The Blackberry on Vellum ‘take-outs’

The finished ‘Autumn Blackberry Branch

This blog is about all the mistakes I made whilst painting the Autumn Blackberry Branch on vellum. Above is the finished piece.

Since I started working on vellum I realised that there is a huge difference when working on the different types. This applies both to painting on the vellum and the ability to take things out.

From watching some artists who paint on vellum, they always seemed to use pumice to prepare the vellum. But each time I used this and however gently, I found it more difficult to paint on the surface afterwards and therefore to get a nice smooth result. Even when cleaning up after a mistake, I found it very difficult, but thought this was me!

Early in the year I did a workshop with Denise Walser-Kolar and the first thing she said was that vellum bought from Cowley’s in the UK, is so well prepared that it doesn’t need any preparation; i.e. no need to go over it with pumice.

The biggest difficulty is conveying grease from your hands if you handle it too much. But think about it; one doesn’t handle art paper either if one wants a good result, so why would one need to handle the vellum any more?

Just this little bit of advice has made all the difference to me. Not only do I try to avoid mistakes(!!), but if I do make one I am as gentle as possible with moving the offending pigment.

I will be painting on natural vellum when I do my RHS series and it is definitely more difficult to remove some pigments from this, than to remove from Kelmscott vellum. The blackberry is on Kelmscott vellum and I had absolutely no problems lifting any of the pigments from this. But I had to be very careful and not use more water than necessary. Even being careful, I could still ‘feel’ a slight difference when re-painting these areas.

I found that the mistakes I made were in relation to overdoing it or painting with too thick a layer because I wanted to darken something. In each instance, when I got to the stage I felt I had overdone, I took out the offending part with dampened cottonwool buds. I then painted the whole section again being very mindful of why I was doing so. All the time I said to myself, ‘gently does it’ and ‘the more thin layers, the better’.

These are the before and after sections. With some, you may think there is no or little difference, however a photo may not always show what I can see with the naked eye (and glasses!).

Hopefully this will be useful and an encouragement to those starting out on vellum.

Before
After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before
After

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before (1st attempt)
After (Third attempt)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Right side of leaf before.
Right side of leaf with two upper sections removed and the first section re-done.
The offending sections are redone.

6th part of the Blackberry on vellum story.

 

 

 

 

Painting the leaves

I am told that often people hate painting leaves. But the leaves on the Blackberry are really exciting to paint.

The original set-up for this picture had green leaves, although partly eaten up by various bugs. As it has been a few weeks since I started this picture, I needed to find some replacement leaves, which I found from the same plant; they were really beautiful. This picture is one of the new leaflets showing the colouration I introduced into the leaf set I had already drawn. The other two leaflets remained predominantly green.

When painting on vellum, one of the things I was taught was to keep the first layers of colour as pure as possible. The reason for this is somehow obvious, although I often forget in my haste; it is easy to dull colours, but it is not easy to restore them to their original brilliance.

But it’s not just about colour; for best results the brush needs to be as dry as possible so that the pigment is laid finely with the very tip of the brush.

The technique for painting on vellum is similar to the purely dry technique (as opposed to wet-on-wet or dry-on-wet) used when painting watercolour on paper.  Even better, the paint is laid using a cross-hatch stroke in many layers when painting on vellum. This is a necessity if wanting to achieve a depth of colour (particularly dark colours) without getting a thick layer of paint that is visible when viewing the picture at different angles.

By the way, I use a brush with plenty of body to hold the pigment and an exceptionally good point; normally a Rafael 8408 size 4. But Rosemary brushes series 8 also work well, this time no smaller than a size 2 even for the finest detail.

Below you can see the steps I took when painting the leaves.

Next time, I intend to show you the mistakes and take-outs I made. Making mistakes is where one learns. Learning to deal with them is as important as realising you have made them. The ideal is of course not to make them in the first place; but that comes with time!

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My next workshop in Bosham is ‘Hedgerow Colour’ 27-28 September. Get in touch via the contact form below quickly if you would like to join us. If you would like to follow my blogs, put your email address in the ‘Follow’ section on the right hand side of this page.

5th part of the Blackberry on vellum story.

This is not a pretty sight; It is my desk easel at this stage of the painting.

I haven’t disposed of the original stem or leaves, nor the the additional berries used underway. As I said before, once part of the subject is past caring, I replace it with a fresh sample. There have been many fresh samples so far, therefore, although the set-up looks similar, the details are not. You will see even more when I get to the leaves!

But why have I kept onto the old berries? Because, every one is different. The arrangement of the drupelets is different even though they follow the Fibonacci pattern. They also contain different numbers in each berry. I might want that information at a later stage, even though the berries have dried out.

The picture also shows how I check the connections on my plant. Under the magnifying glass is the connection between a branch, a new stem and the adjoining leaf. The sample is in the opposite direction to my drawing, so I need to transpose the information as I paint. It’s no good me turning the stem over as the information is different on the other side.

You can see the developing painting on the right and my refreshed colour palette as well.

This time I will finish the blackberries and make a start on the leaves.

If I had been doing this on paper, I would have used graphite for the leaf right in the background, but it doesn’t look so good on vellum. Its a useful exercise as I will be using something similar when I do my Norwegian plant pictures for my RHS exhibit.

I have been trialling different methods and different pigments. For once I realised that graphite was not good enough for what I needed, I knew I would have find a pigment I felt I could use in a controlled manner. So which pigment should I use? I tried Daniel Smith’s ‘Graphite Grey’ and several natural earth pigments by several manufacturers, but each time the pigment felt too sticky for what I wanted to do with it. I needed to get a consistent fine line and be able to do delicate monotone shading. In the end I reverted to my own neutral grey that I often make using Perylene Violet and Maimeri’s Cyan; the latter is the same pigment as W&N Blue, green shade and works well for me. I can vary the grey from cold to warm and very pale to dark. By the way, the earth colours didn’t look quite right and didn’t recede enough in the background for my liking.

Now the berries. These are the remaining berries that are gradually ripening through red. I love the variation in colours here, but this is one of the areas in which I experienced problems. I will write an additional blog about my mishaps! Suffice it to say that each drupelet is a different colour. I always started off fine, keeping the colour fairly pure to begin with. But then I invariably overworked it to show the different colours. You won’t (I hope) see that on the final version of what you see here, but it is certainly something to bear in mind.

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4th part of Blackberry on Vellum story.

I am so enjoying painting this picture. To me, there are some parts that have been less than perfect and it might mean that talking about these will be an additional separate blog. I will see! But, as I have a deadline, I have a good excuse to work on it almost every and all day!

This blog is all about finishing off the black blackberries on the left hand side and some new green ones on the right.

Although I know that many of you are watching the sections as they change so that you know roughly what colours I am using, it is worth mentioning the difference in the colours used with the black, blackberries. Of the three on the left, the nearest is the freshest ripe one and therefore has more remnants of the unripe red in it. The other two are even more ripe and additionally are affected in colour by how far back they are in the picture.

Of course the latter is called atmospheric perspective and affects tone and colour. Typically more distant objects show less detail, colour and contrast. In relation to colour, they are clearer, brighter and warmer when seen close to. As objects get farther away the colours become duller, get colder, paler and eventually turn blue grey.

So what on earth do you do when the ‘native’ colour of your subject is warm, but it is further away? You need to dull the colour as it moves away and hopefully you will see this occur in my light greens and reds. If not, you can smack me over the fingers when you see me!

This is an example of what I am talking about, except, that I don’t think you will actually see it fully until you see the finished painting. As I finish off a painting I will generally check over this sort of thing.

In a couple of weeks I have my next workshop in Bosham; Hedgerow colour. I think that this picture is a good example of the general subject

. I still have one or two spaces on it and it will be the last one before coming back from teaching at the ASBA (American Society of Botanical Artists) conference in Pittsburgh. But the dates for the Hedgerow colour workshop are 27-28 September. Do get in touch if you want one of those spaces. Workshops in 2019

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3rd part of Blackberry on vellum story – and more.

Last Friday and Saturday I had a workshop called Fruit and Veg ; or Strawberries and cream. It is a very popular workshop has happened for several years running. I don’t know if it is the Strawberries and cream that tempts, or the painting. Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account that it was a bank holiday weekend this year, but those who signed up were pleased to have more of my attention..

One student was working on vellum and decided to paint a short branch from our Malus ‘Royal Beauty’ crab apple tree. It has very dark berries and I thought the best way to demonstrate was by doing one of the berries myself. Of course doing it properly also takes time, so as soon as the workshop was finished the first day I went down into the shed and started the berry so that I could demonstrate on it the following day. That was one long day!

But it was a useful exercise and the student got a clearer understanding of how to get depth and darker colours on vellum without laying it in thick layers.

The other students unusually all worked with watercolour this time.

I finished off my Royal Beauty crab apple later on.

My 5 x 7 inch picture of a Blackberry branch on Kelmscott vellum is progressing in-between teaching and demos.

My last blog finished off when I had completed the bottom-most berries on my branch; you could see a ripe blackberry under the stem. In this blog I will show you the layers needed for the berries on the left of the stem. The nearest one is almost fully ripe as you can see by the residual redness of the drupelets. Then there are two more fully ripe ones behind this; I therefore have to take this into consideration when choosing my colours. The slideshow of photos taken at regular intervals is at the bottom of this page.

I promised a picture of my art table as it was in my last blog, but bear in mind that since the very hot weather my subject is deteriorating quite fast.

In this picture the sprig is still fairly OK giving me an idea of the colours of the berries, although I have to get fresh samples to paint from; as you can see, these are scattered on the surface beside me.

Finally and unusually, I have two vacancies in my weekly botanical art class in Bosham. It is Wednesday mornings between 10:00-12:00, starting up again Wednesday 4th September. Get in touch using the contact form below if you want to know more about it or sign up. Before you ask, it is for watercolour and colour pencil artists, including those who want to learn. The class is kept even smaller than the workshops so everyone can develop at their own speed.

 

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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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When I wasn’t walking in Norway …

…..I was either hunting for plants or painting.

I had a list of plant detail that I had worked out I needed to complete the composition planning for my series of pictures. My vellum size for each piece is 25 x 31 cm – which I suppose relatively speaking is quite small. But all but one of my plants is very small with leaves varying from 2-6mm long on the Vaccinium microcarpum, to the Rubus chamaemorus where the leaves vary hugely in size.

Vaccinium microcarpum – Small Cranberry – Leaves 2-6mm long.

Impetrum niger ssp. Hermaphroditum – Crowberry – Leaves 3-6 mm long

Rubus chaaemorus – Cloudberry (image is 13cm high)

I decided that rather than work on all seven pictures at once as I have done so far, I would work on half this year and the rest next year. For all of them I needed to do some colour matching on vellum as this will be different to the colours I have used on paper. You have already seen the small piece I did on the Cranberry a couple of blogs ago. You may also have noticed the difference to the actual flower size (tiny) and the painting  which I did at twice the size.

Luckily enough although there is a slight difference in the terrain from which each of the plants come from, we have found each species within walking distance of the cottage in which we have been staying. The Cloudberry and the Cranberry can be found intertwined with each other in the soggy sphagnum moss – but not always. The Bog Blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) comes from a similar area, but I have seen it reaching up the side of rugged outcrops. The Crowberry can be found all over the mountains although the Ssp Hermaphroditum can only be found at higher altitudes. The Bilberry can also be found pretty well most places, but doesn’t seem to be above the tree-line and doesn’t seem to like really boggy areas. The Cowberry – Lignonberry (Vaccinium vitas-idaea) is spread on ant mounds and rocky outcrops.  Common Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) likes much drier conditions and is often found in pine woods. But we did find an example not far from the cottage. Last year Robin drove about 150km to find a spot that I knew about!

Below is the colour sample of the Bog blueberry done this year. The very new new leaves start out quite red and as they get older they become bluer and stiffer. Sorry the photo is a little dark.

Vaccinium uliginosum – Bog blueberry – Watercolour on vellum 5×7″, painted twice natural size.