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.


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