Its apples in the air!

Each workshop that I have done recently has been about apples. Shape, form and colour.

You have seen the pictures from the last SFP workshop that it was almost all apples. The small workshop that I had this last weekend also focused on apples.

One of the students was working in watercolour and as she was neither very familiar with watercolour, nor botanical art. I think she did an amazing job. The other student first came on one of my workshops a couple of years ago with the wish to learn coloured pencil. She hadn’t done any art either, so she too had a steep learning curve. But she comes to my classes and workshops on a regular basis and is now a very good artist.

It was a lovely balance to have in the workshop as the more experienced student had a very good idea how the other felt and was able to give encouragement.

The two pictures shown here are very good and I think both were very happy with the results so far. Obviously the coloured pencil picture is quite a challenge. Apart from the form of the apples (four different ones) with their respective shrivelling leaves, she had to contend with different textures too. I know that she went home with a determination to complete the picture.

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Normally, when one has flowers and leaves in a botanical art picture, one does the flowers first as they die first. But in this instance the issue was the shrivelling leaves as they were moving constantly. Therefore these were started first to capture the initial shape and the colour that attracted her to them in the first place. She intends to go back to them after getting the apples finished.

The next workshop in Bosham will be ‘Autumn colours. Wow!’ Friday 28 October to Sunday 30th. I still have some places available so do get in touch soon so that you can secure yours. Please use the contact form at the end to contact me if you would like to come as I will be at the ASBA conference in Pittsburgh. I will be able to pick up emails and confirm if there is still room for you.

Now, to continue with more about the botanical art holiday planned for next year. Here is a bit more about it on this page of my website: Gaynor’s Flora exclusive botanical art holiday at Le Manoir




Fourth Gaynor’s Flora update

I am so glad that I have these blogs to look forward to each day. They are helping to remind me about the lovely things I have done over the last few weeks. Particularly as I am still catching up with all the undone things, including doing a coloured pencil video.

I am really struggling with the video. I expect that those who are just starting out in botanical art will be relieved to hear that someone who has been doing it for a while, continues to struggle in periods. But the reason that I am struggling is because I am trying out different papers to use with coloured pencils, so that I can advise my students. The subject is tomatoes.

I think that I am now on my third attempt. Its not that I don’t get good enough results, it’s just that I feel I have to adjust my technique for each of the different papers I use. But I suppose that is something new learnt.

First Tomato picture attempt on Strathmore 500 Bristol Plate.
Incomplete first tomato picture attempt on Strathmore 500 Bristol Plate.

Going back to catching up.

A lot had been going on over the last few months with a great deal of time spent on writing the online botanical art course, exhibitions, demonstrations and teaching. I felt I needed a break, but my head was still working ‘twenty to the dozen’. My workshop in Norway was unfortunately cancelled, therefore this time we would be taking a holiday there. I still had work to do on the botanical art course and informed family that this was the case.

I have a strong and determined family! After one day spent working, I was told that enough was enough. I was unhappy at the time as of course I still had to do the work. But since then I have every reason to be grateful to my daughter in particular. I had a holiday and had a proper rest. Maybe I was a pain to everyone else!

Whilst in Norway I didn’t get much painting done either. But we stayed with some friends at their cottage in the mountains and I think I now have a group of subjects to paint for an exhibition at the RHS. It won’t be next year, but if I get my act together, possibly the year after.

As here in the UK one is not allowed to pick certain plants. But I made a note of the plants around my friend’s cottage and I think they will make a very good subject series.

© Skinntryte page

I know that this page in my small Moleskin drawing book looks very boring. But this is how botanical art paintings start, particularly when planning a series of paintings. I’m afraid that I have written the Norwegian names, but you will also see the scientific names if you want to look them up.

Three of the plants are important for fruit picking in Norway –

  • The Vaccinum vitas-idaea is called Tyttebær in Norwegian and Lingon in Swedish (goes with your Ikea meatballs), but Cowberry in English. They are the same genus as the Cranberries we buy in the shops, but a smaller species.
  • Blåbær is Blueberry in English, but again a different and smaller species from the ones we buy in the shops.
  • Multe is Cloudberry in English. They are the most sought after and difficult to find – but generally one knows of a ‘spot’, and doesn’t tell anyone else! There are very special rules governing Cloudberries. One is not allowed to pick the flower and definitely not allowed to pick the fruit until it is fully ripe. If you are caught with red fruit you are fined.

In 1974 and long before I knew the importance of Cloudberries,  my parents visited me in Norway  and we took them into the mountains. My mother loved these delicate white flowers and picked a whole bunch of them!!

Skinntryte is also a form of blueberry. I have found several English names for it including Whortleberry and Bilberry. They grow with Blueberries and for those who don’t know the difference, they might also pick these.

Krekling is apparently becoming more interesting to harvest. It is Crowberry in English.

Of course Tettegras is the Common Butterwort, which is a carnivorous plant. When picking fruit in the mountains, I think one is very glad that there is something that digests all the buzzy, biting things!

Last of all, the Flekkmarihånd is the Marsh Orchid and just beautiful.

This is my friend’s cottage in the mountains. They have invited me back next year to continue painting the series. Thank you Eva and John.

© 1.Eva & John's hytte

Third Gaynor’s Flora update

Earlier in the year I was contacted by the ASBA and asked if I would teach at the next Annual conference in Pittsburgh. I of course said yes. I was then contacted once again and asked if they could publish one of my botanical art pieces on the front page of their quarterly magazine, with an article about me on the inside. This edition coincided with the program for the annual conference in October where, of course, I was due to teach. How could I say no!

ASBA Botanical Artist quarterly magazine

Registration for the conference was opened 23 July. But more about this later.

In my blog of May 17th (Norway’s National day), I was conducting a workshop in Bosham and showed pictures of a pair of ducks in the pond. They became regular visitors for a while, but luckily they decided that our pond was not actually the safest bet for a couple of birds to make their home. We have cats, although the ducks were left alone, they were wary.

Ducks are apparently notorious at damaging garden ponds. But towards the end of May, beginning of June, we still had a lot of yellow Irises in the pond – Iris pseudacorus. I was busy trying out different papers to be able to give advice to coloured pencil artists, so decided to start painting one of the Irises.  We have had problems with Fabriano hot pressed papers – my paper of choice, therefore finding an alternative paper until they make a new batch in 18 months time, is a priority.

This coloured pencil drawing is done on Strathmore 500, Bristol plate. What do you think?

© 09.Iris pseudacorus


A blog about paper testing!

I hope you will be interested in the topic of this blog! There are loads of photos that can be perceived as dull if you are not interested in the subject. I have used my iPhone for some pictures, in addition to two different microscopes connected to the computer. If I call myself a botanical artist, why not use the equipment to find out about the paper we use.

The topic of the day is to find a paper as good as Fabriano paper, loved by many botanical artists. Some may have heard that Fabriano hot pressed paper seems to have changed recently. The manufactures have apparently changed their process for commercial reasons. But one result seems to be that people find that the paper is no longer as smooth as it was.

The papers that seem affected are Fabriano Classico 5 and Fabriano Artistico – both hot pressed. I have used Fabriano since the early eighties, so the thought of having to find something else was a little upsetting. But put into context with all the terrible things going on in the world, it is a minute problem.

R.K.Burt’s in London identified the problem earlier in the year and contacted St Cuthberts Mill, the company that makes Saunders Waterford paper. They immediately put everything in place to come to our aid and have even changed their sizing process. The sizing seems to be the main reason why we all like Fabriano – but of course it may not be the only reason.

I have decided to put the photos in four different galleries. I compared Fabriano 5 with the two Saunders Waterford’s papers – Botanical Ultra Smooth (50% cotton replacement for Fabriano 5) and High White (100% cotton replacement for Artistic0).

  1. First Fabriano 5 painted on the non-mesh side:

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2)  Saunders Waterford High White painted on non-mesh side (except for one example). The non-mesh side held the label, :

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3) Saunders Waterford Botanical Ultra smooth. Painted on mesh side (with label) :

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4) Saunders Waterford Botanical ultra painted on non-mesh side:

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My opinion so far, not having painted a complete picture with either media on the two new papers:

There seems to be a clear difference between the mesh pattern and non mesh patterned sides, but more significantly with the Botanical Ultra Smooth. I found it easier to get better layers and deeper colour on the non-mesh sides of both papers. I also found that the coloured pencil result was not good on the Botanical Ultra Smooth mesh side, but worked well on the reverse. It seemed pale and fluffy on the mesh side, but much easier to get depth of colour on the reverse. In fact, although I didn’t Use as many layers as I might in a complete picture, I liked it the result.

The effect wasn’t quite the same with the High White as neither side became fluffy with CP.

With the watercolour washes on both Saunders Waterford papers, close views of the washes seemed to show the white of the paper in between the fibres. This became accentuated with more layers. This was quite strange. Also it wasn’t easy to get an ultra clean edge to the pigment line although I particularly went over with a damp brush, using a magnifying glass.

Looking at the views in the microscope, one can almost understand why. I used the microscope, because when looking at the mesh-side of the Botanical Ultra Smooth in the sunshine, the surface seemed to be covered with fibres that weren’t visible before I did anything on the paper. That could also explain the fluffiness of the CP on that side.

But comparing Fabriano with Saunders Waterford, the length of the fibres seemed different and the way the fibres accepted colour seemed different too. It also seemed that with watercolour, the pigment tracked out along the filaments on the edge of the painted section, much more with the Saunders than the Fabriano. Trying to go along the edge with a damp brush and magnifying glass didn’t make much difference.

I think that we might have found replacements for the coloured pencil paper, as long as I use the right side of the paper,  the non-mesh side. By the way, it is even more difficult to determine the right side with Saunders than the Fabriano, as the mesh pattern is very faint.

I am writing the coloured pencil section of my online botanical art course at the moment, so I intend to use this paper for the demonstrations and YouTube videos. I probably won’t be doing so much watercolour whilst I am doing this, so I hope others will be able to give more useful information about that.

I hope that what I have written so far will useful.



New botanical art YouTube video – Pen & ink technique

I am developing an online botanical art course using written guidelines, links to good support subjects, diagrams, photos and videos showing techniques. I will also discuss the materials you might wish to use. But have a look on this website under Tuition and you can read a little more about it.

In the process of writing the course I have been filming work as I do it and making videos from the material. The course will include several detailed videos with accompanying written information to make sure that the techniques are understood.

The videos posted already have been done ‘quick time’ so that you can see the effect of the process as the subject is developed. But in the course the videos are broken down into smaller bites so that each technique can be clearly seen. Although the ‘quick time’ videos are available on YouTube,  you will need to sign up for the course to see the full material.

Christmas will soon be upon us and no doubt there will be less time to do painting, drawing or writing for a couple of weeks. But I think you may hear from me at least one ore time before Christmas.

Before you go, do have a look at the latest YouTube video on the pen and ink technique that I use. How to draw a Himalayan seedpod with pen / ink


A new botanical art video: How to draw a Poppy seedcase in graphite

In actual fact, I ought to make a correction to the above title straight away; its How I draw a poppy seedcase in graphite.

Since we came back from Italy, I have been chasing my tail as usual. But there is a result, so the time wasn’t wasted.

I’m in the process of writing a new, online botanical art course starting off with graphite, moving to pen & ink and then either watercolour or coloured pencil (one or the other – the choice being the student’s). I have put a lot of work into the sections I have done so far and knowing that different people learn in different ways, I have thought a lot about this quite a bit.

My husband has been a beautiful model in some sections so that I have been able to explain in words and show in photographs, different techniques. That is the reading and seeing bit. But then we have audio input too, and that is where videos come in.

Some of the videos I have done so far are very short and will not be available unless through the course, but today I have actually finished one that shows how I do a botanical graphite drawing from line drawing to finished piece.

This is the finished artwork – only small and as yet I haven’t really found a title for it other than Poppy seedcase. But if you have some imaginative titles, please give me a prod. At the moment I am a little brain dead!


Poppy seedcase in graphite
Here is the link to the YouTube video. Comments are welcome: How to draw a Poppy seedcase in graphite. By the way, does anyone know the name of the species? It is rather unusual in that it doesn’t have the typical pepper-pot top. Apparently, the seeds remain within the capsule and it is a species that is collected as a source for poppy seed in cooking. I was told its name, but I didn’t make a note of it.

Fuchsia microphylla progress; and composition.

The last time that I mentioned anything about this botanical art piece in progress, was August 3, during my Open Studio event in Bosham. You saw the start of the picture and I will reintroduce it here.

Fuchsia microphylla painting started
Fuchsia microphylla painting started

I got as far as this:

Fuchsia Microphylla botanical art progression - change point!
Fuchsia Microphylla botanical art progression – change point!

When, with the help of a very good friend who is a brilliant mentor, I decided I needed to change the composition. As he said, I hadn’t put enough thought and work into the composition before I had started and therefore I was likely to come a cropper. I agreed with with him.

Following this discussion, I decided to prepare all my dissections and other parts to be introduced into the composition, in detail. Until this time, I had only prepared the main part in detail and put a rough sketch where I was going to have the other sections; this included a ‘line’ that represented a branch! Therefore I had to get down to the hard work that I needed to do; my detailed line drawings ready to trace over.

The microscope then came into function and this helped me change my mind completely about the sort of dissections I needed for the picture. Here is what I saw:

Fuchsia micrphylla stamens
Fuchsia micrphylla stamens

The flower has eight stamens. Four are tucked up and four hang down, with the hanging down ones ripening first. Had I done a typical dissection showing a separate stamen and separate style and stigma, no-one would have realised how it was all placed in the funnel formed by the semi-fused sepals. The solution to this problem was to do one longitudinal dissection of the flower, showing the stamens, style and stigma in situ. All I have to do is the drawing and painting show that it shows clearly!

We are still back at problem number one; composition. How are the elements to be placed and what size will they be. If you remember the plant has tiny leaves and flowers. The main section is painted at twice the normal size, although I will include a graphite line drawing actual size. But how big do the dissected flower and fruit have to be to be seen clearly?

I completed all my line drawings, traced them onto tracing paper in the manner I have previously written about in this blog, and I cut each traced element to arrange around the paper. These are all the compositional trials I made. Which one do you think I chose?

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As a final for this blog, I still have a couple of places left for the next workshop in Bosham; Hedgerow produce, 25 – 27 September. If you are interested have a look at the the page on this website, Tuition –> Workshops. You will be very welcome.

Disaster! What a terrible Day!!!

This is a Short blog. I have a list of things to do that I need to get done today. It was going to be a late night and I was prepared for it.

The blog I wrote didn’t go straightforwardly as for some reason with this new Mac program with photos in the cloud, I can’t download them straight to my blog unless I do it on my iPad! It took ages to work out and then everything else started going pear-shaped.

I was printing for the Garden Show at Stansted this weekend and ran out of ink. It is the very special ink used in Giclee prints that is archival. I had to refill the printer. The desk was cluttered as I didn’t have time to clear it in between jobs ( several jobs at once you understand). The ink was on the table, I dropped paper, applicators etc,etc. but then got it done.

I settled down to carry on and looked up at my last masterpiece. It was called 52 shades of grey: Bearded Iris. It is now called 52 shades of grey and one of Vivid Magenta.




I had scanned it, so you might see it sort of – if I can stop feeling so devastated.

What about my list? Not even a fifth of the way through.

Why a black background?

I had the following query from  Antonina Shesteryakova, following my blog and posting of the Pineapple step-by-step; Why did you use black background? Why it isn’t white as usually? Thanks, Gaynor! I liked your “step by step” very much!

That is a very interesting point and I am really glad that Antonina asked me this question. I have thought several times to write a blog on it as it comes up in every workshop I do.

This is the picture Antonina commented on.



But you might find this of interest too. It is a picture of Gorse. Quite a complicated plant, but with the dark background you can also see the hairs on the Sepals that protect the flower in bud.



So why do I take my preliminary photographs with a black background? Note, I don’t use these pictures to paint from but I do use them as reference. I always take a lot of photos to start with as I know I take a long time on each picture I do – even the small ones.

I take a picture of my setup, i.e. the plant as I am looking at it whilst I paint. Therefore, once my subject dies I can replace it with something similar and in a similar angle to my original. I used about 5 pineapples for my painting, but I had to bear in mind what my original pineapple looked like. If you see the segments, some have what looks like a double base and some use a single base. Some are more at an angle than others, not forgetting the difference in colour change over the pineapple. When I bought new pineapples I had to bear this in mind and then change the direction of the new pineapples for each segment I painted so that it more or less fitted my original drawing.

But as well as taking a picture of the plant in situ as I plan to paint it, I also take quite a lot of detail photographs in case there is any specific detail that I need from the original subject. With a flower, this is more interesting as you see with the Gorse. I took a lot of pictures of the flowers, but also of the thorny leaves, stem and connections. I’m afraid that I don’t have pictures of the gorse or pineapple with light backgrounds, but I do of an orchid. In fact, it was in taking pictures of this orchid that I realised how difficult it was to take  good detail photos with a white background.

IMG_3049 IMG_3022 IMG_3042 IMG_3015











I am not a photographer and don’t intend to become expert in that area, so with my little automatic camera and simple reasoning skills, I realised that the camera automatically adjusts the white balance in relation to the lightness in the picture.  As you want to paint in good light, you will generally find that the background is very light and if you use a white sheet behind your subject, the light reflection is intensified. The subject, in a worst case scenario, can turn out as a silhouette .

IMG_1491IMG_1490 - Version 2







I took some photos of small courgettes from the garden last year, specifically to show the difference between taking pictures against a black or white background. Apart from the fact that the one against the black background isn’t in focus, I think that you can see what I mean.

So what background do I use when I paint from the subject? This is a different kettle of fish.

If I have a very pale or white flower, I obviously want to see what the edge looks like against a white background, so it is natural for me to paint from the subject in front of a white sheet of paper. For the pineapple I used both white and black. I wanted to see as much detail as I could going round the front of the pineapple – therefore left the black background, but when doing the light side and the side with the reflected light (shadow side), I needed to paint it as I saw it against the white background!

I hope that this very complicated subject is now a little bit clearer.