Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mid-Winter Project for Botanical Art Lovers

Mid-Winter can be a tough time for botanical artists to find inspiration!
Looking for a project to get rid of those winter blues and to keep you drawing everyday?
Try forcing bulbs and drawing and painting them daily!

Here is my work in progress.
The Subject:
Any spring or fall bulbs will work. However, keep in mind that taller growing flowers may eventually need support.  I prefer using glass beads in a glass container, but you can use a regular pot and soil or pebbles and stones.  The glass beads make it possible to keep the entire affair clean and easy to care for.  Also, the beads allow you to observe the bulb growth both above and below.  Keep enough water in the beads/stones so that the bulbs always have "wet feet."  If using soil bury the bulbs only half way and keep the soil moist, but not soaked.  Be care to avoid submerging or soaking the bulbs completely, they may rot instead of bloom in those conditions.  Note the photo where the bulbs are buried only enough to support them (just less than half the entire bulb).  

The Approach:
There are two ways you can approach this project.  The first is to use each daily drawing or painting as an opportunity to explore a single subject in a variety of media or techniques.  If this appeals to you, then I suggest you purchase and prep a variety of papers for different wet and dry media that have a variety of textured finishes.

The second approach to this project can be seen above.  Here I have chosen this time to document the growth process through a single medium (hard lead drawing pencil with watercolor, a favorite of mine) in a single sketchbook.  I was particularly excited to find this Japanese made folded sketchbook shown here.  My plan is to display the finish work on a table top, like a Japanese screen.  
One word of caution, I am finding that the Japanese paper, although wonderful, gets saturated easily and I have to give washed areas additional dry time before I can go back into the work and add detail.

Whatever approach you take do consider the ultimate sizes and composition for displaying your works as a single group.  Your growth process artistically is being documented along with the growth of the flowers, embrace it, celebrate it and bloom together!

Here is an older unfinished work I began last year of a daffodil bulb.  I really like this piece and plan to complete it as a single work. It is done in 4H drawing pencil on 90lbs. Hot Press Arches watercolor paper (very smooth finish that allows you to capture  great deal of detail).  I will be sure to post again once I have added color.  Remember you can use the pencil to add value with watercolor as lone as you use a hard lead that will not be so loose as to mix with the paint and muddy the colors.  
Questions?  Write me!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Upcoming Lecture Event!

Evening Workshop Exploring the Techniques
of the Artist
William Hamilton Gibson
The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators
Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mary Ellen's Latest Workshop at the US Botanical Gardens

A special thank you to Judy Thomas and Celeste Johnston for such a kind and thorough write up!
Be sure to visit the Central Virginia Botanical Artists Group on line!

The class in the United States Botanic Gardens classroom with our teacher, Mary Ellen Carsley, at the head.

I (JT) was foiled by a zig zaggy, "plaid" cactus!

By Judy Thomas, Celeste Johnston
On January 12th and 13th, 2013, CJ and I took a class at the United States Botanic Gardens/Corcoran entitled "Scientific Illustration."  This introductory course, taught by the excellent Mary Ellen Carsley,  included the basics of scientific illustration. In the course we learned the conventions of this type of art, one that involves visually portraying accurate scientific information about a subject (generally a plant or animal) so that scientists can clearly communicate to one another in printed form.
First, we learned about the basic materials, than spent some time learning about measurement.  Obviously, measurement (and accurate counting of repeated features) in this field is critical.  Mary Ellen shared that scientific illustration(SI)  is a collaborative process between scientist and illustrator and should answer these questions: What is my subject? What am I trying to say, specifically? And, lastly: How can I communicate this clearly and concisely? The four elements of this method are line, value, texture and color, though most of these illustrations are black and white line drawings and value does not have the same meaning as in botanical illustration.  SI uses no cast shadows, no interior shadows, does not really depict depth, nor is it concerned with shading or intense value gradation.  
Next we learned about the "hierarchy of the line," that has three basic levels, though there can be many more: the profile, or thickest, line at the outer edges (which thins as it crosses behind another part of the object); a mid- or medium-weight line, the next level inward, and; a detail line, often drawn using a fine crow-quill dip pen or technical pen.  Contrary to the way we usually draw, the thickest, darkest line is the outer line, and the line thins as you enter the interior of the object. Lastly, texture and some minor sense of depth are achieved by using a broken line or dashes, and stippling, which also vary in size as you proceed inward.  In some cases, the profile, mid-level and detail lines may become "lost and found," or break up, when there is something (not air) behind it.  Below is my (JT's) humble attempt at an illustration of a bell pepper.

Two basic (draft) scientific illustration sketch attempts of a bell pepper.  The top is the "elevation" view (entire object from the side, uncut)(in technical pen) and the bottom is the horizontal section (dip pen with India ink) (by JT)
There are other views in addition to the two depicted above.  The top of the object can be called a "roof plan" to continue the use of architectural terms. A reflective view includes two, sectioned halves. Another important view is the habitus view is how the plant appears in nature, with the fruit, flowers, leaves and stems drawn in correct relation to each other, and sometimes in color.  The habitus view, distinct from the others, does include a greater sense of depth and movement and can be seen as more "artful" than the other views.

The greatest benefit to me (JT) of taking this class was the reminder to measure. Like many people, I just want to get down and draw, but drawing a plant without measurement leads me into trouble. During the class, and afterward, I tested myself by drawing first and measuring afterward: each time I found I was off, drawing the object at least 20 to 25% too small!  And that was when I thought I was being careful! One good tip from the class about measurement:  never mark more than three points that you have measured without connecting them, or you lose track of what it was you measured.  I will invest in a pair of calipers and a gridded, transparent ruler to make measuring easier.  Another valuable lesson to me was the value of being able to render a subject down to its simplest components.  This helped me to see the object in a "macro" sense and give me an idea about the overall "presence" of the object transferred to paper.
Mary Elen is an excellent teacher, explaining the process and theory with clarity and moving the class along through different skills.  She offered some great ideas, and here are two:  to plant a "forcing bulb" (paperwhite, amaryllis, etc) indoors and draw it each day, even just a quick sketch, to improve observational skills and; to draw from many master botanical artists (copy even) to learn how they did it.  She taught us much more, and this is but a bit of it.  I am so glad I ventured to DC and took this class!
Link to the USBG schedule:

"Take the attitude of a student, never be too big to ask questions, never know too much to learn something new."
Og Mandino

Posted By Central Virginia Botanical Artists to Central Virginia Botanical Artists at 1/15/2013 06:05:00 AM

Upcoming Classes

Here are our upcoming classes.  Be sure to stay tuned to our upcoming spring and summer workshops in landscape, botanical watercolor as well as drop-in life drawing sessions!

Painting a Portrait

Many folks have asked about how does a contemporary portrait painter go about painting creating an original portrait that captures the subject.  Here is a brief overview: