Today is exactly a year since we had the Worldwide Botanical Art exhibition where twenty five countries participated on the same day. The UK exhibition ‘In Ruskin’s Footsteps was held in Lancaster.
On the 19th May several artists demonstrated their skills in botanical art. They were the late Mally Francis painting Gorse, Jackie Copeman on vellum and Sandra Doyle painting Spindle Tree Moth caterpillars.
Sandra’s painting of the Euonymus (Spindle tree) was in the exhibition and for her demonstration she painted the caterpillars showing their strange behaviour on their host plant.
Today I am lucky enough to be in Vienna, participating in the first ‘Get Together’ conference, where botanical artists from around the world are congregating to learn from and teach each other. This is being held at the Vienna School of botanical Illustration. Unfortunately I was not able to be here the whole week, but today we have been on a Field trip to the Donau-Auen National Park.
Apart from seeing at least ten different orchids including my first live Bee orchid.
I also saw the effects of the Spindle tree moth. It was hanging right over the path we were walking and I think if I had reached it first all the wild animals in the forest would have deserted. I do have an almighty scream when I get going!
As it happens I was completely amazed by what I saw. It also helped to remind me about the first ABBA event exactly one year ago.
Tomorrow I am going to a workshop by Denise Walser Kolar. She is teaching painting on vellum. A workshop I have always wanted to do with her as she has encouraged me to paint on vellum for many years. I am so looking forward to being a student and getting to paint all day,
I have been really bad at keeping on top of my own website because of all the work in relation to ABBA (Association of British Botanical Artists). Therefore this information about my participation in the RHS exhibition next week is not on the right page! Sorry about that, but I am telling you a little more about it now and hope that you will be able to make it.
Following on from the exhibition ‘In Ruskin’s Footsteps’ at Lancaster University, we (ABBA) have a stand this coming week at the RHS Plant and Art Fair, which for Botanical artists is a very important event. It is on 11th & 12th July at the RHS Halls in London. ABBA have a stand with the majority of Botanical artists, in the Lindley Hall. As I said in my last blog, Follow the Banner!
We are exhibiting five of the original pictures from the juried exhibition in Lancaster, giving everyone a further opportunity to study them. One of them is mine – Sea Thrift, painted on vellum. I mentioned that I would be demonstrating at the exhibition and now it is clear which medium I will be using, also which plant I will be painting.
I had intended getting my own exhibit finished for the RHS exhibition next year, but because of the amount of work that has gone into ABBA, I have decided to put this off until 2020. My topic is ‘Foraging plants of the Norwegian Mountains’.
It became very clear whilst going through the various phases of the Worldwide exhibition preparation, that although the UK is a distinct island it is still part of the European Continent. At one point in our history we were connected without needing to use a tunnel, boat or plane. Our plants bear witness to this in that many of the plants that are native in Northern Europe, are also native in the UK. However, some may not be so common these days.
One of my series of plants is the Arctostaphylosuva—ursi, Common bearberry in English and Melbær in Norwegian. It looks similar to a Crowberry, but is white inside (floury), giving its Norwegian name. When picking Crowberries it is not popular to mix Bearberries in by mistake as they don’t taste quite as nice, although edible. Also it is a stone-fruit and not a berry!
ABBA wants to encourage botanical art in relation to our native flora. As I intend to paint the series on vellum, I will be using this medium on the ABBA stand at the RHS. I have a nice little plant of the Bearberry with the beginnings of small flowers. The image is already transferred to a small piece of vellum which will be ideal to practice on and make decisions about which colours to use.
You might be just able to see that in my sketchbook I have quickly done a rough tonal drawing, indicating where the light is coming from. I have also put in a little blue to indicate where the light of the sky has reflected on the leaves and started indicating the difference between the colour on the front and back of the leaves: but that is in my sketchbook. Which colours I will actually choose to use on the vellum, remembering that colours appear far more intense on vellum as it reflects the colour of the pigment better than on paper, will be the result of this trial piece.
In addition to my demonstrations we will be talking with people to find out what they want from ABBA in the future and whether they – you, want to be part of it. Our focus will be to help anyone, anywhere, interested in botanical art to learn more.
But there is a little icing on the cake: The RHS have agreed to show the Botanical Art Worldwide exhibition slideshow from 25 countries. This will happen in the talks area of the Lindley Hall, between and after the talks. But just in case you want to see it otherwise, we will be showing it on the ABBA stand.
This is the last opportunity to see the Worldwide Slideshow!
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The week after next I have my first workshop in 2017. There are no places available for that workshop, but there are places still available for the one after that.
The following workshop will be Thursday 16th to Saturday 18th February and the topic will be White flowers against dark ones. I decided against being too specific about which plants, allowing students to think about what they have in the garden. The intention is to show how easy it is to paint pale against dark, thus reducing the amount of shading necessary. People often have problems with white and yellow flowers in particular, but the method I will show you eases this problem hugely.
When I am running these workshops and showing what people have accomplished, I often get comments that they wish they lived nearer. Well, as I am now running my online botanical art course, you have the opportunity to learn from me whether you live nearer or far away. Presently I have students who live fairly near and occasionally come to one of the workshops in addition, but I also have students on the other side of the globe. Not only are they able to get detailed feedback from me throughout the course (watercolour or coloured pencil), but they also communicate with each other.
Lastly, what’s all this about vellum? A tutor is no good if they too aren’t constantly learning. I feel so privileged that I learn so much from my students, but also now and again I have the opportunity to go on a course myself. When I was in Pittsburgh, USA, for the annual American SBA conference, I not only taught but I was able to go on a workshop with Jean Emmons. For those of you who know her name, she does the most exquisite work on vellum. I have at last finished the piece that I started on her workshop. If you read this, thank you Jean.
For those who don’t know, William Cowley’s is the last remaining vellum maker in the UK and the only one in the world to hand-finish the skins. They make use of the skins left over from our meat consumption, so that almost none of the animal is wasted. That is an important fact; no animal is slaughtered for the production of vellum. It is a waste product that would otherwise go to land-fill.
Today, four botanical artists and a self-proclaimed bag-man visited Cowley’s. We were looked after royally. I think in fact that they will need a day to recover from our visit!
My hats off to the ASBA who managed the biggest annual conference ever. It was big, but didn’t feel it. I got to meet a lot of people from around the world, many of whom had been Facebook ‘friends’ – and of course still are. But now, having met some of them it helps to have even better communication.
Apart from going to the conference to meet a lot of like-minded botanical artists, and as well as teaching, I also wanted to learn. The more I learn, the less I know and the more I want to learn. I tutored at one workshop, demonstrated once, saw three others demonstrating, went to two amazing workshops and an additional conference at the end of the main one. It was busy.
The first of the two workshops I attended was with Carol Woodin on juror training. Carol is responsible for planning the exhibitions and getting the relevant people together. She has an incredible amount of experience in the area and was able to impart some of her knowledge to us. We also did a practice run on putting an exhibition together from a lot of submitted pictures. The results and reasoning behind the results were very interesting and funnily enough quite similar.
The other workshop was with Jean Emmons. I met Jean and Denise Walser-Kolar (who organised the teaching at the conference) in 2010 when we all three had exhibits in the RHS. Since then I have remained in touch with both. They work mostly on vellum and have encouraged me to learn to paint on vellum.
As a teacher, Jean too has such a lot of knowledge to impart and she also does this in a lovely way. I struggled a little as I suddenly realised that my subject would not be available to me when I returned home to England. Therefore I started doing the opposite of what we were being taught – I tried to rush. Stupid! The four main things we learnt apart from actual techniques was, slow, light, very little water and don’t go back over anything until completely dry. I did the opposite of all that when I started worrying about time. But at least I learnt.
There are no pictures to show from the above workshops, but I do have one from the Hunt exhibition opening. The UK were well represented this year but with only one artist present – Robert McNeill. However, several of the UK tutors had work in the Hunt collection from previous years.
On Saturday evening there was a banquet with some sad farewells and happy prize and sponsor giving.
We left Pittsburgh after staying for the International Congress of Botanical art, and spent our first night in Erie, a town on the edge of the lake.
Yesterday we went through some incredible landscape and increasingly strong leaf colour until we reached our present destination Old Forge in the Adirondacks. On arrival, the heavens opened with the additional huge flashes of light every now and again. Today its beautiful with a forecast due to be 25 degrees. At the end of the week, snow is forecast, so I have to get out there.
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.
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?
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.
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.
A busy and exciting day. This is the first full day of the ASBA annual conference and the opening of the Hunt’s 14th International Exhibition of botanical art and illustration.
This morning started off with a Portfolio session where many members lay out their work for query, comment and I suppose critique. There was a huge variety of styles and it was very interesting. Many had done their work on vellum, but there were other techniques too. I was encouraged to try vellum although it is extremely expensive. Also suggested that I use the sort available in the UK as this is the best.
I am told that the latest ASBA magazine has a very good article on how to paint on vellum. For people out there who paint botanically, I recommend that you join this organisation. Membership has quite few benefits.
I saw some beautiful silver point work, and some very good pen and ink work. I wish I could describe some of it as it is obviously a new technique to try and learn. Unfortunately I didn’t take any pictures.
Towards the end of the Portfolio session I went to a talk on the history of Vellum. Unfortunately, it was more a history of the family who produced Vellum in the US. Parts of it definitely were interesting, but I feel that I know little more now than I did before I went into the talk.
We had a long lunch combined with AGM.
The afternoon was filled with a techniques showcase. Three different artists with three different techniques and materials demonstrated for us. The topics were Graphite, watercolour and coloured pencil. They were very good. Although other workshops were going on at the same time, the auditorium was pretty well full of interested artists.
Then the opening of the Hunt Exhibition. Several school buses picked us up at the hotel and drove us to the Hunt. We went to the top floor (walked!), where we were greeted with nibbles and punch. A friend of mine who started nursing at the same time as me 50 years ago in Set 231, now lives in Pittsburgh. She came to hep celebrate with her neighbour.it was lovely having them there too.
All the pictures were hung in a large room and some speeches were made to open the exhibition. Unfortunately I can’t repeat what was said as you couldn’t hear. But a good time was had by all, even when the fire alarm evacuated the building.
We were turfed out into the balmy evening air, but it didn’t deter any conversation.