Saturday, 29 November 2014

What's Hot and What's Not

Well, maybe it isn't as the weather just can't seem to make it's mind up. So much rain over the last few days has made the garden a bit of a soggy mess, with not too many flowers standing up to the deluge. But what is drawing, is me! Yep, it's back to the drawing board for something 'propa'. Lots of little bits and sketchbook studies have been fun to do, but the last few days I have been feeling somewhat bereft of something to get my teeth into. But first...

...what's in store? Well, after making a rather fine purchase of some delicious new colours from M.Graham and Daniel Smith, I have been itching to put them through their paces. Starting with the small study of dahlia buds last Saturday and the mistletoe this weekend, I was very impressed with the M. Graham colours, particularly the Perylene Maroon (Maroon Perylene as they call it), which is one of my personal favourite colours. The honey-based formula was lovely on the brush, had great flow qualities, with a beautifully creamy consistency, that gave a luminous, pigment-rich finish. Something else I have recently learnt about these colours is that they don't go hard. The honey maintains the usability of the paint, allowing it to be successfully re-wetted. So they will last for ages. These might very quickly become my new favourites.

M. Graham Azo Yellow, Pthalocyanine Blue and Maroon Perylene
Daniel Smith Quinacridone Gold, Anthraquinoid Red and Hansa Yellow Deep.
Winsor and Newton Indanthrene Blue 

Some of the new colours in the mixes for leaves and mistletoe 

Using the new colours in some sketchbook studies

These colours currently reside in my 'Rogues Gallery' of suspect colours
Brown Madder, Neutral Tint, Aureolin, Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Red and Cadmium Red Deep.

Just now I find myself not using these colours at all, favouring the more transparent colours.
Also, I have been trying to wean myself off the cadmium colours, and I can't say I really miss them.  

My good friend Sarah at, The Natural Year brought round her stunning studio box of colours to show me this week. A great resource, the box itself was cheap and cheerful and fitted out with custom sections for half-pans of colour. Buying the empty pans allows her to select which colours she wants in the box. Having purchased a similar box, I hope to do the same sort of thing. I will get empty half pans and refill them from my store of tube colours, keeping only the colours I need in the box. really looking forward to that little project, especially as I have had a sort out of my colours recently.

My new best friend

A get together with Sarah generally involves a fair amount of sharing, both of knowledge and kit. This time we swapped squidges of colour. Sarah was keen to give the M. Grahams a go and I was keen to try out the greens she had been discussing on her blog.

Swapping and sharing. Beautiful palette of trial colours from Sarah

The Reds: Anthraquinoid Red, Pyrrol Red, Transparent Pyrrol Orange and Perylene Scarlet

The Yellows: Sennelier Yellow Light, New Gamboge, Quinacridone Gold Deep

The Neutrals: Monte Amiata, Natural Sienna, Raw Umber and Piemontite Genuine

The Greens: Undersea Green, Green Appetite Genuine and Serpentine Genuine

All by Daniel Smith  

In the palette

Pthalocyanine Blue, Indanthrene Blue and Ultramarine
Quinacridone Gold, Sennelier Yellow Light, Scmincke transparent Yellow
Perylene Maroon, and a couple of reds that to my shame, I can't remember



Tuesday, 25 November 2014

I Heart You!

Now, some of you may know that the last few days have been 'difficult' to say the least here at Squirrel HQ. What with missing orders, a bad delivery service and a car that decided it wanted to stay put, it's all been a bit vexing. So bad was this business that even my little mistletoe that I painted last Saturday looked decidedly out of sorts.

Still, one mustn't ponder on such things, and must rise, with dignity above such outrages. So onto another little cutesy study that might look quite sweet on a Christmas card. As it has been raining and is turning rather chilly here, I decided not to venture too far, and found some ivy rambling through our front hedge.

The tiny new leaves tend to have a heart shape about them , which is quite charming, and perfect for a lively little study.

Happy to see you!

heart shaped ivy, what could be better

This time I used good old French Ultramarine mixed with Lemon Yellow to give a zippy, zesty mix as an under wash. Leaving the right side of the leaf with a little of this mix and dropping in a second colour of Cerulean with a little Lemon. 

Working in stages to bring out the yellow undertones,
whilst keeping those veins in check 

Pulling a clean, damp brush through the drying wash removes some of the colour
and maintains the lighter areas 

Several wet-in-wet washes of spring green mixes were applied and built up to offer depth to the final, darker tones. Keeping the veins light and using a clean damp brush to pull away unwanted colour, kept the study lively. In this case, a flat appearance is definitely not desirable.

Getting there.
The deepest tones are starting to build up.
Dry brush work to pick out the movement in the lightest areas, stops them looking too flat and bright.

Some tidying up is always needed at the end to tighten up edges and veins and to adjust the dry brush work here and there.

However, it is always important to allow the whole to dry before going back to it.
Impatience is the enemy of botanical watercolours.
As this is a little sketchbook preparation study, I am quite happy to leave this one as is,
and move on to another one
Hmm, maybe a really brown and crinkly leaf might make a nice subject just now. here are some trial mixes I came up with to match. It's a habit I have formed, to generally make a few trial swatches of colours and mixes before starting a new subject, to see what I will need.

Amazing what you can find on your own doorstep.
In this case, quite literally.

And finally...

 A very special present from my mum and dad.
A set of proportional dividers make the job of sizing up that much easier

So looking forward to using and treasuring these 


Saturday, 22 November 2014

Fast and Furious

Today I am awaiting the delivery of some new kit for the studio. Well, I hope I will get a delivery today, as the courier claims I haven't been in the last three days running. Hmm, are you quote sure there chaps. With a car parked on the drive and lights on, I would say that is a fair indication of someone being in. And if you can't find a house that's less than 30 miles from the depot, someone has a terrible sense of direction.

Well, rather than dwell on the tracking of my goods I decided to get on with a little prep for my next workshop. Of course there will be a festive theme for this one and nothing says Christmas quite like holly, ivy and mistletoe and making a gift for someone special is such a lovely thing to do at this time of year. So, having purchased some plain cards to show off their efforts, I think there will be plenty of hand painted cards being handed out by my students in the area this year. 

Some of the colours used today.
Indanthrene Blue, Quinacridone Gold
Sennelier Yellow Light, French Ultramarine and Light Red.
Some Lemon Yellow here and there also went into the mixes.

Moving a tracing around to get the best position

Testing some of the possible mixes

Wet-in-wet washes for the leaves

Getting the first wash on the stem

Greeny greys are perfect for the berries

Finishing touches with golden tones here and there
Deeper greens to the leaves and berries
and little brown touches for the tops of the berries

This little sketch took only 15 minutes, as I wanted to test the timing of this one for use as a demo in my next workshop 

Unfortunately I can clearly see some errors on this little sketch. It just goes to show that you cannot do good work when you are upset, and almost incandescent with rage over incompetent companies who cannot get the simplest things done. 

Saturday, 15 November 2014

New Paints and New Plans

First may I say a great big thank you to all of you who have sent me messages on and about the last post I wrote, Monday? It Must be Leaves. It is so heart warming for me to hear how my step-by-steps and tips have encouraged and given confidence to others. The feedback you have given me has, in turn given me great confidence and I now feel it's time to disclose my latest venture.

In the new year I am planning some online subscription tutorials, with videos and real-time classes, giving loads of step-by-step advice and tips on a range of botanical watercolour subjects. For each of the projects, I will take you through materials and equipment, then onto each stage, from drawing to painting, and finally onto finishing techniques to complete your piece, along with any troubleshooting tips. Of course, the blog won't miss out, and there will still be plenty here, but with the tutorials I will be able to go into greater depth.

If you think this might be for you, please do leave a comment or send me a message. I'd love to know what you think.

'It is the supreme art of the teacher 

to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.'

Well, I certainly hope I can do that, even a little bit, and do Albert proud. So, just to get in the mood, here's a little step-by-step to a small sketchbook study of Dahlia buds I completed today for the Nature Trail Sketchbook Exchange, using my lovely new M. Graham watercolours that arrived in the post this morning.

Here's the finished bud
(it's really very tiny, so I have enlarged quite a bit here)

Now onto the steps

Laying a first wet-in-wet wash of Perylene Maroon and a touch of
Indanthrene Blue

Dropping in a touch of green
made with Lemon Yellow and Indanthrene Blue
Allowing the two colours to blend a little

Using dry brush and a stronger mix of Perylene Maroon
and Indanthrene.
The stem is also taking shape

Sepals with a light wash of Azo Yellow and Ultramarine,
extra colour dropped in.

A little of the red mix is added to the sepals
Further dry brush used on the bud and stem

Extra definition to the edge of the sepals to sharpen them up.
Final dry brush touches and details to bud

Another finished bud
Using the same techniques, the light and shade are defined with the green and red.
As dahlia buds can be very shiny, some white from the paper can be allowed to remain and emphasise the shiny surface 

A little composition. 

The final trio of buds.
As this was a sketchbook piece using my brand new M. Graham watercolours, I am quite pleased

To see the rest of the page that I completed for this particular sketchbook, you will have to take a look at the Nature Trails Blog next week.

Crikey! Now just wait a minute, I spy a glaring error there. What to do? Aha remedy time.

The culprit here is that stem.
It should be going behind that top sepal.

So, it's out with the Magic Sponge.

I cut small pieces at angles to give a really good point to get into those tiny spots.
Wet the area a little using clean water and a fine brush.
I always dab the brush a bit so not too much water goes on the paper.
Work the water into the are a little, the dab with the sponge.

Don't rub!
The paint should lift with just a couple of gentle dabs.
This is a Perylene mix which is very staining. 

Once 'erased', leave the area to dry completely.

If really rough, I 'burnish' the paper with the back of a spoon to make it a little smoother.

This is sketchbook paper, so needed just a little smoothing.
To do this, I gently roll the back of the bowl of the spoon over the paper

Using the same palette of colours, (lucky i still had them in the palette)

Carefully repaint the areas to bring the sepal forward and the stem back.

The sepals on a dahlia should look as if the are in a ring around the stem.

It's not a perfect job, but in a sketchbook piece it still demonstrates the method quite well


Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Monday? It Must be Leaves

Yesterday was such a great day and Mondays for me this autumn have been extra lovely, as I have been hopping on over to The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre to teach some botanical watercolour workshops. It's been such a wonderful privilege to introduce the style of painting I love to others, and it's been great to see how the confidence and enthusiasm has grown in others.

This time around the focus was on the wonderful colours of the season. Like nature's own fireworks, colours of every description are in abundance just now, and the deluge of crunchy, fiery leaves fluttering to the ground is just amazing. My previous post on tips for painting leaves Tasty Tips on Tackling Leaves followed the progress of a summer bramble.

All the leaves are brown And the sky is grey
I went for a walk
On a winter's day

                                                                                    California Dreamin' (J and M Phillips)

For all of the classes I do, I always try to include a summary sheet or chart of some sort to go along with the demonstration I do. Pinpointing the main stages and areas of painting, from first wash to final glaze. So, for this post, I thought I would take you through my ready-reckoner checklist for painting leaves. One of my students who came to the studio last week said she hated leaves. At the end of the day I asked her how she felt about them, 'not so scary now'. Enough said

Leaf collage of students work.
Excellent effort all round

  • Study your leaf carefully before starting to draw. Note the veining pattern as it's important at this early stage, especially the central vein. Remember to study the back of the leaf too.
  • Draw the central stem and vein first, then any other significant veins in the two halves. The leaf will always look more natural if you do this bit first. 
  • Get the overall shape right first. Details such as serrations can be concentrated on once the basic drawing is right. 
  • Take some basic measurements of width and length for the leaf and each of the main veins, before starting to draw and to make points on your paper.
  • Leaves are not always symmetrical, especially when you focus on drawing them. Undulations, and serrations or points are never the same. Think of the two sides as sisters rather than twins with the central vein separating them. 
  • Lightly draw in the main veining pattern that you can see. This will help with the washes, establishing where the light and shade is, and for the  finer detail later.
A small, unfinished 'Smoke Bush' leaf
Rusty tones and imperfections are starting to take shape.

The main vein and stem were drawn in one smooth line first.
Then the rounded shape followed by the lateral veins

Note how the light falls on the leaf.
The left side here is lighter than the right, as this is where the light is falling.
The tip of the leaf is also lighter than the base.

Getting this right is difficult,
but it gives the painting it's 3 dimensional, realistic appearance

Really obvious veining pattern, with the colour concentrated between them 

Shapes, sizes and variation in colour makes autumn leaves
a challenging but fun subject to tackle

Wet-in-Wet Washes
  • The first wash for an autumnal leaf is important as this will give you the basic areas of light, shade and the colours in the leaf.
  • Wet one side of the leaf first with clean water and allow the water to get a satiny sheen before you drop in the first colour. Allow the colour to ‘bleed’ a little and with a clean, damp brush manipulate the colour where you want it to go. Try not to let the colour go too far.
  • As this colour dries, you can now drop in a second colour and allow the colours to blend together. Use a clean, damp brush to blend. Remember to allow the paint to settle a bit and don’t try to work it for too long.
  • Once you are happy with the first side, you can now work the other side in the same way. Remember to leave the central vein free of water or paint, otherwise the whole lot will bleed together and spoil your wash. You now have your base on which to build the rest.

Autumn leaf and its mixes
Perylene Maroon, Sennelier Yellow Light, Ultramarine Light
and a little Lemon Yellow
gave me all the mixes I needed for this one.

General colours used for the Smoke Bush leaf

Moulding the Fine Detail  
  • Once this first wash has dried, you can now work in smaller areas, adding depth and tone with further wet-in-wet washes, and start to use darker mixes to build up the light and tone. Remember to leave areas of the lightest first wash to show through, especially as autumn leaves have a fragile appearance.
  • Wet a small area of the leaf,  this could be between two lateral veins. Drop the colour in and working it as before with a clean, damp brush, move the colour around, keeping your areas of light and shade.  Keep looking at your leaf, so you can see where these areas are.
  • By working only on small areas, you have more time to work the colour, lifting and moving it around to achieve the look you want, whilst leaving the veins in place.
  • You can carefully map in the veins with a light, dry brush technique, and the tip of the brush. Often the vein is lighter than the area around it, so work the colour close to it, but not on it. If your lines appear too heavy or dark, you can blend them in with a clean, damp brush. 
  • Veins can also be lifted out using a damp brush and a tissue to dab the paint away.
  • Add the colour to all the veins and stem. A darker shade can be stroked onto the area where any dark shadow lies. Again, blend with a clean dry brush. 

Stages of the Smoke Bush leaf
Step 4 could go on further with additional dry brush details and shading  

  • Using a dryish brush and a nice rich mix of colour, you can carefully add some ad hoc imperfections and ripply edges. Greys, neutrals and rusty reds within autumn leaves add great shape and tone and will ‘lift’ the overall appearance.
  • Adjusting 'temperature' with a light glaze of Translucent Yellow by Schmincke here and there, where the 'warm' tones are, can really bring the leaf to life. 
  • To finish your leaf completely, a final light glaze of clean water over your painting can bring all of the colours together and soften the overall look, giving a coherent, 'settled' appearance. Take care doing this that you don't upset any of the washes underneath. 

On this piece, Cherry decided to use a light glaze of Schmincke Translucent Yellow
over most of the right side of the leaf, but left areas without it,
to suggest light hitting the leaf.

This was the last job to do here, and we noted how the whole painting was immediately altered,
with a luminous quality.
She was very pleased, as was I.  

     Hope this all helps  


Friday, 7 November 2014

All Set Up?

So, what now after Delia? Well, after from photos on a couple of these little projects, it would be really nice to go back to working from a live subject. After just a quick scour of the garden this morning, I came up with a few interesting surprises.

One of my favourite Fuchsia's is really flowering well this year  

Hmm, know little about fungi,
so these won't be going in the pot.

(you really need to know your stuff with these guys) 

Great shape and colouring on this one though.

Working from life is much more fluid than photos, as the subject is still alive and moves with the light. often, if it's a bud, this will open during the course of a day, and remembering what it looked like in the morning can be a challenge in itself.

To set up a live subject, I generally ensure I have a good light source to the left of it, so the constant light offsets the natural light from the window. Using a back light source also gives a fabulously dramatic effect, especially on dark flowers. Then, I set up a white background to neutralise any reflected light from surrounding objects and to reflect as much of the light onto the subject as possible. Using this technique recently, I have noticed how much more clarity and richness my colours have with the white background that before without one.

Small, but oh so handy.
The helping hands thingy

Next, I'll set up the subject. using a set of 'helping hands' and a florists flower tube filled with water, I position the subject where I want it. Using a piece of folded up kitchen paper wrapped around the tube gives the 'grabber' something to hold. The flower tube has a kind of one way valve that stops water pouring out all over the place. You can pretty much position it how you want, which is great if you want a particularly acute composition.

And in action
Set up for the clematis study, using the 'helping hands' stand and white background

Just recently though, I made a small purchase of a clamp stand. You know, one of those things that are in school science labs. Should come in handy for larger subjects.

My budget clamp stand.
These can be quite pricey,but a trawl on the net
unearthed this bargain.

The glass 'test tube' once contained vanilla pods.
handy to hang on to things like this,
you never know when they might come in handy.


Thursday, 6 November 2014

A Little Announcement

Just a quick post today, on the new exciting times ahead. The splendour at Squirrel HQ continues this week with the announcement of some fabulous new workshops for 2015. A series of seasonal one-day workshops have been finalised with Roots Shoots & Leaves, a fantastic venue in Hampshire, that has it's own custom built workshop space, vegetable plots, cutting gardens and 5 acres of beautiful gardens and grounds.

Image from Roots Shoots & Leaves

To make these days even more special, there is the inclusion of a two course lunch, prepared with produce from the gardens and lovely afternoon tea refreshments. This is such a wonderful new venture, and I am so excited to be bringing the joy of botanical painting to a new audience. Hope to see you there.  

Roots Shoots and Leaves Map of garden
A map of the grounds at Roots Shoots & Leaves
Including the air conditioned, heated workshop

Of course, I shall have to work on creating some fabulous step-by-step exercises, using the gorgeous selection of subjects on offer, and help everyone have a very special, (and successful) day of painting.
So, with Delia now finished, what next on the drawing board? Well, once I have caught my breath, I shall be getting onto that. Already, I have my eye on at least three possibilities and knowing me that list will only get bigger.

(the photo I posted earlier had a rather strange angle, and she wasn't pleased)