Monday, 30 December 2013

'The Natural Year' has won an award !

You may wonder why there has been three blog posts in two days ??

I heard this evening that this blog has won The Going Greener Gong in The Making A Mark Art Awards 2013.

If you would like to find out more about the awards and a review of this blog, take a look at the Making A Mark Blog:

Many thanks to Katherine Tyrell who writes and maintains the amazing resource of the Making A Mark website and blog.

Thank you also to everyone the follows my blog and here's to a successful and artistic 2014 !

Natures Details - Website update

The Natures Details website has undergone a bit of 're-vamp'. There is news of workshops and courses for 2014, a new 'tutorials' page and a few new picture uploads to the 'sketches' gallery. Enjoy and a Happy New Year to everyone !

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Re-cycling Picture Frames - using Liming Wax

Over time an artist can accumulate spare frames and they are often left in a corner of the studio gathering dust.

On the other hand several artists I know always paint to a set size, and therefore they can re-use the frames more readily and buy ready made frames in a standard size.  There is nothing at all wrong with this, but it is something I struggle with.

I like to have the freedom when painting a subject, knowing that I have more than enough space to use on the watercolour paper.  Of course, I plan my compositions, but not knowing the mount and/or frame size beforehand gives me this freedom and some flexibility too.

What happens is that if a painting does not sell, I am left with frames of a variety of sizes.

I have decided to be more pro-active and over the last week or so I have started to re-vamp some of the oak frames that I have, and several of them will be used to frame forthcoming paintings.

I have always liked the oak frame and the majority of my artwork is framed using this.  I consider the colour a warm but neutral tone that generally compliments the natural subject matter in the paintings.  I therefore didn't want to venture too far from this.

The decision was made and I am using a liming wax made by Liberon.  This wax gives an almost bleached effect to the wood grain.

Step 1: was to lightly sand the frame surface using an extra fine grain sanding pad.  This is not meant to be a heavy sanding, but more to remove any coating, grease or dirt.

Step 2: apply the liming wax using a lint free cloth, rubbing the wax into the grain.  Leave for 3-5 minutes.

Step 3: wipe off the white haze or coating.  To protect the frame further a neutral coloured wax can be applied and then polished.  Alternatively, if a more durable and water resistant finish is required, finishing oil can be applied.  This is put on the frame using a lint free cloth, left to dry and then buffed.  I will be using the latter approach once the finishing oil arrives from the suppliers.

Here you can see the final result prior to applying the finishing oil.  I have placed the frames next to our oak dresser so you can see the difference in tone.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Story of a Picture

'A Circle of Habitats' - Grafham Water Nature Reserve
(c) copyright.  Sarah Morrish 2013

The illustration that I talked about in my last post is finally finished.  I have really enjoyed the challenge of completing this commission for BCN Wildlife Trust and Grafham Water Nature Reserve.

Having never created such a detailed illustration before, especially with the variety of species requested, I was somewhat apprehensive.  My previous ecological experience and knowledge was of real benefit and I do get a great deal of satisfaction when I can combine my two greatest passions - art and the natural world.

The habitats within the illustration had to follow a particular order, and one thing I wanted to ensure from the start was that the balance was ok.  By this I mean, the composition - I wanted the circle to be broken up in places at the edge; and also importantly, the colour balance.  As an example, the autumn leaves and berries of the Dogwood on the left were one of the last parts to be painted.  In my reference for these, the leaves were still green but just starting to change colour.  I was aware of the colour of the Red-veined Darter (dragonfly) on the right and I wanted to balance this colour on the opposite side of the circle.  Therefore I took the decision to paint the Dogwood leaves in their full autumnal colour, using another reference.

As for colour, I wanted there to be some vibrancy to the illustration, but still to keep the colours of the habitats and species as realistic as possible.  I started using watercolours, painting the ancient woodland segment first.  It soon became clear that a depth of colour boost was needed, so I turned to the Dr Martin Radiant Concentrated Watercolours.  These worked, applied carefully diluted in places, or alternatively mixed with traditional watercolour washes on my palette.  The one disadvantage to using these is that they are not lightfast and are fugitive.  On the positive note if work does not have to be framed and is produced solely for illustration purposes and to be converted into electronic format, they do the job well.

As the painting continued, I found that I was using gouache (opaque watercolour) more and more.  I use Schminke gouache, which has a lovely silky quality to it and does not crumble as it dries on the palette.  I can fill empty pans, leave them to dry and just re-wet them again.  I haven't found this to happen with other makes of gouache so much.  The gouache gave me the depth of colour without too much effort and a major advantage is that tiny mistakes can be hidden, due to its opaqueness and the ability to work from dark to light when applying washes.

Enough chatting now !  The following images are of each individual habitat and the species within, with a short description of what you can see in the picture.

Ancient Woodland - consisting of veteran trees and an area that has been woodland for over 400 years.  Species: Tawny Owl, Bracket fungi, Early purple orchid, Bluebell, Plums and custard fungi, Lesser celandine, Wood Anemone, Primrose and Daubenton's bat.

Plantation Woodland - a mixture of 40 and 60 year old plantation, consisting of a patchwork of native and non-native trees with open rides and glades.  Species: Dogwood, Sycamore, Wild Service Tree, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Oak, Speckled Wood butterfly.

  Fieldfare and Blackcap
Layered Scrub - this refers to the variety of density and age structures across the site at Grafham Water.  Different birds require different types of scrub.  Species: Fieldfare, Blackcap, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Dog rose (flowers and hips), Bramble and Small Tortoiseshell overlapping into grassland.
Grassland and ponds - In Spring this rich habitat comes to life with a diverse range of plants and animals.  Species:  Southern Hawker dragonfly, Common blue butterfly, Grass snake, Cinnabar moth caterpillar, Six-spot Burnet moth, Gatekeeper butterfly, Bee orchid, Adder's tongue fern, Ragwort, Birds foot trefoil, Greater burnet, Great crested newt, Back swimmer, Pond skater, Goat Willow catkins and leaves.

Reedbed and Bird Hide - raised above the reedbed, the bird hide gives wonderful views across the western side  of the reservoir.  Along the shoreline of the reservoir the reedbeds buffer against the erosive force of the reservoir, whilst also providing valuable nesting sites.  Species: Red-veined darter dragonfly, Goat willow, leaves and catkins, Heron, Reed warbler.

Reservoir / open water - In winter, you can look out for vast mixed flocks of wildfowl.  Species: Tufted duck, Great crested Grebe, Coot, Wigeon (male and female).

Nightingale - At Grafham Water Nature Reserve, the dense scrub blocks provide perfect nesting habitat for the illusive Nightingale, with its beautiful song.  Now on the decline in Great Britain, Nightingales are highly locally distributed with much of the remaining population restricted to the south-east and East Anglia.  In order to promote population stability at Grafham and attract more Nightingales to the site, scrub blocks are managed to promote the thick, impenetrable vegetation much loved by these birds.

If you would like to find out more about Grafham Water Nature Reserve, you can follow the links below:
Lastly, I would like to say thank you to everyone that follows my blog and exploits in the world of botanical and natural history art.
I wish you a happy Christmas and many blessings for the New Year.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

A Circle of Habitats - the woodland is emerging

Just a quick update on the illustration that I am producing for Grafham Water Nature Reserve.

Painting has begun and I have decided to work anti-clockwise around the drawing, keeping the areas I am not painting well and truly covered for protection.  We don't want any paint splashes at this stage !

The ancient woodland segment is nearly complete and at the moment I am working on the plantation woodland segment.

Once the whole picture is complete and I will then make any 'tweeks' and perhaps add a few other species. 

Watch this space !

Friday, 8 November 2013

A welcome break - the 50th SWLA exhibition

Last Sunday I had a welcome break from the current commission I am working on.  We ventured up to London with the specific aim of visiting the Society of Wildlife Artists Exhibition at the Mall Galleries entitled The Natural Eye.

Katherine Tyrrell has written a couple of great blogposts about the exhibition on her Making a Mark blog.  They can be found at: and

This exhibition has really had an impact on me.  Many wildlife art portraits are very photo-realistic, as Katherine mentions on her blog.  The work produced is still often stunning, but it is now that I realise at times something is missing.  I will share thoughts about this further on.

It was such a refreshing exhibition and it was a treat to walk into a wildlife art exhibition and not be overwhelmed by a selection of big cat paintings.  This made me think of when I exhibited with another well known wildlife art society a few years ago.  My painting of a Hazel Dormouse was surrounded and somewhat overwhelmed, by paintings of rather exotic species in all different shapes and sizes. 

I am digressing.  I wanted to share with you a few images from the exhibition, that caught my attention and why they appealed to me.  I took these images personally, so therefore the copyright of them remains with me, but copyright of the actual artwork depicted remains with the artist.  Any thoughts and opinions I express are purely my own.

Brin Edwards - left: Assington Waxwings, Seven of Fifty-seven
right: Barn Owl hunting.  Oil
Brin's work has such an amazing quality to it.  I had previously seen it at the New Naturalists Collectors Club Symposium.
These two pieces had such vibrant colours. so much energy and the picture on the left almost had a stained-glass window effect.
As a novice print-maker I always love coming to this exhibition to see the variety of prints and especially those produced from lino-cuts.  These two by Chris Sinden top: Bullfinches, bottom: In amongst the stubble, had some lovely colour qualities to them.  I was attracted to the soft, almost pastel shades used, particularly in the Bullfinch print. 
These paintings by John Foker, top: Blue Streak, middle: Nettlemonger, bottom: Lammas Kingfisher - oils.  Show me how effective small paintings can be in portraying a lot of information.

In one of the gallery's side rooms was a series of works entitled 'Out of the Frame' by three member artists.  The drawing and paintings were as a result of fieldwork from selected projects.
The sketches above are by Michael Warren, who has been visiting the same site for nearly 25 years to record the various bird species and other wildlife found there.  The site itself has been used for gravel extraction and new habitats are gradually evolving as the operations on the site become reduced.
These were just a selection of the drawings and to me they really show what good fieldwork is all about and what excellent observational skills Michael has.
As I came to the end of viewing the exhibition, I sat in one of the side rooms and felt compelled to write in my notebook words that summed up the exhibition to me.  Some of these words / descriptions are what I feel are sometimes missing in work that has a more photo-realistic approach.

The majority of artwork made me feel that I was looking through a window into the animal's life.  It almost gave me a feeling of privilege, similar at times to when I have been observing wildlife, either birding or when completing surveys.
Spirit, movement, life
So much of the animal's spirit, movement and life was shown in these works of art.
The passion of the artist really showed in these pictures and the individuality of the different artist's media and methods.
Higher value
I was left hoping that people viewing this exhibition that perhaps didn't have such a wide ranging knowledge of wildlife, would go away giving a higher value (morally and from a conservation perspective) to the animals they have seen portrayed, perhaps even those that are less well known.  This in turn leads me onto the next words I jotted down - awareness raising.
Story, narrative
So many of the pictures and sculptures had a very strong narrative to them.  Telling me the story of the animal's life / existence.
For those of you that will be in and around London this coming weekend, there is still the chance to see the exhibition at the Mall Galleries until Sunday 10th November.  The gallery is open 10am - 5pm on Saturday and the exhibition closes at 1pm on Sunday.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Now on to the tracing process

With my general artwork I tend not to draw and then trace the subject onto the watercolour paper, I seem to take the plunge !  There are times when tracing the subject / design is of great help, especially when you are dealing with a complex composition.

The latter is definitely the approach I wanted to take with the commission that I have been working on.  Before I even started the draft stage I knew about its complexity, so I planned carefully.  Once I got to the draft stage and the client was happy with the design, the tracing process can begin.

A Daubenton's bat had now appeared.  This is portrayed between the ancient woodland and the open water habitats.
These bats roost in veteran trees in the ancient woodland and then come out to feed over open water, flying low to the water's surface and scooping up insects.

After a few tweeks to the design, I decided that I was going to have a go at using 'Tracedown' paper for transferring the design onto the watercolour paper.  If any of you have not heard of this before it is like the carbon paper that you used to use in typewriters, but this has a graphite base to it.

I started very cautiously and soon discovered that I was not happy with the results.  I used a 3H pencil to trace the design through and even with a fine point the lines created from the 'Tracedown' onto the paper were not sharp or precise enough and had a fuzziness to them. Thinking cap on !

Out came the good old normal tracing paper, a fine liner and my light-box.

A 'flotilla' of wildfowl added, along with a Heron.  The Pyramidal orchid has now been replaced with an Adders tongue fern
I used the fine liner pen to draw the design onto the tracing paper and then I will lay this on my light-box with the 140lb watercolour paper on top.  This weight of paper is thin enough for using on a light-box, and as the design is on tracing paper the light will shine through more efficiently.

Using previous paintings and sketches for reference.

Today's work so far and the next step is to finalise the layered scrub and plantation woodland habitats, with their relevant species.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A circle of habitats - and more !

Time is travelling too fast again and I hadn't realised it was so long since I had written a blog post.

There have been several new developments here at Natures Details. 

At the beginning of September I was lucky enough to have a stand at the New Naturalists Collectors Club Symposium, which was taking place in Winchester, relatively local to us.  The day was a great success and I sold the Quail's Eggs painting along with other bits and pieces.  The highlight of the day was meeting the natural history illustrators Lizzie Harper and Richard Lewington.  They were both so open and supportive, and it was a real privilege to meet them and see their work.

The Peter Symonds College AHED botanical art and natural history art courses are all running, so I journey over to Winchester three times a week to teach those.  Many of my students have returned for a second year.  It is really fulfilling to see all of the student's determination and some lovely work is being produced.

A new venue for teaching was at Paxton Pits Environmental Education Centre in Cambridgeshire, earlier on this month.  It was a delight to greet nine students all eager to try to their hand at natural history illustration in the 'Brush with Nature' workshop.  Hopefully I will get to return there !

The trip to Cambridgeshire also had another purpose.  During the advertising for the above workshop, my work was noticed by a reserve officer for the Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire Wildlife Trust.  He is based at a nature reserve that is located around the western edge of Grafam Water and is a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).

As a result I am now busy completing a rather large and complex illustration that will grace the interpretation boards on the reserve.  I haven't been able to mention it until the draft drawing had been seen by the client, and I am now delighted that I can reveal more.  Especially as most of my friends think I have turned into a hermit !

My brief was to create an illustration in a circular format that showed a Nightingale in the centre with six different habitat types shown around the outside.  Within each of these habitats, the key species that occur in them also need to be shown - hence the title 'A circle of habitats'

As you can imagine, there was a huge amount of reference material to gather initially, and my determination to keep previous sketches and my mass of personal wildlife photos is paying off.  The drawing was started using this reference material, and more was gathered to make the final tweeks to the drawing whilst I was visiting the reserve earlier this month.

These earlier sketches have come out of their folder to be used as reference - Adders Tongue Fern.
As I progress with the commission I will post images and further information about the nature reserve at Grafham Water, but to wet your appetites here a few sections from the draft stage of the work.
Grassland and ponds

Reedbeds and bird hide

Ancient Woodland

Sunday, 15 September 2013

More about galls - found on an Oak tree

Last Autumn I wrote a post about plant galls, particularly those found on Oak trees.  There were some interesting images and a painting of a Knopper gall.  To find out more click on the following:

This update is to bring you some more images of galls found on Oak.  The Oak tree itself is a relatively young one of 25 years old and is in quite a sheltered position, at the base of a slope and sheltered by a tree belt on the other side of a grass path.

The galls shaped like miniature doughnuts are very common and are called Silk-button galls  Neuroterus numismalis
The disc-shaped galls with a raised centre are Common spangle gall Neuroterus quercusbaccarum.
Artichoke or Hop gall  Andricus fecundator (above and below)
Can you help identify these galls ?
Is it a marble gall or a cola-nut gall  ?
Is it a Cherry, Currant or Pea gall ?
If you have any suggestions for the species names of the above galls, leave a message below.
Many thanks.  Sarah.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

A love of detail - plant morphology

Echinacea purpurea cross-section
 (c) Sarah Morrish 2013
I think the majority of botanical artists have a love of detail.  That detail does not always stem from a scientific background, but just from pure fascination and the passion to want to portray that detail accurately in a beautiful work of art.

How that detail is rendered in an art piece is of course dependant on the medium used.  Botanical Illustrators have traditionally used pen and ink for pure scientific illustrations, as well as watercolour.

In 2009 Niki Simpson had an exhibition entitled 'Digital Diversity - A New Approach to Botanical Illustration'.  Although I didn't visit the exhibition I have seen the associated publication, and was fascinated by her approach.  The illustrations themselves are digitally created, but also beautiful in their composition.  All of the illustrations on her website have been produced in collaboration with Peter Barnes.  To see more of her work go to:

Another artist from the present day whose work I admire is Carolyn Jenkins.  Her illustrations often include cross-sections of flowers and parts of plants, but her work is presented in a fresh contemporary way.  Also, her paintings are not always particularly large, so it shows that size does not always matter.  To see more of her illustrations go to:

(c) copyright Carolyn Jenkins
I have always been fascinated by the morphology of plants, and as a young girl I used to enjoy taking flowers apart looking at their different parts.  This interest has been throughout my life, although at times has waned a little due to other artistic distractions.
When I was introduced to botanical art formally by the Botanical Illustrator Gretel Dalby-Quenet, one of the first historical illustrator's she introduced me to (not literally, but his work !) was Arthur Harry Church (1865 - 1937).  To this day I could spend hours just looking at the book about his work.
Published by Merrell and The Natural History Museum
Many of his works are composed of cross-sections of flowers and are beautiful in their own right.
Below is an image of his Foxglove Digitalis purpurea illustration.

Dianne Sutherland SBA, a fellow Botanical Artist, has written an essay on the work of Arthur Harry Church.  This formed part of her work for the Society of Botanical Artists Diploma Course.
The full essay can be found on Dianne's website, along with her stunning illustration on vellum of Digitalis purpurea.
For those of you that may be interested in plant morphology and scientific illustration, the Institute for Analytical Plant Illustration produces some great resources to support your illustration work, as well as providing workshops and meetings to members.
 So in conclusion, will my work take a new direction, is a new project in the pipeline ??  Watch this space !!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Botanical Art & Natural History Drawing & Painting Courses 2013 - 2014

As the new term is getting ever nearer, I thought that I would give an overview of the courses and workshops that I teach at Peter Symonds College AHED in Winchester.

Starting Monday 30th September 2013 - 10 week course
Time: 15:00 - 17:00

This course is suitable for students that have already attended either part of or all of the first year of the Botanical Art course.  It is also appropriate for those who have some experience in observational drawing and the use of watercolours.

Students do not have to attend the whole year and each term is taught as an individual unit.  Therefore within each term we cover subjects such as: detailed drawing methods, recognising and applying tone, colour-mixing and colour theory, paint application techniques and those techniques that are particular to a specific plant family or species.

For the Autumn term we will be: studying a tree of personal choice and completing studies of its bark, leaves, fruits, seeds etc.  We will also be learning how to draw fungi and lichen, as well as painting autumnal leaves with acrylic inks.


Starting Tuesday 1st October 2013 - 10 week course  BOTANICAL ART: DRAWING & PAINTING TECHNIQUES - Beginners.  Time: 17:15 - 19:15

This course is suitable to those that are new to drawing and painting plants and flowers.  During the first term the emphasis will be on building up our knowledge and skills of observational drawing, accurate depiction of tone, using different shading techniques, understanding the fundamentals of colour-mixing, creating naturalistic greens, how to compose a botanical picture and starting to understand the structure of botanical subjects.

Starting Wednesday 2nd October 2013 - 8 week course

Time:  19:00 - 21:00

This course covers a wide range of subject matter and the main focus is on depicting natural objects in a detailed and accurate manner.  As with the Botanical Art courses we start with observational drawing, depicting tone and build up to applying colour. 

A range of media is also used.  You may start off using pencil, but there is also the opportunity to use pen and ink, as well as mixed media techniques.

Subject matter can be feathers, butterflies and other insects, drawing birds, stones and shells and even antlers and horns !

For further information and to book a place on any of the courses please go to:

There are also Saturday workshops available at Peter Symonds AHED
For a full list, see my website: