Friday, 28 March 2014

Adventures with Vellum

Well now, after all the excitement of the last few days, it's time to come back down to earth and get on with some work. My next workshop is looming fast and I have yet to paint the lily bud project ready for the step-by-step demonstration. This time I will be using photos to work by in the class, as the lighting in the room is not that great. Photos can be really useful, especially were a flower is opening too quickly and it is difficult to maintain the composition. For this project, I already have the photos ready and the materials list went out a while ago, so really, I am nearly there with it. Thinking about it, I might put the step-by-step onto my You Tube channel.

Now that I have achieved my first BIG goal, I am looking forward to keeping the happy momentum going by getting some new pieces under way. One of the challenges I have set myself for this year is to work on vellum, a surface I have little experience of, but am eager to try. Artists I admire who have really mastered this unique surface include Kate Nessler and the late artist Rory McEwen. Their work has a truly luminous quality with a purity of colour that is not possible on paper and some have said that once you start on vellum, it becomes quite addictive and you don't want to go back to paper. Well, we'll see.     

This week I took the plunge and contacted William Cowley Parchment Makers in London to find out more. Their staff are really knowledgeable and helpful and gave me the option to buy some offcuts of smooth Kelmscott Vellum to try. Having announced this remarkable feat on Facebook, I was immediately applauded and given lots of helpful hints and tips on how to approach the challenge. Thanks folks, I knew you would come up with the right stuff.

The vellum arrives

After unwrapping the many layers of carefully
wrapped card and paper, here it is.
Lots of small offcuts will help me to get the techniques right
before moving onto a bigger piece.

Vellum is most associated with manuscript production, think about the medieval illuminated Book of Hours and you're not far off. There are also a number of sources, with calf, goat and sheepskins all being used for the manufacture of vellum at different grades, with Manuscript Vellum being the finest and Cloudy Calfskin or drumhead vellum being used for, well drums! Natural variations in colour and texture on the vellum can also add character that may be exploited by the artist, placing their subject to incorporate this. Kate Nessler is a great advocate of this, (see link below).

One of Rory McEwen's tulip paintings on vellum

The book 'Colours of Reality'
that accompanied the highly successful exhibition of the artists work
at Royal Botanic Garden, Kew.

Many of Rory McEwen's pieces are single subjects
such as a flower bud or leaf on vellum.

The surface of the finer vellum for writing or painting is prepared with a fine, powdered pumice that almost acts as a very fine sandpaper to ensure the surface is completely smooth and free of any greasy residues prior to painting. Even oils from our fingerprints can prevent the paint from adhering. The pumice is best used as a 'pounce' with a small amount formed into a tight ball within a fine mesh (old tights work well), and worked by pressing the ball in small circular movements across the surface, (see Dianne's link below). Vellum is also very expensive, depending on what type you get, smallish pieces of Kelmscott can start from around £9.00, so start small and work up. Oh, and don't forget to practise first, that's what I plan to do. By cutting a small piece and using it to produce little colour swatches, I aim to practise the dry brush technique to achieve a smooth 'wash' of colour. Then I will plan a small study. 


Robersons : Pumice Powder 240 mesh 1kg
L.Cornelissen & Son powdered pumice
available from Jackson's Art Supplies

Now to find a suitably elegant, classy but simple subject for this most particular of watercolour surfaces. If I get this one right, I will really believe I have arrived at a turning point in my work. But before I get too carried away, I really must get something into the next exchange sketchbook that is starting to gather dust.    

Other helpful links. Dianne and Kate have really hit the nail on the head with their informative posts, so do read them if you have an interest in painting on vellum. I have bookmarked both links and will probably wear them out!

L. Cornelissen & Son Artists' Colourmen. Also: parchments and vellum

Dianne Sutherland - Botanical Artist. Dianne is extremely knowledgeable and shares her experience on her blog.

Kate Nessler: No Really, That's How I Do It. Painting on Vellum. A blog post on the ASBA website giving loads of valuable advice on painting on vellum.


Janene said...

Have fun with your vellum, Jarnie! I think you are going to love it once you get the hang of it. I almost gave up at first but then started using a tiny brush (000 or 00) after the first wash. Usually I can't stand those little brushes because they run dry immediately, but surprisingly you can paint quite awhile on vellum with them before they run out of paint. Now I use bigger brushes w/o much problem but maybe this tip will get you over the first hump like it did me! Or maybe you are already over the hump!!

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Thank you Janene, that's great advice. I will try that out.