At the end of February this year I decided that at last the situation in Norway was such that it was reasonably safe to have a workshop for the first time since the start of the pandemic early 2020. I therefore put together an email with very short deadline – one month.
I sent the email to everyone who had been in touch with me with a query about botanical art workshops in Norway. I was surprised to see that there were quite a few on the list, but as this was the first workshop since moving back to Norway, I decided that I didn’t want too many people first time around.
Yes I had taught in Norway previously whilst I lived here 25 years ago, but I knew that I would need to rebuild my reputation for teaching here again. I needed to find out if anything had changed and if expectations were different from that time, or from my experience in the UK and the USA in the interim.
Three people got back in touch with me immediately and signed up for the workshop. They arrived on Friday late afternoon, and came back raring to go both on Saturday and Sunday. I think that the smell of newly made coffee and home made cakes just out the the oven helped to relax everyone from day one.
This was the first time I had met any of them although one was a student from my online course. All of them were fairly / very new to botanical art and from the atmosphere, I think that each of them became just as thrilled at discovering what nature has to offer as I have become over the years.
The subjects chosen: The ground is still fairly frozen here with several minus degrees at night, although the sun is beginning to warm well during the day. The are some new shoots in the verges and woods starting with Coltsfoot. But all of the plants chosen this time were from the local garden centres; tulips, fritillary, daffodils and narcissus. The temptation to choose something very exciting looking such as a rose or filled narcissus, is huge. But when starting out, looking at something simple and how it is put together so that that you know what to look for, is very important.
I am glad to say that in the end, each chose plants suitable in relation to their experience in painting botanically. And, each commented on the joy of being able to ‘see’.
Everyone chose to paint using watercolour. Norway doesn’t seem to have many botanical artists at all, so hopefully their enthusiasm will help to change this situation. But just as botanical art in itself is unusual, so is the use of coloured pencil. Hopefully this too will expand with time.
I am thrilled to say that I now have several new Norwegian botanical art friends and look forward to making more with further workshops planned.
I love painting small plants; plants that seem insignificant but are beautiful and worth noticing.
I love the challenge of painting the detail of these small plants so that everyone gets a chance to admire them and perhaps look out for them whilst out and about.
One day I was walking near the station in Tønsberg, Norway and saw some shrivelled Rosa rugosa hips in the snow. I picked one little branch thinking I might paint it on vellum. However my daughter thought I should accept a challenge outside my normal comfort zone; She felt I should portray it much enlarged on paper.
The thought of doing this felt very uncomfortable as I have noticed that some artists who suddenly go large do not increase the amount of detail and the picture doesn’t do the plant justice. I have drawn and painted parts of some compositions scaled up so that the viewer can actually see the detail, but have never done a whole painting like this. Was this going to work for me?
I started sketching the hips into my sketchbook, then once I had a good line drawing I transferred this to my Fabriano paper; Luckily I have quite a lot of the ‘old’ batches of both Artistico and Fab 5. This is done on Artistico Extra white.
You can see here that I really look after my paper whilst painting. It is so easy to get splashes or ‘dropped brush’ marks if one isn’t careful.
I normally cover the art paper with layout paper hung from the top. Then I cut it into about three strips so that I only have the part I’m painting, uncovered. On the lower part I tape clear acetate.
I always lift out the graphite tracing before I start the first layer of paint and lay the clearest colours first. However, in this picture I decided to lay a neutral tint wash(made of three primaries) under my colours to indicate the direction of light and form.
For the next rose-hip in the bunch of four, I decided to replace the graphite outline with a watercolour pencil. I sometimes do this if I am a little unsure of where I am going in the painting, but I use only a pale colour. I lift off the excess pigment with a putty rubber and using a slightly dampened brush I soften the watercolour pencil edge making sure no water goes outside the line of my subject.
… And so the third rose-hip….
I wanted to do some of the picture in graphite, leading into the main part with the hips. Sometimes using graphite towards the background can reduce the heaviness of a picture. The stem of the Rose-hip is very prickly and therefore doing some of it with various graphite pencils made sense. I used graphite along the whole length of main stem and then colour washed part of it.
I did this picture five times life-size and it comfortably fits an A3 sheet of paper. Does it succeed?
One final comment; Rosa Rugosa grows everywhere in southern Norway and it is not a native species, therefore they are being removed wherever possible. This is because they take over the habitat from other species that belong here. I remember with shame that I was one of those people in the early seventies who planted a Rosa Rugosa hedge in the front garden – across the fjord from where I live now. My children were small at the time and I knew that the hips provided a lot of Vitamin C. But I know now that it is not a good enough reason to introduce a foreign species.
I have been working on four of my six or seven pictures to go to an RHS exhibition in London. This has been a very long-going saga as the process has been interrupted several times since I decided to do it.
After the last time I took part in the RHS exhibition in 2014 I decided that I was going to do a series of plants called ‘Foraging in the Norwegian Mountains’. Anyone who has read my blog, which more recently has been rather sporadic, will have heard me talk about the series on numerous occasions.
Whilst living on the South coast of England I travelled to Norway for two weeks each year to sketch the plants I had chosen. This was the only time I had them accessible although I had some similar plants in my garden in Bosham. I have to say that they didn’t flourish there – too warm.
But then other things got in the way;
2016-2018, I started up the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA) and managed the England entry to the Worldwide Exhibition in 2018.
2018. As founder and president, changed ABBA to a membership organisation
2019. By the middle of this year ABBA was well on its way as a recognised botanical art organisation and Elaine Allison took over managing the ABBA project completely. I thought, at last I would have time to paint. I had done some, but not as much as I would have liked and working on the Norwegian plants project had been limited to two weeks each year.
December 2019, Covid hit us all.
Mid 2020. My daughter, living in Norway, expressed her anxiety for us if anything happened. What she actually said was that we were too old to live in England by ourselves and that it was about time we moved back to Norway. Robin, who had never lived in Norway, promised to learn the language and his son (who had just moved back to England) gave his blessing. The rest of 2020 became filled with house selling, packing, moving, home searching and buying – my daughter even coped with us living with her!!
Robin started to learn the language, but all the legal stuff in relation to officialdom and applying for residency in an EEC country, plus details in relation to house buying, fell to me. I managed to paint the Fly agaric – Amanita muscaria and a couple of sketches in my perpetual diary (painting cup half-full), plus continued to advise and mark assignments for my Botanical art online course students.
January 2021 – we moved into our new home with a view of the Oslo fjord in the distance. The year was used to make the house into our home, although we had a lot to learn about what works here and what doesn’t. The garden is mostly rock, so planting is very much an ongoing trial as we battle with little earth and a temperatures that vary between -20˚C to +35˚C (warming climate). Botanical art is not as well thought of as in the UK, but once the lock-downs are over I already have quite a list of people wanting to do a botanical art workshop.
Now I have to plan my botanical art work a little differently living in Norway. We have had snow since November last year but it hasn’t been quite as cold as last winter, although that can change. With recent thaws during the day and minus degrees at night, the snow turns to thick ice. This means I don’t have access to my plants during the winter so I had to change my working process.
‘Foraging in the Norwegian Mountains’ botanical art series on vellum.
NB; I won’t be showing you the finished compositions until they are shown at the RHS exhibition – probably 2023, but will show parts of them.
After all these time delays for the series, all I had was sketches and colour samples in my sketch book, plus some small studies on the vellum I would be using. I had heard the phrase ‘productive procrastination’ and thought I now knew what it meant!
I had worked out the composition of all of my pictures and how they would be hung as a group at the exhibition. Each picture will be on mounted vellum and shows the plants both enlarged in colour and actual size in graphite. Last summer I painted the colour part of four pictures so that I would have the actual plants and could match colour at the same time. I planned to do the graphite on those four paintings during this winter and so far have completed three of them – except for scale bars.
Graphite on vellum is not easy and depends upon the vellum, which, as a living material can change from one part to another. In some areas I have been able to use pencils, but in others a brush. My last two paintings have very tiny leaves and the last one, Empetrum nigrum which I will show part of here, has been a bit of headache!
With Empetrum nigrum the leaves actual size are about 2mm long and the unripe fruit is about 4mm. I have had to vary the hardness of the pencil used so that I get clean lines, rather than gritty ones. It doesn’t seem to matter if I use my most expensive pencils or not as it is the surface of the vellum that decides. Sometimes I use the pencil first, if too pale I paint a layer of water-soluble graphite on top, then finish off with another layer of pencil, finally lifting off loose graphite and ’fixing’ it with water. It certainly is not as straight forward as using graphite on paper.
This winter, only one more vellum picture to finish off with the graphite drawing. Spring is on its way, although the sun is still low on the horizon; plants will wake up after their winter rest; trips into the mountains to look forward to and planning for the colour part of the final three pictures.
I haven’t been able to write a blog since the last one in May. A lot has happened since then – not only for me but for many people! But this is a very brief description of what we have gone through, just to bring you up to date.
As in most families the world over, children are always concerned about their parents, particularly during these difficult times. My daughter asked us if we would consider moving back to Norway and my husband said yes immediately. It took a little while to persuade me as although I have always loved Norway, it took me a long time to get used to living back in the UK again. Eventually I said yes and the process started.
We sold our house – not without hiccups on the way, and whilst this was going through we packed and moved late August. My daughter invited us to live with her whilst we got sorted here in Norway and although all the legal issues have taken far longer than normal because of Covid, everything is completed this week and we now are legal residents. Best of all, my daughter and I are still friends!
We have found a lovely house (address and contact details above) and will be moving into it 11 January. It is a very exciting time even though we have had continuous rain for the last 14 days and 31 of the last 44 days. Global warming hits here too. We are coming towards the shortest day of the year after which everything will start getting lighter again. One notices how dark and short the days are, even in southern Norway, when it is overcast. But when the sun comes out, it is fairly low on the horizon and sparkling bright.
I’m not going to bore you with loads of writing. I have only done some painting to keep my hand in, such as the Amanita mascara above, and a fairly regular weekly entry sketch into my perpetual diary. I am still running my Botanical art online course https://gaynorsflora.com/tuition-2/online-botanical-art-course/. I have discovered that the pandemic has given many old students the chance to finish off the course and for many new students the excuse to start it.
There are two sections of photographs here. The first are from my perpetual diary since being back in Norway and the other is a series showing the area in which we are and will be living. Notice the change in light and obvious temperature.
No, this is not the Bog rosemary, I will get on to that shortly. It says it is an Echinopsis mammillosa, but as ‘they’ had spelt the 2nd name wrongly, I thought I would check it out. Trouble is the only thing I can find is that it is not what it says it is on the box! If it had been, the flowers would have been on outgrowths from round the side of the barrel. The flowers are all on the top and almost without stems. Can anyone tell me what it is please?
We do have a lot of cacti and it isn’t me that collects them! But I have found them surprisingly intriguing. They were removed from the south facing porch and put on the edge of the pond about three weeks ago. Many have put on a show of beautiful flowers and grown hugely since then. How they will survive this weeks sudden drop in temperature from 25℃ to 0℃, I have no idea. Time will tell.
But, the reason I am showing this plant at all is because I am unable to go on walks at the moment and I am keeping a Perpetual Journal, doing a quick botanical sketch once a week. I saw the above cactus flowering in the sun and decided it would be this week’s topic. As soon as I started sketching, the sun went in and the flowers closed. They have remained closed since due to very little sun. But I did sketch some of the barrel. All I want is just one open flower to show its colour.
I’m sorry I am branching into other topics at the moment due to my incapacity, but the reason for the blog is development of the Andromeda polifolia.
For the last couple of years I have been attracted to very small plants with tiny flowers and/or leaves. But I am convinced that one of the reasons I was attracted to botanical art in the first place was my ability to open up these plants for everyone to see who viewed my work.
One might think that because the plant is smaller and often also the picture, it takes a lot less time to paint and therefore is cheaper. Unfortunately the opposite is true. The smaller the plant, the more difficult it is to portray. As you can imagine, my paintings are not sold by the square metre.
So far I have shown you the parts of my painting that are magnified so that you can see them in detail. But in doing this I also need to give you an idea as to how it looks real size; a ‘habit’ drawing. I wouldn’t want you to go hunting around for a plant with flowers the size depicted in the first blog – you would never find it.
You saw my composition in the first blog and know that I have planned the habit section to be in the centre, drawing all the elements together. When you see the final picture in the next blog, it will be up to you to decide if I have suceeded.
A little of the traced image remains. I further lighten every section with a putty rubber so that every final visible stroke laid is intended.
The leaves are long (relatively speaking) and narrow, leathery and curled under along the edge. I am carefully showing this first. The upper surface is veined and the colour varies from a pinky hue to a blue-green; the underside is a pale greeney-blue. But of course this doesn’t show in the graphite drawing.
By the time I get this far into the painting, the original leaves may have changed or no longer exist. However, I do have my drawing and loads of photos for reference, but I also have some of the live sprig given to me by Chelsea Physic Garden. I draw from the plant, but check the direction of each leaf with my line drawing and photos. Sometimes, I might find a more interesting leaf and use that instead, always checking placement and attachment to the stem.
The branch going off to the right is slightly further back than the middle one, therefore has a little less detail. I increased the amount of detail for the middle branch so that you get a better idea of the leaf texture and veins. Note the actual size of the flowers at the top of the middle stem.
Next time I will show you the finished artwork and describe how I do the scaling.
I have to say first of all that we are so lucky when so many people are struggling with Covid19. We have room to move and we can get out at the same time as recognising we have to leave two metres between us and anyone we might meet. The idea is to prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible and save the NHS.
That gets me clearly to my next point as I am a sinner in relation to the NHS – I had to go to A&E after a walk whilst keeping fit a couple of days ago! We had a lovely long walk over heathland and I was looking for a spot where I knew Vaccinium myrtillus – Bilberry grew. This is one of the plants I have been studying and preparing for my next RHS exhibit. All of a sudden, my knee gave a great ‘snap’ mid-stride. So now I am extra grateful to the NHS for their treatment and advice.
I am now not only having an enforced lockdown because of the virus, but also enforced rest with my leg up. I hope that the tear will mend soon so the powers that be can determine if more treatment is necessary.
This means that for a few days I won’t be able to respond to the call from my shed to paint!
So imagine, Friday was VE day – 75 years since the end of World War 2. We had afternoon tea with our immediate neighbours, distancing from each other in our front garden. I am now paying the price and sitting with legs up on the settee, with crutches at the ready. But, I am enjoying the peace and quiet to sit and write this blog.
My previous blog finished with the flower spike of my Andromeda polifolia botanical illustration completed. I didn’t tell you that at natural size the flower and leaves are quite small; the flower is ca. 8mm long and the leaves ca. 2cm long. In my painting the flower spike is done at three times its natural size so the detail of the plant can easily be seen and admired. I have planned to talk about how I did the scaling in the last blog about this plant.
The next two parts are the stages of painting the pedicel and receptacle. You can see that the ovary is most likely fertilised and swelling just slightly. Also there are still a couple of stamens hanging on for dear life.
To the right a stamen is enlarged just a bit more. I was so intrigued seeing the horn-like appendages to the anther and it was incredible to think that all this was packed so beautifully into that tiny flower. The stamens were just over 2mm long and very colourful.
So the packaging; I carefully did a longitudinal dissection of the flower. See the previous blog to view the shape of the flowers. The petals are 5-lobed and fused so I needed to cut two and a half petals carefully away to show what was underneath. I then shaved back the single carpel so that you can see the ovary inside, leaving the style and stigma whole. Again I am including the dissection painting in two stages so that you can see how I have built up the colour.
It is hairy inside the flower and I used a little masking fluid after I had done the first layer. If I do this again I might put in the masking fluid on the white of the paper or not use masking and paint around it. The final result is fine, but I personally feel I could have done it better.
You can see how the enlargements follow on from each other. The flowers on the flower spike are the same enlargement as the pedicel and receptacle; that is equal to x 3. I then enlarged the stamen further to make the detail even clearer and this time you see it at x 10, the same size as the longitudinal dissection.
From these photos of my work it is impossible for you to work out the actual sizes on the painting, or even the actual size of the plant. I am trying to make a point here because many people still write a magnification on their artwork, then post it online or even print it. You might be reading this on your phone, tablet, laptop or desk top computer; All are different sizes, so if you give the magnification as I have done here, you have no way of knowing what the real size is. I will be showing how to do scaling in a later blog.
Finally, I want to mention paper – OLD Fabriano hot-pressed. I have both Fabriano extra white and 5. I have come to the realisation that I will not need all this paper to last out my years of painting and teaching. If anyone is interested and will be able to come and buy some (Bosham, West Sussex) after the restrictions are lifted, please get in touch with me.
Its been a while since I last did a blog about my process, but as I am getting into a new piece I thought I would share it with you as I go along. First of all let me tell you the story behind the plant.
The plant is Andromeda polifolia or bog rosemary and I first saw it in wet boggy areas high up in the Norwegian mountains.
I am painting a series of plants with edible fruit from this area but found this beautiful little flower and decided to investigate it. The fruit is not edible and may in fact, cause some uncomfortable side effects, therefore not suitable for my series.
The plant was named by Linnaeus, comparing the plant to Andromeda. The plant is indeed beautiful in its native boggy setting.
I am a member of the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society (CPGFS) and one of the plants in the garden is an Andromeda polifolia, although at lower altitudes it seems to be a much sturdier plant, taller and with more leaves. Being part of a Florilegium means that on a yearly basis one has to paint one of the gardens plants as part of its documentation process. With the beautiful little mountain plant I had in mind from Norway, I thought this a fantastic opportunity to study and paint it properly for the CPGFS. By the way, although I am painting it for the CPGFS, it doesn’t mean that it will be accepted. A rigorous process is gone through before artwork is accepted into their collection – this I won’t know until February 2021.
As I normally do, I studied the plant carefully, researched it and drew detailed sketches in my sketchbook. I also dissected the flower as I thought this told a story in its own right. The anthers have appendages which is typical of plants in the Ericaceae (Heather) family. Also, the petals (5) are fused into a tube. I am not a botanist, but the more I study the plants I paint or draw, I feel I always want to know more about them!
Once I felt I had enough information I planned my composition. This is not always easy and although we have lots of ‘rules’ etc to guide us, in the end it is what you feel looks best that is the decider. Here are two plans that I made to choose from.
Which one do you prefer?
In the end I chose the composition to the right as I felt this was more likely to guide the eye around the composition.
I did both of these compositions digitally, using the sketches from my sketchbook.
The following pictures are are photos taken at different stages, but as the painting is not finished I will need to come back with additional blogs to show you the rest of the process. By the way, the graphite line drawing in the centre is a habitat drawing showing the plant at its natural size.
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.
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:
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:
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!
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.