Posts Tagged ‘Watercolor Fruit & Vegetable Portraits’

You had the opportunity to ask Billy Showell any question you wanted and some of you took advantage of this special opportunity. Below are the questions that were submitted, as well as Billy’s replies.

Again, many thanks to Billy for sharing her expertise with us!

1. If parts of a white flower are on a white background, do you just leave it alone or outline it with a thin line?
I usually do a very soft midtone grey shadow that blends into the petal but it has to be very subtle so (I) use the wet-in-wet method.

2. Who makes the “cerulean blue hue” you use in your first book?
It is a Schminke colour, but you could replace it with Winsor blue tone from Winsor and Newton. I have done this recently to make it easier for students to get.

3. Have you ever tried water-based oil paint? If so, how do these paints perform?
No, but I do plan to go back to oils soon and will definitely give them a go. I will publish the results on my website when I do.

4. I find that I have little confidence when working in a classroom situation. I feel that I shouldn’t make mistakes and have to produce a masterpiece right away. Working alone is so much more relaxing for me. Have you heard similar comments from other students?
Yes. In those situations use the classroom as a chance to gather information and practice the advice given (and) take as many notes as you can so that you can relax at home and give the techniques a go without the pressure of the class surroundings.

5. Have you found any strategies for a workspace setup that helps prevent back and neck misery?
Mmm…. I don’t like to admit to it but, yes, one can get a stiff neck and shoulder. I try to break the day up so that I don’t sit rigid for too long. Make sure that you rotate your shoulders intermittently and stretch from time to time.

6. The DVD for your first book was fantastic. Will you be doing one for the new book?
Yes. It comes out next week and will be available from my website. It has four projects on it.

7. Do you think you will write a third book?
I am working on it as we speak. It will be on flowers again but there will be many more interesting varieties.

8. Would you ever consider teaching in the USA?
Yes, I am waiting to be invited I would love to come to the US as I have only been for one day many years ago.

9. When you first started painting, have you ever torn up your painting in disgust because nothing was working right?
I would always try and keep the part of the painting that worked and discard the rest, that way when I looked back I would only recall the successes not the failures. I used to store unfinished work but now just use the back of the paper for doodles or cartoons as coming back to very old work is a bit depressing and I often find that I have improved my painting technique in the interval.

10. What subject do you find most challenging to paint?
Multi-petaled flowers are the hardest things to paint, for example Chrysanthemums or Dahlias, just because the are so complicated. I much prefer flowers with large petals so that the watercolour process is free and uninhibited.

Related Links
Take a class with Billy Showell this summer!

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WCFruitVeg_Jacket2.indd We would like to thank Billy for taking time for this interview and for taking artists’ questions. When we brought her book, Watercolor Flower Portraits and the preview of Watercolor Fruit & Vegetable Portraits to the ASBA conference in October, artists who had a copy of her flower book spoke highly of it to those around them. The sneak peek of the book about fruit and vegetables drew a lot of attention. We would like to thank Billy Showell and Search Press for allowing us to share the new book with our audience. Our interview with Billy follows…

APT: You were trained as an illustrator and worked as fashion illustrator and surface designer, am I correct? It seems like many botanical artists have a background in fashion illustration and surface design. What did you do as a fashion illustrator &/or surface designer? What prompted you to pursue a career as a botanical artist?

Billy Showell: I trained at St. Martins college of art and design as a Fashion Designer/Illustrator and thoroughly enjoyed the course. But once in the fashion business I was extremely unhappy (and> I realised it would take years before I could get to the position where I would enjoy the job, so I left to help my husband in his work painting murals.

It was while I was painting some furniture that someone spotted my work and suggested that I do some oil paintings on canvas, which I did, and they sold. Spurred on by this, I continued to paint and later moved on to watercolour. The botanical work was really by accident when I started to teach watercolour. A slot (for) a botanical teacher came up and my style of painting seemed to fit and that was the start of the botanical road for me.

APT: You exhibit your work regularly in exhibitions. Not only have you participated in an impressive number of exhibitions, the number of pieces you have on display on an annual basis is impressive. How do you organize your time?

Billy Showell: I have a studio in the garden where I paint most days while the kids are at school. At 4 o’clock I stop but occasionally will return to paint in the evening. I always prefer to work to a deadline, the pressure helps me to focus. Also my approach to watercolour is faster than the more traditional way of botanical painting. Obviously it is not really fast, but I would not enjoy the painting if it took too long. I find the painting would look laboured and lose the essence of the medium. I also tend to work solely from life so one only has a day or two to capture that exact plant. So sometimes the paperwork or housework gets put off till the painting is in the bag.

APT: When real life interferes with your production schedule, how do you rebound?

Billy Showell: That is difficult and I have been lucky so far that nothing too demanding has got in the way and my kids have never missed out on having me around to fetch carry or make cakes or outfits for school plays, etc. The priority has always been the family but I do work very hard in between as my painting is my sanity. It is very important for me to have something physical that I have achieved at the end of each week, so if I have been unable to do that, I will find a window somewhere to paint, even if it is in the middle of the night when all are asleep. If I ever feel I can’t paint, then I will go and buy some lilies to paint. This will put me back on track.

APT: In your books, you mention the sketchbook you keep with you at all times. In Watercolor Fruit & Vegetable Portraits, you mention that you make note of compositions and subjects that appeal to you so you can revisit these ideas at a later date. How often do you turn to your sketchbook to build upon the notes and sketches you’ve made? Do you keep only one “idea sketchbook” at a time or do you have a sketchbook in each desk, bag, glove compartment, etc.? Those of us with many unfinished journals want to know!

Billy Showell: I use the sketch books (and there are several strewn about, handbag, bedside table, pockets, by the phone, in the car, etc.) to note down ideas at any time, on the train in the middle of the night or when out on a walk. They are small books and only make sense to me. They do not really look beautiful, but each sketch in there reminds me of the idea that I had at that moment in time and that will inspire me when back at the studio. It could just be a sentence or a word but it is enough to start with, I tend to have a theme which I will explore before moving on to something new.

APT: In the “Mixing Colours” section of the fruit and vegetable book, you state transparent washes are of little use in fruit and vegetable paintings and that deep washes are preferred. Wouldn’t gouache be easier to use to achieve the bold and brilliant colors of fruit and vegetables? Why or why not?

Billy Showell: It is not that transparent colours are of no use, not at all, it is that I find them hard to use with my technique. Gouache is a thicker, flatter type of paint and though it may have uses in adding small amounts of strong colour, I have never used it for washes so would be unable at this moment in time to recommend it. I would advise anyone who paints to try it out sometime, you never know. I believe that if something works then use it. But you will only discover that if you give it a go.

APT: What differentiates your books from other instructional books is the level of detail in your step-by-step instructions. You spell everything out even when it takes 39 photographs to explain one project. Who decided upon this format? Was it you? The publisher?

Billy Showell: The publisher Search Press does a huge range of craft books and so the format is set out, however I had always planned that if I did a “how to” book, it would have all the steps not some of them. When I was learning I would have appreciated more information from the books that I read. I have had great feedback from people who have read the book, so I guess it is a good idea.

APT: Given that your books reflect a thorough methodical approach to instruction, we can only image the level of instruction you provide in your instructional DVDs. Will you produce a DVD to accompany Watercolor Fruit & Vegetable Portraits?

Billy Showell: Yes the DVD is on it’s way. I am due to have a look at the first edit any day. There are four projects from start to finish, so I hope to have them on sale soon.

APT: Have you ever taught a class in the U.S.? If not, would you be interested in teaching here?

Billy Showell: Yes I would love to! I would love it if art clubs or even individuals would get in touch so that we could put something in the diary. The Hunt Institute bought one of my paintings this year so I would love to go and see the exhibition that it will be in.

The best thing about writing the books is that it has put me in touch with so many great people all interested in the art and it has allowed me to travel to places that I’ve never been (visited). In February, I went to Australia and have since been invited to New Zealand, but will need to allow a little time before flying so far so soon. I have also got about the British Isles, visiting places that have been so beautiful that I am ashamed I have not been there before.

APT: At the annual conference of the American Society of Botanical Artists (ASBA), a portfolio sharing session is always held on the first day of the conference. It is here where ASBA members learn about the professional lives of some of the exhibiting artists when they see examples of an artists’ commercial work next to their elegant botanical paintings. Are you primarily a botanical artist by day or are your days filled with commercial projects related to other disciplines?

Billy Showell: My time truly is spent teaching and preparing work for exhibitions or the books. I do illustrate in a different cartoon style based on my fashion illustration work for magasines etc., but I don’t do botanical illustrations commercially. I am not with an agency so I guess I am out of the radar.

APT: You teach at many locations including your private studio, private group events, and even a cycling café. We have to ask, given the café’s location along the C2C route, who enrolls in your class at the cycling café? Are they tourists or are they usually local residents?

Billy Showell: The cycle cafe runs all kinds of craft and art classes and Annie, who runs them, just found me on the SBA website and liked the style of my work. The students come from the surrounding area and either already study botanical work or relish the chance of trying. The food is great there too! You can hire bikes from there but the students are usually too tired to do that after a days tuition. Cyclists can just visit for refreshment and a rest, they don’t have to pick up a paint brush.

APT: You appear to be a very patient hands-on type of instructor. What challenges do you face as an instructor in the Distance Learning Diploma Course managed by the Society of Botanical Artists? Do you provide feedback over the phone or is your contact with students primarily through written correspondence or email?

Billy Showell: I respond in writing although some do call me for advice. I see my role as highlighting the areas that need work and encouraging the student on the aspect of their work that truly shines, if you don’t celebrate the good, one will always dwell on the not so good, which has a knock on effect to your confidence. The course really teaches you to teach yourself, double-checking your work and appraising it before you send it to a tutor really ensures that you are doing the best you can and pushing yourself to improve. I am aware that the written response received without facial expression or a gentle delivery could be misinterpreted, so I try very hard to explain constructive criticism in a form that I would be happy to receive. The tutors also sketch out suggestions or paint the odd demo when it is required. I am glad to part of the team of tutors encouraging others to enjoy and explore the art.

APT: What is the most important piece of advice that you share with your students as they refine their skills as botanical artists?

Billy Showell: To enjoy it! Most people take up the art of botanical illustration to backup their love of plants or gardening and to indulge themselves in an art form that celebrates the beauty of the world around us and all too often they spend too much time criticising their attempts and making themselves unhappy. I believe that through happiness we learn, so look at your work and try to see the areas that have improved and learn from them. In the early days I would cut out the good bits of a painting and keep them in a folder and the bad bits would go to recycling. That way when I looked back, I would enjoy the process of improving rather than be reminded of disasters. A good teacher is a huge help but don’t be afraid to try other tutors so that you develop your own unique style and keep adding to your knowledge of techniques. I recall the tutors in my own education history and it is the ones who took the trouble to inspire and to educate, that really helped me to develop my own skills and believe in the work that I create.

Related Link
Billy Showell’s website

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Our interview with Billy Showell will be published next Monday. Be sure to check back next week. In the meantime, Billy is featured as the “Author of the Month” at Search Press. You can read this feature here.

Great news about Billy’s new book. The U.S. publisher received it last week and our shipment is on its way! Thank you to those who have placed your pre-orders. If you would like to place an order for a copy hot off the press, go to ArtPlantae Books.

Today is the last day to send your questions to Billy. Questions received so far range from how to paint white flowers to how to set up an ergonomic work space in the studio.

What do you want to ask?

Send your questions to AskTheArtist@artplante.com.

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ArtPlantae Books is hosting a meet-n-greet event in honor of the release of Billy Showell’s new book. Below is the timeline for this special online event:

March 23 – Review of Watercolor Flower Portraits at ArtPlantaeToday.com

March 30 – Review of Watercolor Fruit & Vegetable Portraits at ArtPlantaeToday.com Online author event with Billy Showell to launch Watercolor Fruit and Vegetable Portraits, at ArtPlantaeToday.com. You are invited to ask Billy questions about botanical art, her books, and her art. Send
questions to AskTheArtist@artplantae.com. Submit “Ask The Artist” questions anytime before April 13th.

April 13 – All “Ask The Artist” questions are due today.

April 20 – An Interview with Billy Showell at ArtPlantaeToday.com.

April 27 – “Ask The Artist” Q&A published ArtPlantaeToday.com.

Pre-Order Now!
(available April)

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Watercolour Fruit & Vegetable Portraits is a comprehensive resource for all artists. Billy Showell provides how-to instruction addressing the colors, shapes, textures and patterns observed in fruits and vegetables. This book is for anyone who has ever wanted to paint the fruit and vegetables in their home garden.

Right from the start Billy teaches readers how to observe patterns and how to think about the placement of various botanical elements. In her discussion of the drawing process, she does away with drawing’s “mythical status” and ensures readers that everyone is capable of learning how to draw. Billy takes the anxiety out of composition and patiently offers detailed instruction on how to mix browns, greens and dark washes. In a 4-page section that all painters will appreciate, Billy shares color combinations that will enable readers to mix the unique colors of 28 fruits and vegetables.

Demonstrations of ten essential watercolor techniques are presented. Techniques include wet-into-wet, color blending, color lifting, and dry brush. There are also demonstrations of how to glaze over shadows, how to use lifting preparation, how to scratch out highlights, how to use masking fluid to create the illusion of a shiny surface, and how to apply layers of paint to achieve color strengthening. Readers are also shown how to create highlights and shadows.

Several technique tips and small projects are presented in this book. Tips and projects include:

  • How to paint white vegetables
  • How to paint flowers and the veins on petals
  • How to paint patterns and highlights on sweet corn
  • How to paint patterns found on zucchini
  • How to capture the texture of artichoke bracts
  • How to create and apply the appropriate colors when painting black bean pods
  • How to paint corn husks
  • How to paint the changing colors of an asparagus stalk
  • How to paint roots
  • How to paint small fruit

The last four projects in the book are detailed step-by-step tutorials about how to paint kohlrabi, pumpkins, lemons, and assorted berries. Tutorials range in length from 42 to 59 steps.

Watercolour Fruit & Vegetable Portraits by Billy Showell contains many practical tips, step-by-step tutorials, and examples of finished studies. Throughout Billy discusses mistakes often made by artists and provides solutions along the way. Billy’s thorough approach ensures that even the most timid watercolorist will feel at ease applying what they learn from this comprehensive resource.

This book will be released in the U.S. in mid-April 2009 and will be available at ArtPlantae Books. You can pre-order this book here.

Related articles:
The Beauty Is In The Details

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Billy Showell is the author of Watercolor Flower Portraits and a five-time recipient of the Certificate of Botanical Merit, an honor awarded by the Society of Botanical Artists. ArtPlantae Books is pleased to host an author event celebrating the publication of Billy’s second book, Watercolor Fruit & Vegetable Portraits.

You are cordially invited to participate in a question-and-answer session with Billy Showell. Billy looks forward to receiving your questions. If you would like to ask Billy a question pertaining to botanical art, her books, her painting techniques, etc., please send your question to AskTheArtist@artplantae.com no later than Monday, April 13, 2009.

Learn more about Billy Showell at www.billyshowell.co.uk.

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The companion book to Billy Showell’s Watercolour Flower Portraits will be published in the United States in May, instead of in February. Many thanks to those of you who placed your name on the waiting list. Your patience is appreciated.

Interested in this new title? Add your name to our Interest List. Please write SHOWELL in the subject line.

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