2nd part of Blackberry on Vellum story

You might wonder what this picture on the right is all about! A single blackberry stuck on a piece of  Blue-tac!

Botanical art takes time – at least when I do it. I always have to research my subject before I start and then take time. doing each element. But because one leaf might look similar to another, they are not and therefore you cannot use exactly the same method on each of them. The leaf might be facing in a different direction, be in light or shade, have a curl, a hole or different colour. The same is true of the blackberries on my branch.

Each blackberry is in a different stage of development from tight and green to soft and black. Additionally, each drupelet on a berry seems also to be in different stages of development and too can vary through green, yellow, pink, red and black-ish.

As you know our plants live, so how do you cope with the fact that they change constantly? Even what seems to be a dead leaf, changes as soon as you begin to paint it. I take loads of pictures of my plant in the original set-up.

I also take lots of of detailed photos from each element of that set-up. But I do not paint from photographs. I use these pictures to find and replace an element when it changes and dies. But to replace it with the right fruit to fit in my composition, I need a lot of photos depicting the original one.

The berry on the right is a replacement berry, laid on my desk in the same direction to the light source as the original specimen. Sometimes I use the original drawing of that element and just use the colourations and form from my new specimen, at other times I re-draw my new specimen and paint directly from that.

Once, when practicing for the Crab apple series in colour pencil, I drew the same arrangement three different times to put them in slightly different compositions. From afar one thought it was the same picture section, but when looking at them in detail, you could see that on every single one, all the apples and leaves were different.

Below I will create a slide-show of all the pictures taken up to the next blog. It would be helpful if you could let me know if you don’t want the pictures taken so frequently, but I know that it helps some people to see the gradual change in the picture and how I get there.

Next time, apart from showing the different stages, I will also show you the state of my art table!

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I got an email the other day…

We have a local village magazine which covers the villages between Chichester to Emsworth and a little up into the Downs. I was really surprised to get an email from them the other day telling me that if I hadn’t looked in the recent issue, there is an art competition. The winner’s artwork will go on the cover in the October issue and the subject is Autumn.

There are a lot of artists in this area and I expect many got the same email. But I need to practice as much as I can on vellum  in preparation for when I start my final pictures for the RHS exhibit, so I thought I would see if I could get a small picture finished. Unfortunately the deadline is pretty soon – 10 September, and I have a workshop this weekend, but I have started something.

The blackberries in the garden are coming towards their end for this year, but apparently in the hedgerows they are only just beginning to ripen. The wind and the rain hasn’t helped much, but we have a few days of warmer weather due.

I’m painting Blackberries on Kelmscott vellum. There are two problems: It might not be finished in time and it might not be good enough to put in. There is a third thing – if i finish it and its OK, they might not choose it! But then I will have  5 x 7″ picture.


The berries are gorgeous aren’t they?

I found the actual painting on Kelmscott rather different to painting on natural calfskin vellum. If you make a mistake (which I often do at this stage), it is easier to take out on the Kelmscott. But, as it is easier to take out, it also means that i have to be even more careful with the dry-brush technique, or I lift off what I have already done.

This blog shows my preparation from first sketch before tracing it onto the vellum to the first group of berries.

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My Perpetual journal

I have to be honest, but this idea is not mine. I came across it when researching different types of journal. I hope that Lara Gastinger won’t mind me taking her name in vain, but I saw that she had been doing this for years.

Many people try to do a drawing a day, but knowing how I get involved in what I do, I thought I would never get anything else done. My aim was to be quicker with what I do – but that is what everyone wants to be. Many of my students want to paint faster, and I remember I wanted to do so when I first started painting botanical subjects. But I get slower and slower because I increase the detail and complexity of my paintings.

Because each picture takes so long to finish, I am doing very little ordinary quick sketches. I wanted to increase my output and thus increase my ability to make quick sketch notes. How was I going to do it?

I now have an A5 Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook and have set off a double page to do one sketch a week, and next year I will go back again to the same page to do another one. I have done this since March this year, but missed three weeks whilst I was sketching and colour matching mountain plants in Norway.

Why does this help me? Well, I have decided to minimise the graphite help marks I draw so that I go straight into it with pen, then do colour washes.

23-24 August this year I am having my annual Fruit & veg workshop (places still available)and I thought some preparation sketches for this would be ideal in my Perpetual diary. This is what I have done today. I took several photos so that you can see the stages. If you want to learn about this – and more, get in touch and sign up as soon as you can.

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