Mountain gold!

This is a plant found amongst other places, in the mountains in Norway. It is one of the reasons For my next RHS exhibit – probably in 2019, I decided to paint Norwegian mountain plants that provide food for us mere mortals. Its scientific name is Rubys chamaemorus, but the common name in Norwegians is ‘Multe’, and in English, ‘Cloudberrry’.

Unripe Cloudberry

Why is it called ‘mountain gold’? Apart from its very special taste, it is not always easy to find. It likes boggy areas and generally you will find that Norwegians will not tell anyone else where ‘their’ patch can be found. I know one or two places because I used to live in the mountains in Norway. I also found some whilst staying in a friend’s cottage this summer (Tusen takk Eva og Jon for låne av din nydelig hytte Thank you Eva and Jon for lending us your beautiful cottage). I was in the mountains specifically to sketch these and other plants I had decided to include in my exhibit.

If you travel to Norway and ask someone where cloudberries can be found, unless you know your host well, it is unlikely that you will be told.

The picture on the right is an unripe Cloudberry. There are very strict laws governing this plant, therefore it is illegal to pick them before they are fully ripe. At that stage they are a beautiful golden orange colour. Unfortunately I have no pictures of a ripe fruit as this happens in the autumn, that is why I need to travel back again next year to sketch the ripe fruit.

Over the years I have picked a lot of Cloudberries and thought I knew them! I also found that Norwegians are as un-knowledgeable as I am. Because I am now studying the plants to paint I decided to delve deeper. But I also needed to find the flowers and the unripe fruit to draw. This year, there were few fruit ripening, but an awful lot of flowers. On closer examination and with the help of a very good series of old botanical books borrowed from the Eggedal Library (Tusen takk Jorunn. Thank you Jorunn), I discovered that Cloudberries are dioecious, either male or female plants. Each plant has a huge underground root system travelling for some distance and that is why I found difficulty when looking for the unripe fruit.

Patch of male cloudberries.
Patch of female cloudberries.

The large patches of flowers were mostly all male, but we were soon able to distinguish these patches at a distance. They had a lot of beautiful white flowers, but also  many red sepals where the petals had fallen off.

The female plants seemed to be few and far between – less than last year. The flowers were  fewer and smaller, but with several immature fruits at different stages of development.

Like so many of the plants I have painted, I study them first then become completely intrigued by them. This of course helps me portray them as best I can.

Before I show you the sketches, this is a picture of a small female cloudberry patch in quite a boggy/Sphagnum moss area, together with nearly all of the plants I had chosen to do and which I will talk about in other blogs.The picture also includes Robin’s boots, Vaccinium oxycoccus(which I didn’t think I would find as its so tiny),Vaccinium myrtillus (small blueberry),Empetrum nigrum (crowberry),Vaccinium uliginosum (bog blueberry) and Andromeda pilifolia (a heather I won’t be including in the series).

Robin’s foot and a mix of plants.

So what is the difference between male and female flowers? It should be obvious, but I’m afraid I never looked and saw previously. I just took things for granted.

Male Cloudberry flower – larger than female.
Longitudinal section of Male Cloudberry flower.

The male flower contains stamens in a ring round the inside of the outer whorl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smaller female cloudberry flower.
Longitudinal section of female cloudberry flower.

The female flower is slightly smaller than the male flower, has several styles and stigma in the centre – one to each ovary, but round the edge is a ring of white, sterile stamens.

 

Cloudberry plant with developing fruit.
Sketch page of Cloudberries.

The glory of the garden . . .

A beautiful, peaceful blog in troubling times.

country garden illustrations

I don’t usually work with photographs but I haven’t the time to paint all this!  I just wanted to share the glorious summer colours of Some of my garden with you.

The Glory of the Garden : Rudyard Kipling
OUR England is a garden that is full of stately views,
Of borders, beds and shrubberies and lawns and avenues,
With statues on the terraces and peacocks strutting by;
But the Glory of the Garden lies in more than meets the eye.For where the old thick laurels grow, along the thin red wall,
You’ll find the tool- and potting-sheds which are the heart of all
The cold-frames and the hot-houses, the dung-pits and the tanks,
The rollers, carts, and drain-pipes, with the barrows and the planks

And there you’ll see the gardeners, the men and ‘prentice boys
Told off to do as they are bid and do it without noise ;

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Wonderful Norway!

I have been in Norway sketching mountain plants that I will be painting for my next RHS exhibit in 2019. A long time in the future you might think, but in actual fact I now have my time cut out to get it all done in time. Not made easier by the views from the winter cottage where we were staying.

On the way up to the cottage we were kindly put up by some friends who also made sure we were able to celebrate St Hans in the Norwegian tradition. Our journey continued up to the valley where I used to live, called Sigdal and then further up into Eggedal where some dear friends have the winter cottage they allowed us to use for the duration. This was at 830 metres over sea level and a 5ºC difference in temperature from the village down in the valley.

The temperature difference and the incredible invasion of gnats notwithstanding, we had a really super two-week period. I found all the plants that I had chosen to include – which I will come back to in a later blog. But my main distraction was the two ‘bird’ houses just outside the cottage, one of them  directly outside the kitchen window where I was working. The pictures are just some of the animals and birds that were constantly at the table.

It was just as lucky that it was nearly 24 hour light. I think that the sky was darkish for about two hours, but the horizon was very light – at least when the sky was clear. The light allowed me to work long hours and the last evening I worked until 23:00 without extra light!

 

Bullfinch male and Coaltit
Inquisitive young fox on our way up to the cottage.
Mr and Mrs Bullfinch
Coal tit
Mr. Bullfinch
Red Squirrel – one of several. At times there were at least 5-6 trying to get onto the feeding table. Some with dark tails, some with red ones, some with tufted ears and others with only one tufted ear – even ears without tufts.
Nuthatch
European crested Tit
Checking if anyone else is home!

For good measure this was the some of my view from the kitchen window!

What a distraction!

My children also came for a few days and in addition they saw an elk and a Black Grouse.

 

Thymus vulgaris – a botanical art project.

Have you ever really looked at Thyme when you are using it in cooking? I bet you haven’t!

I have been asked to paint a botanical picture of Thymus vulgaris. Note the correct way of writing a binomial scientific name correctly; all in italics but with the capital letter at the beginning of the first word only.

My heart sank when I got the email asking me to do this particular plant. Imagine, all that ‘tiny-ness’! How on earth was I going to create a beautiful picture from this subject, one in which the viewer wanted to take a second look. The picture still isn’t painted yet, so the result will not magically appear at the end of this blog. However, I thought you might be interested in both my thought processes and my work progress.

I eventually got a plant that said it was Thymus vulgaris.

Thymus vulgaris

In actual fact, I got three – all of them different. I knew that the leaf had to have a furled edge; two of them had furled edges. When the flowers eventually started to appear I knew that the stamens would be protruding from the tube created by the four petals. One of them did not have protruding stamens as they remained just under the fused lip of the petals. The last one did all the things I expected it to do. Or did it?

When the last plant had flowered for a while, some of the flowers didn’t have visible stamens. After much research I discovered that in fact the same plant can have flowers with all the reproductive systems in place, but some flowers are sterile as they only have a style and stigma. Whew, what a relief. I now had a suitable subject. Do you like it? But where to start!

A quick look at the leaves

As you now realise I had to do quite a bit of investigating in relation to this plant. It helped me get to know it so that as I observed, researched and sketched, thoughts for my final composition began to be a little clearer. I also found that although it was a challenging subject (apparently I like challenges). I also really began to appreciate the plant and wanted to include things in my picture that would tell others about the plant. However, one of the challenges is that there were to be no dissections! That is often how I show others of what a plant is comprised.

Botanical art is an exciting subject and it really helps you to observe things around you. So we start off with the leaves. Have you noticed anything strange about them. Have a look at a real one, rather than my pictures.

Trichomes on the leaf

You will notice the appearance of little dents in the surface of the leaves. This is the same ones under a microscope. Do you see the little dents are in fact Trichomes, a special type of hair that produces aromatic oils. The oil is the part that smells so good when you crush the leaves before adding them to your cooking. But see if you can see where else the hairs are and the oil is:

Trichomes on the flower bud
Trichomes on the flower

Every part of the plant can be used in your cooking as every part produces the aromatic oils. Exciting isn’t it?

But what about the parts that need to be included in my picture? Although I found this particularly interesting and wished I could include this information in my picture, this depth of detail was not needed by the client.

However for me, Thymus vulgaris had moved up in my regard from being a plant with lots of tiny bits that smell nice, to being a complex and interesting plant. I hope I do it justice.

A Flower spike

 

 

I decided to do a whole lot of sketches in my sketch book. This helps hands to get to know the painting of the plant, the size at which I am showing it, the colours and hopefully an idea for the composition.

 

 

 

Me painting away with a magnifier on my head.

To see the plant I needed to use a magnifier, which lead me to enlarging the flower spike for everyone to marvel at the detail of the individual flowers.I did three spikes before deciding which one to use for my final composition. You can see by my clothes that the weather was a lot colder when I started this project!

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I now had a better idea of which sketches I wanted to include in my final picture. I wanted to show the flower spike enlarged so that the flowers with their magnificent coloured anthers were clear. I also knew that I needed to give a suggestion of the surface texture of the leaves, front and back as well as the growth habit of the plant.

A trial composition,
Final composition
The final painting started.

Where to find daffodils and global warming!

At the weekend I had a two-day workshop with the title of ‘Daffodils – Herald of Spring’.

Looking into most gardens on the south coast of England, the daffodils were long gone, so how did I decide to teach this subject at this time of the year.

When planning my botanical art workshops, I look back at the photos I have taken of daffodils over the years and note the dates. Before my introduction into the digital age, I remembered that for my 49th birthday (21 years ago), we had snow (in the UK) and the daffodils were just coming out.

Working from then until last year, I expected that there would still be some in the garden. If you remember last year the daffodils were extremely early and we thought that was that. But then we had a new flowering and rather than just a few odd ones, there was an almighty crop. Not so this year!

Robin and I went trailing around Chichester and surrounding areas buying up what we could find. It was an interesting exercise.

As you can see, in the end we found the remains of some tiny ‘Tête á Tête” bulbs still flowering, but also some Narcissi. Therefore the workshop was saved.

As a note here, all my workshop titles where specific plants are mentioned, are just suggestions for subjects to paint. My workshops are not based on a step-by-step approach, but on individual support to improve your own technique.

Here are several pictures from the workshop including a preparation page, a very rough sketch and a ‘before and after’ picture showing the importance of cleaning up around the image as a last task.

I will let the pictures speak for themselves, but once again I met with some lovely, hard working botanical artists and I believe a good time was had by all.

Now to prepare for the next two weekends, which is the Chichester Open  Studio art trail. In addition to my usual exhibition space where my workshops are held, I will be doing some  work towards pictures I will need to have finished before the end of the year. Robin will be looking after the exhibition and you will find me tucked away in the shed at the bottom of the garden. Do come and visit me at Venue 35 in Bosham. For more details visit page: https://gaynorsflora.com/exhibitions/.

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Magnolia x soulangeana soon in bloom

In 2011 I had finished three years work on a series of paintings showing a year in the life of the Magnolia x soulangeana. The series was exhibited at the RHS that year and I won a Silver medal – my first RHS medal. One of the paintings was chosen by the Hunt Institute for Botanical documentation in Pittsburgh, USA and it was first exhibited there in 2013. Since then it has had a three-year tour around the USA with the rest of that exhibition, but is now back in their archives in Pittsburgh.

© Magnolia x soulangeana: Maturing Blooms

I was super lucky to have some huge fruit on the tree the years I was doing the paintings and they were featured. But since then tree from which all the paintings were done, has not produced much fruit at all; in fact nothing until last year when it had a couple of small ones. I think the tree knew that I was painting it’s portrait and wanted to show itself at its most beautiful.

© Magnolia x soulangeana: Ripe fruit and seeds

I am hoping that the tree is building itself up to another magnificent display later on this month. At the moment there are masses of terminal buds in which the blooms develop and you can almost see them growing a little more for each day.

It is obvious that the Magnolia tree means quite a lot to me after having studied it so closely for those three years. I learnt such a lot about it, how it is fertilised and why it is a particular type of bug that  is responsible.

If you want to know more about Magnolia x soulangeana, and you are interested in botanical art as an artist, do book to come to my workshop Friday to Sunday 31 March to 2 April. I still have a few places available.

This is the first time that I have had a workshop on this subject – and you can probably guess why. But now I would love to help others who would like to paint the blooms in watercolour or coloured pencil (dry), or even draw them in graphite.

Get in touch with me as soon as you can so that you don’t lose this opportunity.

 

 

 

UK native plants packed for RHS botanical art exhibition

Packed and ready to go.

Tomorrow two of us are travelling up to London to set up the ABBA table in the RHS Lindley Hall, Vincent Square near Victoria Station. It will be the RHS botanical art show with the best of International botanical artists showing their work. Neither of us are exhibiting our own work this time, but we will be demonstrating different techniques.

The main reason for having the table at the exhibition is to talk about the plans for the Worldwide Botanical art day in May 2018 and to encourage British botanical artists to take part. A new Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA) formed to do this has put an initial ‘call for entries’ on it

Www.abba2018.wordpress.com

On  Friday and Saturday this week, I have chosen to demonstrate a sketch book or study page in graphite and watercolour from  one of the native plants I have packed to take with me. Come along and see how I do this.

Apart from the Primrose, do you know what these plants are called?

The one on the right, with hardly any leaves just yet, is a Bilberry. This is a small wild blue berry. It doesn’ look very interesting at the moment, but if you are going to paint the portrait of a plant, including something from various stages in its life cycle, makes the resulting picture more interesting.

The plant above  the Bilberry with the small oval leaves is Cowberry and has small red berries. You might know it as Lignonberry and has smaller and sharper tasting berries than cranberries. This plant has the beginnings of tiny flower buds.

The one above the Primrose is a Crowberry and will eventually have small, almost black berries. Again the plant doesn’t seem so interesting in this stage of its life, but I think might offer some challenges whilst painting its portrait.

Common for for all three species ( not the Primrose) is that they all produce fruit that is edible.

I am lucky enough to be able to do some sketches now, while the plants are only just coming out of their winter state. This will be particularly useful for me and for future work I have planned.

Do come and see us at the RHS, Lindley Hall, Vincent Square, Friday and Saturday.

Now I know what the Seven Sisters are!

We have just got back from long, tiring hike, with a lot of steep hills. We started near Cuckmere Haven, went up through the Friston Forest and then down to the Birling Gap, going along the cliff path in the Seven Sisters Park back to Cuckmere.

I generally write about something pertaining to botanical art and this is no different. But if one is able to get around – and I recognise that not everyone can do so, getting out into nature to look at the subjects it provides for us is exciting. Unfortunately not everyone does have the ability to get around and hopefully my blog can bring some of what I experience to those people.

I have spoken a lot about native flora of late and of course that is because I am involved in the ABBA team that is putting the UK on the International Botanical Art map in May 2018.

I, like many other botanical artists have always painted or drawn the plants that do something for me, no matter where those plants have originated. The topic of the Worldwide exhibition is ‘Native plants’, therefore I have looked long and hard at the pictures I have painted before and those I want to paint in the future. There are so many plants that are considered native and often they are right outside our back doors. But they can also be quite stunning.

Click on this link to see a picture of Bee Orchids at the bottom of the page, painted by Claire Ward. I had to ask her if they really were native plants – and yes they are. http://www.abba2018.wordpress.com

Back to the Seven Sisters and Friston woods where we saw this lovely forest of Beech trees.

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Apart from swathes of Snowdrops at the beginning of the walk, we also found clumps of Primroses –
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and some stiles! Not good for us old people. Bear in mind Robin is just older than me (although he hides it well), but it is me that struggles so much with these contraptions. I can walk for miles over rough terrain, up and down. But climbing a stile gets me. I think those stiles will get me before walking a long distance does. I am so glad when I see a gate that can be opened, and would happily hang over an edge to get round a post rather than over the stile that might be inbetween. Not to mention some of the stiles that are so rotten, that they are dangerous. None were today.

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We had tea and cake, outside at the Birling Gap. I only mention that to show the difference in the weather over one week. Last week it was bitter cold, but today was quite pleasant if one kept walking.

The Seven Sisters is a series of chalk cliffs that rival Beachy Head (the White cliffs of Dover). Part of the South Downs Way runs along the cliff top, which goes up and down seven times. In fact, I thought I counted eight, but by the time I got to Cuckmere Haven, I was past caring. Along this stretch there was a lot of flowering gorse. Pictures do show a little of the beauty up there.
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A very good three-day botanical art workshop.

What a week it has been!

Following loads of preparation, ABBA (the new Association of British Botanical Artists) launched its new website on Wednesday and I had one of my workshops on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The steering group for the new organisation put in a lot of work up until the launch of information about the Worldwide Botanical Art day in May 2018. For more information look at the website: Www.abba2018.wordpress.com. We have had a lot of very positive feedback and quite a few botanical artists have already started thinking about a species of plant they want to paint.

The botanical art workshop concentrated on painting pale flowers on white paper. My students were extremely brave and worked on the sort of thing a lot of people fear doing – painting white flowers on white paper. They actually chose to do this, although I suggested they could work with any pale flower.

Here are a couple of the results. One in watercolour and one in coloured pencil.img_0214

Hellebore in watercolour
Hellebore in watercolour
Hellebore in coloured pencil
Hellebore in coloured pencil

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trick is to try and paint your pale flower with a background of darker colour – leaves or a dark flower.

I was extremely pleased with the results, as were they.

Tomorrow we are going for our long walk to build up for long days at the end of the week when we will be at the RHS exhibition in London.

Sarah Morrish and I will be there for both Friday and Saturday, demonstrating and giving out information about the Worldwide botanical art day. Lucy Smith will be joining us for one of the days and the intention is for us to use different methods of drawing or painting native plants.

Hope to see you then