Today is exactly a year since we had the Worldwide Botanical Art exhibition where twenty five countries participated on the same day. The UK exhibition ‘In Ruskin’s Footsteps was held in Lancaster.
On the 19th May several artists demonstrated their skills in botanical art. They were the late Mally Francis painting Gorse, Jackie Copeman on vellum and Sandra Doyle painting Spindle Tree Moth caterpillars.
Sandra’s painting of the Euonymus (Spindle tree) was in the exhibition and for her demonstration she painted the caterpillars showing their strange behaviour on their host plant.
Today I am lucky enough to be in Vienna, participating in the first ‘Get Together’ conference, where botanical artists from around the world are congregating to learn from and teach each other. This is being held at the Vienna School of botanical Illustration. Unfortunately I was not able to be here the whole week, but today we have been on a Field trip to the Donau-Auen National Park.
Apart from seeing at least ten different orchids including my first live Bee orchid.
I also saw the effects of the Spindle tree moth. It was hanging right over the path we were walking and I think if I had reached it first all the wild animals in the forest would have deserted. I do have an almighty scream when I get going!
As it happens I was completely amazed by what I saw. It also helped to remind me about the first ABBA event exactly one year ago.
Tomorrow I am going to a workshop by Denise Walser Kolar. She is teaching painting on vellum. A workshop I have always wanted to do with her as she has encouraged me to paint on vellum for many years. I am so looking forward to being a student and getting to paint all day,
The Easter break has been and gone, visiting family who enlivened the recent days have gone back to their own homes and it is back to botanical art.
I will say farewell to “Farewell” (the Benton Iris) at the end of this blog, but invite you to see a couple of developments.
My project for the Chelsea Florilegium this year is the Rhododendron impeditum. It is an exquisite dwarf Rhododendron. Why I do such tiny plants, I have no idea. I spend a lot of time trying to think out how I am going to portray it even before I start. I know that it won’t be easy but at the moment I am doing as many sketches of it as possible before the buds open. Initially the buds looked fairly dead and in fact the winter did kill off my first plant and killed the buds of the 2nd plant. Luckily I managed to find a 3rd one, so my sketches so far have been from this one.
I think I will tickle your imagination as to how I might tackle this by just showing you a picture of my plant this time. With any luck, before too long I might have a better idea of what I am doing because soon the plant will flower and I will need to capture the detail on paper.
There is still a lot of work to do in preparing for the UK part of the Botanical Art Worldwide Exhibition – In Ruskin’s Footsteps. I hope as many people as possible will put the dates of the exhibition into their diaries. It will be held at the Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster University between 18th May – Worldwide Day of Botanical Art – and 9th June. It will be open on weekdays between 12:00 – 17:00, and there are two special event days on Saturday 19th May and 9th June. These Saturdays will be open from 10:00 – 16:00.
Apart from the 40 juried pictures of native flora on view, we will also be having some demonstrations in botanical art and in depth tours of the artworks on the special event days. All this in addition to showing a continuous slideshow of roughly 40 pictures from each of the 25 participating countries throughout the whole exhibition.
I think this exhibition will be very different to any one you will have seen before because of the involvement of so many countries from around the globe – all at the same time.
I also want to share with you the excitement I have felt recently because of one of my plants from Norway. It is called Empetrum nigrum; hermaphroditum (Krekling in Norwegian or Crowberry in English). Normally this plant is either male or female, but at high altitudes it has both sexes in the same plant. During the autumn my plant developed some flower buds. But nothing else happened until this last week when a couple of them started opening and showing petals.
I took this picture with a macro lens on my iPhone. The actual size of each flower at this stage is about 2mm. I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will be fertilised so that I get fruit in the autumn.
By the way, this is one of the plants that I will be painting for my series of Norwegian mountain plants.
Before I finish, my next botanical art workshop is 27-28 April and we will be concentrating on different pen and ink techniques. Have you ever thought how many techniques there are? I think you will get a surprise. Knowing a little more about them can really enhance your botanical art practice. Get in touch via the contact form on my Workshop web page: gaynorsflora.com/tuition-2/workshops/
So finally, the Benton Iris ‘Farewell’. I am pleased that I own the copyright for this picture.
Trying to paint more with the Benton Iris – work that I love doing, has been complicated by all the adjustments in relation to the botanical art exhibition ‘ In Ruskin’s Footsteps’. But you can now see the updated website in relation to the new improved venue (still at Lancaster University) and adjustment to the dates. I will give you the link at the end of this blog.
In my last blog I showed you my progression in relation to the large fan-like leaves of this majestic plant. I chose to include only colour for those on the right hand side of the artwork and graphite on the remaining leaves. This was so that the picture would not be overwhelmingly heavy with green leaves.
I finished off last time with the bud spike on the left hand side of the artwork. Now I will show you the start of the main flower spike, which needed to be divided in two because of the height of it.
This is customary in botanical art when painting correctly.
It is important to give an indication of the habit of the plant if painting life-size and the plant is very tall; try to include as much of it as possible in the same painting. I have divided the flower spike in two and have shown the cut ends with the same profile at the cut edge.
On this stem you can clearly see the flowers and buds spiralling off.
I have started off with a pale wash for the bud leading up to the main flower before completing the detail with a dry brush technique.
Now the start of the top flower and he developing bud just underneath. This was actually quite difficult to get right.
All my sketches were done outside in the garden last year and if you don’t keep your head still while drawing, the detail visible will change.
If you are enjoying following the stages in the development of the Benton Iris ‘Farewell’, you might like to come to my next workshop March 23-24th, where this time we will be concentrating on a line drawing and tonal sketch. Normal, good preparation for any botanical art painting. Get in touch with me via the contact form below if you would like to join us. The details are on the Workshop page of my website.
Although botanical art is fairly strict in what is ideally included in a picture, it is quite wide ranging and much wider than for pure botanical illustration. But it is important to remember that what I show you in my blog is my style of working. There are many different styles and none are wrong; It is the result that counts!
The Botanical Art Worldwide Exhibition; “In Ruskin’s Footsteps”, which is the English and Welsh contribution to the global exhibition happening 18 May 2018, is taking all my time these days, in addition to marking some really interesting assignments. Attracting people to look at botanical art and perhaps trying it is always an exciting prospect. For the exhibition, go to the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA) website: www.britishbotanicalartists.com. Here you will find all the updated information.
But I have done some more of my painting the Benton Iris ‘Farewell’. Last time I had done some of the leaves and told you that I was going to use graphite for some of them. I have decided that to show the habit of the Iris to the best advantage with the fan-shaped leaves, I would do these solely in graphite. In this way the overall effect of the picture will not be too heavy and the flowers will come to the for.
It was not easy doing so much graphite on the heavy Fabriano paper (640gsm) and I will need to adjust the strength of this as I add the flowers.
Below you get an idea of the overall layout of the picture with the flower spike with buds on the left side of the picture.
To the right is the bottom bud on the flower spike. After finishing this section I needed to adjust it because it came directly below and in line with the top bud. But as in so many plants the buds spiral round the stem and of course this is an important part of correct botanical observation.
The ideal would have been to get it right first time during the line drawing and not after having painted it! The image below is the corrected version. Here you can see the centre line at the bottom of the bud, has been moved slightly to the left.
And so the voluptuous terminal bud, with another one developing at its base. The bud of the Iris Farewell has a very typical shape to it and in my garden where I have different Irises, I can see the Farewell straight away. The tip is almost squared off rather than pointed. I think this is part of its attraction.
You will notice that I have started the flower to the right, but I will come back to that in my next blog. Whilst painting each section of my composition I am constantly looking at the rest of my picture and adjusting as I go along. I added a little more shadow to the right of the bud after I had started the flower. The image is from that stage.
I hope to get back to you soon with more images from the development of this picture.
I have another workshop in just over a week’s time. 23 – 24 February is a workshop on Composition and Perspective. If you want to improve on these particular topics in your own practice, sign up for the workshop as soon as you can.
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.
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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/.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I thought that it would be pleasing to show one picture started in the last workshop, completed. Sue James sent me this message and gave her permission to use use her name and her image.
‘Finished article! Thanks for a great workshop, learned a lot! Looking forward to the next one’.
I am sure that you will like it as much as I do. Painting the hairy buds of the Magnolia x solangeana in the technique that I use is not easy although it gives the best result. I think you will agree with me that she has achieved this very well.
Because I limit the number of students at each workshop I teach in watercolour, coloured pencil and or graphite.
The next botanical art workshop in Bosham is ‘White flowers against dark ones’, although in reality the topic is really about what is to be gained by painting pale flowers against something darker in the background; leaves or darker flowers. The workshop is Thursday, Friday and Saturday 16 – 18 February and there are still a very few places available.
The workshop holiday at Le Manoir in the French Dordogne has only four painting places left, so if you want to come, sign up for this soon. Take advantage of being looked after from the botanical art point of view, and in relation to the holiday with well thought out afternoon trips and of course looking after your taste buds.
Last, but not least is the ongoing Online Botanical art course. Unlike many other online botanical art courses, this one takes a limited number of new students each month and is therefore continuous. It is spread over a longer period of time (18 months), allowing you to fit it in with your other commitments and life in general. Additionally, you can get in touch with me with any queries you have about the course at any time; you can communicate with other students participating in the course via a secret Facebook page; the feedback you get for each of your assignments is a several page long very detailed constructive critique about each of the pieces you send to me. I take on new students for February 1 tomorrow, and again 15 February. Get in touch.
It may be grey out there just now, but there is so much already in the garden (in the Northern hemisphere), just ready and waiting to explode. Down under, it is probably the hottest part of the year, but it is always exciting for me to see the subjects chosen to paint, which might be considered exotic in the UK. Oh how I love doing what I do!