Saturday, 14 September 2019

Painting Rich Colour, Texture and Detail: Rudbeckia

This week I painted the second in a series of four illustrations, a Rudbeckia inflorescence, a cultivar called "Summerina Brown", which has dark golden brown velvety 'petals' (ray florets). This type of colour and texture can be challenging and in order to achieve such a finish it's necessary to understand two things. Firstly, the importance of underlying and interacting colours and secondly the necessary of different watercolour techniques to maintain underlying colours and build texture. Here is a little about my process.

These flowers are incredibly obliging for the painter, they flower for months and last a long time once cut, towards the end of summer they start to yellow producing amazing autumnal colours. I began by lighting the plant to make the most of its colour, using a 5,500 k daylight lamp with a CRI (colour render index) of over 90. I wanted to bring out the full range of colours and the velvety texture, without good lighting this isn't possible, is I played with the light until I created the desired look but kept in mind the true colour of the flower at all times. I took many reference photographs in case the flower wilted, but it didn't! 

The flower: I used a few different flowers for reference, this one had a slightly gnarled centre, so I used one with a fresher looking centre. I lit the flower dramatically to bring out the golden colour and to make more of the highlights which had a contrasting violet appearance in places, these contrasting colours work to enhance each other. 
I made sketches and notes about the plant and other Rudbeckias in my garden. It's a member of Asteraceae, which have an inflorescence comprising a central disc of tiny flowers, surrounded by the petal like ray florets. In this Rudbeckia the stem is ridged and hairy, leaves are simple and hairy on both sides. I also made sketches of other Rudbeckia from the garden as seen below, but this Summerina Brown is my favourite and I loved the way the petals twist and turn, it makes a much more interesting composition than the one below, which is nice but quite stiff.

Sketchbook studies: A different Rudbeckia, gorgeous colours but not such an appealing shape.
Colour matching is the first task and I do this in good natural daylight. I identify any underlying colours, there are violets and golden yellows. and dark red/browns in the ray florets.
I begin by painting in the underlying colours in the petals, I identify rich violets mixed from Indanthrene Blue and Quinacridone Magenta and also a warmer mix of Indanthrene Blue and Permanent Carmine (mostly carmine). I also drop in a few small highlights of a lighter Manganese Blue which makes the violet pop.

Putting in the underlying colours also creates form and structure in the early stages of the painting

As a slight aside, I can't miss out the central disc structure. I plotted this by lightly drawing in the two spirals, one is clockwise and the other counterclockwise, you can probably see below that one spiral is not as steep as the other. This is actually easier than it looks if you sketch the spirals in and then paint around the little flowers, towards the centre of the disk they disappear into a furry type of appearance.  I paint the spirals in first but not as straight lines but painting around the little bumps of the flower and add a the violet wash over the top, varying the colour slightly from a blue violet to a red violet by altering the ratio of blue and red. I leave the yellow pollen areas clear of paint and add yellow later. Finally. I deepen between the flowers where necessary using creamier darker mixes, which are almost black using the same colours as the painting develops, the colours are Indanthrene Blue, Permanent Carmine and a touch of Transparent Yellow.

This is a typical composite Inflorescence. Here you can see the two spirals in the central disk, which comprises many tiny flowers, the yellow is the pollen from the open flowers at the outer edge. Flower opening is sequential and this maximises a chance of pollination over a long period. Each tiny flower can develop into a single seed if successfully pollinated. 
After painting in the underlying violet colours I start to add selective areas of the golden colour, I do this by dampening the area where I want this colour to shine through and apply by dropping a condensed creamy mix of Transparent Yellow mixed with a touch of Scarlet Lake into the brighter areas. It's important to control the intensity and spread, so dampening the area with the right amount of water is important.
I also start to add the darker reds, using a combination of 3 reds. The reds in this flower vary from cooler to warmer mixes depending on the light. The three reds used in this painting are Quinacridone Magenta (cool), Scarlet Lake (the brightest 'hot' red) and Permanent Carmine (darker warm red). I also mix very rich dark purples for the deepest shadow areas using the Carmine and Indanthrene.

Adding the bright colours, yellows and reds.
At this stage, I begin to build the petal colour and texture. Using transparent yellow, scarlet lake and Permanent Carmine in different ratios of mixes, I continue to build colour by what I refer to as 'selective application' wetting/dampening small areas with clean water  and dropping in colour. In fact I seldom add a wash of any one colour all over any subject and use this selective approach all of the the time, its more like a 'patchwork' painting.

building up the petal veins with soft veins 

As I build colour less and less water is used, ironically water can be the enemy of the watercolour botanical artist, too much in a flower like this will spread and dilute colour, it can also flatten the intensity of the colour and smother the underlying colours that we want to preserve,  making them dirty (not to mention the problem of ragged and hard edges) - too little water makes unsightly thick paint, so I find dampening the the most useful approach.
There are deep ridges and soft veins in the ray florets/ 'petals' and I dampen the area and paint these using a fairly thick mix of paint onto a pre dampened area so that lines are soft. To define edges I wet the outer edge where the hard line is needed and drop creamy paint at the edge and soften inwards. I use dry (damp brush is probably a better description) on a slightly dampened surface to create the velvety surface texture.  There is much selective layering and building of colour, some needs to be overlaid and other areas preserved - at this stage I find that I have to be brave and keep going! adding small amounts of reds, violets and brown using these techniques but still using the same colours by dampening and dry approach interchangeably to control the colour. At this stage I must keep a close eye on the light and shade in the flower to see the bumps and crevices in the 'petals' and elsewhere. I try not to make assumptions and keep looking at the subject for clues.  I find consistent lighting from a lamp and squinting helps me to see the lights and darks yet I always use a magnifier to see and paint the detail.

Bring up to this stage using the red/brown mixes for the colour building. I use dry on damp and dry on dry depending on the desired outcome, dry on damp is great for those soft veins. A wetter surface is needed for creating a sharp edges and dry on dry can create more texture.

I add the stem and this looks almost finished but I continue to add more colour as the actual flower is richer. Definition is still needed in the center and edges.  
 I add the green stem and a single leaf, for this mix I use underlying blue on the light side of the stem (Manganese Blue) and underlying violet at the shade areas (Manganese Blue and Quinacridone Magenta) these subtle colours are hardly visible but do make a difference. I use a mix of Indanthrene blue, transparent yellow and a touch of quinacridone magenta for the green mix (yes the same colours as used elsewhere) I paint in the darker ridges and than add a yellow biased green mix first, followed by a richer darker green (more blue and red in the mix) - using the same colours in the flower and the greens creates more 'unity in a painting. I never find the need to use ready made greens, some greens contain black and other pigments that flatten the colour especially when mixed. Don't get me wrong some ready mixed greens are probably ok but I never find the need for them.
Finally, I add the fine hairs at the edge that are on the white paper using a mix of manganese blue, quinacridone magenta and transparent yellow to mix a grey, where the pale hairs are on the green, I use some white gouache and add a small amount of the same colour. I also paint a small shadow line under some of the hairs using a violet mix. At this point I put the panting away for a day and then review.

Rudbeckia watercolour size 28 x 18 cm The finished painting, slightly deeper colour  added all over.

Paints, Windsor & Newton artist quality: 
Reds: Quinacridone Magenta, Scarlet Lake and Permanent Carmine
Yellows: Transparent Yellow 
Blues: Manganese Blue and Indanthrene Blue 

Winsor and Newton series 7 Miniature size 4 and 2 

Saunders Waterford  140lb (300gsm) HP  High white 

I've been using this paper for all my tutorials and paintings over the last few months and find that it's pretty robust. so for the moment will stick with it.  I seldom need a heavier paper as I don't use much water, I only use heavier paper if working on large paintings, such a a full imperial sheet size. 

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Beginning in Botanical Art and illustration

I saw a post on social media the other day from someone asking about where to start in Botanical Art and Illustration, it got me thinking about the important points. So here's my not so short take on the subject based on my own process, where I started and what I needed to learn. I've made a top 12, there's probably more. These are not intended to be rules and of course there are many different learning styles and approaches .... this is mine.

A foxglove, Digitalis purpurea from my sketchbook, it doesn't have to be finished - it's a place for working things out  rather than perfect illustrations
First of all there is no magic or quick route, it will be hard work at times and requires tenacity. Outcomes may be frustrating at times but it will also be fulfilling and will make you so happy when you succeed, you will love it and your obsession with plants will grow.... but  be aware that it will be a rollercoaster! There is nothing more exciting than a new subject and a blank sheet of paper. So here goes:

1. Study a little botanical art past and present: from the old masters and contemporary artists, this will feed your mind. Look at the big names Redoute, Ehret the Bauer Brothers and Sydney Parkinson, etc.  alongside the more recent greats such as Rory McEwen and Pandora Sellars and right up to date - there are a huge number to choose from, so I won't name any contemporaries but there's a great library of images online these days. When I say study,  I mean really study them - buy a little notebook and make a list of the artists you like and ask yourself what it is that you like. Don't just be overawed at the impact of a beautiful work but look a the the finer points, such as the light and shade, learn to see where the light is coming from and how the artist used it. Look at how the the colours are handled and the composition. Also maybe look at work that you don't like so much and ask yourself why? You don't have to buy books but there are a few that are useful, lots of resources are available but also try to visit exhibitions - there is nothing quite like seeing the real thing!

Sketchbooks of George Ehret (1708 - 17700 at the Natural History Museum

2. Keep a Sketchbook: this is a must do! This keeps everything in one place and you can see your progress over time. It's your place and you don't have to share it unless you want to. Start with simple subjects drawing first, then gradually introduce tone by shading and colour by making simple colour swatches to match the plant at first. Finally, work out the process for painting. Make notes on everything,  name, the date, write about features of the plant.....this will improve both your observation and knowledge of plants. It will build a wonderful reference library! Leave in the stuff that went wrong too, its a lesson in itself! but if you really can't stand to looking at your mistakes simply stick something over it.
I use the Stillman and Birn Zeta series soft back because it has a heavyweight paper at 270gms and handles washes well, I occasionally use the Epsilon series for graphite work as the paper isn't so heavy and isn't needed for graphite. I don't much like ring bound books because I like to work across double page spreads (as you can see). It's available in a range of sizes,  I use the 8 x 10 inch (20.3 x 25.4 cm) book, any larger becomes too daunting and not so useful as a sketchbook because it's too big! but also the 5.5 x 8.5 inch (14 x 21.6cm) are good, and the mini book 3.5 x 5.5 (8.9 x 14cm) is great for keeping in your bag! see their website for sizes
Keep in mind that sketchbook paper isn't ever quite up to the standard of watercolour paper so it will handle slightly differently than a cotton paper. You can make your own sketchbook of course but thats another subject.

The 8.5 x 5.5 inch still man and Birn Zeta series book on the left and the mini 
3. Draw from life and do a little everyday: That means observational drawing from an actual subject, which is important because you can see how a plant is constructed, you can turn it around, hold it in your hand and get a feel for it's texture and surface and you can even take a plant apart in order to understand it. You just can't get this from photographs, I'll write more about using photographs later but they are flat 2 dimensional images and can distort shape and colour and you often can't understand the growth habit of a plant if you are not familiar with it.
I start with the most basic measurements, height and width of the whole, then break it into parts. Look for shapes within the subjects, circles, and triangles, look at angles.
Don't be afraid to correct or to try again. Drawing is a process of working it out, don't expect it to be correct from the start.  Start with simple obliging subjects: no one wants to see droopy leaves, choose tough flowers, long lasting buds, fruit and seed pods. Avoid subjects that move with the light or wilt. Make sure that you align parts correctly in your drawing, especially where a stem passes behind other part and re-emerges or  where the stem lines up with the flower centre, it's all connected from the stem to the ovary. Remember that the seemingly complex web of veins in a leaf meet up, all of these things can be broken down into an order ....misalignment is one of the main errors in drawing, so check overtime. Create a check list to ask yourself questions for every drawing and be your own critic.
Deconstructing a Hellebore
Hellebore: Graphite Sketchbook Studies using line and tone as preparatory work for a larger study. Notice all the measurements and enlarged parts. Enlarge by multiplying the measurements for parts that are too small to easily see. 
Always sharpen pencils and understand their tonal values from H (Hard grades) which are the lightest in tone to B  (Bold)  which are the softest and darkest. 
4. Research your subjects: Being a botanical artist involves detective work! This is your plant research and it goes hand-in-hand with numbers 2 and 3. I put my research notes into my sketchbook. First of all find out what are you painting, i.e. the plant name, you can use flora books or online resources for this, but if you don't know exactly what it is say so and don't guess. It's much easier with species than with cultivated plants. If you buy a plant be sure it has a label or ask the name and check that its correct, you can often find a description in a book of  for name and also what family the plant belongs to. Learn a little about the system of the Latin or scientific name (the 'two name' binomial system)

For example 'Foxglove' is a common or vernacular name.
The Latin name is Digitalis purpurea which is written in italics or if hand written is underlined.
Digitalis is the first part of the name, this is the genus
The second part of the name is  purpurea, this is the species or specific epithet.
A quick Google search also gives the family name Plantaginaceae, this is not written in italics, it's always worth learning which family a plant is in because you find out about relationships and similarities and differences in families.
This system may seem complicated at first but the 2 name system, known as binomial nomenclature, was largely developed by Carl Linneaus in 1753 and it's used to name all living organisms and is the  internationally recognised system, so we need to know about it  - in actual fact it avoids any confusion. It's really not that difficult if you don't try to learn too much at once, deal with it on a plant by plant basis.  Then there are hybrids and cultivars derived from those species but I'm not going to go into this here.

Next: describe your subject, you don't need to be a botanist simply describe in your own words initially, a book like the Cambridge Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms by Hickey and King is a good reference. For example descibe the shape of the leaf, whether it's hairy, it's outer margin, the pattern of the veins, the shape of the flower, the shape of the stem and reproductive parts etc. gather as much as you can. This sounds like a lot but if you sit down with a plant you can describe it in about half an hour and it's well worth the effort.
Plant research, name and describe the plant, its parts as well as the process
5. Choosing and keeping subjects: Don't pick overly difficult subjects in the beginning it can be the most frustrating experience for a beginner ! Go for more robust plants, orchids are obliging and fruits are fantastic subjects! they last for a long time and change slowly. Start smallish but not too small that its hard to see or draw. Seed pods and dried subjects make great subjects too and can be kept for a long time, so start collecting! dried leaves, nuts twigs and seedpods. Pot plants are very handy as are the contents of the fridge, chili peppers, garlic, vegetables etc. With plant cuttings, keep them cool when not in use, either outside or if it's hot or in the fridge in plastic containers on damp kitchen towel. If flowers wilt, cut the stem and plunge into hot then cold water to revive.
Seedpods are very obliging subjects for a beginner
Something from the fridge! There's always a treasure trove of subjects 

6. Know your materials: Its' all too easy to get carried away buying materials and equipment that you don't need, based on recommendations but this is often a form of procrastination. While it's nice to have a every colour in the shop - you have to ask yourself if you need all of these paints? will they make you a better artist? The simple answer is no, while it's important to have good quality paints, brushes ands paper - you don't actually need all that many paints. I work with a primary palette of 5 reds, 5 blues and 4 yellows, you can read about that in my last post. There really is no need for anything else. It's more important that you learn what your colours are, understand their properties and know how to mix them. Again, refer to the previous post.
I mostly use two brushes, a size 4 and size 2 series 7 Winsor and Newton miniature, plus a synthetic filbert size 1, and a flat, such as the Rosemary and Co eradicator to the Pro Arte Masterstroke flat shader, they cost less than £3. I also have a size 6 flat for mixing and taking paint out and a basic sable wash brush size 6.
Paper is a matter of choice so try sample packs, you need to actually paint a whole subject though to really find out if you like it or not. It's a good idea to exchange paper samples with friends rather than buying expensive paper that you don't like. But you will need a Hot Press (HP) paper, because it has the smoothest surface for fine detail, some artists paint on Cold Press but this has too much texture for me.  I use a few different papers mostly 140lb (300gms) all are 100% cotton. For example: Saunders Waterford HP ehigh white, Arches HP and Stonehenge Aqua. Only use heavier paper if you're working larger or paint with a very wet style.
A good quality range of pencils, such as Faber Castell 9000 grades 4H to 6B
A putty eraser and hard dust free eraser, a retractable Tombow eraser too
You will also need a couple of ceramic palettes, ceramic is better than plastic
Something to measure parts with such as a transparent ruler and/or dividers
Magnifying glass x2
My paintbox and an exercise matching colours using the primary palette of reds, blues and yellows

My trusty old paintbox. I use a ceramic palette with wells (shown here) for watery washes and a flat palette for creamy and dry mixes. 

Flat ceramic palette for thicker creamier mixes and dry brush 

7. Make the workplace comfortable with the correct equipment: If you're not comfortable, you can't paint well, it sounds silly but makes sure that you can reach your paints and water and that they are on the correct side, thats the right side for right-handers and the opposite for left. I can't tell you the amount of times I've seen students trailing a wet brush from the other side and then wondering why they have so many splashes on their work!
Invest in an adjustable height chair - it's important not to strain your neck and to be able to get at the parts you are painting.
A drawing board, which can be elevated is useful, a piece of MDF and a block of wood will do. Elevating the drawing board means that you can see what you are doing properly, a board laid flat creates perspective distortion unless the subject is small,  this perspective issue occurs because the top of the board is further away than the bottom of the board.
I use a lamp for painting with a daylight bulb (there's a post about what a daylight bulb is somewhere in this blog) and a lamp on my subject. The lamp on the subject is generally pointed at the subject from the upper left if you are right handed, and the upper right if you are left handed.

8. Understanding the tonal values to create realistic form: can you see the light?
I mentioned having a lamp positioned on the subject in 7, this is vital to create constant light and shade and to make an interesting drawing or panting with good form. While natural light is great, it does change throughout the day and this can confusing for beginners. Light and shade is important in our work, so its worth spending some time on it.

Start with rounded forms, these are the easiest, and work up to more complex ones. Use photography to turn images to black and white as this can be very useful to see the lightest and darkest parts and all of the areas in between.

Light coming from the upper front left side on this apple, means that the shade is on the right but it's also got some  light reflecting back onto its shiny surface beneath the form shadow. Light and shade can be confusing we have to train ourselves to use it 

Tonal painting and contour drawing of an apple, showing the light coming from the upper right this time.  Note where the highlight is and the form shadow, everything in between are mid tones, if light is too diffused there isn't enough light and shade to make and interesting painting or drawing, so play with the lighting.

Always sharpen pencils and understand their tonal values from H (Hard grades) which are the lightest in tone to B  (Bold)  are the softest and darkest. Start light and work towards the darker shades.
To make tonal studies you can use pencils, black paint or a neutral tint mix, it's a good idea to get and overall feel for a subject by making a tonal study first, this will ensure that you get the tonal values right.
Heres a measured line drawing of a leaf and a tonal study of the the same leaf using continuous tone.  See how light and shade is used to create form. The shading involved starting with a 2H and building up to the darkest tones with HB, 2B and 4 B
Converting this concept to colour can be more challenging but if you understand the basics of light and shade first it will be much easier to create a convincing looking painting.

Initial tonal drawing for the painting below. it's important to understand the different tones between parts and  in relation to light and shade, the light flowers will require harder grades of pencil and the darker leaves will require softer grades. The more shaded areas also require softer grades. For example flowers might require a 4H for the lighter parts but no harder than HB for the darkest areas within them, whereas leaves might start with a 2H for the lightest parts and working up to a 6B for the very darkest parts, using every other grade in between.

The final painting maintains the same tonal values. Convert your image to black and white to check them! 

Photographing and converting the colour image back to black and white helps me to check those tonal values. 

9. Learn Techniques in graphite and watercolour: Spend time experimenting with techniques. With graphite we mostly use the continuous tone technique, this produces a smooth finish, the motion requires elliptical movements, working over and over lightly to gently work the graphite into the surface of the paper, other techniques include stipple and hatching. I can't cover all of these here but if you delve back in time there are some posts on shading in graphite.
With watercolour you need to be able to use flat washes, graded washes (from dark to light), blended washes (working from one colour into another), wet-in-wet (dropping colours into a wet surface and  controlling them) but to really achieve the depth and details in nature, the dry brush techniques are necessary too. There are  a number of approaches to dry brush, which can be used to model the surface of a subject building rich colour, or to add different types of detail, the approaches are different and I use 5 different ones.  There isn't room to explain all of these here but i'll write more in the future. Take a class if you can but make sure it's one where you will learn these techniques and methods. Once you have the techniques learned you can really start to develop your work, you can make clean edges, rich colour, texture and fine detail. All of which are vital for botanical artists.

Learn the various dry brush and wash techniques. From my watercolour Techniques Tutorial, modelling dry brush
10. Learn about colour mixing: This relates back to the previous materials entry. Learn about primary palette colour mixing, make colour charts  and experiment with saturated and desaturated colours. Practice matching colours to a subject.  For example, if you have a red / orange flower, start with the nearest red in the palette, if the flower is leaning towards orange, add some yellow to it, if it's leaning towards purple add blue. That's a simple version but if you use a limited palette you soon get to grips with the warmer and cooler versions of colours in your subjects.  Colour charts and wheels can really help with deciding where to start and you can simply place your flower on them to see what the nearest colour is. Greens need special attention, you can read previous posts on green mixing but bear in mind that most greens will require a blue plus a yellow and then a very small amount of red to make a more natural green, again,  if your colour palette is only primaries this makes it quite easy. Simpler principles can apply: for light greens use a light blue, for mid greens use a mid blue and for dark greens use a dark blue. This sounds obvious but it's often missed.
Purple chart, mixing and matching purples to the subject using the blues and reds
11. Draft and redraft: After making sketches and deciding to compose a painting, draft out a rough composition, this can be done on tracing paper. Re-work the drawing until you are happy with it, arranging or rearranging. This preparation work is preferable to rushing in with a painting and eliminates the possibility of errors.
Drafting the layout for a composition using tracing paper, parts are cut out and rearranged slightly. 

12: Photographs: Don't be afraid to use technology. Photographs can be useful to supplement your work but it's important to understand the subject first and to be able to draw it from life but don't ever rely on photographs for colour as they can be quite inaccurate.
You have seen that in this post that I have used photographs to check for tonal values and to check and play with lighting effects. Photographs are also useful  for capturing subjects in the field and that change or are short lived.
Equipment like light pads are useful for transferring drawings. Digital microscopes are amazing for close-ups of small parts and apps can even be used to edit images of your work to see how they might look with more colour or darker tones. Technology isn't something to be afraid of, it's just another tool.

Most of these points can be expanded on, this post is intended to provide an overview of some of the processes involved in producing botanical work. Hopefully I will be able to expend on some of them in the future.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Primary Palette Colour Mixing

It’s been a very long time but the blog is resurrected!

Having recently written a tutorial about colour mixing using a primary palette, I decided that this would be a good subject to kick start the blog with. A few years ago I decided to eject all of the unnecessary paints from my paint box in order to simplify the colour mixing process, if you’re wondering why I dismantled my beautiful looking paintbox,  I found I was only actually using a small number of paints and simply didn’t need them all, also, it’s so much easier to teach students using a limited palette and it puts a stop to the idea that you always need another colour in the palette. To prove that this was a good idea to myself, I removed everything that I felt wasn’t needed and attempted to mix the same colour using  primary colours, it was surprising to see how many of those colours I could match!

The streamlined paintbox on the left and all of the un-necessary paints can be seen on the right. I swapped half pans for full pans with the most used paints. 

Mixing and matching some of the colours with primaries, here are some typical paint box colours: the umbers, sap green the perylene's, quinacridone gold, some violets and there were many more!  In fact I had in the region of 100 paints including most of the W & N artist pan colours, which is frankly ridiculous but good for paint manufacturers! This exercise enabled me to remove all of the paints that I didn't need. I know that there are other properties that can't be exactly replicated but in most cases the primary mix was better (in my opinion) and there is the opportunity of easily shifting the ratio of colours to make it warmer or cooler and making a shade version, so further simplifying the colour mixing process. 
How a mix of 3 primaries can be shifted left and right of the basic hue mix (centre) to create a range of greens found in a leaf, simply by altering the ratios within the mix and creating a more natural shift to a paler warmer green  (adding more yellow) to a darker cooler shade green (adding more blue and red). This approach to colour mixing creates much improved continuity and transition in a painting and is a simple to learn. 

What is a Primary Palette
There is often a lot of confusion about what a primary palette is, the most basic form comprises just one red, one blue and one yellow, from which all secondary and tertiary colours can be mixed. However, a palette of just 3 colours will not provide the range of colours needed in many brightly coloured botanical subjects,  so if you've tried that and failed - don't be put off because paint is not like the light and you'll struggle to achieve everything! My primary palette is actually quite broad with 4 yellows, 5 or 6 reds and 5 or 6 blues, any less would be too limiting for me.  Since streamlining the paintbox I found that have a far greater understanding of colour mixing.   
If you want to see my palette choice you can find them in my suggested materials list on my website click here.
The old paints haven't been wasted though and I've given many of them away to those that still use them but I can honestly say I haven't missed any of them. 
Some of the paintbox survivors - reds, yellows and blues, checking out their light value and saturation here by painting from full saturation to a pale watery wash.

Making Useful Colour Charts
There is no point in making colour charts for the sake of it, they have to be useful. Once I'd removed the redundant colours, I set about making some basic colour charts mixing primary colours to make a wide range of secondaries and tertiaries, such as seen in the simple charts below. The first task included making secondary mix charts -  a yellow and red chart, a blue and red chart and a blue and yellow chart. For this I used 1:1, 2:1 and 1:2 ratio mixes which gave me a large range of colours which are warmer and cooler than the 1:1 ratio.
Then I add the third primary colour to those mixes, for example adding a small amount of red to a green mix, (made from blue and yellow) can create a more natural looking green but you can also shift the balance of the same three colours to make brown or grey as well as a range of greens etc.. It became very clear that this provides everything I could ever need. I made brown and black charts using the dark value pigments mixed using thick creamy paint mixes charts and grey and white charts, using high light values colours painted as tints.
The light value of the colours and the viscosity of the mix are all important too. But thats for another post.

Putting the Charts into Practice
To use these charts, I simply place a new subject onto the most appropriate colour chart as a starting point.  All the mixes have a warmer and cooler version of each mix and are painted in swatches which start at full saturation and then watered down to a tint.  Below are just a few examples.

A selection of colour charts and subjects painted using the charts mixes for guidance. 
Identifying the mix from the Green chart: Using the 'light value' of the Blue as the predictor colour for green mixes. This creates light greens, mid value greens and dark value greens, then shift the ratios of the mix to make browns by increasing the red and yellow. Simply drop the leaf onto the chart to match the colour. See the last but one post for more about the green chart
Using the same three colours to mix all the yellows, greens and browns in this Hellebore leaf by shifting the ratio of colours in the mix.

Of course there is a lot more to mixing and matching colours in a painting, such as the underlying colours and the effect of light and shade, which could be discussed here but I'll save those topics for another time. The 'take home' point is that that this method of colour mixing provides a great insight into the properties of colours, their light value and dominance etc. and makes it easier to achieve the range of colours in a subject with improved transition. Also, you only have to paint the charts once and thats it, no confusion over which colour to choose and its much more cost effective if you're on a budget. 

To finish, it seems a bit cheap to include only images of colour charts so heres a much shortened, sped up video of painting a white flower from the tutorial. It's hard to find good information on mixing whites. Often the advice is to use leaves behind the subject or to use the dreaded 'grey', which looks...well like a grey flower. In my experience, neither approaches are overly helpful as many flowers don't naturally sit in front of a leaf. In fact white flowers have many colours, they're just pale but first of all we have to first be able to see and identify those colours,(the charts help yo to identify those colours) -they have colour reflected onto their surface from the surroundings too, so there is a lot to consider. Using watery tints in deep wells is a must for whites as are high light value colours. But enough for now.

Finally, it's been over 10 years since I started this blog, things gave changed a lot both with social media, with my painting and teaching since that time. Blogs may be a little outdated now but I still have a soft spot for them. It's a great diary and journey for me to look back on (typo's included!). I've neglected it for the past 2 years  due to lots of other things, both good and bad but hope to make the occasional post again now that I've settled into a new home.
Thank you for reading

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Botanical Drawing: Pencil Review, Caran d'Ache Grafwood

Today I tried out the Caran d'Ache Grafwood pencils to see how they compare to other pencil's, specifically with my old favourites the Faber Castell 9000. Check out the previous post 'Which Pencil'  to read about other brands. I decided to try the pencils out on a drawing of a mid pink single Rosa gallica flower because it wouldn't take too long, has a good range of tones and some fine detail in the venation and anthers.

three stages of a pencil drawing of a rose
Stages of the drawing, working from light to dark. First layer 4H, thereafter, 2H, HB, B, 2B and 3B

The pencil's come in a round upright tin, which contains grades 4H - 9B. Smaller sets are available but I like to work with a full set to enable me to achieve the full range of tones found in botanical subjects. They cost around £34 from Jackson's Art for the 15 pencils, which works out a good bit more costly than Faber Castell 9000's Art set, with 12 pencils ranging from 2H to 8B and which costs around £11 from Amazon. Adding the 3 Faber Castell grades make the equivalent 15 grades, makes the total cost around £15. Pencils are also available individually ( see the links at the end of this post). The question is, at more than double the cost, are the Caran d' Ache worth it?

Caran 'd Ache pencil tin and pencils on paper
The tin of pencils is quite portable and the colour coding is useful

It's worth pointing out that I used Canson Heritage HP paper for this drawing, which in hindsight was a mistake. I always use HP watercolour paper for my drawings but this wasn't great, the surface is very soft and fibres lift easily from it, even with the lightest of pressure.
I can usually tell if a pencil isn't good when I sharpen it, for example, Derwent pencils are dreadful to sharpen and they're probably my least favourite to use. The wood is hard and rips and the leads break, they're softer than other brands, so much darker grainier results occur. I'm sure Derwent are good for other types of drawing but they're not the best choice for botanical work. The Caran d' Ache sharpens well, I noticed that they are chunkier to hold than Faber Castell pencils, but that's not a bad thing. The wood is painted from light to dark grey, so are colour coded, which is useful when reaching for the pencils.
comparing faber castell 9000 pencils and Caran d'Ache
Comparing the two brands, Caran d'Ache on the top row and Faber Castell 9000 on the bottom. I didn't compare all grades but perhaps should do at a later date, the grades tried are very similar but  even though it's not obvious here the Caran d'Ache are slightly softer.

I compared a few grades of Faber Castell and Caran d'Ache directly by making small swatches because I wanted to to find out if they are harder or softer. They are actually very similar but the latter are ever so slightly softer. My initial observation is that they feel very smooth and 'buttery' on the paper, this is a good indication, and possibly to do with being softer.

The Rose Drawing
Given that the pencils are slightly softer I decided on a 4H for the initial layer of graphite. I normally start with a 2 or 3H with Faber Castell. Here's a time lapse video of some of the process.

Untitled from Dianne Sutherland on Vimeo.

A layer of 4H was added first, this is pretty much all over but varying the weight to give an indication of form. I use the continuous tone method (small ellipses or similar). They weight of the pencil on the paper has to be kept very light - it's almost like hovering lightly over the surface with the weight in the hand and not at the point where pencil meets paper. I work over and over it but maintaining the light touch, this 'works' the graphite into the surface of the paper to give a smooth soft appearance. Although the paper appears relatively smooth to the eye and feel, if you look under a magnifier, you will see the 'tooth'.

The first layer using the 4H, a soft graded covering to get  feel for the shape whilst providing a light foundation
image of draing showing detail of rose petal
I deepen the tone in selected areas using a 2H and then start to add the fine veins using a very well sharpened HB

image of draing showing detail of rose petal
Adding the veins and anthers with and HB as well as drop shadow under the anthers and where the petals overlap with the same grade.
graphite drawing of Rosa gallica
Unfinished! I continue to add more form by using softer grades, HB, B, 2B and a few very small touches with a 3B but the Canson paper proved a problem.
I have dabbled with the pencils before but not in any depth. My experience with the Caran 'd Ache pencils was a reasonably good one and I'll definitely continue to use them, as to whether they are worth paying more than double the price, I have to say that they're not that great to warrant the cost and I still like the Faber Castell 9000. I actually stopped short of finishing the drawing as the paper was frustrating me, so wont be using use this paper again for graphite. It wasn't to do with the pencils as the result was the same with both brands, in fact it was worse with Faber Castell, basically the surface is too soft for tonal graphite work but it's OK for watercolour, which, after all is its intended purpose. My preferred papers for graphite are Arche HP and Sennelier HP. I did feel that overall the pencils are softer than the Faber Castell and my drawing was becoming too dark too soon. If I was to start again, I'd delay adding the HB by doing more work with the full range of H grades before moving to the HB.

You can buy the Caran d' Ache individually for £2.30 from Pullingers
Faber Castell 9000 are just £0.80 individually from Pullingers

Monday, 22 May 2017

Painting leaves: Colour Mixing

Nothing spoils a botanical painting so much as poorly painted or inaccurate leaves. If we think nobody will notice our errors, we're probably mistaken. It doesn't matter how well we painted the rest of the piece - it's only ever as good as the weakest part. But leaves can be tricky! for me the likelihood of success increases if preparatory studies are completed. I try to work out colours and approach before I even think about starting the painting. The idea for this blog post occurred to me as I gathered my thoughts for a class taught last week for Field Breaks at The Art Room in Barlow, and, as always, it was interesting to hear what problems students encounter when painting leaves. One of the most common cited is colour mixing, so this is my focus here - although I may cover others leaf painting problems in a future posts.

picture of ivy watercolour
Ivy leaf painted as preparatory work for the class. I light the subject using a lamp positioned upper left, to enhance the light and shade. The first study is on paper and used  to work out colours and approach, before moving on to vellum. I laid 3 green washes with a size 6 brush, over an initial cobalt blue wash, which was painted with a size 10 brush. I  then worked with dry brush, using size 1 spotters and miniatures to deepen colour before picking out detail with a fine pointed David Jackson brush. I also use a Pro Arte synthetic flat brush for tidying and painting shadow under the veins
Process of painting and ivy leaf on vellum in stages
Moving on to vellum: I started by lightly painting in the veins with Winsor lemon. Then painted a rough wash of cobalt blue with a size 10 brush, this is the underlying colour and makes a good shine on a dark leaf. I left virtually no white, because the blue will be much less obvious once the dark green in on top, however, the blue highlights must be preserved to give the effect of shine. It really doesn't look great at this stage but this is just a foundation,  the wash is graded to give some indication of form. I paint around the veins with the cobalt and leave the outer edge of the leaf very soft, to enhance the form as the leaf bends away from view.  From there on, the approach differs from paper, and the whole leaf is painted using dry brush techniques. I use a mix of three colours for all parts, Indanthrene blue, Transparent Yellow and Permanent Carmine. I came up with a system on working with the light value of the blue as the predominant factor when deciding on the colour mix....basically a dark green leaf needs a dark blue's that simple! (see the chart below).  Always work with transparent colours in the layers on dark leaves. For light coloured leaves, use a high light value blues instead, such as Cerulean or Manganese blue (transparency is slightly less important in high light value colours). For the mid green leaves  for something like a Cobalt blue or Winsor blue. The browns are mixed with the same three paints, simply increase the ratio of the red and yellow to make brown.
Finished painting of an ivy leaf on vellum
The finished leaf on goatskin Kelmscott. Colours are gradually deepened so as not to be heavy on the vellum. Soft strokes with barely any paint at all are used to build form and colour and highlights are maintained. I use a technique, which I refer to as 'polishing' to smooth the surface and you will see that I preserved the blue on the highlights by carefully blending around the highlights.

I'm not going to list lots of colour mixes here because that not very helpful when you consider how many variables there are in the ratios. My approach is aimed at understanding the basics of colour mixing, so that you can easily work out yourself what to use. Here's my method, it's not intended to be a hard and fast rule but more of a method for guidance..... There are, of course, lots of other ways.

An approach to colour mixing:  I mix all greens from primary colours, blue, yellow and usually a small amount of red. A few years ago I developed a simple system based on the light value of the blue as the predominant factor when deciding on the green mix.  
 Below is a chart for greens and browns that I made using 3 primaries of varying light values. The blue is the colour to choose first for a green mix because it's the dominant colour. The light value and saturation of that blue is all important. If you start painting a very light green leaf with a darker value blue, such as French Ultramarine,  you may well run into problems with the leaf becoming too dark. Any single colour reaches saturation after around 4 washes, so it will become fully saturated quite quickly, adding subsequent layers of the same mix just makes paint thicker but not darker. So, if you bear in mind the light value of the blue first, you can avoid this problem. It sounds obvious but it's a surprisingly common problem, especially with beginners. Then choose the yellow and finally most greens mixes have a small amount of red, so choose this colour last. The same rule of light value applies with all three colours When you mix in so much red that it turns brown the red becomes the dominant colour instead of the blue.
A green and brown colour chart with leaves
My Rule of Thumb Light Value Chart. If you base your green mixes on the light value (i.e. tonal value) of the leaf colour that you want to achieve by choosing the blue first, you can't go too far wrong. So for a light coloured leaf choose a light blue such as cerulean (top row of chart) and for a mid light value, such as cobalt blue (middle row). The ivy leaf was a dark green, hence the choice of the darker more saturated blue, Indanthrene (bottom row). You can see how easy it is to put the leaf on the chart to find a close match.  I mix 1:1 ratio of blue and yellow first, then 2:1 and 1:2 with the blue and the yellow, thereafter I start to add a small amount of red and play with the ratio of the 3 colours.  The  red generally mar a more natural green.
Paintbox with pans of watercolour and ceramic palette
My old paintbox
I use a primary palette of single pigments paints with 4 yellows, 6 blues and 5 reds. This palette allows me to mix any colour that I might need and makes it more manageable to understand colour mixing.
If you don't understand the light values or saturation of your paints, try this exercise below, it's one Ruskin used to ask students complete. Fill the brush with each of the blues and paint down the page observing how dark each colour is as it progresses down the page, you will see the saturation of the darker colours allow you to keep going much longer, whereas the light value of cerulean has already disappeared. You can easily see the tonal difference between the colours.
tonal value of blue paint painted
Tonal values of the blue paints, left to right: Cerulean, Cobalt, Winsor blue green shade, French Ultramarine and Indanthrene. I've also turned the image to black and white to highlight the tonal values difference.

For the ivy, the darkest blue in the palette is indanthrene blue and this is the obvious choice, I then chose, transparent yellow, its a rich yellow but most important is the transparncy, especially when painting dark colours. Opaque yellows are not good in dark greens as the block the light and deaden the green, thereafter, permanent carmine was an obvious choice because of its richness.

paints chosen to mix green on ceramic palette
For the green mix the blue and the yellow at a 1:1 ratio and then add a small amount or the red, I can bias the mix to a warmer (more yellow biased green) or to a cooler ( more blue biased green) very easily by shifting left or right with the mix out of the puddle shown below. Adding more red reduces the brightness of the green until too much is added and it shifts towards grey/ brown.
mix of paints to make brown on palette
The exact same colours in a different ratio make brown. Start with 1:1 of  the red and yellow and add a small amount of blue to make browns. A whole range of lovely browns can be made by playing with the ratio of colours.
paints used to mix neutral tine on the palette
Finally using the red and blue at 1:1 this time and adding a small amount of yellow makes neutral tint or as near as black as is possible. As before some lovely variations are possible by varying the ratio of the colours to make warmer or cooler variations.
As you can see from this demonstration above, it's possible to achieve pretty much everything using these 3 colours, including all the various green tones as well as the brown parts without any need for additional shade colours. I used a different underlying blue for the highlights and a cooler yellow for the veins. But this will vary from leaf to leaf.  It's also incredibly important to maintain highlights and this is easier if you use directional lighting on your subject, I often exaggerate the lighting to make the painting more interesting.....but that' a subject for another post.

Finally, I think we all struggle with leaves and if you know that they are a weak point for you, the best approach is to work extra hard at improving them. If you plan to enter a painting for a juried exhibition, bear in mind that judges are drawn to leaves like radar!...... they will notice poorly executed leaves or those treated as an afterthought.

Quick Leaf Check list

  • Observe first - look for underlying colours and key features, such as widest point, tip, base and leaf margin.
  • Make an accurate drawing observing key features and taking measurements 
  • Light the subject using directional light from a lamp or window. A lamp is often better for beginners because its consistent.
  • Work out the palette, is it a light medium or dark leaf? If it's a green leaf, whats the most appropriate blue to start with, test the combinations.
  •  Work out the approach and techniques, underlying colour, graded or blended washes and dry brush.   

A Few Things to Avoid!
  • 'Tram line' veins - check the width of your veins against the actual subject, if too wide use a synthetic short brush to 'push' them in
  • Go easy with the eraser! I hear a lot of people blaming the paper for ragged edges and yes there are a few issues with some papers but nothing wrecks the surface like an eraser.
  • Stylised appearance– lack of detail or inaccurate venation pattern. Close observation required!
  • Over-painted edges, an absolute no no! be careful not to let washes run over the edge. if this happens its usually because you use too much water. Use a magnifier to help avoid this.
  • Poor lighting - results in flat lifeless leaves, interesting paintings always have good lighting. So light from upper front left or right and play with the light until you get it right.
  • Poor tonal values - usually caused by 1: poor lighting 2: bad colour with lack of sufficient variation in tonal values, and/or painting multiple layers of the same colour  3. Painting over the highlights. Light well, start with a slightly larger highlight than needed and check the range of tones and saturation of colour in the subject.
  • Compensatory washes over the top, using colours such as green gold. Unless used carefully and selectively, these can often look like they've been used to compensate for poorly painted leave and can make all of your leaves look the same.
One the second day at Barlow, we painted brown leaves, will discuss browns and reds in more depth later.

Work on Leaves, paint lots of them, paint different types  – paint them over and over don't be in a rush to finish your next piece….  have patience…. It doesn't matter if you didn't post on social media for a while, concentrate on the job in hand and enjoy the process.

image of four differnt paintings of leaves