Thursday, 5 March 2020

The Crown Flower: Painting Calotropis gigantea for the IDSBA exhibition

Calotropis gigantea, otherwise known as the Crown Flower or Giant Milkweed, is a plant that I've admired ever since first seeing it on Gili Trawangan Island, Indonesia, in 2015 and every year since. It's the most striking of plants in structure, so I didn't have to think for too long about selecting it as a subject when it came to entering the Indonesian Society of Botanical Artists exhibition, scheduled for June 2020 in Jakarta.

Calotropis gigantea finished painting, 51cm x 39cm watercolour on paper
The Plant
For me the first stage for any painting is to carry out research, so here are just a few of the many facts about the Crown flower.
Calotropis gigantea (L.) Dryand, belongs to the Apocynaceae family, which is a pretty diverse and large group of plants with 410 genera and 5, 556 accepted species names. Apocynaceae means 'dog-away' in Greek, which explains why this family is also known as Dogbane, basically it's known to  poisons dogs and other animals. In the case of C. gigantea, this is a pretty toxic plant to be handling and great care is needed, The sap contains white 'milky' substance which really does pour from the stem like milk when cut, if you happen to get this into your eye, it can temporarily or permanently blind and causes severe headaches too. I've also read that the plant is toxic if ingested, but not sure who would be dining on this one! Apparently the centre of the flower is supposed to be edible... I won't be trying it! The sap is allegedly used as an arrow poison, although I think perhaps this relates more to the African Calotropis procera, which is even more deadly and known as the Apple of Sodam,  it has a more rounded fruit and a far worse reputation.
The Genus name, Calotropis, comes from the Greek 'Kalos' meaning 'beautiful' and 'tropes' meaning 'boat' which refers to the structure of the flower.

Large swathes of plants on the north west coast of Bali, near to the quiet black sandy beaches, where just a few fisherman  are the only people to be seen.
Seed pod
Native to temperate and tropical Asia, China, Malaysia and Indonesia, C. gigantea grows as a shrub or small tree, growing to over 4 m tall. I've seen it in many sites in Bali and Lombok and it's common in dry coastal areas where there is full sun but also near lagoons, I saw a beautiful one last year in Candidasa. Flowers are purple to white but some appear to be closer to a magenta colour and they are quite variable in colour depending on location/environment and age, the older flowers lose colour and fade quickly. Flowers are in large umbellate clusters. They have an unusual ' crown like' structure, at the centre is a large star shaped stigma which has 5 points, this is where pollen is found in the form of pollinia. The pollinia become attached to visiting nectar seeking insects, many insects are found in the nectaries but bees, possible carpenter bees are thought to be the specialist pollinators who inadvertently collect the pollinaria and carry it to other plants, which facilitates cross-pollination.
Leaves are elliptic to oblong and are very woolly, the colour is a light grey green. Stems are also woolly. Fruits are large and pointed with many seeds.
Flowers and buds, note the yellow 'star' shaped stigma, the pollinia, which are pollen sacs (just like orchids) which  become attached to insect pollinators and carried to other plants.
Like many poisonous plants, this plant has medicinal uses, it contains calotropin and cardiac glycosides, the latter being similar to digitalis ( the foxglove) has been used in the treatment of heart conditions, however, much of the medicinal uses are reported to be anecdotal folklore type remedies but some studies regarding its efficacy in the treatment of cancers have been carried out, and reported to be effective in the treatment of asthma. There is also some evidence that it has mosquito controlling properties in the Japanese encephalitis carrying mosquitos.
Fibre similar to flax is extracted from the stems and leaves of the plant and seepods produce a wooly material used for stuffing pillows. In Thailand the flowers are used for garlands but this can result in some eye problems for those making the garlands. Theres so much more that could be said about this plant, its beautiful and fascinating but I'll move on.


Garlands made from the flowers are used in religious ceremonies copyright Wikimedia Commons 

Study Pages 
I visited the north west coast of Bali is 2019 and found a the wasteground with hundreds of these very common plants near to the volcanic black beaches. After carefully bagging cuttings and taking hundreds of photographs,  I set to work in the sketchbook. The colours are unusual, the grey green hairy leaves were going to be challenging, there is no shine to work with, once cut the plant fades quickly and the leaves wilt so I did a mixture of sketches and field studies. colours so change one a plant is cut so it's important to colour match with a live or fresh plant.
I used my usual system of colour matching using my trusty old green chart, its a high light value grey green, which means its a light blue, cerulean or cobalt or maybe a mix of the two, to achieve that light opaque quality, I used the Lemon Yellow nickel titinate and opaque which is great for these pale colours as well as glaucous leaves, it needs frequent mixing as it will separate but I liked this quality for this plant, I don't paint particularly wet so I don't have the separation issue on the paper.  I also used some Winsor Lemon in the mix in places. the make a more natural green a small amount of Quinacridone Magenta was added. The flowers were fairly simple, also Quinacridone Magenta and Cobalt in various  ratios, with a small amount of the lemon in places. So a very simple palette.


Starting by making drawings of the small parts of the flower as well as of larger sections of the plant is useful to get a feel for them, using a hand lens is useful at this stage to examine the unusual structure. The leaves are difficult because of the way that they rotate around the stem, so significant foreshortening is required. This is an important part of the process for me because it helps me to understand the plant and how it fits together, drawing larger sections of the plants give me ideas about the composition at an early stage.
At this point I've already got a clear idea in my head about how I want to portray the plant and make a few thumbnail sketches to think about the arrangement.

I photographed and made measurements of all plant parts and referred to any reference material that I had to confirm points. Some of the leaves are large and I didn't want them to dominate the composition, so selecting a typical but appropriate cutting was important and I also wanted to show the typical upright growth habit but also shows the drooping nature of those stems with the weight of the large flower heads, this type of information about a plant can only be gained by observing the plant in its native habitat.

Colours, measurements and notes on observations regarding growth habit and arrangement etc. were made in a Stillman & Birn Zeta sketchbook, 8 x 10 inches, which is a good size for most plants. There aren't too many books on the Flora of Bali! but there is a lot written online. 

The greatest challenge about this work was the heat and humidity, it was November and quite late in the year, the first rains had just started. I had to use tracing paper at all times to stop my hands sticking to the paper, but the tracing paper kept sticking to me! next time ill use something less sticky, like mulberry paper.  After 5 days of observation and sketching I had sufficient material to continue back home and planned to complete the painting in the uk. It's never the best option to complete the work at home and away from the plant but its not always practical to complete large works at the site.

I wanted to have three component parts of the plant in the composition and possible the seed pod. I made separate drawings of these parts on drafting paper and in ink and transferred them using a light pad, a MiniSun A2 size is great for transferring, even through this heavier weight Stoonehenge Aqua paper.
The A2 light pad is pretty bright and allows me to transfer through 275lb  Stonehenge Aqua Hot Press paper - as long as the initial drawing is in ink. The separate flower on the right hand side was discarded as unnecessary, it was just left on the tracing because as one point I was considering dissections and a seedpod but decided against it. 
After transferring the drawing using the light pad I used my reference to begin the painting plotting in the star shaped flowers on the main cluster. 
I started off in natural daylight on an easel but because of  the short timeframe to complete this work, I decided to work under lamps on an upright large desktop easel. It was a full sheet of imperial paper so I had to put an additional board underneath as the easel is slightly too short. I use two daylight lamps 5500 K and +90 CRI. I also use a x2.5 magnifier on an adjustable arm to check detail and for clean edges etc.  
Making a Start and Materials 
The paper chosen was Stonehenge Aqua HP, which is a paper that I've used for quite a while, it's fine for smaller works but the surface sizing is really quite soft and as a consequence it's less robust than Saunders Waterford High White, which my normal choice these days but decided to give the heavier weight 275lb Stonehenge Aqua a try. It's incredible smooth and hard to see any mesh on either side. If you keep your work very clean and don't use too much water or if you refrain from pushing the paint around, this is a decent enough paper but it is quite difficult if you should happen to make an error - obviously no one likes to make an error but thats how it goes sometimes. Edges are clean and crisp but make sure you don't use an eraser on it as it ruins the surface, so a light clean tracing is vital. Also, use plenty of spare paper around the edge and the low tack tape with pull off the surface leaving a fluffy mess! which confirmed that sizing is very soft. I'm still not sure how much I love it for larger works. All paints are Winsor and Newton Artist quality pans. The colours previously mentioned were used for everything, so only 4 paints in total. Cobalt Blue, Windsor Lemon, Lemon Yellow NT and Quinacridone Magenta. I didn't use the Cerulean on the final painting.


It's OK to Start Again
Sometimes I find I'm just not in the best frame of mind to paint and feeling slightly stressed with too many distractions is never good, anyhow, there was a back facing leaf that I didn't much like, the only option for me was to start over.  I always do this if somethings not quite right, its often quicker than trying to fix or alter something to distract. It wasn't that I hadn't planned it out well but when the paint starts to go on it becomes obvious. So after 4 days of work I started again, with a more focused approached and tweaked the composition and the offending leaf plus a few other areas.

First version, spot the difference with the one below (this one was scrapped but used for practice)
Leaf position, take 2:  I just couldn't live with the ugly back facing leaf and twisted it slightly in this version, this didn't alter the accuracy and was a small adjustment. I made a few other changes too. I actually have two attempts at pretty much every painting and try not to be overly precious with any work.... if its not going to plan, start over and save yourself the grief of the 'annoying' bits. 

The leaves are difficult in this plant, the dull surface doesn't give provide and highlights and they have a 'v' shape or flat profile, this requires some careful use of shadows, especially at the leaf margin, where the leaves curve in places, these small shaded areas only required a more dense / creamy mix of the same colour and were carefully dry brushed on. I't amazing how little is needed sometimes. Cast shadows were Cobalt with a touch of Quinacridone Magenta. Rear leaves were kept paler and more blue bread to give the effect of distance, which is important with a plant where leaves rotate around the stem, this is commonly referred to as aerial perspective, it's no big mystery but simple creates separation between near and far parts using the same effect as those used by landscape painters - if you look to the distance the mountains will be paler and more blue and the foreground is stronger and more saturated - a very simple observation which is most useful in botanical work too.


Burning the midnight oil! still not added the smaller bud branch at this stage because initially I wasn't altogether convinced I needed it, so had left it off the tracing. 
Almost finished, decided to add the smaller bud stem on the right as originally planned,  it did need it as it describes the plant more accurately,  C. gigantea is multi branching plant with many flower heads at different stages of development.
It was hard work and many hours were spent on the intricate parts, I didn't have time for the seedpod and felt it was well balanced as it was, so declared it finished. I sent it off just in time before the deadline  had to send in time for the IDSBA Call for Entries deadline, which was on the 29th February. Fingers crossed that it's accepted.  I do hope to paint this again, it's so interesting and challenging. 


About the Exhibition
The IDSBA exhibition  " Botanical Art for Friendship' is a collaboration between the Indonesian Society of Botanical Artists and the Korean Botanical Artists Cooperative. The exhibition is a great idea by this relatively new Society and will take place in the capital city of Jakarta at the National Gallery of Indonesia, which is a major achievement. I have been so encouraged by both the friendliness and professionalism of the Indonesian Society. Last year I taught a class there, which was a wonderful experience filled with enthusiasm and kindness. Their submission process required background information on the plant and references for information provided, something I think all societies should ask for. I hope to return to Indonesia for the exhibition in June, Coronavirus permitting of course! 


The beach, near to where I found the Crown flowers 

It's really great to be painting more, although I do feel a little 'painted out' just now, having completed previous paintings for the current exhibition (I'll write another blog about that). This was my 9th painting completed this year!... although to be honest most of the planning for this one, which is the hard part, took place at the tail end of last year.  

Now it's time to do other teaching work before starting my next painting, which will be to finish the Sutherlandia frutescens. 

Saturday, 11 January 2020

RBGE Florilegium: The Story of Illustrating the Cancer Bush, Sutherlandia

A new decade is definitely a time for self reflection and I've decided that I don't paint nearly enough,  so my aim for this year is to paint more and to paint often. The opportunity of being involved in the Florilegium project at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh came up last year and illustrating a plant with a great story makes and ideal start for 2020! The chosen plant for the work is a South African native formally known as Sutherlandia frutescens, aka the Cancer Bush, now reclassified as Lessertia frutescens. Here's a little about the the process of illustrating the plant as well as the story of Sutherlandia and the Sutherlands, from South Africa to Edinburgh and back.

Sketchbook studies in South Africa

The Plant 
Before I get into the story, here's a little information about the plant and its habitat. The Cape Floristic kingdom is home to Lessertia frutescens, Sutherlandia (Family: Fabaceae) it is one of the richest areas for flora in the world.  Still commonly known as Sutherlandia, the plant was recently reclassified as Lessertia frutescens from Sutherlandia frutescens based on its adaptation to bird pollination, which is by sunbirds.  It grows in dry regions throughout the country and is associated with the Fynbos, but grows as far north as Namibia and Botswana and in the Karoo Desert. It's a short shrub, with greyish pinnately compound leaves, which vary considerably in size from 4-10mm. The flowers are orange-red in colour, up to 35mm, in short racemes at the leaf axils. The fruit is a large inflated 'bladder-like' pod, which is paper thin. Flowering time is September - December.  
Large balloon like seed-pods, the plant has long been used  for medicinal purposes  (Photographed in March 2019 at Kirstenbosch)
Sutherlandia has many common names, several relate to its medicinal properties, particularly with cancer treatment, such names include, the Cancer Bush or Kankerbos, the Zulu people used the name Unwele, because it was said  that the plant 'stops people from pulling out their own hair' - thus takes away stress. It has long been respected in medicine by the original inhabitants of the Cape being used for washing wounds, controlling fever, for stomach and eye problems and cancer. Evidence is largely anecdotal, however, there is some research into its action as an immune stimulant for cancer and AIDs patients. This doesn't mean that it's a cure but Sutherlandia can help to stimulate appetite in patients with wasting diseases.  Take a look at the SANBI entry for further information. 

The Florilegium
If you are unsure about what a Florilegium is:
Modern florilegia seek to record visual collections of plants held by a botanic garden or specific place, either in living or historic collections. Artists are invited to illustrate plants from the collection  and usually supplied with a plant list to choose from. The illustrations are usually required to show the important features of the plant. Resulting illustrations are often exhibited and published in books and the botanic gardens hold the illustrations for reference and education purposes. 

The aim of the RBGE Florilegium Society is to create a permanent, visual record of RBGE’s botanical and horticultural work through the acquisition of artistic works featuring the plants that are grown, collected, studied and named by RBGE staff. The Society will also raise RBGE’s profile as an important centre of botanical art in relation to both our educational work and our art collection

Being involved in a florilegium can be a bit of a labour of love but it is a great opportunity for botanical artists. For me being a Botanical illustrator is all about recording and learning about plants as well as sharing with others...it's what I always wanted to do. 

First Encounters
The story of my interest in this plant began with a trip to South Africa with my daughter Polly in March 2019. This is where we first encountered  Sutherlandia frutescens, at Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden. Sadly it was at the end of its flowering period, with only a few flowers remaining. This plant caught our attention for a few reasons, firstly, it's my type of subject, I'm always drawn to plants in the Pea family (Fabaceae), their nitrogen fixing symbiotic relationship with bacteria that makes them so important, plus some plants just fill me with enthusiasm and demand to be painted. Secondly, the name 'Sutherlandia', made us want to find out more. Thirdly, it's medicinal properties. Lastly, it matched my nail varnish! 

Tiny little flowers still hanging on in March, despite the flowering period ending in December 

Display describing Sutherlandia medicinal properties, at Kirstenbosch Botanic Garden

The Opportunity: How Things Mysteriously Come Together
I knew I'd come back to this plant at some point, when out of the blue, my good friend and fellow artist, Shevaun Doherty, told me that a plant called Sutherlandia was on the plant list for the RBGE Florilegium and that I had to paint it? I immediately contacted them and claimed it. Both myself and Polly plan to illustrate different aspects of the plant, which is a slightly unusual approach but was approved. 

A Trip to RBGE
In November 2019, we were invited by Jacqui Pestell to visit the Herbarium at RBGE to complete some research. RBGE staff were so helpful and supportive and we spent a couple of days investigating and sketching. Even the current Regis Keeper, Simon Milne, invited us into his office to talk about Sutherlandia and his research. Outside his office is the banner dedicated to James Sutherland (c. 1639 - 1719) the first Regis Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden, and of course the reason for the plants inclusion in the Florilegium became apparent, as Sutherlandia frutecens was named after him. 
 James Sutherland at RBGE.  The first professor of Botany at the University of Edinburgh, in 1675, he became Intendent of the Physic Garden, which later became the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, thus he was the first Regis Keeper. Known for his enthusiasm for plants he published the first botanical work in Scotland 'Hortus Medicus Edinburgensis' in 1683. You can see the here the image of Sutherlandia frutecens, which was named after him 
Viewing the large collection of Sutherland frutescens at RBGE herbarium, showing the various locations and name  reclassification over the years.
Specimens from the Eastern Cape 
Cultivated specimens from the garden

S. frutescens had until recently been in the living collection in the RBGE, like many South African plants they will grow in the UK but in recent years the live plant has declined and it's now most likely part of the historic collection. From the Herbarium records it appears that some plants in the collection came to Edinburgh from Kirstenbosch Gardens. The herbarium specimens came from various sites across South Africa and show considerable diversity, particularly in leaf shape and size, which was interesting. Having a 'Type specimen' is important in deciding what is typical for illustration purposes. It was amazing to view samples described by legendary Scottish botanist, Robert Brown (of Brownian motion fame) he also who had a close association with Joseph Banks voyages to Australia....but that's a story for another time. We also spent time in the Library viewing some magnificent books with illustrations of South African flora.
Polly makes notes and sketches
We really enjoyed our time at RBGE, we made notes, measurements and sketches as obviously watercolour isn't allowed in herbariums. Polly, who illustrates pollen and dissections, intends to return to see if they can capture pollen grains using the Scanning Electron Microscope, this is her specialist area of interest. I'll be making a more traditional illustration of the plant and some of the specimens had already given me some inspiration for a composition.

In the RBGE Library

Return to Cape Town
Less than 2 weeks after our visit to RBGE, we were back in Cape Town. This time we knew that Sutherlandia would be in full bloom. The botanical community are always incredibly helpful and it took just a few emails to friends to organise a specimens of the plant for the RBGE project, which was sorted in advance of our arrival. 

Day 2 Arrival at Kirstenbosh Botanic Garden, late November 2019

Kirstenbosch provided a permit to take a sample of Sutherlandia away, which was extremely accommodating. Garden officer Alice Notten took us to view several examples in the garden, it was a scorching hot day but we came away with a beautiful cutting of the plant. Over the next few days I worked quickly to record as much as possible, making detailed drawings and colour studies. As well as drafting a few compositional ideas. 

Specimen from Kirstenbosch, I had to work quickly before leaving South Africa
Sketchbook Study ready for the next step of creating the composition 

Investigation of the reproductive parts 

Taking measurements and collecting as many drawings ans photographs as possible. Here a dissection of the seed-pods
We also visited Karoo Botanic Garden, which I love! they also have several Sutherlandia plants but it's much hotter and drier there, flowering had mostly finished but there were piles of the hugely inflated ghostly looking seedpods on the ground.  We took a road trip many miles into the Karoo desert where we observed the plant in the wild in many locations, we made further studies also took lots of photographic reference.  Suffice to say its a very common plant, so was an easy task....apart from the heat! 

In the wild, its easy to spot in the bright light with its small scarlet flowers and ghostly looking seed-pods

Road trip: growing at the roadside near Worcester 

That's the story to date, all that remains is to put it all together and complete the painting.

If you want to find out more about the RBGE Florilegium or wish to get involved see their Call for Entries

 https://www.rbge.org.uk/science-and-conservation/library-and-archives/library-collections/image-collection/rbge-florilegium/call-for-entries-2020/

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Leaf Challenge: Regular Painting is Good for the Soul

It's New Years Eve and I forgot to do the food shopping, instead I sat in the kitchen and wrote my last post for the decade. It's all about snatching a little time each day to paint something small.  Picasso famously said 'Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life' so that can't be a bad thing to end the year on ....there's been a lot of dust this year! but another plus is that regular painting is the key to improvement. With this in mind I decided it would be good for me to power through some speedy leaf painting. Of course in an ideal world I'd love to spend more time painting but it's not always possible. Each year I try very hard to complete a couple of 'substantial works' that I'm reasonably happy with, sadly sometimes not much else is achieved other than demos for tutorials. So my self-imposed challenge last week was to paint a leaf every day within 90 minutes....'if possible' being the caveat.

Details from leaves painted during week one.
Why Leaves?
I love leaves! and it's the love of the subject drives the painter on to try harder to do better - and to never give up.  There are so many leaves too choose from, many are challenging with incredible diversity and detail, there's more than enough to keep a painter occupied for a lifetime. As Lucien Freud said ' it's what Yeats called the fascination with what's difficult. I'm only trying to do what I can't do.'
I hope to carry on with this challenge for a while and to be a better artist but being fickle, I can always swap to a different subject should he mood change.... for now leaves are good.  Here's the sum total of my efforts with some information on the process.



Green Photinia, leaf no. 1 This is a leaf with a deeply indented 'V' shaped profile - i.e. it indents at the mid rib. The light is coming from the right hand side. Yet note how the right side of the mid rib is in shade, so although the leaf catches the light near the outer margin, as it nears the mid rib it indents away from the light. Conversely, where to leaf bends upwards, on the left of the mid rib, the light catches the smooth surface, creating a distinct difference between the left and right side of the mid rib. It's at its darkest where the far left curls away from the light This left to right difference is a key feature of lighting that shows the 'V' shaped profile. 

I generally use a 4 or 5 stage process and bring the whole leaf up in stages. Top row: Stage 1. underlying colour (cobalt blue) wet-in-wet, the highlights are the most blue (not the shadows). Stage 2. Basic hue wash, (French Ultramarine, Winsor Lemon and Permanent Rose) wet-in-wet is used, the idea is to capture form from the outset. Work on one leaf blade at a time (here shown in 2 images). Bottom row: Stage 3. Add more selected washes, wetting/ dampening and adding colour only where needed rather than wetting all over. Use a slightly creamier paint mix, this selective approach enables me to retain and control the highlights. I also add that brown blemish with yellowing around it, the same colours are used to mix the brown and dropped onto a dampened area.  Stage 4. Modelling dry brush technique using a much creamier consistency of paint onto a dampened surface to deepen colour. Drawing dry brush is used on the slightly damp to define softer veins. Dry brush on damp creates a softer smoother finish but the water:paint ration takes a little practice to get right. Towards the latter stages I allow the paint to dry to a skin on the palette and use a damp brush to moisten, this gives me a much richer colour for detail.  I also pick out veins at this damp stage and sharpen up the serrated margin by wetting the edge and adding paint into the wet edge and blending into the main leaf blade. Stage 5, Fine tuning and tidying up, deepen where necessary using an effect that I refer to as 'polishing' using a very dry brush in a circular motion. Mostly painted with Betty Hayways size 4 and 7. The final touches using a size 2 Windsor and Newton series 7 miniature. This leaf took about 1 hour...if only they were all so simple!

Do try this at Home
If you are thinking of trying some leaves, don't worry too much about the time constraint or perfection but do try to finish a small work in one day.  For me, the objective is to capture the overall 'character' of a leaf; its shape, form, colour and surface texture. It's not so much about tiny details or photorealism but more about the 'feel' of the subject. Start to improve your observation and understanding of leaf shapes and surfaces within a very short space of time your drawing and painting will improve too. See previous posts by searching for the 30 day leaf challenge, which I completed several years ago.

Leaf no. 2. Another Photinia. Love the variation in these leaves. This is the red version found at the terminal branches, slightly weathered this time and curls back more, with less of a 'V' shape at the mid rib but still has some left to right difference and strong highlights. 
The process is  much the same as the previous leaf but with different colours.  Cobalt Blue first, then selective washes of reds and violets. The reds are: Scarlet Lake (warm) Permanent Rose (cooler pink /red) and Permanent Carmine (darker (warm red). Add some French Ultramarine to make the violet and a touch of Transparent Yellows in the mix makes those dark, almost black blemishes.


Finished leaf


Can you see the Light: Technical stuff
As a tutor one of the most common problems the I see in leaves is a lack of form, flat looking leaves result from poor or diffused light - poor light kills a leaf stone dead because everything is painted using mid tones. To bring a leaf alive you need light and shade (i.e. a range of tonal values). If you're a beginner, the best way of resolving 'flat leaf' problems is to enhance that light, exaggerate it in true Chiaroscuro Rembrandt fashion but use modern technology by using a fixed light source from a lamp. This doesn't have to cost a fortune, any angle poise lamp with a swivel head will do, then fit with a photographers bulb E27 screw fit, use 5,500k (Kelvins) which is the nearest to natural 'white' daylight and easy are to buy on Amazon or from photography suppliers, don't look in art suppliers for bulbs, many claim to be daylight but are not. Bulbs over 6000k give yellow light and bulbs under 5000K are blue, so will not give accurate colour. You also need the correct CRI, (colour render index) of 90 or above or as near as you can get. Bulbs with CRI over 90 are more difficult to find and you may have to settle for 80 but the higher the CRI the better the true colour.  Light from the upper front left if right handed and the right if left handed, although I tend to light from the side the I think looks best for the subject. Pin your leaf to a piece of white foam board and light from your chosen side, move the lamp around to create good contrast. Try painting in black paint or ink first to avoid confusion between colour and tone.

Look at Ruskin's tonal studies for inspiration, it's all about light and shade, note the dramatic difference either side of the mid-rib. Study the masters!

© University of Oxford - Ashmolean Museum From Ruskin's Elements of Drawing, watercolour and bodycolour over graphite click for reference 

Observe and Draw 
Make sure you get the leaf drawing correct, double check the typical features of a leaf and look at a few different ones if you're aiming for botanical accuracy, alternatively, you can just go with whatever takes your fancy, some leaves are more interesting than others, so choose wisely. Make quick notes on leaf shape, margin, tip and base, venation pattern and surface texture, measure height and width and note the widest point too as this can be a key feature, if you measure you can't go wrong. At this point , ask yourself what are you trying to portray, is it shiny, mat, puckered or hairy surface etc. Being accurate in your portrayal of any subject is important so never short cut the observation and drawing. Keep pencil lines minimal and light. I use a H grade for drawing.

Limited Palette with sufficient range of blues, reds and yellows does not impose any limitation on what is possible. I've been working with this palette for years. 

Painting Materials - what you need and what you probably don't need 
My palette is limited to primaries, this is the best way of working for me, it keeps it simple and I can shift a mix to warmer and cooler versions of the basic hue - look carefully and you will see how light affects colour across the surface of the leaf, this is where using three primaries really works because that colour shift is made so much easier by adjusting the ratio of colours in the mix.  There's no need to have the whole colour range from every supplier.  Heres my basic materials list for paints and everything else. With regard to paper, I'm not discussing Fabriano any more, yes there's a new one but I moved on anyway. I've  tried a few different papers in the last few years, it takes time to get to know them, I mostly used Saunders Waterford HP high white 300gsm - it's a decent enough paper which takes a bit of effort with the edges but is tough and the colour is good. Botanical artists tend to prefer hard gelatine sized papers, starch sizing is generally a little too soft. I'm a fairly dry painter and careful washes is the best approach and if you work dry, so you never need heavier paper than 300gsm, it's pointless spending money on the heavy papers if you don't need them and often they are not so smooth as the lighter weights ( Arches being a prime example, the 300 and 600 gsm versions are like two different papers). I sometimes paint on Schoellershammer 4G which is super smooth and lighter in weight but because work dry there is no cockling, sadly this is another paper that appears to be discontinued. Brushes, usually size 2 and 4 series 7 miniatures and a size 1 short flat synthetic there are lots available. I did switch brushes for some of the leaves, which were painted with synthetic Betty Hayways brushes, I used the larger sizes 4 and 7 which worked well, point and belly are good but the small sizes are less so and as with most synthetics the tip goes quite quickly but I found I could use the large sizes for everything, even the dry brush. Use an elevated drawing board so that you save your neck and can see what you are doing and finally, use a magnifier! x2 is sufficient, more magnification isn't helpful as you can only see a tiny area also excessive magnification hurst your eyes.

Starting to Paint
After making a very simple line drawing with as little graphite as possible on the paper. I begin with underlying colour, in green leaves this is usually blue, a high light value blue, such as Cobalt, Cerulean or Manganese. In red and brown leaves, yellow and violet can be involved too, so this can require an underlying blended wash of several colours. You will see this in the various step-by-step images.

Leaf no. 3 A shiny Camellia. The process: this time a blended wash is used first using Winsor Yellow and Cobalt blue. The rich green hue is made with Windsor Blue Green Shade, Transparent Yellow and Permanent Carmine. I also added a little Indanthrene blue for the darkest greens. This leaf was a big challenge in a short time, it took the full 90 minutes because of all the layering with the veins and dark shades. I used a piece of agate to lightly burnish between layers, which makes sharper edges easier. I could easily have spent another hour on this.
Finished Camellia

Work up the whole leaf, keeping the light with selective application of colour
I can't stress how important it is to work up the whole leaf in stages, this is how you capture the light and shade to create a dynamic painting.  If you try to finish little parts at a time, the end result can be quite flat and lacklustre, although it can start off ok, it often ends up disappointing ( I'm sure we all know that feeling). I work up all of my paintings in this way and the more complex the painting, the more important it is to attack as a whole. After the underlying wash I add colour selectively working on one leaf blade at a time. I dampen and add colour where needed, which avoids adding too much water and painting over the highlights, conversely, adding too much water in all-over washes flattens, loses highlights and creates hard untidy edges.


Leaf no. 4. An aged Oak leaf. Same approach but with underlying Transparent Yellow and Cerulean Blue in small parts, being careful not to overlap them, I carefully 'scumble' the blue in the highlights leaving some white, this gives the textured highlight, see first image. This was a difficult leaf and I can't say that I'm overly happy with it, having botched the highlight on the green. Have painted oaks before and used more warm violet in the underlying shadow layers so I think this might have been useful in the shade areas. Its Ok though but I'd approach it slightly differently next time, so lesson learned. The browns mix, Transparent Yellow, Scarlet Lake and Permanent Carmine with a touch of French Ultramarine, the green mix is made using the same blue and yellow. Looks slightly unfinished but I wasn't in love with this leaf.  

No. 4 Finished...sort of 

Depth and Detail
Once I'm satisfied that I've added enough colour using selective washes, which is usually only 2 layers after the underlying wash, I start to use different dry brush techniques. Sometimes I use a 'scumbling' technique for texture, I use dry on damp for smooth deep colour with creamy paint to 'model' the surface, for creating rich colour and shadows. I also use a 'sweeping motion' for long leaves and a 'drawing' technique on damp and dry for detail and finally a 'polishing' circular motion which is the driest, and creates the shine. I use much the same techniques on vellum but with fewer washes.

No. 5 Holly. Can't beat a challenge and holly is always a challenge! It's dark, shiny, textured like leather and with points that stick out at all angles! I put the initial blue wash down, using Cobalt and Manganese Blue, I love the manganese for those electric highlights!  Next I 'scumbled' on the green in patches, working between veins and into highlights to give that textured appearance of an old dark holly leaf, younger leaves are lighter and slightly smoother. This is a very dark green leaf, Indanthrene Blue, Transparent Yellow and Permanent Carmine were used. The initial selective washes of green were more of a yellow biased lighter green mix, it looks messy but stick with it. The later colour is dry brushed on, it has more blue and is darker, so, a more viscous mix of paint. 'Polishing' it on with a dry brush smooths areas. The brown mix for the blemishes is the same three colours just start with the red and yellow and add blue until you achieve the correct brown. The approach is much the same for all leaves in terms of stages though, keeping the highlights is vital in holly but they're a stronger blue than you might imaging so be brave with the initial wash, it pales away against the dark green. I used the agate burnisher between layers to shape up the edges. 
Leaf no. 5 Holly finished 

What you may have noticed is that the order is much the same in all of these leaves, there is some 'back and forth'  in terms of approach but its broadly the same 1. underlying wash, 2. Selective colour layers into wet (2 or 3 layers)  3. Depth and Detail with dry brush on damp 4. Finishing touches and review.

Leaf 6. Two for one bonus! the front and back of a Cyclamen coum leaf. Underlying blue is the same in both. Sorry I forgot to photograph the stages of the back but it involves a lot of Quinacridone Magenta, some French Ultramarine and Permanent Carmine. The patterned front is easier than it looks: underlying blue is Cobalt and Cerulean, paint in the veins and outer edge lightly using a green mix for the veins and a yellow biased mix at the edge. French Ultramarine, Windsor Lemon and Quinacridone Magenta is used.  Add centre pattern working between the veins by wetting the area to be painted first and use a stipple effect to blend into the lighter blue area between the centre ands margin colour which has more yellow in the mix. Build colour using dry brush. Put in the flash of magenta on the central vein and petiole and it's done! 


Process of the front in stages and the latter stages of the back.

Finally, I achieved the small goal of painting a leaf every day, simply by staying up for an extra hour at night or getting up a little earlier, which felt quite satisfying. I realise now that I could do the same with other work, especially if I also neglect the food shopping and other domestic tasks.
There wasn't much left in the garden by the time I reached leaf no 7. but I was determined to finish this. I chose an ageing rose leaf, which was pretty much about to drop all its leaflets except the green one, which was clinging on for life. This explains the missing leaflet on the left hand side. An interesting one to paint because I used 3 different underlying colours, blue, violet and yellow. I decided to paint this one on Schollershammer 4G paper, which is great for crisp edges and most like the surface of vellum - but use too much water and it will look like the mountains it will cockle so much. It's a great surface if you're in training for vellum and want to work dry. Alas, its a shame that it doesn't seem to be available any more as its my favourite paper for drawing too. Such is life.

Leaf no 7 Rose. My first compound leaf. A strange looking leaf from the underlying colours,  cobalt on the green leaflet and Cobalt and Quinacridone Magenta on the brown leaflet to make violet with Windsor Yellow on the Yellow ones. I used French Ultramarine, Windsor Yellow and Permanent Rose for all colour mixes. 


Thats all folks! .......until next year.

Wishing you a great New Year with much painting in 2020