My latest piece of botanical art – in Watercolour

Bog Rosemary at 900 metres in the Norwegian mountains. Peeping up from Sphagnum moss and surrounded by Cloudberry leaves.

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.

Andromeda polifolia in Chelsea Physic Garden, London.

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.

The start of the ‘Stay-home’ mode.

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.

You will find information about my online course here: https://gaynorsflora.com/tuition-2/online-botanical-art-course/

I also have some videos you can watch on this page – these don’t cost a thing: https://gaynorsflora.com/my-tutorials/

In the meantime, these are a couple of recent pages from my Perpetual Journal, which I have now been doing for a year. Good luck, stay safe and healthy!

Week 12-Lesser Celandine: 19/03/19, Grape Hyacynth: 16/03/20 
Polygala myrtifolia, WC and pen&ink, Week 12 : 11/03/20

4th part of Blackberry on Vellum story.

I am so enjoying painting this picture. To me, there are some parts that have been less than perfect and it might mean that talking about these will be an additional separate blog. I will see! But, as I have a deadline, I have a good excuse to work on it almost every and all day!

This blog is all about finishing off the black blackberries on the left hand side and some new green ones on the right.

Although I know that many of you are watching the sections as they change so that you know roughly what colours I am using, it is worth mentioning the difference in the colours used with the black, blackberries. Of the three on the left, the nearest is the freshest ripe one and therefore has more remnants of the unripe red in it. The other two are even more ripe and additionally are affected in colour by how far back they are in the picture.

Of course the latter is called atmospheric perspective and affects tone and colour. Typically more distant objects show less detail, colour and contrast. In relation to colour, they are clearer, brighter and warmer when seen close to. As objects get farther away the colours become duller, get colder, paler and eventually turn blue grey.

So what on earth do you do when the ‘native’ colour of your subject is warm, but it is further away? You need to dull the colour as it moves away and hopefully you will see this occur in my light greens and reds. If not, you can smack me over the fingers when you see me!

This is an example of what I am talking about, except, that I don’t think you will actually see it fully until you see the finished painting. As I finish off a painting I will generally check over this sort of thing.

In a couple of weeks I have my next workshop in Bosham; Hedgerow colour. I think that this picture is a good example of the general subject

. I still have one or two spaces on it and it will be the last one before coming back from teaching at the ASBA (American Society of Botanical Artists) conference in Pittsburgh. But the dates for the Hedgerow colour workshop are 27-28 September. Do get in touch if you want one of those spaces. Workshops in 2019

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3rd part of Blackberry on vellum story – and more.

Last Friday and Saturday I had a workshop called Fruit and Veg ; or Strawberries and cream. It is a very popular workshop has happened for several years running. I don’t know if it is the Strawberries and cream that tempts, or the painting. Unfortunately, I didn’t take into account that it was a bank holiday weekend this year, but those who signed up were pleased to have more of my attention..

One student was working on vellum and decided to paint a short branch from our Malus ‘Royal Beauty’ crab apple tree. It has very dark berries and I thought the best way to demonstrate was by doing one of the berries myself. Of course doing it properly also takes time, so as soon as the workshop was finished the first day I went down into the shed and started the berry so that I could demonstrate on it the following day. That was one long day!

But it was a useful exercise and the student got a clearer understanding of how to get depth and darker colours on vellum without laying it in thick layers.

The other students unusually all worked with watercolour this time.

I finished off my Royal Beauty crab apple later on.

My 5 x 7 inch picture of a Blackberry branch on Kelmscott vellum is progressing in-between teaching and demos.

My last blog finished off when I had completed the bottom-most berries on my branch; you could see a ripe blackberry under the stem. In this blog I will show you the layers needed for the berries on the left of the stem. The nearest one is almost fully ripe as you can see by the residual redness of the drupelets. Then there are two more fully ripe ones behind this; I therefore have to take this into consideration when choosing my colours. The slideshow of photos taken at regular intervals is at the bottom of this page.

I promised a picture of my art table as it was in my last blog, but bear in mind that since the very hot weather my subject is deteriorating quite fast.

In this picture the sprig is still fairly OK giving me an idea of the colours of the berries, although I have to get fresh samples to paint from; as you can see, these are scattered on the surface beside me.

Finally and unusually, I have two vacancies in my weekly botanical art class in Bosham. It is Wednesday mornings between 10:00-12:00, starting up again Wednesday 4th September. Get in touch using the contact form below if you want to know more about it or sign up. Before you ask, it is for watercolour and colour pencil artists, including those who want to learn. The class is kept even smaller than the workshops so everyone can develop at their own speed.

 

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My Perpetual journal

I have to be honest, but this idea is not mine. I came across it when researching different types of journal. I hope that Lara Gastinger won’t mind me taking her name in vain, but I saw that she had been doing this for years.

Many people try to do a drawing a day, but knowing how I get involved in what I do, I thought I would never get anything else done. My aim was to be quicker with what I do – but that is what everyone wants to be. Many of my students want to paint faster, and I remember I wanted to do so when I first started painting botanical subjects. But I get slower and slower because I increase the detail and complexity of my paintings.

Because each picture takes so long to finish, I am doing very little ordinary quick sketches. I wanted to increase my output and thus increase my ability to make quick sketch notes. How was I going to do it?

I now have an A5 Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook and have set off a double page to do one sketch a week, and next year I will go back again to the same page to do another one. I have done this since March this year, but missed three weeks whilst I was sketching and colour matching mountain plants in Norway.

Why does this help me? Well, I have decided to minimise the graphite help marks I draw so that I go straight into it with pen, then do colour washes.

23-24 August this year I am having my annual Fruit & veg workshop (places still available)and I thought some preparation sketches for this would be ideal in my Perpetual diary. This is what I have done today. I took several photos so that you can see the stages. If you want to learn about this – and more, get in touch and sign up as soon as you can.

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Spindle tree moth -again.

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,

Goodbye to “Farewell” and hallo to another project start.

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.

A little more of my Benton Iris ‘Farewell’

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.

Look at the last blog of 2017 to remind you about how I started off this Iris. https://gaynorsflora.com/2017/12/30/last-gaynors-flora-blog-of-2017/.

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!

 

Last but not least the link to the Association of British Botanical Art website: www.britishbotanicalartists.com/2018exhibition

A little bit further with the Benton Iris ‘Farewell’

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.

For my online botanical art course go to:gaynorsflora.com/tuition-2/online-botanical-art-course/

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.