Friday, 31 January 2014

Growing the Green Belt

Just a short update on progress post today as, with a couple of other little painterly jobs to get out of the way for the Sketchbook Exchange, work has slowed a little on The Green Belt this week. Luckily for me, it was a welcome little breather as there are so many tangled stems and leaves in this piece, it can all get a bit daunting, (and the exchange is a fun project too). Also, my first blog post for the exchange project was published today, so it feels like I am everywhere just now.  

With a little time here and there I have been able to work on the Dog Rose flower. Using Permanent Rose with just a little Lemon Yellow, I built the colour up slowly and gradually. It's so easy to overdo the colour on pale flowers and I was really nervous about tackling this bit. the last time I painted a Dog Rose flower it wasn't too great and I was disappointed by the overall effect. This time, however I took my time and also used a different shading colour to give a more realistic shadow. Using the pink mix with a little Indanthrene Blue gave a lovely, soft dull lilac which matched perfectly to give the fluttery petals a bit of life. Again, building the shading up slowly, allowing each layer to fully dry gave a better view of where a bit more was needed.

A similar treatment has been used on the blooms for the bramble, but with less of the pink to reflect the delicate colouring. A mix of Cerulean Blue and Lemon Yellow was used on the tiny buds.  

Blackberry buds and bloom
 alongside the dog rose and cranesbill

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Doors and Windows of Opportunity

I can't quite believe that we are very nearly at the end of January already. The new year certainly seems to be off to a flying start but, not wanting to let it run too quickly away from me, it's time to make the most of it. Lots of lovely projects are planned for this year and, of course one has got going already and the next one is just launching. The Nature Trail begins in earnest in February, so with just a few finishing touches, my sketchbook is ready for it's year long journey.

A window of opportunity.
A small envelope with a surprise
welcomes my fellow Nature Trailers to Squirrel's Sketchbook

This weekend, we had another mammoth go at getting some jobs done on the shed. The shed has been badly in need of a new door, with an old kitchen door bravely holding up to the worst of the weather but sadly failing. Dad had taken some measurements the last time he was here, and hunted through his wood stash to see if there was enough bits of this and that to put a new one together. Luckily there was, and the new creation was brought down to be fitted.

Out with the old.
With all useful bits removed, the old door is now ready to go 

In with the new.
Made with scrap wood and recycled glass,
the new door is here.
A new door of
Work in progress.
Dad adjusts the hinges 
 With a couple of unexpected and rather unwelcome extra jobs that needed doing, work seemed to go quite slowly, but I am so pleased to have a door that doesn't leak or allow a force ten gale through the gaps!

The fridge from our old flat,
and some lovely new cupboard frames

Elsewhere, we were able to do some much needed maintenance around the garden. fence panels had come down during the dreadful storms over Christmas, so it was a relief to get some sturdy new replacements up and secure before the next round. Also, it's never too late to get some spring bulbs in, so a lot of late flowering daffodils were planted, filling a corner of the garden with some much needed colour.

Back on the drawing board, progress is coming along on 'The Green Belt', although the Dog Rose is taking a little longer than expected and there is still the bramble to go. With my SBA submission forms arriving this week, it's all getting very real, and soon.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The Green Belt, with Blues and Pinks

This week I have been working my size four socks off on my new hedgerow piece now titled, 'The Green Belt'. The title is in honour of Epping Forest, the very special location where the subjects came from, and reflects the unique status of the habitat. With the area of East London under so much pressure from demand for housing, green spaces are few and far between with truly wild green spaces even fewer. The remaining 6000 acres of Epping Forest is London's largest green space and forms part of the original Metropolitan Green Belts and is now under the management of The City of London Corporation, along with Hampstead Heath and Highgate Wood amongst others.        
Reworking an old piece has been really interesting as I can see where my style has changed and (hopefully) improved. Although I seem to be working more quickly this time around, I certainly feel more confident painting the subjects and mixing the colours.With seven weeks to go until it all needs to be finished, scanned, framed and ready to go, there's no time to lose, so although this is a short post today, here's a quick summary update of progress so far.

Making a start on the Bittersweet flowers.
Winsor Violet and Permanent Rose were the main colours used
Lemon Yellow and a violet shadow tone was also used. 

Bittersweet or Solanum dulcamara is a member of the nightshade family with purple or white flowers. The vine-like growth habit allows the plant to scramble over other plants, using them as a support to reach a height of 4m. The red berries, although very pretty are highly poisonous to many creatures, (and us) but are an important food source for many birds.

The blue of the Cranesbill flowers also used Winsor Violet
but Indanthrene Blue and Cobalt also came in handy

The Meadow Cranesbill is a perennial member of the geranium family. Geranium pratense has pretty, delicate blue flowers but it is the seed heads which hold much delight. Looking somewhat like a bird's bill, the seed head ripens and begins to curl up from bottom to top, revealing the seeds. Flicking the seeds out as far as it can, the Meadow Cranesbill can often be seen growing in great drifts in open spaces. To collect the seeds, I place the seed heads in an envelope and wait to hear the explosions, much like popping corn.

Grasses add a real delicacy and softness to a composition.
Here the browns were mixed using some of the violet mixes
with Perylene Maroon.

The story so far

Just now I am working on the Dog Rose, with delicate shades of pink being added to the petals and bud. Spring greens mixed with Cadmium Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Ultramarine and Light Red add to the informal feel of the piece, with overlapping stems giving a hint of the tangled, woodland habitat.  

Monday, 20 January 2014

May the Trail Begin

The new sketchbook exchange project is getting underway with all participants now in receipt of their Stillman and Birn Zeta series sketchbook. Everyone has been busy decorating their covers, end papers and title pages with all manner of styles and mediums, making each sketchbook a little more personal. Already I have seen beautiful work in pen and ink, graphite, colour pencil and even a spot of gilding going on, so each book should be an absolute joy to get hold of. The blog is also getting underway too, with new updates on progress being posted frequently. Remember the shortcut by clicking the logo in the sidebar.

For my end papers I have used a couple of really beautiful botanical prints rescued from a book found by a friend in a skip. The book was just a beaten up and well read novel but those little gems were just sitting there and are perfect for my sketchbook. Normally I wouldn't sacrifice books, but I made an exception here and they do make the most perfect addition, in my finest 'Womble' attitude of reuse and recycle.

Snowdrop watercolour alongside a rescued print

For the title page I wanted to evoke something of the sketchbooks and diaries of the past. Hand rendered lettering, typography and calligraphy are a passion of mine since art college, so I had to include some lettering somewhere. A lovely and generous friend likened it to the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden, which she thought was very elegant. A fine endorsement. I just hope my contributions to all the sketchbooks can be just as fitting. Snowdrops painted in watercolours sit alongside the lettering with a couple of stylised little bees welcoming you in on the page, and I already have an idea for the first double page too.

Says it all really as to why I love this book
Humour and exquisite detail combined

A page of vegetables from, 'In and Out of the Garden'

Looking at the sketchbooks I have in my book collection, I am drawn to the beautiful illustrations from Sara Midda's beautiful editions of her Sketchbook from Southern France and garden sketchbook, In and Out of the Garden. from the outside, you immediately know you are in for a treat. Inside, her books are just as exquisite with Sara using humour and skill to capture all of life and create unique little vignettes with watercolour and beautiful, carefully rendered lettering. Something I hope to continue in each of the exchange sketchbooks.

From the cover, you know you're in for a treat

Why I love lettering
One of Sara Midda's stunning sketchbook pages

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Blues and Bracelets

So, with my new piece finally on the go, I am feeling a lot better. It's always good to have an occupied drawing board. Of course, with this one, I am on familiar territory, so I hope to have it cracked pretty quickly. Starting with the bright blue of the delicate Cranesbill flowers, it's nice to have an injection of bright colour in the palette to really add that positive pizazz to the day.

For the Cranesbill flowers, I am using a lovely mix of Winsor Violet and my favourite Indanthrene Blue to create that rich purply-blue, with touches of Permanent Rose and Ultramarine in the mix here and there. A very watery wash of Cobalt brings everything together. For the greens I will use a mix of my favourite Indanthrene Blue again with Lemon Yellow and a touch of Perylene Maroon. Since finishing this piece I am now using some great new colours, but thought I would stick to the original mixes rather than go through the process of starting again with practise mixes etc.

Making a start on the Cranesbill.
Indanthrene Blue, Cobalt, French Ultramarine,
Permanent Rose and Winsor Violet
all feature in the mixes for the petals. 

I love a colour chart
This chart is for Winsor Violet and all the colours I mixed with it.
The mixes made with the Quinacridone colours are particularly vibrant
and wonderfully rich.

Next will be the bramble, again. I know, I said I was going to leave them be for a while but if you are going to work on a woodland hedge, brambles are a pretty fundamental ingredient. Anyway, as I have had enough practise at these over the past few months, I should be able to manage these ones quite well, and getting them out of the way early means I will still have some quite nice bits to come.  

You may have noticed the 'Nature Trail' link in the sidebar. This is for a wonderful new project I am really honoured to be part of. For a whole year, 16 artists will exchange sketchbooks, producing wonderful sketches for each other. We will get properly going in February, but the new Blog is up and running already, so do check it out.

The title page of my new sketchbook.
Once I post it, I won't see it again for a whole year.  

Elsewhere, I have been having fun with some new creations. Using colourful waxed cotton cord, polymer clay, crystals and found bits and pieces I have been making some fun little charm bracelets. These are great because, as I have quite small hands, bangles and bracelets often drop off. You have no idea how many I have lost over the years. These are a bit like posh friendship bracelets and can be adjusted to fit the wearer with no fiddling about trying to do them up. Good pressie idea for friends too.  

Polymer clay hearts, beads and charms, what's not to love?
These bracelets are just a prototype,
the new ones have crystals embedded in the clay
and the ends are finished with a clay bead.
Just a bit of fun 

And finally:- All good things must come to an end, and for the time being it is time to say goodbye to my 'What's Going On?' list of shows and exhibitions. There will still be the odd post and links recommending a good day out though, so it's not all bad news.    

Thursday, 9 January 2014

New Painting from Old

After much procrastination I have finally started a new piece. With so many ideas, I found it hard to settle on a subject, (as is so oft the way) and in the end went back to a piece I had previously completed but was unhappy with. Re-working the hedgerow assignment from last year is something I had been planning to do and now seems like the perfect time to do it. With so many other areas of my life undergoing something of an early spring clean, reflection and readjustment, it also feels like a new and exciting chapter is just beginning.

The original hedgerow assignment
On reflection, this one looks a bit busy with far too much going on

The original assignment called for five subjects to be painted from one habitat such as seashore, woodland, wetland and meadows. For this one I chose the woodland margin hedgerow near my childhood home in Essex. Epping Forest is not the large expanse of ancient woodland that it once was, but The Corporation of London owns and protects the last fragments around around the London / Essex border as Green Belt. After a fruitful search, I settled on a selection including bittersweet, bramble, tutsan, cranesbill and dog rose along with a little habitat of grasses and a couple of dissections. The final piece, worked in landscape format looked busy and tangled, much like the hedgerow itself and although I got a good mark for it, I was unhappy with the feel and composition of the painting.

For the new piece, I have changed the composition completely. By a stroke of genius, my good friend Shevaun recently highlighted Katherine Tyrrell's superb resource on composition, (Making a Mark) on her blog. Following Shevaun's example, I bookmarked the resource page and read with interest. Katherine is always very generous in sharing her knowledge and research with her readers and her blog has been so influential in my work, it's always worth a visit.

After consideration, I pared down the subjects and included only four of the original plants. The rose, bittersweet, cranesbill and bramble have all survived as have the grasses, but alas the tutsan was for the chop. With the mix of blues, purples and delicate pinks, the yellow of the tutsan flowers looked a bit buttery, (and I hate painting yellow flowers) and the large, fleshy leaves a bit too heavy. The original also had a couple of bugs in it but I have yet to decide if I will include them on this one. Changing the format to portrait to lighten the feel and match with the other hedgerow painting completed in the winter, I hope to have a pair that will sit well together. Of course, I am up against a deadline as I really hope to have this one ready for my SBA submission. Nothing like an incentive to fuel the creative juices.

The drawing is traced over using a 0.25 Rotring pen. 
Always better to have a pair 

As always, I started with a master drawing on tracing film for use on the lightbox. The film I use is actually for architectural and graphic drawings but is a lot cheaper than the stuff I used professionally. The film takes pen really well and gives a crisper edge than many tracing papers I have tried. The precious roll I have was given to me some years ago by my lovely brother but luckily a similar product is available at the London Graphic Centre. Working with a tracing on the lightbox means I can get away with very light pencil marks on the watercolour paper and minimal rubbing out, but also have a complete image should anything go horribly wrong. Fine details such as leaf serrations are drawn out onto the design once traced. 

At this point I must also thank a really good friend for giving me the initial idea.    

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Year Ahead and Reflections

There are so many things I want to achieve this year that it is hard to know where to begin. First up is my new one-day botanical painting workshops starting in Feb at 'The Spring' Arts and Heritage Centre' in Havant. Of course, I have mentioned this before but it's so much fun to be getting back to something I love. More of these have been planned, so I hope to be teaching throughout the year.

Also, I am looking forward to taking part in a wonderful project with some highly talented fellow artists. For a whole year we will exchange our sketchbooks and add paintings, sketches, ideas and anything we fancy following a nature theme to each one as we get it. By the end of the exchange, we should each have a beautiful sketchbook, filled with the work and memories of our friends. A special project I feel privileged to be part of. Can't wait.
The start of something new

Next is the nerve wracking part. The start of my artistic process to becoming accepted as a member of the Society of Botanical Artists. The six pieces I need to enter into the annual exhibition are nearly finished and ready for framing, although there is always time for tweaking. Next will be the trip to Westminster and the nervous wait to find out if all six have been accepted. This is something I am  really eager to do and there is a mix of anxiety and excitement building already. Also on the cards is my first 'Open Studio'. Hopefully, the new HQ will be ready in time for this annual event and I am delighted to be sharing the experience with a truly great friend and fellow artist.

Hearing the call

The daunting four page entry schedule

With lots of other projects also in the pipeline, I am really hoping that 2014 will be a fun filled extravaganza. It will also be my first full year as a self employed artist. Crikey!

It is not often that I get reflective here, but up to this point it may seem that everything at Squirrel HQ is rosy, a place of constant sunshine and happiness. If only. 2013 has been a pretty dreadful year for 'Husband' and me. The house we love seems so often to conspire against us with boiler issues, a collapsed fence and damp patches caused by dreadful weather amongst others all looming expensively large. Also, ongoing health worries for me means that 2014 will start (as with the five years previous) with consultations and potential further surgery, although just now many of my friends are also going through horrendous battles of illness too. In my dark moments I take strength from their great fortitude and courage. A problem shared may not always mean a problem halved but it certainly helps to have good mates, and in my case, an extraordinary family.

Also, being unable to return to work in a career I trained damn hard for, and was on the cusp of applying for a PhD in is pretty disheartening. Reconciling yourself that retrieving your life as it once was has passed the point of no return is one of those life affirming moments, and not bringing in a salary is harder still to come to terms with. However, I try not to dwell or linger too long in the past, and embrace the joys of the life I have, the opportunities I gain along the way and the people I hold dear. It is after all a whole new year, and that fence needed replacing anyway.

One of my favourite literary quotes is from Peter Pan, and is a beautiful reminder to seize the day and go for your dreams. 

'The moment you doubt whether you can fly,

you cease to be able to do it'

JM Barrie

And there is always room for Yeats

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heaven's embroidered cloths
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

William Butler Yeats

Thursday, 2 January 2014

A Flying Start

Well, 2014 is here and it's time to get off to a flying start, (quite literally in some cases). Work on the shed has had to take a bit of a back seat while the weather did it's worst over the festive season. It was a good thing that work started in the summer, as I really don't think that the roof would have held up to another winter and I rather fancy that the old roof would have ended somewhere off the West Sussex coast! (joining three of our fence panels along the way). Just now a new door and windows are being made by my dad in Essex and hopefully with a bit of jiggery-pokery of the bits of glass we have lying about these can be fitted quite soon, and painting should get underway soon too.

The hard work on the shed has recently had a bit of a boost, with a mention on the Making a Mark blog by Katherine Tyrrell. The annual awards include the MGM award for Most Gorgeous Mouthwatering Studio of the Year award, and although Squirrel HQ isn't quite finished it has caught her eye for the 2014 gongs. Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive of the revival, the door and windows are being crafted as we speak and should be here soon.

This week, I have also been enjoying the new books I was bought for Christmas. 'The Golden Age of Botanical Art' by Martyn Rix is a cornucopia of delights that I have had my eye on for ages. With gorgeous books like this, I can't really justify the cost to myself but get all excited when someone else thinks I would like it. From the very early beginnings to present day representations, all the history of botanical art is here, a lovely volume I will really enjoy.  

With images like this, how can you resist

However, practicalities are another thing and I did treat myself to an early Birthday present in the form of the 'RHS Botany for Gardeners'. There are plenty of practical guides on the anatomy of plants, all beautifully accompanied by exquisite botanical illustrations.

Just one of the gorgeous pages of this practical guide by the RHS.

Painting-wise, I have been playing around with a new sketchbook by Stillman and Birn. I have a number of sketchbooks, but I really like the weighty feel to the paper of this one and the lovely firm binding could probably stand a bit of wear and tear. Usually, I work on scraps of hot press watercolour paper and stick them into my sketchbooks but here I think the pages will take the washes. So, here goes with that and I will let you know how I get on.    

Thank you for all of your support and lovely comments.

 Wishing you all a really great 2014