Leaf of the Day: Water Plantain, Draw, Re-draw,and Chinese Whispers

It’s Saturday and so there are other things to be done than paint the plantain but because time is short I am trying to devote 3 hours today and 3 hours tomorrow to it.
Warning! If you are not interested in the painful, laborious steps of my first proper botanical painting, come back on Thursday. It should be all over by then and I will be back to drawing my Soapberry tree and the myriad of exciting pods, seeds and bits and pieces waiting for me at the garden. If however, you are drawn to slow motion road crashes and the possibility of witnessing a pig’s ear in the making, stay with me.

I am at the stage where I have one drawing of the leaves and one drawing of the flower stem, some previous studies and composition sketches and … horror of horrors… the stretched, pristine, white and beautiful piece of paper to work on.
This is the first piece of work that I have spent so long on for many years. For a piece of botanical art things have to be carefully planned as there is little chance for alteration. I do hear of very experienced painters who seem to get started with the bare minimum of preparatory work but as this is my first, I am learning as I go.

Here are my hesitant steps.
I have to get the drawing onto the final sheet now, so learning from Sandrine Maughy on the course I attended in May, I will trace the drawings and transfer them onto the paper. Why not just draw the design on the paper in the first place? Well, it’s a complicated subject and I need to rub out and correct all the time so I would have damaged the paper surface too much..much too much!! Also if you have them on two separate pieces of tracing paper, it helps to place the leaves and the flowers exactly where you want them. So I trace them. Here are the two drawings overlaid.

Having spent a long time thinking about just the right position for the leaves and stem I transfer the drawing using tracedown paper. Only the main outlines this time.

Re draw…
I now have faint thickish lines which I will have to correct and some of the very detailed parts, like the tip of the flowers spike, I will have to redraw in more detail.
So, this is the fourth time I will have drawn this flower spike. Am I bored? Very…also the tedious repetitious nature of this task means that things change a bit every time you re draw, the artist’s version of Chinese Whispers. I had written before about the unreliability of the old herbals which had been copied from earlier ones so many times that the plants became unrecognisable. There is definitely a danger of that here so when I come to paint I will have to check all the time with the plant and my previous drawings that I am getting it correct.

Masking out…
The next thing I want to get done today is masking out the white flowers which will sit in front of the green leaves. The white of the flower has to be the white paper and it will, I think, be easier to paint the leaves without worrying too much about the stem. I am not at all sure that I am doing the right thing, but I get the unspeakably smelly rubbery masking fluid out and blob it on my beautiful white paper as accurately as I can. It is latex and painting with rubber is not easy.
I have to say that the course is no help at all in ‘teaching’ you anything. You just have to muddle through on your own and read the books (which you have to buy), or try to find an (another) expensive course to attend. I personally find it very hard to learn from step by step books and because I have been a jack-of-all-trades commercial artist I have acquired some very bad undisciplined, slapdash painting habits, unacceptable in the botanical painting sphere.
But this is what I signed up to to do, to go back to basic careful observed drawing..and discipline!!…so I should just get on with it.
Here is my drawing board with the masked out flower heads.You can see the tracings and the grey transfer paper and, I have just noticed, in the background is my well deserved end-of-the-day glass of wine (bad old painting habit).. but the sun is well and truly over the yardarm now, it’s 8.00 pm and it is Saturday.

Colour Studies…
One last thing today, a couple of colour studies. Before I start the coloured version I need to test my colours and think about the colour balance and tonal values. Again, an experienced botanical painter will just know instinctively what colours to use. I don’t. And after the comment about my colours on the last piece I am even more unsure. Am I trying to match the colours accurately or be aesthetically restrained?.. a bit of both I guess. I did ask but had no reply.
The first sketch was a time saving, colouring-in of the combined tracings just to see what it might look like in colour.

…..11th hour changes.
All day I have been niggling about the crossed stems of the leaves. Now I know I don’t like them. They are just too cutesy and I have been influneced by too much looking at other people’s “designed” botanical painitngs where the plants are placed with design in mind rather than growth habit . Although they do grow like this I prefer them to be more static. There is enough wavy stuff going on with the flower stem. It means changing the design on the prisitne white sheet a bit but never mind, this is after all a learning process, she says defensively.
I was about to make a better colour sketch but that will have to wait till tomorrow. Instead a quick w/colour to try out this change. I think it’s much better and I can see where the problem areas are going to be.

Plantain Colour Sketch

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