Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Gooseberry Fool

I could just tuck into one of those right now... Instead I am making do with a sausage roll from a petrol station. It's not quite 'albondigas', but it's giving me the 'carne' fix I need after a couple of weeks staying with my pescetarian dad. So what on earth have I been up to for the past fortnight (certainly feels like more than that to me...)? Well I got on a plane and arrived in the UK and it was cold. I went to the Chelsea Physic Garden, and decided that I want my ashes spread over the garden after I spent most of two days there, collecting as much information from their live collections as possible. Since then I really have come to realise that it is the place to be and renewed my membership.

After a couple of days of 'field work', I caught the train down from Victoria station to my hometown, Bognor Regis, and started my next commission - a gooseberry. I missed the season, so this piece is being painted from photographs - seven different ones to be precise  -from gooseberries all over the country. So far I have spent roughly 70 hours on it and am about half way. I hope to have it complete before the 10th when I pop up to London again to show it to the client. 

Gooseberry - Ribes uva-crispa
Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa) - a work in progress. J R Shepherd ©

I bought some new blue pigments which were waiting for me when I arrived. I am using one of them in this piece - Manganese Blue (121) Daler Rowney. Other colours are from the Daley and Rowney range: Rose Madder and Cobalt Blue and from W&N: Transparent Yellow, Hooker Green, Aureolin Yellow, Permanent Magenta and Olive Green. The fruits have every single one of these colours in them, and the leaves have less Aureolin and Olive Green.

After the 10th I am off to Norfolk for a weekend off. I am hoping to dash to Suffolk to see some hops farms, but it is all weather dependent and so far I don't really rate the weather. Can you blame me?! I have a robin outside my window in Bognor singing it's winter tune and, while I liked it at first, it is now starting to make me feel rather confused. Is it really that time of the year already?

Friday, 14 August 2015

The Yellow Loosestrife is almost complete

It's time for a break. I have been hard at it this fortnight trying to catch up on the two weeks I had to take off with the flu whilst also trying to clear the deck ready for more work to come in. I have been sitting down at the drawing board at 9am and leaving it alone at 9pm, although last night I got a second wind thanks to taking a longer break with my neighbour Terri, which meant I was able to carry on until midnight before the mosquitoes kicked me out. It's not a twelve hour day as I take breaks, but it sometimes feels like it when I go to sleep and all I can see is green... 

Yellow Loosestrife - Inky Leaves
Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris) 2015
So here is Lucy... she's certainly come on a bit. It has been slow going this piece. I put it down to the heat (which is remarkably hot and humid still - Granada managed to knock through another record high yesterday) and my lack of confidence. I knew right from the start that this piece would challenge me and took it on for that reason. Feeling so hesitant with my brushes has meant that I have not only used a completely different painting technique (using teeny brushes and wet washes), but also has made it so that I've very slow in getting the colour onto the paper. There are lots and lots of very thin washes in this piece. I am not slapping on the paint like a mad woman. It is a delicate hairy plant that needs a delicate touch. It also a bold plant though, and quite a showy thing in any boarder. I knew I needed to capture both characteristics and have tried to portray the bright and bold side of this species by using dramatic shadows, intense colours and by arranging them to make an 'exploding' composition.

Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris)
Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris) 2015

Lucy still isn't finished and I will probably go back to her after I publish this post for a few hours. I will then tweak it when I am in England. I need a longer break for tweaks so I can see all the mistakes afresh.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Lucy the Yellow Loosestrife

This is definitely the hardest thing I have ever painted and it's all in tiny brush, which is why its taking longer to do. What's difficult are the colours foremost, and then the shading as I have a lot in shadow for this piece. Then there's the texture of the leaves, which is still proving to be difficult to capture, but I am enjoying the challenge - really I am. If I wasn't, I wouldn't be in the studio first thing (that's usually a sign).  

Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris) - work in progress
I have five days to complete Lucy before I take her to England, can I do it? Hopefully!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

What a fortnight

Posting appears to have slowed down again... There's been a lot going on behind the scenes. First of all I went on 'shut down' as I tried to locate a theme for the RHS show and then it got hot (42 degrees again) here, which rendered me useless. My computer Sandy also hates the heat, so I have been trying to avoid switching her on and typing. Then a load of work came in, and well, I have basically been busy in the studio trying to juggle too many balls. I have been working on commissions and the RHS at the same time, which to be honest, is really stupid, so I have put the RHS, my leaves and everything else to one side as I give the other work priority. Hence the recent plant hunt for a gooseberry, which many of you helped me with - thank you.

Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris) - work in progress
First up has been the Yellow Loosestrife, which needless to say, is causing me some 'strife'. It's yellow for starters... not sure if any of you have noticed that I tend to stay away from that part of the spectrum..? Plus it has very difficult leaves - they aren't glossy and are also rather hairy which is very difficult to do as the leaves have a habit of looking rather 'flat'. Needless to say I am enjoying the challenge.

Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia vulgaris) - work in progress
Other news is that I will be in the UK for an extended trip while I paint a gooseberry and another two species.  I will also be amassing a large collection of sketches to take back to Spain for other projects, so I will be super, super busy. With all this work piling up I have just done my annual online watercolour and brush order which was eye wateringly 'spenny', but had to be done. So, posts might be weekly or fortnightly for the next couple of months while I work in top gear. Have a great summer everyone and if you are in the big smoke and want to meet up, just email Inky Leaves, I am always up for a cuppa and some cake (or a beer).

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Just watch where you put your brushes

Just a short post, which many of you might feel is a little odd, misplaced and not really that important, but I feel it is. I believe that I have to blog about this in case there are any artists out there who are doing the same without realising, especially those who are new to botanical art. Once again I appear to have ingested too much paint. You'll be pleased to know that I have managed to re-train my brain to stop sucking my brushes, but I am still known for gripping the handles of my brushes with my teeth (like a dog with a bone). When I paint I often have four brushes on the go, sometimes more. One wet with nothing on it, a harsh 'mixing brush' and then two with paint, often different shades of green. So I put one behind each ear and one in my teeth while I paint with the other. Painting on a drawing board means I don't put them 'down' and to be honest, I realise now that these problems all started when I got Derek Drew the drawing board back in 2013.

James Sowerby's illustrations of gems and minerals (18th Century)
What I am probably suffering from is a build up of metals from years of working in potteries, garages and museums whilst also painting. My work in museums probably really didn't help as I was working in the geology section and frequently worked with minerals such as cinnabar, arsenic, erythrite and galena. I also worked on herbarium specimens which are often covered in mercury and release mercury vapour and entomology collections that are poisoned with naphthalene. I also worked in a lab for a summer as a cytologist using naphthalene, which is a really nasty substance known to stop cell division. My poor body!

Anyway, needless to say, despite not sucking my brushes or working in a museum I still seem to be ingesting metal through the water along the shaft of my brush handles. As I am dry brush worker, I rarely dip my brush dip all the way into the water, but the other day I did and the consequences were diabolically bad. I felt very confused, off balance and delirious. It was, and still is, pretty frightening. I often wonder if this is what happened to Van Gogh and if it wasn't just the wormwood. Anyway, feeling pretty angry at myself for being so utterly stupid and I am now re-training the way I use my brushes AGAIN and this is tricky - one gets so absorbed into the painting that one looses their awareness. Of course, added to this, I use all the toxic colours... Aureolin, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Hookers Green, Olive Green, Sap Green and New Gamboge. I especially love my Daler Cobalt Blue and think it's that that's doing it as the 'crazy' feeling is always worse when I am painting bluer plants, like Hostas and Brassicas and I always have the feeling when painting something green.

Anyway, needless to say I am going to invest in some of this

Looks pretty cool. I am thinking of putting it on the drawing board and sticking mini magnets (which they also sell) inside the rubber so I can 'hook' the brushes onto it. In the meantime I will be eating as much coriander as I can find and lowering my alcohol consumption considerably! 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

William Arnold - Edgeland Botanical Flora

Found this chap on Twitter, thought his work was pretty awesome. A Plymouth graduate myself, I am naturally rather keen on promoting his work. Cue -William Arnold, a visual artist and historian interested in the engagement of science, ecology and history in contemporary photo practice. 

The Magnolias Of Wilfred Aldwych

"His compositions, seek to explore aspects of temporality, the physical qualities of light and the role played by process in current debates surrounding the materiality of photography and the perceived authority of the photograph as historical document. 

Through seeking new ways to chemically challenge the medium, the works hark back evocatively to the early experiments of the first photographic pioneers, however the integral role of contemporary technology within the practice makes for a synthesis of the analogue and digital, past and present".

I really, really like this body of work. I like all of this chaps work, but in particular this. Check it out on his website - there are so many more amazing images to be found. Touch of the Karl Blossfeldt in places, but all rather ghostly and ethereal, this collection of work to me really touched on how subtle and transient nature can be and how beautiful that is.

By William Arnold

By William Arnold

Edgeland Flora - work in progress by William Arnold

By William Arnold

Kinky leaf

Catalpa bignonioides, Indian Bean,Botanical Art
Catalpa bignonioides, Indian Bean Tree Leaf - work in progress
My God, this is taking forever. I feel I might have bitten off more than I can chew with this piece of subject matter. My eyes are starting to gloss over a lot and the breaks aren't really helping so I am only managing a few hours everyday. Still that's better than nothing I suppose. I'd rather do that than to make a mistake. 

So as you might have seen, it's turned more yellow. It is a senescencing leaf after all and I realised I hadn't applied enough. I am generally yellow-phobic, it has to be said, so I often don't use enough in my paintings. Knowing this means I will always forcibly stop and ask myself - 'have you put on enough yellow Jess?' I think that this is important and that it is good to look at ones weaknesses and try and improve upon them.

When it comes to the entire composition, oddly, the top bit of the leaf (which looks tricky) was the easiest part to do, despite having all that detail, scratching and venation. The trickiest part for me so far has been the bottom of the leaf as we have colours (yellows and greens) bleeding into each other. It's a pain as I can't really work wet on wet on this paper in this heat, so I am trying to do it dry brush. I am finding it very tricky to bleed the colours into each other on such a scale. It was easier on the Pineapple because it was broken down into smaller rhomboidal shapes. 

Furthermore, there is more extreme tonal variation in this part of the leaf. For example, there is a kink on the right side. This will end up being very dark indeed, but the ridge of the kink will be almost white. I am enjoying the challenge, but it is tiring work. It is amazing how much brain power you use doing this kind of labour. 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Forty hours in

A special letter

I have always considered the lifeline of a botanical illustrator to be a bit different to the majority. I say 'the majority', as I am sure there are other professionals that have an existence like ours, such as farmers and great architects. What I am talking about here, is how we work with time. I believe that we live slower. We have to wait sometimes years for something to come into flower and our work is often seasonal. We live like trees. We take our time soaking up mother nature, interpreting it, sorting it and combining its elements to make something extraordinary. That is what we do and to do it properly, I feel, takes time. 

Last week I made a several trips to our letter box. It's a black box hung on the wall outside of our house here in Spain and requires a small key to open it. It's currently a very hot place to be, as it is on a south facing wall, so its a trip that needs to be done in the early morning, usually on the way back from my walk. It is usually my responsibility to check the house post, but I rarely do it on a daily basis. The reason for last week's toing-and-froing was because I was eagerly waiting to hear from the RHS after I submitted four pieces of my work for a preliminary judging. On Monday, I checked the post as usual - nothing. In the afternoon I later saw an update from Claire Ward saying that she had been accepted. I was so pleased for her, and happier still to think that my letter was on its way. I just assumed I'd get mine a little later as I am further away from the Londinium hub. After an hour of thinking about it, I decided to do a second daily check on the hot, black letter box - and there it was.

I have been wanting to submit work to the RHS since 2008 when I was working for Plymouth City Museum. I remember being sat at my cluttered desk, (littered with random natural history specimens such as eggs, butterflies and feathers) and having a sneaky look at the guidelines during my lunch break. Ever since then, I have made small steps towards this goal. 
Sat under something that I was hoping to paint as part of my RHS theme - there's a hint for you!

Sven years on and I finally felt that I might have reached an acceptable standard to be in with a chance of being accepted and with this in mind, I visited London to drop off my work for review in June. A month passed and the letter arrived, it is good news. 

Beers lined up in case it was bad news and I needed to drown my sorrows.
It was good news, so in the end I only had a couple.

And this brings me back to time because after a seven year growing season to get from seedling to sapling and a months wait for some mulching, I now have a maximum of five years for further development. It's a long process. I am hoping to put on a sudden growth spurt and get a collection ready for 2017, but one just doesn't know what lies ahead. One thing is for sure, I am not going to rush this one. I am taking my time to plan and organise my thoughts into something coherent and (hopefully) beautiful.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Tropical Splendour

Dr. Shirley Sherwood has opened her new gallery in the Botanic Gardens of Singapore... This of course is superb news. If you want to see what the gallery looks like and the exhibition, you can see it here at about 1.08 minutes into this mini film... 

Held at the CDL Green Gallery, "Tropical Splendour: Plant Portraits from the Shirley Sherwood Collection of Botanical Art is Dr. Sherwood's first curated show in Asia. It is also, rather excitingly, the first time that the Singapore Botanic Gardens has showcased works from various international artists. Let's hope this happens again...  

Using 55 illustrations by 36 different artists from Dr. Sherwood's enormous collection of botanical art, this show has been curated in such as way as to continue to focus on the gardens mission of connecting plants with people. Highlights of the show include highly detailed illustrations of plants found in the tropics and in the local region. Among these are watercolour paintings on paper by Thai artist Phansakdi Chakkaphak, a drawing of a ginger plant by Wai Wai Hove, an artist based in Singapore, and a notable artwork by Pandora Sellars of an orchid, Laelia tenebrosa, painted in 1989. 

The exhibition will run from 10 July to 1 November 2015, and is open from Monday to Sunday, 9am to 6pm, and is closed on every last Tuesday of the month.