Monday, 27 May 2013

The Plant Hunter

What could be better for a British Bank Holiday? Sunshine, blue skies, tea with a slice carrot cake, a walk in the countryside and quality time with 'Husband'. Sunday saw us heading to our local country park for a lovely long walk in the gorgeous managed woodlands and meadows. With the chalk soil of the South Downs lending itself to some real botanical treasures, the hunt was on.

Plant hunter extraordinaire?
Ever willing to hunt high and low for that elusive Yellow Wort. 

Fun and games on the woodland assault course gave me every opportunity to get in training for seeking out that troublesome specimen, although I am not sure if the soil is quite right under the cargo net.

Cowslips thrive here and were easily spotted with their
ever-cheerful yellow clusters.
Further on and in the shade, swathes of wild garlic scented
the warm air and gave a pretty carpet of delicate flowers. 

The mix of sheltered, shady woodland with Beech, Birch and Rowan trees allows wood spurge, wild garlic and native bluebells to really give a beautiful display, and although the bluebells were nearly finished, the wild garlic looked beautiful.

The unmistakable wood spurge...

...and all manner of other plants

The way west.
Looking across the downs towards Staunton Country Park
and the South Downs Way. 

Aha, I spy yonder windmill...

...but it's not as close as you think.

The meadows and fields surrounding the park give tantalising views of the Downs towards Winchester and allow the sunshine to pour in. Signposts and stiles take you out of the park and into the wider countryside.
Leaving nothing but our footprints
 and taking nothing but photographs.


Friday, 24 May 2013

What Colour do you Call That?

The last couple of days really have been busy. First up is getting the frames right for my work, beginning with the mount, (mat). Trying different shades of cream, ivory, old white, new white, nearly white, off white, sail sheet white... whatever you want to call it, I ended up with just plain white. After all that, all I can say is, the creative brains in the colour marketing department at Farrow and Ball really have got a lot to answer for. Double mounting with that madam? Heavens, it gets worse.

That perfect combination? Nature does it so well

With names like Pointing, Great White, Lime White,
Wimborne White and All White, the Farrow and Ball colour
chart is a little daunting.
Luckily for me, the selection of whites, creams and neutrals for
mounts and frames is not so extensive.
Just the white one then please.

Anyway, now happy with the mount colour and style, it's onto frames, (here we go again). Now, do you want bleached, whitewashed, waxed, antiqued, aged, painted, satin, gloss...stop, that's quite enough, just get those bits off the wall and we'll try the bloomin' lot. Needless to say, after a long but actually quite enjoyable afternoon, we are all now happy with the choices, and my happy framer is busy in his workshop toiling away on my selection. Can't wait to see how these ones turn out, as I will use the same style for the SBA pieces next year. At least that's one job that can be ticked off the list. Now then, what's next? Ah yes, now what colour did we agree on for the bedroom?

Monday, 20 May 2013

A Bit of Quiet Time

What a lovely, peaceful weekend I have just enjoyed. Saturday morning was taken up with a private lesson and as it was a lovely, sunny day, we went out into the garden to collect some subjects to paint. Just as were getting going, postie arrived with my copy of the Rory McEwan book, Colours of Reality. Oh goody, but alas I had to wait for a whole hour before I could delve into it. When we next get into London, I will be beating a path to the Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew for the, Rory McEwan's Legacy Exhibition

As much as I dare show you.
Inside is a wealth of deliciousness,
but respect of copyright prevents further divulgences.
You'll just have to get your own copy.

Ooh, that tantalising glimpse.

A quiet lunch followed, just me, as 'Husband' was at work for most of the day. What could have been better, a cup of tea in the sun with Radio 4 for company and a good read through my eagerly waited for book. Lovely. Then came my delivery from Jackson's. Paper and paints arrived in a huge box and it felt a bit like my birthday with all the packages building up, especially when my custom mounts arrived too, (I should really cut my own, just lazy this time). All present and correct, so on with the rest.

Lots of exciting new developments are in the wind for the next couple of months and I have been quite overwhelmed with all the gorgeously generous comments I have received about my work. The next few weeks will be taken up lots of organising, emails and phone calls here, there and everywhere. Oh and the hunt for a website designer is over, so World Wide Web here we come. Full steam ahead, although at some point it would be nice to have a holiday.

Trying new mounts for prints.
Pale cream goes quite well with the colours of the ivy.
Or maybe white?
Once the decision is made, they will be bagged and labelled.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Artfull Artichokes

Well, the artichoke seeds arrived, and as they are 'my department' I set about getting some seeds sown and tucked up nice and warm in a little propagator in the conservatory. Hopefully, even with the very little warmth we have had recently they will germinate, and make a stately appearance in the garden later. Having seen some of the truly beautiful botanical paintings of these fabulous vegetables by other artists, I can't wait to give them a go. Just take a look at the artichoke pieces by Susannah Blaxill and Yvonne Glenister Hammond to see what I mean. Meanwhile, feast your eyes on this beauty.

Two types of artichoke, green and purple will grace the garden.
Mind you, just reading the sowing instructions tells me
these should be in by now.
Pumpkin 'Munchkin', how could I not with a name like that. 

That particular project is some way off, so while I wait for the artichokes it's onto Clematis montana. yes, I have gone with the clematis as I just can't wait any longer to get something on the board and houseplants really aren't my thing. In fact, I tend to kill houseplants and only really have outdoor 'green fingers'. The only indoor thing that seems to do OK is orchids of all things. Strange but true.

The buds on these are always so pretty.

An obsession with thumbnails.
Or vignettes as I like to think of them, are my
little watercolour sketches that I make whilst
trying out compositions.

So, clematis. The fabulous and inspirational gardener Christopher Lloyd who created the stunning gardens at Great Dixter adored clematis, and used them to great effect throughout his planting schemes. As we have no natural height or change of level in our garden, we have planted a number of spring and summer flowering clematis to scramble over trellis, walls and through trees to create a 'layered' feel to our own plot. The clematis montana that covers the roof of the, 'bomb shelter' was the very first plant we added to the garden when we moved here, so has a rather sentimental meaning for me.  Rather apt that it should now form my first composition since graduating from the SBA course. 

Monday, 13 May 2013

Four Square Meals

After my recent bought of yukky horribleness I am still trying to get the routine back into a smooth running machine. Usually by now, the blog updates will be ready and waiting for a few tweaks here and there and the inclusion of some snaps before pre-scheduling the publication dates. All very organised and sorted. Not so for the past week, and there has been much rushing about here and there trying to get everything done. It will be a relief when all is back on an even keel.

Work-wise is still a bit slow as I await the flowering of the yellow wort for the Irish alphabet. Working on something else in the meantime will get more done and I have got my eye on some pretty clematis montana and Bramley apple blossom currently looking their best in the garden. Please, just stay dry for a couple of days to allow the flowers to open.

Clematis montana
This one has perfectly pink buds
opening to pale pink-white flowers.
The acidy-green centres give a welcome zest.  

The Bramley apple has got one of my favourite blossom flowers.
Clear pink buds open to flowers with the most delicious scent.

The laptop has been red-hot this weekend as ordering of bits and bobs needed to be done. Mount boards, cello wraps for work, paints, paper and even some globe artichoke seeds all got ordered. I have always wanted to have a go at growing artichokes, and even though I don't really eat them much, they will look fabulous in the flower border. Postie will be a busy bunny this week delivering all my goodies!    
In the garden this weekend, 'Husband' worked extremely hard, between rain showers, to finish the last touches to the new veg patch. As the area is a huge square and far to big to tend all in one go, we decided to divide it up a bit. A pathway of old bricks did the job nicely and now we have four very manageable plots, which will give us plenty of produce throughout the rest of the year. Tomatoes, green beans and butternut squash also got planted up, to add to the abundance already in large pots waiting for patch space, so now all we need is a summer.

Our higgledy-piggledy veg patch.
The beds will be raised using planks,
then refilled with soil and compost, ready for planting.
Bramley, again.
Worth having in the garden for the display of blossom alone.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Graduation, no Not Me!

Now, here's a thing. On a letter as big as a piece of A4, how am I going to tackle the graduated wash that is requested? Hmmm, it's OK getting this sort of wash on a small area such as a leaf or petal, but getting it right on something that is somewhat larger is going to take some practice.

My letter 'D' for the Irish alphabet project looks a bit like an upside down capital 'Q' in the English alphabet and will need to be darker in colour at the top, with a lovely graded wash to almost nothing at the bottom. In amongst the letter, in true illuminated style, will be the plant with its buds, leaves and flowers to break it up a bit, but I am not sure that this will make things easier or harder. The dreaded masking fluid may need to be utilised here to keep the wash smooth around the flowers and stems.

Small practice thumbnail.
The graded wash for the letter will disappear into the foliage.
Some habitat amongst the flowers, will 'ground'
the composition quite nicely, I think. 
So, although the final piece will be rendered in Sennelier Light Grey, I thought I would have a few practice runs using colours I already have. It's an interesting development, that over the course of the diploma I have stopped using ready mixed greys altogether and always mix my own neutrals from the colours I am using at the time. To start with, I relied on colours such as Payne's Grey and Neutral Tint to help me get my neutrals and shadow tones, but I can't actually remember the last time I used either of them as I found they gave a finish that was too flat, severe, or just plain wrong. Certainly on my final Portfolio pieces, all the neutrals were specific mixes using colours from the palette, with some additions here and there. Shadows on yellow flowers are still tricky to get right though, but this was a tip I picked up from artist and SBA tutor Jenny Jowett at a seminar some years ago, and have never looked back. Give it a try. 

In the palette? Not anymore!
Lamp Black, Neutral Grey and Payne's Grey are off.

This project also gives me the chance to have a go at one of the papers on my list of new try outs. Fabriano Artistico is a lovely paper and lots of artists do seem to favour it, but time will tell if it becomes a new favourite at Squirrel HQ.    

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


If any of you have ever had food poisoning, you will surely know how I have been feeling over the past few days. After a fantastically wonderful few days over the Bank Holiday weekend with 'Husband' and family, I went down with the dreaded bug, and that was that. Luckily it wasn't anything we prepared ourselves, so at least my family aren't trying to kill me! I won't bore you with the quite obvious gory details but needless to say, I feel bad! So bad that I have been unable to do any work or even update the blog, truly awful. Still, knowing how bad this could have been, I feel that I have have had something of a lucky escape. 
Getting slowly better today, but still feeling as weak as a kitten, things have come to a halt on the painting front, just as I was gearing up for an all systems go assault on my next project. It is all extremely inconvenient and annoying as I hate being laid up with anything and get very grumpy when illness slows me down. The most that has been done so far this week, is a few sketches for the alphabet project and the purchase of some new colours that I will need for rendering the letter. I was really looking forward to getting cracking on that too.

As close as I can get just now,
 the Daniel Smith colour chart

I'm still here!
Waiting for some attention, the work for ISBA.
Elsewhere, strawberries, courgettes, french beans and tomatoes have all been potted up in the garden. Here they can get nice and big before being finally planted out into the new big veg patch. We are really looking forward to lots more of our own fruit and veg this year as last year was pretty dismal and the harvest was very poor. Already, the apple blossom is here, the blackcurrants have got lots of tiny fruits already forming and the rhubarb is huge. Oh goody, something to look forward to.    

Friday, 3 May 2013

Press the Refresh Button!

Ah, spring has finally arrived. Like a breath of fresh air, the windows are open, flowers are on the table and once again the spring clean of equipment is underway. Every year I like to give my little studio a bit of TLC and get rid of 'stuff'. This year already, I made a start on outing the last dregs of my old life as a teacher, books, papers and an endless supply of pens and pencils all had to go! On the list of new stuff coming in? A new chair, some proper cupboards and drawer space, oh yes, and a new studio please.

Elegant tulips finally make their appearance after a cold start.

The bluebells in our little 'woodland' make a pretty display
and remind me of home. 

They might be Spanish, but they are still lovely. 

Once again, the Bramley's are coming along nicely.

This week saw the arrival of an exciting parcel from Ireland. Yes, the new Irish Society of Botanical Artists, (ISBA) has started a wonderful project, and the arrival of my materials suddenly made it real for me. Led by the lovely and talented Mary Dillon and a committee of highly commended artists, 'An Irish Botanical Alphabet' requires artists to create an illuminated letter from the Irish alphabet using native wildflowers. Luckily, my subject grows on chalk downland, bless Mary for that as I am close to The South Downs, which is about as chalky as you can without being on the White Cliffs of Dover! Anyway, come June I will be all over those downs hunting out that curiously named, Yellow Wort (Blackstonia perfoliata).

So this is what I am looking for.

And this is what it's like
(image and text courtesy of  my copy of
Wild Flowers by Sarah Raven) 

The Irish letter 'D'
The tracing I will use for planning and composition.
Not a straight edge in sight.
French Curves came in handy to keep those outlines smooth. 

Good job I kept hold of these, 'just in case'.

Elsewhere, there is a terrifyingly important project on the horizon, which I am trying to fathom out in my head. Once I do get this thing off the ground, all will be revealed. Elsewhere though, the new camera is being put through it's paces. Still not sure if it is quite what I am after, so I will have to make up my mind whether or not to keep it. Did you like how I changed the subject there? Subtle!

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

All Change!

There has been a flurry of debate amongst my botanical chums and colleagues recently about, paper! Yes, it's paper again. It is important to get this thing right as the kind of paper you use can have a dramatic impact on the work you do. Since beginning the SBA DLDC, I have used Fabriano Classico 5, as this is the paper provided in the course materials. Although I am pleased with the results and quite like using it, I feel now is the time to try something else. Some things however, will always stay the same.

Favourite kit.
These are some of  the things I cannot do without.
My lovely jewellers loupe, (bought for me by my brother);
My old and trusted Rotring technical pens in sizes .25 and .35
Faber Castell H pencil; ceramic palettes and of course brushes.
These are Rowney 'Diana' size 3 and da Vinci Maestro 35 size 1.
I have also started using Rosemary & Co. brushes. 
There are loads of paper manufacturers that make Hot Press paper and most are available as either blocks or loose sheets. many botanical artists prefer to use the loose sheets and I too feel this is the way to go. After reading Katherine Tyrrells recent posts about the recent RHS Gold Medal winners in London, Fabriano appears to be the make of choice, considering how many mentions it gets by the artists' she spoke to. Their Artistico HP paper is very popular and comes in two finishes, Traditional and Extra White. There has been some confusion with which side is 'the right side' to use when Artistico is bought as a block and there has been some suggestion that the factory sometimes stack the paper upside-down. Apparently there is a fine mesh pattern on the paper and this should be treated as the back-side. Handy to know but why don't they say that.

The Fabriano Classico 5 'Fat Pad'.
These pads saw me through the SBA course.
A3 for the assignments and A4 for the sketchbook
Saunders Waterford from legendary paper manufactures St. Cuthbert's Mill has just made available a greater range of papers. The new 'High White' is now available as the heavier 300lb (640gsm), helpful is you have a tendency to work quite wet. I have heard that Saunders paper can be quite difficult to work on, but I am willing to 'test-drive' the surface and see how it goes. Arches Aquarelle is another top choice and this paper is available in all of the weights and all of the sizes, going up to 400lb in full imperial sheets. Arches is the classic 'step-up' for those of us looking to try something new from our student materials. Again I have heard this one to be a tricky surface for some, but like the others, I will give it a go and feedback later.

Also on the horizon for a test run, are some gorgeous new sketchbooks from Stillman & Birn. These will have to go some to beat Moleskine's watercolour sketchbooks. If they are good enough for Hemingway, they are good enough for me!