Saturday, 21 March 2015


After another week working on the vine, I was feeling more than a little jaded! It's not far off being finished but by Friday I was pretty weary of it and unsure of whether or not it was heading in the right direction. So the decision was made to take a break, and, by way of a change I spent a couple of hours painting a butterfly on vellum. Beginning right in the centre of a sheet of Kelmscot vellum with the Swallowtail. Papilio machaon is one of our largest and most beautiful butterflies here in the UK. It is also one of the rarest and can only be found in the fens of the Norfolk Broads where the sole food-plant, Milk Parsley is present.

The Swallowtail, Papilio machaon on vellum
I really enjoyed painting the butterfly, particulary those red spots, and I think I must have been craving some other was good to get away from the turquoise for a while  Sometimes it's best to walk away from a painting when it gets to this stage. A painting (and painter) seem to go through various stages, from the initial enthusiasm with the washes, then it slows right down as the layers build, the detail stage and finally the finishing. This final stages can sometimes cause a bit of anxiety for me, when I start to question whether I could have done things differently, of course it doesn't matter because what is done is done.  At this stage I take a break and also photograph the work to explore it in detail on the computer screen, this helps me to see where more work is needed. I also turn the image to black and white in Photoshop to look at the values and play about with levels to see how the tonal values could be improved upon.

A black and white view helps me to identify where work might be needed regarding  the tonal values.
The colour of the jade vine is a very difficult one to depict because it varies so much across the plant, from green to turquoise and blue to purple. The flowers becomes more blue and purple as they age. This bizarre colouration is known as copigmentation which is due to the presence of the anthocyanin, malvin and saponarin. The flower has a different pH value inside in the colourless tissue compared to outer petals where it has a higher alkaline pH and this alkaline pH is is believed to be responsible for a reaction in the saponarin which creates the unique turquoise colouration. I tried to address the unusual colouration by layering glazes of different transparent colours and by adding a small amount of gum Arabic to the glazes to maintain the luminosity.

Tricky colour, layering of glazes and the addition of gum Arabic helps to maintain transparency

Tomorrow I shall try to finish the vine but have teaching work and other jobs to finish first, whatever happens, I have to be finished by Monday when it goes to the photographer. I've enjoyed doing it but these larger paintings (this one and the previous fritillary) require a lot of concentration. I try to paint or draw everyday and think it's important to do so but when working on the same piece for extended periods it can be tiring and I can lose sight of what I'm trying to achieve.  The butterfly painting is something I've had planned for a while and provided a much needed  break, once the jade is finished I hope to add at least one butterfly per day and aim to have at least 15 butterflies on the sheet of vellum.... the temptation of some small works and learning about each butterfly will hopefully help to drive me towards the finish line!

The latest version of the jade.....more over the weekend


  1. Beautiful paintings - both the jade and the butterfly.
    Unforgettable colour!

  2. Dianne, your Jade Vine is magnificent! And your Swallowtail butterfly is beautiful. Two rarities I hope one day to see in life.

  3. Dianne - fantastic blog post. I love your butterfly - it looks so real. I spotted one of these species the other day over here on my walk. It was fluttering around the roadside amongst the weeds. Gorgeous.

    I know what you mean about getting bored, or just simply needing to do something else for a while before finishing up a piece. I think its really important. I guess this is harder to do if you are trying to do something from life as you are working against the 'clock of wilt'. I wish I could work effectively against such a clock, but it always wins the game. I always tend to glaze over towards the end and find myself not really looking properly at what I am drawing. Hence the need for another subject. Anyhow - your Jade vine looks stunning and seriously tricky to do. Good luck with the final push. x

  4. Every time I see your work, I am impressed. The jade vine is STUNNING!! Well done. I love the butterfly too. You deserve a break after all that turquoise. Thanks for the really informative blogpost too.