Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Keeping it Fresh

With thoughts turning to the important subjects on the agenda for this year, the question of how to keep them looking their best for as long as possible comes to the fore. There are a myriad of different methods the artist can utilise to try to keep their subjects looking perfect for the duration of a painting, but alas, nature has her own hand in it, and quite often it just isn't possible to keep that lovely little bud as tight as a button for a week! 

Now, I happened upon a magazine article this week where The Flower Council of Holland gave some great tips on how to keep flowers looking their best for as long as possible. With Easter just around the corner, I guess everyone is looking to fill their homes with the glorious colour and scent of fresh flowers. Good tips for the artist too.

Keeping it realistic and having the notion of keeping something fresh for at least a few days, here are the ideas from the Flower Council, along with some of my own top tips for getting the very best out of your subjects. No smart interjections here about using photos instead. 

Iris seed heads have enormous, heavy fruits
but even these have to go in the door compartment of the fridge to keep them fresh 

  • Always try to collect your specimens when it's cooler outside, so mornings or early evenings are best. 
  • If buying your flowers from a florist or supermarket, pick the freshest looking blooms that have no damage to the stems or flowers, are still in bud, and have a good supply of water. Single variety bunches of tulips, narcissi, freesia and rannunculus are widely available and give you the widest choice.

This peony seed head was collected in the early morning to keep the withered bits in place
Another sunny day, and all those lovely characterful bits would have dropped 

  • When choosing subjects, try to choose several that have a good number of tightly closed buds. It's always best to have more than you need to choose from.
  • Less than perfect subjects have great character and can be kept fresh in the same way as flowers. Single leaves are best kept in a lidded box with damp kitchen paper.

Leaves can also be kept fresh for longer if stored in a box in the fridge 

  • Cut the stem very cleanly using a sharp pruning knife or secateurs. These should be kept sterilised to prevent infection or disease, (to the plant that is).

  • Wrap a piece of damp kitchen paper or cotton wool around the cut, and place your specimen in a box also lined with damp kitchen paper or cotton wool. Keep the lid on.

  • Once back at the studio ( or home), place your box in the fridge until needed. 
  • Wash vases thoroughly before using and if you have any flower food (I keep any leftover from bouquets, and you can also buy sachets online) add this to the water before transferring your specimen to the vase. Place the whole thing in the fridge until needed. 
  • If you have any fruit in your fridge or near your flowers, put them in a box if you can. Fruit gives off a ripening hormone that will speed up the ageing process in your blooms.  
  • It's a good idea to sear the stems of some varieties of flowers such as clematis straight away in boiling water for a few moments. There is a suggestion to cut the stem and sear them immediately, so if you can, use subjects from your garden where you can do this more quickly. The stems stay very firm and the flower lasts for a few days without wilting.

Seared stems keep fresh for longer.

Flower holder or tubes are also great for holding single leaves in place with a water supply 

The petals stay firm for at least three days

  • At the end of the painting session, put your subject back in the fridge in it's vase until you are ready to paint again. This keeps flowers at the same point of opening for a bit longer.

  • Some subjects may have to be kept in a pot. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged and keep away from direct heat sources such as radiators. If your have a warm studio, transfer the plant to a cooler room at the end of the day. A spray mist keeps the humidity and temperature pleasant for plants, as the dry warmth of houses can be too much for plants more used to being outside.
  • Lastly, get to know your flowers, or ask a florist for advice on how to preserve or get the best out of them. According to top florist Paula Pryke, "Rannunculus flowers ...get more beautiful each day, and actually look at their best the day before they die."

Keep it fresh, keep it cool and enjoy your painting x


Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Prickly Moments

It's been such an exciting time at Squirrel HQ recently. With election to full membership of the SBA and lots of lovely people tuning in to the You Tube channel and signing up for the newsletter, I feel that I am in the happiest place ever. It's really tiring but so much fun to see how much enjoyment others are getting out of what I do. And to think it all started here as a way to get out of the doldrums. I have to pinch myself.

With so many requests for a tutorial for a bramble leaf, I had to go once more into the prickly patch to hunt out a suitable subject for it's movie debut. Even at this cold time of year the brambles are still going for it, and still biting back. They are quite extraordinarily hardy plants, so in some ways I have much respect for them.

See the result here:

And how it turned out:

The latest bramble leaf 

And one from the archives

In progress

Although I follow my own process for painting... (as covered in the recent Processed Piece posts):
See:'s very different when you are aware of your every brushstroke as it is being filmed. You suddenly become nervous of lengthy pauses or mistakes. But I'm quite happy for errors in my paintings to be shown, and how I get round them. It's all part of the learning and skill building process, and we all need to learn from our mistakes, and find ways of troubleshooting the problem. This is one of things I have always been very open about. I'm by no means 'perfect' at what I do, and everyone makes mistakes in their paintings, (even if they don't openly admit it), but I do know what to do when a problem arises. And that is half the battle in this job. 

Bramble in progress

That first wash can be so nerve wracking,
but I love it's ghostly, ethereal look.

Building up the colour and tone.
This is where it all starts to take shape

A touch of troubleshooting? Hopefully you can't tell.


Where do I begin with the problems this one created. There were times when I literally wanted to throw it out of the window. However, you have to take a critical view, look at it carefully, decide what's gone wrong, think about how you can make it better, go and have a cup of tea, (the cure of all ills) and then get on with it. This one played its part in the selection I presented to the SBA selection panel and will be hanging in their next annual exhibition. So not bad.