Monday, 13 April 2015

Exciting Times!

Grape practice on vellum (unfinished)
“Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive”
– Howard Thurman

Spring has finally arrived bringing in an excitement of warm sunshine, blossoms and bees.
I've plenty of reasons to be smiling this week because London is beckoning! 

Yes, the Society of Botanical Artists are holding their annual exhibition in Westminster, London, and it’s always an inspiring and exhilarating event. The theme this year is In Pursuit of Plants and my Spice Market painting is part of the exhibition.

The Spice Market  ©Shevaun Doherty 2014
This year is the 30th anniversary of the SBA, so there are also daily tours and demonstrations being held. I am delighted to say that I have been invited to be one of the demonstrating artists, which is a huge honour as well as slightly daunting!

So what to paint? I always get asked a lot of questions about painting on vellum, so it seemed the ideal choice of subject. My purple paints were already out, so I decided to do a few quick studies of grapes this week to work out the colours that I will need to bring with me.

It’s always a challenge to paint a fruit and retain the bloom on the surface. I have found that using a combination of cerulean and cobalt violet in my first washes really helps establish the bloom colours. I also used a recent purchase, Daniel Smith’s Verditer Blue which is a lovely light and transparent blue (think summer skies).

I did a practice grape on paper first and then selected a small piece of natural calf vellum. 
If you are thinking about trying vellum, it’s worth contacting William Cowley who make parchment and vellum and asking them for some of their small offcuts. There is a small fee for this, but it’s a great way of trying out all the different types of vellum. Kelmscott is the best one for beginners as it has a beautiful chalky surface that is so forgiving, but I prefer the subtle earthy markings of natural calfskin. It’s a matter of personal taste.

Painting dark colours on vellum is always a challenge. To retain the translucency you need a lot of layers of transparent colours and oodles of patience. I decided to paint a small sprig of grapes and leave some of them unfinished to show the underlying layers. When I do my demo I will paint a few small grapes to show the dry brush techniques but this small studies and colour charts will also help explain how it’s done.

So if you are in London on 17th April, be sure to come along and say hello!
I'm off to pack my paints and brushes… let the adventure begin!

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Catch the trade winds in your sails. 
Explore. Dream. Discover.”
– Mark Twain

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


 “There are times when we need certain colours. 
They nourish the soul in a way nothing else does “
Catherine Jo Morgan

I’m craving colour. 

I have had an earthy palette on my desk for the past couple of weeks, but now I’m yearning for some juicy pigments. With a workshop coming up and a demo at the SBA in London to prepare for, 
I decided to pull out the paints and delve into purple!

Over the years I’ve collected quite a number of purple pigments. My favourite ones are definitely the Schmincke range Quinacridone Violet, Manganese violet and Purple magenta. I’d certainly be lost without my Winsor & Newton Cobalt violet…  that colour seems to make it’s way into every painting that I do. I also like the W&N winsor violet for it’s rich deep tones. My most recent purple purchase is Daniel Smith’s Moonglow, which makes a wonderful shadow colour.

The dried flower calyces of Hibiscus sabdariffa are a beautiful dark purple colour which gives them a curious mystical quality
Purple is one of those deeply evocative colours. It can be sensual, mysterious and incredibly versatile. From inky blacks to flamboyant magentas to the soft soothing tones of lavender, purple is a colour that has captivated and inspired us for centuries.
And it all started off with a sea snail

A Murex sea shell 
In the 15th century BC, the Phoenicians discovered that some sea snails (Bolinus brandaris, the spiny dye-murex and Hexaplex trunculus the banded dye-murex ) secreted a mucus that could be used to dye cloth a rich purple colour. This colour did not fade, but instead became brighter with weathering and sunlight. 
In fact the word Phoenician derives from the ancient Greek word phoĆ­nios meaning "purple"

Fresh olives from Egypt
The Phoenicians grew wealthy from trading in olive oil, gold, silver and cedar wood from the mountain forests of their homeland, Lebanon. However the sumptuous purple dye of the murex snail was their most valuable asset. 
It took a staggering twelve thousand Murex snails to make 1.4 g of pure dye, which was just enough for a single garment. 
The whole process was time consuming, laborious and incredibly foul smelling.
The dye, known as Tyrian Purple became a status symbol, associated with royalty. Special laws were passed restricting the use of purple. Only the Roman Emperor could wear a Tyrian purple cape trimmed in golden thread and only a Roman senator could have a purple stripe on his toga. Even the royal birthing chambers had to be purple.

Dutch iris, gouache on board ©Shevaun Doherty 2014
The production of Tyrian Purple eventually came to a halt in 1204 with the Siege of Constantinople, when it just became too expensive to keep producing. The secret to Tyrian purple was lost for centuries.
I found this recipe which made me smile. Go on, I dare you to try it.

 The choke was painted using Cobalt violet, Helio blue, Purple lake (quin violet would also work), Egyptian violet (Lefranc & Bourgeois), Permanent blue violet (Rembrandt), winsor violet and perylene maroon. 

In 1856, a young chemistry student Sir William Henry Perkin, accidently created the first synthetic purple dye from aniline. He called it Mauveline. Once again purple became the colour of royalty. Queen Victoria discarded her black robes of mourning and wore instead a mauve silk gown to the Royal Exhibition of 1862, . The purple frenzy was soon copied by Empress Eugenie, wife of  Napoleon III, which then sparked the "Mauve Madness" that swept Europe in the 1860s. 
Purple was back.

 “Mauve is just pink trying to be purple“
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
In 1896 a new set of synthetic pigments were created from aniline, the Quinacridones. A favourite of mine, these colours are transparent, non-toxic and resistant to fading. In 1955 the DuPont company decided to use the quinacridones to create paint for the automobile industry, giving rise to a funky range of bright colourful cars from golden yellow to bright red to deep purple. 

Jacob's Coat, Acalypha wilkesiana ©Shevaun Doherty 2010

Fortunately for us, the  Quins were also made into artists paints. I think that they are a must for watercolourists as it’s hard to beat their transparency and lightfastness. They give a welcome glow to any painting. I enjoyed reading this great blogpost on quinacridone. It’s worth reading.

As for me, well, my purple paints are calling out to come and play.

“All the other colours are just colours, but purple seems to have a soul. Purple is not just a noun and an adjective but also a verb - when you look at it, it's looking back at you”
Uniek Swain