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The Botanical Room part 20 -The joy of finding lost things

Updated: Nov 7


I am sorry, this month's blog is late. It got a little lost.


Where did I put that book?

In the cupboard, behind the nook?

Upstairs or was it down?

I'm looking all around.

Think of all the time it took,

back upstairs for another look.

A little squeak of pure frustration,

a little prayer and contemplation.

Time to search the same again,

then revelation, relief, exclaim!

Here's the book in the perfect place.

Such a happy, grateful face.

Oh dear, it's not that book.

I'm off to take another look.


I tidied up the studio this week, and basically, for the next month, I won't be able to find anything!

Losing stuff is a speciality of mine, and unfortunately, it is now passed down to my family. My 'losing stuff' arrives after a good tidy-up. I think to myself, yes, finally, I will get everything in the right place, and then I will be calm forever. Then I forget to tell anyone else what I've been up to, and for days afterwards, I'm being asked where everything is. It is at that point I realise I have forgotten where it was all safely tucked away.

Even so, when I find where I have put everything, I quietly congratulate myself on what a good job I have done finding such a suitable storage space, and give myself a secret high five.

I drive my husband insane. The other day I put all our electrical chargers in one safe place, but since then we have yet to find them.

Sometimes, like a magician, I find something that the men in the house can't find. When they can't see something right in front of them, I use the expression 'looking with man eyes'.

I realise this is a little bit sexist, but very often, the boys and my husband will lose something that is staring them right in the face. However, I will not complain about them because, as I said before, I am very good at losing stuff, and sometimes it is all my fault for tidying other peoples stuff.


My studio is now so tidy, and I fear I may never find my things again.


I'm always amazed at how tidy nature can be without help. When you see mother nature at her finest, being left alone, she can create the most beautiful arrangements. Humans come along, do what they call a 'tidy-up', and mother nature has to untidy it to tidy it again.

When gardening, I plant things where I think they should be and where I think they look the best. Still, if I was to leave my garden alone, it would become untidy, but then, somehow, Nature would eventually make it beautiful again.

Lets hope she always does.


Lost flower bulbs are my favourite to discover. I often place bulbs in the ground in a hurry and completely forget to look for them. Then, when we launch into spring, I will discover the bulbs blooming away in a forgotten corner and find that I should have been more considered in my planting. But it's so nice that they let me know where they are, giving me a second chance to plant it well.

The best thing about misplacing stuff is finding it again.

Who doesn't love finding forgotten money in the pocket of an old jacket?

(I think this is my main reason for not getting rid of my old clothes, an illness I have developed over time ).

I keep random objects that hold a myriad of memories in old shoe boxes. I love looking through them every other year; seeing the forgotten oddities evokes the same feeling of finding a lost ten pound note, lovely!



I recently found a small stuffed toy cat in one of the old boxes.

Here is his story.

When I was about seven years old, my school was just up the road from where we lived. I would walk home for lunch every day and then back just in time for the afternoon. Every day except Fridays, as that was when my mother would take an elderly neighbour out to do her shopping. On Fridays, I would eat a packed lunch at my desk.

My art lesson occurred on Friday afternoon, and my art teacher was terrifying. She had a fierce shout, quite an angry face and took no prisoners.

I would say that art at this school was never a particularly happy occasion.

One Friday, I forgot to bring my sewing kit for my art class.

My classmates gasped when I told them my dilemma. They told me I was sure to be in trouble.

I knew forgetfulness would result in being shouted at and probably result in spending some time in the corner of the classroom thinking about my lack of organisation.

So I planned to nip home at lunch break to retrieve my sewing kit and make it back in time for the afternoon classes. I was too stressed by lunchtime to eat my sandwich, so I headed home at a pace.

The school would have expected me to be on the premises, so it was against the rules to leave, more trouble! The situation had put me uncomfortably in panic mode. Halfway home, I started to cry, which made running really difficult. I arrived at my house, knocked on the door, and rang the bell.

No answer.

I rang and rapped the door again, and my crying soon became sobs.

Mum was not home.

My thoughts were to run to a neighbour who might be sympathetic to my situation, the one that came to mind was this charming French lady who lived just down the road. Her name was Claudette. I was weeping uncontrollably when I reached her house, so you can imagine her worry when she opened the door to this hysterical, sobbing child.

Once I had managed to blub out the story of the forgotten sewing kit, Claudette ushered me indoors to calm me down. Tissues were administered. Then as if by magic, she produced a small beautiful piece of pale lemon, brushed cotton cloth, printed with timid, white pussy cats sporting pink noses and green ribbon collars. This cloth, together with a wooden reel of cotton and a needle, washed away my grief and calmed me down. She offered to walk me back to school, but I assured her all was now OK. I thanked her profusely and ran back to school. Luckily no one had noticed that I had even been out.

The class began, and the teacher congratulated me on my sewing items. I have escaped her wrath. I carefully cut out two cats and sewed them together, stuffing the middle with cotton wool to make the most petite toy. As you see my stitching needed much improvement.

That evening, after Claudette had called in and told Mum what had happened, Mum said what a silly thing I had been and wondered why I was so afraid of my teacher. I couldn't explain why and had no idea why she was so scary.

Later that year, I presented the little cat as a gift to my father on father's day.

Some 40-plus years later, I found the tiny toy cat safely wrapped in his hanky drawer. Some years after that, I inherited the small cat back into my possession for safekeeping.


In my recent efforts to tidy my life, I have turned my attention to stored emails.

My beloved and trusty laptop keeps telling me I am running out of space, so a trawl right back to the first saved emails on this machine has been enlightening.

Firstly, I discovered how rubbish I am at replying to people at times of stress, and secondly, when time passes so fast, how easily small tasks can be shelved.

Mostly my emails contain questions on painting matters. I may have marked them unread or flagged them for a reply, or answered them via another email address, or I may have intended to reply and they fell down the list to be overlooked. Shameful behavior.

Computer folders can, it seems, become virtual endless cupboards and drawers in which to tidy things away and forget about.

So in this week's blog it will be like finding lost monies in forgotten pockets and we can enjoy the big spend now by me answering all the lost and tidied away questions right here.

There are not too many and if you paint and follow my tutorials, some of them might be of interest to you.

And if one of the questions was from you, I beg your forgiveness for my tardy ways.

That's tardy and not tidy :)

LOST PAINTING QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Q 1. I really like the tutorials; however, I cannot keep my paper wet long enough to blend and lift, as seen in the Arum Leaf lesson. I moisten the paper with several layers of clear water, but the quick drying time prevents extensive manipulation. Should I be using some type of medium or technique to prolong drying? Thank you for considering my question.

Q 2. Could you please suggest any way I can work this out?

Are there any retarders or mediums in the market that help to slow down the drying time without altering the final results? Would something like gum arabic or ox gall help?

Would it help to use a room humidifier?

Watercolour may not be the best medium to try in such dry weather?

A. Yes levels of humidity and dryness can be a problem, also the type of paper can effect drying times.

I have never used a humidifier, it's worth a try.

Cold pressed or Not paper has more texture and can take longer to dry, so we try to mimic that by adding more water to the hot pressed paper.

I glaze the area up to 3 or 4 times until the area glistens, in hot weather it it important to repeat water glazes until you see the area is properly soaked.

Always have your colours mixed and ready to go.

Always soak the area, if in doubt wet it one more time.

Always make sure you mop up any puddles.

Work quickly but if you water glaze dries ahead of the brush, swiftly add further water ahead of your colour.

Mediums can help on very large areas but it may result in an unstable colour wash and require very careful dry brushing, sooner in the process, to achieve a deeper colour.

I would go with much more water over mediums, but experiment and see what's best.

With mediums add very small amounts and take notes as to what helped, so that you can repeat any successes.

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Q. Hi, Billy. I wanted to ask you about the Sennelier watercolours. I've read varying comments about that brand of watercolours because of its lightfastness and because they are agglutinated with honey (which makes drying times longer). I'd love your opinion because I know this is the brand you use and recommend. I have just two Sennelier colours. I've noted that they are more saturated, very intense and bright colours and keep a soft and "wet" consistency in the palette. However, they were put there several weeks ago (something more comfortable to me as an oil painting artist). So, Sennelier watercolours are a lovely material for working but have varying reviews in the botanical illustration world... I don't understand that, please tell me your reasons for choosing them. Thanks.

A. I am assured that Sennelier Artists Watercolour use honey as a base not only as a preservative but also to give incomparable brilliance and smoothness to the paint.

The addition of honey will allow the tubes and pans of Sennelier watercolours to stand up to the passing of time. When you paint with them, you can accurately translate the diversity of light shapes and hues. This traditional base creates effortless watercolours ready for your brush and yields more fluid washes. Honey also allows for more robust, more authentic colours. As with all makes, not all the pigments produced are lightfast; charts can be found online to check. The gooey consistency of some of the paints is an advantage to me. I love that they don't dry out too fast in the pans. Pans might be a good idea if you travel with them as they stay pretty soft from the tube.

I grew up with watercolours, used colours recommended by fellow painters, and loved each for its mixing properties. But even I feel the pressure to change and conform due to others' opinions. However, I remain happy with the make that I use. I will amend the colours as and only when a particular colour does not perform well for me. Colour and paint are personal. I use what works for me; if it performs well, I share the news.

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Q. Is it suitable to use paper in block form, where it is gummed all around, reducing buckling?

A. Using a gummed block is a great idea to prevent the paper from buckling; the block is more expensive than buying a few individual sheets but usually cheaper than purchasing heavy-weight paper.

I am using the new enhanced Fabriano Artistico. Still, I recommend buying just one sheet to see if you like it before purchasing a whole pad. Paper is personal; what suits one artist may not suit another.

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Q. Hello, I'm French and tried to order your book "Fruits et légumes à croquer" (French), which corresponds in English to the book "Fruits & vegetable portraits". But I can not find it anywhere. I hope you can help me. Thank you in advance and excuse me for my English.

A. My books are not always in print, so it is a good idea to contact the publishers and ask for a copy; they may reprint if there are enough requests. I have a few copies in French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Korean and Chinese, so if anyone wants one, they can contact me here. I don't sell my books from my generally, as they are expensive to post, but I can get a quote if anyone desperately wants one.

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Q. About paint. I love all your tutorials; the recent one on the Green Tulip is exceptional!

The detailing and the demonstration of painting is wonderful. I've watched the tutorial, well goodness knows, so many times, and I'll keep watching it until all the teaching has sunk into my 'little grey cells'!!

What I'd like to ask you is about Sennelier paints. Your paints look lovely and bright and clear but at the same time muted - which doesn't seem sensible, but it's how I feel!

I think the paints are gorgeous, but my set seems to be so bright they are almost electric. It infuriates me as I cannot find a lovely colour match to paint my pictures compared to yours. Have you heard of this before, or is it just me?

Your thoughts on the paints and how I can solve my problems with them would be gratefully received. Many thanks.

A. When we film the tutorials, the overhead camera makes the colours appear warmer than they actually are. It is a good idea not to match mine but to use the same colours and offer them to the plant or photograph reference. Sennelier artist watercolours are vibrant as the pigments are very pure. They should be electric and bright so all is good and all is colour!

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Q. Hi! I love the tutorial painted onto greaseproof paper! (it is in the just-for-fun painting section) I desperately wanted to start it, but I had difficulty finding the "grease paper" you use in this tutorial. I thought it was parchment paper which I tried to tea stain today. Still, it seems to have a wax finish though less noticeable than "wax paper" can you please tell me what the equivalent to the paper you are using would be in the states?

A. I used baking parchment; it's not greaseproof and is still quite an odd paper to paint on. As a fun experiment, it was pretty effective. I am not sure of an American brand name to recommend. I imagine wax paper may be a variation of greaseproof paper. Parchment would be the best word to search for.

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Q. Tea washes. Hello, I have just finished watching the tutorial on painting. Amazing, it has helped me so much. A couple of times during the video, Billy mentions a tea wash. Could you please explain what this is and what it is used for? Many thanks.

A. A tea wash is a watery wash of colour laid over an area to give it a slightly brighter, richer or deeper shade. It can also be used to cool down a colour or area, placing it into the shade. The tea wash is always thin and watery; the idea is to add a subtle change in an even wash.

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Q.I have such a hard time with building dark paint. I have done the ones in the library, but could you make more?

Also, my dance with watercolour often means I step on its toes with too much or too little water/pigment. I am sure more brush miles will fix this, but do you have some exercises or tutorials that will help me on my journey?

A. Darker colours can be tricky to master.

In the wet-in-wet technique, you need to lay on as much colour or pigment as possible in the first wash.

The first wash usually sits nicely on and into the surface of the paper and will dry relatively strong.

The second wash can be equally strong and can only be laid on once the first wash is completely dry.

If there is plenty of paint on the paper from the first wash, then a second wash must be laid on quickly and without too much brush sweeping across the page.

If you've managed to get quite dark colours with the first and second applications, then the next and third stage has to be done with dry brushing, as they will be too much pigment on the paper to add further washes.

If you go dark enough on the first wash, then hurrah! You can then embellish with dry brushing onto that.

All will sink in with repetition and practice.

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Q. I'm a beginner and preparing brushes before starting your tutorial lesson. You suggest two kinds of brush, but I'm not sure if the new synthetic brushes work as well as the sable brushes. What's your recommendation? Are the synthetic brushes good enough for your lessons?

A. Yes, most definitely, they are good enough but different. The synthetic brushes have a bit more spring to them, making them excellent for control and detail.

Since moving to the synthetic points, I have slightly changed how I dry brush, choosing the fine liner brush for the small areas or drying the brushes out until they stay flattened. Drying the synthetic brushes can take a little longer, but less damage is done to the points. They are also cruelty-free and cheaper than sable.

Q. What music do you listen to when you paint?

A. I love a music mix on BBC Sounds called 'The Morning After mix' it is eclectic with a mix of old and new music; I also love a little bit of Chet Baker or Crosby, Stills and Nash. Oh and sometimes just the bird song from the garden.


I hope you found this week's blog useful and I will endeavour not to be late posting again.

I hope you feel brave enough to comment, I will reply.


Here's a finishing poem that will feature in my new wistful coffee table book coming soon.

Kindness begins in the mirror,

Then on to all you meet along your way,

And in all you do, reflected in all you say.

Take it with you, push it forward every single day.


Peace and happiness to you all

Billy

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