Friday, 29 March 2013

Grey Leaves on the Green Giant

Coffee arabica painting in progress by J R Shepherd - Inky Leaves
Lots of greens to paint in this coffee plant

Yesterday was a day off from Kew, so I spent it at the drawing board in the studio, working on the big coffee plant.  The night before I had worked on some of the leaves higher up, which meant standing for a couple of hours, but yesterday I wanted to sit down. I am making a lot of more progress on the bottom part of the painting because I am lazy and want to sit down all the time! So with less leaves to choose from I decided to start the tricky ones on the left which have the sun shining on them.

It's amazing - the coffee leaves are almost white. Really tricky to do but completely worth the effort. I am pretty pleased with the results of a days labour. Definitely went for quality rather than paper coverage! It took ages to get it right. Lots of Winsor and Newton French Ultramarine in the mix, and Daler Rowney Mauve making this part of the painting less 'green'. I have a little stubby brush which is great in these scenarios. I used it a lot for Sally the Savoy and it's brilliant for blending the edges of washes to give an overall feeling of smoothness. I find this is particularly good in the lighter areas where you are using the colour of the paper in the body of the subject.

A close up on the coffee leaves (in progress)

I hope to get a few evenings of painting done next week after work so I can start filling out the top a bit more. As you can see - there is still lots to be done!
Coffee arabica painting in progress
Coffea arabica painting in progress

Jools Holland on Rory McEwen

In this BBC radio programme, Jools Holland will talk about Rory McEwen, the father-in-law he never knew. Although I know about Rory McEwen for his extraordinary botanical artistry skills, Rory was also quite a musician. With his brother Alec, Rory McEwen was a powerful voice in the folk music revival of the late 50s and early 60s. Apparently he was the host of the network TV music show 'Hullabaloo', a frequent performer on 'Tonight with Cliff Michelmore' and a prolific recording artist. He introduced George Harrison to Ravi Shankar and was the catalyst for, and hub of, much of what came to be known as Swinging London.

Rosa species by Rory McEwen
Rosa species by Rory McEwen

He did all of this before he decided to concentrate on his painting, a field where his contemporaries included David Hockney, R.B. Kitaj and Peter Blake.

Sadly Rory died in 1982, 25 years before Jools married his daughter Christabel.

In this special programme some of the people Rory influenced discuss his life, shedding light on the career of this shadowy figure.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Giuseppe Penone - Conduits of Light

On Thursday I popped into the Whitechapel Gallery with my mother for a general snoop around. I didn't know at the time that Giuseppe Penone was exhbiting there and I wasn't quite prepared for the treat. So delighted was I with his writings and observations, that I had to share them here. 

 Spazio di Luce

Rather like David Nash at Kew, trees have been a focal point for Penone throughout his career. However, Penone appears to be more interested in bringing the outdoors inside and in his work he investigates the relationship between our bodies and the ecosystems we inhabit. It is this last bit which I think struck such a cord with me, as I am myself very interested in mankind's relationship to the botanical world.

From the very beginning, Penone has reflected on his work by writing poetic aphorisms. Two of these have been selected for the exhibition, and I have included one here. I thought it was the most beautiful thing I have read in a while and quite thought provoking. This poem helped me understand his magical golden piece: Spazio di Luce. 

The stretching of a branch through space in search of light
has the same structure as a glance.
The tree is an enormous eye made up of many smaller eyes.
Each of its leaves is an eye made up of many smaller eyes.
Each of its leaves is an eye that catches as much light as possible ...
In every eye, there is an overturned tree
that presses its leaves against the retina.

Looking through the bronze tree it felt like I was travelling through a worm hole - through time. I felt like I was deep underground in a mine, I felt like I was on a journey to the sun. I was being transported, through the xylem and phloem. Incredible.

I totally recommend seeing this golden tree. It's a well curated exhibition and it'll be on show in the Whitechapel Gallery until 13th August 2013.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Seeing Green

Coffee (Coffea arabica) - work in progress

So many greens, all I can see is green! It's been really tricky  painting this monster. The difficulty comes when trying to paint leaves where the sun is actually shining through the leaf - when dong this you need a totally different set of colours. Still, all the observational work appears to be paying off! Lots of layering in this piece, and the Sanderson paper really takes it all in which is a joy to behold. Some of these leaves have about 10 layers of paint on them.

 Coffee (Coffea arabica) - A lot of work still to do...

 Close up on the Coffee Plant (Coffea arabica) 

Coffee (Coffea arabica) - work in progress

Sue Fitzgerald - Fluid Flowers

Irises and White Linen
Mixed media on canvas 
69 x 69cm

Agapanthus and Saffron Table 
Mixed media on canvas 
100 x 100cm

Noya Cup and Tulips 
Mixed media on canvas 
71 x 91cm

Here are some works from an exhibition at the Catto Gallery in Hampstead. I love Sue's stylistic pieces - they sing to me with their happy colours, intricate patterns and crazy perspectives. Apparently, Sue finds her compositions while travelling to far places where she can find the silks, flowers and ceramics she needs. To me, this is simple and sensual painting at its best. Unfortunately, her exhibition at the gallery was last year, but she's certainly someone too look out for.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Updates on Green Giant

Coffee (Coffea arabica) - work in progress

This is the progress I made on Friday before nipping off to Bristol for the weekend. It's slow going and it's really tricky to mix these greens correctly. The bright greens you see are where the sun shines through the coffee leaves. I particularly want to capture these leaves as this is what I love about the coffee plant. The sun turns the dark forest green into a really lurid shade and it looks almost like a stained glass window, with all the darker veins keeping the leaf rigid like lead piping.

Coffee (Coffea arabica) - work in progress

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Ho Ho Ho! Green Giant!

So I began painting my giant coffee plant last night. I tried to be more professional in the way I went about it, and by that I mean for the first time ever I have made a note of the colours I am using to mix my greens. But that is where my organisation skills start and stop. Usual thing of no sketchbook work - I am just diving straight in!

First Coffee Leaf (Coffea arabica) - work in progress

First Coffee Leaf (Coffea arabica) - work in progress

The colours I am using are:

Washes of Windsor Blue (Red Shade) mixed with Green Gold (Winsor and Newton)
And washes of French Ultramarine mixed with Green Gold (Winsor and Newton)
And a dash of Daler Rowley Permanent Rose

I am painting on St. Cuthberts Mill - HP Saunders Waterford paper A0 - first time I have painted a proper painting on this paper (as I only have a sketchbook of the stuff) - so far so good, but certainly not to everyones taste. It works best with dry brush really. 

Monday, 4 March 2013

Making Cards and Starting a New Painting

So good news everybody - I find I am able to squeeze a bit more painting into my hectic schedule now I have settled into the East a bit more. Production lines are definitely re-opening...  I have to admit the commute into work did grate on me a bit last week and I found myself getting rather tired at times, yet still I managed to make some cards and start a new painting. 

The cards are for some of our friends. The first is for Henry's colleague Max, who is embarking on a new line of work mid month and will no longer be working at the company. The second is for Henry's brother, who celebrates his birthday today. Happy Birthday Duncan! The third was for mum for mothering Sunday, but as she checks this blog all the time I have decided not to post a picture of that one. The last was for Henry.

And then I started a new painting...

I sat down at the drawing board yesterday to finish Three Times Over and Monstera problema, but you know those days when you are so sick of looking at a painting that progress becomes slow and the composition begins to loose its freshness? Well that's what happened on Sunday. I have so many ideas bubbling up in my mind, that there is a part of me that just wants to get on with them. However, I do realise that it is also equally important to try and get current projects finished. It's a tricky balancing act, but as I felt at the time that the Chelsea Tulips were complete I thought I'd start something new.  

Over where I am in Brick Lane there is something quite remarkable going on amongst the curry houses and mosques. I find it to be remarkable because I personally don't really understand it. Coffee is reaching dizzy heights. There are artisan coffee shops EVERYWHERE and the number of ways you can drink it is now beyond confusing. It's big business and you're socially ridiculed if you can't make a cracking cup of the stuff. There are barista competitions, late night tasting sessions, exclusive clubs, private roasteries and latte art galleries. There are special cups, special cakes and special chairs for taking your sip in. There are even water devices which make Thames River water taste like Crystal Geyser Natural Alpine Spring Water. 

As an avid tea-drinker I don't really understand this coffee fuelled zeitgeist, but Henry reassures me that it is a good thing because London coffee was pretty poor beforehand. So with the London Coffee festival coming to my street in April, I was inspired to paint a really good coffee plant. It's big - to mirror the economic enormity of coffee and growing - literally.

I personally hope to use this piece to highlight the importance of plants and to show that useful plants are also very beautiful and should be admired in every way. I love ethnobotanical plants and hope that through my art I can make coffee drinkers think more about where their coffee has come from.