Friday, 24 July 2015

Peony Progress

The peony has proved itself to be an interesting subject to do this week. The greens and browns have been lifted by the different textures, and sizing up the subjects means bigger leaves to deal with. Taking my time with the papery bits, using a tiny brush to get the textures and shading has also been quite therapeutic. There is something very relaxing about painting the details of folded up bits of dead papery plant.  

Crispy brown bits need lots of tiny strokes.

Indanthrene Blue, Lemon Yellow and Perylene Maroon
Ultramarine, Sennelier Yellow Light and Perylene Maroon. 

using a bright green mix to add a wash to the edges

Sennelier yellow Light, Ultramarine and a touch of Perylene maroon

Bringing out the character

So many bits to do

So what about Peonies?

Peonies are often seen as problematic to grow successfully and are therefore viewed as a bit of a 'dark art'. However, I was determined to have them and decided on getting some bare root plants to start with. They take a while to thrive and may not flower for a year or two, but we were lucky, and got a couple of lovely blooms. Species of Peony include the tree peony (Paeonia suffruticosa), a woody deciduous shrub, and the common peony (Paeonia lactiflora), the popular herbaceous perenial, and the Japanese peony (Paeonia lactiflora "Nippon Beauty"), a scarlet common garden cultivar. 

Peony was known in China for over 2000 years when it was first used for its medicinal value. The roots, bark, seeds and flowers were all believed to be of some healing use, with the plant being held in high regard. The peony is so well loved in China that it is the national flower and symbolises honour, friendship, good luck and beauty. It always represents elegance and poise. Also linked to Greek mythology, the translation of peony from ancient Greek is 'praisegiving'.  

Greek Myth time:

It is believed that the Peony is named after Paeon (also known as Paean), a healing deity who had healed the wounds of Hades and Ares. Paeon was also a student of Asclepius, the god of medicine and healing. Paeon was instructed by Leto (Apollo's mother and goddess of fertility) to obtain a magical root found growing on Mount Olympus that would soothe the pain of women in childbirth. Asclepius became jealous of Paeon and threatened to kill his pupil, but Zeus intervened and saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius by turning him into the peony flower. In truth, peony seeds were used by pregnant women during ancient times. So there's something in it.  

'Bread feeds the body indeed, but flowers feed the soul'

The Koran 

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Past it Peony

The last week has been something of an 'admin week'. You know the sort of thing, catching up with online messages and emails, getting to grips with the tax return and receipts, planning and booking the next load of workshops. Busy, busy, busy. Oh yes, and getting the next shiny edition of, The Squirrel Archives' out to my lovely subscribers. If you haven't got it yet, you can subscribe right here on the blog.

However, I have also got down to the old brass tacks, and actually started to get the next painting on the board. This time I fancied a complete change of pace, and have decided to pay more attention to flowers when they are past their best. Looking at flowers when they are 'past it' really should be a right of passage for floral artists, as this is the point where the flower really has done it's job successfully and the seeds are forming. Some seed heads are really spectacular, with as much, if not more interesting detail than the flowers. So, with some of my favourites now over, it was time to take a closer look.

Dear old Archie when he had done his stuff.

The bright sunshine on the artichoke is a bit too contrasty to paint from, so here's where I wish I had taken a few more considered photos.
Photos to work from are not the same as a photo for the blog or website
but I quite like this pic, so it might become a painting yet. 

The iris pod and seeds from last year

The painting in progress

Technically, fruits are seed heads too, protecting the seeds as they ripen.

Using some of the seeds from inside shop bought chillis and tomatoes,
I have grown new plants the following year with great success.

This year in the garden I planted some lovely new peony varieties. Peonies are beautiful, big, blowsy affairs with ruffles and candyfloss blooms that really are stunning, and the few we had were fabulous. As it's a good idea to leave the first flowers on the young plants to allow them to build up stamina to grow even better next year, I decided to hold the horses back and wait for the seed head to form.

Big on detail.

The forming seed head of a peony
The very fine hairs are more prominent once you enlarge the image.

Detail, detail, detail, and a bit more...detail.

Peony seed heads have some great textures, with fuzzy bits going on and all sorts of interesting details. As always, I started off by taking lots of photos, for both the close up and composition. Next, I made sure to do a study page of sketches, measurements and colour swatches, to get a feel for the subject.

A really comprehensive colour chart for each aspect of the subject will help me get an accurate representation.

Keeping to a limited palette gives overall coherence for the painting.

A few additions to provide a 'pop' of focus should give it some zing.

Making sure there is enough information to begin with prevents disappointment and error later on. It's really important to take photos in good, but not overly bright light, and it's better to use a white background to reflect true colours. From the photos, I can use a tablet to enlarge the details I want to see more closely, and if the subject has died, I can still continue to work from the images, measurements, sketches and swatches.

Plenty of textures and interesting detail to keep me occupied 
Next up is the accurate drawing. This time I drew the image straight onto the paper, as I wanted to enlarge the subject. Double size looks good on the size of paper, and should give me plenty of scope for the detail, colours and tones. Now onto the tough stuff. Painting it.

Using a really sharp H grade pencil and my proportional dividers, I enlarged the subject.

No safety net this time of a master tracing,
but I think it will be okay.

If not, then I will have to trace from the original image and have another go.

Lots of photos, so I'm not going to rush it.  

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Kit and Kaboodle

Like any one else, I love stuff, and any new stuff that comes my way is greatly appreciated. That's not to say that I like clutter, and am currently attempting to turn my house into a minimalist haven of calm, (with 'Husband' and all his tech that's never going to happen). Ah, one can dream.

Today is rainy old day and after being out of the studio for a while, I feel like a bit of a tidy up before the next painting gets under way. This got me thinking about what else is in there that I just can't seem to manage without, (lots of us have been doing this). Now, most of these treasures are not lavish affairs, some of my favourite bits and bobs are simple things that only really make sense to me to have. But, you may see sense in them too and think to yourself, "well I never thought of that"

So here are my top 10

1. Palettes.

These beauties were bought for me by a most generous and gorgeous friend and I just can't live without them. Just simple flat serving dishes from a home wares store, these little ceramic dishes are used for food, but why not paint. They give lovely smooth mixing, no stress on the brush and go in the dishwasher. With lots of little ones, I can mix colours for several pieces, cover with cling film or another palette, and keep it for later.

The new ones are about the same size as my old palettes with wells. used together, I can be flexible as to where to put the paint and how much I mix.

Perfect size 

2. Engineers Tool Box

My dad has one of these in his garage and it has been in there since I was very small. His one is of course a very vintage affair that I absolutely love, and you can still get them on eBay if you are willing to pay an outrageous price. Well, if you want to jump on the retro bandwagon that's up to you, but I want a working, practical piece of kit, and dad found this one lurking in a local wholesalers. Costco really does seem to stock everything, and I am ever grateful they got these in. They haven't since. A new favourite that has got legs to last.

With loads of drawer space, I can keep all my precious smaller or fragile items nice and safe. The felt lining stops things rolling and moving about when you open and close the drawers, and the front panel locks in place for transporting. The top also lifts open and there's a handle too. Not bad for little more that £30.

Lots of handy drawers, a lift up tray at the top, a carrying handle and a fold up cover and lock
make this practical piece 

3. Lightbox

You may have already seen this one before. A dad creation, made from off cuts of wood, some opaque perspex found in a skip and a tube light. This one has already made its debut on the blog, but it really is a vital piece of kit.

Perfect for transferring traced images onto watercolour paper, this one isn't as powerful as the new LED boxes available now but, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' works here. Cheap and cheerful, but it works.

from a while ago, but here's the lightbox in action

4. Proportional Dividers.

I could never have afforded these myself as they really are a precision instrument and fabulously useful. My parents bought me these as a Christmas present last year, and I have used them constantly since. Having used these sorts of dividers when I worked on architectural drawings, I have always wanted my own set. If you look around on eBay, you can find some, but there's no guarantee of their precision. Pricey but worth it.

Very worthwhile for sizing up subjects

5. Jeweller's Loupe

My brother bought me this little nugget and I love him more for it, (as a big brother he was a pain when we were kids, but actually he's not bad really). These are pocket sized, go anywhere bits of brilliance that give you the close up view when you really need it. Also great to magnify your finger when you have a thorn or splinter. handy when you paint brambles a lot.

Pocket size with a range of lenses

6. That Little Jar

Yes, it really is called that. One day we were digging in the garden (we do that a lot), when all of a sudden 'Husband' saw a piece of glass buried and stuck fast in the soil. Not wanting to smash it and get dodgy bits of glass everywhere, he carefully dug around it and found a completely unbroken jar. My dad recognised the style as a type of jar from his childhood. so who knows how old it is.

A quick go through the dishwasher and Ta dah! Now I use 'That Little Jar' for all my pencils and nothing else. Well, not all kit has to be sensible. I've got a fabulous mug my mum bought from Oxfam too.

Now how did you manage to stay intact

7. Ear Drops Squashy Thing

Once, I had to get some of those ear drops for 'Husband' as I really thought he was going deaf! The drops worked a treat, but it was the squashy dropper thing that came with them that caught my attention. Basically, it's a big soft pipette that you suck water up with to clean your ears out. Now it's found a new use for dropping just the right amount of Ox Gall into my mixing water. And, as it stands up by itself, you can leave some liquid in it for when you need to change the water. No need to get the bottle out again.

All cleaned out and ready to use for Ox gall

8. Ferrero Rocher Boxes

You can probably tell by now that I like things as cheap as I can get them, the best price of course being free. Who can resist a Ferrero? More likely, who can resist the boxes once they've all been scoffed?

Ferrero boxes are great for storing tubes of paint. Of course you can get all posh about it and get all sorts of expensive trays and boxes, but these plastic boxes have good fitting lids, can go through the dishwasher if there's been an explosion and you can see exactly what you've got in there. Perfect. I use three of them for my reds and pinks, blues and greens, and yellows and golds.

Don't worry if one gets cracked, just buy another box of chocs.
Double the pleasure

9. Rotring Pens

Another blast from the past, these pens have been with me since I was 16 and a trainee draftsman, (or draughtsman). All they have needed over the years is the occasional new nib. There may be new, shiny darlings on the market now, but for me, nothing quite compares with the sheer performance and range of the Rotrings. Lots of sizes for every job.

Oldies but goodies.

10. Panasonic Lumix Camera

Where would I be without my trusted old friend and constant companion. For all the years of the blog and from the day I bought it, I have used my Panasonic Lumix point and shoot every day. I can't take a photo of it, as it's doing it's continuous service taking the photos today. My dad has cameras galore and swears by Canon but if I was to get sentimental over anything, it would be this little camera. Alas though, it needs retiring as it is getting old and slow, and the functions don't always work now (well don't we all have a little trouble from time to time).

When I replace this little gem, it'll be with another, upgraded Panasonic Lumix.  

Back in the day.
All sparkly new and ready to go

11. Magnifying Glass

Well, there's always room for one more. Picked up in one of those mad places where everything seems to be a ridiculously low price, this magnifying glass ticks all the boxes. Good, comfy grip, light in the hand and even more exciting, it lights up! Yes, I kid you not, it really does. On the back, it has a rim of little LED lights to light up the thing you are looking at. Great if you need an extra blast of brightness, especially when closely checking your painting for marks, missed bits or errors. Big thanks to 'Husband' for spotting a useful bargain.

From the back, you can see the rim of lights

And what about the title?

Kit and Kaboodle (or Caboodle)

A collection of things


The words kit and caboodle have rather similar meanings.
A kit - is set of objects, as in a toolkit, or what a soldier would put in his kit-bag.
A caboodle (or boodle) - is an archaic term meaning group or collection, usually of people.
There are several phrases similar to the whole kit and caboodle, which is first recorded in that form in 1884. Most of them are of US origin and all the early citations are American. Caboodle was never in common use outside the USA and now has died out everywhere, apart from its use in this phrase.
The whole kit - the whole of a soldier's necessaries, the contents of his knapsack. From Grose’s Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1785.

The whole kit and boodle
"It is probably derived from the Old-English word bottel, a bunch or a bundle, as a bottel of straw. "The whole kit and boodle of them" is a New England expression in common use, and the word in this sense means the whole lot. Latterly, boodle has come to be somewhat synonymous with the word pile, the term in use at the gaming table, and signifying a quantity of money. In the gaming sense, when a man has "lost his boodle", he has lost his pile or whole lot of money, whatever amount he happened to have with him."

What we can't confirm is that the word caboodle migrated from boodle in order to sound better when matched with kit. It is possible that that's what happened, but the dates of the known citations don't support it. Whole kit and caboodle, (1884) is recorded before whole kit and boodle, (1888) and whole caboodle comes well before both, in 1848. Perhaps that's just the inadequacy or either records or research and that citations with the appropriate dates will emerge later.  from 'Phrase Finder' at