Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Back to my roots (ii) .....

A few weeks ago I had a day out that meant I was truly going back to my roots.  A trip to a beautiful part of west Dorset near a village with a wonderful name - Toller Porcorum.  The place I visited was the Kingcombe Centre, set in the middle of the Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve owned and managed by the Dorset Wildlife Trust.

The Kingcombe Centre was the place where I fell in love with portraying the natural world in a detailed and accurate way, under the tutelage of Gretel Dalby-Quenet in the late 1990's.  That was where I went on holiday, to spend my time immersed in art, ecology and wildlife with other like minded people.

Time has gone full-circle now, and now it is my turn to teach at the centre !  I feel very privileged, nervous and also very excited.  In October I will be teaching a residential course - Painting Autumnal Fruits, Berries and Seedheads.  Inspirational subject matter will be abundant in the hedgerows and hedgebanks bordering the lanes around the centre.

More images can be found on the tab above, and information about the course.

The lane leading down to the centre
Back to roots of the growing kind now, and let's see how roots can be portrayed in botanical art.

This is the root, or rather rhizome of Solomon's Seal Polygonatum mulitflorum.  It grows horizontally below the ground and also has adventitious roots growing off of the main rhizome..
This is quite a solid root to portray and once washed the colours were clearly visible and ranged from ochre, sienna to dark brown.  As well as the solid areas of the rhizome there were also some membranous parts, particularly the piece in the foreground.
Bulbs are also considered to be roots.  They have a disc-like stem and fleshy scale leaves and one or more buds, which are generally enclosed within protective scales.
When drawing the smaller roots that originate from the base of the bulb, it is always important to gauge the width of them correctly and I try as much as possible to draw two lines to represent each of the fine roots.  It is also important to show that these smaller roots are not just growing at the front of the subject as we see them on the paper so remember to show some behind, this will help to give more depth to the finished painting.
Hyacinth by Sharon Tingey.
© Sharon Tingey
I really like the way that Sharon has chosen to portray the roots to this Hyacinth.  What she has done is paint the negative spaces between the small roots themselves, thereby showing the soil that the plant is growing in.  When this approach is taken it is important to still apply some neutral tonal washes to the roots.  If they were just left white (as in the surface of the paper showing), they would look rather flat.  In the majority of cases small roots such as these are cylindrical.
Paphiopedelum orchid by Sharon Tingey
© Sharon Tingey
See some fascinating images below of how Sharon has illustrated the roots
These roots are quite hairy in appearance and Sharon has built up this detail gradually, first applying a pale wash of colour and then emphasising the variable colour and texture with deeper washes of several colours.
Paphiopedelum orchids are often terrestrial growing on the forest floor but some are also epiphytic, growing non-parasitically upon another plant.  Their roots enable them to get water and nutrients directly from the air.  Further still, some even grow in or on rocks and these are known as lithophytes.
I drew and painted these roots a while ago now and am not sure of what plant they originate from.
There were a wide range of colours being used and some of the roots were rather woody in appearance.  Note how I have still been careful to show how each of the roots are cylindrical in form, even though several colours are at play !
I used a size 2 brush that had a really good point (Isabey Kolinksy sable).  I make a great effort to look after my brushes and will often have several brushes of one size on the go.  One that has seen some use and the point is not as good as it was, one that is in between and another that is the newest and has the best point. 
These fine radish roots were painted using a size 1 brush, again with a good point.
The colour I used was a neutral wash, or as we botanical artists call them 'a botanical grey'.  The mix consisted of permanent rose, indanthrene blue and winsor lemon.  The three main cool colours in my palette.  Using the permanent rose in the neutral mix helps to bring some cohesiveness across the painting, as that colour was also used in the mix for radish colour.
These three illustrations above come from my latest painting, Quercus robur - new life.  It was interesting observing the root formation.  The example on the far right originated from a field sketch completed in 2008, from a specimen that had been grown at a tree nursery.  The other two had been recorded in my sketchbook at each stage of growth, as it was growing in a jam jar.
As the root first emerges from an acorn it looks as though it would grow in any direction, but it always grows downwards from the acorn and then takes on a variable growth pattern.  When it is growing naturally in a woodland, the main root would have to make its way around small obstructions in the soil, so whilst still growing downwards it would have to take on twists and turns.
I hope you have enjoyed this overview of roots.  It is often a subject I get asked about in my classes.
I would also like to thank Sharon Tingey who kindly let me use her Hyacinth and Orchid illustrations.  To see more of her wonderful work go to her website or see her latest artwork on her Facebook page - Sharon Tingey Natural Illustration


  1. Wonderful post- it's so interesting! I love both your work and Sharon's!

  2. I am fascinated with roots too and enjoyed seeing Sharon's and your paintings of them. Congratulations on your new teaching opportunity!

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post Janene, and congratulations to you too on your SBA news !


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