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! 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

New! Live Botanical Art Tutorials and Botanical Illustration Course

This week I'm really excited to launch the next phase in my online courses as Live Video Demonstrations and Tutorials. The first session, titled ' Red Hot Chili Peppers: Using the Washes and Dry Brush Techniques in Practice' is taking place this Sunday 6th April at 1300 hrs UK time. During the session, which will be delivered via Skype, I will be painting different types and colours of chili peppers. They make brilliant subjects.... perfect for demonstrating light and shade in creating a 3D form and employ a range of watercolour techniques. 

Chili peppers are pretty much always available and can be purchased at low cost at the local grocery store, their small size means I stand a good chance of getting something finished in a relatively short time scale! The session lasts for three hours, so hopefully I'll get one of each colour finished . If you want to join me and paint along, ask questions or just watch. 

 Click here to find out more.
An example of chili peppers as work in progress
The chili  pepper  makes a perfect  little subject! The rich colours and shiny form requires a number of techniques to create the 3D effect with the right finish. 

The live tutorials should be fun and can actually have some advantages over the classroom, each session is intended for small groups of up to a maximum 6 students. Participants will be shown how to set up the subject and can paint along or just watch and or ask me questions from the comfort of their home! Details will be mailed out regarding the session in advance.

I've timed the sessions to start at 1300 hrs UK time which means it covers a fairly wide geographic area and may offer different times at a later date too if there is demand. 

A variety of chili peppers are available at most supermarkets.

I know that some people will say that you can't learn in the same way online but the technology keeps moving on and we're now much closer to the real classroom experience. The videos may be made available online at a later date on my YouTube Channel.

Over the past three years or so I've been teaching students online with a selection of courses and short videos clips. This was always something that I wanted to do because I know how difficult it can be to access classes or courses where travel, time and substantial amounts of money is involved. 

Personally I lived miles away from anywhere, had children at school and ill health in the family, so it was pretty much impossible at some points in my I appreciate how frustrating it can be when you want to learn but just can't access education for whatever reason. I always try to listen to what students want and accommodate their interests and adapt to suit. 

I'm offering more courses over the summer ( taking advantage of the longer daylight hours!) which reflect my own areas of interest and experience. Most important point at the heart of my teaching method is this statement: 

I don't want you to paint like me or copy what I do but instead want to provide the building blocks that underpin botanical art and illustration to enable you to become an artist in your own right.

The live sessions cover a range of subject areas.  The second session takes place on Tuesday 15th April 1300 hrs UK time- An Introduction to Illustrating Dissections in Botanical Illustration.

An introduction to illustrating dissections will guide students through the basics when it comes to identifying and illustrating the reproductive parts of a flower. 

There are also further sessions planned on the following:

 painting on vellum, painting leaves and composition. 

Also if anybody has suggestions for a session,  please feel free to get in touch with me and I will aim to accommodate any suggestion if I feel it's something I can teach.

And finally, I have also just launched a new more comprehensive course on Botanical Illustration, which starts May 7th. It's for just 6 students and so gives a fairly in depth 'start to finish'  approach, including graphite and watercolour techniques and studies, dissection and identifying the important plant parts for illustration, to creating a study page and colour studies. It finishes off with a full botanical illustration. 

So that's all of the new courses, they've been keeping me busy, so I just need to find a little time to finish off my current paintings on vellum.... more about those in the next blog post. Here's a peek at a detail. 

Friday, 7 March 2014

Snake's Head old favourite

I know I've blogged about painting Fritillaria meleagris before but I do like it!.... and so do lots of other artists, most notable of course are Rory McEwen's paintings, which probably can't be bettered, but also Elizabeth Blackadder, Charles Rennie MackintoshPandora Sellars and many more have painted Fritillaries.

At the beginning of the month I decided to concentrate my efforts on this flower and have a number of pots to keep me going for the next few weeks. Over the last week several studies have been produced - although they are intended to be work towards a series of paintings....I haven't even started the actual paintings despite the fact that they're due to be exhibited during April! But today I painted this larger study ( x2). 
Study of flower head x2 in size ( 22 x 26 cm)
I even painted Fritillaries as part of the Nature Trail Sketchbook Exchange project this week.

Nature Trail Sketchbook pages for this month, showing a white and double headed forms. 
There's something unique about the colour and pattern in this plant, the colour varies between flowers and changes with the light, and, as the flower ages. The stems and leaves are elegant with beautiful curves and the hanging flowers are delicate. The tepals have the most interesting nectaries, which creates the distinctive square darker coloured 'shoulder'. A look inside the flower reveals the glistening nectary on the reverse of the 'shoulder'.
The petal showing the outside with the shoulder (top) and the inside with the nectary (bottom)
 F. meleagris is a member of the Liliaceae family, which grows in damp grassland and meadows. In Britain it is often referred to as a native species, however this is disputed by botanists, it was not recorded growing wild until 1736, prior to that it had only been recorded as a garden plant, so is now believed to be an introduced species and garden escapee which became naturalized. Although it was once commonplace, it was picked excessively and sold in markets as cut flower. Much of its habitat was lost after WWII due to the agricultural 'improvement' of the land, when ancient meadows were ploughed and turned over to food production. The plant is now deemed nationally scarce in Britain and only a few wild sites remain, including Magdalen College Oxford, Cricklade and the village of Ducklington.

It's a lovely flower to paint, the best approach is the lay down the washes first to form the basic shape of the flower. The colours range from cooler purples to fairly bright reds in places.  I used various combinations of Permanet Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Magenta and Permanent Carmine. In the really warm red areas I added a little Scarlet Lake. The warmer red shows through more prominently in some areas, such as near to the petal tips - also where the light shines through the back of petals. Yet in other light the colour is a cool purple.
Once the form is established the chequered pattern can be added on top, but remember that the pattern follows the contours of the petals and is also lighter or darker depending on where the light hits the flower. I mention this because I've seen patterns added on top of a form without enough consideration of the effect of light and shade on the pattern. 
I used Ultraviolet in the shadows and added Payne's Grey on the 'shoulder' and for the darks. A small amount of Manganese Blue Hue was used on the 'light' areas at the top of the petals and around the highlight on the shoulder. 

The first stages: washes are laid first to create form, the the pattern is added next.

Building up the pattern from light to dark,  pinks and purples but keeping a close eye on the light.

The stems are slender and elegant, they should be carefully observed because the way that the stem bends under the weight of the flower gives a very specific look. To keep the stem clean looking I draw slightly outside the area that I intend to paint and paint inside the line, this avoids painting over pencil lines, the pencil can be erased afterwards. The curve should be smooth and painted in flowing continuous strokes. Nothing looks worse than thick uneven stems on flowers like this. The colour of the stems is variable some are green and others have some red/brown in them but all are fairly light with a 'blue /grey' appearance. I use a mix for the basic green of colours with high light values. Manganese Blue Hue plus Winsor Lemon was used and a small amount of Permanent Alizarin Crimson added. I try as far as possible to use the same reds in a green mix as those used in the flower, this I believe gives continuity to the painting. 

   Above: detail of the stem and darker 'shoulder' areas

And then I came to a field where the springing grass
Was dulled by the hanging cups of fritillaries
Sullen and foreign looking, the snaky flower
Scarfed in dull purple, like Egyptian girls
Camping among the furze, staining the waste
With foreign colour, sulky-dark and quaint

from 'The Land' by Vita Sackville-West (1927)

And here's a late addition to the post, not quite finished but painted this morning