Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Battersea to Bognor

Sounds like a scene from 'Monte Carlo or Bust' and it felt bit like that last week. I broke down a few times as I struggled onward and needed to top up on fuel at my friends houses in order to keep going. Last week was difficult, non-flowing and complex and took the wind right out of my sails. It just goes to show you - you never know what is around the corner. Cut a long story short I almost gave up this botanical pursuit. Most unlike me - I never give up, but several times over the past several days I have found myself close to complete breakdown. I am tired and that doesn't help, both physically after marching across London, and mentally. Emotionally I am pretty stretched and all of these are dampening my spirit. But I mean to go on - not because of how much we have all invested or through personal pride, but because I know no other way. It has always been my belief that I was born to paint plants. To me, painting is like breathing fresh air. It's an innate need. It would be easy for me to blame my reason for giving up on the many pressures coming in from all directions, but I know the real reason is that all these pressures had no outlet at the time. I hadn't painted properly for ten days whilst being on the move and I felt it. Thankfully my brushes are now touching paper and I feel more grounded as a result. So my advice is when you are this close to giving up painting - paint.

Rubus ulmifolius fruit ripening
Blackberries (Rubus ulmifolius) ripening - a work in progress
With this in mind I have started a new piece - a raceme of ripening blackberries (very disappointed that every time I type 'blackberry' auto spell changes it to 'BlackBerry' - see here as to why I am sad about this). These are definitely now in my top five of all time horrendous subjects to paint. I was so entranced when my friend Tom and I spotted some ripening blackberries in Chelsea Physic Garden that I didn't even think about the technical expertise required to paint such a thing. Nope - it did not enter my mind even briefly. Wish it had, as I then would have saved this piece for another time as it is super hard. I wouldn't mind so much if it wasn't a commission, but it is, so I have to do this well. I'm just thanking my lucky stars that there aren't any yellow or white flowers involved as that would top it off. So my other piece of advice is if you are thinking of giving up painting - do not pick a subject that is difficult if it is for a client. It's a lot of pressure to put on oneself. I am just ploughing on and trying not to think about it's destination too much - it is the only way.

Rubus ulmifolius fruit ripening - close up

What makes this piece tricky is the spectrum of colour (yellow, peach, grays, blues, reds, magenta's, blacks, pinks, greens and white tints) and the two textures - shiny berries with many tints to the velvety stem. The leaves are not a problem - haha - I am lucky in that they rarely are. I am starting to wish that I had mastered the medium of masking fluid, but out of stubbornness I have not, so I am having to dance around every speck of white. Fun.

Rubus ulmifolius fruit ripening - a work in progress
My palette is: W&N Transparent Yellow, Permanent Magenta, Permanent Rose, Hooker's Green and Daler & Rowney Cobalt Blue,  Phthalo Blue, Rose Madder. The usual. Not much changes there. Teeny brushes. A painting like this, where the colours change a lot and bleed into each other doesn't half make it tempting to use lots of brushes all at once, but I am being a good girl and sticking to just three brushes and not putting them in my mouth. This is good news - I think I have re-trained myself.

A painting of ripening blackberries
Close up of the bottom of the raceme of Rubus ulmifolius - work in progress

So a little update from the Inky Leaf studio in Bognor Regis. I apologise that my posts are thinner on the ground these days, but there isn't much to report on and I am really trying to focus.  

Blackberry Painting
Close up on the ripe blackberry.

Rubus ulmifolius fruit
Close up on a ripening blackberry - work in progress

I hope that you all had an enjoyable Autumn equinox. Time to get the daylight bulbs out and bake blackberry crumbles!

Full painting view - a work in progress

Wednesday, 9 September 2015


A new exhibition at the National Trust property Mottisfont in Hampshire titled 'Arborealists' opens on 19th September and runs until the 15th November. It looks good - if you like your trees then it is definitely worth a visit as this exhibition is certainly celebrating the art of trees! Paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures will all be on show... The exhibition has been organised by a collective of contemporary artists who call themselves the 'Arborealists'. They have just had a successful exhibition at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol and now they have created another unique show for Mottisfont.

On display will be intricate pencil drawings of root systems, gorgeous autumnal colours and beautiful natural sculpture. Minutely detailed drawings, delicate wood engravings and fine etchings resonate with vibrant, and expressive watercolours and oil paintings. Complex trees drawn from life will contrast with conceptual forest landscapes.

It'll be possible to meet some of the artists and hear them talk about their work on Saturday 17th October at 2pm (free talk and discussion).

Monday, 7 September 2015

Gooseberries and Greens

So another piece complete in the space of a month. Can't quite believe it myself, but there you go. It appears that practice makes you faster as well as better. I am currently sat in my old bedroom surrounded by my old books and toys, perched on a stool next to a print of Brenda the Broadbean. She's upside down and wedged in with all the RHS prints and Gary the Gooseberry. He's at the back, I am hiding him from view and have stuffed him in a plastic wallet for protection in this very dusty room. I am hiding him as I need a visual break. I can't see the wood for the trees and need to take a couple of days out away from him in order to see all the obvious mistakes. I have covered my palette up and am now on 'pause'. Making it a good time for an online virtual update.

Gooseberry Botanical Art)
Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa)  J R Shepherd ©

Here he is... he is a proud chappy. To begin with he was painted to the Irrepressibles 'The Opening' on loop - such a beautiful song which just flows and is therefore very good for primary washes. Then his tastes moved onto The Hurts 'Wonderful Life' on loop... and for the finale, he decided he rather liked VNV Nation (especially the Eurythmics mash-up). I often finish a painting to heavy electronica as I need to enter a space that is beyond me and things start to go dark.

Gooseberry Botanical Art
Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa)  J R Shepherd ©

Whilst loosing myself to VNV I got a little Facebook message from fellow illustrator, and very good friend, Shevaun. It was about greens... She had been in conversation with Sue Wickison about Maimeri Blu Viridian... Long story, but it moved onto the world of Inky Leaf green and the desire to know how it is made.

Haha! *Introducing smug smile* This is a tricky one to answer as I don't do swatches, so I can't show you any. I personally don't like them because:

A) I cannot make them look nice and organised and this infuriates me
B) Colour mixing can become too analytical and for me painting is always intuitive
C) The colours I get are from layering. For me to make the swatches I'd get from my painting technique would take a very long time indeed. Time I don't have, or wish to use, on such a venture.
Gooseberry Botanical Art
Gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa)  J R Shepherd ©

So, this is tricky as I cant post anything on here to show you. There is my palette... I often post pictures of my palettes, and then there is the process which you see regularly. I am very honoured that some of you feel that my greens are good. To receive such praise is really lovely and very encouraging. I suppose my greens are intense, in that they are 'rich' and 'deep'. This is because a painting, such as my Gooseberries, has about 10-30 layers of watercolour on it depending on the zone you're looking at. I start to regularly burnish the paint towards the end - when I get to about 10 layers - to try and prevent them from coming off of the paper as I add more layers. This often makes the paint 'glow' and makes the specimen 'come to life'. Arthur Harry Church burnished his works - check it out. I also do it because my Saunders Waterford paper is slightly textured despite being hot press

So for me, greens are achieved by not just by careful mixing but through time and layering whilst also understanding the nature of the plant, its physiology and structure. I always think about the chromatic strips when I start a plant. When I have a proper studio I'd like to get a chromatograph done of every plant before I start because I feel that if I were to analyse anything, that would be the thing to look at.

A chromatograph of a red maple - these are the things I think about when mixing green.

Green Mixes...


I always have a very limited palette for every painting. I recently indulged myself and bought a load of blues as the Daler Rowney cobalt blue I have been using since dot ran out. I blame Darth Vader for that. I did start to use a bit of French Ultramarine (both DR and W&N) in 2013, but I found myself darting back to cobalt blue as French ultra marine lacks a shade of warmth that I like in my greens. It's too harsh for my liking in a green mix, but then it depends on the leaf... If it is a kale or something lurid, or a reflection, I will go for a dash of Phatalo or Cerulean. As part of my 'blue purchase order' I have just started trying out DR Manganese Blue and I prefer this shade thus far.


It was always DR Gambodge... but then I invested in some tubes and got W&N Green Gold and Transparent Yellow after someone said it was nice to add on as a last layer to make the leaves 'glow'. Convinced, I tried it. I haven't used my tube of Green Gold since that day in 2013 as didn't like it... Trans Yellow on the other hand - nice, but I tend not to use it as a top layer but in the mix. I also use W&N Aureolin but have noticed you have to be careful with this one as it can precipitate when combined with other pigments, such as Phatalo Blue, which is a right pain. I use Aureolin with Hookers Green/Sap Green/Cobalt Blue.


Just like Marianne North - Rose Madder everytime. I sometimes stray and use Permanent Rose. All leaf greens need red. This is where I think everyone goes wrong. I also use a lot of purple. It used to be DR Mauve but it is very, very opaque and can precipitate, so now I use W&N permanent magenta. These pinks/reds/mauves change in quantitiy depending on the green. Gooseberries have a lot of purple in and not as much blue as a result. Also - shading is mostly done in the opposite colour. I used a lot of Permanent Rose in the Coffee Plant as a result of shading (but also in the leaf). I like the Rose Madder though, as it is much warmer and gives the piece an 'old' quality about it. Permanent Rose has a icy cold nature to it which I don't really like.


I also use a dash of the ready made greens... This started in later 2013 when I started Cos, I always mixed my own before then. What happened is I got lazy and couldn't be bothered mixing all these greens up when I have so much to put on the paper. It's a lot of paint when you are using half pans. It wouldn't be so bad if I were a tube girl, as it comes out wet. So yes, I also use W&N Hookers Green and W&N Sap Green. I used to have some lovely DR Hookers Green. It ran out two years ago and I have only just got to ordering some more in. They have changed it for sure - it isn't right for leaves. It has that lurid nature to it that Viridian can have.

Palette... Gooseberry Green was made using Transparent Yellow, Madder and Hookers and Sap Green. Then I added a wash of both Cobalt and Manganese Blue in places, and then Purple and then back to the Madder. Then Aureolin... etc to and fro, repeated washes. 

I personally really struggle when I am painting light leaves of a sappy colour, or when the light passes through a leaf giving that intense bright glow that looks slightly un-natural. A bit like the new leaves of a beach tree. I find those greens so very tricky because they really are just a shade of yellow in my eyes and my eyes refuse to deal with yellow. However, when I do have to paint them, these days I use W&N Hooker's Green and Transparent Yellow mixed together. I used to use DR Sap Green, but it is very opaque, and while I don't mind opquae colours, when one is painting something that is translucent (ie - light is shining through said item to produce said effect) then you need a transparent colour.


I don't use body colour and I don't use masking fluid, I use use the paper.

Dragon Arum Painting
Dragon Arum (Dracunculus vulgaris) 2005


Here is a piece I painted for my dad ten years ago. In my mind now I feel that it is not a very good piece of work, but at the time I remember being chuffed to bits with it. Check out those greens! My goodness... no depth, nothing and of course it is all wrong. The leaves are nothing like that of a Dragon Arum, and rather typically, I am too busy focusing on the inflorescence, and ignoring the importance of leaves, but then we all have to start from somewhere. It takes time, I still can't a lot of things right and my greens are not perfect. I am very honoured that some of my readers feel that I am good at green - it's a comforting thought. I can't for the life of me get yellows right, or pinks or whites... But then I haven't practiced these as much and I am not drawn to these shades so that is my problem and it is up to me to sort that out. Anyway - hope this helps a few of you. Please feel free to comment or email if you have any questions...

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