Thursday, 29 March 2012

More Felty Fabulousness

Our clocks went forward last weekend, (yes, we change them here in Britain twice a year) thus heralding the start of the Great British Summer, (or lack of it!!). So let's hear it for Bank Holidays, ice-creams on windy beaches, sand in our sandwiches and of course, cream teas. It's time to wear a smile and be dreadfully optimistic that finding a parking space in Brighton at the weekend will be a breeze.

Back at Squirrell HQ with thoughts of warm days and good times it is time to air the summer wardrobe, pack away the big winter woollies and rummage in search of my warm weather favourites. Whilst hunting for a cardigan or something or other, I came across a bag I made ages ago which I had totally forgotten about. Hand-felted from a kit bought from Gilliangladrag, it was quite simple to make and has enough quirky charm to really brighten my day.

From this...

To this!
With colours to make your eyes sting, flowers galore
and a strong 70s 'vintage' vibe, this is one
for summer.


Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Getting Back in the Saddle

After months of not doing any assignments, the day has come for me to get my SBA work back under-way. Working in the Field is a lovely assignment and one that I really enjoyed working on. The piece needs to reflect the flora of one habitat using dissections, sketches and watercolour.

For this piece I have chosen a hedgerow habitat just because I love the wildness and occasional surprising find that is often just a stones-throw away from our own doorstep but often ignored. Identifying an extraordinarily large number of species in a relatively small area, I have loads of lovely plants and flowers to choose from.  Hedgerows are actually a priority habitat in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, supporting a vast number of plant species as well as being a vital habitat and food source for animals and insects, including our rare butterflies and bees.

Bee on knapweed in the garden

Much of the prep work for this one had been done last year and although I am in the happy  position of being able to change my mind and start again from scratch, I think I will stick with what I went with last time around. You may remember some of these.

Late summer berries of a Tutsan
These eventually go deep purply-black

Two of the preparation drawings from last year
A feather caught on a thorn might make the final piece

Bramble, Dog Rose, Meadow Cranesbill, Tutsan and Bittersweet will be the five species that I will use across two pages. A few dissections, studies of berries and flowers and perhaps a few insects here and there will add a bit more interest and on this one I am able to write on the front of the piece, (something that is not generally permitted) so I will have to make sure that my handwriting is up to scratch. 

The bramble and meadow cranesbill
Including grasses and ivy offers a suggestion
of the habitat 

A quick spider sketch, (you get the idea!)

With lots to finish before I can even begin to think about starting this lot, I had better get cracking!

Friday, 23 March 2012

The Spring Collection

Spring is my favourite time of year. With the birds singing, the bees buzzing, the flora springing and the sun shining, everything seems to be kicking off all at once. It's great!

Springtime heralds the start of the RHS show season. Cardiff and Malvern starts us off then it's the big guns of Hampton Court and Chelsea taking us into the summer. Although I hope to one day show my work myself at the RHS shows, (and perhaps win a much coveted medal), I love visiting and exploring the stands and  gardens, which are always jaw-droppingly fabulous. For those of us who long for the rural dream there is the all out glamour and shopping overload that is the Country Living Magazine Spring Fair.  On for the 21st to 25th March this fair is a true extravaganza of all things springtime.

To start off, here's a little something different on the floral theme. My humble little felt corsages are always popular with friends and family, (and cheap!) and are made with handmade felt, adorned with vintage buttons, ribbons and beads.
A selection of the handmade felt corsages that I make.
The 'daisies' work better as the rose here looks a bit flat!
Plus there is always the opportunity to go mad with the buttons,
ribbon and beads!

And just to get us all in the mood for spring and the jewels that are to come, here are a few of my spring collection sketches from the Squirrel Archives.

A loose wash Iris Siberica
Painted in the garden.
I love these in pots in a sunny spot

Clematis montana 'Avalanche'
A sketch for a botanical illustration
These flowers appear pure white, (and in abundance!)
 but there is a lot of yellow going on in there.

Clematis montana with dissections
First attempts at dissections.
This one grows over a wall alongside Cirrhosa 'Wisley Cream'

Iris siberica, (again)
once the dark veining was painted, I used
clean water over the top of the lot to soften
the appearance and allow the veining to 'bleed' a little.

Even tulip bulbs don't escape!
Everytime I empty a pot that I think has nothing in it,
loads of tulip bulbs come out. 

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Pencil Lines, and a Dalek!!

Now here's something you don't see everyday! I am used to seeing people walking their dogs passed my studio window, but a Dalek!! I had to take a second look and grabbed my ever-present camera to catch this priceless view. As there are absolutely no shops anywhere near us here I wonder where it came from?  

Life is indeed like a box of chocolates!!

Meanwhile, back to the work in hand. Drawing the flowers of the grape hyacinth with a very small brush and a blue mixed with Winsor Violet and Cerulean Blue kept the overal shapes easier to stick to than pencil. I find too much pencil difficult to work with and a nightmare to get rid of. If you are not careful, too strong a pencil line during painting can muddy the watercolour mixes and ruin a piece. I have learnt this through painful experience in the early days.

I have found that by making a very light initial drawing with a H grade pencil is a lot easier to work with. before starting the painting on this little sketch, I rubbed out most of the pencil, just leaving a very light outline with some of the details 'mapped' out. The daffodil will be treated in the same way with a lot of the pencil being sent on its way.

Working on the grape hyacinth.
The darker pencil lines on the daffodil
will be removed before painting starts

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Yellow Again!

Yes! The decision is made, it's yellow again, (well with a bit of blue)  for a small study of a dwarf narcissus and grape hyacinth. It's not that I am particularly fond of daffodils, (or yellow come to that), but we do seem to have a lot of them in the garden just now so for me, they are the obvious choice without having to go and buy something. 

This will be just a little something for the sketchbook as I feel that I have been neglecting it lately. There were some absolutely stunning orchids calling to me from the shops, but their price tags made me think along slightly more modest lines. So, with Easter coming up fast, this classic combination of little spring bulbs will certainly cheer up a little corner of a page. 

Some tricky little numbers

Just a little something
Now for the yellow, (and blue).

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Daffodils and Rugby!

It is ridiculously early to be getting up on a Saturday, but as I sit here at about 7.00 looking at a small posy of daffodils that I picked yesterday for my mum who is visiting us this weekend, I am reminded that it is the Six Nations Rugby final today.

The daffodil is, after all the National Emblem of Wales. Roses for England are not in bloom, the shamrock of Ireland is hard to find and thistles for Scotland are prickly numbers. Italy doesn't have a flower as its national emblem, it has an Italian Wolf and I am not going to ask one of those to sit patiently while I take its picture! France have their Gallic Rooster and often bring a fine specimen to their matches. 

Mum is rugby mad and there is no doubt that the match will have to be watched this afternoon, (my eardrums are prepared!!!). National pride is at stake as England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy all square up for a battle of will and skill for the title. This year it will be all down to Wales. If they beat France today they will have won the Grand Slam, having beaten every other team in the tournament. England's new young team have done really well and if they beat Ireland and France beat Wales they are in with a good chance of stealing the prize.  So, it's all to play for!!

Monday, 12 March 2012

After Wisley C...?

Finally, after much to-doing and a broken freezer interrupting proceedings, Wisley C is finished! The way this one was going, I thought I was never going to get it done. Luckily, the plant itself is actually still flowering and looking better than ever, it's been a real star performer and I highly recommend it for any winter and early spring garden.

I am not sure if I am going to have time to fit in another project before I have to start work on Assignment 10 for the SBA but perhaps something small might fill the gap. There are some gorgeous dwarf narcissi coming into bloom in the garden and although it will be more yellow flowers, I am not sure if I can resist painting them any longer. But then again, those orchids are calling...

Cirrhosa 'Wisley Cream'
On reflection, a fully open flower showing the beautiful stamens
would have been lovely


Thursday, 8 March 2012

What a Difference a Year Makes

As I look to rejoin the many SBA students on the Diploma Course, I have just been having a bit of a sort out of the portfolio of assignment pieces completed so far. Looking back at my earliest piece and comparing it with my latest work, I was really pleased to see how much my technique, observation and drawing skills had improved. I don't think anyone really notices improvement for themselves when they are working on something continuously, it is only when you give yourself time away from it and go back, that it is much clearer to see the difference.

Just to demonstrate that I have bypassed my embarrassment chip here's the piece I sent in as part of my application to the SBA Diploma Course. Looking at it now I am quite amazed that Margaret Stevens, the Course Director actually thought I had potential. Bless her for that, I am forever grateful, (and trying hard to improve). My humble little 'Veggie Trio' with its bad edges and less than perfect shading has taken pride of place in my sketchbook as a constant reminder of  my terrible start. 


Wrong paper, dreadful old brushes, and me,
(who hadn't actually picked up a brush for years)
What was I thinking?

This second piece of Clematis montana 'tetra rose' was completed as a botanical illustration. Not perfect by any stretch, the dissections went a bit wrong and the petals got a bit over-detailed on this one, but I like the colour and the texture on the velvety buds came out well. As I got a good mark, I might go back to this one and sort out some of the 'petal problem' and put in an extra dissection to improve the balance of colour and composition.

What a difference a year makes!

Monday, 5 March 2012

End in Sight for Wisley C!

Nearly there with Wisley C but the leaves are taking their time. After a busy week last week I am really trying to get a move on. I am really looking forward to getting it all finished so I start my next project but I will have to work quickly if I want to get it finished before I rejoin the SBA Diploma Course course. 

Now that we are into March I only have two months before I have to start the assignments, beginning with 'Working in the Field'. So far I have been working on my own projects which has been really lovely, no pressure, no deadlines and no marks to worry about.  Still, I don't really mind as the course is loads of fun, and there are a great bunch of people all painting away for their Diplomas too.

More of the leaves, and a couple more flowers
I hope once the flowers and leaves at the top are in that the middle section
won't be quite so empty.


Saturday, 3 March 2012

Weeds to Wildflowers

Today is a good day. The wildflower seeds I ordered from Sarah Raven and her new book have arrived, so now I can get on with the job of sowing and planting and generally enjoy the wealth of wildflowers we are lucky enough to have here in the UK. The idea as some of you know, is to have a small area of wildflower 'meadow' species in a small area of our garden to help provide pollen and nectar for bees and other pollinators.

Over 500 wildflower species are here from every
type of habitat.. It's a real doorstop.
A great reference guide and my new favourite!

My seed collection, old and new.
The handy seed instruction booklet came
as a useful surprise with my order.  

All my wildflower and bee friendly favourites are here. Cosmos, bishop's flower, ox-eye daisies and poppies are amongst the species in the meadow mix and I have collected envelopes full of seeds from marigolds and foxgloves and bought some verbena bonariensis and dahlia seeds to add here and there.

Here's hoping for a riotous blaze of colour, loads of buzzing bees and of course, gorgeous things to paint.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Not so Mellow Yellow

Taking on yellow flowers can bring me out in a rash! My first attempt was Dahlia, 'party' for an assignment and although the buds and leaves came out nicely, the open yellow flowers were a real challenge. The difficulty I find with yellow flowers is getting the shading right. The wrong 'botanical grey' mix can be harsh and artificial against yellow so a slightly different approach is needed.

Shading on the flowers used a mix of the yellow, red and blue
used in the rest of the painting.

The best tip I ever picked up and something that I know I do go on about quite a bit, so forgive me if you have heard this one before, is mixing your shadows and greys using the reds, blues and yellows in your current project to make more harmonious mixes.    

Facing the fear!
Making a start on the very pale but rather crinkly flowers 

Still working on the leaves for Wisley Cream but I wanted to get some of the flowers done to see how the components would look together. The mix I used for the flower buds was made with Lemon Yellow, Raw Sienna and Cerulean Blue. Lots of crinkly, wrinkles on the petals of the flowers will need a brownish grey in the shadows. The addition of Perylene Maroon with the mix of Lemon Yellow, Raw Sienna and Cerulean Blue sounds very unpromising but works quite well.