Blog 20: Painting a Photinia Autumn Leaf

Welcome to my blog about the process I went through to achieve the fine detail on this Photinia (Red Robin) autumn leaf painting. I’ve decided to split the blog into sections this time as they are quite a few aspects of the process to explain. You can click on the link below to jump to each section. Here’s the list:

1 The problem with Fabriano Artistico!
2 Making the drawing
3 Brush types
4 The techniques : Planning colour and painting technique

1 The problem with Fabriano Artistico!

Everyone is familiar with the problems we have had with our beloved Fabriano watercolour paper of late. Here I will explain how you can still use your Fabriano by making a few adjustments to your painting style. The reward for a little more time spent is worth it as you can see from the success of this painting. Patience is key!

I have always favoured Fabriano Artistico HP Extra White 140lb as my preferred watercolour paper. For my Red Robin leaf I have chosen the heavier weight, 300lb, as I had heard the surface was more sturdy and manageable, although not perfect as in the old days! The difference between 140lb and 300lb is great and I must admit the heavier weight does seem more reliable. This can be bought by the sheet. The heavier weight does seem to have better surface sizing applied. The lighter weight can vary between sheets and blocks. Here’s how to check the lighter weight paper…

Look at the surface in good daylight and use a magnifying glass if required. On a poorly sized surface you will see a linen/cross hatch pattern. Now turn it over and check the other side. You may find the other side looks better and you can see paste marks where it has been surface sized. If it is then use this side to paint on. If both sides don’t show this cross hatch pattern obviously then you’ve got a good sheet! If both sides looked cross hatched then use it for swatch colour testing or practicing only. It’ll drive you mad otherwise! The density of the sizing will also give you a guide as to how successful your sheet will be. If you can see sizing (smooth paste brush marks) and a little hatching too then it will behave badly. Too little sizing affects the flow of paint across the sheet and won’t take water well. 

Painting technique changes: Some changes to technique are essential. Working in wet in wet is not advised as the new weaker surface fibres tend to break up and burnishing them back isn’t always successful. However, if you haven’t added too much water to a smaller section of your painting the surface fibres will dry back. Depending on the size of the area it can take far longer to dry, even as long as overnight! With this in mind, I advise to work drier and only use thin soft washes/glazes once the layers underneath have dried completely. This can take a half and hour or a few hours depending on the size of the area you have applied the soft wash to. You’ll need to be patient!

Erasing out is still possible but again you have to be extremely careful not to disturb the fibres too much or you end up with a mushy mess! Burnishing can help to flatten the fibres back but beware as they will never be absolutely flat again. In fact, I’ve burnished an area to a nice smooth surface recently only to come back a little while later to find the fibres have all popped up again! Extremely frustrating… Take great care when applying fine detail, dots or lines over the top of an area like this. Use a magnifying glass to see the damage first and paint it dot by dot if needed!

So, in a nut shell, it’s better to work drier. Dry brush is perfect. Thin soft washes/glazes are good in small areas. Paint small washes over smaller areas rather than use wet in wet technique. Buy the heavy weight paper in sheets. Underlay colour where possible to enhance colour from below. Use transparent/semi transparent pigments at all times. Colour enhancement (see section 4 below) is still possible on subsequent layers but only as a very thin glaze. Don’t overdo it!

2 Making the drawing

I decided to make a larger than life painting of this beautiful Photinia leaf in order to get as much detail in as I could. The actual painting of the leaf is 28cm in height. To start the drawing I clipped my leaf into a clamp and shone a bright light on it so that I could see all those veins and details. I then proceeded to draw in every single vein. The reason I did this is because once you start painting something as complicated as this you can very easily lose track of where you are. You need a detailed map!

After drawing up the leaf on tracing paper I then made an outline drawing too with a black fine liner pen. This gives me a chance to tidy up and check the drawing before I transfer it. If I had chosen to use the lighter weight Fabriano I would have used this line drawing under my watercolour paper and transferred it via a light pad. This way I only need to trace it off once. As I decided to try out the heavier weight Fabriano this time I traced off the drawing on another piece of tracing paper using the reverse of my line drawing. This was then transferred from the tracing paper onto the watercolour paper in the conventional way. Tip: Once transferred I use a Faber Castell kneadable rubber to take off any excess graphite where I may have pressed to hard. In general the pencil lines can be rubbed out after 2-3 watercolour layers have been applied but with this painting I found the intensity of pigment covered most of the pencil lines. Now we are nearly ready to go!

3 Brush types

I have a selection of paintbrushes which I use for all my paintings. There aren’t many of them! As you may know Billy Showell sable brushes were my absolute favourites and still are even though she has discontinued her sable brush range. These brushes are actually Raphael Kolinsky Sable 8408 series and this is what I buy now. They have a unique pointed tip which is ideal for fine detail and the full body is perfect for washes. The full body also ensures you don’t run out of paint so quickly as you would with a regular brush. I use a number 2 and 4. The ‘Eradicator’ brush (for erasing out) is still available on Billy’s website as she still sells her synthetic brushes. I also have Billy’s synthetic ‘Fine Liner’ which is perfect for really thin lines. It has a brilliant needle point. The blue handled brush is for mixing only.

4 The techniques : Planning colour and painting techniques

Planning: The planning of my colour palette was crucial as I wanted to make my leaf really vibrant and show off those beautiful red/brown hues. To do this I knew I had to include some bright primaries as well as use transparent pigments. Transparent pigments are the best and I always use transparent or semi transparent pigments. I do this to ensure translucence. With opaque pigments you don’t get that ‘see-through’ effect which creates depth and form.

This painting was painted with primaries only. A selection of reds, blues and yellows. It is important to shine a bright light onto your subject to see all the varying hues. Across my leaf were various hues of warm, middle and cool tones. To achieve this colour range I would need a selection of warm, warm-cool and cool primaries. My selection was as follows, I’ve included my short codes for each for when you read the painting technique details later:
The Reds: Quinacridone Red (QR) – warm, Quinacridone Magenta (QM) – cool, Permanent Rose (PR) – warm, Permanent Carmine (PC) – warm to cool, and a little Scarlet Lake (SL) – very warm. I did try Winsor Red (WR) in some mixes but found Scarlet Lake to be more appealing as it is less gloopy when mixing and brighter! Scarlet Lake proved very useful for punching up colour with a thin soft glaze over areas. 
The Blues: Winsor Blue Red Shade (WB(RS) – cool, and Winor Blue Green Shade (WB(GS) – warm.
The Yellows: Transparent Yellow (TY) – cool, New Gamboge (NG) – cool to warm, Quinacridone Gold (QG) – warm, and not forgetting the all amazing Indian Yellow (IY) – warm…. vibrance with transparency, perfecto!
I selected colour tones from my leaf and made a range of mixes on my palette ready to start painting. I make a paper swatch with colour codes written on it too so that I can remember which pigments I used to make the the colours. Tip: QM was mixed with WB(RS) to make a violet for highlights on the leaf, explained below. It’s practically identical to Winsor Violet when mixed! 

So, where to start painting! I generally start on the left side and work my way across and down the subject. I’m right handed so this works for me. Protecting your painting is crucial. I overlay layout paper across the painting to ensure splashes don’t happen on the precious areas of the painting. I’m especially concerned about the right hand side as, when working upright on a table easel, this area is most vulnerable to the paint brush catching the side (see middle photo) as you bring up the paint from the palette! Even with this protection a splodge decided to appear bottom right of my painting…ugh! After carefully erasing and burnishing, which wasn’t going well because the fibres were determined to stand up, I decided to place my signature over the offending area!

Painting technique: I began with the top left area of the leaf. There was a lovely highlight on this area and to ensure I retained this I added a very thin soft glaze of my violet mix to enhance it before painting the base tone layers. To get a crisp papery look to my leaf I needed to ensure strength of pigment tone, cool highlights and good general colour transition from warm to cool.

Underlaying colour to enhance first: In the photo below you will see on the right side that I have laid a thin glaze of transparent yellow first. I also placed a thin glaze of my violet mix under the highlight area on the left side. This adds coolness. Underlaying colour is a great way to enhance the layers above when using transparent pigments. Tip: You can add in your shadow tones before you start painting. For instance, lay down violet on deep shadows of a conker and it will shine through the conker reddish browns creating the shadow without having to risk paint it on afterwards. Perfect! It’s often easier to do this if you are adding many layers on top as there’s always a risk of smudging when many layers are applied. Tip: If you work with thin layers and let the whole thing dry thoroughly before adding another, you will find that the paint will seep into the paper instead of laying on top of it. You can add very thin glazes to totally dry paint with this method but you must ensure it has dried totally before attempting this and use very gently brush strokes. Note: Fine lines and details which demand full strength colour should be added at the very end.

The whole left side area in the photo below was painted with about 5 layers. There is a change from cool to warm across the area. The cooler area being where the highlights appear. The curved part near the midrib vein of my leaf was quite a warm reddish brown except at the peak of the curve where it meets the central midrib vein. There was a lighter area at this point. It’s a sort of S shaped curve. I painted the base layer of yellow (TY) in here and afterwards the rusty browns avoiding the midrib vein area. I then painted in the dark midrib vein. The little secondary veins where they went into the lighter area of this peak were painted at the end. Before this I painted in the subtle pale colour on this crease and let it dry thoroughly before adding in the veins. This avoids smudging of the darker full pigment paint which is a much thicker mix! To enhance the curved area even more I added very thin glazes of Scarlet Lake (SL) and an orange mix (IY and QR) over it, once totally dry. This created the vividness which was present in the actual leaf. Tip: Colours of shadows are always different across the subject. Sometimes they are much darker and other times lighter. It’s important to check this beforehand or you could paint them in too heavily. Squint your eyes to see the colour it really is by comparing it with other shadows nearby. Shadows are never just grey. It also matters how wide you make the shadows, there are thinner and wider shadows. You need to check this too. On the left side of my leaf it was quite a wide lighter shadow which creates the S shape curve. On the other side of my leaf there were shorter darker shadows creating one sharp curve. 

I began the top right side area once I was happy that I had painted the left side to the best of my ability. It pays to stand away from your painting and double check things as you go. Always check to see if the curves are working, the indents look like they are indenting, are the tones right or does it need cooling or warming etc… Creases, indents and curves have different widths of shadow. Check as you go. All these things help to create realism! You can overlay thin soft glazes (not too watery! wipe off the excess on your brush a little before doing this) to cool or warm up areas using thin watered down PR, TY or Violet.

The layers: In the photos above you will see on the right side that I have laid a thin glaze of TY to certain parts first. There’s also a very little bit of PR ( see photo 2) on warmer areas and violet on the cooler corner (see photos 3 and 4). Notice the shadow tone is darker on this side of the midrib vein and the darkest tone is shorter and darker than the rest of the shadow area. This gives the indented appearance. Not to be forgotten, there is also a very thin almost white highlight on this side next to the midrib vein. 

In photos 3 & 4 you will see how I have enhanced the secondary and tertiary veins by putting short shadows alongside some of them with a darker line representing the vein below the highlight. Fiddly work! Tip: When painting in the darker lines of veins try not to paint the whole vein in. There is a transition of colour along the veins and sometimes it will almost disappear and reappear later along it’s route. To avoid veins sticking out like sore thumbs, don’t paint the whole lot one colour or paint what you can’t see. Only paint what you can see. Squint and use a magnifying glass to see this clearly. 

In the first photo here I’m adding the fine detail, enhancing the dips and rises on the secondary and tertiary veins with short shadowing and painting in some of the finer tiny veins. The number 2 brush is ideal for this stage with it’s finely pointed tip. Used lightly and in a ‘treat it like a lady’ fashion you can achieve lines almost as fine as a hair. The shadows are not all the same tone though, neither are the smaller veins. The decaying part in the centre had a pale tone of my violet mix added carefully to the highlights (see photos 4 & 5). The left side: As the layers were thinner on this lighter area the underlying colours shine through nicely. Again I’ve added thin glazes of TY, PR & Violet before adding the layers above. Without the underlying colours it wouldn’t have such a great effect.

The whole painting has been painted in small sections between the secondary veins rather than a whole large area. With wet in wet technique you can prepare the first layers over a larger area saving a lot of time but new Fabriano won’t let us do this! However, with this complicated subject it was nice to approach it in small sections. The highlights were difficult on this paler area as the indenting was quite subtle. Retaining the highlights is sometimes hard when applying so many layers and colour mixes. If you overdo it there is help though! Billy Showell’s Eradicator brush can help bring back highlights if you use it carefully. 
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Erasing out: Photo 1 is before erasing out and the other photos after. It’s subtle but has made a lot of difference. When erasing like this you have to be very careful not to disturb the fibres of the paper too much. Tip: Use circular motion for wider areas and the tip of the brush for thin areas. If you use the corner of the brush in circular motions on a small area you’ll get a tiny circle. Handy for adding subtle water drops! You will never be able to erase back to white paper so don’t expect to. This brush is purely a tool for lightening areas after you’ve finished painting. It also depends on the staining quality of the pigment being removed.

For the finest detail I use a magnifying glass to help me position fine veins, add in the serrations to the edge of the leaf and tidy up edges. A subtle but dark shadow was added to the bottom of two little holes in my leaf (see photo 1 & 2). I love to paint these little features as it all adds to the realism! Tip: Always try to stand back from your painting as you go. It pays to give yourself a little distance as you will see whether the whole painting is working. It will highlight areas to you that may still need a little more toning or colour adjusting, deepening or lightening. 

You can make a greyscale version to check your tones (I convert the photo to greyscale on my phone or computer) and see if it works all round. Greyscale enhances the highlights and lowlights so you can see them more clearly.

Well, I hope this has been a helpful blog for you all and look forward to your comments. If you have a question please don’t hesitate to ask! 

Until next time, have a fabulous Christmas and New Year holiday!

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Blog 18: RHS research journey 2019

Nature is painting for us, day after day, pictures of infinite beauty if only we have the eyes to see them” John Ruskin

This years journey has been full of adventure and some very hard botany learning. It became evident that it was essential for me to understand exactly what I am painting! As the weather perked up in April and was good to us during the summer months, my decision to go on a search for my chosen 6 plants in their natural habitats proved very successful. Their habitat is wet meadows, the selected subject of my RHS exhibition. I knew this was very important to ensure my drawings were as accurate as they could be to the wild plants of the field. My son also has a great interest in nature and accompanied me with his little dog, Toby, on my treks. Always great to have company!

Having completed 4 plants in my Botany sketchbook, I asked a botanist to check my final drawings for me. Good job I did! Even though you think you’ve got it just right there can still be little details which need adjusting, especially with dissection drawings which I’d never attempted before. I’m so pleased I took this advice from a fellow botanical artist. I had very little knowledge of botany when I started this project and still struggle to remember all the botanical terms. My brain doesn’t have enough space left at my age! It’s been a massive learning curve.

Below are my botany sketchbook pages for 4 of my chosen species. This helps me to learn about each plant before I start drawing. I measure them, study their habit, dissect them, study them under the microscope, press pieces of plant in a flower press, have a little practice run on mixing up colours and paint a few small sections of each one. The record is then referred to as I draw and paint the final compositions.

The drawings so far…
My drawings for Ragged Robin, Water Avens, Greater Bird’s foot trefoil and Cuckoo flower have now had a full botany check and are transferred to watercolour paper ready for painting. It took many, many months to get to this stage. Left to right below: Cardamine pratensis – Cuckooflower, Lotus pedunculatus – Greater Birds foot trefoil, Geum rivale – Water Avens and Silene (Lychnis) flos-cuculi – Ragged Robin. They are all life-size compositions.

Next year, as well as painting the final pieces, I will be studying and drawing up Great Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) and Devil’s bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) in late summer. I have managed to get some of the painting for three of my chosen species done this year which are featured below. The sections below were painted using live plants. I have a great deal of photo reference to enable me to continue painting these three through the next few months.

The Journey…
My journey started locally where I live in Bristol. I have grown some of my chosen plants in my home garden which were doing well. Although these are great to refer to, they do not necessarily grow in exactly the same way as they would in their natural habitat. It’s great to have them on the doorstep though. They can be dug out and popped into a pot to use when painting! To find my chosen species in the field was really difficult but with a lot of research and walking I eventually located all of them this year.

Cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis) grows near my house and also on a lovely dog walk my son and I often do from Alveston to Old Down. One sunny day in May I decided my son and I should try this walk in order to find the pub at the end and have a lovely roast dinner. What a wonderful walk with yummy food half way. Essential therapy! It was full of meadow plants and pollinators. I saw my very first Green winged orchid and Musk thistles on this walk, one of which had a white flower. It became our favourite local dog walk this summer. Later in the summer I thought I had found Devil’s bit scabious (Succisa pratensis) growing there too but unfortunately it turned out to be Field scabious with a genetic fault! It looked like Devil’s bit but the leaves and height were all wrong. It’s also very important to research your wildflower keys!

Common Blue Butterfly
Two of my plants were really difficult to locate so my journey led me into Wales this year. What a beautiful country. There is so much wildlife and Wales is abundant with wildflowers. Love it!

The first plant, Greater Bird’s foot trefoil (Lotus pendunculatus), I found at Great Traston meadows near Newport. Great Traston is a piece of protected land consisting of a series of wet meadow fields and teeming with insect life. We saw many dragonflies, damselflies and butterflies. We even saw a beautiful blue lacewing, many grasshoppers and later in the year a nursery-web spiders nest which was huge! This place is also home to the very rare Shrill Carder bee. Unfortunately, I didn’t see, or rather, hear one but maybe next year! There was also evidence of other wet meadow wildflower species like Marsh orchid and Marsh musk thistle. I visited three times in total. Once when Greater Bird’s foot trefoil was starting to grow, then when it was in full flower and finally when it had gone to seed. It is important for me to see the plant growth in all its stages as my drawings are intended to cover the whole aspect of each plant, telling their story.

“Hold nature in your hand and take a look at the intricate beauty within. Treasure our wildflowers and pollinators. It’s so easy to just walk by…” Jackie Isard

From here I wanted to find Great Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis). After tons of researching, my journey took me back into Wales again to a tiny little meadow called Trewalkin on the edge of Brecon Beacons. Another naturally wet meadow. It is managed by the Wildlife Trust of South & West Wales. Unfortunately, the meadow had already been cut by the time I had found out that Great Burnet grew there. However, there was evidence of the species as some new plants were starting to grow. It has very distinctive serated leaves.
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I noticed a few other wet meadow species too including Devil’s bit scabious. This was exciting news as Devil’s bit was also one I needed to locate. When I returned home I contacted the Wildlife Trust officer and asked for a species list. I was so delighted when it was sent through, every one of my chosen plants grow in this tiny meadow! This included Water Avens (Geum rivale) which was proving almost impossible to find. There will be many visits to this meadow next year.

Another place I visited earlier in the year was Crickley Hill Nature Reserve, in Gloucestershire. This is a beautiful place with lovely walks. Many wildflower species live here and the insect life is abundant. I saw many 6 spot burnet moths who were loving the Field Scabious growing near the car park. Beautiful Harebells grow everywhere too. I wasn’t expecting to find my chosen species as this is a dry limestone grassland area but I very much enjoyed the walk and the stunning views.

The last photo of trees, taken in the woodland area of Crickley Hill, I entered into the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust photography competition. I was amazed to learn this week that it had been ‘Highly Commended’ by the judges!

My journey for wildflowers has ended this year as winter is now upon us. The plants will all sleep now until April/May next year when I’ll be off out with my camera and walking boots to see them again.

Until then, have a wonderful Christmas and a happy new year!

Blog 17: Painting a Faded Protea

I thought I would share the process of how I made this painting with you all. I discovered this dying protea in the teaching room at the Bristol Botanic Gardens when I was teaching there. It had been discarded and left to go mouldy on the shelf. You can see the green mould on the inner stamens below. I rescued it and another which I have yet to paint!

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The whole thing began as an exciting new project. I planned it to be painted especially to exhibit at the SBA (Society of Botanical Artists) this year. It is the most mammoth painting I’ve ever made!

I started the process by studying my subject thoroughly so that I didn’t miss any of those incredible details. What looks like a flower to start with is actually a series of inner and outer bracts which protect the inner whorl of tepals with the stamens and stigma inside. The feathery bits! The drawing took ages to complete but eventually it was all traced up onto watercolour paper (a piece of old stock Fabriano Artistico HP) and I was ready to go.

Firstly, I made a colour palette and swatch to help me with the colours of my subject. I use this as a guide. My palette consisted of 7 primaries ( Winsor Blue (Red shade), Indanthrine Blue, Indian Yellow, Quinacridone Gold, Transparent Yellow, Permanent Carmine, Permanent Rose and two others Perylene Violet and Winsor Violet. All Winsor & Newton professional watercolour pigments.

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I planned a practice run of three tricky elements first. After a practice run I was happy with the techniques I needed to use to achieve a good painting.
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I used a fair bit of wet-in-wet on the first layers for the larger inner involucral bracts and the bottom leaves. The tepals, outer thin feathery ones, I did mainly in wet-on-dry and dry brush. This photo below shows a few individual tepals which sit outside the whorl  (stigma and stamens) in the very centre. All are very tightly closed to start with but as they mature they spring open and spread out revealing the straight pointed stigmas. The centre part is then exposed. These don’t actually feature in my painting as they were not visible. That’s the bit we love!
20181113_123657Next I had to decide where to start! I protected my painting with layout paper and moved around the painting from left to right and then down the middle, section by section. The centre section of stamens and stigma was a little scary and I often wondered how I would approach that area. I came to the conclusion that I would cross that bridge when I came to it!

I thoroughly enjoyed painting the golden hues of the bracts and stamens with their hairy tops. Getting that shine was essential too. This meant getting the highlights right. The first layer was wet-in-wet followed by graduated soft washes to build up colour. Once I had achieved this I could concentrate on the dry brush and fine detailing. This included splaying my brush into points to created rough textured lines. At times I needed to use my eradicator brush to bring up highlights and lighten the edges of the tepals where they touched another. The following photos show the techniques used…


Painting the hairs…how do you paint white hairs on a white background I hear you say! Well, I used the very tip of my Billy Showell No. 2 brush and carefully painted in between the hairs (so painting the negative) where they overlapped another stamen. For the ones that were loose I used a very pale warm grey colour and painted in the fine hairs. The red hairs were much easier. There were also little white hairs on the bracts which I painted in using a white paint……..sooooooo many hairs!
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Suddenly, I realised I was reaching the centre section of stamens! Ugh….what to do? Taking a deep breath I checked the subject thoroughly to see how the colours changed over the stamens and where the warm/cool areas were. I had already drawn in fine lines to indicate where the stamens were and the little twirly hairy bits (anthers) which occasionally appeared within the mass. It was again a case of painting the negative and laying soft graduated washes down to create form. The anthers needed masking before I started the fine detail work. I use a mapping pen for this but you must be careful not to scratch the paper as the nib is very sharp. Great for small areas and fine lines though.

I started by adding a thin layer of colour to the central area. This was a creamy tone which was what I call the ‘base’ colour. From here I began painting into the negative to create the fine lines between each one. I used soft graduated washes of various beige tones to build up form on the individual stamens as well as across the whole area. Once I had built up the colour enough, I rubbed off the masking fluid. I was now ready to paint the anthers. Treating them like feathers I detailed in the shadow tones between the hairs. This took a very long time! The whole painting took about 4-5 weeks to complete.
20181120_115843Now I had to finish off the top part with twiddly stamens and hairy anthers to create the rounded top. This was all done with intricate dry brush work. Painting the shadows was important here to create form and give the impression of lots and lots and lots of stamen hairs!

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Mission accomplished! Next on the agenda was to finish off the right side and the rest of the inner bracts. Once complete I used wet-in-wet technique to apply a base layer to the leaves. They had really beautiful pattering and were very colourful.

Laying in the subtle colour tones was great fun! This was the first layer of wet in wet followed by soft graduated washes and much detailed dry brush work.

The hardest part with the leaves was getting them to look like the reverse of the leaf. In most cases they were reversed. Much erasing happened as whatever I did they looked the other way round! It was an optical illusion because the more I stared at it they kept changing! The reverse of the leaf needed very short shadows along the midrib to achieve this. Eventually it all came together. But if you stare a while longer…..you may still see it the other way!
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Next on the agenda was the stem, my favourite part. I just love painting woody stems. Essentially it’s a lot of wet on dry and dry brush work with very fine detailing. Getting every little detail in counts too! The more detail the more realistic it will look.

The top part of the stalk has lovely red brown tones with deep grooves but faded below to a beigy-grey texture. For the top I used fine detail dry brush and the bottom soft washes with a splayed brush to make the pattering as described above in this blog.

Finally, the finished painting emerged. What a journey but so worth it as it won the Margaret Granger Award at the SBA Mall Galleries exhibition! I am so delighted as this was a very ambitious project for me. I now have three awards on my wall. I feel very honoured! The photo below shows me receiving my award from the President of the SBA, Billy Showell.

Thank you for reading my blog and I hope you enjoyed it!
Jackie 🙂

Blog 16: The beginning of more RHS adventures

During the winter I’ve been very busy continuing with my RHS studies and finalising 3 compositions. It’s been a long trek! In between these studies I’ve been enjoying preparing for a course at Brackenwood which will cover White and Yellow Spring flowers. A subject many find hard to paint…even I do!

 


I also had a chance to go on an owl event where I had the pleasure of holding 6 different owls. The Owls in the photos above are a Barn Owl, a Tawny Owl and a Little Owl. My favourite was the Tawny Owl as we have a mating pair in the area where I live. I love hearing their calls, Twit – T-wooo. Apparently they are the only owls who make this type of call. I even got to hold an Eagle Owl. They are huge and very heavy! I’ve always admired these beautiful birds but never been this close up. It was delightful and I will remember it for a long time.

I have now completed my compositions for Cuckooflower, Ragged Robin and Greater Birds foot Trefoil.


Last week I started preparing sketchbook studies and botany notes for the fourth plant, Geum rivale – Water Avens. What a gorgeous little plant! It has delicate nodding flower heads and beautifully shaped leaves. Very much overlooked I think.

This plant has a very interesting botany. Quite different to the other plants I have studied. So much is learned about botany when dissecting and studying plants. I’ve really got into it! Like Cardamine pratensis it has different shaped basal leaves. They are more rounded at the top with leaflet pairs running down the stem. Quite attractive! It’s also very hairy in places and has hundreds of stamens all enveloped beneath 5 petals. There will be lots of fine details on this one. Here are some microscope images of the stigma (of which there are many too!), stamens and hairy buds…


So far I’ve dissected a young flower head, drawn up a budded branch, a flowering branch and one of the basal leaves. This is my drawing to date. I love the shape of those leaves! This will be a tough one to draw accurately. So much botany going on!
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I have chosen to include pollinators in my work and a lot of research has gone into finding suitable insects for each plant in my series. It is important for me to make the insects to be relevant to the plants. You won’t believe how long this research takes! Below is a photo of a Common Blue which I took in Alveston, beautiful!

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For my final 6 plant choices I have included two options for the last one. This is because it’s always good to have a back up. I have chosen 5 butterflies, a bee and a hover fly. They all use one of my chosen plants as either a larval food plant or for feeding. The butterflies are the Orange Tip, Marsh Fritillary, Wood White Common Blue and a large Scarce Blue.

This weekend I was taken on a surprise trip to a Nature Reserve by my son. I’ve been wanting to visit this place since I discovered it late last year. It is a farm in Cricklade called Lower Moor Farm. There are many fields of meadow flowers and wet meadow plants too! Although too early in the season to see the meadows in full swing, I did see evidence of plants beginning to peep through. My heart sings when I visit these places which really helps with the intense work I’ve had to carry out. I hope to view some of my chosen plants in another natural habitat later in the year when I visit again. I also wanted to see the Snake’s-Head Fritillary which are growing wild at North Meadow Cricklade not far from Lower Moor Farm. The fields of North Meadow are protected as this species is now very rare in the wild. Unfortunately, we were a little premature as they were only just starting to grow. Another visit is planned for Easter weekend to see it in its full glory.

This plant is actually not a British native species otherwise I may have chosen it as one of my Wet Meadow species. It’s a shame because it is a much loved flower to paint by Botanical artists! I have planted some in my garden wild areas which are flowering already …perhaps because the weather is milder in Bristol than North Meadow.
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So, from here I must carry on with my Water Avens studies and composition ready to begin painting soon. Three of my plants will be flowering between April and June so time will be short! I’ll be back later in the Summer with more news and to show you how I’m getting on, plus some more meadow visit photos.

Until then Easter is just around the corner, so enjoy all that chocolate!

 

 

Blog 15: Online Course – Mixing Colour Accurately for Watercolour for Botanical

Jackie Isard Botanicals – Mixing Colour Accurately for Watercolour for Botanical 

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A course for those who struggle to mix accurately with  watercolours! Learn how to mix watercolour accurately using primaries. You’ll be amazed at what can be achieved with practice and you won’t need to buy so many pigments!

THIS IS NOW AN ONGOING COURSE AND YOU CAN JOIN AT ANY TIME! PLEASE DO NOT MESSAGE ME ABOUT THE COURSE HERE as I’ve had some issues with replies not being sent through. Private message me on Facebook or email me please.

This course is for Beginners and Intermediate students. The course contains a lot of exercises, detailed course notes, video tutorials and a dedicated Secret Facebook Group, all designed and created by your tutor Jackie Isard. It concentrates on mixing with primaries and aims to help you ‘see‘ colour more easily whilst building your confidence in colour mixing. It’s definitely not another course with endless colour charts! An Intermediate/ Advanced Colour course will be launched in 2020.

Details of the course:

• A course designed to help you ‘see’ colour more easily and build your confidence with colour selection and application
• No endless charts!
• Learn how pigments work
• Exercises which help you to ‘see’ more easily with detailed notes and video tutorials
• Develop a structured way to test colours and mixing possibilities
• Understand which pigments to choose for vibrant colours and subdued tones
• Practical tasks for a better understanding of what has been learned through the course
• Patient online appraisal all through the course
• A dedicated student group page to share and learn
• A final appraisal letter and certificate

The course involves comprehensive notes, video clips together with a series of exercises which can be done in your own time. We will cover pigment qualities, warm and cool pigments, those difficult greens, botanical greys (we touch on this, the advanced course will cover this in more detail), mixing purely with primaries and neutral beige/brown tones for those beautiful Autumn colours. There are tutorial videos as well as videos specifically for beginners. You will be added to a Secret Facebook Group where the video tutorials are held. In this group you can view other students work, find useful tips and post your work for appraisal (personal appraisal is always done via private messenger not publically). One-to-one tuition and help is always on hand and you will never have to wait long for a response. It is important to me that every student is given the attention and help they need to ensure they have a successful and rewarding journey throughout the course.

Exercises include making a few small reference charts, matching swatch colours, mixing with cool and warm primaries and many other useful tips/exercises from which you will learn how to ‘see‘ and mix colour more accurately.

I am always available on Facebook Private Messenger or Email (unless I’m asleep!) to answer any questions you have during the course. Please bear in mind the time difference if you are overseas! I appraise your work as you complete each of the Lesson exercises and give you a personalised final appraisal at the end of the course. You will also receive a graded certificate for your efforts!

Some student reviews:

“I wanted to learn from Jackie the day I first saw a pic of her painting on FB. Her painting was highly detailed and showed a certain sensitivity to colour. Fortunately for me, Jackie announced an online course a few days later. I paid up for the ‘Mixing colour accurately course’ but was a bit skeptical of learning online. Having completed the course, my doubts stand dispelled. The course content, the exercises and the patient online appraisal of the exercises by Jackie, all made for good learning. I recommend the course to anyone on a tight budget. It has taught me a structured way to test a colour and it’s mixing possibilities.” Raashmi

“Mixing colour accurately is exactly what this course has taught me and a most enjoyable process too. Very much a novice, the notes were clear and easy to follow. The feedback was prompt and very helpful. All in all – Brilliant, Thanks Jackie” Sylvia

“At last! I now approach colour mixing in a more organised and knowledgeable way. I now search for ‘many’ colours within a plant and have gained the confidence to closely match them. This course should be compulsory for all Botanical artists. Jackie is a knowledgeable and encouraging tutor who responds quickly to your questions and posts on the dedicated group page.” Christine

“Thank you for the very clear instructions, I read them all and watch all the videos, they are all very useful and easy to follow. Jackie Isard you are great artist and a great teacher too!” Mari

“I am very pleased with this course! After all the exercises and tasks, I finally began to see colour and understand how to mix it. I liked the fact that I had not only charts of colours but even in the end practical tasks for a better understanding of colour on real leaves and flowers. Separately it will highlight the fact that Jackie responded very quickly to questions and supported me throughout the course. I highly recommend this course to anyone who wants to learn how to mix watercolour accurately for botanical” Svitlana

“The course material for this colour mixing course is structured, interesting and clear. The exercises explained well and the extra videos and Facebook group tips are a bonus. I have learned to look further than ‘first sight’ when looking at a plant. A green leaf is not just green but a myriad of green tones and hues. What I most appreciated was Jackie’s personal support and the speedy replies with appraisal. It is an important motivator when working online.” Hilde

See Jackie Isard Botanicals on Facebook and private message me for more details about me.

Payment can be made via PayPal, details will be sent on Registration. The fee is £105 UK and £115 Internationals. The difference is purely postage cost. If you do not have PayPal, it’s really simple to set up online. Just visit www.paypal.com. Bank transfer is only available using a UK bank account.

Please contact me by email or Facebook private messenger for Registration details!

Jackie Isard BA (Hons) SBA Fellow CBM

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Blog 14 : Paint a Peacock Butterfly NEW Online Course January 2019

Ever wanted to learn how to paint a Butterfly?

Then do look out for my New online course coming in January 2019!

The Peacock is one of my favourite butterflies. The patterns and colours are just so stunning. We’ve seen a lot of butterflies this year as there’s been so much sunshine. Come and learn to paint one of the UK’s most beautiful pollinators with me, yes they are pollinators!

I will take you through the stages and teach you the techniques to create your very own Peacock Butterfly watercolour painting. You will learn how to mix the vibrant colours needed and how to add those incredibly fine details. There will be instructive videos to help you throughout the course. Watercolour painting skills essential please. Not for absolute beginners.

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Pop over to my Jackie Isard Botanicals page to see the Event date then private message me if you would like to join. Payment can be made through PayPal. The course fee is £75 UK and £85 Internationals. The difference is purely due to postage cost. For more details on how to register Private Message me on Facebook or email me.

For the Facebook course link, look under the Events tabhttps://www.facebook.com/jackieisardbotanicalnaturepainting/

Looking forward to teaching you!

Blog 12a: RHS working on the wild side!

It’s been one long amazing adventure since I first wrote about my RHS Sketching Adventures in 2016 and it’s not over yet! This was the year I was accepted to exhibit with the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society). My journey has been of new learning and a great deal of research so far. This Blog is about my continuing journey and the progress I’ve made so far. Up to now it’s been hugely interesting and at times very intensive but most of all a rewarding and enjoyable journey!

You’re most likely wondering why this is Blog 12a. Well, I’m not usually superstitious but today I am. So it’s 12a, not 13!

My journey began by selecting a subject matter to paint for the RHS. A theme which would be interesting as well as something I was passionate about. After all, it involves 6 paintings which need to be absolutely spot on and perfect, so I had to be excited and inspired by my theme. Just before I was accepted, I had become very interested in the importance of meadows which have been declining rapidly from our countryside. This is affecting our very important pollinators and may eventually lead to food and fruit crops failing. I also became very interested in pollinating insects, bees and butterflies. So I had to include them somehow!

My garden, over this time, has become a haven for pollinators. I selected a few areas of my garden to grow wild and planted meadow wildflowers in the grass. I purchased solitary bee homes, planted bee friendly plants, painted butterflies and bees too…I was smitten!

Just a few real facts…
97% of our UK Meadows have been lost since the 1930s, taken away by intensive farming, affecting pollinators and wildlife in a staggering way. I became very interested in this subject matter and much to my pleasure I discovered a wealth of organisations all working hard to change things. A few are listed below:

Plantlife (campaigning, sharing knowledge and working with partners for the protection of meadows and introduction of wild road verges);
Magnificent Meadows (taking emergency action to prevent the disappearance of meadows and sharing knowledge);
Coronation Meadows (initiated by HRH The Prince of Wales to create meadow in every county to mark the anniversary of The Queen’s coronation) and of course The Wildlife Trusts, the National Plant Monitoring Scheme and so on… I joined the NPMS (National Plant Monitoring Scheme) to help with their research in my area, around the Severn valley. You can volunteer to record species growing in an area near you. Sadly, the fields they allocated to me for recording species had been ploughed over. Not what we like to see!

My journey took me to many meadows and open spaces where our beautiful native wildflowers still grow.  Seeing again the many wildflowers I took for granted as a child, was like coming home after a long time away. I remember as a child sipping nectar from white nettle flowers. Everyone thought I was weird! The wildflower plants were there but I didn’t really pay attention to them much as a young adult, although I’ve always loved long nature walks. Now, I admire them each and every day and through learning recognise many species. I’m always in awe when I see one I recognise!

I even made friends along the way. Thank you Jeni Burton (pictured above) for taking me to Eades Meadow, a truly sacred place. I saw my first Bee orchid with Jeni, we were so excited! (it’s the first photo below).

I take a lot of photos of these wondrous wild flowers. Their beauty really comes to life in a close up. You could quite easily walk right past them!


The places I went to all had different habitats. Some were grassland, some damp meadows and some just road verges. I started to learn about which plants favoured particular habitats and decided that this would be my ‘theme’ for the RHS. To study a set of species which favour certain environments. Also included in my ‘theme’ would be relevant pollinators to these habitats and plants as I feel they are just as important. I went through many wildflower plant choices before I finally decided my final 6 earlier this year. I even started sketching some of them which I have now excluded. My final 6 are wet meadow plants.

My first choice was Cardamine pratensis (Cuckoo flower). It grows in the field behind my house. I like to call this field a ‘meadow’ as over the last two years more wildflower species have arrived. The local farmer looks after it. The area where I live is damp so the fields surrounding the house and garden favour wet meadow species. Nice bonus!


Here my research and preparations began. I have watched all of my chosen plants grow through their lifecycle. I decided to plant some Cardamine pratensis plants in my garden which grew beautifully. One day, I was studying the plants and discovered a butterfly egg on one of them. Soon there were more eggs. I was delighted as I knew it was most likely an Orange Tip Butterfly as they use this plant as their larval food plant. Of course, the pollinator I would link to this painting would be the Orange Tip! ….and guess what it’s latin name is? Anthocharis cardamines! 


I watched the caterpillars grow over a few weeks until they were quite large. What I didn’t realise was that they would devour the whole plant all the way down to the basal leaves. Every little bit…. so to finish off my studies I went out into our back meadow and thankfully some of those plants were still intact! One cold night this year an Orange tip butterfly rested overnight on my garden plants near one of the eggs (photo above). It was there for 39 hours!

My studies continued and involved some dissection and learning a little botany. It was important to study the whole plant, including a little botany, so that I could understand all its details. Even a study under the microscope to see what’s inside the flowers and how its reproduction works. This would make it a lot easier to draw accurately. By happy accident along the way I discovered that reproduction was not only via seedpods but also from the plants basal leaves. Left in a dish of water for a few days, my basal leaf specimen started to sprout babies! The botanical term for this is viviparous (see photo below). My composition started to form but it changed again this year to the left side composition in the last photo. I felt the arrangement and story made more sense in the second composition idea.


I have started my final 6 this year and completed research and sketchbook notes for 3 of my choice wildflowers. I approached each one with the same detailed research. The ones I have finished researching and almost done compositions for are Cardamine pratensis, Lychnis flos-cuculi (Ragged Robin) and Lotus pedunculatus (Greater Bird’s-foot trefoil).

We’re having a really hot Summer this year which means everything is going over and seeding too early. This is the same in the meadows. The Greater bird’s-foot trefoil growing in my garden didn’t grow to full height and started to seed almost as soon as the flowers opened. This made measuring very tricky! A very kind friend, from a little further north than where I live, offered to pick a few pieces near her house and send it to me. The amazing thing was, she was going on holiday and just happened to be passing my house that day! The pieces of plant were quickly measured and placed in the fridge minutes after they were delivered. These wildflowers are very fragile and fade very quickly once picked. Thank you Paula Golding, you were a life saver!


I still have 3 more wildflowers to study and make compositions of this year and early next year.  After that I’ll be painting my final compositions for the rest of the year when the plants are in flower. Here are my final sketchbook notes which will include some dried pieces of each plant on the right side page gap.

My advice to anyone thinking of applying to exhibit with the RHS is to look at Katherine Tyrell’s pages on the Botanical Art and Artists website. There she explains the procedure, rules and how to plan your exhibit. If you are accepted spend at least a couple of years watching and studying your subjects. Preparation and research for the final paintings is essential.

I will return with more about my journey next year. I plan to exhibit, if all goes well, in 2020.

I hope you enjoyed my Blog!

Blog 12: Painting a Portuguese Shell…

I was given this shell at my Daughter-in-laws wedding last year in Portugal which has their wedding date inscribed underneath it. It has a special meaning to me as you will no doubt understand. So, I had to paint it for the couple to enjoy in their home!

To begin with, shells are rather difficult shapes to draw. Full of spirals or curved lines and beautiful patterns. This shell has lines going both vertically and horizontally over a curved surface. We really need to get those right first! I started by doing the outline of it’s total shape and then worked from the top/middle of the drawing putting in the curves carefully as they go from left to right. As they go round to the edges the space between them reduces almost to a vanishing point. Once these were completed and the little cracks across it’s surface drawn on, I then worked from the centre/top, putting in the vertical lines, across to the left and then across to right. These also curve across the surface subtly….quite tricky!

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My shell has a number of interesting colours and I studied them carefully before I started to make my swatches. A lovely slate blue grey at the top and warm tan colours at the bottom intermingled with beige tones and yellows. I now had a good idea of what colour mixes I would use and created my swatch of colours.
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For the slate blue/grey I used W&N Ultramarine Green Shade (U(GS), Transparent Yellow (TY) and Permanent Rose (PR). Mix it like you’re making black (70% blue, 20% red and 10% yellow) but add in a little bit more of the blue. For the Tan colour I used Burnt Sienna (BS), Quinacridone Gold (QG), a tiny little Indanthrine Blue (IB) and a tiny bit of Sennelier Rose Madder Lake (SRML). I used the SRML to just add a little brightness to the mix. For the second tan colour which is paler and more orangey, I used QG and BS, more of the QG. I also mixed up a black using IB, TY and QM with a little of the U(GS) added for a darker slate grey used at the top of the shell.
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The first step was to add a wet in wet layer using the base colours, grey, beige, warm yellow and rusty browns. When the wet in wet layer was totally dry, I started to add in some of the details with a watered down mix. Step 1: starting to add in some of the vertical and horizontal patterning. Step 2 shows me adding a little more shadowing and some of the cracks in. It’s best not to work with to thick mixes at this stage or your painting will start to look smudgy. Now it’s starting to look more interesting!

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Step 2

From here I now added in more of the background colours to give my shell some form. These were very watered down versions of my original colours plus a slightly bluer version of my slate grey/blue. I applied these individually as a thin wash and then quickly rinse/dry off my brush before softening the edges. It’s important to soften the edges of these washes with a damp brush. It gives a lovely smooth finish.

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See how it’s starting to take shape! On some areas I used a Billy Showell technique to apply rough lose lines, a dry brush method. This gives a little more interest to the patterning, which are not always just curved lines. To do this, I load my brush and splay it into a fan in my palette. Then I slide the brush away from the palette until it forms little points instead of one point. Holding the brush as a 45° angle I then brush lightly across the area. For thinner lines hold the brush more upright. (There is a video demo of this technique on my Feathery Pursuits blog) This takes a bit of practice, so try it out on a separate piece of paper first!20180212_113038
To add in the spots onto the surface I used another technique. These are not just spots you see. Some are blurred and others have a line coming down from them. To achieve a blurred effect the paper needs to be damp. But rather than dampen the paper first, it’s best to do this with the brush afterwards. You have to be quick and patient! Here’s how it’s done:

Some of these dots were paler than others so I used a watered down mix for those but the same method to apply them.
20180212_171931Once the dots were finished I worked on the top of the shell. This area is not solid colour so I’ve dampened the paper first to get a more mottled effect. It looks pretty messy at this stage but once I add the fine detail it comes together. To get a stronger mix this time I’ve used Indanthrine Blue (IB), TY and PR with only a little of the U(GS) in my mix. This part of the shell is quite dark and U(GS) is a weaker pigment. It’s make the same shade of slate grey/blue though.

From here I worked at the fine detailing on the top part of my shell, even the vertical lines show up on parts of it as they go down into the striped part. To the right side there is a slight halo of light where the slate grey disappears over the edge of the shell. I left this part a little lighter and graduated it away. It’s a little like the reflected light from the surface which you get when painting pears and apples** see below for better photo!

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Now to join bottom and top together. There were lots of lines to do here so I had to be very careful! Firstly, to guide me I added in the lighter blue/grey section between the darker lines. Then I carefully added in the vertical lines and horizontal curves. **You can see the slightly highlighted edges at the top of the shell better in this photo below middle.

Next, I worked on the cracks to enhance their depth. I added a darker mix into the top areas of these cracks with a thin wavy line, softened this a little with a damp brush and at the same time pushed the paint back into the top part of each wavy line. This creates backup which is perfect for this type of detail. It gives a nice sharp edge with a thin graduation in front of it. Lastly, a little extra shading around the sides and bottom to make it pop off the page!

I hope you enjoyed this Blog and that you are encouraged to have a go at a shell. Happy painting!