When I wasn’t walking in Norway …

…..I was either hunting for plants or painting.

I had a list of plant detail that I had worked out I needed to complete the composition planning for my series of pictures. My vellum size for each piece is 25 x 31 cm – which I suppose relatively speaking is quite small. But all but one of my plants is very small with leaves varying from 2-6mm long on the Vaccinium microcarpum, to the Rubus chamaemorus where the leaves vary hugely in size.

Vaccinium microcarpum – Small Cranberry – Leaves 2-6mm long.

Impetrum niger ssp. Hermaphroditum – Crowberry – Leaves 3-6 mm long

Rubus chaaemorus – Cloudberry (image is 13cm high)

I decided that rather than work on all seven pictures at once as I have done so far, I would work on half this year and the rest next year. For all of them I needed to do some colour matching on vellum as this will be different to the colours I have used on paper. You have already seen the small piece I did on the Cranberry a couple of blogs ago. You may also have noticed the difference to the actual flower size (tiny) and the painting  which I did at twice the size.

Luckily enough although there is a slight difference in the terrain from which each of the plants come from, we have found each species within walking distance of the cottage in which we have been staying. The Cloudberry and the Cranberry can be found intertwined with each other in the soggy sphagnum moss – but not always. The Bog Blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) comes from a similar area, but I have seen it reaching up the side of rugged outcrops. The Crowberry can be found all over the mountains although the Ssp Hermaphroditum can only be found at higher altitudes. The Bilberry can also be found pretty well most places, but doesn’t seem to be above the tree-line and doesn’t seem to like really boggy areas. The Cowberry – Lignonberry (Vaccinium vitas-idaea) is spread on ant mounds and rocky outcrops.  Common Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) likes much drier conditions and is often found in pine woods. But we did find an example not far from the cottage. Last year Robin drove about 150km to find a spot that I knew about!

Below is the colour sample of the Bog blueberry done this year. The very new new leaves start out quite red and as they get older they become bluer and stiffer. Sorry the photo is a little dark.

Vaccinium uliginosum – Bog blueberry – Watercolour on vellum 5×7″, painted twice natural size.

The length botanical artists go to get the right plants!

My daughter, husband and I ready to battle the elements on our first hike together this working holiday. We managed 3 km in 4 hours!

Preparing to climb the mountain behind the cottage in the bitter cold and hail!

It was bitter cold and hailing when we started out, with a temperature of only 2º, and the wind coming from the north! It felt quite a tough climb particularly as I wasn’t in as good shape as I used to be. But the views were worth it, as were seeing the variety of plants.

On the way up we saw quite a lot of wild flowers from Wood Cranesbill, Bilberry, Bog Bilbury or Blueberry, Cowberry (or for Ikea addicts – Lignon berry), Bog Rosemary, and loads of Chickweed Wintergreen everywhere we looked.

Its funny, but this last plant really livened up the steep slopes and the Norwegian translation of its name felt more like the experience we had of it – Star of the Woods!

Wood crane’s bill – Geranium sylvaticum

We rapidly got above the tree line with lots of heathers (most of the plants I have mentioned come from that family) and low lying Mountain Birch.

The small plateau on which we arrived had a lake and a further track leading over the mountain top. Patches of winter snow still lay there.

Rypebaer, Arctostaphylos alpina – Arctic Bearberry

On a patch of rock clung another plant carrying its immature fruit – The Artic Bearberry. I have heard of it, but hadn’t really made particular note of it before. Perhaps the redness of its autumn colour confused me with the red of the prostrate Mountain Birch.

 

Vaccinium uliginosum – Bog blueberry/bilberry – Skinntryte

This is the other plant I managed to colour match on vellum whilst up in the mountains. But I will update about that one in a later blog.

Cold but stunningly beautiful!

Summer snow in the Norwegian mountains

Whilst everyone else is suffering extremely high temperatures in Europe, we are experiencing +4 high in the mountains of southern Norway! I believe it is warmer at the North Cape.

However, as there is now no longer a direct ferry from the UK to Norway, we drive here over several days, with our cargo of painting equipment. A necessity for the job I am going to do whilst here.

On the way we stopped off in Amsterdam to visit my son and partner and had a cycle ride to the coast in 37 degrees. It was almost a relief to eventually get to a cooler climate, although the day we arrived it was in the high twenties lower down in the valley.

Today’s view from our rented cottage.

Since then, the temperature has gradually sunk even lower. Today we are awaiting my daughter who lives on the Norwegian coast, advising her to bring  winter woollies. I didn’t dare tell her that it has been snowing today – although it hasn’t settled.

So why am I subjecting my sun loving and warmth seeking husband to todays chill in the Norwegian mountains? It’s the plants of course. I am now back to getting all the plant information to paint my pictures for my next RHS exhibit. I know I have spoken about this for a couple of years or so, but my involvement in the Worldwide Botanical art exhibition last year and continuance with setting up the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA), rather delayed things.

Because of the delay, I also lost my right to exhibit at the RHS – this year being five years since I last exhibited. I therefore had to apply again. Luckily, my work in general was again accepted as potentially worthy of a medal place, so now I am going to work through my subjects properly and, rather than rushing it, plan to exhibit in 2021.

Små Tranebær is Small Cranberry in Norwegian. The practice piece is twice natural size (the actual flower top right) is on vellum – as the final work will be.

This year I am focusing on three of the plants I have chosen and plan to get information I feel is lacking to complete a picture. My first is Vaccinium microcarpum – or Small cranberry. Last year I was able to find ripe fruit and was able to get all the information from that. Previously I had only drawn one flower, so I am concentrating on these now.

I thought you might be interested in my already messy workplace setup at 910 metres over sea level!

If Denise Walser-Kolar sees this blog, I hope she will notice I have taken on board her teaching. As long as I practice what she taught in Vienna, painting on vellum is going much better – even with the tiny leaves! Thank you Denise.

The other two plants I hope to get some more information on is the Vaccinium uliginosum (Bog Blueberry) and a little from the Rubus chamaemorus (Cloudberry). In both instances, it is only small details I need. I have already noticed that the leaf colour of the Bog blueberry seems to change in the sun. New leaves have a red tinge to the edge of the leaves, older leaves don’t, but in the sun they become red to almost a Perylene Violet (for watercolour artists) colour. I didn’t realise that before.

The Cloudberry fruit is only to be found on female plants. Each plant can be quite huge and spread many metres. Around the cottage I have only seen the male flowers of the Cloudberry – no female ones at all. it might be because it hasn’t warmed up very much yet where we are. The temperatures are set to improve, but I doubt we will be here long enough to benefit from it.

Please don’t get the wrong impression of Norway. The summers can be hot and the winters cold. It is a fantastically beautiful country and every area has its own attraction. I like it in the area we are staying as I lived in the valley for several years. Lastly, a picture of the sun rise a couple of days ago. It doesn’t get totally black at night at this time of year, but this was taken at 03:30.

Mountain gold!

This is a plant found amongst other places, in the mountains in Norway. It is one of the reasons For my next RHS exhibit – probably in 2019, I decided to paint Norwegian mountain plants that provide food for us mere mortals. Its scientific name is Rubys chamaemorus, but the common name in Norwegians is ‘Multe’, and in English, ‘Cloudberrry’.

Unripe Cloudberry

Why is it called ‘mountain gold’? Apart from its very special taste, it is not always easy to find. It likes boggy areas and generally you will find that Norwegians will not tell anyone else where ‘their’ patch can be found. I know one or two places because I used to live in the mountains in Norway. I also found some whilst staying in a friend’s cottage this summer (Tusen takk Eva og Jon for låne av din nydelig hytte Thank you Eva and Jon for lending us your beautiful cottage). I was in the mountains specifically to sketch these and other plants I had decided to include in my exhibit.

If you travel to Norway and ask someone where cloudberries can be found, unless you know your host well, it is unlikely that you will be told.

The picture on the right is an unripe Cloudberry. There are very strict laws governing this plant, therefore it is illegal to pick them before they are fully ripe. At that stage they are a beautiful golden orange colour. Unfortunately I have no pictures of a ripe fruit as this happens in the autumn, that is why I need to travel back again next year to sketch the ripe fruit.

Over the years I have picked a lot of Cloudberries and thought I knew them! I also found that Norwegians are as un-knowledgeable as I am. Because I am now studying the plants to paint I decided to delve deeper. But I also needed to find the flowers and the unripe fruit to draw. This year, there were few fruit ripening, but an awful lot of flowers. On closer examination and with the help of a very good series of old botanical books borrowed from the Eggedal Library (Tusen takk Jorunn. Thank you Jorunn), I discovered that Cloudberries are dioecious, either male or female plants. Each plant has a huge underground root system travelling for some distance and that is why I found difficulty when looking for the unripe fruit.

Patch of male cloudberries.
Patch of female cloudberries.

The large patches of flowers were mostly all male, but we were soon able to distinguish these patches at a distance. They had a lot of beautiful white flowers, but also  many red sepals where the petals had fallen off.

The female plants seemed to be few and far between – less than last year. The flowers were  fewer and smaller, but with several immature fruits at different stages of development.

Like so many of the plants I have painted, I study them first then become completely intrigued by them. This of course helps me portray them as best I can.

Before I show you the sketches, this is a picture of a small female cloudberry patch in quite a boggy/Sphagnum moss area, together with nearly all of the plants I had chosen to do and which I will talk about in other blogs.The picture also includes Robin’s boots, Vaccinium oxycoccus(which I didn’t think I would find as its so tiny),Vaccinium myrtillus (small blueberry),Empetrum nigrum (crowberry),Vaccinium uliginosum (bog blueberry) and Andromeda pilifolia (a heather I won’t be including in the series).

Robin’s foot and a mix of plants.

So what is the difference between male and female flowers? It should be obvious, but I’m afraid I never looked and saw previously. I just took things for granted.

Male Cloudberry flower – larger than female.
Longitudinal section of Male Cloudberry flower.

The male flower contains stamens in a ring round the inside of the outer whorl.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smaller female cloudberry flower.
Longitudinal section of female cloudberry flower.

The female flower is slightly smaller than the male flower, has several styles and stigma in the centre – one to each ovary, but round the edge is a ring of white, sterile stamens.

 

Cloudberry plant with developing fruit.
Sketch page of Cloudberries.

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

Day 13 and 14 of the Liriope muscari

To put your minds at rest, the picture is now finished although I will continue to show you its development day by day. I finished it yesterday and scanned it, today working on matching the colours in Photoshop. Photoshop kept on crashing every time I tried to do a colour proof, therefore that took far longer time than I could afford. If anyone knows how to sort out that little problem for me I will be more than happy for your assistance.

Back to the painting. When I was doing the flower spikes I thought they were difficult as they were so tiny. But painting the strap-like leaves was a different challenge.

Day 13
Day 13
Day14
Day14

Days 11 and 12 of the Liriope muscari picture

The result of the 11th and 12th day of painting the Liriope muscari follows.

Working on these immature flower spikes was quite difficult as they have such tiny flowers. I continued to use the magnifying glass to paint them. Without losing the detail or gradually increasing colour of the developing flowers, I needed to make sure that the sides facing away from the light source were in shadow.

You can see if I am being successful.

Day 11
Day 11
Day 12
Day 12

Days 9 and 10 of the Liriope muscari picture

This time I finished off the enlarged flower spike of the Liriope muscari picture and started on one of the immature spikes in natural size. The tuft of leaves and immature flower spikes are done in this way to show the growth habit of the plant.

I chose to do the flower spike enlarged as the individual flowers were quite small, therefore to appreciate their beauty I felt it was better to do these on a larger scale. In actual fact they are only twice natural size, although when you see them against the immature spikes, they seem to be more than this.

In botanical art one needs to try and give as much information about the plant as possible, without repetition. There is always so much that defines an individual plant, that a picture can just get complicated if the information in it is repeated too frequently. This is often a mistake I have made. But in this instance, because the flower spike is enlarged the number of petals, stamens and stigmas can be seen clearly in relation to the size of the the whole spike.

The next section of the picture I found very difficult. The largest immature flower spike measures 5 cm therefore, because I was painting this natural size, the individual buds were tiny. Because there is some tooth on the Strathmore 500 Bristol vellum paper, I found this got in the way of painting tiny detail. So I used a piece of agate to try and burnish the surface of the paper in between layers of paint.

For all the flowers I used a magnifying glass to see the detail I was painting and to check that my edges were as clean as possible. As I don’t normally use a magnifying glass constantly, I got a nice kink in my neck!

Day 9
Day 9
Day 10
Day 10

 

Back to normal – almost.

Today I have spent the whole time painting the Liriopa muscari. There is still much to do but the intention is to have it finished by Thursday evening, to deliver on Friday. I think that the wee small hours might be used as well a the long daytime hours.

Photos from the days seven and eight follow. I’m sorry that the quality of the picture is not the best, but you can see the development of the enlarged flower spike.

Day 7
Day 7
Day 8
Day 8