This blog is my husband’s fault; He thought that today warranted one.
It has been a bit of a tough day with many different things to sort out including preparation for my botanical art workshop: Composition and Perspective, starting tomorrow.
But in the middle of the day the post arrived with a letter that gave me a huge lift. It said that my third picture in three years, has been accepted into the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium collection. This means that I am now a Fellow!
Of course I am really pleased too as it shows the effort has paid off – in addition to the added enjoyment I get from botanical art. But, the CPGFS are a lovely group of people who are never afraid to share their knowledge about botanical art. I have learnt a lot since becoming a member and of course it is situated in an especially beautiful garden which is well worth a visit at any time of the year.
My third piece – Armeria maritima – Pink Sea Thrift.
The Botanical Art Worldwide Exhibition; “In Ruskin’s Footsteps”, which is the English and Welsh contribution to the global exhibition happening 18 May 2018, is taking all my time these days, in addition to marking some really interesting assignments. Attracting people to look at botanical art and perhaps trying it is always an exciting prospect. For the exhibition, go to the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA) website: www.britishbotanicalartists.com. Here you will find all the updated information.
But I have done some more of my painting the Benton Iris ‘Farewell’. Last time I had done some of the leaves and told you that I was going to use graphite for some of them. I have decided that to show the habit of the Iris to the best advantage with the fan-shaped leaves, I would do these solely in graphite. In this way the overall effect of the picture will not be too heavy and the flowers will come to the for.
It was not easy doing so much graphite on the heavy Fabriano paper (640gsm) and I will need to adjust the strength of this as I add the flowers.
Below you get an idea of the overall layout of the picture with the flower spike with buds on the left side of the picture.
To the right is the bottom bud on the flower spike. After finishing this section I needed to adjust it because it came directly below and in line with the top bud. But as in so many plants the buds spiral round the stem and of course this is an important part of correct botanical observation.
The ideal would have been to get it right first time during the line drawing and not after having painted it! The image below is the corrected version. Here you can see the centre line at the bottom of the bud, has been moved slightly to the left.
And so the voluptuous terminal bud, with another one developing at its base. The bud of the Iris Farewell has a very typical shape to it and in my garden where I have different Irises, I can see the Farewell straight away. The tip is almost squared off rather than pointed. I think this is part of its attraction.
You will notice that I have started the flower to the right, but I will come back to that in my next blog. Whilst painting each section of my composition I am constantly looking at the rest of my picture and adjusting as I go along. I added a little more shadow to the right of the bud after I had started the flower. The image is from that stage.
I hope to get back to you soon with more images from the development of this picture.
I have another workshop in just over a week’s time. 23 – 24 February is a workshop on Composition and Perspective. If you want to improve on these particular topics in your own practice, sign up for the workshop as soon as you can.
I am fighting to get time to paint! Last week I was unable to anything for about 10 days because of the dreaded flu. After that it was trying to catch up with assignment marking and the Iris picture.
The only thing that you the reader will be interested in, is the Iris and how that is progressing. My last blog showed you some of my preparation sketches and my planned drawing. After that it was a question of tracing all the sketches that I decided to actually use in the picture. I traced them onto my final art paper using the the technique you will find on this page:gaynorsflora.com/my-tutorials/ The video is called ‘How to trace an image to art paper’. The reason I do it this way is to remove any risk of creating any indentation in the art paper. An indentation tends to collect pigment when using watercolour, or leave a white line if using coloured pencil We don’t want either of these results.
I used the old Fabriano extra white HP, 640 gsm. I am in the lucky in that I have enough old stock to last me!
The main colours that I am using in my greens are Maimeri Cyan, which is a Phthalocyanin PB15 pigment. This is one of my favourite colours as a base for greens, although if needing to go very dark I might use Idanthrene Blue. The yellow is Quin Gold with a touch of Transparent Yellow. For warming the colour, greying it down or even creating a grey I use Perylene Violet. Therefore I use mostly these colours to create my greens and browns.
Although I have loads of sketches and colour swatches, I have also taken a plant into the house and luckily the leaves have started growing. This confirms the colours that I have chosen to use.
You will notice that I have the whole length of the stem cut in two on the right side of the picture. In botanical art, when the height of the plant is rather tall as in this instance, one needs to actually show its whole length. This is done by cutting it and showing the two matching end pieces in the design. Here I have cut the upper portion away, leaving the bottom of the stem attached and growing from the leaves. The upper section will include the open flowers and developing buds.
So what was my big mistake? I decided to mask out the stem and do the leaves behind it. But I needed to cut the edge of the tape. I tried to mark the tape with a pencil, but it didn’t work, so used a pen! I know stupid, stupid! As you might expect, when I applied water the ink ran onto the paper, even though I thought I had cut it away.
Also, the cut edge was not close enough, so I ended up with either a gap or an extra wide stem. Artistic license is all very well, but not in botanical art when you need to show the plant as it is.
I won’t go into so much of the detail in the stages I will show you today. But notice that the leaf going off to the left is grey. This is graphite. I don’t want to do heavy painted leaves for the whole design or I am afraid the delicacy of the flower will be lost. I could be wrong, but we will see how it goes.
I hope it won’t be too long before I can do some more work on this. However, the Worldwide Botanical Art Exhibition is now at a crucial point. Just before Christmas we in The Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA) had the first stage of jury selection which was done digitally. Those successful artists have been getting their work framed over Christmas and are now delivering it, mostly to me, for the final stage in the juried selection due to take place up at Kew next week. We will then start the process of uploading the final forty successful paintings into a slideshow which will be included in the Worldwide slideshow with Forty native plants illustrated from each of 23 countries.
It will be a magnificent exhibition in each of the countries participating.
The last time I posted a blog about my Thyme painting was 30 May, when I was doing sketches of it. I had also started my final painting. For those interested you can go back to that blog to see my thoughts (written down) and preparations. Since I started I have been doing a lot of sketches for other plants too, which hopefully I will talk about in due course. You have seen the preparation I did for one of the Norwegian plants.
I eventually returned to the Thymus vulgaris painting, but for some reason I was unhappy with it. This sometimes happens and I know that although I might not have a good reason for starting again, I know that were I to do so, my second attempt often goes without any hitches. On this occasion, I felt that one of the small flowers was a little too dark, so 1 August I started it again. I won’t mention how many hours I used on the first attempt, but the second one took 65 hours – with the sketches and prep in addition.
A few of the pictures I took on the way:
And so the final painting that will be delivered at the beginning of October.
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 Norwegiansis ‘Multe’, and in English, ‘Cloudberrry’.
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.
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).
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.
The male flower contains stamens in a ring round the inside of the outer whorl.
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.
Have you ever really looked at Thyme when you are using it in cooking? I bet you haven’t!
I have been asked to paint a botanical picture of Thymus vulgaris. Note the correct way of writing a binomial scientific name correctly; all in italics but with the capital letter at the beginning of the first word only.
My heart sank when I got the email asking me to do this particular plant. Imagine, all that ‘tiny-ness’! How on earth was I going to create a beautiful picture from this subject, one in which the viewer wanted to take a second look. The picture still isn’t painted yet, so the result will not magically appear at the end of this blog. However, I thought you might be interested in both my thought processes and my work progress.
I eventually got a plant that said it was Thymus vulgaris.
In actual fact, I got three – all of them different. I knew that the leaf had to have a furled edge; two of them had furled edges. When the flowers eventually started to appear I knew that the stamens would be protruding from the tube created by the four petals. One of them did not have protruding stamens as they remained just under the fused lip of the petals. The last one did all the things I expected it to do. Or did it?
When the last plant had flowered for a while, some of the flowers didn’t have visible stamens. After much research I discovered that in fact the same plant can have flowers with all the reproductive systems in place, but some flowers are sterile as they only have a style and stigma. Whew, what a relief. I now had a suitable subject. Do you like it? But where to start!
As you now realise I had to do quite a bit of investigating in relation to this plant. It helped me get to know it so that as I observed, researched and sketched, thoughts for my final composition began to be a little clearer. I also found that although it was a challenging subject (apparently I like challenges). I also really began to appreciate the plant and wanted to include things in my picture that would tell others about the plant. However, one of the challenges is that there were to be no dissections! That is often how I show others of what a plant is comprised.
Botanical art is an exciting subject and it really helps you to observe things around you. So we start off with the leaves. Have you noticed anything strange about them. Have a look at a real one, rather than my pictures.
You will notice the appearance of little dents in the surface of the leaves. This is the same ones under a microscope. Do you see the little dents are in fact Trichomes, a special type of hair that produces aromatic oils. The oil is the part that smells so good when you crush the leaves before adding them to your cooking. But see if you can see where else the hairs are and the oil is:
Every part of the plant can be used in your cooking as every part produces the aromatic oils. Exciting isn’t it?
But what about the parts that need to be included in my picture? Although I found this particularly interesting and wished I could include this information in my picture, this depth of detail was not needed by the client.
However for me, Thymus vulgaris had moved up in my regard from being a plant with lots of tiny bits that smell nice, to being a complex and interesting plant. I hope I do it justice.
I decided to do a whole lot of sketches in my sketch book. This helps hands to get to know the painting of the plant, the size at which I am showing it, the colours and hopefully an idea for the composition.
To see the plant I needed to use a magnifier, which lead me to enlarging the flower spike for everyone to marvel at the detail of the individual flowers.I did three spikes before deciding which one to use for my final composition. You can see by my clothes that the weather was a lot colder when I started this project!
I now had a better idea of which sketches I wanted to include in my final picture. I wanted to show the flower spike enlarged so that the flowers with their magnificent coloured anthers were clear. I also knew that I needed to give a suggestion of the surface texture of the leaves, front and back as well as the growth habit of the plant.
At the weekend I had a two-day workshop with the title of ‘Daffodils – Herald of Spring’.
Looking into most gardens on the south coast of England, the daffodils were long gone, so how did I decide to teach this subject at this time of the year.
When planning my botanical art workshops, I look back at the photos I have taken of daffodils over the years and note the dates. Before my introduction into the digital age, I remembered that for my 49th birthday (21 years ago), we had snow (in the UK) and the daffodils were just coming out.
Working from then until last year, I expected that there would still be some in the garden. If you remember last year the daffodils were extremely early and we thought that was that. But then we had a new flowering and rather than just a few odd ones, there was an almighty crop. Not so this year!
Robin and I went trailing around Chichester and surrounding areas buying up what we could find. It was an interesting exercise.
As you can see, in the end we found the remains of some tiny ‘Tête á Tête” bulbs still flowering, but also some Narcissi. Therefore the workshop was saved.
As a note here, all my workshop titles where specific plants are mentioned, are just suggestions for subjects to paint. My workshops are not based on a step-by-step approach, but on individual support to improve your own technique.
Here are several pictures from the workshop including a preparation page, a very rough sketch and a ‘before and after’ picture showing the importance of cleaning up around the image as a last task.
I will let the pictures speak for themselves, but once again I met with some lovely, hard working botanical artists and I believe a good time was had by all.
Now to prepare for the next two weekends, which is the Chichester Open Studio art trail. In addition to my usual exhibition space where my workshops are held, I will be doing some work towards pictures I will need to have finished before the end of the year. Robin will be looking after the exhibition and you will find me tucked away in the shed at the bottom of the garden. Do come and visit me at Venue 35 in Bosham. For more details visit page: https://gaynorsflora.com/exhibitions/.
In 2011 I had finished three years work on a series of paintings showing a year in the life of the Magnolia x soulangeana. The series was exhibited at the RHS that year and I won a Silver medal – my first RHS medal. One of the paintings was chosen by the Hunt Institute for Botanical documentation in Pittsburgh, USA and it was first exhibited there in 2013. Since then it has had a three-year tour around the USA with the rest of that exhibition, but is now back in their archives in Pittsburgh.
I was super lucky to have some huge fruit on the tree the years I was doing the paintings and they were featured. But since then tree from which all the paintings were done, has not produced much fruit at all; in fact nothing until last year when it had a couple of small ones. I think the tree knew that I was painting it’s portrait and wanted to show itself at its most beautiful.
I am hoping that the tree is building itself up to another magnificent display later on this month. At the moment there are masses of terminal buds in which the blooms develop and you can almost see them growing a little more for each day.
It is obvious that the Magnolia tree means quite a lot to me after having studied it so closely for those three years. I learnt such a lot about it, how it is fertilised and why it is a particular type of bug that is responsible.
If you want to know more about Magnolia x soulangeana, and you are interested in botanical art as an artist, do book to come to my workshop Friday to Sunday 31 March to 2 April. I still have a few places available.
This is the first time that I have had a workshop on this subject – and you can probably guess why. But now I would love to help others who would like to paint the blooms in watercolour or coloured pencil (dry), or even draw them in graphite.
Get in touch with me as soon as you can so that you don’t lose this opportunity.
Tomorrow two of us are travelling up to London to set up the ABBA table in the RHS Lindley Hall, Vincent Square near Victoria Station. It will be the RHS botanical art show with the best of International botanical artists showing their work. Neither of us are exhibiting our own work this time, but we will be demonstrating different techniques.
The main reason for having the table at the exhibition is to talk about the plans for the Worldwide Botanical art day in May 2018 and to encourage British botanical artists to take part. A new Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA) formed to do this has put an initial ‘call for entries’ on it
On Friday and Saturday this week, I have chosen to demonstrate a sketch book or study page in graphite and watercolour from one of the native plants I have packed to take with me. Come along and see how I do this.
Apart from the Primrose, do you know what these plants are called?
The one on the right, with hardly any leaves just yet, is a Bilberry. This is a small wild blue berry. It doesn’ look very interesting at the moment, but if you are going to paint the portrait of a plant, including something from various stages in its life cycle, makes the resulting picture more interesting.
The plant above the Bilberry with the small oval leaves is Cowberry and has small red berries. You might know it as Lignonberry and has smaller and sharper tasting berries than cranberries. This plant has the beginnings of tiny flower buds.
The one above the Primrose is a Crowberry and will eventually have small, almost black berries. Again the plant doesn’t seem so interesting in this stage of its life, but I think might offer some challenges whilst painting its portrait.
Common for for all three species ( not the Primrose) is that they all produce fruit that is edible.
I am lucky enough to be able to do some sketches now, while the plants are only just coming out of their winter state. This will be particularly useful for me and for future work I have planned.
Do come and see us at the RHS, Lindley Hall, Vincent Square, Friday and Saturday.