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.
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.
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.
You might not be able to make out too much detail in this picture, but we were on the other side of the valley from the cottage in which we stayed. To get there we went down to 806 metres and the highest part was 1104 metres. We only walked about 10 km – in 5hours and finished it off with a waffle and sour cream. Delicious!
This time the day was fantastic. The wind had dropped and it was actually warm-ish – about 16º C. In some areas we even took off our fleeces.
On our journey we found female Cloudberries, Pedicularis sceptrum – Moor King, ants struggling down a little river (so we provided some with a life raft and others with a bridge).
We also found a birch wood with a lot of fresh Usnea lichen hanging off the trees.
I have always found that the colours in Norway at this time of year really sparkle. The green of the grass seems so new and the blue of the sky is also amazing. Of course you can see for miles and miles.
We still had a way to go and my poor daughter stretching ahead, sometimes had to wait for us old fogeys. I think she is almost at the highest point of our walk at this stage, just about to trek downhill.
We continued to see some amazing flora including the Trailing azalea and large patches of female cloudberries.
Seeing so much cloudberries meant of course that we were walking through areas of quite boggy ground. But I can’t tell you exactly where, because for a Norwegian, the site of ripe Cloudberries is a trade secret and never divulged to anyone!
When you see the final pictures of Norwegian mountain foraging plants in a couple of years time, you will know what lengths have been gone to to get subject matter!
My daughter, husband and I ready to battle the elements on our first hike together this working holiday. We managed 3 km in 4 hours!
It was bitter cold and hailing when we started out, with a temperature of only 2º, and the wind coming from the north! It felt quite a tough climb particularly as I wasn’t in as good shape as I used to be. But the views were worth it, as were seeing the variety of plants.
On the way up we saw quite a lot of wild flowers from Wood Cranesbill, Bilberry, Bog Bilbury or Blueberry, Cowberry (or for Ikea addicts – Lignon berry), Bog Rosemary, and loads of Chickweed Wintergreen everywhere we looked.
Its funny, but this last plant really livened up the steep slopes and the Norwegian translation of its name felt more like the experience we had of it – Star of the Woods!
We rapidly got above the tree line with lots of heathers (most of the plants I have mentioned come from that family) and low lying Mountain Birch.
The small plateau on which we arrived had a lake and a further track leading over the mountain top. Patches of winter snow still lay there.
On a patch of rock clung another plant carrying its immature fruit – The Artic Bearberry. I have heard of it, but hadn’t really made particular note of it before. Perhaps the redness of its autumn colour confused me with the red of the prostrate Mountain Birch.
This is the other plant I managed to colour match on vellum whilst up in the mountains. But I will update about that one in a later blog.
Whilst everyone else is suffering extremely high temperatures in Europe, we are experiencing +4 high in the mountains of southern Norway! I believe it is warmer at the North Cape.
However, as there is now no longer a direct ferry from the UK to Norway, we drive here over several days, with our cargo of painting equipment. A necessity for the job I am going to do whilst here.
On the way we stopped off in Amsterdam to visit my son and partner and had a cycle ride to the coast in 37 degrees. It was almost a relief to eventually get to a cooler climate, although the day we arrived it was in the high twenties lower down in the valley.
Since then, the temperature has gradually sunk even lower. Today we are awaiting my daughter who lives on the Norwegian coast, advising her to bring winter woollies. I didn’t dare tell her that it has been snowing today – although it hasn’t settled.
So why am I subjecting my sun loving and warmth seeking husband to todays chill in the Norwegian mountains? It’s the plants of course. I am now back to getting all the plant information to paint my pictures for my next RHS exhibit. I know I have spoken about this for a couple of years or so, but my involvement in the Worldwide Botanical art exhibition last year and continuance with setting up the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA), rather delayed things.
Because of the delay, I also lost my right to exhibit at the RHS – this year being five years since I last exhibited. I therefore had to apply again. Luckily, my work in general was again accepted as potentially worthy of a medal place, so now I am going to work through my subjects properly and, rather than rushing it, plan to exhibit in 2021.
This year I am focusing on three of the plants I have chosen and plan to get information I feel is lacking to complete a picture. My first is Vaccinium microcarpum – or Small cranberry. Last year I was able to find ripe fruit and was able to get all the information from that. Previously I had only drawn one flower, so I am concentrating on these now.
I thought you might be interested in my already messy workplace setup at 910 metres over sea level!
If Denise Walser-Kolar sees this blog, I hope she will notice I have taken on board her teaching. As long as I practice what she taught in Vienna, painting on vellum is going much better – even with the tiny leaves! Thank you Denise.
The other two plants I hope to get some more information on is the Vaccinium uliginosum (Bog Blueberry) and a little from the Rubus chamaemorus (Cloudberry). In both instances, it is only small details I need. I have already noticed that the leaf colour of the Bog blueberry seems to change in the sun. New leaves have a red tinge to the edge of the leaves, older leaves don’t, but in the sun they become red to almost a Perylene Violet (for watercolour artists) colour. I didn’t realise that before.
The Cloudberry fruit is only to be found on female plants. Each plant can be quite huge and spread many metres. Around the cottage I have only seen the male flowers of the Cloudberry – no female ones at all. it might be because it hasn’t warmed up very much yet where we are. The temperatures are set to improve, but I doubt we will be here long enough to benefit from it.
Please don’t get the wrong impression of Norway. The summers can be hot and the winters cold. It is a fantastically beautiful country and every area has its own attraction. I like it in the area we are staying as I lived in the valley for several years. Lastly, a picture of the sun rise a couple of days ago. It doesn’t get totally black at night at this time of year, but this was taken at 03:30.
Today is exactly a year since we had the Worldwide Botanical Art exhibition where twenty five countries participated on the same day. The UK exhibition ‘In Ruskin’s Footsteps was held in Lancaster.
On the 19th May several artists demonstrated their skills in botanical art. They were the late Mally Francis painting Gorse, Jackie Copeman on vellum and Sandra Doyle painting Spindle Tree Moth caterpillars.
Sandra’s painting of the Euonymus (Spindle tree) was in the exhibition and for her demonstration she painted the caterpillars showing their strange behaviour on their host plant.
Today I am lucky enough to be in Vienna, participating in the first ‘Get Together’ conference, where botanical artists from around the world are congregating to learn from and teach each other. This is being held at the Vienna School of botanical Illustration. Unfortunately I was not able to be here the whole week, but today we have been on a Field trip to the Donau-Auen National Park.
Apart from seeing at least ten different orchids including my first live Bee orchid.
I also saw the effects of the Spindle tree moth. It was hanging right over the path we were walking and I think if I had reached it first all the wild animals in the forest would have deserted. I do have an almighty scream when I get going!
As it happens I was completely amazed by what I saw. It also helped to remind me about the first ABBA event exactly one year ago.
Tomorrow I am going to a workshop by Denise Walser Kolar. She is teaching painting on vellum. A workshop I have always wanted to do with her as she has encouraged me to paint on vellum for many years. I am so looking forward to being a student and getting to paint all day,
It is an awfully long time since I last wrote a blog! It isn’t because I didn’t want to – it was just the usual problem – Time!
The Worldwide Botanical Art Exhibition held in May 2018 took over my life virtually from the latter part of 2016. Initially it was to put on the UK arm of the exhibition, but this evolved with the development of ABBA.
My last blog post was following the London RHS exhibition in July 2018 when I, as part of ABBA (Association of British Botanical Artists), helped man its stand. We had a great response to the formation of the organisation and found that there was a huge expectation and need for us to continue. That is where all my time has gone!
With a fantastic new team and a lot of hard work, especially from the other members, we have come a long way since then. A new ABBA website, which also opens up to membership, is planned for 21 March. As I write this it is only 18 days away. Read about what ABBA is all about and watch for when the new website is launched by following this link: ABBA
After the RHS exhibition I realised that I had to get my own botanical art life back on track. I knew this would take time as work would continue with the development of ABBA.
I have previously mentioned the preparation I was doing for my own next RHS exhibit. It is a series of plants from the Norwegian mountains. Robin and I travelled to the beautiful Norwegian mountains in early August, where I continued to sketch my chosen subjects. In 2017 I had sketched my subjects in flowers this time I hoped to catch all of them with fruit. As we all know, the climate changes from year to year, so it is difficult to judge when is the absolute best time foreach of the plants. Heat and drought had also struck Norway, but luckily enough after much hunting we managed to find examples of everything. Whew!
Initially I had planned to get the series of paintings ready to exhibit this year, five years since my last exhibit and the last year I am allowed to do so without being re-assessed by the RHS. One has to be able to produce botanical art at a consistent set standard before being allowed to exhibit. The standard is rising year on year! But because of all the commitments already mentioned, I was unable to start on my final paintings and they will not be ready in time. I will not rush them. This means I have to go through the RHS application process again.
Here’s hoping they don’t refuse me! The sketches below were done in 2018 and are fruit, leaves and roots from three of the plants. In actual fact, I could write about my time sketching in the mountains and about each of the plants in detail. Perhaps one day I will. The more I learn about them the more fascinating they become.
There was a heatwave in the UK whilst we enjoyed cooler conditions at 900 metres in Norway. When we returned home for a short period the weather cooled down. In October we travelled to experience Spring in Western Australia with my sister. Again there was a heatwave in the UK whilst initially in WA we were dressing warmly with anoraks, jumpers and boots. My husband loves the warmth, I like it in between!
It was cooler in the southern part of the state, but quite warm by the time we went north. Whilst in WA we saw the most amazing varieties of spring flowers and took nearly 3000 pictures. Imagine if we had done this on the old 35mm cameras! I perspire (as I am a woman) at the thought of getting them all processed.
These pictures are from the northern part of the state near the Pinnacles in WA. It was apparently the worst period for flies. Although we laughed at the idea of wearing fly nets over our hats, it didn’t take many minutes to change our minds. But the flies still managed to get in many nooks and crannies you didn’t know existed.
Since we got back at the beginning of November I have been trying to catch up. Nothing has been straight forward, but I now see this blog as the beginning of getting back to some state of normality – even if the ABBA website launch and membership is only a few days away.
I have decided that my next blog will show you how I have changed the ergonomics of my workplace in the shed. Hopefully it will be of interest as a well adjusted workplace is the best way to keep one healthy enough to keep on painting for many years.
In May this year ABBA organised the British contribution to the first ever Worldwide Day of Botanical Art, joining 25 other countries in this amazing event. ABBA’s main exhibition in Lancaster, ’In Ruskins Footsteps’ was a great success as were our partner events in London, at the Shirley Sherwood gallery, Royal Botanic gardens Kew, Chelsea Physic garden and the RHS Lindley Library.
The Association of British Botanical Artists is now entering it’s next exciting phase. At the RHS Botanical art exhibition 10-12 July we announced the start of the formal establishment of the association.
There was a great deal of interest shown by people visiting the show including established artists, people new to botanical art and people passionate about our native flora. Their enthusiasm, combined with our successful online application process highlights the great interest in our native flora.
I have been really bad at keeping on top of my own website because of all the work in relation to ABBA (Association of British Botanical Artists). Therefore this information about my participation in the RHS exhibition next week is not on the right page! Sorry about that, but I am telling you a little more about it now and hope that you will be able to make it.
Following on from the exhibition ‘In Ruskin’s Footsteps’ at Lancaster University, we (ABBA) have a stand this coming week at the RHS Plant and Art Fair, which for Botanical artists is a very important event. It is on 11th & 12th July at the RHS Halls in London. ABBA have a stand with the majority of Botanical artists, in the Lindley Hall. As I said in my last blog, Follow the Banner!
We are exhibiting five of the original pictures from the juried exhibition in Lancaster, giving everyone a further opportunity to study them. One of them is mine – Sea Thrift, painted on vellum. I mentioned that I would be demonstrating at the exhibition and now it is clear which medium I will be using, also which plant I will be painting.
I had intended getting my own exhibit finished for the RHS exhibition next year, but because of the amount of work that has gone into ABBA, I have decided to put this off until 2020. My topic is ‘Foraging plants of the Norwegian Mountains’.
It became very clear whilst going through the various phases of the Worldwide exhibition preparation, that although the UK is a distinct island it is still part of the European Continent. At one point in our history we were connected without needing to use a tunnel, boat or plane. Our plants bear witness to this in that many of the plants that are native in Northern Europe, are also native in the UK. However, some may not be so common these days.
One of my series of plants is the Arctostaphylosuva—ursi, Common bearberry in English and Melbær in Norwegian. It looks similar to a Crowberry, but is white inside (floury), giving its Norwegian name. When picking Crowberries it is not popular to mix Bearberries in by mistake as they don’t taste quite as nice, although edible. Also it is a stone-fruit and not a berry!
ABBA wants to encourage botanical art in relation to our native flora. As I intend to paint the series on vellum, I will be using this medium on the ABBA stand at the RHS. I have a nice little plant of the Bearberry with the beginnings of small flowers. The image is already transferred to a small piece of vellum which will be ideal to practice on and make decisions about which colours to use.
You might be just able to see that in my sketchbook I have quickly done a rough tonal drawing, indicating where the light is coming from. I have also put in a little blue to indicate where the light of the sky has reflected on the leaves and started indicating the difference between the colour on the front and back of the leaves: but that is in my sketchbook. Which colours I will actually choose to use on the vellum, remembering that colours appear far more intense on vellum as it reflects the colour of the pigment better than on paper, will be the result of this trial piece.
In addition to my demonstrations we will be talking with people to find out what they want from ABBA in the future and whether they – you, want to be part of it. Our focus will be to help anyone, anywhere, interested in botanical art to learn more.
But there is a little icing on the cake: The RHS have agreed to show the Botanical Art Worldwide exhibition slideshow from 25 countries. This will happen in the talks area of the Lindley Hall, between and after the talks. But just in case you want to see it otherwise, we will be showing it on the ABBA stand.
This is the last opportunity to see the Worldwide Slideshow!
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