Monday 11 May 2015

Laburnum Revisited

“Be Patient.
Respond to every call that excites your spirit.”

Patience is an attribute that every botanical artist needs to have. Choosing to paint from life means that we are very much at the whims of nature, constantly marking the seasons and watching the weather. It’s not unusual for a botanical artist to set aside a painting for a year whilst they wait for a plant to bloom once more or a fruit to ripen.  

In my garden I have a beautiful laburnum tree (Laburnum anagyroides) that for a few weeks each year, fills my garden with cascades of glorious golden flowers and a wonderful perfume that sends bees into rapturous joy. Every year I promise myself that I will paint it but time has always been against me. 

Last year I managed to do a small study for the sketchbook exchange and I promised myself that this year, I would be ready!

So I have been patiently watching my garden with a growing sense of anticipation. I have a gorgeous piece of honey coloured natural calf vellum which will really set off those golden flowers. 

Whilst I waited, I decided to do a few small studies to hone my palette. Yellow is a tricky colour to paint. It can slip from glowing to drab in a few washes, which makes varying the tones quite difficult. Some artists achieve wonderful results by doing a monochromatic study first in greys and then painting a wash of yellow over it. Others mix their yellows with tiny bits of purple to create shadow tones.

 Personally I prefer to keep my colours as clean as possible and use the large range of yellows available to create the tones. That said, a few shadow colours, purple-grey or green will slip into the mix towards the end if I felt it is needed.

There is no right or wrong way. If it works, do it!

So first to make a huge yellow colour chart. Yes, I really do have all those colours, and yes, the Daniel Smith dot chart makes me want to whip out that credit card and invest in a few more. 

However I resist the urge and finally decide on my favourites of winsor lemon, winsor yellow and new gamboge as my basic yellows.

My biggest struggle is always with greens, especially on vellum where opaque paints can feel a bit like kicking a lead-filled football around a pitch. So I needed to find a good transparent green mix. Fortunately my good friend Sigrid Frensen mentioned how nice turquoise was with quinacridone gold, both wonderfully transparent. 

Winsor Blue Green with Quinacridone Gold ... a fabulous mix!
So having played around with several mixes, I settled on Winsor Blue-Green with quinacridone and a little transparent yellow. I have had Winsor Blue Green for years but always ignored it as it was just too bright for any of my mixes. The Quin gold tames it beautifully.

Playing with green mixes

Of course it is not just botanical artists who revisit favourite subjects to paint, artists have done this for centuries. Each time they paint their subject, they discover something new. It allows them to develop their techniques, their composition and their colour palette.
Inspiration stimulates creativity.

My imagination has been caught! Bring on the blossoms.

“The glow of inspiration warms us and it is a holy rapture”



  1. Wonderful blog. If you ever come across Holbein Marine Blue, a turquoise, try it it makes fabulous greens. And, how I love Laburnum.

    1. Haha, the colourholic in me wants to google that paint now but I'm resisting the urge to buy more paint! I love laburnum too.

  2. Hahaha... I think I'm almost famous now ;)

    1. I'll be looking for your autograph next,Sigrid! Thanks for the green recipe... You're right. It's delicious!

  3. Looks like you definitely will be ready after all of these lovely studies! I know what you mean though, the blossoms come and go so quickly in spring that I find myself saying "next year" a lot...but then I get to study the plant through all of its changes for a whole year so all is not lost!

    1. I think "Next year" must be a phrase we use too often! Now the blossoms are open and I've that rising sense of panic to get it all down before the flowers finish and disappear. "This year" is what I need to say!

  4. I love how methodical you are in planning the creation of a painting. And it shows in the final work.

    I too have laburnum trees in my garden and in good years they are weighed down with blossom and humming like giant beehives.

    1. I love that description! I'm going to see my laburnum tree like a giant humming beehive from now on too! Thanks Jeanette

  5. Just wrote a comment and it disappeared, so apologies if you get two! This is a really beautiful piece Shevaun, I do admire you for tackling those yellows. That mix that Sigrid mentioned sure looks good! Wish I paid as much attention to all the pigments as you do. Anyway - lovely piece. I love the flow of the raceme too.


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