Botanical Illustration step by step: Painting Heather

Story posted: Friday, 24. March 2017 by Lizzie Harper

One of the plants I completed a botanical illustration of recently is the Bell heather, Erica cinerea; it'll be used on a leafelt on Heathland plants produced by the Field Studies Council, and is one of several British heather species (see my blog for more) on the chart. Although both leaves and flowers are small I thought it might be interesting to break it down into a step by step process.

First, I drew up the pencil rough onto Fabriano Artistico Hot press paper with a mechanical pencil (I like the Pentel P205).  For reference I used the plant itself, still growing in vegetative form on the hillsides near Hay on Wye, Stella Ross Craig's illustrations, and David Streeter's Collins Flower Guide, along with photos I've taken of the plant in the past.

First, I started working on the woody stem, plotting in the darkest areas of the textured wood with my trusty Winsor and Newton series 7 paintbrush (a number 1).  The paint colours are vandyke brown, yellow ochre, and a little Cadmium orange with the paint used quite dry.

Lizzie Harper Botanical illustration step by step watercolor of Heather Ling Calluna vulgaris

Next, I put on a top wash on the stems and woody parts of the plant.  The first was the same mix as before, but with some green added, and I picked out the stems as well as the woodier parts of the plant with this.

Lizzie Harper Botanical illustration step by step watercolor of Heather Ling Calluna vulgaris

The next wash was  a much wetter mix of yellow ochre which I allowed to dry, and covered the entire stem area with.  Then I picked out the flush of crimson which reaches from the flowers down the stem.  This was Crimson lake with a bit of Vandyke brown.  On top of these areas a put a wet wash of magenta, this is Doctor Martin's Hydrous inks in Quinacridone magenta with some normal Cobalt violet (Winsor and Newton).  I love theseDoctor Martin inks, they are incredibly vibrant and help enormously when it ocmes to getting petals and stems to glow as they do in nature.

Then I mixed up an earthy green and started to pop in the stems and green areas at the base of each flower.  It's imortant to remember to work on the detail of one flower as you go along, it saves mixing up all the colours again later on.

Lizzie Harper Botanical illustration step by step watercolor of Heather Ling Calluna vulgaris

Next step is to tackle the leaves, which are a rich bright green.  I start by outlining each leaf with a mix of Hooker green light, Vandyke brown, Cadmium yellow pale, and Winsor blue, applied in a thin line quite darkly.  It's vital to do each leaf individually or you lose the crisp detail required for a botanically accurate illustration.

Lizzie Harper Botanical illustration step by step watercolor of Heather Ling Calluna vulgaris

I mixed up a series of three yellow greens for the infill of each leaf perimeter and applied these according to whether the leaf was in the light or shade, lower or higher up the plant (the leaves are a little brighter towards the flowering spikes).  A watery top wash of cadmium yellow pale and Hooker green light covered all the leaves.

I also plotted in some leaf shadows with an almost black green (Hookers green dark with purple and Winsor blue), and shadows on the stem were Winsor blue mixed with Cobalt violet.

Lizzie Harper Botanical illustration step by step watercolor of Heather Ling Calluna vulgaris

Next I got to move onto the flowers.  Using a similar technique, I outlined each flower in a dark magenta.  I used Doctor Martin inks mixed with water again, but this time I used  the magenta and a touch of Doctor Martin Cobalt violet ink, and lifted the mix with a speck of Doctor Martin titatium white.  This tends not to make the colours dull or chalky, so is wonderful.  I also plotted in the stamens and a slightly purpler colour for the anthers.

Lizzie Harper Botanical illustration step by step watercolor of Heather Ling Calluna vulgaris

Next came the top wash for the flowers, vital not to swallow up the detail by drowining out the white of the paper below.

This shows how wet the wash I used was as I put it onot the heather flowers, its always important to let wet washes dry before trying to get tiny crisp details down on the same area.

Lizzie Harper Botanical illustration step by step watercolor of Heather Ling Calluna vulgaris

It's a slow and steady build up of layers of magenta mixed with watercolour purple and alizarin crimson, becoming paler towards the centre of each flower; at all times allowing the gleam of the white paper to show.

Lizzie Harper Botanical illustration step by step watercolor of Heather Ling Calluna vulgaris


Then I darkened the tips of the petals with a little more magenta and gave a pale crimson top wash to uinite the flowers; the dark edges help give a bit of structure to the flowers rather than having them resemble a froth of pink.  I also reddened up the stamens a little and popped some deeper shadows amongst the foliage.  And there it is, finished!

Lizzie Harper Botanical illustration step by step watercolor of Heather Ling Calluna vulgaris

Below is a sheet of the colours I used, along with ntoes of what I mixed to get that hue.  I don't normally do this, but thought it might prove interesting for this blog.

Lizzie Harper Botanical illustration step by step watercolor of Heather Ling Calluna vulgaris

So there it is, a breakdown of the steps involved in painting something full of tiny flowers and tiny leaves.  Lots of little steps, but worth it and entirely enjoyable too.

Lizzie Harper Botanical illustration step by step watercolor of Heather Ling Calluna vulgaris

 

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 pageor Twitter account or email me at info@lizzieharper.co.uk.  Many many thanks; and apologies

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