Natural History Landscape Illustration: Malham Cove

Story posted: Friday, 8. July 2016 by Lizzie Harper

A natural history illustration job I've been working on recently is two large landscapes for the North Yorkshire Dales National Park. These are to go on a desk in their visitor centre in Malham.  Each landscape focuses on bird species found in two different habitats; one of the landscapes is a view from the desk, into their wildlife garden.  The other is a view of Malham Cove.

Although I am able to paint landscapes it's not something I ever feel confident or complacent about, and illustrating the dramatic cliffs at Malham were no exception.

The first step was to get a decent pencil rough drawn up.  This involved uniting the birds to be painted with the landscape.  I used a light projector (the Designmaster II) to help draw up the landscape (from photo reference), and then to get the birds to scale.  The projector allows you to enlarge or shrink images, which is incredibly useful.

Malham cove natural history landscape illustration by Lizzie Harper Sciart and botanical illustrator

Annotated pencil rough of Malham Cove with bird species (and plants) commonly seen there.

Once the pencil rough was accepted, and a few low lying plants were added, I could begin to paint the landscape.  I began by covering the entire page (a large area - these landscapes are 120cm x 60cm!) with a blue wash, "sky".  This is a deeper hue at the top of the page, and I use tissue to lift the colour from some areas, leaving clouds.  Bringing the pale blue over everything except for the closest foreground means that these elements jump out at the viewer, and it helps unify the rest of the painting.

Next I plotted in the cliffs, using a very pale greyish blue wash on the areas which cast shadows.  Much of the cliff face I left untouched - it was already pale blue from the wash used to paint the sky.  Darker shadows I returned to, adding pale purple to add depth to the shadows.  Next up I painted the distant trees using a variety of greens, all very watery.  Keeping most of the areas of detail on the right hand side of each tree gives the suggestion of a light source.

Malham cove natural history landscape illustration by Lizzie Harper Sciart and botanical illustrator

Malham Cove illustration in progress

Next up is the expanse of turf which doesn't take nearly as long as you might think.  I add a series of green washes, getting more saturated and yellower as you move to the foreground of the illustration.  Likewise, the amount of detail increases as you come towards the foregorund, with individual grasses painted in the closest foreground area.

The stones in the stream get painted too - a variety of yellowish and greenish greys (all the stone near Malham is predominatly limestone), just in the shadows of each boulder.

Malham cove natural history landscape illustration by Lizzie Harper Sciart and botanical illustrator

Malham Cove illustration in progress

The next stage is to get some of the water painted in, which is terrifying.  In order to make an area look like water you need to preserve plenty of white, but at the same time paint the glittering vivid blue-green shadows found in any Yorkshire beck.  I tend to put down a dark greenish brown first, then the same colour again mixed with some prussian blue, and finally another layer of very pale cerelean blue.  I make sure all my brush strokes are tiny, and all are horizontal.  Darkest areas are those abutting the land, or features in the water.  I also put a pale grey unifying wash on the boulders in the stream, and picked out a few of the darker shadows on the stones with a watery purple wash.

Malham cove natural history landscape illustration by Lizzie Harper Sciart and botanical illustrator

Malham Cove illustration in progress

At this point the landscape begins to look like a jigsaw, with the birds and flowers needing to be painted in, like the missing pieces.

More depth is added to the grass and plants in teh foreground, and the trunk of the tree the woodpecker is perched on gets painted.

Malham cove natural history landscape illustration by Lizzie Harper Sciart and botanical illustrator

Malham Cove illustration in progress

My favourite part of the process comes next, when I breathe a sigh of relief.  I get to start painting the birds.  Woodpeckers and wagtails appear in their painted landscape.

I also get the flowers painted, keeping the most detail for the plants closest to the front of the painting.

Malham cove natural history landscape illustration by Lizzie Harper Sciart and botanical illustrator

Malham Cove illustration in progress.

Malham cove natural history landscape illustration by Lizzie Harper Sciart and botanical illustrator

Here's a detail of the Green woodpecker on the floor which also shows my approach to the flowers at the bird's feet.

Next up are the birds in the sky, the kestrel and the peregrine.  The Peregrine first (as I prefer to lean on the space where the kestrel will appear instead of on a finished illustration.  I should point out that I always rest my painting hand on a sheet of paper to protect the painting or paper underneath.)

Malham cove natural history landscape illustration by Lizzie Harper Sciart and botanical illustrator

Peregrine detail, flying infront of Malham Cove

Then the Kestrel gets plotted in.  Lots of blues and browns, and yellow ochre on the areas of white feathers.

Malham cove natural history landscape illustration by Lizzie Harper Sciart and botanical illustrator

The final thing to do is to empahsize the darks and lights in the forground.  I do this by adding purple and blue washes to the shadows.

Malham cove natural history landscape illustration by Lizzie Harper Sciart and botanical illustrator

Finished natural history illustration of Malham cove and associated bird species.

Here's another couple of details of the birds.

Malham cove natural history landscape illustration by Lizzie Harper Sciart and botanical illustrator

Green woodpecker on a tree

Here's a detail of the Grey wagtail (which also shows my approach to painting water, and where I've popped in the bright cadmium yellow of the Wagtail chest into the reflections in the watre).

Malham cove natural history landscape illustration by Lizzie Harper Sciart and botanical illustrator

Grey wagtail in front of Malham Cove.

Due to the massive size of this landscape, it was a tough job.  However, it was hugely enjoyable, and the sense of relief when I got it completed without having messed it all up was enormous!

 

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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