Step by step Nasturtium illustration
I need to paint a nasturtium! We recently got the wonderful news that The Cultivated Forager (follow up to Adele Nozedar’s best-selling The Hedgerow Handbook) will be published, probably in late 2015.
Working on a list of illustrations
This means that I have to get painting; 49 garden plants to illustrate in the sketchbook studies style, which is to carry through both books. Although I’ve completed a good selection of plants to be included, there are lots which are about to finish flowering for the year, and which need doing. The beautiful nasturtium in one of these.
As with all these studies, the first thing I do is to draw the plant in pencil (I tend to use pentel P205 0.5mm automatic pencils), onto fabriano hot press paper. I try to choose an angle which shows the structures of the plant, as well as looking pretty compositionally.
Caring for the Nasturtium
I try to keep the plant fresh by holding a bit of wet tissue over the base of its stem, and popping it back in water at every available opportunity.
Painting the Nasturtium leaves
Next, I start painting the leaves. These are quite a yellow green (especially on younger leaves), and have distinctive venation of many round (or orbicular) leaves.
I plot in the darkest areas; then, as I wait for this to dry, I work into the pale sections of the stem, only using colour on the edges of the stem and allowing a wet wash to provide the paler tones of the body of the stem and the underside of the leaf. This is applied quite wet, and allowed to dry fully before I work further into the area.
Next, I plot in the mid-tones of the leaf using a more dilute, and slightly yellower mix. Once dry, I dilute this colour further, and add a little more yellow and apply this very wet paint across the entire leaf, including the veins (which, up to now, had been unpainted).
As this dries, I look at the stem and study the crimson flush. This is easy to do; straight crimson lake from the paint box and detailed work with a dry brush. Once this is dry, a much more dilute version of the same helps unify the markings onto the green background of the stem.
With cut plants, you can’t really afford to wait for paint to dry before continuing; you’re very much up against the clock and it’s horrid seeing your specimen beginning to wilt right in front of you. The only thing to do is to work on lots of different parts of the plant simultaneously.
Finishing the leaves
The less detailed leaves are handled with a wet wash of cadmium yellow and cobalt blue. I apply this very wet. I love the way wet washes leave edges on the page, and wish I had the courage to use the paint more freely to exploit this effect more often.
Painting the Nasturtium flower
The fun part; painting the flower. Nasturtium colour are very varied, but this specimen was a ridiculously bright orange that I knew would be almost impossible to replicate in paint. To start with, I plot in the structure and base colour; a mix of cadmium orange light and cadmium orange dark, with a touch of a warm yellow. This paint goes on pretty solid and dry, and although it provides the main colour and form I think it’s vital to bear in mind the veins and details of the petals as you apply it.
The next step is putting the orange mid-tones onto the petal, and painting the centre of the lower (a yellowish green). The mid-tones go on wetter than the first layer, and consists of the same initial colour, but mixed with Doctor Martin inks (orange and daffodil yellow in this case).
Finishing up the flower
Next, a dilute version of the mid-tones is applied to the entire flower. Remembering to try and keep it light on the areas which were white. Doctor Martin inks are fabulous for providing transparent, luminous colour. They’ve worked well on this flower.
Here’s the final study. I chose to paint a bud since the flush on the calyx and the structure at the back of the flower were clear; I also drew the seed and some drawings of the fringing of the bottom two petals (which I dissected out).
These illustrations for The Cultivated Forager are also annotated, partly so I can remember salient points about the plant I’ve drawn, and partly so the designer can include these comments as and where he sees fit when it comes to designing the layout.
Here’s my paintbox at the end of the illustration of the nasturtium. The bright blobs in the far right palette are the famed Doctor Martin inks. This photo also shows what a splendid tip the series 7 brushes have; who could fail to do decent work with such tools?
I’m in a state of total panic as there are about 5 other plants about to go over, and two other commissions with imminent deadlines which also need to be done. Don’t get me wrong, I like my job, but anyone who thinks the life of a natural history illustrator is all gentle sketching couldn’t be more wrong! It’s deadlines, painting at midnight, and desperately trying to get a withering bloom to live for an extra 24 hours. And yes, I love it.