Having the plant right there in front of me should make it easy but, like all flowers, this potato is a restless sitter.
It takes me longer than I think to get so far and I’m far from satisfied with the result but the end result isn’t really the point of the exercise;
‘You can only reproduce something well if you [see and observe]. If you can decode what you see, you will be able to explain it, and anyone who sees your drawing will be able to understand it. The artist’s view is just as important and personal as the subject itself.’
Agathe Haevermans, Drawing and Painting the Seashore
I’m happy just to spend the day observing and hopefully turning that into a successful botanical drawing will follow on from that.
In Impressionism by sampling spots of colour in a detached way, you should be able to build up a convincing image even of an object in the landscape that you can’t identify. Courbet was supposedly able to accurately paint a patch on a distant hillside without ever asking what it was – a limestone outcrop, a patch of dried vegetation or a pile of chippings. The colour and texture were enough.
With botanic drawing you’re really trying to deconstruct then reconstruct the subject in order to clearly explain it.
Perhaps I should have taken the flower apart before I started drawing.
I’m delighted to have made it into the Pink Pig catalogue (educational version) which has just dropped through the door. This is a sketch I made of the railway embankment in my Holly Green Sketchbook.
I feel it’s appropriate that I live just five miles from what might well be Great Britain’s biggest sketchbook factory, the rate that I get through them. On several occasions I’ve called there to pick up a bundle of a particular size of sketchbook, most recently I upgraded to their own brand of 270 gsm watercolour paper, Ameleie, in an 8 x 8 inch format which I’m intending to reproduce in print using one of the digital book printing services.
If you’re sharp-eyed you might spot a couple more extracts from my Holly Green Sketchbook in the catalogue and by coincidence I’m sharing a page with fellow ex-Leeds and Royal College of Art student, John Ross. John spent most of his time at the RCA in printmaking, mainly in etching, ultimately producing The Biggin Hill Frescoes. My Royal College publication was A Sketchbook of the Natural History of the Country Round Wakefield.
John’s got as far as Andalusia but here I am still beetling away with my sketchbook in the country round Wakefield.
(That’s not quite the whole story because John recently spent a year in a project to restore the most Gothic of Huddersfield’s leafy parks, Beaumont Park).
Link; Pink Pig sketchbooks (they supply direct to the public but you might be lucky enough to find a stock of assorted Pink Pigs in your local art shop, which enables you to get the feel of them).
Another link; my work also appears in a newly revamped website of Simply Fires. A small detail but I think it gives the site a warm and friendly look; which is just right for a family firm that supplies wood-burning and multi-fuel stoves!
The drawing of the coal bucket on their contact page was one I made when I stayed at Langsett Youth Hostel, which had just had a new stove fitted. Sadly, ten years later, the Youth Hostel has now closed, which is a shame because they would have been guaranteed a full house in ten days from now when the Grand Depart of the Tour de France passes within a hundred yards of their front door.
I take a break for coffee and when I return most of the flowers have closed up, so there’s an element of reconstruction in the watercolour.
Just the foliage to add now.
Mr Atkinson, my maths teacher, saw me struggling with geometry and examined my pencil;
‘You could plant a potato with that, Bell!’
Sharpening up my act, this morning I’m drawing potato flowers with a 4H pencil, sharpened with a craft knife and honed to a point with an abrasive pad.
I don’t ever remember choosing a 4H for drawing but I’m taking advice from Agathe Haevermans’ The Art of Botanical Drawing and she often suggests starting out with a hard pencil. If you need to erase there’s less risk of damaging the surface of the paper because the harder lead stays on the surface.
For white flowers like these she suggests erasing almost to the point where your outlines become invisible, so that you don’t get pencil lines showing through your wash.
This variety of second early potato is Vivaldi and, by coincidence when I started this drawing they were playing Vivaldi’s Concerto in B Flat on Radio 3.