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:

Article in Artists & Illustrators Magazine – Parrot Tulip Masterclass

Hello everyone,

The April issue of A&I Magazine is out, with my Apricot Tulip Masterclass on a 4 page spread. I always find it exciting to see my paintings published…

There are 2 other botanical artists’ tutorials in the issue, by Fiona Swapp and Mariella Baldwin. So if you like botanical art, this is an issue worth investing in!

I’m off to West Dean College on Sunday, to run a 4 days residential course, painting spring flowers. Tulips, Hyacinths, daffodils, anemones, primroses, snowdrops and hellebores are on the programme…

Have a lovely week-end everyone,

Happy painting!

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Update on Fabriano Artistico – 1st February 2017

Hello everyone,

I thought it was time to write an update on the Fabriano Artistico paper situation.

Unfortunately, for the moment, the report is that there is nothing much to report on the paper front. The October earthquake in Italy hit the Pioraco Mill and the roof collapsed, damaging some of the machinery. Fortunately nobody was hurt but paper production at the mill has stopped. The other Fabriano mills have to make up for the loss of production and are working extra shifts to cover. This means no time for experiments… at least for the next few months. It will still happen, but we’ll have to wait a bit longer, probably after the summer.

In the meanwhile, here is a work in progress on Fabriano Artistico.

My thanks to Chiara from Fabriano for the info. I will post more news here about Fabriano Artistico next time I have something to report…

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Watercolour pans vs. tubes

This is a question that I am asked a lot: is it better to use tubes or pans to build your watercolour palette?

As usual, the answer is never quite straightforward and it really depends on how you use your watercolours the most.

Do you paint large or small? Do you travel a lot, especially by plane? Do you leave your paintings unfinished for ages before picking them up again? Which brand do you use? Are you likely to fall in love with a beautiful colour box that will become part of your inspiration and you won’t be able to sleep if it’s out of sight?

All of these will be a factor in your choice for a new paint box.

Size of paintings

If you like to paint miniatures and small paintings, pans are a good choice. They allow you to pick only a little paint at a time, without wasting huge amount that will wash down the sink.

If you prefer to paint large pictures, forever going back and forth from the pans to the palette in order to mix a sufficient quantity of paint will drive you mad. Squeezing larger amounts of colour on the palette and mixing in wells will work much better.

Travelling

Pan boxes are much more convenient than tube boxes when travelling. Most of them include a palette in the lids, they take less room, they are less messy, more practical and less likely to let you down. Nobody wants to be stuck in the Papua New Guinea rainforest with a tube that won’t open.

If you travel by air, there is another consideration: some airlines won’t accept tube paints because they are likely to burst under pressure changes, leak all over people’s luggage or even explode. Pans are less treacherous.

Attention span

If you start and finish each painting in one go over no more than a couple of weeks, pans and tubes are equally good.

However, if you have the attention span of a butterfly, your mixes might stay on your palette for months (years?) Most manufacturers have different formulations for tube/pan paints. In order to stay wet in the tube – as long as it is air tight- the tube formula contains more Gum Arabic. This means that the paint is more prone to flaking after drying. If left on the palette for too long and rewetted repeatedly, it will start to become lumpy and goodbye smooth washes. (Which is why you must never squeeze tube paints into pans and keep them for ages.) Pan paints on the other hand are formulated to dry and be rewetted many times. So if you tend to flutter from one painting to another and back again, pans are better.

There is a notable exception to this general principle: brands that only produce tube paints (such as Daniel Smith) formulate them so that they behave as pans. They can be rewetted without being exaggeratingly troublesome and can therefore be squeezed into pans.

Tidiness

If you require extreme tidiness to work, tubes have the advantage. Pan boxes can get pretty messy, especially if neglected. They are high maintenance and require a regular clean up. This is especially true for the light colours, such as yellows, Permanent Rose, magentas, light greens… With tubes, you can wash the palette after the painting is finished and start afresh with clean colours.

Glamour and inspiration

When I look at my pan paintbox and my wooden box of tubes, I know exactly which one I like best.

My beautiful French Victorian paintbox with all the pans arranged in colour rows gives me a little catch in the heart every time I look at it. In comparison, the box of tubes is sort of “Meh…” Tools of the trade rather than inspirational grace.

As you can see from the pictures, I have both. I use my paintbox all the time, at home, for courses, when travelling… But I also have the same colours in tubes. These are useful when I fancy working on a larger scale. I also keep a couple of tubes in my pan paintbox: Lemon Yellow (so that it stays clean), Sap Green and Perylene Violet (because I use them a lot). I also have a tube of Winsor & Newton Smalt Blue, which was an anniversary limited edition and was never released in a pan version.

Now you can take all of this into consideration and make your choice…

If you have other reasons in favour of one or the other, please don’t hesitate to write a comment. It will help readers to make their choice.

Happy painting!

 

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Botanical Bites – my new painting series

holly-cropOn this brisk and sunny Sunday afternoon I should be outside enjoying the fresh air and doing some gardening… But I went clubbing on Friday night and went to an ice-hockey match last night. Two late nights in a row, I’m too old for this. So today, I am sprawled out on the sofa in front of the fireplace, making some crochet snowflakes instead of enjoying the plein air.

I also started a new series on Instagram called Botanical Bites.

I will regularly upload short videos showing painting in action.

I have just uploaded the first one, the painting of a wet-in-wet holly berry. All videos are less than one minute long, just a little bite, easy to swallow! Here is a link: https:www.instagram.com/sandrinemaugy

Every so often I will gather a few bites together and make a video for my YouTube channel.

Let me know what you think. Do you like the idea?

Happy painting!

 

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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
autumninkink

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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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.

transparentopaque1

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.

transparentopaque2

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!

aicover-anniversary30

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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