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    Autumn Illustration workshop at Cambridge Botanic Gardens


    In the autumn I was lucky enough to do two day’s teaching at Cambridge University Botanic Gardens teaching a botanical illustration course with a focus on drawing autumn fruits, berries, and leaves,  to a class of twelve adults who varied from quite experienced to complete beginners.  The first day we looked at leaves, and collected a wonderful assortment from the gardens.

    Table of autumn leaves collected from the Botanic gardens

    Pencil drawings of leaves

    We looked at colour as well as shape, veins, margins, and how the light falls on the surfaces of the leaf blades.  The students did some wonderful pencil tonal studies.

    Pencil illustration of two leaves looking at shape and shade

    Student drawing of an autumn leaf

    Colour theory

    We did some work on colour theory too, and I got the students to experiment with watercolours by filling in a colour wheel.  It’s interesting to note that no matter how hard you try, mixing paint from a paint box never makes the clean colours suggested by a colour wheel.  In fact, one of the students lent me a fascinating book discussing this, “Blue and Yellow don’t make green” by Michael Wilcox which explains why this might be, and gives an alternative approach to mixing colours.

    The colour wheel gave the students a chance to learn how to darken a hue and to lighten it (by using water to dilute it, not by adding white paint) so they were ready to experiment with painting by the afternoon.


    Loose watercolour illustration of fruit and leaves by a student, with working notes on colour mixes

    Step by step autumn berries

    The second day we looked at fruits and berries, and I’d prepared a couple of handouts which broke down the process of painting hawthorn and blackberries into step by step processes.

    Handout of the step by step process involved in painting a hawthorn berry

    For more of these handouts please visit my Pinterest board, and for a detailed blog on painting a blackberry click here; for the hawthorn explanation click on this link.

    Handout of the step by step process involved in painting a blackberry

    I’d gathered in lots of blackberries and hawthorn, and we had a wonderful time gleaning fruits and berries in the garden, coming back with armfuls of inspiring specimens to draw and paint.  Some of the students followed the blackberry handout with really encouraging results:

    Student painting of a blackberry, referring to the steps in the handout

    Others worked on hawthorn, again referring to the handout for a bit of guidance:

    Student painting of a hawthorn berry, referring to the steps laid out in the handout

    Other autumn subjects painted

    Many painted entirely different subjects; from conkers to dogwood berries.

    Conker watercolour botanical illustration

    One student took on a squash.  This is a tricky subject thanks to the pale oranges and internal stringy area that clings onto the seeds.  She tackled this well.  Wee used some of the colour theory we’d talked about earlier to sort out how to deal with shadows.

    Watercolour of a squach by a beginner student

    Another student brought in a bunch of grapes from home.  Although she’d not had a great deal of prior experience she did a brilliant job of getting the shine and the colours right.

    Student study of grapes and shine

    It was a brilliant chance to spend two days painting and drawing.  I often maintain most of what I do when I teach is enable people to stop doing day to day stuff, and to prioritise making space and time to look and draw for a while.  Inevitably, their work exceeds their expectations, which is lovely.  It’s a priviledge to be on hand with the odd pointer or tip.  But in truth most of what they do is just allow themselves to look and enjoy the creative processes.

    I’ve got a few more courses coming up in 2018 at the University of Cambridge.  One focuses on drawing in winter, and the others are looking at illustrating pollinators and the plants they visit.  Courses are suitable for all abilities, for more details and to book please follow the link here.


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    Lizzie Harper