Saturday 1 August 2015

Summertime Blues

Shevaun Doherty Agapanthus bud botanical painting

“Blue colour is everlastingly appointed by the deity to be a source of delight.”
John Ruskin

Blue is the colour that sings to us of heaven and sky, of fresh water and deep oceans, of spirituality, serenity and stability. It’s definitely one of my favourite colours, and yet I don’t seem to paint many blue subjects. All that is about to change, because I have a garden full of blues … tall elegant Agapanthus flowers that are just coming into bloom.

The first challenge with any new plant is the set-up. It’s great when
it’s a reasonably small plant that fits neatly onto the table, but with a stem reaching almost a meter in height, finding a comfortable position to work can be difficult. I prefer to get the flower as near to the drawing board as possible, in order to observe the smaller details.

Having found a suitable way of working, the next challenge is the exciting part…. Colour!!

I need very little excuse to pull out my paints and make a colour chart. Although I have a lot of colours, I am always looking out for new ones. It’s interesting to see how pigments of the same name differ between the brands. I’ve never been a big fan of Winsor and Newton’s cobalt, finding it a bit too sludgey for my liking, but the Daniel Smith’s cobalt has the transparency and clarity of the sea on a summer’s day. Daniel Smith’s Verditer blue is my summer sky colour… definitely a favourite of mine! It was interesting to see the difference between the pans and the tubes of the same colour, most notably W&N indanthrene. It seemed a little greyer and more granular in the pan. I’m going to have to check that out again.

Having selected the possible colours, I started to do some colour studies. My Agapanthus was still in bud, but that’s a good time to start colour studies because it gives me an opportunity to study the form of the umbel, and to test run the colours.

The buds are actually more purple than blue. In the end I found that a combination of DS Verditer, DS Cobalt, W&N deep cobalt worked well with W&N ultramarine violet and L&B Egyptian violet. The latter was a chance find on the back of a dusty paint shop in Cairo and is a lovely transparent purple. These blues also made a lovely green when mixed with transparent yellow.

Flowers can be daunting. I looked at all the little buds on the umbel and felt a fleeting sense of panic. However although I haven’t painted an Agapanthus before, the technique is similar to the way I painted the papyrus, or the ivy berries. Draw the overall form (umbrella shaped), roughly mark out the position of the flowers (bearing in mind that they will shift position whilst you are painting), and then draw the pedicels (flower stalks) radiating out from the central stem.

Mix up your paint, take a big breath and then start with the nearest flowers. I went for the biggest ones first and used those as my markers, positioning the rest of the buds accordingly. At first it’s all a bit overwhelming… so many stalks, so many buds, but by starting with the ones closest to you and working slowly and methodically to the back, you soon find yourself slipping into a comfortable rhythm. 

Shevaun Doherty Agapanthus botanical art

At that stage I wasn’t too worried about the tones of the pedicels because they could be adjusted at the end.  The furthest flowers are much paler in tone to suggest the distance. 

Botanical art Agapanthus study Shevaun Doherty

I think I could have played a bit more with this, but by the time that I had finished painting this, the flowers had already started to spring open. I have a busy week of blues ahead!

“The deeper the blue becomes, the more strongly it calls man towards the infinite, awakening in him a desire for the pure and, finally, for the supernatural... The brighter it becomes, the more it loses its sound, until it turns into silent stillness and becomes white.”
Wassily Kandinsky


  1. i'm struggling with petunias still
    i wish i had blues around though, i don't except in very early spring

    1. Your petunias are delightful, Vi! I'm enjoying these (so far)! It's a real summery plant!

  2. "There ain't no cure for the summertime blues . . . "
    I really enjoy how you document the evolution of your work, from colour charts, to pencil sketches to the final piece. Very interesting. The quote from John Ruskin made me think of DG Rossetti which lead me onto Aidan Turner, and that's always a good thing! Great post, Shevaun.

    1. Oh Candice, you are funny... and why not! Life is short! It helps me to document my process because it's really useful for me too... I am constantly referring back to remember what colours I used or what techniques I used. I've a brain like a sieve. Okay, Aidan Turner...

  3. Thank you for such an informative and inspirational post. I am a total beginner in botanical art and I love to learn from artists like you who kindly share their work. I am looking at an agapathus in my garden and thinking now I might try! I love blue flowers.

    1. I'm glad that you found it useful. I would definitely recommend pinching off a flower or a bud first and practicing with that, before you tackle the whole flower, Cherry. Good luck!

  4. Thank you for this - as always so helpful. I'm sure I've read before what the blue(!) tape is you use, but please could you let us know again- I'm having terrible times with bog standard masking tape.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hi Emma, I really like that blue tape! It's low tack so doesn't tear the paper, but it has a good hold. You can find it on amazon, or just goigle Scotch blue tape Hope that helps!!

    2. Thank you so much. I'll get googling. You are so generous with your help and information/inspiration

    3. I've had a lot of help and inspiration from others along the way, so it's nice to pass it on. Good luck!


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