Thursday, 14 May 2015

Muscardinus avellanarius - Getting to know the Hazel Dormouse

The Hazel Dormouse is a very endearing looking animal.  The fascination with this animal is so often enhanced due to how it appears to us - in books, images and paintings.  Often in a curled up state of cuteness.  Indeed, even I have portrayed it in this way.

Their name is thought to originate from the French word of dormer, which means to sleep.   They go into this state of torpor when hibernating in winter.

The Dormouse is protected - it is illegal to disturb, kill or injure, capture or possess as Dormouse or to damage or destroy its place of nesting.  I have often accompanied Licensed Dormouse Surveyors on surveys, and this license is a strict requirement if studying this creature and if there is the need to then handle and disturb them for monitoring purposes.

For further information on this species the Peoples Trust for Endangered Species has a fantastic website full of facts and figures and up to date reports on the status of Dormice and other animals.

My home county of Hampshire has its own Dormouse Group, as do several other counties.  There are often activities that you can become involved in.

Back to the artwork.  One of my latest commissions involves a Dormouse.  Not one in torpor I hasten to add, but a more active looking one !  So on with the research.

Checking my reference images.  The photo above is of a deceased Dormouse that a previous work colleague found.  He brought it back to the office and I was able to make some notes and take measurements.

I really wanted to get a closer look at the subject.  So back to one of my favourite places, the museum service and access to their natural sciences collection.
One specimen was available for me to view and study, and I was very lucky that it was posed in an ideal position.

Working from photographs is sometimes the only option, but being able to have the subject in front of you makes all of the difference, as you get an accurate sense of scale and colour, as well as the opportunity to take measurements. 

Of course, it helps even more when the taxidermy specimen is a good one.  As I mentioned in a previous post, those from the Victorian era, do sometimes have some unusual poses !

My completed study page.  As well as this information helping me with my current commission, it helps to build up what I like to call my 'resource bank'.

Once I had finished the study, I spent a short while drawing a tiny Shrew as well.

There will be more news on the Dormouse in a later post, but in the meantime I am busy preparing for the Kingcombe Arts Weekend in Dorset.
This will be at the picturesque Kingcombe Centre which is surrounded by the Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve.
Why not come along and say hello !
I will hopefully be launching a new lino-print that I have created as part of the Art & the Hedgerow Project, as well as a new range of greetings cards which are all limited editions and hand finished, printed on Somerset authentic fine art paper, made by St. Cuthberts Mill.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

A new HP watercolour paper from St. Cuthbert's Mill

A short while ago I took part in a paper trial with a few other artists.  The purpose of the trial was to have a go at using an alternative hot press paper created by St. Cuthbert's Mill and give feedback on our results.  The Mill makes Saunders Waterford and Bockingford, as well as other papers.

I had 2 papers to use.  The traditional Saunders Waterford HP in high white and the trial paper in high white.
Above you can see the different swatches that I first created, using different painting techniques.
My initial thoughts were that I couldn't seem to get an even first wash on the paper, but as I continued, especially with an actual painting, this didn't seem to be an issue.
I also used an eraser on the paper to see if the surface of the paper was damaged at all.  I used a plastic eraser and also a softer 'gomme' eraser.  The paper surface stood up very well to the erasing and when I applied a watercolour wash over the area, the paint dried smoothly with no signs of paper surface damage.
I decided to paint a Seven-spot ladybird on the trial paper.  I wanted to see how I could build up the initial washes and the depth of colour that could be achieved.  The picture above was in the early stages.
The colour intensity was retained as I progressed further and I found it very easy to lift areas of watercolour too.
I would like to stress that these are only my opinions, other artists may have had different results, dependant on their painting style and techniques they used.
The good news is that a new HP paper will be produced by the Mill in the near future.  It will be called Saunders Waterford High White Super HP and will available in 300gm (squared) (140lb) and 425gm (squared) (200lb).
I certainly look forward to using this new paper and hope to use it alongside my favourite (and the one I have a stock of), until I decide whether to just use one of them.
A nice gift in the post today from St. Cuthbert's Mill - traditional Saunders Waterford HP
If you would like to read more about choosing watercolour papers for botanical art, why not have a look at:

Friday, 10 April 2015

Illustrating Spring flowers

Not long now until my next course at the Kingcombe Centre.
This place and the surrounding hedgerows, meadows and other habitats, are inspiring all year, but especially in the Spring !
The course starts on the Tuesday evening and finishes on the Friday afternoon.  So whatever level of experience you have there will be plenty of opportunity to really get to know your plants, and produce an illustration of your discoveries.
There are residential and non-residential options available.  For more information go to:
The Natures Details Spring and Summer Newsletter has now been published with news of an exciting new course coming up in October, along with other botanical art news. 
To read and download the newsletter click on the newsletter picture at the top of the right hand column or below

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Working with an Art Society

Over the last few months I have been lucky enough to be working with a local art society. 

Originally, it was just to cover their weekly 2 hour classes for a few weeks, and now I am continuing until June !

It has been a refreshing change for me.  Mostly, to do with the subject matter.  Not everybody favours a more detailed approach to drawing and painting, so I have had to think of subjects that suit will a variety of painting styles.

I wonder why some people are 'terrified' of detail and look upon it sometimes as a more negative approach to drawing and painting.  Hopefully I have reduced some of that fear and negativity, I'd like to think so.

One of the paintings from the marine themed week

A variety of pens to use for the pen and ink themed week and examples of my work.

The stages of a painting of Oyster shells using pen and wash.

Banksia pods depicted using different inks.
Top: Black Quink ink
Middle: Sepia ink
Bottom: Acrylic inks

You can achieve some wonderful effects using black Quink ink.  The pigments in the ink separate when they come into contact with water.  Quink ink is the traditional type of ink used in fountain and cartridge pens.

A Lotus seed pod in water soluble inks from a brush pen, and watercolour.

Over the last few weeks we have been using texture paste and other media to depict the texture of brick walls, stones and geological formations.
Don't forget that quite a lot of my personal artwork is focused on Art and the Hedgerow at the moment.  You can find out more on the Art & the Hedgerow Blog.
Happy painting !

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

An Anniversary of Sharing Nature & Art

An anniversary has crept up on me that I hadn't even realised was occurring until I was getting ready for my first workshop of 2015 with the Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust.

It was 10 years ago that I first started teaching botanical and natural history art workshops for them. Opportunities for lifelong learning were occurring not only in colleges but within other organisations and the HIOWWT took this on board and started to provide a wide variety of courses and workshops.  Not just those that enhance professional development in the field of conservation, but those that appealed to a variety of members and non-members.  Subjects ranged from photography, species id, willow weaving and sculpture and now include bush craft and pond-dipping for adults !

Back in 2006

Now, teaching botanical and natural history art is my main occupation, but back in 2005 I was studying for my ecology and conservation biology degree which meant that I also had the chance to spend time volunteering with the Trust at their Swanwick Lakes Nature Reserve.  When I then finished my degree and worked in consultancy, I still taught workshops for HIOWWT when I could.

2006 - drawing and painting fungi

All through this time the thing I enjoy most is opening up the natural world to people.  Through art you can really spend time and look at something and marvel in its construction, growth habit, beauty, colours - the list goes on !  I know one comment that often comes up from people that have attended the workshops is, that they observe and notice so much more when they are out on one of the reserves or even just going for a walk in their local patch.  As well as that they are picking up additional skills in the field of art and natural history and understanding the important conservation and land management work that the HIOWWT is involved in.

Before I show you a selection of pictures from the last 10 years, I would like to say a huge thank you to all of the staff that have supported and encouraged me during that time, especially the Swanwick Lakes team and the staff at HIOWWT head office, who take care of co-ordinating the many workshops and the bookings.  I would especially like to say thank you to the many people that have attended the workshops, some of whom still come along and had attended the very first course I taught in 2005.

For more information on HIOWWT courses go to:

The Swanwick Lakes Team - in 2011 at the opening of the Natural Year at Swanwick Lakes Art Exhibition

Making natural pigments

The launch day of the Swanwick Lakes Artist in Residence year 2010 - 2011

Christina Hart-Davies and I.  Christina opened the exhibition for me

The Natural Year Art Exhibition preview evening

A Brush with Nature workshop at Testwood Lakes Nature Reserve

Drawing and Painting Birds at Testwood Lakes

Some of the wonderful artwork produced during the workshops