Monday, 29 February 2016

And the Award Goes to...

Me! (imagine sounds of corks popping) ha ha. After the long wait to see if my five paintings had been successfully accepted by the SBA selection panel this year, I am delighted to say that I have been successful this year, and I am now a full member of the SBA. Not quite an Oscar win, but in the botanical painting world, it's a pretty big deal. As you can imagine, it's a very happy start to the week, and I am very thankful for all the wonderful support I have received from friends and family.

Of course, it's not just me celebrating this particular milestone, and I have been delighted to see some of my dear friends also make the cut. It's lovely when everyone has a little something to celebrate, and although I had to miss the RHS exhibition this year, my congratulations also go out to those brave souls who put up such a fine display of work.

Elsewhere, I have been busy sorting out a trailer for the You Tube Channel. Not one for being in front of a camera, I had a cunning plan to avoid it, and let the paintings do the work. At least visitors to the channel will now have some idea what it's all about.  

Here's a quick recap of the eclectic mix of paintings from me that will be on display in Westminster this year

Fade to Grey - Tulip


Bramble Paradise

Gone Conker

Three Graces - Calla 

So, with that finger biting wait over with, and the first day of spring upon us, it's time to focus on the next thing on the 'to do' list. Keeping a number of balls in the air at any one time is tricky enough, but really bad if you can't juggle. Yep, I really can't juggle, but lucky for me paintings are just theoretical balls! Expect a number of blog posts on time management and the work / life balance soon. 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Processed Piece (Part 2)

Okay, so in the last post I  introduced you to my keep it simple approach to how I go about a new painting. It really is very straightforward, and I am sure many of you follow much the same principle, but somehow putting it down really seems to get you thinking about what you do. 

Having already gone over steps 1 - 3 in Part 1 (see also Processed Piece (Part 1) it's time to get onto the nitty-gritty of steps 4 - 6 where it really does all come together, (or fall apart).

Step 4 Colour and Tone

Well the title says it all really, and in this step I really like to build up the colour and get those tonal values singing. The more tonal values you can create in a piece the more 3 dimensional the appearance. The achievement of tone is all about understanding highlights, mid-tones and deepest shadow tones, and again for this it's down to careful observation. By using a live subject, you can study it's colour variations as you go and keep looking at it as you paint. I think many students forget this bit, as they get carried away with painting.

Building the layers of colour and tone on the bramble leaves
for Bramble Pradise

Some details come into focus on the peony seedhead

Step 5 Depth, Detail and Shadows

This is the step where I like to think of myself going out of my comfort zone with the depth. When you start to get into the finer details of your subject, you will notice that some of the tonal values get a bit lost, especially in the deeper register. In this step, I like to really oomph it up with the darkest tones and adjust the shadows to their darkest range. Even on very light subjects, you will be surprised how dark you will need to go to get it right.

In this stage, I also like to begin to pay attention to the imperfections, surface textures and characteristics that can only be done once the early washes are dry and the tones are built up.

defining subtle detail to the back of a leaf

Moving round the dahlia

Going very dark in the shadows 

The very darkest tones are layered over the midtones

Step 6 Finishing

I like to do this a day or two after I think I have finished a painting. Only after the eyes have rested from the constant closeness of the work can you really see where adjustments need to be made. Picking out tiny highlights with a scalpel should only be done once the paint is absolutely dry, and there will always be something forgotten, such as the tips of prickles and thorns, a few more hairs or an untidy edge that could do with tightening up.

This stage is all about looking closely at the work and tightening everything up, so it's as good as it can be. Often, I will go over a completed piece with a magnifying glass, just to make sure all those pencil lines are gone and every edge is finished properly.

Tightening up the edge of the stem on the clematis

Going over the bramble thorns

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Processed Piece (Part 1)

This week saw the first few sunny, but really cold days of the year, and it has been lovely to see some of the spring bulbs finally coming into bloom, although alas the snowdrops I had hoped to paint were dismal, with only one making it through our very wet winter. Feeling very sorry for it, it seemed harsh to cut it off in its prime, so I left it. It's often at this time of year that I head out into the garden to see what has made it through to grow another year, with the casualties sadly removed and turned into compost that I put back onto the garden. Well, it's all a cycle I guess.

"Life and death are one thread, 

the same line viewed from different sides".

Lao Tzu

As is the process of starting a new painting, but let's not get too heavy about it. Now that I am moving into a phase of my work where sharing the process with others is getting quite important, I have begun to reflect on how I approach each piece, and there is a method to it all I'm happy to say. There I was thinking it all came together under some kind of random chaos, while applauding others for being so organised and aware of what they are doing. It's that composting that got me thinking along these cycling lines. Gardening can be so dangerous.

"Every corny thing that's said about living with nature - 
being in harmony with the earth, feeling the cycle of the seasons 
- happens to be true".

Susan Orlean

I've heard and read that many really good artists having a very clear 'method' or process that they always follow, and it came as a complete surprise to me that I do seem to follow my own variation on the theme. Even more random, (or I guess I just had time on my hands because of a sore shoulder) I would appear to have six stages in my painting process. Should I call this my 'Six Steps to Sensational', or does that sound too much like a shampoo ad? I'm getting carried away with that one.

Well anyway these six stages really do seem to get put together in an order and a painting comes out at the end. So here are my first 3.

Step 1: Observation.

seems obvious I guess, but I like to have a bit of a moment with my subject before I even think about putting pencil to paper. Looking closely at everything from flower centres, leaf nodes, vein patterns and everything in between, usually with a magnifying glass gives a real sense of what is going on with the growth habit and characteristics of the plant.

On closer inspection, there are some very fine hairs in there

That leaf / stem junction looks interesting

Like a crumpled hanky, this tulip had some great textures 

Step 2 Drawing

Well again, it's a pretty obvious progression but this bit includes loads of sketches and accurate, annotated drawings taken from the observations. Not that I do that much sketchbook prep much these days. I know there are people who could do pages and pages of stuff for just one painting, but I get far too impatient and want to get on. It is important to get the important bits down and it's here that I will also do some pretty comprehensive colour charts and notes, to make sure this bit is accurate too. I won't labour this point too much as this post is about the painting bit, not the preparatory stuff, that's quite another story.

Using a really sharp H grade pencil and some good quality drafting film, I carefully draw out the composition. By using the film or trace it doesn't matter if I make mistakes as the robust surface can take the rubbing out without damage. Once I am happy with it, I will either trace it or use a lightbox to transfer the image to the watercolour paper.

Colour charts for colour matching

The master drawing gets inked in for use on the lightbox

The very fine details such as serrations and imperfections get drawn on afterwards  

Colour matching for the peony seed head painting

What goes in it and where it goes.

Also, once the painting gets going
I will even make a little chart to show in which order these mixes were used.
Is that going too far? 

Sketchbook page for a lily bud...

...and the flowers and leaves
 Step 3 The First Wash

Now begins the  fun part, or the scariest depending on your viewpoint. How you start painting is a very personal approach and there are an infinite number of methods. I'm in the wet wash camp and always start with the very lightest hue that I can see, (apart from the whitest highlights as these will be left as the white of the paper). Mixing a pretty diluted shade, I drop the colour into a clean water glaze on the painting and manipulate this about until I am happy with it. I've also heard this wash called a 'Tea Wash' as it's a bit like painting with tea. At this stage the paint is still active enough to be lifted, and I can also drop in further amounts of colour to make it more intense. Then the whole lot is left to dry. Rather than working on little bits of a painting to completion before moving on, I do tend to work in rotation, getting everything to the same stage.

First wash on a bramble leaf study

Several colours are dropped into the glaze as it dries to get a soft, blended surface.

Letting the colours bleed and mingle creates the beautiful characteristics of watercolour.

First washes on the peony seedhead

Lots of highlight left at this stage

And on Little Red Chili

See the next posting for what comes next

Friday, 5 February 2016

On the Tube

Well, that was pretty bonkers I must say. Having published my first little videos onto You Tube, I have been quite overwhelmed by the positive response from everyone. You've all been fantastic. I couldn't quite imagine that my first little attempts would be of great interest to anyone, apart from supportive friends and the ever loyal family, but with nearly 400 views between them, and more on Facebook, I'm speechless.

As many of you know, my biggest wish is for everyone to really enjoy what they do, and to get immense pleasure from painting. Sharing my trials and errors through the blog has helped me get over numerous hurdles over the years, and I have kept nothing back. If it's been a complete disaster, you've known about it, if it's been a great success, you've heard about that too, (if a little quieter), and of course there are always the tips and techniques I've picked up along the way.

I'm not the world's greatest trumpet blower, and 'Husband' is always telling me that I should be more assertive, well this time I am. Thank you for coming to my You Tube channel, and to those of you who have already subscribed, I couldn't be more delighted. It's early days of course, but there's loads more to come.

To me, it's a way to give something back, to say thank you, and to give you a little gift from me. All the full length tutorials from the subscription site will have a little accompanying 'mini-technique' video, that will be free to everyone on You Tube.   

Sign up for The Sketchbook Squirrel Channel on You Tube for the mini-tutorials, technique videos and the occasional Vlog from me. It will be lovely to see you.

Follow the link to join in - Yes Please 

Now then...

Section of 'Gone but not Forgotten - Peony Seedhead'

...Elsewhere, it's showtime! Yes, it's that time of year again, and before I get totally carried away with the heady world of videos, there's the day job to get on with. Five new paintings, (well, sort of as you've seen them all already) are framed and ready to go to Westminster in a few weeks time. It's been a long haul this time around, and I am really hoping the selection panel like them, as it's membership selection time too. Second time lucky, so wish me luck.

Here are four of the paintings that will be enjoying a London Tube ride later this month, (including the peony pictured above).

'Gone Conker'

'Fade to Grey - Tulip'

Section of 'Bramble Paradise

Next up? The daunting prospect that is, painting a series of works for the RHS. I'm going to really need you guys methinks, (along with plenty of tea).

Monday, 1 February 2016

The Technique Tool Box

Having an armoury of techniques for every aspect of our paintings is something all artists strive for. Picking up hints and tips from here and there as we go along our way and making our own discoveries through trial and error are all part of the process. However, it is always nice when someone points you in the right direction and gives you a new technique to add to your own 'tool box'

Over the years I have been lucky to gain knowledge on getting a better result for my paintings from fellow artists, reading books and following blogs, advice from friends, and my own effort of trial and error. For my tutorials I always ensure I include a tip sheet and troubleshooting advice for my students to follow during their day, and this is something I plan to continue on my new website.

The Technique Tool Box will be a series of videos on the new website, giving plenty of advice on which brushes to choose, the colours I love and all the techniques I use in my own work.

Some of the tutorials will also be available as bitesized technique videos, where I will focus on one aspect of the subject. To get us started, here's how I got the lovely shiny finish on the chili. (This time not so super-fast and with a step-by-step narration too.

Little Red Chili