Thursday, 31 October 2013

New Work.... Old Theme and SBA Exhibition Planning Time!

Much as I'm enjoying these mini painting challenges I'm now way overdue in planning towards next years exhibitions. It's time to start a new work for the the Society of Botanical Artists (SBA) annual exhibition, titled, The Botanical Garden. which takes place in May next year at Westminster Halls. The handing in date is later than usual being the 17th March..... This later date is definitely a good thing for a disorganised painter!

 I've been exhibiting with the SBA for a number of years on and off since around 2000. I missed last years show due to the general upheavals of life......these upheavals shouldn't be allowed to interfere with painting but sometimes they do. The big question as always is ..... what should I paint or draw?

So here's the beginnings of a plan:

Beginnings..... Planning the layout and colours starts with a rough layout' painting.
I'm trying to link things together here, so instead of moving onto a completely blank sheet I'm sticking with the recent autumnal theme of the Challenge and will work on one large final piece, which will be on vellum. For this work I'm going to draw inspiration from the 30 day challenge and collection pieces by attempting a more complex work with much overlapping of the subjects.
While my local park/garden may be nothing special in the botanical world .... with no national collections or rarities; parks and gardens such as this late 19th century one, were established in a highly industrialised areas for the benefit of the people. They were at one time the only contact with parks and gardens for many people and shouldn't be overlooked as a source of worthwhile material. Also the autumn /winter garden is just as interesting as the summer herbaceous border in any botanic garden! So this might just work for one of the SBA submissions if it turns out OK.....but lets see how it goes...if it's looking a reasonable effort, who know I might even try another one! but with only 4 months to prepare that might be overly optimistic! 

Work started on Monday.  Reviewing the 30 day challenge subjects as contenders for inclusion in a  new work 

After reviewing the 30 day paintings and rummaging through yet another bag of old leaves and fruits on Monday. I started by drawing rough layouts on a roll of scrap paper on Tuesday. I want the final piece to be large and so working at A1 size . This work will probably take many weeks, possibly months because vellum painting is quite slow.
The rough layouts were completed in pencil, I traced some of the components to move them around which is my usual approach but I soon realised that with so many components there were issues with the balance of the colours, so decided that the way forward in this case is to complete a rough watercolour first to establish whether or not the composition works. I'm doing it this way because of the sheer quantity of material, colours and overlaps. It's more work initially but the only way to tell if a work is balanced, and, in the long term the better the planning the easier the painting!
I estimate that this preparatory work will take about a week, maybe more.  Once the rough is completed I will be able to see what needs to be moved, and whether or not it's worth pursuing as an idea! if  all is good the necessary readjustments will be applied accordingly, if not, I'll start over.
 Once I'm happy with the final layout will be transferred on to natural vellum for painting. I know wont be easy! the natural vellum is very thin and will have to be stretched on a frame or secured to board....still thinking about the options for that one!

Today, I'll continue with the panting, and order the vellum with optimism.

A little bit more progress

.....Will keep you posted on the progress, more photos later today. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

No. 3 Collections Series....More Park Life

I'm a bit behind for reasons explained later but here's the painting started last week .... finally finished late last night. It's yet another small painting on vellum of objects found in Queens Park, Staffs.

No. 3 More Park Life, Horse Chestnut and Oak finds. Size 7 x 5, watercolour on  Kelmscott vellum
No 3. Detail
 Been a funny week having had some problems painting due to troublesome hand injury from a while back. Painting seems to aggravate it so a few days off were required. I think we painters need to be careful with the hands because of repetitive strain problems. So last week I started a blog post on patterns in nature instead.... this has turned into a much larger project than expected and is now ongoing....sometimes ideas just grow arms and legs! I'll post it sometime up ahead!
Yesterday I finally decided to take up the paint brush again and finish Collection piece no. 3 before the leaves broke up completely. I normally put the leaves into a plastic bag and spray them with water and place outside (when it's cool) but forgot over the weekend!

Another point worth mentioning is that these paintings on vellum are very difficult to photograph. The light isn't great today but it's not right to make the background to white on a painting on vellum, because it's not a true representation....the vellum being an integral part of the painting. I'm afraid these images have come out rather blue so I'll try to photograph them again on a better day. I don't much care to see watercolour backgrounds taken too white either because the paper isn't really that white. I think the basic rule when to adjusting an image in a photo editing programme, such as Photoshop is that you need a fairly decent photograph to start with.....that all comes down to having good natural light. Bit like painting really.

I might add the colours to this post later. The New Gamboge works a treat on the rich golden yellows on the Horse chestnut leaves though.

 Ok here are the colours:
Horse chestnut leaf: First wash: Transparent Yellow and Burnt Sienna.
Dry brush with green, a mix of Fr Ultramarine and Transparent Yellow
Add veins, Burnt sienna and raw Umber for brown veins adding in Indanthrene Blue for the darker central vein. A more concentrate mix of the green mix for green veins.
For the areas where the light shines through the leaf, creating a more intense yellow, I used New Gamboge with a tiny amount of Permanent rose in places.
Shadow, a warm the brown mix as above with more blue and a little Permanent Carmine. 
Build up the colours and model the surface of the leaf using dry brush.
Add details and blemishes using the various brown mixes as appropriate.
 Oak Leaf
First wash.  A mix of Permanent Carmine and transparent yellow was used for the initial brown colour.
A mix of Transparent Yellow and Sap Green was used for the light green wash. A little green Gold was added in the more yellow areas.  For the dark blemishes I used Indanthrene Blue and Permanent Carmine.  The browns were built up using Burnt Sienna and added Neutral Tint in the darkest areas

Green Acorns
Very light wash of Cerulean Blue and Cobalt Blue. Build up colour varying the mix and using the Cerulean for the highlight and reflected light. Use dry brush in a drawing style to delineate the indents and ridges on the acorn. Raw Sienna was used for the browns

Actual conker, an initial wash of Gold Ochre and Scarlet Lake was applied first leaving the highlight clear. Cerulean Blue and Cobalt violet was used for the reflected light areas. Burnt Sienna and was used to build up the colour and some ultraviolet added for the richer brown areas.

Shadow was ultraviolet and Cobalt Blue.
Conker exterior green, a  mix of Cobalt Blue and Lemon Yellow.
Dark Blemishes,  a mix of Indanthrene Blue plus Permanent Carmine plus a very small quantity of Transparent Yellow. 
The flesh, A combination of Lemon yellow, Cerulean Blue and Raw Umber.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Collections Series, no. 2. Remnants from the 30 Day Challenge

This is my second work as part of the Collections series. I didn't want too many items on the page but feel this is a bit sparse. The subjects are left- overs from those collected for the 30 day challenge. All came from Longton Park in Staffodshire.

Collections Series no. 2. Remnants,  Size 16 x 25 cm
  I didn't spend an awful lot of time planning this piece and simply arranged the subjects on a sheet of white paper to work from - moving them around a little until they looked roughly balanced. My only reference point was to make the objects at the outer edges broadly in line, somehow the beech seed ended up in the wrong place, being lower down than the lichen!  I notice now that I naturally alternate the direction of the subjects in rows but didn't give this any particular thought at the time. Putting an image on screen is very useful because I can clearly see where the subjects might have been better placed. I often look at composition ideas on screen - it helps me to spot errors.  However these works are not intended to take very long, not much more than a half day per to a day per work -  so no such planning or over planning because this is just an add on activity intended to improve my painting by regular working in set time limits.  Hopefully I'll get the hang of arranging these collections as I progress.

Detail of lichen encrusted twig

Detail of lichen and moss

 I chose to add a shadow beneath each item, which is not something that I'd normally do. The general consensus seems to be that there's no place for shadows in botanical art,  yet if you attend the annual SBA or other botanical shows you will usually find a number of paintings with shadows.  Personally I don't see the problem with having a shadow in a ' nature' based painting like this, it's not a botanical illustration and doesn't interfere with the subject in any way. Shadow is only a problem if you were to add one to a work that is intended to be a more traditional style botanical illustration - i.e. for plant identification purposes, I think too much fuss is made about the inclusion of shadows....but I'm undecided on whether to use shadow for next weeks painting.

The acorns

Empty conker

Friday, 11 October 2013

Painting on Vellum

I've been painting on Kelmscott vellum for a number of years but recently tried the natural vellum for the first time. Both are available from William Cowley in the UK. I like the look of this vellum because of the warm colour and venation but it's a slightly different experience to paint on compared to the Kelmscott.

Old Rose Hips, on vellum 2013
This is a slight aside from the recent posts but I thought a short piece about painting on different types of vellum might be of interest, given that I'm using vellum for my core work at the moment, and currently teaching an online vellum course. I've also been getting a lot of emails asking about different types of vellum, so maybe there's a renewed interest. I'm discussing the Natural and Kelmscott in this post, however you can also paint on the Classic calfskin and Manuscript vellum, refer to Cowley's website, which provides great information about all types of vellum and parchment too.

Guelder Rose, Virburnum opulus, on vellum, 2013
  To highlight the difference between the two vellum types, you can see in the image below, the darker natural vellum is on the lower right. The other two pieces are both Kelmscott.
Natural vellum does not have the chalk wash surface coating, is thinner, therefore more transparent, has unique venation and warm colouring, it also has a slightly more shiny surface than than Kelmscott. These properties make it more challenging to work on. You need to use even less water than when using Kelmscott. The coating applied to Kelmscott alters the appearance of the vellum making it slightly more opaque but the luminosity is preserved. Kelmscott is no doubt the best surface for the botanical painter and is easier to paint on than natural vellum because you are painting on the surface coat rather than the actual skin. It's a very forgiving surface and errors can easily be removed by rubbing with fine grade pumice or by carefully scraping away a top layer of the coating with a scalpel. If you've never painted on vellum before always start with Kelmscott.

Vellum: Apologies for the boring photo!  The darker natural vellum can be seen bottom right, it's thinner and more transparent. The other two pieces are Kelmscott. The large piece is the Rory McEwen vellum, it has the edge of the skin on two sides and a thicker surface coating, prepared and applied by McEwen compared to the Cowley's Kelmscott on the upper right.  

  Back in 2007 I was gifted a piece of Rory McEwen's vellum,  the large piece seen in the photograph above. It was given to me by the late James White of the Hunt Institute, following the 12th International, which I participated in back in 2007. The Hunt Institute were given his vellum by the family, following McEwen's death in 1982. They gift  pieces to artists who show an interest in working on vellum, at their discretion. I've been a huge fan of Rory McEwen's work for many years,  so it was a great honour. However I haven't felt confident enough to paint on it yet but hope to make a start shortly. So I'm brushing up on my technique at the moment. I find it takes me a day or two to get into the method of painting on vellum. It  requires a very light touch and a lot of dry brush work. I've included some detailed images from my works below to demonstrate.

When working on vellum it's always a good idea to give it a rub down with fine grade pumice powder first. I put it in a small round bag, you can use muslin or I use a piece cut from a pair of ladies tights - works really well! Use small circular motions evenly over the surface.  This removes any grease and blemishes from the surface. I didn't prepare the first piece of natural vellum and it still worked OK but was a bit greasy in places and resisted the paint slightly, but if you work dry enough it's not a problem. For my second attempt I rubbed it down very lightly taking care not to apply any weight.

Detail from old rose hips, using dry brush over an initial wash

Detail from Guelder Rose

Detail of the leaf, showing dry brush and fine line work

Painting on Kelmscott vellum, First layer
Finished paintings on kelmscott
It's also difficult to draw on the natural vellum, I painted directly on to it free hand without drawing for the two paintings shown above. I made a pale under-painting first but there's not much room for error so decided a better approach for more complex compositions would be to use a lightbox, or, if the image is drawn on paper first it could traced with the brush because the vellum is so thin. Pencil work should always be kept to a minimum whatever type of vellum is used because it can be difficult to remove. 

If you are just starting out with vellum. I would recommend starting with something small and simple, such as seed-heads or small fruits, leaves or flowers. The most difficult subjects are large shiny leaves and large smooth surfaced fruits. Building up paints to create such smooth surfaces is difficult territory until you get the hang of it....and wasting vellum is an expensive mistake! 
Always tape down the vellum, although for very small pieces you can actually get away with not securing it. I tape smaller pieces to thick card which is a couple of inches bigger than the vellum, so that I can rotate it. Don't leave tape on the vellum for too long though because it will mark the vellum edge. Large pieces of vellum should be secured to a frame. It can also be glued to a surface to keep it flat.

One of the biggest problems with vellum is buckling,  This is caused by incorrect storage, too hot, cold or damp or using too much water when painting. Water is most certainly the enemy of vellum, so always work fairly dry. I apply only one light 'wash' and then use various dry brush techniques. Pay particular attention to the edges, when applying the first wash - it's not like a typical watercolour wash, because unlike paper the surface of the vellum is non-porous, paint will sit on top - you want to avoid any pooling at the edges, if this happens you need to mop it up  it using a small dry brush, you need to achieve a fairly soft edge. If you get an hard edge  this will create problems later on when the paint becomes too thick, if you try to lift it later you will get into all sorts of problems. It's best to avoid this in the first place by using less water. Thereafter gradually build up the paint in layers of dry brush.  Most of all remember to work work lightly and keep water to a minimum!

Larger work on Kelmscott, life size foxglove, 2011
Cherry leaf on Kelmscott, 2010. The background has been lightened for print on this image but it is more cream in colour.
Finally, if you have never painted on vellum before, give it a try, its unique properties are a gift to the botanical painter! and once you become experienced with vellum, you can even buy whole skins and prepare them yourself!

For more information thers's also an article on my website about painting on vellum.

Monday, 7 October 2013

What Next?....Collections Series, Week 1

Having finished the 30 Day Challenge last week, it feels like it shouldn't be over yet! So after a few days away in beautiful Amsterdam and a visit to the newly refurbished Rijksmuseum I was inspired to carry on!
The Rijksmuseum has a wonderful collection but there wasn't nearly enough time to see it all. However they've taken the unusual step of making the works in the collection available for download. There's also an App to use during your visit but I was a bit slow and missed this opportunity. When I arrived home I explored their website and discovered that you can make your own collections of favourite works! Here's my collection. I haven't included the obvious paintings  ( there are just too many!) but instead focused on botanical and nature themed works for the purpose of this blog.
 As you can see I particularly like the idea of multiple natural objects in paintings and illustrations. With all of this in mind I decided to head out again and collect more subject material and get back to the painting as soon as possible.

Collection no. 1 Three Rose Hips

My plan is to create paintings of small, and not so small, Collections of natural objects. Here's my first offering as part of the Collections Series, Three Rose Hips. It's a fairly simple same subject painting to start with and while I'm not really sure whether 'three' constitutes a collection or not,  I've added it anyway while I give the whole idea more thought. I won't be posting a painting everyday for the Collections, but will instead post one painting each week for the foreseeable future. 
This work isn't painted in quite so much detail as my usual approach but it felt as though it didn't  need any more work. Although I may add some hairs to the sepals at some point.
I like the 'traffic light' colouring - not seen a rose hip quite as orange as the one top left before, these hips  are usually either green or red and not seen so much at the 'in between' colour, so thought it was a good little collection.

The really good thing about the 30 Day Challenge was that it gave me the opportunity to try lots of different subjects in quick succession. Now that it's over I want to revisit some of those subjects and think about how to use them in my work. Normally at this time of year I'm regretting the fact that I didn't get to paint all the things that I wanted during the time when there is an abundance of subject material to choose from in summer and early autumn. ...I don't have that feeling this year, so it's a positive result for the 30/30 approach. Must also thank all of the other artists that joined in with the Challenge on the Botanical Artists Facebook Group, without their enthusiasm I may not have reached the finish line.       

More subject material for the Collections

Paint Colours: I decided to try out some Sennelier tubes that I've had for some time. I don't like tubes as a rule because of all the Gum Arabic and mixers in it. The pigment ratio is lower than in pans and I find that they have a bit of a greasy feel to them. Also they don't lend themselves to dry brush work as well as pans. So better suited for painters that use more washes but they should be used and not wasted.

 Orange rose hip: Cadmium Red Light mixed with Cadmium Yellow and a small amount of Cadmium Yellow Orange.  Built up in layers with a more yellow biased mix laid down first. I added a small amount of Ultramarine Deep for the shadows. In the final stages I used a little dry brush work with a more red biased mix for the darker areas.

Red rose hip: This one was almost like a jelly sweet, very vibrant red. I reverted to the W & N to add some Permanent Rose to the Sennelier Cadmium Red Deep. For the shadow I added Carmine Genuine and a small amount of Ultramarine Deep to the mix and applied using dry brush so as not to make the red dirty looking.

Green rose hip and other greens: This rose hip is just starting to change colour. I used the pre mixed  Sap Green, which isn't something that I normally do and added Cadmium Lemon. For the shade I added Ultramarine deep and a Carmine Genuine to take the brightness away. I used varying mixes of these colours for the warmer ( more yellow biased ) and cooler ( more blue biased) greens. I added a small amount of the orange mix used for the Orange rose hip.
 For the filaments and anthers I reverted to W & N Burnt Sienna and added to Neutral Tint for the darker areas and negative space.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Day 30 of the 30 Day Challenge, Old Conker

Well that's it folks! last one....and it's an old brown conker. Would have liked to finish off with something a bit more impressive but I'm away from home and limited in what I can do. Also I felt a bit sorry for this particular conker.

  Colours: Burnt Sienna with Brown Madder. For the shade add Violet Dioxide and Indanthrene Blue. For the warmer tones I added Perylene Maroon and Permanent Carmine.  A wash of  Gold  Ochrewas added at the end for the darkest details I added a small amount of Neutral TInt to the mixes.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

No. 29 of the 30 Day Challenge

A little bit late -  problem with Wifi overseas but got there in the end. Here's the penultimate offering in the form of a beech seed. Love these little seeds with the wiry exterior and velvet  like interiors to their coat. Nice subject to paint too...wish there was more time in the day to do it justice!
I think when I finish the challenge  a larger piece with all the favourite subjects is on the cards...this little seed has its name down for a place.

Beech Seed, 2013
 Colours: A wash of Cerulean Blue was applied to the inside of the seed coat to create the shine.
I used a mix of Transparent Yellow and Brown Madder on the same area - very light application. Once dry I painted tusing dry brush to give the velvety feel, using the same colours and added a little French Ultramain for the cooler areas on the shade side. One the left there is a brighter area where the light shines throught the seed - I added a little Quinacridone Red and Transparent Yellow here to make it warmer.
Fot the seed I used the same two colours plus some Burnt Sienna.  For the shadow I used a mix of Ultraviolet and French Ultramarine. I applied a final wash of a more yellow biased mix. I used Ultraviolet in the shadow.
Fot the outside of the seedcoat, I used Burnt Sienna mixed with Indanthrene Blue and painted the hair using a small size 1 brush.  

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

No. 28, 30 Day Challenge.....More Acorns

Having a bit of a run on the acorns, but theyre perfect little subjects if you don't have much time.  Here are a couple starting to turn brown. Not a great painting or photograph today I'm afraid, just a quick job.

Acorns turning brown, Longton Park, 2013

 Colours: Transpaent Yellow and Manganese Blue Hue mixed to make the green. A light wash was added and the highlight left clear. Thereafer a small amount of Permanent Rose was added to the green mix to dull the brighness and a secon wash applied. For the brown I used Raw Umber and Burnt Sienna. The Cap: Raw Umber and French Ultramarine, for the first wash, then Burnt Sienna and French Ultramarine. I also used the same on the Stem.