Sunflower video- 4th part posted on YouTube

Good morning!

I posted the fourth and last part of the sunflower demonstration on YouTube. (Finally!!)

Here is a link:

I hope you enjoy it,

Happy painting!

Designing a Christmas card

While the rules of composition apply to card design, composition and design are two different things.

When composing a painting, the artist has to take into account depth and perspective, the mood they want to convey, the size and orientation of the picture as well as the mount’s placement. If illustrating for a book, practical issues come into play as well, with the format and space allocated to illustrations.

Designing for a card has one principal element: impact. The space on a greeting card is limited and the painting has to have maximum impact in this reduced space. The priorities change: perhaps depth and shadows are less important than striking colours, and realistic depictions can give way to slightly looser, more eye-catching pictures.

Composing a painting looks at the real subject and draws directly from it, in whatever style you choose. Design takes you one further step away from your subject.

Here are a few things to have in mind while designing a Christmas card:

  • Composition rules

I will write a different post on composition so I will not go into the rules in great detail here. The same applies for a painting and for a card: the movement of the composition needs to lead the eye around the picture and special care should be taken with negative shapes. The composition should be balanced, in shapes and in colours.

  • Scale
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The bleed is drawn around the edge and taken into account when calculating card proportions

The first thing to work out with a design is the shape of the finished picture. For example, if the card is 10 x 10 cm, the original painting has to be 10 x 10 cm as well, or in scale with the card so that it can be reduced to 10 x 10cm. The details on a reduced painting will look impressive but by reducing too much there is a risk of losing them and thus lessening impact. I would not recommend designing a smaller painting and enlarge it for a card, as the details and edges would look scruffy.

  • Edges

The decision on how to treat the edges needs to be taken early in the design process. The painting needs to sit well within the edges or it has to overlap the edges enough to print without leaving a white space around the design. This is called the “bleed” and if not considered properly it might ruin the card design at the printing stage.

  • Be original

While people might prefer a classic composition for a painting on the wall, a greeting card is the perfect space to be more creative and playful with the subject. Someone opening an envelope will react to the card in a split second, so the image needs to be arresting in order to get a second, more in-depth look.

  • Make it personal
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Ink on watercolour paper

A Christmas card is meant to convey personal wishes. A personal card that means something to you and/or the receiver will be appreciated, especially compared to the mass produced banalities that circulate by the hundreds. If you have a pet, a favourite tree in your garden, or a pretty thatched cottage, include them in the design. If the receiver of the card lives in a beautiful thatched cottage, ignore those negative jealous feelings and paint an image of their gorgeous home (in the snow, with a reindeer in the front garden) for them.

Above all, have a relaxed, enjoyable time designing your cards. If it’s chilly outside, add a hot toddy to the painting process. It will help loosen up these drawing skills…

Happy painting!

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Supermoon gazing at West Dean Gardens

I am spending a few days at West Dean College, teaching two courses in a row with a day off in between. Today I can have a lie in, admiring the ceiling in my beautiful tower room, taking the time to feel all Rapunzel like. I will go for a few walks, eat the gorgeous food in the restaurant, sit by the giant fire that burns night and day from mid-November to the end of winter in the Oak Hall, doing crochet in a big armchair while getting roasted and generally being lazy.

For a few days we have a Supermoon to admire at night. The biggest this century apparently. I went for a long walk in the arboretum last night at sunset and took a few pictures I was quite pleased with…

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… until I came back and my friend Stephen Tattersall, who is a security guard here, showed me his.

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Isn’t this an amazing picture?

Don’t forget to go out and watch the skies tonight. The full moon will coincide with the perigee and we won’t get our moon this bright and this close again in our lifetime. I suppose we should also skip under the moonlight through the dewy fields while wearing nothing but a garland of autumn leaves but we don’t want to catch a chill… so let’s just wrap up warm and look up.

Happy moon gazing and happy skipping if you’re up for it!

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The end of the Society of Floral Painters

Saturday 5th of November was a sad day for flower painters.

After 20 years, the last AGM of the Society of Floral Painters took place in Salisbury, a last chance for old friends to say goodbye. There were many a tear shed as members and committee members expressed their affection, pride, gratitude and sorrow for a beautiful society that helped and supported so many of us.

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My first memory of the society was in 2002, when I became a member. I was doing a degree in community art work at City College and as part of the degree I took three art units. The art teacher disliked my work and was always very, very mean to me. He used to say things like “You have a lot of talent but you are wasting it on painting flowers!” I couldn’t understand how such a passion for the natural world could be a waste but I would still come home in tears.

The morning of the SFP assessment, I talked to my paintings and even promised a passionflower watercolour that I would keep it forever on my wall if it got me in. I delivered my paintings and waited anxiously. At the end of the day, Vivien came out of the judging room, looking very tall and serious and ballet teacher-like and walked towards me. I felt like I was 10 years old and about to find out if I was going to move up to the next ballet grade. She gave me a little smile and said, “You’ve been a very good girl.” Relief and happiness washed over me. I could have kissed her (Although I didn’t because the “good girl” reference did not help with the “being 10 years old” feeling). Vivien and I became great friends and I have hugged and kissed her many times since…

After I became an SFP member, the teacher at college couldn’t hurt me as much with his vitriolic comments. I was protected, sheltered by a group of like-minded people who understood and admired my work in a way he never could. I thrived within the SFP haven. At my first Mottisfont exhibition, Sue and Roy Lancaster bought one of my paintings and I launched into this unexpected artist career.

The starting point was the SFP and the reassuring idea that there was a place for me in the art world. I kept my promise; the passionflower is still hanging on the wall.

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All present yesterday have similar memories: warm welcome, friendly support, a launch pad for a career, meeting friends with the same passions, a dedicated committee organising exhibitions to show our work, Caroline’s beautiful handwriting… The Society of Floral Painters was some or all of this to each of us and we will all remember something different. The one last thing we all have in common is the sadness of losing this amazing, beautiful society.

This is truly the end of an era…

 

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Transparent vs opaque colours

I often get questions that start with “This might be a stupid question but…”

Stupid questions are the essential ones; the questions people are worried about asking because they think everyone else knows the answer. But they don’t! And they really wish they did, so don’t be afraid to ask…

Our third question comes from Stella, who was at my West Dean course in September: what exactly is the difference between transparent and opaque paints and how does it affect my paintings?

The answer is that transparent paints let the light through to the underlying paper while the opaque paints reflect the light, effectively blocking it and stopping it from reaching the paper. The effect is that transparent paints have a more glowing, three-dimensional finish thanks to the resulting layering, while the opaque paints have a flatter, matt appearance.

Some media such as gouache, chalks and pastels will always be opaque, because the medium itself is opaque.

Other media such as watercolours, oils and acrylics are transparent, so the transparency/opacity of the paint will depend on another factor, which is the pigment used in each colour.

When it comes to transparency, there are 4 categories of pigments:

  • Transparent, which let all the light through
  • Semi-transparent, which let most of the light through but reflect a small part
  • Semi-opaque, which reflect most of the light but let a small amount through
  • Opaque, which reflect all the light and let nothing through

Here are some examples of what this means in practice.

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Case A – A single wash of transparent blue over white paper

The light goes through the paint, bounces off the paper and comes back through the layer of paint. The eye sees the blue colour, with a bright finish thanks to the brightness of the white paper underneath.

Case B – A single wash of opaque red covers the paper

The light bounces off the paint without allowing it to travel through to the white paper. The eye sees the red colour, with a flatter finish because of the lack of depth.

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Case C – Three layers of transparent paint over white paper

The light travels through all the layers, bounces off the white paper and comes back through all the layers. The eye sees all the colours at once, with a lot of depth created by the layering.

Case D – One opaque wash of green between two layers of transparent colours

The light goes through the yellow layer to the green opaque layer but cannot go any further. The eye will see the green through the yellow, giving a yellowy green colour with some depth, but the grey layer and the white paper will disappear entirely, limiting that depth and annihilating the white paper-given glow.

Now it’s up to you to play with all the above, combining your pigments to reach your desired effects. Remember that this will only work in a transparent medium. If the medium is opaque, only the top layer will be visible no matter what pigments are used.

Examples of transparent colours: all the Quinacridones and Phthalo colours, Permanent Rose, Gamboge and Indian Yellows, Perylenes and most blacks.

Examples of opaque colours: all the Cadmiums, Cerulean Blue, Naples Yellow and all whites.

Lemon Yellow and Sap Green are the troublemakers. Depending on the brand, some are transparent and some are opaque. I will write about them in the Pigment Spotlight section in different posts.

There will also be follow-up posts about Optical Mixing and Harmonic Shadows, which are two techniques deriving directly from the transparency/opaque dichotomy.

Keep the questions coming; I will answer them, whether directly or with a blog post or video.

Happy painting!

 

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Artists & Illustrators Magazine is 30 years old!

Artists & Illustrators Magazine is 30 years old… Happy birthday!

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To celebrate this anniversary edition, they are publishing 30 painting challenges in their October issue, which is out now.

I am so pleased to be part of the celebrations, having written 3 of these 30 challenges: painting a botanical quince (number 1), painting a field study of a Japanese Anemone (number 5) and painting an autumn leaf (number 26).

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Challenge number 1

I remember writing my first piece for A&I magazine, in 2005. We were just minutes away from jumping into the car to catch a ferry to France for Christmas when Mr Flora’s Patch answered the phone. He said “It’s Artists & Illustrators Magazine for you…” It was completely out of the blue and I thought it was about my subscription, so I replied “We don’t have time, tell them I’ll phone them when we come back. “ But he wasn’t sure: “I don’t think it’s about a subscription…”

So I took the phone and was surprised to find out it was the editor himself. You would think that a big magazine like that would have someone to deal with subscriptions… But it wasn’t about that. Somebody had pulled out at the last minute and he wanted to know if I would be interested in writing a piece about botanical painting. The catch was that I had only one week before the deadline. So I ended up taking my paintbox to France with me and spent my Christmas holiday painting and writing between bites of Brussels sprouts and mouthfuls of chocolate bûche. A few days after sending in my article I received another phone call from the editor asking, “Did you enjoy doing this? Because I would like you to write more for us…” Since then I have written more than 50 articles and I have worked with 4 successive editors: the original contact was with John, then Lynne, then Steve and now Katie. Painting and writing are two big passions of mine so this is pretty much my idea of a perfect job.

I hope that you enjoy the 30th edition of this great magazine and good luck with the challenges!

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Instagram and interview

What a miserable, cold and rainy Sunday for Mr Flora’s Patch’s birthday!

We thought we would stay at home, doing some gardening and relaxing, avoiding the Bank holiday traffic and general busy-ness of the week-end, but our outdoors chill out plans are rather ruined…

Two bits of news today:

  • I started an Instagram account. Considering my general aversion to social media, this is unexpected. At the Hampshire Artists Open Studio exhibition in which I am taking part, there is an artist called Adam Lay, who manages the media side of the exhibition. He converted me to Instagram. He was very eloquent about it. I cracked. It officially went on line last night and so far there is only one picture and two followers, so it is looking a bit empty. If you have an Instagram account, please go and have a look and follow me; it will make me feel less Instagram-lonely…
  • The Bitterne Park Info website, a really good local website in the area I live in, published an interview and article about me today. If you feel nosy about what I like and dislike, what I read and listen to, you can find it here: Bitterne Parker Sandrine Maugy. They even asked me to tell a joke!

For reasons above I am off duty at the Lockerley exhibition today, but I will be there tomorrow from 10am to 12am and from 2pm to 4pm. Last chance to visit and see me paint this Dahlia ‘Summer Night’…

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One last thing: I added a photo to my white lavender post… I won’t say what it is but it is cheeky beyond measure.

Happy Sunday!

Hampshire Artists Open Studios 2016

This year I am taking part in HAOS away from my studio! I have been invited to join a group called ArtSeen. For many reasons, it made more sense to exhibit with a group this year so I accepted their kind invitation.
The event will take place in Lockerley, a pretty village not far from Romsey.
This is my first textiles exhibition, so I will be selling the things I am making with all my Liberty and FrouFrou fabrics and linen, which is mainly bags and accessories.
I will also have some paintings on the walls, folios in a stand and some greetings cards in a rack.

The exhibition runs from the 20th to the 29th of August from 10am to 5pm and the exact address is Lockerley Village Hall, Butts Green, Lockerley SO51 0JG.

I will be there most days from 10am to 1pm demonstrating with my sewing machine, but do check with me first if you wish to see me!

If you would like to join us for the preview, please RSVP to artseen@artseen.org.uk

HAOS 2016 invite

I am looking forward to seeing some of you there!

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Plant of the month – July 2016 – White lavender

Order:Lamiales Family:Lamiaceae Subfamily:Nepetoideae Genus:Lavandula
Type: Hardy to tender, annual to perennial herbaceous plants or small shrubs
Propagation: Cuttings or Seed (won’t come true in hybrids)
Native to: Mediterranean Europe, Middle East and India

Every year I have a new craze for my garden, a plant I never noticed before or didn’t use to like, which suddenly becomes an essential part of my big plan. Last year it was Sedums, the year before that it was passionflowers, and before that all sorts of Buddlejas in different shades of deep purples. These come and go on a backdrop of all times favourites such as Hydrangeas, roses and the lovely Verbena bonariensis.
This year is the year of the lavender. Probably influenced by my recent holiday in Ardèche, where the vast and lush garden was full of thriving lavender plants that attracted more insects of all varieties than all the other plants. I realised that lavender is beautiful, resilient, low-maintenance, can go a long time in the sun without need of watering and to state the obvious it really does smell lovely.
Like most gardeners I have had lavenders hanging around in the garden for as long as I can remember. However, I have no idea what their second names are and even when buying them myself, I picked randomly without realising the wide range of colours or forms that were available.
I don’t even remember buying the white lavender I chose for this July “plant of the month”. Surprisingly, it has a prominent place, in a border by the patio, next to the path, so the smell flutters up in exquisite waves when we walk by and brush our legs against the flowers. The perfume is strong and spreads easily but it is less medicinal, more floral than the purple lavenders I am used to. Unfortunately, because I haven’t been paying attention, I do not know the exact name of my white lavender. I expect that because I got it from a garden centre, it is probably one of the most common white, ‘Arctic Snow’ or perhaps ‘Alba’.

white lavender 1

Now that my interest is piqued, I am looking online to see what specialist nurseries are offering. I am finding some real beauties! I restrained myself so far and ordered just 4 varieties for now, to see how they will do in my garden. In a couple of days I am even going to visit a lavender farm somewhere around Alton.
In the meanwhile, I shall follow the advice I gathered online while looking up “lavenders” and harvest the seed heads in September to fill sachets for the lingerie drawers and the linen cupboard…

Happy gardening!

Somebody else likes having white lavender in the garden...

Somebody else likes having white lavender in the garden…

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What DID happen to the Fabriano Artistico paper?

On the 12th of July there was an intriguing meeting at the top of a spiral staircase, at the R.K. Burt (paper suppliers) warehouse in London: a handful of botanical artists, the boss Mr Burt himself, as well as Giuseppe and Chiara, marketing directors from the Fabriano mill.

The aim of the meeting was for the artists to voice their concerns about the latest batches of Fabriano Artistico: it seemed that our beloved paper had changed, getting more unpredictable, rendering duller colours and generally messing up our washes. Botanical artists are a notoriously picky bunch, but when so many agreed that something was wrong with the paper, the Fabriano managers decided to act, with the help of Mr Burt and art blogger Katherine Tyrrell. I must say that I hadn’t been affected by this plight as much as some others, because Fabriano is not the only paper I use, so I am still working on old, trouble-free stocks.

The meeting

The morning was dedicated to an exposé on paper making by Clifford Burt. It was fascinating – that is a Mr Spock level of fascinating. My inner geek was in seventh heaven as we were shown slides of 19th century machines Brunel would have been proud of and the whole process was explained to us in detail. Extremely large cylinders, cast iron wheels, massive levers and gears, steam and dials, it was all there.

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The 1850’s machines that are used to make the mould-made paper are also used to make bank note paper. As this is done on tender and renewed on a regular basis, the process has to be extremely efficient in order to stay competitive. Giuseppe finished the morning meeting by explaining the changes that were made to the machines recently: in order to facilitate the insertion of plastic strips in the security papers, a device was added to the machines at the beginning of the paper making process. It seems that this has upset the fragile balance of the robust yet delicate machine’s internal workings and they are now regurgitating an altered paper, deemed inferior by the old Fabriano Artistico fans.

Blind test

After a light lunch, we proceeded to a blind test of anonymous papers, coded for identification by the organisers. When Mr Flora’s Patch saw the photos, he laughed at me, saying I looked “dangerously excited”. This is pretty much exactly what I was. The blind test was tremendous fun and as it turns out was also worthwhile and productive. Chiara and Giuseppe were worried that we would all find different results, especially as we were working in different media. Going around the table, Ann Swan, Morryce Maddams and Katherine Tyrrell were working in coloured pencil; Polly O’Leary, Elaine Searle, Dianne Sutherland, Gael Sellwood, Sandra Armitage and Billy Showell and I were painting in watercolour.

We tested the papers from different brands and different batches for resilience, ease of lifting, colour saturation, behaviour of washes and glazes as well as reaction to different techniques.

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The results

I was actually surprised at how consistent the results were: we all identified our favourite as the old Fabriano Artistico Hot Pressed. We also all had problems with the more recent batches. This was exactly what Chiara and Giuseppe wanted: a clear description, illustrated with our painted swatches and notes – which they took away back to the factory- giving them a much better idea of what has changed and what they are aiming for with their modifications. As they described it, their job is now to reverse engineer a paper that will be back to the pre-2014 standards. They gave me the impression that they truly cared about this and that they would work on it until they can give us our old favourite paper back, which I trust they will. A quick tip on the 2016 batch: I tried painting on the back and it gave me much better results than painting on the top. So while we wait for the 2017 batch, this might be a way to alleviate our predicament.

My thanks again to the organisers of this enlightening day, to Clifford for hosting the event, to Chiara and Giuseppe for listening to us and to the other guests for the good company.

Happy painting!

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