Tuesday 10 November 2015

Student Sketchbook Coursework

We are now nearing the end of the first presentation of the Creating a Sketchbook Course and another group of students will start the course this week. Students on this course and on the Botanical Illustration Course have produced some beautiful sketchbook work over the last few months and are hopefully now seeing the benefits of working in this way. Here is just a small selection of work which students have kindly given permission for me to include, There will be a second post because we have so much wonderful work to show. It's great to see all of the hard work coming together and I hope that the students have all enjoyed the courses...I know I have!

Lou Bailey's Trumpet Vine sketch page. A beautiful clean drawing and colour study
At the start of the course students begin by creating a personal title page, this is where they get the  opportunity to use their imagination and to draw on their personal interests. Below you can see the work of  Creating a Sketchbook student, Didi Phillips, who used the local woods for inspiration.

Wonderfully designed title page by Didi Phillips and below a detail in graphite and watercolour as students are encouraged to use different mediums.

A second page to accompany the title page from Didi Philips using graphite detail, and watercolour
The process of making sketchbooks is something that really allows students of focus and explore subjects without the same pressure of producing a final art work, it frees the mind up to experiment. It fine tunes our observational skills and gives us a greater understanding of plant form and function. It can be investigative and/or decorative. It allows us to experiment with colour and technique......the only limit is our imagination.  

Another beautifully composed title page illustrating the Lotus flower by Nereide Gilhead. Here she worked from her photographs taken from a time when she lived in Southern USA. The flower, which means 'new beginnings' was a reminder of her old home.  

Annemie Vandersloten also chose Graphite for her  title page in this well balanced double page spread study of flowering Ivy. She also made a beautiful fabric wallet to keep the sketchbook in.
Detailed study and observational drawing is an important skill for the botanical artist and below are a couple of examples of such studies. The early part of the course focuses on such drawing using graphite as well as the collation of important information regarding each subject.

Chris Mossman makes multiple observational drawings of sweet peas from different aspects, as well as making colour studies, taking photographs and making invaluable reference notes. This is great work to fine tune the drawing skills
Sabina Kumschick gets to grips with graphite line drawing with leaf drawings and skeleton drawings of flowers in her sketchbook. Sabina produced many many sketchbook entries as part of the course
Moving on to tonal work, Susan Konkel made beautiful delicate drawings of flowers from different angles
 Detailed subject studies in colour are also completed as part of the course and students are given video demonstrations showing how to create a colour study page. Feedback is given throughout via email and through a dedicated Facebook Group where work is shared for students who wish to participate.
Didi Philips made some wonderful comprehensive colour studies of Lavatera ' Silver Cup' in dissection and bud. Here she experiments with differnt techniques withthe washes and dry brush. She grew the plant in her garden.

Trumpet vine Study page by Kathleen Gordon provides much of the necessary information to complete further work on the subject. This is a very interesting page which is full of detail. 

Plum study by Deborah Greener, an excellent drawing where you can see how Deborah has worked out the form and colour in relation to light.
Sometimes though just a spontaneous off-the-cuff painting is like a breath of fresh air....there are no strict rules of what you can and can't do in a sketchbook.....after all it's your own personal journal! So simple spontaneous studies are encouraged too.

Full of life! a simple study of rose hips by Sabina Kumschick. Here she creates the shine that typifies the rose hip, I believe that she she completed this work after paying close attention to the video tutorials which dealt with rose hips.

Katerina Rubbo makes a lovely spontaneous study of a turnip in her sketchbook. Note the lovely movement in the stem.
But students are also requested to complete double page spreads which make best use of the space and to complete mixed studies.

Over the course students become more confident in filling the page in a creative way, working with mixed subject matter and media. Here Sabina Kumschick fills the page beautifully in this mixed subject study.
And of course you can take your sketchbook with you wherever yo go, and in the latter part of the course students complete studies away from the comfort of their desk. This can be anywhere, such as on holiday, in a glass house, botanic garden or even in your own garden.

Sabina Kumshick made loose watercolour studies of Magnolia seed pods and stunning blue Morning Glory whilst on holiday in Muralto Ticino, Switzerland.

Beautiful single subject study of a tomato by Kathleen Gordon. Kathleen has completed a number of courses with me, which include  Botanical Illustration and Composition. I particularly like the composition and light and shade in this piece which really brings it to life and the movement of the subject on the page leads the eye over the piece to create interest.
Hopefully some students will pluck up the courage to write a blog post here, about their experiences. They have all worked very hard and are always enthusiastic and deserve to have their work shown to a wider audience. Personally I'm honoured to work with so many talented individuals who come from from all over the globe. As the new courses begin I look forward to working with new students on both Botanical Illustration and the Creating a Sketchbook Courses 

Saturday 15 August 2015


Lovely warm days coming in our area and small little flowers are growing beside the road. This flower is called Freesia. As far as I understand, it is a native to South Africa but appeared in Australia sometime ago. It was named after Friedrich Freese, German botanist and doctor. Light bell shaped flowers ranging from yellow to light violet/purple.The fragrance is very  delicate and the flowers have long thin leaves. They grow in gardens and beside the road quite profusely so I was able to get a few for a study. Study with pencil.

Monday 27 July 2015

Botanical Sketchbook Course, Artist Collective

A typical sketchbook entry with drawings, painting, colour testing and annotation
The importance of keeping a sketchbook should never be underestimated, these precious books can give a real insight into an artists  process and their interests, which can often be much more intriguing than a final work! Sketchbooks allow artists to research their subjects and to fine tune observational skills.  They facilitate drawing and painting practise without the pressure of producing a finished work. They allow compositional ideas to be formulated. A large body of study material can be created without the commitment of a final piece. Consequently sketchbooks act like an experimental  journal, a personal library, from which the artist can pick and choose subjects to take forward.

A new sketchbook underway. Stillman and Birn Zeta series are favourites
With all of this in mind I recently developed a new short course focusing on creating a botanical sketchbook and also decided to incorporate it into my existing Botanical Illustration Course.

This blog isn't about my work but is for all of the students studying courses with me, and participants will be added as authors. Hopefully they will contribute here to show off their books. But I will kick things off and contribute myself, over time I hope that a thriving collective effort can be created with perhaps a few guest contributors too!   

 In the past I didn't keep very good sketchbooks but since I started doing so can't think how I managed without them! Every year I used to feel as though so many plants had been overlooked because I simply didn't have time to draw or paint them, for me the sketchbook fills that gap. I believe that my way of 'seeing' and my work have both improved as a direct result and now keep books for a variety of different purposes, some are on specific colours, such as greens, others on certain subjects, such as flower shapes or particular projects ( e.g. graveyard plants) and many more that are just general sketching....basically they include anything I fancy! It's the freedom that really appeals to me and I've also been fortunate enough to be involved in an exciting Sketchbook Exchange project, which is incredibly rewarding. One of the things I really love about sketchbooks is documenting a plant in different phases at different times of year. Then looking back over them. Funny I always seem to recall where I was and what I was doing with sketchbooks. Much more so than with finished works.

Page 1.  Getting to know the plant! Starting with some simple measured line drawings and leaf rubbings. This helps me to get to grips with the basics, here the component parts of a Philadelphus, which grows outside my flat
  For this course I cover the various approaches in graphite and watercolour, including sections working in the field as well as using photo reference. I've worked through the exercises myself before trying it out on the students! and will continue along side the students....It's a learning curve for me too. I also make videos documenting the process and additional materials drawn from other courses. But I'm also open to suggestions and we have a Facebook Group for sharing, discussion and hopefully some development. This is one of my efforts!

Page 2.  Adding a drawing of the typical habit of the plant, a long branch with opposite leaves and multiple flowers at the end
Page 3 and 4. Next up, a bit more detail, some tonal studies of the plant, figure out whats light and whats dark! make descriptive notes of the features.

Page 5 and 6. Finally add a colour study. This allows me to work out all of the colour mixes  and to try out different approaches and techniques
The process, I believe, gives me a real insight to a plant. Most of the entries will probably never be used as reference for finished paintings but they document plants that I find of interest but probably wouldn't ever have had the time to paint, some I will no doubt paint in the future. This approach gives me total freedom outside the usual rigour of being a botanical artist and I can add insects and other natural objects that grab my attention. There are no rules about what can and can not be included, there is just a desire to observe, discover and understand. Some entries may make it to study pages and even to final paintings but most of all the  sketchbook is about enjoying the process and indulging in it.

........I hope that the Sketchbook students will contribute to this blog documenting their journey too