Monday, 30 March 2015

Fabulous Fruit

Turk's cap gourd, Cucurbita maxima © Shevaun Doherty 2012
“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do"

 Art makes me want to leap out of bed every morning and rush down to the studio to paint. 
What started out as a keen interest in the natural world and a strong desire to create has grown into a full blown passion for botanical art. I really enjoy what I do.

“The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” 

Robert Henri

When I first started out, I painted and drew anything that I found. I loved keeping a sketchbook (and still do), because it took away the need to create a finished piece and allowed me the freedom to experiment and play. 

Over time, I discovered that there were colour palettes that called to me (oranges, reds and earth colours), whilst others (blues and purples) have been strangely neglected.  
Even my choice of subjects has been a revelation. I’ve realised that flowers are not high on my list of Top Ten Things to Paint, although I love flowers. Those roses still await their turn on my table. My sketchbooks are instead filled with seedpods, pinecones, grasses and insects

But the thing that I enjoy painting most is FRUIT.

Above all I enjoy the challenge of getting the right colour mixes, and trying to capture the waxy bloom on the surface of the skin.  All plants have this bloom, some more so than others You can see it quite clearly on fruit such as olives, plums and grapes.

For years people thought that this bloom was caused by wild yeast cells, but they have recently discovered that this bloom, or epicuticular wax, is part of the plant and has a very important role. It seals the plant and prevents water loss. It also reflects UV radiation and deters insects by making it difficult for them to walk on or lay eggs. Amazingly if the wax is accidently rubbed off the plant, it will grow back. Finally it helps the plant to self-clean, causing water to bead up and roll off, taking particles of dirt and dust with it. You can read more about this here

Bloom is also notoriously difficult to depict in watercolours, particularly when the use of white is so frowned upon. I know that some artists do mix a tiny bit of cobalt with white gouache and drybrush it on afterwards, but most (myself included) carefully paint the bloom first and build up the darker colours around it.

I also love the challenge of creating form… the illusion that you can reach out and pick it up off the page. When I first started painting botanicals, I remember feeling quite confused by the term “disappearing edges”, which is often used to describe how the surface of a fruit curves away from you. It took me a while to understand this concept, and how to paint it. A better way to describe this process is to say “bring the middle bit forward”, although admittedly that’s a bit of a mouthful! 

To create this effect, you use warmer colours in the centre of the fruit, and build up the layers of transparent colours so that the middle part is the most saturated, leaving the paint around the edges is quite thin.

The Temptation of Eve  © Shevaun Doherty 2014
The best thing about painting fruit though is that they are patient. They sit and allow you to take your time, unlike the impatient flowers who are constantly changing their position and colour. 
And fruit tastes good too!

If you are interested in learning more, I will be giving a two day workshop on painting fruit on April 20th and 21st in my home. For more details please contact me on shevaun.doherty (at)

"Fruits ... like having their portrait painted. They seem to sit there and ask your forgiveness for fading. Their thought is given off with their perfumes. They come with all their scents, they speak of the fields they have left, the rain which has nourished them, the daybreaks they have seen."

Paul Cézanne

Sunday, 22 March 2015


“Spring~ the music of open windows”
Terri Guillemets

Spring has finally arrived in a burst of blue skies, blossoms and bumblebees. 

I love this time of year when the world awakes from it's winter sleep and new life begins. Gardeners and Botanical artists are eternal optimists, dreaming and planning for the months ahead. 
It's a very busy time of year.
Bees have been on my mind quite a lot in recent weeks.

In Spring, the new queen bees emerge from hibernation. Each queen needs 6000 flowers a day to build up enough energy reserves to start a new hive.

 Last month I went to the Pollinators Symposium at the National Biodiversity Data Centre  with a vague idea that sometime in the future, I would like to create a series of paintings highlighting the relationship between plants and insects. I wanted to learn more about this topic. I came away feeling so inspired and motivated to get involved. Bees really need our help. So I've signed up to become a Bee Monitor

To become a bee monitor, all you need to do is to agree to give an hour your time each month (March-October) to go on a designated Bee Walk of your choosing, and record the bees that you see. You will need to do a little bit of homework beforehand to become familiar with all the different types of bees around, but there are plenty of ID charts online. The data that is collected is vital to help scientists get a better picture of what is happening around the world to bee populations.

It’s not too late to get involved! There is also a similar UK scheme  here
If you aren’t able to commit to Bee Monitoring, then be more Bee Aware. Plant bee- friendly flowers in your garden and leave a strip of long grass with wild flowers in your garden.
Most importantly, STOP USING PESTICIDES.  
 Whilst there are restrictions on the chemicals that farmers spray on crops, a lot of the harmful products are sold to the general public in garden centres and hardware stores. There is no such thing as a selective pesticide. If it kills aphids, it kills bees. If you are unsure, here is a list of products to avoid-

It hasn’t been all bees and buzzing though. Life has been a busy whirl of meetings and appointments recently, so I’ve reluctantly had to put aside the roses and paint something that won’t wilt or fade. Dried leaves and seed cases make wonderful subjects for those times when you only have a few hours to paint.

Building up the layers of colour in this old Horse Chestnut leaf.
There are more details of the progression on my facebook page
The deadline for the Botanical Art in Bloom is fast approaching, and so I decided to paint a couple of tiny vellum pieces and make a Conker painting triptych. Bloom is a fantastic event to be involved in, and last year's event was a particularly joyful one for me. 

Two parts of the triptych. (Ignore the blue tape!)
To harmonise the painting, I'm sticking to the palette that I used in the conker painting~
 Cerulean, Cobalt violet, Indanthrene, Natural sienna (DS), Quinacridone gold deep (DS), Magnesium brown, Brown madder, Burnt Umber, Perylene maroon, Perylene Violet, Raw Umber, Transparent brown (DS) and my new favourite Moonglow (DS)

Planning out the composition... I still don't know whether I will include the small conker, but it will certainly be repositioned for balance.
I've taken a bit of liberty with the stalk here as you can see, so that it added to the overall composition. As long as it is botanically correct, then it's fine to use a bit of artistic licence. I'm still undecided by the small conker and will probably leave it out. Maybe.
I've still a fair bit to do on this conker case, but I'm excited by the abstract patterns emerging. 

The roses will be making an appearance once I've got this little triptych finished. I have a very busy month ahead, particularly as the Society of Botanical Artists will be having their annual exhibition in London. This year I will be giving a demo on vellum painting during the exhibition, so if you around Westminster on Friday 17th April, please come and say hello.
Life may be a buzz with new happenings, but it’s good.

I will leave you with this short video about bumble bees. Isn't nature incredible?

"Hoe while it is spring, and enjoy the best anticipations. 
 It is not much matter if things do not turn out well."

 Charles Dudley Warner

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

War of the Roses

“It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important.”
 Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

If flowers are a language, then few can match the eloquence of a rose. It’s a flower that evokes so many emotions- love, passion, tenderness, joy and frustration. Yes, frustration! For roses are one of the most difficult subjects to paint.
Now I’d be the first to admit that roses are not one of my favourite flowers, but every now and then I’ll come across a seductive beauty, sweet smelling and sumptuous, and I feel the urge to paint.

Rosa centifolia (cabbage rose) by Pierre Joseph Redouté (Image from Wikipedia)
Of course, you can’t talk about botanical art and roses, without mentioning Pierre Joseph Redouté. His work is just so breathtakingly beautiful that it’s hardly surprising that he continues to inspire artists even today. There are many fine contemporary painters of roses too- I particularly love the work of Billy Showell and Vincent Jeannerot. They make painting roses look effortless.

Alas, the reality is often far from that, and I have a collection of bad roses to prove my humiliating defeats. 
What starts off so well, soon resembles a discarded snotty pink tissue. Bleuh! 

My only consolation is the realisation that I’m not alone in my inability to capture the subtlety of a rose. I was surprised and more than a little relieved to find that many of my botanical art friends share my frustration.

However, every now and then, I get the urge to tackle a rose again. 

Last week I visited The Enchanted Florist, quite simply the best florist in Dublin. So bewitched was I by the dazzling array of colour and perfume, and charmed by the owner Yasmin, that I carried away a stunning bouquet of roses with an irresistible urge to paint. 

Pulling apart a rose and painting the petals individually helps to identify the colours
Well, it has to be said that having roses on your desk is not a bad thing. They look so pretty and the scent is divine. These roses are called Memory Lane, and are a gorgeous dusty pink colour, with creamy outer petals. After the many layers of the Mambo lily, I thought that painting a pale flower would prove far less troublesome. Ha!

How wrong I was. It’s been the Battle of the Roses this week. My collection of bad roses grows. 

Finding the right colour match was not difficult. Naples, Cobalt violet and Cerulean were all good for the first washes. Rose madder (W&N) and Rhodonite (DS) led the pinks, followed by Purple lake and a smidgeon of Rose dore (sennelier. The pinks were balanced by the introduction of indanthrene and winsor lemon for my greens. A new purchase of Daniel Smith Moonglow, a delicious shadow purple, helped everything come together.

Roses are fickle and lack patience. The buds burst open and the petals drop with startling speed. They require big juicy washes and big brushes to blend and tease out the pigments. I’m a dry brush and magnifier kind of girl, so I struggle with wet on wet. This technique of painting takes me out of my comfort zone and adds yet more bad roses to my pile. 
But I persist.

The seductive charm of the rose is strong. This battle is not over yet.

"Try again. Fail again. Try better."
Samuel Beckett