Friday, 5 October 2018

In Search of Beatrix ..... and a mutual love of illustrating fungi

In recent weeks I have had the opportunity to visit the Lake District, one of the National Parks here in the UK that I have longed to visit.

I had previously been teaching in Edinburgh at RBGE, so on our way back home it was time for a few days to explore the Lakes and the surrounding countryside.
As always, there was another aspect to the trip, that for me personally, was one to tick off the bucket list !

That was to see some of the original natural history illustrations drawn and painted by Beatrix Potter.  But first I wanted to find out more about her, not necessarily about the famous children's books that she illustrated but other aspects of her life.

The first trip was to Hill Top, the first farm that she purchased in the Lake District.  The garden was relatively small, but then it was a working farm and still is, so the garden is likely to have been for growing fruit and vegetables as well as flowers.

She bought Hill Top from the proceeds of The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1905 and then went onto to buy many other farms and parcels of land, without her efforts some of the Lake District that we see today would not exist.

She was known to be a fair landlord and was considerate to her tenants in times of need, especially as they progressed into old age.  Another aspect of her life, was that she helped to fund the District Nurses, enabling them to travel to each of their patients in a car, making their lives easier and a lot safer, as well as benefiting those that were needing their care.

The pictures above show the garden at Hill Top with the house in the back ground.  Right you can see the range in the front parlour of the house.  Once Beatrix was settled in the house she had the range removed and replaced with an inglenook fireplace.  But before that she used the original range as a source of inspiration for her illustrations in the Tale of Samuel Whiskers published in 1908 (above left).  In the 1980's a range similar to the original was installed.

But what of fungi ??  Her passion of illustrating fungi happened in another phase of her life, whilst she lived in London in the late 1800's, from 1888 to 1901, but also when the family used to travel to the Lake District and Pethshire on holiday.
She got to know the postman that delivered to their holiday home and he was a keen naturalist.  Over time Beatrix and Charlie McIntosh got to know each other  and she would send him illustrations for him to check that they were correctly identified.  He also gave suggestions to her as to how to present the information in her illustrations, suggesting that she should show parts of the cap with the gills being visible.  It was discovered that some of the illustrations were completed in duplicate, so that she always had a record, whilst the other was sent to Charlie.

Upon her death in 1943, Beatrix's fungi and archaeological illustrations were bequeathed to the Armitt Library and Museum in Ambleside.  This library was set up in 1912 and she was a founding member and a major benefactor too.

In the museum's collection of Beatrix's illustrations, there are:

250 studies of fungi
40 natural history studies (that include mosses and lichens)
140 microscopic drawings
30 archaeological drawings

So several weeks prior to heading off on our travels, I had contacted the Armitt and had arranged to meet the Curator whilst we were in Ambleside.
The feeling as I was approaching the museum and library was actually quite a peaceful one, hard to explain really.  Yes, I was excited too, but I felt that I just wanted to soak in and remember every part of the experience.

Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed when I had my private viewing, a little disappointed initially, but now I really appreciate it, as it has made the experience so much more personal, although I would have course loved to have shared it with you !

There was only time to view about 30 of them, but they truly took my breath away.  It was as though they had been painted yesterday, the colours were so fresh.

The Armitt Museum

I took a magnifying glass with me as I wanted to see her brush strokes closely.  She also used several granulating colours, often in the background of the illustrations to portray the habitat.  The latter was not always illustrated in great detail but there is tremendous depth to the paintings.
The compositions are inspiring as they truly lead your eye into what you are seeing, encouraging you to want to know more.  The delicate application of washes means that there are hardly ever any overworked areas of painting.  The neutral washes, which we often now call 'botanical greys' are made up of several washes using the glazing technique with watercolour.  The fungi themselves are so accurately painted and detailed that the species are still easily identifiable today from Beatrix's paintings.
One fascinating aspect of holding and seeing her work so closely, was the opportunity to read her notes and measurements.
We also had the chance to see some of her archaeological illustrations and heard from the curator, that they were often illustrated from specimens either located at the British Museum or on loan to her.  One illustration that will stay in my mind for a long long time, was one of Roman leatherwork, showing the remains of a sole of a sandal with the studs visible in the painting, and another of Roman leather latticework.  The River Fleet was a major river in Roman times and it is likely that this was the origin of Beatrix's illustration subjects, when excavations were taking place at the time of it being incorporated into the Victorian sewage system.

Memories and memorabilia back in the studio at home.

So what now, after all of that inspiration ?  I was determined to return to illustrating fungi this year, after a break of a year or two.  A trip to the New Forest at the end of August yielded some specimens and now I feel motivated even more. 

This coming Saturday 6th October is UK Fungus Day, so why not have a look at the website and see if there are any fungi events near you.  If you are not up to sketching them why not take photographs, but remember to leave the fungi where they are.

Butter bolete Boletus appendiculatus © 2018 Sarah Morrish/NaturesDetails
From my A3 botanical sketchbook

Penny bun Boletus edulis © 2018 Sarah Morrish/NaturesDetails
From my A3 botanical sketchbook

For further examples of my fungi illustrations and those of a fellow artist and friend, Claire Ward, you can view the blog of the UK Fungus Day - British Mycological Society

If you would like to read more about the time that Beatrix Potter illustrated fungi, the following booklet gives a wonderful and informative overview, with a good range of her illustrations included.
It is available directly from the Armitt Musuem.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Change is a positive thing............ for students and tutor

Change can be a difficult process to get through, even when the end result will be a positive one.

The process of change is initiated often by an idea and for me in this instance it is a creative one.  Barbara Januszkiewicz sums it up well:

Creative thinking inspires ideas. Ideas inspire change - Barbara Januszkiewicz

Many of you know that over the last year or so, as well as health, and family caring challenges, I have been involved in the organisation of the Botanical Art Worldwide event for the UK. Now this very successful event is over and the Association of British Botanical Artists evolves without me, I can move forward with opportunities for me as an artist but also as a tutor.

My ultimate aim when teaching is to guide my students through their learning process, recognising that each of them may learn in a different way and leading them to a progressive and successful outcome.

This is a challenge in itself, especially when you may only be teaching them for a one day workshop or for a few hours each week, or even online.  So my thinking cap has been well and truly on and now I can reveal that there are several changes coming up with Illustrating Natures Details, which will hopefully provide a fulfilling learning and teaching experience for all.

The 3rd July was my last day of teaching at Peter Symonds College AHED in Winchester.  I will be leaving after 6 years of teaching there and meeting so many talented people.  Thank you to everyone that has supported me and come to the classes, many of whom I will still see.

This means that I can create a new learning experience, one that means more time for all and following a project based approach.
This will take place from October 2018  at the Holt Estate, near Winchester, where I already teach workshops and courses.

The classes are for those with some experience of drawing and painting botanical and natural history subjects.  There will be a block of 4 classes to start with that will take place every other week. This will mean that there is the opportunity for structured tuition within class and then the option of continuing at home on a specific project over the 8 weeks in total. Students will also have the option of choosing a set botanical or natural history subject area at the point of booking.

Another exciting result of this creative change is that I have created a private group on Facebook for any student that attends the day workshops or longer courses at the Holt Estate.  This is a great way of everybody keeping in touch as some are spread far and wide.  
It is not a tuition group but an additional means of communication and support and is proving popular already.
This is one of the positive benefits of social media and I am thrilled to be able to provide this free of charge, as an addition to attending the workshops and courses.
If you have attended the courses at the Holt you can request to join the group here:

Don't forget that you can also keep up to date with news by signing up for the newsletter, the link for which is in the tabs above.

Do also keep a look out for further online courses coming later in 2018.

Happy drawing & painting !


Sunday, 4 February 2018

A rain forest in a hedge-bank ...

When I first started this blog way back in 2011, there were times when I could use it to focus on my nature writing as well as the 'arty' side of things.  So this year I have made a promise to myself to write more about my experiences with the natural world, those that really capture all aspects in all weathers and conditions.

This blog post has taken a while to evolve, from the beginning of the year to be accurate.

The last day of the year in 2017 we were settled in a granary cottage on the beautiful Little Comfort Farm situated in the depths of the north Devon countryside.
The winter weather was typically British with rain showers visiting us for various lengths of time, delivering their load and giving the surrounding hedge-banks what looked like a shower of diamonds, once the sun was shining.

After one such delivery we ventured away from the wood-burner and headed outside.

The lane was surrounded by high hedge-banks which created almost a humid climate due to their sheltering nature.  As I looked closer the realisation came that the vegetation on those banks gave you the feeling of being in a miniature rain forest.  

The tiniest capsules of the mosses were weighed down with moisture, the hairs of Wood sorrel leaves glistened in the sunshine and the new Harts tongue fern fronds and others looked as though they had been brushed with varnish.  

Further jewels of nature became more visible as we peered closer, not all touched by the rain but still shining out from the surrounding vegetation due to their colour, texture and pattern.

Don't forget to look around you after the rain - you may be in for a surprise !

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

How do I know which course is suitable for me ??

There have been discussions on social media recently about the availability of accredited courses in botanical art. There are many courses of varying levels out there but virtually none are accredited.

By 'accredited' we mean those that are assessed and quality controlled by and an educational institution, such as a university.  Such courses usually carry points that can be used to put towards the application process of further courses at degree or masters degree level.

In the distant past I had looked at several illustration courses that had a good modular focus on natural science education, but at the time attending a course like this was not an option for me.  Instead I went down the route of studying for a science degree in ecology and conservation biology.

This in turn I have been able to combine with my art to become a full-time professional artist, tutor and illustrator.

All of the above has led me to review how information about courses is provided to perspective students, particularly those courses that I teach as part of Natures Details.

I consider myself very fortunate in that I can teach and share my passion of botanical art and natural science illustration at a variety of venues.  This has enabled me to create a range of course types and I thought now would be a good time to give an overview of each format of course, workshop and learning opportunity that I and Natures Details can provide.

I hope that this open approach will help everybody when they are considering taking a course or workshop and give you some points that may apply to other classes as well as my own.

Weekly classes at Peter Symonds College AHED, Winchester.
Botanical Art - An Introduction to Techniques x1 class 2.5 hrs
Botanical Art - Further Exploration of Techniques x2 classes 2.5 hrs and 2 hrs

  • These classes take place once a week and last for 6-10 weeks according to the confirmed term length.
  • They suit learners that may have limited time available, but also those that have more flexibility and would like a regular learning experience.
  • Each course is carefully written to ensure that there is opportunity for progression at what ever skill level. 
  • If somebody wishes to attend for each term of the academic year no subjects will be repeated, but a variety of techniques can be learnt that can then be applied to numerous subject matter.
  • In the Introductory class, the fundamentals in botanical drawing are covered at the beginning of each term.
  • Due to the above it is advised that the first 3 classes should not be missed, as individual catch-up time is not available within the class.
  • Learners can attend the class each week and only work during the class if they wish.  Alternatively, if further practice is completed between classes at home then individual progression is likely to be at a different pace.
  • Techniques are demonstrated within the group and there is also individual guidance given through each class.
  • Handouts to support learning activities are provided.
  • No formal written assessment is given although verbal feedback and review is available on an individual basis.
  • Due to being in a college environment there other resources available to support teaching and learning.
  • Enrolments can be throughout the year for the forthcoming term if space is available.
  • Some of the course attendees also attend the longer workshops below to enable further exploration of the techniques learnt during the shorter weekly sessions.

1 & 2 day workshops Natures Details Hampshire Courses, The Holt Estate near Winchester. 6 hrs each day.

  • These take place throughout the year from March until October.
  • They suit learners who are beginners and those at other skill levels.
  • These workshops are also about the overall experience as The Holt is in a beautiful countryside setting on the South Downs, providing rural inspiration for some of the classes.  There is also no mobile or internet access, so most course attendees relish in having this chance to be away from everyday technology, I know I certainly do !
  • Individual themes are covered in each workshop and will include botanical and natural science subjects.
  • Suitable for those that cannot commit to a weekly class but would still like a concentrated length of time to focus on their art.
  • Some of the workshops are available as a one day option but those that are two days long give more time and opportunity for everybody to focus on potentially a more complex subject.
  • Attending a 1 or 2 day workshop will also give more time to possibly complete a painting.
  • Handouts to support learning activities are provided.

  • Techniques are demonstrated within the group and there is also individual guidance given through each class.
  • There is more time available to get to know your classmates, particularly over the lunch break and afternoon tea, enabling you to share learning experiences, and to learn from each other as well as me.
  • During these workshops there are also chance to try materials and resources that may be new to you and see these in action demonstrated by the tutor.
  • No formal written assessment is given although verbal feedback and review is available on an individual and group basis.
  • Themes of workshops are reviewed each year and requests for repeats are taken into consideration.  

Residential courses at the Kingcombe Centre, Dorset (all of the courses are available for those wanting to attend on a daily basis)

  • Many of the above points for 1 & 2 day workshops also apply to the residential/longer course options at the Kingcombe Centre.
  • Courses with a residential option are an advantage to those that may have to travel some distance.
  • They provide an option for those that work full-time and may want to attend a course as part of their holiday allowance.
  • Having meals together provides an additional enjoyable social experience.
  • The Centre is situated adjacent to the Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve and therefore there is direct access to the reserve, with many elements being included within courses.
  • There is also staff on hand from the Dorset Wildlife Trust who can advise on species information if needed.
  • There is a purpose built well-lit teaching secure space where materials and equipment can be left in place for the duration of the course.
  • Being on a longer course gives the learner the chance to really get to know the tutor's work and their methods too, with the opportunity for techniques to be shown more than once.
  • Handouts to support learning activities are provided.
  • Evening sessions are often included as part of the courses and can provide additional painting time or a time slot to learn more about the course subject and other associated artists or other activities e.g presentations / videos / using the moth trap / quizzes.

New 2 day course at Nature in Art, Gloucestershire

  • This is in a similar format of the 1 and 2 day courses provided in Hampshire.
  • The difference is that the focus will be on a more in-depth aspect of botanical art.
  • A detailed handbook is available specifically on the course subject.
  • The surroundings are very inspirational as it is the only venue in the UK dedicated to art in the natural world as a permanent collection.

Online Tuition Drawing Nature Courses - Parts 1 & 2
  • The online courses that I have written are very much designed to try and include some of the learning experience that you would have if attending a course in person.
  • Ideal if you are in a more rural location or need to be based at home.
  • If you are considering  enrolling on an online course, you do have to have good self-motivation.
  • The Drawing Nature courses are modular in structure and are a progressive learning experience, designed to increase your confidence in drawing.
  • Assignments are set throughout the course and are assessed individually.
  • Individual feedback is given for each assignment completed.
  • Additional support is available via email and a private Facebook group.
  • A course handbook is provided and is written to be used alongside the tutorial videos.  Each of these are not intended to be used as individual learning resources, as each reinforces the other.
  • Rather than me setting specific subject matter there is the option for you to choose your own.
  • Remember that there are a variety of online learning options out there and take time to decide what format may be best for you.  
  • Don't be afraid to ask the tutor for further information and a course outline and/or an example of a tutorial video/or an example page from the course handbook.
  • For structured courses such as Drawing Nature there may be a set time for the course to be completed in. 
  • The set time that I give is if the learner requires individual feedback.  As the course handbook can be downloaded, the course can be completed without feedback given. But it is very much considered an important part of the learning process.

Personal tuition / Individual coaching

  • This type of learning experience is very much tailored to the individual and their needs.
  • It can take the form of a themed day or can cover specific techniques and approaches to both botanical art and natural science illustration
  • It can suit any level of experience and is particularly useful if you require a coaching experience to cover project management, from choosing a theme, moving to research, onto planning, and onwards to planning the final exhibit.
  • This format suits 1 or 2 people.
For further information email Sarah at:

For all information about courses and workshops please see the Illustrating Natures Details tuition website

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

It's all in the nuts ! Getting to grips with using walnut ink.

As some of you will know I am a huge fan of using inks and love nothing more than experimenting with an ink to see what I can achieve with it.

A few weeks ago, it was time to get out the walnut ink that I had bought from that fab art shop in London, Cornelissen.  I decided that I wanted to add another dimension to my pen and ink work by creating a tonal pattern to the paper surface.

I have long been an admirer of Dorota Haber-Lehigh and the exquisite watercolours she creates on a paper with a walnut ink base, especially her 'Fragments' series of work.  The surface colour, tone and pattern so seems to suit autumnal/fall subjects.

The first stage was to experiment with different papers.  Presently, I have only tested one paper, namely Stonehenge, using the white, cream and fawn coloured papers.  I tend to use this paper for some pen and ink work and also graphite work too.
It is not as heavy as watercolour paper so I had to make sure that I taped it down around each edge completely, so that when it dried, it went completely flat.

I was really interested in firstly, how the diluted walnut ink looked on the coloured paper options and secondly, the natural looking patterns that I could achieve.

Left to right: white, cream and fawn paper

Rather than me ramble on, why not have a look at the video I produced describing the process I took:

I would add that there are other ways of producing a wide range of effects on the paper surface, one being spraying diluted walnut ink onto the damp paper from a small spray bottle - that is going to be my next experiment !

So what were my conclusions?
  • The Stonehenge 100% cotton paper has quite a soft surface even before applying the water and ink, so I was aware that applying that much moisture may effect the 'tooth' of the paper.  Once dried I tried it first with a dip pen.  The paper certainly didn't like this and the ink was very easily absorbed and bled into the paper fibres which made it impossible to work on.
  • Rather than using the two brushes I did to apply and manipulate the ink, perhaps a spray bottle used to apply the ink, will have less of an impact on the paper surface
  • Next I tried a 003 Pigma micron black technical drawing pen and it took this really well, as you can see below.  The other image shows a close up view of the paper surface and you can easily see the surface fibres.

  • I was impressed with how the coloured Stonehenge paper suited this.  Obviously the cream and fawn papers gave a warmer result, where as the white was less so.  I liked all though.
  • When I applied the watercolour wash after the ink work, the paper took the paint very well, but I was very gentle with it and let each layer dry before applying the next.  Some blending was possible, specifically on the Maple samara blending the green and golden colours whilst still damp.
  • Next I definitely want to try the technique on a heavier watercolour paper.  So watch this space !
I haven't finished quite yet though - the video raised a few questions from viewers in terms of the durability of the walnut ink and also its origins.

Is walnut ink light-fast ?

In the past walnut ink has not been that durable and as well as not being stable the contents of the old style ink were quite acidic too and would therefore damage the support.

More recent formulations seem more durable (see below).

Is it water-resistant ?

Unfortunately no.  Saying that though, when I applied the watercolour to my ink drawing there was no shifting of the surface colour.  So, I think that as long as the base of walnut ink is diluted and further subsequent watercolour washes are applied carefully it should be ok.
But be aware if you were to use it for line drawing and then apply a wash.

Are the more recent inks actually made from walnuts ?

Several of them still are - see the table below for further information.

The yellow highlighted line refers to the ink that I have used.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Milkweed & Monarchs - a journey of discovery

I have been on my travels to the sunny state of California to attend the ASBA (American Society of Botanical Artists) conference in San Francisco.

That was a fantastic experience spreading my wings in the global family of botanical art.

Not only that I had a few days after the conference to visit an amazing artist and friend, Elizabeth Romanini of The Natural Line.

There was the wonderful opportunity to explore the area where she lives and discover some treasures of the natural world.

In the wildlife friendly garden that her and her husband have created it is full of visiting birds, including several species of Hummingbirds.

 There is also an array of plants still flowering in the warmer than usual October sunshine.  I was attracted to one plant by its seedpods, and also didn't recognise the plant and its other features.

I then discovered that it is a variety of Milkweed, an important plant in the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly (more on that in a while).

The seedpods provided me with the perfect subject to start a new sketchbook and get my pencils moving again after the positive intensity of attending the conference.

My normal graphite pencils were used, initially a 2H and then moving onto the H grade.  When I am composing line drawings, I do like to include tonal variation within a line.  It helps to give more depth to the line drawing without having to apply continuous tonal shading.  The H pencil is ideal for adding some darker tonal values to the lines as it is slightly softer than the 2H, without being too soft that it smudges or sheds too much graphite.

One of the possible trips was to visit some Monarch butterflies at a local state park on the coast - Natural Bridges State Park.  This was perfect as I had often admired illustrations of the Monarch, particularly those created by Betsy Rogers Knox who exhibited these illustrations of Milkweed and Monarchs at the RHS in 2016.

I don't really know what my expectations were at the time, as I hadn't had the chance to read-up on the butterfly's journey within its life-cycle.

When we arrived at the state park there was an area giving examples of ideal food plants for the Monarchs including Milkweed of various varieties, including African milkweed.  We walked along the boardwalk into a wooded area and then I was faced with one of the most amazing spectacles that I have ever seen in the natural world. 

CLOUDS of butterflies hanging onto the leaves and branches of the surrounding Eucalyptus trees.

The State Park's website explains perfectly why the Monarchs visit and stay there over the winter months:

'The park's Monarch Grove provides a temporary home for thousands of Monarchs. In 2016, 8,000 Monarch Butterflies overwintered at Natural Bridges. From late fall into winter, the Monarchs form a "city in the trees." The area's mild seaside climate and eucalyptus grove provide a safe place for monarchs to roost until spring.

In the spring and summer, the butterflies live in the valley regions west of the Rocky Mountains where the monarch's companion plant, milkweed, is found. For most of the year, where there are monarchs, there are also milkweed plants. Monarchs drink nectar from milkweed flowers, and female monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed leaves. Milkweed contains a toxin that, when ingested by the caterpillar, makes it toxic to other animals. These toxins remain in the butterfly as well, providing protection from predators that would otherwise eat the monarchs'. 

 So when I was seeing them, they hadn't even reached peak numbers !  It was still so fantastic to see.  The grove was quite shaded when we visited, but occasionally the sun would peak through on some of the trees and the butterflies would then become more active and their bright orange wings would gleam in the sunshine.

'Migration is variable and numbers and dates are different each year. The monarchs typically begin arriving in mid-October and leave by mid-February  (In 2013 and 2016, the monarchs had left by January). At Natural Bridges, November is often the best time to for a walk to observe the monarchs. The Monarch Grove has been declared a Natural Preserve, thus protecting these butterflies and their winter habitat from human encroachment or harm. This is the only State Monarch Preserve in California.

The grove contains eucalyptus trees which are located in a gently sloping canyon, providing the Monarch needed shelter from the wind. These winter-flowering trees are also a convenient food source for the butterfly. On chilly days when the temperature drops below 60 degrees, the butterflies cluster together in the eucalyptus trees for warmth'.

Monarch butterflies becoming more active in the Fall sunshine

Feeding on nectar from a cultivated variety of Scabious (left) and the nectar rich flowers of Ivy (right)

African milkweed seedpods


  • I am taking a break this term from my weekly course at Peter Symonds College AHED, but courses will return to normal in January 2018.
  •  The second part of my online course will be making its debut soon.  Drawing Nature - Part 2 will focus on structured drawing techniques.  The course is suitable for all levels of experience using graphite pencils as a drawing tool.  For more information see the Illustrating Natures Details tuition website.
  • I have a new gallery style website, which I have been working on over the last 9 months.  It certainly was a relief when the task was completed and will hopefully be an improved place to showcase my artwork.  Click here for the Natures Details website

Thursday, 1 June 2017

A composition challenge - Navelwort - Umbilicus rupestris

Well, after a break of no writing on the blog for nearly 9 months, I am finally back.  I didn't intend to be away for quite so long, but the setting up of the online tuition and new painting projects has taken up a lot of time.

The painting projects continue, all of which include subjects that I am excited to paint and haven't painted already.  Several focus on medicinal plants for an exhibition that takes place next August (more about that to follow later) and I am also painting Yellow-horned poppy for the Botanical Art Worldwide Exhibition in 2018.

Now I am a painting member of the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society, I also need to complete a painting each year, which is then assessed and if acceptable will be included in the garden's archives. The subjects for the paintings are plants from the garden and this year I have chosen Navelwort Umbilicus rupestris.  It is a plant that I have always wanted to illustrate after spotting it growing on the ruins of Corfe Castle many years ago.
In the Physic Garden it grows on the pond rockery that has stood in the centre of the garden since 1773.  It is a Grade II listed structure and thought to be the oldest rock garden in Europe.  It also features stone from the Tower of London and black Icelandic basalt donated by plant hunter Joseph Banks.
 Sketching and colour notes of Navelwort on a chilly April day in the garden

The Navelwort leaves growing  in the pond rockery

The paintings need to be strictly botanical in style and if applicable show the different growth stages of the chosen plant.
The Navelwort isn't a large plant, although the flowering stems can sometimes grow quite tall.  The leaves can also be scattered, as you can see in the image above.  They are quite 'fleshy' and a have a little dimple in the middle.  The individual flowers are tiny, as are the seedpods when they are fully formed. 

So as you can imagine, there are many different elements to include in the composition.  How did I deal with a challenge such as this ?

Stage 1: I drew each element from life in my sketchbook.  Luckily I had some old field sketches of the plant that I could re-use as well.

Something to think about:  How can you know what is a successful composition until you have drawn each element ?  Treat each element as an entirely separate drawing until you have them all completed.  This where study pages really come in handy.  I have often had a composition idea in my mind that then doesn't work when I experiment with positioning the individual drawings.  See this as a good thing !

Stage 2:  Below you can see the individual elements having been traced onto drafting film and being positioned on the paper that I will be using for the painting. 
At this stage I haven't properly drawn the enlargements and dissections properly - I am just exploring ideas.

The drafting film is called Polydraw and is similar to tracing paper, but more durable. I use a Rotring Isograph pen for the tracing, although any permanent fineline pen with a very fine nib would be ok.
Using ink for the tracing will ensure that it shows through the watercolour paper when tracing on the lightbox.

Something to think about:  Work within a framed area.  As is the case with this painting I have to work to a particular size of paper, but having a frame drawn on the paper helps to interpret the balance and symmetry of a painting when I place the individual elements on the paper.

Stage 3:  

Here the drawings and tracings of the enlargements and dissections have been completed and are combined with the rest of the composition.

When drawing enlargements and/or dissections, draw each part in order of dissection.  This really enables you to get to know the finer details of the plant.

Another reason to draw them in order is that it helps in the decision making process of how many stages of enalargement/dissection there needs to be in the final composition.

Something to think about:  Draw and trace each stage of the dissection, even if you think you will not need them all.  In other words, draw more than you may need.  Less frustration in the long run !

Stage 4:

I have decided upon my final composition and the individual elements are taped down on the lightbox within the frame size decided earlier. The watercolour paper is then placed over the top (Fabriano 300gsm - old stock).

I have thought about the flow of the elements around the page, telling the life story of the plant in a logical progression. Here it is following an 'S' shape starting with the leaves, going to a stem with flower buds, then a full flowering stem and the finally to the dried flowers stem and seedpods and seed.

The other aspect that I have also considered is the alignment of the dissections and enlargements.  

I also take note of the negative space to ensure that there are no unnecessary spaces where your eye can be drawn to rather than the subjects.
In the case of this illustration some of the spaces will be filled with the painting of the substrate that the plant is growing on and in and enough space for the scale bars, of which there is likely to be 3 or 4.

Something to think about:  I was lucky enough to be at a lecture on composition led by one of the Botanical Artists from Kew Gardens, Lucy Smith.  One of the many things she said was to be aware of vertical symmetry and horizontal harmony.
This was something I really thought about with the positioning of the enlargements and dissection.

One other thing that I have always considered when creating a composition is the number of objects on the page.  Flower arrangers nearly always work with using odd numbers of flowers and if positioned well can give balance to a floral arrangement.  Can you tell the number groupings in this composition ?  Answers are below the next image.

3 main groups of leaves
3 stems
5 small drawings - enlargements and dissection

I hope that you find this post useful if you have to create a composition with multiple elements.  Do let me know if there are any other subjects that you would like me to cover in blogposts.  I can't promise that I can respond to every request, but will pick out several if suitable.

Other news and useful links:
  • The next 'in person' course with available spaces is:
Have a look on the website for more info.

  • All of the tuition from Natures Details is now on a new website:  Illustrating Natures Details. The original Natures Details site will become more of a gallery website over the summer months.
  • I will be taking part in Hampshire Open Studios this year, which I am really excited about.  I'll be exhibiting at Great Abshot Barn along with 10 other artists and crafts people.  I also hope to be demonstrating most days too.  So why not pop along and say hello !