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."
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.