Hazel West-Sherring appreciates your questions and has replied to your questions and comments.
Thank you to readers who participate in the learning opportunities presented each month with featured guests. These opportunities exist so that you can ask our guests questions directly and so you can connect with each other. Remember that your participation is always welcome. Simply join in the conversation by using the comment box below.
I would like to thank Hazel for her thoughtful replies and wonderful instruction. Hazel has spoiled us with step-by-step instructions for painting stems.
Let’s get right to it!
Reader 1: Hello Hazel. I have been unable to find courses in botanical art without having to travel thousands of miles and having to spend thousands of dollars. I am unclear where you live, but feel sure that the ASBA (American Society of Botanical Artists), would be able to locate classes locally, since their membership is widespread as well as international. Meeting like-minded people to paint with will save lots of money and is really enjoyable. I have all of the “how to” books on learning botanical art, but seem to have lost the passion or zest or desire to do anymore painting. And doing it on my own just isn’t any fun, at all. It has now been over a year since I have done any painting of any subject (in watercolours or graphite). I think that because there is no support, no teachers, no interest from anyone, that I have lost my interest also.
Hazel: You haven’t lost your interest fully or you wouldn’t be writing! I do agree that botanical art can become a rather lonely occupation. It is hugely helpful therefore to meet others, to view their work, and receive feedback on your own work too. Initially when I first became professional in botanical art, I met with a small group of other amateur and professional painters once a month, over a period of 2 years. We didn’t do much painting, but we inspired and encouraged each other, and discussed exhibitions.
Reader 1: I hate to give this up because I have invested a small fortune in books, painting supplies, time and talent. I feel absolutely lost. How do I find some interest in this again, or some fellow botanical artists for mutual support? Is there anyone else who has given up?
Hazel: For me, when feeling uninspired to paint, gardening or a visit to a good plant nursery often helps. Visiting galleries and exhibitions is sometimes a welcome relief when feeling confused about direction. Looking through bulb or seed catalogues is inspiring, and (perhaps) allows planning for a series of paintings?!
Start simple with a subject whose colour, texture or shape you absolutely love, and want to ‘capture’…..an apple or pear, a pretty leaf, or perhaps a single flower stem. To bring some fun into your projects, challenge composition and the way that you crop the image, or concentrate on red flowers or just yellow.
Reader 1: Any suggestions, please?
Hazel: Get those paints out and ‘play’ with colour! Form a wish list of favourite plants, fruits or vegetables, and have a go at drawing and painting what you are inspired to portray.
You mentioned opera rose as an unexpected underwash. What are some of your other favorite colors to use as an underwash. I need to get out of my blue or yellow underwash state of mind.
Hazel: Yellows and blues are always useful as single pigment underwashes! A wash of cerulean or cobalt blue is fantastic on deep green shiny leaves, and raw sienna or gamboges works well for more olive tones. If looking for a startling bright red, an underwash of transparent orange or winsor yellow works well, identifying the underlying tones of the final red.
Reader 3: The Auricula Collection in your gallery has a peaceful antique look to it. Did you paint your specimens on colored paper or did you paint the background? Did you use gouache or transparent watercolor to paint the deep colors in this collection?
Hazel: The Auricula Collection was painted in watercolour on Arches hot-pressed paper. Depth of colour is built up with subsequent layers of colour wash (i.e not watery but full of pigment), or by using very dry brush and small ‘feathered’ strokes. This collection has no painted background, but occasionally I am asked to paint a weak tea-coloured background in order to promote an antique feel, as in the gooseberries and currants. This was achieved by mixing up a quantity of much diluted burnt umber, applied liberally with a very large sable brush. Once dry, it can be modified if there are areas that are too dark and need lifting.
Reader 4: What are common mistakes students make when learning how to draw, shade, color, or paint stems? I am hoping you say something that will make me realize what I am doing to make not-so-graceful, not-quite-realistic stems.
Hazel: What a good question! I think that there is much fear in painting stems, with many people fearful of wiggly edges and a thickening of the stem in the wrong places. The plant’s posture and character rely on the stem structure. It will often determine your composition, so the drawing (with good observation of how the stem behaves), must capture this character. Where does it thicken, bend or curve? How do leaf junctions work? What is the cross section? Is there colour interchange or transition of green to magenta for example, as it nears a leaf junction, flower, or roots? What is the texture, and are there additional features such as hairs, prickles or thorns?
Shading is about applying necessary light and shade, to promote 3-dimensional qualities. In general terms, if you think of the stem as a geometric tube or cylinder, and applying the light source from top left for example, break the length of the cylinder into thirds. Tonally, the left light, the center medium and the right dark.
- Taking care to create clean edges, underwash with a light lime green or yellow wash, allow to dry. (This first wash determines the boundaries for the subsequent paint layers to flow within…..try not to paint outside these clean edges.)
- Paint two-thirds (the centre and right-hand side) in a darker medium tone, allow to dry.
- With a darker tone still, then paint down the right hand side giving the stem three tones. It will look striped, so carefully blend the edges working the paint from the darker tone into the lighter tone with a damp rounded or flat brush. Where you see possibility of a highlight, use a flat brush to take away a thin area of the first light wash.
- Use a very dark shadowy tone on the extreme right-hand edge of the stem and up and under the leaf or flower.
- Most stems will carry colour that will be found in the flower or fruit, often magenta. Carefully observe the texture, spots or flecks, and apply.
- Finally, use a final dilute green wash to blend it all together!
Reader 5: When you paint on colored ground, do you paint your subject in white to establish a footprint for your painting or do you paint directly over the colored paper?
Hazel: I don’t work with coloured grounds, although I adore the work done by Mrs. Delaney on her deep black painted ground. The idea of establishing a white footprint is ideal when working with gouache, and results are delightful. A weak watercolour tea wash is about my limit!
Readers, do you have any questions or comments?
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