Friday, 22 August 2014

Summer's End

"When summer gathers up her robes of glory,
And, like a dream, glides away."
Sarah Helen Whitman

I’m back once more in Dublin and it’s great to be home for the lazy tail-end of summer. I really love the long summer evenings and the delights of catching up with family and friends once more. Of course, the holiday buzz doesn’t last too long, and reality soon kicks in with a mountain of washing, a garden gone wild, and a long list of school books and school uniforms that need to be bought.

I find that if I don’t paint regularly, I lose the momentum. I don’t know why, but even a break of a few days can knock my routine off balance, and make it a struggle to get back into painting. So I try to do a little every day, even if it’s just a small study of a leaf or a seed.

A quick study of Erythrina lysistemon seedpods © Shevaun Doherty 2013
With so many distracting chores to do, I decided to do a small study of the Erythrina lysistemon seedpods which I brought back from Cairo. Seedpods are ideal for those times when you have only an hour or two here and there. I love fresh flowers, but it's so often a race against time to capture their loveliness. Stop to make dinner or to run down to the shops, and you’ll find that the blooms have wilted and the petals have dropped. Seedpods are a far more cooperative and patient subject.

The striking blossoms of the Coral Tree,  Erythrina lysistemon   (wikipedia)
A native of South Africa, the Coral tree (Erythrina lysistemon) is the first tree to bloom each spring. Traditionally it’s striking red flowers would herald the end of winter and signal the time to sow the crops. Of course, the flowers are long gone now, but the trees were full of these wonderful seedpods. Having painted them several times before, I felt confident with their structure and colour.

A sketchbook page from 2010- the first page of my SBA sketchbook!
 To spice it up, I decided to paint my seedpods on a small piece of natural calf vellum. I haven’t used this type of vellum before, but I really like the colour and the subtle markings on the surface. It was nice to paint on, but a bit unforgiving compared to the chalky smoothness of kelmscott.

I drew out my design first on tracing paper. It’s easier to correct mistakes on tracing paper than on the vellum. The size of the vellum meant that I had to change the position of the seedpods to fit.

I transferred the design onto the vellum and began the first washes using cobalt violet and cerulean, and then a whole range of those gorgeous earthy colours- raw sienna, raw umber, burnt umber, burnt sienna, light red, perylene maroon, perylene violet, indanthrene blue.

Normally I would give the whole composition an all over wash, but as I was dipping into this whenever I got a moment, I felt like painting it one seedpod at a time. I also decided to leave the bright orange seeds until the end. There’s no real reason for this except that I am the kind of person who likes to save the best bit until last and these were definitely the cherry on top of the cake.

Erythrina lysistemon seedpods on natural calf vellum © Shevaun Doherty 2014
So there you go… a fun little piece that kept the painting cravings at bay!

I have been asked about my date seeds too, and am delighted to report back that not only did my little seedlings survive three plane trips in my suitcase, but since their arrival, they have begun to sprout leaves! I am recording their progress in my sketchbook- it’s quite exciting! 

It may be the end of summer, but my little bit of sunshine fun continues.

"Play is your route to mastery"- Sara Genn


  1. Absolutely stunning Shevaun, love the seed pod on the natural vellum, and those mini dates are brill, you're a true master xxx

  2. Claire... you really are too kind. Thank you!

  3. Fantastic! Love those seed pods! Natural vellum is my favourite and perfect for autumn studies:) know exactly what you mean about momentum too. Lovely post

    1. Thanks Dianne. Yes, I've been dying to try the natural vellum. It's such a lovely colour, but definitely less forgiving. Still it's great to be using vellum once more. I might do a few more practice pieces on vellum for the 30 day challenge that's coming up.

  4. What an amazing tree--I've never heard of it before but would recognize it immediately now after seeing your drawings and paintings. The progression of the date seedlings is interesting (and beautifully painted)--can't wait to see the next stage! I am thinking about digging out some of my natural vellum samples to play around with...

    1. Oh you definitely should dig out that vellum, Janene. Your vellum work is fabulous.

  5. Wonderful observation and you always capture your subjects with fantastic detail. I love all yor holiday sketches and the way you have practically covered every detail of the date life cycle. And the page of treasures appeals to me, collecting the real insects and the dead ones, little fragments of the place.
    Beautiful work.

  6. Another one here who needs to keep up the momentum. Those seed pods are exquisite Shevaun, as are the date seedlings. Looking forward to seeing more of them.

    1. Well I'm glad to hear that I'm not alone, Polly! Thank you very much for the nice comments.

  7. This work is so beautiful, I feel a rebuke to my inactivity! I love seeing your posts and just soaking up all those gorgeous layering of color and sensitive attention to detail! Sigh...Thank you for sharing what you do. It's pretty darn awesome what you do with watercolor, and I thank you for the shake up to my humdrum attitudes of late!

    1. Audrey, I'm delighted that you've taken the time to comment. It's heart warming to know that people actually read these posts (other than my mum and my friends!), and I hope that you do get back to painting soon. Sometimes it's better to just start with a small thing every day, like a leaf, and build up to a bigger painting after a week or so. Good luck!


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