The start of the ‘Stay-home’ mode.

One of my students wrote to me using the phrase ‘Stay-home mode’ and I thought this was lovely. Far better than some of the other terms that have been flying around at this difficult time.

None of us know how long this present situation will last and of course none of us know what it will be like at the other end. The Coronavirus has created a lot of uncertainty.

During the week I had my last botanical art workshop which had been brought forward from next week. The subject was the Perpetual Journal, something that was developed, taught and promoted by Lara Call Gastinger in the US. Lara has been very generous with this and encourages everyone to do something similar.

There were quite a few booked onto the workshop, but in the end there were just two very brave ladies who attended and enjoyed it. The workshop was a little unusual in that this time there was as much chatting as drawing and painting. Something we all needed before going into self-isolation. We didn’t solve the world’s problems but we certainly lifted our spirits.

An image from the workshop where they used only  a technical pen to draw the initial image with a layer of colour on top of this. Both ladies who attended were colour pencil artists, so this page shows the loose laying of CP on the pen line drawing. Colour pencil can be used just as much as watercolour. It means you can take your pencils anywhere without having to worry about using water.

It has been a tumultuous year so far. In the UK we have had our fair share of rain and wind. I have been terribly lucky in that although we are close to the sea no flooding has affected us; so many have been devastated by this.  But I think  that our  plants  are glad of the water as it has been quite dry for the last few years.

The wind hasn’t been quite so kind to us, although again we are lucky in comparison to many. Below is a picture of some of our garden. Bottom right you can just see the eves of my shed, but on the right is a massive Deodar tree. It is very tall and probably over 100 years old. It is standing too close to the house and for every storm I watch it sway. We have kept it trimmed so that wind can go through it, but  I am constantly worried. During a recent storm a big branch towards the top broke halfway and is hanging there, a little dangerously. We have decided the tree must go as our home is in jeopardy should the tree uproot, but as for much at the moment, dealing with it is on hold.

But, the sun is shining today and summer is on its way.                          

I have been offering an online botanical art course using watercolour or colour pencil for over four years. It took over two years to write and do the videos and since then I have had a steady stream of students from around the world.  I have controlled the number of students I have at any one time as a previous tutoring experience meant I was overwhelmed. Unfortunately I am my own worst enemy as I use several hours on marking each assignment so that the student feels they are getting enough information to continue their own development.

This year I have noticed an increase in the number of people wanting to do my course and initially I didn’t realise why!

‘Staying-home’ has meant that botanical art tutors everywhere can no longer teach their workshops physically and are looking for another way to teach – potentially online. There is now much more online botanical art teaching available, some are set up quickly as a reaction to the virus and some are tried and tested over a long time. The teaching varies with several providing step-by-step tutorials using monthly subscriptions; a few do online demos or even provide one-to-one lessons on screen; these are good for those who want to start painting flowers and plants.

If you want to do botanical art, courses with written tutorials and feedback from assignments are more in depth. They will often teach you about what to look for, how to do it and why.

Importantly, if you love botanical art and want to learn how to do it, there are now more than enough different types of tuition to be found online that will suit how you like to learn.

You will find information about my online course here: https://gaynorsflora.com/tuition-2/online-botanical-art-course/

I also have some videos you can watch on this page – these don’t cost a thing: https://gaynorsflora.com/my-tutorials/

In the meantime, these are a couple of recent pages from my Perpetual Journal, which I have now been doing for a year. Good luck, stay safe and healthy!

Week 12-Lesser Celandine: 19/03/19, Grape Hyacynth: 16/03/20 
Polygala myrtifolia, WC and pen&ink, Week 12 : 11/03/20

I have been on a Scientific Illustration course!

Vicia cracca from a rocky beach in southern Norway.

I have been so excited and full of expectation for a few weeks now, but last week I spent five days learning all about Scientific illustration; botanical of course.

In the previous sentence I said ‘all about’! I loved it, but it was something completely outside my comfort zone and my choice to do it. I now need lots of practice as I am a long way from knowing ‘all about’ scientific illustration.

But first of all, why as a botanical artist did I feel I needed to study botanical/scientific illustration? There are loads of reasons, but I suppose it starts off with the way I do botanical art. I am not a loose painter, I like to get the details completely correct and therefore much of my work is done with a fairly dry brush. I have always liked detail and accept that this is the reason I get so much enjoyment out of botanical art. I like to see and show how the plant functions.

Also, and very importantly, I want to show viewers of my artwork, the correct detail in an artistic way. Compare it to doing a portrait of a person and the need to get the likeness as close as possible whilst having some artistic freedom in the way you do it..

Therefore these are some of the reasons why I think that studying botanical illustration helps me, bearing in mind I am not a botanist:

  • I can study the minutest detail on the plant and include it in the final artwork.
  • I get to see how this bit connects to that bit.
  • I can see the differences more clearly from one plant to another and one species to another.
  • If painting a species through different seasons, I am not so dependent on keeping my specimen fresh but can paint from it when pressed and dried.

These thoughts are related specifically to me and my development as a botanical artist, but may also be of interest to others.

Having said this, I can also see where it might help a lot of people. I don’t know how many times I have seen pictures where connections have been incorrect or where someone has quickly done some thorns or hairs, but maybe painted or drawn the wrong sort and included them the wrong way round. Scientific illustration would help everyone to correctly:

  • Observe
  • Identify
  • Depict

I went on this course with Anita Walsmit Sachs at her studio in The Hague, The Netherlands. I chose to do her course because it was for five days and not just a couple of days. This is her website:

anitawalsmitsachs.nl

What I found were motivated students, a warm welcome and an extremely experienced tutor in scientific illustration. Anita’s work is beautiful and she guided us each through the depiction of the plants we had chosen to do. Some chose to work on live specimens (a little easier [I think]) and two of us chose to work on dried specimens. Some had been on a similar course with Anita previously and two us hadn’t (one using a live specimen and I a dry one).

My plant was Vicia cracca – Tufted vetch. Anita had several pressed and dried plants to choose from – as well as live specimens. I chose the Vicia cracca because it reminded me of being on a stony beach near my daughter’s home in Norway. I took the above picture last summer. Though one of the struggles I had with my choice was that every part of it was tiny and very delicate.

Below are some of the pictures I took of the plant. The tiny flower had to be dismantled and each part drawn. For this, the flower is specially treated and after that I spent a lot of time chasing it and its parts around a Petri dish with water in it. The picture of the flower is while it is floating in the water. Can you imagine chasing a petal, or even an anther (0.3mm) around so I can get it under a piece of glass for the microscope. Each time you try to lay the glass down, the specimen whooshes away. I tried to keep my comments under control!

A dried and pressed flower enlarged.
A floating flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last two pictures are of the plan and some of the work done on the final plate. For this I used both Micron pens and Uni pens. But now I am home again I have been cleaning up my Rotring Pens.

My final comment on this blog is to mention ‘stippling’. If doing it properly, it is not a lot of dots! Each mark is placed carefully on the paper. This is the area where in particular I need a lot of practice; but the results can be incredible. I wish I could show you some of Anita’s work as it was extremely beautiful – but it isn’t mine to show.

Plan or the Scientific plate for Vicia cracca.

Wishing you a very peaceful Christmas and all you want from 2020

The Christmas and New Year periods are not happy times for everyone.

During a period in my life I worked every Christmas and New Year holiday doing night duty on A&E. It was my way of finding peace in myself and helping others also to do so. As well as treating patients it also opened my eyes to the suffering some people experience during these big holiday periods.

Our church provides breakfast to the homeless in Chichester twice a week and my husband is up early on these two days as part of the team doing this. Thursday is Boxing Day, he and my daughter (who has joined him whilst in the UK) will be there as usual. The numbers of homeless have increased in recent years and those the streets in Chichester can find one meal provided every day. It is worth thinking of these people as every one has a story to tell.

This Christmas I will be at home, surrounded by family; but then I am one of the lucky ones. I am fighting to find the time for my botanical art, whereas some are looking forward to being able to spend time and absorb themselves in drawing and painting.

Whatever you are doing, enjoy the Christmas and New Year period, but have a thought for those less fortunate and happy than you are.

From me, a personal thank you to all those I have been in touch with this last year and I look forward to hearing from you or seeing you again in 2020.

The Shirley Sherwood Collection preview – and more

© Charles Francis

The above picture was taken last night by Charles Francis and the book was apparently meant to be a surprise Christmas present from Robin. Dr. Shirley Sherwood is in the process of signing her latest edition and I am told more was written, but I am not allowed to see this until Christmas Day.

Robin and I were invited to the preview of the latest exhibition at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery. Many people may know that this is the only purpose built botanical art gallery in the world. It introduces people to plants in a completely new way, encouraging people to look at and appreciate them with different eyes.

Dr Sherwood has over a 1000 botanical art pictures in her collection and as she said yesterday, this exhibition and the accompanying book is a retrospective of her collecting. She says that she had a huge problem in deciding which pictures should be included in the exhibition as of course she didn’t have room in the gallery to show them all.

It was a really lovely evening where we met artists from around the world. It was a really good time to catch up with old friends, make new acquaintances, but above all, study the artwork. There is some amazing work there which if possible you need to see with your own eyes. I know this isn’t possible for everyone and that is why the book is a good additional opportunity to see the pictures. Elaine Allison will be reviewing the book on the ABBA website in due course.

When we arrived at the gallery, we immediately saw Charles Francis and his daughter who were both there to represent Mally who had painted one of Dr Sherwood’s last acquisitions; Babbington’s Leek. It was so good to see them again as the last time I saw Mally and Charles was the day the picture was bought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now to the ‘more’ as promised above.

This weekend I will be taking part in the Bosham Christmas Craft Trail. We call it a craft trail because although we are all serious artists, the majority of those taking part are makers rather than fine artists. The only two fine artists on the trail are Tamsin Saunders and myself. Our styles are completely different ranging from my tight botanical art style, to her much looser more abstract style of painting. Tamsin is joining me at:
Saltings, Windmill Field, Bosham, West Sussex, PO 18 8LH.

Do come and join us and enjoy mince pies and mulled wine whilst you browse.

You will get to see my latest piece of work:

Three Blueberry Leaves painted on natural calfskin vellum.

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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