Natural History Illustration: Step by step Painting of an Elder

Story posted: Friday, 4. December 2015 by Lizzie Harper

There's a really wonderful job I'm working on right now; about 20 botanical illustrations of different edible plants for a fold out chart, to be produced by the Field Studies Council.  Other blogs on this job include the step by step of painting a dog rose, and the step by step painting of a wild strawberry plant.  This week I'm illustrating the Elder, Sambuccus nigra.

It's autumn, and although I'm fortunate enough to be able to find (slightly battered) elder leaves, and a few berries still hanging on, there's no elder blossom anywhere.  This is why I keep my sketchbooks, from the notes taken back in 2010 I can readily reconstuct the form and colour of a froth of elder flowers.

I use mechanical pencils like the Pentel P205, which hold their sharp tips beautifully well, and draw the pencil rough onto Fabriano hotpress watercolour paper. As both flowers and berries are edible, both need to be included.  They don't appear simultaneously, so a careful positioning of two separate branches bearing flower and fruit makes this clear.

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

Rough Pencil illustration of the Edler Sambuccus nigra

I wait for feedback from the client on the pencil rough, and in this case there aren't any changes required.  Before painitng, I go and gather some more live specimens to work from - always so much easier than working from printed reference, or even my sketchbooks.

The photo below shows my desk as I start to work on the "colouring in"; since the areas to be painted are comparatively small as a ratio of the whole paper, I seldom bother to stretch the paper for these botanicals.

The cup of tea is as important as every other part of the set up, probably more so!

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

To paint, I predominantly use winsor & newton watercolours, and a series 7 winsor & newton brush, they cost a lot but they're the only brushes that actually do the job consistently well.

I plot in the darkest areas of the elder leaf using a mix of terre verte, yellow ochre, a lot of cadmium yellow pale, and a pthalo green.

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

As I paint, I constantly refer to the leaves; and often get cramp from holding one leaf in the same position for long stretches of time.

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

Next, I pop a wash ontop of the dark areas; a watery version of the first mix.  This helps smooth the leaves and make the shadows less stark.  The lightest areas remain bright, the white of the paper.

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

I put an even paler wash, heavy with yellow ochre, ontop of these leaves, and then work into the darks again.

Next up is the flower.  The approach to this froth of blossoms is just to draw the perimeter of each flower in a yellow-green, on top of the pencil line.  Cadmium yellow light and sap green, in a very pale and watery mix do the job nicely.

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

I retun to the leaves, picking out the sharp points of the leaf margins and the darkest shadows is key here; I use sap green mixed with yellow ochre, a touch of blue, and some purple.

Then comes a unifying wet wash of yellow ochre and a touch of sap green; I keep this very liquid and cover all areas of the leaves.  Once again, I re-visit the leaf margins, veins, and darkest shadows; sharpening and tweaking the areas of darkest darks.

Onto the berries which are a gorgeous mix of purples, browns and reds.  Plotting in the darks first, I use purple, pthalo blue and vandyke brown.  The mix is quite dy, and when I pop a wash ontop (making sure I leave the white of the paper as shine) I add some alizarin crimson to the mix.  The stems of the berries are a joy to paint, all flushed with pink.  I painted the stems before the berries because they were so tasty to examine and record.

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

Another moment or two on the darkest shadows, mixes of blue and purple, and the illustration is complete.

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

Below is my desk at the end of the day - leaves, paint, brushes and reference materials all over the shop.  The painting's complete, the tea cup is empty.  Once I've made another cuppa, I'll return and have a long hard look at the illustration before considering it done.  And then I tidy my desk, ready for the next day's botanical illustration.

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

 

 

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.

Category:  Botanical Illustration step by step   |   Comments:  0   |   Viewed:  4085

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