Why a black background?

I had the following query from  Antonina Shesteryakova, following my blog and posting of the Pineapple step-by-step; Why did you use black background? Why it isn’t white as usually? Thanks, Gaynor! I liked your “step by step” very much!

That is a very interesting point and I am really glad that Antonina asked me this question. I have thought several times to write a blog on it as it comes up in every workshop I do.

This is the picture Antonina commented on.



But you might find this of interest too. It is a picture of Gorse. Quite a complicated plant, but with the dark background you can also see the hairs on the Sepals that protect the flower in bud.



So why do I take my preliminary photographs with a black background? Note, I don’t use these pictures to paint from but I do use them as reference. I always take a lot of photos to start with as I know I take a long time on each picture I do – even the small ones.

I take a picture of my setup, i.e. the plant as I am looking at it whilst I paint. Therefore, once my subject dies I can replace it with something similar and in a similar angle to my original. I used about 5 pineapples for my painting, but I had to bear in mind what my original pineapple looked like. If you see the segments, some have what looks like a double base and some use a single base. Some are more at an angle than others, not forgetting the difference in colour change over the pineapple. When I bought new pineapples I had to bear this in mind and then change the direction of the new pineapples for each segment I painted so that it more or less fitted my original drawing.

But as well as taking a picture of the plant in situ as I plan to paint it, I also take quite a lot of detail photographs in case there is any specific detail that I need from the original subject. With a flower, this is more interesting as you see with the Gorse. I took a lot of pictures of the flowers, but also of the thorny leaves, stem and connections. I’m afraid that I don’t have pictures of the gorse or pineapple with light backgrounds, but I do of an orchid. In fact, it was in taking pictures of this orchid that I realised how difficult it was to take  good detail photos with a white background.

IMG_3049 IMG_3022 IMG_3042 IMG_3015











I am not a photographer and don’t intend to become expert in that area, so with my little automatic camera and simple reasoning skills, I realised that the camera automatically adjusts the white balance in relation to the lightness in the picture.  As you want to paint in good light, you will generally find that the background is very light and if you use a white sheet behind your subject, the light reflection is intensified. The subject, in a worst case scenario, can turn out as a silhouette .

IMG_1491IMG_1490 - Version 2







I took some photos of small courgettes from the garden last year, specifically to show the difference between taking pictures against a black or white background. Apart from the fact that the one against the black background isn’t in focus, I think that you can see what I mean.

So what background do I use when I paint from the subject? This is a different kettle of fish.

If I have a very pale or white flower, I obviously want to see what the edge looks like against a white background, so it is natural for me to paint from the subject in front of a white sheet of paper. For the pineapple I used both white and black. I wanted to see as much detail as I could going round the front of the pineapple – therefore left the black background, but when doing the light side and the side with the reflected light (shadow side), I needed to paint it as I saw it against the white background!

I hope that this very complicated subject is now a little bit clearer.



Step by step Pineapple pictures and a graphite Daffodil!

So what does a series of Pineapple step by step pictures have to do with a graphite daffodil picture? Nothing, except that they were done by me.

I have at last got my act together and done a separate page where all of the photos that I took during the 160.5 hour marathon for the Pineapple picture, are in one place. Just click on the heading above and you will find them all. Additionally, if you haven’t seen the YouTube video I did whilst painting one of the segments, you will find that in a link on the Tutorial page above.

I discovered whilst painting and posting updates about the picture that many botanical artists are challenged into painting a pineapple. It isn’t simple to do although it is all in the planning – as with most things – but it isn’t that difficult either.  I noticed that several people had previously painted a pineapple, as I had done, or were in the process. Some started about the same time as me, but were finished long before me, and others started well afterwards. Pictures were done in watercolour, coloured pencil and I saw one really beautiful one in graphite. Most were done actual size and one or two over-size. They were very impressive, particularly if more detail had been included.

The differences in the results were as amazing as in the techniques. Even with watercolour, there was a clear distinction between those done mostly wet-in-wet, to the other end of the scale where more dry brush techniques were used.

I mentioned that I did a pineapple once before, about eight years ago. I was given to understand on several occasions that it wasn’t bad – although I felt it could have been improved upon no end. Putting the two side by side was quite an experience for me. One could clearly see that I had developed in that time. I just hope that I continue to develop positively. I just wish that I could work faster, not slower!

So the graphite daffodil. I had no additional pictures to show you with the pineapple, so I thought I would post my latest work. A couple of weeks ago I held a graphite workshop and just continued with my demonstration piece. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope you like it too.

©06.Graphite daffodil 8bit+sig

My first home-made video – the Pineapple of course

This is going to be a very short blog as my eyes are popping out of my head.

I finished off a long series of London Art College assignments this morning, intending to go back to the easel afterwards.  I was then asked to write a short article to go on the website for the Chichester Open Studios event in May. Naturally I decided to do something about the Pineapple, put it forward as a suggestion including the use of my first video tutorial.

I know that there is already a series of videos that you can find via the Tutorial page on this website, but those are professionally done. Back to this one video so far: I started filming and doing a series of ‘time-lapse’ pictures at the beginning of the pineapple painting.  This video comprises both elements covering the initial period and lasts about three minutes. I continued to film throughout the whole painting, so in due course I hope to release something that will show the whole pineapple develop before your eyes. But that is still in the cooking pot.

Following the query earlier today, I therefore logged onto Youtube and created a channel called Gaynor Dickeson. It contains just one video: ‘How to paint Pineapple segments with Gaynor Dickeson’ . Do enjoy and let me know what you think. This is the link: http://youtu.be/htu3A2mpFCo


The Pineapple has gone for framing!

I believe that several people have wanted to see the finished pineapple. Today I took it for framing and very soon it will be out of my hands!

But, apart from teaching botanical art classes and workshops, I have started the small pictures that I will be giving to my nursing reunion friends in May. I don’t think that any of them follow this blog so I don’t have to worry that they will see the pictures in advance. They might not be particularly interested in botanical art, but hopefully I will be able to change their minds with the pictures. I’m just hoping that I haven’t bit off more than I can chew.  It is going slower than I wanted, but I still want the pictures to be done properly.

Whilst painting the pineapple, I had my camera on and hopefully in due course I will be able to post a video or two showing my technique. But that will definitely not be just yet.

In the meantime – the pineapple. I hope you approve.

1.Pineapple 2015 +sig crop

Last two ‘pineapple in progress’ pictures.

This is a very quick blog  – I hope.

The customer has seen the finished pineapple picture and is pleased with the results. Whew! It still has to be framed, but the recipient will not be getting it for a few more months. However, I have been given permission to release it.

Today I will just show the two remaing ‘in progress’ pictures and in the next few days I will post the final picture. I’m not sure which day as I have set aside the next two for concentrated painting – hopefully.

I and my set of 231 from the Queen Elisabeth School of Nursing, Birmingham, will be celebrating our 50th reunion in Bosham in May. As I am organising it, I thought I might do a series of small originals as presents for those coming.  By actually saying this, I suppose it will be documenting my intention. So watch this space and keep your fingers crossed that I can do 30 in that time. I am a terrible perfectionist and take a long time over each picture, so I will have to make a schedule, keep the pictures very small and keep to both intentions.

The pineapple and arrival of Rory McEwen vellum

This week has been and will continue to be quite eventful. On Sunday, we drove up to London to deliver pictures for the SBA exhibition in April at Westminster. Several assignments have arrived from London Art College to mark and I have started these. This morning I had my usual weekly class and this afternoon a friend arrived from Norway ready to take part in the workshop I am holding this weekend – Friday to Sunday.

Tomorrow we plan to go to Kew and of course the highlight will be to visit the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of botanical art. Hopefully I will be able to write a bit about it in the evening.

But today there was a big knock on the door. I could see the sun flooding in through the glass in the door and the shadow of a person standing outside. I opened the door and there stood our very smiley ( and helpful) postman with a parcel in his hand. I saw straight away that it came from the Hunt Institute, Pittsburgh. It was the vellum! I was so excited and the poor man got dragged inside to be told the story behind it all.

I understand that not everyone is entirely sure what vellum is. It is animal skin – often goat or lamb, which has been collected from abattoirs and prepared by specialists for painting or writing on. It is parchment, the same material that old documents were written on. In fact all acts of Parliament are still written on parchment.

Why use vellum/parchment rather than paper? Well, the archival properties of parchment are far greater than that of paper. For important documents this is an important consideration. For artwork this too is very important, but there are additional benefits ( and difficulties). Watercolour is applied with a dry brush technique as unlike paper, the pigment lies on the surface of the skin. In doing so, the pigment reflects its colour well as it is not absorbed into the skin and dulled in any way. Rory McEwen’s pictures really do show this fact very well.

But as I haven’t yet decided what to paint on the vellum, it is likely to be a few months before I get started with it.

Last of all, how is the pineapple doing? In showing these pictures, I am being careful not to show how I have pulled the painting together as a whole. I think it important that the person who is to receive it, should see it first as a complete picture. Once that happens, I will then post it on my blog.

More pictures!




From the fruit to the leaves. I read somewhere the other day about someone needing to get into the ‘zone’, when painting a picture. That really struck me with this pineapple, because it was so different from the last piece of work I did. It had to feel right before I actually started putting paint on the paper. I had to feel confident that the colours I was going to use were the right ones, and that the sequence of colours and the way I laid them, were right for this picture too.

I now had this feeling all over again. I was going to use exactly the same colours as I used for the fruit, but in different mixes. The textural effect I wanted would be completely different. It felt like starting from the beginning and needing to get in the ‘zone’ – but more importantly I couldn’t afford to make any mistakes at this stage. I had to be confident of what I was doing, before I did it.

I started off with painting the shadows in a neutral mix. This was to establish where the light came from, and therefore how the shadows would have an effect on the shape of the leaves. I couldn’t do this in the same way with the fruit part of the picture, because I knew I would be using a series of pineapples and painting each segment from the ‘fresh pineapple of the moment’. By the way, I used four pineapples for the fruit.

Have you noticed how the pineapple fibre really gets caught between your teeth?

Back to painting the leaves. Once I had established where the shadows would be, I started painting the leaves where I could see the upper surface, which was a darker green and quite shiny. I needed to make sure I had some good tonal contrasts in these areas. Am I succeeding?


Painting a Pineapple – a labour of love!

I love painting, be it with watercolour, coloured pencil ink or just graphite. Many consider using some of these materials is ‘mark making’, rather than painting, but…….

Today I haven’t been painting at all. I have been getting things ready to take some work up to London tomorrow; hand-in for the annual SBA botanical art exhibition at Westminster central hall in April. I hate this aspect of painting, getting work ready for exhibitions! But tomorrow I get to meet old friends and other members of the SBA when they also hand in their work.

Then back to painting. But before I show a couple more pictures of the pineapple, a touch of Spring!




Some more pictures of the pineapple progression. I don’t know whether you notice this or not, but once I have had the first wash on an area, I use a lot of fairly dry brush work to do the detail for each segment. As I mentioned above, starting to paint a pineapple is a labour of love. But every single segment is so different and of course each one faces in a different direction.





Rory McEwen and my pineapple.

There is nothing to connect Rory McEwen and my pineapple – other than botanical art.

But I am dead chuffed and sad at the same time. I watched the programme on BBC today about Rory McEwen and felt so sad that such a gifted person died so young and in such a manner. I so wish I had been around when he was doing his wonderful paintings.

When I was at the Hunt Institute in Pittsburg two years ago, I had to pinch myself that because my work was accepted in the Hunt, and while there I was allowed to see whatever works that they had in their collection. I wanted to see Rory McEwen’s work and saw it in the ‘flesh’ without being protected by glass. It was amazing.

Four minutes after the end of the Rory McEwen programme today I got an email from the Hunt to tell me that I had been gifted a piece of Rory McEwen vellum. When he died, his vellum was given to the Hunt Institute and pieces have been gifted to botanical artists over the years. Now I am one of them. I can’t believe it.

Painting on vellum is hugely different to painting on paper. I will have to think of something really special to paint on it in due course.

But my pineapple. More pictures.





More pineapple segments

I have a feeling that posting the progression of this pineapple might be just a little boring for some. But on the other hand it also portrays the amount of work necessary and how I have to continually adjust the colours and the segments in relation to each other.

Knowing how I paint each segment in a rapidly changing pineapple is interesting in itself. Obviously I paint what I see, but I have to bear in mind that once all the segments are done, they need to be moulded into a complete shape. I can envisage that being the tricky part.

For this past week I have been painting every spare moment. My pineapple is somewhat further advanced than I am showing you here, but as this is a commission, I don’t feel it is right to show the completed work until the client has received the picture. The picture is far from being complete, although to date we have eaten four pineapples that were rather the worse for wear. They still tasted good though!

I mentioned that I take pains to draw the pineapple and arrange the segments appropriately. Once that is done I transfer this to my watercolour paper. But what happens then, particularly when I have to change pineapples? This is why I draw the segments in so they can easily be adjusted. I paint from life, therefore when I begin a new pineapple, I place it in such a position as to be able to find segments facing the same direction as on my original drawing.

Sometimes it can be quite difficult as every segment is different, and may not fit in too well. But so far it is going OK.

I have just had a thought. The Norwegian Botanical Art holiday workshop is over a longish period where one can work continuously and with guidance. A pineapple (although not of Norwegian origin) would be something one could work on. Do you fancy having a go? Look at http://www.gaynorsflora.com/page10.htm for details.