Foraging plants in the norwegian mountains – 11. My working practice

Using a lightbox to make an overall transfer for the bog bilberry picture.

Transfer process

For this series my transfer process hasn’t been very straightforward. Once I knew which sketches I wanted to repeat in the final artwork, I made line drawings of each, scanned them and arranged them on my computer, constantly comparing and assessing. Once I was happy with each composition, I traced each sketch into its place on a sheet of tracing paper (see picture at the top), then transferred the composition to a vellum mounted block. In some instances, I continued to make further adjustments underway.

I also made separate tracings of each element in the design and used these once the overall placement was sorted.

To make a transfer I trace the line drawing onto the right side of tracing paper, and then repeat the process carefully and with a sharp pencil on the backside of the tracing. This allows me to use the tracing several times should it be necessary and leaves only a light line of graphite on my artwork. 

This way of transferring reduces the amount of excess graphite that tends to float around. The pictures to the left demonstrate the transfer process. 

See links to videos and blogs giving more detail on my ‘Online Tutorials’ page. ‘How to trace an image to art paper’ contains links to two blogs and a video.

Painting process

Before I start to paint, I arrange some form of cover so that only the section I’m painting is available to me. I might use a sheet of tracing paper, layout pad or clear acrylic sheet – or even a combination. Its easy for accidents to happen, the slip of a brush  or even dropping a laden brush onto the artwork. Accepting this and preparing against there being too much damage is essential for a good result. I have spent time scrubbing out mishaps and I’m sure many others have too.

Bog bilberry covering to protect rest of artwork from splashes and dropped brushes!

Here is my covering for the Bog bilberry picture. I have used a combination of acrylic sheeting and layout paper whilst trying to avoid too much taping directly to the vellum.

Painting on vellum

Painting on vellum is very different to painting on watercolour paper as the pigment lies on the surface rather than absorbing into the paper. Therefore except for the very first layer it is important to paint as dry as possible, otherwise any other layers will lift the preceding layers.

Arctic Tern fired on Ceramic. From an island reserve in the Stavanger fjord in 1989

In some respects, it is a little like painting several layers on porcelain – as I did in the 80’s. Porcelain is very smooth and carefully layering colour on top of an un-fired layer is paramount, or the lower layers are whisked away.

For painting on vellum I use a variety of brushes depending on the level of detail. My first ‘go-to’ brush is a Rafael Kolinski sable brush with a beautiful point; series 8408. The other makes of brushes I use are DaVinci 1505 and Rosemary brushes series 8 and 66. They are all kolinski sable. To lift out I use various synthetic brushes. 

Importantly for all these brushes is a curl free and sharp tip. Brushes wear quickly and the long tip disappears gradually – but the brush still has many useful functions, so they almost never get thrown away.

The watercolours I use are all artist quality but from different suppliers. Most are single pigment and transparent. I have occasionally used Chinese white as an underlay in areas where I need to control ‘lifting out’ as in the Cloudberry flowers.  When lifting off it might leave  a very slight sheen. If I don’t lift the Chinese white off, it mixes with the other colours and dulls them, therefore I have to lift off very carefully to create highlights.

In my next blog I talk a little about the opportunities I had to learn about applying graphite to vellum – That is planned for 27 April 2023.

This is a very short YouTube slideshow from a demonstration I made to some of my students when they were learning to paint on vellum. I painted the tiniest of crab apples on a vellum remnant.

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