Plant of the month – April 2018 – Muscari

Order:                   Asparagales

Family:                  Asparagaceae

Subfamily:            Scilloideae

Genus:                  Muscari

Common Name:   Grape Hyacinth

Type:                      Perennial bulb

Soil:                       Chalk, clay, sand, loam

Ph:                         Acid, alkaline, neutral

Aspect:                  Full sun / partial shade

Propagation:         Seed of bulb division

Native to:               Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa and Asia

It is always nice to start the gardening season with a new obsession.

For the spring of 2018 I present you the Muscari!

I never really noticed Muscari before. A couple of years ago I was given a clump of the Muscari in-a-cute-wicker-basket variety. As I used it to adorn my dining room table, I got to gaze at it quite a bit. Day after day, it went from “Meh!” to “It’s actually quite cute” to “I like it” to “I have to paint this”… Good progress. When it faded I planted it out and forgot about it. This year it suddenly exploded. There is Muscari all over the garden and I love it. It is also loved by bees, which is always a good speciality to have on your CV if you’re a plant and you wish to live in my garden.

The name Muscari derives from the Latin word ‘muschos’, meaning ‘musk’, referring to the flower’s strong scent. When I read that I went to the garden to check, because I had never noticed any perfume emanating from my table display… I had to go down on all four to get to Muscari level (roses are a lot more cooperative when it comes to getting a sniff), so while I was down there I took some photos. The smell is similar to hyacinth, albeit a less overpowering version.

Although Muscari is not a truly native plant, it has been cultivated in the UK since 1576. The Muscari genus was formally established by Scottish botanist Philip Miller in 1754. It is now widely naturalised and is by many considered to deserve its “native” status.

Of course I wasn’t able to stick to the common species… I had to find out about fancy ones. There are about 40 of them. I bought Muscari latifolium “Grape Ice”. The bottom flowers are dark purple, moving up to blue, then green, topped up with a tuft of white sterile florets. Let’s hope it spreads as easily as Muscari neglectum.

 

I haven’t painted it yet, but I have prepared a drawing of Muscari neglectum, so hopefully it will happen soon…

 

Happy gardening!

The Ethical Artist – New article in Artists & Illustrators Magazine

The Artists & Illustrators Magazine May issue is out!

I have another article in there, and this time it’s not about botanical art: it’s called “The Ethical Artist” and it’s about looking at where our art materials come from and what they are made off.

I did quite a bit of research and got in touch with lots of manufacturers, who were all forthcoming with their info, so there will be more blog posts about the results. For example, I tested a dozen different synthetic brushes (not being a fan of sable fur farms…) and found some treasures I need to tell you about.

In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the A&I article… Here is the first page.

Happy reading!

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How to transfer a drawing

If like me you do a lot of erasing before you can be happy with a drawing, then drawing straight on watercolour paper is not really an option. Because botanical painting is cut to white, any trace of erasing, smudging, or marking on the paper will stand out and completely ruin the feeling of freshness that is so desirable when you paint flowers.

An easy way to solve this is to draw first in a sketchbook, trace the drawing and then transfer it to watercolour paper. This gives you some gorgeous sketchbooks to peruse through for years to come, a beautiful record of your work, the comfort to know that there is no pressure and you can erase to your heart’s content, and a clean, smudge-free drawing on your precious watercolour paper. It also gives you a master copy of the drawing, should you mess up the painting and have to start again (it happens…)

What you need:

  • Cartridge paper or sketchbook
  • Tracing paper
  • Tracedown transfer paper (it looks like the old fashioned carbon paper, minus the grease and the wax)
  • Watercolour paper
  • A normal pencil and a coloured one
  • Soft putty rubber (I like the Maped grey putty rubber)

How it works:

  • First you draw your subject, either on cartridge paper or in a sketchbook.
  • Trace the drawing with a normal graphite pencil on tracing paper (the lower quality the better: if it is too thick, the line won’t go through at the next stage)
  • Position your tracing on the watercolour paper and use little bits of soft putty rubber to hold it in place
  • Slide the Tracedown transfer paper between the tracing paper and the watercolour paper, dark side down
  • Using a coloured pencil, go over the drawing
  • Remove the tracing and transfer paper: Tadaaa! You have a clean drawing on the watercolour paper

 

Here is a video I posted on my YouTube channel Flora’s Patch, which shows the whole process:

Which is the best eraser?

I often get questions that start with “This is a stupid question but…” or “This may sound stupid…”

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 second question – asked by Bing Aling on my YouTube channel- is about erasing, an all important part of drawing:

Which is the best rubber to use?

eraser pile

A collective pile of erasers from my holidays in Ardèche

I have several rubbers for different purposes, but the one thing they have in common is that none of them are made of rubber. A rubber rubber can smudge a lot and make the paper irretrievably dirty. A plastic rubber on the other hand, erases smudges well and leaves the paper clean. However, if used too much or too hard, it can damage the paper. This is where the putty comes in. A putty rubber is much softer than a normal one, but doesn’t erase strong marks.

Here is my platoon of erasers:

erasertypes

  • Plastic rubber (PVC and phthalates free): for larger areas and stronger marks. Be gentle with it to avoid damaging the paper
  • Tombow Mono Zero: still a plastic rubber, and still PVC free, this allows for tiny marks, such as lifting highlights or even some veins
  • Putty rubber: a lot softer than the others, this is good for large areas of soft marks, including brushing lightly on top of a painting to erase pencil lines, as demonstrated at the beginning of this video on my Flora’s Patch YouTube channel:

There are several types of putty rubbers, with different degrees of softness. I like the Maped grey, very soft and gentle. It does get messy on a hot summer day so keep the plastic wrapper to avoid melting squidgy mess under the fingernails.

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

Happy painting!

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