Coloured pencil or Watercolour for a botanical art subject?

In actual fact, I’m cheating a little, as I was going to write this blog this evening having spent a couple of days off from writing my botanical art online course, to sketch some Fritillaries in preparation for a commission in watercolour. But, I also got a query from a lady this evening, about the use of coloured pencils and how I choose whether to use watercolour or coloured pencil for a subject.

My answer to her and anyone else who asks ( as I do get the question fairly regularly), is that I have no idea. I just have a feeling that I want to do one or the other.

But, when I did my last RHS exhibit in 2014, I deliberately chose to do it in coloured pencil to show that solid subjects (crabapples), dainty subjects (blossom) and delicate detail (dissections), could be done in coloured pencil. The judges said they didn’t realise I had used CP and thought it was in watercolour!

Back to the commission; I had bought some Fritillaria meleagris at the local garden centre and Fritillaria Michailovskyi at Chelsea Physic Garden when I was there at the beginning of the month. I think we are innate plant hoarders! So this week I have been doing a series of small sketches in my sketchbooks.

Without thinking too much, I started out in a Stillman & Bern Epsilon sketchbook, realised what I had done (as the Zeta is better for watercolour), but continued in it, deciding to do my colour samples in coloured pencil. Although you can’t compare CP and watercolour by the names, or know how one colour mixes with another, I know the two mediums well enough to be able to convert fairly happily.

I’m afraid the following photo is not brilliant as I took it on my easel this evening, but I think you get a reasonably good idea of the results on the page.

Fritillaria meleagris in coloured pencil.
Fritillaria meleagris in coloured pencil.

By the time I had finished these, the one dark flower I had was looking a bit faded as it was being subjected to being in the warmth of the shed during the day and outside during the cold night. I needed to concentrate on the foliage as it was a bluish green, except near the base, but felt I really should do this in watercolour.

I changed to the Stillman & Bern Zeta sketchbook. Shame they aren’t all in the same one – but never mind! I had hacked (dissected) the one flower to pieces and done one or two small sketches, so decided to draw a portrait of the bulbs. In the end, all of the sketches on the 2nd page are watercolour over graphite. The bulb is from the Fritillaria meleagris, but you also see the Fritillaria Michailovskyi. I have taken a photo of that one halfway through so you can see the amount of graphite shading I actually did. Before adding colour, I did a wash of clear water to ‘set’ the graphite so it wouldn’t discolour the colours I was going to use.

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Botanical art workshop holiday in Norway

We are here!

I had hoped to keep the blog updated in relation to the botanical art workshop holiday in Norway,  but life got in the way.

Before our departure from the UK last week and our perilous journey up into the wilds of Scandinavia, our family arrived from Ghana for the start of their furlough, holiday and part house sitting exercise ( someone to water the cats and feed the plants). You can now take a breath. We had a little lovely journey over the channel and north (getting up at 03:00 to beat the queues instigated by our channel friends across the river). No-one to contact, no-one who could contact us, no undone jobs to be done – I could relax and sleep. Poor Robin drove most of the way. But I did knit a bit in periods.

We arrived in Norway two days later and got a lovely welcome. First job on the agenda was to meet a lovely lady from the Norwegian Botany Society who had collected some plants for us from the mountains in southern Norway. Then, we stocked up on plants from a local garden centre. Student tastes vary, so we were now prepared with Cloudberries, Blueberries, lignognberry, lace cap hydrangea, House leeks, Siberian Iris. But we didn’t have dog roses, wild strawberries, white campion, clover, Scabious, Vetch, these were brought in later by one of the students. The last species to be added to our plant table were some lovely Peonies, thanks to a grass-cutting-husband!
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The workshop holiday started with a lovely meal at the Åsgårdstrand Hotel on the Southeast coast Of Norway, looking out across the beautiful views of the Oslo Fjord. This was Sunday evening with the course itself starting on the Monday morning. Everyone started out bright eyed and bushy tailed early on Monday morning, and as usual we started off with the most important aspects of the botanical painting, choice of subject, studying it, designing a composition and making the initial drawing, A painting is never better than its original drawing, therefore one needs to spend time on this phase.

The third day has been completed and it seems to me that the enthusiasm hasn’t wained. But a break was needed.

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This afternoon a trip was planned and some of the students chose to come with us. We travelled a little way up into the mountains to a Cobalt Mine – once the largest in the world, called Blaafargeværket. The literal translation is Blue Colour Works. We had a lovely wander round the old buildings, but felt that to spend time in the actual mines, was rather a waste of a beautiful day. But we did learn a whole load about the mines’ and area history.

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Edward Munch's 'Three girls on a bridge', painted actually in Åsgårdstrand.
Edward Munch’s ‘Three girls on a bridge’, painted actually in Åsgårdstrand.

Apart from seeing old, restored buildings and fantastic scenery, we also learnt a bit about local history and saw two art exhibitions – all as the temperature was steadily climbing to 30 degrees. Eventually, it was almost a relief to head back to slightly cooler climbs along the coast. We felt our tasty supper this evening was very much well deserved.

Chichester Art Trail

The Chichester Art Trail happens every May and generally includes Bank holiday Monday in the first weekend. That is what has happened this year too and we are again open to the public.

Essentially the criteria for this art trail is that you open your studio to the public so that everyone can see you at work. Unfortunately this doesn’t always happen. And, in fact I am told that very few people are actually working at their art. Therefore , it seems that people are very pleased when they arrive at our ‘venue’ (sounds a pretentious word doesn’t it?). That’s why I call the shed the shed – because it is and was a shed. Actually, it was a loose box, so a shed is an upgrade. But as ever I am off on a tangent.

We have had a steady trickle of people since Friday evening. We, and the other artists in Bosham, had a Pimms preview evening for people who live in Bosham.  It was quite tough getting everything ready in time, but it was fun once we got there. The people of Bosham did as requested and either turned up on their bikes or ‘Shank’s pony’. For those who are not English, this means ones own two legs.

The first day – Saturday- went well enough once everyone had got their weekend shopping out of the way. The weather has been absolutely supper. The sun has been shining and it is very pleasant. This means I have been able to sit working in the shed with the door open ready for visitors. Yesterday went very well. In fact the first Sunday is usually the best day of the two weekends. With any luck, in writing this the statement will prove me wrong.

In Bosham there are 15 artists in 11 locations – which tells you that those who share are not able to show their own working environment. As one can’t go any further than the sea when getting to see us (we are about 200 metres from the inlet), we are the last one on the Bosham part of the trail.  This means that many drop off the trail before getting to us as there is so much of interest on the way – that is unless they have specifically chosen our place.  However, we still get a few who want to see as many artists as they can and that gives me a real opportunity to get people interested in botanical art.

Our set-up is that we have a gallery of my pictures in the conservatory (where I normally have workshops). My husband mans this area as he loves talking to the people that come. I am working in the shed so that people can see what I do and ask as many questions as they want to. Mulling over the questions I have had, perhaps I have chosen the wrong medium that I am using in the shed. I chose to do some purple irises in watercolour as I haven’t used that medium in a whole painting for some time.

The conservatory (Gallery for the day)contains the RHS Silver Gilt medal Crab apple series, which is in coloured pencil and attracts a lot of attention, but also some of the Magnolia x soulangeana series in watercolour that I did as an RHS exhibit in 2011. Visitors are astounded when my husband tells them that the crab apple series is in coloured pencil and therefore they are asking about the coloured pencils all the time. There seems to be less of a thrill about watercolour, although a fair amount of interest as to how I achieved the iridescent purple of the Irises.

Visitors do love to see the artists working environment and ask questions about how they do things. That is why it is a shame to hear that very few make themselves available to do this.

Before I finish this blog, there are two things I must mention. The open studios art trail is open next Saturday and Sunday between 10:30 and 17:30. You can find my address on my website: http://www.gaynorsflora.com . Additionally, I have places on my next workshop ‘A page of flower heads from the garden’ – May 29th – 31st. Now I am going to show one or two pictures of my working environment and on another occasion I will show you what I have been working on this weekend and the ‘gallery’ in the conservatory where

My workspace - in the 'shed'
My workspace – in the ‘shed’
The shed!
The shed!
At work.
At work.

I have the workshops.

Catching up!

How many things to catch up on. Made much worse by problems on my website.

Yesterday, I spent as much time as I could preparing the Crab apple series for getting some notelets printed. But everything always takes much longer than you think. I took time out In the evening to go to the Maundy Thursday service as it is an important preparation for this coming weekend. On my return I sorted my to-do list ready for today.

Just before the RHS exhibition, I had said that i would post each picture properly on my website. I had done most of the preparation for it with only some minor adjustments to be made. So I thought!

I went into the back of the website only to find that most of what I had done, was no longer there. I looked on other pages and all my pictures were gone. I expect one or two of you may already be aware of this, but when I went into the front of the website, there was none. It told the world that I hadn’t paid my dues!

I was very upset as anyone can imagine. I had actually paid my subscription a month ago to avoid any problems in this very busy period. Eventually I was able to do an online chat with the company who sells the services for this website package. They sorted it out, but said I had to wait a few hours for it to go live. But there was absolutely no apology – even when I suggested it was appropriate.

I didn’t have to wait a few hours, but all of this did take a rather long time. Since then I have been even further behind and I’m still trying to catch my tail. The Crab apple explored page is now on the website – but I’m not a happy bunny.

Just so there is no confusion, the website package is not WordPress. WordPress seems to work remarkably well and might be worth considering for the main website.

My next workshop is 29 – 31 May, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The topic is flowers from the garden. Have you seen flower heads floating upturned in a bowl of water? Well this is the suggestion.

Have you also noticed that all flowers, no matter what their colour – go together? Nature is so fantastic that there are no colour clashes in our gardens. Don’t you find that amazing? Hopefully those who come to the workshop can replicate this.

This time you should be able to look at my website page http://www.gaynorsflora.com/page9.htm to get the details. You know how to get in touch with me if you are interested.

Looking ahead as the days have been getting a little warmer and brighter, I have been reminded of the summer workshop holiday 29 June to 6 July in Norway. Luckily the cost of taking a flight to the small airport not far from where the hotel is, is in fact very reasonable. I daren’t say cheap In case they put the prices up. – but ………

Norway is an absolutely beautiful country, so if you love botanical art. – or want to learn how to do it and, you want to visit Norway during their warm summer season, then join us. The places have been filling and I have but a few left. http://www.gaynorsflora.com/page10.htm

In the meantime, another botanical artist from the RHS exhibition. Nikki Marks who was awarded a Gold medal for her work on the Arisaema Genus.

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Congratulations Nikki!

The day after the night before (RHS botanical art exhibition)

Last night I slept like a log. I stayed in bed this morning and even had breakfast there. Lazy! My face is a little less swollen, but more purple!

Today has obviously been used to clear up a bit. I tried to stay out of the shed but had to prepare a couple of paintings to be exhibited at the Oxmarket Centre of Arts in Chichester for the next couple of weeks. This is a sort of preview to the Chichester Art trail at the beginning of May in which I am taking part. If you are able do visit the Oxmarket, do. But even better if you are able to come to my Open studios the first two weekends in May.

But, there is no peace for the wicked and I will be having a workshop on Tuesday and Wednesday this week. I went to the garden centre to pick up some plants in preparation for this. What an incredible assortment at the moment. I am sure everyone will find something that they will be thrilled to paint.

Anyway, I am going to show you one or two of the RHS exhibits over the next few blogs – except for when I send pictures of the workshop. I won’t be able to show you something of every exhibit as not everyone gave permission for me to show their picture on the blog.

I expect that you are wondering whose exhibit I am going to show now. It is Bee orchids by Louise Lane. Louise got a Gold for her exhibit. In addition to her final pictures she also included her initial sketches showing exactly where they were done.

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Last day of RHS botanical art exhibition in London

This is a very short blog as I am finished. I intend to write a little more tomorrow.

Normally at the end of an exhibition you are tired but exhilarated. I am exhausted and although it is a happy culmination of three years work, as you who have read my recent blogs will know, it has been eventful for me.

I met so many people today. Many who were so immersed in the paintings that they didn’t notice my face, others who were embarrassed and didn’t know what to say, and a few who either asked outright or commented that I had Been clever at matching my jacket to the colour of my face. It didn’t look good. In fact the bruising is now even under my chin. But my face only looks bad unless I touch it. My arm feels bad.

It was so good to meet so many interested people today at the RHS exhibition. It really helped to take my mind off things for a while. Quite a few people were very surprised to find out that my Crab apple pictures were in coloured pencil and not watercolour. Hopefully I can encourage more people to start using it as a serious medium.

It was lovely having the opportunity to meet so many other botanical artists from all over the world. The whole botanical art environment seems like one big family. People I met at the RHS when I exhibited in 2011, I met up with again in Pittsburgh at the opening of the Hunt Institute exhibition; who in turn introduced me to new faces (British and American) that I met again here at the RHS in the last few days. I had been introduced to the idea of the Hunt(Pittsburgh, USA) by an Italian artist when I exhibited in Lucca, Italy.

It is a very small world and I am very lucky – and happy.

This picture was sent to me by Alena Lang Phillips, who I met for the first time today – but have corresponded with via this blog. Thank you Alena. You have done a good job of making me look almost normal!

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RHS Botanical art exhibition in London today.

Apart from my news about an unusual and unforeseen start to a day, that should have been the culmination and relaxation after 2 1/2 years of preparation work, I have little to report.

I had intended spending all the day with my pictures to answer any questions people might have. I’m afraid that this afternoon after my return from hospital, I wasn’t very focused and kept on wandering away to view other peoples work.

I got to see what awards had been won and I would have liked to show them here, but the pictures I actually took were too late in the day to ask for permission to put on this blog. So sorry, there will be nothing to liven up this bit of writing!

Although we were told as a group that the pictures this year were of an unusually high standard, there were few golds. I understand that they did this on purpose as an adjustment because the standard has gradually increased from year to year. They were certainly more strict than I have seen them previously.

Regarding the feedback I got, I was happy with their comments as these coincided with my own thoughts on the pictures. I learnt one new and important thing, the botanists were not happy with the elements ( normally stamens) where I had drawn a scale at an angle. It must be either vertical or horizontal.

Otherwise, I understand they were very happy with my painting. One thing though, no-one realised until they were giving me feedback and read my labels, that it was in coloured pencil. They thought it was in watercolour. I asked if they would gave given me more marks if they had noticed this before – but no such luck.

Tomorrow is another day and the last one at the RHS this time around. Of course as I didn’t get my gold I will have to try again. Dogged determination.

Silver Gilt and black eye!

Sorry about the delay in letting you know at least my results.

I fell head first downstairs on my way into breakfast this morning. Ambulance called, hospital visit and several XRays later I’m back in the RHS halls feeling sorry for myself. But ver lucky as nothing broken. But can’t see properly as no glasses.

Anyway, I am pleased to say that I have crept up one step on the ladder towards Gold, an am told that I only just missed it.

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Day 1 of the RHS Botanical Art Exhibition

It has been a strange day with quite a few disappointed botanical artists. But, the artists seem to be a lovely group of people and are going with the flow.

Our pictures were judged this morning and it seems they took longer than usual. We (the artists) waited patiently outside until they were finished. Whilst we waited, it transpires that the majority thought we would be going into the hall to find out how we had done. Few had been told that we wouldn’t find out until tomorrow. Unfortunately again, the artists think that ‘tomorrow morning’ means first thing in the morning – not midday when we I have been told we will get the results!

When we went into the hall we were asked to man our exhibits as the guests for the annual awards lunch arrived for drinks. Once they had sat to lunch we were then free for the afternoon until the preview evening. This started with a reception to welcome the artists, whilst willing friends and family manned our exhibits.

Unbeknown to us, whilst in the reception a Japanese drumming group entertained the first guests to see the exhibition preview. However, we soon heard about it when they started up their performance again shortly after our arrival back in the Lindley Hall. I expect they were a very good group, but unfortunately not in an enclosed building. It was a huge amount of noise and I’m afraid many people left – both exhibitors and people visiting the preview. I don’t think the evening picked up fully again after this – unfortunately.

Eventually the drumming was stopped and were able to talk to a few visiting the show. Additionally we got to know our botanical artist colleagues a lot better.

I don’t think that there will be any musical accompaniment tomorrow, and I am glad to say we should be able to actually talk to those interested in our art.

Rather than show what I have done this time, I will show you what a couple of other artists have done. I have asked their permission to share this with you.

The first is from Sharon Tingey with a picture from her series of Sunflowers. I’m afraid that my photo doesn’t really do it justice as my phone was running out of puff.

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The second picture is of Jane Fisher and her series of graphite pictures showing corn in a very contemporary manner. Jane is from the USA and I met her when exhibiting at the Hunt Institute of Botanical documentation. It is nice to see her again here in London at the RHS.

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As you might understand a lot is going on here and as you can see there is a lot of interesting work. Do come!

Tomorrow, around lunchtime we get the results of the judging.