Tuesday, 26 March 2013

That Warm Fuzzy Feeling!

To say it is blisteringly cold here is a remarkable understatement! In some places the temperature is about 10 degrees below the seasonal average. Now it's getting silly, with 14 foot snow drifts, hail, rain and more snow, there's no chance of getting outside to do any painting. Boo!

However, there is a distinctly warm glow around Squirrel HQ as the diploma results are in! With trembling hands and a racing heart, the familiar brown correspondence envelope was opened. First up was the invite to the graduation evening and private view of the SBA exhibition. Oh my goodness, I thought my heart was going to leap into my mouth, as I fumbled around trying to find the piece of paper with my results on it. Finally I unfolded the bundle of assessment sheets and then, there it was, distinction!

Having the use of BSc, MTCg and PGCE after my name already pales into insignificance against the hardest fought of all my achievements, Dip SBA(Dist). Wishing lots of luck to those of you out there studying or waiting for results, especially my fellow SBA students.

Considering that it was only last month that I finished painting, 'The Three Piece Suite' for my portfolio, I had quite forgotton what they look like. Here's a reminder, for me as much as anyone else, as it won't be until the middle of April that I will get them back.    

Iris reticulata
The very last piece completed for the Diploma Course
This one gained my joint highest mark of the three

It was the veg that did it!
The joint highest mark, shared with my illustration. 

A small detail from the mixed study

The assessor thought the camellia buds could have
done with a little more depth.

And finally, to remind me where it all began.
This one is in my sketchbook
Wrong paper, cheap brushes and just look at those edges!


Thursday, 21 March 2013

Off the 'To Do' List

Now that I am not painting all the time, I can get on with some of those jobs I have been meaning to do but haven't had the time to get done. This week I finally got round to shortening a couple of necklaces. Both of these were bought in Scotland during one of our annual family jaunts to 'The North', and both were far too long but lovely and a must have purchase. So, with pliers in hand, job done! Now what to wear them with?

My painting desk is useful for many tasks

The local cat refuge has a shop in our town and they have been receiving a steady flow of stuff from Squirrel HQ. Hanging on to never worn or never used 'stuff' is not a good idea and my poor little spare room/studio is bursting at the seams with all the detritus of life that we never seem to get round to getting rid of. Four bag loads later, one for the bin, one for the dump and two for the charity shop, I am finally getting somewhere.

Feeling virtuous.
Finally, I have got round to selecting some more pieces for my Open House Art gallery. A couple of my landscape pieces were in an exhibition some years ago and are always commented on when people visit the house. Painted in a looser style, these pieces are from when I was painting with a more impressionistic style and before I even thought about moving onto botanical illustration.

An old favourite, now a print

Not being one for blowing my own trumpet, I don't have too many of my own pieces on the walls at home, (much to 'Husband's annoyance) but these ones made it as far as the hallway! There is a short print edition now available on really lovely Hahnemuhle watercolour paper and all ready for framing.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

The Wait Continues, but Spring is Here!

This week sees the arrival of the spring equinox, when the tilt of the earth is inclined neither towards or away from the Sun. This means that the centre of the Sun is on the same plane as the equator. From then on Summer begins to make more of an impact on the northern hemisphere as we get more of the Sun's warming influence and the days are still getting longer. Hooray!

Even the bergenias, that have been flowering for a while
have perked up since the snow melted
 and a couple of sunny days arrived
Did you know that these are also known as elephant's ears,
 due to the shape of their leaves!

This week, another of my early assignment pieces caught my eye. The tonal pencil study of the dwarf Rhododendron cilpinense was completed at about this time of year and again the shrub in our garden is developing some lovely buds. This rhododendron has smaller, simpler flowers of pale pink and small, deep green leaves that are less shiny than some of the larger, showier varieties. The architectural habit of growth always appeals to me and I have been considering completing a colour study before the flowers come and go.

The pink of these pretty little flowers is just peeking through

There will be an abundance of blooms this year

Elsewhere, the nerves are still there as we still await the results of two years hard graft. Waiting, as patiently as I possibly can, I can't help but remember how close I was to giving up on the course altogether. Feeling very low, with little confidence in my work and having to defer a year, due to ill health, I came very close to throwing in the towel, I even drafted a letter to the course director. Even now, with the work all done there are those doubts but how glad am I that I had the good sense to tear up that letter and carry on. This sums it up pretty well I think.

'Many of life's failures are people
who did not realise how close they were to success
when they gave up.'
Thomas A. Edison
Success can be measured in many ways.
Such as getting these little treasures
to keep on going.
The first time I have been lucky with orchids.


Saturday, 16 March 2013

Are You Sitting Comfortably?...

For once I am going to start a post with a bit of a story. Believe me, you'll like this one. A long time ago...no, let's start that one again. When I was at art college some years ago, my class and I went to see an extensive and important exhibition of Pop Art. All the usual, 'guys in the band' were on offer there, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, David Hockney, Richard Hamilton, Roy Lichtenstein, et al. Quite a gathering as you might expect, and we were damn lucky to be there. We had a great time and the pieces were as to be expected, in your face and extraordinary. As a bunch of London art students we felt quite at the cutting edge of the art scene and tried to appear educated on the genre.
However, (and here it comes) all of this cultural experience collapsed into hysterics and mayhem when we attempted to leave. One of my friends at the time, (who, to save his blushes, will remain nameless) decided to buy some postcards and went to get his wallet out of his bag. This being a rather heavy rucksack, he decided to put it down on a conveniently located 'box'.  As he approached the 'box', and before we could point out his error, a couple of security guards made an instant and urgent lunge for him. The rather too-low wire should have been the clue as, 'The Box' was indeed part of Andy Warhol's installation piece 'Brillo Boxes' (1964)! Luckily, my fear stricken chum didn't get the chance to put the bag down, our tutor had do do the best piece of diplomatic negotiation ever witnessed outside of the UN and we all got out safely but in fits of laughter. Perhaps they placed that wire a little higher. Happy days.   
Don't ask me why but ever since that day I have had a soft spot for the work of Roy Lichtenstein! Just now, the Tate Modern are holding a retrospective exhibition of his work until the 27th May. When I visit London, I am going to make sure I go to see it along with all the other visits I am hoping to squeeze in. Hopefully there will be no 'boxes' involved.
Brillo Box
A happy reminder?
Andy Warhol
Brillo Soap Pads Box (1964)
Image from, 'the Warhol'

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Something Old, Something New, (and who brought that sword?)

So, new works are now in the pipeline and although there will be plenty to do between now and the SBA show next year, (oh yes, the planning has to be done early in this game) it always helps to keep going in the meantime. Thinking on the 'Working in the Field' project, I really liked the bramble and cranesbill compositions and at the time thought these two might look quite nice on their own as card compositions.

So, with this in mind I am thinking of going back to this one and using the original drawings and lots of photos to complete two separate studies.  Another project that might get a second glance is the '30 Leaves in 30 Days' project (must finish that even if it is March!), I am also planning the chalk meadow project, and I must get some more pieces to the printer.

Another bramble might look nice on a square card.

With just the cranesbill and pencil grass, this piece
might suit a long, thin card design.
Food for thought!
Oh, remember this one?
Perhaps I could go back and get the
rest of those leaves finished. 
The snow this week hasn't helped the garden and many of my near blooming spring bulbs have got the shivers and given up already. It really doesn't bode well for later this year. Still, there is always something to paint if you're up for a search. The hedgerows are a good start with plenty of rose hips and berries still clinging on and those that haven't been scoffed by the blackbirds are looking quite good, despite the cold snap. For my recent mixed study, I included plenty of hedge favourites along with some big fat camellia buds, and although it was a nice piece to do, I would like to  try something new. 

I really enjoyed having a go at some delicate snowdrops.
Again, the snowdrops are out, so perhaps a finished study
is in order.
The supermarket and local florist are also happy hunting grounds, as they can get in plenty of greenhouse grown beauties. Ranunculus, hyacinth, tulips, roses and all manner of blooms were out in force for Mother's Day last Sunday and although I am not a mother myself, the bouquets did look tempting. Far too expensive though, especially as I would just take out the bits I wanted and shove them in the fridge! Hmm, lots of ideas still buzzing about, but really I just want to get on with something without thinking about it too much. That can all come later.

P.S. For those of you wondering, the Sword of Damocles has yet to make its judgement on my diploma results. Of course, unlike the classical Greek tale, imminent and ever-present peril is not quite on the agenda here, but I can certainly relate to the more general idea of the saying being used to denote the sense of foreboding, engendered by a precarious situation, especially one in which the onset of tragedy or failure is restrained only by a delicate trigger or chance. Ah, the fickle finger of fate.


Monday, 11 March 2013

Books, Arthur and Me!

The laurels have been sat on for long enough and my fingers are itching to start something new. Of course, there is no opportunity to have a browse through my sketchbooks for inspiration as they are still with the SBA for assessment, so I have to look elsewhere. New sketches mean sketchbooks and here's a fun new one to add to my collection, already personalised with a Sketchbook Squirrel label, ha, ha. 

A fabulous freebie!
A gorgeous new sketchbook from Illustration Web
just for 'liking' their Facebook Page
Happy to do so guys!

Inside, there are loads of great interviews with some
of my favourite artists.
Here Rosie Sanders gives us an insight.
Love the ribbon marker thingy. 

Hannah Firmin illustrates the covers for Alexander McCall Smith's
No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of books
I love these linocut designs and have them all!
Books are a passion of mine and I have hundreds of them. From childhood favourites such as the Grimm fairy tales, through to Alexander McCall Smith and onto the latest Booker Prize darling, I will read just about anything and everything. To be honest, I can thank a book of fairy tales, given to my brother and me when we were little for my great passion for illustration. The book, Fairy Tales from Many Lands had some of the classic stories, but it was the pictures that sparked my interest as they were by one of the greatest book illustrators of them all, Arthur Rackham.

Illustration by Arthur Rackham from the cover of
Fairy Tales from Many Lands

Arthur Rackham is my illustration hero, his work is immediately recognisable for its delicate colours and pin-sharp detail in pen and ink. Illustrating works as diverse as, English fairy tales to Wagner's The Ring and Shakespeare's, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Rackham was a true commercial artist, working continuously until his death in 1939. Of course nowadays his work is highly sought after, and always fetches a high premium at the auction houses. Ah well, at least I have the books.     
Now, back to my own modest musings. Throughout the SBA course, I have accumulated a fine and growing collection of books. From favourite artists to the course textbooks, anything remotely 'botanical', eye catching or interesting has been brought into the fold and there is always plenty of inspiration to be found in them, so I will be poring over their pages along with a cup of tea later. Elsewhere around the garden, there are hellebores galore, the narcissus are coming on strong and the bluebells are already showing early buds. There is plenty to choose from just now but with snow forecast for today, perhaps not for long. Hmm, yellow again! 

Just a handful of the many books from my 'Botanical Bookshelf'

As the snow falls, the daffodils bravely try to keep their heads up.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

What's Growing?

Nearly mid-March already! I can't quite believe just how we have got this far into the year so quickly. It must be the advancing years, (ha, ha) catching up with me. Anyway, I love this time of year. The promise of spring, with the early flowers of snowdrops, hellebores and crocus cheering up dull, February days, now handing the baton over to the daffodils, camellias.
Seeds are in abundance at Squirrel HQ, and now is the time to start thinking about getting the seed trays and pots out. March really is the start of the gardening year. The longer, (hopefully) brighter days give seeds the light they need to get going. The heat of early spring is not quite enough so, always being the eco-warrior, (ahem!) I use carrier bags, sandwich bags and cut-in-half- fizzy pop bottles to act as a mini propagator for each pot or tray. It's cheap, cheerful and works!
Tomatoes, green beans, courgettes, salad leaves and cabbages are sitting in their little pots alongside the astrantia, cranesbill, cosmos, foxgloves and other flower seeds, all ready for some warmth to get them going. Cuttings are also something I am addicted to just now. If it's a shrub I take a fancy to, out come the cutters and snip, snip! So far, successes include hydrangea, euphorbia, penstemon and all manner of other garden favourites. Even plants that grow over garden walls on the route of my run are in danger of a little light pruning. After all, that's where the Garrya for the mixed study come from.   
Alas not from my garden,
but here's hoping for an abundance of produce.

Collected flower and veg seeds, all ready to go!

Cuttings enjoying the brighter days.
A spot by the window helps!


Monday, 4 March 2013

The Re-Found Florals

Well now, it still feels very odd to have so much time on my hands. With the completion of my course and the wait for the results, I have given the drawing board a bit of a wide berth recently and have found other things to get on with. Since moving in to our new house, 'husband' and I really haven't had much time to do anything to it. The walls are still the same colour and there is much that could be smartened up and made a bit more 'us'. With this in mind we have made a start on clearing out some of our old stuff and making new discoveries of things from the past.
Over the weekend, whilst clearing out an old wardrobe I found some of the tapestries I had completed some years ago, when I enjoyed doing a lot of needlework. To be honest, I had forgotten all about them but now think I should knock out some rather smart cushions for our conservatory. Being something of a magpie, I love to collect fabric remnants, ribbons, buttons and all manner of notions so there will be plenty to choose from in my stash. There are also some rather splendid lace curtain panels that just need some heading tape. Now these might look nice simply hung in our spare bedroom to make it a bit more homely.

Hellebores, holly, ivy and speckled 'snowy' background
give this design a festive feel. 

Roses are always popular in needlework.

This one is my favourite.
Here a Moroccan inspired tile design frame the central roses