An update: life and botanical art

Empetrum nigrum & tracing to vellum

I have been working on four of my six or seven pictures to go to an RHS exhibition in London. This has been a very long-going saga as the process has been interrupted several times since I decided to do it.

Mountain area – home to the plant series.

After the last time I took part in the RHS exhibition in 2014 I decided that I was going to do a series of plants called ‘Foraging in the Norwegian Mountains’. Anyone who has read my blog, which more recently has been rather sporadic, will have heard me talk about the series on numerous occasions.

Whilst living on the South coast of England I travelled to Norway for two weeks each year to sketch the plants I had chosen. This was the only time I had them accessible although I had some similar plants in my garden in Bosham. I have to say that they didn’t flourish there – too warm.

But then other things got in the way;

Invitation to the England part of the Botanical Art Worldwide exhibition

2016-2018, I started up the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA) and managed the England entry to the Worldwide Exhibition in 2018.

2018. As founder and president, changed ABBA to a membership organisation

Support from Dr Shirley Sherwood who became the ABBA Patron
ABBA logo from 2019
ABBA logo 2016-2018

2019. By the middle of this year ABBA was well on its way as a recognised botanical art organisation and Elaine Allison took over managing the ABBA project completely. I thought, at last I would have time to paint. I had done some, but not as much as I would have liked and working on the Norwegian plants project had been limited to two weeks each year.

December 2019, Covid hit us all.

Before – Bosham in May – South coast England

Mid 2020. My daughter, living in Norway, expressed her anxiety for us if anything happened. What she actually said was that we were too old to live in England by ourselves and that it was about time we moved back to Norway. Robin, who had never lived in Norway, promised to learn the language and his son (who had just moved back to England) gave his blessing. The rest of 2020 became filled with house selling, packing, moving, home searching and buying – my daughter even coped with us living with her!!

After – Skoppum in May – Eastern Norway

Robin started to learn the language, but all the legal stuff in relation to officialdom and applying for residency in an EEC country, plus details in relation to house buying, fell to me. I managed to paint the Fly agaric – Amanita muscaria and a couple of sketches in my perpetual diary (painting cup half-full), plus continued to advise and mark assignments for my Botanical art online course students.

Long shadows at midday, a month after the sun turned.

January 2021 – we moved into our new home with a view of the Oslo fjord in the distance. The year was used to make the house into our home, although we had a lot to learn about what works here and what doesn’t. The garden is mostly rock, so planting is very much an ongoing trial as we battle with little earth and a temperatures that vary between -20˚C to +35˚C (warming climate). Botanical art is not as well thought of as in the UK, but once the lock-downs are over I already have quite a list of people wanting to do a botanical art workshop.

Icy walking is only safe with studs – but the kitten doesn’t care as long as there are laces!

Now I have to plan my botanical art work a little differently living in Norway. We have had snow since November last year but it hasn’t been quite as cold as last winter, although that can change. With recent thaws during the day and minus degrees at night, the snow turns to thick ice. This means I don’t have access to my plants during the winter so I had to change my working process.

‘Foraging in the Norwegian Mountains’ botanical art series on vellum.

NB; I won’t be showing you the finished compositions until they are shown at the RHS exhibition – probably 2023, but will show parts of them.

After all these time delays for the series, all I had was sketches and colour samples in my sketch book, plus some small studies on the vellum I would be using. I had heard the phrase ‘productive procrastination’ and thought I now knew what it meant!

Cloudberry – Multe- Rubus chamaemorus sample on vellum
Sketchbook drawing Crowberry – Krekling – Empetrum nigrum

I had worked out the composition of all of my pictures and how they would be hung as a group at the exhibition. Each picture will be on mounted vellum and shows the plants both enlarged in colour and actual size in graphite. Last summer I painted the colour part of four pictures so that I would have the actual plants and could match colour at the same time. I planned to do the graphite on those four paintings during this winter and so far have completed three of them – except for scale bars.

Graphite on vellum is not easy and depends upon the vellum, which, as a living material can change from one part to another. In some areas I have been able to use pencils, but in others a brush. My last two paintings have very tiny leaves and the last one, Empetrum nigrum which I will show part of here, has been a bit of headache!

Graphite drawing on vellum

With Empetrum nigrum the leaves actual size are about 2mm long and the unripe fruit is about 4mm. I have had to vary the hardness of the pencil used so that I get clean lines, rather than gritty ones. It doesn’t seem to matter if I use my most expensive pencils or not as it is the surface of the vellum that decides. Sometimes I use the pencil first, if too pale I paint a layer of water-soluble graphite on top, then finish off with another layer of pencil, finally lifting off loose graphite and ’fixing’ it with water. It certainly is not as straight forward as using graphite on paper.

This winter, only one more vellum picture to finish off with the graphite drawing. Spring is on its way, although the sun is still low on the horizon; plants will wake up after their winter rest; trips into the mountains to look forward to and planning for the colour part of the final three pictures.

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.

Fourth Gaynor’s Flora update

I am so glad that I have these blogs to look forward to each day. They are helping to remind me about the lovely things I have done over the last few weeks. Particularly as I am still catching up with all the undone things, including doing a coloured pencil video.

I am really struggling with the video. I expect that those who are just starting out in botanical art will be relieved to hear that someone who has been doing it for a while, continues to struggle in periods. But the reason that I am struggling is because I am trying out different papers to use with coloured pencils, so that I can advise my students. The subject is tomatoes.

I think that I am now on my third attempt. Its not that I don’t get good enough results, it’s just that I feel I have to adjust my technique for each of the different papers I use. But I suppose that is something new learnt.

First Tomato picture attempt on Strathmore 500 Bristol Plate.
Incomplete first tomato picture attempt on Strathmore 500 Bristol Plate.

Going back to catching up.

A lot had been going on over the last few months with a great deal of time spent on writing the online botanical art course, exhibitions, demonstrations and teaching. I felt I needed a break, but my head was still working ‘twenty to the dozen’. My workshop in Norway was unfortunately cancelled, therefore this time we would be taking a holiday there. I still had work to do on the botanical art course and informed family that this was the case.

I have a strong and determined family! After one day spent working, I was told that enough was enough. I was unhappy at the time as of course I still had to do the work. But since then I have every reason to be grateful to my daughter in particular. I had a holiday and had a proper rest. Maybe I was a pain to everyone else!

Whilst in Norway I didn’t get much painting done either. But we stayed with some friends at their cottage in the mountains and I think I now have a group of subjects to paint for an exhibition at the RHS. It won’t be next year, but if I get my act together, possibly the year after.

As here in the UK one is not allowed to pick certain plants. But I made a note of the plants around my friend’s cottage and I think they will make a very good subject series.

© Skinntryte page

I know that this page in my small Moleskin drawing book looks very boring. But this is how botanical art paintings start, particularly when planning a series of paintings. I’m afraid that I have written the Norwegian names, but you will also see the scientific names if you want to look them up.

Three of the plants are important for fruit picking in Norway –

  • The Vaccinum vitas-idaea is called Tyttebær in Norwegian and Lingon in Swedish (goes with your Ikea meatballs), but Cowberry in English. They are the same genus as the Cranberries we buy in the shops, but a smaller species.
  • Blåbær is Blueberry in English, but again a different and smaller species from the ones we buy in the shops.
  • Multe is Cloudberry in English. They are the most sought after and difficult to find – but generally one knows of a ‘spot’, and doesn’t tell anyone else! There are very special rules governing Cloudberries. One is not allowed to pick the flower and definitely not allowed to pick the fruit until it is fully ripe. If you are caught with red fruit you are fined.

In 1974 and long before I knew the importance of Cloudberries,  my parents visited me in Norway  and we took them into the mountains. My mother loved these delicate white flowers and picked a whole bunch of them!!

Skinntryte is also a form of blueberry. I have found several English names for it including Whortleberry and Bilberry. They grow with Blueberries and for those who don’t know the difference, they might also pick these.

Krekling is apparently becoming more interesting to harvest. It is Crowberry in English.

Of course Tettegras is the Common Butterwort, which is a carnivorous plant. When picking fruit in the mountains, I think one is very glad that there is something that digests all the buzzy, biting things!

Last of all, the Flekkmarihånd is the Marsh Orchid and just beautiful.

This is my friend’s cottage in the mountains. They have invited me back next year to continue painting the series. Thank you Eva and John.

© 1.Eva & John's hytte

Last day botanical art workshop holiday overlooking the Oslo Fjord

What a day! Busy, busy and some lovely botanical art finished using both coloured pencil and watercolour.

I have to say that I was amazed at the results. Those who hadn’t painted before and those who hadn’t done botanical art before used the week extremely constructively and beneficially. Some of the results really astounded me. The change was huge. They know which ones they are!

Absolutely all of the finished paintings were very good and every person progressed. All I can say is that I am grateful to those who came – for coming. In achieving so much, they gave me a huge thrill.

The last supper!

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Served by Sarah,

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In the celebration of:

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Some of the plants are not common , so in case you are wondering what they are;
Gentian, Pink Cornus, Magnolia, Harebell, Blåklokke, Hydrangea Paniculata, Rose, Multe (Norwegian) or Cloudberry.

First day botanical art workshop by Oslo Fjord

The sun shone in my window at 05:00 this morning – bright and powerful. I went back to sleep!

After a lovely breakfast in the Thon Hotel Åsgårdstrand, we started the workshop by choosing specimens to paint.

I had been very lucky to get some Norwegian plants from the mountains in Telemark as described yesterday. I had also got some standard flowers from the local garden centre, but nothing exotic from warmer climates. In addition to this, some of the students had been out and picked some flowers (with permission) round the hotel.

The plants chosen to paint were Multe or Cloudberry, pansies, Dianthus and the lovely Hydrangea Paniculata. Some people will be using watercolour, and some coloured pencil. It already looks very promising. So far graphite drawings have been done and traced ready to start painting tomorrow. Although one person has already completed one small picture.

The first picture is from my bedroom at 07:00 this morning. The remainder are from the room we are using to paint. Please make particular note of the final picture which is a view from our painting room.

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