Why a black background?

I had the following query from  Antonina Shesteryakova, following my blog and posting of the Pineapple step-by-step; Why did you use black background? Why it isn’t white as usually? Thanks, Gaynor! I liked your “step by step” very much!

That is a very interesting point and I am really glad that Antonina asked me this question. I have thought several times to write a blog on it as it comes up in every workshop I do.

This is the picture Antonina commented on.



But you might find this of interest too. It is a picture of Gorse. Quite a complicated plant, but with the dark background you can also see the hairs on the Sepals that protect the flower in bud.



So why do I take my preliminary photographs with a black background? Note, I don’t use these pictures to paint from but I do use them as reference. I always take a lot of photos to start with as I know I take a long time on each picture I do – even the small ones.

I take a picture of my setup, i.e. the plant as I am looking at it whilst I paint. Therefore, once my subject dies I can replace it with something similar and in a similar angle to my original. I used about 5 pineapples for my painting, but I had to bear in mind what my original pineapple looked like. If you see the segments, some have what looks like a double base and some use a single base. Some are more at an angle than others, not forgetting the difference in colour change over the pineapple. When I bought new pineapples I had to bear this in mind and then change the direction of the new pineapples for each segment I painted so that it more or less fitted my original drawing.

But as well as taking a picture of the plant in situ as I plan to paint it, I also take quite a lot of detail photographs in case there is any specific detail that I need from the original subject. With a flower, this is more interesting as you see with the Gorse. I took a lot of pictures of the flowers, but also of the thorny leaves, stem and connections. I’m afraid that I don’t have pictures of the gorse or pineapple with light backgrounds, but I do of an orchid. In fact, it was in taking pictures of this orchid that I realised how difficult it was to take  good detail photos with a white background.

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I am not a photographer and don’t intend to become expert in that area, so with my little automatic camera and simple reasoning skills, I realised that the camera automatically adjusts the white balance in relation to the lightness in the picture.  As you want to paint in good light, you will generally find that the background is very light and if you use a white sheet behind your subject, the light reflection is intensified. The subject, in a worst case scenario, can turn out as a silhouette .

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I took some photos of small courgettes from the garden last year, specifically to show the difference between taking pictures against a black or white background. Apart from the fact that the one against the black background isn’t in focus, I think that you can see what I mean.

So what background do I use when I paint from the subject? This is a different kettle of fish.

If I have a very pale or white flower, I obviously want to see what the edge looks like against a white background, so it is natural for me to paint from the subject in front of a white sheet of paper. For the pineapple I used both white and black. I wanted to see as much detail as I could going round the front of the pineapple – therefore left the black background, but when doing the light side and the side with the reflected light (shadow side), I needed to paint it as I saw it against the white background!

I hope that this very complicated subject is now a little bit clearer.



Step by step Pineapple pictures and a graphite Daffodil!

So what does a series of Pineapple step by step pictures have to do with a graphite daffodil picture? Nothing, except that they were done by me.

I have at last got my act together and done a separate page where all of the photos that I took during the 160.5 hour marathon for the Pineapple picture, are in one place. Just click on the heading above and you will find them all. Additionally, if you haven’t seen the YouTube video I did whilst painting one of the segments, you will find that in a link on the Tutorial page above.

I discovered whilst painting and posting updates about the picture that many botanical artists are challenged into painting a pineapple. It isn’t simple to do although it is all in the planning – as with most things – but it isn’t that difficult either.  I noticed that several people had previously painted a pineapple, as I had done, or were in the process. Some started about the same time as me, but were finished long before me, and others started well afterwards. Pictures were done in watercolour, coloured pencil and I saw one really beautiful one in graphite. Most were done actual size and one or two over-size. They were very impressive, particularly if more detail had been included.

The differences in the results were as amazing as in the techniques. Even with watercolour, there was a clear distinction between those done mostly wet-in-wet, to the other end of the scale where more dry brush techniques were used.

I mentioned that I did a pineapple once before, about eight years ago. I was given to understand on several occasions that it wasn’t bad – although I felt it could have been improved upon no end. Putting the two side by side was quite an experience for me. One could clearly see that I had developed in that time. I just hope that I continue to develop positively. I just wish that I could work faster, not slower!

So the graphite daffodil. I had no additional pictures to show you with the pineapple, so I thought I would post my latest work. A couple of weeks ago I held a graphite workshop and just continued with my demonstration piece. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope you like it too.

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Botanical art in graphite – workshop

Today was the second and final day of the botanical art workshop using graphite. It was a lovely small group of artists and I believe that we learnt a lot from each other. 

I think this aspect of a workshop is important, whereby we all learn something from each other – even the tutor. 

I may have mentioned this before, but personally, I don’t think I would have got so much enjoyment from teaching if I hadn’t learnt a lot from the students I was teaching. I always think that a question that one person asks, sets in motion a whole thought process which makes me think about how and why, so that I can answer appropriately. From this I can develop a process, simplifying as much as possible, and cutting out anything unnecessary on the way.

Example, why do I draw my subject onto sketch paper and then trace it via a lengthy process onto my art paper? Those of you who follow my blog (https://gaynorsflora.com/2015/03/19/tracing-to-art-paper-without-indentation/)will know that once I have actually drawn my design, I trace over it  once, then again on the reverse side before transferring it to my art paper – and without leaving indented lines in the paper. The whole process seems long and drawn out, when all I want to do is paint a good picture! But I know that my final picture will be no better than the amount of preparation I put into it.

So having thought all this through, what are the benefits?

  1. Freedom to change the design as many times as I want to before the tracing process.
  2. Less waste of paper.
  3. Potential for a better composition on my art paper as I can move the tracing around the paper before tracing it over ( that was a student comment today).
  4. Pristine art paper at the start of the painting – leading to a better result.
  5. The same tracing can be used several times without additional graphite.

I expect that you can add other benefits to the above.

The gorse tracing that I made for my last blog has been used seven times since I did it, without adding more graphite to the tracing. I have just laid it on fresh paper whilst demonstrating the technique at this workshop, and rubbed gently over it with a decoupage tool as previously described.

I used the same technique when doing a new drawing during this workshop. But I used Bristol board and when I took away the removable tape I had used, it removed the surface of the paper. The same happened to one of the students. She was not fazed, and neither was I. We simply quickly repeated the process on the other side of the paper. Tip: don’t do that with Fabriano HP watercolour paper as it has a right and wrong side.

Rather than me wittering on, you will be more interested In the resulting work from the last two days. I have put a copyright on each of the pictures as they are posted on my blog, but the copyright is with each of the students.



Tracing to art paper without indentation

I wrote a blog  called: tracing to Art paper from 25 March 2013. I thought it might be useful to refer to in conjunction with my new video on YouTube : 


Both on the blog and in the video I have used an instrument called a Decoupage tool. This was bought from FredAldous  online. It is very useful as it is smooth and small, but just large enough to spread the load placed on it when transferring an image onto art paper, without indenting the paper.

Why is it important not to indent the paper? Often, when transferring an image, no matter how careful you are, you will nearly always get some indentations. If painting in watercolour, the pigment is more likely to collect in the narrow grooves leaving a darker line. If using coloured pencil or graphite, pigment won’t go into the embossed lines so easily and white line are left. You don’t want either of these effects from outlining your image. 

The technique is simple and removes the risk of the embossed image during transfer.

Do give me feedback about the video, positive and negative, so that I can carry on improving ones in the future.

I will be having a graphite workshop on Friday and Saturday, following pressure to put on such a workshop. Watch this space for some pictures at the end.

Now The reason for following this blog – botanical pictures completed in the last few days. I haven’t done many of the artists trading cards as with my style of painting, each one takes about two days. The last one is the image used for the tracing and as Gorse is not easy, I am on my fourth attempt! I don’t give up that easily!

My first home-made video – the Pineapple of course

This is going to be a very short blog as my eyes are popping out of my head.

I finished off a long series of London Art College assignments this morning, intending to go back to the easel afterwards.  I was then asked to write a short article to go on the website for the Chichester Open Studios event in May. Naturally I decided to do something about the Pineapple, put it forward as a suggestion including the use of my first video tutorial.

I know that there is already a series of videos that you can find via the Tutorial page on this website, but those are professionally done. Back to this one video so far: I started filming and doing a series of ‘time-lapse’ pictures at the beginning of the pineapple painting.  This video comprises both elements covering the initial period and lasts about three minutes. I continued to film throughout the whole painting, so in due course I hope to release something that will show the whole pineapple develop before your eyes. But that is still in the cooking pot.

Following the query earlier today, I therefore logged onto Youtube and created a channel called Gaynor Dickeson. It contains just one video: ‘How to paint Pineapple segments with Gaynor Dickeson’ . Do enjoy and let me know what you think. This is the link: http://youtu.be/htu3A2mpFCo


The Pineapple has gone for framing!

I believe that several people have wanted to see the finished pineapple. Today I took it for framing and very soon it will be out of my hands!

But, apart from teaching botanical art classes and workshops, I have started the small pictures that I will be giving to my nursing reunion friends in May. I don’t think that any of them follow this blog so I don’t have to worry that they will see the pictures in advance. They might not be particularly interested in botanical art, but hopefully I will be able to change their minds with the pictures. I’m just hoping that I haven’t bit off more than I can chew.  It is going slower than I wanted, but I still want the pictures to be done properly.

Whilst painting the pineapple, I had my camera on and hopefully in due course I will be able to post a video or two showing my technique. But that will definitely not be just yet.

In the meantime – the pineapple. I hope you approve.

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Last two ‘pineapple in progress’ pictures.

This is a very quick blog  – I hope.

The customer has seen the finished pineapple picture and is pleased with the results. Whew! It still has to be framed, but the recipient will not be getting it for a few more months. However, I have been given permission to release it.

Today I will just show the two remaing ‘in progress’ pictures and in the next few days I will post the final picture. I’m not sure which day as I have set aside the next two for concentrated painting – hopefully.

I and my set of 231 from the Queen Elisabeth School of Nursing, Birmingham, will be celebrating our 50th reunion in Bosham in May. As I am organising it, I thought I might do a series of small originals as presents for those coming.  By actually saying this, I suppose it will be documenting my intention. So watch this space and keep your fingers crossed that I can do 30 in that time. I am a terrible perfectionist and take a long time over each picture, so I will have to make a schedule, keep the pictures very small and keep to both intentions.

Institute of Analytical Plants Illustration (IAPI)

I have mentioned this organisation before. It is a very good group to get involved in, particularly for botanical artists and botanists. But have a look at the website and see for yourself  http://www.iapi.org.uk.

Yesterday, Robin and I drove up to Northampton for one of the regular meetings. They meet once every two months in different parts of the country and generally decide on a topic, get specialists in to talk to us, or as yesterday, use the very experienced members.

Last year we went to one of the meetings where Grasses was the topic. Yesterday, winter twigs was the subject. I have already described my feelings prior to and after the ‘grasses meeting’ and this time, prior to the day, I also thought winter twigs might be boring. If you have followed my blog you might remember that I was thrilled about what I learnt about grasses and yesterday was exactly the same. How could I even imagine that the subject could be boring!

I have found that when I am doing botanical painting, the result is usually better if I have studied the subject properly and not just painted it. For each of my RHS exhibits I did an awful lot of research and actually got quite hooked on finding out more about the subjects. I am also convinced that the research helped me get medals.

I am meant to be writing up notes on the meeting to get into the minutes, but I am doing this instead!

When we arrived at the meeting place, we were confronted with a table of twigs with numbers on and a sheet of paper with numbers on. The intention was to name the plants from which the twigs came and possibly include the scientific names as well. That was throwing me in at the deep end, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. We were there to learn. But I have to say that I didn’t identify many. Everyone was discussing and helping everyone else with this or that twig they thought they recognised, but couldn’t quite place. I was really amazed at some people with their wealth of knowledge whilst others were similar to me – although not quite as bad.

Roger Reynolds had put together the collection and created the list. Peter Mitchell talked to us about what we should be looking for to identify a twig.  He described the different types of tree shapes and growth habits; how the branches grew; the bark on the tree and the twigs; colour; texture; marks on the bark (also describing what they were there for); length of internodes; appearance of the terminal bud; how the buds repeated themselves round a branch; bud size and shape and a multitude of other things. So much made sense – but should I be surprised?

I think that one of the things I found most useful were the questions you need to ask yourself when faced with a unidentified twig.

Of course all the twigs in the selection were discussed in detail and we discovered what distinguished one from the other and why.

In the afternoon we had an opportunity to draw from the twig selection. I bought a couple of simple new microscopes which I intend to encourage my students to use. We used these to start some drawings and I tried to take one or two pictures of the detail from the hazel twigs, with male catkins and female buds. Unfortunately the pictures of the catkins through the microscope didn’t turn out too well, but I can vouch that the detail was very beautiful. I will be drawing or painting something from them at some point – although perhaps not just right at the minute.

Isn’t it funny how in botanical art and illustration, there is always something that is challenging you to do its portrait?

Hazel. The female bud seen through the microsope.
Hazel. The female bud seen through the microsope.
Hazel female bud from a different tree.
Hazel female bud from a different tree.
Hazel female bud. Notice the bud scales. The number can help determine species.
Hazel female bud. Notice the bud scales. The number can help determine species.
Hazel female buds in situ on the twig. Photo taken without the microscope.
Hazel female buds in situ on the twig. Photo taken without the microscope.
Hazel catkins
Hazel catkins
Enlarged section of a Hazel catkin.
Enlarged section of a Hazel catkin. Hugely intricate

Promised Hellebore workshop pictures

I promised to show the Hellebores following the botanical art workshop at the weekend.  Unfortunately I couldn’t do it before now as one student came back during the week for a class – taking advantage of being on holiday in the area; one went back to Norway; and one wanted to do some more at home after the workshop. However, here they are. I am really pleased with the pictures so far.  All the students decided to use coloured pencil, but painting Hellebores face exposed is not easy, whether using watercolour or coloured pencil. There is a lot of detailed work.

For those of you who do know a bit about coloured pencil and botanical art, no embossing tool was even near any of the pictures. They all decided to try doing it the hard way via controlling their pencil and carefully laying layers of colour. The results of this were really good.  Personally I feel that if you can avoid the embossing tool as much as possible, the result is more realistic and of course you don’t damage the paper. I think that In the end the students found the spots on the petals the most difficult.

It was the spot pattern on some of the Hellebores that had attracted several of them to choose these particular flowers, but they didn’t find it as easy as they had thought. The reason for this was that the spots guide the insects to the nectaries and this creates a specific pattern, but at the same time they accentuate the shape and fall of the petals – almost in the same way as the veins do. Not easy.

It was interesting listening to the conversation round the table about their individual choices of flowers. One felt she wasn’t able to get things really dark with CP, so chose the dark flower.  She found that spending time on choosing the right colours and deciding the order in which they were used, helps a lot – as does being conscious of contrast. Another person chose a pale flower as they had difficulty doing pale. One person didn’t really like Hellebores but wanted to learn how to do them.

As each of them benefitted from looking at each others work, it was quite rewarding. I think that all were surprised and pleased with their results.

Please enjoy.

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