Saturday, 19 April 2014

More Frits.... Big Bold Crown Imperialis

It's a week today since I returned from exhibiting the Fritillaria meleagris paintings at the RHS London Orchid show. I was dying to get home to paint the much larger Fritillaria imperialis, a plant that I've always wanted to paint but one which just refused to flower in my garden in Scotland. This year I found some at the Trentham Gardens Estate and brought three home..... Makes a change to be painting such big bold flowers!
First flower head study, Fritillaria imperialis 'Rubra' finished on Thursday this week.

First up was the enormous orange F. imperialis 'Rubra',  but I also have a smaller 'Aurora' and the large yellow 'Lutea'. I started with 'Rubra' because it looked like the one most likely to go over first. It's quite red so I used a mix of Transparent Yellow and Scarlet Lake with the bias towards red/orange, then added Permanent Carmine for the deeper reds, I added some Violet Dioxide for the darker shadows. A little Cobalt Violet was used around the highlighted areas. The flowers become more red as they age, so this was something to keep an eye on.  Where the light shines through the petals at the back I kept the mix more yellow biased and light. On the left side of the flower (shade side) the red was deeper. 
The flowers are fairly simple to draw, they have huge nectaries which give the familiar 'square shouldered' look on the also seen in the F. meleagris flowers.

First washes

The flower interior, showing the reproductive parts and large nectaries. 
I want to paint all three plants if possible, but they were already in bud when I left for London and in full bloom when I returned, so I have to work fast on this project! The flower-heads need of all three need to be painted first because they don't last all that long, maybe a week or so. There's much more time with the leaves so I'll work on them later. I take lots of photograph from all aspects and make many drawings, the aim - to gather as much reference as possible! The initial position of this plant is very tall and upright but I chose to paint them as they lean over with the weight of the flowers and crown.

This is how the 'Rubra' the plant looked before I left for London

Having completed the first study of ' Rubra', I sat outdoors yesterday (17th April) and made rough drawings of  the yellow 'Lutea'. You can't beat the light outside for drawing and it was a beautiful day! also these plants have a very strong 'foxy' odour so outdoor working is good!

Drawing of F. imperialis 'Lutea'  made on Saturday 17th April
Yellow flowers aren't my favourite but this crown is a good shape with lots of flowers and more twists and turns in the crown leaves than 'Rubra' so today I'll paint it and see how it goes. It doesn't have the same interesting dark stem as 'Rubra' and 'Aurora' plants but it is still very impressive. 
'Lutea' in bud and starting to open. The yellow becomes much richer as the flowers fully open.

 This morning I started laying the first washes for the 'Lutea' painting but have to stop for a while while people come to view the house, which is very disruptive! This plant smells so bad it wasn't really possible to have it in the house while people are wandering around! I'm using the following colours: Cadmium Lemon, Winsor Yellow, Transparent Yellow and New Gamboge. Adding a very little Violet dioxide for the shade colours and a small amount of scarlet lake for the warmest yellows, I put it the shade colours first because this is a light flower and it helps to build form early on in the painting. I used combinations of the warmer yellows on the shade side and the cooler yellows  where the light hits the flower ( on the right) will resume shortly.    

First washes on the flowers for 'Lutea'
More work, layering the yellow washes and adding the greens (update 20th April).

About the plant.

Fritillarias are all members if the Liliaceae family. F. imperialis is architecturally grand looking and the cultivated varieties I have are all derived from the species, the plant is more commonly known as the Crown Imperial or Kaiser's Crown in reference to the crown like top. It's native habitat is from Anatolia in Turkey and Iraq across the plateau to Iran up to Afghanistan and Pakistan, so covers a fairly wide geographic area. 
The plant was initially called the Turkish Fritillaria being introduced from Turkey to Vienna in the 1570's, as part if the first major introduction of of plants from the Turkish Empire to Western Europe. Ghiselin de Busbecq, the Holy Roman Emperor's ambassador to Constantinople was the first to recognise the wealth of botanical specimens available from the Turkish empire in the mid 1500's and he sent bulbs of F. imperialis and other species to his friend Carolus Clusius (Charles de Ecluse) in Vienna, Clusius circulated the bulbs throughout Europe and took them to Leiden when he moved there.
Doctor and Botanist, Clusius, distributed the bulbs of F. imperialis around Europe in the mid to late 1500's. Public domain Wikimedia Creative Commons

The name, 'Crown' imperialis was added as an association with the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. It was the first plant featured in Sydney Parkinson's Patadise Terrestris in 1629, he wrote: The Crown Imperialis has the stately beautifulness, deserveth the first place in this our Garden of Delight'. Parkinson was aware of only one form but believed there was also a white form. The plant became hugely popular in the 17th and 18th centuries and at that time there were over a dozen varieties, including a variegated leaved vy of these have now died out but today they are popular again with several varieties available.
There are many paintings of F. imperialis, I found this beautiful illustration by the incredible Hendrik Reekers, painted in 1837,  not sure which variety this is but I this is one of my favourites! 

Hendrick Reekers, oil painting  of F. imperialis cultivar unknown Public domain Wikimedia Creative Commons
As a slight aside, I also painted another Frit this week, F. uva-vulpis. This one was for the Nature Sketchbook Exchange's the Frit alongside a two coloured Muscari. Sorry not a great photo but thought I'd share it all the same.
F. uva-vulpis painted for the Nature Sketchbook exchange, will be on it's way to the Netherlands on Tuesday morning

......More on 'Lutea' later

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

RHS London Orchid Show

To say it's been a bit of a rush would be an understatement! But I managed to finish the paintings and put them up at Lindley Hall tonight. I'm blogging from my phone so apologies for typos and the lack of captions etc.

In usual fashion I arrived last and left at about 9pm tonight. Before heading back to the hotel I managed a quick walk around the hall. The standard of work is incredible! and I can't wait to go back for a closer look tomorrow.

For my studies I've painted floral forms and development from a garden population of Fritillaria meleagris, all of the studies are on vellum and were painted during March and April this year - so it's been a very tight turnaround!

My largest painting of the population of Frits is painted on the piece of Rory McEwen vellum gifted to me by the Hunt Institute for Botanical  Documentation. Lugene Bruno kindly passed on information regarding McEwen's preparation of the vellum. He purchased the finest New Zealand calfskin from Band and Co. in Richmond, London ( closed some years ago). The preparation involved a thick coating of plaster of Paris , using a formula devised by William Morris and named after his press, 'Kelmscott' vellum. The thick chalky surface which was then rubbed down with fine sandpaper. 
I have to say that I was very cautious when rubbing down the surface coat and believe that I should have removed much more. The coat has visible brush strokes and is irregular in places, it gives a more absorbent surface than other Kelmscott vellum. 
The day before I was due to leave for London I decided to remove a large section of the work because I wasn't happy with the finish!  

It seemed like a drastic measure but I just wasn't happy with the finish. The other problem is the fact that the vellum is cut from the edge of a whole skin and is bucked. I didn't want to cut the edge away to straighten it so decided to live with it until such times as the work is framed. I will add more to the composition at a later date.

It's been a long few days and I'm ready for bed, will write more later but for now I'll leave you with a few images of my other small paintings.

Developing bud painted x 2 

'White' form but with some chequered 'red' markings (x 2)

A botanical study, I did want to add the tepals showing the nectaries and a dissection of the developing fruit...maybe later ( x 1.5)

Double-headed form, (x 2) seems very vigorous compared to the other plants.

I forgot to photograph this one so here's an picture of it unfinished. Standard form in bud (x2)

More tomorrow. 

I was awarded a silver for the paintings, I was happy enough with that for the amount of time taken to produce them. The feedback from the judges was useful. They preferred to see more of the plant than I showed in the smaller studies , I chose to do the smaller paintings due to time constrains, and, because personally  I like he small studies best. But I understand that judging for a show has a different set of criteria. If I do another show I will definitely take a much longer amount of time to prepare as I was literally still painting on the morning of the set up day! 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

New! Live Botanical Art Tutorials and Botanical Illustration Course

This week I'm really excited to launch the next phase in my online courses as Live Video Demonstrations and Tutorials. The first session, titled ' Red Hot Chili Peppers: Using the Washes and Dry Brush Techniques in Practice' is taking place this Sunday 6th April at 1300 hrs UK time. During the session, which will be delivered via Skype, I will be painting different types and colours of chili peppers. They make brilliant subjects.... perfect for demonstrating light and shade in creating a 3D form and employ a range of watercolour techniques. 

Chili peppers are pretty much always available and can be purchased at low cost at the local grocery store, their small size means I stand a good chance of getting something finished in a relatively short time scale! The session lasts for three hours, so hopefully I'll get one of each colour finished . If you want to join me and paint along, ask questions or just watch. 

 Click here to find out more.
An example of chili peppers as work in progress
The chili  pepper  makes a perfect  little subject! The rich colours and shiny form requires a number of techniques to create the 3D effect with the right finish. 

The live tutorials should be fun and can actually have some advantages over the classroom, each session is intended for small groups of up to a maximum 6 students. Participants will be shown how to set up the subject and can paint along or just watch and or ask me questions from the comfort of their home! Details will be mailed out regarding the session in advance.

I've timed the sessions to start at 1300 hrs UK time which means it covers a fairly wide geographic area and may offer different times at a later date too if there is demand. 

A variety of chili peppers are available at most supermarkets.

I know that some people will say that you can't learn in the same way online but the technology keeps moving on and we're now much closer to the real classroom experience. The videos may be made available online at a later date on my YouTube Channel.

Over the past three years or so I've been teaching students online with a selection of courses and short videos clips. This was always something that I wanted to do because I know how difficult it can be to access classes or courses where travel, time and substantial amounts of money is involved. 

Personally I lived miles away from anywhere, had children at school and ill health in the family, so it was pretty much impossible at some points in my I appreciate how frustrating it can be when you want to learn but just can't access education for whatever reason. I always try to listen to what students want and accommodate their interests and adapt to suit. 

I'm offering more courses over the summer ( taking advantage of the longer daylight hours!) which reflect my own areas of interest and experience. Most important point at the heart of my teaching method is this statement: 

I don't want you to paint like me or copy what I do but instead want to provide the building blocks that underpin botanical art and illustration to enable you to become an artist in your own right.

The live sessions cover a range of subject areas.  The second session takes place on Tuesday 15th April 1300 hrs UK time- An Introduction to Illustrating Dissections in Botanical Illustration.

An introduction to illustrating dissections will guide students through the basics when it comes to identifying and illustrating the reproductive parts of a flower. 

There are also further sessions planned on the following:

 painting on vellum, painting leaves and composition. 

Also if anybody has suggestions for a session,  please feel free to get in touch with me and I will aim to accommodate any suggestion if I feel it's something I can teach.

And finally, I have also just launched a new more comprehensive course on Botanical Illustration, which starts May 7th. It's for just 6 students and so gives a fairly in depth 'start to finish'  approach, including graphite and watercolour techniques and studies, dissection and identifying the important plant parts for illustration, to creating a study page and colour studies. It finishes off with a full botanical illustration. 

So that's all of the new courses, they've been keeping me busy, so I just need to find a little time to finish off my current paintings on vellum.... more about those in the next blog post. Here's a peek at a detail.