Botanical Illustration - Workshop with Llandrindod Art Group - October 11th 2013

Story posted: Friday, 11. October 2013 by Lizzie Harper

Scientific illustration, natural history illustration, botanical illustration; call it what you will, but it's a solitary job.  So when the opportunity to lead a workshop arises; I not only enjoy the teaching, but also the company of fellow artists.  Last week I was asked to lead a flower painting workshop by the Llandrindod Art Group, and was delighted when 11 brave souls turned up.

Flowers were procured from Layla at the Darling Buds of Hay; and there was an abundance of colour and form on offer to draw despite it being so late in the year.  I also brought along my botanical sketchbooks, portfolio, published books, and ongoing work for The Cultivated Forager (to be published in late 2014, being written by Adele Nozedar as a follow-up to our The Hedgerow Handbook).

Preparation for Llandrindod art group flower painting workshop

I started by introducing the group to some basic botany; flower structure, leaf shape, variety of leaf margins, the idea of a compound leaf consisting of many leaflets, of simple leaves; and some terminology.  No-one balked despite the dry subject matter (and the fact that I'd almost completely lost my voice so was whispering latin terms at them...)

Next I asked them to choose three very different-looking flowers and to do atonal graphite sketches of each.  Then they were to work into an area of one of these sketches which interested them with graphite, working into the shadows and adding detail.  The concentration was intense, and any conversation mostly related to confusion as to form of a plant, or rage at not being able to get a bit right.  I circulated and helped where I could, although all were observing so intently that mostly I needed only to provide a bit of encouragement and a few pointers.

Llandrindod art group at work

I suggested using hard leads (2h through HB) on Fabriano Artistico hotpress paper (or similar); and discussed working into darks and keeping lines crisp and bold.

Llandrindod art group pencil work

Here, one of the members is working into the tonal details of the bud of a cosmos.

Llandrindod art group pencil work

Another member did an excellent study of the flowering head of a Calendula (finished study below).

Llandrindod art group pencil work - Calendula study

After lunch, we discussed watercolour techniques a little, and I demonstrated my approach to illustrating leaves (please see my step-by-step blogs for more on this).  The idea of uniting areas of a painting with a pale wash was new to some members, and others were intrigued to hear about (and to get to try) Dr Martin Watercolour inks.

Doctor Martin

Here, the vivid hue of the moss pink DM ink is clear, alongside the slightly less alarming pink that was used on the painting (a mixture of alizarin crimson watercolour and the moss pink ink).

I asked the group to try to complete an area of each of their drawings that interested them (and which hadn't been given the full graphite tonal treatment) in watercolour.  Again, the concentration was intense.  I was encouraged to see how readily they used hand lenses, and were willing to take plants apart to see how they were constructed.

Llandrindod art group watercolour work

There was a little work to do in terms of advising on the tricky subject of mixing greens, and as the paintings progressed, it became nerve wracking as I was scared some of the lovely work that was being done might end up muddied and over-worked.

Llandrindod art group watercolour work

Here, one of the group has used the technique of giving a neutral background wash to show the white petals of the plant in clear detail (have a look at my blog on painting white flowers for more on this).

Llandrindod art group watercolour work

Another member of the group works into the orange venation and detailing of a dahlia.

Llandrindod art group watercolour work

Here, the tricky colour subject of a green and simultaneously pink plant is tackled with bravado and success.

Llandrindod art group watercolour work

Having completed one study, this group member works on putting the darker veins onto some deep purple calyxes of her second sketch.

Below are a few of the brilliant finished studies done by this group of excellent and hard-working amateur artists.  In some cases, alas, the photos fail to do justice to the paintings.

Llandrindod art group watercolour work

The whites on these cosmos petals remain crisp and the detailing on the bud is neatly observed.

Llandrindod art group watercolour work

This Antirrhinum works really well as both a graphite study of the shadows falling on the leaf, and of the same subject tackled in watercolour.  Getting the colours on the flowers was tricky, but using bluer sahdows and a very pale over-wash brought the flowering head together nicely.

Llandrindod art group watercolour work

Again, a white cosmos is effectively illustrated.  The lady who drew this study despaired when confronted with the pinnate leaves folding back on themselves, but she proved that drawing what you see rather than what you expect is the best tactic to create a realistic looking habit sketch of a plant.

Llandrindod art group watercolour work

These two studies (by the same lady) really worked well in terms of the colour observation.  In fact, the pinks used on the first sketch were achieved with the doctor martin inks shown earlier in the blog.  The shadows at the base of the petals of the orange flower have proved particularly effective; daring to go really dark, and avoiding use of a plain "black" for shadows added real depth to the painting.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day with the group, and was lucky enough to get some really generous positive feedback from the members.  My thanks goes to Susan Morgan (below, pictured with me) for inviting me; and to Landrindod art group for proving such enthusiastic, willing, and excellent students.

Lizzie Harper & Susan Morgan at Landrindod Art Group Flower painting workshop

If you'd like to join the Llandrindod Art Group, please contact me and I'll forward your details to them.  Likewise, if you'd like me to come and run a similar (or different natural history illustration) course for your art group or local college/ school, please get in touch.

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