Friday, 26 December 2014

A Year in Pictures

My goodness, I have been somewhat remiss of late, having not posted for over a week. So, with 2014 nearly over and with so many memorable moments, for this post I thought I would share with you some of the pictures that have summed up all that has been going on at Squirrel HQ. You never know, I might sneak in one last post for 2014, but here's a few of my 'Best Bits' for this year.  

New challenges

The Natural Sketchbook Exchange gets under way

A new piece for The Irish Society of Botanical Artists (ISBA)
Bramble, (section)
The SBA exhibition

Ready to go

Mission Control

Good luck chaps

Back in the saddle

It's back to the classroom as my workshops begin

From the autumn leaves class in October

New directions

Focus on flowers
A new series of 'little works' for the SBA

Technology lends a hand

Summertime brings happy news in the shape of full membership to the Society of Floral Painters (SFP) and acceptance to exhibit with the Royal Horticultural Society RHS

Summer, and the garden is abuzz

More sketchbooks

In print

Honoured to be asked to write a piece about the sketchbook exchange for the SFP Newsletter 

And in the studio

The first piece of furniture is moved into the new studio

Time with friends

Lovely days out 

Lots of new work and step-by-step blog posts

Some finishing touches

The studio is ready to welcome its first guests

A sunny aspect

A moment of calm
Moving on

Squirrel goes large as the workshops move on

A bit of festive fun

More workshops

Veggiebaubles from the December workshop 

Home for Christmas

Sunset over Epping Forest, east London

Whatever comes next, I'm ready for it. 

Saturday, 13 December 2014

A Yuletide Refusal

Although it's just two weeks to go before the festivities really get under way, I have been thinking on the next sketchbook piece with a New Year feel. With this one, rather than foraging about in the garden, I suspect I may have to forage the aisles of the local supermarket for a suitable subject. The garden is not at it's best in the winter, with only the snow berries giving their best, (and I've already done some of those).

Lovely hot reds and scarlets

After my happy foray into hot reds last week, I really want to get back to them and go for it with something else wonderfully red and velvety. Again, I had hoped that my Camellia 'Yuletide' may have come up with the goods this year, and much as I have nurtured it, the blooms have once again remained absent. I suspect I may have to write of my disappointment to Prince Charles, as it was indeed the Duchy of Cornwall Nursery that supplied it, (long story and desperate measures a few years ago). Perhaps he could pop on down and have a 'quiet word' with it, (by Royal Appointment as you might say). Anyway, wishful thinking aside, it's time to find something to get on the board.

My little camellia.
Lots of buds, but I suspect leaf buds rather than flowers

What it should be looking like now

Deep red, single blooms with a bright yellow centre,
combined with the dark green, glossy, make
camellia Yuletide the perfect winter subject.

Image care of Crocus

Reflecting on my new reds, I had a glance at the veg study I completed a while ago using cadmiums. Immediately I have noticed how with the chilli, the colours look flatter and little less luminescent. Although, I do still quite like Cadmium Red Deep, I am finding the alternatives much more appealing, and they mix better too.

Red Chilli using Cadmium Red, Cadmium Red Deep and Cadmium Yellow in the mixes

The reds and oranges used for the latest cherry tomato study
Quinacridone colours of red and orange mixed beautifully

Some of my new reds and yellows

As a reference, I always keep tracings of the original drawings alongside the mixes and colour notes.

This way, if I fancy another go, I don't have to go through all the mixes again. 

And lastly. Just for a bit of the unusual I found this Butchers Broom sprig with some leaf skeletons

Butchers Broom with ivy 

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Red, Like Rudolph's Nose

Getting the right red for a botanical painting is really quite a challenge. Being a primary colour, true red is not a colour that can be mixed, and getting the right shade of red for the job can be a tricky business. There are hot reds and cool reds, scarlets, crimsons and all shades in between, and although I have painted a lot of pink subjects recently, bright red is not a colour I have had to tackle very often. So, to get the correct tomatoey, orangey red on my 'Botanical Baubles' composition, I made a lot of colour notes and put some new shades through their paces.

Looking at the Daniel Smith squidges that I have recently been 'gifted', I spotted four really promising bright reds and scarlets. Pyrrol Red is a classic mid range red, Perylene Scarlet has a more orangey tone but great vibrancy and Transparent Pyrrol Orange is bright and clear, and along with my favourite Perylene Maroon are all really warm reds, offering scope and flexibility for a good range of tomato shades.

The finished onion

The cherry tomato and it's mixes
Using Sennelier Yellow Light in the reds, gives a greater range.

Ready to go. the drawing, top and raffia tie are already complete

Back to basics
The hot shot reds of Perylene Scarlet, Transparent Pyrrol Orange, Pyrrol Red
and Maroon Perylene from M. Graham

Using Sennelier Yellow Light in the mixes with the reds to make a range of oranges gave enough yellow without the colours becoming too 'buttery' as I call it. Cadmium Yellow being opaque was too overpowering to make gently translucent oranges, so moving away from this has really brought my colour mixing up a gear. I also have M. Graham's Azo Yellow but this would have been a bit too lemony and cool for the mixes I was after. Tomatoes are warm, orangey and, well tomatoey.    

The lighter shadow tones and highlights on the tomato had a greyish, buff colour in them, so here I used a touch of Indanthrene Blue in the pale orange mix to create a very light grey colour. This was applied just around the edge of the tomato and into the blurry highlights. 

The first wet-in-wet washes of pale orange, then a punchier reddish orange begin to shape the tomato.

The palette of colours mixed and ready for use

Where the white edge is seen, the buff-toned shadow colour bleeds nicely to soften the harsh whiteness.

Some of the typography is drawn in. 

Having worked a couple of wet-in-wet washes, it was time to move onto the dryer brush details. Using a just damp brush and fairly strong mixes, I worked darker mixes into the shadow areas and darker patches of colour. Blending the colour with a clean, damp brush softens the edges and keeps the blurry appearance.

At this point, I wish I had stretched the paper as it was starting to buckle. Being only a small off cut, the paper didn't have the strength to hold the wet washes too well, so I had to stop working up the tomato. Still, I am quite happy with the result, and loved working with the colours. From squidge to tube methinks.

Darker areas are worked using a just damp brush and stronger wash mixes

Ta dah!

The finished piece
Using the darkest red mix for the lettering keeps a nice, coherent look to it all.   

And, just in case you missed the painting of the onion, you can catch it here at 'Veggiebaubles'.

Thursday, 4 December 2014


So, here's the onion and thanks to good friend Polly O'Leary we now have the name of these festive accessories, 'Veggiebaubles'.

Food for the body is not enough. There must be food for the soul.

Dorothy Day

First wet-in-wet wash of
Quinacridone magenta, Perylene Maroon and Indanthrene Blue.

As the wash dried, I dropped in a bit more of the colour to give the
initial depth of tone

Now here's a bit of history on the uses of onions. It would appear that onions really were the miracle of their day, and after reading this bit, you'll never look at one in quite the same way again. In ancient Greece, athletes ate large quantities of onion because it was believed to lighten the balance of the blood, while Roman gladiators were rubbed down with onions to firm up their muscles. In the Middle Ages, onions were such an important food that people would pay their rent with onions, and even give them as gifts, (ah, the answer to my Christmas present dilemmas). Now, here's the really interesting bit, doctors were known to prescribe onions to facilitate bowel movements and erections, and to relieve headaches, coughs, snakebite and hair loss. Well now, who knew that.

Ahem, excuse my blushes. Let's get back to the painting.

All the time I am working, I check the colour on scraps of watercolour paper, and keep the chart close by.

Further wet-in-wet washes build up the tones and shadows, keeping the lines and colours soft and blurry.

Here I have also painted in the raffia tie,
using Lemon Yellow, Indanthrene Blue and Perylene Maroon

Pinky tones using Permanent Rose in some of the red washes are added to give the colours variation here and there.

Altering the temperature in parts of the painting, 'lifts' the highlights.

Using a damp brush, the details on the onion skin are built up

Starting on the tomato with the raffia tie

As red as Rudolph's nose, a little tomato on a raffia string completes the design.

Testing the reds, greens and highlight tones.

Pyrrol Red, Perylene Scarlet and Transaparent Pyrrol Orange by Daniel Smith
The usual suspects of Lemon Yellow, Indanthrene Blue, Sennelier Yellow Light and Perylene Maroon
make up the rest of the tomatoey team.

Underneath, I will add some festive typography 

Monday, 1 December 2014

Onions are Like Ogres

Another busy weekend with the family meant some more work on the studio. This time the ceiling got some attention, and I now have a good layer of insulation up there, followed by some plasterboard to finish it all off. Almost instantly, it was much warmer and cosier, with less of an empty sound. With shelves, door curtains and stuff, it's getting to be home sweet home. 

'It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.'
Charles Spurgeon

So, with the studio taking up a lot of the weekend, I didn't get to do much painting, but I did make a start on my 'Alternative Christmas Baubles'. Lots of shiny rotund botanical objects have been festooning Facebook recently, with burnished, bronzed autumnal conkers taking centre stage. Alas, I am not blessed with the close proximity of a Horse Chestnut tree, so had to sit that one out this time, and really felt I had missed out. However, it did get me thinking on the theme of bauble shaped subjects. Tomatoes, Brussels sprouts and onions may not be the first choice for the Christmas Tree, but given a bit of imagination, and some strategically placed raffia or twine, I could buy it for a little festive composition.

Onion and oniony colours.
Using all my favourites

Ha ha, I've had a brush with onions before in
Knowing Your Onions

Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.

Calvin Coolidge

This week, I will be putting that idea into practice, starting with a shiny, red onion

Drawing first then. Onions to say the least are a bit like ogres. Not like according to Shrek, that they have layers, but because they are bloomin' difficult. The accurate drawing of an onion relies on getting the radiating lines in the right proportions, to give the three dimensional oniony roundness and ribbed effect pattern on the skin. I guess you could get the old school protractor out, but luckily my proportional dividers performed the task beautifully.

With the onion, it's important to make sure that all the lines come together at the top, as if to meet a vanishing point. Same goes for the bottom of the vegetable. In the middle, or the Equator as I like to think of it, the lines widen as this bit is coming forward towards the viewer. As the lines start to go around the sides, they appear to come together again as the disappear off the edge. it's all to do with perspective, that I am sure someone could go into a lot of detail about. But not me, and not today. I'm just pleased that it looks okay.

Those radiating lines were a pain, and I still might shift a few here and there.

Adding a raffia tie hanging from the top of the paper gives the baubly look I was aiming for.

A little tomato, like a red shiny nose, adds a pop of bright red

Moving the tracings around the page, I can get the composition I am happy with 

Mixes made and washes puddling away nicely, it's on with the show!