Saturday, 7 November 2015

Hairy buds - how do you paint them ??

Well, this is the dilemma that I have been facing over the last year.........

Painting twigs and buds almost x20 lifesize means that every single bit of detail shows, and yes you guessed it, some of them have hairs too.  Looking at the twigs with the naked eye, you would never believe that those hairs were even there !

This was the case with a Field maple twig, showing the terminal bud as well as the lateral buds.

The painting forms part of my collection of artwork, which will hopefully be exhibited with the RHS in 2016.  The title of the exhibit is: Twigs & Buds in Winter - from Trees & Shrubs of Ancient Hedgerows

So far this painting has been the most challenging, and in the lead up to it I tried several ways of depicting the fine hairs found on the buds and twig.
  • Using masking fluid - I can't stand the stuff but I gave it a go trying several makes along the way !  I used a ruling pen, dip pen and a fine brush and just couldn't get the results that I wanted.
  • Using white gouache/body colour - this I am used to and I like permanent white, particularly the Daler Rowney one.  When I use it I tend to apply it to the area concerned in the painting and then add the colour on top, even though it is usually only a subtle hint of colour and often a neutral shade, such as a 'botanical grey'.  The gouache was just looking too blue, so back to the drawing board !
  • Painting the areas around the hairs - the negative space - I just wasn't brave enough to do this !

So what did I use ?

I came across this liquid acrylic made by Golden.  It is not acrylic ink, but is still quite fluid and can be diluted too.
What appealed to me was that it was available in Titan buff, which is like a very pale beige and a far more natural looking colour than a stark white.

The lightfastness rating was good and I also looked at the other properties, which were clearly marked on the back of each bottle.  I certainly didn't want shiny looking hairs, but I still wanted a good degree of opacity !

I tried out various brushes and I am especially a fan of spotter brushes, particularly the firmer ones, which tend to made of man made fibres and not sable.
Rosemary & Co Series 307 are proving useful and I opted for size 3/0, a size I wouldn't normally use!

The titan buff on my palette.  I had diluted it with a tiny drop of water.

The development of one of the lateral buds.  When you view a twig and bud through a microscope it is amazing how the colours are often more intense than if you saw them with the naked eye.

Initially for the tiny hairs on the bud tip I used a neutral colour to create some form and texture and then used the liquid acrylic to introduce the lighter hairs and create even more depth.

The hairs on the main body of the twig were of varying lengths and densities so this presented as another challenge !  Shadows under some of the hairs were painted in and if the liquid acrylic was still too bright, I toned it down with a weak wash of a colour that I sometimes call 'dirty paint water' !

At this stage some of the hairs still need more of a highlight, but not all along each shaft, but where the hair bends and hits the light.  (Thanks to a very helpful and good friend for advising me on this).

So there you are, I faced the challenge head on.  I'm not saying it is the right answer, and another time I may approach the same challenge differently, but I am relived to have now finished this painting.

Previously, blogposts relating to my RHS project could be found only on my Art & the Hedgerow project blog, but in the lead up to the project being finished I will be posting on both blogs.

I will be at the Kingcombe Centre in Dorset from Tuesday 17th to Thursday 19th November, working on the project.  So if you are around why not pop in and say hello and see me at work. 


  1. i wished...... sniff i would love to see you over there
    sadly my broom is in the shop * and not certified for international travel

    so you'll have to take a ton of photos

    1. Wish you could be there too Vi. I will take some photos and perhaps a video too.

  2. Fascinating blog post--thank you!

  3. Great painting Sarah! And a wonderful blog post. So generous of you to share your knowledge!

  4. It was very informative. Thank you! :)


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