1703 ABBA Bluebells – water colour (Worldwide Flora Exhibition 2018)

Posted by Tina on May 08, 2017  /   Posted in Uncategorized

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The Association of British Botanical Artists will be holding its inaugural exhibition in 2018; a worldwide event whereby lots of countries will be holding an exhibition at the same time, all showing their natural flora. I hope very much to participate in this event and have chosen two iconic British plants to portray: our native Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) and Stinking Iris (Iris foetidissima).

As artwork needs to be submitted in November 2017, I am having to take time out from my sabbatical year to paint the pictures – starting last weekend because the Bluebells are already past their best! I have just noticed that the Stinking Iris in my little wild garden is also coming into bud, so once the bluebell picture is completed, I shall have to start on the second one straightaway.

Our native bluebells have a lovely scent (alien Spanish ones do not) with pale blue stamens and cream anthers (Spanish anthers are olive or yellow). The flower shape is distinctly tubular with just the tips of petals turning outwards and upwards (Spanish ones are a paler blue with wide bell-shape flowers). Native bluebells also have narrower leaves and the inflorescence (flower head) droops to one side at the tip; their Spanish counterparts have wide leaves and the flower head remains upright. All-in-all our native bluebell is a delicate, and now endangered, plant which is fast being ousted by its more vigorous Spanish neighbour, and unfortunately the two are cross-breeding into a hybrid – which is also more robust than the native.

Here are a few preliminary photographs and drawings, as well as the eventual design on cartridge paper, which I traced and then put onto my lovely Aquarelle Arches water colour paper. I mixed the colours for the bluebell flowers and its leaves and stalks as soon as I had picked them (with permission of the owner of Bourn Golf Course, to whom I am indebted – they have been sitting in the fridge since and are still fresh), so these colours are ready for me to start painting with – probably tomorrow, all being well. I have mixed quite a lot of the three main colours so that I do not run out – as trying then to replicate the colours, even though I made a note of which base colours I used, is not an easy task and often fails.

I hope you enjoy the little story below of events so far:

A nice little clump showing the leaf floret, with no vegetation nearby, but amongst leaf litter. The older the plant becomes, the lower the leaf arches – this one is nearly over.

Another clump showing bluebells and leaves amongst other plants

Single Bluebell, with few leaves, showing the flowers hanging over to one side – typical of the native plant. It looks as though this single plant is being crowded out by other vigorous native plants such as Cuckoo Pint, stinging nettle, and goose grass – that stuff that sticks all over your socks! It will probably not grow next year.

This single flower stem plant is fresher than those above – the leaves are still quite firm and more arched. It looks as though some of the leaves have been eaten!

The flowers are beginning to wane, but illustrate well the bending over at the top, as the flowers fade they grow paler. Alas quite a few of the bluebells are being “crowded” out by stinging nettles – the more vigorous flora will “oust” the fragile plants.

Lovely bluebell flowerhead – in typical pose.

Another pose but they fade so quickly!

I felt a seed head or two might be worthwhile including in the composition. Notice the still blue flower petals hugging the emerging seed head, and how the flower stem has elongated.

This is my resource sketch on aquarelle arches paper – so that the colours I mixed would be correct. Different papers present differently, so it is important to try your mixed colours out on the paper of the final artwork. It is also important to let the colours dry thoroughly as the wet paint dries to a different colour.

This is my preliminary drawing done on cartridge paper. I designed the piece to illustrate all facets of the plant, including buds, flowers, seed heads, leaves, bulb and a bit of habitat background. Producing a preliminary drawing is useful in that it can be rubbed out and re-drawn.


I traced my design so that it could be easily transferred to my best paper.

After leading the reverse of the transfer drawing, I stuck it to the arches paper so that I could imprint it.

And this is the final tracing on the Aquarelle Arches paper – all ready to paint!



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