Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Second Time Around

Crikey! it's been one hell of a week. After a couple of days planting up dahlia bulbs and sowing plenty of veggie seeds for the garden, it was time to settle back down to some painting. With everything starting to turn green outside it was nice to follow the lead, and mix some lovely fresh tones. or so I thought. This is not the post I had hoped to be posting this week.

Of course, painting is never that straightforward and after just an hour of starting the leaves, disaster struck! It happens to all of us, and an accident with a dropped brush loaded with green paint meant curtains for my painting. After many deep breaths, large amounts of cursing and swearing and an enormous cup of tea, (or two) I made the decision to start again. This is why it's good to have a master tracing immediately to hand. At least I didn't have to draw the whole thing out again.

The basic tracing saved me lots of times.
Of course, adding the serrations, fine details and adjustments took a but of time. 

Luckily some of my washes were ready to go too

As it is, I am only just now starting the leaves again, laying the initial washes and picking out the veins and highlights. Bramble leaves have lovely highlights with a colour contrast that crosses from bluish tones through to the freshest, brightest greens where they appear backlit and translucent. Hopefully I can reflect that quality. For the job, I am using Indanthrene Blue, Anthraquinoid Red and Lemon Yellow along with Ultramarine Light, Perylene Maroon and Sennelier Yellow Light.

Getting those tricky shadow tones all over again

Buds so tiny, it's best they are not to be rushed

Just catching up to where I was.

getting the initial washes on the leaves 

So, it's not always going to turn out well, and accidents do happen. The real trick, is to be prepared for that, not to lose your head over it, and have a couple of shortcuts at hand, ready to help you get back on track. Although, I really hope that second time around will be the last time around for this one.


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Tiptoe Through the Tulips

So, today I opened the studio, (well this time it was the conservatory) to the first students of the year. The freshly baked chocolate cake sat aloft on it's perch, awaiting break time, materials and paper sorted, and the subjects had been cooling in the fridge, ready for the day ahead. Rain was forecast for later in the day, but we weren't going to let that spoil our fun. All set then.

My very naughty chocolate cake looks a bit out of place in amongst my healthy fridge contents.
Still, as the saying goes, 'a little of what you fancy does you good'

This proverbial saying was first the title of a vaudeville song, made famous by the risqué Victorian music hall singer Marie Lloyd. 

'The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here' 

From, 'Tulips' by Sylvia Plath

With a few tweaks, the conservatory becomes a fair sized
art room.
With a chilly forecast, that extra heater will come in handy,
and a couple of chairs, along with  a little sofa, (just out of shot) make for a comfy spot
to take a break.

Tulip buds were the order of the day, and I had managed to get hold of some lovely pink and red ones, although they were slightly small. It seems everybody loves to have fresh flowers in their homes and soon as they become available, and there were only a few bunches left to choose from. Reminder to self. Grow your own!

The stars of the show take a break in their 'dressing room'
Nearly ready for your close up?

Tulip Mania

Tulip mania or tulipomania (Dutch names include: tulpenmanie, tulpomanie, tulpenwoede, tulpengekte and bollengekte) was a period in the Dutch Golden Age during which contract prices for bulbs of the recently introduced tulip reached extraordinarily high levels and then suddenly collapsed.

At the peak of tulip mania, in March 1637, some single tulip bulbs sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman.

Rather than just the flower and stem I wanted the students to include the leaf and think through their composition, to really show off the shapes. Tulips from florists and supermarkets are very straight stemmed, upright little soldiers all standing to attention. I love a curve or two, so demonstrated how to manipulate a subject where you want it to make it more interesting whilst still maintaining accuracy. So first exercise of the day was to study the subject from all angles, and get to know it better.

One subject, different elements and angles.
For this set of honeysuckle studies, I wanted a variety of pieces, including colour notes

As with this page of onion studies.
Maintaining a sketchbook of composition ideas and colour notes, helps with future pieces. 

Working through a small composition in a sketchbook

A simple palette of blues, reds and yellows

Now to get the best of the bunch onto paper and to get cracking with the painting. Starting with wet-on-wet wash techniques, I demonstrated how to successfully add two colours together without them going all muddy. When doing this, it's important to allow the initial glaze of clean water to settle a little before dropping in the first colour, then allow this to settle, before adding the second. as tulips often have a greenish tinge to the base of the flower where it meets the stem, it's nice to show how this blends into the main colour of the flower. 

After a couple of wet-in-wet washes, and an initial wash to the stem and leaf, it was time to do some dry brush work to get the texture of the petals on the flowers. By splaying out the hairs on the brush a little, I find I can get some lovely, 'feathery' features on the petals. Tulips have this most obviously towards the tip of the petal, so a light touch is needed or else it will be too heavy.

I'm always so busy helping the students I rarely finish the pieces I start.
Well, that's not really the point. For me, it's all about their learning, not my painting.

I find it so much more rewarding to assist a student with their own piece,
 and find myself demonstrating the techniques for them on their own paintings.

Some of the colour splodges here are to demonstrate the difference between warm and cool colours,
to someone who wasn't sure. 

To see some beautiful completed pieces, here are four of my favourite artists who do great tulips. Check out their work.


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

A Drive in the Country

This morning, I packed my trusty mapbook and compass, (ha, only kidding on that part), got Jimi Hendrix playing and headed out into the Hampshire countryside. Yes, it was time to introduce myself to the lovely Francoise at Roots, Shoots and Leaves, the new venue for my workshops.  

The sun was glorious and the scenery just as lovely, but as I turned off the main roads, and after a little unscheduled detour somewhere around a place called Botley, (with a small requirement to pull up on someone's drive to check the map), I sensed there may be trouble ahead, (my dad has always cautioned me to 'beware the large trunker (huge lorry) round the corner'. Heading down ever narrower and windy country lanes, I felt Jimi should quieten down a bit, and I should keep an eye out for oncoming 'Crosstown Traffic', (groan) and the little turning I needed. 

Great to see the hedgerows and different tree species

As it happens, the only 'traffic' I came across were a couple of fine horses with their riders. After giving plenty of room and a friendly nod, I enquired if I was heading in the right direction. A polite passing of the time of day seems the norm when the pace of life is slower, and after saying our cheery goodbyes I continued, carefully on my way.

A slower pace of life,
and the kindness to help out a slightly lost artist 

Imposing gates and a large house beyond was what greeted me next, and for a moment I thought I had gone horribly wrong. But no, the gates dutifully opened and in I went. Met by the delightful Francoise, we spent the next hour or so wandering round the garden and spending time in her glorious kitchen discussing subjects, chatting about our work and inspirations, laughing about just about everything and drinking tea. Days like this are why I really love my job and feel I have a great life.

The spring flowers looked so pretty in the sunshine

If you fancy joining us, there are still some places left on my April and June dates. And with nearly everything you need for the day, (including a delicious lunch prepared by Francoise) included in the price, it's really good value. Visit the website to book

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Meet the Family

"Family is not an important thing. It's everything."
Michael J. Fox

Hooray! The builders have finished, (well, almost). So, now not only do I have peace and quiet again, I have a lovely new glass roof on the conservatory that lets in tonnes of light. Just now I am debating whether or not to have my first workshops of the year in there. Can't wait to welcome the students.

So, with all that done with it's time to make the most of a home to myself, and get on with this bramble. The leaves are up next and as usual, I have added lots of characteristic nibble holes and raggedy edges. Debate still rages on the question of adding the culprit for the holes, Sammy Snail but we shall proceed regardless for the time being.

Dark, cool greens, warm yellowy highlights and lots of tones in between make these a tougher challenge than on first appearance.

The young leaves look especially fresh and 'spring green'. 

This is an important piece for me and I really want to make sure I get the greens and shadow colours right. Recently this aspect was explained to me, and referred to as the, 'family of greens', (base colours, highlights and shadow tones within the subject). This made perfect sense as too easily we can fall into the trap of using our favourite green mixes for a subject rather than the right colours that are unique to the subject. Although this sounds obvious, it is easily done, and I must admit that in the early days of my botanical painting I have fallen too easily for this one, and regretted it.

"The family is one of nature's masterpieces."

George Santayana

The result, of course is never really convincing, so now whenever I tackle a predominantly green subject, I make a chart of colour swatches. There will likely be other colours involved, such as cool and warm blues, yellows and, on decaying or damaged leaves, reds and browns. So I feel a colour chart coming on.

The Family of Greens

The greens for my bramble leaves have been mixed using transparent colours, having moved away from opaque and semi-transparent colours such as the cadmiums a while ago. As stated, a palette of cool and warm blues, yellows and reds will give the full spectrum of tones and highlights, making for complex, multi-layered leaves. Well, that's the theory.

For the cool greens I'm using Anthraquinone Blue, Leon (or Azo) Yellow and Anthraquinoid Red
For the warm greens I'm using Trans Yellow and Quinacridone Gold with Ultramarine Blue and Perylene Maroon

The cool highlights use Cerulean with Lemon whilst the warm are Trans Yellow and Ultramarine
A wash of Cobalt here and there cools a highlight whilst a wash of Trans Yellow warms them up
The colour chart begins
of course a lot of these mixes will have to be used at strength, but I am quite pleased with the range 

Further reading

Tasty Tips on Tackling Leaves

Friday, 13 March 2015

"Get an I Phone!"

Just a quick missive today on progress thus far, (with a house full of builders, it's a trying time). For some reason, whenever I paint a bramble I start with the flowers. perhaps it's due to the daunting prospect the leaves can pose, but also it's nice to start with something that looks pretty. Or, maybe this quote has it right.

"Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit."

-Khalil Gibran

A larger composition, but those flowers are still pretty small 

Picking out the fine details with a very small brush has kept things neat.

The use of a magnifying glass has been essential.
And once again, I went wt those stamens with a scalpel

Do you know, I said to someone the other day that I was having trouble with my Blackberry again. Her reply was, "get an I Phone!" Sigh

“Life was so simple when apples and blackberries were fruit, a tweet was the sound of nature, and facebooks were photo albums”

-Carl Henegan, Darkness left Undone

Nearly there

For the buds, a base mix of Cerulean and Lemon kept things fresh.
Perylene Maroon, cool Anthraquinoid Blue and more Lemon also beefed up the shading

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Lighting the Fire

Well, along with the thorny issue of the brambles, I really have to tackle something else. With so many greens and serrations going on, painting a bramble can be a lengthy and painstaking affair. Thus, a good break from it can be just the tonic. So, time for another subject methinks. Favourably without lots of really tiny, tricky details. 

Of course, at this time of year, the garden is still a little bereft of subjects and it's all very well going forth and spending like blazes yet again at the supermarket or florist. Yikes that can be expensive. I guess that's why I like hedgerow species so much. It doesn't matter what time of year you pass by, there's always something interesting going on in a hedge. So much so that my good friend Sarah has created a whole new blog on exactly this topic. do have a read of Art and the Hedgerow. Mind you, I do have some workshops coming along soon, and spring flowers are always popular, so tulips might be nice. I digress.

Detail of my Winter Hedgerow piece

“Each of us is born with a box of matches inside us but we can't strike them all by ourselves” 

- Laura Esquivel, Like Water for Chocolate

Anyway, back to that bramble. The finer details are all in, with thorns, serrations and veining all mapped in and ready to go. Of course, I will be getting stuck in with my latest passion, my collection of new paints from M. Graham. It's a shame that there are so few stockists of this lovely brand in the UK, but at least we can get hold of them.

Big, punchy colours can do light and subtle too.

Everyone has been made for some particular work, 

and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.


Checking the colour balance of light, mid-tone and dark.
Shadow colours a more purple. Mixed by adding a touch more blue and yellow to the dark pink mix.
Quinacridone Rose, Anthraquinoid Blue and Azo Yellow compared to a mix using
Permanent Rose, French Ultramarine and Lemon Yellow, (left) 

Making a start.
I'm loving how the M. Graham paints apply so smoothly

The first sprig of blossoms, almost complete.
Next up, buds.
I don't like to go too heavy with the shading too early on.
The greens of the other buds and stems going in around the flowers will bring them forward.
Once complete, I can adjust the balance. 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Sunshine and Salvage

With the weather warming up and the sun finally making an appearance, it was time to head out into the garden. Yes, I know that bramble won't paint itself and I am actually really pleased with the composition, but it was just too tempting to head out into the sunshine and get my hands very dirty.

First up was some seed sowing. Echinacea, lupins, echinops and allium in glorious shades of purple and deep maroon have been planted up to encourage lots of wildlife and pollinators into our patch and give it a much needed oomph of colour. Of course, they will also provide more subjects for me to paint and with these ones, you can't go wrong. Easy to grow and with the promise of a lengthy flowering season, I should have plenty to keep me going for the summer. My students will enjoy selecting their class subjects from this lot too.

Just a few samples of the seeds I am planting for a wildlife friendly scheme this year.

Would love to paint that Echinacea when it's in flower 

Elsewhere, I finally cleaned up the beautiful old terracotta pots we found hidden away in the old shed when we started the renovation. I think they are French, and each has a lovely look and feel to them. They have been well used and cared for, but like much we have discovered, neglected. They are far too fragile to use for planting, so they have gone right back where I found them. I love the history of old houses. The people who have gone before, the bumps and knocks in the skirting boards, original door handles and locks without keys, secret, childish things hidden under floorboards and forgotten about. It's not all about original fireplaces and architectural features, it just feels good to put something back that belongs.

A collection of old terracotta pots originally found in the shed, now being put back

'Mr. Squirrel' was a gift from a lovely and very dear friend.  

“It was a mistake to think of houses, old houses, as being empty. They were filled with memories, with the faded echoes of voices. Drops of tears, drops of blood, the ring of laughter, the edge of tempers that had ebbed and flowed between the walls, into the walls, over the years. Wasn't it, after all, a kind of life? 

And there were houses... that breathed. They carried in their wood and stone, their brick and mortar a kind of ego that was nearly, very nearly human"

 -Nora Roberts, Key of Knowledge

Next up, I have been buying paints again. Can an artist really have too many. Well, in my book, no! And besides these are my new favourite M. Graham honey based watercolours. A little while back, I gave these a try with their Maroon Perylene and was immediately smitten. Daniel Smith might have been in with a fleeting chance, but 'MG' has quite taken my breath away. Smooth, silky and velvety texture mixed with a saturation of rich colour that is almost good enough to put on my nails, I cannot get enough of these colour, and am already eyeing up my next batch.

The collection so far.
Must get some more yellows

The colour card showing a graded wash

Just to check how the white paint compares to the white of the paper, there's a square for that too.

I think I will use these ones on the bramble, just to see how they go.   

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Another Shambles with Brambles

Well, hopefully not quite a shambles of a painting, but a shambles as in the tangly, thorny, prickly subject that will once again be the subject of another 'Squirrel Spectacular'. Yes I know, I thought I had managed to escape the blighters too, but I have been asked to paint the brambles once more for a special little something, so paint I must.

Again, flowers, buds and berries will feature in a small but sinuous landscape composition, and I am beginning to have a fondness for the reddish thorns, and gloriously serrated leaves. So many artists seem to have an aversion to leaves, but I really enjoy mixing lots of greens and going for it with a teeny brush. Although, I mustn't get too carried away with the nibble holes.

Tracings of component parts.
Generally, I will draw from life, but sometimes I will get the main stems and nodes in, and slightly shift the leaves
about to get a better composition.

I always keep a master tracing of work that I have completed.
It's good to keep a record of progress, especially if tackling the same subject.

I use a fine Rotring pen to ink in the outline to make it easier to see on the lightbox.
I don't make these tracings too complex, leaving out finer details such as veins and serrations.
These I will put on the drawing in pencil once it's on the watercolour paper.

Adjustments can also be made without too much rubbing out.

For this one I am using Fabriano Artistico Extra White 

Elsewhere, I am just coming to terms with the daunting task of painting five more pieces for the SBA exhibition in 2016. Next year feels like a very long way off, but when you have deadlines to meet and lots of projects on the go, it will go by very, very quickly, believe me. So, with no time to waste, it's off to find the right things to do.

Looking at what's coming up in the garden, and subjects in paintings that I have seen recently and liked, I suspect purple clematis will once again take centre stage somewhere. Dark, rich and decadent mixes, with plenty of space for the flowers and buds to revel about in. I really like the idea of that one. With a vine-like subject I might have to go for a bigger canvas size, to get more of the character of the plant into the piece. For now though, I am doodling with lots of thumbnail sketches but yep, that'l be more leaves again then, and plenty of purple. Oh, and not forgetting Archie my Artichoke. It might be his time to shine.

Pinks and purples and pointy buds.

Archie makes a comeback!

See also