Friday, 31 October 2014

Opening Day

Well it's happened. Squirrel HQ is now well and truly open for business. On Thursday 30th october, and with very little ceremony, (alas Sir David Attenborough couldn't attend to cut the ribbon, ha ha) my first students came for a day of painting. of course, I did bake a sumptuous cake and there was plenty of celebratory tea to go round.

As always, there was plenty of laughter to go with the tuition, and although leaves with nibbly holes and imperfections seemed a little daunting, the little tricks I employ to help me get the job done, certainly helped the students get to grips with a tricky subject. By the end of the day, it was all smiles and an enormous sense of achievement, (for me as much as for the students). I was so delighted with their efforts and with how Squirrel HQ held her own on the first onslaught. By the end of the day, I was exhausted and couldn't quite believe that I really had done it. Ah, there's even some cake left.

Life is so much better with cake
To really push the boat out, I made a carrot cake
(for me a small slice and a few miles on the running machine afterwards)
All set up at my 'new' desk
So luxurious to have an old school oak desk to spread out on

A small demonstration study of a smoke bush leaf

I love having bits and bobs about the place.
Here, my dried out Allium seed head looks like a huge firework 

Feathers, seeds and other finds

And finally...

The smallest squash I have ever grown.
Pumpkin 'Munchkin' and Butternut Squash that should have been huge


Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Inspiring Times

With Delia almost done, it's time to start thinking about what to paint next. To be honest, I am still thinking of all the wonderful inspiration from the RHS Shades of Autumn Show last week, and can't quite make my mind up what subject to do first. You know how it is, there are so many ideas crashing about in your head, and you can't quite settle on one. So with fuchsias, anemone, cyclamen and leaves aplenty, this may take some time. Earlier this week, I described this as being something of a 'crisis of creativity. Like a storm brewing, it cannot be avoided'. 

Well, it'll pass in a day or two, and once I have done a few thumbnail sketches of this and that, something will grab me. Of course, the garden is heading to that time of year where it's a bit spartan and bare, but there are still the lovely berries, seed heads and colourful leaves to enjoy. Someone once said to me, there is always something to paint, (even if it means popping to the shops).

So, once Delia is done, I'll be off again.

Working on the middle of the dahlia.
Using a fairly strong mix of Perylene Maroon, Indanthrene Blue
and just a touch of Lemon, the greyish colour works quite well.

Anthraquinoid Red also worked in this mix, (instead of the maroon)
for the cooler areas.
Many layers were needed to build up the right depth. 

Nearly there

This week at Squirrel HQ sees the first of my garden studio workshops getting under way. Really can't wait to have people in my own little haven, all chatting, discussing and of course producing botanical art. I must admit to being a little nervous too, as this will be the first time, I have invited students to my home. It feels rather like a royal visit, with the amount of tidying, cleaning and re-cleaning. I'm okay with 'Tumbledown Towers', but what will they make of it. Crikey! The revival is nearly complete. Should be loads of fun, and of course I will be baking one of my carrot cakes too, (cake hides a multitude of sins I have discovered).

I've even re-potted the baskets,
with lovely autumn stuff

And now we have a light,
 to stop me from tripping up the step in the dark evenings.  

Is it okay to get excited over laminate?
Well I do, and it's great to have a proper floor at last.

The coat hook was a great find from Graham & Green
Table and chairs from Ikea, as is the hanging birdcage, (there's another one at the other end too).
(I used car spray paint to give the birds a subtle blue colour rather than the bright yellow they come in)

Next up, shelves, some of my work on the walls and a home for all of my reference books.
Oh, and a proper ceiling too.

This time of year is so special as there is a sense of ending, but also the last flush of surprise colour before the winter sets in. These last few days have been gloriously warm, and it looks like we might continue to be lucky into the weekend.

Clearing out the corner flower bed of faded Cosmos, I found what remains of my gorgeously regal artichoke. The spot had become something of a mad tangle of flowers and seed heads, and things had got hidden away. Even now, as it decays, there is something stunningly beautiful about an artichoke. Contrasting with the youthful vibrancy of the cyclamen, it sums up the season perfectly. Well Archie, I'll be back to paint you next year, as will you.

A little bowl of cyclamen to welcome my students and give a bit of colour to a water butt.
Also, my lovely artichoke, the last of the lavender
and a cyclamen seed pod.

Stately until the very end. 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Something to Shout About

Well now, what a fun day I had on Wednesday. Heading off to the RHS Autumn show with my good friend Sarah always promises fun and laughter, and I wasn't disappointed. Of course, with so much to see and friends to catch up with, I always forget to take any pictures, (sorry about that). Must get better at that part.

After a disastrous train journey, (yes Southern Railways I blame you) we decided to get a spot of lunch before heading into the Lindley Halls. Thus fortified, we headed on in. The autumn display of botanical art was quite a bit less than for the spring exhibition, with only 12 exhibitors this time around. With the hall being shared with other floral displays, including the huge arrangements below, there was something for everyone. Still, this didn't distract from the quality of the art, with three of the displays being awarded Gold Medals.   

Just to note here that Sarah is so much more organised than me at these things, and got some photos. Well done.

The enormous Gladioli pom-pom was quite magnificent.
Like a huge firework

Here I am with, (from L to R) Sarah, me, artist Julia Trickey with her wonderful tulips, and Mary Dillon.
It seems like a really good time to make a confession and to come clean about certain plans that are afoot. This news was first highlighted in my recent newsletter, (next edition out soon), but I want to share it with you lovely readers here. Earlier this year, (in June) I submitted four of my completed works to the RHS Picture Committee, hoping to be selected to exhibit with them myself at a future show. It was indeed a nerve-wracking wait for the news, but I am honoured and delighted to tell you that I was successful in my application.

This news means that I now have to come up with a series of paintings worthy of display in the Lindley Hall, alongside many accomplished artists from all over the world. After seeing Julia Trickey's absolutely stunning tulips, I feel quite daunted, but determined. Now, to work.

But first, here's the latest update on Delia

Still a bit slow going, but with some more sepals under way, and the stem nearly there,
the end is in sight.

Just that rather tricky middle again.  


Monday, 20 October 2014

Carpe diem

After such a strong start, I had hoped to get the back of the dahlia finished in just a week, but so far it has taken nearly three. It always amazes me how some of my fellow artists seem to be able to create a perfect masterpiece on a weekly, or even daily basis, (oh, how I envy just a little those who can complete the daily painting challenges) whilst I, a mere mortal take a bit longer. Well, okay, I'm being ungenerous there as of course, it's never that simple. But it does sometimes feel like a piece is not moving forward quickly enough, or getting near the end. Like a painting merry-go-round, that seems to go on forever, (well, a week longer than it should at least). Oh, life seemed so much easier as a teacher. Er, on reflection, perhaps not.

carpe diem quam minimum credula postero

(Sieze the day, and put no trust in the future)

Anyway, less of the grumbling, just get on with it, and seize the day. The quicker we start, the quicker it ends. So, as we were last week, the petals were building up quite nicely with the pinks, and mid-tones, whilst some colour was also applied to the stem. The top petals are looking almost there, so now to get the bottom ones to match.  

A new colour has entered the palette with Daniel Smith's Anthraquinoid Red. I wish it wasn't such a tongue twister of a name, but it is a delicious colour. Almost as good as my beloved Perylene Maroon, and a great substitute for the rather tricky Alizarin Crimson, Anthraquinoid Red has the same vibrancy and richness of pigment that my other favourites have. The sepals in particular have benefited from this amazing colour, and I am really looking forward to putting it truly through it's paces. (Many thanks to my good friend Sarah at The Natural Year for a very generous squidge for me to practise with) 

The delicious Anthraquinoid Red and some of the mixes I am using.

I love trying out new colours, and even with loads of water added
to make the mixes run, the results are really quite pretty. 

The rich consistency and beautiful flow quality of this colour is making for very lovely washes and mixes, especially when mixed with Perylene Maroon, Permanent Rose, Indanthrene Blue, and Quinacridone Magenta. The deepest tones I will be looking to create will come into their own with this one.

Remembering to take a break now and then to take a longer view.
Don't want to over work and lose those highlights

Building up the deepest tones on the sepals.
Anthraquinoid Red and Perylene Maroon with a touch of Indanthrene

A palette of pinks

Much as I have enjoyed painting this Dahlia, I must admit to looking forward to doing something different. Well, lunch break over, back to the back.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Small is (also) Beautiful

Crikey, is it nearly November already! Where on earth has this year gone? Time is certainly pressing, and these paintings are not going to get themselves done. So, with four down, it's one more to go for the SBA 2015 exhibition. The only thing that niggles at me slightly is the fact that I am producing quite small, single flower portraits. 

Usually at these big annual shows, there is trend just now for a cornucopia of enormous paintings, depicting enlarged subjects that really make a visual impact. Now, I'm not being sniffy about this, as I really like some of these pieces, particularly enjoying the work of Rosie Sanders, (although Rosie hasn't exhibited at the SBA for a few years), Robert McNeill and Fiona Strickland. You certainly can't miss these wall-sized pieces, but how would my smaller pieces fare?

Well, that's the trick you see, because I have no idea. There is such a wide variety of subjects and sizes, but I guess, (along with the quality of your work) there must be some correlation between a successful exhibit and how, (and possibly more importantly, where) your piece is hung. The SBA always have a theme for their annual exhibition, and pieces that best reflect this are hung prominently together, in the main central exhibition space at Westminster Central Hall. This area always seems to be the busiest as there is lots of room to take in all the paintings, it's very bright and light and we always gather here in groups, for a good chat about the pieces. Last year I was just happy, (and relieved) to get all five of my pieces accepted to become an Associate Member, and didn't really tailor my work for the theme.

This year is a bit different. There is still a bit of pressure to get all five accepted for me to become a full member, but also I want to give much more consideration to the theme, 'In Pursuit of Plants'. My 'little works' certainly reflect a certain amount of 'pursuit', quite literally in respect of the iris, as 'Husband' had to go wading into a flood ditch, during an early morning raid to nab one. Well, once it's all painted, beautifully framed and submitted, it really is in the lap of the SBA picture committee gods. So, we will see.

So, onto the progress on Delia, 'The Delightful Dahlia'...(

Did you know that the Dahlia is the national flower of Mexico, or that the tubers were grown by the Aztecs as a food crop?)

Building up the layers of colour to the centre of each petal
A stronger mix of Quinacridone Magenta and Permanent Rose was used here.

Touches of Indanthrene Blue was also added to the mix where a bluer
tone was noted

"The Dahlia you brought to our isle,

Your praises for ever shall speak;

Mid gardens as sweet as your smile,

And in colour as bright as your cheek"

                               Lord Holland (in a note to his wife)

(In 1804, a new species, Dahlia sambucifolia, was successfully grown at Holland House in Kensington, possibly from specimens sent back to England from Madrid by Lady Holland)

The Dahlia Garden at Holland House in 1907
(image c/o Wikimedia)

Dahlia sambucifolia
(image c/o Wikimedia)

Dahlia coccinea
Parent of European 'single' dahlia varieties.
(image c/o Wikimedia)
Single Dahlias really are my favourites,and are so important for bees too.

Ah, I digress, back to Delia

A neutral mix of Perylene Maroon, some of the pink mix and a little
Indanthrene Blue makes a lovely, warm grey,
perfect for the base of the sepals.

Using a dry brush, the streaky look can be maintained.

The right edge of this sepal is kept quite light to note the
petal underneath

Using the ceramic tray is lovely.
The pools and puddles of colour blend easily and almost do the work for me.

Many thanks to a lovely friend for getting a few of these incredibly handy trays for me.
Palette trays can cost a small fortune in art shops,
but these (as she reliably informs me) are actually
from a home ware shop,
and are used to serve food.

A rich mix of Perylene Maroon and Permanent Rose, with
just a touch of the Indanthrene, is used for the body of the sepal.

Again a dry brush was used here to maintain the texture. 

Moving around each of the petals and sepals.
Mostly each one will be finished, before moving to complete the next.

Any adjustment to tone can be completed at the end

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Berry Nice

Gosh, what a cold snap. Autumn has arrived almost over night here, and already there has been the first ground frosts, (and the inaugural lighting of the woodburner for this season). Well, it is heading towards winter, and it's only right it should start to get a bit nippy. Of course, this also means loads of fruits and berries out in the garden and amongst the hedgerows. With the birds tucking in with a vengeance, it's time for a good forage before they scoff the lot.

My next workshop was set to focus on hips, berries and all the glorious fruits of the season, so there certainly was no shortage of variety. I really enjoy painting berries and rose hips as their colours are so vibrant and jolly, but also there is challenge in achieving the shine or bloom that gives each subject their character, and ensuring the colours don't dull. The garden, as always was a great starting point, and with the wilderness still untamed, there were still a few little surprises to be found.

Pumpkin 'Munchkin'
Tiny sized pumpkins that are delicious roasted whole,
and a great subject to paint

Loads of berries and hips collected from my garden
and from the local hedgerows

And to top off a great day of painting and tutoring, here is a selection of the students work.

I was so pleased with the results.
They all worked so hard and really came to grips with some tricky techniques.
Everyone went home happy.

Many of the ladies who came yesterday are retired and have only now found time to return to their hobbies. I was so impressed with their sheer gusto and enthusiasm, even though one or two hadn't picked up a brush for some time, or were very new to watercolour. 

Even with a good few years experience of teaching, I must admit to getting quite nervous on a tutoring day. It is so easy to overwhelm the students or give them so much to do that the confidence wanes somewhat, so I try to keep things fun with lots of one to one help to keep everyone going and happy. They all had such a super day, and even after quite a long day went away smiling. It might be tiring, but I love my job. 

So, what's next? Well, for some there is the added bonus of seedheads at Squirrel HQ and then it's onto the fireworks of autumn leaves.

Drying out nicely
The Nigella seed head from the garden, (I hadn't even planted these)
and Spindle berries I found earlier at Florum,
along with the iris and conifer seeds.

All dried out.
Alas, the iris seed heads didn't open,
so needed a little assistance to reveal their treasure.

The seeds are like little discs and really hard.
Although the wild iris is a bit of a thug, I might try germinating these. 

I love painting honeysuckle berries.
This little study is in one of the sketchbooks
for the Nature Trail Exchange.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Laying Foundations

Another quick post today, but i wanted to share the progress thus far, and some new finds. The back of, 'Delia Dahlia' is finally under way and she now has a foundation of first washes, ready for me to build on, and get all those lovely tones and highlights singing. Lots of lovely bright pinks are coming to the fore again, and for the back there is also a rosy red for the shiny sepals that will need careful mixing.

Starting with each of the petals, I laid a very light wash of palest pink, leaving out plenty of white areas for the highlights. Next came the sepals. A redder shade was mixed with Perylene added to the pink mix and laid lightly, again leaving plenty of highlight.

Lastly, the stem was roughed in. This time using some Indanthrene mixed with Perylene. Now to build up more colour and tone.

My helpful chart of violets and pinks came in useful to find a good
selection of colour mixes.
Permanent Rose, Opera Rose, Quinacrdone Magenta and Perylene Maroon
for the reds and pinks.
Indanthrene Blue and Lemon Yellow

The first washes are on.
Once these are dry, all pencil marks are removed.

And finally, you may have noticed these new layouts. Well, just for a giggle, I have been playing around with a new picture editor, and came up with some rather nice collage layouts for some of my step-by-step pieces. Always nice to introduce something new, and a change is a good as a rest. Might just introduce some of these to the newsletter, so you'll have to make sure you're signed up for your copy.

Adding the steps to the photos might be more helpful.
Would appreciate your input.
Loving or hating?

'Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. 

Art is knowing which ones to keep.'

                                                                                                Scott Adams

Ha ha, well I certainly do make mistakes.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Delia is Back!

So, it's back to Dahlia's for me this week, and with such a lovely relationship, I have named her Delia. Yes, the back of that pouty, pink madam just had to be done, and I thought seriously that it would make a nice pairing with the front view. Well, maybe I'm just a sucker for pink punishment.

So, back in the palette goes Permanent Rose, Quinacridone Magenta, Perylene Maroon, Indanthrene Blue, Lemon Yellow and the rather dangerous Opera Rose. To be honest, I just haven't cleaned out the palette yet, so it's all still there, ready and waiting.

We're ready
Some of the mixes from the first dahlia painting.

Mind you, I'm breaking out of these little palettes,
and moving on to my lovely ceramic trays. 

A somewhat limited palette

Again, I have to tackle this painting with just photo and sketchbook references to help me. The finished painting of the front of the flower may actually come in useful too, but often the back is somewhat different to the front.  

Careful measurements and accurate drawing made, it was time to put on the foundation layer, or first wash. steady does it, I don't want to lose those highlights. Lifting such a strong, and staining pink can be almost impossible, so it's best to leave plenty of white paper, and work into it later.  

Using the tablet again, (I am so liking using this).

Using sketches and measurements from when the original photos
were taken.
The colour charts and notes are also ready to hand.

The eagle-eyed amongst you, may also notice one or two of my fabric flowers.
Well, it's never too early to prepare for the festive season.
Some of these will be winging their way to friends near and far   

It would appear that I have a 'thing' for pink. Whilst searching through my photos recently, I noted just how many pink flowers I have photos of. Here's just a few I have taken just this year.

Huge clusters of deep pink roses cover our back fence

Big and blowsy
And pink!
The Hydrangea takes the stage

Rosa 'Sweet Haze'

A plethora of pink
Echinacea and Sedum

As pink as nature dare.
Spindle berries.
I know not technically flowers, but that colour!

In the border, it has to be pink
Cosmos ' Tetra Rose' and Lobellia

Even the bees, it would seem, have a passion for pink