Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Back to Drawing, Bindweed

Drawing is a perfect activity for the short dark winter days here in the UK. I've written a few posts on the subject, this one is a about my latest work which involves a few different techniques. I've put together a short sped up video to show some of the techniques used.

The subject of the work is Bindweed, Calystegia septum, also known as Hedge Bindweed or Trumpet Vine, it is a member of  the Convolulaceae family, which includes Morning Glory. A very common plant throughout Europe it is considered a nuisance by many gardeners due to is dominant climbing habit. However this feature appeals to me as it scrambles over other plants smothering them and creating a complex web of overlapping intertwined vines, this makes it quite a challenging subject.
In the video above you can see how I approach the leaves and background. The drawing is created using the continuous tone technique, which requires no obvious outline be shown. Thus the initial line drawing blends into the tonal work using continuous tone technique and different grades of pencil from 2H to 8B are used to create the tonal values. I start with the harder grades of mostly Faber Castell 9000 pencils, i.e. H grade pencil to lay a foundation on the leaves and gradually build up the layers and depth using increasingly softer grades, up to a 4B for leaves. You will also notice that I use a soft brush to constantly remove any debris, if you don't do this you may end up with dark flecks from small specks of graphite dust and from any erasing.

photograph od a leaf drawing
Laying the initial foundation for the back of a leaf using harder grades H - B in this case, working from light to dark
 For the lighter flowers I start with a 2H and for the dark background I add a layer of continuous tone using a 5B. Thereafter I smooth this using a paper stomp, this serves to remove the graininess. I then go over the background again with a 6B. I also use an 8B for the very darkest touches. A Tombow retractable eraser is used to take out a few fine lines, using it as a drawing tool rather than an eraser of mistakes. Creating the correct depth of tone is all about using the appropriate grade of pencil. Always remember that to achieve the darker tones you should never apply more pressure but should instead change to a softer grade of pencil to go darker.

photograph of bindwwed flowers
I wanted to capture the depth of tangled stems and took many photographs for reference

I'm working from photographs having started this piece in August 2014 but also made sketches and took many photographs as long ago as summer 2013 during a trip to Germany. I don't normally work from photographs but In this case I make an exception for two reasons: 1.I'm very familiar with this plant having painted it on numerous occasions 2. It's easier to complete black and white studies from photographs than it is to do colour work - simply because there are no colour matching issues which requires working from life rather than photographs.

First stages of drawing on the easel
Started last year with the initial outline and a few leaves but  I abandoned the job because of other work commitments. Note that I use tracing paper to protect the work and keep a piece under my hand so as not to smudge the pencil
Dried Bindweed vine photograph
Some saved dead stems are useful to observe the habit

I gradually build up the image and have a rough drawing of the whole piece which is A1 in size ( on Arches satine 140lb). However along the way I add leaves and move a few things around. The beauty of such a dark drawing is that there is scope for change. I see this piece as very much experimental, if it works all well and good but if not at least i learned something from it.

This is where I'm up to with the work, obviously there is a long way to go and this represents about one third of the overall piece.
Worki in progress photograph of bindweed drawing
This is the progress to date! yes it's a long term project with lots of layers of graphite.
Will keep you posted on the progress. It will be put away again for a few weeks while I concentrate on teaching and other work.

If you want to know more about drawing posts on this site - just use the 'search' facility on the right  to type in 'drawing'.

This is my last post for 2015. I'll be back with a review of the year early next year. 

Monday, 21 December 2015

Social Media and the Botanical Artist

I'm a big fan of using technology, social media and any pretty much any digital platform for sharing my artwork and information with like-minded people. The way we promote our work and communicate as artists has changed dramatically over the last 10 years and the priority has to be to get the work out there for people to see! I have to admit to muddling through with technology, but find most social networking services are very easy to use and they are free that's good enough for me! This post is about some of the online services that I use, plus information on the direct benefits of online networking along with a few reasons why I consider using social media to an essential part of the online toolkit.

Instagram is a photo and video sharing service which allows us to upload photographs from a mobile device, we can reach people who might be interested in the posts by using the #. Posts can be shared with Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Tumblr. I post a mix of personal images and my work because what I do in my spare time generally relates to much of my work and people seem to want to know about the artist as much as they want to view the work. With Instagram you can view the posts on a laptops but is only fully functional on mobile devices. I'm currently uploading a painting everyday under the #postapaintingeveryday. The idea being that I can share work completed over the past few years. Click to view.
I'm not suggesting that the online presence will be a miracle solution to all of your communication needs as an artist but it should be part of what you do on a day-to-day basis to promote your work, bear in mind that you do have to work at it - producing and writing about regular artwork and writing good content. The advantage is that with mobile technology much of the input can be done 'on the move' during what might otherwise be 'down-time'.

My online presence:
Two web sites, one for teaching and the other for my artwork, which should be kept up to date and be mobile friendly! websites can be promoted via social media
This Blog - I try to write regular posts with interesting and useful content
A Facebook Page which I sync with Network Blogs, Instagram, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn
An Etsy Shop
Private Facebook Groups for teaching
A YouTube account for videos, mostly private for teaching.
....and any other useful means of sharing, including pages on other websites for societies which I'm a member of, such as ASBA and the SBA etc.

Sounds like a lot but it actually takes relatively little time to manage. It's the content that takes time not the management.

Facebook Page
A Facebook Page can be used to promote your work as well as for sharing Blog and Instagram posts, it can be synced to reduce the workload. Posts can be wide reaching and you can use the 'Insights'  facility to find out the reach of posts but more importantly to see what interests your followers. Click to view.

The main things to keep in mind is that it's important to know why you are using these services and to identify who you are trying to use your online presence with a purpose.

Website for my work, 'Profile' page. This of course isn't free but the cost are small. I'm currently overhauling it to make it mobile friendly. More people access the web via mobile devices these days, so that's an important consideration. For me the website is the reference point for clients, it has my biography, exhibitions, work history and awards as well as a showcase for my work. I also provide links to my teaching site Facebook page and Blog. So that all are connected. Click to view
I built a basic website over 10 years ago and started this Blog about 7 or 8 years ago. Over time the importance and role of both has changed. There is no doubt that both are more effective if used in conjunction with social media. I'm currently overhauling my website but these days it yields less communication than the Blog and Social media but is still necessary as a point of reference for clients.
I'm always slightly confused when people voice so many concerns regarding Social Media, personally I believe the benefits far outweigh any costs, often people raise concerns regarding copyright and having work stolen ... actually that can happen anyway and as far as I'm concerned the risk is minimal. I just keep image resolution low and never splatter my name and copyright symbols over the images because it looks bad in a business that's essentially based on visuals.

Five Good Reasons why Artists should use Social Networking
1. Easy to use - Anybody can set up a Facebook page it's very easy to add a page, also Twitter or Instagram are incredibly simple, all are excellent networking tools. To be most effective make sure that you link with a blog and/or website, and share with other services. Keep your networking relevant, remember to post interesting information for the benefit of your followers.

2. Reach a wide audience with your work - Social networking really does get your work to a wide group of people, if I write a blog post which I sync with my Facebook Page via Networked Blogs it also automatically posts Twitter and I sometimes add it to LinkedIn too. For example a blog post networked on my Facebook Page about my sketchbook reached over 4,000 people on Facebook alone,  the blog has hundreds of hits per day, which then declines over time, which is why it's important to write regular posts ...the main point to consider is that your content should be interesting and not just self promotion or images of finished work with little written content. Think about whether you would like to read it. I compare the statistics using Statcounter on each site and there is no doubt that by linking social networking with blogs and websites the traffic has significantly increased to both.

3. Make new contacts - Facebook has to be the best of all the networking tools. I have met many artists in person and had numerous opportunities through Facebook. Several years ago I became involved  as an admin for a Botanical Artists Group, which now has around 4,500 members! From this group several other other self help art groups and projects emerged. It's unlikely that I would have met many of these artists without the groups. I've also made some very good friends and become involved with several projects such as the Nature Sketchbook Exchange.

4. Benefits outweigh problems - Perhaps you are concerned about spending too long on social media but learn to manage the time, recognise the benefits, manage you feeds and target effectively. If used correctly it's a useful tool which creates opportunities. Considering the time spent it is by far the most economical way of getting work to a wide geographic audience.

5. It can create opportunities - You can market your work successfully for free and as a consequence can even sell work through various avenues. If you're not convinced here's a few examples of some direct benefits which have to me from my involvement with Social Media: I have been invited to invited to be part of the Royal Botanic Garden Florilegium Project, which means I'll be exhibiting there in 2016 and will have work in a beautiful publication, I've had several large commissions through companies who have found my work through Google searches (you need to use tags effectively and make sure that your website ranks well on Google but that's another post) and one commission for  a Boots range came via Facebook messenger! I was featured in Scottish Home & Interiors and was  invited to write an two page spread for the ASBA journal.

A feature in Scotish Homes & Interiors came from my website

My teaching online teaching practice has also expanded and I have a busy schedule for the year up ahead. Most recently I've been invited to run workshops in the USA as well as closer to home for two botanical art societies. None of these opportunities would have occurred without an online presence or social media.

Article in the ASBA Journal, June 2015. Resulted from my Blog post on the project, which also emerged via social media.

This is just a brief overview of how I use my web presence to communicate art, hopefully it's of some interest. There are lots of technical articles online which tell you how to do it. This is my own experience as a user and I know I could and probably should do more but the bottom line is that  get out what you put in.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Sketchbook Travels no. 1 Australia

For almost 20 years I didn't travel abroad at all, this year I made up for it and ventured to the southern hemisphere for the first time. In October I was fortunate enough to travel to Western Australia and Indonesia, naturally the sketchbook came with me. It was well worth the long journey and the plants in Australia are stunning. I didn't sketch as much as I would have liked to but here a few pages of sketchbook studies from the trip. Can't wait to go back next year and spend more time there.
Swainsona formosa sketchpage
Sturt's Desert Pea, Swainsona formosa, A stunning little plant and the national emblem of Southern Australia. Had to include this one even though it's such a scruffy page! Would love to go back to make a 'proper' painting of it. Being from the pea family (Fabaceae), it reminded me very much of the jade vine flowers, but has this wonderful dark shiny 'bulbous' center.

After arriving in Bali for a few days I the made a short visit to Australia. While in Perth I visited King's Park and Botanic Garden, which was wonderful. It was great to see so many plants in real life that I've only ever seen in other artists' work or in photographs.
Australian native plants, sturt's pea and native cornflower
Sturt's pea can be found growing amongst the colourful wildflowers at the garden, here Brunonia australis, the native cornflower grows in the dry sandy soil. 
King's Botanic garden was quite a climb in the heat but I was met the incredible view across Perth.

View of Perth from Kings Botanic Garden
The beautiful blue skies of Perth from Kings Park Botanic Garden
 The sky was the most amazing blue, with the curious looking Baob trees and Eucalyptus flowers in abundance throughout the gardens.

Baob tree with view of Perth
Baob tree Andnsonia gregorii, overlooking the coast. The enlarged trunk is an adaptation to drought and enables the storage of large amounts of water.

 Plant life in Australia is very diverse, with over 20,000 vascular plants but the flora really is very different, with unique adaptations to drought and fire shaped by continental drift and climate change since the Cretaceous period. A favourite was Eucalyptus rhodantha, which I managed to draw.

Eucalyptus formosa sketchbook pages
Eucalyptus rhodantha, ' Rose Mallee' an endangerd plant from Westen Australia, has beautiful silver leathery leaves. Flowers are usually red but the form illustrated is a paler form.

Eucalyptus formosa sketchbook study page detail
When time is short - skip trying to paint the flower and make colour notes for reference instead. I love the little 'hats' which pop off this flower to reveal the multiple stamens.
Eucalyptus formosa photograph of red form
The more usual red  form Eucalyptus rhodantha
I chose two sketchbooks to take with me, the usual Stillman & Birn Zeta series hardback, with its heavyweight paper and a lovely brown leather journal with hand made natural coloured paper, by Gusti Leder. This German company is better know for their vegetable dyed leather bags etc. I have to say that the paper isn't as good as the Stillman & Birn but it's fine for sketching and note making and surprisingly I found that it takes washes better than expected. However it won't take much erasing or any overworking with watercolour but was good enough for my needs. If it goes wrong, best just to move on and sketch or paint the subject again, sketchbooks aren't supposed to be perfect...mine certainly isn't! 'Sketchbooking' is one of my favourite activities and I love the evolving layout on the page as it develops. I recently started a new course on just this subject and have a group of new students embarking on their personal sketchbook journeys. You can look at work by students on the blog for the coursework

Gusti Leder journal image
Gusti Leder Journal

I packed my normal watercolour box of W & N pans and a pencil roll with just a couple of brushes, Winsor & Newton series 7 miniatures, size 1 and 4, and Faber Castell 9000 pencils, grades 2H - 6B. Although with the Gusti sketchbook, found I couldn't use anything harder than a HB.

There were so many wonderful plants to illustrate: Banksia, Kangaroo paws, Bottlebrush and many more but sadly not enough time for all and after just 3 days in Perth I moved onto a new adventure in Indonesia.
I was sorry not to have more time to meet up with other artists and of course to paint and draw more, next year I shall return and hopefully stay longer to see more of this beautiful country when I shall run some botanical art classes, visiting New Zealand too.

View of Perth from Pan Pacific Hotel, sunset
Goodnight Australia until next time
Will write a post on the Indonesian sketchbooks studies at a later date....a very different experience doesn't belong in the same post