I have been on a Scientific Illustration course!

Vicia cracca from a rocky beach in southern Norway.

I have been so excited and full of expectation for a few weeks now, but last week I spent five days learning all about Scientific illustration; botanical of course.

In the previous sentence I said ‘all about’! I loved it, but it was something completely outside my comfort zone and my choice to do it. I now need lots of practice as I am a long way from knowing ‘all about’ scientific illustration.

But first of all, why as a botanical artist did I feel I needed to study botanical/scientific illustration? There are loads of reasons, but I suppose it starts off with the way I do botanical art. I am not a loose painter, I like to get the details completely correct and therefore much of my work is done with a fairly dry brush. I have always liked detail and accept that this is the reason I get so much enjoyment out of botanical art. I like to see and show how the plant functions.

Also, and very importantly, I want to show viewers of my artwork, the correct detail in an artistic way. Compare it to doing a portrait of a person and the need to get the likeness as close as possible whilst having some artistic freedom in the way you do it..

Therefore these are some of the reasons why I think that studying botanical illustration helps me, bearing in mind I am not a botanist:

  • I can study the minutest detail on the plant and include it in the final artwork.
  • I get to see how this bit connects to that bit.
  • I can see the differences more clearly from one plant to another and one species to another.
  • If painting a species through different seasons, I am not so dependent on keeping my specimen fresh but can paint from it when pressed and dried.

These thoughts are related specifically to me and my development as a botanical artist, but may also be of interest to others.

Having said this, I can also see where it might help a lot of people. I don’t know how many times I have seen pictures where connections have been incorrect or where someone has quickly done some thorns or hairs, but maybe painted or drawn the wrong sort and included them the wrong way round. Scientific illustration would help everyone to correctly:

  • Observe
  • Identify
  • Depict

I went on this course with Anita Walsmit Sachs at her studio in The Hague, The Netherlands. I chose to do her course because it was for five days and not just a couple of days. This is her website:

anitawalsmitsachs.nl

What I found were motivated students, a warm welcome and an extremely experienced tutor in scientific illustration. Anita’s work is beautiful and she guided us each through the depiction of the plants we had chosen to do. Some chose to work on live specimens (a little easier [I think]) and two of us chose to work on dried specimens. Some had been on a similar course with Anita previously and two us hadn’t (one using a live specimen and I a dry one).

My plant was Vicia cracca – Tufted vetch. Anita had several pressed and dried plants to choose from – as well as live specimens. I chose the Vicia cracca because it reminded me of being on a stony beach near my daughter’s home in Norway. I took the above picture last summer. Though one of the struggles I had with my choice was that every part of it was tiny and very delicate.

Below are some of the pictures I took of the plant. The tiny flower had to be dismantled and each part drawn. For this, the flower is specially treated and after that I spent a lot of time chasing it and its parts around a Petri dish with water in it. The picture of the flower is while it is floating in the water. Can you imagine chasing a petal, or even an anther (0.3mm) around so I can get it under a piece of glass for the microscope. Each time you try to lay the glass down, the specimen whooshes away. I tried to keep my comments under control!

A dried and pressed flower enlarged.
A floating flower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last two pictures are of the plan and some of the work done on the final plate. For this I used both Micron pens and Uni pens. But now I am home again I have been cleaning up my Rotring Pens.

My final comment on this blog is to mention ‘stippling’. If doing it properly, it is not a lot of dots! Each mark is placed carefully on the paper. This is the area where in particular I need a lot of practice; but the results can be incredible. I wish I could show you some of Anita’s work as it was extremely beautiful – but it isn’t mine to show.

Plan or the Scientific plate for Vicia cracca.

The Shirley Sherwood Collection preview – and more

© Charles Francis

The above picture was taken last night by Charles Francis and the book was apparently meant to be a surprise Christmas present from Robin. Dr. Shirley Sherwood is in the process of signing her latest edition and I am told more was written, but I am not allowed to see this until Christmas Day.

Robin and I were invited to the preview of the latest exhibition at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery. Many people may know that this is the only purpose built botanical art gallery in the world. It introduces people to plants in a completely new way, encouraging people to look at and appreciate them with different eyes.

Dr Sherwood has over a 1000 botanical art pictures in her collection and as she said yesterday, this exhibition and the accompanying book is a retrospective of her collecting. She says that she had a huge problem in deciding which pictures should be included in the exhibition as of course she didn’t have room in the gallery to show them all.

It was a really lovely evening where we met artists from around the world. It was a really good time to catch up with old friends, make new acquaintances, but above all, study the artwork. There is some amazing work there which if possible you need to see with your own eyes. I know this isn’t possible for everyone and that is why the book is a good additional opportunity to see the pictures. Elaine Allison will be reviewing the book on the ABBA website in due course.

When we arrived at the gallery, we immediately saw Charles Francis and his daughter who were both there to represent Mally who had painted one of Dr Sherwood’s last acquisitions; Babbington’s Leek. It was so good to see them again as the last time I saw Mally and Charles was the day the picture was bought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now to the ‘more’ as promised above.

This weekend I will be taking part in the Bosham Christmas Craft Trail. We call it a craft trail because although we are all serious artists, the majority of those taking part are makers rather than fine artists. The only two fine artists on the trail are Tamsin Saunders and myself. Our styles are completely different ranging from my tight botanical art style, to her much looser more abstract style of painting. Tamsin is joining me at:
Saltings, Windmill Field, Bosham, West Sussex, PO 18 8LH.

Do come and join us and enjoy mince pies and mulled wine whilst you browse.

You will get to see my latest piece of work:

Three Blueberry Leaves painted on natural calfskin vellum.

6th part of the Blackberry on vellum story.

 

 

 

 

Painting the leaves

I am told that often people hate painting leaves. But the leaves on the Blackberry are really exciting to paint.

The original set-up for this picture had green leaves, although partly eaten up by various bugs. As it has been a few weeks since I started this picture, I needed to find some replacement leaves, which I found from the same plant; they were really beautiful. This picture is one of the new leaflets showing the colouration I introduced into the leaf set I had already drawn. The other two leaflets remained predominantly green.

When painting on vellum, one of the things I was taught was to keep the first layers of colour as pure as possible. The reason for this is somehow obvious, although I often forget in my haste; it is easy to dull colours, but it is not easy to restore them to their original brilliance.

But it’s not just about colour; for best results the brush needs to be as dry as possible so that the pigment is laid finely with the very tip of the brush.

The technique for painting on vellum is similar to the purely dry technique (as opposed to wet-on-wet or dry-on-wet) used when painting watercolour on paper.  Even better, the paint is laid using a cross-hatch stroke in many layers when painting on vellum. This is a necessity if wanting to achieve a depth of colour (particularly dark colours) without getting a thick layer of paint that is visible when viewing the picture at different angles.

By the way, I use a brush with plenty of body to hold the pigment and an exceptionally good point; normally a Rafael 8408 size 4. But Rosemary brushes series 8 also work well, this time no smaller than a size 2 even for the finest detail.

Below you can see the steps I took when painting the leaves.

Next time, I intend to show you the mistakes and take-outs I made. Making mistakes is where one learns. Learning to deal with them is as important as realising you have made them. The ideal is of course not to make them in the first place; but that comes with time!

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My next workshop in Bosham is ‘Hedgerow Colour’ 27-28 September. Get in touch via the contact form below quickly if you would like to join us. If you would like to follow my blogs, put your email address in the ‘Follow’ section on the right hand side of this page.

5th part of the Blackberry on vellum story.

This is not a pretty sight; It is my desk easel at this stage of the painting.

I haven’t disposed of the original stem or leaves, nor the the additional berries used underway. As I said before, once part of the subject is past caring, I replace it with a fresh sample. There have been many fresh samples so far, therefore, although the set-up looks similar, the details are not. You will see even more when I get to the leaves!

But why have I kept onto the old berries? Because, every one is different. The arrangement of the drupelets is different even though they follow the Fibonacci pattern. They also contain different numbers in each berry. I might want that information at a later stage, even though the berries have dried out.

The picture also shows how I check the connections on my plant. Under the magnifying glass is the connection between a branch, a new stem and the adjoining leaf. The sample is in the opposite direction to my drawing, so I need to transpose the information as I paint. It’s no good me turning the stem over as the information is different on the other side.

You can see the developing painting on the right and my refreshed colour palette as well.

This time I will finish the blackberries and make a start on the leaves.

If I had been doing this on paper, I would have used graphite for the leaf right in the background, but it doesn’t look so good on vellum. Its a useful exercise as I will be using something similar when I do my Norwegian plant pictures for my RHS exhibit.

I have been trialling different methods and different pigments. For once I realised that graphite was not good enough for what I needed, I knew I would have find a pigment I felt I could use in a controlled manner. So which pigment should I use? I tried Daniel Smith’s ‘Graphite Grey’ and several natural earth pigments by several manufacturers, but each time the pigment felt too sticky for what I wanted to do with it. I needed to get a consistent fine line and be able to do delicate monotone shading. In the end I reverted to my own neutral grey that I often make using Perylene Violet and Maimeri’s Cyan; the latter is the same pigment as W&N Blue, green shade and works well for me. I can vary the grey from cold to warm and very pale to dark. By the way, the earth colours didn’t look quite right and didn’t recede enough in the background for my liking.

Now the berries. These are the remaining berries that are gradually ripening through red. I love the variation in colours here, but this is one of the areas in which I experienced problems. I will write an additional blog about my mishaps! Suffice it to say that each drupelet is a different colour. I always started off fine, keeping the colour fairly pure to begin with. But then I invariably overworked it to show the different colours. You won’t (I hope) see that on the final version of what you see here, but it is certainly something to bear in mind.

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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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A Gaynor’s Flora Update!

The last time I wrote a blog was at the beginning of April. That is a long time ago for a blog, but the time has been filled to the limit.

I won’t go into the intricate details, just enough to let you know what I have been doing.

The RHS Launch February 2017

I don’t think I have mentioned in any great detail the formation of the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA), initially just to allow the UK (England and Wales) to participate in the Botanical Art Worldwide Exhibition.  At the American SBA conference in Pittsburgh in 2016 we were faced with the possibility that the UK would not participate because we were all too busy! I couldn’t let that happen. In the end 25 countries took part.

Our esteemed judges: Martyn Rix, Christabel King, Helen Allen, Ann Swan & Brent Elliott

At a meeting back home in November, three of us met and agreed to form a steering group with me as main co-ordinator; we launched ABBA at the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) Botanical art show in February 2017 and the process for participating in the Worldwide Botanical Art Exhibition began to take shape. A few more botanical artists joined the steering group and we were away.

We decided we wanted to hold the exhibition ‘up north’ as everything happens ‘down south’, doesn’t it? We found an exhibition space in Lancaster and ‘In Ruskin’s Footsteps’ (the name of the UK exhibition) started to develop. An RHS Dawn Jolliffe bursary was applied for and granted, so now we had something with which to pay for some of the things we had to pay for!

Packing after the judging: Christabel King, Deborah Lambkin, Sarah Morrish, me, Lucy Smith.

In November submissions of botanical art pictures arrived from all over the country and our amazing judges took care of that- initially digitally (with signatures removed) and the last phase ready framed at Kew in January. 40 beautiful pictures were chosen for the exhibition to be held 18th May to 9th June.

Several other institutions in London decided they wanted to work with us for the Worldwide Day of Botanical Art 2018, which was on 18 May. Therefore, together there was a lot going on behind the scenes on these events too.

After some wobbles and lots of hard work, the time to set up the exhibition arrived, now to be held at the Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster University. It is a fantastic exhibition space and people working there plus the previous curator at the Ruskin Library, were very helpful and supportive.

Martin Allen, Sarah Morrish & me just before the preview 17th May 2018
Worldwide Botanical Art Day in the Peter Scott Gallery at Lancaster University.

We had the pre-view on the evening of the 17th May, with speeches by the curator Richard Smith, myself and the opening of the exhibition by Professor Stephen Wildman. That in itself was a lovely event (I think!) and many of the exhibiting artists came along.

Starting a Colour pencil demonstration of Lily of the Valley. Worldwide Day of Botanical Art 18 May 2018
A little further along with the demo on Monday 21 May

For more information about the Botanical Art Worldwide Exhibition; In Ruskin’s Footsteps, go to

www.britishbotanicalartists.com.The exhibition is on until 9th June 2018. Generally botanical artists are there demonstrating and on the last day there will be a tour of the pictures and a talk.

In between all of this I have managed to squeeze in the Chichester Open Studios weekends and I had quite a few interested visitors. Each evening though it was back to working until the early hours of the morning, on ‘In Ruskin’s Footsteps’.

At Chichester Open Studios art trail, starting off the final work for a commission. A Bramley Apple in watercolour.

To show you a little of my own demos whilst in Lancaster I am including the unfinished picture I worked on in coloured pencil. I chose a Lily of Valley as so many people worry about white flowers. I wanted to show how best to do it. I used a lamp to highlight from the left and some of the leaves became backlit creating a beautiful architectural plant. The picture will remain unfinished as the flowers are now long gone, but it will be useful to demo on.

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Nearly there with the Benton Iris ‘Farewell’

Hopefully, through this series of paintings with the Benton Iris ‘Farewell’ you will have understood how important it is to plan and prepare a painting from the initial composition , through tonal sketches, practicing techniques to finally the painting.

Because i believe that good preparation is the basis for getting a result in botanical art that I am happy with, I planned this year’s workshops to help others with this process. The next one is 23 -24 March and is all about developing the careful line drawing and using it as a basis for the rough tonal drawing. There are still places, so do get in touch.

But back to the Benton Iris. Actually as the painting has developed I have felt some sadness that there isn’t too much left. Obviously I also learn from doing it and this painting has been rather different to ones I have done before. It has been quite a large painting, it is on 640 gsm which doesn’t feel quite as smooth as 300 gsm paper. I used quite a bit of graphite so that the picture would not be heavy and doing this on the 640 gsm was not so easy. It was important to show all the intricacies of the plant, to get them absolutely right and to make it an attractive picture as well.

Some of the things that I had to include in the flower were:

  • The view showing the Stigmatic lip. This is the view into the flower showing the sexual organs. look very closely inside the back of the flower and you will see a slight transverse ridge; that is the Stigmatic lip. The Stamen – male organ, is vertical, deep inside the flower and just below the transverse ridge. The pollinator climbs over the beard to try and reach the nectar deep inside the throat of the flower, gets pollen on its back and rubs it off on the stigmatic lip, fertilising the plant. You will see this view in more detail in the last blog.
  • The view with the emphasis on the Standard and Fall petals (this blog),
  • Buds developing
  • The height of the flower spike.
  • The height of the leaves particularly related to the spike.
  • The top part of the rhizome.
  • The growth habit (the fan of leaves)

This time my pictures show the development of one of the falls.

 

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This is the final stage of the top flower. I will show you the complete painting in the next blog, so that you can judge whether or not the painting is successful. It is the viewer that determines this. 

 

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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