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?


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.





Botanical art on Vellum

Again I haven’t done too much painting over the last week as we have had family staying and we took the opportunity to have a little bit of a holiday with them.

But now I’m back to painting.

Whilst in Pittsburgh last year there were several botanical artists who tried to persuade me about the benefits of painting on Vellum. I saw some really beautiful work there and was really tempted. My husband bought me a few small sheets for Christmas and it has been lying there. Since then I have seen some more work on vellum and I wasn’t too enamoured. It definitely was not of Rory McEwen quality! You see I aim for the best.

I have been painting a small picture on vellum during the last few days. I had taken a photo of a bee on the runner beans and wanted to do this. Normally I only paint from real life and obviously this was a problem as I didn’t have the bee although did have the runner beans. I did some research on the bee and found out that it is called a Bombus pascuorum worker. It also meant that I had some other bee pictures to make sure that I got the details right. I’m not happy if I haven’t got the subject actually in front of me.

For once I decided to paint it oversize. This is another thing I don’t normally do, so I have several ‘firsts’ here. I know that I had to paint using a dry-brush technique, but still wasn’t sure how. I therefore examined the pictures in the Rory McEwen book ‘The colours of reality’. I had to refer back to this book on several occasions as I built up the layers. I thought that as I had painted on Porcelain many years ago, that I could adopt a similar process. I’m afraid that didn’t work! But I gradually began to get the hang of it and also take advantage of the fact that you can lift out mistakes.

I will put a couple of pictures in this blog, but add a few more as an album on my Facebook page.

If anyone has any tips, please let me know. I haven’t stretched the vellum, but would like to do so on larger pieces.

Runner bean leaves, first washes and details
Runner bean leaves, first washes and details
The bee
The bee
Runner bean flower
Runner bean flower
Finished painting
Finished painting

Friday in Pittsburgh

I don’t really know what ‘Homecoming’ means in the American University town environment, but I am sure the city put all this entertainment on just for us!

Today has been – what can I say – spectacular.

Last night I wrote to each of the other three Society of Botanical artists (SBA) (the UK version of the American one – ASBA), who had their paintings accepted at the Hunt this year. I sent each one a photo of their work hanging in situ. I have also asked if I can include their pictures and names on this blog. I have to admit, not all replied to my last request, so I have jumped the gun a little. But, their work is now in a prestigious place for all to see. Before I mention their names and show their pictures, I have a comment.

The Hunt have their international exhibition every three years only and, about 41 artists have work selected. To have four of us from the same organisation have our work selected, says something positive about the organisation. I know that the SBA has done a lot towards my development as a botanical artist.

The other three are:
Charlotte Linder


Gael Sellwood


Roberta Mattioli



You have already seen my work in yesterday’s blog.

But, talking about prestigious, we were allowed a special viewing of pictures we wanted to see from the Hunt collection. First and foremost is the fact that our pictures are in the same collection as Rory McEwen! I can’t believe that. I saw two of his works – without glass between the picture and me. His work is perfect. I also saw work by Ehret, Redoute and several other fantastic artists.i was also amazed at the number of paintings on vellum. I think that the pressure I have got from friends here, means that I now have to bite the bullet and try using it.

I will stop going on about all the pictures I saw as I might bore everyone else to tears. It was a huge highlight though, and I feel as though I am floating with the excitement of it.

This afternoon was the talk given by five of the artists whose pictures were accepted. I was one of the five. It wasn’t bad at all as everyone was so interested. It was incredible to see that each of us had a singularity of purpose towards our botanical art and that some of us had fairly similar habits. Although there was a lot that divided us. At least my husband now knows that I am not unusually weird – it goes with the territory!


I was at a talk this evening, but as it ran late and I had a prior appointment, I had to leave early at 19:30. We again met my friend from nursing school and went out for a lovely meal. She explained to us a little about how food is ordered and shared out in America. It made much more sense. We had tried to eat two different things the night before, leaving a lot of it and still feeling too stuffed.

Towards the end of the meal, there were some huge explosions. We knew that something had been going on outside as there seemed to be a lot of prep for some festivities and loads of students were out and about. Everyone rushed out ( the waitresses didn’t try and get us back in as we hadn’t paid our.bill yet), and we watched an incredible (a lot) fireworks display. Most of it came from one side of the campus with short breaks allowing short,sharp bursts from the opposite direction. The sharp bursts were directed up the side of the Cathedral for Learning. This is an impressive building looming very high upwards. It looks like a cathedral but seemed never to have been intended for other than learning. The fireworks lasted over 30 mins and I am not exaggerating. They could be felt reverberating through you.

After they had finished we went back into the restaurant to pay the bill. At no time had the waitress come out after us. Very trusting.

We had a lovely time with my friend and I thanked her for putting on such a display for us!

To finish off. On the way back to the hotel, we saw a ‘sight’ crossing the road. There must have been about 30 pairs of legs crossing the road. They were LEGS. The type that stretch from ground to armpit – on hiiiiiigh heels. I have to say that I gawped as well as my husband. They were an impressive sight. Sorry, no pictures!