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.