Hellebore Botanical art workshop in Bosham

I started a three- day workshop in Bosham yesterday and was surprised to see that all those attending chose to use coloured pencil. Those artists who have already been to me before, know that I teach both coloured pencil and watercolour. I think it has only happened once before that the medium of choice for everyone was coloured pencil

Some people had brought Hellebores from their own gardens to paint, but in the end they all chose from our garden. You might already know that Hellebores are rather promiscuous and therefore breed more than rabbits do and aren’t too choosey about which variety they choose to mate with either! We have Niger ones, slate ones, pale ones, dark ones, spotty ones and a really lovely one we noticed today that was pink and green, with tips of lime green. Amazing.

People have been working hard and concentrating on what they were doing, except each time the pheasant appeared in the garden. He is quite beautiful with a white head and with wattles. I’m not exactly sure what type he is, but if anyone knows, please tell me.

Yesterday a lot of time went into planning the Hellebore picture. Although they probably wouldn’t finish the whole thing over the weekend, I felt it important to focus a little on composition so that when they added to the picture later,  the composition had been planned properly.

The colour was started yesterday, mostly around the stamens. Today they have been forging ahead and these were the results by about lunchtime today. Hopefully I will be able to show some finished results by end of play tomorrow.





The Norwegian Society for Botanical Artists – newly founded today!

This has been a very eventful day. As a result of the visit to Kew Gardens today, and a serious discussion there inspired by exhibits in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery, we decided to found the Norwegian Society of Botanical Artists – Den Norske Foreningen for Botaniske Kunstnere.

My friend Tone Minde from Norway lives on the south coast in a town called Arendal. She is a garden designer with a special interest in botanical art. She like me, has tried to find other botanical artists or even an organisation that has some interest in this subject in Norway. The only thing that either of us found, were organisations in relation to gardens, mountains, botany and the environment, but nothing in relation to botanical art or illustration. So we decided to try and do something to plug this obvious gap.

I am aware that there are a couple of illustrators living in Norway and attached to botanical gardens in the country.

I know that botanical art has been neglected for many years in some countries. In the UK it has become very popular, as it has in North America, South Africa and Australia, and parts of mainland Europe. It was brought home to us today at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery that Norway is being left behind.

There were three different exhibitions today at the gallery, including one from the Dutch Society of Botanical Artists formed within the last ten years. It was interesting to note that their aims included:

To provide information about botanical art and to bring it to the attention of as wide a public as possible.

To bring together botanical artists, illustrators and anyone interested in botanical art.

To improve the quality of botanical art in the Netherlands.

We would like to promote botanical art in Norway in the same way as has happened in other countries so that our children can learn to look and see and portray the beauty and the detail in the Norwegian landscape.

We are looking for like-minded people to join the group with the intention of developing an interest in studying and painting Norway’s beautiful flora. Do get in touch so that we can tell you more.

Last year I made a start on bringing more botanical art to Norway. I ran a successful workshop on painting Norwegian plants, in Åsgårdstrand in south-eastern Norway. This attracted two Norwegians, one American, one German and four British people. Following the popularity of last year’s event, I will run another workshop in Norway this June. Full details are on my website http://www.gaynorsflora.com.

Tone and Gaynor outside the Orangery at Kew today, after deciding to form the Norwegian Society for Botanical Artists.
Tone and Gaynor outside the Orangery at Kew today, after deciding to form the Norwegian Society for Botanical Artists.
Capturing crocii on camera to take home to the Norwegian winter.
Capturing crocii on camera to take home to the Norwegian winter.
Tone Minde - admiring the crocus display at Kew.
Tone Minde – admiring the crocus display at Kew.

The pineapple and arrival of Rory McEwen vellum

This week has been and will continue to be quite eventful. On Sunday, we drove up to London to deliver pictures for the SBA exhibition in April at Westminster. Several assignments have arrived from London Art College to mark and I have started these. This morning I had my usual weekly class and this afternoon a friend arrived from Norway ready to take part in the workshop I am holding this weekend – Friday to Sunday.

Tomorrow we plan to go to Kew and of course the highlight will be to visit the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of botanical art. Hopefully I will be able to write a bit about it in the evening.

But today there was a big knock on the door. I could see the sun flooding in through the glass in the door and the shadow of a person standing outside. I opened the door and there stood our very smiley ( and helpful) postman with a parcel in his hand. I saw straight away that it came from the Hunt Institute, Pittsburgh. It was the vellum! I was so excited and the poor man got dragged inside to be told the story behind it all.

I understand that not everyone is entirely sure what vellum is. It is animal skin – often goat or lamb, which has been collected from abattoirs and prepared by specialists for painting or writing on. It is parchment, the same material that old documents were written on. In fact all acts of Parliament are still written on parchment.

Why use vellum/parchment rather than paper? Well, the archival properties of parchment are far greater than that of paper. For important documents this is an important consideration. For artwork this too is very important, but there are additional benefits ( and difficulties). Watercolour is applied with a dry brush technique as unlike paper, the pigment lies on the surface of the skin. In doing so, the pigment reflects its colour well as it is not absorbed into the skin and dulled in any way. Rory McEwen’s pictures really do show this fact very well.

But as I haven’t yet decided what to paint on the vellum, it is likely to be a few months before I get started with it.

Last of all, how is the pineapple doing? In showing these pictures, I am being careful not to show how I have pulled the painting together as a whole. I think it important that the person who is to receive it, should see it first as a complete picture. Once that happens, I will then post it on my blog.

More pictures!

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From the fruit to the leaves. I read somewhere the other day about someone needing to get into the ‘zone’, when painting a picture. That really struck me with this pineapple, because it was so different from the last piece of work I did. It had to feel right before I actually started putting paint on the paper. I had to feel confident that the colours I was going to use were the right ones, and that the sequence of colours and the way I laid them, were right for this picture too.

I now had this feeling all over again. I was going to use exactly the same colours as I used for the fruit, but in different mixes. The textural effect I wanted would be completely different. It felt like starting from the beginning and needing to get in the ‘zone’ – but more importantly I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes at this stage. I had to be confident of what I was doing, before I did it.

I started off with painting the shadows in a neutral mix. This was to establish where the light came from, and therefore how the shadows would have an effect on the shape of the leaves. I couldn’t do this in the same way with the fruit part of the picture, because I knew I would be using a series of pineapples and painting each segment from the ‘fresh pineapple of the moment’. By the way, I used four pineapples for the fruit.

Have you noticed how the pineapple fibre really gets caught between your teeth?

Back to painting the leaves. Once I had established where the shadows would be, I started painting the leaves where I could see the upper surface, which was a darker green and quite shiny. I needed to make sure I had some good tonal contrasts in these areas. Am I succeeding?

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Painting a Pineapple – a labour of love!

I love painting, be it with watercolour, coloured pencil ink or just graphite. Many consider using some of these materials is ‘mark making’, rather than painting, but…….

Today I haven’t been painting at all. I have been getting things ready to take some work up to London tomorrow; hand-in for the annual SBA botanical art exhibition at Westminster central hall in April. I hate this aspect of painting, getting work ready for exhibitions! But tomorrow I get to meet old friends and other members of the SBA when they also hand in their work.

Then back to painting. But before I show a couple more pictures of the pineapple, a touch of Spring!

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Some more pictures of the pineapple progression. I don’t know whether you notice this or not, but once I have had the first wash on an area, I use a lot of fairly dry brush work to do the detail for each segment. As I mentioned above, starting to paint a pineapple is a labour of love. But every single segment is so different and of course each one faces in a different direction.

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Rory McEwen and my pineapple.

There is nothing to connect Rory McEwen and my pineapple – other than botanical art.

But I am dead chuffed and sad at the same time. I watched the programme on BBC today about Rory McEwen and felt so sad that such a gifted person died so young and in such a manner. I so wish I had been around when he was doing his wonderful paintings.

When I was at the Hunt Institute in Pittsburg two years ago, I had to pinch myself that because my work was accepted in the Hunt, and while there I was allowed to see whatever works that they had in their collection. I wanted to see Rory McEwen’s work and saw it in the ‘flesh’ without being protected by glass. It was amazing.

Four minutes after the end of the Rory McEwen programme today I got an email from the Hunt to tell me that I had been gifted a piece of Rory McEwen vellum. When he died, his vellum was given to the Hunt Institute and pieces have been gifted to botanical artists over the years. Now I am one of them. I can’t believe it.

Painting on vellum is hugely different to painting on paper. I will have to think of something really special to paint on it in due course.

But my pineapple. More pictures.

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More pineapple segments

I have a feeling that posting the progression of this pineapple might be just a little boring for some. But on the other hand it also portrays the amount of work necessary and how I have to continually adjust the colours and the segments in relation to each other.

Knowing how I paint each segment in a rapidly changing pineapple is interesting in itself. Obviously I paint what I see, but I have to bear in mind that once all the segments are done, they need to be moulded into a complete shape. I can envisage that being the tricky part.

For this past week I have been painting every spare moment. My pineapple is somewhat further advanced than I am showing you here, but as this is a commission, I don’t feel it is right to show the completed work until the client has received the picture. The picture is far from being complete, although to date we have eaten four pineapples that were rather the worse for wear. They still tasted good though!

I mentioned that I take pains to draw the pineapple and arrange the segments appropriately. Once that is done I transfer this to my watercolour paper. But what happens then, particularly when I have to change pineapples? This is why I draw the segments in so they can easily be adjusted. I paint from life, therefore when I begin a new pineapple, I place it in such a position as to be able to find segments facing the same direction as on my original drawing.

Sometimes it can be quite difficult as every segment is different, and may not fit in too well. But so far it is going OK.

I have just had a thought. The Norwegian Botanical Art holiday workshop is over a longish period where one can work continuously and with guidance. A pineapple (although not of Norwegian origin) would be something one could work on. Do you fancy having a go? Look at http://www.gaynorsflora.com/page10.htm for details.

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Another piece of student work

I have a student who started using coloured pencils and botanical art, last summer. As far as I am aware she hasn’t done anything like this before.

Su became enthralled with botanical art and will do it at any time she has a spare minute – even if it’s only five minutes before going to work. Su’s botanical art work has improved so much over such a short time.

What do you think? By the way, it is incomplete, but already very impressive.

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Botanical art workshop report from Twigs and things.

We have just finished the botanical art workshop and I thought I would get the pictures resulting from it, onto the blog before I started marking London Art College assignments.

From my perspective we had a very enjoyable workshop. But then I would say that wouldn’t I? Hopefully someone will confirm or deny this when they read the blog!

When painting a serious botanical subject that has gnarled branches with lichen or moss growing on it, I feel that I can play with the painting of it – as long as I stay true to the form, growth habit and type of lichen etc. I wanted to convey this to the group as well as get them to see the multitude of colours within such a specimen. I had two days to do this. Half of the group worked with watercolour and half with coloured pencil. Therefore it was exciting demonstrating the same topic in each of the media.

On one occasion I showed the group how to paint the furry terminal bud of a Magnolia soulangeana, first in watercolour and then in coloured pencil. It was quite amusing to hear the comments and the competition in assessing which bud looked best and which medium best suited that topic.

I was very glad to see that there were quite a few different types of lovely specimens which excited the group in different ways. There were some lovely colours observed, hidden in nooks and crannies. Red, pink, blues, oranges etc. A touch of some of these fresh colours, lifted a picture without dominating it. Anyway, I hope that you enjoy the following pictures.

The next botanical art workshop is Floating Hellebores (exposed faces), 27 February to 1 March. We already have a lot of Hellebores flowering in the garden, from very pale to very dark. There are available places, so do get in touch and book.

The brave class
The brave class
A piece of bark with several lichen types growing on it. The main one is identified as Cladonia cornuta.
A piece of bark with several lichen types growing on it. The main one is identified as Cladonia cornuta.
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At work
Gnarled birch branch with a variety of lichen forms. Watercolour.
Gnarled birch branch with a variety of lichen forms. Watercolour.
A branch of Magnolia stellata in watercolour.
A branch of Magnolia stellata in watercolour.
A variety of types of licjhen and moss on another branch from a Magnolia stellata tree. Coloured pencil.
A variety of types of licjhen and moss on another branch from a Magnolia stellata tree. Coloured pencil.
Start of a very complicated piece of work in Coloured pencil. The difficulty of portraying Cladonia cornuta amongst the other lichen growing on the bark piece. Quite a challenge.
Start of a very complicated piece of work in Coloured pencil. The difficulty of portraying Cladonia cornuta amongst the other lichen growing on the bark piece. Quite a challenge.
Rosehips in Watercolour
Rosehips in Watercolour
Both Birch twig and bark from a tree, with small amounts of lichen growing on it. Coloured pencil
Both Birch twig and bark from a tree, with small amounts of lichen growing on it. Coloured pencil
Branch with lichen very happily in situ. Watercolour
Branch with lichen very happily in situ. Watercolour