Monday, 29 December 2014

The Painted Lady

“Just living is not enough," said the butterfly, "one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
Hans Christian Andersen

Just before Christmas, a parcel arrived at my home. It was a gift from a friend and contained the most wonderful selection of natural treasures, the jewel of which had to be a tiny pinned

I have a very special place in my heart for these tiny creatures because they take part in one of Nature’s most impressive journeys every year. They fly over 2000 km from the UK and Ireland to North Africa. It puzzled scientists for years as to how they did it, until they recently discovered that these butterflies ascend to a height of 500 metres and windsurf all the way down to North Africa, reaching speeds of over 45km an hour!! It’s not just a one way migration either, because many of the butterflies make the return journey too. 
You can read about the incredible journey here

I have painted the butterfly before, a small specimen that I found in Egypt, slightly battered and with it’s wings folded. The underwings are quite drab in comparison.  Painting from a photograph is never as exciting. I marvelled at the iridescence on the wings and the long soft hairs that cover the butterfly’s thorax and abdomen. It’s very hairy in fact! I couldn’t wait to paint it!

Drawing the butterfly and tracing out the design

I decided to paint it on a small piece of natural calf vellum. This differs from the kelmscott vellum because it is unbleached and shows all the natural pigmentation and blemishes. It’s still lovely to paint on. Graphite can mark vellum, so I drew out the butterfly on paper first, taking care to get the markings and measurements right. Once that was done, I traced it and transferred the drawing to the vellum.

Tip- butterflies are symmetrical so it’s a good idea to check that the symmetry is balanced using the tracing paper. Simply flip it over the tracing and place it over the drawing. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but will indicate whether everything is in the right place. It’s better to get it right at this stage.

As is my habit, I pulled out a colour chart to give me guidance whilst I paint. I don’t use all of these colours, just a few, and these are all pure, not mixes. With vellum it's better to use the transparent colours.

I also kept the tracing to the side as guidance, because the drawing was so faint on the vellum.
Sparkly paints? Oh yes please!

I  decided to use the Daniel Smith iridescent paints. The colour chart showed me that Saguaro Green would be perfect. Just a tiny bit would be enough, and used only at the end so as not to mess up the other paints. 

I began to redraw the butterfly markings using a very fine sable brush and some burnt umber. I decided not to do a thin wash over the whole wing first because I didn’t want to lose those markings. They are vital to the identification on the butterfly.

Once the markings are defined, it’s a matter of slowly building up the depth of colour and adding the orange colour of the wings using a dry brush. With vellum the paint sits on the surface, giving it a wonderful luminosity, but if you try putting on a wet wash over the paint, it will lift the lower layers off.  I constantly looked for the abstract patterns within the wings to compare both sides. 
I also added an antennae to the poor little butterfly… in real life it was missing one and would have looked odd without a bit of artistic licence.

I regularly switch between painting from sight, to using a magnifier. I find that I need both to get it right. I just use a cheap magnifier (from Argos) with a long arm which can be easily pulled over the painting or pushed away.

Finally, like the icing on the cake, I added the iridescent paint. I felt like a kid with some glitter glue… what decadent fun! I had to force myself to put the paintbrush down before I got carried away.
So there you go, one sweet little butterfly! 
It’s so nice to be back in the studio painting after all the festivities and I have yet more lovely treasures waiting to be painted! 

I wish you all a very Happy New Year!

 “The beauty of the natural world lies in the details.”
Natalie Angier

Saturday, 20 December 2014

All you need is Love

“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

Christmas is here once again, the season of joy and goodwill!

Sometimes however Life doesn’t go according to plan, and joy or goodwill seem to vanish into thin air. It’s very, very tempting to just crawl back under the duvet and stay there until the mince pies are all eaten, and the last of the tinsel has been put away.

Fortunately art is the perfect antidote to the stresses of Life. How nice it is to slip into the studio, light a few scented candles (it is Christmas, after all) and enjoy the quiet solitude of painting.

"You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet."
Franz Kafka

Whilst I paint, I contemplate all the things that I have to be grateful for… good health, a wonderful family and a really great circle of friends.

Social media has made the world a very small place and gives us the opportunity to connect in ways that we never have before. Every day is full of joyful surprises… it could be the simple pleasure of seeing someone’s beautiful artwork,  learning something completely new, or the buzz of getting words of encouragement about your own work. It’s just comforting to know that there are like-minded people out there.

I finished my page of prickles for the Natural Sketchbook Exchange.
One of the things that I have really enjoyed being part of this year has been the Natural Sketchbook Exchange. Not only has it been a great way of keeping motivated and inspired, but I’ve also made some truly wonderful friends. Throughout the year, we’ve all had our trials and troubles, but we’ve also managed to support and encourage each other.

"Qui audet adipiscitur"
~She who dares, wins~
It was through Facebook that this conker commission came about. I admit that I was a little nervous about this because the recipient happens to be an RHS gold medallist (no pressure then), but I hope she’ll like this. I’m giving it the title “Qui audet adipiscitur”, or “She who dares, wins”.  

Finally, I gave in and succumbed to the Christmassy theme. This sprig of mistletoe was calling me, and perhaps a bit of joy and goodwill is what I need. And whilst I might have missed the boat for this year’s celebrations, I thought this would make a nice Christmas card for 2015.
See, I’m not late, I’m super organised!!
Happy Christmas Everyone!

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. 
It goes on.”
Robert Frost

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

How to deal with Prickles

The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it.”  

Finding time to paint and blog at this time of year isn’t easy! So when I came across a box of peculiar prickly things in Dublin's Fruit and Vegetable Market, I  knew that these odd looking things would be the perfect subject. They wouldn’t wilt or fade overnight, and they were just so bizarre that they had to be painted.Thanks to some clever botanical detective work by some friends (thank you guys), I found out that they were types of wild cucumber. 

And so the fun begins.
Depicting the prickles was my biggest problem with these little cucurbits. There are a number of ways to do this. I could paint carefully around each one, but that would be pushing my patience and skills to the very limit! I could also paint the skin without the prickles and then try to lift the paint back off.  I could paint the skin and then add the prickles using opaque gouache. Or I could take the easy option and mask off the prickles first.

Sunday, 30 November 2014


“A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men.”
~Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator)

It’s good to play. Sometimes we get so caught up in life, in the frantic rush to get things done, that we often forget to take a little time out to just enjoy a bit of creative fun.
So with that in mind, I decided to make this week all about play.

Conker set-up- the little bit of silver paper bounces light back up onto the conker and the colour chart helps me select my colours.

 I started with a little thank you gift for a friend. I enjoy painting conkers as they don’t take long to do, and yet they always evoke an emotional response from people. I recently broke a few botanical art rules by naming my conkers in the Law Library exhibition, but sometimes a little bit of humour goes a long way. I was amazed at how many people asked me for “Well Hung”.

As for this one, well, it’s Veni, Vidi, Vici (I came, I saw, I conquered).
Every time I hear about a new product or medium, my ears prick up. I have an insatiable curiosity to try them all out. Needless to say, my art cupboard is full of things that I have bought on an impulse, or rescued and kept. Two of the products that I have wanted to try out are Yupo and the Ampersand aquabords.

Sunday, 23 November 2014


A busy desk is a happy desk.
This week has been a challenging one, but when times get tough, the best place to escape is into the quiet sanctuary of my little studio.  I was looking for something suitable to paint when, whilst flicking through an old sketchbook from Egypt, a bag of feathers fell out. They were hoopoe feathers.

A very old sketch done after a trip the the Egyptian Museum
I remember how astonished I was the first time that I saw a Hoopoe bird, Upupa epops, with it’s dramatic crown of golden feathers tipped with black, and striking black and white plumage. They are quite unlike any other bird, and it’s easy to understand why people have always been fascinated with them. 

The Ancient Egyptians revered them, the Greeks and Persians wrote stories about them. They are mentioned in the Bible and also in the Koran, where there is a delightful tale about the Hoopoe, King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. 
They fly in such a strange way too, like giant swooping butterflies, and make a very distinctive call which gives them their arabic name of hudhud.

However my tale of the hoopoe is a little sad.

 There were a pair of hoopoes that lived near my Cairo home (apparently hoopoes mate for life). I used to love watching them foraging on the grass together. Disaster struck one day when a kestrel swept down and killed one of them. I tried to intervene, but I was too far away, and all that was left was a small pile of wing feathers which I duly gathered up.

So feathers became my distraction for the week. 

Having painted three little hoopoe feathers, I decided to paint another large feather that I had found in Egypt. I still have no idea what bird this came from, perhaps a grouse?  Feathers can be quite tricky to paint. Although they don’t wilt or move like plants do, they require a fair bit of patience and a lot of fine brushwork. Once I have mapped out the patterns of the feathers, I then go over with a fine brush building up the layers of colour.

My mystery feather. The other little one came from a cushion
I have built up quite a collection of earth colours and although I do like to mix up my browns, sometimes it’s just easier to use them straight from the tube or pan. I find that the Daniel Smith paints have a particularly nice range of colours- I love their raw umber and buff titanium, both quite unlike any other colour and so useful. Winsor and Newton manganese brown, burnt sienna and sepia were also very useful with the feather palette.

Earth colour chart
A lovely curly goose feather from Frankfurt then took centre stage, lending a bit of movement to the composition. I don’t have a huge range of feathers, but I found a hairband in Tesco which I carefully pulled apart to give me a couple more. I’ve no idea what bird these came from, but they are very pretty.

An unidentified Tesco hairband feather!

I really enjoyed painting these feathers. They are definitely a subject that I will be painting again, although I really need some new ones for my collection. In the meantime, this page of feathers will go into my friend Terri Dauncey's sketchbook, for the Nature Sketchbook Exchange.

“It's not enough to have the feathers. 
You must dare to fly!” 

― Cass van Krah

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Natural Law Botanical Art Exhibition

It all started with comment that Katherine Tyrrell (Making a Mark) made about holding an exhibition in a place where the people who can afford to buy your paintings live (or work). Normally when people put on a botanical art exhibition, they seek out a gallery or a Botanic Gardens, but what if instead of trying to coax people to come and visit your work, you bring your exhibition to them?

So with that in mind, Yanny Petters, Liz Prendergast and I approached the Law Library in Dublin, where Irish barristers and judges have their offices, and the seed of the Natural Law Exhibition was planted. 

The Natural Law Artists (L-R) - Patricia Jorgensen, Yanny Petters, Lynn Stringer, Shevaun Doherty, Elizabeth Prendergast, Holly Somerville
We planned it very carefully. We invited three other artists to join us (Lynn Stringer, Holly Somerville and Patricia Jorgensen), all superb artists. This meant that the exhibition would have a good variety of artwork of a very high standard. Everyone was given a job to do- invitations and posters, printing, email lists, labels, hanging. We organised sponsorship (a logo on the posters and invitations) to cover our costs. Our little group worked very well together and by November 8th, we had 73 paintings to hang.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Dutch Iris in Gouache

“Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers - and never succeeding“
Gian Carlo Menotti

After all the excitement of my trip to Frankfurt, I was really looking forward to getting back into my studio once more and painting!!  The Natural Law Exhibition is just around the corner and I wanted to do another flower in gouache. Besides it gave me the wonderful excuse to fill the studio with vases of colourful blooms!

In the end I chose Dutch Iris, Iris hollandica, a pretty flower which is quite easy to find in the shops. This proved a wise decision because I had to replace the flower several times during the course of the painting. I wanted to use the same technique as the Stargazer lily, painting in gouache on dark green mount board. I began by selecting a bloom that had just opened, which I then positioned in front of dark green board. 

Friday, 31 October 2014

One Year On

Today is my blog's first birthday!!

To my great delight I awoke today to find that the blog has also reached that wonderful figure of 40,000 views

I'm thrilled to have made it through this first year and not yet run out of words or enthusiasm. There have been times when I haven't been sure what the blog will be about, but miraculously, the words always seems to fall into place

It's been such a rewarding experience in so many ways- writing things down has helped me focus on my art, and knowing that I have to write a blogpost really keeps me motivated. 
However the very best thing about blogging has been meeting people for the first time and finding out that they have been reading my blog, and that they find it interesting.

So this is just a short blog post to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who has visited this blog. I really love reading the comments and the messages of support. It's both uplifting and deeply humbling.

Here's to another happy year of art and blogging!

Mallard feather and yellow snail

“When we give cheerfully and accept gratefully, everyone is blessed.” 

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

SBA Palmengarten Exhibition, Frankfurt

Palmengarten, Frankfurt
Sometimes the title of an exhibition sets your mind alight with all sorts of creative possibilities.

That was certainly the case when I heard about the SBA’s exhibition in Frankfurt ,'Poisonous and Medicinal Plants. I love that theme. Botanical art is not just about painting pretty plant portraits, it’s also about raising awareness about plants and their attributes. This exhibition promised to be both visually exciting and informative.
My choice of subject matter was easy- I’ve always wanted to paint the plants from the spice markets in Egypt. I really enjoyed visiting the markets, haggling for my wares and then doing research on my subject matter. I blogged about it here.

The Spice Market © Shevaun Doherty 2014
Whilst I was painting this, I received an email asking me to send my painting of Phoenix dactylifera too, as they would like to use the image on one of the posters. As a new member of this prestigious Society, that’s a real honour. I decided to travel out to Frankfurt to see the exhibition myself.

A happy me with my painting and the poster which had information about how to become a member of the SBA
I arrived a day early, so that I could lend a hand with the preparations. ‘Team Palmengarten” had already done a splendid job. Gaynor Dickeson and her husband Robin had spent the summer organising all the paperwork and forms, collecting the paintings, and then driving with a van load of art work to Germany. 

That’s 200 paintings from 70 artists, travelling through 1200 miles through five countries!! 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Stargazer Lily in Gouache

 I have a confession to make. Although I love flowers, I don’t really like painting flowers. I know that sounds odd coming from a botanical artist, but I find them really quite difficult. Perhaps it’s because I don’t paint quickly, or because I prefer dry brush to wet washes, but flowers have a transient beauty that can fade before the paint is even on the page. I know I’m not the only artist to howl with frustration when that perfect bloom wilts before your eyes and drops it’s petals. It’s far easier to paint fruit and vegetables, which last much longer and have their own distinct beauty and textures. Flowers can be scary!

However, this Natural Law exhibition is fast approaching, and Liz’s words are ringing in my ears
 “Paint the things that people like to give to each other, like flowers”

So I threw caution to the wind, bought some lovely stargazer lilies for myself and decided to paint a flower in gouache on dark green mountboard. Yes, I was feeling brave!

I selected a nice bloom, one that had just opened. I positioned it using a floral oasis and placed a dark green board behind the flower. If I was painting on white, I’d use a white board. It just helps isolate the bloom from the background.

I drew out my design on tracing paper. I find it useful to draw rough shapes like the circle as a guideline.

I traced the design on the reverse using a white Polychromos pencil, and then transferred that onto the green mountcard by going over the design with a pencil. So far, so good… the flower is still fresh and I’m still feeling quite confident.

Using white gouache, I began to paint over the white pencil lines, and slowly building up the form of the flower. This is the bit where you start to question your sanity as it can take a long time to get the right tones. The gouache tends to dry darker, so you have to keep building up the layers... and then more layers!  Inevitably, I ended up taking quite a bit of paint back off again too, but fortunately the mountcard is quite forgiving.

I know from previous experience with lilies, that it’s easier to paint the stamens and stigma first, and then to paint the petals around them, rather than to try to paint the petals first.

Once I had painted the stamens and stigma, and built up the form of the petals, it was time to introduce some colour. I switched here from gouache to watercolour. At first I mixed some of the watercolour with the gouache to make an opaque paint, but once the gouache is dry, it’s possible to continue building up the colour in transparent layers. 

As well as my red colour chart, I did a quick chart of the various pinks laid over white gouache on green card. The colours that I used for the petals were Permanent Rose, Quinacridone magenta, Purple magenta (Schmincke), Alizarin, Winsor orange, Rose madder. The shadow colours were Cerulean, Cobalt violet and Indanthrene.

As my friend Claire Ward says, “With gouache, it’s a case of forward and back, forward and back.” 
I love Claire's beautiful flower studies in gouache. She has quite a few gouache tutorials on her blog, Drawn to paint Nature which are worth looking at.

Once I was happy with the petals, it was time to put on those little spots, and also those tiny protuberances on the petals which act as important signposts for pollinating insects. Everything on a flower is so beautifully designed... even those spots follow subtle lines which lead to the center.
Finally I added the leaves and the stem, which were surprisingly quite easy to do, although perhaps painting green on green helps. I used Cerulean, Indanthrene, Lemon yellow and Perylene green.

Lilium Oriental Stargazer
Amazingly my little bloom lasted all week, and filled my studio with it’s divine smell. I still wouldn’t rush to into painting flowers, but it’s hard to resist their seductive charms.

 "When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not."
Georgia O’Keefe