Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Out in the Country (again)

As you may know, I was off on my jolly travels again on Friday to teach a workshop at the lovely Roots, Shoots and Leaves in Durley. Francoise and her husband are so welcoming, and although I arrived early to set up, I was invited into their kitchen for tea and a chat, (and a sneaky peek at what we would be having for lunch).

We were a smallish class this time, but no less enthusiastic. And, after a lovely garden tour with Francoise, we all headed for the warm, light, and airy workshop to get going. The subject for the day was a beautiful white tulip, flashed with bright green. White flowers can be tricky as an introduction to botanical painting, but with the green playing a dominant part along with the rich, creamy colour of the petals, I thought this would be a nice challenge. 

After completing a light but accurate drawing, it was time to test the colours.
Mixing the neutrals for the tulip

The creamy white was mixed with Sennelier Yellow Light and a touch of Perylene Maroon
The warm grey for the neutral was mixed using the creamy yellow with a touch of Ultramarine Light

Keep at it, you're doing a fabulous job.

Laying on the green and learning new dry-brush techniques

The bright, fresh green was mixed using the Ultramarine Light and Sennelier Yellow Light
along with a touch of Perylene Maroon. 

Hmm, this is a great still life

Broad beans and garlic where made into a delicious topping for our Bruschetta starter
Cor, these look fabulous.
Orange cupcakes, with an unexpected ingredient, Kale!
Surprising, but totally delicious

Recipe from Veggie Deserts 

For a first ever attempt at botanical watercolour, this is not at all bad.

The tricky technique for the stem was given a test drive first, to get a feel for it. 

Luckily, I've been invited back in June, so I must have done something right. And there's currently a discount on the workshop, so if you fancy joining us, Click Here  

All photos reproduced with kind permission of F Murat.


Thursday, 23 April 2015

See the Light, Go Dark

Crikey! I can't believe it has been over a week since my last post. After a whimsical weekend last week and a few more days enjoying the unseasonably warm weather in my garden here in Hampshire, it's been a little too relaxed here at Squirrel HQ. Time to brace up and get back to those leaves. So, what progress have I made?  

Well, I have made a start on another group of leaves. Here I have got at least the first wash on three and have worked up two with further washes and some detail. To achieve the cool areas I used a mix of Indanthrene Blue and Lemon Yellow with a touch of Anthraquinone Red. For the warmer, fresher greens I used Ultramarine Blue Light with Sennelier Yellow Light and Perylene Maroon. Leaving lots of highlighted areas gives the suggestion of the sheen on the leaves. 

Showing different stages of wash. 
The bumpy appearance is achieved by allowing colour to settle more heavily towards the middle
of a leaf section.
Pulling the paint off the paper to create highlights in places adds further characteristic 'bumpiness' and
dropping in either a fresh or cool green gives further tonal variation. 

With very pale flowers, such as those on brambles, I like to make sure that one or two have a darker backdrop of leaves. With just the white of the paper, pale flowers tend to get a bit lost and it is very easy to get too heavy handed with the shading trying to bring them forward. But, give them a lovely dark ground to work against, and 'pop', there they are. They really throw themselves forward and actually look paler. It's a clever trick of the eye that artists can use to their advantage. And I'm all for that. 

The darkest greens have been mixed using the strong green mixes
 with a touch more blue and yellow.

I always remember the advice of using the colours from my existing palette
and using the same proportions of Blue, Yellow and red to get Black.

The colour can be adjusted with more of the yellow, red or blue to create cool, warm or fresher neutrals and blacks.
See the links below for more on this     

Of course, with any painting, what we are all trying to achieve is the best range of tonal values that we possibly can. In the past, I have always been a bit tentative with the depth of the darkest tones, holding back just a bit too much and not quite achieving the look I hoped for. However, since I had something of an epiphany, I knew I needed to up the ante. After some practise, trial and error and some scary moments, the darkness now holds no fear for me. Mixing almost black colours and just getting them in there really can transform a painting. But, I always do this last, to ensure the balance doesn't go 'over the edge'. See the light, go dark.

I think this area might just be finished now.

Ooh, maybe just a little more.
Remembering advice. Detail, detail, detail. Oh, and just a bit more detail.

I'll wait until the end and then go back to see where I can adjust.
This weeks has seen a few workshops too, and tomorrow I am off for another drive in the country. Yes, it's back to Roots, Shoots and Leaves for the first of the spring workshops, There will be plenty of gorgeous subjects to choose from in the garden, and a group of eager students will be ready and waiting to pick up their brushes. Really looking forward to the day there as it's a stunning location and the welcome is always warm.  

And lastly, welcome to the new followers here on the blog. Thank you for being a wonderful bunch of troopers by signing up to follow along. Always much appreciated, and I hope you enjoy your visits.

Further 'Dark' Reading

Monday, 13 April 2015

Dig for Victory

Well, after four days of digging and hacking at the 'Bramble Paradise' that is my back garden, it certainly feels like something of a victory, (although I broke the handle of my favourite fork). Working on just little areas at a time is easier to handle, and gives me a feeling of great satisfaction when I can finally get the plants I want back in. So, instead of ground elder, brambles and ivy in this little corner, I now have a lovely spot for my big camellia, a couple of  David Austin roses, peonies and euphorbias alongside marguerites and knapweed. Should make for a pretty display. Now onto the next bit.

Planting time.
Lots of things for bees and butterflies.
I have been collecting the dead wood from the trees to make a wood pile.
Just behind the camellia for this feature methinks.

Not just a workshop space and place for me to sit with my morning tea.
The conservatory also becomes a greenhouse for me to get my seeds, cuttings and dahlias going

Plastic carrier bags are a great alternative if you have no room left in your propagator.
Just fit snugly over the pot and tie the handles together.
Check regularly for watering and take off once the seedlings have got going.

For cuttings, I make sure the bag doesn't touch the leaves by using three sticks stuck into the pot

Of course, taking time away from painting, (and blogging) is a nice diversion, especially when the weather is as gorgeous as it has been, but it's time to get going again, and fill you in on what's been happening at Squirrel HQ. So, back to the three leaves I started with. Working a bit more on the detail of leaves is always great fun as there are plenty of highlights, shadows, veins and imperfections that make each one unique and every part a piece of the whole. perhaps that's why i find myself painting brambles as often as I have been.

Using the blues, yellows and reds of the palette, I mixed up a good range of rusty reds and murky browns, ready to give the crispy bits and nibble holes their characteristic edges. By using just six main colours and a couple for glazing, the whole piece has a good uniformity, even though I am mixing more as I go. 

Using a dryish brush and strong mixes is the best way to work up plenty of detail.You can see that the right side of the leaf on the far right is not as worked as the others.
What a difference.

These ones will get darker and more tonal, but I'm happy so far. 

First watery washes going onto the next set of leaves.
Even at this early stage I remove some of the colour to give a good, strong highlight.
With the paleness of the first washes, you can see how much more colour goes on in stages.


Saturday, 4 April 2015

A Trip into Brambly Hedge and Other Diversions

Curiously, I got going with these three leaves first and have just carried on with them. It's always good to get the first washes onto the leaves and start to see the light and shade taking shape.

Making a start on the first washes

Laying colour wet-on-wet and allowing the colour to spread before dropping in a second shade.

These mingle and merge to create soft blending and highlights  

And a little bit more
Gradually building up the colour, whilst allowing the first layers to show through.

Some details are added

Thursday 2nd April, (Hans Christian Andersen's birthday) was actually International Children's Book Day and in amongst all the virtual posts and notifications that came my way, I was happily reminded of a somewhat forgotten childhood favourite. The Brambly Hedge books by Jill Barklem told the charming story of a community of mice through the seasons. As a child I was completely entranced by these books, and not just for their charming stories, the illustrations by Barklem herself were quite exquisite, executed with incredible detail and accuracy. As with the work of Beatrix Potter, Cicely Mary Barker and Edith Holden, these beautiful images shaped my early love of the natural world and my attempts to capture it. 

Of course there has to be brambles taking pride of place
on the front cover

Only recently I discovered that the author was born in Epping in Essex, just up the road from my home town, and like me travelled to art college on the Central Line of the Tube network. During these journeys Jill Barklem would enter her make believe world of Brambly Hedge, and created the beginnings of her stories. Many of the ancient trees she illustrated for the books still stand within the forest. Oh I love a bit of sentimental escapism, and I guess you get to know a bit more about how I got myself into this gig.

Oh, and as it is the Easter weekend I couldn't resist heading into the kitchen to make some sweet, sticky and spicy Hot Cross buns. These ones are a bit different though, as I didn't do the cross. Instead I piped simple flower shapes on the top, just for a bit of fun. I digress.

'Botanical Buns!'

So, bramble leaves. After building up the initial washes and getting the main areas of light and shade established, I generally work up individual segments with a greater level of detail. Using richer, more concentrated mixes of the washes, I keep a nice, coherent look while beefing up the oomph and detail. Looking closely at a bramble leaf, you will see very fine, but characteristic veining that really gives a particular look. So, mustn't miss that. Or the reddish tone to the serrated edges either. Plenty to do.

I always keep the original colour chart handy,
so I can keep the same mixes throughout.

It's bye bye to The Three Amigos
as it's time to start on some of the others 

And, as it's a bank Holiday weekend, something to keep me busy arrived in the post this morning. Roses are an absolute must for me in any garden, and I couldn't resist treating myself to some of the most stunning offerings from the David Austin English Rose Collection. The names alone were enough to get me excited and that was before I had to whittle my choice down to just four. The colours are simply to die for, the blooms ethereal and steeped in history, and then there's the scent. Oh my goodness.

So for our plot, I chose Fighting Temeraire, (a real nostalgic one for me as I have been looking at a print of the Turner painting of the same name for nearly all of my life); Boscobel, named after Boscobel House, built in 1632 and famous for the fact that during the English Civil War, Charles II hid there for a time, escaping Cromwell's army. Then there's Scepter'd Isle. Well, what can I say on this one:

This royal throne of kings, this scepter'd isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself,

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in a silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England

Richard II, Act 2 (Shakespeare)

And lastly, Lady of Shalott. Well, where would we be without Tennyson. Hopefully, we won't have a situation where:  

...The mirror crack'd from side to side;
'The curse is come upon me,' cried
       The Lady of Shalott.

The Lady of Shalott. Alfred, Lord Tennyson 

A rose by any other name?
Can't wait to see them in full bloom.