Friday, 17 June 2016

Paper Matters!

Lately, I have noticed that my favourite Watercolour paper has changed.  When I can work on it, it's jolly hard work - but without the jolly bit.   In fact, I have found myself with paintbrush in one hand and a brush full of gelatine size in the other.  I did at first think it was me.  Painting isn''t one of those things that you just sit down and do, some days it goes well, and some days you wish you were a photographer, although, I'm sure photographers have bad days too!

So it was with a heavy heart that I decided that I would look for another paper to work on.

I like working on Daler Rowney HP, but it only comes in 140lbs, which is ok for really small stuff, but not so good if you want to work bigger and have larger areas of paint.  It cockles.   And before someone tells me to stretch the paper first, yes, this works for some people, but I prefer to keep the sizing where it is, and anyway, that means I would have to keep several pieces ready prepared and stuck to boards, and since my studio space is tiny this really wouldn't work for me.  There's also the problem of availablility with DR HP, it being available in sheets only from one supplier which means a two hour plus round trip - and that's if I'm lucky!

So, as I was taking the trouble to test out several papers I thought it would be of interest to others and I'm putting it here, because there's quite a lot of information.

Each test was conducted with the same paints and brushes.  I tried to make sure the only variable was the paper, but the weather decided to get involved too and some of the tests were conducted on very hot dry days and some on very wet days, although I think the main problem that posed was drying speed so I haven't commented on speed of drying.

The paints - all from Sennelier -  French Ultramarine(PB29)  Sennelier Yellow Light (PY154 )  Rose Madder Lake(PV19) Sennelier Red(PR254) and Sennelier Olive (the old one PO49,PG36) I don't normally use ready mixed greens but this one is very useful as a base and is totally transparent.


Paper Tests - please click on the photos for a larger version

watercolour test on Papers from Saunders Waterford©Polly o'Leary2016
Papers from Saunders Waterford


Saunders Waterford HP 140lbs High White – New Improved 100% cotton

Fine surface, very smooth both sides.

W-in-W Paint spread on the damp surface quickly and blurred softly. Easy to soften edges.
Petal – Edge colour bled nicely, no manipulation needed. Markings fine and sharp.
Leaf – W in W spread almost too much but lovely soft result and well controlled. Subsequent dry brush work also soft.
Stem – paint spread from the edges nicely and a quick sweep of the brush down the middle created a nice ‘shine’ dry brush to edges softened nicely.
Edges clean-up ok if paint not too dry
Green paint – didn’t lift much after drying. Red paint – hardly any lifting after drying
All colours nice and bright. Reverse of paper seems easier to work on and results cleaner.
Some cockling even when dry, I would love to try this in a 200lb or 300lb version.

A lovely paper to work on, but lifting after drying is a problem.


Saunders Waterford HP 140lbs High White

Slight texture on surface. Reverse more regular pattern

W-in-W Paint spread on the damp surface quickly and blurred softly. Easy to soften edges.
Petal – Edge colour bled nicely, no manipulation needed. Markings fine and sharp.
Leaf – W in W spread almost too much but lovely soft result and well controlled. Subsequent dry brush work also soft.
Stem – paint spread from the edges nicely and a quick sweep of the brush down the middle created a nice ‘shine’ dry brush to edges softened nicely.
Edges clean-up ok if paint not too dry
Green paint – didn’t lift much after drying. Red paint – hardly any lifting after drying
All colours nice and bright. Despite texture, edges clean and fine lines clean.

Nice to work on but needed a little more water

Saunders Waterford Ultra Smooth HP 300gsm 50% cotton

Very smooth paper both sides

W-in-W paint spread nicely, needed a little extra work. Easy to soften edges. Red lifted well
Petal – Edge colour bled nicely, needed a little extra work. Nice effect. Sharp clean lines
Leaf – Needed extra work for W-in-W underpainting, but dry brushing very soft effect and clean sharp edges.
Stem – Very difficult to get effect
Green paint lifted leaving lighter green line. Red paint barely lifted leaving a slightly lighter red.
Edges clean and well defined and easy to clean up.
All colours bright.

Saunders Waterford Bockingford HP 300gsm White

Very smooth paper both sides.

W-in-W paint spread nicely and easy to control. Edges easy to soften. Red lifted well.
Petal - Edge colour spread nicely, good effect. Sharp clean detail lines
Leaf – W-in-W spread well, dry brush effect soft and deep. Edges easy to clean up.
Stem – W-in-W easy to control, highlight lifted nicely .
Green paint lifted leaving a clean light green line. Red lifted leaving a red line, but not sharp.
Edges clean and easy to clean up.
Colours bright.


Watercolour paper test D-R Langton Prestige, Moulin du Roy and Strathmore Imperial 500
D-R Langton Prestige, Moulin du Roy and Strathmore Imperial 500


Langton Prestige HP 140lbs 100% cotton

Slight texture on one side and smooth on reverse. Feels very soft to the touch.

W-in-W - Paint dispersed nicely and edges softened nicely. Red paint lifted almost clean away.
Petal – edge paint bled nicely, little or no manipulation. Markings fine and sharp.
Leaf – W-in-W spread nicely, well controlled. Dry brush soft effect.
Stem – Edges pread nicely and easy to lift shine in the middle. Darker edging easy to soften.
Edges clean up easy
Green paint hardly lifted. Red paint both first and second layer lifted slightly.
All colours nice and bright. Texture didn’t affect clean edges or sharp details.

Lovely paper to work on.


Strathmore Imperial 500 HP 140lbs 100% cotton

Much heavier texture than most HP papers. Random texture on front and noticeable pattern on reverse.

W-inW inactive paint didn’t spread much. Difficult to soften edges. Red paint lifted almost clean.
Petal – Edge colour needed persuasion to soften. Fine lines needed more than one sweep.
Leaf - W-in-W spread far too much, soft effect but lacked control – maybe over compensation after first three attempts? Dry brush ok, not too harsh.
Stem – Took longer to persuade paint to spread, several attempts needed. Highlight present but mechanical looking.
Green paint lifted a little. Red paint sat on top of paper, but clean lines when lifted but not to white.
Paper cockled badly when wet but dried flat.

I found this a more difficult paper to work on.


Canson Moulin du Roy HP 140lbs 100% cotton

Very smooth paper, felt it was very like Arches.
W-inW paint spread well, but curiously when dried the colours seem faded. Difficult to soften edges and it shows! Lifting of the red unsuccessful.
Petal – Edge colour didn’t spread in and not successful. Colour when dried very feint.
Leaf – W-in-W spread well but colours feint and needed more than one wash. Dry brushing also needed more work. Effect soft.
Stem – W-in-W needed a lot of work. Doesn’t look as effective as others.
Green paint lifted well. Red paint sat on surface but lifted well, lines clear and defined, but not white.

Didn’t like working on this, and wasn’t impressed that the wash colours looked so faded

Watercolour paper Test Fabriano Artistico 640gsm (old)
Fabriano Artistico 640gsm (old)


Fabriano Artistico HP 640gsm (old) 100% cotton

This paper is a few years old. It’s difficult to tell which side is which even with a strong magnifying glass. Both sides are very smooth and I painted on both sides too.

W-in-W paint spread out nicely leaving a soft effect. Edges were easy to soften. Lifting of red was mostly successful.
Petal – Edge colour spread inwards beautifully and gave exactly the right effect. Sharp lines nicely defined.
Leaf – W-in-W spread nicely, easy to control. Dry brushing gave nice deep colour and very soft effect. Edges very sharp
Stem – W-in-W easy to control and highlight easy to lift leaving a convincing shine.
Edges cleaned up well
Green paint lifted leaving a slight colour. Red paint was lifted leaving lighter red.
Colours not quite as bright as Saunders Waterford and Strathmore, but well defined and clean.
Lovely paper to work on.

Watercolour Paper Test Fabriano Artistico 300gsm (old)
Fabriano Artistico 300gsm (old)


Fabriano Artistico HP 300gsm (old) 100% cotton

This paper is also a few years old, Both sides very smooth and difficult to tell back from front even with strong magnification.
W-in-W paint spread nicely, easily controlled. Soft effect. Edges easy to soften.
Petal – Edge colour spread inwards nicely, giving the effect wanted. Fine lines sharp and clean.
Leaf - W-in-W easily controlled spread. Dry brushing soft effect, no harsh lines/
Stem – W-in-W easy to control and highlight easy to lift.
Edges cleaned up well
Green paint lifted easily leaving lighter green. Red paint lifted leaving sharp lines of lighter red.
Colours not as bright as Saunders W and Strathmore but well defined and clean.
Lovely paper to work on but slight cockling.

 
50% cotton - SW Bockinford HP 140lbs and Fabriano Classico HP 140lbs
50% cotton - SW Bockingford HP 140lbs and Fabriano Classico HP 140lbs


Fabriano Classico HP (old)

W-in-W paint spreads nicely, soft edges easy to achieve.
Green (Senn. Olive), Red (PR254), Rose (PV19) Blue (PB29) All lifted similarly leaving a very light clean line

Smooth paper

WS Bockingford HP 140lbs  - this is from a large sheet.

I often use this paper if I want to try out different things, or just for sketching.  It's a lovely smooth paper which takes a wash nicely and also dry brushing.  It's also very consistent and reliable which is very useful if you're sketching, as you can concentrate on what you're doing, rather on coping with variable paper.

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Echeveria cante - Step by step.

“Paint what you really see, not what you think you ought to see; not the object isolated as in a test tube, but the object enveloped in sunlight and atmosphere, with the blue dome of Heaven reflected in the shadows.” - Claude Monet



In April I wrote about this year’s SBA exhibition, and the paintings I had exhibited there. I was tremendously encouraged to be told that one of my paintings had been awarded the Certificate of Botanical Merit – the Echeveria cante.

It was a wonderful plant to paint, since it's such a challenge. In full sun, the plant can be blindingly white, on dull days the plant can look grey.

On the day I saw this plant for the first time, it was very sunny, and as I looked at the plant, a cloud covered the sun. In that moment, the plant came alive with colour and I knew that I must capture it for others to see.

First task was to get an accurate record of the colours, using my trusty mini paintbox and travel brushes. Then measured drawings and notes made of the plant from different angles in order to capture as much information as possible.

Once back in my studio, I decided on a small study, in order to work out how to render the colours and textures and work out which colours and colour mixes would best express the glowing quality of the plant.   In this case, I decided on Cobalt Turquoise and Cobalt Blue as the Blues for the palette, as I felt they had just the qualities I was looking for.
Echeveria Study - First Washes©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante Study - First Washes
Echeveria cante Study - Further Work©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante Study - Further Work
 
Once I was happy with the choice of colours, I made an inked copy of the composition on tracing paper. This is used to transfer the composition to the watercolour paper via a lightbox, and is also insurance against having to start the painting from scratch in the case of disasters - flying brushes usually!
Echeveria cante - First Washes©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante - first washes

Echeveria cante - Growing nicely!©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante - Growing nicely!

Echeveria cante - Further Work©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante - Further work

At first, the washes were laid in very lightly.  I wanted to make sure that I kept the tones light at this stage, and for the same reason the reds were left until last- deeper and brighter tones would add punch, but would not reflect the delicate colours and textures of the plant.  I decided to work in stages so that I could keep already painted areas clean by covering them as I worked.


Echeveria cante - Palette and colour mixes©Polly o'Leary2016
At this stage, this is what my palette looked like.  I tend to mix on the fly once I have chosen my colours.  This ensures plenty of variety in the colours of the painting and keeps me on my toes matching colours to the plant.  The grey at the bottom is mixed from the colours in the painting - in this case, Cobalt Blue, Permanent Magenta and a Transparent Lemon. This grey is then used to increase the range of tones in the painting and is also used for the very darkest areas - tiny areas of dark that help to lift the whole painting.

Echeveria cante - laying in some reds©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante - laying in some reds

Once I was happy with the colours and tones of the main part of the inflorescence, it was time to lay in some of the reds.  A light wash of yellow went on first, which helped the more orange reds to glow nicely.  Then, the different reds were painted in - lightly at first so as not to overpower the rest of the plant.

Now it was time to add the stem, and reassess all of the colours.  The details of  the Stamens and Carpels were left until last and added a final touch of realism to the painting.

At this point the painting was put away for a few weeks.  I do this because working so intensely, it's easy to lose perspective.   After a few weeks, the painting is reassessed and any problem areas are more easily spotted and remedied
Echeveria cante - Finished!©Polly o'Leary2016
Echeveria cante - finished!
I hope this Step by Step has given some insight into how this painting evolved and the techniques used to finish it.

Next up - Paper testing!

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Dyffryn Gardens 7th May 2016

On 7th May 2016 the Orchid Study Group will be in Dyffryn Gardens for Orchid Day - a celebration of all things Orchid - Tropical and Native Orchids.  I will be there too, demonstrating how I paint orchids in watercolour.   Do come along  for a wonderful informative day out in the most beautiful surroundings of Dyffryn Gardens.

Five Paintings and a Phonecall !


2016 has been an interesting year so far.

Five paintings finished and taken to London for selection for the SBA Shape Pattern, Structure Exhibition, in late February and then the nail biting wait to see if any have been selected.   Luckily they didn't make me wait too long to find out that not only were all five selected, but I had also been made a full member of the SBA!  To say I was happy is an understatement!

Then later I find out that all five paintings are to be hung!   And on top of that, I get The Phonecall...  I have been awarded Certificate of Botanical Merit for the Echeveria cante Inflorescence painting!  I didn't scream, honest, I was quite restrained, but I did need to sit down and take it all in.

Certificate of Botanical Merit - Echeveria cante

Gladiolus Hybrid - Dried Flowers

Phragmipedium sedenii
Paphiopedilum Maudiae Hybrid

Stanhopea graveolens

The SBA Exhibition in  Methodist Central Hall opposite Westminster Abbey is wonderful.  Almost 600 paintings by Botanical artists from all over the world.   But you really need more than one visit to take it all in.

Katherine Tyrrell has written a Review of the 2016 SBA Exhibition which will give those who can't get to London an idea of what they have missed.  Katherine also has written posts about Prizewinners, Certificates of Botanical Merit, and the Private View.  Giving a comprehensive idea of what the SBA 2016 Exhibition holds for the Botanical Art lover.

On top of all this, I have been working on a project which is still under wraps - more about this later!
Coming up - Dyffryn Gardens Orchid Day 7th May 2016

Friday, 18 December 2015

Vellum Adventures

 “Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it.” Salvador Dali

For a while I'd been wanting to try out painting on Vellum and last year, fellow artist and friend Shevaun Doherty gifted me a sample of vellum for me to try.   For a year I looked at it, examined it and backed away.  what if I spoiled it?  what if I wasted it making mistakes and ruined it?

In the end, I contacted William Cowley and bought a sample pack suitable for painting on.   Still I waited, there was only one piece of each type and I'd never worked on vellum before.

More research was needed. Luckily some of my Botanical Artist friends have blogged online about their Vellum painting techniques, so I was able to read about how they work with this tricky medium.

Dianne sutherland - Painting On Vellum who also teaches an online course Dianne Sutherland Botanical Art Online Course - Painting On Vellum,   Shevaun Doherty of Botanical Sketches and Other Stories: V is for Vellum,  Sarah Morrish of  Art and the Hedgerow: Painting on Vellum, and Kate Nessler for her article in The American Society of Botanical Artists: Painting on Vellum, all have excellent articles online about painting on Vellum and I learned an enormous amount from them.
 
Once I had enough information, it was time to practise my technique.   I've never been one to practise a piece fully before painting.  A few tonal/colour swatches and notes, a trial of a few petals/buds/leaves and I'm off.  I've always produced better results when I'm still exploring a subject and there's no point in having my best work in a sketchbook.  But there's no room for this with Vellum, it's too rare, so practise I did.

First practise was on paper, then on a small piece of Sheepskin Parchment which was lovely to work on.  Fortunately the gooseberries didn't ripen together so there was a steady supply of berrries. 


watercolour dry brush, vellum, paper
Dry brush practise on Paper, then Vellum (on top)
watercolour dry brush, vellum, paper
Dry brush on paper above, on Vellum below
Then, with more confidence, a more ambitious attempt on Manuscript Vellum, I tried a little piece of Kelmscott, but really didn't like working on it.

watercolour gooseberry, dry brush, paper, vellum
Dry Brush on Manuscript Vellum
 At last I felt that I could brave a larger piece and decided to try working on the Calfskin Vellum, a small branch of Gooseberries

watercolour gooseberry, vellum, paper
First washes and Dry brush
 At first they looked a bit like glass Christmas Baubles, with their pale colours  
watercolour gooseberries on vellum
Building up the colours on the berries
Then as more colours were laid down, they started to look more Gooseberry-like
Hairless Gooseberry - Watercolour on Vellum

Salvadore Dali was right, there's no danger of me reaching perfection, but I won't stop trying.
I'm still not sure how I feel about painting on vellum, but I have a little more, so will try it again when I find the right subject.  What do you think, are you tempted to try it?

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

A Festival of Orchids

The Welsh Orchid Festival was, as usual, a whirlwind of flowers, scent and people.   So many lovely orchids in one place, and so many orchid lovers too.

Welsh Orchid Festival 2015©Polly o'Leary2015
Welsh Orchid Festival 2015

 We seem to have got our painting transportation down to a fine art now and the stand quickly took shape. This year, as I was tucked away in a far corner, I got a banner made so that people knew I was there and who I was.

Polly o'Leary Stand with Banner©Polly o'Leary2015
Polly o'Leary Stand with Banner

 I had cards of some of my paintings printed and they were very well received.   More designs are planned for the new year.

Orchid Cards©Polly o'Leary2015
Orchid Cards

Also this year, children were showing an interest in the orchids and it's so good to see young people being enthusiastic about plants.   Two young men of about seven or eight years became fascinated by my sketching and painting some Orchids and were most disappointed that there were no paper and paints for them to try it too.  We had a lovely chat about what I was painting and why, which bits were important, how and why I was measuring the plants and why the colours had to be matched exactly.  They were really very interested indeed and wondered if they would be able to do something like that.   I love that almost every child is an artist!

In the midst of it all my lovely friend Claire Ward popped in for a chat.  So nice to see her as we live on opposite sides of Wales!
 
As usual, I came home with more than I took.   A tray of baby Orchids of different species - yes species!  I'm now going into uncharted Orchid territory with these - grateful thanks for these go to Dr Kevin Davies, Chairman of the Welsh Orchid Study Group .   A pot of Scaphosepalum verrucosum, with minute flowers, grateful thanks to Mrs Val Micklewright of the Orchid Society of Great Britain
for these.  Paphiopedalum Black Jack, a baby Paphiopedilum St Swithin and Phalaenopsis Mini Mark also came home with me, but I bought these.  The living room now looks like a flower shop./Orchid nursery!

Paphiopedilum St Swithin Sketch ©Polly o'Leary2015
Paphiopedilum St Swithin Sketch

 I was also given Orchids to paint again this year,  a flower of Paphiopedilum St Swithin gratefully received from Andrew Bannister of Orchid Alchemy, and a whole plant - Stanhopea tigrina, on loan from Alan Gregg of Singleton Botanical Garden Swansea, so as usual it was a race against time in the coming days to record these lovelies before they wilted.

I wasn't the only artist at the show though.  Paul Steer of Art in a Corner had a stand with his amazing watercolour frescoes of landscapes, butterflies and other nature inspired subjects.   It's fascinating how many different ways there are to portray similar subjects and Paul has a most original way of looking at the world and then letting us glimpse his vision.

Coming soon - Adventures with Vellum







Sunday, 30 August 2015

Welsh Orchid Festival 5th and 6th September 2015


Next week is the Welsh Orchid Festival at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. There's great excitement here at Polly’s studio as I finish up the last paintings and make sure I have everything ready for my stand.

If you can make it, don’t forget to say hello.

The patron of the Welsh Orchid Study Group - Tom Hart Dyke will also be attending.   More information below.


Fellow artist Paul Steer will also be there with his beautiful and unusual fresco paintings

I will have some new paintings on the stand, and have been madly painting to make sure they are finished in time.     Here's a teaser of one of the latest, a very dark red Paphiopedilum.

Paphiopedilum dark red ©Polly o'Leary 2015 all rights reserved
Paphiopedilum