Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Back to Vellum and the Blog's Birthday

Last week marked 7 years of blogging for me! it's been interesting to look back and see what's happened in that time. The first image I ever posted on the blog was my very first painting on vellum, so it seems fitting to write a post about my latest work on the surface.

My most recent work on vellum, Three British Butterflies on manuscript vellum 2015 ( Comma, Red Admiral and Peacock abberation, painted life size)

My first painting on vellum, Foxglove dissection on Kelmscott vellum (6 x 4 inches)  painted during the summer 2007. I had grown the foxgloves from seed in my garden in Scotland. I've since moved house and the foxgloves have long gone but I can remember them clearly, they sprouted everywhere and were enormous!
Last week I had intended to start a larger work but got side-tracked by the butterflies.  I think it's fair to say that any large painting requires a significant amount of planning and practice, and none more so than a painting on vellum.  A decision had been made and the time had come to crack on with a painting I'd started preparing around 18 months ago... but it has been a slow start, full of distractions and not an awful lot has been achieved during the week. I don't see this as wasted time but rather part of the 'warming up' process. When I start a new painting I can never be sure whether or not it will work out but  I'm pretty sure that the more planning is put into a large pieces  - the less likely it is to go wrong! I'd like to have done more this last week but sometimes we have to accept it's a slow process. So I deviated from the large painting with some butterflies and moths as a warm up exercise. They're great little subjects to ease back into painting on vellum. I always find that painting on vellum it takes a couple of days to ease back into the technique. So two whole days were spent painting insects.
The process of building up the layers of paint on the peacock. Laying down the veins and outline first and then building up from light to dark. As a last minute addition I also used a very small amount of titanium white to dry brush  shiny white wing markings, this stands out well because the creamy colour of the vellum.
The finished Peacock, with its warning colours and large eye markings. This one is a abberation, with blurred eye markings. 

Adding the first wash to the final butterfly, The Comma.

The Comma butterfly. Again, working from light to dark. Marking out the viens first, followed by a light wash of the golden yellow mix ( transparent yellow and scarlet lake), thereafter various dry brush techniques were employed to build up the rich browns and patterns.  

Detail of the wing, showing the build up of the wing patters using 'dry brush' to create the scales and hairs on the delicate wings.
 The butterflies had  made a welcome change. I took me back to my days at  the University of Aberdeen, where I studied evolution as part of my degree some years ago. It was great to revisit mimicry in the wings of these beautiful creatures. As for painting butterflies, the process is the same as it is for plants. The manuscript vellum is slightly more challenging as a surface compared to Kelmscott, it's also quite a bit thinner. Darker and highly saturated colours are the most difficult to build up on the surface, simply because the paint sits on the surface and doesn't sink in, so the reds and blacks are good practise. With vellum it's not possible to use the same amount of washes as on paper, so after the initial controlled wash has been applied, the 'dry brush techniques must be used. Sweeping stokes and a form of 'modelling' dry brush techniques (similar to stippling but very dry) must be used to create form and the softness of the wings, and a 'drawing' style dry brush technique is used last to add the finer details.

Eyed Hawkmoth, watercolour on natural vellum, a subjec that really suits the warm tones of the skin. The 'eyes' of this moth  are a form of  mimicry which has evolved through natural selection to scare off predators. I might write a post about this it's a fascinating area several different type sof mimicry.

I used up a few small off cuts of manuscript and natural vellum for the moths and butterflies, the latter being off cuts from a whole skin. The natural vellum felt perfect for moths and I hope to paint more, it seems to work well for the scaley paterned wings.  After spending a couple of days painting the insects It was time to move on the the large autumnal painting but I will definitly paint more in the future.

Moving on
My current work is a fairly large painting  52 x 72 cm of autumnal subjects on natural vellum, as I've mentioned I had planned this some time ago, see this previous post. The idea was born from  the 30 day challenge works, which were all simple 'spontanious' paintings with no planning. but I felt that collectively they would make an interesting piece. All of the subjects in the piece were collected from my local park.  Life events had forced me to put the work on hold but I hadn't forgotten about it.
 Natural vellum was the obvious choice for the subject matter. The warm tones are sympathetic to the browns and golds of the dead and dying leaves and the rich coloured fruits.

The original inspiration for the piece, I no longer have the subjects so will have to work from my original observation drawings , photographs and some saved dried specimens.
  I opted to buy a whole skin of natural calfskin from William Cowley,  it arrived rolled onto a cardboard tube. Only one surface is suitable for painting and when first unrolled the it was a different experience compared to that a of ready cut pieces. The backbone and rib markings were clearly visible, this skin has a beautiful rich warm colour - it's a work of art in its own right! The vein markings should be very much part of the work and need to be considered in the composition, so although the planning of the drawing is icompleted, I want to be prepared to make small changes to accommodate the features of the individual skin.
Cutting the skin, the off- cuts will be used for small studies....maybe more moths
 First of all the skin had to be cut to size - a slightly nerve racking experience but it cuts easily with Stanley knife. Natural vellum is very thin and transparent so must be handled with care, if you've only painted on Kelmscott before this is a different!  Kelmscott is much more robust with a chalk wash coating and allows easy application and lifting of paint. On natural vellum it's hard to lift any paint overworking is a disaster.  The size also makes it difficult, buckling will be a problem if too much water is used. I thought about using a rabbit skin glue to secure it to a board before painting but decided it was too risky because of the size.  I gave the skin a very light rubbing with pumice powder to remove any grease.

I decided to use the A2 light pad to transfer the rough image onto the vellum because it helps to minimise the amount of pencil work on the vellum. It's never  a good thing to have too much pencil line because it makes the paint dirty. In fact I tend to remove the pencil on each section before I add paint leaving only a trace or work just inside the line, removing it after the initial wash.  The light pad worked very well because the vellum is so thin. I used a fairly soft pencil 2B sharpened to a long point to transfer the image and drew a very fine outline.
Using the light pad to trace the rough layout onto vellum, this approach  has the advantage of being able to switch off the light to check which parts have been traced already.....it's easy to get confused when tracing a large piece!

Part of the image traced onto the vellum
The vellum was fixed to the drawing board with Frog Tape. It's a pretty vibrant green colour but is much better than masking tape for securing vellum. It can be covered with normal masking tape if it's too distracting.
Finally! I made a start by applying the first 'wash'. It's not a particularly wet wash but quite controlled and applied in sections between natural divisions, such as leaf veins. Little or no primary material means I have to work from my preparatory sketches and photographs.
Slow Progress! After a day and a half , this is all there is to show.
I spent a day and a half prepping the vellum and made a start but ran out of time. I had a trip to Donegal planned and had to leave it there! .....There's always next week!

Monday, 5 January 2015

Out with the Old and in with the New Year

Having woken up on New Year's day with the cold from hell, I was feeling more than a bit sorry for myself. But there's always an upside to everything and being confined to the armchair provided a good opportunity to reflect and plan for the year ahead,  and, to do a bit of sketching.

Let the sketching begin! Crow skull, graphite on Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook paper, life size. 

Initially I thought I hadn't achieved all that much with work over the last year but making a rough plan at the beginning of the year and reviewing it at the end is very useful.  I won't be beating myself up too much about the 'incomplete things' - it was a hectic year! Life events tend to drain energy, time and money but things settled mid November 2014 when I finally started to put down some roots again. Now that I have somewhere to work and the Festivities are dealt with the time has come to get stuck into some serious work but I feel the need to warm up first with some sketching. In fact sketching has been elevated to the number one activity in my New Year resolutions! 

Roe deer skull, Graphite. Life size study A4 Stillman & Birn Zeta Sketchbook. Completed using the hatching.
The sketches don't necessarily have to be botanical and it's sometimes better if they're not - other subject seem to help me to loosen up the drawing style. I made a start on some old skulls, they're very good subjects, as are seed pods and shells, dead insects etc. .... you see they don't move or wilt! The aim is to work fairly quickly on these sketches, always from life .....and done on a regular basis. Sketching and tonal drawing is all important,  and a botanical painting is pointless if the drawing is off and the tones aren't there.  My daughter, Polly, is home from University too so she's been joining in and yes she's got a blog too!

Looking Back
Having had a good think about last year and looked at the positive things as well as the things I could have done differently it's not been so bad!  I'd forgotten half of the things so trawling through the blog made me realise that more has been achieved than I originally thought.
 Painting and drawing is my job. I teach people, sell original work and illustrate all sorts of weird and wonderful natural things, from rice packaging to the internal structure of a bony fish! It's a notoriously unstable and slightly chaotic work choice, particularly if you're a solo act. Sometimes it's hard to make the best decisions because I'm torn between what I want to do and what I have to do but wouldn't change it for anything else in the world. This career choice means that I have to work hard, plan well and be organised. It's not just about painting either, there's some serious multi-tasking including, promotion, websites, book keeping etc. etc.
RHS Show Orchid Show in April at the Lindley Hall. Great fun but unprepared!  Photograph courtesy of Alena Lang Phillips
Last year I wasn't terribly organised when I committed to the April RHS show, I had applied for the October, Shades of Autumn show - but for some unknown reason I ticked the box selecting the London Orchid Show as second choice.... That was my first mistake! Never put a second choice if you haven't got time! I've done 5 RHS shows since 2004 and always applied for London as first choice but never been allocated it, so felt I had to do it when it finally came my way. 

Behind the scenes the frantic preparation! before the plants die

 Other work commitments meant I was left with just a few weeks to paint 6 works on vellum...it wasn't the best idea but it was 'do-able' if I kept it small and simple. That was a criticism by judges, they wanted more like this one, and less of the simple studies. It went a bit wrong at times and I didn't have time to present them properly either, but I got them all finished and made it to London. I have since done a bit more work on some of them and mounted and framed the the unsold ones. 

Fritillaria meleargris, exhibited at the London Orchid show
It was a great experience and I enjoyed it enormously, met lots of lovely people, many of who I've only ever communicated with via email. I was awarded a Silver and sold two of the paintings but I know that more time is needed to prepare for such high profile show and so I learned from it. Long term planning is the key and it's something I need to refocus on after the upheaval of the last 2 years. If I ever apply again I'll prepare the paintings and then apply for space when and only if I'm happy with them.
From the Royal Brompton and Harefield Exhibition flier

I also managed to exhibit 16 paintings at the Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospital Trust with my good friend Julie Whelan. A fantastic opportunity, thanks to Julie. Arts in hospitals is a great initiative, it brings a diverse selection of work into the hospital environment for the benefit of both patients, visitors and staff, and, with commission going to a good cause! We dropped off the paintings at the hospital and were given a tour of the old world famous Harefield, they have some super work in their collection including a beautiful urn by Grayson Perry. The paintings went on to be exhibited at the Royal Brompton until November.

Planning Ahead 2015
The new workspace is sorted and reasonably comfy,  so I'm ready to roll! I've had a clear out of materials and invested in some big vellum skins and other materials.....so no excuses for slacking! This year I want concentrating on more complex works in graphite on paper and watercolour on vellum ( although I reserve the right to change my mind at any point).  Here's a bit more drawing practice underway.... just! I drew this rather complicated rough composition of bindweed during a trip to Germany in the late summer, decided to dig it out today as practice. I have to work from photos and some dried specimens, not my favourite approach but I want to finish it. Hmmm....it's going to be quite challenging!

A bit more drawing!
......do you ever wish you hadn't started something! I'm working on Arches HP, size 18 x 24 block. I like this paper for graphite work but not for watercolour. It took an age to plan the composition but it will no doubt take much longer to complete. I can 'chip  away' at it when I feel like it tough as I'm only left with photo reference and a few dried specimens now. Who knows it may well run into the next flowering period!
Fortunately I took hundreds of photos! and captured quite a few mini beasts

.....and collected dried bits of the same plant from behind the shed at the bottom of my daughters garden!...I trod on a nail to get this!
Basically I want to keep drawing and painting this year to make up lost ground. Sounds obvious but putting together a body of work that I'm happy with is important, it won't be for any particular purpose, no specific exhibition or show and I'll decide what to do with it when it's complete. I won't be working to anybody else's criteria. Something to plod on with in the background and with the subjects I choose.

The Exhibitions Calendar ... OK what's achievable? 
I'm spending time researching the exhibitions calendar for the next few years. I hope to submit work for this years SBA Annual Show, In Pursuit of Plants. 
It's 3 years since I last did the SBA show and I aim to submit just one large piece on vellum.
Back in May I wrote about the Jade Vine painting. I'm almost ready to send off the digital image this month for the Sydney Florilegium Exhibition, which takes place next year at Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney.  I've worked on this over a two year period after tracking down the plant at Kew and Durham Botanic Garden.

I visited Kew to observe the amazing jade vine earlier this year. 

Work in progress. The finished painting will be scanned and sent as a digital image at the end of Jan, that's for the for printing. The original will be packed off to Australia shortly afterwards.

Teaching and Websites
Over the last few years I've written a number of online courses,  it's great fun and I have some lovely students. It's a constant learning curve for me as well as for the students and it's important to learn from their feedback. The materials are delivered via a dedicated course website, which I constructed and manage and we have a private Facebook group too. This year  I'm undertaking some new materials on Composition as well as adding to existing courses and developing things a stage further.....gotta keep up with the technology!

A video still from the  Botanical Watercolour Course
 My method of teaching, I hope, looks at the fundamental techniques and theory behind drawing and painting for the botanical student. It's not an 'easy option' approach and requires hard work but I believe it's an approach that will give students the building blocks that they need to develop their own style and to work independently as artists in their own right beyond the course. 

A still from the Course website

Blogging Birthday Ahead!
On Jan 18th I will have been writing this blog for 6 years! There have been some gaps over this period,  initially it felt like a bit of a waste of time - there seemed no way of finding others with the same interest but the amazing Sigrid Frensen found me and was thinking along the same lines. Sigrid had started a Botanical Art Facebook group, which I later joined as co-admin. It now has over 2000 members! So the whole Botanical digital world has grown enormously in the last few years and it's much easier to find people, and, there are now lots of amazing botanical art blogs to read. Writing the blog  is something that I really enjoy, hopefully others find it useful too and it's a brilliant way of keeping a diary for me..... I'll need to think about some way of celebrating!

Continue with the Sketchbook Project 
See my previous blog post. This time next year the project will be coming to an end and I'm very very excited to get my book back!

Finally... see more of the World and Exhibitions
One of the things I've pursued this year is travel, something that I hadn't really done a lot of up until a couple of years ago.  I've seen lots of exhibitions, including most recently the Picasso Expo in Brugge, also the Dali exhibition.  I've visited many galleries at home, looking at a wide variety of styles, from the fantastic Shirley Sherwood Collection and Marianne North at Kew, to Andy Warhol at Tate Liverpool and Turner Prize winner Martin Creed at the Hayward. It's something that has been invaluable.....diversity is definitely good for the mind! Travel has also given me the opportunity to draw and sketch plants away from home and in the field. Here's one from earlier in the year from a trip to Switzerland, Austria and Germany.

Linaria vulgaris, sketches
 I'm travelling to Donegal in a couple of weeks so will see what I can find there to paint....there's always something to paint no matter where you are, whether its from the back garden or further afield.

That's about it for 2014 and the rough plan for 2015! 

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Sketchbook Project, nearly one year in!

It's been a bit of an unsettled year, although that seems to be the norm these days!  haven't painted as much as I would have liked but there has been one project that really stands out, the Nature Sketchbook  Exchange Project.

Latest entry, sketchbook no. 8, work in progress in Doreen's book. Bracken and Lichens ( on hawthorn) from the W. Coast of Scotland, near Fort William. The decomposing bracken is very dominant in the landscape and I love that rich brown colour. The abundance of the lichens on the trees alters the colour of the trees, in places it's so thick you can barely see the branches at all. Lichens are indicator species for air quality, so it's obviously pretty clean in that part of the country. Hopefully I'll find a few hours to complete these pages before the year end.
It's fairly self explanatory as a project but for those of you who don't already know about it,  the Nature Sketchbook Exchange is basically a group of 16 botanical artists exchanging, and working in, each others sketchbooks,  we work on any nature based subjects of our choice - so by the end of the project we have work by every other artist in our own book. I'm currently on my 8th book ( including my own) so about halfway through and about a year into it come January! This fantastic project was initiated by my good friend Shevaun Doherty,  who also has one of the best botanical/ nature art blogs out there!
No. 7 Sketchbook. Black Rose hips for Frances' book, I found these in Bentilee,Staffs, near my old school. My first bit of work in my new flat (Nov, Dec). I spotted these hips on a routine drive to my daughter's house and pulled off the road to collect some, there were hundreds on the bush, so I didn't feel too bad about taking a few.
 After a year I feel as though I'm settling into the project and not quite so nervous about working in another artists book.  What's been really great is the luxury of getting up close to other artists work, which gives an insight into their working practice. Each artists identity emerges through their entries and everybody brings something different to the project.
Also being able to paint whatever I fancy painting with plenty of time is a luxery, there's never a problem finding something for a quick study and I always keep my eyes open, constantly scanning for the next subject! .....It might just be something I spot while on the way to the shops,  I often stop the car and collect a few fruits or find some interesting leaf or branch lying on the ground!  I add as little or as much as I want to each entry and some pages are more finished looking than others.

No. 6. Not many notes here because there wasn't much to say. This is a fruit branch from the Wayfarer Tree, collected from a car park in Germany for Claire's book. I just fancied painting with no preparation, in trial and error fashion. Painted at my daughter's house, I borrowed her dining table while she was out because I was in between moving at the time ( Sept - Oct)

In the past I  never used to keep a sketchbook and kept rough work in boxes and on bits of paper but in recent years I've been re-educated into seeing the benefits of keeping a good sketchbook.
In addition to the project, I now keep several other sketchbooks which act as a plant library or painting and drawing diary. It enables me to paint things that I might otherwise forget about or just not bother with, usually because of a lack of time. Sketchbook work doesn't require a huge investment in time, so I often paint flowers and seeds from my travels or just document plants thought the year along with personal notes, it doesn't matter whether they are finished or not. It's proving an invaluable resource and making notes helps with the botany too.  Sketchbooks remind me of where I was and what I was doing at a particular time....I remember where the plant was and who I was with....... and all the little things that were going on around each entry at that point in time.

No. 5 A change of medium, Graphite Clematis from mums garden for Sarah's book. Drawn at mum and dad's house (July, August)

All of the artists working on the project use the same type of book, the Stillman & Birn Zeta series, hardbound, 8.5 x 5.5 cm, smooth,  270gsm,. Previously I thought that there was no decent sketchbook paper, but this is a really great book! I've purchased several now, in different sizes. Initially it felt a bit different because I pretty much always work on Fabriano Artistico for everything but I got used to it very quickly and love it!
No. 4 Dying anemone and a dead bee resurrected! For Jarnie's book. This sprawling plant had seen better days, I found the bee dead Queen bee in the porch. Painted in my previous house shortly before I moved ( May, June) 
I have started to notice a pattern with my layouts, most of my compositions sprawl across the pages but the entries are changing and I feel more relaxed about no trying to produce finished pieces in the more recent books, they are much more like my usual study pages.
No. 3 Fox Grapes and grape hyacinth for Terri's book. I grew these plants in pots from the bulbs painted in my own sketchbook cover pages at the start of the project (see below). ( March, April).
 Hopefully, this time next year I'll be able to post the remaining images from the sketchbooks yet to be received. I'm currently waiting for Shevaun's book, no idea what to paint but might find inspiration in Ireland when I visit in January. 

No.2 Fritillaria studies for Lorraine's book. My first attempt at painting in another artist's book.....bit scary at first but soon get used to it. It's only a sketchbook so mistakes are part and parcel! I  used these as part of the preparation for the RHS show paintings which were exhibited in London during April.
If you don't yet keep a sketchbook, I hope that you'll be encouraged to do so. It really is a good for pracice and reference but also a great escape....particularly when life is turbulent! 

No. 1 Beginnings, my own sketchbook. Inside cover page in graphite is a drawing /doodle styled work from the corners of the grey matter! The first pages of bulbs seemed appropriate subject to start with. Great fun to do but a bit over the top with the graphite, also I forgot to spray it with fixative so doubt there won't be much left by the time it's travelled around.
Bulbs seemed suitable for the beginning!
This time next year the project will be coming to an end and can't wait to see all the beautiful works from each artist in my book.... It will be something that I'll always treasure!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Back to Work..... Almost! Organising the Materials and Equipment

It's been a very long absence from the blog due to yet another house move...... hopefully the last for a while.
This meant that the time had come to pull the art stuff out of storage!
I've relocated to a small flat in an Old Rectory in the village of Checkley, Staffordshire. As for neighbours, I have a beautiful church complete with graveyard. On the downside I still don't have the have the luxury of a dedicated studio to put all the art materials into, it's taken some adjusting too and I've had to streamline things significantly, because as much as I love Fancis Bacon's studio I don't think I could live in a 'Baconesque' workspace!  
What's next?  I've spent months thinking about my work, the main aim now is to undertake some larger works on vellum as well as some more complex graphite pieces, all of which have been in the planning for more than a year.
For the first time I'll be working  with whole vellum skins. Natural vellum  is a slightly more challenging surface than Kelmscott but I prefer the colour and venation  for the autumnal  subjects. The larger sized works will need space, which is something I'm pretty short of, so there's a real need to be organised.

artist desk
Trying to be organised!
So first things first.... time to sort out the new workspace. This will no doubt involve some trial and error and it's going to be tricky given the small working area! I've a decent window ( the one shown below and another larger window. A small desk fits into the window space so that will do the job nicely. The main problem is that I have too much stuff! - it's currently a bit like a cockpit that I have to climb into! 
Having had such a long break from the blog it seemed like a natural thing to take stock, and, I though it might be useful to write about the materials and equipment that I use as this always seems to be of interest. It will help me to decide what stays and what has to go. Being organised and comfortable in the workplace, with everything at hand is often more difficult than it might first seem.

Not very organised workspace! The easel sits at the side of the small desk with reference material pinned to the drawing board. Angle poise illuminated magnifier lamp is bolted to the desk and positioned over the drawing board. The long drawer in the desk houses rulers, dividers, viewfinders, painting mediums and various measuring devices as well as the smaller cutting mats.   
The first consideration is the desk and easel.  Having looked at lots of lovely desks including the ones that tilt, I decided that I didn't have enough room for a fancy desk or large table. When considering the fact that I prefer to work fairly upright, and, being a fairly 'dry' painter,  I decided that a separate easel is the way to go with a small desk alongside. This is actually an improvement - it's not the first time I've used the easel, it's particularly good for larger works and can tilt slightly to suit. An adjustable height seat can be raised and lowered making it easy to reach those difficult areas or I can stand.  I've always used a steeply angled drawing board, to me it's the only way to see the work accurately, otherwise the work is leaning away with and the perspective distorted, the spine becomes strained if you struggle to see the work properly by leaning over it...that's bad in the long term.  The only problem with an upright desk based drawing board is the redundant space behind the board, which tends to gather clutter. I already had my old easel from my art school days ( 30 something years!) so no need to buy anything new, which is a bonus! It's a radial easel, which is pretty heavy weight and made from beech wood. This type of easel can also be folded and stored too and the tripod feet allow good positioning at the base.
Radial easel has adjustable height and can lean a fair bit too if needed The tripod base allows the feet to tuck under the chair and desk, so you can get up very close or work further away at a height that suits, with the option of standing too. A pair of pliers is needed to secure the nuts, otherwise the weight of the drawing board can cause the support to fall
 The other advantage is being able to use different sizes of MDF drawing boards, which I had cut at the DIY store. This way I can use the most appropriate sized board for the work and swap between works. The board can be positioned at a comfortable working height on the easel depending on the size of the work, notes, photos and even some subjects can be pinned to the board so that they're in the direct line of vision. Having material in the line of vision is important when painting.  The desk alongside can be used to position and light the subject as well as for small works, sketchbooks and materials etc.

So what else do I really need in the work area?  First of all the technical stuff - this can takes up quite a bit of room. Technology can be really useful in planning work, especially when the subject is dying on you or short lived, occasionally its the only route available material. My first space saving idea  is to ditch the laptop from the immediate workspace and instead I opted for an iPad Air with the addition of the the small keyboard, which works a treat! The iPad or tablet is a very handy tool for viewing detailed reference materials, it can be positioned on the desk or on the drawing board ( again direct line of vision). With the right programmes it's easy enough to do most of the same things on the iPad as on the laptop. I use Photo Transfer App for moving photos from different devices ( iPhone to iPad I use the Air Drop but use Photo Transfer to the laptop).  Work on the laptop is done outside the painting area. I use a Canon wireless printer, which sits on a small table in case I want to print off any reference material. It's always useful to take lots of photos. tend to throw the photos onto the floor to get inspiration for compositions by looking at shapes. I use a combination of photos taken on the iPhone or iPad which can print directly to the printer.  For better quality I use an Sony alpha 100 DSLR camera.  It's an older  DSLR now but still takes great pictures. I use Photoshop Elements 13 to edit, having just upgraded I previously used PS 8 for a number of years. To be honest PS 8 does as much as I need.

For more complicated compositions - I tend to take lots of photos of the plant in situ (sometimes hundreds of photos!) 10-20 selected for printing, I throw then on the floor and look for good shapes and ideas, then make numerous thumbnail sketches.
The next problem is lighting and positioning subjects.  I've already touched on this and so far I'm finding it much easier now the space gobbling drawing board is gone from the desk because: 1. I've more free room on the desk for the subject and 2. I can pin some materials to the board.  The  magnifier lamp shown above is for the painting, and it clamps desk with a long adjustable arm - this is important! But I also need to light the subject and have several lamps which give off different types of light, some are warm light and others are daylight lamps so give off a cooler light, which lamp depends on what I'm doing and the outcome I'm looking for.  I use a regular low cost lamp with adjustable arm ( in the images above) this lamp is great for tying subjects to ( as shown)! The other lamp used is a twistable daylight lamp ( shown below). This type of lamp works well because I get a good adjustment on the angle. To light a subject well you have to play with the distance and the angle of the light. Too close and there's too much contrast ( lights are bleached out and the darks are black),  too far away means it's all mid tone and lacks drama. So again depends what you are looking for in the finished result.
Twistable daylight lamp ( note: the tin can reflects a little light back) I try to get a good range of highlight, mid tone and shade, with a little reflected light too)

Pinning subjects to foam board to position on the drawing board.
I place white card behind the subject so it's clear to see. I usually photograph it in situ. I use a retort stand ( which I can't find at the moment) and all sorts of jars, boxes and anything I can find to arrange subjects.  For ' flat' subjects, such as dissections and leaf portraits,  I secure the subject to foam board with florist wire and dressmaking pins and make good use of the sticky Oasis Minifix, which is brilliant stuff for the natural positioning of leaves etc. These can be places on the easel next to the watercolour paper.

 Having bad eyesight means that numerous magnifiers are a must have, the main one is the big illuminated Draper angle poise magnifier.  It's a bit heavy and cumbersome and given a choice I'd swap it for something more lightweight but the magnifier is a decent size and quality is good enough so it's stays. I use several smaller hand helds with magnification from a x 1 up to x5. They are used to see more clearly but also to check for clean edges and overlaps ( the brass one top left is good for this ). They're also useful for examining detail in the subject. I also have a loupe but its' disappeared at the moment.

A few of the various strength magnifiers
Paints and palettes.  I always revert back to my old faithful W & N Artist pans in the modified wooden paintbox, which I've had for many years. Most recently I decided to secure the pans with Velcro because they were always dislodging. The colours are arranged in W & N colour chart order ( I keep a painted reference card in the lid of the box as well as the chart on my drawing board. I tend to take out the colours I'm using and keep them on the palette. I prefer pans for botanical work as they're more suited to a 'dry' painting style, particularly when working on vellum. A common problem is having far too many paints, which is a mistake I made - an absolute maximum of 24 colours is all that are required but I've got them so may as well make use of them now.

Attaching the pans with Velcro stops them from falling out.

 I also have various tubes of paint, including Daniel Smith, W &N and Sennelier which I keep in the drawer. I use these for larger washes and store these in Tupperware! I don't use them very often but some colours are preferable for certain jobs.

Additional tubes, seldom used but still useful
 Limiting myself to two ceramic palettes, one is deeper at one side for mixing larger amounts of paint, the other has small wells and a lid which is very useful for mixing and for keeping the dust out....dust and fluff is the enemy! I use jam jars with lids for water, again the lid keep any dust out!

Ceramic palettes deep palette top and palette with lid.
  Brushes. The odds and ends live in old tin cans but most brushes now live in a folding brush holder, which was a free gift from Ken Bromley. This can hang below the drawing board on the easel for ease of access. It's also really useful for transporting them without damage. I use W & N Kolinsky sable, miniatures, rounds and flats, Rosemary and Co, spotters, designer and short flats ( my favourite little brush!) I also have some beautiful hand made brushes, which were a gift from the Brushman,  David Jackson. They have the finest points I've ever come across. I've also a few old da Vinci brushes, but supply has been an issue with these. 

Old tin cans make good additional storage containers

Brush Holder, very handy free gift!

                                    Pencils are kept in a pencil roll, for space saving.

I've always kept pencils in their tins until recently but have started to store them all in pencil rolls, they're lighter and more space efficient as well as easy to transport. I use mostly Faber Castell 9000 and sometimes Cretacolour Monoliths - all for tonal work. I use a variety of mechanical pencils for fine line drawing.

All other bit and pieces, such as sharps e.g.scalpels, blades, things for securing subjects, erasers etc. are kept in an old  Gillette razor box. This was given to me many years ago by a friend, I think it was a shop display box. It has a glass lid. I also keep the mechanical pencils and  leads in it- otherwise these seem to get lost..... I love this box!

A useful and lovely box for the sharps and easily lost items.

Various dried subjects and reference material, such as seed pods, shells, and skulls are kept in boxes. These are all handy reference material collected over the years and too valuable and sentimental to throw away.  Many have been the subject of paintings and some were nurtured from seed and produced seed themselves.

One of the boxes of old subject material
 Books are essentials too, particularly reference and the Floras. Many of the instruction type or  coffee table style books were sold or given away because of lack of space.  I've built tall narrow bookcases, which have been painted and strategically placed around the flat, they look OK and don't dominate too much. I also keep the sketchbooks in the book case.

 My biggest storage problem is paper, and vellum storage because of the size. Much as I've always wanted one, I don't have enough room for a plan chest, although you can get then in a coffee table style, but wouldn't want to keep paper and especially vellum near to a fireplace. So The paper lives in study cardboard boxes under the bed! The vellum lives on top of the wardrobe! I use Fabriano Artistico HP 140 lb imperial sheets and on a roll as well as 300lb imperial sheets. For graphite I use the same Fabriano or the blocks of Arches HP 140lb 18 x24 inches.

Small vellum pieces must to be kept flat and in dry but not too hot conditions, skins are rolled, so that's no so bad.  Here's the skin so you can see the problem once unrolled! Well that's my next problem...to paint the autumn collections started two years ago but this time onto vellum.....once I've flattened it!

Next project: Natural vellum skin to paint the autumn studies which I started in Sept 2013. Unfortunately I had to put this work on hold - it's been in the back of my mind since and I'm looking forward to getting started.
It's surprising just how much art stuff is accumulated over the years! I wrote a full list of materials when I moved ....it was a bit of an eye opener! So if you're about to take up painting you might want to consider the size of the house! In this post I've mentioned just a fraction of what I've accumulated but limited it to the things that I use regularly. There's lots more, including microscopes, a large mount cutters, portfolios, a guillotine etc. etc. ....all of which take valuable space.... not too mention all the unfinished work and studies.

Now the workspace and materials are sorted all that remains is to start work!