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 !

Friday, 13 June 2014

The challenge of an Iris

Last year when I was asking my students for suggestions of subject matter for further classes, Irises featured several times.  Initially, they were thinking of the bulbous form of Iris, the ones that are small and flower in early Spring.

I had other ideas though, I was thinking of the big and blousy form, such as bearded or crested irises.  I knew the soil in our garden didn't suit these plants, but at least I could get some from the local florist.

The two forms of Iris we are most familiar with are bearded and crested irises.  They each have four major parts:

Stigma flaps
Beard or Crest/Ridges

Above you can see where I have cut through two of the falls and petaloid style branches to reveal where the anthers are.

This may all seem very technical, but to me it is essential to really get to know your subject, especially if you haven't drawn it before.  We may not be composing a true botanical illustration, but in botanical art/painting, we still need to portray the subject accurately and the only way we can do this is by becoming familiar with the flower's morphology.

This is how I supported my specimen.  It is in a plastic orchid tube with water inside, supported by a retort stand.  This worked well, as the subject was at direct eye level when sat at my desk.  I also attached a piece of white card to the stand to cut out any items in the background that would be a distraction.

This was the flower I used for the drawing.

Now we are more confident with the flower structure, we can start to get the details down onto paper.  For this exercise I have not measured the flower parts, but have drawn them at each stage by eye, ensuring that I am portraying the flower life-size.

 First I drew the front outer perianth segment (fall), taking note of the depth of the front central area.  Drawing the flower from this angle means that I have foreshortening to deal with, and this was certainly the case with the crest and the anther just showing underneath.
Then I drew in two of the standards.
Secondly, I drew the right fall and then another crest.
What you have to consider when drawing a flower such as this, is where are all of the lines going behind the front fall?  Even though you cannot see where they go, you still have to get the angles right where they are visible.  The base of all parts meet just above and/or in the stylar column.
Thirdly, the left fall and crest was added and the rear standard.  Because of the angle of the left fall, it was largely the back of the fall that was visible.
The lower lines were drawn in place to represent the sheath covering the stem.
The initial drawings above did not involve any detail to the fall and standard margins.  The  slightly 'crinkled' edge to the front fall was drawn in place prior to painting.
If this was a painting that I was continuing with, rather than a teaching piece, it is at this stage that I would add the finer details to the drawing.
Now for colour !
When it came to thinking about colour, I already had cool reds in mind, but what would I need in terms of blue ?
I created some mixes using Permanent rose (W/N) and also Anthraquinoid red (D/S) with two cool blues and two warm blues.
The cool blues were Indanthrene blue (W/N) and Winsor blue green shade (W/N) and the warm blues were French Ultramarine (D/S) and Winsor blue red shade (W/N)
Some of the mixes looked very similar to each other, but in the end I opted for the Permanent rose and French Ultramarine mix (second up from bottom).
During the lesson the students were 'itching' to get on and draw their Iris, so towards the end I gave them a demo of applying the first washes of paint.
I dampened the front fall first with clean water and then let the sheen of the water just disappear from the surface of the paper.
I then applied the paint from the edge inwards not taking it all the way to the centre, remembering to leave the white of the paper to represent the white part of the fall.
Because the paper was slightly damp this gave me the flexibility to keep the paint moving and enabled me to then soften the purple wash with a clean brush and water near to the centre of the fall.
It was also an extremely hot afternoon, so dampening the paper allowed the paint to dry a little slower.
Once this wash was dry, I then made the paint mix slightly stronger with the same colours and with the tip of a size 2 brush, added some of the veins visible on the falls.  The left side of this fall was very flat, with no creases, but the other side was more creased. 
As time ran out of our 2 hour weekly session, the rest of the flower will have to wait until next week's class and when I have made another trip to the florists !
Perhaps Iris aren't so frightening after all ? !
Happy painting !

Monday, 26 May 2014

The song of a Cuckoo .....

You may wonder what this blog post has in store going by the title - all will be revealed in this visual and audible narrative.

Just after my last blog post I had a very exciting and inspiring time in London at the Society of Botanical Artists Exhibition.  This is turning into a wonderful time of year when many friends get the chance to meet, catch up on news and share our botanical art ideas.  What was even more special was that those special friends were there to see me receive an award at the exhibition.

Many thanks to Katherine Tyrrell for the image.

I was thrilled to have been awarded a Certificate of Botanical Merit (CBM) for my painting of Echinacea purpurea.  For me I felt honoured as it is judged by a botanist, this year by Doctor Brent Elliott who is Historian for the Royal Horticultural Society.  You can read more about the other CBMs on Making A Mark.

In addition I had the exciting news that my painting of Galls of Quercus Species sold at the exhibition too.

There was a moment of calm after the exhibition, with a few days to reflect on new artwork ideas, plan a summer of painting and new courses for the Autumn term at Peter Symonds AHED; before another exhibition got underway.

This reflective time entailed visits to two of my favourite places -  Meon Shore, overlooking the Solent and a visit to Swanwick Lakes Nature Reserve.

Tidal pools looking towards Hill Head

I needed to collect some seashore items for a demonstration and also for a painting that I will be using as a teaching piece for two workshops coming up this summer.  The only thing was, I had got the tide times wrong, so therefore I ended up having to go down to the shore at 6am in the morning.  What a treat I was in for.  The beach virtually to myself, tidal pools to splash about in with my wellies on, and the beautiful bird song coming from the adjacent Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve.

Sunrise over Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve

Listen here to the cacophony of bird song on this track and if you listen carefully, you may hear the sound of a cuckoo.

If you didn't hear the cuckoo on that track, you can hear it more on this one, but you may need to up your volume level.

The collection of bits and pieces are gradually being turned into a painting that will evolve over the next few weeks with other items from my collection at home.

I hadn't been to Swanwick Lakes Nature Reserve for what seemed like such a long time.  The day I went there the weather was so glorious and I found myself sitting on the dipping platform overlooking the main lake in front of the classroom (the wooden cabin on the right).  Whilst there I watched the Heron stalk the Coot chicks and then saw the flash of a Kingfisher circle around the lake.  I was actually sitting near where it normally perches !

A sunny perch for me !

This visit was prior to  a workshop that I was teaching there - Botany & Art.  I had 4 students, so plenty of time was spent with each, and along with the usual demonstrations we all got to grips with the botanical features of flowering plants and how to portray them on paper.

The other exhibition that is now in full swing is The Society of Floral Painters exhibition at the Oxmarket Centre of Arts in Chichester.  I have been a member of the SFP since 2000 and the Society was originally set up in the mid 1990's by a group of artists that wanted to exhibit artwork on a floral theme, but in a variety of mediums.  This has been done successfully since its creation and the society also brings many artists together at other social events, workshops and open days.

The current exhibition is on until the 8th June.

Why not come along and have a look or alternatively enjoy this exhibition video.

As for me, once the exhibition is finished, I will be 'diving' into more artwork and hopefully will be exploring some options for 'professional development', that's what they used to call it in my previous working life anyway !

Happy painting !