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: http://www.hiwwt.org.uk/courses

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

Friday, 27 February 2015

A Botanical Art Spectacular

This weekend (Friday & Saturday), has been a date on many botanical artist's calendars, that I am sure.

But why ?  It was the Royal Horticultural Society Botanical Art Show at the Lindley Hall in London.

In previous years the botanical art has been exhibited alongside plant displays as part of horticultural shows, this year was different.  A whole show devoted to botanical art - what could be better !

Sketchbook Squirrel and I arrived at the hall about an hour after the show had started.  Lots of visitors were already there and the numbers grew throughout the day.

Katherine Tyrrell always writes such informative blogposts about the RHS shows on the Making A Mark blog, so I am not going to go into too much detail about the botanical art exhibits themselves, but give you all a pictorial overview of the show.  (All images are protected by copyright, so no copying or reproduction in any form is allowed).

One end of the hall was devoted to stands displaying the work of florilegium and botanical art societies, botanical gardens and individual artists demonstrating their skills.

The SBA stand where Simon Williams and Gael Sellwood were chatting with visitors about the SBA, the distance learning Diploma and demonstrating their painting skills.  

Other botanical and floral art societies and organisations had the opportunity to display information.

What was really exciting, was the chance for visitors to have a go at botanical painting.  Botanical artist Elaine Searle and the Chelsea School of Botanical Art had set up this apple painting exercise.

Botanical Artist Julia Trickey chatting to visitors.

Susan Christopher Coulson had a wonderful display of her work along with space to see her demonstrating.

The view upon entering the hall.

Sketchbook Squirrel having a good look at one of the exhibits.

Sketchbook Squirrel aka Jarnie Godwin and the extremely talented Kathy Pickles with some of the Hellebore paintings from her Gold medal winning exhibit.

I hope you enjoyed this brief overview.  Why not join me on my botanical art journey as I prepare a collection of work to exhibit with the RHS - hopefully in 2016.
My progress can be followed on the Art & the Hedgerow Blog.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Painting your '5 a day' !

During my weekly botanical art classes at this time of year, fruit and vegetables play a major part in the choice of subject matter.

It is that waiting time until the first signs of Spring appear.

Firstly, I wanted to show you a collage of images of student's work focusing on the humble cabbage. Some illustrated the bumpy surface of a savoy cabbage, others worked on red cabbages.

Who would have known that there was such variation in a red cabbage, once you cut it open ?!  The patterns and colour are so variable.

A previous week we worked on graphite drawings of garlic before going on to explore mixing neutral washes or 'botanical greys' to paint the same subject.

Back to this last week - it was free choice as to what the students brought in.  Quite a few of them started to work on small colourful squashes and a couple worked on these delightful variegated small aubergines / eggplants.

They may look a challenge, but hopefully seeing each stage develop will help you to understand the process.

The first stage was to draw the aubergine with a 2H pencil on hot-pressed watercolour paper.
Then a weak wash of New Gamboge (PY153) was applied.

The next colour to mix was the purple.  It had a red shade in there somewhere, so I decided upon DS Imperial purple with a splash of Perylene maroon (DS or W&N) in the mix.

To start to achieve the patterning I applied the paint in a downward stroke, sometimes softening the edges (especially where a highlight was occurring), but with some edges leaving them un-softened to portray the more defined patterns.

I decided that the original base wash of New Gamboge was too pale.  So once the purple areas were completely dry, I then painted another, slightly stronger wash of New Gamboge over the top and let it completely dry again.

The next stage was to strengthen the purple mix in intensity and build up more of the pattern in the same way as before, with a little less softening of edges taking place.

As this was a demo piece I only worked on part of the aubergine, so each step could be clearly seen in the same piece.
A further deeper purple mix was applied and to break up the striped effect, smaller dots and 'splodges' were painted on between the stripes.

Here you can see that the darker purple mix is applied just in very small areas and we are still retaining slightly lighter areas, which would be where the highlights are.
In all there were 4 layers of paint used in this demo piece (if you don't count the additional layer of New Gamboge).

The painting on the right is of another variety of small aubergine.

This one was painted for a class demo too and used in one of my You tube videos.

As I write this the blog has exceeded 60,000 pageviews !
Thank you so much everyone for your continued support.

Happy painting !

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A new blog is born

As most of you would have read already on this blog, I have a new project getting underway which will focus on illustrating elements of ancient hedgerows. 

I am really excited by this project and as I type I am now at the Kingcombe Centre in Dorset for a few days to kickstart the fieldwork for the project.  I am very lucky to be supported by the Centre and also Dorset Wildlife Trust, who will be featuring an introduction to the project in their membership magazine.

Art & the Hedgerow will delve into many things about hedgerows.  Landscape history and ecology, conservation, tree species, and as well as that, showcase some of my art as part of the project.
To access the new blog you can click on the tab at the top of this page or the link in the above caption.
It would be great to have your company there too !
In the meantime, I will keep posting here, but the posts may be a little fewer, but hopefully just as interesting :)

Monday, 9 February 2015

A week of bits and bobs - oh and an Owl pellet too !

The time between finishing major pieces of work and before you start the next project, is always a chance to catch up on various bits and bobs and make future plans for artwork and such like.

The next project is starting fully towards the end of this week and I will be in Dorset to get that kick-started in an area that will hopefully provide me with lots of subject matter and inspiration.  The project is winter-based so I need to gather as much information as possible, in the form of field sketches, measurements and colour tests, then I can work on the pieces over the sunnier and warmer months of the year.

Packing up the kit ready to take away

The rest of the bits and bobs - Microscope, brush and pencil wallet, pallets, books, last of all will be my studio light as I need to make the most of my time away and work in the evenings

I'm not taking my studio box of paints, but have chosen certain colours that will suit this project  

The choice of colours was made once I had experimented with different mixes.  A few additional colours were chosen too

As well as getting ready for my next project, I have been enjoying teaching a weekly class at Alresford Art Society.  This art society is 50 years old and is located in a beautiful part of the Hampshire countryside.  It has been a real treat to teach different techniques in watercolour on a variety of subject themes, all based on the natural world.  

I had the delightful news this week that I will be teaching this very enthusiastic group of artists until June.  Now I am busy planning new themes for the Thursday morning sessions, several of which will incorporate print-making.  I will also be teaching the Friday morning group too for a few sessions in June.

Feather paintings and sketches from the artists at Alresford Art Society

The marine themed subject table at last week's class

Last week  I was given a Barn owl pellet.  As usual, I think outside the box a little and thought what a great sketch it would make for my natural history sketchbook.  It didn't quite go to plan as I got so involved in the dissection of the pellet and discovering what was in there.

First a little background information into what a pellet is.  Owls regurgitate pellets through their mouths.  They generally contain bones, hair and fur of the animals that the owl has eaten, these would not have been dissolved by the acid in the owl's stomach after the owl had eaten the small mammal whole.  Some pellets may also show signs of other food sources such as insects (body and wing cases), and seeds from fruit.

Owl pellets vary in size and colour dependant on the species they originate from.  Barn owls regurgitate their pellets close to where they roost, so as they often roost in farm buildings the pellets can be easier to find.  
YOU MUST NEVER DISTURB A BARN OWL IN A BARN WHERE IT IS ROOSTING - it may have young in a nearby box and may abandon them if disturbed.

Other owl species live in a variety of habitats and therefore their pellets are not always so easy to find.

The Barn owl pellet in one piece

Always wear gloves when dissecting a pellet.  I used tweezers and a scalpel from my microscope kit to pull the pellet apart.  It was only a few days old, so was still soft in places

This image shows all of the different bones that I found within the pellet.

The Field Studies Council produce wonderful and informative fold-out identification charts.  Luckily I had the one about Owls and their pellets.

I promise no more pictures of bones in the next blog post, hopefully beautiful winter views of the Dorset countryside.