Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Watercolour paper - trying a different texture/grain

With the style of artwork that I create, I mostly use hot-press watercolour paper whereby the surface of the paper is very smooth.  This is due to being passed through hot rollers during the manufacturing process.  I can achieve very fine detail and it is also more beneficial to work on a smooth surface if the painting is going to be reproduced for illustrative purposes.

Occasionally I will use cold-press paper which is normally considered to have a more textured surface than hot-press.  I like using this for natural history illustration, especially when I am using granulating colours.  I love seeing the effect of these paints on the paper and how the paint often separates and settles into the shallow textured surface of the paper.

As we gain experience of using different watercolour papers, it is good to try a variety even if they are all of the same grain or texture.  A hot-press paper made by one company can be totally different to that made by another.  I go into more detail about this in two previous blog posts:

Choosing watercolour paper for botanical drawing and painting - part 1

Choosing watercolour paper for botanical drawing and painting - part 2

Where do I buy my paper ?
I buy Fabriano Artistico watercolour paper (HP) in traditional white and extra white from either Jacksons Art Supplies or Great Art.  In recent times I have been painting mostly using the extra white.
A year or two ago I placed an order for HP and unfortunately there were dispatch problems from the factory and I was mistakenly sent Fabriano Artistico in a surface texture that I had not heard of before.  I opted to keep it as I was intrigued to see what this paper could be used for.
It wasn't HP and neither CP.  After a bit of research I discovered the surface was called soft-pressed !  This meant it fell into a category between HP and CP.
What was needed was a test of this paper to see how it behaves.  Needless to say I have only just got round to it !
What does it look like ?
Looking at it the paper looks like a CP paper, but look closer and you will see that the undulations and texture on the surface are much closer together.
From Handprint
Here you can see the grain of the texture of the paper
What colour does it come in ?
Only in extra white
What weights and formats is it available in ?
300 and 640 g/m (square) in sheets and rolls.  (I was using the 640 weight).
On another note, it is 100% cotton and is internally and externally sized.
What is it like to paint on ?
This is the big question !  It is smoother to paint on than you think it is going to be.  It is very absorbent (reminds me a little of painting on Saunders Waterford HP).  I liked the way the paint moved on the paper in both fluid washes and with dry brush work. 
Disadvantages - yes there was a couple !  Because of its absorbency the paint went into the paper quite quickly (this may not suit some painters), this meant there was less time to complete any lifting of colour, for example if I wanted to retain or re-establish areas for highlights.  Although I didn't do huge amounts of this, I can imagine the surface not being that durable to a bit of wear and tear. 
If you want to get ultra-sharp detail, you may struggle to achieve this, but never the less I was pleased with the results.
What would I use it for ? 
You could use it for botanical painting, but I am really, and I mean really enjoying using it for painting birds.  My latest painting 'Yaffle' is being completed on it (painted in Schminke Artists gouache), but you will have to wait to see that !
I am also going to use it for my study sheets and I have even made this concertina sketchbook with it.
Rowan study sheet

Concertina sketchbook.  The covers of the book were cut out of grey board and covered in some delightful wrapping paper that I already had.  They were made slightly bigger than the paper itself to provide more protection to the pages within.  A ribbon was added to help keep the book closed.

Why haven't I heard of it before ?
Apparently, it used to be known as UNO.  Fabriano decided to re-brand it as Artistico Extra white.  The rough and CP textures were re-formulated but the SP and HP remained the same standard.
To read more about the original UNO paper, there is a good description and evaluation on the Handprint website 

Monday, 1 September 2014

New Year in September ???

Of course the title of this blog post refers to the academic year ! 

For me, a lot of my teaching takes place at Peter Symonds College AHED in Winchester, Hampshire.  So I am automatically tuned into the academic year.

For me it is an exciting time of year, new courses, new students, returning students, and of course so many inspirational subjects as we enter the Autumn.  There is a lot to be happy about.

The Summer holidays have been busier than normal with the opportunity to provide teaching at home for small groups of students and I also have several art projects I am working on long-term.  I also had been booked to teach a workshop for the Bristol and North Somerset Botanical Painting Society, on the subject of feathers, it was also nice to venture further afield with my teaching.

Garden painting day - Summer 2014
Introducing the delights of painting feathers
So what is in plan for the Autumn you may ask ??
The courses I am running at Peter Symonds AHED can be found on my website.  They include:
  • Botanical Art - Drawing & Painting Techniques - Beginners
  • Botanical Art - Drawing & Painting Techniques - Improvers/Intermediates - This course is full
  • Botanical Art - An Introduction to Drawing & Painting Techniques - NEW EVENING COURSE
  • Understanding Colour - using watercolour effectively - NEW AFTERNOON COURSE
  • There are also two Saturday workshops, one in the Autumn and the other in the Spring.
The last course is a very new one, and I am delighted that I have been given the opportunity to share my knowledge and passion of colour.  During my other courses we always spend a couple of sessions on colour theory and mixing, but it is never long enough, so to be able to design a whole course on the subject is very exciting !
In October I am teaching my first residential Botanical Art course, for 5 days.  It is taking place at the delightful Kingcombe Centre, set in the middle of the Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve, which consists of historical meadows, woodland and the most amazing ancient hedgerows.  All of these habitats are abundant with subjects for painting and in the Autumn the hedgerows are dripping with fruits and berries !  You can read more about the course here.
Black bryony berries © Sarah Morrish
With the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust I will be teaching 2 workshops this Autumn.
  • Natural World Print-making at Swanwick Lakes Nature Reserve on Saturday 18th October.
  • Drawing & Painting Autumn Fruits and Seedheads at Swanwick Lakes Nature Reserve on Saturday 8th November
For details on booking etc, have a look on Natures Details Workshops & Courses page.
Now for saving a very good piece of news until last, I will be having a second solo exhibition in November.  This will be taking place at Hardings Framers and Gallery in Warsash and will last for two weeks.  There will be a variety of work on display, both botanical and natural history themed, varying in size, and also cost, so there will be something for everyone.  More news to follow soon.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Painting a Sand dollar & using masking film

 I can't believe that it has been nearly a month since my last blog post.  What a busy old month it has been, more of that news later.

The sand dollar - I always admired these when my cousin brought some of her discovered treasures back from Florida, but had never had one myself to draw and paint.  Recently, a lovely friend gave me one and I was looking forward to portraying it. 

But what are sand dollars ?

"Live Sand Dollar trying to bury itself in beach sand" by John Tracy from Snellville, GA, USA - End of the line. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
As I was totally oblivious to their origins an internet search revealed more.  This is what Wikipedia had to say on the subject:
The term sand dollar (or sea cookie or snapper biscuit in New Zealand, or pansy shell in South Africa) refers to species of extremely flattened, burrowing sea urchins belonging to the order Clypeasteroida. Some species within the order, not quite as flat, are known as sea biscuits. Related animals include the sea urchins, sea cucumbers and starfish.
Sand dollars, like all members of the order Clypeasteroida, possess a rigid skeleton known as a test. The test consists of calcium carbonate plates arranged in a fivefold radial pattern.  In living individuals the test is covered by a skin of velvet-textured spines; these spines are in turn covered with very small hairs (cilia). Coordinated movements of the spines enable sand dollars to move across the seabed. The velvety spines of live sand dollars appear in a variety of colors—green, blue, violet, or purple—depending on the species. Individuals which are very recently dead or dying (moribund) are sometimes found on beaches with much of the external morphology still intact. Dead individuals are commonly found with their empty test devoid of all surface material and bleached white by sunlight.
The term "sand dollar" derives from the appearance of the tests (skeletons) of dead individuals after being washed ashore. The test lacks its velvet-like skin of spines and has often been bleached white by sunlight. To beachcombers of the past, this suggested a large, silver coin, such as the old Spanish or American dollar (diameter 38-40mm).
Other English names for the creatures include sand cake and cake urchin. In South Africa, they are known as pansy shells from their suggestion of a five-petaled garden flower. The Caribbean sand dollar or inflated sea biscuit, Clypeaster rosaceus, is thicker in height than most.
In Spanish-speaking areas of the Americas, the sand dollar is most often known as galleta de mar (sea cookie); the translated term is often encountered in English.

"Leodia sexiesperforata derivada 2013" by Louis Agassiz (Motier, 28 de mayo de 1807, - Cambridge, 14 de diciembre de 1873) - Leodia sexiesperforata, figura de Agassiz (1841) aparecida en: Agassiz, Louis (1841) Monographies d'échinodermes vivans et fossiles [Tome 2]. aux frais de l'auteur.. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Those of you that follow me on Facebook at Natures Details would have seen the images of the finished result, but I promised I would write more about the painting process as well as the use of masking film, a new thing for me to try.

I drew the sand dollar using a 2H pencil on HP Fabriano Artistico 140lb.
Rather than leave a 'white' background to the picture, I wanted to portray some texture using several paint effects.
First though, I had to mask out the shape of the sand dollar, as I didn't want to get this area marked with paint.  What to use ?  I don't like masking fluid, so I thought I would try masking film.
It is very easy to use and this particular one has a matt surface so that it can be drawn on.
Basically, it is a low-tack plastic, that can be removed easily from the paper.
1. I first cut out a small square to cover the area of the sand dollar and applied it to the paper, leaving no air bubbles.
2. Next I drew over the outline of the sand dollar visible through the film with a fine line permanent pen.
3.  I removed the whole piece of masking film and then cut around the drawn shape.
4. The shape of masking film was then re-applied to watercolour paper and I was ready to apply the paint !

To get the first paint effect, that will represent a stony / sandy texture, I used a foam washing up pad.  I roughly cut out a shape to remove the straight edges of the pad.
1. I chose some 'earthy' colours from my palette and mixed up a good amount of each colour.  The first colour was a sand colour.  This I applied to the pad using a paintbrush.  If you were to dip the pad into a puddle of paint, it would soak up too much paint and the resulting pattern would be too loose and moist. 
2. The pad was then pushed gently onto the watercolour paper, transferring the pattern of the pad onto the paper.
3.  Once this was done, individual stones / grains of sand were painted in using a number 3 brush.  The colours were mixes that included burnt sienna, raw umber, burnt umber and natural sienna, with a little French ultramarine added when a more muted brown was required..
4. The second paint effect was splattering.  (The moral of the story - cover everything around you, unless you want to splatter other stuff as well !).  I used the same colours as before, in a slightly stronger mix and held a paintbrush over the painting tapping the handle with my finger to achieve the splattering effect
5. Once the paint was dry I was able to remove the masking film.

Now on to painting the sand dollar itself.
1. Using a size 5 brush the body of the sand dollar was painted using a light wash of buff titanium, a really handy opaque colour from Daniel Smith. 
2. To build up slightly darker areas and to give the sand dollar more form, I mixed a neutral /grey wash using French ultramarine, quinacridone gold and perylene maroon.  This applied using a size 2 spotter brush.  You can see how I have applied the paint in almost a stipple effect in the bottom picture around the outer edges of the sand dollar.
3. A darker mix of the neutral wash was used to paint in the fine detail, again using a size 2 spotter brush
4. In addition, a shadow was painted in around the subject using shadow violet (DS).

The finished results.
I really enjoyed completing this painting, it was fun to use paint in a different way.
This picture along with a few others will be making it way towards my second solo exhibition, which will be taking place in November.  More to follow on that soon !
Whilst reading up on sand dollars, I came across this video on Youtube, that shows these amazing creatures in action - Enjoy !

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Busy Bees in the garden and a pop-up classroom !

This weekend we have seen an influx of bees in the garden.  This summer the buzz of bees in the garden has been reduced.  There is some thought that the very wet winter and then the early spring and summer may have had an affect on wildlife, and apparently there are already signs of an early autumn.
A few weeks ago this was reported in the Guardian newspaper, with National Trust naturalist Matthew Oates, providing some of the facts:

The Heleniums - Helenium Mardi Gras, have been providing a wonderful array of colour in the garden.  This is their 2nd year and they have really 'bushed' out.  These Honeybees have been taking full advantage of the ready supply of nectar. 
Below is a what I think is a Buff-tailed bumblebee  Bombus terrestris feeding on  Knautia macedonica 'Melton Pastels' 
Below is a bumblebee (unsure of species), feeding on Helenium 
Honeybee on Verbena bonariensis
A new plant I have recently acquired is a newly introduced Echinacea.  It has a fantastic name - Echinacea 'Tomato Soup'.  Very apt for its redness !

A collection of flowers from the garden - what can you spot ?
The veg trough earlier on in the season
I feel that I have rather neglected our veg trough this year, and have not made full use of the space.  The lettuce has been good, growing Romaine in a cut and come again variety.
In addition the chard has done well, but is now being devoured by tiny caterpillars. 

The first crop of chard was softened in a saucepan with a little butter and then added to mashed potato with some grated cheese.  To finish off it was topped with mixed seeds and more cheese.  Real comfort food, yum !
Small carrots in the sketchbook.

 Now for the 'pop-up' classroom !  It's really just a gazebo that we picked up at a reasonable price.
This week my 'Workshops in the Garden' start.  There will be 3 over the summer with 3 or 4 students attending each.
As our garden is south-facing and is surrounded by a wall, it can get extremely hot and lately it has almost been a 'no-go' area in the afternoons because of the sun.
Our large sun umbrella was going to be used with the addition of another borrowed from Mum and Dad, but the gazebo does the trick providing more shelter so that all students can fit under it comfortably.
I'll post some photos from the first workshop later on in the week.
Happy painting !

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

'Beetling' around - drawing & painting a Stag Beetle

Thanks to one of my students telling me about an insect ID workshop that she went on in Winchester, I have now found the most wonderful place that will keep me in subject matter for ever, and I mean ever !

The museum service in Hampshire has a great HQ where all of the collections are stored, from historic costumes, to fossils and beetles !

I made an appointment a few weeks ago and I excitedly made my way there today.  I had requested the use of the Stag beetles that they had, and looked forward to a new challenge.

So this post is really going to be an overview of how I went about this challenge, from the first faltering steps when I just wanted to give up, to the conclusion whereby I had to give the feel of sheen on the wing cases.

  1. The first stage was of course to draw this magnificent beetle.  Luckily I was allowed to take it out of its storage case and have it on my drawing board.  Using a vertical line enabled me to get the symmetry just right.
  2. The first wash that I applied consisted of perylene maroon to lay down a red base to the wing cases and the mandibles.  I lifted off some colour to leave a bit of a highlight, and it was at this stage I was wondering if I was even going to succeed with this subject!  Two thin bands of yellow were added and this was created from quinacridone gold deep (DS) and Naples yellow (OH).
  3. Because the further washes were much darker, I was able to build up the colour to rectify my initial concerns.  Normally I mix my own 'blacks', created from either 3 warm or 3 cool primaries.  Today, as I knew I was painting in a new environment, I took the easy step and used a colour called neutral tint.  I then added other colours to it as I built up the detail and form.
  4. The mixes were: neutral tint, perylene maroon, and a tiny bit of Sennelier yellow light.  This gave me a brown-black.  For additional intensity I upped and changed some of the colours and continued with this mix.  It was neutral tint, perylene maroon, indigo (DS) and hansa yellow light (DS).  I try and use no more than 3 pigments in a mix normally, but for me this combination happened to work and it gave me a dense black.
  5. When it came to painting the legs I used the latter colour, firstly using it diluted and then building up the layers with a size 2 round brush.
6.  Once all of the areas were painted, I touched up and added some more perylene maroon where needed.
7.  Now for the white gouache.  I always have a tube of permanent white gouache in my kit.  I don't often use it for botanical work, but for some subjects it can prove very useful.  I applied the gouache to create the sheen on the wing cases and highlights in other areas, with a size 2 spotter brush.  For the wing cases I applied the diluted gouache in small areas and then softened the edges of those areas with a slightly moist and clean brush.  In other areas the gouache was applied in a stippling motion creating tiny white dots.     
Paints used were Winsor & Newton unless stated otherwise:
DS - Daniel Smith
OH - Old Holland
Please remember that all images are protected by copyright and must not be copied in any form.  Thank you.
For further information on drawing and painting insects John Muir Laws has a video on YouTube:
As well as several blog posts:

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Painting the colour of chocolate - the challenge of a Chocolate Cosmos

During a delightful visit from Jarnie at Sketchbook Squirrel, I set us a challenge of finding the perfect colour match for a flower known as a Chocolate Cosmos.

I had heard of this flower a number of times but had never grown one.  To my amazement it is not only the colour of chocolate but also smells like it !

In the above image the flower looks rather red and perylene maroon is a colour that definately comes to mind.  In other light the flower looks intensely dark with a velvet look to it and a rich dark brown, almost black.

I was working in my Stilman and Birn Zeta Sketchbook and decided after the colour tests to just paint a petal.  Whilst mixing the initial washes I tried to ensure that I used no more than 3 colours in each mix.  Each paint colour that I used consisted of a single pigment, with the exception of indigo.  

This is a colour that I have only just returned to using again.  I had always avoided it in the past because it has black in the pigment mix and is also often an opaque colour, as well as being incredibly staining.

Without diverting from the subject of the cosmos too much, the indigo that I now use is manufactured by Daniel Smith.  It consists of 2 pigments PB60 and PBk6, a blue and a black, but the great thing about it is that it is transparent.  Another well known make of watercolour paint has different properties in its indigo watercolour - 3 pigments PBk6, PV19, PB15, it is opaque too.

Back to the cosmos - the final mix I decide upon was the bottom 3 colour tests.  The colours I used were indanthrene blue (W&N), piemonte genuine (DS) and a touch of Old Holland magenta (which is a quinacridone colour PR122).  This mix was used in varying degrees for the single petal and then dry brush work was used to finish it off in perylene maroon with a touch of piemonte genuine.

My initial colour tests are mixed quite dark and then I soften the colour strip with a moist, clean brush.  This way I get to see the tonal value I can achieve with that mix.

That wasn't the end of it though !  When I looked at a flower the next day there was far more of a red base colour.  So I set to again and took these steps .....

A base wash of perylene maroon applied first

Subtle ridges and detail in each petal created with a mix of piemonte genuine and indanthrene blue

The depth of colour was increased using the dry brush technique with a mix of perylene maroon and indanthrene blue

The finished painting trial and I'm still not sure if it is quite right.  Never the less exercises like this are a great way to really get to know your colours and what you can achieve with them.

On another subject, we had the moth trap out last week to see what moths were flying around our patch. Alas, nothing significant showed up, so we will have another go soon.  

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Garden as Inspiration and Respite

A garden can be a wonderful respite from the day to day routines and work.  A significant thing for me and many other people is that it can also be a place to go, apart from the four walls of your house when you are restricted to your home through ill health.  This can have an impact no matter how long that restriction can be - it can be a week, a month, or even longer.

Our garden is small and is sort of a 1/4 of a circle in shape.  It looks as though it takes a lot of work, but believe me, it is quite manageable.  The advantage being that when we re-designed it two years ago we filled it with perennial plants. The majority of them come up year after year, and some of them are packed tightly, so there are no room for weeds - hence not a lot of weeding is done !  Other delights include planting annuals in the many pots.

The garden during the day ......
and in the evening, just after watering - peaceful
Each year there are many subjects from my garden that I would love to paint, and I am finding that sometimes the pictures created from them may be created over several seasons or even over a couple of years.
One such subject is a David Austin rose called The Lady's Blush.  This I bought as a bedraggled specimen from the garden centre, looking very sorry for itself and bonus, it was also reduced to half price.  I didn't hold out much hope for it.  It bloomed last year but then had wilt and later on produced a few lovely red hips.  This year I have certainly not been disappointed and it has had so many blooms on it - and no wilt !
I had painted a sketch of the hip last Autumn so I had that to use, and a few weeks ago I set to composing a picture of several elements of the plant.  I didn't think too much about composition, I just wanted it to evolve and most of all I really wanted to enjoy painting it.

Left - the rose hip painted last year in my Zeta sketchbook.  The other 4 pictures show how I painted the hip in the main painting.  Initially I dampened the paper, let the sheen of the water go off a bit, and then added cerulean blue (where the highlight is), pyrrol red (DS) and Sennelier yellow light.  Further areas of colour included pyrrol orange (DS), quinacridone gold (DS) and perylene maroon(W&N).  I used a size 2 brush first (Isabey Series 6228) and then used a size 1 spotter (Rosemary brushes).
Development of the bloom.  The colour of this rose is what I call a gentle pink.  I had the perfect colour in my palette - rhodonite genuine by DS.  Again, I moistened the petal area I was working on first and then carefully laid on the colour.  The advantages to wetting the paper beforehand are: 1)  It slows the drying time in this hot weather 2) It allows more manoeuvrability of the paint on the paper, most importantly, it is easier to create a softer transition between the edge of the paint where it meets the paper.  This applies to the areas of the petals that I wanted to retain as white (the colour of the paper) or paler colours.
I also added a shadow colour to the petals where it was needed.  I tend to steer away from shadows normally, but I took a deep breath and mixed up a colour.
To create a neutral or shadow mix I would normally use my 3 main cool colours or my 3 main warm colours.  This time I decided to take a short cut - I used shadow violet (DS) with a touch of the rhodonite genuine in it, and watered it down considerably.  I think it works ....... maybe.
As I mentioned before, I took a freer approach to composition, this led me to adding some of the stamens.  These were so small, pale and delicate that I also used some of the shadow mix to give the impression they were laying on the paper.
There were also tiny red glandular hairs around the edges of the sepals.  The spotter brush came in handy for these too !
The finished piece - with a little scroll added to finish it off.
As you can see from the above montage, there is plenty to keep me going.  Not all of these are on the painting list but what better way to paint a flower than to have the scent of chocolate wafting over the paper.  Yes a flower that smells of chocolate !  The plant concerned is the Chocolate Cosmos (the small picture centre bottom).
Well, what's next ?  Some painting of birds, course planning for the next academic year and some very special planning of artwork for next year's exhibitions !  Oh and of course, next week Sketchbook Squirrel is paying me and the garden a visit - can't wait !