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.