Blog 10: SBA awards – ‘Vessels of Life’

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I was thrilled last week to receive a phone call from the SBA (Society of Botanical Artists) announcing that I had been presented with a CBM (Certificate of Botanical Merit) award for my seed head painting ‘Vessels of Life’. This award was created by the SBA to give credit to artists whose paintings/drawings are created in true botanical style and who may at some time in the future be awarded medals at the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Botanical Exhibition. I am now very privileged to use the letters CBM after my name. So you can see why I am so excited!

For more about the awards see: https://www.botanicalartandartists.com/news/society-of-botanical-art-2017-certificates-of-botanical-merit

This was one of three paintings which were chosen to be hung at the SBA exhibition The other two are featured below –

The exhibition this year is outstanding and I will now be seeing it twice when I go again on the 21st! My award was presented to my by Jekka of Jekka’s Herb Farm . Her speech was really interesting, informative and funny. It is sad to see Sarah Wall-Armitage retire as president but welcome Billy Showell as the new one!

For more about the painting of the painting and video tips, see Blog 9

Cards, small prints and Limited Edition unmounted or mounted prints available. Contact me on Facebook or here.
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Thank you for reading!
All photos and images on this blog are copyright of Jackie Isard Botanicals, all rights reserved

 

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

I have a passion for Autumn colours and all the bits and pieces you find on the ground at this time of year. I began collecting these seed heads around a year before I decided to make this painting. Like a lot of Botanical artists I soon found that 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. Firstly, I laid out my collection on the desk so I could decided which ones to use. Then I tried out different arrangements for possible compositions. This went on for about a week… I kept changing my mind! Please swipe the images below and on this blog from right to left. There is usually more than one!

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 am looking at almost 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 the 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 final composition!

At last 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 on the composition was Cow Parsley. It has flat discs which pop open in the same way as Honesty seed heads and the seeds fall to the ground. They have little reddish brown stripes on them. For all my seed heads I have used very neutral tones of different beige, brown and grey mixes. 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 decide 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. Please note here that I do not use Neutral tint any more as it is opaque. Opaque pigments will flatten your work. I only use transparent and semi-transparent pigments now. Thankfully very little of the mixes using NT were used in this painting.

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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 and tones to give it form. The stem was woody in appearance and the beige/grey tones worked well on this to give it that feel.

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. This part holds the seed inside. I dissected a seed head 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/cream casing! This one 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 pods. 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 deeper shadow tones to create contrast. I used similar neutral mixes but Transparent Yellow instead of Quinacridone Gold as it is brighter. Quinacridone Gold would have dulled the mix. I mixed a selection of warm greys of different tones for the shadow areas. For the seeds I made a nice blue black out of Permanent Rose (PR), Quinacridone Gold and Indanthrene Blue (IB). I left paper white 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 ovary cup in which the seeds sit. The sepals (calyx) become the bottom part of this container. as the ovary swells inside it. The seeds are dispersed by the wind as they shake about. 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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For the seedcase I mixed some warm browns and some warm reddish browns using Winsor Violet (WV), Quin Gold (QG). In some of the mixes I added Burnt Sienna (BS) or Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (SRML) to enrich them. 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 Quinacridone Gold, almost a black mix but with less blue. Please note: I do not use Indigo any more due to it being opaque. When mixing these colours years ago I thought I needed to use a very dark blue or grey to darken brown mixes. This is not so. Indanthrene Blue, Permanent Rose and Quinacridone Gold would make these mixes easily and they would not be opaque.

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I started working on the first layer with pale tones and then added stronger colour 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. This 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 I saw undulations on the surface. I then built this up slowly 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. On reflection now (2021) I would have started the initial layer by painting in the shadow areas in a thin glaze of WV. Then I would paint thin layers of the red mixes afterwards gradually building up to the stronger red. This way I would have found it easier to retain those highlights on the creases. Once I finished the hip I used my brown and black mixes to develop the sepals and stalk. The seeds within the capsule have tiny hairs at both ends and almost look like waxy apple seeds.

Iris sanguinea seed head

The Iris sanguinea seed head was larger and more complex than previously painted ones. This would be more of a challenge! A friend gave me this seed head as a gift as I thought it so interesting! I loved the curves and colouring. I thought it would make a perfect focal point to my painting, right in the centre! This one was great to paint as it had immense detail. It is shaped like a cup and 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 shadow greys. It is very pale inside so I needed to mix some very watered down grey tones and take care not to over paint these. The seeds are a dull orange/brown. My colour mixes included my regular pigments, 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. Please note: Again the Indigo and Neutral Tint would be omitted and a 3-way blue, red and yellow mix used to make the browns and blacks.

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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 cool and warm neutral tones and neutral greys to make the cup look three dimensional.

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Honesty seed head

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. An Honesty seed head 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 blobbed wash of the cream/yellow mix over the areas which were darkest in the centre and the paler beige/grey tone around the sides. There were tints of a pink/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. It was hard to create a shiny feel which is so apparent in these seed heads but keeping the highlights very light helps.

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 a very dark grey mix (PB, IB and QG) to define the shadows. I had collected a number of seeds and selected three that varied in their patterning to make them look more interesting. A little deepening of the central beige and cream/yellow tones added more depth.

The finished Honesty seed head…

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Yellow Poppy seed head

Next on the agenda was the Welsh Poppy seed head. I love the little crown at the top of this seed head! 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 different browns for the base cup and some neutral beige tones for the crown top. I also mixed a warm reddish brown to add to the cup as some areas were a more rusty tone. It would have looked very drab without this additional warmth! I also mixed an ‘almost’ black colour to define the creases and shadows. It was especially important to add shadow tones to the top ‘crown’ where the pieces all join together to make it look real.

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Camassia seed head

Next in my row of seed heads was the Camassia. It has a beautiful golden yellow tone so Quinacridone Gold (QG) and Transparent Yellow (TY) 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 flower.

These seed heads are like cups and again the seeds disperse when the wind blows. I began by mixing up my colours. These were a series of warm beige and yellow tones, a reddish brown for blemishes and veins, a warm grey and brown for shadowing. Quinacridone gold featured highly as you can see below!

camassia


This seed head is 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 seed heads onto my drawing board with Blutac. This is so I can see them close up and at eye level. I added pale cream/yellow washes first and then I worked into it adding a little of my reddish brown to define the detail and vein areas. I added a pale beige/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 warmer beige/yellow tones to create the lighter shaded areas. Now for the three seeds by the stalk. These seeds are quite black in tone with a blueish highlight. You can just see it showing through on the final painting below. To enhance this I laid down a wash of watered down Indanthrene blue first on the darker areas of each seed. After this I used my black mix to create the patterning and shadow areas. Highlight were left unpainted but the blue shows through from below.

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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 huge task to get the drawing right but I really enjoyed it. 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 burgundy/brown tones on the long curved ‘arms’ of this seed head. This one was going to be a challenge!

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I started again by laying down thin washes of my pale yellow/beige mix then began defining the wispy parts at the bottom with pale shadow tones and brown at their tips. I used the Perylene brown mix for the very tips of these. 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 falling seed to the side of this one as the painting was very detailed and more would distract. 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… ‘Vessels of Life’ seemed an appropriate name.

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 – All rights reserved – 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…

Whilst 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 caught 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 light pad in position and trace them off carefully with an H pencil onto my watercolour paper.

Once transferred onto my watercolour paper I very carefully used a Faber Castell kneadable 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 can use Bluetac to do this too but beware some papers have less sizing than others. Bluetac may damage some of the paper surface. A Faber Castell kneadable rubber is far softer.

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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 professional watercolours unless specified: Burnt Sienna (BS), Burnt Umber (BU), Indanthrene Blue (Ind), Quinacridone Gold (QG), Indigo (I), Transparent Yellow (Trans Y), Winsor Lemon (LY or WL), Permanent Rose (PR), Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (SRML). Also, 2 + QG (see below swatch top row far right) equals brown no. 2 plus QG. More recently (2020), since writing this blog, I would not use Indigo as this is an opaque pigment. I use Indanthrene Blue to achieve darker mixes. Sennelier Rose Madder Lake is also very close to Permanent Rose in tone, it has the same index number, PV19.

You may notice in the photos below 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 is better to use layout paper as tracing paper curls up a little with the heat of your hand against it. I have also found you can catch your paintbrush on the curled edge!

The first wet-in-wet wash!

To begin with, I added a pale transparent yellow underlayer wash all over to enhance the brightness. This was allowed to dry thoroughly. On the next layer, I used wet-in-wet technique and started to introduce some of the mixes from my palette. I did one side of the leaf at a time. This ensures the water doesn’t dry out before you get to the next part. On the second layer, I painted each section of the leaf individually and added more colour to strengthen it. After this, a little of the shadowing was added on the vein ridges. This highlighted the veins. There are some more videos later in this blog explaining these techniques. You can scroll down now if you want to know now!

Once I was happy with the intensity of the gold and tan tones over the leaf, I again worked to enhance the veining and add in small details; the smaller veins and dots. I gradually worked my way across the leaf up to the curled edge. I added more of my gold/burnt sienna mix to strengthen up the background layers in places. These washes were softened out at the edges of the painted area with a slightly damp brush to ensure no hard edge lines.

I then used my Eraser brush (Billy Showell Eradicator) to enhance the light veins. Here is a little video that explains how I did this. Once this is done the whole thing starts to appear more 3D. I used to use 2 types of eraser brush, a 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!). On reflection, the Pro Arte brush is far too abrasive for the surface of the paper. Now, (2020), I use a Billy Showell Eradicator brush which is perfect for everything. It has a nice small stiff tip and is slightly tapered so you can erase really fine veins as well as bring out highlights. The image here shows a Jacksons Icon to the left and a ProArte sterling 201 to the right. There is also a Rosemary & Co. Eradicator but it is much wider than the Billy Showell Eradicator.



Next 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 clearly get a good effect. Accurate shading and highlights ensure this looks realistic. I painted the brown in first leaving a nice highlight of paler colour where the light hit the subject. Other colours were also added, a grey/brown, warm golden brown and a beige mix. Finally, I carefully used the tip of the eradicator brush to lift out lighter parts to create the veined areas. You need to look carefully for the deepest shadows and darken the colour more in those areas.

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To make the papery effect on the little bit sticking out at the base of the leaf I used a very pale beige tone and dotted a grey mix into it. I also painted a darker grey very occasionally along the very edge on the smaller bits. It is best not to paint the whole edge or it will look too heavy.

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Lastly, I strengthened up the golden areas of the leaf with a thin glaze of my gold mix. Once both sides were done, I noticed little green tinges over some of the leaf. I added a pale green mix in a glaze to those areas. Leaf no. 1 is now 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 side veins rather than paint the whole thing at once. A smaller area would allow me to work longer and get more done on the first wet layer. Painting each section alternately also ensures that they do not bleed into one another. Firstly, I laid a thin layer of Transparent yellow down to keep the subsequent layers nice a bright. This was left to dry thoroughly. 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 that thins and is very intricate. You need to be very careful not to go over the edges when wetting the paper. Very small areas are best painted in the normal way rather than wet-in-wet. At this stage, once the painting was thoroughly dry, I erased some of the graphite drawing with a soft rubber. The graphite will erase at this stage but may be a problem later in the painting. If you use too much pressure when drawing these lines will be harder to erase. An H pencil used lightly is enough to give you a map to follow and will erase out easily. Softer lead pencils will appear very dark and leave graphite dust on the paper. This will interfere with your painting. Here’s a video explaining.

Below shows both sides of the wet-in-wet layers completed and dry. Now I just need to apply all the veining detail and shadow tones. Notice on the picture below I have left out a very small area halfway down on the left. This part of the leaf is far too small and intricate for wet-in-wet so I will fill this in later with glazing and dry brush.

I got carried away and started doing some of the dry brushwork at the top of the leaf, my favourite part! It’s starting to come to life. The papery grey area will be challenging and be very interesting to paint! I will approach it in the same way as the papery bit on the first leaf.

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Well, that’s it for now. I hope this blog and videos have helped you. Feel free to message me if you have any questions.

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 was 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 a lovely composition together.

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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.

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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. Today (2022) I wouldn’t use these pigments as they are both opaque and Opera Rose is unreliable where lightfastness is concerned. I prefer the translucency of transparent pigments. Please note: I would most likely use Quinacridone Magenta and Indian Yellow.

Some other colours I mixed were various pale greys, a pink/grey, a cooler grey and a very pale yellow using Transparent Yellow (TY) mixed with a tiny bit of the Flamingo Pink I had mixed previously. I also use some of this pink to make my pink/grey. You’ll notice on my swatch that there is a slightly duller looking pink which I used for shadows and stronger details, this was mixed using Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (SMRL – Permanent Rose could be used instead), 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 adding pale washes and then built up the colour gradually. There were some deep shadows where it twisted and for this, I used stronger versions of my pale cool grey and beige/grey. I added a very pale glaze of Transparent yellow to warm the underneath pale wispy feathers. I created these deeper shadows by working in between the whiter wisps, this is called negative painting. Note: the photo of the feather appears much darker than in real life. Again I used some iridescent paint towadd shine.

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Painting the oval feather

The oval feather was a lovely shape but much paler than the others. It would be hard to keep the subtlety of this one without overpainting it. I built up the layers slowly and kept it as light as I could throughout. There were more highlights on this one which helped to keep it from looking flat. Also, notice the subtle shadows I have added along the right side and the left side of the rachis (mid vein), this enhances the 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 has 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 going to paint those tiny little strands!

I started with a very pale wash of my flamingo pink mix leaving the paler areas free of paint. I used a watery mix of the cooler grey and pink/grey to indicate shadows on the paler part of the feather. It took three layers to get the pigment up to the right strength 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 stands I used the same technique that I used in my Feathery Pursuits blog, the duller Flamingo pink was used to create the overlaps and shadow areas. The pink/grey and cool grey were used further down on the lighter areas. A little thin glaze of transparent yellow was also added along the right side near the rachis (midrib). Blog 5 contains a video showing you how to do this. 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 (midrib) 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. The only time I use white or iridescent pigments is when it is absolutely necessary. On plants, there are sometimes very fine hairs which need a little white pigment to make them show up. White pigment is also opaque. I usually mix white pigment with a little colour as the hairs on a plant are never truly white. Well, I would just have to have a spotlight pointing down onto it if it’s ever framed and hung on a wall! This year, 2020, a good friend from USA purchased this painting and it is now framed and lit at her home in Conneticut.

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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! Pale watery mixes can be hard to work with but as long as you remove a little of the excess on your brush by wiping it on a cloth, you’ll be ok. They often dry darker than you think too, so test first. The grey and pink/greys are made with very strong pigments and would be almost impossible to erase out without damaging the paper’s surface. Using the cooler grey with a flicking motion, you can interpret the wispy feathers. Afterwards, I added a little pink/grey and very pale pink (see below) to define the thicker areas. Once I was happy with the result I added a few slightly darker strokes to imitate the shadows. It’s also good to add a few very fine chevron side hairs to some of the larger wisps. Not all of them or it would look too contrived! 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 in the UK!

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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 Faded 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!

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

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.
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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 inside the leaves. The larva bore through the flesh of the leaves and eat it away from inside, creating brown streaks where 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 the game ‘conkers’ on a string!

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 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. Strangely 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 beautiful 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 (WL), Permanent Rose(PR), Transparent Yellow (TY) for the green areas and Burnt Sienna (BS), Burnt Umber (BU), Quinacriodone Gold (QG), Winsor Violet (V), Trans Yellow (TY), Winsor Lemon (WL) and Indanthrene Blue (Ind.B) to mix the array of beige, golden, nutty brown colours on the damaged areas. The Transparent yellow was also used as an overlay to enhance the green and brown areas. A thinly mixed fine wash can really bring up the colour brightness. Quinacridone Gold can be used in the same way if you want a warmer more muting 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. 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 tiny veins I use white gouache mixed with a little yellow or green depending on their appearance. 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 shows you how to do this. More recently (2019) I have discovered the Billy Showell Eradicator brush which is far better than the one I was using. It is a stiffer synthetic brush and has a tapered end which is excellent for erasing small areas. Scroll through the images below to see progress shots.

Painting the conker shells

For the second part of my painting I composed a drawing of the green conker shells and a cut one in half. The inside of shell had formed an intricate patterned and to represent this I used a lot of dots! I used the tip of the Billy Showell no. 2 brush to do this. Dots in various tones of colour and subtle shadows using a very pale shade of warm grey for the shadow area. On the large green shell I added 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 hints of beige here and there on the surface. A little shading with a green/grey mix helped give the shells a rounder shape. Finally, I accentuated the tips of the prickles around the outer edge with very pale yellow fading it up to the tip from the green below. The tips of these spikes were painted a reddish brown merging into very dark brown at the point. This stage really finishes the job off! Scroll the images for progress shots.

Now with two paintings completed it was time to paint the conkers! Here is the painting so far.

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Painting the conkers

For the third painting I decided to paint dried conkers. I selected lots of conkers first and arranged them to fill this section but I wasn’t convinced by this composition so it was changed later on. Some time went by and my collection of conkers started to lose their shine and shrivel up. 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! I decided to paint the conkers first before the lovely dried shells.  ….and this is 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. Winsor Violet was used as a first on the deeper shadows of the conkers to enhance the deep shadows. 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. In the last three you can see how the Winsor Violet creates a dark shadow from under the conker red/brown mixes. Scroll to see seven images.

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 – you could use Permanent Rose instead), to enhance the rich colour of the conkers. It works a treat when added to Burnt Sienna and Quinacridone Gold. My conker shades also include a tiny little extra 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 instead of smooth and shiny! It’s not so obvious here in the photo as in real life but this part of my sheet must have been too porous or lacking sizing.

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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 burnished 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 on the kitchen which you are rubbing or it 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 was not just convex but had a rise in it too.  It needed to be shaded carefully to achieve form. Once I had painted this, I used the eraser brush to bring out the highlight at the top  of the higher area and this made it work. I had the same situation with the two half shells on this painting two, shadows were important to make 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 with this. M C Esher made many paintings which confuse the eye, optical illusions! Anyway, I achieved the right look with careful shading and highlights.

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Finally I finished off the spikes around the edge by painting them in varying tones of brown, golden yellow and pale yellow at the tips. To the shadow side of each point I added a fine line of shadow grey/beige to accentuate each tip and give a more rounded effect.

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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Thank you for reading and I’ll be back soon!

*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 I admire the work of Elizabeth Romanini (https://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.romanini?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 orange/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 a 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 the centre) as I would paint this in last. There was, however, a small area of orange tone on the top half of the rachis which needed to blur into the red area.

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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 orange/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 orange/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 a 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 the bottom to the top. If painting a fine line seems almost impossible you need to get the flow of pigment to water just right to achieve this. Use a number 2 pointed full-bodied sable brush, I use a Billy Showell brush for this as it is very versatile and holds water well. Unfortunately, you cannot buy them anymore but she does have a synthetic range. In fact, I use her no. 2 brush for almost everything! Wet your paint and brush. Another method is to make rough lines by spreading the tip of the brush into lots of points. To do this take a little paint into the brush and push it against the palette surface to make a fan shape. Remove excess from the base of the brush near the ferrule on a cloth or kitchen roll. Test it first! Angle the brush as flat as possible then run it across a scrap piece of paper. Hold the brush more upright for thinner lines. You should get multiple rough lines appearing. Here 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/vein through the 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 the end I noticed the light catching the after feathers and they were glistening. To achieve this effect I mixed a little white gouache and used a little Daniel Smith Pearlescent White (iridescent paint) to highlight the shiny parts. It’s even good to add shiny areas to the feather strands. You don’t need to buy a whole tube of iridescent paint, 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 them all the time of course!

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See below the iridescent 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 super curved shape to it. I used the same process to paint the feather and because of its beautiful iridescence, I used Daniel Smith Iridescent Jade and Topaz 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 Indanthene Blue, Winsor Lemon (not Lemon yellow) and a touch of Quinacridone Gold. I mixed a dark greyish green for the areas that were darker in shadow, taking great care not to lose my highlights. I build the green up in thin layers to avoid the thickening of the paint on the surface.

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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