Sunday, 22 January 2017

Looking for Winter Inspiration: A Review

I often hear people saying 'there's nothing to paint at this time of year!' So thought I'd write about  some ideas for subject material from my previous work! Perhaps it will help to inspire those of you who may feel stuck in a rut at this time of year.
It's not all brown and dead stuff either! Here's my top 10 selection of painting and drawing subjects that can be found in the depths of winter? All of these works were completed during the winter months or from material collected out of season.

Collection of leaves , fruit and seed pods
Much material can be collected in late October and you can keep the colour for a while if you keep them in plastic bags in the fridge or just dry them.....but there's much more to be found! 

First of all, its a good idea to collect leaves, seeds and all manner of material when you can during the rest of the year, store them in a dry place and they'll keep you going for years! I love brown and decaying material, so make no apologies for their inclusion. But there's lots of colour to be found too.
Of course it depends on where you live to some extent, but there's no need to resort photographs when there's real stuff to be found, I always try to work from live subjects, using photos just for additional reference, it's so much easier when you can handle the subject to get a feel for it's texture and turn it around to understand the form, and, play with the lighting.

1.Dried Leaves and Leaf Skeletons
Maybe an obvious subject but these are some of my favourites
Oak leaf watercolour, front and back view
I love old oak leaves, I had these in a box for around 3 years, they're perfect if you're learning to paint leaves and although not green there are lots of colours to play with and you can examine the leaf structure without fear of the leaf curling up or withering.
Autumn leaf
Here's a work in progress on on vellum, I managed to keep the colour by keeping it in a bag for several weeks. Mixing the rich reds, browns and golden colours is achieved with primary colours from a limited palette.
Leaf skeleton painting on vellum, holly
Holly Leaf skeleton on vellum
Leaf skeletons photograph
Leaf skeletons can always be found in leaf litter

2. Evergreens and winter garden material
Plenty evergreen leaves on plants and trees, holly and ivy are always nice and usually there are some that are still hanging on in a state of semi senescence. Also cyclamen, primulas and sweet williams are easily found as are winter pansies. it's nearly the end of January, and my pulmonaria and primulas are already popping up and things are starting to come to life again already.

Ivy leaf study
Why not work on practicing year round green leaves in your sketchbook....there are plenty of evergreens here in the UK, holly, ivy and laurel is everywhere, plus many more.
winter pansies painted on vellum
Winter pansies are easy to grow

3. Seed pods and pine cones
Another absolute favourite! who could ever get tired of these. Ive got a gorgeous Cardoon with the fluffy seeds popping out just waiting to be painted! Throw some together for a table top composition....there's no end of possibilities!

Sketchbook studies of seeds pods
Found material, seed pods from Spain and Iris foetidissima, sketchbook studies

Scots thistle photograph
There's beauty everywhere, even as this this Scots Thistle seed head falls apart

Drawing of Scots thistle
Why not try a different medium. I'm rather fond of graphite work in winter. Scaled up Scots Thistle Seedhead....before it fell apart
Pine cone collection
You chance to get to grips with a real Fibonacci sequence

4.Twigs, bark and lichens
If you feel colour deprived, there are some beautiful subtle colours in these  subjects!

Twigs, bark and lichen painting
Some found twigs, bark and lichens demonstrate the variety of colours and textures to be found

Sketchbook study of lichens
More sketchbook studies, the little withered hawthorn berry adds a jewel of colour to this collection of found materials from Scotland

5. Bulbs, corms and tubers
You can always find some bulbs, and if like me you forgot to plant them, there can be colourful shoots too. There are the ones you can grow in glass too if you want, waiting for my amaryllis to flower at the moment.
Bulbs can be just as interesting as their flowers

Sprekelia painting watercolour
Sprekelia bulb, an exercise in using many glazes of colour
Bulb painting
Bulb painting process

Sprouting bulbs are great subjects for learning how to draw and paint form
Bulb drawing
Love the tangled roots most of all!

6.Glass house
Lots to be found in botanic garden glass houses and some are happy to accommodate artists ....if you ask nicely! I don't seem to have any winter studies of my own but lots of orchids can usually be found and many other exotic flowers and cacti

Orchid paintings

 7. Supermarket vegetables, flowers and fruit
For those feeling colour deprived the supermarket can be a treasure trove of subjects! In the past far less material would have been available - now it's global! from turnips to tulips and pomegranates to pineapples. I've painted so many things from supermarkets and painting often dominates my shopping choices.

Turnip painting
A supermarket turnip, I kept it for a few weeks to allow it to sprout leaves and it even flowered for me! You can do the same with beets and other vegetables.

It's easy to grow new leaves on root vegetables, just sit them in water and leaves will sprout

Tulips painting
Tulips in an array of colours are always available at supermarkets. Here's a work in progress in the sketchbook. Write to the grower if you cant find the name of the variety.
Chili peppers
No shortage of colour here in this pack of mixed chili peppers

Pineapple study page
Every botanical artists should paint at least one pineapple! winter could be the time as they're always available in the shops

Pineapple details

8. Pot plants and florists
Again, many tropical plants, orchids, calla, bromeliads and jasmine etc.
Calla lily painting
This large painting was composed from rearranging a couple of pots of Calla lilies into a more aesthetically pleasing arrangement

white calla lily study on paper
And Calla's come in a wide variety of colours
botanical study of purple freesia
I managed to buy freesias from the florist and some bulbs from a garden centre, so put them together as a study page

9. Insects, feathers and shells
Not botanical but fun to paint and great practice, and another example of why collecting is always worthwhile

box of mounted butterflies
Collections come in useful. Being trained in biology, I collected skulls, feathers and insects for years but you don't have collect your own and most natural history museums have insect collections, contact your local museum and ask if you can come in to study them.

British Butterfly painting
Three British Butterflies on manuscript vellum

The stages of painting butterflies, lots of dry brush and detail, using size 1 brushes
Feather painting on vellum
Peacock feathers on Kelmscott vellum

10. Fungi
Also not in the plant kingdom but lots of interesting textures and colours. 

Fungi painting subject
Lots of lovely fungi, not a subject that I often paint but always another option and they pop up everywhere around my home!

Oh and one more! number 11. Travel! yes you can find material elsewhere and take your sketchbook!  That's what I've been doing this last year or two, which is partly why I've neglected my blog for nearly 6 months! I had a great 2016 travelling, painting and meeting lots of wonderful people.  I'm back home for a while now and will catch up with all the unfinished posts

Feet up! From my train travels across the USA in October
My sketchbook from Australia travels 2015
See there really are lots of subjects! what there is a lack of, is enough time to paint them all.
Thank you for reading, it's also been a bit of a review for me too. Looking forward to many new works and blog posts in 2017!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Which Brush? Spotters and Miniatures

I'm often asked about which is the best brush for botanical work but as usual there's no simple answer! I use lots of types of brushes for different jobs! So will break this into brush types, starting with a post on one type of brush; the miniature or spotter. Here's my own opinion on 5 different brushes in the range. 
Paintbrushes stored in pots
Paintbrushes accumulated over the years! p.s. only store this way when dry, otherwish water and paint lies in the ferrule and that's bad!
What is a miniature or spotter? Both miniature and spotter brushes are short haired brushes that allow excellent control for fine detail work, this feature makes them very useful to botanical artists who favour dry brush and fine detail techniques, and is especially good for the vellum painter.  A spotter is much the same as a miniature but sometimes has a slightly fatter belly, both should have a sharp tapered point for extra fine detail. 
What size of spotter is best? I don't often use anything  anything smaller than a size 1 and in these brushes certainly no larger than a size 3, although sizes seem to vary between manufacturers. 
For washes I use round or pointed brushes which have longer hairs and size 5 or 6 plus, I also use flats for some jobs such as lifting and half riggers for long flowing lines. I'll discuss them some other time in a separate post.

five watercolour brushes
The five brushes left to right: Winsor & Newton Series 7 miniature, Rosemary & Co spotter,  David Jackson spotter, Raphael 8048 and Pro Arte series 107 
Paintbrushes splayed slightly
Pressing the 5 brushes against the paper, shows just how different they are.
The 5 Brushes 
Winsor and Newton Series 7 miniatures, Kolinsky sable size 1  £8.25 - £12
One of the most popular brushes and one that I've used for many years, but have noticed some inconsistency in quality over the past few years with stray and bent hairs. It's a lovely looking brush though and handles well. It appears to be made with hairs slightly longer hairs in the middle compared to the outside, I think maybe for this reason they splay slightly sometimes. But it's generally a really good 'all rounder' and has a lovely point, which is superior to the Rosemary and Co but not as good as the David Jackson or the Raphael although  probably on a par with the Pro Arte. The lines that I painted with it were fine but not as clean  as others.  It's good for dry brush work but it's an expensive brush to wears out if you use it for this purpose. I feel like the hairs are finer and softer than say the Raphael but not as soft as the Rosemary &Co, great for very delicate work, where little pressure is required, such as on vellum. 

Oak leaf painting using winsor and newton brush
Oak Leaves, watercolour on paper, painted all detail with W & N miniature
splayed hairs on a winsor and newton paint brush
Some splaying of hairs, is annoying!

worn paintbrushes from dry brush
The effect on W & N and Rosemary and Co after much dry brush work!

Rosemary & Co spotter series 325, size 1 £4.25 
Half the price of most sable brushes, to me this spotter is really a different type of brush. Looking at the 5 brushes together, you can immediately see that it's much fatter in the belly than the other miniatures and has more hairs which seem softer and possibly finer - I should really put this to the test under the microscope but this is just a quick post! The point seems to dull quite quickly, possibly because of the finer hair, but initially it's a good enough point and if you don't paint so much it should last a while. The biggest problem I have with Rosemary & Co brushes is the splaying of hairs, worse than W & N and which happens fairly early on in the life of the brush, and even more so with the longer haired round / pointed brushes. The point is less tapered too and this tends to result in less of a smooth fine line compared to the David Jackson and the Raphael brushes, on close analysis the fine lines are more broken up and therefore less contact is made with the paper so perhaps this is to do whith the chunky build and maybe a bit more water is needed. Having said all that, this brush comes into its own for 'modelling' dry brush work and I use it largely for this purpose. It lasts for ages and is actually better with some wear. In particular, I love it for what I call 'polishing' dry brush work on vellum, which is an approach that I use to add a very fine layer of colour over previous dry brush to give shine, it's a very dry approach using quite a bit of pressure which allows me to layer, similar to the equivalent of a final wash on a watercolour. Below is an example of using a Rosemary and Co spotter on a maple leaf to get the 'polished, look on vellum! 

Rose hip using dry brush
Rosemary and Co spotters are great for dry brush work to achieve rich colour and depth

maple leaf on vellum using posishing dry brush
Also 'Polishing' dry brush is easier to achieve with the Rosemary & Co spotter
David Jackson Spotter, size 1 £? Contact The Brushman for information
David Jackson is a true craftsman and he made some spotter brushes for me several years ago, I think back 2012. I use them frequently and they are as good today as they were the day he very kindly put them through my door! The fine line work is by far the best, the brush holds enough water in its belly to maintain contact with the paper for a flowing fine line. This is my favourite little brush for detail working on vellum, I love to use it when painting butterflies, the fine point can give incredible detail for the most  delicate dry brush work yet doesn't seem to wear at all, probably because so little pressure is required and it just glides across the surface with no friction. The hairs are quite soft though so it won't allow an lifting but that not the purpose of a brush like this. 
butterfly winf detail made using David Jackson spotter brush
David Jackson's brushes are perfect for fine lines and detail, such as the fine scales of a moth wing
Raphael 8404  Red Sable size 3/0 approx  £7 -£10 
Narrower at the ferrule than series 7 and considerably narrower than the Rosemary & Co. This brush is more tapered but has enough belly to hold the right amount of water. This allows beautiful fine lines to be painted. It also seems a bit stiffer and is great for tidying edges and line work. I find the firmer brush perfect for fine tapered hairs when using body colour but also for very fine details, such as veins as well as for tidying edges. An excellent and versatile brush that rivals the Winsor & Newton miniature. Here's a link for the lowest price 8404. They also make the 8400 which is Kolinsky sable and extra short round brush, which is probably even better for dry brush.....I've ordered one! Beautiful brushes that last. I've had mine in excess of 5 years.

Painting hairs on flowers
Using the Raphael for painting fine hairs with body colour and a grey fine shadow line too. This gives additional depth to the hairs
Pro Arte 107 spotter, size 1 £2.60 - £3.50
A great low cost synthetic brush for lovely fine detail. I've only recently started using this one but on the downside the point goes fairly soon and you get that characteristic bent tip thet happens with many synthetic brushes but for the price, and if you don't like to use animal poducts, it's a pretty amazing little brush. Below is one I purchased a couple of weeks ago, and you can see the point has bent but if you use it for fine line work and not for dry brush it will last long. The fine lines are actually marginally better than with the W& N brush and the stiffer synthetic hair means you can tidy up edges and push the paint a little more than with a sable brush als good for hairs. So again it's a brush with a slightly different role and one I use a lot! Sold by several shops, including Heaton Cooper and Pullingers but often in the craft / hobby range
Purple made using Rose petal, dry brush techniques
Petal painted with Pro Arte spotter ( apart from the wash which was painted with a size 5 round) Its great for the veins and sharp edges and 'drawing' and 'dragging' dry brush techniques, but loses the point quickly.

damaged synthetic brush point
The point start to bend and this happens a lot with synthetics but it's still a fantastic little brush
Sets of Brushes
 I don't bother with sets of brushes by one manufactuer, because you usually end up with one or two that you don't need and often there are good offers on some brushes, so it's a bit of a false economy. But it you have no idea regarding where to start I supose it gives a taster of whats available.

Which is the Best? 
To be fair I like and use all of these brushes, I'd say the one that impresses me the most is David Jackson's brush, because of the smoothness of the line and the lack of friction between paper and brush. But I like them all for different reasons as outlined above. I tested them all out for lines the various dry brush techniques and they all have slightly different outcomes. I actually think it's worth investing in one of each of these brushes as a learner. They will all be used and small brushes are not so expensive. You can shop around and buy all of them for under £35! You may well find you have different preference but the best way to find out what suits you is to try different types, rather than blindly following somebody else's suggestions. Your brush really can make a difference and its very personal!
Painting fine lines comparison of brushes
Painting lines, David Jackson and Raphael were clear winners here.
Painting fine lines comparison of brushes David Jackson versus Rosemary and Co
Closer  ( magnified x2) inspection shows the smoother lines from the Jackson brush but the Rosemary and Co is better suited to dry brush
There's much more I could say about brushes and will try to write another post on other brushes at some time. This just filled the darkest of mornings when painting was near on impossible! hence the dark photographs.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Painting Roses and Colour Mixing: Sheffield Florilegium Workshop

I recently ran a workshop on painting roses for The Florilegium Society at Sheffield Botanical Garden. It's always interesting to talk to participants and take on board what they have to say about where they find difficulties. I offered to write this blog post for those who attended on the day and for general interest for anyone interested in drawing and painting roses, with a few additions on palettes and colour mixing too which was a common topic of the day.

Showing painting of a pink rose
A rose painted before the workshop, colours worked out in advance using a combination of Permanent Rose, Quinacridone magenta and a touch of cobalt blue in the shadow colour. The use of blue in a shadow on a pink rose gives a very fresh look, which is important in roses and ther flowers.
It was a very warm welcome from quite a large group of 18, I probably talked far too much but hopefully shared some useful information.
Drawing and painting a rose in a day is a tall order at the best of times, so I had forwarded some preparatory information of how to approach the drawing of a rose, but as you no doubt know, there are an enormous variety of roses, however the basic principles for drawing and painting are the same.

How to approach a Rose Painting
If I were to paint a rose for a florilegium, I would probably paint it over two seasons. This is the best way to familiarise yourself with the plant. I take the approach of a study page initially, which enables me to 'get to know' all of the plant parts as well as working out the colours, approach and watercolour techniques. For the workshop participants were to draw and paint just one aspect of the rose but hopefully they will now be better equip to tackle roses in the future. Here's a breakdown of the process I outlined on the day.

Study page in watercolour of a mauve rose, William Lobb
A study page started at the Sheffield workshop. The rose is William Lobb, a Moss rose

Line Drawing
If the drawing is flawed or incomplete, it certainly wont get any better as the painting progresses and this is particularly true with a complex form, such as a rose. Consequently an incomplete drawing can easily become confusing and rather overwhelming.
The best approach is to measure and be systematic, break down the subject into shapesand don't be afraid of taking photographs for reference... remember roses like to rearrange their petals when you're not looking! I always start by taking overall dimensions, then look for noticeable angles, which I plot, next I look for 'land marks', such as unusual shaped or distinctive petals. I gradually plot the petals on a basic grid, which allows me to navigate around the flower and to see the petals in relationship to each other by position. I work on tracing paper for ease of corrections transfer to watercolour paper this mehtod aviods wasting paper so doesn't cost much if you make a mistake.

Three stage drawing process for a rose
Stages of Drawing: Measure, plot angles using pencil and thumb method and find 'land-mark' petals to work your way around the flower in a systematic way.
Palette and Colour Mixes
Start with finding the basic hues for all parts. Having a piece of white card with a hole cut in it can help you to isolate the colours in the subject, remember that surrounding colours of an object can alter your perception of colour, so it's important to remove other colours that may distract you. You can take photographs for reference but never try to match colours from a photograph - it will not be accurate, instead always colour match from life in good natural daylight by a window.
Identifying colour mixes seemed to be a general problem for many people on the day. My attitude is to keep it simple, work with a palette of 12-18 paints. A good range of single pigment primary colour paints is what should be used for florilegium work, remember the whole point of this type of work is longevity and documentation, and that means using the best materials available. Paints should have ASTM I or II,  Opera Rose should never be used for Florilegium work! a few participants did use it for fun though and by way of comparison. Some people say they have done windowsill tests but a test of 5 - 10 years has no robustness, so best to be cautious and avoid fugitive colours....if the manufacturer say its fugitive, I'd take their word for it. I start with colour and technique experimentation on small areas, such as petals.

Painting of mauve rose patal and real petals
A simple exercise in working out colour and technique, for William Lobb, a David Austin Rose. Start with a simple petal on your study page or sketchbook. Colours used here: Quinacridone Magenta, Permanent Rose and Violet Dioxazine. Three washes and dry brush work to create the texture of the petal. 

Greens always seem to present problems, I have seen some of the most bizarre colour mixes, with multiple pigment paints and even using colours with black, such as Indigo and Sepia, this is bound to end in a flat and dirty appearance, so again keep it simple.
Painting a green chart is useful (see below) and mix all greens from primaries.  I don't recommend using convenience colours such as Sap Green because almost every different brand has different combination of pigments, some have up to 4 others have 2 and none in common with each other, the result is unpredictable! Every time you add another pigment to it you move nearer to mud! I'm not saying never use convenience colours but if you do use it make sure you add no more than one additional pigment.
Carefully observe the colour to see how it is affected by light, this can make it warmer or cooler and there may also be underlying colours.

Dark green rose leaf for colour identification
Careful observation of greens is required! I would use and underlying cobalt blue wash for the highlights in this leaf. Some areas are more yellow biased ( leaf stalk and mid rib) and some more blue biased. See how the light catches each leaflet, making one side of the leaf blade darker and more blue than the other blade because of the effect of light.

 It's much better to mix your own greens I start with a 1:1 ratio of a blue and a yellow to mix a secondary colour and usually add a small amount of red to make a more natural green. Then I can bias the mix from cool, with more blue; to warm, with more yellow, and also towards a more muted or appearance, with more red in the mix. Here's a short clip of how I work out greens ( not specific to the rose but hopefully still useful. I can also mix all the browns and any other colours this way and with the same three colours. 

I usually mix greens using a blue with a light value similar to the green that I'm trying to achieve, no-one at the workshop had ever heard of this before! so we discussed it at the end of the day. Basically, this means that I use a high light value blue, such as cerulean for a light coloured leaf, a mid light value blue, such as cobalt for a mid value green and a dark blue, such as Indanthrene, for a dark green leaf. Below you can see the high light value greens on the top row, the mid range in the middle row and the the darks on the bottom row. Of course you can paint them in different densities to make darker of lighter too.

A painted chart of green mixes in watercolour
Green mixes separated by light value of the blue. Top row: High light value blue mixes, middle row, mid range blue mixes and bottom row, dark values blue mixes. This simple process allows you to identify the type of green that you are looking to achieve with your leaf.
 Always make a note of the colours and paint a swatch for future reference and as part of your working practice.

Here's my suggested palette: approx 5 Reds, 5 Blues and 4 Yellows plus a few others:
  • Reds: Permanent Rose, Permanent Alizarin Crimson or Permanent Carmine, Quinacridone Magenta, Permanent Magenta and and Scarlet lake
  • Blues: Cerulean blue, Cobalt blue, French Ultramarine, Winsor Blue and Indanthrene Blue I also like Prussian Blue
  • Yellows: Lemon Yellow Nickel Titanate, Winsor Lemon, Winsor Yellow and Transparent Yellow
  • Others: Cobalt Violet and Violet Dioxazine
Don't overwhelm yourself by buying too many paints, it's important to understand the properties of the paint and to learn colour mixing first.  You can add more later but you don't really need them. 

The Painting Preparation and Process
Paper: Always use 100% cotton archival paper. Transfer the drawing by tracing lightly on the back of the final drawing with a B grade pencil. Use a soft tip fine liner to trace on the front side to transfer and this will allow you to see where you have been with the tracing and will prevent you from applying too much pressure, which can indent the paper and ruin it.

Brushes: Don't use brushes that are too small, this tend to lead to an overworked appearance and makes very hard work of it. I use a Kolinsky sable Size 5 round and pointed/ round for the initial washes and size 3, 2 and 1, miniatures or spotters for detail and dry brush (I use old worn brushes for dry brush work), also series 107 Pro Arte spotters are great for detail. I also find the Pro Arte synthetic Series 62 Flat shader, size 1 excellent for repairing edges and lifting.  Again I have other brushes but this selection will do the job These last two brushes are cheap craft brushes and cost about £1.75. There is no need to purchase specialist brushes for this purpose. Most are simple cheap brushes that have been re-branded.
A range of different sized paintbrushes
Use appropriate sized brushes, I've seen artists using size 2 brushes for washes, this is far too small
 Watercolour Techniques
I use a range of techniques but generally employ a staged approach as follows:
1. Apply the 'tea' wash sometimes wet-in-wet or wet on dry in smaller areas, this lays the foundations. Be sure not to have pencil line under the wash and remove as much as possible first. you can also work just inside any pencil lines on the outside edge.Then remove any remaining pencil after the first tea wash.
2. Build colour with more layers of washes and introducing some detail and shadows, more selected washes in the areas requiring more depth of colour. washes
3. Add detail and dry brush work to build texture and final detail
4. Tidy up any areas such as edges if needed.

On a complex rose I find it easier to work from the outer petals and work towards the centre, as shown in the video below, I also work on alternate petals so that they are dry before moving to the next petal.  

Using a burnisher is useful between washes, as with some papers 'flocking' occurs on the paper surface. Make sure that the washes are completely dry before using. I use either a flat agate palm stone or my new toy which is a gilders burnisher, which is excellent.

Painting of a pink rose with an agate burnisher
A gilders agate burnisher is perfect for smoothing and flocking of the paper surface, which can happen with certain papers. Available from gold leaf suppliers

Overall it was a very enjoyable day at Sheffield. I learned about the the Society and you can find out more and view the archive of work on their website