Tag Archives: art

In which the author meets a virtual internet friend in real reality and spends the day in London.

I obviously don’t get out much! But this has been an exciting and encouraging week, in which I have seen some quality botanical art, met a great teacher and met some new people.  I am a member of the FaceBook page Botanical Art for Beginners, and I found out that a fellow member would also be at the RHS Botanical Art Exhibition in London.  We arranged to meet and amazingly we found each other, in that great crowded hall.  She introduced me to Ann Swan a pencil art teacher and author, who was coming to Dedham Hall (just down the road from me) to teach for a week, she was kind enough to let me gatecrash one of her classes so I did.  Some wonderful work was going on, and Ann is a supportive and knowledgable teacher, everyone was really friendly and I have made contact now with a local group which meets monthly.  The quality of the artwork at the RHS show was amazing, very inspiring and very varied, something to aspire to one day (in my next lifetime!)

Clematis Montana drawing

Clematis Montana drawing


















Even with all the excitement of London and Dedham I did get some drawing done, and this week what interested me was our Clematis Montana coming out, it seems to be best ever this year, maybe all the rain last year helped.  Petals again, oh dear, but practice makes perfect so I had another go.

Two clematis flowers

Two clematis flowers

Rough drawings

Rough drawings

So it is all very well being able to draw a plant fairly accurately, but what I realised at the exhibition this week is that accuracy does not an ‘artwork’ make.  Well, that’s obvious, obviously but it had not really sunk in; but visiting this class I could see that although the plant material was there the students were using it as inspiration rather than a guide.  So having done my preparatory drawings and photos of the clematis I thought I would have a go at ‘composition’.  I therefore spent a happy few hours with tracing paper, IPad, drawings, scissors and eraser laying out my first composition.

Clematis composition

Clematis composition

What I had noticed when I photographed the plant was that all the buds looked like little faces searching for the sunshine, so I tried to get the feeling in my picture of the buds and opening blossoms straining towards the warmth.  Not sure if it has worked but I am going to go with it, it is only small (a finished size of 6 inches square).




Don’t rush the colour selection process

Well this blog is about learning and I am learning.  Every time I sit down and draw I learn something. Another note to self – always take a picture of the finished drawing before you put it away in the depths of your portfolio, this matters right now because I am going to talk about a picture and I don’t have a proper image to show the end result.  I need to get to grips with photography and I am not really motivated to do that.

The plant that I was drawing was an agave (I think) although someone called it an aloe so I’m not sure, it was a gift anyway, and is a houseplant in England as it is too cold to put outside.

Agave drawing

Agave drawing

I was interested in the folding shapes of the leaves and the serrated edges and of course, the colour.

Agave drawings

Agave drawings

The colour of the plant was a really important quality of the plant, it had a very blueish tinge and a sort of dusty look.  It’s so important to choose the colours correctly otherwise there is no chance of making the image match your observations, and dear reader, I begrudged the time to do this.  I wanted to get on with things and rushed this process, and consequently paid the price – the drawing was the wrong colours.

Agave plant set up

Agave plant set up

Even as I was doing it I knew that it was wrong………….. but too late to go back, I was already committed so I went on.

Agave plant ready to draw

Colouring in in progress

What happens if you continue despite the odds?  Well you get a sense of achievement at finishing something, but you end up disappointed because you know it could have been better, with a little more effort and just a little more planning at the very beginning.  It’s trite but it’s true ‘if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’. Nuff said, lesson learned.

Draws Shoots and Leaves learns another lesson……..always use a big piece of paper

Today’s lesson I want to share with you is so basic that I am ashamed I made the mistake……..try and choose the right size paper for your subject matter.

My subject for the day was a branch of variegated ivy from the garden and although I am not a great fan of the plant, the leaves had wonderful twisty shapes and it was in full flower and I thought it looked a challenge. 

So here I am merrily drawing my quick sketches, (I start off an art day doing ten minute sketches to get me warmed up and to get me over my inhibitions and I use a kitchen timer to keep me on track), when I realised that the timer had not gone off and some considerable time had passed.  It is wonderful how engrossing and absorbing art can be when you get in the zone.  Well in the time that had passed, my drawing had grown; I had started with one of the flowers and now I almost had the whole branch, but I was running out of space on the paper.

‘It’s only a sketch, so no need to be precious’, I told myself so I stuck a strip of paper to the bottom and kept on drawing.

Draft pencil drawing of ivy by Sue Hagley

Extra paper stuck to bottom edge

By now I was getting quite attached to the ivy so I decided to work it up into a finished piece.  Using the tracing paper method, I transferred the image to good paper and completed it using coloured pencils.  This picture will always remind me of ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ which I was listening to on an audio book.

Coloured pencil drawing of Ivy by Sue Hagley

How I get what I see onto paper……………

There are several ways to get an outline of an image of an object onto good paper ready to make a finished drawing.  And these are the ones I have tried:

1) I took and printed a photo which I gridded it up and used the grid to copy the image accurately onto good paper.  This is a very process driven way of working and I ended up working from a photo rather than life which felt a bit sterile and mechanical.  However, what I liked about the finished picture was the abstract nature of the piece of leaf I chose, so although the method did not suit I was interested in the effect and the finished image and I think that I will follow this up in the future.

Coloured pencil drawing of a Teasel Leaf by Sue Hagley

Teasel Leaf

2)  I took a photo of a leaf, which I then ran through an app to get a black and white line drawing which was traced onto tracing paper and then transferred onto drawing paper.  I ended up with an accurate shape that I enjoyed colouring but actually it did not teach me much about looking and seeing.  So I learned that it is important to me to make the original image my own as well as the finished image.

Coloured pencil drawing of a Dead Leaf by Sue Hagley

Dead Leaf

3) I viewed the subject matter through a gridded transparent sheet and then drew the subject onto a matching grid on tracing paper.  This was long winded and hard on the eyes squinting through the grid and copying, and it felt mechanical and hard work.  I also ended up with an image that was rather bigger than life size, so my crab apples look like they have been dosed with steroids.

Coloured pencil drawing of Crab Apples by Sue Hagley

Crab Apples

4) I took a leaf rubbing and traced the rubbing onto paper, but the leaf dried out, so when I came to resume my work the next morning the leaf had shrivelled unrecognisably – so my time was wasted!

5) I just sat down and drew the d**m thing!  The easiest and the most satisfying; well I know that now as I have tried all the other methods!  More importantly, my skill is improving as I continue to practice – that’s a really obvious observation but it is true, true, true – if you practice you get better! Doh!

Pencil drawing of a Dead Leaf No 2 by Sue Hagley

Another dead leaf

Ever heard the expression ‘all the gear and no idea’? That was me………………

So now I had all the ‘stuff’ and I had done a few initial pencil sketches, I had coloured in lots of squares and read a few books.  Now what?  Well, dear reader, I copied a picture – shock, horror!  Actually, it is not so bad, lots of artists copy/copied other artists, it’s a great way to learn, at least you know what you are trying to make it look like, which is a help.  Back to my trusty ‘Colored Pencil Solution Book’ where I found helpful instructions on how to colour a day lily (Hemerocallis).

How to portray a Daylily Instruction Page

Instruction Page

In the back of the book there was a line drawing to photocopy and I then used tracing paper to transfer it to drawing paper.

Photocopied line drawing of daylily

Photocopied line drawing

Interestingly, the dark values are applied first which was a surprise to me, and then gradually lighter and lighter colours are applied, until a final going over with the palest colour (leaving the highlights uncoloured).

Finished Daylily

Finished Daylily

It was interesting to follow instructions, and I learned loads.  It is really important to look at the values and to establish the darks and lights against each other.

I can’t possibly start now, I don’t have all the right stuff!

Major distraction technique, this.  Of course I can’t start drawing because I need this, that and the other.  Of course this is not true, but despite this I frittered away several happy weeks sourcing all the (supposed necessities) of my new activity.

First of all the coloured pencils, I used a book by Ann Swan called ‘Botanical Painting with Coloured Pencils‘ as my guide to colour choices and then spent many happy hours making colour swatches.  Now, this looks like a really nit picky thing to do, but I have to say I enjoyed every minute of it.  It was lovely to make little squares of paper and to colour them in, to see how different the colour was no the paper than in the pencil:  then sorting the coloured squares into groups of like colours: then making paper strips and colouring squares again: then using sticky backed plastic to protect them: and finally to lay them all out and look at all the pretty colours.  I should get out more, I hear you say…..

Coloured pencil swatches

Coloured pencil swatches

Well it may have been a labour of love, but I use the swatches for every drawing I do, so there! They help me establish the palette for the plant I am drawing.  I have even found a stash of Derwent artist’s pencils from way back in the 70’s when I was at art school, so they have been sharpened and added to my kit.  So now I had 100+ pencils and I must have a way to store them and find them – so with the advice from Janie Gildow & Barbara Benedetti Newton’s book ‘Colored Pencil Solution Book‘ I requested my DH to make some stands.

Wooden blocks for holding pencils

Blocks for holding pencils

And here they are in all their glory.  Most are made of Cedar wood so they are lightweight and fragrant too.  Each colour has its allocated place and the blocks have hinges so they open wide and stand alone.  Then using both books as guides I collected together or purchased the remaining ‘essentials’.

coloured drawing essentials

Drawing essentials

Best things in kit – 1) battery pencil sharpener, what fun and what sharp sharp points it makes & 2) battery eraser, it’s like holding an angry bee in your hand but it really works.  Also in kit – makeup brush for brushing away debris, blender, burnisher, embossing tools, kneadable eraser, eraser shield, fixative, masking fluid (not used yet), Zest It solvent (not used yet), value finders, magnifying glass, protractor, ruler, masking tape and on and on and on.  But all was finally collected together and finally a spare tool caddy was found and all the equipment found a home.

drawing kit in tool caddy

No more excuses time to get started.

Sue Hagley's drawing space

My drawing space

Here is my space all set up, the plant I am working on here is an Iris Foetidus and the picture was taken in December 2013.  Below is the finished drawing.

Iris Foetidus by Sue Hagley

Iris Foetidus by Sue Hagley