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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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’…

Dahliasummernightsquare

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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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.

fabrianopapermaking

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.

fabrianomeetingtest

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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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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Is there a right side to watercolour paper?

Stupid questions are the essential ones; the questions people are worried about asking because they think everyone else knows the answer… But you know what? They don’t! And they really wish they did too…

Our first question- thank you Beth- is about watercolour paper:

Is there a right side and wrong side to paint on?

The answer is… not as such. I like “Not as such” because it means “no” but kind of “yes” but not quite. The reason I am not-as-such-ing you is that both sides are paintable but they are different and the extent of the difference varies between brands.

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saunders spray

Two main criteria will determine the difference between the two sides of a watercolour paper sheet: texture and sizing.

  • Sizing: the size is the glue that is added to the paper to make it stronger and also less absorbent, so that you don’t feel like you are painting on blotting paper. Most papers are sized INTERNALLY, while the pulp is being made, and EXTERNALLY, after the paper roll is made and pressed.
  • Texture: the topside of the paper is called the felt side and the underside the mould side. The mould is made of wire, so its texture is more regular than the felt side. On some papers you can see the wire mesh pattern imprinted into the texture, on the underside.

If we consider the three main manufacturers of watercolour paper – St Cuthberts (Saunders Waterford) for the UK, Arches for France and Fabriano in Italy- their papers are sized internally and then they go through a bath to be sized externally, so both sides are coated equally. This means that as far as sizing is concerned, there is no difference between the two sides.

For the texture, the situation is not quite as straightforward…

Both sides are paintable but they look slightly different: because of the wire, the mould side has a regular mesh texture while the felt side has a random texture. Some artists prefer to paint on the topside and others prefer the underside. As for what the manufacturer intended, it depends on the brand. Saunders Waterford expects the painter to use the felt side but Arches and Fabriano favour the mould side.

cuthmill1To summarise, papers do have a topside and an underside but not really a right side or wrong side to paint on. The best way is the way you like best!

To finish with, this is where I am asking for your help: this series is interactive so please ask away! You can ask questions in the comments section of my YouTube Channel Flora’s Patch, or send me an email, or leave a comment on my blog or a message on my website by going to the contact page. Thank you and happy painting!

My thanks to Catherine Frood from St Cuthberts Mill and Clifford Burt from RK Burt for their help in my research.The photos are from St Cuthberts Mill.

There will be a follow up to this post, with two rather exciting events: in July, I am going to a meeting at RK Burt with the Fabriano envoy, to discuss how their new machines have affected their papers and to do a blind test of different papers. This should be very interesting. Then later this summer, I have been invited to visit St Cuthberts Mill, having a tour of the paper making factory, which I am also very much looking forward to.

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Pigment spotlight – The Perylene family

The Perylene family is relatively new to the exclusive pigment neighbourhood. The first Perylene was discovered in 1912 but didn’t move in until the 1950’s. Even then, it was not widely seen and only became part of the artist community in the 1980’s. Even today, their position is not as prominent as other families, such as the Cadmiums or Quinacridones. I suppose this is because of their shyness. They are beautiful, but not as heavily dense as the Cadmium (also considerably less dodgy) and not as showy as the Quinacridones.

  • Perylene Green (PBk31)

I thought we might as well get rid of this one from the start. Perylene “green” is not a green but a black pigment with a green hue. Like most black pigments it is obtained by combustion, in this case burning a derivative of perylenetetracarboxylic, i.e. another Perylene. This is a bit of a mouthful and just means that like most blacks, it is made by burning some substance. As a result, the pigment is rather dusty and in my opinion not ideal for watercolour, even less for botanical painting. Shadows painted with Perylene Green will look flat and dirty, which doesn’t help with the difficult task of rendering the bright colours of fresh blooms.

  • Perylene Scarlet (PR149)

Only Daniel Smith currently offers Perylene Scarlet. It is not part of my palette because its lightfastness is not as good as the other Perylenes’. It doesn’t seem to me like an irreplaceable colour and therefore not worth taking the risk of using a potentially fading paint.

perylene strips blog

  • Perylene Red (PR178)

A dullish red with pink undertones, this is a good pigment that I do not use often. This is probably because I am not attracted to red flowers, unless they have the deep crimson velvety texture of the most dramatic, heavily scented roses. However, I do use Perylene Red for fruit. Stripes on apples, blush on pears, leathery pomegranate skins, or any fruit for which a more common red would be too bright.

I use Daler-Rowney Perylene Red. Daniel Smith also offers a good version in their range.

  • Perylene Maroon (PR179)

This red maroon is even duller than Perylene red, but again, being a reliable pigment, it does have its uses. I don’t think that I would plant any flowers of that colour in my garden. However, I find it useful for the same kind of circumstances as Perylene Red, when the markings on the fruit are less pink red and more brick red. I also use it quite a lot for foliage, especially in autumn. I am actually looking at some rose foliage right now that has this exact red shade in the young shoots.

In my palette I have the Daler-Rowney version. It is also offered by Winsor & Newton and Daniel Smith.

windfall

  • Perylene Violet (PV29)

A rich purple maroon, perfect for hellebores, orchids and all black flowers like tulips and violas, it is also excellent to render the deep velvety texture of the dark roses mentioned above, such as ‘Deep secret’ and ‘Souvenir du Dr Jamain’.

Rose 'Souvenir du Dr Jamain' - A bit high maintenance for my kind of gardening but it makes me so happy that I give it the extra attention it requires. I also love the mysterious name... who was Dr Jamain?

Rose ‘Souvenir du Dr Jamain’ – A bit high maintenance for my kind of gardening but it makes me so happy that I give it the extra attention it requires. I also love the mysterious name… who was Dr Jamain?

Perylene Violet is the most versatile paint in my palette. I do not understand how watercolourists can live without it. It might even be difficult to find one of my paintings in which I haven’t used it. I can hear the chuckles of those amongst you who have been to my classes and who know that I use it in almost everything. It has even been suggested by the cheekiest that I pick my subjects specifically to allow me to use Perylene Violet. But I’m not sure… sitting in the garden now I can see it in so many plants: the foliages of a rose and a serious-looking Penstemon, a few Aquilegia blooms, a lingering dark red rose, some self-seeded all-invading cheeky-beyond-measure Erigeron, the stems of the ‘Zorro’ Hydrangea, the whole of the imposing Malus ‘Royalty’, the spectacular bark of the Prunus ‘Serrula’, the wood of the quince tree, the stalks of the honeysuckles and the Cyclamen, the tiny barely-existing-yet apples on the Malus ‘Blue Moon’ and of course ‘Souvenir du Dr Jamain’, just about to open fully… the list goes on but I wouldn’t want you to nod off…

As for my favourite version, I like the more saturated Winsor & Newton version than the slightly duller Daniel Smith paint. This might not be important for bark, stems and foliage, but when painting a flower it is important to use the most saturated colour available. It is always easier to dull down a bright colour than to brighten up a dull one.

Verdict on the Perylene family (measured in watercolour splashes):

This is a difficult one because the family is definitely split in two factions who are not on speaking terms. The Perylene Black and Perylene Scarlet I would forget about. The black is banned from my palette and the scarlet not reputable enough. So I will actually forget about them and pass a verdict on the remaining three, Perylene Red, Maroon and Violet.

Useful range of colours                   5/5

Sufficient lightfastness ratings      5/5

Level of saturation                           3/5

Irreplaceability                                 5/5

 

Total: 18/20 watercolour splashes

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