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

Does anyone know what this is and is it native?

I hope you now have an idea as to why I have been focusing on native plants recently?

For those who are still not aware, we have formed a new organisation for all UK botanical artists whether they belong to an organisation or not. It is called ABBA, the Association of British Botanical Artists, although slightly a misnomer as this also includes Norther Ireland.

Why was this started? Well, the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA) initiated a worldwide botanical art day for May 2018, inviting all nations to to join them in organising a botanical art exhibition in each country. Some of us felt it particularly important that the UK was represented because we have some brilliant botanical artists here. Some of them remain independent and have no allegiance to any organisation. Therefore having an association inviting everyone, was the answer.

For more information about the exhibition, please look on the ABBA website:

abba2018.wordpress.com

But, today during my latest workshop, I was looking through my sketchbook and found the following drawing. I know that I did it through a microscope at an Institute of Analytical Plant Illustrators (IAPI) meeting, about mosses and liverworts. The problem is I was stupid enough not to write what it was. Can anyone help me, and is it native to the UK?

? Bryophyte capsule
? Bryophyte capsule

I have a strong suspicion that this is a Bryophyte capsule, but of course it doesn’t tell me which one and therefore I don’t know if it native.

My next sketch is native and is Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna). I think this is a really beautiful plant, although, if walking past it the colours of the flowers are rather dull. But of course the plant is often seen with flowers and large, shiny black berries at the same time. One day I hope to paint it, but I will have to be careful with it.

Atropa Belladonna - Deadly Nightshade.
Atropa Belladonna – Deadly Nightshade.

Next week, 24 and 25 February, ABBA will have a table at the RHS botanical art exhibition in the Lindley Hall, Vincent Square, London. We are there to tell you about the exhibition in May 2018 and how you can take part. Additionally, over the two days, Sarah Morrish will be demonstrating on Vellum, Lucy Smith in pen and ink, and I will be doing a graphite and watercolour worksheet.

Please make yourself known when you visit us.

Gradually I am building up to something!

So what can that be?

Of late I and several others have been very busy with a project that has kept us from painting as much as we would like to. But it hasn’t prevented us completely from spending some time with pencils or brushes in our hands. You will find out about it soon enough, when we have done enough preparation work to tell you all about it.

Another thing that the project doesn’t prevent us from doing is looking.

Many people think  that because it is winter, cold and bitter outside, that plants aren’t growing, or that they are hidden away. They can’t imagine that there are some beautiful flowers out, even at this time. But, if they use their eyes, they will see so many lovely things in the gardens and the hedgerows. Some blooming, some dying or dead, but have taken on a beauty all their own. Bare branches are an absolute treat with so many colours and textures now visible.

A lot of plants that are poking through the soil at the moment are not native to this country, such as Tulips. Many plants seem to belong here because they are commonplace in all our gardens, but many were imported at one time or another and therefore are not indigenous.

As I live in the UK, of course I am focusing more on plants that are common here. Other countries further south, but not so positively affected by the Gulf Stream, may well have their gardens still buried in snow and don’t see the beauty that is lurking under this warm blanket. However there is still beauty in evergreen trees, or in deciduous trees with their growing tips and buds change from day to day.

At the weekend, we were on a hike and I mentioned the snowdrops. But we also saw a lot of Gorse that was flowering. The plant is of course dangerously spikey, but the flowers are a striking yellow and seem to withstand all sorts of temperature thrown at it. Gorse (Ulex)is a native species in the UK.

Look, see and enjoy!

Gorse (Ulex), a native species to the UK.
Gorse (Ulex), a native species to the UK.

Hiking amongst UK native plants in the snow!

What a lovely day today was, although bitter cold and snowing! But I wanted to make the most of it as it was probably one of my last really relaxing days – if strenuous, for a couple of weeks.

The sun didn’t shine, the sky was heavy, a cold damp breeze was blowing and the sky started releasing its load in the form of snow as soon as we started walking. The weather forecast had said ‘cloudy’, but dry! Luckily we chose not to do any of our hikes up on the South Downs Way. Where we were the snow didn’t settle, but the South Downs were obliterated.

The phrase ‘There is no such think as bad weather, just bad clothes’ has been attributed to many people including Alfred Wainwright. But Norwegians are actually brought up with this phrase as small children – with their skis of course! Robin and I were well and truly appropriately dressed from our wool long-johns and base layers, to the additional wool layers on top. ‘Snug as a bug in a rug’ is also a good phrase, but our layers allowed us good movement.

Dressed to kill - the cold!
Dressed to kill – the cold!

We started out at Elsted Marsh and did a 12 km circular walk taking in the Iping and Stedham Commons. What a super walk!

We saw drifts of Snowdrops – Galanthus. Do you realise that they are a native species? This is important to know if you are a botanical artist and over the next couple of weeks you will read about other plants available at the moment that are native to the UK.

Watch this space!

Back to the Iping and Stedham Commons; they are well managed and they try to keep on top of the amount of Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum) that grows there so that it doesn’t take over from the heathers (Erica) and the Gorse (Ulex europaeus). All of these plants are native to the UK. We also saw two Dartford Warblers.

Galanthus
Galanthus