Saturday 27 February 2016

Ruby Ricin

Botanical illustration of a ricin leaf
Botanical illustration of a Ricinus leaf, on the drawing board, when I last photographed it
It's been a productive time in the Inky Leaves studio and once again 'time' is doing it's own thing and not obeying the simple laws of logic. Luckily for me, time is moving very slowly, at a moment when I thought it would be zooming past. This is excellent news as not only must I be enjoying life to the max (I feel like I have crammed in a lot), but I must still be managing to keep up a good painting pace. All I have to do now is paint out three more 'medium sized' leaves before the second week of May and I am on track. This is how one does thirty six pieces in 12 months. 

Botanical artist
Artist at work...

Botanical Art Ricinus communis
Up close - work in progress on the Castor Oil Plant (Ricinus communis)

This fortnight saw the birth of a ruby-coloured ricin (castor oil plant) leaf called Rina. As a juvenile leaf she has this fantastic purply-coppery colour. I love the leaves of the castor oil plant; they always look so menacing, if a little creepy. The new leaves are very sculptural and can appear almost metallic in the way they reflect the light. Whenever I see them I always think of Karl Blossfeldt (click on link for latest exhibition tour dates) and feel that he would have liked to have done something with a Ricinus leaf. Astonishingly, I first decided that I wanted to paint this species back in 2006 when I ran away from Edinburgh for a weekend in Paris. I remember seeing a clump growing in the municipal gardens of Les Jardines des Plantes and decided there and then that I would at some point paint it. Of course during those days I wasn't really a painter - I was studying for my Masters in botanical taxonomy - and it wouldn't be for another ten years when I'd finally get round to it. I am happy it took this long - it's given me the space to not only work out how I wanted to depict it, but also to develop the skills required to do so.

Botanical Art Studio
Studio shot for a sense of scale (Ricinus communis)

Copper coloured leaf
Ricinus communis leaf - work in progress

So there you have it - Ricinus. I am not sure if you have noticed yet, but I haven't been posting any pictures of the leaves finished. If you want to see them finished, you'll have to come to the show! I will update you as to when this is nearer the time, but it is likely to coincide with next years RHS London Botanical Art Show.

Moving on from deadly plants...

This week the weather has turned a bit cold and 'mis' here in Spain and we have snow forecast, although it looks more like hail at the moment. The swifts have arrived in some areas and the daffodils have just come out into bloom. Surprisingly, the bulbous plants here are much later than the ones in the UK and I can only put it down to our cold nights. So naturally this inclement weather has kept me focused - staying indoors rather than sloping off outside. I am slowly climbing the mountain of 36 pieces in a year. The plan is to also paint six pieces for 2017's RHS show this summer, which will hopefully take me to the first week of September, when, if all goes well, I will be painting 15 smaller pieces on vellum whilst touching up the other 15 larger leaves. I realise it's an insane painting programme, but it is not fun unless it is bonkers. Last night, in theme with the effort required to climb piles of plant-based work, gigantism and being slightly mad I dreamt I climbed a Seville Orange. I was smaller than the size of a pithy dimple, which I hasten to add, were like craters. It smelt fantastic as I dug my heels into the skin and clawed my way up to the top stem. I managed to complete the climb, which I am taking as a positive omen and wasn't too exhausted as the fragrant oil was invigorating.

Vine Leaf

With the sky now lobbing balls of ice at my window, I have managed to start another leaf called Victoria. It's a decaying grape vine leaf (I don't blame her, it's freezing outside). There are some fantastic colours in this one which I am very much looking forward to describing with paint. 

Botanical illustration of a grape vine leaf
New piece - work in progress - decaying grape vine leaf (Vitis vinifera)

Botanical illustration of a grape vine leaf
Working on the grape vine leaf 

News Flash

Talking of grape vines, I have heard on a vine made up of grapes that there will be another Mrs. Delany exhibition.  Will keep you posted as soon as I have more info but I sp0tted the news as a tweet on Angie Lewin's feed - printmaker extraordinaire. 

Wednesday 10 February 2016

Dreams of Magma

Last night I dreamt I was painting molten magma... I remember getting rather flustered. This wasn't because I was standing on a hot volcano, but more because the stuff kept moving. It was very irritating. The movement was indeed slow, but nonetheless it moved and with my technique being of equal slow speed my paintings inevitably became very fluid in order to catch up with the rhythm. There is probably some Freudian symbolism going on, but the dream is more likely the product of 'much-intense-staring' at a decaying Judas Tree leaf... It's colours are amazing - more pink than yellow or orange and there are all these little black blemishes. I started this A1 painting on the 2nd of February and 8 days later we find ourselves here (below):

Botanical Art Autumnal Leaf
Judas Tree Leaf (10th February 2016)
Work in progress on 76 x 56cm Saunders Waterford 640gsm paper
It still isn't finished but I am very happy with the current painting pace. Unlike before where I used to paint for roughly 10 hours a day, I am now only clocking 7 hour working days (it's actually 9 but with two one hour breaks). This is obviously much healthier. I am able to do this because my pace is getting faster. This must be the result of practice and the fact that I am getting more rest by doing shorter days. I feel it is good to experiment with day length. I know for certain that I haven't found the optimum painting to break ratio, but I am getting close. Of course, this is a winter pace, come summer this mathematical sum will go flying out of the window as I adopt summer hours... There certainly is never a dull moment in the higher latitudes!

Botanical Art Studio
Here's a photograph to give some sense of scale and the appalling light levels I am working in today.
My eyes have certainly got used to the Spanish sun.
It is a particularly gloomy day today and I just can't see a darn thing.


This is a very unusual palette for me. I find focusing on yellows very, very difficult. Yesterday, however, something started to click and I am beginning to understand this part of the spectrum  more. I am also understanding the importance of light washes and how to build layers. With this leaf, even in the same area, the colour of one layer of paint will be very different to another layer and the uppermost layers are often the 'brighter' colours, such as Permanent Rose and New Gamhodge. This is odd, as I always thought you should do it the other way around, adding the darker hues last so not to muddy the yellow. Oh well... For those who want to know, the colours I am using are:

W&N Olive Green (you'd be surprised at how much - often an upper layer)
W&N New Gamhodge (bottom and uppermost layers and in mixes. I have also only just worked this out by looking at the bottom of the pan -  I thought I was using transparent yellow!)
W&N Permanent Rose
W&N Perylene Maroon (I love this colour)
W&N Permanent Magenta (teeny bit)
W&N Hookers Green (hardly any)
DR Cobalt Blue (because I love it. I am using this in mixes and in it's unadulterated raw form)


I am using loads of brushes for this one. I start with a biggy and go smaller as I work in the detail last. For the detail level I have a very slender rigger for the veins, a scruffy hard spotter for removing paint in the shadows to reveal veins and a big oil painting brush for scruffing/buffing the paper up (its ok - I burnish afterwards). I have three series 22 (Rosemary and Co) brushes, two at size 2 and one at size 3, one series 44 (size 2 or 3 can't remember). I think I might even have a series 441 in the mix too. So what's that? Eight brushes, yes that is about right. They are all on their last legs, so I am having to use loads for the job. Not ideal. Plus, with all the washes being of various colours, I have three of the series 22 on the go rather than just one to avoid wastage and contamination.

Botanical art up close
Close up on the right side...

 Over time...

I thought I'd put a little snapshot of this leaf day-by-day so you can see the progression - I haven't done this in a while. I used to do it all of the time! 

Botanical illustration of a leaf
Botanical illustration of a Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) leaf (3rd February 2016) 

Botanical illustration of a leaf
Botanical illustration of a Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) leaf (4th February 2016)
Botanical illustration of a leaf
Botanical illustration of a Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) leaf (5th February 2016)
Botanical illustration of a leaf
Botanical illustration of a Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) leaf (6th February 2016)
Botanical illustration of a leaf
Botanical illustration of a Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) leaf (7th February 2016)
Botanical illustration of a leaf
Botanical illustration of a Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) leaf (8th February 2016)
Botanical illustration of a leaf
Botanical illustration of a Judas Tree (Cercis siliquastrum) leaf (9th February 2016)

Wednesday 3 February 2016

Indiana and the Temple of Leaf

Botanical art
Botanical illustration of 'Indiana' (Catalpa bignonioides)
work in progress - 76 x 56cm - watercolour on paper

Its been a month.. I won't apologise as I had nothing of importance to say and dislike publishing drivel. It certainly has been a odd time, I know it usually is in my world, but there has been a lot of too-ing and fro-ing in space and time. I am basically doing more 'time travel' than usual and it still goes on. At first it took me by surprise as I entered what I call the 12th house* back in December. As you already know, it took me to some dark places (the maze), but now its taking me to some wonderful places and since January I have decided to just let go and ride this Wonker-like roller-coaster.

Polar Bear, the steam engine I used to work on as a 
child at Amberley Museum - my very own roller-coaster

This morning I find myself going through some receipts I found from my trip to California back 2013 and this is what I mean by time travel. It can take on all sorts of forms. Last night while I was trying to get to sleep, I found myself in the dens of my childhood, riding steam engines and eating picnics. What is peculiar about these experiences is that they aren't just memories or spells of reminiscence - I am actually THERE. I can smell the smoke and hear the birds, feel the clay dust, the soot and the dampness of the woodlands of Amberley Museum where I was 'brought up'. I can hear the wurring of the heater under my feet in the gift shop and navigate my way through all the offices at different stages of their own evolution. I can jump from one theatre bench to another and cast shadow puppets on the wall where the projector casts its light. I can see all the hundreds of museum keys mounted on another wall, all splattered in oil and grime from dirty hands and engines. I spot the cat and enter the mess room. I trace every line on every worn out face and collect years of experience from their tired eyes. Stained tea cups, coffee grounds, chalk footprints. The clank, clank, clank of the blacksmith going about his work, the toot from the train and the ding of the cow bell on the pottery bicycle. This is so real, it is like I am on drugs. Is this full blown nostalgia I wonder? I don’t think it is, as there is no sense of longing, its just I am there like ghost, like a time traveller. I can even watch myself. It is poignant, the entire vision isn't nostalgia it is a garment of clothing that covers my skin and makes me, me.

It has been rather beautiful this January... still no rain and lots of sunshine.
The farmers are a bit worried about the lack of rain, but life goes on.


As I find myself there again, in the wonderland of my childhood, I come to remember I giant ceramic bean that my mother made for an event at the museum, I must have been 11 or 12 years old at the time. It was a carefully planned operation by my mother. She made this enormous deep red bean which was glazed in cadmium red and gold ready for a special day where all the children would come into the site, see the enormous bean (which was about as big as 2 year old) and help to dig a hole to bury it. Then, come Christmas, it would have grown into a giant bean stalk ready for Santa's grotto. I helped with the installation... painting massive bean leaves against a cloudy blue sky in the freezing cold December air in a pair of dungarees. Things like this have made me who I am, nothing has changed, I am still painting big leaves.

Botanical art
The beginnings of the Judas Leaf - started yesterday


I watched the 'Immortal Egyptians' on the BBC last week (recommend it!)... again, I found myself leaving my present state of being. I was not in Spain, I was not 31 years old, I was 8 years old, in the British Museum on my first school trip, staring down at a petrified (naturally mummified) corpse called 'Ginger'. Time stopped when I was 8 just like it did last last week, but when I was 8 years old I was travelling even further back. I was picturing him laying in the desert. That moment was so important to me that I actually decided to start this blog back in 2009 using the poem I wrote about the experience in 1992. Museums... they seem to have pretty much dictated my evolution.


Botanical art

The leaves continue to evolve and grow and I think I have a title for the show, although it isn't set in stone yet: 'The Botanical Menagerie'. It's either this or 'Leafscapes'. The first is an attempt to try and describe the fact that these are leaves in 'cages' on display - like a menagerie, or a zoo. The second has a double meaning on the fact that the paintings are like landscapes or maps, but it is also a bit of a pun as the leaves are trying to 'escape'. Anyway - I welcome your thoughts on these titles. It might be that the whole double show is the 'menagerie' and then under this title come the leafscapes and the RHS. 

So, news front - my studio has turned into a forest of leaves as I keep starting new works, getting the skeletons in and then moving onto the next one. I am not sure why I am working like this. It is rather frenzied and not my usual style. I feel that there is a subconscious tactic to this approach - it's almost like I am trying to see what a bunch of enormous leaves look like together and if this is actually going to work before investing too much time on each individual piece, whilst also ensuring that they are all finished 'together' at the same skill level. I am finding that with all this practice my painting is most certainly improving and this could mean that the leaves I do right this minute might end up looking very different to the leaves I finish in December 2016. As with all shows, I feel that there needs to be a level of consistency, so to juggle them around in this way is helping to achieve this. Come summer, when I am working from live specimens, I won't be able to do this as well, but these dried petrified leaves seem to be helping me with this process.

Botanical art
Indiana, Indie and Pop1. 

I nipped into London this month to see the Julia Cameron exhibition and the Bauer Brothers, both of which were lovely, intimate shows. I like intimate, bite sized exhibitions - they are so much easier to digest and usually less busy. The Bauer brothers was so small that no one in the Natural History Museum knew what I was talking about when I asked where it was or where the book was in the gift shop. It was a secret show! Anyway, I am already looking forward to going back to London for the Georgia O'Keefe show at Tate in the Autumn. Can't wait!

Botanical art studio
And here they all are (bar one)... 

*Astrological terminology for the 12th house that is often associated with dreams and illusions - the room within a room.