Trade Secrets – tips from Botanical Artists
One of the great benefits of being in a Botanical Art Society is being able to share ideas and tips on everything from painting techniques to keeping those plants looking fresher for longer. We asked some of our members to send us their favourite botanical art tips. Read on, there is definitely something here for everyone!
Are you struggling to arrange your plants for painting and can’t afford a laboratory-type stand and clamp? Try this ingenious idea from artist Sarah Morrish–
I have used a piece of scrap plywood, or alternatively a piece of stiff cardboard will do, and painted it white. It slots into a piece of wood at the base that has had a slit sawn/cut out of it. Strips of Velcro self-adhesive tape have been stuck at intervals across the board. My local florist charges 15c each for old plastic tubes with a stretchy lid, and then I stick some Velcro around them. These can then be filled with water and hung at any angle to hold your plant specimen. It’s especially good for trailing plants.
Dianne Sutherland (SBA): I draw all my component parts of a composition separately onto pieces of tracing paper and then move them around on a sheet of white paper to decide on the best arrangement. You can also flip the tracings over if need be. I take a few photos of the various arrangements to decide on the best option. Always work in odd numbers. ( www.diannesutherland.com and http://diannesutherland.blogspot.ie/ )
Frances Wortley: To keep small plant pieces fresh, place them in a plastic bag and fill the bag with air by blowing into it, tie it tightly and place in the fridge. The air in the bag keeps the plastic off the plant acting as a sort of cushion. A plant will keep fresh a couple of days this way.
If a flower like a rose has wilted and drooped at the neck, lay the whole stem in water for a while, making sure it is all immersed- it should recover perfectly.
Jarnie Godwin (dipSBA dist) : If you are doing a busy card design or a composition with lots of the same flower or leaves, trace just a few and use these in different ways and directions to give a full appearance. The honeysuckle heart painting is a good example of where I have used repeat tracings of leaves and buds. Using repeats really helps if you have to do an odd shaped composition or a specified size. (thanks KRD for giving me that tip!)
I was also given a good tip about shadow tones (thank you JJ) – use the colours in your existing project palette to get a realistic and complementary look. My ‘Alternative Alliums’ vegetable study demonstrates the shadow tone tip, particularly on the paler parts of the leek.
To keep plants fresh, I keep them in the fridge. I’ve just got hold of a big polystyrene box with a lid, the type that fruit and veg get transported in. Put a freezer block from a picnic set in it and it’s great to pop your plants in. ( http://jarnieg.blogspot.ie/ )
Elizabeth Prendergast: A teaspoonful of brown sugar at the bottom of a vase keeps your flowers fresher for longer- it really does work!
Keep your light source constant, especially if you have to move into another room or have to use an electric light! ( http://elizabethprendergast.wordpress.com/ )
Shevaun Doherty : Use double-sided sellotape to keep your leaves/petals flat for botanical illustration. (Thank you BS for that tip!)
A leaf rubbing using a soft pencil and cheap paper is a great way of observing the venation and shape of a leaf.
When disaster happens and that splodge of paint does not want to lift, try using a Magic Eraser. Cut it into a wedge shape, dampen it slightly and gently stroke the stain… it really works!! (JML Doktor Power Magic Eraser is available at Homebase and other hardware stores)
Doreen Hamilton: Small pieces of plant, leaves and flowers can be scanned directly onto a scanner with the lid open, and then printed out onto A4 paper. It’s very useful if you think the specimen is going to die or droop ( http://ayearinanangleseywildflowermeadow.blogspot.ie/ )
Sarah Morrish: When I’m out and about and know that I may want to collect some small plant specimens, I always take a plastic container with me. The best type are Chinese takeaway containers as they are quite slim and compact. I lay several layers of kitchen roll paper in the bottom of the container and then run water over it, letting the excess drain away, and then cover with the lid. I then place my botanical specimen in the box and it normally keeps really well until I get home and then I place it in the fridge, where it can often live for a few weeks! If I have cool bag with me when I am out, then I often place the container in there. *Sarah’s website is http://www.natures-details.com and the blog is http://www.thenaturalyear.blogspot.com
Claire Ward (SBA) : Opaque colours and granulating paints like Daniel Smith’s hematite are great for textures in the last layers, especially for autumn leaves, fungi and lichen twigs. I have plenty of earth colours and browns like burnt umber and sepia but it’s great to mix your own too, for example winsor violet and quinacridone gold make a beautiful golden brown. This leaf is from a beautiful specimen tulip tree, Liriodendron tulipifera. It was painted with some granulating Daniel Smiths watercolours which are superb for this type of botanical. My favourite autumn colours are PY53(new gamboge by W&N), PY110 (M.Graham) and PO49 (quin deep gold).The pigments PO48 and PO49 are hard to get hold of now so if you can get them, do! Quinacridone golds are now usually made with a mix of PY150 and other pigments. Beware of staining colours like some of the quinacridones and pthalos if you want to lift paint for veins etc. ( http://www.claireward.net/ and http://www.drawntopaintnature.blogspot.ie/ )
Lorraine Adams (dipSBA): Take a photo of your subject in black and white (or change it to grayscale on the computer) so you can see the tonal variations. I often take a photo or scan in black and white/grayscale of my painting at different stages, so I can see if I am achieving the tonal variations correctly.
Always use two pots of water, one for adding water to mixes and blending, and the other for rinsing out your brush.
Mary McInerney: I was given this tip recently about putting your plant in the fridge. Stand the plant in a tall container filled at the base with small stones, the stones seem to keep the water fresh. Place the container in a large plastic bag that goes up and around the plant, leaving the top opened. This seems to prevent the leaves from frost damage and keeps the leaves crisp.
Jane Stark: Fed up with constantly having to sharpen my pencil whilst doing line drawings, I recently invested in a 0.3mm Pentel mechanical pencil from www.pencils4artists.co.uk It works beautifully. I bought HB but they come in a whole range of grades from 4H to B
Many thanks to all the artists who graciously took the time to share their tips and images here.
If you have any tips that you also want to share, we would love to hear from you! Please feel free to add it to the comments below, or email it directly to us. We hope to make Botanical Art Tips a regular feature of the blog.
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