Friday 14 June 2013

SBA Course 9 Seminar Day

The much anticipated day of the seminar arrived and I woke up in a hotel in London with a painful scratch down the middle of my chin, acquired sometime in the night. My family assured me that they hadn’t noticed, whilst talking to my chin. Lovely stuff, at least I could stop worrying about my hair going frizzy in the damp heat of an unexpectedly glorious day, no-one was going to notice.

I had a little time to spare before the seminar, so took the family into the exhibition to have a look around and get photographed with my pencil drawings. The student section is amazing to see, and easily holds it’s own with the main exhibition. It was lovely to see the work of people I have been in touch with who have finished the course.

All too soon it was time to wave off the family to their own adventure and make my way up to the second floor where we were gathering for the seminar.

There were several lecture tours of the exhibition, on differing subjects, to sign up for, and I signed up for most of them. Luckily, I left a few sessions free, the tours were running back to back and it all became a little frantic at one point with students rushing up three flights of stairs and through corridors, only to rush straight back down to the basement again for the next lecture. And getting very hot and bothered in the process.

I did find time to watch my tutor for the last three assignments, Sandrine Maugy, showing how to drop colour onto wet paper and just let it flow. Possibly one of the most difficult things to do in watercolour, as the need to ‘direct it’ can be overwhelming. However watching and talking to Sandrine about this technique made me realise I have been too busy trying to ‘make’ the colour do what I want when I should be sitting back and letting it happen. No wonder I’ve had trouble reserving my highlights.

I particularly needed to talk to the tutors about my sketchbook - ‘am I doing it right?’ as I have never really kept a sketchbook of my workings for paintings, I’ve always been a spontaneous, let it happen kind of gal, rather than planning everything to the last detail. But I am seeing the value of trying out several compositions and colour schemes, and doing colour tests before starting. I’m even beginning to put ideas onto paper that have nothing to do with what I’m working on, for future reference. Now that’s progress.

I also needed to discuss with my current tutor the problems I’m anticipating about working in the field. In this part of Wales, it’s more likely to be ‘working in the bog and marsh’ especially if this summer is anything like last year, which it’s likely to be as I’m on this course. It’s just my kind of luck that we bought a nice big tent a few years ago so we could have some cheap holidays with the dogs. A month later it started raining and we had the worst floods this country has seen for centuries! We were booked to camp in the Cotswolds and all the surrounding area was under water for weeks. We managed three days and still packed up in the rain!

Anyway, I wanted to discuss what my options might be if the weather does what it has done for the last five or six summers and it looked like bog snorkelling was my best bet. I now have a few options I hadn’t thought of and none of them include bog snorkelling.

Unfortunately, during the first lecture tour, my daughter tried to ring me, and my phone wasn’t switched off as I had thought. It’s a very loud ringtone as often I’m in a musical setting which can be quite noisy and sounded even louder in the hush of the echoing, exhibition hall. Being a new phone I couldn’t switch it off at first and, understandably, the tutor looked very annoyed. As I struggled to find the off switch people started to giggle, until most were roaring with laughter as I panicked and dropped the thing, then retrieved it whilst apologising profusely. Finally, I managed to switch it off, and the lecture continued. Later, whilst discussing my sketchbook with Kay Rees Davies, the phone went off again. I was mortified, and yet again couldn’t turn it off quickly, until everyone was laughing. I did manage to kill it completely this time though. Somehow, I don’t think I’ll be forgotten, but what a way to be remembered, the woman with a red stripe down her chin, with frizzy hair and a mobile phone that kept going off! Not at all the impression I’d intended making.

Friday 12 April 2013

Graduation Day for SBA DLDC 8 Students

Today, the SBA DLDC 8 Students graduate at a ceremony in London. I'm raising a glass to them as I write. I'm struck by how much work each student has put in to this course in the last 27 months. There are no holidays, work on assignments must continue regardless of the calendar. Whether it's Christmas, or the long summer school holidays, the assignments must be done. 

Of course, this is just as it should be. It's good preparation for working on commissions, since there are always deadlines, whether you're working on a private commission, for a publisher, or working towards an exhibition. 

Nevertheless, it's a huge achievement, and I'm sure that the Students are celebrating their success tonight. 

Only another year and it will be graduation day for Course 9 ! - I'd better get moving, there's loads to do, and I'm still deciding on the subject and composition for this assignment! Not that it has been easy, there are some beautiful bulbs flowering at the moment, but no matter how much I love Hyacinths, there is no way I am going to even attempt to draw dissections of their tiny parts. Something larger would seem more sensible, but the Lilies I bought, thinking they would be easy to dissect and draw, have turned out to have flowers the size of dinner plates! Utterly gorgeous, but it's patently obvious that they would leave little room for the necessary dissections of a Botanical Illustration, so it's back to the drawing board. I'm still making sketches and detailed section paintings of them though, since I will want to paint them in the future, nothing wasted here. 

Living half-way up a mountain, our seasons seem to be about 6 weeks later than the rest of the south west, and there's little sign of anything growing here so yesterday, we took a trip out to a garden centre. It was cold and wet - despite the weatherman promising warmer weather.   So many lovely flowers and plants to see and choose from, but being in a much warmer area that is to be expected.  And there they were, the most lovely little Fritillaries with their chequered flowers and so elegant and delicate, all sitting in pots waiting for me to choose one. So I chose a pot with mostly buds, since I work slowly, and they will need to last a while. Here's hoping they won't suddenly wake up and 'go over' faster than I can get them down on paper.  Now all I need is the time to sit down and do the work!

Saturday 30 March 2013

Making a Start

Beginning my first assignment was daunting, I was full of worries about not really being good enough for the course, and whether I had what it takes, the usual lack of confidence I suppose.

The exercises seemed easy and being a lover of pencil anyway I enjoyed them, but they did seem a little too easy- a bit like I was playing at it. Never the less, I found that by the end of them, I was
getting into the ‘groove’ and my lines were more confident and accurate.

For my first assignment, I was to draw an outline of a plant or flower as if I were preparing a watercolour, stipple a flower with leaf in pen and ink, and produce a complete study in continuous tone.

I chose a lily for the first part, since they tend to last a long time and I didn’t want to be worrying about the flower wilting as I worked. I’m glad I used this, as there was plenty of opportunity to draw perspective. The second part, Stippling, I drew a Tulip. After many practise pieces, I discovered that whilst the stippling was going well, the outlining of the Tulip was nowhere near confident enough. There was always a slight mistake which spoiled the whole thing. By now I was getting nervous, time was moving on, and if I wasn’t careful, there would be no time to do a good continuous tone drawing. In desperation, I decided to forget the outline and just use Stippling to describe the outline as well as the shading. I just hoped that my tutor, the Course Director, Margaret Stevens, would accept it and not penalise me for a lack of outline. It took about 40 hours altogether to complete the stippling, but I was pleased with the effect and felt that I would be happy to send it off. On to the Continuous tone.

After a few false starts, I settled on a piece of Ivy which my Husband had found amongst hedge clippings on his travels. It had such an interesting texture and form and would give plenty of practise for rendering tone. Working in Graphite was interesting, I had to be very careful not to smudge the work already done. I hadn’t thought that this would be a problem as I had done a lot of Soft Pastel work in larger sizes and never worried about smudging, but working in graphite is so different, you are working much closer to the paper. So I made good use of my cheap draughting paper to protect the work. After a week of work and much use of my soft putty eraser, the drawing was complete and I could label the backs of all my work. Just in time too, as the deadline for posting had arrived. Two months had flashed past in next to no time.
Assignment 1, Continuous Tone, Ivy

Assignment 1, Stippling, Tulip

The wait for my work to be returned seemed endless, but in reality I received my work and Assessment sheet back in a very short time. Not only had I received a very good mark, but Margaret Stevens requested both my Stippled Tulip and Graphite Ivy for the Student section of the SBA Exhibition 2013!   I’m still pinching myself about this, and will only believe it when I see it in April at the exhibition. Must remember to take a Photo of me with my work on the wall, it’s the first time I’ve ever had work in an exhibition, only the student section but it’s a start.

Monday 18 March 2013

New beginnings

I have been drawing and painting for as long as I can remember, and my interest in plants and things Botanical has been ever present in my life.   When I married, my first home, a small flat in the centre of town, was dubbed Kew Gardens by my family and friends, who would battle the profuse growth of herbage to come visit.

Despite my interest in plants and painting, it was only a couple of years ago that I had the opportunity to think about a course to hone my skills.  The most relevant courses were full time and/or based in London, neither of which were suitable to someone based in Wales with family commitments.  It seemed distance learning was the best option, but how to find a really demanding course?

 I did a few short Botanical Painting courses at the National Botanic Garden of Wales and found I really enjoyed the discipline.  And of course, that was when I broke my arm, just above the wrist.   The left arm, the hand I write, draw and paint with -naturally.

There's nothing like having an incentive to make you do your physio, and once I was getting full movement, the real work started.   I had to teach my fingers how to hold and control paintbrushes again, and not drop them all over the paintings or flick them to the floor!  After six months of Kolinsky Sable brushes flying all over my studio area and unexpected daubs of paint landing on my artwork, I felt ready to do the Introduction to Botanical Illustration weekend course at the same venue and found that it was like coming home.  I wanted more!
Researching courses online, I found a post by Katherine Tyrrell, on her Making a Mark Blog, about the artist, Shevaun Doherty, painting carrots in the middle of the Egyptian revolution.   And that's when I learned about the Society of Botanical Artists.  It was like being struck by lightning.  I had to apply for a place on the SBA Distance Learning Diploma Course.   I rummaged through my paintings for something half-decent and sent off the letter of application with a sample of my work.

The Sample sent ot the SBA - Bindweed Study
I didn't tell them about my arm, just sent in my application and hoped they'd accept me on the course.   And after a long wait, I received the offer of a place.   My Botanical adventure had begun.