Thymus vulgaris – a botanical art project.

Have you ever really looked at Thyme when you are using it in cooking? I bet you haven’t!

I have been asked to paint a botanical picture of Thymus vulgaris. Note the correct way of writing a binomial scientific name correctly; all in italics but with the capital letter at the beginning of the first word only.

My heart sank when I got the email asking me to do this particular plant. Imagine, all that ‘tiny-ness’! How on earth was I going to create a beautiful picture from this subject, one in which the viewer wanted to take a second look. The picture still isn’t painted yet, so the result will not magically appear at the end of this blog. However, I thought you might be interested in both my thought processes and my work progress.

I eventually got a plant that said it was Thymus vulgaris.

Thymus vulgaris

In actual fact, I got three – all of them different. I knew that the leaf had to have a furled edge; two of them had furled edges. When the flowers eventually started to appear I knew that the stamens would be protruding from the tube created by the four petals. One of them did not have protruding stamens as they remained just under the fused lip of the petals. The last one did all the things I expected it to do. Or did it?

When the last plant had flowered for a while, some of the flowers didn’t have visible stamens. After much research I discovered that in fact the same plant can have flowers with all the reproductive systems in place, but some flowers are sterile as they only have a style and stigma. Whew, what a relief. I now had a suitable subject. Do you like it? But where to start!

A quick look at the leaves

As you now realise I had to do quite a bit of investigating in relation to this plant. It helped me get to know it so that as I observed, researched and sketched, thoughts for my final composition began to be a little clearer. I also found that although it was a challenging subject (apparently I like challenges). I also really began to appreciate the plant and wanted to include things in my picture that would tell others about the plant. However, one of the challenges is that there were to be no dissections! That is often how I show others of what a plant is comprised.

Botanical art is an exciting subject and it really helps you to observe things around you. So we start off with the leaves. Have you noticed anything strange about them. Have a look at a real one, rather than my pictures.

Trichomes on the leaf

You will notice the appearance of little dents in the surface of the leaves. This is the same ones under a microscope. Do you see the little dents are in fact Trichomes, a special type of hair that produces aromatic oils. The oil is the part that smells so good when you crush the leaves before adding them to your cooking. But see if you can see where else the hairs are and the oil is:

Trichomes on the flower bud
Trichomes on the flower

Every part of the plant can be used in your cooking as every part produces the aromatic oils. Exciting isn’t it?

But what about the parts that need to be included in my picture? Although I found this particularly interesting and wished I could include this information in my picture, this depth of detail was not needed by the client.

However for me, Thymus vulgaris had moved up in my regard from being a plant with lots of tiny bits that smell nice, to being a complex and interesting plant. I hope I do it justice.

A Flower spike

 

 

I decided to do a whole lot of sketches in my sketch book. This helps hands to get to know the painting of the plant, the size at which I am showing it, the colours and hopefully an idea for the composition.

 

 

 

Me painting away with a magnifier on my head.

To see the plant I needed to use a magnifier, which lead me to enlarging the flower spike for everyone to marvel at the detail of the individual flowers.I did three spikes before deciding which one to use for my final composition. You can see by my clothes that the weather was a lot colder when I started this project!

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I now had a better idea of which sketches I wanted to include in my final picture. I wanted to show the flower spike enlarged so that the flowers with their magnificent coloured anthers were clear. I also knew that I needed to give a suggestion of the surface texture of the leaves, front and back as well as the growth habit of the plant.

A trial composition,
Final composition
The final painting started.

Where to find daffodils and global warming!

At the weekend I had a two-day workshop with the title of ‘Daffodils – Herald of Spring’.

Looking into most gardens on the south coast of England, the daffodils were long gone, so how did I decide to teach this subject at this time of the year.

When planning my botanical art workshops, I look back at the photos I have taken of daffodils over the years and note the dates. Before my introduction into the digital age, I remembered that for my 49th birthday (21 years ago), we had snow (in the UK) and the daffodils were just coming out.

Working from then until last year, I expected that there would still be some in the garden. If you remember last year the daffodils were extremely early and we thought that was that. But then we had a new flowering and rather than just a few odd ones, there was an almighty crop. Not so this year!

Robin and I went trailing around Chichester and surrounding areas buying up what we could find. It was an interesting exercise.

As you can see, in the end we found the remains of some tiny ‘Tête á Tête” bulbs still flowering, but also some Narcissi. Therefore the workshop was saved.

As a note here, all my workshop titles where specific plants are mentioned, are just suggestions for subjects to paint. My workshops are not based on a step-by-step approach, but on individual support to improve your own technique.

Here are several pictures from the workshop including a preparation page, a very rough sketch and a ‘before and after’ picture showing the importance of cleaning up around the image as a last task.

I will let the pictures speak for themselves, but once again I met with some lovely, hard working botanical artists and I believe a good time was had by all.

Now to prepare for the next two weekends, which is the Chichester Open  Studio art trail. In addition to my usual exhibition space where my workshops are held, I will be doing some  work towards pictures I will need to have finished before the end of the year. Robin will be looking after the exhibition and you will find me tucked away in the shed at the bottom of the garden. Do come and visit me at Venue 35 in Bosham. For more details visit page: https://gaynorsflora.com/exhibitions/.

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Magnolia x soulangeana soon in bloom

In 2011 I had finished three years work on a series of paintings showing a year in the life of the Magnolia x soulangeana. The series was exhibited at the RHS that year and I won a Silver medal – my first RHS medal. One of the paintings was chosen by the Hunt Institute for Botanical documentation in Pittsburgh, USA and it was first exhibited there in 2013. Since then it has had a three-year tour around the USA with the rest of that exhibition, but is now back in their archives in Pittsburgh.

© Magnolia x soulangeana: Maturing Blooms

I was super lucky to have some huge fruit on the tree the years I was doing the paintings and they were featured. But since then tree from which all the paintings were done, has not produced much fruit at all; in fact nothing until last year when it had a couple of small ones. I think the tree knew that I was painting it’s portrait and wanted to show itself at its most beautiful.

© Magnolia x soulangeana: Ripe fruit and seeds

I am hoping that the tree is building itself up to another magnificent display later on this month. At the moment there are masses of terminal buds in which the blooms develop and you can almost see them growing a little more for each day.

It is obvious that the Magnolia tree means quite a lot to me after having studied it so closely for those three years. I learnt such a lot about it, how it is fertilised and why it is a particular type of bug that  is responsible.

If you want to know more about Magnolia x soulangeana, and you are interested in botanical art as an artist, do book to come to my workshop Friday to Sunday 31 March to 2 April. I still have a few places available.

This is the first time that I have had a workshop on this subject – and you can probably guess why. But now I would love to help others who would like to paint the blooms in watercolour or coloured pencil (dry), or even draw them in graphite.

Get in touch with me as soon as you can so that you don’t lose this opportunity.

 

 

 

A very good three-day botanical art workshop.

What a week it has been!

Following loads of preparation, ABBA (the new Association of British Botanical Artists) launched its new website on Wednesday and I had one of my workshops on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

The steering group for the new organisation put in a lot of work up until the launch of information about the Worldwide Botanical Art day in May 2018. For more information look at the website: Www.abba2018.wordpress.com. We have had a lot of very positive feedback and quite a few botanical artists have already started thinking about a species of plant they want to paint.

The botanical art workshop concentrated on painting pale flowers on white paper. My students were extremely brave and worked on the sort of thing a lot of people fear doing – painting white flowers on white paper. They actually chose to do this, although I suggested they could work with any pale flower.

Here are a couple of the results. One in watercolour and one in coloured pencil.img_0214

Hellebore in watercolour
Hellebore in watercolour
Hellebore in coloured pencil
Hellebore in coloured pencil

 

 

 

 

 

 

The trick is to try and paint your pale flower with a background of darker colour – leaves or a dark flower.

I was extremely pleased with the results, as were they.

Tomorrow we are going for our long walk to build up for long days at the end of the week when we will be at the RHS exhibition in London.

Sarah Morrish and I will be there for both Friday and Saturday, demonstrating and giving out information about the Worldwide botanical art day. Lucy Smith will be joining us for one of the days and the intention is for us to use different methods of drawing or painting native plants.

Hope to see you then

Completed from the last botanical art workshop; when is the next?

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’.

Version 2

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.

There are plenty of opportunities to learn my techniques in workshops https://gaynorsflora.com/tuition-2/workshops/ ,

workshop holiday https://gaynorsflora.com/tuition-2/exclusive-botanical-art-painting-holiday-at-le-manoir-in-france/,

and the online botanical art course https://gaynorsflora.com/tuition-2/online-botanical-art-course/.

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!

 

I am sooo-o chuffed after this weekend’s workshop!

Yesterday and today was the first botanical art workshop of the year in Bosham. What do you paint in the wintery months? There are loads of interesting subjects in the hedgerows. The title of this workshop was textures and as usual I tried to make suggestions as to what these may be.

My workshops have a limited number of participants so that everyone gets help where they need it. This time people brought catkins, bark, ash keys, pine cones, algae and magnolia buds. I also brought in some lambs ears (leaves) and sticky buds (horse chestnut).  There was an ample supply of everything and people worked in coloured pencil, or watercolour, or graphite.

My workshops always begin with a little about composition; a subject everyone seems to be scared of, and drawing. Everyone always wants to jump straight into the painting, but of course the final painting is never better than the planning that has gone into it.

This time, as I knew everyone from previous workshops (normally there is at least one new person), they felt it was OK for me to concentrate more than usual on the compositional aspect of botanical art.  They duly did their thumbnails and decided which one they would focus on to create their line drawing. I am going to show you the progress of one student from thumbnails to where she got to today.

Magnolia soulageant buds
Magnolia soulageant buds

Version 2

We talked a lot about the Golden section, rule of thirds, diagonals and ignoring the lot!

Of course we mustn’t forget that the workshop was also about textures, so I demonstrated different techniques in all three media. Of course they found that the furry buds were the most difficult, but everyone persevered and got some amazing results.

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So finally, why am I so chuffed? Well, those who chose to do the Magnolia buds in watercolour, actually mastered the dry-ish brush technique that I use. Many do give up on this because the issue is the water/pigment mix, and taking care of brushes and picture at the same time. But I think the part giving me the biggest thrill were the compositions. I have superimposed two of the pictures with the three-by-three golden section divisions that help to find where the focal point is best placed. The eye was drawn in particular to these two pictures in main because of their composition, but also their fluffy buds. Remember they are half finished, but they just show how a well planned composition can have a good effect on completing a picture. Do you agree?

Magnolia x soulageana terminal buds in graphite.
Magnolia x soulageana terminal buds in graphite.
Magnolia x soulageana terminal buds in watercolour.
Magnolia x soulageana terminal buds in watercolour.

Botanical art, workshops and vellum

What a mix!

The week after next I have my first workshop in 2017. There are no places available for that workshop, but there are places still available for the one after that.

The following workshop will be Thursday 16th to Saturday 18th February and the topic will be White flowers against dark ones. I decided against being too specific about which plants, allowing students to think about what they have in the garden. The intention is to show how easy it is to paint pale against dark, thus reducing the amount of shading necessary. People often have problems with white and yellow flowers in particular, but the method I will show you eases this problem hugely.

Do get in touch soon to book your place on the workshop:  https://gaynorsflora.com/tuition-2/workshops/

When I am running these workshops and showing what people have accomplished, I often get comments that they wish they lived nearer. Well, as I am now running my online botanical art course, you have the opportunity to learn from me whether you live nearer or far away. Presently I have students who live fairly near and occasionally come to one of the workshops in addition, but I also have students on the other side of the globe. Not only are they able to get detailed feedback from me throughout the course (watercolour or coloured pencil), but they also communicate with each other.

I don’t take on many students each month, but will be taking on new ones 1 February. This is the link to the online course: https://gaynorsflora.com/tuition-2/online-botanical-art-course/

But of course, this autumn we are having the exclusive botanical art holiday at Le Manoir in the Dordogne. Places are limited for this workshop holiday, so do book early to avoid disappointment. https://gaynorsflora.com/tuition-2/exclusive-botanical-art-painting-holiday-at-le-manoir-in-france/

Lastly, what’s all this about vellum? A tutor is no good if they too aren’t constantly learning. I feel so privileged that I learn so much from my students, but also now and again I have the opportunity to go on a course myself. When I was in Pittsburgh, USA, for the annual American SBA conference, I not only taught but I was able to go on a workshop with Jean Emmons. For those of you who know her name, she does the most exquisite work on vellum. I have at last finished the piece that I started on her workshop. If you read this, thank you Jean.

 

A Maple leaf
A Maple leaf on Kelmscott vellum

Textures and the South Downs

South Downs Way with reflection from the sea.
South Downs Way with reflection from the sea. 5 January 2017

Now what on earth do ‘textures’ and the South Downs Way have in common? Nothing, other than that my next botanical art workshop has very few places available and we have been picking up some specimens for it on our long weekly hike today; this time along the South Downs Way.

Happy New Year. For some 2016 was a good year, but for some it was filled with sadness or difficulties. For most of us, it will have been a combination of both.

We are now at the beginning of 2017 with all the possibilities it has in store for us. The days have already started to be slightly longer and apparently we got an extra second on 31 December! Some days are beautifully sunny – like today, and as was one day last week when the Hawthorne branch picture was taken. But other days, like yesterday for us in the south of England, it was wet, grey and gloomy. But everything is already waking up.

I hope that you enjoyed your Christmas festivities or relaxation and that you are now raring to go with what is on offer in the way of botanical art workshops.

I have only a couple of vacancies left on the next workshop, ‘Textures’ with bark and moss as examples. But if we think laterally about textures we also have furry buds such as the Magnolia and furry leaves such as ‘Lambs ears’. There are useful techniques to be learnt both with watercolour or coloured pencil.

In addition to Magnolia buds and Lambs ears in the garden, we also have Garrya elliptica (the silk tassel bush) with its very attractive silvery catkins; which might be a nice challenge for someone.

Do get in touch as soon as you can to book your place. The workshop is Friday and Saturday 27 -28 January. As usual coffees, teas and lunch are included in the price.

The booking form can be found linked to this page:  Gaynor’s workshops

Hawthorne bench encrusted with lichen
Hawthorne bench encrusted with lichen
Furry Magnolia x solangeana bud
Furry Magnolia x solangeana bud

Workshop schedule and booking forms now available

I had to work hard to finish the Liriope muscari ‘Moneymaker’ in time for handing it in at the beginning of this month. Including the sketches when I first got the plant in 2015, sketchbook drawings, colour matching and composing the picture to my satisfaction, it took 211 hrs.

I remember a comment that someone made not too long ago; when they started painting they thought that as they got better they would be quicker, but it didn’t work out that way. They too were a botanical artist.

I have to say that when I took up painting plants a few years ago, having painted birds in great detail previously, I too thought that I would get quicker as I got more experienced. The trouble is that as one becomes more experienced one knows what to look for and that getting the detail right is imperative. I suppose that this is affected too by my style of painting which is not wet-in-wet. I use a fairly dry technique generally, which allows for the finer detail. Added to which I am my own worst critic!

The finished painting can now be seen in my website portfolio. Follow this link: Liriope muscari ‘Moneymaker’

At last my schedule of botanical art workshops in 2017 is complete and you will find the detail and booking form here: Workshops for 2017

The booking form for the botanical art workshop holiday at Le Manoir in the Dordogne region of France is also ready. You can find this here: Le Manoir 2017. There has been a lot of interest for this workshop holiday, so grab your place as soon as you can. There is a lot packed into the holiday and if you want to take your partner, there will be plenty for them to do too – that is if they want to do anything outside the planned trips! You will be painting at least in the mornings and can choose to do the excursions if you wish.

As a reminder, all levels of experience in botanical art will be welcome because the class sizes are small. Life is about continually developing your skills, therefore to join a workshop, experience is not necessary, just the desire to learn.

You can use coloured pencil, graphite or watercolour on all of the workshops and the holiday – except for the workshop with vellum.

Botanical art workshop booking form for 2017
Botanical art workshop booking form for 2017
Le Manoir; Exclusive botanical art workshop holiday
Le Manoir; Exclusive botanical art workshop holiday

Do get in touch if you have any queries.