Friday, 6 December 2013


We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. (Walt Disney )

Iris foetidissima study on paper

 Last week was one where life’s distractions kept me away from the easel, and although it was great spending time with family, I was eager to get back to my art work. Fortunately the Iris foetidissima is a patient plant, and although the leaves had yellowed slightly, the seed pods last quite a long time.

The first thing that I needed to do was sort out the colour of the leaves, so I made up a small green colour chart and tried some different mixes. I wanted to keep the greens quite fresh as they made a nice contrast to the dried stalks and wispy bracts, so I substituted some fresher leaves for the yellowed ones of my subject. It’s always better to replace a leaf than to revert to using a photograph of how it looked when you started. 

Some messy sheets with possible colour mixes written out and different mixes used.
A colour chart like this quickly shows me the right mix to use. Here I found that winsor yellow+ perylene green, with cerulean and indigo, were the best match.
I liked how some of the leaves had holes and yellowed tips... my little bit of Wabi-sabi, the Japanese art of celebrating beauty with all of it’s flaws.Wabi sabi recognizes that all life is in a constant state of change and that decay is as much a part of life as growth.

So having worked out my colours, I finished off the little study that I began the other week.

At last, it was time to start on the vellum. Before I started on my larger piece, Dianne suggested that I first do a small study on the goatskin parchment that I have. It’s thinner, rougher and more transparent than the kelmscott vellum, and when you hold it up to the light, you can see all the pores. However it would allow me to try out the new techniques that I have learned  and give me a feel of what it is like to paint on vellum.

I await joyous surprises while working, an awakening of the materials that I work with and that my spirit develops. (Odilon Redon)

I felt a little like the beginner at the ice rink… you know the one who clings desperately to the edge, taking short faltering steps whilst hopelessly trying to stay upright. I started first with a few squares of flat washes, graded washes, dry brush and stippling. So far so good. But just as the novice ice skater gains a little confidence and takes a step too big, and crashes to the ground, I tried to put on one wash too many and soon found that I was inadvertently lifting paint with my brush and ruining my lovely first washes. Sigh!

However, if at first you don’t succeed, try again!
I drew the seed pod out on tracing paper first, then carefully went over in black pen, refining the image. Then I redid the lines with a HB pencil on the reverse, and then transferred the drawing onto the vellum by going over the lines once more with a sharp H pencil. Just don't press too hard!
 "Imagine that you are painting an butterfly's wing which would tear if you were heavy-handed"  (Margaret Stevens, former president of the Society of Botanical Artists)
Carefully, cautiously I began to paint.
I love my magnifiers!
Tucked away in my cozy studio, I soon found myself absorbed in the task of gently building up form and texture with layers of paint. The trick it seems is to use very little water and not disturb the layers underneath. 

My very dry palettes of paint. I used to use watercolour tubes but am slowly switching to pans as they contain more pigment, last a lot longer and are easier to travel with.  Janene Walkky wrote a great blog post on the subject which made me really think.
I found the new brushes (Winsor &Newton Series 7miniatures) wonderful for this. They held just the right amount of paint and kept a nice shape. As I paint, I like to listen to audiobooks and this week started The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which I have to say is brilliant, full of plot twists and turns. Tucked away in my quiet little sanctuary, I painted away, lost to the world… what bliss!

Taking shape... carefully!!

My desk... with everything that I need within easy reach
Almost there!

The final stage is to lay a sheet of tracing paper over the almost finished piece and with a pencil, work out which parts need darkening, as I have done on the lower left. I then use this as my guide for the final washes. Somehow the tracing paper makes it easier to read the tones.
I enjoyed working on the vellum… it imbues a softness and rich intensity to the pigments that you just can’t achieve on paper. "Vellumptuous" is my word to describe it. My mother is a gilder and art restorer, so I am now thinking about trying out some gold leaf and creating some illuminated botanical art on vellum. 
Wouldn’t that be fun?
However, first things first! My kelmscott vellum awaits! Having put so much time into preparation and practice, I feel a lot more confident with this one.

Iris foetidissima seed pod study on goatskin vellum
“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”  
Robert Henri


  1. Beautifully done and I enjoyed seeing the process by which you created this study! Most helpful. Thank you for posting your work.

    1. Thanks Carole! It's really encouraging to get feedback. I appreciate your comments. :)

  2. I love your colors! and they are smarting on vellum! Brava!!

  3. The finished painting is beautiful - thank you for showing all the stages you went through to achieve this. I am trying to overcome the problem of rushing into my work without giving it enough thought and your approach is really helping me to take more time.

    1. Chris, I went to see your work on your blog and was very impressed! If you have any issues, then it's really not evident in your artwork! I'm definitely taking the long scenic route to finish these paintings, but for me, that's half the fun!

  4. Sigh...your seed pod study is well...vellumptuous--the rich colors glow, and the textures are gorgeous together. All of your planning and preparation has paid off. I am envious of you for knowing someone with gilding experience. I am fascinated with illuminated manuscripts and have pondered how to bring gilding into a botanical piece. On the right subject it could be stunning. I am curious about silverpoint as well. There's always much to learn!

    1. What nice words, Janene, thanks! I loved that blogpost that you wrote on Pans vs Tubes- It was really thought provoking and I am making the slow switch to pans now (need to paint more to finish up the tubes that I have!!). I will do more research into gilding on vellum and write a blogpost on it. I can't help you with the silverpoint though... what a fascinating medium! Yes, there is always so much to learn!!

  5. PS Thanks for the mention of my blog post!

  6. This work is exquisite but understandably so when you see the procedures you go through to accomplish the final results.
    Well worth the effort.
    I would buy your sketchbook page in a flash - it's stunning and holds so much detail and thought - like you are right there with the artist.
    I can imagine a series of these sketch pages in an exhibition - framed and all!
    That's if you could ever let go of them.

    1. You're very kind, Vicki, thanks. I've noticed that more and more exhibitions are beginning to show the sketchbooks too... I really feel that people like to see the story behind paintings. Personally I find artist's sketchbooks fascinating!

  7. Your work is always so inspiring Shevaun, and it's really great to see your method of working. Working in a sketchbook really is my favourite part of planning a piece and I too really enjoy delving into artist's sketchbook pages. Thaks for sharing this gorgeous page. And the vellum painting is superb.

    1. Thanks Jarnie! I find your work inspiring too ;)


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