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. 

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

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Green Book

This week I've been reading extracts from Ruskin's Elements of Drawing...what a wise man!
I love these Victorian texts because they feel much more philosophical than modern instruction manuals.  Anyway it got me thinking about whether there's a better way forward for my students than painting endless colour  charts, given that I've already put them through numerous torturous brush technique exercises and feeling duty bound to come up with something more interesting. I've nothing at all against painting colour charts but tend to do mine in the context of study pages because painting exercises need to be be put into context to make them meaningful.
Students of botanical art often cite the green palette as troublesome ....and hand-in-hand with the 'green'  problem comes difficulty with painting leaves. So I thought it might be a good idea to create 'colour' based  sketchbooks....Starting with green of course.  It's not exactly a new idea but I quite like the idea of colour reference books sitting on the bookshelf.

So before inflicting the idea on anybody else I made a start on my own Green Book this week to see how it works out..... It was tempting at this point to make a red book and a yellow book etc. but I want to keep this achievable.

My first Green Book entry, Asparagus, Painted using Cobalt Blue dp., Transparent Yellow and Permanent Alizarin Crimson. 
Using a low cost W&N sketchbook, I covered it with green paper ( Blue Peter style again). I wont be using the sketchbook paper but instead will work on watercolour paper off-cuts gluing the studies into the book later... to be useful, colour studies should be painted on the same paper as any final pieces.

The variety of greens is many and varied, so this should be an opportunity to really get to grips with them as well as a chance to study leaves and other subjects too. I started by collecting up some fridge finds followed by a collection of a few things from a morning walk (see images below) You can see the variety of greens in just that small collection....this will be a fat sketchbook!

One of the problems with greens, and any colour for that matter, appears to be in 'seeing' the particular variation of the basic hue - by that I mean that what we 'know' about an object, i.e. 'it's green all over!' which can over-ride what we actually see. It's simply not good enough to just add a standard looking highlight, a bit of shadow and a touch of reflected light in approximately the right place as expected. There's more to it than that!
When painting in watercolour we have to learn to 'see' all of the colours. To observe the way that the light interacts with the colour of an object is all important because it significantly alters the three attributes of colour, i. e. the hue,saturation and tone. I often use a piece of white card with a hole cut in it to identify the varying colours of the subject,  this helps me to see the effect of light and shade by isolating each colour and removing surrounding colours which influence our colour perception. The same effect of isolating colours can bee seen below in the lime image below.

Above: Observations of the variation in colour caused by the effect of light falling on a lime. You can see how the basic hue, which is found in the mid tones, becomes more yellow or blue and also warmer or cooler in relation to each other. How it becomes lighter or darker in tone, and less saturated under the effect of both light and shade. On the bottom row I have turned the colours to black and white to highlight the difference in the tonal values between the isolated colours. Observe the tonal values carefully without being fooled. Good observation of the values will really bring your painting to life...... and always preserve the highlights! 
There is no better test of your colour tones being good, than your having made the whites in your pictures precious , and the black conspicuous...Ruskin

When mixing colours I try to work with as few as possible, chosen from the primary palette I generally use 3 colours to mix greens; blue and yellow form the basic green plus a smaller amount of a red. I usually choose from 4 blues, 4 yellows and three reds. Occasionally I use two blues in a mix and also use overlaid washes, which results in greater transparency. I tend to work with transparent colours in the washes to preserve luminosity. The basic 3 colours can makes a very large number of different greens simply by altering the ratio of the 3 colours and also the with the ratio of water used. Personally I've always had particular dislike of opaque colours with black in them, indigo being one of the worst to use in a green wash, it results in a flat dull appearance when overlaid.  I was pleased to read that Ruskin refers to Field's Chromatography as follows: ....while Indigo is marked by Field as more fugitive still, and is very ugly.


Only observe always this, that the less colour you do the work with, the better it will always be.

A collection of leaves, branches and lichens made on a morning walk, showing a variety of leaf types and colours. 

And one of a few green creatures found among the collection
From my collection I chose a dark green ivy leaf with very prominent venation and which was not particularly shiny for ivy. Using good natural light, I first identified the basic hue and decide on which blue, yellow and red to try out for the mix. Once I have identified the basic hue I look at colour saturation and tone. 
Colour studies using 3 colours, shown  on the left page entry. A  quick leaf study putting the colour chart into practice.
I chose the three colours to work with and tried out a various combinations to get the yellow or blue biased greens and light and dark greens. I used Indanthrene Blue and Transparent Yellow plus a small amount of Quin Magenta. At first I though I might need something darker but decided that was unnecessary. The only other colour used was a small amount of Cerulean Blue which I used in an initial graded wash the bring out the soft highlights. That's probably a bit of a habit though and I'm not sure that I actually needed it. The stem was also painted using the same colours. I believe the less colours used - the better the continuity in a painting. I number all of the colours and make a note of the order of washes applied and the techniques used. Hopefully I can refer to this chart again in the future
Ivy leaf study with my initial colour choices.

So that's all from the Green book this week. I'll sign off with another Ruskin quote, one I must try to keep in mind when feeling bad tempered:

Your power of colouring depends much on your state of health and right balance of mind: when you are fatigued or ill you will not see colours well, and when you are ill-tempered you will not choose them well.

John Ruskin, Elements of Drawing in Three letters to Beginners, Letter III On Colour and Composition 1857  

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Pineapples Galore!

Last week saw the start of another pineapple painting for me.  I always recommend painting a subject more than once if you really want to get to grips with it.....this is my 5th pineapple! In fact many botanical artists seem to attempt a pineapple at some point! A quick Google search reveals a huge selection's one of those 'must try' subjects.

pineapple study page
Pineapple study page, February 2014

You can find any number of great examples of contemporary pineapple paintings, Coral Guest and Fiona Strickland to name a couple of the best.  Historical botanical illustrations documenting pineapples are also plentiful, Georg Dionysius Ehret, Maria Sibylla Merian and Marianne North all illustrated this exotic fruit. But why is the pineapple so appealing?

Pineapple and cockroaches 1701- c.1705 by Maria Sibylla Merian (Public domain Wikimedia Commons)

 Firstly, it's a pretty good subject. Technically quite challenging with its 'Fibonacci' spirals ( more about that later) so requires some discipline in the drawing and also has great texture and colour too. Perhaps for todays botanical artist the work of master illustrators add that extra paint what they painted? Except today this one time rare and much sought after fruit is readily available for us to buy and try with very little effort. The pineapple has an incredibly rich history and that bit of scientific curiosity too, so I guess all-in-all it's very appealing .....

Here's some pineapple trivia followed by a quick tutorial for anyone that fancies a go.

The Pineapple:
The pineapple, Ananas comosus is a member of the Bromeliaceae family. Thought to originate from the Orinoco basin in South America. Prior to introduction in Europe they were distributed throughout the tropics and this caused some confusion about their origin.  The pineapple is desiccation-tolerant with adaptations, including CAM photosynthesis (stomata opening at night), all of which allows the plant to cope with drought..... this probably explains why the pineapple is so successful!

 During development the fruit produces up to 200 flowers. Once it flowers, the individual fruits of form what is known collectively as the pineapple. Whereby the ovaries develop into berries which form the large, compact, multiple accessory fruit. 

Pineapple flowers (img. Wikimedia Commons  2.5 Generic Licence)
In cultivation pineapples are propagated by vegetative reproduction - in fact you can cut the crown off a pineapple and grow a new one! Pollination is by hummingbirds, beetles and bats but this is not a favourable method of reproduction in crops because the seed production reduces the quality of the fruit. fact the importation of hummingbirds is, I believe, banned in Hawaii because of the impact on crops.
History: When Christopher Columbus  arrived at the island of Guadeloupe in 1493, the ships crew stumbled across piles of fruits, including pineapples as well as pots of human body parts! The European sailors first recorded the fruit which had an rough, segmented exterior rather like a pine cone and a pulp like an apple.

John Parkinson (1567–1650), Royal Botanist to Charles I, later described the pineapple as: 

Scaly like an Artichoke at the first view, but more like to a cone of the Pine tree, which we call a pineapple for the forme... being so sweete in smell... tasting... as if Wine, Rosewater and Sugar were mixed together. (Theatrum Botanicum)
The exact date of their introduction to Europe remains unknown but their is evidence that pineapples were being cultivated in the Netherlands by the mid to late 1600's. Once the fruit had arrived it quickly became a symbol of hospitality, power and wealth, the pineapple really was the celebrity of the fruit world; expensive, much sought after and often displayed in works of art and in dining room centrepieces topping towers of exotic fruit.
Still Life with Watermelons, Pineapple and Other fruit by Dutch artist Albert Eckhout (1610-1665) Eckhout's still-life paintings show Brazil's abundant crops in the 1600's ( Public domain  Wikimedia Creative Commons)
 The pineapple symbolism made it the subject of many works of art. The scene of  Charles II's head gardener, John Rose,  presenting the King with the first fruit grown in England was famously documented in this painting by Hendrik Danckerts, 1675.

Charles II being presented with the first pineapple by his gardener John Rose (Public domain Wikimedia Creative Commons)
The same symbolism was also used extensively in architecture. You can find pineapples used in all sorts of architectural features, on follies, gateposts and buildings. This extreme example at Dunmore House in Scotland, was added to the building sometime during the 1760's, they had a hot house of course and grew...... pineapples!  

The Fibonacci myth: The fruit of a pineapple is arranged in spirals ( see image below), this arrangement commonly found in nature, in pine cones, sunflower seed-heads and lots of other plants, it's commonly said to be a Fibonacci sequence. While some fruit do actually have the 5,8 and 13, or 8,13 and 21 arrangement of fruit in each spiral, all of  which are Fibonacci numbers, many do not.

Pineapple spirals, don't necessarily exhibit Fibonacci numbers
The Fibonacci sequence was first described by  mathematician Leonardo Pisano Bigollo (c. 1170 – c. 1250) as a mathematical sequence related to growth being 1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 and so on - where each number is the sum of the two previous numbers. If you count the fruit on each spiral of some pineapples, they do indeed add up to these numbers. But this arrangement is not always the case and Fibonacci is no a magic formula or design in nature it just happens to be the most energy efficient growth pattern..... so Fibonacci's sequence is simply a model for growth and therefore a generalisation ( and a very useful one!). I've highlighted the spirals in red, white and blue on the fruit below, and as suspected they don't add up to a Fibonacci numbers. If you have nothing better to do why not go and count the spirals on pineapples in the greengrocers you will find that having checked a few - it's more often than not often not the case, but the general growth pattern looks much the same. So if you have tried and failed to understand the Fibonacci spiral in a pineapples and can't seem to get the numbers that you think it should add up's not because you've missed something! it's because there is a lot of variation in nature during growth and only the most perfect pineapples exhibit Fibonacci numbers. Having said that pine cones and sunflowers are more likely to exhibit perfect sequences....yes I checked these too!  

What also appears to be true in some cases though is a Fibonacci type theorem whereby a pineapple being a cylinder made up of these hexagonal fruit has spirals in which the largest number of hexagons equals the sum of the sum of the two smaller numbers. A + B = C..... So it still makes the patten. But enough of all that. 

Finally The Painting. I've written this mini guide to a study for those of you that might want to try the pineapple. It's actually not so difficult as might be assumed. The spiral sequence is a simple one.
The most common errors are
1.getting the angle of the spirals wrong
2. Making it looks too flat.

First I map out the spirals by taking some basic measurements and looking at the angles. The spiral with the most fruits is less steep than the other.

The chosen one, a short and fairly round pinepple, I took some measurements, height, width, note there is no Fibonacci sequence etc.  
I make a rough drawing on tracing paper of the two main interlocking spirals - but taking to care to observe the perspective. The same type of pattern is seen in the leaves of the crown.
Drawing: Once I have the basic shape I add transfer the shape to a study page and add some detail to the drawing in the fruits and leaves.I use the same paper for the study page as I do on the final painting because otherwise the colours will be different.

Position and Lighting: The best position for the fruit is eye level. The fruit is placed it on top of a glass, my set up is a low-tech balancing act using a few empties! I position the lamp at the upper front right with a daylight bulb, to avoid working in my own light. I also use a tin can to reflect a bit of light back onto the fruit. Tin cans are great for all sorts!
The set up

Take photos for reference kept at hand on the laptop- remember pineapples ripen very quickly

Colour: To be honest I don't spend a huge amount of time doing colour samples unless I'm really struggling with a particular colour. I work out the basics an play with them on the rough study.

A few little 'rules' to keep it simple: 
Work out colour by finding each basic hue first, these are found in the mid tones where saturation is highest.
So I always start brighter than is needed and take it down in saturation, for the shades using a complimentary colour or with my own neutral tint mix.
I warm up or cool down the colours depending on the light.
Try to work with as few colours as possible.
Avoid opaques other than in the initial wash, thereafter use only transparent colours to preserve the luminosity.
Avoid colours with black, e.g. indigo, sepia  unless it's for dry brush detail. They make colours 'dead' if used in layered washes.
Early stages, finding the colours.

Continuing to work out the colour, the shades, techniques and glazes.

Gut instinct tells me that the basic yellow hue found in the fruits is: New Gamboge 
Warm it up with scarlet lake
Cool it down with  ultraviolet

add Neutral Tint to the mix the shade colours

Greens in the fruit
Cobalt Dp + Transparent yellow
Warm with New Gamboge
Cool with Ultraviolet 

The Browns -'bracts' on each fruit,
Raw umber
warm add v small amount of Scarlet Lake
cool it with Cerulean

Add Some Cerulean on the highlights

The Crown
 A very light wash of Cerulean and Ultraviolet to give the 'grey' effect applied as a wash first
Transparent yellow + Cerulean for the lighter brighter greens at the base of the crown
Cobalt Blue deep  and Transparent Yellow for the older leaves used selectively on areas of leaves most green e.g. leaf edges.

The Process
I work out the washes and watercolour techniques in order on the study page and make any notes
Keep an eye on the light at all times - remind yourself it's a spherical type object. Alternatively I could have painted a wash all over leaving out the main highlight but this doesn't work so well with a pineapple because of the many small areas where the light hits the fruits. So I paint each bract/ fruit individually to start with and add glazes later.

Bear in mind that the fruit ripens and changes colour rapidly - thank goodness for the photo reference!
Now I'm ready to start the painting.....  

But in true Blue Peter style, here's one I made earlier.....

Pineapple watercolour from 2010

A Word of warning for potential pineapple painters.  Alas there's a dark side to the modern pineapple! This once rare sybol of wealth can be purchased at the local supermarket for less than £1! I've never seen pineapples for that price before and competition between growers usually means there's much high price to be paid somewhere or other in order to secure supermarket contracts! Most supplies comes from Costa Rica, where growers may use pesticides which can affect soil quality and reduce biodiversity. Pesticides include organophosphates and known hormone disruptors which can affect workers' health and contaminate water supplies. The chemical are of course found in the fruit too!.... oh and the workers are not paid a fair wage.
To find out more read this article 'Bitter Fruit: The truth about supermarket pineapples' 

So if you're going to paint a pineapple please be careful about its origin and look for the Fair Trade symbol and organic fruit.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

2014 Plans and Inspirations

My last post was a summary of work from 2013. So I'm starting 2014 with a few plans for the new year - inspired by my friend Shevaun Doherty in her recent blog post.

This is my 50th year (eek!) so it really is time to at least try to be a bit more organised. Have been a bit shy of over planning the last couple of years because life has been slightly chaotic! but I always did like to set a goal or two.

There are two...or maybe three strands of work for me- commissioned illustration, teaching and the work that I call my own.  The first take precedence and supports the latter. So sometimes with the best will in the world plans have to change because illustration work comes along unexpectedly, I estimate that the 80:20 rule applies, with the lesser being the amount of time dedicated to my own work at the moment. Most of the illustration work is natural history based and painting things that aren't necessarily my own choice and prove to be challenging are good for me!

He is my Top Ten Plan for 2014 and the inspiration behind it.....

 1. Paint or draw every day. A few years ago I heard a comment in a documentary about one of my favourite artists, Lucian Freud, which stated that he painted every day of his life! I'm not altogether sure how accurate it was but it struck a chord and stayed with me. When I went to see his 'Portraits' exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2012 the incredible development of his work over the years was so clear to see and his sheer dedication was apparent- sometimes no douby at the expense of other things in his life. This exhibition, which was was shortly after his death made me think about how important it is to paint frequently, and, how much time I've wasted thinking about what to do rather than time actually doing it! So to the point! I intend to carry on as I have over the last year and will endeavour paint or draw something everyday, no matter how small. I know being an illustrator isn't quite the same as being a real 'artist'  but the dedication to do better is the same for everything. Some of my work will be illustration and some will be my own work but it's all good practice. I've started the year with another 15 marine species paintings for Macduff Marine Aquarium, it's a warm up's a glimpse.

Marine species illustrations completed Jan 2014

2. Don't leave it until the last minute ....... Well that speaks for itself! I MUST improve my time management regarding the balance between the different strands of work! Oh and don't take on too many things. When I tell people I'm an artist/ illustrator they seem to think it's some relaxing easy job or part time'hobby'. Sometimes it is  relaxing but it can be pretty pressurised when clients want work yesterday! I wouldn't change it for any other job in the world even though it pays badly and means long hours.  

3. Submit work for the SBA annual exhibit at Westminster, in May. I've been exhibiting on and off with the SBA since 2000. I was elected a full member in 2012 but last year I was gutted not to exhibiti following acceptance. I figured I had an excuse given that life had turned a bit upside-down, but it's no excuse for neglecting things because of a few unsettling life events! So a good  kick in the backside is in order for missing that one, and, for feeling sorry for myself! 
It had always been a goal of mine to become an SBA member but for practical reasons I'd been inconsistent with submitting the required number of works over the years. I worked really hard at having the 5 paintings accepted in 2010, 2011 which gave me associate membership and then again in 2012. I was delighted to receive the phone call from former President Vicki Marsh, informing me that I'd been elected as a full member.... and on my birthday too! I felt I'd let myself down by not exhibiting. This year I won't be submitting 5 and I'm pretty relieved that I don't have to submit so many anymore! I'm hoping to complete a large piece on vellum for the show based on autumnal garden finds. The theme this year is the Botanical Garden, I think the autumn garden is as interesting as in summer, so this will be the focus of my work. 
Preparatory work for SBA show

 4. Prepare work for RHS London Orchid Show.  This one is a bit daunting! I've always wanted to do this show and despite the fact that I've been exhibiting with the RHS since around 2004 ( accepted by the Picture Committee in 2002 ) I've  never been offered it before. Funny really because I even wasn't going to apply this year but received an email reminding me to apply for space the day before the deadline and thought....Ok one more! so there you go.....  refer to no. 2. I'll tell you later what I'm submitting for the show

5. Paint the Jade Vine for the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden Florelegium. Really delighted to have been be  invited to become a member of the Society in a letter that arrived out of the blue from Beverly Allen last year. I was issued with the plant list and chose the Jade Vine because it's big, bold and beautiful ....that's a bit of a challenge for me!  I was too late to paint it last year but sourced the plant and it's my BIG challenge this year. Not sure yet but think I may paint it on vellum.

Jade vine flower

6. Take Part in the Nature Sketchbook Exchange  How nice to be invited to take part in this initiative, whereby a group of 15 artists all have a Stillman & Birn sketchbook. Each artist will draw or paint something every month then pass it on to the next artist.  Great idea! 

Banner for the Nature Sketchbook Exchange project

7. If time permits another 30 Day Challenge would be good. Really enjoyed this last year because so many other artists joined in.  Not sure if I have time for it this year and perhaps somebody else will take the lead.

8. Develop my Teaching. Website resources and classes. I created a new website in 2013 for my students and to enable better access to botanical art tuition. For years I wanted to have some art tuition in botanical art and never could, for all sorts of reasons it was outside my grasp, whether it was having young children, living miles from anywhere or simply not having the funds for some of the very expensive botanical art courses, which felt a bit elitist to me. Also some courses don't cover the fundamental skills or 'building blocks' required in watercolour so I wanted to take a slightly different approach. I have some brilliant students and really look forward to developing this area of work over the coming year.  
 I'll also be running a class from the 20th to the 26th July back in Aberdeenshire, Scotland at a fantastic venue on the Moray Firth Coast, the  Creative Retreat

More additions to the teaching website, click to view

9. Blog a bit more often. I did a lot more last year than in previous years, largely due to the 30 day challenge and it's great to see so many other botanical artists blogging nowadays. Writing things down and asking myself questions is the best thing for the thought process! :)    

10.  Finally.....Enjoy it, try to be a better painter, don't get stressed and don't make excuses!  I know that's 4 things really...... but it's my list ! stress serves no purpose whatsoever, so it has no place!

That's it........Simple!