Saturday, 2 November 2013

A quiet beauty, Hedera hibernica

Hedera hibernica, Irish ivy

It’s always a great feeling to finish up a project and to finally clear away all the scraps of paper, paint and plants that accumulate whilst the painting is being done. This latest project has taken even longer than usual, as I needed to paint the whole lifecycle of the plant, so my colour studies began in April this year with the berries, and finished this month with the flowers.

The plant is the Irish ivy, or Hedera hibernica, or Eidhne√°n.  It is not a plant that I would have really given much thought to before, but the more that I got to know it, the more I began to like it.

Ivy has captured our imaginations throughout history from the Acient Greeks to the Celts. It symbolised eternity and fertility, friendship and fidelity. During the Samhain festivities (Hallowe’en) in Ireland, young girls would place nine ivy leaves beneath her pillow to dream of the man she will marry.

Nine Ivy leaves I place under my head
To dream of the living and not of the dead
To dream of the man I am going to wed
To see him tonight at the foot of my bed.

Ivy is everywhere…it’s tenacious, it’s resilient, it’s adaptable. It has an elegant beauty with glossy leaves, delicate flowers and dark berries. It’s hugely important to wildlife too, with the flowers and fruit providing nourishment throughout the winter months, and it’s evergreen canopy giving welcome shelter to birds, insects and small mammals. True, it is invasive, but that is part of it’s charm… it doesn’t give up.

Early studies ivy berries. They start off as green and slowly darken to a purply black.
This unfinished study helped me remember just how to paint these berries. As with many fruits and berries, I started with cerulean and cobalt violet to capture the highlights and reflected lights. Perylene green, indigo, winsor violet, perylene maroon were also used. 
Ivy has two different types of leaves, palmately lobed juvenile leaves on creeping and climbing stems and unlobed cordate adult leaves on fertile flowering stems,usually found at the top of the plant. However when studying the plant I realised that there can be huge differences in the shape and size of leaves from plant to plant.

Non-flowering leaves
Hedera flower and leaves
The flowers grow in umbels and are surprisingly delicate. I had to use a magnifying glass and my teeniest brushes to paint the tiny pale green petals and stamens. Each flower that I saw had insects buzzing nearby, large bumble bees, dainty butterflies, wasps, hoverflies...all excitedly feasting on the abundant nectar.
I did a wasp study (rescued from a windowsill) but never painted it onto the final piece. Another studio find was a ladybird which gave a much needed pop of colour to the green leaves.

In the course of my studies, I stumbled across another "must-have" paint...  Winsor and Newton Transparent yellow. What a useful colour! It made painting those greens so much easier. I must have tried a dozen different mixes before settling on cerulean, indigo, perylene green and transparent yellow.

The berries were the most fun to paint... they were surprisingly colourful and made great botanical subjects. I loved the unfertilised flowers too... they remain for a long time on the plant and look like tiny fireworks.

Unfortunately I can't show the finished piece yet, but hope that these studies will help others notice and appreciate the unassuming beauty of this plant. I'll leave you with this lovely quote from Vincent Van Gogh~ 

"Painters understand nature, and love her, and teach us to see her"


  1. Your work is exquisite Shevaun - you have a great talent for skilled observation and wonderful technique to illustrate every little part of a plant in clear detail.
    Congratulations on your blog.

  2. Looking marvellous Shevaun - it's delightful to see you on the blogger-sphere!

  3. Thanks Vicki. What a lovely thing to say. :)

  4. Vicki said it best - exquisite! I so love seeing all of your studies and reading the details of how you go about putting it all together. So glad you started a blog! :)

  5. Amazing Shevaun ,you're an inspiration xxx

  6. I am amazed by your studies. They're a piece of art by themselves. But I think it pays to spend so much time studying the plant you want to paint. When you're ready for the final painting, you really know your subject.
    Thanks for sharing these stories with us.

  7. Fantastic Shevaun! I love this painting so much and delighted to see you have a blog too. Your work is so well observed, planned and executed and most of all it's beautiful! I love a new blog.... a few years back there were hardly any botanical art blogs - It's completely changing the face of the genre....really exciting stuff up ahead and so nice to share with others!.... and yes transparent yellow really is the business ;)

  8. What a wonderful studies, Shevaun! I am really glad that you generously share it and start writing a blog. I look forward to reading more :). xx

  9. Love your blog Shevaun. Can't wait to follow your posts!

  10. A great start to what promises to be a fabulous blog Shevaun. I am so pleased to decided to join the blogging network, I love your work and it's lovely that so many more people will be able to enjoy it too. Keep up the good work. x

  11. Shevaun, I am loving your blog already! It was fascinating to read about your process for the beautiful pumpkin painting. I had no idea that perylene maroon was such a useful color--I have it but haven't used it much....yet. And what a delight to see the ivy painting develop. The color of the leaves is excellent, and those berries--wow.

  12. Thanks everyone for the encouragement and support! I am delighted by all the positive messages that everyone has sent! Blogging rocks! :)

  13. Wonderful blog Shevaun, I look forward to read through it all. Your work is very inspiring and a joy to see, thank you for sharing your art and experience!


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