Category Archives: Techniques

How I Begin

My posts will show you works in progress, picture taking adventures, and other observations that might be of interest to lovers of nature and botanical art.

A little about my working process.

I work a little differently from some botanical artists since my background is based in drawing and art.   I love the process of drawing and I want to capture the movement and action inherent in the graceful curve of a leaf or petal.

Therefore I begin my drawing with what artists call “gesture drawing”.  It is a warm up that allows me to respond to what I am seeing and just concentrate on the “flow” of lines and form in a particular subject matter.  The drawing is swift, and flowing.  Sometimes I stand behind my drawing table and just try to use my whole arm (and sometimes body) to capture the movement in a particular composition.

This is my time to study the subject matter without worrying too much about accuracy or anything but getting down basic forms, sizes, and movement. If I step back and the overall impression is one that does not represent the overall “feeling” of the subject matter I am drawing I start over.

THIS IS A PHOTO OF ONE OF MY ROUGH DRAWINGS USING THIS TECHNIQUE.  I STARTED BY DRAWING THE ROUNDNESS OF THE FLOWER AND BUILDING ON THAT ROUNDNESS TO IDENTIFY THE CENTER AND THE FLOW OF PETALS AS THEY GROW UP FROM THE CENTER.  I ALSO BEGIN TO IDENTIFY LIGHT AND DARK  AREAS OF THE FORM.

blog first sketch

With a new piece of tracing paper, I begin to draw  something more “flower like” based on the subject matter.  While accuracy of size and shape is more important at this stage, the emphasis is still on “sketching the subject matter.  Sometimes I like my drawing better at this stage than I do the final product.

blog sketch 2

I continue with this stage until I am satisfied that I have a pretty good beginning and have kept the liveliness of the subject matter.  I don’t limit myself to 3 pieces of tracing paper.  It is cheap and can be thrown away, or parts of the drawing that are successful can be cut out and used in the final drawing as well.

When satisfied, I get out my good tracing paper, Denril.  I love the feel of Denril (a polyester paper with a surface that is called “vellum”); it isn’t real vellum, (but that explanation comes later).  The pencil just slides on Denril tracing paper and the surface makes it easy to vary line weight. I buy it when it is on sale.

At this stage, I force myself, not to just trace over the exploratory drawing, but I “re-draw” using many of the lines suggested by my exploratory drawings.

blog denril tracingI then use my own self-made “carbon paper” (you can also use oil-free saral). I don’t like to get the  carbon dust from that paper on my final drawing paper, so I carefully make a “sandwich” of my carbon paper with the finished denril tracing on top and the smooth side of my fabrino artistic, hot press, watercolor paper on the bottom.

Using a 3h or harder pencil, I trace over the denril tracing to make a light image on my watercolor paper.  It is important not to press hard enough to make a dent in the watercolor paper, but not so hard that the image can not be removed with just a light  tap of a kneaded eraser.

This whole process doesn’t take a lot of time because the initial drawings are very fast, but transfering the drawing to paper is slower but very important.  Work carefully and work cleanly.  Be careful about getting your watercolor paper dirty because erasing the paper can damage the paper surface. To clean, use a kneaded eraser and tap in on the paper to lift any dirt as opposed to rubbing it into the surface.  Also, don’t loose the “life” of the drawing when tracing it.  It is better to leave out some of the tracing and re-draw it by hand when the tracing is done than tracing too fast and loosing important detail.

Remember, your painting can be no better than your drawing, so take your time to include the details that describe form (the places where two forms meet, the attachement of a stem, the centerform of a leaf, the details that indicate how a petal fits into the other parts of the flower).  You can always put your tracing over the painting to clarify details, but if you draw them wrong in the first place, you will have to start over.  In the long term, care at this stage makes all the difference.

blogchrysanthemum unfinishedI’m not yet finished with this flower painting. However, I am including the unfinished painting to show you how a good drawing supports the final painting.

Also posted in Current Work