Sunday 22 January 2017

Looking for Winter Inspiration: A Review

I often hear people saying 'there's nothing to paint at this time of year!' So thought I'd write about  some ideas for subject material from my previous work! Perhaps it will help to inspire those of you who may feel stuck in a rut at this time of year.
It's not all brown and dead stuff either! Here's my top 10 selection of painting and drawing subjects that can be found in the depths of winter? All of these works were completed during the winter months or from material collected out of season.

Collection of leaves , fruit and seed pods
Much material can be collected in late October and you can keep the colour for a while if you keep them in plastic bags in the fridge or just dry them.....but there's much more to be found! 

First of all, its a good idea to collect leaves, seeds and all manner of material when you can during the rest of the year, store them in a dry place and they'll keep you going for years! I love brown and decaying material, so make no apologies for their inclusion. But there's lots of colour to be found too.
Of course it depends on where you live to some extent, but there's no need to resort photographs when there's real stuff to be found, I always try to work from live subjects, using photos just for additional reference, it's so much easier when you can handle the subject to get a feel for it's texture and turn it around to understand the form, and, play with the lighting.

1.Dried Leaves and Leaf Skeletons
Maybe an obvious subject but these are some of my favourites
Oak leaf watercolour, front and back view
I love old oak leaves, I had these in a box for around 3 years, they're perfect if you're learning to paint leaves and although not green there are lots of colours to play with and you can examine the leaf structure without fear of the leaf curling up or withering.
Autumn leaf
Here's a work in progress on on vellum, I managed to keep the colour by keeping it in a bag for several weeks. Mixing the rich reds, browns and golden colours is achieved with primary colours from a limited palette.
Leaf skeleton painting on vellum, holly
Holly Leaf skeleton on vellum
Leaf skeletons photograph
Leaf skeletons can always be found in leaf litter

2. Evergreens and winter garden material
Plenty evergreen leaves on plants and trees, holly and ivy are always nice and usually there are some that are still hanging on in a state of semi senescence. Also cyclamen, primulas and sweet williams are easily found as are winter pansies. it's nearly the end of January, and my pulmonaria and primulas are already popping up and things are starting to come to life again already.

Ivy leaf study
Why not work on practicing year round green leaves in your sketchbook....there are plenty of evergreens here in the UK, holly, ivy and laurel is everywhere, plus many more.
winter pansies painted on vellum
Winter pansies are easy to grow

3. Seed pods and pine cones
Another absolute favourite! who could ever get tired of these. Ive got a gorgeous Cardoon with the fluffy seeds popping out just waiting to be painted! Throw some together for a table top composition....there's no end of possibilities!

Sketchbook studies of seeds pods
Found material, seed pods from Spain and Iris foetidissima, sketchbook studies

Scots thistle photograph
There's beauty everywhere, even as this this Scots Thistle seed head falls apart

Drawing of Scots thistle
Why not try a different medium. I'm rather fond of graphite work in winter. Scaled up Scots Thistle Seedhead....before it fell apart
Pine cone collection
You chance to get to grips with a real Fibonacci sequence

4.Twigs, bark and lichens
If you feel colour deprived, there are some beautiful subtle colours in these  subjects!

Twigs, bark and lichen painting
Some found twigs, bark and lichens demonstrate the variety of colours and textures to be found

Sketchbook study of lichens
More sketchbook studies, the little withered hawthorn berry adds a jewel of colour to this collection of found materials from Scotland

5. Bulbs, corms and tubers
You can always find some bulbs, and if like me you forgot to plant them, there can be colourful shoots too. There are the ones you can grow in glass too if you want, waiting for my amaryllis to flower at the moment.
Bulbs can be just as interesting as their flowers

Sprekelia painting watercolour
Sprekelia bulb, an exercise in using many glazes of colour
Bulb painting
Bulb painting process

Sprouting bulbs are great subjects for learning how to draw and paint form
Bulb drawing
Love the tangled roots most of all!

6.Glass house
Lots to be found in botanic garden glass houses and some are happy to accommodate artists ....if you ask nicely! I don't seem to have any winter studies of my own but lots of orchids can usually be found and many other exotic flowers and cacti

Orchid paintings

 7. Supermarket vegetables, flowers and fruit
For those feeling colour deprived the supermarket can be a treasure trove of subjects! In the past far less material would have been available - now it's global! from turnips to tulips and pomegranates to pineapples. I've painted so many things from supermarkets and painting often dominates my shopping choices.

Turnip painting
A supermarket turnip, I kept it for a few weeks to allow it to sprout leaves and it even flowered for me! You can do the same with beets and other vegetables.

It's easy to grow new leaves on root vegetables, just sit them in water and leaves will sprout

Tulips painting
Tulips in an array of colours are always available at supermarkets. Here's a work in progress in the sketchbook. Write to the grower if you cant find the name of the variety.
Chili peppers
No shortage of colour here in this pack of mixed chili peppers

Pineapple study page
Every botanical artists should paint at least one pineapple! winter could be the time as they're always available in the shops

Pineapple details

8. Pot plants and florists
Again, many tropical plants, orchids, calla, bromeliads and jasmine etc.
Calla lily painting
This large painting was composed from rearranging a couple of pots of Calla lilies into a more aesthetically pleasing arrangement

white calla lily study on paper
And Calla's come in a wide variety of colours
botanical study of purple freesia
I managed to buy freesias from the florist and some bulbs from a garden centre, so put them together as a study page

9. Insects, feathers and shells
Not botanical but fun to paint and great practice, and another example of why collecting is always worthwhile

box of mounted butterflies
Collections come in useful. Being trained in biology, I collected skulls, feathers and insects for years but you don't have collect your own and most natural history museums have insect collections, contact your local museum and ask if you can come in to study them.

British Butterfly painting
Three British Butterflies on manuscript vellum

The stages of painting butterflies, lots of dry brush and detail, using size 1 brushes
Feather painting on vellum
Peacock feathers on Kelmscott vellum

10. Fungi
Also not in the plant kingdom but lots of interesting textures and colours. 

Fungi painting subject
Lots of lovely fungi, not a subject that I often paint but always another option and they pop up everywhere around my home!

Oh and one more! number 11. Travel! yes you can find material elsewhere and take your sketchbook!  That's what I've been doing this last year or two, which is partly why I've neglected my blog for nearly 6 months! I had a great 2016 travelling, painting and meeting lots of wonderful people.  I'm back home for a while now and will catch up with all the unfinished posts

Feet up! From my train travels across the USA in October
My sketchbook from Australia travels 2015
See there really are lots of subjects! what there is a lack of, is enough time to paint them all.
Thank you for reading, it's also been a bit of a review for me too. Looking forward to many new works and blog posts in 2017!


  1. I loved it! Thanks for the much needed inspiration! xx

  2. What a wonderful post.You have given us so much inspiration to draw and paint the world around us. Thank you for spending your time putting this together. There is a life time of ideas here.

  3. Thanks for the inspiration! :-)

  4. Thank you for sharing in this post all those lovely paintings, ideas and collections.

  5. Great post Dianne, 'Makes me think that winter is nearly better than the summer for interesting subjects :)

  6. absolutely brilliant post! Thank you Dianne!!!!!

  7. Thank you for this marvellous post, so many inspiring ideas.

  8. What a bunch of inspiration. At the moment, on my drawing table I have three branches, each with different lichen families on them. It's a big decision--where to start?

  9. Such a beautiful and inspirational post, all put together with a graceful sense of order and beautifully drawn and painted from observation. Have recommended your tuition to my students as there is something so valuable and so timeless to learn from your way of working.

  10. Wonderful idea and beautiful work! Such an inspiration on many levels!

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  12. Love your work! The butterflies are so beautiful!

  13. Amazing article!

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