Thursday, 21 August 2014

Summer Travels.....a Sketchbook Encounter with Linnaeus's 'Monster'

Last week I travelled by road to Austria and Switzerland via France, Belgium, Holland and was a long way! But the opportunity to paint the flowers on this trip was too good to miss. It's a long time since I've painted wild flowers and I'd forgotten that it can present quite a challenge.... and when the weather is wet it's near on impossible at times! Nevertheless I managed to produce some sketchbook studies and notes and took lots and lots of photographs. There's a whole heap of material from my trip so will spit it into two blog posts. Next week I'll focus on the mixed study pages but first off I'm dedicating this post to common Toadflax. It's a pretty common plant but it's an old favourite of mine so I make no apologies for getting carried away with it.....sometimes the story behind a plant makes a plant too tempting!
Linaria vulgaris L. (Common Toad flax) study page. Commonly found on disturbed ground at the roadside in Austria, Germany and Switzerland ( and much of Europe). This one was found in Germany near the roadside on waste ground. Note the mutated plant on the right.
The reason I couldn't resist Linaria vulgaris was sentimental, having grown it in my garden in Scotland some years ago, I'd been given a young plant from Aberdeen University Botanic Garden where I worked in 2005. Although I'd written about and it had flourished in the garden, I'd never actually painted it - so it was nice to encounter it again in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, where it can be seen at almost every road verge at lower altitude. Initially and visually it wasn't a plant I was particularly interested in painting but the history of the plant really is fascinating and it became  more interesting as I studied it. I first learned about L.vulgaris when I chose to write and essay about floral mutations for an assignment about Carl Linnaeus, to celebrate the tercentenary of his birth - this task was part of a course I undertook with Uppsala University in 2007. The University provide some great resources on Linnaeus for anyone interested.
Carl Linnaeus had a particular interest in L. vulgaris because it is prone to a strange mutation which he first described over 250 years ago. A mutated form occurs on occasion, and the plant produces radially symmetrical  flowers with five spurs instead of the usual bilateral flowers, which have just one spur.
Left: The normal bilateral flowers with one spur. Right: the mutated 'Peloric' flower, exhibits radially symmetry with five spurs. The mutation is caused by a defect in the Lcyc (cyclooidea like gene) which controls the dorsoventral asymmetry in 'normal' flowers. Similar mutation is found in Antirhinums.
 Apparently Linnaeus was so captivated by the plant and the mutation that he grew it by his front door at his summer home in Hammarby for many years. He had originally been presented with the 5 spurred mutated version in 1742 by a young botanist, Magnus Zioberg and went on to write a thesis describing the mutated plant in 1744.
Carl Linnaeus, was the first to write about the peloric form of Linaria vulgaris over 250 years ago. Copyright Wikimedia Commons 
  Linnaeus placed the mutated plant in a separate classification from L. vulgaris and named it  'Peloria' which translated in Greek to 'Monster'. He could only conclude that the 'Monster' was an example of hybridisation which resulted from interbreeding between two separate species and suggested common toadflax and some other unknown species had interbred to create a new species. This controversial view challenged the religious views of the time and presented Linnaeus with a problem which left him in conflict with the church. The problem of conflict persisted for him as he developed his sexual system and classification of plants, which were seen to question God as the creator. Linnaeus's work was banned and ordered to be burned by by Pope Clement the XIII and he was accused of impiety by the Lutheran Archbishop of Uppsala.
L. vulgaris has continued to fascinate and has been discussed in works by numerous evolutionary biologists, including Darwin, de Vries and Huxley, and used as an example of how mutation can lead to changes in morphology.  Read more about Linnaeus's Peloria
The mutation is now known to be caused by a single gene mutation. Linnaeus was wrong because L. vugaris was not a separate species but the principle he identified was an important one in evolutionary biology and the L. vulgaris research continues to this day.   
The study page, Linaria vulgaris I worked on 14 x 10 inch Langton extra smooth HP paper ( kept in a plastic bag!)
I also had a small notebook for listing species and notes.
Although its only a study page I still prefer to create a well balanced page so try to fill the space as evenly as possible. This usually happens fairly naturally as a rule. Just make sure nothing is too cramped or far apart. 
  • I make one colour study of the whole plant in situ to document the general plant 'arcitecture'  - this is the focal point of the page. 
Focal point - whole plant, quick watercolour sketch in colour
  • After drawing the whole plant I make some small colour studies at the page edges before drawing and painting a couple of flowers to test the chosen colours. I had a fairly limited palette. An Ultraviolet light wash was used for the shadows. I put this in first because it's a light flower and I find it easier to lay shadows first on light flowers). I used Lemon Yellow (NT), Cad Lemon and Cad Yellow. For the greens I used Cerulean Blue, Cad Lemon with a small amount of Perm rose. I also added some Fr Ultramarine for the darker greens. I varied the ratio of  the colours for the lighter and darker shades ( i.e. more yellow for the lighter stems and new growth). I made a couple of smaller studies of the individual flowers in colour to test the colour before painting the larger piece. I think that I would change the Cad lemon for Win Yellow if i were to paint it again because WY is transparent. On this occasion I didn't have it with me.    
Colour studies
  •  A simple line drawing of the plant was also made for clarity - this enables me to get a really clear understanding of the plant in terms of the leaf and flower arrangement on the stem.
Line drawing, whole plant stem
  • Flowers are the feature of the work so I made studies of the regular bilateral flowers, front and side view ( required for a bilateral flower ) I already had a rear view in colour, so no need for duplication but I did also draw a flower which had yet to open. These were made in graphite using a 2H and HB pencil and scaled x 1.5 for clarity. I made a single study of the mutant flower ( only one study required because it's the same on all sides). Peloric version shown above in main text.  
Flower studies showing various stages and views
  •  I didn't draw the reproductive parts other than the stigma on spent flowers but could possibly track down a potted specimen at a later date if I wanted to add this.
  Back to the Travels
After many hours of travel and an overnight stop in Germany we finally arrived in Kappl, a small village in the Paznaun valley, Province of Tyrol, Austria. Kappl is located over 1,250 m above sea level, the clouds roll through the mountains and the air feels incredibly clean.   As we climbed the winding roads a far greater diversity of flowers was immediately apparent. Many of the plants commonly seen can be found here in the UK but seldom is there such diversity in one small area. In my next post I will share the mixed study pages from Kappl and St Moritz.

The road up to Kappl where a diverse range of Alpine flora was found.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Which Pencil?

Continuing from the last blog post I'm still working with graphite, this time for the Nature Sketchbook Exchange Project. It seems appropriate to do a bit more than just drawing a picture because it's a sketchbook project, so over the last couple of days I've been experimenting with a few different pencils brands.

Sketchbook pages, experimenting with different brands of pencil
  There are a number of pencil to choose from, all of which are suitable for botanical work, I tend to stick with the same pencils but having tried out quite a few over the years I've accumulated some unused ones. I try to buy from an art shop when possible rather than online because it would be a great shame to lose our art shops. I've been buying from Webberley's since I was a child in the 1970's. Webberley's is a beautiful old building and apparently it's been an art shop since 1913! Today it looks much the same with the old dark wood fittings and staircases. The prices are still pretty competitive and it's great to browse and try for real.
From experience my personal favourite is Faber Castell 9000 and find it the smoothest and most consistent pencil but I thought I'd give some of the others a try.

A selection of some of the pencils accumulated over the last few years
 The subject I've chosen to draw is a Clematis, I don't know the cultivar name but it's one my mum bought from the RHS show I exhibited at in 2008. I'm working from a few cuttings with a fairly 'free form' arrangement which sprawls across the two pages of the sketchbook. I haven't  really planned the composition but work with the natural shapes of the cuttings, which makes the layout fairly easy.
The sketchbook is a Stillman & Birn 270 gsm HP white paper for watercolour, line and wash. It's the best sketchbook I've tried and used by all of the artists participating in the project. It's slightly more white than the paper I usually use, my normal paper is Fabriano Artistico 140 HP natural. What is immediately noticeable is that the same grade of pencil looks a little darker on sketchbook paper compared to the Fabriano, so this needs to be taken into account when choosing grades. Always bear in mind that different brands of pencil may be harder or softer, so an HB in one brand may be quite different than an HB in another. That doesn't mean that you can't mix and match brands when drawing if you are familiar with the properties but if you're creating tonal strips for reference never mix brands. For this mini experiment I tried out three brands of pencils for comparison:
  • Faber Castell 9000 Art and Graphic set ( my usual pencils) 
  • Staedtler Mars Lumograph 100
  • Derwent Graphic
Also used tried Cretacolour Monotlith, which is a graphite stick and lovely for softer grades and very dark subjects, it goes on velvety smooth! I also use some mechanical pencils but only for line drawing and fine detail rather than for tonal work. Mechanical used were: Staedtler mars Micro - mechanical pencil 0.3 and 0, Rotring Tikki 0.5 and Pentel 0.3. All are good. I still taper the end of the lead on fine glass paper (actually a nail file!)

What's in a Pencil?
A pencil is a stick of powdered graphite mixed with clay. Graphite is a mineral comprising almost pure carbon. In the mid to late 1500's a large graphite deposit was discovered in Cumbria, England and from its appearance was mistakenly thought to be a form of lead, which was named Plumbago, which is Latin for lead ore. Apparently locals used it to mark their sheep and wrapped string around the plumbago to use it as a primitive mark making tool. Further deposits were found in the US, Siberia and Asia but none so pure and soft as the Cumbrian find. The name ' lead' stayed with the pencil but pencils were never actually made of lead. However, the painted wood on old pencils did contain lead so it was possible to suffer from lead poisoning if you chewed your pencil! 
In 1795 Nicolas Jacques Conte discovered the process of mixing the soft graphite with clay and mixing with water slurry before firing. By adjusting the ratio of clay to graphite the pencils could be made harder ( lighter in tone) or softer ( darker in tone). Today pencils cover a range from 9H ( very hard) to 9B (very soft). The quality of the graphite can vary considerably though.
Poor quality pencils are very scratchy and rough and the core breaks easily when sharpened. The outer wooden casing tends to be cedar.
My Findings:
Long leads are definitely best! it saves constant sharpening of the wood and you can just fine tune on sandpaper. For a guide on how to sharpen see my last post.

Faber Castell (left), Staedtler (middle) and Derwent (right). All 2H Faber Castell seemed slightly harder than the other two brands. Both Faber Castell and Staedtler sharpened well but Derwent was prone to breaking.  
The Faber Castell sharpens well as does the Steadlter, which has lovely soft wood which peels away beautifully with the scalpel. The Derwent seems to have a harder 'pink' wood which is more difficult to whittle away and it tears at times.  Also with softer grades the Derwent breaks frequently compared to the other two  pencils, but if you do suceed in sharpening without constant breaking and still have some pencil left .......  they sharpen to a pretty good tapered point.    

Tonal Work
I found the Faber Castell to be a harder than the other two brands. The harder grades are therefore slightly lighter in tone. The difference is less noticeable in the softer grades for all brands. But given that I do most of my graphite work in grades between 2H and 2B this doesn't really matter so much. With this in mind I would say that the equal tonal value for a 2H Faber Castell could be achieved with Staedtler or Derwent using a 3H. The Staedtler felt very smooth on the sketchbook paper but I have found some pencils to be slightly scratchy in the harder grades and this was the case with Derwent, which was slightly  'scratchy' in application. All in all though a decent drawing could be completed with any of these pencils. The differences are minor, and a lot comes down to personal preference. I used different pencils on different parts of this drawing and it's impossible to tell and difference visually. I have heard students mention small marks in their graphite and while this can be a problem its often caused by small fragments of rubber rather than the pencil. I will probably stick with the faber Castells as they are still my preferred pencil, the Staedtler were also OK but I'll probably give the Derwent pencils a miss due to the problems with breaking and waste.
 The paper is equally important because an uneven or fibrous surface means the pencil picks up the paper grain. I didn't find such a problem with Stillman & Birn paper. One of the main reasons for imperfections seems to be where a non putty rubber has been used  and left some small fragments of debris 
Comparison between Faber Castell 9000 and Staedtler Mars Lumograph.  A slightly smoother ( less grainy ) finish is achieved with Faber Castells pencils. This test is on watercolour paper, particularly in the 2H to HB range.   
Comparing an F and 5B in the 3 pencil brands. Faber Castell is slightly lighter in the harder grades but all 3 are much the same in softer grades

When teaching graphite I put students through fairly rigorous tonal exercises in order to help them to gain control of the pencil. Squares of graphite should not be darker at the edges but smooth and flat. This skill is vital particularly when working around areas such as leaf veins. When the control is poor it's obvious on leaves and quite often veins look outlined where they shouldn't be outlined.

The correct amount of pressure must be mastered when using continuous tone, there is a maximum tonal value or  'darkness' of tone for each grade of pencil. There should be no need to add additional pressure to go darker and you should never make indentations in the paper or end up with 'shiny' areas. The weight of the pencil is kept predominantly in the arm /hand and not at the point where the pencil makes contact with the paper. If you find that the point where you start is darker it means that you are starting with a heavier pressure on initial contact - the pressure should be consistent.  It's actually much the same as watercolour washes regarding a maximum tonal value. Usually there is no point in adding more than 3 or 4 washes of the same colour because there is a maximum tonal value to each colour after which it just gets thicker and flatter looking but not any darker in tone, to go darker you need to add a complementary colour or neutral tint.......... But that's another subject for a different blog post.
With pencil If you want to go darker, don't apply more pressure but switch to a softer pencil grade of pencil.
The line drawing is made lightly using a 0.3 mechanical 2H pencil. For the tonal work I used the Faber Castells and started with a 2H initially to add a layer of continuous tone all over, leaving only the brightest highlights clear, there should be no outline as such once the tone is added, thereafter form is created by using increasingly softer grades, paying careful attention to the light and shade between veins and folds ( 2H -2B and all grades in between). Detail is added on the darker ares such as the spent dark anthers using a softer 2B mechanical pencil. I used a combination of Cretacolour 3B on the dark soft areas, such as the leaf tips and also the 2B mechanical pencil to keep the edges tidy. 

All three brands were used in different areas of the drawing and it's not possible to see any real difference. The only difference is in using different grades to achieve the same tonal value in each brand.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Graphite... a Perfect Medium Despite the Chaos!

It's been over 2 months since my last blog! selling property, moving house twice, putting the belongings in and out of storage along with a divorce would rank pretty high as stressful life events....they've certainly eaten into my available time and energy in recent months! Not having enough time to paint or a dedicated studio space has been frustrating to say the least but despite a  tumultuous period I've managed to sit down with the pencils recently and enjoyed getting back into graphite. Drawing and painting are the constants in my life but my recent interest in graphite owes thanks to a commission to rework an old drawing and also an upsurge in interest from my new students. Collectively they've renewed my own enthusiasm for the medium..... I'd forgotten just how therapeutic tonal graphite work can be.

Revisiting an old subject

I'm quite a recent convert to tonal drawing, starting as late as 2008, prior to that I'd only really used line in my preparatory work. But while studying the SBA diploma course I discovered an interest in tonal drawing. My tutor during the course was fellow SBA member, Julie Small,  When I met her in London, I recall she told me that she'd found it an easier medium than watercolour for her busy lifestyle, she produces the most amazing works! I loved graphite immediately and completed many works alongside the course and beyond. Julie was right - it really is the ideal medium for people who find they're time or space constrained and doesn't require the same physical space, storage or long periods of concentration demanded by watercolour ( no colour testing!). I've found it perfect when moving around ...a few pencils, a rubber and paper are all the essentials needed.

 I use Faber Castell 9000 pencils - for me they're the smoothest and most consistent pencils, also a mechanical pencil occasionally with 0.3 lead for very fine work at edges, such as on the tips of the thistle drawing discussed below. I sharpen pencils to have long leads exposed by using a scalpel or sharp kitchen knife to trim away the wood and taper the lead. I use a nail file to fine tune the point. The long leads last a long time and just need tapering at the end on the nail file as I work.

Sharpen all the pencils before starting a new drawing
I prefer to use watercolour paper for drawing and prefer Fabriano Artistico HP 140 lb, although much of my earlier work was completed on Arches Satine, largely because it's not great for watercolour and didn't want to waste it. I find watercolour paper gives a softness, which I prefer the look of, whereas smoother surfaces, such as Bristol board gives a more technical appearance. Also handy is a hand held magnifier and ruler....but that's about it.

I had been asked in June this year to redraw a Scots Thistle seed head, Onopordum acanthium, at a larger size than the original drawing (x 2.5). The original drawing was completed in 2009, in that drawing I had illustrated two different aspects; one view in profile and from above showing the seeds( below). Having grown the plant in my garden in Scotland, I'd waited patiently for the seed head for the two years it takes to mature and complete it's life-cycle. It was an enormous plant and I really wish I'd photographed the plant in it's full glory.

Original drawing included a view of the seed head from above, showing a Fibonacci sequence
 The new commission required a profile view so there was no need to worry about the complex fibonacci sequence. Despite moving house I managed to find the original seed head although it was pretty damaged... falling apart actually! but it still served the purpose of first-hand reference material, which is essential for the finest detail!

The poor old thistle! doesn't quite look the same as it did but still useful for detail.
 For a subject such as a thistle I usually work out the basic positions from the base of  each of the 'spikes', first using tracing paper (shown below). In this case I also scaled up the proportions of the thistle for the larger than life version (x2.5).

Early rough drawings - to work out the position of the spikes
 Thereafter I transferred the drawing to my watercolour paper and began working in between the spikes to give the drawing some form. I also picked out the edges of the long spines on their shade side. It's rather like drawing the 'negative space' and involves working from the furthest back part to the front where the tips of the spikes are.
Most of the foundation work was completed with a 2H pencil and the whole drawing used the grades between 2H and 3B ( inclusive)


Working between the spines, up close
Building up tone, using increasingly softer grades of pencils 

Below is a video showing some of the process of building up tone on the thistle ( x32 speed).

 It's well worth revisiting graphite if I feel the need to get back to basics but always try to produce some sort of monochrome study for all works, whether completed in graphite or as quick sketches in black ink or with neutral tint watercolour. Monochrome gives me a better grasp of the values and also allows me to see where I might alter the composition. I also study the subject in black and white photographs for reference detail and the images can be blown up on screen, which is a real bonus for detail.

 Below is an example of how graphite was used for an original study of the subject for the final painting of a painting of Primula vulgaris on vellum. You can see the addition of one flower on the upper right of the painted version and the roots. Both were added because I felt that the graphite study composition was slightly empty looking and lacking in interest - hence the additions. Once the 'ground work' was completed in graphite the painting was much easier to complete.  Also I prefer dissections in graphite because they don't distract from the main focal point. In this case I decided not to include them in the final colour work but learned a lot on the way! I used the dissections as reference for another painting completed at a later date.

Using graphite to understand tonal values and to 'tweak' the composition. Left: original graphite study, centre Watercolour on vellum with additional flower and roots, right: dissections of the pin and thrum eyed flowers from separate plants.   
 I've been teaching graphite for a couple of years now and strongly believe that it provides the building blocks for colour work but of course it also stands as a medium in its own right. I spent some time overhauling and rewriting the materials over the recent months when I couldn't paint, and try to teach from the very basics; measuring, proportion, perspective, negative space and tonal techniques, as well as incorporating some non-graphite monochrome techniques, which I hope helps students to really see those elusive values ( so using photography and tonal painting too) Students work their way up to a study page and finally a full tonal drawing. I'm also currently introducing a new sections on dissection drawing because it takes us into the heart of the plant and its purpose....reproduction and survival. So yes,  a bit of biology in there too so that I don't lose touch. 

Fortunately life is now settling down again and I'm hoping to complete some of the projects that I'd listed in my new year blog at the start of the year.... but I know I can always rely on graphite to keep me focused when all around is chaotic.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Painting Root Vegetables....and Growing the Leaves! The Turnip

Want to paint vegetables but found that you can't buy them with leaves?
The simple answer to this problem is to grow your own!.... but if you don't have the space or time, don't forget that it's actually very easy to grow leaves on root vegetables.....remember growing carrot tops at school?  I've been amusing some of my students with this particular experiment over the last few weeks ....and it's catching on!
Turnip watercolour May 2014
You can simply place a root vegetable over water and it will grow some new decent looking leaves in just a few weeks. Beetroot works pretty well! I planted it outdoors and it has some nice leaves, next came the turnip and now I'm onto the radish! To be fair they're not quite as good as the original leaves but still make for a more interesting vegetable painting than a poor old storage organ with no leaves.

One of my most recent efforts is the humble turnip, Brassica rapa subsp. rapa. I started growing the leaves about 7 weeks ago and it's now about to flower and go to seed. There's also the added bonus of beautiful roots!
Here's the painting process in a video ( about 5 mins long) 

How does this work?...very simple biology bit 
 Basically the edible part - we refer to as the 'vegetable' is actually a type of enlarged root/ storage organ. In turnips, radish and carrots it's a type of taproot. The turnip is a 'napiform'  which means it's wide at the top and tapers to a narrower root. If you put its tail end in a bit of water it will sprout leaves and roots. The part that was above ground in the turnip is purple from the effect of sunlight and is actually part of the stem tissue but is fused with the root. The below ground part is white with the tapered root.

Supermarket turnips with leaves chopped off placed over water, on the upper left you can see the leaf and flower stem growth. ( there's a radish  hiding there too!)

How to do it and the limitations
 Look for a healthy looking turnip in the supermarket, preferably one that still has a small amount of lower root.  Place the tail ( white) end in water and top up on a regular basis to make sure it doesn't dry out. After about a week you will see small leaves emerging. You can plant it in a pot of soil at this stage but I kept mine in water. The bottom part of the turnip, which has been below ground will become more purple towards the base from the effect of daylight. The lower tapered root won't grow like the original root but will sprout lots of smaller roots. After about 6 weeks it will throw up a  tall flowering stem. If kept indoors the stem will be green but if you put it outside for a couple of days it will turn a lovely purple colour, eventually it will produce the yellow flowers. .

Turnip base where the root has been cut off.

A bit more about the Turnip
I always think the turnip is overlooked. Pliny the elder certainly understood its importance and considered it to be one of the most important vegetables ( beneath beans). Being a biennial it can be kept in the ground for two years. In the first year the root grows and stores nutrients, in the second year it flowers, seeds and dies.  As a crop it has the potential to prevent famine as well as providing an important source of fodder for livestock. 

'Turnip' Townsend  and Four Field crop Rotation
The 2nd Viscount Townsend, known as 'Turnip Townsend' ( 1674- 1738) was a British Whig statesman and turnip fanatic! He's credited with introducing the four -field crop rotation system in England by adding turnips and clover to the existing rotation system which included wheat and barley, although there is some dispute over how influential he actually's still a good story!

'Turnip' Townsend  Wikimedia Commons
The introduction of turnips was certainly important, the introduction of turnips had already reduced the area of fallow land. But the new 'four - field' system meant the no field ever had to lie fallow because the clover being a nitrogen fixing plant introduced the nitrates to the soil and acted as a soil improver. Together the turnips and clover also served a purpose as animal feed, and reduced fallow land so nothing went to waste. This development in agriculture  had a huge impact on crop yield. To highlight the importance in 1705 England exported 11.5 million quarters of wheat, in 1765 this had increased to 95 million quarters.
With this in mind and in homage I think clover will make a nice addition to the turnip painting.....just need to find out which type of clover....

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Jade Vine

I don't often paint exotic or big bold plants! But things change and last month I started work on a larger work with the Fritillaria imperialis. It's a plant I've always loved but never had the nerve to try. I thought I'd probably never paint my favourite 'big' plants..... in fact it almost felt as though I couldn't or shouldn't paint them because that's not normally what I do. Last year something happened that got me thinking about new subjects when Beverly Allen invited me to join the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney  Florilegium Project. I was sent the plant list which was slightly daunting because many of the plants were not familiar subjects. I was immediately tempted by the Jade Vine, Strongylodon macrobotrys, and claimed it without giving too much thought to the scale of the job! Since that time I started to think about other appealing 'big' plants and have now compiled a short list  of plants that I really must try to paint while my eyesight isn't too bad...... more about that later. Here's my first effort and its story so far.

The Jade Vine is a member of the Fabaceae family - the nitrogen fixing legumes or peas and beans. It's a big woody vine! There's nothing else quite that colour in the plant world, it really is 'jade' or turquoise in colour and once seen is never forgotten. The colour is caused by the presence of the anthocyanin, malvin and the flavonoid, glucoside, saponarin. Together the cause this copigmentation. Apparently at night  the flowers look white, almost luminous! and like many white flowers it is pollinated by bats. It's native habitat is in the damp forests of the Philippines. Sadly loss of habitat has caused its decline and it's now considered endangered. 

I tracked down a specimen at Eden last year but was too late to make a start, so had to wait to visit Kew and Durham Botanic garden in April this year. I made preparatory sketches and was fortunate enough to collect the fallen flowers too (with permission form Durham). I returned home with colour studies, sketch book work, flowers and hundreds of photographs! Working from photographs in this way is a bit of a departure for me but it works OK if you've done the background research.

Beautiful Jade Vine at Kew
Fallen flowers. The colour changes from the jade green to a more blue and purple shade.
 It's going to be a bit of a long haul but after over a year waiting it's finally underway. This type of work can't be rushed and will no doubt take several months to get to the final painting.

I started by drawing out the plant in detail and painting in the supporting structure. The stalk has an underlying yellow/ green colour with a fairly dark purple on top. I used Green Gold for the first wash and a mix of Violet Dioxazine and Paynes Grey on top. 

Getting the structure in place

Thereafter I began to add the first wash to the flowers and found a mix of Winsor Blue Green Shade and Winsor Yellow worked well as a base colour. I also added some Violet Dioxazine for the older flowers and a little Manganese Blue Hue as a glaze in places.

First washes to the flowers

I'm currently starting to add detail to the flowers. But this is just the start of the job really. There's a second flower spike and the woody vine and leaves to add yet.....It may take some time!....and perhaps I'll forget the big plant paintings idea!

Slow progress

The work needs to be finished and delivered for the Florilegium project by March 2015.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

More Frits.... Big Bold Crown Imperialis

It's a week today since I returned from exhibiting the Fritillaria meleagris paintings at the RHS London Orchid show. I was dying to get home to paint the much larger Fritillaria imperialis, a plant that I've always wanted to paint but one which just refused to flower in my garden in Scotland. This year I found some at the Trentham Gardens Estate and brought three home..... Makes a change to be painting such big bold flowers!
First flower head study, Fritillaria imperialis 'Rubra' finished on Thursday this week.

First up was the enormous orange F. imperialis 'Rubra',  but I also have a smaller 'Aurora' and the large yellow 'Lutea'. I started with 'Rubra' because it looked like the one most likely to go over first. It's quite red so I used a mix of Transparent Yellow and Scarlet Lake with the bias towards red/orange, then added Permanent Carmine for the deeper reds, I added some Violet Dioxide for the darker shadows. A little Cobalt Violet was used around the highlighted areas. The flowers become more red as they age, so this was something to keep an eye on.  Where the light shines through the petals at the back I kept the mix more yellow biased and light. On the left side of the flower (shade side) the red was deeper. 
The flowers are fairly simple to draw, they have huge nectaries which give the familiar 'square shouldered' look on the also seen in the F. meleagris flowers.

First washes

The flower interior, showing the reproductive parts and large nectaries. 
I want to paint all three plants if possible, but they were already in bud when I left for London and in full bloom when I returned, so I have to work fast on this project! The flower-heads need of all three need to be painted first because they don't last all that long, maybe a week or so. There's much more time with the leaves so I'll work on them later. I take lots of photograph from all aspects and make many drawings, the aim - to gather as much reference as possible! The initial position of this plant is very tall and upright but I chose to paint them as they lean over with the weight of the flowers and crown.

This is how the 'Rubra' the plant looked before I left for London

Having completed the first study of ' Rubra', I sat outdoors yesterday (17th April) and made rough drawings of  the yellow 'Lutea'. You can't beat the light outside for drawing and it was a beautiful day! also these plants have a very strong 'foxy' odour so outdoor working is good!

Drawing of F. imperialis 'Lutea'  made on Saturday 17th April
Yellow flowers aren't my favourite but this crown is a good shape with lots of flowers and more twists and turns in the crown leaves than 'Rubra' so today I'll paint it and see how it goes. It doesn't have the same interesting dark stem as 'Rubra' and 'Aurora' plants but it is still very impressive. 
'Lutea' in bud and starting to open. The yellow becomes much richer as the flowers fully open.

 This morning I started laying the first washes for the 'Lutea' painting but have to stop for a while while people come to view the house, which is very disruptive! This plant smells so bad it wasn't really possible to have it in the house while people are wandering around! I'm using the following colours: Cadmium Lemon, Winsor Yellow, Transparent Yellow and New Gamboge. Adding a very little Violet dioxide for the shade colours and a small amount of scarlet lake for the warmest yellows, I put it the shade colours first because this is a light flower and it helps to build form early on in the painting. I used combinations of the warmer yellows on the shade side and the cooler yellows  where the light hits the flower ( on the right) will resume shortly.    

First washes on the flowers for 'Lutea'
More work, layering the yellow washes and adding the greens (update 20th April).

About the plant.

Fritillarias are all members if the Liliaceae family. F. imperialis is architecturally grand looking and the cultivated varieties I have are all derived from the species, the plant is more commonly known as the Crown Imperial or Kaiser's Crown in reference to the crown like top. It's native habitat is from Anatolia in Turkey and Iraq across the plateau to Iran up to Afghanistan and Pakistan, so covers a fairly wide geographic area. 
The plant was initially called the Turkish Fritillaria being introduced from Turkey to Vienna in the 1570's, as part if the first major introduction of of plants from the Turkish Empire to Western Europe. Ghiselin de Busbecq, the Holy Roman Emperor's ambassador to Constantinople was the first to recognise the wealth of botanical specimens available from the Turkish empire in the mid 1500's and he sent bulbs of F. imperialis and other species to his friend Carolus Clusius (Charles de Ecluse) in Vienna, Clusius circulated the bulbs throughout Europe and took them to Leiden when he moved there.
Doctor and Botanist, Clusius, distributed the bulbs of F. imperialis around Europe in the mid to late 1500's. Public domain Wikimedia Creative Commons

The name, 'Crown' imperialis was added as an association with the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. It was the first plant featured in Sydney Parkinson's Patadise Terrestris in 1629, he wrote: The Crown Imperialis has the stately beautifulness, deserveth the first place in this our Garden of Delight'. Parkinson was aware of only one form but believed there was also a white form. The plant became hugely popular in the 17th and 18th centuries and at that time there were over a dozen varieties, including a variegated leaved vy of these have now died out but today they are popular again with several varieties available.
There are many paintings of F. imperialis, I found this beautiful illustration by the incredible Hendrik Reekers, painted in 1837,  not sure which variety this is but I this is one of my favourites! 

Hendrick Reekers, oil painting  of F. imperialis cultivar unknown Public domain Wikimedia Creative Commons
As a slight aside, I also painted another Frit this week, F. uva-vulpis. This one was for the Nature Sketchbook Exchange's the Frit alongside a two coloured Muscari. Sorry not a great photo but thought I'd share it all the same.
F. uva-vulpis painted for the Nature Sketchbook exchange, will be on it's way to the Netherlands on Tuesday morning

......More on 'Lutea' later

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

RHS London Orchid Show

To say it's been a bit of a rush would be an understatement! But I managed to finish the paintings and put them up at Lindley Hall tonight. I'm blogging from my phone so apologies for typos and the lack of captions etc.

In usual fashion I arrived last and left at about 9pm tonight. Before heading back to the hotel I managed a quick walk around the hall. The standard of work is incredible! and I can't wait to go back for a closer look tomorrow.

For my studies I've painted floral forms and development from a garden population of Fritillaria meleagris, all of the studies are on vellum and were painted during March and April this year - so it's been a very tight turnaround!

My largest painting of the population of Frits is painted on the piece of Rory McEwen vellum gifted to me by the Hunt Institute for Botanical  Documentation. Lugene Bruno kindly passed on information regarding McEwen's preparation of the vellum. He purchased the finest New Zealand calfskin from Band and Co. in Richmond, London ( closed some years ago). The preparation involved a thick coating of plaster of Paris , using a formula devised by William Morris and named after his press, 'Kelmscott' vellum. The thick chalky surface which was then rubbed down with fine sandpaper. 
I have to say that I was very cautious when rubbing down the surface coat and believe that I should have removed much more. The coat has visible brush strokes and is irregular in places, it gives a more absorbent surface than other Kelmscott vellum. 
The day before I was due to leave for London I decided to remove a large section of the work because I wasn't happy with the finish!  

It seemed like a drastic measure but I just wasn't happy with the finish. The other problem is the fact that the vellum is cut from the edge of a whole skin and is bucked. I didn't want to cut the edge away to straighten it so decided to live with it until such times as the work is framed. I will add more to the composition at a later date.

It's been a long few days and I'm ready for bed, will write more later but for now I'll leave you with a few images of my other small paintings.

Developing bud painted x 2 

'White' form but with some chequered 'red' markings (x 2)

A botanical study, I did want to add the tepals showing the nectaries and a dissection of the developing fruit...maybe later ( x 1.5)

Double-headed form, (x 2) seems very vigorous compared to the other plants.

I forgot to photograph this one so here's an picture of it unfinished. Standard form in bud (x2)

More tomorrow. 

I was awarded a silver for the paintings, I was happy enough with that for the amount of time taken to produce them. The feedback from the judges was useful. They preferred to see more of the plant than I showed in the smaller studies , I chose to do the smaller paintings due to time constrains, and, because personally  I like he small studies best. But I understand that judging for a show has a different set of criteria. If I do another show I will definitely take a much longer amount of time to prepare as I was literally still painting on the morning of the set up day!