Thursday, 20 March 2014


It was so wonderful to receive the next book, wonderful to see another's sketches and read beautiful poetry; this exchange had now really begun. 
 I decided on a beach-combing theme for Doreen; I have a large collection of beach finds as I live close to Cardigan bay on the west coast of Wales. Every time I walk on the shore I collect more shells and other things. 

 So here are the drawings; they are painted in watercolours, with quite a dry brush technique as the paper is best for this. The little Thrift flower was collected in January and sketched; they were still flowering then as our winter had been so mild. I'm not sure what kind of bird the feather is from. 

Above is Tan y Bwlch showing Aberystwyth castle in the background.

 Above is Tan y Bwlch again.

This is Ynyslas NNR, a beautiful place with a sand dune system. 
Now what to do for the next book!

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Ida Mitrani- From the earth to the sea...A journey in the underwater world

When I received Julie Douglas's sketchbook, I was delighted to see how spontaneous and free her drawings were. It brought me right back to the college years, when I was an animation student. Life drawing was a major part of the course. We were pushed to experiment with lines and various materials (charcoals, pencils, paints, ink etc..). I remember quickly starting with a gesture line to capture the essence of the pose. I wasn't seeing the model as being naked but more as a living landscape.
Julie's trees and woods drawings inspired me to create my own underwater world. I wasn't too sure where I was going with it at first but things came to me gradually.
I first drew a small moon on the top right corner of the page. Then I decided to take some off white paper and glue it on both pages. I had to cut out a round shape in order to see the moon.
Then the fun began. I used several graphite pencils (4H,HB, 2B, 6B, 9B) and a carbon pencil for the very dark parts. I didn't want to draw any contour lines but instead work around the white of the paper and create my own negative space.
I could have stopped there but something didn't look quite right. I then remembered having done some small studies of sea creatures (some hybridised ones) in the previous year.
I cut them out roughly and added them on the drawing.

-Underwater double spread-

I've used elements of Claire Nouvian's book called : 'The Deep' mixed with some fine and brittle branches that I have in my studio. The photographic work in the book is sublime and it brings the viewer right down into the unknown territories of the sea.
The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss
The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss
Claire Nouvian
A few weeks ago, my Australian housemate, Liam, cooked some lovely mussels from New Zealand. I was absorbed by the vibrancy of the greens and copper-gold like colours of the shells.
First eat then draw!
Watercolour and Derwent Inktense pencils


Friday, 14 March 2014

Taking a long journey has its risks

Taking a long journey has its risks

Ghost Trees is my first contribution to Nature Trail 2014-2015: a Natural Sketchbook Exchange,
a collaboration of 15 artists from the UK, Ireland, Holland, Italy and the USA. Once a month each artist will complete a double-page spread, or maybe more, in their sketchbooks before posting to the next artist who will do the same until, fingers-crossed, our own sketchbooks will arrive back home 15 months from now.

Ghost Trees. Birches on
Pitmedden Estate
 woodland walk. Watercolour.

Giovanni Cera has illustrated the route each sketchbook will take in his delightful map.

From Giovanni Cera's sketchbook

I have come to know my fellow artists through FlickR, Facebook, and the Society of Botanical Artists (SBA) diploma course which I completed in 2013. They are a talented, enthusiastic, and supportive group of people whose beautiful work constantly reminds me to keep trying... and trying!


We are using Stillman and Birn sketchbooks, size A5, handy for posting. The paper is thick, smooth, and should take a bit of punishment from water and brush!  Mine was lovingly dressed in a smart green coat with colourful lining before being packed off from Ellon post office.

A long journey has its risks and no doubt some books will suffer creasing, tearing, or denting. Some may not make it at all... But I hope all will return like well thumbed passports, pages stamped with the distinctive marks of 15 artists.

Thursday, 13 March 2014


Sometimes inspiration is hard to find, and other times it literally lands on your doorstep.
Such was the case a few weeks ago, when I found a little female chaffinch lying outside my back door. I think she must have crashed into the windowpane for there were no visible signs of injury, but she was definitely lifeless.  I looked at her little wings and thought “I want to paint them.”

I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle.
 Frederick Franck, The Zen of Seeing:

This would be the perfect subject. This month I have Ida Mitrani’s sketchbook for the Nature Trails 2014- a natural sketchbook exchange, in which she has made some exquisite drawings of Birds of Paradise. You can read about that here.
Ida's beautiful Bird of Paradise

Of course, artists have been painting dead birds for many centuries. I have always loved Albrecht Durer’s painting of the “Wing of a Blue Roller”, and Edward Burne Jones’ study of a wing is sensitively observed.

Albrecht Durer's "Wing of a Blue Roller" from wikipaintings

Although my little bird was not as bright and colourful as Durer’s, each wing is a fascinating and incredible thing to behold, so light and yet so powerful. I put the wings into a ziplock bag and placed them into the freezer first to kill off any feather mites. If you are tempted to paint or draw a dead animal, I would recommend reading this good advice about how to handle it safely given by Tim Wootton in his blog. 

Having carefully pinned out my wing onto foamcore, the studies could at last begin. I used my Earth colour chart to work out which colours would work best, and decided that Van Dyke brown (Talens) was the nearest match. I also used Talens permanent blue violet and winsor and newton’s cerulean, cobalt violet, burnt sienna, indanthrene and new gamboge.

A colour chart and a tiny painting of a chaffinch (1.5 x 1.5 cm)
I finished by painting a few of the feathers from the rump of the bird which are a delicate shade of olive green. They were fun to paint, although I had to hold my breath as the slightly puff would gently lift them off the page.

I think there is so much to be gained by doing studies like this. Through careful observation of nature comes a greater understanding and a deeper appreciation for the wonders of the natural world. 

My completed spread in Ida's sketchbook

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

The 2nd month...

Well, when I received Aislinn's sketch book, I was...... speechless. My own book had been 'lurking', blankly, for ages. No matter where I'd put it, I could feel it's black cover 'tsk'-ing at my lack-of-starting.  Did it not KNOW I was suffering with that lack-of-starting SYNDROME?!?! Of course, there is nothing like a deadline to focus the mind, I did some drawings and I posted it off to Ida, thinking the worst (as in, that initial 'dread') was over. 


Receiving Aislinn's book was both an honour and a horror. Honour - such a thing of beauty will inspire all who hold it in their hands and certainly filled me with awe. 
Horror that I had to fill the next pages. Oh. No. 

So, the right thing to do was put the book away for as long as humanly possible and pretend I didn't have to do anything at all. Very sensible. 
Well, that was ok for a week. Then I could feel it's covers nagging at me, even when I wasn't in the same room. So eventually there was nothing else for it, but to turn the page and try my hand at the exercise I'd given my students - a bit of painting without drawing. Straight to water and colour. 

It was a relief to work so differently. I think one of the biggest challenges about this Share-ative process is to Own the pages that we are doing, while we are doing them. We aren't competing with each other (in fact, I have rarely felt so supported in a group, ever. Lovely women, all ), we are contributing. And in spending many hours on these pages, I realised that we are gifting each other. This is Aislinn's book, and I have done two spreads - for Aislinn. 
The first was lillies, loosely painted, giving attention to shape, composition, in-between space and spacial relationships. I used a really limited colour palette. 

The second spread is a drawing of a log stack at my local park. I've had my eye on this for a while. I love the patterns on tree bark - they echo the shapes of dry stone walls and could easily be reflections in water too. I used a variety of pencil grades.

It's interesting reading about the other artists opinion of the paper in these sketch books. I am actually finding it hard to use! Certainly the paper holds water colour, but I find it does that in a 'dry' way - it doesn't flow, it makes it literal and a little unplayful. For pencil work, I was surprised to find the paper made soft pencils perform like harder ones. The upshot is that I think it is suited to precise work more than a 'meandering thought of a drawing'. I wonder if it might therefore encourage precision..? But don't worry, I refuse to be beaten by a piece of paper... next month I might get all gluey and stick in different paper.

Or maybe I won't...!

Monday, 10 March 2014


February is supposed to be the month of romance, what with Valentine's Day appearing like clockwork on the 14th. So for this month, I decided to work on some studies of buds and emerging blooms, using passionate pinks, purples and reds.

The emergence of spring.
watercolour, pen and ink.

It has been lovely to see the camellias, early irises, hellebores and bergenias coming into bud and bloom in the garden, despite the recent shocking weather. Nature is wonderful how it just does it's own thing regardless. Starting with the typography, I mixed a rich pink using Perylene Maroon and Permanent Rose with a touch of Carmine and carefully painted the opening title.  Choosing some deliciously plump buds from a Camellia Anticipation from the garden, I kept the little study quite simple with just one prominent leaf. The acidy greens of the buds looked so pretty against the emerging pink of the petals and the rich green of the leaf. It all came together really nicely. To offset all the pink and not to go too overboard with it, I added a purple blue bud of iris reticulata.

In the garden...

Hellebores under an old tree

And more Hellebores, creating a satisfying clump.

Bergenia or 'Elephant's Ears'.
These just 'popped up'. 

Garrya elliptica 'James Roof' 

Last year, I discovered the joys of Garrya elliptica 'James Roof'. Having never seen this unusual plant before, I was quite taken by the long dangling tassels that are actually the flowers. The Garrya is an evergreen shrub with the most gorgeous, large glossy green leaves. initially, I used a sprig (or should that be small branch) of this new delight in a mixed study last year, and having come by another piece (pinched from over the hedge up the road) it had to be done again. This time I used some pen work too, just to give the piece more a sketchbook feel.      

Just for a personal touch, I also added a couple of little studies I completed a few years ago.

Snow on a frozen pond,
and cloudspotting

Thursday, 6 March 2014

All the best laid plans…….. getting your bloom times right!

February pages in Debbie's sketchbook- Nature Trail 2014, a natural sketchbook exchange.
© 2014 Aislinn Adams

Plan A- Indian plum, Oemleria cerasiformis, bud break!

After such an exciting start to the nature sketchbook exchange in January I had lots of ideas about what I was going to paint in Debbie's journal for February. I should have known better. When dealing with "Nature" nothing can be taken for granted.  I have a long term project to paint the native plants of this area and, with spring on the way here in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, I wanted to paint one of the earliest flowering native shrubs, Indian plum, Oemleria cerasiformis, in the sketchbook. I started my studies in a larger Stillman & Birn journal, hoping to capture the bud at various stages of opening. Alas! that was before we got a large dump of snow right in the middle of bud-burst. This delayed bloom time just enough to make it too late for me to paint it into the sketchbook.

Indian plum, Oemleria cerasiformis, buds.
Virginia witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, seeds

Plan B- Virginia witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, in bloom!

I have a commission for Virginia witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana,  from an extremely patient client (still waiting for it a year later.) This is the season to do it I thought to myself and, in an effort to use my time more efficiently, I decided to include it in my sketchbook. However, Virginia witch hazel, native to the eastern U. S., is not that common here. I asked around and, while everyone could point to the exotic witch hazels that were just coming into bloom, virtually no one knew the Virginia species. Luckily for me I had to visit a local nursery at the same time, on a different errand. Heritage Seedlings Nursery are known for specializing in native seeds for restoration projects but what I didn't know was that they also grow lots of witch hazels, and they use Virginia witch hazel as rooting stock for the exotic cultivars. Delighted to hear this I tramped off down the long grassy corridors between the trees and shrubs with two very obliging nursery people in search of the elusive shrub. We found plenty of the cultivars in bloom but no flowers on the "Virginian."

Virginia witch hazel, Hamamelis virginiana, withered leaf. Graphite.
From flowers to old leaves and strange seeds.

The snow had not melted long so we wondered if the flowers has been damaged by the harsh conditions. Still, all was not lost. The shrub did have interesting seed capsules and some lovely withered leaves stubbornly clinging to its branches. I love withered leaves and unusual seeds. The plans changed slightly. Now I was drawing this stage of the plant and maybe I could track down some of the flowers elsewhere.

First- get your season right!

I never did find the Virginia witch hazel flowers in bloom.  What I didn't realize was that I'd been looking in the wrong season. I had been so busy rushing ahead to paint in my sketchbook that I'd overlooked checking the plant's growing details first. I had assumed that, like all the other witch hazels, it was a spring bloomer.  No so. The east coast witch hazel blooms in the fall. At least all is not lost for another year. This fall I will be back at the nursery, timing it right hopefully, to catch the witch hazel in bloom.

Early blue violet, viola adunca.

Some native plants.

I couldn't send off the sketchbook without including some local native species. I've included what I consider a very under-appreciated little flower- the early blue violet, Viola adunca. It has been blooming in our front yard for nearly a month now, in spite of the snow. All the native violets are really important host plants for Fritillary butterflies and, even though it's too cold for any butterflies yet, I hope that they might use the leaves later.

Last but not least!

Inspired by  "Nature Trailer" Sarah Morrish's delicate studies of maple and oak seedlings I've included one little seed (called samara) of another native plant that I totally take for granted- the big leaf maple, Acer macrophyllum. There is a huge big leaf maple in our front yard and most years during spring I can be seen pulling up forests of its little seedlings. This year, thanks to Sarah's influence, I'll hesitate a little before pulling and even save a few.

Aislinn Adams

Ida's Sketchbook

 I look at an Artist's sketchbook like the formation of an organism. It holds the essence of the final piece. There is something so intimate and mysterious about it. The pages of a sketchbook provide insight into an artist's personal thoughts, intentions and creative process.

I was so delighted when Shevaun offered me to take part of the Nature Trails Sketchbook Exchange project. Such a great idea!

So many ideas came to my mind and I also felt a bit intimidated... I finally decided to have fun with the project and include elements of my non-botanical artwork combine with a more illustrative and realistic work.

Coming from a Fine Art and Animation background, Art and especially drawing has always been a major tool to express my internal world.
My aim with this project is to fully experiment with various mediums and techniques while observing the transformations taking place in Nature.

Here are the words and subjects that came to my mind- Hybridisation, Turkish design/patterns, Islamic Art patterns, Paradise and Sacred Geometry in Nature.

First Page- The Door (The Entrance)  Including Turkish floral patterns- Cut out

Back of the first page- Natural light through Cut Out

Double spread- Birds of Paradise- Bird of Paradise flower (Strelitzia)
Watercolour/pencil drawing


Monday, 3 March 2014

    I heard a noise that I couldn't place at 1.30am on 14th February... a long roaring, ripping noise followed by a 'woomphhh'. Next morning when Dyson and I were in the park it became obvious what it had been. One of the mighty, and beautiful Cedar of Lebanon's had fallen during the night. I cried. I don't know what it is about trees but they make me feel so emotional; I can't watch one being felled on TV without getting a lump in my throat.  I've known that tree my whole life, sat under it's shade, sheltered from rain there, fed squirrels (pre-Dyson days!), clambered over the lower branches when I was a child,  loved the way it held snow in winter...
The snowy splendour of the fallen cedar.

Seed, scale and male 'cone'

It seemed appropriate that I record the tree somehow so I picked up a bit of a branch, some scales leftover from squirrel feasting, found a seed and a male cone. I drew them for my own illustrated journal and thought they'd make a good subject for the sketchbook exchange. When this tree was a twinkle in it's daddy's eye, GeorgeII was on the throne, when it was a sapling ..George III. The Stock Exchange was first set up, Captain Cook started giving lemon juice to his sailors to prevent scurvy, the worlds first Ironbridge was built over the Severn at Coalbrookdale and the Industrial revolution was just getting going. When it was planted into the park's landscape the Napoleonic Wars were starting to rumble in Europe. 

Maybe I'm right to feel emotion about 'just' a tree after all! It could tell us a million stories and my attempts at preserving it into the future in Jarnie's sketchbook are a poor memorial but one that will live on for a bit and take the tree into a future it sadly won't be having in the park.

The double page spread. To be finished with a bit of text.