Saturday, 21 March 2015


After another week working on the vine, I was feeling more than a little jaded! It's not far off being finished but by Friday I was pretty weary of it and unsure of whether or not it was heading in the right direction. So the decision was made to take a break, and, by way of a change I spent a couple of hours painting a butterfly on vellum. Beginning right in the centre of a sheet of Kelmscot vellum with the Swallowtail. Papilio machaon is one of our largest and most beautiful butterflies here in the UK. It is also one of the rarest and can only be found in the fens of the Norfolk Broads where the sole food-plant, Milk Parsley is present.

The Swallowtail, Papilio machaon on vellum
I really enjoyed painting the butterfly, particulary those red spots, and I think I must have been craving some other was good to get away from the turquoise for a while  Sometimes it's best to walk away from a painting when it gets to this stage. A painting (and painter) seem to go through various stages, from the initial enthusiasm with the washes, then it slows right down as the layers build, the detail stage and finally the finishing. This final stages can sometimes cause a bit of anxiety for me, when I start to question whether I could have done things differently, of course it doesn't matter because what is done is done.  At this stage I take a break and also photograph the work to explore it in detail on the computer screen, this helps me to see where more work is needed. I also turn the image to black and white in Photoshop to look at the values and play about with levels to see how the tonal values could be improved upon.

A black and white view helps me to identify where work might be needed regarding  the tonal values.
The colour of the jade vine is a very difficult one to depict because it varies so much across the plant, from green to turquoise and blue to purple. The flowers becomes more blue and purple as they age. This bizarre colouration is known as copigmentation which is due to the presence of the anthocyanin, malvin and saponarin. The flower has a different pH value inside in the colourless tissue compared to outer petals where it has a higher alkaline pH and this alkaline pH is is believed to be responsible for a reaction in the saponarin which creates the unique turquoise colouration. I tried to address the unusual colouration by layering glazes of different transparent colours and by adding a small amount of gum Arabic to the glazes to maintain the luminosity.

Tricky colour, layering of glazes and the addition of gum Arabic helps to maintain transparency

Tomorrow I shall try to finish the vine but have teaching work and other jobs to finish first, whatever happens, I have to be finished by Monday when it goes to the photographer. I've enjoyed doing it but these larger paintings (this one and the previous fritillary) require a lot of concentration. I try to paint or draw everyday and think it's important to do so but when working on the same piece for extended periods it can be tiring and I can lose sight of what I'm trying to achieve.  The butterfly painting is something I've had planned for a while and provided a much needed  break, once the jade is finished I hope to add at least one butterfly per day and aim to have at least 15 butterflies on the sheet of vellum.... the temptation of some small works and learning about each butterfly will hopefully help to drive me towards the finish line!

The latest version of the jade.....more over the weekend

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Vine Time, Take 2!

Last week saw the start of a new painting of the Jade Vine, Stongylodon macrobotrys, Family: Fabaceae ( Pea family). Completing work is always a good feeling.... and that's what I'm looking forward to doing with this piece! Painting can be a frustrating business at times but it's always best to finish, the alternative of having unfinished work lying around can be a bit depressing and a bad habit to get into. I'm currently working through all of my unfinished projects from the last 2 years and finally feel as though progress is being made.

A new Jade Vine painting underway, size 40 x 56 cm. I normally put the stems/ stalks in first but decided to start with the flowers this time, using a blue biased turqoise mix. The yellow biased mix will be added as a glaze later.

Last years painting, a larger flower......a bit too large!
 It's been almost a year since the previous painting of the vine and I have until the end of the month to submit for the Sydney Royal Botanic Garden Florilegium project. I started over because the first one is really a bit too large for the mistake! So this one is a simplified slightly smaller painting, not that it's particularly small at 40 x 56 cm but it feels a lot smaller compared to the larger version.
I actually prefer this flower, it's the one from Durham University Botanic Garden, and although the flowers at Kew were plentiful and considerably larger, this flower had the most intense colour.

Purple creeping into the turquoise flowers, is a sign ageing
I hobbled to Durham on crutches last March, having twisted my ankle the week before. I knew the plant was in flower as the garden manager had kept me informed of the progress before my visit. I  came upon the solo flower  hanging just inside the doorway of the hothouse. As I stood photographing and sketching it, I could hear people gasp as they opened the door behind me vivid was the colour, it created quite a talking point!  The flower was pretty much at the end of flowering period and some purples were creeping into the turquoise flowers. So here is the painting so far....more work tomorrow.

Still a long way to go but making steady progress! (Tracing paper is used to Keep the paper clean and to protect the work).

Painting specifications
For this project there are a number of specifications. Only 100% cotton archival quality paper can be used, which is something that I always use anyway.  Fabriano Artistico HP 300lb paper,  is my normal paper, so this was fine. For those interested and to clarify which side to use, it's the side without the writing, which is actually the back side of the paper, the front is the mesh side and where the writing is.
 The painting has to be produced to given size specification and there are two portrait and two landscape options, I chose the largest portrait size, this is why I've chosen the smaller flower, the previous painting had a flower spike almost 60cm in length. Plants must be painted life size, so the larger spike was simply too large and I didn't want to crop it.
 Paints must be ASTM lightfast rated with permanence I or II. The signature has to be in pencil , discreet , no logo style signatures are allowed.

The colour of this flower is very unusual! the basic hue is turquoise and it moves from yellow to turquoise, green, blue and violet. below are some of the colours used. I decided to start with a slightly more blue biased mix and add the more yellow biased mix on top.

Winsor Blue Green shade plus Aureolin seems the best option for the mix and both have ASTM II. But in the end I went for Hansa Yellow light because I don't like Aureolin. Also used is Ultramarine violet and some Cobalt Turquoise. Making sure the chosen colours have the correct light fast rating.
  In it's native habitat in the Philippines the jade vine is pollinated by bats, the green actually appears to glow at night, and attracts the pollinators, most bat pollinated plants which are white.To find out more about it click here

Some fallen flowers collected from Kew and taken back to the hotel for investigation. Bats hang upside down on the flower and drink the nectar as it pours out of the flowers and their heads brush against the pollen as they do so, as they move from plant to plant cross pollination occurs when the pollen brushes against the stigma.
Not exactly at its best but still worth investigating! A flower from Durham

I expect this painting will keep me busy for the next week or so! That's it for this week, will be interesting to see how much I actually get done by the same time next week!