Saturday, 19 April 2014

Choosing watercolour paper for botanical drawing and painting - part 2

In the first blog post connected to this subject, I gave you a general overview of watercolour paper, and specific facts about the paper that can be used for botanical drawing and painting.

As I mentioned before, there were several painting techniques which I thought would be good to test on different hot-pressed papers (left to right):

* applying a wash and then lifting off a small area with a clean moist brush
* blending two colours together and applying a small area of wash on top
* applying a wash and softening the edge with a clean moist brush
* fine brush strokes applied

The colours used were W&N permanent rose and new gamboge

Each of these techniques helped me to gain answers to several questions:

*  How easy it to lift paint from the paper ? This is important to know, particularly if we use this technique to create highlights or softer areas of watercolour.  One thing to bear in mind is that some watercolours are more staining than others, so therefore may be harder to lift off completely.  

Back to the paper - different makes of paper can behave differently.  What can this be due to ?  During the manufacturing process watercolour paper is treated with what is called a 'size'.  This size is a form of protection for the paper and can be applied just to the surface or both internally and externally.  It provides a coating that is invisible and the size may be made of a variety of ingredients.  For example, Saunders Waterford paper is coated externally with a gelatine based size.

Due to the different forms (ingredients and thickness of coating) of size, each paper's surface could behave differently dependant on what painting technique is used.  This means that some hot-pressed papers may be tougher than others and cope with more activity on their surface.  Lifting an area of watercolour wash may well disturb the size and mean that the watercolour soaks more into the paper core, especially if the size is soft or if there is several attempts to lift colour. An ideal situation when using this technique is to ensure that the paper surface is not broken up in anyway.

* Is it easy to blend two colours together?  Particularly useful to know for those artists who use wet into wet techniques or tend to blend their colours on the paper.  Even though the room conditions can dictate how quickly a wash dries, the paper will also be a factor, in terms of whether the paint soaks into the paper or not.

* Can soft edges to washes be achieved, as well as fine detail ?  The information in the last point above also applies to how much you can soften the edge of an area of wash. If the paint dries too quickly it will be harder to achieve this.  In regard to fine detail, this is down to how textured the paper surface is and also how much activity has already taken place on the paper.

As mentioned before, hot-pressed paper is meant to be extremely smooth.  It generally is, although the surface texture may vary in different makes.  The paper is made smooth by being pressed through hot rollers during the manufacturing process.  If there is some texture it is likely that soft woollen felts have been used on the rollers, thereby giving a slight texture to the surface.  

Now for the results.  These are purely based on my own opinions linked to the way that I paint.  Other artists may achieve different results according to their painting style and techniques.

Langton - produced by Daler Rowney
Wood pulp and cotton fibres
* A very subtle texture to the surface
* Lifting off colour, blending, softening and fine lines all achieved well
* A nice colour to the paper
* A good all round paper, particularly suitable as a starter paper for beginners, affordable too

Additional information
Daler Rowney also produce a Langton Prestige HP paper.  It is 100% cotton.  I have not personally tried it, but some of my more experienced students have found the surface quite difficult to work on.

Fabriano 5 / Classico produced by Fabriano
50% cotton
* Good for fine lines
* A very smooth paper
* Seemed quite a white paper
* Less positive for lifting off colour, blending, softening as paint is not so easy to manipulate
* Likely to be good for those techniques that involve less water and very good for fine detail

Arches produced by Canson
100% cotton
Natural gelatine size
* A creamy colour
* Very good for all techniques that I used in the trial, although lifting off of colour was not as easy as with the Langton or Fabriano Artistico
* I used this paper for many years before I changed to Fabriano Artistico.  One thing I did find in the past, was that erasing was not easy on the paper surface

Fabriano Artistico extra white and traditional white produced by Fabriano
100% cotton
Internally and externally sized
* Comes in two colour options - traditional white is very creamy, but good for a lot of subjects especially those of an autumnal and/or warm nature
* Extremely good for all techniques and has a very smooth surface
* This paper takes a certain amount of erasing
* I have found this to be an excellent paper for a variety of other approaches - graphite line drawing and tonal work, pen and ink and wash and mixed media 

Additional information
Presently, I mostly use the latter paper in the 300lb weight, but have also used the lighter weight 140lb.  In the past when I had used another make of paper in both weights, the surfaces felt quite different from each other, even though they were both hot-pressed. In the case of Fabriano Artistico the surfaces of both weights of paper seem very similar.  

Bockingford produced by St. Cuthbert's Mill
100% woodfree bleached chemical pulp (click here for definition)
Internally sized
* A nice coloured paper
* It has a slight surface texture
* Very good for all techniques and will cope with some erasing
* I'm really liking this paper at the moment, and I am now recommending it to my students as a good starter paper

Additional information
St. Cuthberts Mill had previously been producing paper for the Daler Rowney Langton pads (for 15 years). This is no longer the case.  I have been in contact with Daler Rowney as there had been some difficulty in getting hold of the Langton HP paper described above.  They have reassured me that it is still available but declined to say where it is being produced.

I find the Bockingford HP a superior paper to the current Langford and I use a 12 sheet spiral pad per term for my demo pieces in class.

Other papers
The other paper that I would have liked to have tried for this trial is Saunders Waterford, which is also produced by St. Cuthberts Mill.  This was the first hot-pressed paper that I ever used, and I remember being quite nervous of the smooth surface after using cold-pressed paper for a long time for a looser style of painting.

Saunders Waterford HP is 100% cotton, gelatine surface sized and internally sized.  It has a very slight texture to it due to being produced using natural woollen felts in the manufacturing process.

Useful links

St. Cuthberts Mill - How we make paper:

Daler Rowney - Watercolour surfaces:

I hope you have found the last two posts about paper useful.

I am having a little break from botanical subjects and am now working on a painting of an Oleander moth on vellum.  So I expect news of that will appear on the blog soon.

A Happy Easter to you all.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Choosing watercolour paper for botanical drawing and painting - part 1

How do you choose the right paper for botanical drawing and painting ? 

The most obvious answer is to try them all - but this can be a huge expense, unless of course you try different watercolour papers over many years, as I have.  A few weeks ago I gave my students the opportunity to try 6 different hot-pressed watercolour papers.

Firstly, we covered a few facts about watercolour paper in general:

● The highest quality papers are made of 100% cotton fibre (rag paper).
● They have good durability, can handle a lot of working and last an extremely long time.
● Other papers are made of cellulose or wood pulp or a mixture of these with cotton.
● Not always as durable as the rag paper.
● Cheaper papers of the kind found in discount shops, will not necessarily be acid free and will therefore yellow and deteriorate over time.

Types of paper
● Cold pressed or NOT - this has a medium surface texture and a slight ‘tooth’.  The surface holds colour well and it is a very popular texture for both amateur and professional artists.
● Rough or Extra rough - has a more pronounced texture.  Great for looser styles of painting and creates wonderful textures as the paint settles into the surface.
● Hot pressed - extremely smooth, although some makes of hot pressed paper will vary in texture.  This is the best paper for botanical art and more controlled styles of painting and pen and ink work.  The paper is made smooth by passing it through heated rollers in the manufacturing process.
Weights of paper
● Watercolour papers come in different weights, which refers to the weight of a ream of paper.
● The greater the weight of the paper, the more moisture the paper can take without it buckling or cockling.
● The most commonly used is 300 g/m (per square metre) or 140lb.
Colour of paper
The colour of watercolour paper from different brands and within individual brands can vary.  Some brands of watercolour paper will provide a natural white and an extra white paper.
Right or wrong side
Yes, believe it or not there is a right and a wrong side to hot-pressed watercolour paper.  For most HP papers I use either side as to me there is not a huge difference.
One paper where this does seem to make a difference is Fabriano Artistico HP paper.  If you buy you watercolour paper in sheets the watermark, which is often the brand name of paper is visible and is often located next to the deckle edge.  If this is viewed back to front, ie in reverse, this is the right side of the paper to use in regard to Fabriano Artistico. 
But what if you do not buy it in sheets, but in a block or pad, where there is no watermark ?  If you look closely at either side, and perhaps get a magnifying glass out, you will see that one side has a grid like pattern to the surface of the paper - this is the wrong side.  I hope in the photo above you can see this pattern.
The second part to my student's paper trial session included trying different painting techniques on each sample of paper, to see how receptive the paper was.  These were my examples:
As a guide I decided the best painting techniques to try were (left to right):
* applying a wash and then lifting off a small area with a clean moist brush
* blending two colours together and applying a small area of wash on top
* applying a wash and softening the edge with a clean moist brush
* fine brush strokes applied
Each of these techniques helped me to gain answers to several questions, which I will answer in part 2, following soon ! 

Monday, 31 March 2014

Something a little different ........... and now to wood !

In my last post I mentioned about having a break from my normal creative streak.  Sometimes this can be an enforced break due to health reasons, but it can also be because we have just been so busy with painting commitments and we need time to refresh our creative juices.  Either way, it can be a struggle to find ourselves creatively again. Shevaun Doherty has just written a brilliant blog post about this, and the pointers given in it will certainly help many an artist.

During one of my enforced breaks, I had the opportunity to play around with some wood.  I have always loved the look of wooden boxes filled with pans of paint.  I know many of them are very old and artists have had them for some time.  The more modern versions come with a full set of paints (which I certainly don't need !) and can be rather expensive.

So my thinking cap became very active and I tracked down a company that sold plywood boxes for under £5.  I eventually found one the right size and after a few days I started to adapt it.

The dimensions of the box are: 
EXTERNAL - 27 X 16 X 4 CM
INTERNAL - 26 x 14.5 x 2.4 CM (lower part of the box) Lid inside is 1.7cm deep
Prior to varnishing I cut down some lengths of wooden beading to fit inside the box and glued these in with wood glue.
To work out the right measurement between divisions, I used several of the half-pans.
Once these were dry I set to and varnished the box, inside and out with an oak coloured varnish.
Because the pans sat too low in the box, I used some strips of foam board to make them higher and also glued these in.  The pans are held in place by a small piece of double-sided tape on the base of each.  The space at the top is to hold brushes.
Because of the depth of the lid, there is also room to store a small plastic foldaway palette.
I've still got my six key colours in this palette, but it has also given me room to add a line of handy opaque watercolours and some of my favourite Daniel Smith paints.
Another box adapted.  This one also came with the wooden divisions.  Once varnished, I lined it with some material and it is perfect for storing my tubes in.
Another box (the same size as the palette box), useful for those bits and pieces !
Half way through my painting break I received some exciting news.  Five of my paintings have been accepted by the Society of Botanical Artists, and four of them will be hung at their forthcoming London exhibition in May entitled the Botanical Garden.  The exhibition is taking place at Central Hall in Westminster, opposite Westminster Abbey.  If you get the chance to go there will be many botanical art paintings to see, along with a lovely shop to purchase cards, books etc.
Botanical Garden by Angeline de Meester (c) 2014 

Monday, 24 March 2014

Something a little different ..... using fabric

I always love reading Milly's blog Drawings from Nature and I also enjoy how she combines her artwork and her marvellous sewing skills. 

Her latest blog post describes how she makes a very pretty bag and adds one of her Hare prints to the fabric.

This reminded me of a form of bag that I made a couple of months ago.  I too have a love of needlework, but always feel the guilt that I am neglecting my drawing and painting, and also of course there just doesn't seem to be the time now I am teaching.

Whilst visiting a popular Swedish home store, I always love rummaging through the fabrics with their wonderful array of colours and prints.  I came across the fabric seen in the image below and just had to get some.  At that stage I didn't know what I was going to use it for !

It seemed so apt for my interest in the natural world, and having a navy background with white prints of natural objects, meant that the latter were nice and clear to see.
But what to make ?????
I decided to make a bag / pouch for my much treasured Stillman and Birn A4 Zeta sketchbook.  It will help to protect it on its travels too.
To add a bit of colour I used green thread in my sewing machine and I also found a button in my collection as well as some green tape, which I used for the button loop and it also added a nice contrast.
I think every now and again, I'll have a break from my normal creative streak and diversify into other crafts - it can be a refreshing break.  What next may you ask, well the next project involves a wooden box, some wood glue and varnish.  So all I can say is 'watch this space !'
Happy creating in whatever your interest may be !

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Back to my roots (ii) .....

A few weeks ago I had a day out that meant I was truly going back to my roots.  A trip to a beautiful part of west Dorset near a village with a wonderful name - Toller Porcorum.  The place I visited was the Kingcombe Centre, set in the middle of the Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve owned and managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust.

The Kingcombe Centre was the place where I fell in love with portraying the natural world in a detailed and accurate way, under the tutelage of Gretel Dalby-Quenet in the late 1990's.  That was where I went on holiday, to spend my time immersed in art, ecology and wildlife with other like minded people.

Time has gone full-circle now, and now it is my turn to teach at the centre !  I feel very privileged, nervous and also very excited.  In October I will be teaching a residential course - Painting Autumnal Fruits, Berries and Seedheads.  Inspirational subject matter will be abundant in the hedgerows and hedgebanks bordering the lanes around the centre.

More images can be found on the tab above, and information about the course.

The lane leading down to the centre
Back to roots of the growing kind now, and let's see how roots can be portrayed in botanical art.

This is the root, or rather rhizome of Solomon's Seal Polygonatum mulitflorum.  It grows horizontally below the ground and also has adventitious roots growing off of the main rhizome..
This is quite a solid root to portray and once washed the colours were clearly visible and ranged from ochre, sienna to dark brown.  As well as the solid areas of the rhizome there were also some membranous parts, particularly the piece in the foreground.
Bulbs are also considered to be roots.  They have a disc-like stem and fleshy scale leaves and one or more buds, which are generally enclosed within protective scales.
When drawing the smaller roots that originate from the base of the bulb, it is always important to gauge the width of them correctly and I try as much as possible to draw two lines to represent each of the fine roots.  It is also important to show that these smaller roots are not just growing at the front of the subject as we see them on the paper so remember to show some behind, this will help to give more depth to the finished painting.
Hyacinth by Sharon Tingey.
© Sharon Tingey
I really like the way that Sharon has chosen to portray the roots to this Hyacinth.  What she has done is paint the negative spaces between the small roots themselves, thereby showing the soil that the plant is growing in.  When this approach is taken it is important to still apply some neutral tonal washes to the roots.  If they were just left white (as in the surface of the paper showing), they would look rather flat.  In the majority of cases small roots such as these are cylindrical.
Paphiopedelum orchid by Sharon Tingey
© Sharon Tingey
See some fascinating images below of how Sharon has illustrated the roots
These roots are quite hairy in appearance and Sharon has built up this detail gradually, first applying a pale wash of colour and then emphasising the variable colour and texture with deeper washes of several colours.
Paphiopedelum orchids are often terrestrial growing on the forest floor but some are also epiphytic, growing non-parasitically upon another plant.  Their roots enable them to get water and nutrients directly from the air.  Further still, some even grow in or on rocks and these are known as lithophytes.
I drew and painted these roots a while ago now and am not sure of what plant they originate from.
There were a wide range of colours being used and some of the roots were rather woody in appearance.  Note how I have still been careful to show how each of the roots are cylindrical in form, even though several colours are at play !
I used a size 2 brush that had a really good point (Isabey Kolinksy sable).  I make a great effort to look after my brushes and will often have several brushes of one size on the go.  One that has seen some use and the point is not as good as it was, one that is in between and another that is the newest and has the best point. 
These fine radish roots were painted using a size 1 brush, again with a good point.
The colour I used was a neutral wash, or as we botanical artists call them 'a botanical grey'.  The mix consisted of permanent rose, indanthrene blue and winsor lemon.  The three main cool colours in my palette.  Using the permanent rose in the neutral mix helps to bring some cohesiveness across the painting, as that colour was also used in the mix for radish colour.
These three illustrations above come from my latest painting, Quercus robur - new life.  It was interesting observing the root formation.  The example on the far right originated from a field sketch completed in 2008, from a specimen that had been grown at a tree nursery.  The other two had been recorded in my sketchbook at each stage of growth, as it was growing in a jam jar.
As the root first emerges from an acorn it looks as though it would grow in any direction, but it always grows downwards from the acorn and then takes on a variable growth pattern.  When it is growing naturally in a woodland, the main root would have to make its way around small obstructions in the soil, so whilst still growing downwards it would have to take on twists and turns.
I hope you have enjoyed this overview of roots.  It is often a subject I get asked about in my classes.
I would also like to thank Sharon Tingey who kindly let me use her Hyacinth and Orchid illustrations.  To see more of her wonderful work go to her website or see her latest artwork on her Facebook page - Sharon Tingey Natural Illustration

Monday, 24 February 2014

Back to my roots (i) .....

Roots seem to be featuring in my artwork and life quite a lot at the moment !  When starting to write this post I was reminded of a pen and ink drawing I did many years ago, and the gnarly old roots at the base of the tree.

The roots I have been focusing on are way more delicate and I suppose can be considered 'virgin' roots, the ones that first appear when new growth springs forth from seeds and fruit.

These Sycamore seeds or samaras, can be annoying little blighters, planting themselves all over the garden and in the pots of bulbs.  Never the less, they proved to be a welcome distraction last week and perfect studies to go in the sketchbook.
This picture shows the tiny filamentous white roots that have the function of food and nutrient uptake.

Sketchbook studies of the Sycamore samaras
The acorn mentioned in a previous post had been growing well in the jar, but finally gave up a short while after this study was completed.  It was interesting to observe the root formation, and even though they were so tiny, the roots had quite a colour variation.
Transparent yellow in a weak wash worked well for the first wash and then two of my new favourite colours were used for the finer detail - Monte Amiata Natural Sienna and Piemontite Genuine, both by Daniel Smith.  The piemontite genuine is a fascinating colour.  When mixed on the palette it looks rather brown, but as you use it the colour transforms into a dusky pink shade with some warmth to it and another quality to it is its granulation.
The acorn studies will be making an appearance in a painting that will certainly take shape this week and be a welcome addition to two other paintings in my Quercus series.
My students have also been exploring roots - root vegetables.  I think at the beginning it seemed to be an uninspiring subject, but they certainly tackled the challenge.
Student's work from the Improvers/Intermediates Course at Peter Symonds College AHED
The next 'Back to my roots' post will follow later on in the week and will explore other aspects of drawing and painting roots in your botanical drawings and/or paintings.
Happy painting !


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

A Special Acorn

 Acorn sketches and colours
One of my series of Quercus paintings includes a study of a sprouting acorn with a sapling that has its first set of leaves.  The fieldwork for this painting was started a few years ago now, and I still have the detailed sketch with some photos as back up reference material.
As I was drifting off to sleep one night last week, my mind was wandering thinking about the composition of this painting.  I thought how nice it would be to include some other illustrations of sprouting acorns at various stages.  So the plan was to head over to the other side of our housing estate and go looking for sprouting acorns beneath the large Oak trees.
I am sure the neighbours think I am mad anyway, always seeing me come back with specimens in hand !
I awoke the next morning and started the daily chores, going through our back garden to the dustbins at the back of our house.  As I went through the garden gate I looked down and there on the step was an acorn with a small piece of young root, or radicle as it is known, poking out of the hard shell.  It would not warrant a second glance to most people, but you guessed it - I was thrilled !  It must have been dropped by the local Jays, who roost in trees nearby.
After a bit of a clean up and being stored in a bag in the fridge, I set to and did a few sketches of it.  I placed it back in the bag with a piece of damp tissue in it and let it be, leaving it on my studio windowsill.
As you can see from my sketch I noticed a tiny split where the root leaves the acorn and wondered if this was where the new shoot (plumule) would emerge from.
When I looked at it today, there it was with a tiny shoot emerging.

The plumule will grow straight up towards light.
There also seems to be a root nodule forming on the young tap root.
Then I had to get my thinking cap on and work out how to keep it growing.  I looked back through an activity book from my nursery nursing days and there was an example of how you can grow a bean in a jar.  So I am giving it a go, in the hope that I will be able to add a few more sprouting acorns to my painting.

The jar is filled with damp kitchen roll
Lined up with the other new plants emerging
Looking forward to this one emerging.  It is an Amaryllis called 'Apple blossom'
and more bulbs...........
lots of painting subjects on the way, the sketchbook will be busy !