Natural History Illustration: Step by step Painting a Hazel leaf and sprig

Story posted: Friday, 16. October 2015 by Lizzie Harper

I've recently started painting up some botanical illustrations commissioned by FSC Publications (for whom I did many of the "Caring For Gods Acre" natural history illustrations).

One that I knew would take some time, but was seasonally appropriate, was the Hazel Corylus avellana.  I drew the leaves and nuts from reference gleaned from a local hedge, and had information on the catkins and flowers in my sketchbooks.

I started by using a mechanical pencil (Pentel P205 is a favourite) to draw the plant onto Fabriano artistico Hot Press watercolour paper, which is the brand I favour for all my natural history illustrations.

Pencil rough natural history botanical illustration by Lizzie Harper

The contrast is more extreme than in reality in this scan.

Although ripe nuts and flowering catkins would never appear simultaneously in nature, the joy of illustration is you can include both in a convincing format.

Once drawn, the first thing I do is plot in the darkest veins.  I use a number 1 Winsor and newton series 7 brush, and Winsor and Newton Watercolour paints.  The lower leaves are darker, and there's a slight chalky flatness to all the hazel leaves I examined.  The greens were mixed using Yellow ochre, Cadmium yellow pale, Sap green, Cereulean blue, and Vandyke brown.

Hazel botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

Next stage is to paint in the twig, buds and catkins.  The catkins are just outlined in a greenish yellow, then a wash applied on top.  Shadow is picked out in a slightly browner, darker yellow.  As this illustration is for an identification chart, including things like the minute hairs on the twigs is important.

Hazel botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustratorI plotted in the central veins with a pale yellow-green.  Next, I mixed up a watery pale green wash to cover and unite the leaves.  In fact, I believe I made this initial wash too dark which means some of the life is lost from the final illustration as the white of the paper can't show through.  I underestimated how opaque the Oxide of chromium green was.  It's not devastating, but it's important to understand where improvements can be made next time.

I like to let the wet wash dry naturally; it helps define the sharp edges of the serrated leaf margins.  Younger leaves (towards the top of the plant) are yellower and fresher and so get a lighter, yellower wash.

Hazel botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

A second wash is applied and allowed to dry.  This one's less opaque, and yellower.  The distinction between the lights and darks of the leaf becomes less abrasive and more natural.  Even as I apply the washes I keep examining the leaves I'm painting; it makes things so much easier to have the specimen right in front of you to refer to.

Hazel botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

Next up is the hazelnuts.

Hazel botanical illustration step by step by Lizzie Harper natural history illustrator

I chose to paint the hazelnuts at various stages of ripeness.  It's unlikely such a mix would occur in nature, but I wanted to show the nut at different developmental stages and the joy of an illustration is that you can do just that.

I worked further into the shadows with a mix of Vandyke brown and Permanent mauve, and made sure the tips of the leaf margins were crisp, again using a purple-brown.

And the final illustration is completed.  Only another 89 to go, as it's one of a whole long list for the Field Studies Council Publications fold out charts.

 

On another topic entirely, I'm afraid I've had to turn off the "comments" button on my blogs due to spamming.  If you would like to give any comments or feedback, please do so on my Facebook page or Twitter account or email me at lizzieharper@tinyworld.co.uk.  Many many thanks; and apologies.

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