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.


Tuesday, 2 December 2014

On my Easel today - Update

This is moving quite quickly, despite interruptions.   I try to plan for interruptions and if I'm lucky I can get to a stage where paper and paint need to dry, before I have to walk away.  It's good to have time away, as you can lose sight of your goal and end up over-working the painting.   So regular breaks are necessary.  Just because I haven't got a brush in my hand, doesn't mean I'm not working on it though, it's all going on in my head so when I go back to it, I know exactly what I need to do.

Phragmipedium Bel royal - strengthening the shadows by  Polly o'Leary©2014 All rights Reserved
Phragmipedium Bel Royal - Strengthening the Shadows
 Here I've been strengthening the shadows and just bringing the whole painting up to the same level.  If I don't do this, and just paint separate items until they are finished, I find that the painting never really 'gels' for me.  there's also a danger I'll take some parts too far - usually the wrong ones!
Phragmipedium Bel Royal - modelling in colour on top of the shadows  by Polly o'Leary©2014 All rights Reserved
Phragmipedium Bel Royal - Modelling in colour on top of shadows
 In this picture you can see I've been strengthening the colours and continuing the modelling in colour on top of the shadow colour.  That top stem under the bud has become too dark, so I'm going to have to take out some of the colour - not easy on this paper, as I turned it around to avoid the water mark, and the paint seems to sink in far too easily. 
Phragmipedium Bel Royal starting to define the markings of the petals and leaves by Polly o'Leary©2014 All Rights Reserved
Phragmipedium Bel Royal - starting to define the markings of the petals and leaves
More washes here, building up the colour in the petals and starting to define the markings of the petals and leaves, along with the bud.   I still have to change the colour of the stems and the bud, but the underpainting is about there.   Then I can start on the details - my favourite bit, as that's when it all starts to really come alive.

Next time I'll also give the lowdown on the colours I've used and the mixes.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

On My Easel today...

Phragmipedium Bel Royal sketchbook page

 This is a painting of a flower I fell for 'hook, line and sinker'.   I think, by now, most people are aware of my love of all things Orchid, so it won't come as much of a surprise, but this is an orchid that I'll probably never own.  It just grows too big!   I ran out of space a long time ago and still the collection is growing.  I've had to repot and split a few this week, so I've suddenly got two more plants I didn't anticipate, but I digress.

My new love is an Orchid I met at the Orchid Festival of Wales, on the stand of The Orchid Society of Great Britain.  It's a Phragmipedium Bel Royal and is one of the most striking slipper orchids I've seen.   The colours just glow!

It was one of the flowers I was given to bring home with me to paint, and I've got plenty of drawings and sketches despite having to work so quickly to record it.

Phragmipedium Bel Royal - First washes




 The first picture shows the delicate first washes of colour laid down, reserving the white areas to keep the highlights.  This is the stage where I often feel that it's going wrong and maybe I should start again.  Nerves of steel are needed to continue.  It also takes a lot of patience, waiting for the washes to dry.  Painting on damp washes is one of the quickest ways to dull a painting.

Phragmipedium Bel Royal - Further washes

 This second picture shows how the washes have developed and the shadows are beginning to give shape to the flowers.  Edges need tidying up in places and I'm removing as much pencil as possible at this stage.

Phragmipedium Bel Royal - Even more washes

The last picture shows how further washes have been added and the painting is now starting to look a little more like a pale version of what I have in mind.    There's quite a bit more work to be done and many more washes to come, but not all over.  Pale areas will stay very pale unless I need to adjust them. 

I hope you've enjoyed this work in progress, I'll update it in the next few days as it grows and develops.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

How many colours do you need to paint flowers?

I've been thinking a lot about colour lately.   Specifically, how many colours does a beginner need in order to paint a painting?   Notice the word need, rather than want.

Many beginners in watercolours seem confused as to what colours they need to buy, and I'm sure many of us have bought as many colours as we could afford, thinking that more is better.  Then sat around unsure as to where to begin, overwhelmed at the sheer number of colours in their kit!

So with this in mind, I picked three colours which work really well together and are transparent, and set out to find out how many colours I could make with just those three colours. 

The answer is...  a lot.      I decided to keep my colour chart to just one side of watercolour paper, and a bit smaller than A4.  No reason for the size apart from already having several pieces, all the same handy size.
Three colour chart with Cotman Watercolours

First, I mixed two of each of the colours, adding tiny amounts of one colour to another and recording the colours as they changed.   I did this with each of the three colours.

Then, I picked mixes of two of the colours and added tiny amounts of the third to see what colours I got.

I labelled everything so that I could repeat any colour I wanted just by looking at the chart.

Notice that each primary colour can be changed to either warm or cool by adding tiny amounts of one of the other colours.  So you get a Warm Red and a Cool Red, a Warm and Cool Blue and a Warm and Cool Yellow.    Then, as you continue adding tiny amounts, the colours change to produce a range of Oranges, Purples and Greens.

But that isn't the end of the story, each of those Oranges, Purples and Greens can be further changed by adding tiny amounts of a primary colour to produce progressively warmer or cooler versions of the colour.   And as you add more and more of the primary, you get a range of browns, golds and greys.

All of this was done using only Cotman Watercolour paints, since this is often the paint bought by beginners, but you'd get the same results using Artist's Watercolurs too.

As I was enjoying myself, I then decided to make colour charts with six colours guided by a MaimeriBlu Tryout Set I had hanging around (In the Cotman Chart below, I used seven colours as I wanted to see the difference between PG7 Phthalo Green, and PG36 Phthalo Green in the mixes) .   But this time, I limited my mixes to just two of the colours, otherwise I'd still be mixing colours.

Six-colour Palette Mixes - Cotman, MaimeriBlu and Artist's Watercolours


So there you are,  it's possible to mix a huge number of colours with just three well chosen tubes of paint - certainly enough colours for your first tentative steps in Watercolour.   And it's possible to mix an almost infinite number of colours with just six well chosen tubes of paint.    Good news for anyone wanting to start painting in watercolour without spending a fortune.


More on Colour

Lightfastness Testing #1

Lightfastness Testing #2 - Results

The Problem Of PY153 - New Gamboge, Indian Yellow