Charles Darwin and his wife Emma had ten children who obviously loved drawing on the back pages of Darwin’s manuscripts. I think they give a look into the domestic world behind an icon of science. You must look at “The Battle of the Fruit and Vegetable Soldiers”! They remind me of Pamela Allen’s wonderfully comic drawings in books like Bertie and the Bear. (The sketch in the feature image above is one of Darwin’s, from a page of his note book, from Wikimedia Commons.)
There is a slide show in this article from the New Yorker:
(I have a passion for natural history and the people who have developed our scientific understanding of our world. I hope to post little treasures like this as I come across them. Any suggestions are more than welcome.)
As promised, a couple of pages from my sketchbook. The homework brief (from Liz Steel’s online sketching course, Foundations) was to use rooftops to compare the set-up I needed for a sketch.
The first one took me a little out of my comfort zone, in that I had to be sketching out of doors. It is one of those things that is more difficult in thought than action. Like going to a party where I may only know a few people. It is the thought of it that makes me nervous, once I am there I am fine. Once my sketchbook was out I was happy to stand there. I do have to admit that “standing there” was over the other side of the railway line from the house. It still feels a little intrusive to blatantly stand drawing in front of someone’s house. (I would love to know what you would think if you saw someone standing, sketching, outside your house.)
As for the artwork….well, I was drawing, and that always makes me happy. My aim was to only have a few initial lines, drawn in Indian Red pencil, the most important lines needed to create the drawing. You can see them under the ink and they completed my set-up. I had an idea of where the drawing would be going. As I drew with the ink, using my brand new Lamy pen, I was able to restate some lines and add in features such as the chimney. It was obvious that some of the proportions were out, but it didn’t affect my pleasure in the drawing.
As I walked home I thought about how I would continue with it. I decided to use coloured pencil. The ink I am using is not waterproof, so any paint would smudge those original lines. This is how it ended up, perhaps a little too fussy. You can also see where I worked out the actual angle of the roofline.
The second go at rooftops was to not use any pencil lines for the set-up. Before I began I had a conversation with myself noting which geometric shape each plane of the roof was. I still made assumptions. I assumed that the front triangle was an equilateral one. As I was not face on it couldn’t have been. But I was pleased I was painting the shapes I was seeing, using my hand-eye co-ordination and not relying on pencil. It made it a much more spontaneous painting. You can see that later I used pencil to work out the angles of the eaves.
I was very pleased that I painted it sitting on the grass by the oval, looking at the new housing with all the interesting rooflines. Again, enjoying finding the place in myself to be in the moment.
After I had made my notes there was a corner of the spread left blank. So I painted in the candle holders, again just by painting their shapes. Just going for it.
The finished spread.
Which set-up did I feel happier with? The pencil set-up, even with only a few guide lines feels very comfortable. I need to understand the angles better, to be more thoughtful about where lines are going, but I know I can do it. The other, paint straight onto the paper is much more of a high-wire act, and therefore more challenging. So it’s the set-up that I want to do more of. And do it outside too!
It is an interview with Evelyn, one of the artists involved. Her work is wonderfully detailed ~ detail achieved by her microscopic work. So if you have ever wondered about the role of microscopes in botanic art, head over to read her interview.
Last days of a class that you have enjoyed is often tinged of regret. This last day of the workshop was no different, and I was determined to make the most of my time.
Just to recap, on Day 1 Helen Burrows worked us through tone, grey scale and mixing neutral tints, while Day 2 was about colour bias and other colour theory. There was a rose painting thrown in.
Day 3 was the time to tie it all together.
I chose a Just Joey rose. It was open and flouncy, with lots of beautiful curves and folds. There were strong highlights and delicious glowing depths. Just what a rose should be. By the way, whenever possible botanic artists work from the real thing, not photos. Therefore it helps to have a good supply, or paint things that don’t change much, like feathers and knobs of garlic! It also means that, before we start, we try to get as much information about our specimen as possible. Line drawings, tonal maps, colour swatches all help.
First step was the line drawing. This was much easier than the bud I attempted on Day 2. I am not sure why. More understanding of the shape? My eye was “in”? A fluke? Probably the last!
While I was drawing I was taking mental notes about the colours and the hues (which I think are tones with colour). I was also looking for the little details that make the drawing real ~ which line goes under, which go over, what happens at the end the curl of the petal and so on.
Then to the colour mixing and creating hue scales. A hue scale is like a colour swatch from the paint store. It helps to understand the range of that colour (hue), from the darkest of pure pigment to the lightest of washes.
I have admitted before that colour doesn’t always come easily to me. Part of my problem is that I am lazy, believing that close enough will be good enough. So while I did some hue scales, I could have done more. Consequently the colour I ended up using with was not accurate. So my painting of the beautiful Just Joey rose is also not accurate. To defend myself a little, I was conscious of time passing…..and the exercise was to see highlights and shadows.
Hmmm. Could do better. The pencil letters are the paints that I mixed in order to get the colours ~ Quinacrodome Red, Quinacrodome Gold and Windsor Yellow Deep, If I don’t record them, I easily forget.
On to the painting? Not quite yet. Next step is to create a tonal map/drawing of the rose. It is easy to skip this step, but I like it. Not only because I love seeing tone, but because it gives me vital information about the plant I am drawing. Then, when it goes to the compost, I have can still paint with reasonable accuracy. However, I have always done these as separate drawings. Helen’s suggestion was to do it on tracing paper, over the top of the line drawing. This is a great idea. The tonal work matches the line drawing
Now on to the painting. Following those beautiful curves. Making the depths of the rose glow. Finding the nuances of tone. Understanding that on the rose there are 2 different sorts of shadows. There are the cast shadows, those made by another petal blocking the light. On my rose they were soft blue grey. Then there is the darker tone created by the light shining through the petals. These were the areas that glowed. And remembering not to get caught up in the detail of each area too soon. This was to be a first wash.
I only had time that day to get it to the stage shown above. Time was up, for both the workshop and the specimen! I was confident that I had enough information to be able to finish it at home. Not altogether the case, however. I wasn’t sure what was happening with the petals at the top left. I knew that the light was strongest on them, so I hoped that I would only need to suggest shape and hue. If the painting reads well (ie convinces us that this really is a rose) then our brains fill in the rest.
The next photo shows the tonal drawing, done on tracing paper, over the top of the work in progress. You can see how the tonal drawing helps to determine where the darks should be.
And finally, the finished painting!
I am very please with the painting, especially as an early attempt at a rose. (It is available for sale in my Etsy shop. Either follow this link, or click on the photo.) Maybe now I am enough of a Grown Up Painter to do more roses!
I left the workshop on Tuesday feeling satisfied. I had battled with my painting, and to honest, it won. However I learnt a great deal and was looking forward to two more days of sitting and painting. The only problem was that Helen had mentioned roses for Day 2.
During day 1 of the workshop Helen Burrows took us through tone and grey scales. Day 2 was to be hue and colour bias.
As I mentioned before, I can see tone fairly easily. However, colour confuses me. I was a long time into my artistic learning before I was confident to use colour. While I can mix a colour reasonably accurately, my use of colour always seemed a bit hit and miss. Now I understand that my problem was that I had missed out on a basic concept — the colour wheel.
A colour wheel explains bias in colour. There are 3 primary colours ~ red, blue and yellow. Everyone knows that! But the primary colours that we have in our paint tubes are not pure. They have a bias towards the secondary colours of green, orange and purple. This is why, at times we wonder whether a yellow is yellow or green, or why a blue can also look purplish. It is important to know the bias of your paints. You can make your painting sing by using the right colours, by thinking about 3 “rules”. When you don’t take bias into account you end up with an uninteresting mix as the colours compete, often neutralising each other.
I have create a very rough colour wheel, using coloured pencils but it will help illustrate the rules.
Rule 1: Family is always welcome. They are the other colours/hues around it. However, you need to bear in mind the bias of the colour. For example, is your blue a green blue or has it a bias to purple? If to the green, then the hues of your colour will be somewhere in the greeny blues. It is to those hues that you will look to mix your paint.
Rule 2: Next door neighbours are friends So a colour only a little away from the one you want will work harmoniously. Blue/green. Yellow/orange etc.
Rule 3: Opposites attract. These are the colours opposite each other on the colour wheel. Purple/yellow. Blue/orange. Green/red. They are the ones that can add zing and depth to your work. Think about a blue room with accents of terracotta (orange). Interestingly (well, to me, anyway!) to make a colour darker you add its complimentary colour. Want a darker green? Add red.
So, Helen took us through colour bias and wheels and hues. I came away with a much stronger understanding. Yay! Then to our roses. Maybe not so Yay!
Roses are complex. Their shapes are complex; their colours and hues are complex. They are for Grown Up Painters. But Helen wasn’t letting me get away with that mind set! And I wasn’t letting me get away with any more tantrums. So with my colours mixed and my hue scales done (sort of), I settled down to draw and then paint the rose bud. This is what I ended up with 🙂 . I think it looks like a flouncy fish….but I am happy with what I learnt.
The original drawing was not accurate. That meant that I got lost in the drawing, not sure at times of where the lights, darks and mid~tones were. Lesson 1~make your original drawing as accurate as possible.
I could see the highlights and darks, and managed to get most of those down in the washes. Lesson 2~be very careful of your highlights. Unlike oils and acrylics, where you add white paint to make a highlight, watercolour relies on the white of the paper. Many a cry of anguish has been heard from a watercolour painter who has mistakenly painted over her white paper!
I think I was getting the mid-tones. Lesson 3~remember that the mid-tone in paint is the middle section of hue scale.
And lastly I did my usual trick of getting carried away in one area, one petal, putting in all the lovely detail. Lesson 4~remember to work over the whole, to compare tone and hue to the overall. Detail comes later.
So it wasn’t a perfect rose ~ or even a perfect fish! But I had fun. I played, and learnt so much through playing.
[If you are interested in finding out more Windsor and Newton have a really interesting article here. It will give you more detailed information. Maybe more accurate too!]
I am a botanic artist. Watercolour is the medium that most botanic artists use because it translucent. It allows the light to bounce through the paint, giving a luminosity and depth. Many artists handle watercolour like masters (or mistresses, as so many of us are women).
Not me. Give me a pencil and I can draw you a garlic bulb. Finding tone with a pencil is wonderful. Finding tone/hue with watercolours is often a battle.
So, when I saw a workshop on tone, hue and colour mixing I was there! 3 days of painting — bliss 😀 (It certainly helped to know that it was the first week back at school for the year. In my old life as a primary school teacher I would have been there, distributing books and pencils and organising seating arrangements. Now I was painting in books, using pencils and not giving a toss about who sat where!)
As an added bonus the workshop was taken by Helen Burrows, very talented botanic artist and teacher. She is a superb painter of camellias.
In this series of posts, I thought that you might like to see a little of behind the scenes of a painting.
We began the day twisting ribbon, that very decorative ribbon with wire edges, into interesting curvy shapes. Then Helen spoke to us about grey scales. She was horrified when a couple of us, including me, not only hadn’t ever done a grey scale, but didn’t really know what one was. I know that you will know, but let me explain it to the others. 🙂
Tone is the amount of light that falls on an object. Think of that art room cliche, a spherical object, such as an orange. If the light is coming in from the top left where it hits, top left, will be the highlights. The bottom right of the shape will be the darkest (except for a sliver of reflected light….). In between those two areas will be various tones from the very light to the very dark, and a range of mid-tines between. Understanding those tones and translating them to paper will give the orange its 3D effect.
A grey scale becomes a very useful tool. Because I had never done one before, I didn’t realise how useful. This photo is of my grey scale. As you can see, 10 is as dark as your pencil can get and 1 is the white of the paper. You can also see that there is not a lot of difference in my scale between 3, 4, 5 and 6. Interestingly, I now realise that this is an issue in my drawings too. My mid-tones (3, 4, 5 and 6) are often very similar in my work. Having a grey scale handy will be a good reference.
On to our ribbons. Helen asked us to use our grey scales to create tonal drawings of them. As I said before, I love pencil, and so was able to get right into this task. I was pleased with my drawing. I think it has drama and life.
Then we moved onto mixing a neutral tint for an underpainting. And that’s where things started to go wrong!
A neutral tint is, Helen explained, made of the colours that you would be using in the painting, mixed so that they become interesting greys. Interesting greys?! The others were coming up with beautiful colours, soft and sensuous. Mine were not working! They weren’t grey, they weren’t soft. It didn’t help that I was using cerulean, a blue that is notorious for granulating on the paper. Sometimes that effect is wonderful, sometimes, like now, just annoying!
I applied it to another drawing of the ribbon. This is what I ended up with 😦 although I added the rose pink later in an attempt to improve it. It didn’t. I had no lovely soft greys, no lovely soft washes. Just clunky lumps of colour.
At this point I may have looked like a middle aged (hmmm, maybe slightly older!) woman, sitting at a table, battling painting. In my mind I was a child, rolling around on the floor, having a good old tantrum ~ “Mine’s not working!! Everyone else can do it!! I don’t like this!! I don’t want to play any more!! I want to go home!!!”
But, after promising myself the adult equivalent of a lolly (a glass of wine ~ at home 🙂 ) I picked myself off the mental floor and started to work out what I was doing and not doing. While I don’t usually go to the extreme of a mental tantrum, as I am painting I often go through a time when I feel that it is not going right ~ just not jelling into what the finished work should be. Usually I work my way through that and then, at some time the painting just pops into place.
This ribbon was doomed from the outset. No amount of work was going to make it all right, but that’s okay. I think that often we are so focussed on the final product (“This has to be a perfect painting/novel/poem/etching etc”) that we forget that playing and having fun is such an important part. And you learn through play too.
So I left the room on the first day with a smile, only slightly nervous about Day 2. Did Helen really say we were going to paint ROSES? Roses are tricky. Roses are for grown up painters, not for me.
It is a little while since I have posted about books I have been reading. (Isn’t it funny how you start this blogging caper with firm ideas about what you plan to do, and then, after a while those ideas seem to wander off somewhere else!) But I have been reading.
The tale of Beatrix Potter: A biography by Margaret Lane
Beatrix Potter’s Art selected by Anne Stevenson Hobbs
Beatrix Potter is famous for her illustrated stories, especially The tale of Peter Rabbit. I think my favourite is The tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle.
Her ability to draw the natural world in exquisite detail began at an early age. She was almost an only child — her younger brother was sent away to boarding school at an early age — in an upper middle class Victorian household. An academic education for Beatrix was not an option and so she was tutored at home. It was a very lonely life that she filled with animals and drawing.
The high point of each year was when the family, including her brother Bertram, went on holiday to Scotland and later the Lake District. The children had freedom they never had in London. They were fascinated by the natural world, and brought back many treasures, including animal bones they boiled the flesh off. In the nursery in London Beatrix kept rabbits and other small animals. She drew it all — birds’ eggs and caterpillars, foxgloves and fox skeletons.
The book of Potter’s art shows what a beautiful artist she was. We know her as the creator of Peter Rabbit. She could not have achieved the simplicity of her illustrations without having many years of practice behind her. There are studies of rabbit ears and drawings of her rabbit in his box. Even when she dresses her animals, the true form and nature is there.
As well Potter was a superb natural artist. Before she published her books she had completed an artistic survey of fungi, including dissections and microscopic details. She also painted butterflies, with microscopic detail of the scales on the wings. She did studies of a dead thrush, the skull of the family cat and fossil studies. All are beautifully done. There are many works in the book, some of them can be seen here.
Against the wishes of her family Potter was engaged to Norman Warne, her publisher. However he died before they could marry. Later in her life she married William Heelis and settled down to life on her farm. She didn’t continue with her books. It’s interesting to see the photos in the biography. As a child and young adult she is very serious, no smiles. On her wedding day there is a very shy smile, and later photos show her beaming! How wonderful that she was finally able to find the life that she wanted to live.
And another thing….
I found the biography on the shelves at my Mum’s house, untouched since the 70s. It has been nibbled by silverfish; it has thick, slightly yellowed pages; it has that old book smell; it has a dust jacket; and best of all it has a wonderful inscription to Mum on the frontispiece. Can an ebook have any of that?
As I mentioned last time I am studying how to paint shells and other beachy things for an upcoming exhibition.
I wanted to have another go at shells, to experiment with masking fluid. Masking fluid is a rubber latex solution, used to retain highlights and other light areas. Watercolour painting works from light to dark, so it is easy to cover up lighter areas and highlights. They are crucial because the highlights, reflected light and shadows give life to a painting. And they are easy to lose. Masking fluid can help out.
Shells have very definite rings (that I suspect are growth rings — am I right?). On my shells they are subtle but obvious, if that makes sense. I wanted to try to use the masking fluid to develop those rings by allowing their different colours to come through. I had to think through what parts of the shell I wanted to mask; that is, what parts I wanted to be lighter than the next layer of paint. I planned to layer the masking fluid as I layered on the washes.
The photo below shows my set up. Obviously the top three shells are the real ones! You can see small dabs of paint around them. This was to help me decide on the colour mixes. I had recently bought a new paint — Perylene Maroon — and it seems to be perfect for these shells. Mixed with Windsor Lemon it makes a very potent orange and Naples Yellow makes it opaque. The shadows were Perylene Maroon and Blue Black.
The next photo shows a close up of my work in progress, with a couple of layers of masking fluid already on. The right hand shell is the underside. You can see my drawing with some masking fluid on it. This shell had much less definition, so I wanted to see if I could create it by using washes of paint. The other two were built up by small brush strokes.
Of course, the masking fluid masks what is underneath and it can be difficult to remember what is there. So when I was removing it, and it peels off easily, I had a little heart flutter in case I had done a major stuff up. Fortunately I hadn’t. However, it leaves quite definite, obvious edges, so there is further work to refine and soften them.
This is the finished work.
I love how the right hand shell has turned out. There are times when creations almost create themselves — and this was one of those times!
As for the masking fluid….I don’t know that I will use it in the final piece. I need to paint some other shells, so I may make a study of them with masking fluid. The masking fluid lines would need to be much finer than I have managed here. Also, I think it is too time consuming.
I have actually made prints of this study to sell in my Etsy shop. I usually sell the originals of my works, but I want to have the original to use as a reference. Have a look here if you are interested.
It is a little while since I have posted anything about my art work, but I have been busy painting. I am intending to put a painting into an exhibition coming up in October. It has the title “From forest to foreshore”, and I was inspired by my recent get away in Portarlington. The beach was a treasure trove for a beachcomber like me, so my painting is to be called ‘Portarlington Treasures’.
However, I have lots to learn about painting the treasures I want to include — so lots of studies. Unlike writing on the computer, there is no delete button on a lovely piece of watercolour paper. And no way to paint over it as you can with oils and acrylics. I didn’t want to be working on the final piece, panicking because I didn’t know how to go about painting seaweed or shells.
Before I start to paint something I look at it closely. Where does the light fall? Where are the shadows? Is there a hint of shadow there? Reflected light? What colours can I see?
But the most important question is what attracts me to this? I try to keep this in my mind as work.
Firstly I studied shell fragments. Scallop fishing is a big industry in Port Phillip Bay and the beach was littered with them. I did some quick studies while I was in the caravan. They helped me to realise the importance of the shadows.
At home I set up the shells, having decided on the front and back of the two halves. Then thought about my approach. I loved the rich colours, and the shadows. I played about with different mixes, settling on Olive Green and Windsor Red. Adding Naples Yellow at times would give me the opaque look some parts needed.
The quick study also told me that the growth lines of the shells were really important to give shape and structure.
This is the finished work.
And the two halves
I was very happy with the work. (It sold within a few hours in my Etsy shop!) However, I have noted things that I have to be careful of when doing the good one. I know I haven’t really resolved the area where the ridges of the shells meet at the bottom. The shadow is not right in places; neither is the white line in on the left hand one.
Also, I wanted to try a different method, using masking fluid. More of that next time.
February is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. Its colour is teal. So I have been creating teal feathers for my Etsy shop, anne4bags. Well, they are also green and indigo and purple feathers. And I am donating 50% of my February sales to Ovarian Cancer Australia, to help with their vital research into this disease. (To find out more about how you can donate click here.)
Last post was about the symptoms and risks of this cancer. Have a look here if you would like to read more, or have a look at the website.
And other blue feathers
And one still being created:
All except for the 8 feathers work are A5 in size. The other is A4.