Tuesday 10 December 2013

Japanese Chrysanthemum: Continuing an Unfinished Artwork.

More than a year ago, I found a lovely specimen of Japanese chrysanthemum. I made the sketch and painted most part of the flowers. I stopped working on it when I had too many things to do between our moving back from the UK to Indonesia and my pregnancy. Last week, I decided to finish this unfinished work. And these are some little insights during the process.

I found that the paper's characteristics somewhat changed. It was more absorbent and its surface was not as robust as I remembered. I realised it when I used the wet washes and lifting technique frequently. I wonder whether it changed since I brought it back to Yogyakarta and neglected it for about 7 months.

I am still wondering how to solve the humidity problem in the tropical Indonesia. The Japanese Chrysanthemum was not the only one that had been affected. I faced the same problem when working on the Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum orchids. Not to mention my shocking encounter with the massive mold attack on my other drawings when I left them on the hardboard for 4 days only (when I was in the hospital, giving birth to my baby). The weather was so humid, it seemed to pose the watercolour paper with many risks. Does anyone of my kind readers here have any idea as to how to solve the problem?

Back to the unfinished painting, I tried some new green mixing I learnt from artistnetwork. I bought Winsor & Newton Permanent Sap Green and I found it was easy to mix with my existing colours. But what made me happy was that the sap green mixing was not as staining as Winsor Blue (green shade) that I usually use. It made lifting the pigment easier both when the paint was still wet/damp and when it completely dried. I mixed sap green with French Ultramarine to get a dark green, or Cadmium Lemon/ Cadmium Yellow Pale to get the bright one. And a little touch of Alizarin Crimson, if needed.

Another new thing I tried was using kolinsky sable brushes as my main tool. I decided to invest in Raphael series 8404 no 2 and 4 after Billy Showell's demonstration. I found the natural brushes was very different from my existing synthetic one (mostly Pro Arte series 101). Here are my first impressions of using Raphael kolinsky sable brushes:

1. They are bigger than the synthetic ones with the same number size. The Raphael size 4 is even a bit bigger than my Pro Arte size 6.

2. They have much bigger capacity to hold water. It is good for glazing/washing big area, on the other hand, it requires more watercolour mixing prepared. [Tips] Use a cheap/discarded brush to pick up pigments and mix watercolour rather than using an expensive sable brush.

3. They release water/paints slower but more evenly. So they tend not to dump water/paints in a puddle.

4. The tuft/hair is softer and bend more easily (or somewhat a bit defenselessly for me).

5. The brushes' tip do not naturally point out when dry (whereas the synthetic do) and need to be reshaped when wet (whereas the synthetic needn't). I was aware of it since I saw Billy kept twirling her brushes' tip on a kitchen towel after she dipped them in water/paints.
[Tips] I reshape the brush by loading the brush with water, then shaking the excess vigorously with my elbow or tapping the brush handle with my other hand before I dip it in the watercolour mixing. I usually have the brush tip very pointed afterward without touching my finger on it.

The kolinsky sable brushes are not cheap, but at least now I know the difference between them and the synthetic ones. I need much more practise to feel more comfortable with them. However, as other people said: knowing how to best use what you have is more important than the "tool" itself. Cheers!

Another post about taking care watercolour brushes is here.

And here is the scanned illustration.
28 x 38 cm - 300 gsm traditional white HP Fabriano Artistico paper.

Thursday 28 November 2013

Saturday 12 October 2013

[Tips] How to Transfer a Drawing using Tracing Paper

The idea is simple. The transparency of tracing paper allows me to precisely copy a sketch to the "real" paper.

By keeping the watercolour paper clean, I can sketch and revise as many as I want, for example, to accommodate the client's requests. Sketching directly on the "real" paper will leave too many erases and pencil scratches on the otherwise good watercolour paper. The other advantage is that I can transfer the sketch already coloured, or only necessary lines.

Here are the tools I need:
1. Tracing papers
2. Pencils or water soluble colour pencils to coat the other side of paper
3. A very pointy and hard pencil (e.g. 2H - 4H) to trace the drawing
4. (Optional) Eraser, pencil sharpener, kitchen towel, sandpaper.

And here are the steps:
1. Once a sketch was approved by client, I scanned and then printed it on a tracing paper. Again, it saved me another time from transferring a drawing twice from sketch pad to a tracing paper then to a watercolour paper. It was also less messy because it prevented me from smearing the watercolour paper with pencil dust that clings on my palm. Another tips to avoid pencil dust: Place clean paper between your hand and tracing paper if you aren't going the scan-print route. 

2. To coat the blank side of the tracing paper quickly, I held the pencil almost completely sideways then spread the mark with a kitchen towel. This helped me to gain an even outline like I draw directly on the watercolour paper with 2H pencil. 
My tips: For delicate botanical illustration or light coloured object, use water-soluble colour pencils with similar colours to those of the final paints to coat the backside of the tracing paper. This would save you some time from erasing it as it leaves no trace of pencil. On the other hand, when I paint less detailed or dark coloured object, I use graphite pencil to coat the backside as I did in this Asian palm civet illustration.

3. I placed the tracing paper on top of a watercolour paper and secured it with masking tape before I traced the image with very pointy 4H pencil. I trace only necessary outline to the watercolour paper and I did it with a steady pressure.
My tips: Grind the pencil to sandpaper
almost completely sideways to keep it very sharp/pointy.

4. After I had completed tracing the drawing, I gently removed the tracing paper and drew necessary line for the missing part. And the watercolour paints were ready to GO!

Sunday 4 August 2013

[Tips] How to Make Hard Edged Watercolour

Hard edges occur when water pushes paint to the edge of the wetted area and the paint forms thin 'outline' as it is drying. Usually I avoid it in my paintings, but in this illustration I made it on purpose. And I like it!

It was a commissioned illustration for a wedding invitation of a dog-lover couple, 'German Shepherds' to be specific.

The German shepherds have special characteristics, such as black nose, black mark near the eyes, and black 'saddle'-shaped mark on the back. And I thought these features were fitting for the hard edged style.

Here are a little insights I found when doing the hard edges effect:
1. I mixed a generous volume of water with less pigment to make a thin mixture. When applying the mix I made an effort to control the shape of the wetted area.

2. I dropped more water in the colour when the area was still wet. It pushed the pigment to the edge of the area and made the outline more striking.

3. I positioned the paper on a perfectly flat surface so that it created a uniformly sized outline.

4. To have a very fine outline, I avoided thick mixture. Too much pigment will make heavy, coarse outlines.

5. I made sure the area was completely dry before I put another hard edged washes and stroked the brush gently. The brush's pressure can scrape the previous outline.

I think there are many 'fun' possibilities for the hard edged watercolour as a stand-alone style or combined with other washes!

(Edited on 19/07/2014) I add the final artwork and a closer look to their eyes :)

Thursday 18 July 2013

[Commision] Honeysuckle Illustration for Book Cover

I just saw the book ready for pre-order on Amazon, and I think it's the time to blog about the creative process of the illustration. It was a commission I worked on in the late autumn last year. I remember that it was a serious challenge for me, but with much excitement.

The biggest challenge was that I had never seen the real honeysuckle flowers! Born and grew in 2 seasons country Indonesia and lived only a year in the UK, yes, I saw countless 'first time to see' flowers in the Spring, in the Summer and fewer in the Autumn but never once I luckily bumped into honeysuckle flowers. Google provided many reference images, but I was afraid I could not paint it right when I didn't see the flower with my own eyes.

It was late of the Autumn, and it was reaaaally hard to find a honeysuckle plant blooming. After corresponding via e-mail with about 20 nurseries and florists, I managed to make a shortlist of potential sellers. I even sought an advice from a generous botanical painter, Jarnie Godwin, regarding the varieties that were possible to flower in the late autumn/winter. She helped this clueless illustrator by pointing some varieties and a reference of nursery. With the knowledge of the variety and my husband's calls to some sellers, later I found the only one 'Graham Thomas' honeysuckle that still flowered from a nursery in Buckingham. I bought it for almost five times more expensive than its price at the local supermarkets in the Spring/Summer. But I was very relieved to finally get it!

The plant came within 24 hours. I took some pictures of the flowers and showed them to the client. We both agreed that they were not in their prime time. But at least, I know 'whom' I dealt with. The inflorescence had intricate shape and many different parts and I think I was right to see it myself rather than only worked on its image reference.

Beside the real specimen, I also worked based on some image references because it was the dark pink-yellow-orange honeysuckle flowers that was wanted, not the white-yellowish 'Graham Thomas' I had.

First, I made 5-6 separate sketches of a inflorescence and composed them digitally to get the approval from the client. Out of 5 inflorescence of the brief, finally a sketch of 3 inflorescence was approved. Tracing paper is especially useful to consider the layout as I can easily move the object in different layers while still be able to see it.

I also used tracing papers to transfer the approved sketch onto 28x38 cm watercolour paper. As usual, I used water-soluble colour pencils to draw the outline/contour on the watercolour paper. This would save me some time from erasing as it leaves no trace of pencil.
[My tips] Use the similar colours as those of the paint.

Wet into wet was the most technique I used. I glazed the paper with clean water before applying the pigments. To create the highlight, I left a certain area of the paper white or lifted some of the paint with clean damp brush while the wash was still wet.

With a good watercolour paper, most watercolour pigment can be dissolved or lifted off after it has dried. A good watercolour paper is treated with a substance to reduce the cellulose absorbency. It makes the surface quite robust and forgiving of mistakes. It also makes the colour looks bright/clear since the pigment lays on the top of the surface.

In this illustration, I lifted off the permanent rose pigment when I made a little alteration of the flower bud.
[My tips] Wet the area to be removed with clean water by stroking a damp brush gently, then pat the pigment away with a tissue. Avoid using this technique for staining colors such as Prussian Blue, Alizarin Crimson, or Winsor colours. Check which the staining colours are (marked with "St") here.
[My tips] A flat brush works better than the round one for lifting the colour off. I use 1/8" synthetic flat brush for correcting a mistake.

For final touch, I used dry brush technique to create striking texture on some petals. And after all the pigments completely dried, I rubbed the masking fluid off from the paper and painted it as planned.

All the process was done within 2 weeks. Although the illustration is used only as a faint background of the book cover of 'The Sweetest Hallelujah' by Elaine Hussey, it was an exciting experience for me. It was the first time for me to work with renowned publisher, the Harlequin. It was the first time for me to see a beautiful honeysuckle flowers with my own eyes and to smell their fresh lemony-sweet fragrance all over my room. I think I can still remember how it smells. Heavenly!

Here is the scanned illustration.

Sunday 14 July 2013

Hibicus Flowers: Loose Looks in Constrained Way

During my last days in Yogyakarta I meant to work on a painting of Hibicus flowers. It was a memento for Mr & Ms Jarret, who have generous enough to let us use their guest house during our stay in Yogya. The flowers were planted at the house and bloomed while I was staying there.

Since giving birth to Nawang, my 3 MO baby girl, I only had very few hours to paint so I decided to paint the flowers loosely rather than botanically.

Having the best time at 3.30 to 6 a.m. and a half or quarter of an hour or a few minutes while the baby awoke, in fact I worked on the loose looks in constrained way. I was ready to be interrupted anytime while painting. Because of the condition, sometimes I couldn't keep any eye on my watercolour washes. I tried to make only a single stroke or two that I predicted to look good and let it dry then check it out later after taking care of my baby.

I used much of wet into wet washes on this painting. I made certain area of paper wet with clean water then applied strokes or drops of pigment. Or sometimes I dropped water on a wet pigmented area. I love wet into wet washes; it was fun to see 'unexpected' results and those characteristic watercolour effects. I still can enhance (or correct) the colours by applying the same technique over existing washes after they were dry. | The Hibicus Flower was painted on A2 Fabriano Artistico HP paper with Winsor & Newton Artists' watercolours.


Tuesday 21 May 2013

[ORCHIDS] Study sketch of Vanda arcuata

Vanda arcuata from Northern Sulawesi, Indonesia. I made the sketch bigger than the life size, easier for me to paint the pattern.

[ORCHIDS] Study sketch of Bulbophyllum lobbii

My new favorite specimen, Bulbophyllum lobbii from Berastagi, Northern Sumatra.

Friday 17 May 2013

[ORCHIDS] Study sketch of Vanda tricolor

Trying to make the best of my spare time for the Indonesian orchids project by working on the study sketch and colour test of Vanda tricolor (from West Java) while the baby sleeps. I am afraid that I can't make the final illustration yet at this moment...

Wednesday 20 March 2013

[ORCHIDS] Study sketch of Coelogyne pandurata

A few days before I delivered baby Nawang, I made a colour test of the black orchids (Coelogyne pandurata) from Borneo, whose flowers blossomed less than 5 days. It has no flower anymore but the colour test will help me to paint the illustration later. I already made the sketch while it bloomed and took some photographs of it.

The green petals were quite simple, whereas the black lips were the real challenge! And I am afraid I can't capture its intricacy well in the real life size illustration :p

Tuesday 19 February 2013

[ORCHIDS] Study sketch of Paphiopedilum praestans

Alongside with the Paphiopedilum gloucopyllum illustration, I am working on the colour test of Paphiopedilum praestans before all the flowers wither and flop. This study will guide me to paint the illustration with proper colours.

The first flower withered and just flopped this afternoon, slightly turned more yellowish :(

Thursday 14 February 2013

[ORCHIDS] WIP of Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum

Starting to work on the Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum illustration yesterday, I met new challenges.

I have never painted on ±A2 (38 x 56 cm) sized paper beforehand. This "big" size format requires me to buy new stretch boards and to find comfortable positions to paint. With my small table easel, it is hard to feel comfortable (believe me) especially for someone with a big "38 weeks" belly. I stood, but quickly felt worn out. Then I put the easel lower on another chair so I can sit while painting. It is better but I feel stuck when I want to lean forward to work on the details. What a challenge, isn't it? :p

Another challenge was when I found my specimen lost its flower buds and two munching caterpillars nicely sat on the leaves. I was so broken-hearted for the flower buds. But I moved on to paint the glossy orchid leaves, which is something new for me! If you notice, I hardly painted any leaves. Thanks to the caterpillars I do now.

To paint the glossy leaves I use wet on wet washes a lot. I also try to apply subtle bluish highlight as I saw on Katty Pickles's wonderful botanical works. It was not done yet, but today's progress (especially the leaves) lifted up my spirit :)

Tuesday 29 January 2013

[SKETCHBOOK] Gembira Loka Zoo

Yesterday, I had fun with some friends of Indonesia's Sketcher for visiting a local zoo in Yogyakarta and having live sketches of animals and plant. It was great to practise drawing live animals that kept moving and changing, a good challenge for someone who usually paint a still plant indoor.

Wednesday 23 January 2013

[ORCHIDS] Study sketch of Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum

Trying to capture the colours of Tropical Ladys-Slipper orchid (Paphiopedilum glaucophyllum) before the flower flop. This species is endangered and endemic to East and Southwest Java (Mount Semeru) and in Central Sumatra, Indonesia.

Monday 7 January 2013

[SKETCHBOOK] Pigeon Orchids

Yesterday, the pigeon orchids at our residence bloomed.
They smelled so good but, too bad, the flowers withered
in a day.

Since I want to make botanical artworks of Indonesian
orchids during my stay in Yogyakarta, I took this available
specimen for a rehearsal. I made a study sketch on it.
I found that I need to understand, not only how to paint,
but the plant itself. I felt ashamed that as an Indonesian
I know nothing about orchids whereas Indonesia is one
of the world's richest country of orchids species.

I hope I can manage my time between the project
and my pregnancy. *fingers crossed :)

Thursday 3 January 2013

My 2012 Resolution

I’m not used to making a new year resolution. But somehow last year I made one based on a yesteryears’ wish I couldn’t accomplish. It was to do watercolour painting again. 

Since I knew that the start is the hardest part and maintaining it is never easy, my trick is to involve other people in the process. A tip from my brother, a resolution should be told to others. A commitment will be easier to be ignored and forgiven if it was kept just by ourselves than if it was witnessed by other people. So I put myself in a watercolour course for a start and keep uploading my works at my facebook account to be seen by my friends.

The cherries were my first watercolour painting in early 2012 after almost a decade I let my brush dusted and my paints dried, while the oriental poppies were one of my latest botanical paintings. I feel the difference. This progress is the reward of my 2012 resolution. I am happy that it is not just a wish anymore. I feel contented that I made and kept my 2012 resolution. And I’ll still keep it.

Happy new year 2013!