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

Saturday 22 August 2015

On the easel today

With the Welsh Orchid Festival at the National Botanic Garden of Wales in early September, I'm working like crazy to get some paintings finished.    On the easel today is this lovely Orchid.   I'm not sure whether it's a species or hybrid, but the colours are amazing!  Trying to capture it is a challenge of the nicest kind and trying to photograph it is an even bigger challenge, so my apologies for the lack of colour accuracy on this one, you'll just have to come see it at the Orchid Festival.   Others are also in the finishing stage! 

Paphiopedilum Hybrid? ©Polly o'Leary 2015
Paphiopedilum Hybrid?

If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.” Edward Hopper 

Also on my mind at the moment is the small matter of my Artist Statement, which really needs to be written.  But I'm afraid I'm with Edward Hopper on this matter, so it's a particular and peculiar problem for me.    Nevertheless it must be done, and done it will be.

But what does one actually say about oneself?   Is this a problem all artists get?    I'd love to hear how you have solved this problem...


Sunday 14 June 2015

Great excitement at Polly's

There's great excitement here at the moment,  my first slipper orchid,  bought two years ago at the Welsh Orchid Festival,  has decided to form a scape.   From peeking out between the centre of the top leaves,  it has now grown into a fully opened flower!

This has happened rather more quickly than the original flower when I bought the plant, so I've been hard at work recording the different stages in my sketchbook.

Study page for Paph. maudiae x Charlesworthii ©Polly o'Leary 2015 all rights reserved
Study page for Paph. maudiae x Charlesworthii

It's quite a challenge colour-wise and I found that there was only one colour in my collection that was perfect for capturing the deep purply colour of the markings and stem - Perylene Violet, a colour introduced to me by my lovely friend Jarnie at Sketchbook Squirrel

Paph. Maudiae x Charlesworthii study of developing flower ©Polly o'Leary 2015 All rights Reserved
Paph. Maudiae x Charlesworthii study of developing flower

Since I bought a tiny tube to try, I've been amazed at the versatility of this wonderful single pigment colour which reduces the need for mixing and gives me a deep colour with plenty of  chroma and life to it, so I'm very happy to have a project that will make use of this wonderful transparent pigment.

What colour/colours have you found you can't live without?

Saturday 2 May 2015

Painted in three days? - Really?

I've been thinking about this ever since I finished the Paphiopedilum sukhakulii painting.   It's not a claim of taking only three days over a painting.  For a botanical painting that would be just about impossible, the drawing and measuring alone take longer than that, as does the composition - for me anyway. And I need a long flowering plant, or several plants to be able to take this long, or take more than a year to finish while I wait for the plant to flower again.
Paphiopedilum sukhakulii watercolour©Polly o'Leary 2015
Paphiopedilum sukhakulii by Polly o'Leary

No, what I mean by it, is that I've got so far with a painting and then found it impossible to continue - and started again!

Before getting to the painting stage, I will have spent weeks drawing, composing and doing colour and tonal sketches.  Once I have the composition I'm happy with, I make a master copy on tracing paper so that, in the event of a disaster, like dropping a loaded brush on the painting, or finding that a piece of the paper isn't sized properly, I can simply use the master tracing to redraw on new paper and start painting again.

This is where the 'painted in three or four days' comes in.   However, to understand what it means to actually begin the painting part,  and finish in three or four days, the hours involved have to be understood too.
For me it involves painting almost non-stop for about 20 hours a day!  So a three-day painting will have taken 60 hours,  and a four-day painting will have taken 80 hours,  for the application of paint alone.  And yes, it's hard having about 3 hours sleep a night, but if that's what it takes to get the painting finished by a deadline, then that's what happens.

Looked at like this, I'm still taking the same time to paint as normal, just cramming it into a smaller time frame.  So that three-day painting is actually two and a half weeks of painting, and the four-day painting is easily three weeks worth of painting really.

It isn't something I like to do, and it certainly isn't something I plan.  Usually it's the result of poor or uneven paper sizing, which can't be seen until you're actually experiencing it.  Under these circumstances it's often much easier and quicker to start again, rather than try to compensate for the lack of size, and of course the result is better too.

Friday 24 April 2015

In Pursuit of Plants - Society of Botanical Artists Annual Exhibition 17th - 26th April 2015

After months of planning, drawing and painting, the time finally arrived to get everything photographed, framed, and take a trip to Westminster Central Hall, London, to submit my paintings for the SBA annual exhibition - In Pursuit of Plants.

Framing sounds easy, but framing properly is an art in itself and takes about three times as long as you think it will.   Luckily everything fitted together well.   There was just time for a little judicious tweaking of colour and tonal values before the paintings were finally framed.

Packing the frames for transport was made vastly easier by the purchase of some high tech bubble wrap.  By the time we'd finished, we looked like the Jetson's off on a trip.

painting packaging transport
Space Age packaging - Jetson style

The space age packaging worked really well and all the paintings arrived in pristine condition despite a trip in the car boot and on the tube.

Unpacking was a doddle too with the purpose made packing.  Handing in was weird, I'd never entered paintings for an exhibition before and handing my 'babies' over and leaving them felt very strange. 

Then the long wait to find out if they'd made the grade, as it's a juried exhibition....  what seemed like an age passed but in reality it was barely any time at all, when the phone call came.

All my paintings had been accepted and I was offered Associateship of the SBA as well!  I had to sit down for that as it really wasn't expected.

Then the very long wait for the exhibition date.    Another phonecall informed me that, wait for it, I had received a Highly Commended for the Joyce Cuming Award,  I think I may have squealed with excitement, but can't be sure.  It was lovely to get the letter confirming it all, just to prove it wasn't all a dream and the icing on the cake was that four of my paintings were to be hung.

society of botanical artists - highly commended Joyce Cumming Award
All four paintings hanging together

Bearded Irises - highly commended Joyce Cumming Award Society of botanical artists
Bearded Irises - Highly Commended
Not a bad start to exhibiting, I think it could be addictive.

Of course, the 30th  Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists wasn't all about me.   There are 603 paintings, 7 miniature paintings and 12 three-dimensional works this year, submitted by 216 Botanical Artists from around the world - a truly international exhibition!

So many people to meet and so many superb paintings to see.  The whole time seemed to disappear in a whirlwind.  There never seems to be enough time, especially when it's something enjoyable and this is what I found when I went to the SBA Exhibition - In Pursuit of Plants.

Luckily there are some who are well prepared and take a camera and also take notes.

One of these people is Katherine Tyrrell whose wonderful Making a Mark blog is THE place on the internet to find out what's going on in the art world, and true to form, Katherine has written an excellent  Review of the 30th Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists - well worth reading if you can't get to London to see the Exhibition.  Katherine has also written about the Prizewinners at the Society of Botanical Artists' Annual Exhibition 2015  and the  Society of Botanical Art: Certificates of Botanical Merit 2015

Monday 2 March 2015

Phragmipedium Bel Royal - the paints

Further to my Phragmipedium Bel Royal step by step posts, I promised to post about the colours and mixes used in the painting.
watercolour colours and mixes - Orchid Phragmipedium Bel Royal
Colours and Mixes for Phrag. Bel Royal

My apologies, things got a little hectic in the last few weeks and I had to spend most of my waking moments with a brush in my hand - more about that at a later date.

Now that I have a moment, I can tell you about the colours I used in the painting.

Before beginning to paint, I study the plant from all angles noting the shapes and the shadows.  I also note the colours and how they change.  This enables me to choose the colours I will use in the painting.

I prefer to use a fairly limited palette, so choosing the paints is a vital first step, as is mixing the colours to ensure I have just the right ones.   Swatches of these colours are painted on the same paper as  the painting.

In this painting I layered the paints in glazes, so I chose transparent colours.  These paints allow the layers underneath to glow through.  These are also usually staining paints, so great care is needed to only place them where they will stay - any mistakes are likely to be permanent. 

After much thought I chose
Yellows - Sennelier Yellow Light (PY154 ) and Indian Yellow (PY153)
Blues -  Sennelier French Ultramarine (PB29) Phthalo blue (PB15) and Indanthrene Blue (PB60)
Reds -  Anthraquinone Red (PR177) and Permanent Rose (PV19)

As you can see, these are all single pigment colours.  No mud-making for me!
All the colours were mixed from these, including the shadow colours which are mixed from different proportions of each of the three primaries (Yellow, Blue, Red/Pink)  the warmth or coolness of the colours used will determine the type of shadow colour you get and it's possible to vary the mix to produce subtle shades of different greys.

Tuesday 24 February 2015

Thinking outside the box

watercolour palette - porcelain with wells
Large dinner plate palette

I'd been looking for ages for a porcelain palette that suits my set up and the way I work, but have never found that perfect fit.   If the palette looks right for me, it's often too large or too small for where it will sit, or if it fits the space available, the wells are too big and the mixing space too small.   So for a long time I've been using a large square porcelain dinner plate, but battling the paint sliding into the mixed area.   Then I had an idea.   Silicone sealant!    With this, I could have wells on my plate.   So a tube of the good stuff was purchased and OH swung into action with his silicone gun.   A couple of hours later, I had just what I wanted - the perfect palette.

I wanted a cover for my lovely new palette, to keep the dust and dog fur out of my mixes when I'm not using it.   So there we were one evening in a busy supermarket (friday evening shopping), struggling in vain to fit a reluctant shower cap onto a large square dinner plate.     The looks we got!   Some people can be so judgemental. 

It didn't fit, so the search goes on.   If all else fails, a perspex panel with a few dabs of silicon sealer on the corners will serve the purpose, but a proper lid would be better.

Thursday 15 January 2015

The Finished Phragmipedium Bel Royal and a Gala Dinner

Now it's official, I can show everyone what the finished Phragmipedium Bel Royal painting looks like.   It is one of the prizes at the Gala Dinner of the European Orchid Show & Conference.  I wish I could go to the conference as it's the best place to see and buy the most extraordinary and beautiful Orchids. 

Phragmipedium Bel Royal watercolour painting

If you'd like to see the whole painting, there's a picture of it on the Facebook page of The Orchid society of Great Britain.  Some great prizes on offer for the lucky diners.