Friday, 14 October 2016

The Treasures of Autumn

Seasonality is generally something that affects what goes into my fridge. The short season of asparagus, Jersey Royal spuds, strawberries, and many other delicious delights means we love them all the more for their limited availability. Well, so it is with subjects for botanical painting.

This week I finally finished a study of a shiny conker in its prickly shell, and immediately felt a sense of achievement. You see, I have waited two years to finally have the time, and a specimen to paint. Of course, I could have worked from a photo, but there is a fine and worthy tradition of painting from a live subject, and I love to have the real thing in front of me, sharing its finest features. A bit like a silent teacher, helping me to understand its form, colour, and character. It's not just any conker, it's this conker.

"A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination,
 and instill a love of learning."

Brad Henry

Starting with an accurate colour chart, and an accurate outline drawing on tracing paper, I decided to work the composition at three times actual size. Making an impact with a small subject gives it a certain sense of gravitas I find, and makes the most of the interesting textures and architectural form of the conker. After all, they do look pretty unusual.

Working a series of initial wet-in-wet washes is a good way to create some early texture, and changes in tonal contrast, achieving a good base for the depth and detail. There is also a certain amount of spontaneity which allows the paint to find its own way, adding to the textures.

Once several layers are worked, the finer details are applied using a fairly dry brush and darker mixes. Careful, and slow progress is made here, as it's so easy to get impatient. Lots of breaks and a critical eye help at this point.

Highlights are maintained for as long as possible, before subtle colour is introduced to break them up and take away the false brightness. Only a very small portion of the brightest highlight is left, with the rest being softened into the form of the conker.   

Finished. Just as it is easy to get impatient, it's also easy to get overly carried away with the detail, by overworking the painting. When I think I am done, I will often leave a painting for a few days, and come back to it. If I'm still pretty happy, I'll leave it, and if it needs a little more, I'll work on it for a bit.

"Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself." 

Saint Francis de Sales    

The full step-by-step tutorial for 'Conkertastic' will be available on my website later this month. For further info please visit Sketchbook Squirrel, where you can sign up for a FREE video tutorial package, or join my full membership subscriptions for the full tutorials library.  


Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Growing Your Own Rainbow

This year I had a go at growing something of a horticultural novelty. You may have seen images of Glass Gem corn on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and like millions of other people thought, that's been photoshopped, corn isn't that colour, it's not real. Well, I can now confirm, it is!

"The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest." 

William Blake

At the beginning of the year I was gifted (from an extremely generous, and rather lovely new gardening friend) with a small brown envelope containing a small amount of the precious seed, and after reading up on when to sow, where to place and how much water to give, I planted the precious, but rather unpromising looking dried out brown seed and waited.

Glass gem corn is a stunning variety selected over many years by Carl Barnes, a part-Cherokee farmer and breeder from Oklahoma, now famous for his work in collecting and preserving rare varieties of native crops. Selected from crossing several traditional, heritage corn varieties and saving seed from the vivid, translucent kernels Glass Gem corn is being shared and grown around the world. By saving the corn ears that have the best colour variations to dry out for their seed, the following year's harvest is more likely to continue to have good colours. See Native Seeds

My little supply came from a lovely grower who trials new varieties of all sorts of plants, is passionate about heritage varieties, and writes about his results. He's a lovely guy, and offered to send me some of the Glass Gem corn seed to have a go at growing, and painting. With just a handful of seed to play with, I was a bit apprehensive, and only planted a few, to give it a go. It's pretty straightforward to grow, but gets huge! And although you can get quite a few cobs, it's all a lottery when you grow this stuff, as you can't tell from the outside, how colourful it will be on the inside. When it was getting to about 7ft tall with a number of swelling cobs, I was pretty sure we would get something out if it.   

The advice I was given is that it's best to wait until the leaves around the cob are beginning to yellow before you harvest it, and waiting was the hardest part. However, this week I was able to start bringing in my few cobs of corn to see what I had managed to get. The first two, although pretty were a bit devoid of the now famous, vibrant gemstone hues, with paler blues and pinks, or a mixed combo of yellows.  

Pretty Pastels

As with all plants, the harvest and colours of the corn are determined by the conditions
How much rain or sunshine or the position where the plants are grown will all have an impact on the colours.

it's best to wait as long as possible too. |I think this one could have been left a little longer,
to help the colours to develop a little more  

Number three however, came up with something really quite astonishing. After peeling off the papery husk, a bit like pass the parcel, the colours were slowly revealed. Just how good they would be, I had no idea, and was completely bowled over by the multicoloured, glistening pearls that eventually came out.

It has been a very great privilege to grow this most unique, and rare variety, and like many who have a go, I am completely hooked. Now to dry out the best of my corn, ready to sow for next year.  

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant."

Robert Louis Stevenson

Well, being unsure if the glass gem would actually be successful, I hedged my bets and had a go with another variety of corn that caught my eye. Having seen these before in the Sarah Raven catalogue, and being quite intrigued by their deep maroon colouring, I decided to give Strawberry corn a try.

Choices, choices, choices. Hmmm