This week Marie Batters' shares the five most important things that she wished she had known before she started botanical art. We have all been at the starting line and like most novices we are not sure what is really important. Well, Marie helps us out here and from our perspective, Marie has come a long way since she first caught the botanical art bug.
The ABBA Team
Hello, my name is Marie and I am a self-taught artist with a love for watercolour and botanical art.
I’ve been teaching myself watercolour painting for just over two years, during which time I have become passionate about botanical art.
I’ve been studying via a distance learning course for the last 18 months, focusing on leaves, which has been extremely enjoyable and challenging at times.
In this post I’d like to share a few of the things that I’ve learned along the way, things that I would have loved to have known at the start of my art journey. These five things are my personal experiences but I hope they can help you along the way with your art journey too.
1- Primary Colours – they are all you need.
When I started painting, I went out and bought so many different colours, in various different ranges and brands.
There is so much choice – Tube, Pan, Half Pan ....... So many different brands – Winsor Newton, Daniel Smith, Daler Rowney, to name but a few ......
I often found myself in the craft shop, staring at the shelves of colours and brands, trying to remember which ones I had already bought. I even had a picture on my mobile phone of my colour chart, so that I didn’t buy 2 tubes of the same colour. It got to be quite expensive!
I then learnt about colour mixing and using only the three primary colours to create so many others.
I’ll be honest, If I’d have taken the time to watch the multitude of Youtube videos out there I probably would have picked this one up a lot sooner, but I just wanted to get painting (oh, and become a professional within weeks by the way!)
And so, tip Number 1 that I wish I had known is this; To create so many beautiful colours you only need 3 – blue, red and yellow.
Tip Number 2; To create all of those beautiful colours takes practice. Create colour charts, play around with mixing and don’t be afraid to mix many different versions, there are still many shades of the primaries to choose from.
Personally, I paint from tubes but with other types too, a little goes a very long way.
Needless to say, I now have lots of tubes of paint, in various colours, that are in my ‘emergency stash’. I can’t part with them just yet, after all I did spend a lot of time in the art shops (and online) staring at those shelves.
2 - Paper – It's worth the investment.
As I paint in watercolour my paper choices are a little biased towards this medium, however, I imagine the multitude of choices may be the same for oil and acrylic with board vs. paper.
As with paints, there is so much choice......Cold Pressed, Hot Pressed, Rough........which weight to choose......pad, block or sketchbook......cotton or mulch????
Much like my experience with the paints I have quite the collection of paper pads and blocks, with a couple of sketch books thrown in for good measure.
Some of these pads have stood me in good stead, and have been really useful, especially for making colour charts.
But there are a handful of paper types that I could not get along with. The paintings just didn’t look right, or the paper did not stand up to that much water or movement of paint. I didn’t really understand why I couldn’t get my paintings how I wanted them, but by experimenting and guidance I came to understand it was, in part, down to the paper I was using.
I started with Cold Pressed paper, which I have to say was great. Not as expensive as Hot Pressed and certainly more forgiving, it’s great for practicing on.
For botanical art, or fine art, where tiny details and crisp edges are needed I would, however, recommend Hot Pressed paper. It is more expensive than Cold Pressed paper, but worth the investment in my opinion.
Which leads me to the second thing I wish I had known when I started; If you can, tip Number 3 - buy sample papers.
They are sold in single sheets and are a great way to experiment with different brands, colours and weights, without spending a lot on a whole block, only to find it’s not giving you the results you want (Yes, I have ‘that’ paper block in my collection too)
If you can’t get hold of sample sheets my tip would be to research your paper and always read the label.
Not all papers are the same, some are made from cotton and some from mulch. They each have different surfaces and so it is definitely worth a little research before buying a pad or block.
3 - What type of art would you like to create?
This is one not to be answered straight away, and an answer that can change and change again.
I re-found art through Social Media, inspired by so many wonderful artists sharing their artworks online.
Via lots of experimenting and practice I found my love for botanical art, and since identifying which type of art I would like to create right now, it has given me the opportunity to focus on it, to practice something quite specific and to experiment having a target style in mind.
I appreciate this approach is not for everyone, and we all learn and create in our own, individual ways, which is what makes art so special. For me, having an idea of the style of art I want to create has helped me to understand what I need to learn to be able to achieve it.
4 - Get to know your subject.
As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to create artworks of a professional standard within weeks of picking up my brush. I wanted to (and still do if I’m being honest) get straight to the painting part.
I love to, and aspire to, create paintings of plants that look like real life, like a photograph. I found though, that the best way to achieve that is to know what you are painting. By this I mean, get to know your subject; sketch, do small paintings, tonal studies, make notes, take photographs and take the time to look at the plant / leaf / flower etc.
It’s so tempting to get stuck straight in but I really have learned so much from observing my subject matter, not only in a botanical sense but also in terms of light and shade.
Tip Number 4 - Observation, patience and practice.
5 - This one is specifically for water colour artists – don't be afraid to use water!
It’s in the name of the paint and I’ve seen many Instagram and YouTube videos of mixing colours and having two pots of water, one to clean the brush and one with clean water only, for blending and laying down washes.
But.......I didn’t even twig that I had to get my watercolour paints wet to actually use them.
I put a small amount of paint from my tube onto my palette and leave it to dry so I don’t waste any. I’d seen this in many a video.
But I just couldn’t figure out why I was not getting the rich colours I was seeing online.
I then saw one video that changed everything. The artist had all of their colours in their palette, and before they did any painting, they sprayed their palette with a fine mist of water! This activates the paint and loosens it up a little so that you can move it around with your brush.
If only I’d known!
So, to my final tip (well two);
I - Invest in a little spray bottle and keep it in your studio / on your desk / in the shoe box with the paints and before you start painting, spritz a little water over the paints to activate them.
II -Change the water in your water pots regularly, especially the dirty water. If the water has changed colour, that colour is going onto your artwork (which I think may be why a lot of my earlier works look a little ‘muddy’)
To summarise my tips.
Number 1 - You only need 3 paint colours to get started – blue, red and yellow.
Number 2 - Creating beautiful colours takes practice.
Number 3 - buy sample papers and see what works for you and your subject.
Number 4 - Observation, patience and practice are the key to your pleasure of botanical art.
Number 5 - Don't be afraid to add water!
I hope this post has been helpful if you are just starting out in botanical art. For myself, thinking about what could have helped me when I first started this journey, was a nice reflective exercise. Lets all keep creating!
(Note; All artwork shown in this post is copyright of mariebxmastree.
This post does not contain any affiliate links, all products shown have been purchased by the Author.)
Marie Batters - 2021