Monday, 10 September 2012

What to Paint?

It feels like an age since I studied the SBA diploma but during my studies I recall frequently complaining that there was nothing suitable to paint ...... of course that's absolute rubbish because there is always something to paint! For me it was just a mechanism to distract from getting on with the job in hand....and I'm still doing it!

With the exception of native plants which can pose numerous problems we really are very lucky with an abundance of available subjects to be found at the florists, garden centre, botanic gardens or even the supermarket and of course there are plenty of leaves, seeds, lichens and twigs to keep an artist going all winter.  Also being organised with work over the summer pays off in the long term because by collating good quality photographs and creating comprehensive sketch book studies enables works to be successfully finished off over winter.....well that's what I try to tell myself and what I try to do.
In an ideal world this all sounds very sensible and organised but in reality it's not quite so simple because it's not so much that there's a lack of things to paint but a lack of finding something inspiring to paint.  Added to this is the problem of ' what should I be painting' Sometimes I feel like I must paint the species and native plants to be a 'real' botanical artist but actually there's merit in painting just about anything you can get your hands on if it inspires don't need to feel guilty about it either (maybe that's just me!)

It's easy to become slightly bored with subject material and the technical challenges that botanical work poses can result in stagnation. I've had a bit of a shift in my work recently, although it's probably only noticable to me, and I have become more focused with movement, composition and the subtleties of warm and cool colours where light and shade is concerned. It's just another phase of the never ending learning curve and no doubt has a purpose that will all piece together in the long term. 
So with this in mind I'm painting some big 'blousy' flowers and pot plants ....just because I like them! ........ The most important thing is to keep painting and drawing.... it's the only way to learn!
Calla lily pot plants courtesey of the local supermarket. Note the odd double flower second from the left.
I painted this Calla lily on 300 lb Saunders Waterford HP paper. What an ordeal it was painting on a surface of something that can only be described as similar to the texture of sandpaper! won't be using that again. I was waiting for a delivery of  Fabriano Artistico, which is what I normally work on but decided to take a trip to the art shop and purchased a range of different papers to try, very interesting exercise with so much variation in colour and surface. Will post more later on my favourites and least favourites.


  1. Great post Dianne - funny I love Saunders Waterford, but I know what you mean - it just sucks up the paint in a really weird way. It takes some getting used to and I still haven't really got to such a confidence spot with it that I'd buy a size bigger than A4. Beautiful Calla Lily flowers - lots of movement in this piece and grace. How big is this painting?

    1. Thanks Jess, It's 73 x 45 cm, so pretty much a full size imperial sheet. Saunders Waterford gives quite a nice soft look which I sort of like but of course that means the sharpness is a little lost and I'm struggling with that idea. I used to do a lot of work on Schoellershammer 4G which is super smooth and very unforgiving - more suited to illustration line and wash, so this is a big jump for me. I suppose I just don't like painting on it, I know it's a Hot Pressed paper but it does have quite a rough surface compared to say Fabriano Artistico or Arches HP papers. Some papers do suck up the water in a strange way - it's pretty good for lifting and pushing paint around though. Don't you find that the same painting can look and feel very different on another paper? and I'm sure the blocks differ from the sheets ( in Arches anyway, I think it's something to do with the sizing? unless I'm going loopy?) Anyway I'm probably boring you to death now but an experiment I just painted one of the same flowers on Arches HP paper and it's a very different experience and outcome. So I'm trying to write a blog post on paper - it might be useful but at the end of the day paper choice is a very personal thing so the best approach is to try as many as possible. Gosh it's easy to drive yourself mad with this stuff isn't it? Hope your painting is going well? Dianne x

  2. Hi Dianne. I have been toying with the idea of changing paper from the Fabriano 5 they give us to work on. I found the recent advice on FB very useful and again here, you have convinced me to give the Fabriano Artistico a go.

    The Calla composition is just beautiful and I love the colour and movement you have got going on. So much confidence. x

  3. A very interesting post Dianne. I'm all for paintng or drawing what you love. I also used to feel that I SHOULD be doing this or that... but having gained more confidence (thanks mostly to the fantastic online feedback and support from my fellow artists), I'm learning to trust my own instincts and find that I'm rarely at a loss for artistic inspiration these days.
    Your Calla lily pot plants are beautiful!!

  4. I guess on the SBA course often we are directed to a more limited choice of criteria for subject matter - I am so looking forward to being able to paint anything we like, how we like! But maybe that is more difficult than it sounds.
    Living in Australia means now it's springtime at last and becoming spoilt for choice which is a nice problem to have. At the end of the day we have to study our subject for so long the first pre-requisite is to love what you do ...