Monday, 23 February 2015

Hey Mambo!

Oriental Hybrid Lily Lilium 'Mambo'  © Shevaun Doherty 2015

‘We draw the spring into our hearts and feel that life is good’ 
Oscar Wilde

My studio this week has filled with sunshine, music and flowers.  I’m not dancing but painting the Mambo, a beautiful purple Oriental lily with a seductive sweet scent. This flower is such a sassy diva that I knew that I had to paint it as soon as I laid eyes on it.

Ah, there really is nothing quite as pleasant painting with the intoxicating scent of flowers in sunshine. 

The biggest challenge of course was going to be capturing that striking colour. I have quite a good range of pinks, reds and purples but this was a good opportunity to play with some of the Daniel Smith dot charts. For those who don’t know what a dot chart is, it’s a tester chart with a splodges of watercolour. Daniel Smith paints have quite intense colours and a little seems to go a very long way. 

As always, I was surprised at how different the same paint name differs from brand to brand. Daniel Smith Perylene violet is now definitely on my wishlist, although the W&N Perylene violet is still a favourite. Quinacridone fuschia, Rhodonite and Permanent violet are now all on my wishlist. I just can't get enough colour.

I pulled apart a flower and painted a single petal. It was not easy to get that rich colour! I was going to have to paint so many layers of paint! I was also struggling to get back into painting on paper and using bigger brushes with wetter washes. I did a quick study of an opening flower to get my head back into that style of painting. 

It’s a good idea when drawing out a flower to take the outer measurements. I often find that my drawings grow on the page and that's so annoying. An easy way to stop this from happening is to draw a simple box and make the flower fit. This isn’t a botanical illustration so I wasn’t too worried about getting precise measurements. (Apologies to the purists out there!)

Monday, 16 February 2015

Art and Friendship

“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”
Khalil Gibran

They say that art is a solitary pursuit, and it’s true that we artists spend many hours alone in our studio quietly painting. However the more that I paint, the more I realise that there is a wonderful social side to art. It’s about connecting. We paint because we want to show the world what we see. 

Scarlet Tiger Moth by Claire Ward
Sharing the results of our creative endeavours with others, makes art all the more pleasurable.
Just as a flower needs sunshine and water, we need a little bit of encouragement and friendship to grow.

 Eyed Hawkmoth (Smerinthus ocellatus) on vellum by Dianne Sutherland Ball

Thankfully connecting with others is easier than ever. The internet has literally thrown open the doors of our studios, allowing us to engage with likeminded people on a daily basis. I am constantly amazed at how generous people can be with their time, thoughts and advice. Their enthusiasm for art and passion for nature is both inspiring and motivating. I am constantly learning from them and discovering new things. 

Thistle on vellum by Sharon Tingey
Best of all, I have made some really fantastic friends through art. It brings me such joy to see their paintings and to hear about the projects that they are working on. When a friend achieves success, I share in their excitement. When I put up images of my work online, they in turn give me encouraging and often insightful feedback. Even when things aren't going to plan, there is always someone will always be ready to offer advice or suggest a solution.

A wonderfully thoughtful parcel of gifts that arrived unexpectedly last week. 
Being part of a vibrant online art community is an incredibly rewarding experience. I'm delighted to say that it's not just online too. I have been getting all sorts of treats and surprises in the post- paints and brushes, natural treasures, papers, books and even some beautiful art. Art swaps are also a great way of making friends and sharing that creative spirit.

"It's a wonderful thing being able to paint together all the time and grow as artists together." 
Scott Burdick

Three sketchbooks from the Natural Sketchbook Exchange. One of the artists has made some beautiful covers for each book
Art can also lead to some wonderful collaborations. I'm thrilled to be part of the Natural Sketchbook Exchange which a group of talented friends started a year ago. The concept is simple- we all started with a Stillman & Birn sketchbook, took our inspiration from Nature and then posted it on. 

Terri Dauncey's beautiful sketchbook and my page of feathers about to be stuck in!
Isn't this amazing? A beautiful page of flowers and a little landscape by Giovanni Cera in Terri's sketchbook

Beautiful birch trees by artist Lorraine Adams with my page of prickles
Debbie Crawford's lovely raspberry ripple peonies in Lorraine Adam's sketchbook

Inspiring work by Aislinn Adams in Dianne Sutherland Ball's sketchbook

My conkers about to go into Dianne Sutherland Ball's sketchbook
Watching the sketchbooks slowly fill up with artwork has been such a thrill, each one is so unique and special. Recently we took a short break just to give ourselves a chance to catch up with our lives, and that's why I have ended up with three of gorgeous sketchbooks here in my home.
Oh, they are such a joy to look through! I’m reluctant to part with them, but have the excitement of getting the next one in the post very soon.

A calendar and a card from Elizabeth H Tudor
And even as I write this blogpost, I hear a knock at the door, and another parcel has just arrived! This time it is from Canada with a lovely calendar and a card. Thank you Liz! What a fantastic surprise!

Art is not just a solitary pursuit, it’s definitely a social one too. It has made me realise that I am truly blessed with my friends. To each and every one of you, thank you for the kind words, the encouragement, the advice, the good wishes, the art, the gifts and for the smile that you put onto my face each day.

"I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let's face it, friends make life a lot more fun."
Charles Swindoll

Monday, 9 February 2015


Per aspera ad astra-
Through difficulties to the stars

There has been a battle in my studio this week. Whilst my paperwork mountain was slowly being tackled, a little conker  sat on my desk, patiently awaiting my attention.
 I love painting conkers(Aesculus hippocastanum). I don’t know whether it’s the rich earthy colours or that tactile smoothness, but they make the perfect subject.

My page of conkers has now been stuck into Dianne's sketchbook for the Nature Trails Sketchbook Exchange
 I have painted them quite a few times now, but always on paper, never on vellum. I did try once, but gave up in exasperation. To get that rich patina you need quite a few layers of paint, and that can be a challenge on vellum. Suddenly you can find that you’re lifting paint off instead of adding another layer, and the more that you try to fix it, the quicker it turns into a blobby, patchy mess.
However, undeterred by the last disaster, I began.

I was feeling confident. I threw on a few initial washes of colour.

It wasn’t long before I was trying to fix things using a dampened cotton bud. Because the paint sits on the surface of the vellum, it's easy to wipe off. Perhaps a little too easy.

 However as I progressed, it became apparent that I had not put in enough blue in my initial washes, essential for that convincing gleam. I began to fuss, and it quickly became a horrible mess. I tried to scrape some of it off, but this is natural calf vellum, not kelmscott, which has a chalky coating, and so I ended up scuffing up the surface. The paint got caught in it and stained, leaving a dark and horrible patch. I wiped as much as I could off.

Attempt #2- I have to disguise that horrible dark patch
I decided to start again, but moved the conker up on the vellum to cover the recriminating patch. This time, I decided to start on the polished conker, ignoring the prickly cases.

Sometimes starting again can be the best option. You are aware of the mistakes that you have made and so take care to avoid them.

The colours that I used this time were similar to the ones that I used before, but with a few changes. I used Indanthrene instead of Cobalt and avoided Indigo altogether. For my really dark darks, I used Perylene violet with a little Perylene green. I also used a tiny bit of Transparent Brown Oxide and Burnt Bronzite from my Daniel Smith dot charts for the shell.

I ran out of daylight hours in my haste to finish this, so the photograph of the finished piece is not the best. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out though and glad that I persisted.

Today I was given some glorious lilies, exuberant beauties that are just begging to have their portrait painted. My palette will be washed, the earth colours put away and those delicious purple pigments will be coming out to play! Even the paperwork pile is looking less daunting.

That which we persist in doing becomes easier - not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.” 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Seeking Balance

Beauty is a Fragile Gift

This week has been one of those weeks where Time has been in short supply.

Even as I type this, a large pile of papers and forms sit in reproachful silence beside my desk. I have managed to get through some of the more urgent ones, like registering for VAT in the UK. I've even sent off the necessary forms for exhibitions that are coming up, but I still have an enormous mountain of paperwork to sort through and deal with. It's quite disheartening.

It would be so tempting to just climb back into bed!
As always Painting is my lifeline, my escape and the key to my sanity.

“It is the process of doing art that reduces stress and puts us in that 'zone' of spiritual connection.” Diana S. Boehnert

In order to establish a bit of balance into my life, I try to make a conscious effort to always have a little painting on the go. The best subject in busy times is one that can happily sit on my desk whilst I deal with all the tedious stuff, something that won’t wilt, fade or change too much. Allowing myself a few hours to paint is my reward for doing a few hours of paperwork. 

Last week a friend sent a small piece of natural calf vellum from Pergamena and I couldn't wait to try it out. The first step with vellum is to tape it down. Being a natural product, it has the tendency to warp and bend with a little bit of humidity. I found that the Scotch blue painters tape works really well.

To get rid of any residue oils or greases, you prepare the surface by gently rubbing with fine pumice powder. I bought mine in Cornelissen’s in London. I popped some into a footsie and used gentle circular movements. You can also use this powder to take off the paint if need be.

 I sketched it out onto tracing paper and transferred it onto the vellum. Although you can draw directly onto the vellum. graphite can mark the vellum and it's better not to mess with the delicate surface too much. I've noticed that an eraser can leave marks.

Ready to go!
I must admit that when I got around to the painting, I stopped in my tracks. I had looked at the skeleton and thought that it seemed a simple enough subject… sure, it was mainly holes. What could be easier? Except how on earth do you paint a hole?

The answer is to take a big breath, and using very fine brush, a big magnifier and some washes of W&N cobalt violet and cerulean for the shadows, Add a little bit of natural sienna (Daniel Smith), raw umber (DS and W&N), W&N Light red and DS cobalt ...and slowly, slowly build up the shapes. 

For the fruit I used winsor orange, perylene maroon and perylene violet. Surprisingly, this part was  the easiest. It was just a matter of painting the negative shapes between the veins. There was a little bit of negative painting both at the top and the base of the skeleton too, where the shapes overlapped.

It was a very welcome distraction to the tedium of form filling. I still hate paperwork, but at least by allowing myself a little art, I am slowly making my way through this pile.  I should really have written this blog earlier today, but I looked at the lovely sunshine streaming through my studio window and thought, Life is really just too short! So I have another little painting set up and started on my desk. The bookwork can wait until tomorrow!

My temptation awaits...
“Only Robinson Crusoe had everything done by Friday.”