Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Happy New Year

Well, here it is, 2017, and we might as well start as we mean to go. Here at Squirrel HQ there has been no time to sit and wonder about how things might go, they're going already. Now, I'm not one for resolutions, but I am one to set myself goals. Something to challenge and make me take up opportunities that might otherwise go elsewhere. 

'Nature does not hurry,

yet everything is accomplished'

Lao Tzu

These will do to get things going:

As I said in the last post, the Botanical so Beautiful website is taking a break during January to give me some time to introduce some technical upgrades that will really make the tutorials sparkling clear and ready for anything. It has been such a wonderful experience, and made so much better by the generous members who have joined me. 

While the upgrade is taking place, there will be no interruption of service on the website, and all tutorials, sketchbook exercises and Technique Tool Box videos will continue to run. The Bitesize mini tip sheets will also resume shortly. These have been really popular, and although they started as a trial towards the end of last year, I have decided to carry these on. If you would like a fortnightly copy of Bitesize, sign up for the free tutorial on the website, where you can get your hands on some lovely freebies. Yes Please 

Some of the projects available on the Botanical so Beautiful website

Technical advice is an important part of everything I offer, both here on the blog, and on the website. Here are just some of the images from the Technique Tool Box videos and Sketchbook in Practice... exercises that are available to help everyone get the results they are looking for in their painting.

Elsewhere, I am delighted to announce that I have been invited to join the team of tutors at the London Art College. Their Diploma Botanical Painting distance learning course is a great foundation for anyone looking to further their experience and knowledge of botanical art, and some of the alumni of this course have gone on to complete the SBA DLDC in Botanical Painting. It's definitely worth considering if you fancy an introduction, as it covers drawing, graphite work and compositions. I'm really looking forward to welcoming lots of new students, and helping them to achieve their own painting goals.  

'If you want to achieve greatness,

stop asking for permission'


Lots of other ideas and plans are in the pipeline for 2017, but for now, here's the latest painting getting started.


Lastly, Ruby Rosehip became the December tutorial but was also a lovely subject to paint. Lots of rich and cheery oranges and reds mixed with a new Daniel Smith colour made a real impact against the deep greens and browns. The painting also gave me the chance to introduce a bit of troubleshooting. When a painting goes a bit wrong, it's not always the end of the world. By making the highlight too dark, I was able to go through the process of lifting unwanted colour.

This process has suddenly become a bit of a buzz on several You Tube channels, with other artists also demonstrating a take on the idea. Some I have seen are a little extreme, rubbing the paper and really damaging the surface. I would always suggest a cautious approach when lifting dry paint.

See the Ruby Rosehip You Tube Technique video

And the finished painting 

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Season's Greetings

Well, I've been away from the blog for a little while, but fear not, I have been very busy at Squirrel HQ with lots of new projects, and will be back in the new year with lots more news to share with you. 

The tutorials on the website are also having a bit of a technical upgrade, and will be bigger and better, and back on the website in February. The archives are really growing, with seven full length tutorials, 3 sketchbook exercises, lots of Technique Tool Box videos, and plenty of extras arriving in inboxes to keep everyone busy over the festive season.

In the meantime, I would like to wish you all a Very Happy Christmas, and here's to a fabulous 2017. See you soon. x

Friday, 14 October 2016

The Treasures of Autumn

Seasonality is generally something that affects what goes into my fridge. The short season of asparagus, Jersey Royal spuds, strawberries, and many other delicious delights means we love them all the more for their limited availability. Well, so it is with subjects for botanical painting.

This week I finally finished a study of a shiny conker in its prickly shell, and immediately felt a sense of achievement. You see, I have waited two years to finally have the time, and a specimen to paint. Of course, I could have worked from a photo, but there is a fine and worthy tradition of painting from a live subject, and I love to have the real thing in front of me, sharing its finest features. A bit like a silent teacher, helping me to understand its form, colour, and character. It's not just any conker, it's this conker.

"A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination,
 and instill a love of learning."

Brad Henry

Starting with an accurate colour chart, and an accurate outline drawing on tracing paper, I decided to work the composition at three times actual size. Making an impact with a small subject gives it a certain sense of gravitas I find, and makes the most of the interesting textures and architectural form of the conker. After all, they do look pretty unusual.

Working a series of initial wet-in-wet washes is a good way to create some early texture, and changes in tonal contrast, achieving a good base for the depth and detail. There is also a certain amount of spontaneity which allows the paint to find its own way, adding to the textures.

Once several layers are worked, the finer details are applied using a fairly dry brush and darker mixes. Careful, and slow progress is made here, as it's so easy to get impatient. Lots of breaks and a critical eye help at this point.

Highlights are maintained for as long as possible, before subtle colour is introduced to break them up and take away the false brightness. Only a very small portion of the brightest highlight is left, with the rest being softened into the form of the conker.   

Finished. Just as it is easy to get impatient, it's also easy to get overly carried away with the detail, by overworking the painting. When I think I am done, I will often leave a painting for a few days, and come back to it. If I'm still pretty happy, I'll leave it, and if it needs a little more, I'll work on it for a bit.

"Have patience with all things, But, first of all with yourself." 

Saint Francis de Sales    

The full step-by-step tutorial for 'Conkertastic' will be available on my website later this month. For further info please visit Sketchbook Squirrel, where you can sign up for a FREE video tutorial package, or join my full membership subscriptions for the full tutorials library.  


Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Growing Your Own Rainbow

This year I had a go at growing something of a horticultural novelty. You may have seen images of Glass Gem corn on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and like millions of other people thought, that's been photoshopped, corn isn't that colour, it's not real. Well, I can now confirm, it is!

"The thankful receiver bears a plentiful harvest." 

William Blake

At the beginning of the year I was gifted (from an extremely generous, and rather lovely new gardening friend) with a small brown envelope containing a small amount of the precious seed, and after reading up on when to sow, where to place and how much water to give, I planted the precious, but rather unpromising looking dried out brown seed and waited.

Glass gem corn is a stunning variety selected over many years by Carl Barnes, a part-Cherokee farmer and breeder from Oklahoma, now famous for his work in collecting and preserving rare varieties of native crops. Selected from crossing several traditional, heritage corn varieties and saving seed from the vivid, translucent kernels Glass Gem corn is being shared and grown around the world. By saving the corn ears that have the best colour variations to dry out for their seed, the following year's harvest is more likely to continue to have good colours. See Native Seeds

My little supply came from a lovely grower who trials new varieties of all sorts of plants, is passionate about heritage varieties, and writes about his results. He's a lovely guy, and offered to send me some of the Glass Gem corn seed to have a go at growing, and painting. With just a handful of seed to play with, I was a bit apprehensive, and only planted a few, to give it a go. It's pretty straightforward to grow, but gets huge! And although you can get quite a few cobs, it's all a lottery when you grow this stuff, as you can't tell from the outside, how colourful it will be on the inside. When it was getting to about 7ft tall with a number of swelling cobs, I was pretty sure we would get something out if it.   

The advice I was given is that it's best to wait until the leaves around the cob are beginning to yellow before you harvest it, and waiting was the hardest part. However, this week I was able to start bringing in my few cobs of corn to see what I had managed to get. The first two, although pretty were a bit devoid of the now famous, vibrant gemstone hues, with paler blues and pinks, or a mixed combo of yellows.  

Pretty Pastels

As with all plants, the harvest and colours of the corn are determined by the conditions
How much rain or sunshine or the position where the plants are grown will all have an impact on the colours.

it's best to wait as long as possible too. |I think this one could have been left a little longer,
to help the colours to develop a little more  

Number three however, came up with something really quite astonishing. After peeling off the papery husk, a bit like pass the parcel, the colours were slowly revealed. Just how good they would be, I had no idea, and was completely bowled over by the multicoloured, glistening pearls that eventually came out.

It has been a very great privilege to grow this most unique, and rare variety, and like many who have a go, I am completely hooked. Now to dry out the best of my corn, ready to sow for next year.  

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant."

Robert Louis Stevenson

Well, being unsure if the glass gem would actually be successful, I hedged my bets and had a go with another variety of corn that caught my eye. Having seen these before in the Sarah Raven catalogue, and being quite intrigued by their deep maroon colouring, I decided to give Strawberry corn a try.

Choices, choices, choices. Hmmm

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Harmony in Autumn

It is once again the time of year for a change in the seasons, when we all start going on about mellow fruitfulness, and the second spring and all that. Well, yes that's true, and the title her is credited to Shelley. For me, autumn is a time for collecting in the leaves, garden bonfires, and hot chocolate with melted marshmallows while gazing to the starry night skies through my telescope.

Fiery reds are reminiscent of autumn, with leaves and fruits showing off their final, and most spectacular flourish. Red is such a warming colour, and as the nights turn cold, and dark, warmth and the cheerfulness of comforting earthiness is something we all seek.

Student work from the tutorials and workshops

Getting ready for this year's crop of autumnal offerings, starting with 'Conkertastic', my oversized conker in it's prickly shell. Going along wholeheartedly with my theory that if you are going to go for something in life, make it a big one. 

 And some seasonal favourites from yesteryear...

Tutsan berries have a fiery hue before turning deepest near black

Peony seed heads look amazing in the autumn garden 

"Autumn wins you best by this its mute appeal to sympathy for its decay." 

Robert Browning

As you can tell, I have also been very busy with the brushes, creating more of the online tutorials that have really taken off since their summer launch. As time marches on, and the leaves start to fall, I can't believe how quickly this year has flown by, and how our little online community has grown. With four lovely new projects, sketchbook exercises, the Technique Tool box videos, and the new live sessions all coming in for the website, it's no slowing down and hibernating for this busy squirrel.

Current Botanical so Beautiful tutorials

The latest tutorial, deep velvety dahlia was another flower study that was worked at twice actual size, so I could really focus on the texture and details. Lots of beautiful new quinacridone colours from Daniel Smith and M. Graham were used, and I had fun building up the complex centre with lovely golds and glowing bronzes.

See the technique video on how to paint the centre of a dahlia flower, often the trickiest part of the painting.

First wash of lilac-blue

Building up with magenta pinks

Working up the centre

Finally there with golden yellows and deepest bronzes
The finished dahlia painting

Elsewhere, I have some lovely new big projects planned for 2017. Autumn is not just a time for nature to begin the long, slow progress into winter, but is the perfect time to plan for spring, and the exciting plans for the new year. Of course, for me that means lots more painting, lots more tutorials and getting going with workshops again. If you're signed up for the archives, you can see all the latest news soon.

And, just getting back to that mellow fruitfulness. Conkers are so evocative of this time of year, and remind many of us of our childhood. Still finding enjoyment in searching for these shiny jewels of the forest is one of the joys of being an artist. Only last week I was given some very funny looks by a couple walking their dog as I was on the hunt.

"There is a harmony in autumn, and a luster in its sky, 

which through the summer is not heard or seen, 

as if it could not be, as if it had not been!" 

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Working in a looser style.

This little sketch was completed before I even started botanical painting 

Latest drawing for a shiny conker in its prickly casing

The conker case |I painted last year.

Finding a case without a conker is a bit of a second prize, but still a good find