Friday, 27 February 2015

A Botanical Art Spectacular

This weekend (Friday & Saturday), has been a date on many botanical artist's calendars, that I am sure.

But why ?  It was the Royal Horticultural Society Botanical Art Show at the Lindley Hall in London.

In previous years the botanical art has been exhibited alongside plant displays as part of horticultural shows, this year was different.  A whole show devoted to botanical art - what could be better !

Sketchbook Squirrel and I arrived at the hall about an hour after the show had started.  Lots of visitors were already there and the numbers grew throughout the day.

Katherine Tyrrell always writes such informative blogposts about the RHS shows on the Making A Mark blog, so I am not going to go into too much detail about the botanical art exhibits themselves, but give you all a pictorial overview of the show.  (All images are protected by copyright, so no copying or reproduction in any form is allowed).

One end of the hall was devoted to stands displaying the work of florilegium and botanical art societies, botanical gardens and individual artists demonstrating their skills.

The SBA stand where Simon Williams and Gael Sellwood were chatting with visitors about the SBA, the distance learning Diploma and demonstrating their painting skills.  

Other botanical and floral art societies and organisations had the opportunity to display information.

What was really exciting, was the chance for visitors to have a go at botanical painting.  Botanical artist Elaine Searle and the Chelsea School of Botanical Art had set up this apple painting exercise.

Botanical Artist Julia Trickey chatting to visitors.

Susan Christopher Coulson had a wonderful display of her work along with space to see her demonstrating.

The view upon entering the hall.

Sketchbook Squirrel having a good look at one of the exhibits.

Sketchbook Squirrel aka Jarnie Godwin and the extremely talented Kathy Pickles with some of the Hellebore paintings from her Gold medal winning exhibit.

I hope you enjoyed this brief overview.  Why not join me on my botanical art journey as I prepare a collection of work to exhibit with the RHS - hopefully in 2016.
My progress can be followed on the Art & the Hedgerow Blog.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Painting your '5 a day' !

During my weekly botanical art classes at this time of year, fruit and vegetables play a major part in the choice of subject matter.

It is that waiting time until the first signs of Spring appear.

Firstly, I wanted to show you a collage of images of student's work focusing on the humble cabbage. Some illustrated the bumpy surface of a savoy cabbage, others worked on red cabbages.

Who would have known that there was such variation in a red cabbage, once you cut it open ?!  The patterns and colour are so variable.

A previous week we worked on graphite drawings of garlic before going on to explore mixing neutral washes or 'botanical greys' to paint the same subject.

Back to this last week - it was free choice as to what the students brought in.  Quite a few of them started to work on small colourful squashes and a couple worked on these delightful variegated small aubergines / eggplants.

They may look a challenge, but hopefully seeing each stage develop will help you to understand the process.

The first stage was to draw the aubergine with a 2H pencil on hot-pressed watercolour paper.
Then a weak wash of New Gamboge (PY153) was applied.

The next colour to mix was the purple.  It had a red shade in there somewhere, so I decided upon DS Imperial purple with a splash of Perylene maroon (DS or W&N) in the mix.

To start to achieve the patterning I applied the paint in a downward stroke, sometimes softening the edges (especially where a highlight was occurring), but with some edges leaving them un-softened to portray the more defined patterns.

I decided that the original base wash of New Gamboge was too pale.  So once the purple areas were completely dry, I then painted another, slightly stronger wash of New Gamboge over the top and let it completely dry again.

The next stage was to strengthen the purple mix in intensity and build up more of the pattern in the same way as before, with a little less softening of edges taking place.

As this was a demo piece I only worked on part of the aubergine, so each step could be clearly seen in the same piece.
A further deeper purple mix was applied and to break up the striped effect, smaller dots and 'splodges' were painted on between the stripes.

Here you can see that the darker purple mix is applied just in very small areas and we are still retaining slightly lighter areas, which would be where the highlights are.
In all there were 4 layers of paint used in this demo piece (if you don't count the additional layer of New Gamboge).

The painting on the right is of another variety of small aubergine.

This one was painted for a class demo too and used in one of my You tube videos.

As I write this the blog has exceeded 60,000 pageviews !
Thank you so much everyone for your continued support.

Happy painting !

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

A new blog is born

As most of you would have read already on this blog, I have a new project getting underway which will focus on illustrating elements of ancient hedgerows. 

I am really excited by this project and as I type I am now at the Kingcombe Centre in Dorset for a few days to kickstart the fieldwork for the project.  I am very lucky to be supported by the Centre and also Dorset Wildlife Trust, who will be featuring an introduction to the project in their membership magazine.

Art & the Hedgerow will delve into many things about hedgerows.  Landscape history and ecology, conservation, tree species, and as well as that, showcase some of my art as part of the project.
To access the new blog you can click on the tab at the top of this page or the link in the above caption.
It would be great to have your company there too !
In the meantime, I will keep posting here, but the posts may be a little fewer, but hopefully just as interesting :)

Monday, 9 February 2015

A week of bits and bobs - oh and an Owl pellet too !

The time between finishing major pieces of work and before you start the next project, is always a chance to catch up on various bits and bobs and make future plans for artwork and such like.

The next project is starting fully towards the end of this week and I will be in Dorset to get that kick-started in an area that will hopefully provide me with lots of subject matter and inspiration.  The project is winter-based so I need to gather as much information as possible, in the form of field sketches, measurements and colour tests, then I can work on the pieces over the sunnier and warmer months of the year.

Packing up the kit ready to take away

The rest of the bits and bobs - Microscope, brush and pencil wallet, pallets, books, last of all will be my studio light as I need to make the most of my time away and work in the evenings

I'm not taking my studio box of paints, but have chosen certain colours that will suit this project  

The choice of colours was made once I had experimented with different mixes.  A few additional colours were chosen too

As well as getting ready for my next project, I have been enjoying teaching a weekly class at Alresford Art Society.  This art society is 50 years old and is located in a beautiful part of the Hampshire countryside.  It has been a real treat to teach different techniques in watercolour on a variety of subject themes, all based on the natural world.  

I had the delightful news this week that I will be teaching this very enthusiastic group of artists until June.  Now I am busy planning new themes for the Thursday morning sessions, several of which will incorporate print-making.  I will also be teaching the Friday morning group too for a few sessions in June.

Feather paintings and sketches from the artists at Alresford Art Society

The marine themed subject table at last week's class

Last week  I was given a Barn owl pellet.  As usual, I think outside the box a little and thought what a great sketch it would make for my natural history sketchbook.  It didn't quite go to plan as I got so involved in the dissection of the pellet and discovering what was in there.

First a little background information into what a pellet is.  Owls regurgitate pellets through their mouths.  They generally contain bones, hair and fur of the animals that the owl has eaten, these would not have been dissolved by the acid in the owl's stomach after the owl had eaten the small mammal whole.  Some pellets may also show signs of other food sources such as insects (body and wing cases), and seeds from fruit.

Owl pellets vary in size and colour dependant on the species they originate from.  Barn owls regurgitate their pellets close to where they roost, so as they often roost in farm buildings the pellets can be easier to find.  
YOU MUST NEVER DISTURB A BARN OWL IN A BARN WHERE IT IS ROOSTING - it may have young in a nearby box and may abandon them if disturbed.

Other owl species live in a variety of habitats and therefore their pellets are not always so easy to find.

The Barn owl pellet in one piece

Always wear gloves when dissecting a pellet.  I used tweezers and a scalpel from my microscope kit to pull the pellet apart.  It was only a few days old, so was still soft in places

This image shows all of the different bones that I found within the pellet.

The Field Studies Council produce wonderful and informative fold-out identification charts.  Luckily I had the one about Owls and their pellets.

I promise no more pictures of bones in the next blog post, hopefully beautiful winter views of the Dorset countryside.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Plants in their Landscape - do botanical paintings have a narrative ?

This question has been going around in my mind since I started a small series of paintings that I have called 'Plants in their Landscape'.  At the moment there are three paintings and I am hoping over time to add more to the series.

The three paintings below all detail specific plants in their landscape, each landscape area depicted being totally different from the others

'Botanical Survey - Teesdale Assemblage Trio' Moorhouse NNR, Upper Teesdale
  © Sarah Morrish 2015

'Botanical Survey - Round-headed rampion' Old Winchester Hill NNR, Hampshire
© Sarah Morrish 2015

'Botanical Survey - Adder's tongue fern' Durlston NNR, Dorset
© Sarah Morrish 2015

Before we decide as to whether botanical paintings can have a narrative, perhaps we should have a look at the true definition of narrative art.

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art in Chicago defines narrative art as 'art that tells a story. It uses the power of the visual image to ignite imaginations, evoke emotions and capture universal cultural truths and aspirations. What distinguishes Narrative Art from other genres is its ability to narrate a story across diverse cultures, preserving it for future generations'.

Good old Wikipedia says 'narrative art is art that tells a story, either as a moment in an ongoing story or as a sequence of events unfolding over time. Some of the earliest evidence of human art suggests that people told stories with pictures'. 

'Static images in any artistic medium do not naturally lend themselves to telling stories as stories are told over time (diachronic) and pictures are seen all at once (synchronic)'. 

So my initial thoughts are:
  • Botanical paintings that follow a sequence of growth, such as a bulb expanding and shooting, then a flower emerging, do most definately tell a story.  This particularly applies to Denise Ramsay's series entitled 'A Brilliant Life'
  • The above point can also be applied to those artworks that depict the seasons in sequence.  Perhaps four separate pictures that show a hedgerow through Spring, Summer, Autumn & Winter. 
I can hear some of you saying that the latter may not be considered a botanical painting as it is a scenic style of composition.

In my book botanical subjects do not always have to be depicted with no backgrounds or habitats in the picture.  Nowadays botanical artists are looking for new ways to present their botanical style of painting, and I am seeing more and more botanical paintings that tell a clear narrative.

The other thing to consider is where would plants be without their sometimes specialised habitats, and on a wider scale their landscapes ?

As my paintings above developed and came to life on the paper, what was I looking to achieve and did I have a clear narrative in mind at the beginning ?
  • Conservation often plays a part in my paintings, because of my working background in ecology and conservation.  This may not be obvious straight away, but as a viewer I want to raise awareness and get people thinking and asking questions.  'I wonder where that is ?' 'I think I've been there' 'What is special about those plants ?'.  They may be thinking and asking these questions before they have even looked at an explanatory label.
  • At the planning stage I had decided that the landscapes would all be from National Nature Reserves in the UK, and ones that I had visited, and the botanical paintings would include rare and uncommon plants.
  • In the painting of 'Botanical Survey - Teesdale Assemblage Trio', I wanted to show the large open stretches of land found at Moorhouse NNR and hopefully for people to get the sense of the small size of the plants and their fragility within the landscape. The three plants are Mountain pansy, Spring gentian and Bird's eye primrose.  The Spring gentian is only found in a few other places, one being the Burren in Western Ireland.  These three plants are part of a group of 20 internationally important plants called the Teesdale Assemblage.  They are examples of the first vegetation that grew in that area 10,000 to 12,000 years ago, after the last ice age.
  • 'Botanical Survey - Round-headed rampion'.  I spent quite a bit of time in 2006 surveying for this plant, helping a friend with the fieldwork for his dissertation.  It is found in several places along the South Downs and at Old Winchester Hill it grows on the slopes of the Iron Age hill fort.  As far as I was concerned the hill fort had to play a part in the painting, seeing as that is the main location for this plant on the site.  As well as giving a sense of history with the hill fort depicted, I also wanted to show the growth progression of the plant alongside some of the other plants and grasses that grow alongside it.
  • The field sketches for 'Botanical Survey - Adder's tongue fern' were completed in 2004, so this painting has been waiting a while to come to life !  The flower rich meadows set just back from the coast at Durlston NNR are full of all different plants and flowers and in the landscape for this picture I wanted to show the summer freshness of the green meadows and surrounding vegetation, alongside the green of this unusual fern.

So, I am not stating that all paintings should have a narrative, but hopefully I have raised your awareness of how your botanical paintings can tell a story.

These paintings are being submitted with two others for the Society of Botanical Artists Exhibition in April.  The theme of the exhibition is 'In Pursuit of Plants', hence why I have added 'botanical survey' to the title of each  There is no guarantee that they will be accepted but I am keeping my fingers crossed !

Special thanks must go to David Glaves, an Ecologist and fabulous photographer, who supplied the photo reference for the Moorhouse NNR landscape.  At the time of visiting the reserve in 2007 I was too busy sketching the plants and taking photos of them, so I forgot the landscape !

Please remember that if you are trying to source reference material online, do contact the photographer if you are wishing to use their image for any purpose.

Happy Painting !