Wednesday, 8 July 2015


The foxgloves have me painting them again.
  Digitalis purpurea, It must be the plant I have illustrated the most and one of my favourites. My garden is full of them and all different shades of magenta, to pink and cream then also to white.

A new painting, but not yet finished
 Some interesting facts and folklore;
The generic name is from the Latin for finger, digitus, probably due to the flower shapes resembling thimbles. Foxgloves are often associated with fairies, hence the old country name of folksglove;
 folks refering to faerie folk.
Fairies, in legends, were supposed to have given the flowers to foxes to wear while hunting, to keep them magically quiet and so become efficient hunters. 
    Other common names include fairy caps, fairy bells, fairy thimbles, witches glove, goblins glove, dead men's bells, butchers fingers and throatwort. Welsh names include Ffion and Maneg Ellyllyn which means the good people's glove.
 A Gaelic name is Lus Mor, the great herb or most magical of herbs.

A different perspective

     An old Shropshire woman is said to have used foxglove (along with other plants) in a healing herbal tea, which was found to cure people of heart problems and dropsy by an 18th century physician. He discovered the cardiac glycoside Digoxin and a synthetic form is still used today as a heart stimulant, for kidney problems, edema and aconite poisoning. In too high a dosage it is a toxin, causing dreadful symptoms, hallucinations and often, death. So using it was always a balance between poisoning and healing, maybe this one reason why it has such a mystical past.

Especially loved by bees, I may add a bee to the painting
    Wikipedia tells me that Vincent Van Goch apparently had digitalis therapy which may have caused visual disturbances like blurred vision, light halos and colour imbalances and could have influenced some of his work, especially 'Starry night' and work from his 'yellow period'. 

 The colours I have used are winsor yellow, winsor lemon and perylene violet by Winsor Newton, quinacridone violet by M Graham, and ultramarine finest and purple magenta by Schminke. Quinacridone magenta by Winsor Newton is just as nice, it's the same pigment of PR122. Schminke Ultramarine finest is very slightly less granulating than other makes.

I hope you'll agree it's a most fascinating plant and still to be respected and wary of - don't let the leaves or flowers fall in your tea, like me!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Meadow Life

The meadows are now bursting into life as summer progresses and it's time to go out sketching.

Sketching at Ynyslas sand dunes yesterday, out of the cold wind.
 One of the most interesting and essential plants within most wildflower meadows is a plant called
 'Yellow Rattle',  Rhinanthus minor. Its generic name comes from the greek words for nose and flower, as the corolla is supposed to resemble. 
The seed capsules rattle when they are dry hence the name yellow rattle. So walk through the meadow in late July and you will hear the rattling of the tiny seeds as they disperse.
These meadows flourish with this little annual because it is semi parasitic on grasses, so reduces their growth and keeps them in check, allowing more wild flowers to grow. So if you want to grow a wildflower meadow,sow some yellow rattle and with a little help, it will deal with the grass and let your flowers be the stars.

An interesting plant to study and draw, I've sketched yellow rattle plenty of times. The pictures above show from sketch to finished painting. The sepals and stems have beautiful coloured markings and textures, painted with perylene violet.

This sketch shows the dried capsule on the right.
Herbalists uses to recommend yellow rattle boiled with beans and honey for coughs and poor eyesight. So the liquid was either drunk or dropped into the eye.
It has a few other common names too, hay-rattle, penny-grass ( from Elizabethan times), shackle-caps
and also yellow cockscombe.

Some vibrant marsh orchids against a profusion of yellow rattle

Cae Blaen Dyffryn meadow
 If only there were more of these meadows.

Green Hairstreak in the meadow
Summer plays scented notes of nostalgia,
 like golden hay meadows humming with tiny wing-beats.

I've added a flowering oak branch here

At the moment I'm working on another large Welsh oak woods painting as I sold the first one with no prints or copies. This time I've changed and moved a few elements.

Happy painting.

Monday, 27 April 2015

April Workshop

The Sarracenias and Me at the SBA exhibition. Thanks to Shevaun  for the photo.

Had a great workshop on Sunday at Denmark Farm Conservation Centre. There weren't many of us but the students that attended had been to previous workshops and I noticed a great improvement in the work. We studied spring flowers; bluebells, violets, tulips and quails eggs and practised wet in wet and dry brush techniques. I remembered to take photos this time around and a few of Denmark Farm too. It's a beautiful place and there's plenty going on there including accommodation and camping, a 40 acre nature trail and also venue hire. They have a range of courses like conservation training, species ID and all sorts of natural crafts. I went on a moth day course there a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Great workshop venue

Tutor selfie!!

Tulips are good to study for wet into wet and sweeping dry brush techniques

Really great work from the students
Perfect sheen

Denmark Farm in the April sunshine

Beautiful place 

Some of the accommodation with an amazing sedum roof
The next workshop will be held on Sunday the 19th of July and we will study the forms and textures of fruit.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

SBA Exhibition

The SBA (Society of Botanical Artists) exhibition was as good as ever, and I thought that the paintings were laid out even better than previous years. It is still on at the moment in Westminster central hall and finishes on Sunday.
This year I was stewarding and also doing a demonstration there. I also sold a painting of the Sarracenias so I am pleased.

My great friend Sarah of The Natural Year took some video of me demoing to post here, so my thanks to Sarah for this. It was my first time demonstrating there and hopefully I didn't shake too much!!

I have a workshop on Sunday too at Denmark Farm so I shall be working on a similar theme of spring flowers. 
Happy painting everyone.

Monday, 6 April 2015

The Birch Tree

The birch is a stunning tree, one of my favourites and really good to paint or draw. The older trees are cracked and gnarled with bright green moss cascading from the bumps.The bracket mushroom that I made the paper from lives upon the birch tree too and while I was out hunting them I found a beautiful tree as a subject to paint. It made for some great photos looking up towards the sky

The first painting drawn with pen
I worked very quickly on the above painting using pen and watercolour. But I didn't like the shape of the trunk, it didn't have the sinuous-ness that I liked in the tree. So I decided to do it again, just in watercolours this time. I used masking fluid to mask out the edge of the trunk so I could work on a quick wet into wet background. I use the Masquepen type pictured below and quite like it. Also I used some of the Daniel Smith Primatek paints which I love for unstrict botanical work like this or landscapes.

You can see my horse chestnut buds emerging (still working on them too!)
Here are the 2 together
This second painting below took 5 days, much longer then the first one. I used a touch of gouache to get back the highlights on the moss which was especially difficult and I think this subject would be great for oils, maybe.
I think I'll be keeping a look out for more interesting trees and maybe invest in some oil paints as I've never used them. That would be a new challenge.

Here's a little woodland sculpture we made in the woods today! 
Happy holidays.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Four Years On

Happy 4th Birthday to this blog, time has flown by.

I'm looking forward to exhibiting at the SBA in Westminster next month (I have 3 paintings there) and I'll also be doing a demonstration on Friday the 17th, so come along and say hello if you're nearby.

As I haven't posted for a while here's an few things I've been up to recently.

Here's the drawing I completed on the fungi paper. It took pen better than I thought it would but not paint so well as you see.
A Buzzard feather

I made a mossy box (It's for a craft fair that's coming up)

A fruit segments worksheet 

Painting a  lichen sprig
I have a workshop coming up in April at Denmark Farm, there should be plenty of subjects to occupy us, spring is coming at last!

Friday, 16 January 2015

Making Paper with a difference!

The new year has well and truly begun and with some new ideas and techniques.
I had for a long time wanted to make some paper at home and I have a mould and deckle kit, long unused. But I decided to make some paper with a difference, mushroom paper. I know that one of the best fungi for this is the birch polypore, Piptoporus betulinus. It's the perfect time of year for finding this mushroom on birch trees so I kept a look out and I found quite a few.

Growing on birch trees

An older specimen

A young ,fresh polypore

   I only needed one fairly young specimen so I carefully cut it from the tree. Then at home the mushroom was peeled and then cut up and blended in a blender into a gloopy pulp with some water. Then it was sloshed into a tray and ready for me to dip the deckle and mould into it.

Draining the water out from the deckle

This job was becoming messier (and smellier) by the minute and I think its best done outside or in a shed, not my kitchen! But I got my first layer draining and then tried to drop it out onto some jay-cloths and towels. This was the hardest bit as it wouldn't come away from the mesh easily. But after some fiddling and stressing it came out and was patted with a sponge to soak up the excess water. Next it was compressed with a slate, sponged a bit more and then left to dry flat. I managed to make 3 pieces of paper and on the last one I added some corn flour just as an experiment as to whether it can be drawn on. I don't hold out much hope of it taking inks or paints well but it was an interesting technique to try out. I very much like the texture of this paper and I will post again the results of any painting on it.

The 3 sheets dried
Close up of the texture and whiteness

In the summer when I can get outside and be messy, I will make my own recycled paper, with additions like wild flowers or saffron.