Blog 18: RHS research journey 2019

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.

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 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.

me painting peacock


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!