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.

1 comment :

  1. Sarah,absolutely wonderful illustration,you can be proud. xxxxxxxx


It is always lovely to hear your comments. Please feel free to leave them here and I will approve them asap.