Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Sketchbook, Graveyard Studies, Day 21-30

Here is a selection of the final sketchbook drawings for the 30 day challenge, undertaken on days 21-30.  Drawn as preparatory work for my big 'doodle' style drawing and also as reference for a new painting on vellum. All are local wildflowers, I've completed 12 sketches to date using the graveyard next door for inspiration.

Day 21, Vetch, Vicia sepiens. Completely surrounds the grave of a woman named Kezia Beech, who died in 1877.
This post is actually more about the value of using the sketchbook and doing research but as always a bit of research grows 'arms and legs' and this place is really rather interesting.

The Checkley graveyard of St Mary' and All Saints has been my next door neighbour since moving in last November, I look out on to the gravestones from my painting window. Being neighbourly I now pop round on a regular basis, it's a beautiful place and full of flowers. During the last few weeks I've been sketching the plants and have become more interested in the history of the church too, it dates back to the 12th century,  it even has arrow sharpening marks in the buttresses, where the archers used to hang out! 

Detail, showing that it's a rough incomplete drawing with planning lines left in place and many notes
These are not polished or perfect drawings but merely studies to record information quickly - plants move on fast at this time of year so if I want to create two larger works using this theme its essential to get as much down in the sketchbook as possible.
All of the sketches will be used as reference for larger works, hopefully some will be completed this year but if not I'll return to it same time next year.
I like to 'get to know' the subjects by drawing them repeatedly in my sketchbook, this is a crucial part of understanding plants and builds knowledge about their biology and ecology. There is no better way of learning about plants than to draw them and makes notes in the field,  whilst referring to a good book of flora or ID guidebook.

There are many flowers! A grave full of forget-me-nots.The grave seems to creates a natural seed bed.
It's odd how certain plants are growing in fairly confined spaces of a particular grave, I suppose just as they do in the wild. Most plants seem to be native plants but I wonder if the have been put there deliberately or whether they just seeded from local populations.....I suspect the latter but actually have no idea.

Day 22. Forget-me-not ( Myosotis arvensis) A very apt flower for a graveyard. It grows all around the rectory too, I've seen these beautiful Orange tip butterflies amongst them and combined with some orange hawk weed, this would make a great collection for a painting. The blue and orange go perfectly together as complementary colours.  
Detail of Forget-me-not sketch page

There are lots and lots of wild garlic plants too! which smell extremely strong if bruised.
Day 25. Wild garlic, Allium ursinum

A mass of Alliums

Day 26 and 27 Alliums, I like them best before they open, papery spathes enclose the flowers which can bee seen trying to escape and there are little droplets of condensation inside!

Closer view, shows the flowers starting to escape!

 First of all I made a note of all the plants growing and made a positive identification using my old Bentham Flora Books and species guides. Most species are pretty simple but it's always good to double check and often I discover something that I didn't know.

I sill use the old Bentham and other old floras but have to be careful with these because of reclassification, so I also use other guides and more up to date floras, such as Stace. The graveyard species are all simple to identify but it's always worth double checking. Another great book for identifying features is the Cambridge Illustrated Glossary of Botanical Terms, which every botanical artist should have.
I've also been making a note of the graves or area where the plants grow. Noting the name of the occupant and taking a photograph, no idea why but it seems like the done thing!
The Grave of Elizabeth Ash, with its Spanish Blue Bells

Day 28 The Cuckoo flower, (Cardamine pratensis) is found throughout the graveyard. This is actually the reason that the orange tip butterfly is found here as it's the food plant for the species.  In folklore this plant is said to be sacred to the faries, it appears at the same time as the Cuckoo bird starts to sing in May. It's also thought to be very bad luck if picked and that's also why it's excluded from the May Day garlands.
I make drawings and extensive notes of all the key features for each plant and include basic colour notes and write notes using initial for the colours...saves space on a crowded page.

Day 29, British Bluebell, Hyacinthoides non-scripta
Bluebells in the shaded areas under the Yew trees. A mix of native British bluebell ( Hyacinthoides non- scripta) and Spanish (Hyacinthoides hispanica) bluebells and no doubt many hybrids between. It's fairly easy to tell the difference between the species, The native bluebell flowers has yellow pollen and the Spanish has blue pollen, and wider open flowers. It's not so easy to tell the hybrids. The Spanish bluebell is pushing the native ones out, so please don't pick the native ones.

The Graveyard some weeks ago, before the flowers started to appear....looking forward other plants appearing over the summer months.
That's the  end of the 30 day challenge, it run over the time limit but I got there in the end. I'll try to remember to add the remaining images once I've photographed them.

For anybody who is interested in sketchbooks, and is a member of ASBA ( American Society of Botanical Artists) I've also written a post on the Sketchbook Exchange Project for the June edition

On Earth there is no heaven but there are  pieces of it  
George Renard

Monday, 25 May 2015

Drawing and Seeing

 The question is not what you are looking at - but how you look and whether you see.
David Henry Thoreau

I've been thinking about useful blog posts for those starting out in botanical and natural history art. I've even revisited some old posts and added new material and yet again have come back to the importance of drawing and seeing. 
Drawing disciplines the eye and brain, it allows us to make judgements which the hand responds to in a coordinated way. The coordination of eye, hand and brain is essential for all artists if they are to produce accurate drawings. I have covered drawing in previous posts but feel it has to be the place to start.... why?....because observation and drawing go hand-in-hand and should never be separated or skipped over, if we can't see, how can we interpret with pencil or paint. 
A garden shell drawn in my sketchbook ( details of how this was drawn at the end of the post). Simple face seven on and profile views ( scale x 2.5). Hopefully you can see the basic measurements, from the outer margins and showing where profile view spirals line up with the face on spirals. If you measure you can't really go wrong with the outline and adding tone is about understanding the interaction of the object with light.

  Accurate drawing underpins all botanical and natural history based art. Failure to observe and interpret through line drawing probably results from a lack of understanding of a 3D form and an inability to see. The brain tries to trick us, often we draw what we think or know to be there rather than what we actually see but we need to create the link between the object and what is visible, which will enable us to convert the 3D object to a successful 2D drawing.  
Drawing is pretty important if you want to be scientifically accurate. Not that a disproportionate drawing can't be aesthetically pleasing - it can! however, it certainly won't be a botanical illustration, so it really is worth putting in the effort, but try not to be limited to pure botanical subject but work with a diverse range of material instead to keep your interest. Learning to draw won't necessarily come easily but the effort will pay off.
From line to tone, starting to work with simple perspective by drawing of a Camellia leaf. The skeleton outline is drawn first and tone added afterwards. Note: the original outline should not be visible in thr tonal study. 

A skeleton drawing, dealing with working out overlapping parts as thought they are transparent. 
Working out overlapping elements in a Camellia flower. Top shows the skeleton drawing and here moving on from line to adding tone. There are many things to consider when drawing but most subjects can be broken down into simple shapes and by measuring and looking for angles.

 Can we all draw?
I really do believe that most people can draw to a reasonable standard. At very least accurate line drawings can be achieved but first we have to learn to 'see'. Yes it's true that some individuals have a particular talent for drawing, it's something that comes naturally but even this 'natural talent' needs training, for others it is more difficult BUT is possible in all cases, it just requires work! 

John Ruskin, painted by John Everett Millais at Glenfinlas, Scotland 1853-54  copyright Wikimedia Commons 
Ruskin's Elelemts of Drawing is a good place to start.

Ruskin said ....if you wish to learn drawing that you may be able to set down clearly, and usefully, records of such things that cannot be described in words, either to assist your own memory of them, or to convey distinct ideas of them to other people: if you wish to obtain quicker perceptions of beauty of the natural world, and or to preserve something like a true image of beautiful things that pass wish to understand the minds of great painters, and be able to appreciate their work sincerely, seeing it for yourself, and loving it, not merely taking up the thoughts of other people about it; then 'I can' help you or, which is better, show you how to help your self.

Only onething you must understand, first of all, that these powers, which indeed are noble and desirable, cannot be got without work.
from Elements of Drawing

When do we start drawing and why do we stop?
Mark making is intuitive for very young children! I haven't met a young child yet that didn't want to draw and paint! Here's my grandson, aged 22 months getting stuck in with a bit of drawing and painting.

All young children want to draw....this happen as soon as they can hold a crayon

There are so many potential benefits in education with drawing, particularly for those with visual learning styles but sadly most children get locked into negative experiences and failure with drawing. Children should be permitted to draw regularly, yet many teachers reinforce the 'I can't draw'  idea even with young children, it becomes almost a 'feared' classroom activity and is quickly relegated as unimportant in comparison to other subjects. In recent years the specialist visiting teachers have diminished in numbers due to cutbacks, to the detriment of children and me it's short term thinking.  I believe that a child encouraged to draw will progress witrh numerous other skills.

Another drawing by my grandson, aged 3. Already he is able to count and make some controlled lines and to draw recognisable figures with an element of proportion. Fine motor skills are still developing but the subject is recognisable and drawing fires the child's imagination.

 The consequence is that parents and teachers tend not to draw with children and it eventually becomes unachievable. Sadly I observed this frequently in the years I worked in education ......drawing becomes elusive and perceived to be within the domain of the few. It's not the failure of the teachers but a failure of our education system to recognise the importance of drawing in learning and teaching. 
Observing, counting, measuring, creative thinking and problem solving are just a few of the benefits of drawing which can be transferred across the curriculum. 

Drawing can be therapeutic too and this should never be undervalued as a benefit. It also allows us to explore objects and surfaces in a way where we look at them and appreciate them differently. Unfortunately most young people start to believe they can't draw before the age of 10, most leave school and never pick up a pencil again....hence the cycle of failure continues and the 'I can't draw'  mentality continues. 

 Is it in the genes or learned?

 I believe that it's probably a bit of both. I was fortunate, my mum used to draw and we always had art materials around the house. I was never discouraged or told that art wasn't a worthy subject, and, I had a very supportive art teacher.  My own children have always been surrounded by drawing and painting, so it's probably no accident that one of my children is studying fine art. This probably has some element of genetics but I believe that nurture is equally important. Below is a drawing of a face wipe, by my daughter, Polly.

Untitled, drawing of a face wipe, in graphite and chalk on pastel paper by my daughter Polly Sutherland who is currently studying fine art at Lancaster University.

So where to start?
Think about why you want to draw and what you want to achieve. Are you prepared to put in work?..... If you're not then it's probably not going to happen! Why not read through Ruskin's Elements of Drawing , it's available as a free on line resource from the Ashmolean.

Ashmolean web resource, Ruskin's Elelments of Drawing

Drawing and seeing, IMPORTANT! Draw from Life!
The way that we see differs when we draw on a regular basis. Its not the same as just looking at an object, it's a complex analysis of objects and their relationships. Research has shown that the eye scans the subject differently when we draw on a regular basis - it skips back and forth, across the  3D form looking for these relationships and this scanning translates to the hand when we draw. Studies have shown that novices take less time to make a mark, they often start at one end of a subject with little or no planning because they have not analysed the subject visually and their ability to scan the object is limited. Read this study fascinating study by Bryan Maycock if you don't believe this is true. It shows the differing eye and hand patterns in people who draw and those who don't.

Looking at the whole, measuring andidentifying angles, curves and relationships

 Learn to take time exploring the relationships within and between objects before starting. Look at the overall picture, measure and look for angles.  

If one concentrates too much on one particular section, there is a tendency to see and draw in a manner different from the rest of the subject, and one of the first things to learn in the development of observation is that your eye must be kept active. (Simpson, Drawing, Seeing and Observation, 1987, p. 20)

 I can't emphasise enough how important it is to draw from life! I'm not saying don't ever use photos and iPads etc. for reference but the results are likely to be flawed if you are over dependent of such devices neglect to learn the basics. It's pretty obvious when subjects are drawn from photographs....photographs lie and don't allow us to understand the form, resulting in a flat lifeless or photographic result. Your drawing skills will never improve if you always draw from photographs.
Here another old post on observational drawing  titled 'A Bit About Drawing 1' 

Materials are probably worth a mention.
The good thing about drawing is that you don't need very much at all!
I wrote a post before on 'which pencil', so won't repeat but  Faber Castell 9000 pencils are best for  botanical and natural object drawing.
Eraser putty and hard rubber- use as little as possible!
Decent paper - use of a sketchbook and draw in it regularly....preferably every day! Stillman & Birn Zeta series are great!

A magnifying glass, a handheld will do and it doesn't need to be too large ( 3inchs is sufficient), in fact avoid large magnifiers, the quality of lens decreases with size. Don't go any stronger than x 2.5, high magnification really strains the eyes and it's usually not so good quality! 

Get to know your basic tools 
Play or experiment with the pencils in your sketchbook. find the difference using the pencil at different angles and when sharpened differently.
Practice -  continuous flowing lines and shapes and outlines
Master the basic shading techniques, hatching, cross hatching, stippling and continuous tone
Get to know the pencil grades by making graded tonal strips

Creating a tonal strip, the difference between progressively softer grades of pencil should be clear to see, if, the correct pressure is applied

Subjects, start simple 
Start with profiles and face- on views as line drawing
Choose simple subjects that wont die or move! shells, acorns and small fruits or seed-pods are perfect.

Learn to measure, use you pencil and thumb or a transparent ruler marked with mm.  You don't need to invest in proportional dividers just yet, unless you have lots of money to spare!There is no need to spend large amounts of money!

Shell Study Example

A shell make great starter subjects.  They have a simple outline and pattern and great form which catches the light.
Garden snail shell, with light is coming from the right hand side
After carefully observing your subject, start by measuring. The outer height and width the centre with horizontal and vertical lines. Mark out the position, height and width of each spiral. You can do this straight into the sketchbook. If it's for a final drawing you may trace and transfer - being careful not to apply pressure so that the paper is indented. I draw straight into the book, tracing is an alternative option if you are not confident and can minimise rough working lines which need to be erased. Be careful to ensure the tracing is accurate.

Transferring an outline of using Saral paper as an alternative to drawing directly on the paper.
Once the outline drawing is complete,  erase any working or correctionss. If using a hard rubber be sure to brush away any rubber debris with a large soft brush,  it catches in the graphite and causes black flecks.

 You can now start to add tone. This is what gives a 2D drawing a 3 dimensional look. Study the light source carefully. Look for the highlights and shadows and the mid tones in between. Make sure that your subject is lit well so that it's clear which side the light source is coming from
Start with the hardest grade of pencil, 2H and work from light to dark, working in the using increasingly softer grades. Here I have used the ribs of the shell for the direction of the shading.


Heres a short hand held video, of the sketch made using an iPhone ( hence the camera movement,sorry). It shows the laying down on the first shading using  2H - HB pencils. I start by using the natural lines of the shell ridges. This is gradually built up to create a fairly dense covering of graphite. 

As the layers of softer pencil are added the depth of tone increases. Only the brightest highlights should allow the white of the paper to show through. It often works well to finish off with a harder grade to smooth the graphite, using a H or 2H is a good option.
 Finally I begin to add different views of the shell, side views and the rear of the shell using the same method of measuring. This approach will record all of the basic information needed to make and accurate record of the shell.

Adding different views of of the shell

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Day 18 and 19, More Butterflies, Travels and moving on to Doodling

I've been away for a few days visiting the beautiful gardens and galleries of Oxford and Bath. Not much achieved  for the challenge other than two more butterflies on the vellum sheet. This time a Peacock and a Camberwell Beauty. 

The view through the magnifier. Working on a Peacock and the beginnings of a Red Admiral below, above is the Swallowtail completed some weeks ago. I always work with an illuminated magnifier lamp and wouldn't be able to see in enough detail with out it!

The finished Peacock, Aglais io, I have painted one before but that was a darker form. This one isn't as bright as most but is the only subject that I have. Scarlet Lake and Indian yellow were included and also some of the iridescent Daniel Smith colours on the shiny blue spots.

The Campbewell Beauty, Nymphalis antiopa. A rare migrant to Britain. So named because it was found in Campberwell. I wasn't going to include this butterfly initially because it's so rare here but decided that it is a good addition to the sheet after all. In the US it's known as the Mourning Cloak. To find out more about this species check out the UK Butterflies site
The four completed butterflies. I'm hoping to end up with around 20 species on this piece of vellum,and hope to produce it as a limited edition print eventually.
While away I was lucky enough to visit the Ashmolean Museum, where I saw the Great British Drawings exhibition. Seeing work by Ruskin made my day, especially his Kingfisher feathers,  a  tiny still life by William Henry Hunt is also stunning! see below.
The Ruskin teaching resources are online on the website - so well worth a look for any self respecting painter of  nature!

Ruskin's Kingfisher, the painting of the three feathers is from this same bird.Copyright Wikimedia Commons

A beautiful little still life of Peach and Grapes by William Henry Hunt, Watercolour and bodycolour over graphite on paper. Nobody paints bloom like Hunt! This work belonged to Ruskin and features in his teaching materials. Hunt paintings feature fruits, shells, flowers and of course his best known work...the birds nests! Copyright, Ashmolean

There's also the wonderful Dutch still life room...... Sigh!  In which there are a number of oils on copper plate by Jan van Kessel, also work by Rachel Ruysch....beautiful stuff!
Jan van Kessel's Insects, oil on copper plate. A number of his works are on show at the Ashmolean Copyright Wikimadia Commons, Public Domain
Upon returning home I was feeling inspired and the pencils were out immediately! Following on from my previous post I  decided to start a large sprawling graphite 'doodle'. Very little planning was involved, other than having the plants at hand and a rough layout is in my head! so I sketched out a few of the subjects and will add as I go. So this piece will fill the remaining days of the Challenge it may or may not work..... I'll share this in my next post.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Day 16 and 17, Plan, Experiment....Repeat

The good thing about this challenge is that it nurtures ideas for new idea leads to another and so on.  Most ideas are cast aside, simply because they're not good but we need the bad ideas and regular work to come up with the better ones.....right?
Sometimes even the bad ideas return in another form. Not sure if these will, neither am I entirely sure what I was doing here but it was fun making paper surfaces and working with carbon, graphite, chalk and paper stumps...oh and of course more bulbs and seed- heads.

The beginning, working with carbon. It's a different type of finish great for smooth shiny areas and you can lay the basic form very quickly!

My first attempt with carbon, This paper surface was created using Gesso and paint....I was trying to make a surface that looks a bit like natural vellum and burnished it to make smooth when It was dry. It's not so bad, I used a marbling technique with a rigger and overlaid glazes, and even indented some veiny looking bits and also trashed the Daniel Smith Earthy dot card in the process!
Making a mess! textured coloured smooth base for the Carbon.... A kitchen sink approach!
 After the 'peaky' looking silver point in my last post, the dusky Wolff carbon pencils were an attractive prospect but I like the coloured background of the silverpoint, hence the paper experiment. I ground the carbon and applied with a brush and paper stump to model the general form. Then working with graphite and the carbon pencils before adding white French chalk for highlights. At this point I gave up and decided it was actually a load of rubbish and moved on to the iris seed head on paper.
The point of abandonment.....accept the fact that it's not really working and move on!

Carbon and graphite on Fabriano Artistico. Not sure why I worked this large. Thought it would be easier with carbon to work larger. It remains unfinished and I reverted to type and moved on to butterflies.
Both the Sketchbook Exchange Project or 30 Day Challenge have given me many ideas for new work and also a chance to reflect. And when I'm busy doing other types work I think about what I've done previously, I look for links or areas to develop sometimes. This carbon drawing of a bulb didn't quite work but I think it could. So I moved on to an iris seed-head on paper. It looks promising but the jury is still out on the carbon. The simple things in the Challenge seem to be pre-cursors or tasters for more complex component parts. I used this approach to build up parts and ideas. One work I think about developing is the sketchbook page below but on a larger scale...... It tugs at my attention.

Complexity, my I've drawn all of these individually prior to this and want to develop it.
It's all gone a bit pear shaped with the 30 day challenge but there seems to be a purpose here. I had a super high pressure commission painting lots of complicated fruit compositions over the last two weeks,  so very little time for anything else. Working 15 hours each day to complete on time was draining but while I was doing this work I was still thinking about my own work up ahead and planning.... this is the important time leading up to new work. I've been thinking about a compositions for the look that I want to achieve for sometime. I've been observing habitats everywhere and the complex interactions between plants, it's not a conscious effort it's just something that people who paint and draw plants seem to do....eventually I home in on something. So my next focus will be the development of the sketchbook page approach and that's where I'm heading next. I love to work in black and white and love complex forms, it makes sense.

My favourite kind of subject, detailed graphite, complex pattern and texture!

 There are two types of compositional ideas that I favour, the simple floating subject and the complex with intertwining parts with overlaps, patterns or transparencyand.  I'm not really interested in too much in between, so look for interesting shapes and flowing  lines, movement and the interaction between objects, sometimes I like to 'order' them and at other times I like to go with the natural lines Neither is it necessarily about a particular plant initially but more to do with a particular feel or atmosphere. I think this idea will be my focus for the remaining days of the challenge....but after the carbon chaos a few colouful butterflies are in order first!

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Day 15, Silverpoint and Gouache

I'm falling further and further behind with this challenge but hey ho! Will plod on regardless because there are no actual rules here other than self imposed ones. So I'm ploughing ahead making stuff in a random fashion in between other work that I have to do. Yesterday it was time to rummage through the art cupboard looking for missing things when I came across the silverpoint again and thought I'd give it another go....even though I don't quite know what I'm doing!

Day 15, Another attempt at silverpoint, another tulip bulb but this one has grown some roots in water
 As a bit of an side, and nothing to do with silverpoint, I was reading about Andy Warhol the other day. Not that I'm a huge fan but I like him more since seeing the exhibition at Tate Liverpool last year or maybe it was this year ( can't remember ). Also my daughter was writing an essay about him, and I usually get the privilege of proof reading these essays ...anyway to the point! I came across this famous quote of his, apologies if it's not entirely accurate I tend to alter words to suit me.

' Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding , make even more  art.'

That's a philosophy I agree with, just get on with it! at worst it ends up in the bin and you start over, which is better than doing nothing and regretting it. So with that said, I'm not sure what to make of tonights effort. Seems a bit pathetic, but seemingly it will develop over time and it's quite nice to do. 

I had tried Silverpoint last year and not really been overly impressed with my efforts but everything takes time....right!? I've always loved those Renaissance silverpoint drawings, especially those by Durer so wanted to try it.... Guess I was always going to be a bit disappointed with my effort!

'Two Seated Lions' by Albrect Durer 1521. Copyright Wikimedia Commons
So what did I do?
First I referred to this brilliant website on silver point. If I can produce a website on vellum that's half as good I'll be very happy!
 First off you have to prepare the paper with a several coats of the ground. I did this first with ready prepared ground and then decided to add some colour to it to give a more natural colour, it's not unlike natural vellum. I used a Stillman & Birn Zeta series sketchbook and the paper reacted well tho the ground. I can't remember quite what colours added, raw umber and some others, red and transparent yellow plus a touch of neutral tint. About 6 - 8 coats of ground was applied making sure it was fully dry between layers.

Preparing the surface with layers of Golden silverpoint ground, I added some colour to give this natural finish.
 Thereafter I worked with the silverpoint by drawing with the silver medium in it, which is called the metalpoint. You can use other metals too, copper and gold give a different finish. I only had one size piece of silver and could have done with a finer piece but I filed  it a little at the end. 
Hatching with the metalpoint - I added some white gouache to give more depth
The technique is line drawing and a hatching process, to give more tone the hatching lines are made closer together, just like hatching with pencil. It's quite light in tone but apparently it does develop over time as the silver oxidises, so I'll wait a few months to see what happens. Unfortunately if an error is made you can't go back or rub anything out, once each stroke is made it's permanent. 

I did get impatient with the lack of tone and decided to add gouache to highlight, not sure if that's what you are supposed to do but I can't see why not. It seemed to work well with the natural background.

So this is my final piece, I'll post it again  in a few months time if I remember, when hopefully it will have developed  more tone. I guess I can add more to it if needed at a later date.

Silverpoint drawing with body colour of a tulip bulb
Final drawing ....just need to wait now and see how it develops with oxidation. This photograph gives a more accurate colour than the others but is a bit dark. Maybe I'll try another one sometime.

 Not sure when day 16 will appear as I've got too much other stuff to do this week but will try my best!