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

Monday, 13 October 2014

Carpe Diem

“Know thyself. Know the customer. Innovate.”
 Beth Comstock

'Eve's Temptation' Shevaun Doherty 2014

Something totally unexpected happened the other week.

 An opportunity arose to put on an exhibition with some friends in the Law Library (The Irish Bar Council), where Irish barristers and judges have their offices. The area is brightly lit and spacious, and barristers are good potential clients. Previous exhibitions have supposedly done very well there. 
I always remember Katherine Tyrrell's advise  (of Making a Mark blog) "to hold an exhibition where the people who can afford to buy your paintings live" (or work), so fingers crossed, this could be worthwhile. However it’s only five weeks away and I have nothing prepared. Five weeks is really very, very soon. 

Three little quail's eggs
We went for a coffee to mull things over and decided that it is simply too good an opportunity to let pass. Between us we have enough art to make this an interesting and varied exhibition, and so the planning for the Natural Law botanical art exhibition began.

There are five of us involved- Yanny Petters, Lynn Stringer, Holly Somerville , Elizabeth Prendergast and me.

Burren Meadow, Verre √©glomis√© panel by Yanny Petters

Crocosmia by Elizabeth Prendergast

Rhododendron delavayi by Lynn Stringer

Poppy, Papaver rhoeas by Holly Somerville

 Although I personally haven’t had a lot of experience in organising exhibitions, all of these artists are well versed in everything that needs to be done. They have all been very involved in both the Bloom Botanical Art exhibition, and  Aibitir, the ISBA’s Irish Alphabet in botanical art.

Lilies and Eryngium by Shevaun Doherty

So, what to paint? 

Calamondin orange, Shevaun Doherty

Well, there really isn’t a whole lot of time and being as it will be at the end of November, I’m going to work on some small paintings. Liz sells a lot of work, and she suggested doing lots of small affordable paintings, ones that could used as Christmas gifts. From her experience, paintings that have an emotional attachment tend to sell first, eg. a single flower (especially pink ones), dandelion clocks, apples, blackberries, even conkers. The weird and wonderful that we botanical artists like to draw usually doesn’t. Leaves, despite the pretty autumnal colours, also don’t tend to sell. Liz often grumbles that people seem to think that the leaves just grow on the page and that all the hard work involved in painting them is often overlooked. Of course, we will also have some larger paintings to bring a little variety.

King of Conkers

So now it’s a matter of getting my head down and getting some painting done. The next five weeks will fly by. I'll post more details about the exhibition once all the details are finalised.

This tiny vellum piece of Iris foetidissima seedhead will be perfect for the exhibition

 “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, 3 October 2014

Alexander & Conkers

“Just to paint is great fun. The colours are lovely to look at and delicious to squeeze out. Matching them, however crudely, with what you see is fascinating and absolutely absorbing.”
Winston Churchill

I was completely taken by surprise when a beautifully wrapped parcel arrived last week from the States. 
Amongst the trove of treasures that lay within, was a curious little box with the words Alexander carefully written on the lid. Any other person might have first looked at the accompanying card, but caught up in the excitement of these unexpected gifts, I ripped open the little box …  and shrieked like a banshee when an enormous and very dead beetle fell out! 
A kind hearted friend, knowing my fondness for beetles, had found him and decided to post him to me. She called him Alexander after this lovely poem by A.A. Milne

Alexander is a ten lined June beetle, or watermelon beetle, a native of the USA. When I read up about these beetles, I discovered that the males have enormous antennae which they use to sniff out the females. Sadly, by the time that Alexander had made his transAtlantic crossing, he was missing both his antennae and the bulk of his legs, but with a bit of creative licence, I managed to restore him to his former glory and painted him at twice his actual size. His portrait will be winging it's way back to my thoughtful friend this week  (thank you DM). As another friend remarked “He’s the dandy of the Beetle World”.

I found a little beetle, so that Beetle was his name,
And I called him Alexander and he answered just the same.
I put him in a match-box, and I kept him all the day ...
And Nanny let my beetle out -
Yes, Nanny let my beetle out -
She went and let my beetle out -
And Beetle ran away. 


Feeling very pleased with myself, I decided to paint a few conkers. For those who don't know, conkers are the common name for the fruit of the Horse Chestnut tree, Aesculus hippocastanum 

Colour chart of earth pigments- there are quite a few that I don't use, but it's handy to see them all side by side like this.
I have a little colour chart of all the earth colours that I have which I always keep nearby. Although I do like to mix my own browns, it’s really useful to have a small chart like this and I constantly refer to it. It’s also quite startling to see the difference between the different brands of the same pigment, most notably Winsor & Newton’s raw umber and Daniel Smith’s raw umber. I use them both a lot!

Conker progression
The shiny new conkers are a joy to paint. Once I had figured out what colours to use and in what order, they are not too different from painting dates. They take careful observation, lots of layers and dry brushwork. 

As always I started with a base washes of cerulean and cobalt violet, taking care to reserve the highlights. Then I began with the lighter colours, getting progressively darker as more and more layers went on. I blended each layer as I went, and took care to keep the edges paler than the center. 

Cerulean, Cobalt violet, Cobalt (Daniel Smiths),Natural sienna, Winsor orange, Light red, Quinacridone gold deep (Daniel Smiths), Burnt sienna, Burnt Umber, Perylene maroon, Perylene Violet, Purple Lake, Raw Umber and Indigo. I also used Brown madder and Piemontite  (Daniel Smiths) on some of the darker conkers

Another little conker starts off. I've placed the conker on a separate sheet to protect the page, secured with a wad of Blu-Tack to stop it rolling off! You can see the initial washes here.
A few layers of paint later and you have a lovely polished conker

The cases were fun to paint too. I used a wash of Lemon yellow with a touch of sap green (the smallest amount), and then dropped in cerulean and a tiny bit of perylene green where needed. The spikes are the same earthy pigments of the conkers. I definitely needed a magnifying glass to paint those!

The finished page! This will used for my next Nature Sketchbook Exchange entry. 
Using all those transparent pigments has made me yearn for the silky softness of vellum, so conkers on vellum is next on my painting list! Mind you, the rosehips look very tempting too! With so much to choose from, I'm definitely going to be busy!

"Play keeps us vital and alive. It gives us an enthusiasm for life that is irreplaceable. 
Without it, life just doesn't taste good."
 Lucia Capacchione