Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 8. My working practice

A year in the life of a Magnolia x soulangeana tree. In watercolour and graphite.

In 2011 I did my first RHS exhibit – ‘A year in the life of a Magnolia x soulangeana tree’. The tree was in my front garden, so I had a good source for the material I would need. But to get my eight pictures completed in time, I needed to paint throughout the year. The main picture from which all the others derived contained all the phases the tree went through during the year. It was whilst I was doing this series that I became interested in the inner workings of plants and started using a microscope. Of course, to do this I also needed a sketchbook. 

Sketchbook work

Malus x scheideckeri “Red Jade” in Colour pencil

Being a very impatient person I always wish I could get the perfect result first time around. When I started out painting plants, although I had drawn and painted most of my life, I was not very good at using sketch books. But I quickly understood that most of those who did botanical art also did a lot of work in sketch books. 

Sketches from my Crabapple pages.

Encompassing sketchbook work I felt was difficult as I paint directly from the plant in front of me. Why would I want to sketch it several times before painting the final piece? Surely the plant, or flower or leaf would at least have changed or even died before I got to the final painting!

For my second exhibit in 2014, ‘Small is beautiful; Crab apples explored’ I did six pictures from six different crab apple trees – also in my garden. As the title suggests I was doing an exploration of each crab apple  – again over the year. The final artwork displayed the fruit and flowers and dissections of both; I again needed my microscope and sketchbook to get together the necessary information about each of my plants. 

Malus x atrosanguinea ‘Gorgeous’ setup

But this time. I also worked out another way of using my sketches and my photographs. Yes, I take an awful lot of photographs which I use to confirm detail. I have painted three pictures using this photo; but each picture is completely different.

I used the same photo setup but picked different apples and leaves from the garden each time I painted a picture.

Below are sections from two of the paintings. Compare the difference.

But what has all this got to do with my work process towards my current RHS exhibit? 

I learnt a lot during the process of planning for my previous exhibitions and it has all come in very useful for planning this one.

My first exhibit was done in watercolour on paper and the second one was colour pencil on paper. This time it is watercolour and graphite on vellum. A completely different kettle of fish! 

Preparation and plenty of sketches is everything. 

The main sketch that I used in the Cloudberry painting was the one below, drawn in 2017.  When working on my final artwork in 2022, I found appropriate plant pieces to paint from and the Work In Progress (WIP) is as you can see. The immature top fruit is rather different to the sketch, and the lower one has even started opening. This development is not on my original sketch, but I liked the layout of the sketch and wanted to incorporate it in my final piece. The final leaves were painted from several new ones, to include the ‘tatty’ nature of one of them from the sketch.

Rubus chamaemorusCloudberry WIP
Rubus chamaemorus – Cloudberry sketch.

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