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. 

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Painting 'India' in temperatures hotter than India

It's been the hottest on record here in Spain and although they originally forecast for it to cool down this week, it hasn't. As a result it has not been approximately this hot for ten years and even then it wasn't for this long, so the weather is a little unusual it has to be said. We are still hitting 40 degrees every day, which is slowly turning everyone into a zombie. I appear to be absolutely fine with it until I enter my studio. Then it all goes a little Pete Tong with the lamps. Luckily though, today marks a new dawn as I appear to have mastered a new technique - to paint in my bra to Depeche Mode remixes. This has worked wonders. I think it is the Depeche Mode that is summoning me to paint, more than the bra.


Close up on the leaf... it is taking me ages even though I am using a rather large brush.
I have to use a large brush because they are drying out too quickly here in the heat.
Managed to get the bottom out of focus again... Oh well. Here is India in full



Thursday, 16 July 2015

Hot Crispy Leaf

Indian Bean Tree, (Catalpa bignonioides) leaf

It's big and it's detailed so it is going to take a while... as usual. I don't mind that though. The days are epically long here now and everything takes an age. It takes an age just to go up the stair case it is so hot, let alone walking down the road to the bakery for our daily loaf. Today I went with a wet towel on my shoulders as I am rather unwell again and last time I was there I got caught in a queue, which was ghastly, as the bakery is probably the hottest place in Belicena right now. 

So as you can imagine, the last thing I want to be doing whilst coughing and spluttering is to be hidden under one blue spot light and one yellow spot light painting. I was sitting in my own little microcosm (love that word!) which must have been a few degrees hotter than anywhere else in the house with all the bulb heat. I even wondered if the area around my drawing bored was hotter than the bakery for a while... So progress is even slower than usual as I am having to take a lot of breaks. 

Although I only show you the top bit, I have also painted a bit at the bottom of this large leaf. I did photograph it, but it was out of focus and I am too hot to go down and do it again, so you'll get that next time folks!  Right... time for a vino.


Indian Bean Tree, (Catalpa bignonioides) leaf

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Maverick Virus

Detail on the Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa bignonioidesleaf 
Everything appears to be magnified at the moment - the heat, my artwork, the number of mosquitoes and my illness are the first things that come to mind... That bug ended up being something of a maverick virus. Not quite as bad as a full blown flu, but certainly not as meek as a cold. It certainly had laid me up in bed for 10 days, shivering, coughing and aching all over. Every little ailment was magnified. I am now thankfully up and running as the rest of the household come down with it, but I still feel pretty disorientated and drained. 

It feels good to have come down with a proper bug though, some ailment that isn't psychology based and is really the result of an infestation (I never generally call viruses an 'infection'). You are probably wondering how this could possibly be a good thing and the answer for me is straight forward in that it reminds me of my mortality, which in turn helps me to focus my goals whilst also shutting out the trivia that I really don't have the energy to deal with. It is a grounding experience and makes one stop and learn to be more alert and self aware. So after practising three days of sleep and ten days of self awareness in my bedroom I feel pretty good mentally. Just wish I felt as good physically!

Bad picture, as usual... too hot to care. This is how big the Indian Bean Tree (Catalpa bignonioidesleaf will be.
So as the heat rages on (41 again today I believe) I am sat under my hot spot lights painting. This is what I am currently working on... I have a ton load of commissions to be getting on with, but after weeks of not being at the easel I am cautious in starting any of this work without a practice run up to get me back to speed. This is a side line project, which yes, means I have two on the go this year (black backgrounds and big leaves). I am trying to look at the different textures of leaves and really get to know them. I am building a collection of BIG LEAVES, most of which are supersized, but were pretty big to begin with. I am finding the chocolate incredibly challenging as it is very silky and bright green, which is a colour I have always had trouble with. I have another five leaves to sketch out and join in to make the collection. The black background work will continue once I have mastered new materials, so this project is currently on a back burner for this year.

Big chocolate tree (Theobroma cacao) leaf - completely different texture and set of greens yet again...

The chocolate tree (Theobroma cacao) leaf - sense of scale

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Incredible Exploding Pomegranate Cloak

After setting up the exhibition in Salobreña I managed to come down with a raging cold. A cold + 42 degree heat =  pretty poor show I can tell you! It is NOT a good combo. So I shut myself in my bedroom all week trying to shift it. Unable to be idle, I got on with making my outfit for the second preview party at La Conca. This venue is a little more bohemian, so I pulled out all the stops on this one. I am the Incredible Exploding Pomegranate and I bring you fire!
Here are some images of it in the garden. Would have been nice to have photographed it in a Pomegranate Tree, but they are all full of wasps nests so a Lemon Tree will have to do...

I have no sewing machine here, so it's all hand stitched. I didn't think I'd have the time to make it, but being ill has helped me out in this case. Can't paint feeling this bunged up, but I can sew. The costume has been months of planning and fantasising it has to be said, but only took four days to sew. I bought the buckram, satin, ribbons, beads and piping when I was in England. That in itself was amazing as I walked into MacCulloch and Wallis near Oxford Street and thought I'd died and gone to heaven.

This is the back - it is supposed to be an exploding pomegranate, so I put in the strips down the shoulders. 
The collar is re-enforced with wires which have been woven through the buckram as I tried to wet the buckram and do it the proper way, but ended up getting into a right mess. I still have glue in my hair from this disastrous episode. I don't have a manikin, so I did a lot of this on the floor and then touched it up whilst suspending it from a scarf on a hanger from a cupboard knob up high. I used the remnants of a graduation gown for the shoulders so it sits well on the back. This was the tricky bit, but essential as I don't want the heavy collar tipping everything backwards.

So all I have to do now is pray that the weather cools down a bit, as this really isn't the best attire for 42 degree heat.