“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.”
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”.
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!
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.
|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."