky one to go with.
Although making a white flower look grey is even worse

The gorgeous leaves and reddish stems
would look pretty though. 

Friday, 23 November 2012

All Tangled Up!

Yes, it's variegated ivy time, and what a time I am having of it too! There are at least three shades of green going on with these leaves, plus the yellowy base colour. The shadows in particular are an interesting challenge too, making sure that one side of the leaf is slightly darker to the other adds to the task. To achieve this, I have left some of the colours a bit 'washed out' to give the appearance of light and used a greeny-grey wash over all of the darker side. It seems to work quite well.
Not too many of the leaves are showing in their entirety, with bits poking out from behind other flowers to give depth to the overal composition. As the brief stated a 'mixed' composition, I added the flowers and buds of the ivy, which are like a froth of dainty clusters of  pale green 'baubles', which will become berries later in the season. 
Anyway, with the exotic plethora of A12 or 'Hogarthy Happiness' as I am now calling it, done and dusted, it's onto the mighty epic that is, The Diploma Portfolio. Yes, the gargantuan three month painting marathon is here and there is no time to shy away from the task at hand.  Three big pieces in three months, a botanical challenge indeed. Put your seat belts on, it's going to be a bumpy ride!!

Finished.At last!

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Perfect Preparation

The weather of late has been somewhat wet. To be honest that really is an understatement, it has been really, really wet. In fact, here in Blighty it feels like it hasn't stopped raining since April. Flooding has been a major part of day to day life for many people this year, and although (touch wood!) we haven't had such a disaster there is always the need to start thinking about being prepared for the worst, especially as many are suggesting that this winter will be one of the worst.Crikey! 
With this in mind, (and having lived through a few winters without heating), we have got a couple of sandbags stashed away, a snow shovel, grit, wood for the woodburner, a good bottle of Scotch, (for medicinal purposes, of course), flood covers for the airbricks, and enough blankets to reach the Moon and back! One thing we don't have, which I think really should go on my Christmas list is an Ark! Shopping for such an item is proving troublesome, but I think I may have found something.
Knit your own Ark!
Alas I have no small people to make this for,
but any excuse!
Alan Dart comes up trumps again  
Just a bit of fun to raise a smile to anyone else finding this weather rather tiring and not at all amusing. Here's hoping it stops soon, but then again there is still the snow to come. Hmmm perhaps we may need to top up on the tomato soup!  

Saturday, 17 November 2012

On the Road Again!

Yes, you guessed it, Sammy and Lucy are up to their tricks again and are off once more on a spiffing adventure. This time, they are off to see a nice man in London, who is going to treat them like royalty, take their picture, buff then up a bit to make them look their best before sending them home.
Oh yes, it's printing time again, getting ready in time for Valentine's Day. There have been so many wonderful compliments and requests for this piece, that I have decided to make it into a card and Limted Edition print, available soon through Etsy. Of course 'Husband' will get one, whether he likes it or not! And then they will be let loose, spreading romance and happiness.  
At this point I think I can also come clean about a little surprise I have been bottling up for ages, but is just busting to come out. Although I had many reservations about how well my card design would do, my tutor Margaret, who is also the Director of the SBA Diploma Course, liked it so much she has asked for it to be put into the annual SBA exhibition in London next year. At the time I kept it to myself, only telling a few friends as I didn't really want to appear to be boasting. The course is so difficult and many of us have had real difficulties and tears over our work, the last thing you need is some hot shot going on about how much success they have had. Of course you are happy for them, but inside you are tearing your heart out with your own disappointement. That's art for you!
Off to London
The adventure starts here!

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Pink Panic Thursday

Nearly through the final full week of painting and I am now officially having a bit of a panic, not massive but just a little frisson of discomfort. The lilies are taking so much longer than I had expected, with the layers of colour and small details all painstakingly slow to dry. And there is still the ivy to go. These 'bigger' assignments have been really traumatic as there is so much more going on in them, and there is the expectation that you will 'up the challenge' on your skills each time. You would think that nearly two months would be more than enough time, but trust me, it goes like the wind!

Anyway, ploughing on through, and I must say, panic aside, it's not looking too bad. Perhaps not quite my best work ever, but this piece has certainly got the sort of look I was intending, which is a bonus. Going for a different composition is always a bit of a gamble, and there were times when I thought I had really overdone it this time. Now, I am quite pleased to have taken the gamble. Certainly one to keep in mind for future works.

Just some more of the foliage to go and I'm there! Should be in the post by Tuesday with any luck.

Progress thus far.
A weekend amongst the brushes ahead


Tuesday, 13 November 2012

A Weekend Away, (and the nursery cat!)

Time marches on and with this course there always seems to be so little of it. With one week to go before the deadline for this piece, any minor interruption, (such as a freezer breakdown) can feel like a major incident. But who cares, I do not allow such things to get in the way of weekends away, so off I went on one of my many trips to London.
Not one for resting on the laurels, I used the time with Mum and Dad to take a trip to the plant nursery near our home. I love this place and love the familiarity of the greenhouses, trees, and even their cat! Ah yes, the cat. The cat is an important part of any trip and we always try to look out for him. Last time we went, he had found a particularly comfy spot on top of the compost bags in one of the greenhouses. Woe betide any poor individual who decided to buy a bag, as prizing this little creature from his prime position would have proved a painful experience. This time, puss decided to follow us just about everywhere, charging about, getting underfoot, and wanting lots of attention. Bless!! 
Looking out for new specimens to paint is always good and I was on the hunt for a number of winter winners for the garden, including witch hazel, euonymous and more hellebores. Pickings were unusually slim and I had to satisfy my shopping requirements with some Helleborus niger. Not quite the bootful I had planned on but still, a good find.

To the victor, the spoils.
After a good hunt round, I found these little beauties.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Avoiding Disasters, (and buff envelopes)

Don't know what it is about this piece, but whenever I settle down to do some work on it, I smile. Maybe it has got something to do with the outrageously lurid pink that is going onto the paper in such copious amounts, or perhaps it's because I haven't had any major disasters, yet! Whatever it is, I hope it lasts as the deadline looms and panic sets in.
Permanent Rose is one of those colours that I haven't had much chance to use until now. Lots of pink is needed but there are also some magenta and purple tones too. Quinacridone Magenta is a lovely colour, so rich and immediately staining, (care here!), Permanent Rose and even my favourite Pereylene Maroon are all in the mixes, making a really bright and jolly palette. There's also a sort of orangey/sepia, 'buff-envelope' sort of colour going on too, which I have made using my rosy pink mix and some yellow.

Coming along and looking exotic.
Lots of glazing and layers of colour help to get that pink just right.
As the petals of the flowers are so big, there has been a certain amount of sloshing about with the early washes. Getting the colour on quickly and in quite strong washes has been an alarming practice I recently intoduced to the armoury, and am actually getting the hang of. It seems to work best here using clean water glazes before laying on the strong colour, and as the colour seeps and settles, it creates lots of texture and light and dark pools. Using a 'just damp' brush to help things along does a lot of the work for you. Hurrah! I am all for that!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Just the Two of Us!

Onto the lilies now, and I am having all sorts of fun and games trying to get the blend of colours right. Each petal has a sort of a stripe up the mid-rib that goes from green-to-yellow-to pink-to a sort of purply colour. Getting these colours to go on without getting muddy has required careful technique, so lots of practice had to be done first to avoid an angry scene. 
That aside, the colour of this flower is stunning, a really clear bright pink with a few spots but certainly not as mad as the Stargazer lilies that I had first considered. No idea what these ones actually are, all I know is that after a mad dash, I got them from Waitrose. A bit pricey yes, but Waitrose is always reliable for their flowers, and as we are in a bit of a shopping twilight zone, one of the few places I can go for a good selection.

The buds of this lily are a more delicate affair. The one I am painting just now has a paler look to it, with purply pinks and greens catching the light to give a fresher feel. Put together, this colour combination looks quite nice against the cool lilac of the freesia. The open and profile flowers will, of course have lots more zing, with that punchy, brighter pink coming into its own. Can't wait!

Just the two of us?
Not for long.  

Monday, 5 November 2012

It's Freezing!! But Not Outside!

Ah yes, that freezer issue. Well, we are now going to be on freezer number four, after an attempted repair and subsequent conversation with 'head office', the decision was made to just give us a new one. Oh for a freezer that works. Dad has given us a trusty old appliance that is nearly as old as me and might as well run on gas and valves! It still keeps going though, bless it.
So, while we await the arrival of our new monolith, I am a little behind with proceedings on the painting. Telephone negotiations do tend to rubbish up a day somewhat, and the blasted thing always has a tendency to ring just when I am at that most crucial moment with a stem edge! Ah well, it's all part of life's rich tapestry and must be overcome with grace and poise. This is a skill I am still trying to master as I have about as much grace and poise as a sack of spuds!
Speaking of grace and poise, the lilac freesia is nearly finished, (hurrah) and I am moving swiftly on to the lilies. As  I have a beautiful bunch that I am desparately trying to keep in bud for as long as possible, work must indeed be swift. So, bud first, then profile, then full bloom I think. Ivy is in abundance in the garden so that shouldn't be too difficult to get hold of. Off we go again then, on phase two.

Getting there with the lilac flowers

The leaf on the left adds to the curvy look of this one.
The buds came out well though. 

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Freesia Fantastic

The colour on these freesia flowers is really hard to describe, it's a sort of bluish-lilac which gets stronger as they open and then fades as each flower ages. Getting the colour right for each stage of growth is going to be a real pain. The buds were quite straightforward, yellowy green with a purple streak here and there, to give a suggestion of what the flower colour will be when they open. Shadows on open flowers, especially pale ones are the hardest, but most vital part to get right if I don't want flat looking flowers.
A closer look at hose buds.

Just a little more depth needed to the shadow side

Flat flowers aside, I have to get the freezer fixed, again. Honestly you would think that by buying something, 'top of the range' the blasted thing would last more than two years. Alas not, so again my day will be interrupted by waiting, explaining for the zillionth time what the problem is and then waiting for some outrageously convoluted reason why it cannot be fixed today. Oh just give me a new bloomin' freezer.
Right, I feel better now. So it's on with those freesia petals. A very pale mix of Ultramarine Violet and Permanent Rose should give me a good base to build on. Adding French Ultramarine Light to the wash adds the bluer tones and a deeper mix of Ultramarine Light and Ultramarine Violet should do the job for the darker veining in the petals. There is also a sort of neutral, yellowy colour on the palest areas of the petals and in the folds of the neck of the flower. To get this I will use a light mix of raw Sienna and Lemon Yellow, but only very sparingly.
Sketchbook trials.
Lots of lilac mixes, and a few shadow tones

For shadow mixes, I like to use mixes made from the colours already used, so here I will use a combination of my yellowy green mix from the buds and my light lilac mix. It really does work and makes the whole thing look more harmonious than if I use a generic 'botanical grey' mix. 
Well, that's all the theory anyway. So now I had better get on with it, oh yes and listen out for that doorbell too!    

Monday, 29 October 2012

Painting by Numbers

Well now, finally I am back online after a weekend long, 'Broadband Blackout'. Oh how is it possible that I have become so reliant on email, Facebook, being able to get on the Web to find general niff-naff and of course, Blogger, that when it goes down for a whole three days it feels like it's about 1850 (plucked from the air). Back again, Hoorah!!

When I updated the blog the other day, it struck me that my black-outlined picture looks very much like those pictures you used to get in, 'painting by numbers' books. When I was very little, Mum would keep me occupied for hours with a load of colouring pencils and a big book filled with picture outlines ready to colour in. As was the trend back then, Disney characters, nursery rhymes and baby animals were the popular choice, and I would carefully fill in each bit, taking care not to go over the edge, of course. The memories!!
Pardon the reminiscences, but there you have it. Oh, if only it were that simple with this one, but at least one approach has never changed. Don't go over that edge!!

The Freesia buds in varying stages of development. The largest bud is showing just a hint of the lilac colour of the flowers. I'm loving this freesia, and so pleased I ditched the orchid in favour of it.

Taking care on the Freesia
Work begins on A12


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Celebrate Your Curves

So, here it is, the finished master tracing of my mixed composition, ready for use with my lightbox. Trying to keep things relatively simple, I have used just three of the lily flowers with one stem of freesia, and a sprig of ivy with its clusters of flower buds. Looking at it again, I did make some minor changes with the ivy stem and put in another cluster of buds just peeking out from behind the lily on the right hand side.
Not one for the classic botanical compositions, I have gone for something that really caught my eye, and is generally practiced in floristry. The shape is called a 'Hogarth Curve', Lazy 'S' or Line of Beauty, and is meant to resemble the signature used by the artist on his pieces. All the maths and divisions of my page early on gave me the vertical line that the composition is built around, and the width of the overal piece that had to contain the main blooms. Here's hoping I can pull it off.
The characteristics of the Hogarth Curve are
a vertical line joining the top and bottom,
a contained central composition,
and lots of space around it. 
The tracing paper I use is actually a very smooth grey film that is used for architectural drawings. Back in my other life, (when I was about 16) this is what I did for a living, and have still got an enormous roll of this stuff tucked away. Just goes to show that what is in the loft, 'may come in handy', one day. 

Monday, 22 October 2012

It's Monday!!

First things first. It seems I can't resist orchids, and now have three dotted about the house. This is the latest, currently snuggled in on the corner of the bath. As it's white, and one of the trickiest colours to get right in a painting, I think I will give this one a miss, for now.

No.3 and counting!

Today is the day! Yes, I must get this painting underway before the day closes, otherwise I will have missed my first target. Trying to get time management sorted has been one of the hardest parts of this course. Working with the light is tricky enough in Britain, but in autumn and winter it's even worse! Short days, low levels of sunlight and the clocks changing in October have an erratic effect on when I can get some work done using natural daylight. All that on top of everything else that has to be done during the working day.
Remembering back to a post I wrote last year about natural and artificial light sources, I came to the conclusion that the most sensible way to go is to use a good mix of both. Natural daylight produces the best environment for colour mixing, and casts the most natural shadows. Artificial lighting can create harsh shadows and can be too bright to get colours accurate. A mix of both gives good light whilst maintaining natural shadows and colours.

So, with daylight lamps in full effect and the composition all finished, it's onto the lightbox and then on with the painting. Plus, you're getting a sneak peek at the composition too.

A dull day again, but at least the lamps are nice and bright.
The almost finished composition.
Just a little more foliage to soften the look and give shape.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

The Calm Before the Storm

Well, after all that I have finally got the composition sorted. What an ordeal that was! The last couple of weeks has seen much toing and froing to various establishments in an attempt to get something lovely in bloom. It has been a challenge, but that is the whole point of these later assignments so thought and care is all important. A recent SBA gradutate recalled how this particular assignment was an absolute stinker and even now feels the finished painting is not one of her favourites.  
As some of you will remember, I did plan to use a lemon yellow orchid, which even now is still blooming and looking stunning. Alas though, the leaves on a Phalaenopisis orchid are not easy to get in a mix of flowers but, I fancy would look lovely on their own with just one flower stalk. Hmmm, something for the future. The lilac tones and delicate leaves of freesia 'Blue Moon' are much friendlier to the composition and sit more comfortably with the brighter pinks of the oriental lilies. As my fellow SBA student friend Janene and myself discussed, two divas on one page might cause a fight.    
Just the final flourish to sort out now. foliage always looks lovely and finishes a piece off really nicely. Not wanting to overcrowd the big shapes of the lilies, I am thinking of going for something pretty simple like an ivy. The idea is to mirror the arching stem of the freesia, and offset the blowsy 'pinkness' of the lilies.
Perhaps a Snowberry?...

...or good old Ivy?...

...or something different, like viburnam tinus
with their blackurrant-blue berries?

Now onto the hard part, the painting.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering what I intend to do with that darn orchid. Well, here is my little page of possibilities, Including an accurate drawing of the orchid and its bits and pieces, a painted leaf with colour matches, a quick thumbnail of a composition and a tracing of the flower I will use, eventually.


Monday, 15 October 2012

A Heady Mix

With my little studio filled with the scent of oriental lilies, October is feeling rather exotic, despite all the rain. This week has seen a flurry of sketchy activity, with leaves, petals, stamens and all sorts of plant parts being scrutinised, measured, drawn and painted. With this assignment I am taking absolutely no chances, and each component is being treated with care.

Sketchbook pages of a Lily

Colour charts to get the pink right.
Freesia 'Blue Moon', more lilac than blue.
With one major change already having to be made, I certainly don't want to get caught out again. Hence all the prep. It seems to be paying off though, with everything starting to come together. However, I do seem to be filling more pages in my sketchbook as the course progresses. Already 14 pages with this one, I dread to think how many I will notch up for the three major Diploma Portfolio pieces.

Working to a deadline with no real option of asking for extra time, I have decided that painting will have to begin on October 22nd. Why so precise? Well, I can get all of the sketches and compositions decided this week and starting the painting next Monday will give me four whole weeks of painting time, plus a few extra 'emergency' days, just in case. Thinking about this spurred me on to get the piece underway, so I have already got most of the composition traced out onto tracing film, with just a few more bits to go before the light box comes into action.

A bit of a dull day means the lights are on full throttle.
On the board?
Tracing film and the beginnings of the composition.  

I can't get enough of these beauties.
So here they are again.


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Languid Leaves

Well then. Already, this next mixed piece is proving somewhat problematic. From the start, I had a fairly clear idea as to what I wanted to do, flower-wise anyway, and then had a flash of inspiration for the composition. Alas, these do not seem to want to work together. It's those orchid leaves that are just not behaving themselves.

You're off mate!

Oh, those leaves!
And they could do with a bit of a buff.
The orchid was looking so beautiful, with it's gorgeous, arching flower spikes, stunning lemony yellow flowers, splotched with pink and those shapely buds, tinged with green. The composition was really coming on a treat, with a lovely combination of shapes, colours and textures. Then I had to get those great big tongue-like leaves into it all somehow. And that's when I hit a wall. No matter how much I tried the composition with the leaves, it looked heavy and cumbersome, while all the time those lovely flowers and buds were looking magnificent. Oh, how I didn't want to think the unthinkable, and ditch my little beauty altogether!

That pink might be a bit much with yellow.

'Tis a wonderous thing.
Oriental lilies have a heady scent, that fills my little studio with
a touch of the exotic.

Alas, that naughty orchid, has been put out of the way in favour of...freesias! Not as exotic, and certainly not as glamorous but they are pretty and elegant, and curve in just the right way I want them to. Oh how I would have liked Calla Lilies, Nerines or Iris, but it's October and pickings are relatively thin in the garden. So, I have to take what I can get from the supermarket, florist or plant nursery. The arching habit of the freesia will give me the same shape as the orchid flower spike, but the leaves are a little more forgiving in a composition. Here we go again then...

The usurper.
Pretty, dainty and delicate Freesia,
(with my lovely orchid, still trying to take the stage).
The cool, lilac will tone down that hot pink.

...but that orchid will be back!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Calculator Conundrum

The problem with doing a design that requires a certain level of preciseness, is the maths. Oh yes, maths. The easy bit is the 3 - 4cm border round the edge of the paper, left for a mount (mat), but then there is finding the vertical centre to find half of the working area. Then there is finding the centre horizontally, thus dividing the whole page into four. Keeping up with me so far?
You might be thinking, enough! Oh no, there is indeed more. The design I am planning requires the width of the overal piece to be carefully considered too. With a certain calculation to be made here, there comes a point where you start thinking, why??? Believe me, when it's done it will all make sense, and it really isn't as complicated as I think I am making it sound. So, be patient with me, (and my ever present calculator).  
All of this is on top of the 'rules' to follow for botanical mixed compositions. Well, we have already been there in the last post so... perhaps we will leave it there for today. Class dismissed!

It's all in the preparation


Tuesday, 2 October 2012

That Eureka Moment!

Well, it finally hit me this weekend. Of all the places where inspiration strikes, it always seems to be when I am looking casually through my Dad's 'Oxfam Library' of gardening gems. Dad, like me, loves a rummage through the old books in charity shops, and always seems to find the, 'diamonds in the rough'. And so it was that on a visit this weekend whilst flipping through a Constance Spry book of flower arranging, Bang! There it was, the perfect design for my next mixed assignment composition.

Never under estimate a charity shop, there are some real bargains to be found. And these beauties have now been gifted to the 'Squirrel Archives'.

Two classic books from the 1980s
Good old Marks and Spencer and the ever reliable Hamlyn
published these handy guides.

To flesh the whole thing out, I will need loads of photos, sketches and hopefully, some live subjects this time. I fancy pink again methinks.  

An inspiration board of bright pinks.
Really hoped to use Opera Rose for this one.
Going with a simple selection of Lily, Orchid and Ivy, I wanted a really elegant style to show off the long stems and buds of the orchid, the trailing habit of ivy and the exotic colour and shape of the lily. The predominant colour here will be the exotic colouring of the orchid, with the lily being towards the lilac end of the pink spectrum. The ivy will hold everything together with a mix of deep green and variagated leaves. There may still be some room for zingy Euphorbia, and of course the leaves will have to go in too, to fill the gaps, but we will see. This will be an unusual composition, but I love the idea and really hope I can pull it off with panache.

And now for something completely different.
Canary yellow Orchid
Going for yellow, (again) may seem like some kind of
cruel and unusual punishment, but it is delicious.
Being a little anxious about how it will come together, I am keeping this one under wraps until I have got it underway. Sorry for the secrecy, but you know how it is, you talk about something with great enthusiasm and follow it right through the planning stage, only for it to all come to nought. 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Perils of Pondering, (and a new pink)!

Regular readers will know by now that I am something of a ponderer. This is not always a good thing as it can stop me from just getting stuck in. To be honest, I never used to be this bad. Yes, when it comes to the expensive or 'big' decisions in life it is generally a good thing to have a little think about it before taking the plunge, but painting! Come on, it can't be that big a decision, but it would appear it is. The bigger the piece, the harder it is to decide on what to do. 
Looking for inspiration.
Some of the photos taken for the last piece. 

Colour chart for Opera Rose.
Haven't used this particular pink much yet.
Perhaps this time might just give me the opportunity

Luckily I do have some thoughts for this so all is not lost. Would really like to use Opera Rose though. Bright pink lilies would be good along with blues or purples and something lusciously green, Euphorbia maybe.