Thursday, 28 May 2015

Inky Leaves on the BBC's coverage of the Chelsea Flower Show

Hopefully, with a bit of luck, Inky Leaves should be making a small appearance on the BBC's coverage of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show at 19.30 this evening (Saturday 28th May) on BBC2, although it's not certain.

Carol Klein asking me some questions about the Brighter Blooms display

After spending a couple of days painting the flowers, the BBC found me painting. I did make a teeny appearance in the background of Carol Klein's piece on Tulipomania on Tuesday afternoon when I was painting on the Bloms Bulbs stand (28 30 minutes in). However, for Saturday's programme I am hiding amongst the Zantedeschia's which had been beautifully arranged by Brighter Blooms.

BBC crew shot...
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Chelsea and recommend it as an adventure in painting to all botanical artists. The traders and growers are very helpful and were happy to have me painting and asking lots of questions. It is the perfect place to find speciality growers for projects. I learnt a lot during my time there, not only about horticulture but also about botanical art and the painting process. I was left feeling a little stunned at how fast tulip flowers open and had to find a way of capturing them quickly. I also learnt how important it is to have shadows - I really missed them when hiding in the Grand Pavilion which filtered so much of the light.

During my time there I took an A3 fat pad of the new Botanical Ultra Smooth paper which was kindly gifted to me for the event by Burts. I really enjoyed painting on this paper and prefer it to all other choices for this type of sketchbook work. I will be publishing a review of the paper soon.

Now I am back in my UK studio I am busy cracking on with my large leaves for the upcoming exhibition 'Leafscape' at the Abbott and Holder Gallery in London. Please email me for details

Big thanks to Burts, the RHS, Brighter Blooms, Bloms Bulbs, the BBC, Alex Prendergast (aka Punk Botanist) and Jamie Denyer for making the day possible and to Carol Klein for guiding me through the process.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Getting to grips with your inner leaf

For me, looking at leaves is a deeply spiritual experience. I don't get the same feeling from flowers, fruits, stems or seeds - only leaves. They represent life at their very core. Without chlorophyll the world would be a very different place. Back in 2012 I took my house mate to Kew for a day out. Whilst inside one of the glasshouses I noticed how the light was shining through the leaves of a fern, revealing all of the complex minuscule veins and a myriad of greens. It was breathtaking, and in true fashion, just like when you see anything amazing, I wanted to share the experience. I grabbed Oxana's arm and pointed the dazzling effect out. Surprisingly, it didn't appear to have quite the same effect on her. She just looked at it then looked at me, then looked at it again and said 'I now see your world and how you see things, which is so very different to me - how fascinating...'. I wasn't disappointed with her response, more curious - it was not at all what I was expecting and I did ponder on it for a while.. In fact I still am. Perhaps we all do see things so differently, both physically and metaphorically.

Open this image in a new tab on large... how very different these two leaves are despite being on the same plant. That leaf on the left is incredible, it's like Lycra. Nightmare to get this type of green right in a painting mind.. tricky to mix the bright greens and make them look acceptable on paper. Martin Allen once told me to photograph with a white background as it really helps when it comes to painting from a photograph, but I rarely do this out in the field. I find bringing the plants indoors can alter their spirit too and this subsequently gets transcribed into the finished piece. Sometimes, however, the white background rule does seriously help - a little tip.
When I look at a leaf I don't. I realise I am talking in riddles, but I look at it through something else first. 'I feel it'. I feel it, but not through touching, but through my eyes and breath. I sit next to it for a while and I breath it in. My eyes trace the ripples across the surface, riding the undulations and feels the 'pulse'. I dive in. Its almost like merging with the leaf - I become the leaf. I feel it's sap pulsating. I feel its exhaustion or happiness. I telepathically talk to it, rather like a shaman. I pin point any issues, I feel its pain or joy. I do this to the entire plant as well. I found the pineapple rather easy to do this with, but other things can be harder and more closed. This is always reflected in the finished piece. Sally and Caroline where very open, the Corona de Espinas lettuce was not. Also note I can't seem to do this with flowers as well as with leaves. Their sheer brilliance, gaudiness and deceptional designs flumux me.

Turmeric in the shade of a banana under (what probably is) dirty glass... see how 'flat' this is. I feel this would be a nightmare to paint and would finish in a rather boring, drab painting. Dissatisfied with the how the light was falling on the plants at Kew, I ended up growing my own Turmeric and working from it that way in full sun. The results were better.
So yes, first thing is first - I 'feel' the leaf. I try to do this on either in full blown sun or in the dead of night. I have collection of night-time dialogues which I haven't begun to explore yet as it is a totally different world. One day I will - I am edging closer to crossing that bridge. I rarely venture out on a cloudy day - discourse becomes slow and foggy and paintings become flat without highlights (above). Rain brings out a different effect again, but it's difficult to record as there is often 'interference on the wire'.

I love these beets. I wanted to paint them on the day I found them, but am still finding it too difficult to get that lurid green right. I struggled with Caroline and have been ever since. I am currently using a new mix, but it still isn't right (broad beans). Looking through leaves is important as you get to understand their structure better. I can only compare this to the anatomical studies artists have to do of human bones and muscles before they can take the proper leap to portraiture.
So yes... I am borderline bonkers but that's just the way it is. I could never teach this stuff, it just happens. Just like I couldn't get Oxana to really dive into those fern fronds. If I painted them though and then showed her, she might have got it. Something about transcribing something into paint helps bridge the gap between worlds.

Colour issues - if you are going to use a camera remember that the colours rarely match. This is why I make notes on colour. Check out this crazy basil. This image hasn't been modified at all, this is how it came out and I am sure you will agree, the greens are definitely incorrect - no way is it this blue.

Artichoke Leaf
So my dialogue with the artichokes started in October 2014. Every morning since then they seem to have 'dragged me into conversation' as I've walked past them. I noticed yesterday that I said to my mother 'the fields are becoming boring'... What I meant by this is that the fields have stopped talking in the struggle of the heat, but also the crops that the farmers are now growing (mostly corn now) are really 'unchatty'. I have a sneaky suspicion that the corn is genetically modified - there is something eerie about them. Even the neighbours have commented on their shocking rate of growth and no body likes them. Come August my walk will be entirely in their shadow. Despite the drought though, the artichokes still lure me in. The poplar trees and the artichokes are the only ones that do. They always seem so pleased to see me.

I do love a bit of drama, which means I look at leaves from all angles. I study their their weak spots and their strong points. Check out this fig. He's pretty flamboyant and a bit of a show off. I love the way the light is casting those seriously dark shadows where the ridged veins are on the upper leaf. Light is good like that, it accentuates all characteristics. If I were painting a fig, I'd make sure I'd get those veins in whilst remembering it's smell. Smells are good, they bring you back to the source.
I build up to a painting. I don't just pick something and do it straight away... unless of course it is the pineapple, which I did do straight away because he told me to. I watched the artichokes shrivel and die in the winter and come back up this spring. I never knew they are perennial, which in a way is essential knowledge before embarking on a painting. Life cycles are important as they tell you about the energy in the plant and therefore inform you about its spirit. Being perennial, these are robust plants and their leaves and flowers reflect this. One day I skipped over the ditch to have a closer look. It was a very bright day and I was gobsmaked by the way the light bounced off of the leaves, revealing these dark intense gulleys across its surface. The greens looked different close up, everything was more intense. I made some sketches and took some photographs and picked couple of leaves to take back.

Sometimes I end up stitching images together... I almost did this with the artichoke as the leaf wouldn't fit into one photograph, but if I had painted the entire leaf I would have lost some of the detail, so I didn't stitch on this occasion.

Photographs are an important part in my work. They are a back up plan for when the leaves die, but more importantly, they effect the way I plan a composition and help me to look even closer at the surface of the leaf. Furthermore, they refine all the spiritual information I gather into something tangible. Although my paintings are not portraying the artichoke's life over time in the form of a lifeline or diagram, time is an important element. Time is distilled into one image and for me the photograph helps me do that.   

Here are a couple of images to demonstrate a point. This is still the Artichoke on that very same day, but how different it looks. To me it looks 'weak' and these sections of leaf do not reflect the true nature of the plant in my view. I don't like the skinny midrib, the asymmetrical growth form and the shadows that are being cast from it's upper leaves. This photograph will not do!

Another image below - a better one... No manipulation no fake lighting. Just the sun. 

I spent a good while planning out my composition. Probably half a day. I hate doing this. I feel I struggle because I lack training. Mum waltzed into my studio when I was planning this one and told me to stick to the golden ratio. I thought 'what the heck is that in a painting?!' I know it as a number pattern from my science days, but I can't see it graphically. I just don't know about these things. In response to mums suggestion, I spent time researching the ratio and drew it in so that the midrib fell into the pattern, but it looked wrong and I didn't like it. Therefore I did it again my way. I am sure Leonardo de Vinci was correct in his thinking, but in this particular case it wasn't working. Compositionally, I do tend to just dive in and hope for the best. 

I wanted to capture a lot of detail in this piece. When I saw the leaf in the field I felt like a little person and wondered what it would be like to walk across the surface of this huge leaf. I wanted my painting to reflect this day dream, so I super sized it with the help of the digital photographs and made a line drawing. Sometimes I enlarge sketches on a photocopier , but this time I didn't. Magnifying the image meant I lost some of the leaf edges, but I didn't care. I rather like the horrifyingly intense feeling of trapping this angry, pulsating leaf into a frame.

Open these up in a new tab. They will be blurred - photographs only work up to a point, but check out the colours. It's almost like silver in both parts of the leaf. It only really the surrounding flesh that alters it. Dry brush for isn't washy or light. Where there is colour in the tint it's actually surprisingly dark. I discovered this when looking at Rory McEwen's work. Have a look. 

Then I got to work... dark bits in first, then the lightest, then the mid-range tones. Weaving around the paper. I always put purple or pink in my greens and choose my blues carefully. It's Daler Rowney cobalt blue in this one... not keen on the ultramarine. Phthalo on the tints. Greys are purple, blue and yellow mixed together. It's a limited palette of 6 colours, mainly 3. I am using large brushes. I tried using thin ones, but they keep drying out in the Spanish heat. 

Right - dead leg from sitting at the desk too long, so will round this post up. Might take my camera and make a video for the next post. I hope you don't all feel that I am completely insane and that this helps you to understand how I see leaves. If you have trouble illustrating them, I recommend sitting with a leaf for at least half an hour before picking up a pencil or brush and attempting to make any form if representation on paper. Look at it under different lighting conditions if possible. Shine a light through it, over it, and across it at different angles. Cast shadows and remove them. Smell it, touch it, dream about it. Watch how it moves in the wind. Watch how the greens change colour depending on the type of light source and if you have a lens, microscope or jewellers loope, look at it through one of those and make friends. Its a good start, but I am no expert and we are all learning. Remember that, its important.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

A tricky couple of days for Wilma

Yesterday can only be described as a nightmare in the studio. Only once the sun started to go down was I finally able to do something productive. The result of this is that I am exceptionally tired today, but I feel that it was worth the agony.  

What you see below-below is a result of the painting I did today. Yesterday was mainly spent agonising over it. It was a big step, a big decision and I just couldn't for the life of me find a pair of balls to make the commitment. Recently, I have been seriously interested floral diagrams, or 'mandalas', as my mum likes to call them. I have always loved them - such a simple and effective way of representing the structure of a flower in transverse section. It also looks like a secret code, which is very appealing as I like all mysterious things. I always make one of these first before drawing a flower in longitudinal section, much like Arthur Harry Church would have done. It's better to do it this way, as you can work out what exactly half of a flower looks like had your knife cut straight through the middle (as we all know - it rarely does!).

The astonishingly complex floral diagram of a Theobroma cacao flower that is displaying partial inflorescence. I personally never knew that they can reveal such partiality... I always thought they were single flowers arranged in a cauliflory, so you learn something everyday!

As I wanted to place a super-size floral diagram on Wilma, I reached the conclusion that I wouldn't be able to finish her before my trip to the UK as the climbers over here in Spain stopped flowering weeks ago and I forgot to make a floral diagram. However rather  bizarrely, our Wisteria decided to flower again yesterday. Delighted, I planned to nail this painting  over the next 24 hours. How wrong was I?! 

Wisteria chinensis botanical illustration
Wilma the Wisteria (Wisteria chinensis) - a work in progress

First up - I drew the 'mandala'. I worked out how big I wanted it to be by looking at the original and planned it out on tracing paper. Then I stuck the paper to the composition - it looked stupid. I had to keep moving the tracing paper around AND drawing it in from the paper before I could make up my mind as the extra layers of paper were fooling me each time. Every tracing I transferred onto the painting interfered with the flow of the piece and this seriously irritated me, as usually just placing the tracing paper on the composition is enough for one to judge if it looks acceptable. I was beginning to get pencil marks on my Saunders Waterford and my putty rubber had definitely seen better days. I began to blame this ridiculous process on the top-heavy composition - it was blowing my mind. After a few hours I finally felt like I had the mandala in the right place, but the whole thing still looked ridiculous to me and way too risqué. Frustrated, I put it to one side, went into the garden, picked another flower and studied the side view. I then drew the line drawing out on tracing paper and then put the entire bitch of a painting to bed.

With the sun turning in for the night and desperate to actually achieve something I hoiked the Pineapple out. After being sat on my shelf for a good month I was very aware of what needed sorting out in the leaf department and worked on that. This was pure joy to do and I finished it. It appears that yesterday was definitely one of those days where it was a colouring-in day and not a planning day!

Wisteria chinensis botanical illustration
Close up on extra large flower side study (Wisteria chinensis)

Anyway, today I work up and felt much more assertive and just painted the god damn things in whilst listening to Pink Floyd and I am happy to say that I am pleased with it. A whole day of planning, repositioning, thinking, mulling, day-time drinking and getting seriously annoyed with oneself to the point where one throws their spectacles into a dusty corner of the studio in a fit of rage, I am pleased. 

It's still not quite finished, but almost.  Need to get a move on though, as these flowers are disappearing fast.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

This leaf was so big in fact, that it was classified as dangerous...

Artichoke Leaf - Titled:"¡¡Cuidado Veneno Peligroso!!"
still a work in progress and probably will be for ages. 

Artichoke Field with homemade 'Cuidado Veneno! Peligroso!' (Care, Poison! Dangerous!) signs

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Even Artichokes Have Hearts

Been keeping myself occupied with an Artichoke leaf this week after having a long weekend off with my best friend Bambi. It was really good to take some time out and I feel completely rejuvenated. Even went for a dip in the sea on Saturday! 

Dip in the sea - me flailing my arms about like a lunatic

Artichoke Leaf (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus)
Artichoke Leaf (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) 
Titled:"¡¡Cuidado Veneno Peligroso!!- close up

Seriously enjoying this piece. I am enjoying it in the same way I enjoyed painting the Pineapple. I had hoped to get this completed for the RHS submission, but I don't think I will as I have just received another commission. Can't complain. I also have lots of source material in the nearby field, so that's not a problem either. I can revisit this one as at least they only cut the flower buds off.

Artichoke Leaf (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) 
Titled:"¡¡Cuidado Veneno Peligroso!!-  work in progress

Painting this one with just two brushes and not the usual five that I have on the go, which is probably why I am finding this piece so rewarding. It is intense, but on the eyes and not on the fingers. I might do a series of leaves like this one, just seeing how it goes first. It's all about getting the right leaf and this one is utterly fabulous. Let's hope I do it justice!

Artichoke Leaf (Cynara cardunculus var. scolymus) 
Titled:"¡¡Cuidado Veneno Peligroso!!"- on the board with Wilma

Friday, 15 May 2015

Chelsea Flower Show 2016

Inky Leaves at Chelsea Flower Show

In search of the latest cultivars, I will be visiting the Chelsea Flower Show on two days this year. With a rucksack packed with paints and brushes, I will attempt to capture the beauty of my favourite flowers in paint. On May 24th I will be working with Bloms Bulbs painting their stunning tulip collection and on May 26th, I will be taking a more adventurous route, facing the crowds and painting at random stands where possible. I am very much looking forward to trying out this spontaneous way of working for the first time. 

Also on show are a number of botanical artists with their own stands: Bryan Poole (botanical etcher), Linda Alexander (oil paints), Susan Entwistle (pointillist).

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Wilma the Wisteria

Wisteria sinensis was formally introduced from China to Europe in 1816 by an English gentleman named Captain Welbank and has has since secured a place as one of the most popular flowering vines in gardens. Apparently, it was discovered when one evening, in May 1816 (almost 200 years ago this month), Welbank was invited for dinner by a rich Chinese merchant from Guangzhou. The party was held underneath a pergola covered in flowering Wisteria, which the Chinese called Zi Teng (blue vine).

Wilma - a work in progress
Not many people had at this time ever seen such thing and consequently Captain Welbank worked hard to convince the merchant to give him seedlings which he then took back to England as a present for his friend C. H. Turner. Three years later, in 1819, the Wisteria bloomed for the first time and from there on rapidly spread into many gardens, including my father's in sunny Bognor and our garden here in Belicena.

Here in Spain, Wisteria is called Glycine, which is from the Greek, 'glicine, meaning 'sweet plant'. This name stems from a plant that had been introduced from America and was in fact the first assigned to the plant. It was a whole century later, when Captain Welbank brought the plant to England, when the plant received its synonym by the botanist Nuttal, who didn't realise that the plant had already been described. Nuttal called the plant 'Wisteria' in honour of the German anatomist Kaspar Wistar. and despite it being a synonym, this is the name that is now recognised. 

Something of interest... 

Wisteria sinensis winds counter clockwise and Wisteria floribunda winds clockwise. This is great for us, as it helps to tell them apart, but it's a very odd phenomenon. Some people originally thought that this was a result of the fact that plants that are from the northern hemisphere always twist anti-clockwise, and those from the southern hemisphere twist clockwise. Of course, Japan is in the northern hemisphere, so this doesn't correlate. The theory was then further expanded upon to include the tectonic plate movements of Japan, as it was originally in the Southern hemisphere millions of years ago. 

Sadly though, this entire theory has been disproved. Plants are not effected at all by the Coriolis effect. Apparently, 92% of all vines in the world grow in a counter clockwise direction. Most botanists now wonder if this direction of twisting is caused by the left-handed bias of all biological molecules in nature, but we still don't really know...

Friday, 8 May 2015

Cotton Commission for Sunspel Finished

I was burning the midnight oil last night as I tried to get the cotton commission for Memorandum Journal finished. It fell into two parts - the first was the botanical side of things and I managed to finish that a few weeks ago, but the second part was delayed because the materials I needed to work from got lost in the post.  C'est la vie!

Sunspel Garments in the post - this is the nightgown that I really wanted to keep!

Thankfully they arrived on Tuesday afternoon and the design company (A Practice For Everyday Life) moved the deadline for me to compensate for lost time - thank you APFEL! As I opened the box, I found some sheets of archival cotton samples along with four beautifully made garments by Sunspel. They were so soft and divine to touch. I thought about the queen and decided that she must have a night dress made of this material. 

Processing of cotton

Anyway, I had planned to get cracking on with it on Wednesday and Thursday, only a lot of Wednesday was filled with trying to get an identity number in Spain. In Spain most people need an NIE. As I understand it, it is a personal number that is used for pretty much every legal transaction in the country. Therefore, you'd need it to open a bank account or to buy a car for example. I know this, because these are the things I am trying to do. So in order to have an NIE you need a letter from the bank saying that they are happy to open a bank account for you once you have the NIE. Problem is, Santander (and probably most banks in the city) didn't want to give me this letter because: 

a) I didn't have an NIE  
b) I am self employed 
c) I am a non-resident. 

So bit of a catch 22 there... Luckily the bank in the village was more amenable than the city banks and I now have a non-resident bank account, which means I can now get my NIE.

Illustrations of their cotton samples magnified 

Illustrations of their cotton samples magnified 

Illustrations of the gown at different levels of magnification 

Illustrations of the gown at different levels of magnification 

A few words on cotton

So with all this kerfuffle, I had little time left to complete the second half of the job, which was to illustrate the weave of thread in the samples. Tricky work indeed, but I managed to complete it at around midnight. Right, time for a beer!

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Broad beans pretty much finished

Broad Bean - Vicia faba
Broad Bean - Vicia faba - 56 x 76cm by J R Shepherd 2015

Just a few more tweaks required, but I am starting to mess it up, so I reckon it's time to move onto something else, pin it by my door, spot all the glaringly obvious mistakes over the next week and revisit before I drop it off to it's new owner. PS. She's called Brenda.

Monday, 4 May 2015

This has blown my mind, completely and utterly

These paintings were published in This is Colossal today. The amazing work of Kwang-Ho Lee, of which you can see more at Johyun Gallery and Artsy online. 

Cactus No.73, oil on canvas 193.9×130.3cm 2011, courtesy Atelier Aki
I guess seeing work like this could make you want to give up the brush. I for one couldn't help but ask myself this evening 'what is the point of painting - I'll never be as good as this?!' I have to admit, that really was my second thought (the first thought was trying to work out how on earth these had been painted). Feelings of such foolish cowardice fluttered into my brain like a butterfly, but exited like a bullet. No way - can't even begin to think such depressing, silly thoughts. So what?! Yes, this artist is seriously good, in fact, mindbogglingly so, and that's great. This is something to be celebrated - it means it is possible. It's possible to make something look this real with a brush, some paint, a lot of patience, quite a lot of perfectionism and a whopping great big dose of devotion. Well done Lee - superb work - you are inspiring. I will never look at a cactus in the same way again.

Cactus No.69, 2011, Oil on canvas, 162.1×130.3cm, courtesy Johyun Gallery.

Cactus No.51,2010,Oil on Canvas,194x200cm, courtesy Johyun Gallery

Via Artsy

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Vicia Faba to Julius Caesar or just haba if you're over here

Been quiet. No reason for it. Just a time for working a lot, playing with the cat, admiring the garden, starting a book, whilst trying not to think too much.  Had a day of getting to grips with the Spanish roads today which has left me rather exhausted.. I might have to put the kettle on despite it being 35 degrees and possibly a bit too hot for a pot.

Broad Bean
Broad Bean - Vicia faba - a work in progress £500 - SOLD

Here's the latest and I hope to complete it next week - Broadbeans from our local field! I decided not to put the beans in, as they made the composition look really weird. They do grow at a funny angle it has to be said. For me, it was all about the flowers - black spiders sitting on pumped up white pillows - so dramatic! They just completely take you by surprise. This is a commission for someone - I hope they like it. I still have a fair amount of work to do on it, but it's getting there. So far I have worked on it for 30 hours - I predicted 50. The painting measures 76cm tall x 56cm wide. 

Broad bean field
Me looking bloody serious working in the field (not sure why I am so serious)...
Yep, that's the Sierra Nevada behind.
Oh and here's paradise... It does exist - it moves around. I am lucky in that a certain form of it has popped up in our back garden. Sometimes one just can't paint fast enough...

I always think of Alice in wonderland in this Rose Garden and consequently I
like to sing 'We're Painting the Roses Red' when I am in it

Our front door now has our Agapanthus on either side.
I forced mum to bring them back from the other house as we both love them so much.