Tuesday, 18 November 2014

A few of my favourite things ..... from my studio

I belong to some  fantastic art themed groups on Facebook, where we share images of our work, ask for advice, talk about art materials; and one of the things we like most is probably seeing and chatting about what we have in our studios. 

Several people have also asked me which Daniel Smith paints I use, so I thought that I would combine this and a few of my favourite things from my studio into a blog post.  I hope you enjoy it.

Brush Pots 

I always make use of favourite mugs that are of no use anymore for my brushes and pencils, but the three I use most are seen here.

The white mug was my Grandfather's RAF mug from the second world war.  He was always a great supporter of my artwork and interest in the natural world, so it is nice to think I have something of his in the room where I seem to spend the most time !

The other two pots/stands have been made by my husband and were some of the first things he made when he took up wood-turning.  The tall pot is made of teak, which was quite a tough wood to turn, and the other brush stand is a piece of birch that had seen better days, but I loved the pattern of the grain and the other markings in it.


Over time I have used a variety of brushes, but I always come back to my favourites, the Isabey 6228 series.  They are made of Kolinsky sable and are of fantastic quality.  I find they are very hard-wearing and really keep their points well.

As I am using my brushes all the time and it is hard to keep track of which ones are the newest ones, I try to put a label on the bottom of each saying when I bought them.  Hence why it says 'Aut 13' meaning Autumn 2013.  The ones I use most obviously wear more quickly and it is easier to tell.

I also love using Rosemary Spotter brushes Series 323.  These too are Kolinsky sable.

They are designed to be used for miniature painting, but many botanical and natural history artists use them for rendering fine controlled detail.

Pencil Sharpener

Fair enough, you can't take this pencil sharpener when sketching in the field, it would weigh your bag down a bit !  In that instance I use a scalpel to sharpen my pencil.

This is what I use in the studio and during my classes.  It gives a wonderful long point to the pencil.

The advantage to using a sharpener like this is that the sharpening mechanism actually revolves around the pencil.  This means that the pencil is not being twisted whilst being sharpened and there is less likelihood the core of the pencil being broken.


I have many botanical and natural history books.  Field guides, floras, but also art books on these themes.  They are often catalogues from exhibitions, but also include art history books too.

My all time favourite set of books is 'Drawings of British Plants' by Stella Ross-Craig.

What attracts to me these is the clear and detailed illustrations which I so often refer to when illustrating native plants.  I may not be illustrating the whole plant, but being able to see what a small botanical feature actually looks like, helps to me understand the true morphology of the plant.

My natural history collection

Much of this I have collected myself or it has been given to me.

I have numerous boxes filled with bits and pieces that I use for my workshops and courses and for my own illustrations or commissions.

My young nieces are mesmorised by it all and have already caught the bug of illustrating nature in their own sketchbooks.


Last but not least onto the paints !  When I teach I use a limited palette of 6 colours divided into warm and cool colours, but the box on the left is what I call my 'studio box'.

It contains the 6 key colours but also includes other colours that I use when needed, and also some colours by Winsor and Newton, Schminke and Sennelier.

Once my students are confident with the 6 colours and realise the array of colours that they can mix, they too gradually introduce some of these additional colours.  It may for example be that they find that they need an alternative to the warm red, or the same for the cool blue.

I must say that my favourite brand of paint at the moment are Daniel Smith paints.  They are such smooth and easy to use colours, although when I first used them I soon realised that the you don't need to pick up quite so much colour from the palette with your brush, compared to some other brand of paints. 

When I first discovered DS paints a few years ago, I bought some of the Primatek colours.  These are colours that are natural mineral based colours and therefore retain the characteristics and quality of the original mineral pigment.

They really lend themselves to painting natural objects and landscapes too.  Many of these colours do granulate, which you don't always want I know, but this can be an advantage for particular subjects.

I try to ensure that the paints I use consist of single pigments, but there are a few that that do contain several pigments.  These are not colours that I use on a regular basis, but when I do use them I try not to mix them with too many other colours, otherwise it is very easy to end up with a 'muddy' wash.

So if you are wondering about what colours to choose, I thought it a good idea to categorise some of the colours into warm and cool, and in some cases give an equivalent colour.

Cool yellow
Hansa yellow light - a good alternative to a lemon-based yellow

Warm yellow
New gamboge - available in other brands, but this one is transparent
Quinacridone gold

Cool red
Anthraquinoid red - a good alternative to perm alizarin crimson, but slightly richer in intensity

Warm red
Pyrrol red - a semi-transparent colour which is a good alternative to a cadmium red
Perylene scarlet - a vivid red which is also semi-transparent.  DS say that it granulates, but I have never noticed this.

The two warm reds above are perfect for painting rose-hips and poppies.

Cool blue
Cerulean blue - the great thing about DS Cerulean blue is that it is semi-transparent.  In other brands it is often opaque.

Warm blue
Cobalt blue - the same applies for this colour as for the colour above, it is semi-transparent rather than opaque

Other colours
Other DS colours that I find useful are:

Rhodonite genuine - a very gentle pink

Transparent Pyrrol orange - a vivid rich orange, great for autumnal subjects

Raw umber - a great brown to have in your palette, semi-transparent, but a different colour raw umber than to other brands

Buff titanium - Yes it is opaque, but handy to have for painting fungi and shells

Undersea green - Sometimes I do use ready-made greens, and this is a good one to have.  It does granulate, but I found that very useful when I was illustrating a Medlar fruit.  The granulation helped to portray the subtle texture of the fruit, especially when the colour was mixed with quinacridone gold.

Sap green - a handy one to have in the palette when you are in a rush for a green !  It works well when mixed with other colours, although you do have to be careful as it is made up of three pigments

Indigo - In the past I have at times steered clear of Indigo as it often contains a black pigment.  This one does along with a blue pigment, but an advantage is that it is transparent

Well I must get back to my painting.  I'm still working on that fungi painting, which I really do hope I finish this week !

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Further fungi .....

I mentioned in a previous post in October, how I had started a painting of fungi. http://thenaturalyear.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/autumn-ramble-and-further-fungi.html

The species originate from an area of woodland in the New Forest, which is in the county of Hampshire, UK.

This is just a quick post to update you on the progress of the painting. Three more species have been illustrated with a few more still to go.

The species are Sulphur tuft (top right), Cortinarius sanguineous (lower right), and a tiny Amethyst deciever (left).

On another note, my exhibition has been well attended and several paintings have sold.  The exhibition is on at Hardings Picture Framing and Gallery in Warsash until 18th November.

I'll be painting again in the gallery on Friday 14th November from 10.30am - 3.00pm.  The image for the new blog banner above was taken in the gallery last week, painting sand dollars in my sketchbook.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

2nd Solo Show & In Praise of Picture Framers

Today my second solo show opened to the public at Hardings Picture Framing and Gallery in Warsash near Southampton.  The exhibition is open 4th - 18th November.

I feel incredibly grateful to have been given the opportunity to exhibit at Hardings, it is somewhere that I have visited for the last twenty years, most importantly for framing requirements.

There have been periods of absence, normally when my previous careers have meant that there was no time for painting, hence no pictures to frame.

Each time I have been back, Jeremy, the owner and framer is always there to offer advice and make new suggestions.  He has got used to the requirements of framing botanical art and the criteria I have to adhere to for exhibiting with the national and international societies.

For many years, I have used a plain oak flat frame, quite narrow, but which seems to never date.  This has tended to suit both botanical and natural history artwork.

What has been most exciting in the lead up to this most recent exhibition has been the anticipation in seeing how some of my latest pieces have been framed.  Most of these have not been botanical and I was thrilled with the results (I didn't know how they were going to be framed). 

I thought I would take you on a 'close-up' trip of some of the frames that Jeremy has created.

These two paintings are acrylics on a natural linen canvas board.  These are two of my favourite pictures in the exhibition, and that is down to the framing.  The canvas boards have been attached with acid free tape hinges and placed on mountboard.  What really helps to show these paintings off is the wide border to the mountboard and placing them in box frames.  The colour of the wooden frames compliments the colours of the canvas and the painted natural objects.  Finally, anti-reflective glass has been used, which makes it almost feel as though there is no glass at all.

Again, with this picture the mountboard is nice and wide, and this is enhanced by using a wide frame.  The colour of the frame is just right, and although is dark in nature, the distressed grey effect really does match the soft greys and black in the Jay's feathers.
Following the theme of wide mounts and frames, this frame also has a distressed effect, but is paler in colour.
For the Stag Beetle painting this dark frame perfectly matched the warm black of the beetle and the box frame makes it feel as though you are almost looking into a cabinet of curiosities.
My Quail's eggs painting has proved popular in the past, so here is mark ii (top picture).
Dream Eggs is at the bottom and these pale but warm coloured wide frames, draw your eye into the subjects.
So, tips for artists on finding and working with your framer:
  • As well as supporting local business, using a framer near to home can help to cut transport costs down (if you can find one nearby).
  • When visiting a framer for the first time, look to see the range and variety of frames that they stock, as well as mountboard.
  • A good framer will listen to you, rather than dictate what frame should be used.
  • Vice versa, listen to your framer.  He or she may come up with new suggestions for frames or even the proportions your mount should be.
  • They may even be able to order in a particular frame that they do not hold generally in stock.
  • A good framer will be up to date with the latest framing trends and framing techniques, for example using slips, French mounting etc.
  • If you are an artist needing framing done on a regular basis, ask if there is any chance of a discount.
  • Some framers will make up a frame for you with backing board, glass and mount, at a reduced price, if you are happy to frame the picture yourself.  (This can be stressful though, especially when there is a tiny bit of fluff behind the glass when you have just sealed it up !)
Lastly, appreciate your framer, and if you are pleased with the work, spread the word.  We all need to help each other.
Thank you to Jeremy and Claire for all of their support in bringing this exhibition together.
So, the exhibition is on until Tuesday 18th November, during normal shop opening hours.
I will painting in the gallery on Thursday 6th November and Friday 14th November 10.30am - 3.00pm
Hardings Website

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Autumn Ramble and further fungi .....

Yes, I am back after a short break.  This time of year is certainly a busy one.  The residential course at the Kingcombe Centre in Dorset went very well, the botanical art courses have started at Peter Symonds College AHED in Winchester, and there has also been Saturday workshops happening too !

On top of that I have been trying to find time for my own artwork.  I have several pieces that I am working on for the SBA - The Society of Botanical Artists exhibition, which will be in April next year.  Hand in is in February, so time is running away fast.

When I was wandering around the Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve and its surrounds the other week, there were so many subjects that I wanted to paint - in the hedgerows and banks, meadows, woodland and the orchard at the centre too.

The course was concentrating on painting Autumnal fruits, berries and seedheads.  I never plan what will happen with demonstration pieces, but it was enjoyable to keep going with the one I started for the course.  Here it is completed, Autumn Ramble - Kingcombe.

Autumn Ramble - Kingcombe.  © Sarah Morrish 2014

The main subjects we covered during the course included painting rosehips and creating highlights; painting dark coloured fruit and depicting bloom on fruit; mixing browns from 3 colours and how to depict lichens on twigs.

When I returned I taught a print-making workshop at Swanwick Lakes Nature Reserve in Hampshire. What an exciting experience that was for everyone involved, some really dynamic prints were produced !

So, onto my latest picture.  Yes it involves fungi, species that I have found in an area of woodland in the New Forest.  The habitat consists of mainly Beech trees with scattered Oak trees and some boggy areas around the perimeter, with a few coniferous trees present.  Rather than keep you waiting until I finish the painting, I thought I would share each stage with you and tell you a little about some of the fungi I have illustrated.  The fungi on the left is a Russula species.  On the right is a specimen that can look like shiny jelly, especially when it is first forming in small globules.  Its name is Purple Jellydisc Ascocoryne sarcoides.  A saprotrophic fungi is one that lives and feeds on dead organic matter, and this is just what this fungi does, normally found on the deadwood of Beech.

This week coming is half-term, so no botanical art teaching, but on Friday I will be teaching a print-making workshop for 11-16 year olds, so that will be a change of audience.  I will also be preparing for my exhibition which starts on the 4th November.  If you are in the area it would be great to see you !  I will hopefully be painting in the gallery on Thursday 6th November.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Fun with Fungi !

Those of you that follow my blog may already know that I am fascinated by fungi, looking for these wonderful organisms and also painting them.

Well, at last I have finally finished producing my latest tutorial video on 'Drawing & Painting Fungi'.

It is a collection of some of my favourite fungi photographs, as well as some ecological facts and of course some hints and techniques on illustrating this inspiring subject matter.

Why not have a look ? (click on the image below).

This is just a quick blog post as I am busy packing up for my week's teaching in Dorset, which starts on Monday.

The Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve and the Kingcombe Centre, will no doubt provide some wonderful inspiration and subject matter for the course - Painting Autumn fruits, berries and seedheads (and hopefully a few fungi too !)

A Bracket fungi growing on a tree in the New Forest, Hampshire, UK

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Part 2: Botanical Painting & Technology - apps and more

Since I wrote the last blog post on this subject, I have had the opportunity to explore some of the apps (applications) available for use on tablet computers.

I will say first of all, that I am not endorsing any of the suggested apps, I am hopefully opening the doors of thought, as to whether there are any apps that can work alongside botanical art in all its stages.

When I was on the course at the Chelsea Physic Garden,  the majority of the apps that we looked at were compatible with Ipads, but there were many similar ones that work just as well with an Android operating system.

Colour references
Could there be a place for using tablets when working in the field ?  Perhaps for taking colour references ?

There are apps that incorporate the Pantone, CMYK, RGB colour range palettes.  These are standard colour palettes and each colour within has a code number, and as such could be used to match colours against natural objects, and then we record on the tablet or on paper what those colours are for a particular subject.  I must admit I would feel that I am missing out on the exciting process of creating those colours myself using watercolours, but perhaps if we are in environments where the sketching field kit cannot come out, it may be an option.

Another way of creating colour palettes is by using an app that converts the colours from your digital images into a palette.  There are several apps that do this.  The one I tried for Android is called Real Colours - Palette GeneratorYou can basically, take a photo with your tablet camera and then import it into the app, which will then generate the palette on your screen alongside the image.

As you can see above, only 5 colours were generated but you also get a range of colours in the middle section of the screen.  Other apps available may well generate a wider range of colour swatches.
Could it be useful ?  I tend to only use photos for reference when painting botanical portraits, but I think this is a bit of fun that lets you look at the colours found in objects in a new way.
Digital sketching and painting
Personally, I haven't used any of the apps available for this.  It is an interesting concept, but I am sure the stylus sensitivity may be an issue if we are wanting to produce fine detailed drawings. 
An Android app that you can use for sketching and painting is called Paper Artist.  For Ipads there are several apps available:
  • Artrage
  • Paper53
  • Brushes Ipad edition
  • Brushes 3 - that I believe has been used by David Hockney
Other apps
There are several apps that I have started using, some prior to attending the course.  One that I particularly like is called Photo Collage.  I can import images and edit them with the app in different page formats.  This I am finding particularly useful for step by step images of artwork that I can show on the blog and the Natures Details Facebook page. 

Choose the page layout
Add the images
Generate the collage
Once created the collage can be shared immediately by social media or alternatively you can save it and use at a later date.  I also use it to produce collages of plants in their habitats. The resolution that the collage is saved at is ok for internet use, but if you try and print it off or enlarge it the quality is not so good.  Personally, I see this as an advantage, that would hopefully deter people from taking your images.
Creating short videos using Animoto
This is a more recent app that I have discovered.  In the 'lite' version of the app you can upload a total of 12 still images, and any title pages would be included within these 12 too.  There was one particular template I liked and there is also a choice in music.
I think this app is fine for producing short videos of your work, particularly showing a step by step approach, but to get more from the app you would need to upgrade to the paid version which gives you more capacity.
Apps used for reference
There are many apps available to use for reference, some better quality than others.  Those of better quality seem to be more available for Ipads.  Nevertheless I did find some useful apps for Adroid.
Rogers Mushrooms: Fungi Identification Guide - this app comes in two versions 'lite' and a paid version and is compatible for Ipad and Android.  It is based on the popular id books by Roger Philips and covers species of fungi from both Europe and North America.
Tree Id: British Tree Identification Guide - this app is a detailed in what it describes as the native tree species found in the UK.  There seems to be lots of information to read, but I am yet to discover the variety of images available.  I am hoping there will also be images of individual leaves as well as the tree in situ.
RSPB Guide to British Birds - this app is the interactive companion to the book of the same name.  Although obviously not botanical, it would be of interest to those who enjoy many aspects of natural history.
Audobon guides - there seems to be quite a few available on varying themes connected to the natural world.  Most of the apps are also available for Android.
Flora EU - I have not viewed this app as it is not available for Android.
Unfortunately I could not find what I considered a quality guide to UK & European wild flowers for Android.  The alternative way to having this information is to download an e-book, of which there are several available from the Collins Id series.
Leafsnap - this is an app that at the moment is only available for Ipads.  I really do hope they bring out an Android version soon.
The idea is that the app identifies trees from the photos you take of their leaves.  There is a USA and UK version, the latter that has been developed in conjunction with The Natural History Museum, London.
Other tablet accessories
Whilst on the course with Elaine Searle, she recommended the Hoverbar available for Ipads.  It holds the Ipad in place and also has a flexible arm, so that the Ipad can be moved into any position.  She has the Hoverbar clamped to her easel whilst she is working.
To see more about this accessory go to:  Twelve South
There are many other similar clamps available of varying prices, but as of yet I have not tried any of them.
One other accessory that I found particularly useful was a card reader, so that you can download images from your camera to your tablet. 
Some people say how inconvenient it is not to have USB ports on tablet computers to enable you to do this.
Apple have one available for Ipads which connects to the power charging socket on the device.  There are also card readers available for other makes of tablet computers.
Well, I have come to the end of these two blog posts on technology and botanical art and I hope you have discovered some information that will be of use.
I still consider myself very much a traditionalist, but I do feel that there is a place for technology to help us in our pursuit of botanical knowledge and excellence.  Personally, it is the digital imagery aspects relating to my own photos that I find most useful.
I will be taking a break from the blog over the next few weeks.  It will be the beginning of my botanical art courses soon, all of which are full, and I will also be teaching a residential course in Dorset at the beginning of October.
Don't forget that I have my second solo exhibition coming up in November too !
Happy painting everyone !

Monday, 8 September 2014

Part 1: Botanical Painting & Technology - how useful are tablet computers ??

We may think that technology and botanical painting are poles apart, but if we think carefully we soon realise that there are several forms of technology that we use in our effort to reach botanical perfection.  A few things that come to mind are:

  • Digital cameras
  • Digital microscopes (connected to computers by a USB port)
  • Computers for research - either on specific plants, habitats, historical botanical art, viewing artist's websites, blogs etc
  • Online learning opportunities - either linked to an institution or individual tutor
  • YouTube - viewing 'how to' videos
  • Lightboxes - to trace our work
  • Desk-top publishing software - fine-tuning our images as near to the original as we can
  • Creating our own websites - either a templated site or building our own
I am sure there are probably more, but the purpose of this post is to talk about how useful tablet computers are to the botanical artist.

Last week I was fortunate to attend a workshop at the Chelsea Physic Garden with Elaine Searle.

The course title was 'Tablet Computers: friend or foe for the botanical artist'.  As a recent convert to using a tablet, I wanted to know if there were any other ways that I could use it in botanical art.  I had discovered a few for myself but wanted to learn more.

Elaine admitted that she is not an IT specialist, but as 'an early adopter of the tablet', namely the iPad, she has had the opportunity to explore its many uses.

A 'friendly' and useful Powerpoint presentation supported Elaine's teaching and the day soon developed into an open-forum but structured workshop.  The main focus centred around 3 areas:

  • Reference
  • Research
  • Creation
Below I will talk about how Elaine uses her tablet in these areas, and the way I use it is in blue.

  • Aide memoirs - taking photos with the tablet to record plants in gardens and other habitats. These photos are often used as a reference for possible subjects to paint.
  • I use my tablet (an Android model) to store similar images for the same purpose.  I prefer to use the camera on my phone which is superior to the one on the tablet, but because both are of the same make, compatibility is not an issue and files are transferred via Bluetooth.
The highly protected habitats found on Old Winchester Hill.  A perfect example of where photography does play a part alongside drawing special habitats.  
  • Specimens - reference photos for light on form. A plant is set up with controlled light conditions and this forms part of Elaine's preparation work.
  • This is something that I do not do specifically, but I can see how useful it can be, especially in teaching form and tone.
  • Specimen - reference for detail. These tend to be close up images to capture detail and botanical characteristics.
  • This is something I have been doing a lot of and find particularly beneficial from a botanical artist's perspective but for me it has also helped to alleviate eye-strain.  I find that I am using a magnifying glass less because I can zoom in to the image on the screen and have the tablet next to me whilst I work.  When taking a close up picture of a leaf for example, I will try and make sure there is always an indication of scale in the image, and I usually use a small plastic ruler. Alternatively, a piece of graph paper is useful.
Using a small ruler to indicate scale in plant photography
  • Sequential - images of painting in progress.  Very beneficial for students to see the progress of a painting through several stages to completion.
  • I like to take stage by stage photos too and as most of you know I use them on here in blog posts, but also on Facebook and for teaching.  Recently I have found an app that converts several images into a collage, which is useful for this approach (we will talk more about apps later).
  • Elaine produces short video demos that she can use in workshops.  These can be shown 1-2-1 or through a digital projector.
  • I thought this was a great idea.  So far I have just used my tablet to show my YouTube botanical art videos to very small groups of students or individuals.
Botanical Painting Reference
  • As a tablet is so portable, Elaine has a gallery of her own paintings stored on hers.  This means it is easily accessible and can be shown to students and prospective buyers.
  • I have started this, but I have to remember to keep it up to date, especially during busy times.
  • Examples of historic and contemporary botanical art can be stored in 'albums' for easy recall. These serve as inspiration, but can also be used as a teaching resource.
Summary - Part 1
One of the main comments from the day was that colour representation seemed to be better and more consistently accurate on a good quality tablet computer, than a normal PC.

In addition, we discussed the accessories available to hold tablets upright in our work area, other gadgets and also the use of apps.  
So as not to bombard you with too much information I will talk about these in the next blog post.