Saturday, 28 June 2014

Lucky Heather? No, Honeysuckle

Here's a quick Saturday missive. After a, "hell for leather" dash to London this week for reasons various, I am finally back home in Hampshire reporting for duty. I may have been absent from the Blog this week, but I can assure you that haven't been resting on my laurels. 

Taking a trip to, "that furniture store from Sweden", I managed to pick up some chairs for the studio. And quite smart they look too. The back door has a new curtain too. Well, it can get a little draughty round that old door, and with the addition of a thermal lining, it will be a lot cosier. And today also brings the arrival of my plan chest purchase. I really am getting to love Ebay 

Adorned with fossils, bugs, plants and dissections,
this fabric pattern from Ikea is very fitting for a botanical artist methinks.
Are you sitting comfortably?

Elsewhere, I have been working on the sketchbook exchange. Time is rather a pressing matter here as I have two to get finished and I am already a bit behind , what with all the goings on at home that have rather taken precedence of late. Still, I have a theme brewing for the next one, and I rather suspect honeysuckle will play a featuring part.

The elegant, finger-like flowers of honeysuckle

An abundance of fragrant blooms provide much needed nectar and pollen
for bees and moths  
Over 180 varieties are in the Lonicera family

As always, I love to look into the history and folklore of the subjects I paint, and wildflowers very often have various stories surrounding them. Surprisingly there are over 180 different varieties of honeysuckle growing in all kinds of conditions, with a number of different and regional names attributed to it. The honeysuckle is often referred to as lady's fingers, due to the elegant, long, finger-like flowers. Also known as woodbine, fairy trumpets, sweet suckle, goats leaf and trumpet flowers, honeysuckle also has a deep history for poets, writers and artists.

The poet Milton and the writer Chaucer amongst others referred to honeysuckle as Eglantine, a name more commonly attributed to the sweet briar rose by modern herbalists. And in the 1600s, Baroque painter Paul Rubens created a painting called the Honeysuckle Bower, in honour of his marriage to Isabella Brant. In the painting, the pair sit together in a bower surrounded by honeysuckle as a symbol of undying love, (what an old romantic he must have been). Even The Bard himself Shakespeare penned a little something in honour of honeysuckle. In Act II of my favourite play, A Midsummer Night's Dream, (in which I was an outrageous triumph, if I do say so myself, in my school's production as the mischievous sprite Puck. Well all the girls wanted to play Titania), Shakespeare refers to honeysuckle thus;
I know where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.

In both the language of flowers and folklore honeysuckle is said to be a symbol of fidelity and affection and wearing honeysuckle flowers was said to enable the wearer to be able to dream of their true love. I love to bring the sweet scent of honeysuckle from the garden into the house and will often have a bunch on the kitchen table. Although, I would have been frowned on for doing this in Victorian times as girls were prevented from bringing honeysuckle into the home because it was believed to cause dreams that were far too risque for their sensibilities. Spoilsports! 

The last flower of the year 

The berries are already forming

Now, in Britain you can't go too far with a plant before witchcraft gets involved, and it's true also of honeysuckle. Honeysuckle was used as a magical plant to protect against witchcraft. In Scotland, it was said that of honeysuckle grows around the entrance to the house, it would prevent a witch from entering the premises. it is also said to protect you from any evil, and to bring good luck. Well, I could do with some luck just now, so here goes.

A page of sweet honeysuckle

A pinky palette

Monday, 16 June 2014

Squidges and Plugs

So, after recovering from all that research into cadmium reds and yellows, I got a chance to have a go at a couple of the recommendations that I had discovered and read about. My good friend Sarah from The Natural Year has been on one of her visits. These are always raucous affairs with lots of laughter, tea, and of course, cake. This time Sarah came bearing, not only the most delicious chocolate eclairs, but also some of her favourite Daniel Smith watercolours for me to have a practise squidge. The colour chart alone was enough to get me excited, and that Pyrrol Red was an absolute must.

I love a squidge, and it's a great way to share colours, but not go to all the expense of buying a product that might not work for you. So, just getting a little squidge in your palette, is more than enough to have a bit of a play with. Trying out mixes, washes and glazes is a great way to get a feel for a new product, and I know I am going to have loads of fun with these.

Nine beautiful new colour squidges.
Thank you Sarah

Before I got stuck in with using the new colours on a sketch, I decided to compare the colours to my recent red and yellow colour chart. This may seem like a tedious and time consuming exercise, but I find colour charts extremely useful and are a really good way to compare colours.

Adding the new colours to the red and yellow chart I completed for
Complicated Cadmium

Looking more closely at how the colours compare

Looking at the reds, I can see that the previous suggestion that Pyrrol Red would be a superb alternative to Cadmium Red, was a good one. The Pyrrol Red compares favourably with the cadmium, although it's a little less orangey, and has a wonderfully luminous quality on the page. The yellow that Sarah gave me to try had similar qualities to Cadmium Yellow, but was actually the Sennelier Yellow Light rather than a Hansa or Azo yellow. On  the paper, this looked really good and felt nice on the brush too. In fact, all of the Daniel Smith colours had a lovely texture too, that I found very pleasing. The paint lifted very easily off the palette and flowed beautifully from the brush, creating lovely puddles of intense colour. I will enjoy using these, a lot.

And finally. It's always nice to give a friend a plug, especially when they are usually the one giving everyone else extra column inches, and when they have work on show in a great exhibition. Well, many of you will know Katherine Tyrrell over on Making a Mark and will recognise that she also produces the most gorgeous botanical work. This year, Katherine has been invited to take part in the Florum exhibition. An invitation only exhibition, this year's Florum will have work by over 60 artists, including Katherine's colour pencil studies of cacti. Congratulations Katherine.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Complicated Cadmium

Just now there is a big debate going on in Europe concerning the use of cadmium in the manufacture of paints and pigments. Of course, for the artist, cadmium is a major player in many a colour palette, with our primary yellows and reds all coming from the use of this ingredient. So what is all the fuss about then? Well, basically it's not a health and safety issue from the point of the user, it's more about the problems and pollution that heavy metals can cause when they enter water courses. According to an interview with Michael Craine from Spectrum Paints on a recent blog post over on the Jackson's Art Supplies blog, it was stated that,

 " EU member maintains that by rinsing brushes in the sink, cadmium may enter the waste water treatment plants and up in the sludge. When the sludge is spread on agricultural land, growing crops absorbs the cadmium and consequently this will lead to an increased exposure to humans via food."
                                                                                     Michael Craine

Ah, it's just a bit dodgy then? Well cadmium, like all heavy metals, carries a certain level of risk to health, being toxic and carcinogenic when inhaled or consumed. So a word of warning here, don't get into the habit of putting the tip of your brush in your mouth to maintain it's tip whilst painting. Digressing here a little, this has been proven to have caused all sorts of problems in the past, when female factory workers, (the Radium Girls) painting dials on clocks using radium (to make them glow in the dark) got all kinds of mouth cancers by licking their brushes to maintain a sharp point.

Radium Girls at work

Paint manufacturers have attempted to reduce the health risks of cadmium by using pigments that have a substantially lower solubility. However, our seemingly innocuous cadmium yellow still needs to be treated with some caution. There is an ongoing public consultation currently being carried out on the European Chemicals Agency website, and artists are being invited to leave their comments.

My cadmium collection

I don't have any particular preference on brand.
Just the right colour and consistency for the job.

So, with this in mind, and following on from the recent post Paints with Added Oomph on the joys of trying out new paints, and with the potential disappearance of cadmium yellow and cadmium red from my palette, I have been researching some alternatives. First stop for valuable info was the Handprint website. Always a great source of technical information, they have dedicated wepages for a whole plethora of yellow and red paints and pigments, and it was surprise to see which colours were deemed worthy and more surprising to see which ones were not. You can also find out how to choose the right paints for you with their 5 step approach.

Hmm, finding that perfect middle

So, I started with yellow. Cadmium yellows tend to be semi-opaque rather than transparent, with different opacity levels across the manufacturers and main brands. As a first alternative, I have discovered that Hansa Yellow is considered by many to be 'the perfect yellow', being more transparent than cadmium and therefore a worthy contender. Hansa yellows do have variable lightfastness qualities across the main brands, but are considered highly useful for their transparency, clarity and mixing qualities. I don't have a this one yet, but to me, some of the choices look more lemony than a mid or primary yellow. Although, Hansa Yellow Deep ,(this link is for Daniel Smith) is a closer match, and one I would try. Perhaps you have this one already.

My current yellows

Both Daniel Smith and M. Graham make an Azo Yellow, which I hadn't heard of before. It is also considered by many to be a very good primary or mid range yellow, with a bright, clear appearance, and is a form of modern Aureolin. Aureolin in it's old guise, (along with Alizarin Crimson) has been superseded by modern chemical technology and newer product ranges. I found Aureolin to be bit on the greenish side for me, and although I have some, I rarely use it. I must admit that I like the look of the Azo Yellow, which has a nice sunny, bright, middle yellow appearance. Winsor and Newton's Winsor Yellow also appears to me to have a good primary basis with a clean, bright appeal with good transparency. So, there's a couple more to try out.

A new find for me has been the Daniel Smith Quinacridone Gold. Lots of friends have highly recommended this one, especially for mixing fabulous greens, and they were right, See the picture of my family group below and also my post, Paints with Added Oomph for the happy trials. So it's a keeper if a little more on the brown side of yellow, so not a substitute for cadmium yellow.

Of course, all paint manufacturers are reliant on certain pigments and ingredients being made available to them, and recently some pigments were discontinued, especially those used in Gamboge which ran out in 2012, and chrome yellows, it would appear have been discontinued. Of course, it is always a necessity to update the palette as chemistry progresses and we learn more about the ingredients we use.

My current reds

Now for the reds, and a slight digression first. Good old Alizarin Crimson, (yes that one again) has problems with lightfastness and newer, better, more stable alternatives are out there. I do have Alizarin Crimson, but have found myself using it less these days. A surprising alternative has been suggested. I adore Perylene Maroon, it's rich, transparent and highly staining, but I have never considered it as a replacement for Alizarin Crimson, as it is more brown, and well, maroon. Whereas alizarin is a much cooler crimson. However, I have noticed that I use my perylene more often, and it's a good mixer with blues to create reds in the cooler spectrum. Bruce MacEvoy at Handprint would appear to agree with me and endorses Preylene Maroon as a fine substitute. Bye bye Aliz'?

"...I think the affection many painters feel for alizarin crimson actually has to do with its dullness rather than its intensity, as alizarin can mix glowing, flexible flesh tones, dusky violets and silky near blacks; these painters often feel the quinacridones are too strident and bluish. For them a two paint substitution may be more desirable. I highly recommend Perylene Maroon as the best substitute for Alizarin Crimson"
                                                                                                  Bruce MacEvoy 

Alizarin and Perylene Maroon, along with Carmine.

But what about that Cadmium Red? Well, cadmium reds, like the yellows are semi-opaque, are gorgeous no doubt about it, and universally popular as there are few to match their warmth, quality, clarity and staining properties. Winsor and Newton Cadmium Red and Cadmium Red Deep are my current favourites, being reliable and rich both in mixes and on their own. Quinacridone reds are considered good middle reds, equivalent to a cadmium red medium or Pyrrol red, and I have found it to be a lighter, less intense red that is excellent in creating a superb range of purples and oranges when used in mixes. It is also quite lovely as a glaze or colour on it's own. It is also less staining than cadmium, with a greater transparency.

Pyrrole Red appears to be the colour that is being heralded by manufacturers and users as a potential match for Cadmium Red, it being less polluting, but with the intense, staining pigment so evocative of the cadmium reds. These reds are also highly recommended due to their consistency in hue, saturation and texture, although it's reported that they can be much brighter and tricky to tone down. others have suggested they actually have a dulling effect. Currently, I don't have a Pyrrol Red amongst the collection, but I would definitely like to trial one or two myself to see how it compares with my favourite cadmiums.  

The family group.

Of course, we all have our beloved yellows and reds, (perhaps you already have some of those suggested) and although not cadmium substitutes, I am happy to know that not only is my favourite Perylene Maroon a valuable choice, (and I have introduced a few new converts to the cause), but also my invaluable Schmincke Translucent Yellow, (along with Winsor and Newton Transparent Yellow and Daniel Smith Nickel Azo Yellow Dark) is amongst the most transparent yellow formulations available and therefore extremely versatile. Fantastic in glazes over greens and equally superb in mixes, I wouldn't be without mine, and have just discovered the equally amazing value of the Translucent Orange by Schmincke too.

And in case you needed any more of an endorsement to give these a go, here's the advice from Bruce MacEvoy over at Handprint again,

"PY150, (the pigment C.I name for these colours) seems to me to be a superb botanical yellow. Applied full strength, it is a yellow just on the border of brown, and makes a beautiful series of vegetable yellows, oranges and reds when mixed with a dull red or dark red violet paint. Mixed with a phthalo green, nickel azo yellow creates beautifully varied, natural yellow greens resembling the color of spring leaves and new lawns. And in tints it is a gentle floral yellow, close in hue to aureolin, the hue of many varieties of flowers. Overall, I strongly recommend you try it."
                                                                                                  Bruce MacEvoy

Others in this PY150 group also include: M.Graham Nickel Azo Yellow and Nickel Quinacridone Gold, Winsor and Newton Quinacridone Gold (hue) and Rembrandt Gamboge (hue).

Thankfully crushed beetles, clay and even cattle urine, ( for over a century, it was believed that the commonly used Indian Yellow pigment was created from the urine of cattle in India, that were fed only mango leaves and water. Allegedly, the dried urine was collected and formed into balls of pigment. This is a bit of an 'urban legend' with no real evidence. But thankfully, Indian Yellow is now made using a combination of nickel aso, hansa yellow and quinacridone burnt orange) are giving way to man made chemical compounds, to give us newer, safer, (and in some cases more fragrant) colours.

So, although Cadmium is in the current firing line, there are alternatives and good substitutes out there that may just become new favourites. Let's not get stressed here, just give them a go, ask friends for recommendations, (they are a great source of info), or you may already be a convert. Just see which ones are most useful for you. The choice is yours, (or mine, as I am off to get some more for the collection and will report back on my findings soon). 

Useful Links

Handprint: Red Watercolours - for all the technical information on the colours mentioned

Friday, 6 June 2014

Tactical Tracings

Now, I may have discussed this at some point before, but I like to use tracings in my work. Using drawing paper first, to work through accurate drawings of subjects, allows me to make as many messy scribbles and rubbings out as I like. Then I can trace the drawings separately, and move the composition around until I have something I am happy with.

Two of the tracings I have made for compositions.  

Tried and trusted
My lovely, bright Rotring inks.

The calligraphy Art Pens by Rotring.
These ones are quite old now
and the newer sets are different.

Lastly, my ancient Rotring technical pens.
In my view, never bettered.

But what do you do, if you've done all that, finished the painting and suddenly notice a gaping hole or need to add another element that you needed to wait for? well, tracings come in very handy here too. In my most recent pieces, I used loads of tracings of my drawings to get the most pleasing composition, so was confident that adding something afterwards would still work out okay.

First up was to add a sprig of brambles to my 'Blackberry D' for ISBAs Alphabet. The painting was finished but I was asked to add the fruits. Obvious really, but at the time I was feeling pretty grim (another op) and decided to take the easiest route. Draw, trace, transfer, paint. I didn't want to get it wrong at this stage.

All finished.
or so I thought. 

Tracing the blackberries for the 'Blackberry D'

I used the tracing rather than the painting to find the best position.
Maybe here...
...or here?
The finished brambles.

Fine details are painted on,
but a tracing certainly helps with locating things on the page.

And how it looks in the catalogue.

Alas I didn't have time to take a photo of the original before
it went to Ireland.

All in all, I'm quite happy with it. 

Another painting that needed 'a little something extra' was 'The Green Belt', see also New Painting from Old, Celebrate your Curves and Tracing v Lightbox for more traceability. The feather was to fill a gaping hole that I hadn't spotted, but once the painting was complete, looked very obvious. Again, a quick tracing of my drawing was used to locate where on the piece to place it. Snagged and hanging off a thorn right in the middle, looked most pleasing for this one. An outline tracing was all that was needed to locate the feather, the details filled in later.

A quick outline tracing of a small feather was placed in
a gaping hole, to see how it would fit. 

Very lightly drawn on.
The tracing was only used for placement,
the feather was drawn free-hand.

Lightly painted, the finished feather.

Another really good reason to work using a tracing is that if anything should go horribly wrong during a painting, you don't have to redraw the whole thing from scratch. Believe me, this aspect of it can really save an awful lot of time and heartache.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Casting my Wider Web

Whilst awaiting the arrival of the next sketchbook in the exchange, I have been busy updating some of the tech on the website. Being your own 'Webmaster' can be a daunting prospect, but if you want something done, do it yourself. So, this time I have been mucking about with getting a Facebook 'Like Box' on the website. Don't ask me, it's all about social plugins and HTML code and all sorts of geeky sounding stuff, but at least I had a step-by-step guide on which buttons to press and when to press them. Success, you can now view (and Like) the Sketchbook Squirrel Facebook page and keep up with updates on the News and Exhibitions page of the website. 

Of course, what it's really all about is painting. Since the little sketch of the pine seeds, not much painterly activity has been going on, apart from the recent colour charts. But plans are already afoot for next year's exhibitions with ideas and schemes coming into focus. I'm really looking forward to getting some of these things started.

Sadly, I was unable to submit pieces for the Bloom and Claregalway Castle exhibitions in Ireland this summer, but there are some wonderful opportunities coming up later this year that I am looking forward to taking part in, (more on that later). So, although we have a slight hiatus to get over, the brushes are on standby but the research is already under way. Ah, now that reminds me once more of my 10 challenges (remember those). So far I've got up to number 7 with Five Challenges and Enjoy What You Do  , now it's time for one more, and rather apt it is too.

What's in the sketchbook?
A typical page of
notes, sketches, cards, postcards,
and work by inspiring artists.  

8. Keep a Sketchbook. Following on from fieldwork, keeping a sketchbook is so much more than sketches and drawings, it's almost like an extension of the thought process. In my sketchbook, I leave notes to myself, sketch out thumbnails, make colour notes, write out snippets of quotes, poetry and even write friend's email addresses and stick postcards and the odd train or exhibition ticket in too. The one thing I am not good at, is carrying a sketchbook about with me, although this time I did take it to hospital with me, so I could allow my brain to rest and pause into the familiar. So this will be my challenge here, to make sure I have a small sketchbook with me at all times.

There's no excuse really with this many sketchbooks