Monday, 30 September 2013

Go for Launch

Today was a very special day here at Squirrel HQ, because today was the day that the website had it's go for launch and lift off moment and is finally up, running and live, (although not before a few last minute gremlins had to be evicted from the premises).
Hurrah! Such a lot of hard work to get the whole thing together, but hopefully it will all be worth it, and a lot of fun too. You may have noticed that the 'news' page has had to give way to the 'website' page on the blog. But don't worry, you can still catch up with the news page over on the website, so do have a good click around and enjoy yourself.

Of course, Sammy has to make an appearance on the site.
I am really happy with the look of the site, with lots of content, links to browse and of course, lots of my work. Although I was really apprehensive about tackling a DIY website building company myself and building the site from scratch, I am so pleased I did. All of the pages and content can be managed and changed by me and I have access to 24/7 help that is really very good. For anyone looking to get themselves a place in the world of www. without too much hassle it's worth a try. After all, if I can do it, anyone can.

More than a sneaky peak.
The whole site is now bright eyed, bushy tailed ready and waiting
Sketchbook Squirrel
Well, it's acknowledgement time folks, so blushes all round. A special thank you to all of my lovely friends, (you know who you are guys) who have been so supportive and generous with their time and enthusiasm for the success of this particular little project. Without all of you, I would never have had the confidence to get this one off the ground. And, of course, the support at home from my very special family and 'Husband' in particular has always been the driving force behind all of what I do, without them Sketchbook Squirrel just wouldn't be here. Well, wish me luck, enjoy a visit, (or two) and here's to the next chapter.       

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Acorns and Envelopes

Wednesday is often seen to be 'Peak Efficiency Day', the day of the week when we all seem to get the most work done before we slide towards the weekend. Well, it's no different here at Squirrel HQ, as today I am planning to really get a lot done on that bramble study. Now that I am feeling quite a bit better, I want to get as much as I can done and meet that November deadline. It sounds like quite a long time but once you get to the last bits, it takes longer than you think to finish.
Working back from when I should submit work for the SBA in March, I will have four months to get a couple of pieces finished. That's just two months on each, including any sketches and preparation studies I may need to make. it's not long when you think about it, so I had better get cracking. Thinking about it all as far ahead as possible makes decisions easier, so in the evenings I am often found doodling away on any of the numerous envelopes, or scraps of paper that come my way. The trick is not to lose them.
Just now, I am also thinking perhaps of a logo for Squirrel. Being a graphic designer in a past life, I can't help myself, but it's not easy being your own client, how would someone else approach it, is always the question there in the back of your mind. At the moment, I am working on something intertwined, with oak leaves and acorns, (of course). More envelopes please.

Doodle noodle
Whilst watching telly, the creative juices are
still working away on ideas.
This time, a logo for Squirrel 
Elsewhere, I have been asked a couple of times how I went about painting them, so here's a quick recap on building those brambles. For the leaves on this project, I used the following colours. Indanthrene and Cerulean Blue, Lemon Yellow, Aureolin and Transparent Yellow. Finally, Perylene Maroon used for fine detail. The brushes used were size 0, 1 and 2.
Step 3 / 4
The finished set of leaves.
After using wet on dry techniques to build up the fine detail, shading and tone,
a final watery wash of Transparent Yellow to the warmer greens,
warms and brightens.

In contrast, a watery mix of Cerulean and Lemon Yellow
over the cooler greens keeps the tonal values balanced.
The top leaf will be given the same treatment.

Step 2 / 3
The top leaves show a building up of mid tones.
The lower leaves are worked and defined with deeper greens
and touches of perylene maroon around the holes and serrations.
Again, the highlights are only lightly treated.
These layers are built up several times, but I try to keep to just
two or three wet-in-wet washes

Step 1 / 2
The lighter leaves show the first, loose wash of lemon and cerulean
where the cooler and warmer greens are going to go.
Highlights are left light or clear of paint.
Lifting our wet paint with a clean, damp brush helps create highlights.
Mid tones and the veining are beginning to be picked out
and defined on the lower leaves.   

Monday, 23 September 2013

Greetings from the Bramble Patch

Ah, the first set of bramble leaves are so nearly finished. Only three more to go. After this one is finished I think I will leave brambles alone for a good long while as I feel like I have been doing nothing else since last summer. Those serrated edges have really been an eye strainer so I am looking forward to working on something completely different.
That said, there is something quietly satisfying about working your way around the edge of a leaf, with the tiniest of brushes, putting in the final touches to all those little prickles. Like putting mascara on, (sorry lads) without it, the picture just wouldn't look right. Maybe I'm waxing lyrical a bit there with that, but you know what I mean, it's often those last little bits that really lift a painting and give it character.

Adding the final touches to the prickles.
Still a way to go, and more leaves.

Earlier stages building up the mid-tones
Elsewhere, I am looking into getting some of my latest pieces made into greeting cards. I always see gorgeous looking, glossy cards at fairs and often think, I want some of those. So, with the website nearly there now, I would really like to offer cards of my own. Recommendations for printers to do this always come forward from fellow artists on Facebook, so there is plenty of choice out there.
Art2Card, (card prices from 54p) in Dorset offer all sorts of printed media including business cards and a full stationary range, although you do need to provide a print ready file. Redcliffe Imaging, (card prices from 0.43p) are members of the Fine Art Trade Guild and as well as offering Giclee printing, do postcards and cards with the special offer of a free scan with your order.  Another name thrown our way is The Imaging Centre, (card prices from 0.13p) in Tunbridge Wells. If you want cards, this lot really do the whole shebang. So, these are just a few, there are loads more out there, if a mate can put a good name forward, go for it.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Under Starters Orders

Well, I am getting really excited. The new website, which in the end, I rolled up my sleeves and designed and built myself, is nearly ready to go. Hurrah! Signing up for one of those 'freebie' sites proved to be less of a freebie than first suggested, but you do get a bit more bang for your buck if you are prepared to pay just a small monthly subscription. Seemed like a good enough deal so I went for it.
There are loads of web building sites that can give you a shop window or gallery to the world and get struggling artists their first rung on the ladder. Weebly, and Wix both seem to do well on voting polls for top web building sites and are a popular choice, but others including Moonfruit and new, sophisticated kid on the block Squarespace are also worth a look, especially if you want a stylish look and would like to include e.commerce at some point.
These free web building sites all work on the same basis, you sign up, pick a template, link a web address and away you go. You don't need to be a computer programmer but you do need to know how to do a few basics like upload photos, use drag and drop menus and create links between the pages to get it all to work together. It can be a bit of a learning curve, but most sites have a good help centre to get you over the hurdles. So, instead of paying a web designer a small fortune, you can be up and running in a couple of days for a fraction of the cost.

Here's a sneaky peak at a possible Homepage for
Still mucking about with the design details
but you get the idea.
So, on my little space in the .com family you will find loads of pics of my work plus links to Facebook, LinkedIn and of course, here at the blog as well as a sign up page for a spanking new newsletter. With the new workshops being launched and home tuition also being offered, there is loads more info to browse and I am hoping that the website will be a lovely second home for Sketchbook Squirrel, a bit like a spacious country retreat with lots of room, big comfy sofas and large cups of tea. It really does feel like Sketchbook Squirrel has been officially launched to the world now, and I have a business. I'll still be here of course but I hope to see you there.  

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Every Little Bit Helps

Pinching the tag line of some company, who's name escapes me, work has now resumed, but only a little bit. Having to go gently with myself, I can now at least sit at my desk for short periods of time and get a bit more done on those bramble leaves. Having really enjoyed putting this composition together, I really didn't want to have to throw in the towel and give up on it, and although I have a lot to do over the next few months, I want to give everything a really good shot.

The light and mid tone colours work quite well,
but I need to include greater depth with the darker shadow tones.
Once I have got a good, uniform feel to the leaves, the darkest
shades will be introduced 
As time is now something of an issue, I have decided not to include any blackberry fruits on the piece, a shame as I would have liked a sprig or two. Instead, the flowers and buds will keep the piece in perpetual springtime, with the fresh greens of new leaves capturing that early abundance of vigorous growth. Also, I am desperate to start my new piece for the SBA exhibition and now have a clear idea of what I want to achieve with it.
Summer's end also brings to a close a really magnificent botanical exhibition season. A particular highlight for any enthusiast has been the Rory McEwen: Colours of Reality exhibition at Kew which closes this Sunday (22nd Sept). To revisit the delicious talent of this exceptional artist, here's a short video. You can also check out my Recommended Reading Page for details on the accompanying book.    

Monday, 16 September 2013

Demos and DIY

Well, so much for a quick recovery, I can't quite believe I dropped off the radar for over a week. By now I was hoping to be back at my desk happily painting away at some of the lovely little temptations that have been strewn around the garden over the last couple of days or slogging away at those brambles. So much dreadful weather has brought down branches and so many 'windfall' apples, the freezer is struggling to cope, but also, there have been interesting seed heads, leaves and berries too. Needless to say, I am still not quite tickety-boo and am finding the whole situation really rather tiresome and unbelievably tiring. So, with that in mind 'tis only a short missive today.
Of course, not being able to paint does not mean resting on the old laurels for one moment, and this week has seen me spending time building my new website. Yes, it's good old muggins here who has become a DIY web builder, captaining her own ship towards calm seas and a safe harbour, (you can tell I am on medication here can't you). If all goes well, and I can get my head round the so called "easy to use drag and drop tools", designed by an MIT whizz-kid no doubt, we should be heading forth within the next two weeks.
Planning is already afoot for the next workshops that I am booked to do. There is always so much produce at this time of year that I am finding it hard to settle on a subject. Vegetables and fruits are always a good option and I have a real soft spot for these subjects, so, chillis, onions, peppers and apples may make the shortlist for my next demo.
I miss my cosy corner
    P.S Work on Squirrel HQ will resume shortly. Hurrah.

Friday, 6 September 2013


Being laid up and not being able to get out and about is a real pain, in this case quite literally. Not being the world's greatest patient, generally because when it comes to not getting on with stuff, I have no patience, I need some help. A little something to keep the boredom at bay that doesn't include endless daytime TV would be great, but I can't complete any serious painting, so what do I do? The talented and lovely Dianne Sutherland has recently come up with a cracking idea that will keep me happily painting whilst not putting on too much pressure to get something big finished. I love you Dianne!
So, here's the idea. You may have heard of the 30 Leaves in 30 Days project, or even had a go at that one yourself. Well, Mindy Lighthipe came up with that challenge and although I gave it my best shot, couldn't quite manage it and got to 27, which isn't too bad. This time Dianne is challenging herself, and anyone else up for it, to paint 30 found, natural objects in 30 days. Already underway for September, Dianne has started with a gorgeous little maple seed and looks set on her way to stick with it.

Some of the Autumn leaves planned for the original
30 Leaves in 30 Days Challenge 

And how the 27 completed leaves came together.
I will get round to finishing it.
Unfortunately, as I can't get about very far, I have roped 'Husband' in for a little help. Things from the garden will start me off but I have also asked him to see if he can spot any likely candidates around where he works. Lots of trees, shrubs and open areas (he even spots deer from time to time, lucky thing) at Autumn time should offer a few nice surprises.  
An earlier sketchbook piece.
Really hoping to find some more of these,
so I can give them the full botanical treatment.


Tuesday, 3 September 2013

To Quote Bob Dylan...

"...Times, they are a changing." They certainly are, and it's always nice to quote an old classic. As the season moves into Autumn, nature is starting to draw towards it's winter slumber, but not here at Squirrel HQ. There is much excitement over new opportunities and ventures, and 2014 is already looking like it will be a busy and rewarding time.  
The colours of late summer.
Dahlias always put on a good show into Autumn.

With temperatures of 20 odd degrees already this week,
it's no wonder my hydrangea gave up early this year.
The berries on the honeysuckle are pretty though.
Just a few days ago I had a meeting that heralded the start of my one-day botanical painting workshops. Having done a few of these with a couple of students at my home studio, it was lovely to be given the opportunity to branch out into a dedicated arts centre. The Spring in Havant, Hampshire is one of those great little places that looks like it has taken hold of an old building and given it a hip replacement! With a healthy programme of shows, arts, theatre, exhibitions and it's own museum and a cafĂ© selling lovely cake, there is loads of appeal. With all that going on, I am really chuffed to have been invited to bring my taster days to this bustling community and for me, it will also be nice to, 'get back into the teaching harness' once more. Oh, and then there's the cake.
Elsewhere, the bramble leaves have got their first coat on, but there are a few washes to go before the fine detail can really bring them to life. At this early stage, it always looks a bit un-promising, but building up the colour and detail, gradually turns my ugly ducklings into little swans, (albeit with a few unique 'characteristics').
Indanthrene Blue, Aureolin, Cerulean and Lemon Yellow
make the early green washes.
These mixes will be 'beefed up' for the later washes and details
Adding some of the pinks and neutrals from the flowers
helps make the shadows and darker shades.  

The very pale first wash, often called a 'tea wash' sets the
tone for the rest of the leaf.
Set against the nearly finished flowers and buds,
it's a stark contrast.
The Sennelier Grey used for the letter will go on last.  
Along with the SBA exhibition and other, 'take the plunge' ideas, I have also been invited to participate in a truly unique and exciting collaborative project that will see me through the next couple of years. It's all a bit embryonic just now but hopefully I will be able to reveal all very soon. 
On a slightly more personal note, I may not be around for a bit as once again the surgeon's diary found a little spot for me.