Saturday, 31 December 2011

Polly's Progress

Polly the Plymouth Strawberry

So after a four day Christmas break I am back on Polly. I did a lot of sewing over the holiday and it has to be said that I really enjoyed doing something different! However, with a deadline looming I have to get cracking on with this diploma portfolio. I started work in the morning, but it didn't go very well so I did a blogpost about what's happening in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery over Spring time instead. Then I returned to Polly - still the same problems - no flow. It always seems to take me hours to get back 'into' a painting and I have been so tired lately that my body feels like it would rather just sit down and watch a film. 

I had a long bath. Which was delightful. Then I picked up a brush and felt like I wasn't making much progress again!

I went to watch Jane Eyre on the television which is my favourite story of all time. That I enjoyed, with a nice pot of loose tea, and before it finished, at 3pm, I finally felt like I could paint. I cut the programe short and went upstairs. I did an intense two hours and then went back down to watch Downton Abbey's Christmas special when my neck began to hurt. Then I sat for another intense two hours painting Polly. 

Finally going to bed at about midnight!

Polly's roots

It is very frustrating when this happens. It isn't procastination, more like an emotional energy, which I need before I can tap into any creative thought. I need to be stirred by something. That certain something Jane Eyre and Downton Abbey had (Jane Eyre more so). I wish I could get up and just get on with it like I did with the 2011 Grapes and Sally, but it isn't working becuase I am currently very stressed about the looming deadline and how little time I have. I realise the deadline is in March, but I have counted that I have only 19 full days off between now and then. Madness.

You simply cannot rush these things. It usually takes me 10 days (of 8-12 hour days) to do one.

So, I will keep you informed, but I am really starting to feel the strain. I may call Pam this week to explain the situation. I also have to somehow 'create' a sketchbook as well. With time so short over the past two years, I just worked straight onto the paper with no sketchbook work. Risky, but I like a risk.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Dates for the exhibitions at the SSGOBA

  Herbarium Painting by Rachel Pedder-Smith ©

I thought, with a lot of you trying to organise your trips to London during the SBA exhibitions in April that it would be useful to point out what is on and what isn't in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art this Spring. We are actually having a major re-refurbishment during that time, to prepare ourselves for the David Nash exhibition which starts in June. This is unfortunate, but there is the Marianne North Gallery and bits of the SSGOBA will be half open showing all sorts of work. This includes the extraordinary piece by Rachel Pedder-Smith. Rachel, for the past three years or so has been painting specimens from the herbarium at Kew for her PhD at the Royal College of Art, London. She has just finished it and the 533cm long piece will be on show from the 31st March until the 7th May. Yes, it's over 5m long! I think this is the best bet for all those travelling to the SBA exhibition 'Botanical Celebration' in April 2012. I have seen this painting in the flesh and it is something to marvel at. I am not keen on Rachel's work if I am honest. I didn't like the piece showing for the Watercolour exhibition at the Tate Britain. However I LOVE this herbarium painting. There is something very beautiful about it. It is less cluttered I think, and that is what I like.

  Herbarium Painting by Rachel Pedder-Smith ©

I realise the Kew website is not up to date yet and this is partly my fault, but I am waiting for some text and images. So, to give you a bit more info, I have copied and pasted the text that's going into the Kew Magazine. Please note that these dates can move if anything unexpected occurs and so it is good practise to phone the gallery on 020 8332 3622 before visiting.


Exhibitions at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art
Open daily from 9.30, no extra charge

Galleries 5 & 6 until 9 April 2012
The last opportunity to see Plants in Peril  – paintings of endangered plants 

 Encephalartos woodii, Leslie Carol Berge ©. Extinct in the wild

Galleries 2, 3, 4 until 9 April 2012
Celebrating the life and work of Sir Joseph Hooker, Director of Kew from 1865 until 1885

Rhododendron hookeri by Joseph Dalton Hooker, RBG Kew ©

Gallery 1 from 31 March until 7 May 2012

   Herbarium Painting by Rachel Pedder-Smith ©

Gallery 6 from 5 May until 14 April 2013

 Leaves by Brigid Edwards ©

Galleries 1,2,3,4, 5 from 9 June until April 2013 ( NB there will be a re-fresh of this exhibition in October to include new work produced at Kew)
David Nash

David Nash ©
Open daily from 9.30 am, no extra charge
See all of Marianne North’s original paintings in their full glory, after two years of painstaking conservation work.

Painted by Marianne North. RBG Kew ©

Please note that between the second half of March to June some areas of the gallery will be temporarily closed for exhibition installation. Please check the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art web pages, or tel: 020 8332 3622 for further details.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

A drawing of the Plymouth Strawberry from 1765 
in one of Duschene's books...

Not the most accurate of drawings, but you certainly get the idea of what this strawberry is all about!
Polly's Progress

I have started using my new watercolour paints for this painting... I am finding it rather tricky, as I am not used to them at all. However, I do feel that this paint does look a lot fresher using a tube rather than a pan. It's nice being able to mix lots of colour at once as well. When I had only pans I used to run-out of mixed colour all the time, which was very annoying as you can never really get exact mix again.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Introducing the Polly the Plymouth Strawberry!

This is the plant I am studying for my next piece. Polly, or Fragaria vesca var. muricata, is from the damp deciduous woodlands of Plymouth in Devon. The Plymouth area is home to many rare, local and unusual plant species (Pyrus cordata, Carduus pycnocephalus, Silene vulgaris ssp vulgaris to name a few), but the Plymouth Strawberry is the strangest. It's like a common wild strawberry, but not so tasty. It's flowers don't have any pure white petals and it's fruit isn't really a tasty summer treat. Due what I think is a naturally occurring genetic mutation, all of the floral parts have reverted to leaves (green leafy flowers) and the fruits are covered in green spines. Petals, anthers and sepals were after all leaves originally - before Angiosperms evolved. So I have come to the conclusion that certain genes have been switched off in this subspecies, making this plant revert to an archetype which unfortunately makes it infertile at the same time.

The Plymouth Strawberry

The original plant was found a few centuries back by the famous plantsman John Tradescant, who rescued it from the clutches of a child who wanted to burnt it, thinking it was the Devil's fruit. Tradescant subsequently placed its progeny in every botanical garden in Europe, where it slowly died out un-noticed. There are few publications which refer to this species, and a massive gap in the reference section after Linneaus and Duschene, until 1962 when it was published by a chap called Staudt as being extinct. Probably a result of it's sterility and massive habitat destruction in the city area.

If we fast forward a few hundred years, we come to 2007, when a couple of botany students at Plymouth University (one of which was me) wondered whatever became of the Plymouth Strawberry. The original site has long since succumbed to the sea of concrete and grey stone that is Plymouth city and no live plants could be found in any botanic gardens. Fortunately we found a few colonies which have survived the years in private gardens, mainly in the Plympton and Tavistock area. We managed to obtain some of the plants and propagated them...

Currently, myself and my friend are trying to increase the prevalence of this local variety in Plymouth. Back in October 2009, we planted 50 plants in eight secret sites throughout the city and its remaining wooded areas. It was surprisingly difficult to find suitable sites, but we were confident that at least some would thrive.

A quick sketch of mine


Prudence Leith Ross,
'The John Tradescants - Gardeners to the Rose and Lily Queen', Peter Owen Publishers, London, 1984

John Gilbert Baker,
'Flora of Plymouth', William Bredon and Son, 1880, London

G. Staudt, (1962),
'Revision of Fragaria', Candaian Journal of Botany, Vol. 40. No. 6. pages 864-886.

Herbal, ed. Johnson, op. cit. pg 998

John Parkinson, (1629), 'Paradisi in Sole Paradisus Terrestris'

Thursday, 15 December 2011

New paints means new colour cards...

All of my colour charts... mixture of paint brands

My new Winsor and Newton paints

Prussian Blue, Winsor Violet, Ultramarine Violet, Cobalt Violet, Rose Dore, Potter's Pink, Winsor Green, Coblat Turquoise, Davy's Gray, Green Gold and Transparent Yellow.
Boris is getting his flowers

 Close up of the flower head in bud

 The piece as a whole

Close up of the flowers

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Pen and Ink

This is simply an amazing video. In the world of botanical art, most scientists like their artists to draw plates in pen and ink using dots. Shading in dots reduces the confusion because a line in hatching could represent an outline or a gash rather than tonal variation. Stella Ross-Craig is one of the few botanical artists who got away with hatching (below). 

Nymphaea sp. by Stella Ross-Craig

Primula sp. by Stella Ross-Craig

Here is a dotted example by Lesley Randall (below). This is what is deemed as a more acceptable representation, but it is a real pain to do! I remember drawing 19 plates of Araucaria species for the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh and all those dots nearly drove me crazy!

Aristolochia gigantea by Lesley Randall
(Margaret Flockton Award First Prize 2007)

Margaret Flockton, Botanical Illustrator  For the National Herbarium at Sydney’s Botanic Gardens

Which reminds me that the Margaret Flockton Award is ack on! Deadline is the 6th February 2012 for all those interested in submitting...

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Marianne North prints are now available 
for sale online

After a much anticipated wait, I can now say that a selection of Marianne North Prints are now available online. They aren't on the Kew website yet, but can be ordered from Magnolia Box directly. Magnolia Box do prints for a lot of institutions, including the Natural History Museum and the National Portrait Gallery. Happy shopping!

They start on page 4... flick through the pages to find more.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Boris the Brocolli 
He's a pretty little thing with primrose-coloured yellow flowers

Friday, 2 December 2011

Boris the Broccolli

Otherwise known as: Brassica oleracea L. convar. botrytis (L.) Alef. var. cymosa Duch. 

So this is what I have done so far on Boris. He is very tricky. This is just a trial run really because I felt I had the time, but maybe I don't?! The leaves are so dark, I think many layers of paint are required for Boris, which means time. I do love doing Brassica leaves. Maybe if this isn't to my satisfaction I can quickly do a pencil study last minute.

The greens need a lot of purple in them. As I have a limited palette of 25 Daler Rowney colours, I am using Mauve. The rest of the green is made of Gamhodge Yellow, Phathlo Blue and in places there is Lamp Black and Ultra Marine. I have used a limited palette all my life, and though out the course, but I hope to get a few new watercolours for my birthday from my daddy, who I am seeing this weekend. Ideally I want colours that you can't really achieve in a mix. I'd be really grateful if anyone could let me know of which colours would be best in the comments box, as I have never bought my own watercolours (I inherit them). I am guessing Windsor and Newton are the most preferred as they are easily available.