Saturday, 3 October 2015

Thirty Day Vellum Challenge Concludes....feathers, bugs and a few old favourites

Having made a late start to the challenge on Sept 5th, I was a bit worried that it wasn't going to be possible to paint 30 small vellum works in the 25 remaining days in September but forged ahead regardless but as predicted fell short of the full 30. I posted the first 10 previously so here are the remaining 15 - in no particular order. These are quick snaps taken on the phone but I'll photograph them properly before uploading to my Etsy shop where they will be for sale. All are painted life size with the exception of the feathers (x1.5)

No 17. Peacock Feather, collected from the David Austin Garden back in July. I try to find one of the feathers every time I go there. The contrast from the glossy vibrant top compared to the downy base make this a great subject. It also has the tiny distinctive barbs which are tricky to paint at this size...W& N series 7 miniature, size 1 required! Colours winsor blue green shade and winsor green blue shade with some violet dioxazine. the feathery base is a mix of paynes grey and van dyke brown. I scratched away a few small highlights. This image is approx 4 x 3.5 inches.
It was a good opportunity for me to paint a few things that I might not normally have time for, such as feathers and insects.Feathers are great subjects because they are very ordered and smooth at the top but also have the light floaty base which is great to paint. Definitely a good exercise in painting texture!
Number 16 The first small  Peacock feather painted. It has a very iridescent tip and great colour. I added a little of the Daniel Smith iridescent paint but I don't think it really added that much. I also used some titanium white on the downy parts but wished I hadn't, again not needed.

No. 20 Another peacock feather, such a beautiful colour I don't think I do it justice, might try it again sometime I particularly like how the light catches one side of the feather and makes it so vibrant, whereas the other side appears quite dull until it's turned to the light and become this electric blue/ I used winsor blue green shade and prussian blue wit some winsor green ( blue shade). Both colours that I would almost never use in a botanical painting....with the exception of the Jade vine.

No. 19,  I love this very small peacock feather, it's not one that I would recognise from this beautiful bird. Its very delicate and floaty

No. 22. Small Pigeon feather from down the lane. I'd found  a dead bird at the roadside so collected a few of it's feathers. This is on natural vellum using titanium white over a mix of paynes grey and van dyke brown washes. Not sure if it works or not.

Insects are always fun to paint on vellum, so I added a couple from my daughters collection. I had intended to do more but had to spend a few days away unexpectedly.

No. 11 Gorgeous red beetle. The colours change in the light shimmering from red to green and making this very tricky. Vellum has to be the perfect surface to achieve these rich colours, shine and fine detail. Image is approx 2.5 x 2.5 inches

Another Flower beetle for day 12. The white spot are easily removed from vellum with a scalpel so much easier than using masking fluid on paper. I also added a touch of titanium white on the spots catching the light to make it brighter than the background vellum colour.

Of course I also painted some of the more usual subject material for a 30 day challenge and there's no better time for this than late summer/autumn here in the UK. I did want to avoid repeating too many of subjects previously painted so although the rose hips were tempting I gave them a miss this year but couldn't resist the acorns again.

I did this in one day but I'm claiming it as days 15-17 because there are 3. Again collected from the graveyard next to my flat. These are pretty tiny acorns which I thought really cute.

No. 23, A lichen encrusted branch on Natural vellum. I did this very quickly, maybe 90 minutes in total so it's less detailed but I quite like a less detailed finish on natural vellum.

No. 24, This old leaf was found in the lane and really was falling apart, there was no shine on it but I liked the holes and decay

No. 14 I discovered a patch of Arum fruits at the bottom of the lane which had been trampled on, so managed to rescue this one and paint it  before all the fruits fell off

Day 18 - this one was featured in last weeks post - along with a video of the painting process
Out of time! I made a start  on this honeysuckle fruit but have too many other things to do.... so that's all folks!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Thinking About Leaves, more on Vellum

This week I've been continuing with the 30 day challenge and came back to the old problem with painting leaves....nothing lets a botanical painting down more than poorly painted foliage and the worst case scenario is badly painted leaf on vellum! Don't think no one will notice if your leaves aren't up to scratch....they will! It's always worth brushing up on leaves so this week I've been preparing new tasks for some of my students and leaves are always firmly on the agenda for me too. ...they need constant practice.

Here's a video of a leaf I painted on vellum this morning, sped up x16 so that gives you an idea of the actual time frame.

Almost finished, the autumn leaf on vellum
I love to paint leaves and autumn is the most exciting time with a variety of rich colours. Tidy edges are vital, as are clean highlights which should not lifted, overworking is an absolute no-no! it's always obvious if you do any of these, so there is no hiding place with leaves. Best advice is to keep it clean.... if it's not.... well forget it and start over until its right!

Rough measurements of a leaf in perspective

I believe that it really is all about observation of the the light and shade, so often I see leaves painted in a 'stylised' fashion, with 'tramline veins' that don't mirror the actual venation of the leaf. My recommendation is always to 'really look' at leaf and forget what you think know and just 'see' what's really there. Yes always take basic measurements of height, width and widest point etc. get the facts first but then look at how the light hits the subject. Start with a leaf portrait first and then move on to leaves perspective. Here are some of my leaf portraits from over the years.
Cherry leaf on vellum from around 2007. The thing I really love about vellum is the way its possible to 'polish' the surface and creates a shine. Work on vellum should never have thickened paint at the edges and should take full advantage of the translucency that can be achieved on this surface but you can also create that lovely texture using the different dry brush techniques

Decaying lime leaf on vellum, again vellum is great for detail and translucency, A sharp pointed brush is required, such as W & N series 7 miniature, size 4 and 1

Hydrangea on Fabriano artistico..... the technique is much the same as for vellum, lots of dry brush work over the wash.

Herb Robert on Fabriano artistico, love the rich autumn colours. Transparent colours are a must. I like Transparent Yellow and Nickel Azo Yellow in leaf mixes is a favourite. Steer clear of opaque yellows and try to have no more than 3 single pigment colours if you want to keep it fresh looking.

One of my early leaves on vellum. Horse Chestnut on Kelmscott, maybe 2008

Cherry with a leaf minor cast, 2010

Lime leaf on vellum, 2010

Mahonia on vellum, with some lovely dacay!

Red Maple on vellum

Red Maple on paper

Shiny dark greens with the Camellia on paper. Cerulean or Manganese blue makes a good 'shine' colour on those dark green leaves

Building up the layers on vellum.....doesn't always look so neat in the early stages. I use a 5 stage process which I've developed and I believe it works. can get a great shine in the end!
This one on natural vellum is perfect for decaying leaves but a little less suitable for flowers

My process is pretty much the same on paper but less washes are possible on vellum, this is  a rhododendron leaf on paper.Stippling dry brush over a wash similar to vellum

Leaf portraits are fun to do and you can learn much from them! They always sell well too, so why not start a leaf library.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

30 Paintings on Vellum in 30 Days

Haven't written a blog post for over almost a month and it's really bothering me! There's one in the offing about photographing artwork but it requires some use of the grey matter to finish it off, so here's s something about the new 30 Day Challenge in the meantime. It was initiated on the Botanical Artist's Facebook Group, and requires 30 small works to be completed during September. Over the past few years I've tried a few of these Challenges, here's a link to one that I actually completed in 2013, and wrote a daily blog for.
This time I wanted to try something different so have decided to do all 30 on is do-able if I keep it simple!

Day 5-10 Violas on Kelmscott Vellum, size approx 8 x 6. I bought these little pots of flowers from the local DIY store and painted the whole sheet in one day because I was so behind. The palette included: Holbein Manganese Blue PB33 ( not the hue) with W & N Cobalt Violet and Quin Magenta. I love the way PB33 separates, it's really useful for high light value pale violet flowers, with both pink and blue  present. Also Violet Dioxazine. Lemon Yellow NT and Cadmium Yellow for the flower centres. The greens included Cobalt Violet, Lemon Yellow and permanent rose. 

 The Challenge started while I was away in Italy, where I visited the Venice Biennale, it's good to view a diverse range of art and the Biennale was certainly that! diversity definitely feeds the brain and upon my return I was was left playing 'catch-up' with the Challenge but definitely inspired to work.

I try to tie in this sort of challenge with other work, and these little studies are prefect for video examples for my new online Vellum Course which is underway with 5 great new students. Currently I'm also working on a large vellum painting of Roses on vellum so no doubt a few roses will probably feature here and there. Here's a little bud of Olivia Rose Austin, which was my 4th painting.

pink rose bud on vellum
No 4. Olivia Rose Austin Bud. 5 x 3 inches on Kelmscott. Colours: Permanent Rose and Lemon Yellow n.t. for the pink with Cobalt Violet for the cool pink shades. A small amount of Permanent Carmine was also used to deepen the colour . The green mix is Cobalt Blue, Transparent Yellow and Permanent Rose. The stem Perm rose, Trans Yellow and Brown Madder
 The Blackberry studies are good as preparatory works for another painting, which is for a  competition, the final piece will be on a piece of mounted natural vellum though. This is more challenging than the Kelmscott but this piece is all good practice with the subject.

Blackberries watercolour painted on kelmscot vellum
Day 1. Blackberry Study on Kelmscott, approx 7 x 5.5 inches. Love painting blackberries and working with dark colours. The black mix is Indanthrene Blue, Permanent Carmine and a very small amount of Trans Yellow. The bias of the mix is on the violet side. Where the fruit is more of a dark red colour, the quantity of Permanent  Carmine is increased. The red is Perm Carmine and Scarlet lake for the warmer red. Stems and all other parts are mixed from the same 4 colours. There is really mo need for lots of colours when a few will do and the use of the same colours created better harmony in a painting.

Blackberry leaf and fruit painted on vellum with black paint
No. 3 This is a simple study of a single fruit and leaf but painted with Ivory Black. This is a very thick piece of vellum 6 x 2 inches. I quite like this effect and have been playing with it recently. It's all about getting the tone right before working with colour. It's also an approach that I teach as good practice in preparatory work.
Also completed on the first day was a simple single maple seed, not particularly well painted but very quickly completed.  I used the earth colours for this, it was a pretty lazy effort. In the 2013 Challenge a maple seed was the first subject and it seemed a good idea to repeat on vellum.

Maple seed painted in watercolour on vellum
Maple seed on Kelmscott, 3 x 2.7  inches. I used some Manganese Blue on the shine. Thereafter Raw Umber wash, followed by building texture with Brown Madder and Van Dyke Brown, a small amount of Ultramarine Violet was added for the shadows. Lots of sweeping and drawing dry brush work here.
I've almost caught up! Maybe I'll even manage all 30. Ive plenty of vellum off - cuts so no excuses.

The Photographing artwork post will hopefully follow shortly.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Everything's Coming up Roses! The First Studies

A few weeks ago I visited the David Austin Garden, which is less than an hours drive from my home.  In the past I haven't been a huge fan of roses and only ever illustrated a few in all the years I've been painting.... but decided it was time to give the roses another chance. The garden is probably one of the best I've ever seen and got me completely hooked on roses. I purchased three plants and the painting commenced! Roses seem to be one of the more challenging subjects in the world of botanical painting, so I'm open minded about the success of this project. Will split this into two separate posts, this one is about my preparatory studies for Olivia Rose Austin and Munstead Wood.

Olivia rose austin botanical study in watercolour
First study page of Olivia Rose Austin
I had intended to buy an old rose but got drawn in by 'Olivia Rose Austin', which is an English Leander hybrid and has only been available since 2014. With its large pale pink cupped blooms, this rose is named after David Austin's granddaughter, so I guess they must think it's pretty special too! It blooms three times a year instead of the usual two, so I'm hoping that buys me some time. This rose along with a couple more,  Munstead Wood and Sceptre d' Isle, should keep me busy for a while. 

Olivia Rose Austin in full bloom in late June at the David Austin Garden in Albrighton

I couldn't write a post without a few photographs of the David Austin Garden, so here it is.....a feast of roses!
The Renaissance Garden

Beautiful archways and climbers can be seen throughout the garden. There are several different areas, including a Victorian walled garden, here the doorway looks in from the Long garden to the Lion Garden. 

I took well over 500 photographs and several videos on my iPhone. I returned again the following week for another look and although it was just one week later it's wasn't quite as spectacular. There is also a species garden and it was interesting to note how many bees were found in this area. Here's a short clip of typical of a very busy little bee. If the current paintings go well ( fingers crossed!) I'd like to paint some of the Scottish species roses next year.

Where to start: the study page approach for Olivia Rose Austin
I plan to paint the final works on kelmscott vellum and have a whole skin waiting on top of the wardrobe. But my initial approach is to complete sketchbook and then a number of study pages, the study page is the focus of this post. These studies are painted on A2 Fabriano Artistico watercolour paper ( I40lb HP) but a study page should be painted to suit the size and structure of a plant. 
drawing board with roses
I don't plan a layout for a study page but place the elements randomly with fairly even spacing on the sheet.
Because the final piece will be on vellum a number of small colour studies on off-cuts of vellum will be completed too, I do this because the colour will be different on vellum compared to paper. This study page approach allows me to get to grips with the subject and stimulates ideas for a composition. It's not painted in great detail and probably takes 2 or 3 days to complete. But I don't set a takes however long it takes.  Most importantly though it enables me to get to know the subject and to understand the character of a plant, such as the growth habit, and in this case the changing morphological features and colours of the blooms.
Painting study pages is particularly important to me especially for a plant that I'm less familiar with. It's similar how a portrait artist needs to capture the character of a sitter, so the botanical artist must capture the particular character of a plant. I use this approach with all of my own work and all of my students are 'forced' to do it too. Those student who really commit to study page work, instead of skipping over it,  seem to get the best results in the long term.
rose detail Olivia
Detail from page 1 of the study: Different stages of flowering, with faded older blooms, spent flower and bud.
Rose sketch on vellum
Colour test on vellum. I paint these directly to vellum 6 x 4 inch off-cuts without drawing, they take about 30 mins to complete. I paint the flower rather than just swatches of colour because the layering of colour needs to be understood in an actual subject. I make notes on the sheet and keep for reference, noted include the colours and descriptive information, such as the fact that the opening bud is a stronger pink than the open flower. Fortunately not much adjustment in colour was needed for vellum, slightly less yellow was required because of the base colour of the surface. 
 In a study page the aim is to collect as much information as possible, written descriptive notes and illustrations of the plant parts that may be useful, such as different aspects of the flower, buds, leaves etc. sometimes I make several pages of studies, basically I continue until I'm happy that I've enough information - there isn't a set formula, it's just common sense. This enables me to work through many of the problem areas before committing to the final painting and reduces the number of potential errors. It's an approach that's probably not suited to everybody - I think mabye having a scientific background reinforces my own methodical approach to planning a painting. Having said that I don't always do a study page and sometimes I complete spontaneous paintings but with new subjects for major works, it's a wise move. 

 How to tackle a complex form
A rose of this type has a complex structure of many petals, after making some initial sketches I developed a reasonable understanding of the petal arrangement. I decided after putting in a feint outline in, that it was easier to sketch directly with watercolour. Then working from the outside to the centre seemed to work ok, but keeping careful track. The lack of pencil helped me to keep it very clean and avoided any erasing. I only ever draw in very feint outlines use an eraser as little as possible - even light use can damage the paper surface. The washes need to be very light and carefully layered in a pale flower and detail is added with dry brush.

rose watercolour work in progress
Beginnings. A few pencil guide marks and then paint lightly. I used W & N Permanent Rose mixed with Lemon Yellow nickel titanate to give a soft pink. The yellow is opaque but this works to the advantage with a soft pink giving a creamy soft pink. There is a lot of discussion about not using opaques amongst botanical artists and while I agree that most useful colours are transparent, the opaques also have important place in the paintbox, their value is dependent on the order of washes and the light value of the subject ( but that's another post). I wanted to capture the softness of a rose and so this seemed like a good option. I also added Permanent Magenta for cooler pink and used M.Graham Cobalt Violet for the shade. (note: that despite being the same pigment, the M. Graham CV is much cooler than the W & N version).

rose detail in watercolour
Gradually work into the centre building up the colour
A confusing aspect of rose paintings is the change in the flower, they expand from a fairly simple bud and end up with a mass of petals. The colour changes quite dramatically too, so I painted the rose at different stages of maturity.  
The leaves are quite a challenge with roses and of course any study needs a number of leaf studies. I have a few simple ones on this sheet but will complete more before proceeding with the painting. 
Rose leaf study in watercolour
A simple study of a leaflet. The leaves are all important to any painting, so many paintings are ruined by poor leaves. Roses are pinnately compound leaves, here just the terminal leaflet is shown.  I think rose leaves are possibly one of the most difficult to get right. There is generally lots of fore-shortening involved too, with fine veins and some puckering in the older leaves! I always tackle the leaves first on the painting because to me if the leaves aren't good enough the painting is ruined. For these I used a mix of Indanthrene Blue, Transparent Yellow and Permanent Rose. For greens I pretty much always try to use transparent colours. I keep the mix to 3 or less colours of single pigment and generally use a small amount of 'red'  to make the green more natural colour. If the red is one I used in the flower I use the same in the green mix.
I also did some research on other paintings of roses, from the obvious Redoute paintings to some contemporary painters. One of my favourite paintings of a rose is Martin Allen's beautiful single pink rose, also Kate Nessler's roses on vellum are old favourites of mine.

Munstead Wood 
I wanted to capture all of the roses and they were all flowering together, so decided to complete the study pages for all first. Munstead wood is an English old rose hybrid and very different rose from Olivia with its rich dark wine and magenta coloured blooms. It's another beautiful fragrant rose and reminds me of childhood days spent collecting rose petals from my grandmothers garden.  
Munstead wood rose watercolour painting
Munstead wood study page underway. A very dark flower which changes colour from a crimson bud to a deep magenta or burgundy flower.
Colour testing for Mustead Wood rose
A difficult coloured flower, that changes colour over time. I used a combination of Permanent Magenta, Permanent carmine, Violet Dioxazine. Also for the bright glazes Quin Magenta and Quin Rose. An a little neutral tint for the deep shade.
Munstead wood flower in watercolour
The open bloom has many petals and appears two-tone in colour as it changes.
I've a little more work to do on the study pages and will then move on to the composition, so will continue with this post at a later date to describe the process of composition. Thereafter the final painting on vellum will begin. Hopefully I can complete it this year while the roses are still flowering. If not I prefer to wait until the following year when the plants flower again. I could continue from photographs but only do this if I absolutely have to. 

One thing I have noticed is that painting roses is a messy business! All of a sudden the petals drop on mass! they fall into the water and on to the palette, resulting in this rather nice effect!

paint palette wit impression of rose petal
Petals in the paint, leave beautiful patterns