Monday, 29 September 2014

Autumn, the Second Spring?

The quote I used in my last blog post got me thinking about how to look at autumn colour. Art for me is all about how we see things and how we can interpret the beauty of nature in the way that please us most. Fresh flowers are a joy to me, in their colour, fragrance and infinite variety of shape and size. Filling the house or studio with flowers is an absolute must, but what about their leaves.

In autumn, there are some beautiful flowers, such as Dahlias and Fuchsia flowers, but the real pizazz comes in the flaming blaze that trees provide as their last hurrah before dozing off to sleep for the winter. So, is every leaf a flower? It was time to take closer look.

From, 'The True Facts of Nature' by Rory McEwen
Crispness and colour of the season beautifully captured

    "Art is the right hand of Nature. The latter has only given us being, the former has made us men."

Friedrich Schiller

This scanned image of a leaf from earlier in September, really sums up how autumn colour really is in a league of it's own. The lush, green of spring and summer has drained completely, but replacing it, are the flame reds, oranges and rust browns that will herald the end of the leaf's lifespan. As Keats puts it, "Season of mists and mellow fruitfullness,"... (To Autumn)  

The ultimate colours of autumn

As autumn approaches, 
trees begin to break down the green chlorophyll in their leaves 
and redistribute the nutrients contained there to their trunk and roots. 
This keeps them going throughout the winter, when sunlight is sparse.

Other deciduous leaves that offer a fine display of autumn colour include the stunning Acers, Maples, oaks, (the east coast states of the USA especially, are famous for their 'Fall')

Autumn in New Hampshire.
The East coast of the USA 
is known for being host to some of the most colourful autumns in the world,
Which New England, 
among other locations along the East Coast, are famous for.
Image c/o Wikimedia 

Nandina domestica 'Firepower'
The heavenly bamboo has leaves that turn a fiery red
as autumn approaches.

Native to eastern Asia from the Himalayas to Japan.

This one still has plenty of green towards the centre of the leaf  

Yellows, golds and flashes of red are so
typical of the autumn colour that can be seen
on deciduous leaves in autumn.

Some research suggests that the redder the leaf,
the poorer the soil it grows on,
and the more the tree will try to recover it's nutrients
from it's leaves.

Nandina domestica again.

This leaf has lots of autumn colour with little to no green left 

 "It was October, and the air was cool and sharp, woodsmoke and damp moss exquisitely mingled in it with the subtle odours of the pines."

Algernon Blackwood, Secret Worship

Some of the autumn leaves from the garden 

Elsewhere, I have been putting together my latest small works, just to see how they go together as a display. And do you know, I'm actually quite chuffed.

Iris, Clematis and Dahlia.

Ah yes, but what about that artichoke? Well, as I was leafing through my precious and amazing copy of the Rory McEwen book, Colours of Reality, I was struck by an amazing painting he completed of an artichoke. Take a look at this, no pressure then. If I could paint half as good as this, I'd be pleased. 

Oh my.
Artichoke by Rory McEwen

The above link takes you straight to the estate website with loads of images from the
Rory McEwen collection 

Drum roll please...the winner of Sketchbook Squirrel's first prize draw is...Gillian G. Well done to Gillian and many thanks to all of you who took part.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

In the Garden, Taking Photos

Now to get back to business as usual. We can't have too much of a good thing, and now that the giddy excitement has subsided for now, it's time to get back to getting some work done and tying up loose ends. The newsletter has gone down really well, with loads of new subscribers. Thank you if you have signed up. And tomorrow is the day I will be finding the winner for my giveaway. 

I have also been stocking the garden with some little extras for the Autumn season, and now the Equinox has passed, change is in the air. Echinaceas are a good standby for a flower study, and are great for bees too. The one I picked up is 'Little Magnus' a gorgeous purple/pink variety with an orange/red cone. Added to the mix are perennial fuschias, that seem to go on forever, Japanese Anemone and sedum, (just 'cos I love 'em). This lot will come in handy for my next classes.

Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower

Albert Camus

Getting into the autumn mood, I have been out in the garden foraging for seed heads and interesting leaves too. Colour and shape really does come into it's own at this time of year, with beautiful, architectural skeletons and husks appearing everywhere.

Here are just a few I picked up. I particularly like the Exochorda fruits, as these look a bit like star anise. Really pretty.

Foraging for autumn subjects.
L - R Nigella, Allium and Exochorda seed heads

Picked this leaf up whilst visiting Florum recently. Taking a scan of it was initially to capture the colours, but it came out really well, and I might practice painting from it.

A scan of a beautiful cherry leaf.

And my finished Dahlia 

By preparing for workshops and classes, I have been looking into how I use photos to gain information and assist with composition. It's interesting, as many consider the use of photos in botanical art to be a bit of a no-no and somehow like cheating. My view, is to go with the way that is best for you, although if working commercially, there will be times when a completely out of season subject will be needed. Such as daffodils in high summer.

But how to take a good picture to work from? For me, you can use a phone, tablet or old-school camera, just as long as you can get good, quality images. it also needs to be a bright, but not too sunny day. That way harsh shadows are eliminated.

Using a white piece of paper behind the subject, also gives the best portrayal of the colours. here are some practice shots of the Echinacea:

A nice angle, although with the brighter light, some harsh shadows are cast.

Care needs to be taken to ensure sharp focus in the right place.
Here, the camera selected the two nearest petals to focus,
the rest of the flower is slightly fuzzy.
This one would have made for a nice composition, so I might take it again

The two nearest petals create some obscurity.
So for me, not a pleasing composition

Ah, now this is quite a nice one.

And what about a bigger, greener subject. Well, how about that Artichoke I have been nurturing.

My Artichoke is begging for me to paint it.
But it looks so lovely in the border, I don't want to cut it. 

With a bit of jiggery-pokery, I might not need to.
the highlights and colours seem so much more vivid
with the inclusion of a white background.
But how big is it?

Oh now then.
This is looking rather handsome

Of course, this is only part of the job. As questioned above, it's a good idea to take measurements or to get a small ruler into the photos, to get the size right. This helps keep the proportions accurate, as is so vital in botanical illustration. Colour noted in your sketchbook, quickly roughed out at the same time as getting your photo evidence, also ensures an accurate record.

Getting a good shot of the clematis petal

And with the ruler

It's a good habit to get into, and once you get a good eye for taking a useful photo, you'll be away. It's not always possible to either work in the field or to bring the actual subject into the studio, and that's where a good photo library comes in handy.  

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Let's Celebrate

The last few days has also seen a couple of exciting milestones here at Squirrel HQ, with 32 new subscribers to the newsletter and...drum roll please...70,000 visits here at the blog. Yes, I know, I couldn't quite believe that either. I am so excited about that, and am really chuffed that so many of you seem to enjoy my meanderings and diversions.

As you have all been so loyal, with some of you still here from the first days of Squirrel, (you are particularly gorgeous), and as as a little thank you, I will be offering a set of 5 greetings cards of Clematis 'Etoile Violette' to one lucky reader, who will be selected at random by a clever piece of software or, going old-school here, names out of a fish bowl or something. 

To enter, just pop on over to the website and enter your details in the Contact Form. That way I will get your details, and be able to email you back if you win. Just enter the word 'Enter' in the subject field before sending the form. 

Please get your forms in by Wednesday 24th Sept. Thanks to everyone for entering

Up for grabs
A set of 5 greetings cards of Clematis 'Etoile Violette'

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Fun Times and Progress

Everything seems to be moving on so quickly here at Squirrel HQ, I have barely caught my breath. Yesterday, I was teaching again and had a lovely day with a group of really enthusiastic students. The Dahlia study was a bit of a challenge for them, and for some it was their first ever time with watercolour. What brave souls you are, but I know you enjoyed yourselves, and kept me busy.

It would also seem that I have been somewhat 'promoted' to a really nice room too. The last one was a little challenging with the light, and felt a little cramp with twelve students and me. This time, I was escorted upstairs, and oh boy was I impressed. Light and airy and space to die for. The fire escape door was flung open and one whole wall was full of windows. Perfect. So a great big thank you to The Spring for being so lovely by letting me have this wonderful space to teach in. 

After demonstrating lots of tips, tricks and techniques,
I didn't get a chance to work on this one much more.

Still, it's all about sharing knowledge.
And these days are the best

The feedback is always so inspiring for me, and I love reading the comments that are left for me at the end of the day. So far so good, I haven't had a bad one yet. Feedback is also valuable to find out what you are doing right as a tutor, but more importantly, what you can improve. After all, it's the students day, and I want them to get the absolute best out of their time with me, so I read every one and use their comments to reflect. Again, this has been mostly positive, with bookings already filling up for my next ones. So I am a happy bunny.

Some very happy customers

Oh and a few more.
You lovely lot

Elsewhere, the Studio Days are now up and running for the Autumn, with groups of up to four students being able to come to Squirrel HQ for a fun day of painting. Dates are already being booked up for October, with lots of lovely themes and ideas to get the most out of the day. The studio still has a little fine tuning here and there, but I am sure it won't be a building site on the day. For available dates and booking, follow this link to the website or see below.

Here's the flyer I hand out
Just to give you an idea

Also, you may have noticed the little addition in the right hand margin on the blog. Yes, it's a Newsletter subscription form. The new Squirrel Newsletter, or Squirrel Archives (I'm undecided) is my newest addition, and although I am excited to be able to share exclusive snippets and sneaky peaks, I won't bombard you with naff, This will be a seasonal publication, with info on workshops, exhibitions and all the latest from Squirrel HQ, including a few little surprises and exclusive offers for subscribers.   

As you can tell, the clematis is my favourite just now, and I am using it everywhere.    


Friday, 12 September 2014

Heading to Florum

Yesterday I went off on my merry travels again on a grand day out to Kent. Sarah, my good friend at The Natural Year and I took ourselves off, to take a look at the much anticipated annual Florum Exhibition , at The Wildlife Trust's Sevenoaks Nature Reserve. Neither of us had ever been before, so we were very keen to see the range of artworks on display.

The journey from Hampshire was surprisingly easy, and of course the time passed extremely quickly as we talked and laughed our way there. So much so that we nearly missed the instructions being given by the Sat Nav. Oops, we must pay attention or she will tell us off.

On the cover
One of the colour pencil pieces by Katherine Tyrrell

What it's all about

Still, once safely arrived, we headed straight for the exhibition, (I didn't take any pictures in the exhibition). It was so good to see that some of the more well known artists had a good number of pieces dotted about and hanging next to some of the newer artists. Styles where extremely varied, with modernistic approaches being applied in silk screen printing alongside the more formal botanical illustrations. The two smallish rooms where very well filled, although the juxtaposition of the taxidermy backdrop from the nature reserve collections was a bit strange. There was a great opportunity to see the RHS medal winning Hydrangea paintings from Gael Sellwood, amongst other medal winning artists. Although, it was a pity to see some of the more stunning paintings tucked away in corners or hung a bit too low to appreciate.    

Other well known artists exhibiting this year included Susan Christopher-Coulson, Sandra Wall-Armitage, Christina Hart-Davies and Billy Showell. Billy was on duty, engaging with the visitors and taking lots of questions. She really is a wonderful 'people person'. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get a chance to chat to Billy, but we did get a good long look at her latest pieces. Also exhibiting this year was Katherine Tyrrell from Making a Mark, with her colour pencil pieces depicting cacti in close up really looking wonderful. With so many lovelies to choose from, I just couldn't pick a favourite. 

The series that really caught my eye though was a set of square paintings in Gouache by Wendy Cranston, (who sadly died earlier this year). These paintings reminded me of those stunning hand painted Art Noveau tiles that fetch a fortune. Beautifully executed in stunning jewel colours, the bloom and shine of the fruit and vegetable studies were quite amazing.           

Alas, the on site cafe was closed up, so there was nowhere to get something to eat without leaving the reserve. That was shame as I think we would have taken more time to enjoy the reserve after lunch. The one time, we hadn't brought our own, and one to remember next time. Still, there was a fabulous little garden with loads of great berries and seed heads in full force. This quiet little oasis was a lovely surprise, and we both took loads of photos and a couple of 'treasures' to study later.

Lots of inspiration both inside and out has given me plenty of new ideas for my own work. Another lovely day and more to think about. 

Guelder rose berries

Crab apples

Beautifully fragrant hops
(well it was Kent)

Spindle berries
These were the most stunning magenta pink

A stunning leaf showing it's Autumn wardrobe

And finally...

Next year, the RHS show should be a cracking date for the diary


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A Fleeting Visit

Just a quick share of the finished clematis painting, 'About Turn' (in case you missed it elsewhere) as this week, I am busily tied up getting my little painting of a dahlia flower finished in time for my workshop next Monday. So happy to be working in such a gloriously rich pink. And it may just be another flower painting fit for framing. 

Working from a photo again.
No wilting and no changes in light make this a good option for beginners I have found.

Choosing the colours.
So far, Lemon Yellow, Indanthrene Blue, Permanent Rose,
Perylene Maroon and even the daring Opera Rose,
have found there way into the selection.

The little cards just peeking in on the left will be the colour charts for the students. 

Couldn't resist going for this one.

So much going for it as a subject for a workshop.
great colour, great shape, great tones.

Nature always wears the colors of the spirit.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson-

Also, I will be off on a wonderfully jolly day trip this week to see the much anticipated Florum exhibition in Kent. So, keep tuned, I will have loads to share with you all soon.

Really happy with this little painting.
And it should look quite nice in a substantial mount and a deep frame.

The scanner only picked up a few of the colours, so appears
a bit washed out.

Quite like the effect though.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

A Framing Faux pas?

My first foray into the world of mounts and framing was a somewhat terrifying experience. Some of you may have read my post on the subject last year, see 'What Colour do You Call That?' where I got a little lost in the terminology and choice. Well, times have moved on.    

A couple of months ago I read a really informative post on framing. Billy Showell, who some of you will know, is one of the leading artists in the field of contemporary botanical art, gave a great summary of some of her favourite, (and not so favourite) framing choices at this year's SBA exhibition. Having just completed a couple of nice little pieces, I wanted to change my style of framing a bit, so decided to take her views on board.

My old style of frame and mount.

A natural wood frame with a cream driftwood finish and cream mount board.

It's quite nice but also quite safe, and somewhat 'pedestrian'.
(my terms for okay, but you're not wowing me darling)

In other words, if it doesn't light my fire, how will I expect it to light up anyone else.
A little framing faux pas methinks.

In her post June Pinterest and Framing, Billy suggested that paying attention to the latest trends and choices made by art buyers was probably a good starting point, as they are the ones hanging our work on their walls. A good framer, who frames lots of different styles will also have their finger on the pulse and will be able to advise. Selecting frames and mounts for your own home is very different, and at the end of the day, you want your work to sell. Friends and fellow artists can be good sounding boards too. They will really tell you if something looks awful. 

Clean and polished presentation was another important point to note, as quality always shows and adds real value to a piece, (remember, the price of your work should reflect this). Poorly cut mounts and damaged frames do not go down well, so again getting a good framer is a must.

Whites, creams and neutrals are all popular just now, and looking at some of Billy's own selection from the exhibition this would certainly seem to back this up. Box mounts, slips and double mounting all made an appearance, so there is plenty to choose from out there, to make your work ooze glamour.

So first up, is the moulding.

The classic whites and creams.

And then the mount boards.

whites and creams, (again)

The sheer volume of choice of mount board colours is truly extraordinary. Here I have got my hands on a full set of Arqadia conservation grade mount boards, and in the whites and creams alone there are over 30 colours to choose from. With names that again appear to have come straight from the minds of those folk at Farrow and Ball, you can choose from the exquisitely named Rain Shimmer, Minuet, Alabaster and my favourite, the delicious Chocolate Sunrise. There are all manner of whites too, including Cloud, Snow and Star White. 

And if these aren't quite your thing...

... you've got the rest of the range to choose from

 So, how do they look then?

The Iris seed pods with Star White 

And again with Rain Shimmer (1400 micron)

Some of the boards have a lovely shimmery texture to them
that gives a nice contrast 

A shortlist of some of my favourites.
All 1400 micron

To demonstrate that all whites are not quite the same, I put some of my favourites together and it really showed up just how much of a contrast there can be between them. Oh my, I love them all.

'About Turn'
With Minuet and Star White

Trying out some of the simple mouldings.

The one on the right has a gentle slope and a white washed finish.
A silver slip or deeper, double mount might go well too.

So, thanks to Billy for a very informative post and for getting us all talking about framing. Expect glamorous and gorgeous frames in the exhibition next year then. Let's hope so, I know I have a few surprises left up my sleeve.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Purple Leads the Way

As you know, I have been working on a particularly purple clematis over the last few days, and I am so happy that it's nearly finished. In the last post, Back to Back I left you with just the first few stages, with the stem and stamens finished, and the petals under way.

Working with only the transparent colours in my palette has been a complete revelation to my painting, giving vibrant mixes with true translucency. It's lovely to see the warmth and depth of every layer shining through, giving a wonderfully complex finish to the overall appearance. 

First washes on and starting to work the finer details with a darker mix.
Remembering to keep the highlights and veining.

Pulling the wet wash out with the brush to create ripples and movement.  

Darker colour mix of Indanthrene Blue and Permanent Rose
is pulled gently out to the edge of the petal with a dryish brush.
A dry brush with a dark mix is used to apply the finest lines and darker veining.

I love adding these characteristic bits, and generally leave these 'till last.

The first petal.
I sometimes go back once the piece is complete,
to add details and ensure a coherent finish

Towards the base of the petal, the colours are kept light,
with a little Cobalt in the purple mix to cool things down.

Once the first petal is finished, the rest are completed in the same way. Wet washes of colour are laid first and allowed to dry completely before any details are added. darker mixes and dry brush are used to add details and deepen the colours and washes further. Many layers can be applied to carefully build up to the deepest tones.

Working the second petal in the same way as the first.
The fine lines are carefully applied with a dry brush and the dark mix,
towards the end of the work.

A very light, greyish colour of Indanthrene Blue and Anthraquinoid Red,
with a little Lemon Yellow
is used at the base of the petals where they appear whiter.

A clean water glaze brushed carefully over the dry details
soften the overall appearance.

I always leave work for a while and go and do something else.
Then I come back and have a closer look.

Often, there is some adjustment needed.

Onto number three.

This one will mostly be paler to suggest the receding petal.
An under wash that is bluer than the petal itself
cools the painting, and recedes the petal further.

As the flower is tilting away from the viewer,
the tip of the mower petals are actually closer to us,
so will appear darker still. 

Nearly there.
The photo has given a bit of an odd perspective here, but you get the idea.

The finer details are starting to appear,
with the main vein being a focus for the lightest and darkest areas.

As the flower has a distinct tilt away from the viewer,
it will be important for me to ensure the right areas are receding
 and coming forward.

Temperature can be really important, and washes of warm and cool colours
can really help. Warm colours always appear nearer than cool ones.

Lemon Yellow, Schmincke Trasnparent Yellow and Orange,
and cool and warm blues can all adjust temperature where it's needed.