|Spring Flowers - watercolour on paper|
1) First of all tell us a little about your background... where you grew up, where you live now, any jobs beside botanical art, family... stuff like that...
I grew up in rural Lincolnshire, where I spent much of my childhood up to my eyes in mud. I've lived in several places, including Coventry in the Midlands and Weston-Super-Mare near Bristol, but I now live in Edinburgh, a place where I really feel at home. Now I can't imagine living anywhere else.
I was always 'good at art', and I went from school to further education studying art. However I was always a bit directionless and never seemed to settle into any discipline. Things came to a head when at Coventry University doing a Degree in Fine Art. What I thought of as fine art, and what my tutors thought of as fine art were apparently two very different things! I left there after two years as I had no interest in learning to talk pretentious bullsh*t about crap I knocked up five minutes before my finals.
I spent the next ten years getting married, having two children, working in home care for the elderly, and getting divorced.
2) How and when did you become interested in Botanical Art?
After I divorced I moved to Edinburgh and a friend here took me to visit the Royal Botanic Gardens. While we were sampling their excellent homemade soup in one of the cafes, I noticed a leaflet advertising a Diploma in Botanical Illustration. I knew immediately that it was something I'd been looking for all this time. I applied and was accepted.
3) Tell us a bit about your art training, your education and courses?
I have GCSE's (school leavers level 16+) in Art, and 3D art.
A Level (higher level) Art and Design
BTEC National Diploma in Art and Design
HND in General Education (this represents my two years of a Fine Art Degree)
These were all gained pre 1995.
Now of course I have a Diploma with distinction in Botanical Illustration from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh.
4) What’s the most valuable lesson you ever learned about drawing or painting?
Mix your own greens, and always add a little red
5) If you could choose a current botanical artist to watch over his/her shoulder when he/she is working.... who would you pick? Why you would choose this artist?
There are so many. Everyone has something that can be learned from. I've really enjoyed the chance to watch Lizzie Sanders at work, she teaches a part of the Diploma at the RBGE.
I think Rachel Pedder-Smith would be great to watch as she does the type of subject I am very interested in - the dried nuts and seeds and so on.
6) Everybody learns all the time but is there something you would love to learn in botanical art more than anything else?
Complex forms, such as flowerheads full of stamens, or seedheads like the thistles and so on.
7) Is there any subject or element within painting or drawing that you have difficulties with? Do you avoid these troubles or do you take a deep breath and go for it?
During my diploma I tried to push myself as much as possible. I did an entire painting of only yellow flowers for example. Yellow can actually be more difficult to depict than white, and I chose Primulas, Daffodils and yellowish foliage. I learned so much more that way, I think.
8) What is your best trick for fixing mistakes?
Don't make them!
Actually, I tend to use Fabriano five paper and non-staining paints. This way I can lift off most mistakes with clean water and a stiff-ish brush. I've not needed to cut the paper or anything yet.
Often my mistakes tend to be compositional or observational, and I end up restarting whole paintings as a consequence. Only more and more drawing beforehand and better observational skills can overcome these kinds of mistakes, so I keep practising.
9) Beginners are often very frightened of perspective. How did you learn to see and tackle perspective/foreshortening?
Perspective can be difficult. I think I had a headstart as I did life drawing from a model for many years, which really helped develop a good sense of perspective. I think the only way to learn it is to look and observe as closely as possible, and to practise, practise, practise. Draw what you see, not what you think you see.
|Alnus glutinosa - watercolour on paper|
10) Do you work with different mediums, and, is there one you prefer more than the others?
Pencil (graphite tonal work) and watercolour. I have used coloured pencils, but I think I'll leave them to the experts like Sigrid! I didn't really enjoy working with them so much. Now I tend to use coloured pencil (and gouache) to add accents to my work, or for really fine details like hairs. I use white gouache sparingly with my watercolours and find it good for doing bloom.
11) What are your favourite paints, brushes, paper or any other materials and tools? Why do you prefer these?
Fabriano 5, or Fabriano Artistico, depending on whether I want white or cream as a background. I've tried other papers and don't like any of them. Arches especially disagrees with me. The Fabriano is very forgiving, and allows erasing, lifting and plenty of re-drawing before becoming fuzzy, and even then is quite tolerant of being 'burnished' smooth with a piece of polished stone or the back of a spoon.
I use W&N artist's paints; My favourites at the moment are Indanthrene Blue, Perylene Maroon, Greengold, New Gamboge and Winsor Lemon.
W&N Series 7 miniature brushes. I mostly use a size 2, but use a 4 for larger washes (of which I don't do many) and a 000 for very fine details.
I have a putty rubber, which can be rolled over pencil to remove it, which disturbs the paper surface much less. A piece of polished malachite for burnishing and a crow feather to brush dust or eraser bits from the painting (I never use my hand, as grease can be transferred to the paper that way)
12) Every plant has a different kind of green and artists need to be careful not to use the same green every time. Most botanical artists however have a green mix they love more than others. What is your favourite green mix?
Indanthrene Blue, with a touch of Perylene Maroon, and then either Winsor lemon, Greengold or New Gamboge for the yellow. Just about any shade of green can be made with these five colours.
13) What 6 colours would you choose for a basic botanical art palette?
The five above and maybe a premixed brown; like Sepia or Burnt Sienna.
14) Your workspace or studio... what does it look like?
It's a dedicated corner of my living room, basically a table with a table-easel on it, a stand for holding plant specimens and a box with all my 'stuff' in it. It's usually quite messy. It's right by the window (the window is on my left as I sit to paint) so I don't use artificial light sources.
15) Do you have a favourite book about botanical art?
Sarah Simblett's Botany for the Artist. Great illustrations and photos and very clear, easy to read text. Full of useful advice.
I also have some of Stellar Ross-Craig's Drawings of British Plants which are wonderful.
16) How would you describe your own style? What makes it differ from that of other artists?
My work has been described as very 'solid'. I don't use much water and rarely do large washes. As a result I think my work is bolder and looks more confident than some others.
17) Do you have any favourite subjects or a plant you love to paint more than any other?
I love conifers, and pine cones. Everytime I go for a walk I come back with pockets full of pine cones and leaves and seeds. I prefer green and brown plants to colourful flowers.
18) Do you have a favourite location to study and paint the local flora?
Scotland. I want to do more paintings of the local flora here.
19) What is your favourite painting or drawing made by yourself?
My favourite drawing is probably a pair of Bishop's Pine (Pinus muricata) cones attached to a short piece of branch that I did as preparation for my final diploma pieces.
My favourite painting is of the Alder (Alnus glutinosa) I did as my first year final piece.
20) What is your favourite painting or drawing by someone else?
The Monkey Puzzle by Isik Güner. It was exhibited here at the RBGE and later at BISCOT and the RHS, and is a wonderfully controlled depiction of a very complex subject.
|Rosehips - graphite on paper|
21) It’s always interesting to know which old master inspires you, do you have a particular favourite?
Da Vinci of course. I guess he kind of goes without saying.
I really like the Pre-Rahaelities for their bold realism and attention to detail and Alphonse Mucha for his beautiful flowing lines and subtle colouring.
22) Is there a current botanical artist that you admire?
Rachel Peddar-Smith, Lizzie Sanders, and Isik Güner.
23) What are you working on now? Or is it a secret?
I'm currently halfway through my spider plant. I should also be doing a small Alder piece, some Holly and a 'pink version' of my yellow flower composition.
24) What subject is on top of your wish list? The dream-project....
If we're talking dreams...I'd love to be the first Botanical Illustrator to paint a plant from another planet. While watching 'Avatar' recently I've been going mad trying to see the plants in more detail! It really appeals to my geeky side.
More down to Earth: I'd like to do a book of all the rare Conifers (that's about half of all the species).
25) Any final words?
You only improve by practising, and by doing things you are not comfortable doing. Push yourself and practise every day.
The word on the Distance learning course at the RBGE at the moment is that it'll be three years long (possibly 4) and will involve visiting the RBGE each year. They're also looking at introducing distance learning for more of their courses, including Botany and Science subjects. I'll keep you informed as I learn more.
And finally thanks for asking me to be artist of the month.
Sharon has a website where you can see more of her wonderful work: http://www.sharontingey.com/
|cross section of a cone from Sciadopitys verticillata|