Blog 9: Dancing Seed Heads… ‘Vessels of life’

I have a passion for Autumn colours and all the bits and pieces you can find on the ground at that time of year. I began collecting seed heads around a year before I decided to paint them and like a lot of Botanical artists soon found I needed to invest in quite a few storage boxes!

I can’t believe the beautiful things nature throws down from the trees and plants in the Autumn. These little ‘vessels of life’ really are so very interesting. I spread out my collection on my desk ready to select which ones to use and start arranging them in possible compositions. This went on for about a week… I kept changing my mind!

 

At Christmas I was lucky enough to receive a microscope from my better half. I decided to have a closer look at the little seeds falling out of my seed heads onto my desk. I don’t have a microscope camera but managed to take these with my samsung 6 phone by resting it on top of the viewer. They proved very interesting indeed!

 

Recently I find I’m putting everything under my microscope to discover what’s within. It really opens your eyes! I have found it a great tool for studying small flowers before I paint them. It gives me so much more information than with the naked eye.

Selecting my subject matter

So, I began by selecting my favourite seed heads which I felt went best together and drew them all up on tracing paper. When I was totally happy with the drawings I outlined them in black fine liner and cut them all out….this was only the beginning! It then took me about another whole week of fiddling around and rearranging them in between painting before I finally decided on my composition!

 

Now I was ready to transfer them to my watercolour paper using my light box. The ones I chose are as follows: Cow Parsley, Agapanthus, Cowslip, Rosa Glauca pourr. rosehip, Iris sanguinea, Honesty, Yellow poppy, Camassia and Marigold.

Cow Parsley seed head

The first seed head was Cow Parsley with it’s flat discs which pop open in the same way as Honesty seed heads and then the seeds fall to the ground. They have little reddish brown stripes on them too. For all my seed heads I have used very neutral tones of different shades but each one is very individual. Cow Parsley seeds are pale beige in colour but with a greyish tone, so I mixed up a range of colours and tints matching them against my subject as I went. It’s important to match your colours against your subject to get an accurate mix. Make sure the paint is absolutely dry though before you add it as these pale tones always dry darker than you think! I mostly used Winsor Violet (V), Neutral tint (NT), Quinacridone gold (QG), Winsor Lemon (LY), Transparent yellow (TY) and Burnt Sienna (BS) for this one.

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And so I began painting the first seed on the sprig, firstly with a pale wash, then building up the shadow areas to give it form. The stem was woody in appearance and the beige/grey tones worked well on this to give it that feel. You must be careful when using pale greys and beige tones as they always dry darker than you imagine!

 

Here’s some little videos of me working on it.

 

 

I built up the individual seeds with my beige and grey tones to give the curved shape of the casing where it held the seed inside. I dissected a seed to see what the inner seed was like inside and painted that too. It had an orangey/pink tone which I made with Burnt Sienna (BS), Quinacridone Gold (QG) and Winsor Violet (WV). Looking at the seed casing I noticed that the reddish brown lines were different on each side. There were 4 on the front and only two on the reverse. Some of the seeds were twisted on my sprig so the reverse showed. This was an important discovery! I studied all of my seed heads very closely before drawing them to ensure I understood all the detail which is needed to make them look as realistic as possible.

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Agapanthus seed head

Next was the Agapanthus seed head. What amazing black, flat and crinkly seeds inside the pale yellow casing! It was tricky to draw as the seed casing twists open and curves exposing the seeds from within. These seed casings flick open and the seeds pop out, like sweet pea seeds. The casing is a very pale and only has hints of colour so it is important not to overwork it and retain the highlights. I left paper white highlights and painted deep shadows to give it contrast. For this seed head I used similar neutral mixes but used transparent yellow instead of Quinacridone Gold as it is brighter. I mixed a selection of warm greys of different shades for the shadow areas. For the seeds I made a nice blue black out of Permanent Rose (PR), Quinacridone Gold and Indanthrine Blue. I left open spaces between the strokes to achieve strong highlights and give the appearance of the crinkled surface on the seeds. At the end I added a little (very watered down) Winsor blue tint over the seeds in some areas to enhance their blackness and shine.

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Cowslip seed head

Next on the agenda was the Cowslip seed head. Cowslip flowers are really interesting as when they dry, the petals (corolla) curl back to form the top of a little cup in which the seeds sit and the sepals (calyx) become the bottom part of this container. The seeds are dispersed by the wind shaking the little cup. Below is a diagram drawing which I drew showing the flower parts and some microscope photos of the Cowslips’ ovary, stamen, stem and leaf detail. You may be familiar with the fibonacci series found in nature, well, in the ovary where the seeds are formed, the immature seeds sit inside their capsule forming the fibonacci spiral pattern.

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The seedcase is made up of warm browns so I mixed up some warm reddish browns using my usual Winsor Violet (WV), Quin Gold (QG) but in some of the mixes I added Burnt Sienna (BS) or Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (SRML) to warm it all up. For the darker browns I used Indigo (I), Quin Gold and Burnt Sienna and a little Burnt umber (BU) to the darkest brown mix. For the very darkest brown I used Indigo, Permanent Rose and Quin Gold, almost a black mix but with less blue.

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I started working on the first layer with the warm pale tones and then adding in the stronger colours for the detail and shadows. I had to work very carefully to get the shadows into the corolla curls at the top!

 

Rosa Glauca Pourr. Rosehip

The next seed head was the Rosa Glauca Pourr. rosehip, …not a seed head I hear you say! Well it is a seed head but this time the seeds inside the rosehip are injested by birds or they rot on the plant and fall to the ground eventually. The hip contains quite a few seeds inside it’s skin. My rosehip was turning dark red and black and drying out hence the crinkled surface. It was hard to keep the highlights as the crinkled areas were very small. My favourite part were the sepals, wonderfully curly and spikey! I used a lot of colours and tones for this piece.

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I started with a thin wash of my red mix leaving unpainted areas to create the highlights where the undulations were on the surface. I then built this up using shadow tones mixed using my original red and browns to achieve the round form. I will admit it was very hard to keep the highlights as this piece is very small. Once I finished the hip I used my brown and black mixes to develop the sepals and stalk. The seeds have tiny hairs at both ends and almost look like waxy apple seeds.

 

Iris sanguinea seed head

Next the big Iris sanguinea seed head. A friend gave me this seed head as a gift as I thought it so interesting! I loved the curves and colours and made it the focal point on my painting, right in the centre! This one was great to paint as it had immense detail. It is shaped like a cup in which the seeds sit in rows. As the Iris cup curls open the seeds drop out. This seed head has very strong yellow tones on the outside mixed with greys. It is very pale inside so I needed to mix some very watered down grey tones and take care not to over paint it. The seeds are a dull orangey brown. My colour mixes included the following: My regular colours as previously on this blog but I added SQG is Sennelier Quinacridone Gold deep, SI is Sennelier Indigo and SMRL is Sennelier Rose Madder Lake.

iris sanguinea

 

This was one of the hardest ones to paint and the finished piece looks like this, I spent a long time creating the wrinkles using neutral tones and neutral greys to make the cup look three dimensional where it dips in and out.

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Honesty…. this is very tricky to paint! It has such subtle tones all over and needs perfect highlights to keep it looking shiny. Again I used the same colours to make my neutral tones which were very watered down, as below. Honesty is papery thin and made up of three layers. In between each layer sit the seeds and the whole thing pops open to let the seeds drop out.

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I started by putting a thin random blobby wash of the yellowy neutral mix over the areas which were darkest and the paler beigey grey tone around the sides. There were tints of a pinkish/orange around some of the edges too. It’s good to study your subject and look for all the tones before you start painting. There were many different shades and tones in this delightful little subject. Getting those tones in as well as the fine detail makes the painting look more realistic.

 

Here’s a little video of the beginnings:

 

Once I had finished the background by building up colour to define the undulations, I then painted in the edges, stem and the pointed spike at the top, which brought together its shape and form. I decided to add 3 seeds to the painting. I was only going to do 2 seeds originally but decided 3 was a better balance. I used various shades of browns for the seeds and some black mix (PB, IB and QG) to define the shadows. I had collected a number of seeds and selected three that varied in their patterning.

 

The finished Honesty seed head…

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Yellow Poppy seed head

Next on the agenda was the Yellow Poppy seed head. I love the little crown at the top of this seedhead! The seeds are contained in the cup below the crown, just like a regular poppy, and dispersed as it shakes in the wind. It’s colouring is quite dark so I mixed a few browns for the base cup and some neutral beige tones for the top. I also mixed a warm reddish brown to add to the cup area as I felt it needed warming up. It would have looked very drab otherwise! I also mixed an ‘almost’ black colour to define the creases and shadows. It was especially important to add shadow colour to the top ‘crown’ where the pieces all join together to enhance the 3D’ness of this part.

yellow poppy

 

Camassia seed head

Next in my row of seed heads was the Camassia. It has a beautiful golden yellow tone so Quinacridone Gold (QG) shouted out to me! I love this plant and it grows in my garden ‘wild’ area in the Spring. Here’s a photo of it in situe:

 

These seed heads are like cups and the seeds disperse when the wind blows. I began by mixing up my colours and used a series of neutral beige and yellow tones mixed with a reddish brown and a darker brown. Quinacridone gold featured highly as you can see below!

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This seed head was also shiny and papery. To get this across I needed to ensure my highlighted areas were as light as they could be. You’ve probably noticed that I stick the seeds onto my drawing board with Blutac. This is so I can view them closer up and see them more clearly. I added pale yellowy washes first and then I worked into it adding a little of my reddish brown to define the detail and stripey areas. I added a pale beigy grey tone into the shadow areas to define the undulations and inside of the cup.

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Here’s a little video of me working on  the camassia seed head:

Next to give it some depth I added more layers and some other warm tones to create the shaded areas. Now for the three seeds by the stalk. These seeds are quite black in tone with a blueish tint. You can just see it showing through on the final painting below. To enhance this I laid down a wash of watered down Indanthrine blue first on the darker areas of each seed. After this I used my black mix, creating the dips and creases by leaving areas unpainted.

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Marigold seed head

Last but not least the Marigold seed head. What an amazing shape this is! The seeds on this seed head are curled up inside the head and snap off as the seed head dries. They are very sturdy and have spikes around them. The whole seed head is extremely interesting to look at and is made up of many different parts. I must look them all up one day! It was a task to get the drawing right but I really enjoyed painting this one. I mixed very similar neutral tones once again, beiges, yellows, warm browns, greys and tans. One extra colour was added, Perylene Violet, to create the pinkish brown tones on the ‘arms’ of this seed head. This one was going to be a challenge!

 

marigold
I started again by laying down thin washes of my pale yellowy beige mix then began defining the wispy parts at the bottom with pale shadow tones and browns at their tips. I used the Perylene brown mix for the very tips of these too to give sharpness. The rest was created using mostly dry brush and graduated washes. Finally with the very tip of my brush I added in the fibonacci series of dots on the flat centre part. I only added one seed to the side of this one as they are so detailed in their form. I felt it was enough to have just one to look at!

 

 

The finished piece…

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And so the painting was complete… I hope you enjoyed this blog and that it will have been of help to you.

Happy painting!!
seed heads-J.Isard

*All photos, content, text and videos are subject to copyright – Jackie Isard Botanicals 2017

 

NEW Botanical & Nature Watercolour Painting courses!

I’m excited to announce that I have launched 3 initial courses at Brackenwood Plant & Garden Centre, Leigh Court Estate, Pill Road, Abbots Leigh, Bristol BS8 3RA starting in March 2017. Courses are £35 per person per day. It’s an exciting adventure for me!

The first three courses are geared around important watercolour painting techniques which aim to improve your skills and give you the know-how to create beautiful botanical watercolours.

Course 1 : Watercolour Painting Techniques 1 – 18th March 10am-4pm

On the first course I will teach you the techniques necessary to achieve perfect Wet-in-Wet. Link to event on FB

Course 2 : Watercolour Painting Techniques 2 – 15th April 10am-4pm

On the second course I will teach you washing out, shading, dry brush, how to paint fine lines, erasing out and perfect fine detail. Link to event on FB

Course 3: Mixing Colour Accurately – 27th May 10am-4pm

On this course we will learn colour mixing and matching to plants making swatch records, learn how to create bright tones, learn how to get perfect neutral (natural) tones, other bits and pieces like overlaying tints to enhance colours and not quite 50 shades of grey! Link to event on FB

To book please contact me personally by email at jackieisard@googlemail.com and I will send you full details and material lists. Look out for more courses and future online tuition on my FB page Jackie Isard Botanicals

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NEW Botanical & Nature Watercolour Painting courses!

I’m excited to announce that I have launched 3 initial courses at Brackenwood Plant & Garden Centre, Leigh Court Estate, Pill Road, Abbots Leigh, Bristol BS8 3RA starting in March 2017. Courses are £35 per person per day. It’s an exciting adventure for me!

The first three courses are geared around important watercolour painting techniques which aim to improve your skills and give you the know-how to create beautiful botanical watercolours.

Course 1 : Watercolour Painting Techniques 1 – 18th March 10am-4pm

On the first course I will teach you the techniques necessary to achieve perfect Wet-in-Wet. Link to event on FB

Course 2 : Watercolour Painting Techniques 2 – 15th April 10am-4pm

On the second course I will teach you washing out, shading, dry brush, how to paint fine lines, erasing out and perfect fine detail. Link to event on FB

Course 3: Mixing Colour Accurately – 27th May 10am-4pm

On this course we will learn colour mixing and matching to plants making swatch records, learn how to create bright tones, learn how to get perfect neutral (natural) tones, other bits and pieces like overlaying tints to enhance colours and not quite 50 shades of grey! Link to event on FB

To book please contact me personally by email at jackieisard@googlemail.com and I will send you full details and material lists. Look out for more courses and future online tuition on my FB page Jackie Isard Botanicals

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Blog 8: Autumn Gold Beauties…

Wandering around the garden in late autumn I discovered some rather gorgeous looking Magnolia leaves still hanging onto our tree. There was a golden carpet beneath too which took my eye. I collected 3 leaves and decided to paint them. Thankfully there were still some on the tree if these ones started to fade.

The first thing to do was to try and protect them from drying up. I took reference photos and then into the fridge they went in a plastic bag! Sadly overnight they had gone very brown and the lovely gold hues I wanted to paint had disappeared. Thank goodness there will still some on the tree for colour reference.

I started by drawing up my three leaves onto tracing paper then used a black fine liner to outline my drawings. From here I could then put them on my lightbox in position and trace off carefully with an H pencil onto my watercolour paper.

Once transferred onto my watercolour paper I very carefully used a Faber Castell gum rubber to remove excess graphite. Take care not to rub, just press it onto the graphite and then lift it up as you go. If you rub you’ll ruin the surface of the paper. You also only need to do this where the painted areas are pale. You can use Bluetac to do this too.

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Mixing the colours

The next stage was to mix up my colours, the lovely golden hues and browns. For your reference all are W&N colours unlelss specified: Burnt Sienna (BS), Burnt Umber (BU), Indanthrine Blue (Ind), Quinacridone Gold (QG), Indigo (I), Transparent Yellow (Trans Y), Winsor Lemon (LY or WL), Permanent Rose (PR), Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (S.RML). Also 2+QG (top row far right) equals Brown no. 2 plus QG. See photo of my swatches below.

You may notice in the next photos that I have cut out the shape of my leaves on some tracing paper and laid it over the top of my painting. This is to protect it from splashes. It’s better to use cartridge paper as tracing paper curls up a little and I have been known to catch the paintbrush on the curled edge!

The first wet-in-wet wash!

To begin with I added a pale transparent yellow wash all over to enhance the brightness of all that followed. on the next layer of wet-in-wet I started to introduce some of the tones from my palette. On the second layer I took each section of the leaf individually adding in more colour to strengthen it all up and then a little of the shadowing on the leaf ridges. This highlighted the veins a little more. There are some more videos later in this blog explaining these techniques so scroll down now if you want to know now!

Once I was happy with the intensity of the gold shades over the leaf I again worked on enhancing the veining and adding in small details, smaller veins and dots. Gradually working my way across the leaf and the furled edge. I also added more of my gold/burnt sienna mix to strengthen up the background layers in places, washing it out at the edges so it didn’t give an edge line.

I then used my Eraser brush (Eradicator) to enhance the light veins. Here is a little video which explains how I approached this. Once you’ve done this the whole thing starts to appear more 3D. I use 2 types, Jacksons Icon 1/8th inch series 702 and a stiffer one which is white synthetic – ProArte sterling 201 oil acrylic short flat size 0 (this is a long handled brush so I cut the end off!)

After this I started to work on the twisted broken part of the leaf. This was a challenge as I needed to show the curves and twists to get a good effect. It’s all in the shading and highlights. I painted the brown first leaving a nice highlight along it. Then added other colours as they appeared. Finally, I used my eraser brush to lift out lighter parts and darker paint to create the veined areas. It’s a case of looking carefully at where the shadows are and deepening the colour in those areas.

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To get the papery effect on the little bits sticking out at the base of the leaf I used a very pale beigh tone and dotted grey into it. Painting a darker grey very occasionally along the very edge on the smaller bits.

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Lastly, I strengthened up the golden areas of the leaf with a thin wash of my gold mix. Now onto the right side of the leaf using the same methods! Once both sides were done, I noticed a little green tone over some of the leaf so I added my green mix in a very thin wash to those areas. Leaf no. 1 finished!

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Leaf no. 2 – lots of videos here!

As this leaf was quite large I used wet-in-wet technique on each section between the veins rather than go over the whole thing. I do each section alternately so that they don’t bleed into one another. Firstly I laid a thin layer of Transparent yellow down to keep the overlying layers nice a bright. Here’s a video to explain the process.

Once I’d completed three sections I continued into the bottom right part of the leaf. Here’s a little video explaining how I did this part.

Now for the top part, an area which thins and is very intricate. You need to be very careful to not go over the edges when wetting the paper. I’ve erased some of the fine vein lines with a soft rubber on the dry finished areas. They will erase at this stage but not after the next coat. If you leave them too dark they will interfere with your painting. Here’s a video explaining.

Here’s the right side of the leaf finished and dry. Now you just need to apply the same method to the left side of the leaf. Notice on the picture below I have left out a very small area half way down. This part of the leaf is far too small for wet-in-wet so I will fill this in later with dry brush. By the way, you can if you prefer, start with the left side, I just happen to prefer working from right to left.

I got carried away and started doing some of the dry brush work at the top of the leaf, my favourite part! The dark area with a papery feel I will also do later in dry brush. This part will be challenging and make for very interesting painting!

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Well that’s the gist of it so far. I hope this blog and videos have helped you and I’ll be back soon with another Blog.

Until next time happy painting!

*All photos, content, text and videos are subject to copyright – Jackie Isard Botanicals 2017

Blog 7: Pretty Flamingo!…

After a visit to Slimbridge Wildlife Park I was keen to paint Flamingo feathers. It took a bit of hard work trying to source some moulted feathers but eventually Birdland Park & Gardens in Bourton on the Water came up with the goods, thank you Simon at Birdland! www.birdland.co.uk

I selected three feathers from the bundle posted to me. I chose these three for their wonderful shapes and thought they made for a lovely composition.

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A bit about Flamingos…

These tall wading birds are called Phoenicopterus and the feathers that were sent to me are from the Greater Flamingo species Phoenicopterus roseus. Flamingos have been know to man for thousands of years. They feature in cave paintings in Spain (5000BC) and the Egyptians used them as a symbol to indicate the colour red and even regarded it as the living embodiment of the sun-god Ra. The red/pink feather colour comes from a diet of crustacea and algae. Here are the Flamingos at Birdland in Bourton on the Water, Cotswolds. My feathers are from the paler birds.

flamingos

Mixing the pink!

To begin my painting I had to match the beautiful pink of these feathers. After a few trials I found that Winsor & Newton Opera Rose (OR) and Cadmium Yellow Deep (CYD) gave me the rich bright orangey/pink I needed. Other colours I mixed were variations of pale greys, some pinky, a cooler grey and a very pale yellow using Trans Yellow (TY) mixed with a tiny bit of the Flamingo Pink I had mixed previously. I also mixed some of this pink to make my pinky grey. You’ll notice on my swatch that there is a duller looking pink which I used for shadows and stronger details, this was mixed using Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (SMRL), Winsor Orange (W.O) and Cadmium Yellow Deep. When re-mixing the Flamingo pink I had to test it a few times as the mix would look different with the slightest change in quantities.

Painting the curved feather

The curved feather had awkward angles and so I had to make sure the drawing was absolutely spot on. I started by doing my pale washes and then built up the colour gradually. There were some deep shadows where it turned and for this I used stronger versions of my pale greys and the flamingo pink. I created these deep shadows  by working in between the whiter wisps. In this way you get the white wisps overlaying it.

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Painting the oval feather

The oval feather was a lovely shape but much paler that the others. It was hard to keep the subtlety of this one without over painting it. For this feather I built up the layers slowly and left it lighter than the others. There were more highlights on this one which helped to keep it from looking flat. Also notice the darker areas along the right side and the left side of the rachis (mid vein), this enhances it’s curved appearance.

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Painting the large feather

I saved painting this feather until last as it was my favourite one and the most striking in my composition. The top part had lots of furls and creases and the colour faded gradually down to almost white at the bottom. Plus, I thought to myself, how am I to paint those tiny little veins!

I started with a very pale wash leaving the paler areas free of paint. I used a watery mix of the cooler grey and pinky grey to indicate shadows on the paler part of the feather. It took 3 layers to get it up to the right strength of pink at the top. I was now ready to add in the darker pink shadows on the folds and furls. To get the appearance of the tiny veins I used a the same technique that I used in my Feathery Pursuits blog. I used the Flamingo pink on the top part of the feather and the pinky grey and cool grey further down on the lighter areas. Blog 5 contains a video showing you how to do this dry brush technique. See this link: https://jibotanicals.com/2016/10/01/blog-5-feathery-pursuits/

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Painting the shiny white highlights

My paper was not white enough to show the shine on the rachis (mid vein) and feathers so I turned to my Daniel Smith iridescent paints. Pearlescent White did the trick. If you shine a light onto the painting or turn it sideways you can see the glow of the pearlescent paint. I have yet to find a pure white that has such a good effect. Well, I’ll just have to have a spotlight pointing down onto it if it’s ever framed and hung on a wall!

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Painting the after feathers – pale wispy bits

You have to approach this part with great care and start with a very, very pale colour. You can always add but you cannot take away! The greys and pinky greys are made with very strong pigments and almost impossible to erase out without damaging the papers surface. Using the cooler grey with a flicking motion, you can interpret the wispy feathers. Afterwards add occasionally add some of the pinky grey and very pale pink. Once you’re happy with the result you can then add a few darker bits to show the shadows. It’s also good to add a few very fine chevron side hairs to some of the larger wisps. It’s hard to see on the image below but hopefully you’ll see what I mean.

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Now my painting was complete! Please excuse the greyness of the photos but these winter days are so dark and dreary!

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I must apologise for no videos on this blog, however, I will be doing a blog in a few weeks about my Dying Magnolia Leaves painting and will try to video some things which will be of interest to you. I hope you enjoyed this blog and thank you for reading.

Until then happy painting and a very Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

*All photos, content, text and videos are subject to copyright – Jackie Isard Botanicals 2017
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Blog 6 – Conquering the Conker!…

I’m sad to say that some of our native trees are being attacked and damaged by moths and beetles as well as the fungal diseases they already suffer from. For this reason I’ve chosen to keep a painted record of them. The first tree I’ve chosen is the Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum).

The Horse Chestnut tree was introduced to the UK in the 1600s and gets it’s name from the horseshoe nail pattern left behind when a leaf falls of a twig. The conker fruits were also ground up and given to horses as a cure for a cough. Here is a diagram showing the details of the leaves.
horsehoe-diagram
This majestic tree is a rich source of pollen in the Spring when it it is covered in upright conical clusters of white, pink, or red flowers. The Horse Chestnut tree is a favourite of the Leaf Miner Moth (Cameraria ohridella) which lays it’s egg in the leaves. The larva bore through the flesh of the leaves and eat it away from inside, creating brown streaks and parts of the leaf die. In recent years there have been huge numbers of them and our Horse Chestnut tree is now suffering and dropping it’s leaves early. You’ve most likely seen the effect which seems particularly bad this year. Incredible to think that such a small creature, only 5mm in size, can cause such devastation!

We all love and know the ‘Conker Tree’. I remember as a child making what I called fish bones out of the leaves too, by tearing out the green parts between the veins and of course we all have fond memories of playing ‘conkers’!

I’ve spent the last week finishing my Horse Chestnut painting which has taken me over 4 weeks from start to finish. It’s been a real journey of extremely detailed painting. It really makes you look deeply at your subject matter discovering the world within!  Unfortunately towards the end of my painting I came into paper problems and had to do some repairs at the last minute. I almost thought I would have to paint the last section all over again but in the end I managed to ‘Conquer the conker’!

I started to play with composition and after a few hours decided to make this a 3 part study, triptych painting, of close up detailed parts of the leaves and fruits. The paintings are more or less actual size so it’s been a real challenge!

For the first painting I wanted to do the leaves. Due to the Leaf Miner moth, the leaves have browny golden patches all over them but this creates some very interesting and beautiful colours for me to paint, even though it’s not good for the Horse Chestnut Tree!

I went out to pick some horse chestnut leaves and fruits for the first two paintings. I left the fruits to one side and got on with drawing up the leaf section focussing on the part where the leaves fan out from the petiole. For the second drawing I decided to draw up some of the varying sized fruits and then cut one open to show the inside. The conkers inside were white and I realised then that I would have to go back in a few weeks to get ripe conkers for my last painting. Strangley after a few hours the white conkers started to turn brown in places, creating a patch effect. It seems exposure to the air makes them turn shiny and brown! By the next day the cut shell had started to dry out and developed a beautful patterning which delighted me as it made it more interesting to paint.

Mixing my colours…

I began to mix my colours up ready to start painting the leaf. I’ve noted here my ‘short forms’ after each colour so that you can hopefully understand my swatch book photos below. I used Indanthrene Blue (Ind. B), Quinacridone Gold (QG), Winsor Lemon Yellow LY or WL), Permanent Rose(PR), Transparent Yellow (TY) for the green areas and Burnt Sienna (BS), Burnt Umber (BU), Quin Gold (QG), Winsor Violet (V), Trans Yellow (TY), Winsor Lemon Yellow (LY or WL) and Indanthrene Blue (Ind.B) to mix the array of beigy, golden, nutty brown colours on the damaged areas. The Transparent yellow was mostly used as an overlay to enhance the green and brown areas. A thinly mixed fine wash can really bring up the colour brightness. Quin Gold can be used in the same way if you want a warmer tone.

I used my usual brushes for this detailed work, a No.2 & 6 Billy Showell brushes, Renaissance Sable Rigger size 0 (for the finest veins), Jacksons’s Icon Flat 1/8” Series 702 (eraser brush) and the Blue handled brush is a cheaper synthetic brush which is used for mixing paint only. You should never use your painting brushes to mix paint as it ruins the tips!

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Painting the Leaves

To paint the leaves I concentrated on each section between the lateral veins separately after laying down a couple of pale wash layers. I did not use wet in wet for the leaves as the green/brown areas were quite small as this painting is small. For the midrib and some of the lateral veins I managed to leave the white paper showing through without masking by carefully painting the washes alongside each of them. For the small netted veins I use white gouache mixed with a little yellow or green depending on their appearance, on top of the finished painting. To accentuate the highlights on the leaves and veins I carefully used my eraser brush at the end. This allows you to exaggerate the peaks and troughs of the leaf between the veins. If you’re unsure how to do this then please ask me. One of the videos later in this blog gives you an idea on how to do this.

Painting the conker shells

For the second part of my painting I composed a drawing of the green conker shells and a cut in half one. The inside of shell had formed an intricate patterned and to represent this I used a lot of dots! Dots in various tones of colour and subtle shadows using a very pale shade of warm grey. On the large green shell I did two washes leaving areas free of paint where the small prickles were. Again I used fine dark dots to indicate the pattern on the surface of the shell. There were also beigy splodges here and there on it’s surface. A little shading with a greeny grey helped give the shells a rounder shape. Finally I accentuated the tips of the prickles around the outer edge with very pale yellow fading up to the tip from the green below. Then a reddish brown merging into very dark brown at the tip. This stage really finishes the job off!

Now with two paintings completed it’s onto the Conkers!

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Painting the Conkers

For the third painting I decided to paint conkers. I collected conkers and arranged them to fill this section but I wasn’t convinced by this composition. Some time went by and they started to lose their sheen and shrivel up. I decided to go and get more fresh conkers once I’d finished the second painting. During the next week I noticed that the green fruits on my desk had dried naturally. Much to my pleasure they had turned a lovely deep reddish brown and split open to reveal shiny conkers! ….and that’s why the last painting included the shells too, much more interesting to paint than just conkers!

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Once I had drawn these up I mixed up my colours. I used a vast array of tones and shades for this part of my painting. The Violet tones were used as a first coat on the conkers to enhance the deep shadow areas. This is a great way to get richer deep tones on strongly coloured subjects. Again I painted a great deal of dots on the textured area of the outer shells using different colours and shades. To achieve the shading at the edges I used darker dots and a little wash of pale grey.

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Here are some pictures of the stages I went through to paint the conker shells and conkers.

I’ve made a few videos which explain how I painted the final conker. I used an extra colour here, Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (S.RML), to enhance the rich colour of the conkers. It works a treat when added to Burnt Sienna and Quin Gold. My conker shades also include a tiny little bit of Indanthrene Blue to darken them. My last conker went horribly wrong due to a paper problem and I spent a long time the next day trying to rectify it. I will explain how I did this after you’ve watched the videos.

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When it came to the last few layers of the conker on the bottom half of my painting I found the wet in wet layers were merging into my highlights and the whole area looking messy and bitty instead of smooth and shiny! (It’s not so obvious here in the photo as in real life)

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I ran my finger across the paper and discovered it to be very rough. It seems the paper was inferior on just this section of the sheet! I sat burnishing my paper for about half an hour that evening in the hope that I could paint on it the next day. I used a smooth pebble and kitchen roll to do this. To burnish paper put kitchen roll over the painting and rub over the area quite firmly in circles. Make sure you keep changing the place you are rubbing or the kitchen roll may form a hole and you’ll ruin your painting! It took many hours the following day erasing with my brush and magic eraser followed by some dry brushing to achieve a half decent looking conker.

These are the tools I used to repair my conker

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Whilst waiting for each new area on the bad conker to dry, I carried on with the conker shell behind. This was tricky as it had a domed area (convex) at the bottom which needed to be shaded to make it look rounded. Again once I had painted this, I used the eraser brush to bring out the highlight at the top of the domed area and this made it stand out again. I had the same issue with the two half shells on painting two, making them look concave. Sometimes the eye see things differently. You can be looking at a concave object and it will look convex unless you keep staring at it. It’s crucial to get the shadows in the right places and having a very good light source helps. M C Esher made many paintings which confuse the eye! Anyway, I achieved the right look with careful shading.

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Finally I finished off the spikes around the edge in a similar way to the green shell ones, except I used darker colours this time.

Hey presto! ……conker painting finished. I hope you enjoyed this blog and if there is anything you’d like to ask please don’t hesitate to contact me here or on FB.

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Next I will be painting British Oak and acorns (Quercus robur). I’m really looking forward to doing this one, always wanted to paint acorns!!

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Thank you for reading and I’ll be back in a few weeks!

*All photos, content, text and videos are subject to copyright – Jackie Isard Botanicals 2017

Blog 5 : Feathery pursuits…

A couple of weeks ago I took a little rest from my Horse Chestnut painting and decided to try and paint some  colourful Cockerel/Rooster feathers. I had never painted a feather before and admire the work of Elizabeth Romanini (https://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.romanini?fref=ts) and Sarah Morrish of Natures Details (https://www.facebook.com/NaturesDetailsArt/?fref=ts) and thought I would like to try it one day.

I chose three Cockerel/Rooster feathers from my collection, which are very colourful. I thought they would be easier to paint than my Owl feathers to start off with as they are not so pale in colour.

To begin with I drew up the red feather on my watercolour paper. Making sure I drew it on very lightly so that it would be easy to erase on the paler areas. The colours of this feather really appealed to me. I decided to slant my drawing to the right rather than have it positioned straight up as this seemed a more interesting composition.

Next I made my swatches mixing up my colours and painting them onto a piece of watercolour paper to keep as a reference should I need to mix more of the same colour. I also note down the colours I used to mix each shade. For the brightest red I used Sennelier Rose Madder Lake, Winsor Red and a little Quinacridone Gold. This makes a really bright red and the S.Rose Madder Lake just knocks it back a little without losing the vibrance. I then mixed up a selection of warm orangey/tan tones for the middle section and a darker red for the shadow areas by adding Perylene Maroon to my original bright red mix. I then mixed some beigey browns and greys for the bottom section of the feather. Now I was ready to start painting!

See my swatch sheet below for my colour mixes.

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For colours listed on all my swatches – the codes are as follows: QG – Quin Gold, WR – Winsor Red, Azil – Alizarin Red, BS – Burnt Sienna, S.RML – Sennelier Rose Madder Lake, Pery M or PM – Perylene Maroon, WO (R) – Winsor Orange (Red Shade), PR – Permanent Rose, Trans Y – Transparent Yellow, WL – Winsor Lemon (not Lemon yellow, V – Winsor Violet, Vi – Viridian, Ind B – Indanthrene Blue, H20 – added water,

One other colour I used was Daniel Smith Interference Red (an iridescent colour) and I used this on the red part of the feather at the end to make it glisten a little.

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Painting stage 
I began to lay down my first wash. I use a Billy Showell no. 2 brush and a Sable Rigger size 0 for the fine detail. Red can be tricky colour to build up in layers and if you’re not careful it will go muddy and thick, laying on top of the paper rather than seeping in. For the first wash I used the wet-in-wet method, this was to allow for more layers to be added safely allowing the colour to increase in density without becoming thick, you must make sure each layer is thoroughly dry before adding the next! Whilst adding the red I also added a little of the orangy/tan colour under the red area and a little pale grey to the bottom, being careful to keep the edges at the bottom very, very pale. Once this was dry I added another wet-in-wet layer of the colours to strengthen it all up. I was careful not to go over the rachis (stalk/vane through centre) as I would paint this in last. There was however, a small area of orangy tone on the top half of the rachis so I added that in.

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I don’t add the fine detail and ‘after feather’ (wispy bits towards the bottom of the feather), until the end.

Now my feather was starting to look nice and bright, I started to add in the pattern detail on the right hand side orangey/tan area with a watered down grey and then a few of the ‘after feather’ parts- very pale to start with! There is a very pale hint of the orangey/tan in the ‘after feather’ area too, so I used a little of that colour with the grey to build up this area.

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Some of the after feathers were a little thicker and you could see the pinnate appearance like the veins on a pinnate leaf. If you look closely you will see this. Use a magnifying glass if necessary. You can add some of this with a very fine brush and light pale strokes. Don’t worry about doing all of them, an indication on a few will suffice. This again needs to be done in layering as you’ll need to have different strengths of ‘after feathers’ to give it depth. The bottom of the feather is quite dark grey so you will need a few layers to achieve this. Try not to go over all of the ‘after feathers’ and you’ll get a nice variation of shades. 


Now for the detail stage. On the red part I needed to add some very fine darker red lines and some shadowing to the right side. This looked difficult to paint as the lines go straight up from bottom the top. If painting fine lines seems almost impossible you can use a dry brush method to achieve this. Use a number 4 brush, I use a Billy Showell brush for this as it is very versatile and holds water well. You can buy them via her website at www.billyshowell.com. In fact I use her no. 2 brush for almost everything! Wet your paint and brush. Take a little paint into the brush making it flat rather than pointed and then rub a bit of the excess onto your cloth/kitchen roll. Test it first! Making the brush as flat as possible then run it in a line across a scrap piece of paper, holding the brush more upright for thinner lines. You should get multiple lines appearing. You can also use a Pro Arte Sable Rigger size 0 brush (Jacksons Art sell them) to do fine individual lines if you have a very steady hand! Here’s are two little videos to explain. You need to hold the brush almost upright to achieve fine lines!

Once this was done I started to build up the grey area at the bottom and add the finer details. Having finished the detailing I then painted the main rachis (stalk/vane through centre) and was careful to retain the light on either side of it. Lastly I ran a thin darker grey line along the right side of the rachis to give it depth.

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For the next feather I chose a lovely fluffy one with a chevron design in beautiful tan colours. I applied the same principle as above to this feather but at then end I notice the light catching the after feathers and they were glistening. To achieve this effect I mixed a little white gouache and a little  Daniel Smith Pearlescent White (iridescent paint). You don’t need to buy a tube of this, you can buy a ‘Dot Card’ online which is enough. You need such a small amount so don’t waste your money on tubes unless you start using it all the time of course!

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Again the after feathers I used the same treatment on the after feathers. This is the finished feather with a close up of the iridescent part.

Lastly I chose a beautiful iridescent emerald green and tan feather. A very flamboyant one with a beautiful curved shape to it. Again I used the same process to paint the feather and because of it’s beautiful iridescence I used Daniel Smith Iridescent Jade and Topaz to create this at the final stage. To achieve a strong emerald green colour I used Winsor Blue (Green Shade), a fabulously rich electric blue, mixed with a little Indigo, Winsor Lemon (not Lemon yellow) and Quinacridone Gold. I mixed a darker greyish green for the areas that were darker and shadows, taking great care not to lose my highlights.

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Here is the finished feather and iridescent detail.

Well that’s the end of my feathery pursuits for now. I’ll be painting some more owl and flamingo feathers next year, so look out for that blog too!

*All photos, content, text and videos are subject to copyright – Jackie Isard Botanicals 2017

Blog 4 – Sketching adventures continued…

Next in my sketch book are two more beautiful wild flowers, Devil’s-bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) and Greater Knapweed (Centaurea scabiosa). Devil’s-bit scabious is a cute little plant with leggy stems ending in a pretty little button shaped lilac/blue flowers. Greater Knapweed is a grander and more flamboyant version of Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra). The flower head forms in a thistle-like fashion opening into a beautiful cluster of purple petals with flowing delicate petals beneath which float outwards like exaggerated  ladies’ fingers. (See header picture, taken at Box Farm Meadow)

I chose Devil’s-bit scabious as it is the food plant of the declining Marsh Fritillary butterfly and Greater Knapweed as it is particularly appealing to insect wildlife. Insects including bees and butterflies are very fond of this plant, notably the Marbled White butterfly.

In the spring I planted some of the plants I am studying in my garden with the intention of using them for botanical reference and colour studies. The slugs seemed to love it much to my displeasure! But they grew and I was able to study and dissect them as needed. Later in the Spring I also scattered some wildflower seeds which included Greater Knapweed and to my surprise one healthy plant grew tall and strong. This year I have sown seeds for all 8 plants I want to study for my RHS entry, so let’s hope they all grow for next years additions to my sketch book!

Devil’s-bit scabious Succisa pratensis

The flower head of the Devil’s-bit scabious if a perfect bundle of small flowers packed into a ball shape. The pattern formed by these florets is a fibonacci series, spiralled.

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As the flowers open into their beautiful lilac blossoms the pollen bearing anthers protrude further than the flower forming a little halo of darker pink around the flower head with puffs of yellow/white pollen at their tips. When the plant was young  and partly opened it reminded me of a baby in a pretty lace bonnet! As the flowers fade the petals fall and we are left with a green ball of empty sepals which will then develop and produce the seeds. At this stage I took colour references from my plant and painted them into my sketchbook for future reference.

In my studies I dissected the very small flowers and illustrated the parts of the plant. The seed head has not yet matured so I will need to add this at a later date. I wanted to show the plants structure by breaking it into sections as a memory aid. I selected sections of the plant to show how it changes up the stem as the plant is quite tall.

I used a specimen Marsh Fritillary butterfly to take colour reference and pattern form and added it to my drawing of the opening flower head. As my specimen is set in an open position it is great to work from as all detail can be seen and added to the painting. Little error on my part…..I should have turned the butterfly specimen upsidedown as the potion shows the underside of the wings! I wanted to make the butterfly look like it was landing on the flower so used a photo from the internet as reference for positioning.

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To plan out my sketch book page I wanted to include as many features of the plants as possible together with my colour references. I spent time drawing up my composition on tracing paper and then cut it up  to arrange it on my page. Once I was satisfied I had the best arrangement I traced it all off into my sketch book.

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This is my final sketch using watercolour paint and fine liner. It will serve as a good reminder for when I paint the final painting.

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Where does the plants name come from? The history behind this flowers name is quite interesting. “Scabious flowers were used to treat scabies, and other afflictions of the skin including sores by the Bubonic Plague. The work ‘scabies’ comes from the Latin word ‘Scratch’ (scabere). The short black root was in folk tales bitten off by the devil, angry at the plant’s ability to cure these ailments.” Hence the name Succisa which means cut short in Latin and pratensis means ‘of a meadow’.

Greater Knapweed Centaurea scabiosa

The late flowering Greater Knapweed is the only food plant of the Coleophoridae case bearer moth (Coleophora didymella). Insects including bees and butterflies are very fond of this plant, notably the Marbled White butterfly.

I started by studying the flower head and whole plant as it developed. The flower head resembled Common Knapweed, thistle-like in structure but it is not thorny. The bracts form a fibonacci series pattern on the involucre and have a spidery look to their edges. This involucre encases the seeds which are similar to dandelion seeds. When mature the bracts spring open flat to let the seeds be carried out by the wind. This is as beautiful as the flower head. My plant has not yet matured to reveal this so I have taken my reference from a photograph for the time being.

I began my sketch by breaking the plant into sections and dissecting a flower head, again because it is a very tall plant. The leaves are deeply pinnately lobed and the stems quite hairy. Some areas on the main stems resemble cobwebs. The leaves reduce in size as they go up the plant.

Again I wanted to include as many features of the plants as possible together with my colour references. I spent time drawing up my composition on tracing paper and then cut it up to arrange it on my page as before with the Devil’s-bit scabious then I traced it into my sketch book.

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This is the finished sketch ready to trace into my sketch book. I now took colour references and noted them in my sketchbook.

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I really wanted to add the Marble White butterfly to the main flower head but in a different position to the Marsh Fritillary on the previous sketch. I found an image of one looking like it is coming across the top of a flower and decided this was the position I wanted to use. Again I used my specimen to take the colour reference and patterns from.

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This is the finished piece. Some painted and some outlined in fineliner pen.

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Where does the plants name come from? Centaurea, the genus name, comes from the Centaur Chiron, who used flowers of this genus as a poultice to cover a festering wound made by an arrow dipped in Hydra’s blood. The wound was cured and so, the story goes, cornflowers and knapweeds were given the name Centaurea. Greater knapweed was also used to treat skin conditions and scabies, hence the species name scabiosa.

I’ve now also added ‘Habit’ drawings to my sketchbook of all four sketches done so far. A helpful illustration of the whole plant in reduced scale.

Left to right clockwise – Greater Knapweed, Devil’s-bit scabious, Ragged Robin, Horseshoe Vetch

I’ve decided I’d like to buy a flower press! Any suggestions for a good quality one gratefully accepted. These I tried to press in a heavy book. I would love to do it properly next year with all my chosen wildflower plants.

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Well until next time, I hope you enjoyed this part of my Sketching adventures!

*All photos, content, text and videos are subject to copyright – Jackie Isard Botanicals 2017

Blog 3: RHS sketching adventures…

I decided to use a sketchbook to learn about and paint the plants I may choose to paint for the RHS in 2019.  Firstly I researched wildflower plants which are under threat or declining as I wanted to relate them to my concern for our wildlife and the importance of reinstating meadowland. I discovered that some of the wildflower species were quite well known and many rare insect pollinators really depend on them.

Horseshoe vetch – Hippocrepis comosa

The first wildflower I began to study was Hippocrepis comosa (Horseshoe vetch). To my delight I found it growing in the meadow behind my house. Excitedly I looked it up in my Wildlife Key book only to find that there are many similar vetches and that this one was not Horseshoe vetch! I had found Lotus corniculatus  (Bird’s-foot trefoil).  The differences are quite obvious when you know what you’re looking at and it’s always wise to check your species carefully in a good wildflower book first.

‘The Wildflower Key’ was recommended to me as a good resource book. I also own the ‘Collins Wild Flower Guide’ which has lovely illustrations.

I went walking again in the meadow and discovered another vetch, again excited I checked it in my book but now I had found another vetch called Lotus tenuis (Narrow leaved Bird’s-foot trefoil – picture 4 below). I searched on holiday in Scotland, at other meadows in Bannerdown and Box Farm. Still I could not find Horseshoe vetch! Notice the beautiful red colour in the young flowers in picture 2. I will look again next year but have also planted some seeds in my garden and the back meadow in the hope that one will grow for me to paint.

With a little more research and the help of existing botanical paintings, photographs online and my wildflower key book, I began to compose my page dedicated to Horseshoe vetch. I did not rely on photographs, as they can enhance colours incorrectly, to make my colour swatches but picked a piece of the two vetches I found in our meadow and took references from those. All 3 vetches have very similar colouring.


I included an Polyommatus bellargus (Adonis Blue) in my sketch as this butterfly is in major decline and Horseshoe vetch is an essential plant for both the Chalkhill and Adonis blue butterflies as their caterpillars feed solely on it. I used a set specimen I had bought and photo reference for positioning.

I studied the flower heads and seed pods too. My composition seemed like it was blowing in a summer breeze so I put a couple of meadow grasses in the background to add to this movement.

Now it was painting time! As you know I had taken my colour swatches from some suitable live subjects and so I began to mix up my colours . I placed them on the page together with a note of the colours I had used, this I will use for reference when the time comes to paint the final painting. The wings of an Adonis Blue have an iridescence to them and for this I laid a layer of Daniel Smith Iridescent Lilac over the blue part of the wing. You can just about see it in the photo below.

The final sketch included some pencil and black fine liner pen work as well as watercolour painting.

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Where does the plants name come from? The name Horseshoe vetch is derived from the pea like flowers which are arranged is a horseshoe shape. The seed pods have also been described as resembling a horseshoe shape. In folk law it was said that if a horse trod on it, it would be unshod.

Ragged Robin – Lychnis flos-cuculi

The second plant I chose to study was Lychnis flos-cuculi (Ragged Robin). I chose this plant as it is declining in numbers and for the insect pollinator I chose a Bombus sylvarum (Shrill Carder Bee) which is also becoming rare. For this plant I studied a live specimen because luckily one had grown in my garden this year from seeds planted in the Spring. I was able to study it fully and dissect parts too. (*The photo of Bombus sylvarum was borrowed from Wikipedia as I did not have a specimen. They are slightly darker than this image and 10-15mm in size)

Mixing the pink was very tricky as it is a beautiful pale pink but bright as well. I tried a few mixes and found that Daniel Smith Opera Rose, W&N Permanent Rose and a little bit of Aureolin made the perfect pink. I then took more colour references and placed them onto my sketch page. The composition began to develop showing some of the inner flower detail, seed head and a close up of the hairy stem.

Later in the sketch I decided to study the flower’s internal structure more carefully and did a few diagram style illustrations to show this. This was my final sketch page.

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Where does the plants name come from? Apparently this flower was used as a remedy for jaundice, stomach aches, toothache, headaches and muscular strains. The latin name ‘Lychnis’ comes for the greek work for ‘Lamp’. Flos-cuculi means ‘Cuckoo flower’. This is because it comes into flower when  the cuckoo first starts to call. It has a rather straggly and messy in appearance but don’t get it wrong as it is the food plant of long tongued bees, butterflies love it and several species of moth.

Devil’s-bit Scabious – Succisa pratensis

The next wildflower I plan to study is a Succisa pratensis (Devil’s-bit Scabious) and there’s one in my garden just about to open! I’m really looking forward to studying this beautiful little plant.
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Where does the plants name come from? The history behind this flowers name is quite interesting. “Scabious flowers were used to treat scabies, and other affictions of the skin including sores by the Bubonic Plague. The work ‘scabies’ comes from the Latin word ‘Scratch’ (scabere). The short black root was in folk tales bitten off by the devil, angry at the plant’s ability to cure these ailments.” Hence the name Devil’s-bit Scabious.

Yesterday our beautiful meadow was cut, so until next year I will have to await possible new species growing there, let’s cross our fingers!!

I hope you enjoyed this Blog and look forward to sharing my next one with you very soon!

*All photos, content, text and videos are subject to copyright – Jackie Isard Botanicals 2017

Blog 2: Insect adventures…

Alongside my Meadow wildflower studies I am also studying and painting insect pollinators. Pollinating insects are crucial to the environment. Some meadow plants rely on only one type of insect for pollination and some insects need one type of plant to lay their eggs on. If these plants or insects die out, we not only lose the plant but the insect pollinators too!

This is the reason why I feel so strongly about this subject and have chosen to highlight it for my RHS project…..

Plantlife International’s ‘Save our Magnificent Meadows’ project:

“There were once natural wild flower meadows in every parish – today only 2% of the meadows that existed in the 1930’s remain. Nearly 7.5 million acres of wildflower meadow have been lost so far and they are still being destroyed……… The Save our Magnificent Meadows project will protect, conserve and restore wildflower meadows and other grasslands across the UK, and will focus on the Fermanagh grasslands of Northern Ireland, the pastures of west Wales, Scottish grasslands from Edinburgh to Aberdeenshire, the calaminarian and whin grasslands of Northumberland and traditional meadows and pastures in Southern England.”

Rosie Maple of Avon Wildlife Trust:

“The B-lines (Biodiversity lines) project’s main focus is connectivity of high quality pollinator habitat. Wildflower grasslands and meadows are one of the most biodiverse habitats you can find in the UK. We have lost over 97% of them in the UK since the 1950’s. It’s a pretty staggering figure. Part of the main problem of conserving pollinating insects is that many species are not highly mobile. Many species of bees, butterflies, flies and beetles expend huge amounts of energy on flight and need to have a very efficient foraging strategy in order to ingest enough nectar/pollen to maintain this. So in effect they need to ‘know’ that any journey they make will be rewarded by access to a food source. (I recently learned that a distance between 0.5 – 1km between habitat is about what is required for most insects to disperse). A landscape dominated by arable monocultures and human development does not give them this guarantee. So the aim of B-lines is to restore the bits in between, by connecting up our existing, high quality wildflower habitats, creating green corridors and stepping stones that allow the wildflower and associated invertebrate populations to move freely between areas.”

Studying the insects…

I began by going on a Honey Bee painting course with Cath Hodsman and learned a great deal about the insect, it’s behaviour and how a hive works.  I also studied them under a microscope. My painting of a honey bee is unfinished as yet but here it is so far.

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I then decided to go on Natures Details Butterfly course at the Kingcombe Centre, Dorset, run by Sarah Morrish. I chose to paint a Bedstraw Hawk Moth as it has rather beautiful colours that appeal to me. I have been asked by a couple of facebook followers to describe how I painted it. So, here goes!

I highly recommend the course to any interested in these beautiful insects. You will find details of Sarah’s courses on her website is : http://www.natures-details.com/index.html or on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/NaturesDetailsArt/?fref=ts

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Painting a Bedstraw Hawk Moth

Firstly I drew up some illustrations in my sketchbook. To draw up the main moth on my composition, I drew up one half as accurately as I could with an H pencil. At this point I wanted to enlarge it slightly so I used proportional dividers to do this. My final drawing was x 1.5. I then traced this half and flipped it over to trace the other half of my moth. It’s not cheating! It just makes life easier and the drawing more accurately.

  Watch the curves, it may take a few attempts to get it just right!

  Take care to draw on details such as patterns, hairy parts, veins, eyes

  Check your drawing against the real sample regularly and adjust it as required

  Ensure both sides look as similar as you can get them, nature is not perfect but symmetry is very apparent in Moths and Butterflies

Using a microscope (x30) can help you to view moths/butterflies/bees more closely. When you look at them under a microscope it’s like another world! I saw the scales and hairs clearly and this helped me with my final paintings. I did the same on my honey bee painting above. It’s a great way to get all the information you need to make your painting more realistic. If you don’t have access to a microscope try using a very strong magnifying glass (x20)

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  Look all over the moth/butterfly, it’s very interesting and fascinating to see what the naked eye cannot see

  Look at the eyes and antenna, notice the way the eye is formed, the antenna can be patterned or they may have scales and hairs

I then looked at some books Sarah had left out for us and was particularly drawn to the Beatrix Potter wildlife one. She had painted small microscopic drawings of butterfly scales in her studies and this prompted me to do a series of illustrations showing the chrysalis, caterpillar, closed wing position, open (set) wing position and a microscope close up of the antenna. I took a look at the moths antenna under the microscope, it looked so interesting and completely different to what I had imagined. It reminded me of a hoover brush on one side and it was scaly on the other.

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Using a light pad/box to save time with tracings

Once the drawings were completed and as perfect as I could get them, I began to trace them off carefully with tracing paper using an F pencil (it needs to be a little darker to see the image on the light pad through the watercolour paper). I then cut up the tracings and played with composition arrangements for a little while until deciding on a more scientific arrangement. The microscopic view of the antenna determined this in my mind as I felt a scientific arrangement suited it better. I then stuck the illustrations into position on the light pad with masking tape being careful to watch the size of the gaps between each one. As my illustrations were forming a line vertically I used a long ruler to mark my centre line first. The gaps need to look comfortable and almost the same in size. I then placed my watercolour paper (HP 140lb (not heavier than this) quality watercolour paper) over the tracings on the light pad. I taped the watercolour paper into position so it didn’t move around and began to draw it very carefully with a 2H pencil. It’s good to use a very light pencil as you don’t want it to spoil your painting. This is especially important if you are painting light coloured plants or insects.

Now I’m ready to start mixing my colours and start painting! I always mix up my colours and tones and do test strips, checking the colours as I go. After that I copy them into my sketchbook and make a note of how I mixed the shades. I try to mix enough paint to use for the whole painting where possible. As you paint you may discover other tones that you need and mix them, make sure you put a dab of those in your book too. If you run out then you have a good idea of what colours you used to make them in the first place.

  Mix your colours carefully, match them against your subject

  Always make a note of the colours you’ve used to mix them with

  Use professional quality water colour paints

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I used a mix of warm colours to make up the colours for the Bedstraw Hawk Moth. You will have heard of warm and cool hues I’m sure. You can mix everything from just 3 colours, a red, a blue and a yellow. The colours will vary between warm and cool hues. You can make colour charts too if needed to help you. Many Botanical Artists have blogs explaining how to do this. For some very good examples and help with colour see Dianne Sutherland Ball SBA blogspot at: http://diannesutherland.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/about-watercolour-paint.html

  Try out different mixes of colours so you have a good idea of what mixes what

  These are the colours I used to create my Bedstraw Hawk Moth: French Ultramarine, Indigo, Indanthrene Blue,Alizarin Crimson, Perylene Maroon, Permanent Rose,Violet, Quinacridone Gold, Windsor Lemon Yellow, Aureolin, Burnt Sienna

So now I have all my colours mixed up and I’m ready to start painting. I chose to do the wings first. I painted one part on both sides as I went, don’t be tempted to finish one side first! A few things to remember whilst you’re painting:

  Look at the different textures, some may be dotty, some hairy, some smooth

  Use a fine brush to do the stippling of dotty areas; a cats tongue brush, a spotter brush or I use a No. ‘0’ renaissance sable rigger

  Use a medium sized brush to do the washes, I use a Billy Showell No. 2 brush (there are other types but you need one which will hold the water well and has a fine pointed tip)

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  Build your painting up in thin layers, never put thick colour on to begin with. The colour should increase in strength as you go, building it up layers. At times my brown didn’t look warm enough so I laid a very watered down layer of Quinacridone Gold on top of it to warm it up

  Notice how the colours vary across the insect and try to imitate it, study it well before you start

I decided to look at the eyes more carefully towards the end of my painting and found that they were iridescent. The Bedstraw Hawk Moth has coppery iridescence in its eyes. You can use a little iridescent paint to bring this out. Daniel Smith have a number of these available. Butterflies often have an iridescence on their wings too. My moth antenna close up has iridescence in blues and greens as well as creamy golds!

  Look at the hairyness and where it features on your insect. I found some eyelashes!

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Always take time to paint your Moth or Butterfly as there is so much detail within. The closer you get to the original, the more realistic your painting will look. If you need any further advice please don’t hesitate to contact me at Jackie Isard Botanicals on facebook.

Good luck and I hope this has been useful!

*All photos, content, text and videos are subject to copyright – Jackie Isard Botanicals 2017