Wednesday, 28 October 2015

All White on the Night

This week I decided to give my students a white subject to tackle. For an Autumn workshop you might expect bronzed leaves, rosy red rosehips and blooming dahlia's. Not at Squirrel HQ! I like to look at things a little differently and always try to offer an unexpected challenge. Hence onion and tomato baubles at Christmas, pah! who needs holly and mistletoe.

'If you do not expect the unexpected you will not find it,

for it is not to be reached by search or trail'.


A scan of the finished painting

Mistletoe from last year's sketchbook
Adding a light cerulean wash to the berries

Against a whiter background, the berries take on a gold/yellow tone,
and don't appear white at all.

Enter the Snowberry, or Symphoricarpos. Also called the Ghostberry, the popping fruits of childhood memory is from a small genus of about 15 species of deciduous shrubs in the honeysuckle family, Caprifoliaceae. With the exception of the Chinese coralberry, S. sinensis, which is indigenous to western China, all species are native to North and Central America. The name of the genus is derived from the Greek words συμφορειν (symphorein), meaning "to bear together," and καρπος (karpos), meaning "fruit." It refers to the closely packed berries the species produce.

In folklore the extreme white of the glass-like berries has led to the plant being described as the Corpseberry and seen as a food for wandering ghosts. As children, my friends and I would have great fun popping the berries underfoot. They make a great noise, (well to a six year old anyway). 

Early sketchbook piece featuring the Snowberry.

It's been some years since I tackled a a sprig of snowberry and as it grows so abundantly int he garden, thought the time had come to give it another go. For my students, I thought this would be a good opportunity to practise those neutral tones and shadow mixes.

To start with, it's good to observe the 'colour' of white subjects against a white background as this will show that there really is quite a lot of colour in a seemingly white subject. Against a table top or garden background, it's difficult to see these subtle variations.

Snowberry against a very bold red leaved plant in the garden
Even with a dense background, the snowberries show up very white
Against the same plant, and in the same light conditions, but this time with a sheet of white paper between them.

As with the image of the mistletoe.
against the whiter paper, the snowberries appear more grey, with hints of greenish yellow and blue.
Only with a white background can you easily see these variations in colour.

The leaves appear clearer and greener too.

Next, I make a colour chart, just to get a feel for what's going on in the subject. There may be subtle blues, pinks or buff tones in the 'grey' and you want to preserve those colours, otherwise the colour would look very flat and bland. Never be tempted to revert to a pre-mixed grey such as Payne's Grey or Davey's Grey, as these can make your colours too muddy. They have their place, but in my view not here, as they are just too harsh and flat.

Having a practise at mixing blacks and neutrals

An early neutrals chart where I did still use Payne's grey and Cadmium colours to mix.

It's funny how once we get going with our colour choices and techniques, and have the confidence to select more carefully the better quality pigments, we find it in ourselves to ditch the unnecessary, (possibly once favourite) colours. Only this week, my good friend Shevaun from Botanical Sketches was talking about how she often used Terre Vert in her olive leaves but, 'wouldn't touch it with a bargepole now!' as it's too sticky in it's consistency. Quite so there Shevaun, I feel the same about using Payne's in my neutrals. Oh, and I've ditched the Terre Vert too    

Colours for the snowberry: Indanthrene Blue, Sennelier Yellow Light and Perylene Maroon for the leaves. Indanthrene Blue, Cobalt Blue, Sennelier Yellow Light, Quinacridone Gold, and touches of Perylene Maroon to make the greys and golds for the berries; Perylene Maroon, Indanthrene and Sennelier Yellow Light for the stem. The mixes I use tend to be used to mix a multitude of other shades, so the green might be mixed with more red to make the colour for the stem.

Just a little study of the Snowberry with stem and leaves
Some of the test mixes can also be seen here 

One for the sketchbook

A multitude of golds, greeny/yellows and blues went into the berries and with the deepest green to add balance, the berries really come forward. I love the little 'bottles' of the developing berries.

See a couple of related posts
Paint it White

Fast and Furious


shevaun said...

You do like a challenge!! Lovely blogpost and thanks for the mention. You have to try Psynes Grey with transparent yellow though... makes a fab green! The Terre Vert is a lost cause I'm afraid!

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Ha ha ha, I quite liked this one and the students had fun with the berries too. Getting to grips with 'colourful' greys was great. I do still have my Payne's for mixes and other jobs, just not for grey mixes.