Outside my comfort zone

I love painting small plants; plants that seem insignificant but are beautiful and worth noticing.

I love the challenge of painting the detail of these small plants so that everyone gets a chance to admire them and perhaps look out for them whilst out and about.

One day I was walking near the station in T√łnsberg, Norway and saw some shrivelled Rosa rugosa hips in the snow. I picked one little branch thinking I might paint it on vellum. However my daughter thought I should accept a challenge outside my normal comfort zone; She felt I should portray it much enlarged on paper.

The thought of doing this felt very uncomfortable as I have noticed that some artists who suddenly go large do not increase the amount of detail and the picture doesn’t do the plant justice. I have drawn and painted parts of some compositions scaled up so that the viewer can actually see the detail, but have never done a whole painting like this. Was this going to work for me?

Sketching the Rosa rugosa

I started sketching the hips into my sketchbook, then once I had a good line drawing I transferred this to my Fabriano paper; Luckily I have quite a lot of the ‘old’ batches of both Artistico and Fab 5. This is done on Artistico Extra white.

Ready to start painting

You can see here that I really look after my paper whilst painting. It is so easy to get splashes or ‘dropped brush’ marks if one isn’t careful.

I normally cover the art paper with layout paper hung from the top. Then I cut it into about three strips so that I only have the part I’m painting, uncovered. On the lower part I tape clear acetate.

First stage of painting

I always lift out the graphite tracing before I start the first layer of paint and lay the clearest colours first. However, in this picture I decided to lay a neutral tint wash(made of three primaries) under my colours to indicate the direction of light and form.

For the next rose-hip in the bunch of four, I decided to replace the graphite outline with a watercolour pencil. I sometimes do this if I am a little unsure of where I am going in the painting, but I use only a pale colour. I lift off the excess pigment with a putty rubber and using a slightly dampened brush I soften the watercolour pencil edge making sure no water goes outside the line of my subject.

… And so the third rose-hip….

I wanted to do some of the picture in graphite, leading into the main part with the hips. Sometimes using graphite towards the background can reduce the heaviness of a picture. The stem of the Rose-hip is very prickly and therefore doing some of it with various graphite pencils made sense. I used graphite along the whole length of main stem and then colour washed part of it.

I did this picture five times life-size and it comfortably fits an A3 sheet of paper. Does it succeed?

One final comment; Rosa Rugosa grows everywhere in southern Norway and it is not a native species, therefore they are being removed wherever possible. This is because they take over the habitat from other species that belong here. I remember with shame that I was one of those people in the early seventies who planted a Rosa Rugosa hedge in the front garden – across the fjord from where I live now. My children were small at the time and I knew that the hips provided a lot of Vitamin C. But I know now that it is not a good enough reason to introduce a foreign species.

Dying Rosa rugosa