Monday, 29 April 2013

Camera Quandary, Take Two!

There is a new camera to rival 'Little P'. For those who don't know, 'Little P' is my teeny-tiny, trusted Panasonic Lumix 'point and shoot', which I bought about a year ago, see My New Camera and The Camera Quandary. I love this little camera and it has been with me everywhere. In fact all of the photos on here are taken with this camera. Anyway, a step up was needed to help me take more close-up pictures to help with dissections and enlargements, and to give me more connectivity for uploading photos.
Macro photography gives a really close view of very small things like insects, raindrops and of course, flowers and although 'Little P' manages quite well, it has its limitations. There were three in the running with plenty of oomph, the Panasonic Lumix GX1, Canon EOS M and the new Samsung NX1000. Samsung is the new kid on the block in photography, taking on the big boys with a new kind of system. Don't ask me how this 'mirrorless' system works, but they reckon it's the future of digital cameras. The Canon EOS range is hard to beat, but these cameras can be quite big and bulky for small hands like mine and they are expensive. Canon have entered the compact system market with the 'M' range, but again these are a bit pricey and the external flash is enormous compared to the small, boxy camera.

The sharpness is fantastic on the Panasonic
but true Macro will get even closer without loss of focus.  
Panasonic make the ever-popular Lumix range and some of these come with a superior Leica lens. Leica lenses for anyone in the know are indeed 'the bees-knees'. Apparently Leica were the kit of choice for cold war spooks on all sides and you never see wildlife camera folk without them. Good enough for little old me then! However, the drawback, and there is hoofing great big one, again it's cost! £585 for the leica macro lens that goes with the GX1. Enough said. So, back to the Samsung. Some would say the build quality is not as good as the others, and there are fewer lenses to choose from. However, there are a couple of big reasons to look at the Samsung. The price is pretty good, you can take pictures with one hand, there are loads of helpful features, it has 20.3 mega pixels, and if you are quick and buy before the end of April, (Brits only here guys) you get a Samsung Tab 2 thrown in, (though check before you buy!).         

In the box.
Smart camera with full HD and wi-fi connectivity

It's a point and shoot, but not as we know it.
The flexibility of different lenses in a compact system, suit everyone.
This one is a standard 20-50mm and comes in the kit.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Projects and Pincers!

So, with the veg patch coming along, seeds in and planting out being done, the studio is next on the agenda. The little spare room that has served me so well has had a good clear out over the past weeks. With cupboard space at a premium, there is a lot of stuff to get rid of and redirect to the loft, charity shop or bin. Until the 'shed' can have its much needed revamp, this little space will have to surfice.

In the veg patch?
 Rhubarb, yum!
Since graduating there have been loads of new ideas sparking away, but there is always the danger of running off at a tangent and getting carried away too quickly. A sensible, methodical approach is always a better option. Consider the opportunities presented, don't be afraid to wait or say 'no', and always do the things that appeal the most. There is no point in doing something that your heart is not really in as you will not give it the best of yourself! Steady on, I'm sounding a bit teacherish there. Old habits die hard I'm afraid. Still, it's a fair point!
First up is a lovely little piece for the newly formed Irish Society of Botanical Artists, which I am really excited to be part of. A well practiced 'pincer movement' from two of the founding members, who will remain nameless to prevent their blushes, caught me without my armour and I was helpless! Ha, ha, actually it was on a good humoured evening out where we were all celebrating, and the vino flowed, and well, what can I say? On reflection, it is a fabulous idea and I am really looking forward to being part of this terrific new venture.

Euphorbia's have that certain celtic zing!
Next on the agenda, will be the new pieces being planned for the SBA exhibition in 2014. As I said in a previous post, six pieces are needed for a 'fast-track' application to Associate Membership, but they don't all have to be new work. So, here I am planning to complete three or four themed paintings to go with the best of my portfolio pieces. This will also give me a chance to get some ideas together for the next 'Big Project', but more about that later. Also in the planning stage as well as the website are One-Day Botanical Art Workshops at a delightful arts and heritage centre near the South Downs, and I already have a private student.  

Hmmm, lots to choose from in the garden...

Viburnam tinus
Tiny white flowers but alas no scent

Egg-yolk-yellow and almost open
Berberis darwinii flowers

Willow catkins and silvery leaves

Viburnum tinus again, but this time the pinkish buds

Ah, how could I not include Dicentra

Oh, and I haven't forgotton Mum, it's your Birthday today.Happy Birthday! x


Monday, 22 April 2013

Green Fingers and Edits

And so, life here at Squirrel HQ remains hectic as ever. With my first tutoring job underway and projects and paintings here, there and everywhere, this summer is starting out as a busy one. More about that in later posts. With no time to really think too much about what to do, time is of the essence and it really has been a case of make your mind up and just get on with it. A good thing too, otherwise I might just lose confidence, um and err a lot and do nothing.

Full of promise
Yellow primroses always look so cheery and optimistic

It is always lovely to see our most welcome garden visitors  

Pots and more pots!
The Cranesbill and Alstromeria seeds finally get planted  
This weekend saw the first really sunny days of the year so far. The warm sunshine meant that the garden actually got some proper attention and with 'Husband' finishing off the clearing of the new the veg patch, seeds have finally been sown and frenzied potting-on got underway. The cuttings from last year have also taken really well and I am experimenting with just about every shrub and plant in the garden, including a climbing rose! Whenever I hack off a bit of this or that for one of my paintings, I always look to see if I can get a good healthy cutting out of it to keep the thing going. Also, if something works well in a piece, you can use it again sometime.

Dicentra cuttings from last year, already in flower.

In the sink
Strawberry plantlets from last year are looking healthy and strong

And more cuttings
Must find a spot for these 'spotty laurels'

Elsewhere, I am eagerly awaiting the reunion with my sketchbooks and assignment piece. With the SBA Exhibition closing this weekend, hopefully it won't be too long before the hefty deliverance of two year's worth of musings. There is also much activity on the new website! Yes, you did hear correctly, 'Squirrel Goes Global' with the arrival soon of a new website. It's always handy to have a man about the place who just so happens to be a communications, networking and IT expert. I knew I married him for more than his boyish charms!!

Oh yes, nearly forgot, you may have noticed a few changes on the 'About Me' and 'Title' areas on the blog. Not a student anymore!! 

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Dust Settles? Err, Perhaps Not!

Well, the dust has finally settled on an eventful week and with new found confidence, it's best feet forwards from now on. The Distinction from the SBA Diploma course now allows me the breathing space of an opportunity to, 'fast-track' my application for Associate Membership of the society. This means I can submit six completed paintings in my first year of application. If all six are accepted, then Associate Membership is awarded. Normally, five paintings are submitted for two consecutive years, and all ten must be accepted before associateship is given A tough ask for any artist, but one that many are willing to go through in order to become part of a prestigious society in the botanical genre.
Luckily, some of my portfolio pieces can be submitted, but I will certainly complete a few more between now and the submission day next year. A theme might be the way ahead and I am still thinking along the lines of the, 'square metre' idea I had earlier. The chalk downs of the south of England are so beautiful and abundant with wildflowers. We just need the good weather of an 'English Summer' to get them all going. A year seems like a long time but the experience of some of my fellow SBA friends suggests not, so time really is of the essence. There are already some projects on the go and some more in the pipeline, but more about those later. Also, I don't want to go blabbing before things are certain. That's never a good thing in this game.

A scene of Chalk Down meadow
from Sarah Raven's book on British Wildflowers
Hopefully there will be something like this to greet me. 
The past few days have all been something of a blur, but I must just thank everyone who has left such generously supportive messages both here and on Squirrel's Facebook Page. Some of you may have seen Katherine Tyrrell's posts on the SBA exhibition on Making a Mark this week, including a rather 'interesting' picture of yours truly! As always there are lots of great background stories about the artists and insights into how to exhibit successfully. Hmmm, I must bookmark that bit!     
Currently, 'Sammy and Lucy' are still enjoying public attention at the exhibition in London and, 'The Three Piece Suite' is winging it's way to my dear printer with the intention of making a series of  limited editions, (available soon). Treat them like the Crown Jewels please darling. Hopefully, there will be loads to talk about over the coming months and lots more exciting developments here at Squirrel HQ to share with you. First up, a new studio space!  Now where did I put that sledge hammer?

Off we go again!
I always knew those flyweights and spare envelopes
would come in handy.  
Aim BIG!!
Here's the 'shed' we inherited when we moved in.
With some imagination and a bit of hard graft, voila!
Squirrel's new HQ.
As you can see, I need to get round to a lot of planting out.


Monday, 15 April 2013

Trumpet Blowing Time!!

Oh my goodness me! What a delightful few days we have all just had. It really does all feel a bit sureal and I still haven't quite got a full grasp on all of the wonderful experiences I have had this week. First up was a quick flight round the SBA show on Thursday, followed by dinner in Covent Garden. This began as a good jolly with some fellow students and ended up as a mob over-taking of a restaraunt by about 18 people. The final bill was quite phenomenal, but a good time was had by all. Special mentions and thanks to the lovely  Claire, Lorraine, Sarah, Mary, Shevaun, Julie and new friend Yvonne for a gorgeous evening filled with laughter.

From the front: New friends,  Lorraine, Shevaun
and Julie (standing).
Also at dinner that evening, Katherine Tyrrel (of Making a Mark),
Fiona Strickland and her husband
Robert McNeill
New friends Mary, Claire, Sarah and Yvonne are sitting opposite
along with a whole bunch of others. There were 18 of us! 
Next came Friday, the BIG day and nerves kicked in pretty early on. Luckily 'Husband' was accompanying me to my graduation evening and meeting up with friends early in the day added to a party feel. Meeting Theresa with her terrific mum and the wonderful Gail for lunch near the Serpentine in Hyde Park gave us plenty of time to warm up and get the day going. Next onto a really delightful old pub for drinkies and then onto St. James's for the big night.
It wasn't until we arrived at our final destination that things began to go awry. First, 'Husband' was refused entry for wearing jeans. Oh great! Things got worse when a couple from Sweden turned up and were also refused entry. Luckily the wonderful Pam was upstairs and after a shaky conversation, she calmly took control, as she always does. With Margaret also on hand to put the doorman in his place and the prompt arrival of a delightful man who was a member of a private club in the building to add weight to proceedings, we all got in! Drinks please!!!

Ta dah!!
And there it is, the hard fought for certificate

See below for 'The Three Piece Suite' in all their glory, (along with the marks awarded)

The overly hot room was far too small for all of the students and their guests and many had to stand at the back. Hardly a way to feel special on such a big moment, and with the presentations due to take nearly an hour, many pairs of high heels were discarded for sake of comfort.  Being so overwhelmed by the occasion, I forgot to take photographs, but needless to say, we all got there, certificates received and smiles all round. The delightful Waiwai Hove received the Award for Excellence with a staggering 86 odd%. Waiwai is such a gorgeous girl, she deserves all the praise and I hope she goes on to great things. With more drinks, chat and happy banter but some rather mediocre nosh, we called it a night.
Saturday brought more splendour with a trip to the SBA show with my family in tow. On arrival, the first stop was to take a good look at my piece. Margaret was taking a new intake of students around and was speaking about the student work. Not wanting to crowd around, we all took a good look at the rest of the show. Some truly superb pieces, including those by some of my pals, were on display and even my dad appreciated the extraordinary level of skill needed in the genre. 'Husband' worked the room like a pro and got into conversation with another dutiful husband accompanying his wife just starting out on her course. You go for it girl, and huge support goes out to Brad from Texas who sounds like an absolute darling! Where would we be without our team!  A pub lunch beckoned, and after a rolling programme of here, there and everywhere, home again. Now the real work begins!  

A wonderful update of 'The Handbook of Plant Forms'
by Margaret Stevens

Well of course I had to seek out Shevaun Doherty's beautiful sketchbook
piece of olives. Amazing colours.

And my good friend Sandie Hawkins really knows
how to work a page. Stunning

You've seen them before, but how did they do?

Quite amazingly, this one got full marks, 25/25!
Assessor, Margaret Stevens
The judges were being generous as this one also
got full marks, 25/25.
Assessor, Kay Rees-Davies

The gravy train stopped here, this one got 23.8/25
Ah well, we can't all be perfect.
Assessor, Sandra Wall-Armitage

Feedback: The camellia leaf that meets and just touches the Garrya would have looked better if it had been
further away from it.

 Thanks to everyone I met who made the last few days so amazingly wonderful 

Thursday, 11 April 2013

London Here we Come!

Arrived in London for a good few days of fun and laughter, and the SBA Exhibition of course. The social diary is certainly full with lunches, dinners and the graduation evening, and although it's raining here, there's no chance the weather will dull my enthusiasm.
Off to the SBA exhibition twice this week. Once with friends from the course and next with the family in tow. Having a piece on display requires a mass viewing, probably just to confirm that it is really there. Of course, there will be plenty of other pieces of student work to enjoy and I am really looking forward to having a good look at the portfolio pieces selected. There have been some  truly talented artists on the course this year and I have often thought that some folk really don't need to do the course. Anyway, we have all got through it and now, as we all gather together we can really let our hair down and congratulate each other on a job well done.  

Of course, there is no real time to relax too long as there are paintings needing to be done. As the temperatures begin to rise, the blossoms and spring flowers are beginning to catch up after the cold snap. Decisions will have to be made in the next week or so for a series of works that will be ready for next year's SBA selection board. There are lots of ideas in the pipeline and I have a beady eye on other areas to develop.     

Oh yes, remember ages ago when I mentioned a particularly gorgeous cat that resides at my favourite plant nursery? Well, here is the happy little creature doing what he does best, sleeping. Cats always find the warm spots, and here 'Cat' has settled himself in one of the greenhouses. 


Monday, 8 April 2013

Further Plans

The signs of an extremely belated spring have started to appear at last. Ever so slightly warmer days, lighter, less blistering winds and an easing of the snow flurries may allow us to cheer a little for the coming week. However, before we get the bunting and barbecues out, there is of course, rain! My earlier idea of painting my Rhododendron have gone completely south as all of the opening flowers have withered in the freezing temperatures. Back to the drawing board then!

Although, there is always something lurking at the back that just gets on with it.

Jewel bright buds on the berberis.

Beautiful pink Rhododendron buds...

... but just as the flowers open, the frost gets them.
Elsewhere, plans are afoot for a new studio for Squirrel HQ. It became glaringly obvious during the course, that the tiny spare bedroom was not up to the job and as there is enough space in the garden, Squirrel will get its very own studio. Hooray! There will be no excuses of not enough room and I may even take back custody of the old A0 drawing board that currently languishes in my parent's loft. And, in the garden there is also the new veg patch taking shape.

Rediscovering the veg patch.
Raspberries and blackberries growing up the trellis,
with blackcurrants and rhubarb in the narrow bed.
The larger bed will have beans, cabbages, broccoli
and butternut squash
Just now, I am gearing up for my first tutoring job. This weekend will see me taking on students for drawing classes and I am so looking forward to getting back in the teaching 'saddle'. Of course this is a bit different to taking on 30 14 year olds for double Geography or Art on a wet Wednesday in a local secondary. This will be a whole new experience that I am keen to extend, and am now looking to pass on my enthusiasm for botanical illustration by planning one-day workshops and classes at a local arts and heritage centre. This new centre already has a healthy mix of life classes, watercolour landscape painting and all manner of hands-on 'crafty' classes, as well as theatre and film nights. Hopefully I will fit in.  

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

And the Award Goes to...

Well, after all the razzmatazz of last week and much more still to come, the whirlwind of life as a botanical art student has indeed ended. And what an ending, I can still hardly believe that I have made so much progress, it is really quite astonishing!
Of course, there is still the informal gathering that will make up the graduation ceremony to go and I am really excited about meeting up with some of the great people from the course. Many will be coming from far flung destinations such as Hong Kong, Australia, USA and Canada, a truly international affair. The evening should be full of cheery banter and a couple of drinkies always go down well too. Diplomas are awarded for Pass, Higher Pass, Credit and Distinction and everyone who gets one will have truly earned it, and deservedly so. Many, like me are just delighted to get through, and at the end of the day that's what counts. On the evening, awards will also be handed out for Excellence and Progress, not sure who has got these yet, so it will be exciting to see how these turn out.

X marks the spot
Students from all over the World will gather in London
for a truly international gathering
There will also be the chance for a viewing of 'Sammy and Lucy', the Honeysuckle Heart design completed earlier in the course. As you know dear reader, I was over the moon with this piece being selected and this on it's own would have topped my year. Many of my new friends will probably expect to find me standing right beside it with a megaphone shouting out, 'look! here's mine!!' Ha, ha I am sure there have been plenty of people tempted to in the past, but I shall just quietly enjoy the moment and move on to pour praise on my fellow students work. Can't wait.