Tag Archives: drawing

You shall draw everything and every day – a new resolution

Still reading ‘The Awakened Eye’ by Frederick Franck and mulling over his ideas.  One of the consequences is that I have laid aside my coloured pencils for a while and I have been working outside rather than in the studio (grand name for the spare bedroom).  At the end of the book he lays out his ten commandments, and as I found them so interesting and shall be trying to integrate them into my practice I am taking the liberty of including them here in full:

The ten commandments on seeing/drawing were revealed to me on a mountain, but also in a meadow, on an beach and even in the subway.  For their revelation did not come all at once, but in instalments, as it were, over the years, and always while I was busy drawing, and invariably on holy ground.  But that may be because, while drawing, all ground is holy, unseparated from the Whole.

      1. You shall draw everything and every day.
      2. You shall not wait for inspiration, for it comes not while you wait but while you work.
      3. You shall forget all you think you know and, even more, all you have been taught.
      4. You shall not adore your good drawings and promptly forget your bad ones.
      5. You shall not draw with exhibitions in mind, nor to please any critic but yourself.
      6. You shall trust none but your own eye and make your hand follow it.
      7. You shall consider the mouse you draw as more important than the contents of all the museums in the world for..
      8. You shall love the Ten Thousand Things with all your heart and a blade of grass as yourself.
      9. Let each drawing be your first: a celebration of the eye awakened.
      10. You shall not worry about ‘being of your time’, for you are your time. And it is brief. 
  • Frederick Franck

That’s the plan anyway, since writing this I have already not achieved commandment #1 but what the heck? I am really thinking about #4 and #5 these are the faults that I need to challenge.

Here are this week’s efforts….. working outside in the shade trying to draw foxgloves in the breeze, the ones where it does not look like I was looking? well that’s how I drew them –  I did not look at the paper, experimented with pen and ink.  I think my eye is not confident enough to draw with ink so I went back to pencil.

Next I tried my most complicated plant yet – a trailing geranium.

Trailing Geranium by Sue Hagley

And lastly, another afternoon in the garden where my beloved teasels are stretching up to the sunshine, great crowds of them lifting their arms up.  My first coloured pencil drawing was a teasel leaf; I could only manage a section of leaf then as I thought the whole thing way too difficult to draw.  But one year on it looks like I am more confident.

Teasel Plant by Sue Hagley

When life intervenes

I sound like a cracked record going round and round, but again this week the pencil did not hit paper very much.  Below is my entire output, a practice for getting the colours right!  And now I think the Foxgloves are past their best so I might have to wait until next year to have another go.

Test for foxglove colour

But on the positive side, I have had another go at the photography lark and think I have now solved the problem of photographing paper to my satisfaction.  The solution was in the exposure.  My paper now looks ‘white (ish)’ instead of dingey greyish.  So I am happy about that and can let it go………..

I have been following the blog of occasionalartist over the past weeks and have been very interested in the work she is doing with paper and sewing and they reminded me of the last quilt I made just in the square shapes coming off a flat surface and the shadows and dimensions that are created.  Materials used: plain white fabric, coloured threads applied with overlocker, and plastic tags (the type that hold labels onto clothes that get cut off and thrown away).

Quilt by Sue Hagley


I have been reading an inspiring book, ‘The Awakened Eye’ (a companion volume to The Zen of Seeing, SEEING/DRAWING as meditation) by Frederick Franck.  This is my early morning read, as I enjoy my first cup of tea of the day and my copy is now littered with little orange post it notes as I find things to try and remember.  My favourite extracts follow:

  • There is no other valid reason for drawing than the awareness of the eye awakening from its half-sleep.
  • If we take eternity to mean not infinite temporal duration, but timelessness, the eternal life belongs to those who live in the present – say Wittgenstein
  • The leaf I just picked is already going limp, then I see it shrivel.  While seeing/drawing I see each thing living its own time, as I am living my time, my life-time.  The awakened eye becomes utterly aware of the fleetingness of all that passes before it, of this eye still seeing, of this hand still moving, still tracing…………
  • When I draw in line with a pen or a sharp pencil I am compelled to the most intense, uninterrupted attention to and awareness of what my eye perceives.  It makes it impossible to deceive, to humour or to flatter myself.  The quality of my line shows up every attempt at a cover-up, a pretense.  Looking at my drawing once it is finished, I can’t help becoming my own graphologist: I see instantly every flagging of my concentration, every incompetence, every trick!

Feeling better

I hit a low spot last week; took on too much so I felt overburdened and put upon.  But action has been taken – I have dropped one commitment and reviewed my attitude to my own efforts (I would hate to work for me, I am a hard taskmaster indeed).  But enough of this already and onto what has made it onto paper this week.

In the hope that eventually I would draw something that I would like to own as mine own, I fiddled around with my signature.  My initials are S & H which together can look like a dollar sign ($). Here are my efforts, I wanted to include the date in some way but decided that month and year were enough:



The one I think I will go with is below, but looking at it again I might change my mind (any comments or suggestions would be appreciated).


Plant of the week was the wonderful Foxglove; they spread themselves elegantly about the garden in shades of cream, white and maroon, with beautiful markings; just beautiful and enticing to draw.  Despite the lush colour I stayed with pencil.

Foxglove by Sue Hagley

Foxglove by Sue HagleySuch fun to draw……


Well I met my posting target this week, but that is all.

I am going to post the four scrubby drawing I managed this week.  I put them up as the intention of this blog is to share my progress as I struggle to revive my art practice.  The best thing that I can say about them is that they have been done.  I have managed to hack out a couple of hours and to sit myself in front of a drawing board and start, which is no mean achievement this week.  I had another go at the Easter Cactus.


But the plant that caught my eye in the garden was another weed – this time the wild carrot (Daucus carota) a small specimen but bushy and growing well.  I read that it is a plant of high summer so that shows how forward the season is this year after the mild winter.  The attraction was the festoon of bracts beneath the flower umbel so I had a good scribbly go at them.



And finally this afternoon I attempted a more detailed sketch.


When the flowers are finished and they turn to seed, the flower heads contract and become concave like birds’-nests.  I like this plant, it grows well in the garden and the hover flies love it




Getting to be an exhibition junky………..The Society of Botanical Artists Annual Exhibition 2014

P1010470I went by myself to a Botanical Art exhibition, ‘how sad’ you say, but no it was great, it was just what was needed.  I had no one to talk to, no distractions, no worrying about if someone else was bored, tired or hungry, needed the loo or just wanted to go home.  I just had myself to please and somehow that does not happen very often.

I was able to go around the show which ran to nearly 700 pieces and look at each one individually.  I treated my visit as a learning experience and decided to analyse the pictures I liked and to decide what it was in that image that ‘spoke’ to me, and then I took notes (nerdy or what?)  Still I was there by myself so I could please myself!

At the end of three and a half hours, these are my findings about the things that I liked:

  • images that were larger than life size
  • compositions that overflowed their own boundaries
  • images that were ‘arrangements’ of separate items
  • gouache compared to straight water colour
  • images that were a single item (e.g. leaf)
  • interesting cropping that filled the picture plane
  • the combo of graphite and colour

I also noticed that some subjects are just ‘done to death’ and however beautiful and clever the work there is really nothing much new to say about strawberries, peppers, conkers, aubergines, tulips, daffodils, onions, garlic, carrots, cherries, orchids, iris, violas………….. I could go on.  That said, I’m sure I’m going to have a go at all of these over the coming months.

Artists I liked:

Some amazing work in the exhibition and so many talented artists.

Back at my own drawing board, things are not so amazing………. This week I followed instructions from a book called ‘ Creating Radiant Flowers in Colored Pencil’, this had instructions about using solvents to dissolve and blend coloured pencil.

With and without solvent

With and without solvent

First petal is just blended/burnished pencil and second one has had solvent applied to blend the colours, not only is it bigger (not caused by solvent but by operator error) but it is brighter, so I guess that is one way of getting really intense colour.

Then I went onto my plant of the week, which this week is my flowering ‘Easter’ cactus, this flowers for me every year and survives on neglect.  Have not put much time into it but I did try to have a go at the flower, pale pink almost white in places, how do you draw white petals on white paper?  Another skill to learn – to be added to the list.

Easter Cactus drawing by Sue Hagley

Easter Cactus

Orange! A Marmite type of colour.

This week as I wandered around the garden wondering what to draw, mulling over my skills, I realised that I had been avoiding flowers with too many petals.  Too hard, too complicated – nah not for me, I can’t do that yet.  Despite my doubts I left the garden with a marigold in my hand, and decided to give it a go.  As I sat down and started drawing in dawned on me that it was not the shape or the number of petals that was going to be the problem but the colour.  What a bright orange, what a singeing eye popping colour, it really does not look like a natural colour – it is just way too bright.

Orange, is a strange colour, many people don’t like it and I can understand why, it is very fierce and in your face, it is a Marmite type colour, you either love it or hate it.  Maybe not quite like Marmite as I have converted from hate to love.  My conversion to orange came many years ago when I was still a quilter and a completely lurid piece of orange fabric came into my possession and dominated my stash.  I decided that instead of throwing the fabric away I would use it, and I pieced it into one of my very first ‘art’ quilts, and found to my surprise that it was the orange colour made the quilt sing.  The quilt was not brilliant but it opened my eyes to the magic of orange.  After that, most of my textile work had a sprinkle of orange sparkle and were all the better for it. (Apologies for the rubbish photo)

Orange Squares Quilt by Sue Hagley

First ‘art’ quilt made in 2002

Back at the drawing board, I was struggling with both the colour and the shape of the marigolds and now that I have finished a few and photographed them and looked with new eye I can see how wobbly they are and how very ‘off’ I am in places and how I have failed to match the orange.

Marigold flower in coloured pencil

Wonky flower

Marigold Bud in coloured pencil


So although not satisfied at all with my coloured pencil efforts, I really enjoyed the pencil drawing, a marigold when studied closely has a complicated and interesting shape, the leaves wrap around the stalk and they twist and spiral outwards.  The bud is tightly wrapped with a calyx with spikes that curl beautifully.  I found the structure fascinating and a real challenge to draw.

Graphite drawing of marigolds

Graphite drawing of marigolds

Graphite drawing of marigolds

Graphite drawing of marigolds

Graphite drawing of marigolds

Graphite drawing of marigolds




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).




Draws Shoots and Leaves but how to decide which Shoots and Leaves to Draw

Euphorbia Lathyris

Euphorbia Lathyris

My most recent drawing (Euphorbia Lathyris), a plant picked from my own garden; a plant not planted, a volunteer plant of a type that pops up on and off in the garden.  A plant usually called a weed and ruthlessly pulled up.   But I am looking at plants differently now, with new eyes, not seeing weeds or choice specimens but seeing and noticing shape and colour and if it is not too strange a ‘personality’.

I have been thinking about ‘style’ and looking at my work.  I know that a ‘style’ develops and grows and it will appear (hopefully) of it’s own free will but I can’t help thinking about what will be the best way to nurture and encourage it.  From my previous life as an artist in other fields I know that following my own interests and concerns brought me most satisfaction and ultimately led to a fruitful way of working. So I suppose this is how I will develop my botanical ‘style’; it will come out in the sort of plants that attract my interest, the sort of plants that make me want to engage with them the sort of plants that I choose to draw.

I am already feeling my way towards this, as I am attracted by the slightly strange, the little bit ugly and the oddly shaped, and I suspect the easy to draw……..




Going crazeeeeeee – GIMP, scanning and photography

I never thought that botanical art would lead me down the dark and tortuous road of photography, but it has, and let me be up front about photography – I don’t like it.  The camera does not see as I do and I am always disappointed by the results.

So I finished my drawing of the Photinia and of course I needed to photograph it – why? 1. to put in the blog of course and 2. as a record.

Photinia drawing by Sue Hagley

Finished Photinia coloured pencil drawing.


Arghhh!  Lighting, getting it right is sooooo hard, lots of research on the internet and it all seems so time intensive and boring and even more nit-picking than even I can cope with.  My research lead me to consider scanning – ah ha! much easier, the darn thing lights itself and I will just get some software to do a little colour correction. What a blind alley that turned into.  Most of my images are bigger than scanner plate, so software would also need to ‘stitch’ several images together as well as adjust colour.  More research and the dread word GIMP came into my life.  Anyway – this is all way too boring but I have just wasted two of my precious days on this earth wrestling with GIMP and some esoteric things called layers – it’s all been too horrible and I’m done with it!   The solution came to me when I was meditating – surprising what a little bit of stillness and silence can do, and it seems glaringly obvious now.  My room has been rearranged, and in that rearrangement new lights were installed, which means the room is evenly lit enough for photography (at least for the standard I need).  So I tested it out, and it works, YAY!  Only problem was a support to hold the artwork, so a request to my resident woodworker resulted in a lovely new stand, with the addition of two elastic bands my Heath Robinson ensemble is good to go.

Photography Stand

Heath Robinson ensemble

Seems to  work alright, see photo of Photinia above (although I have not cropped it properly); I will experiment some more with a tripod and a better (bigger) camera, but not today……………………..

P.S. ………if you are still with me, dear reader, I did go back to it, like an itch you can’t help scratching.  My later experiments came out really well and I am now HAPPY!  I found out how to set the white balance on my camera, lower the ISO and use a tripod.  I also used up about 500 calories going up stairs to take the photo and down again to put it on the computer, so I have had my exercise for today, which can’t be bad.  Didn’t do any drawing though………..


Chaenomeles disappointment, Photinia progress

Botanic art is not an easy discipline.  Last week I was very disappointed with my efforts with a Chaenomeles blossom which was only slightly alleviated by the excitement of reorganising my workroom.  I will share only one of my drawings as it illustrates how difficult it was for me to draw petals (and I am too ashamed of the other drawings).  A petal is delicate, light and ephemeral and flutters lightly in the breeze.

Chaenomeles blossom

Chaenomeles blossom

Not under my heavy handed pencil work; my efforts do not do it justice in any shape or form.

My effort

My effort

So thoroughly discouraged I have put petals to one side for the moment, when I am more skilful I will revisit the lovely Chaenomeles and try again.

Thinking I need something a bit more solid to get my teeth into, my eye landed on Photinia Red Robin growing in the garden. Ah ha! tough, bold, good angles, shape and colour and not a petal in site – my next subject.

Photinia Red Robin

Ready to go

The outline drawing was accomplished fairly painlessly, and by the end of the day I had the outline ready on good paper ready to start the colour work.  I think I am going to start drawing stones and rocks, why! Because plants move! They shift, they sag, they droop, they twist, bits fall off, they just change – moment by moment they are not the same.  So the next morning all was different, so that is another skill that I need to acquire; the ability to be flexible and the ability to adapt.


Photinia set up

Photinia set up

I am still working on this image, the colours are fun to work with, each leaf is different and I am enjoying the process.  I have been listening an unabridged version audio book of Les Miserables, in all the time the musical has been running I have never seen it, and I still have not seen the film – well at least I know the story now.

Photinia work in progress

Photinia work in progress