Friday, 31 January 2014

Working Title

The new sketchbooks really are shaping up nicely and with so many talented contributors, I know each one is going to be a precious gem by the time we've all finished with them. It has been so interesting to see the different styles of each artist and how we approach our subjects with our own ideas. 

So, with the title page being the first thing needing some attention, I looked to the quintessential spring blooms of snowdrops to give a fresh, new start feel. Using watercolour in just a couple of washes, I found the sketchbook paper to take quite a bit of punishment with the watery mixes I tend to start with. Adding an image from an old book as a frontispiece and painting a couple of simple bee motifs into the composition added to the informal, ephemeral feel I was after.

A found image from an old book opens proceedings,
followed by my rather whimsical watercolour of snowdrops and bees  

Around the edge of the page I decided to go back to my typography days and added the group title with some calligraphy. It has been quite a while since the art pen has made an appearance, so I was a bit daunted at the prospect. Luckily the pens cover a multitude of writing sins and with just a few wobbles here and there, I am quite pleased with the finished page.

With this page dealt with it was onto the first double page. For inspiration, or just a bit of relaxed pondering, I headed towards two of my favourite published sketchbooks. In and Out of the Garden and Sketchbook from Southern France, both by Sara Midda are little works of art, (quite literally). Exquisite vignettes depicting all of life and nature sit happily beside Sara's beautiful, hand painted lettering. A lovely starting point.  

If my veg patch produced all this, I would be a happy bunny

Why don't we have signs like this in Britain?

January is a bit of a botanical drought month in our garden, especially after a battering. So, I decided to present a showcase of 'my favourite seasonal bits' from past works. Reworking has become a bit of a theme with me just now and I really enjoyed the little wallow in nostalgia as I headed back in time, with a mix of happy memories flooding back. Taking little pieces from my 'working' sketchbook and mixing with bits from finished works, I hoped to reflect something of the Primary School nature table, which I used to love. Even today, I am still quite chuffed to have been the one to bring in a tuft of sheep's wool for Teacher. (well. we were in a suburb of London, so goodness knows how it got into our school hedge!)

Hazel, Prunus berries, rose hips and snowberry

And in true over the top whimsy, (I was on a roll) a little painted vignette, this time on a small envelope will welcome my fellow 'Nature Trailers' to my sketchbook. Although, they'll have to wait to see what's in it, (I haven't finished it yet).

A window of opportunity and a cheery welcome

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

The delights of Conchology

Sarah Morrish - Natural Sketchbook Exchange

Well the first couple of pages are completed in my sketchbook, ready to head off not too far down the road along the south coast of the UK.

Being a botanical and natural history artist means we are often prone to collecting lots of treasures - that's what I consider them to be anyway.

Amongst my boxes of treasures at home I have numerous shells that I have collected on my travels and I thought what an ideal subject this would be for the first pages of my sketchbook - along with a little piece of driftwood.

It was whist completing this sketch that I was wondering whether there was a name for the collecting of shells.  After a search on the internet I came up with 'conchology'.  I think it is a lovely sounding word.  As I read further of the description, the word actually means the study and collecting of shells - studying from a scientific / morphological aspect.

One place that I do like to visit is not too far from home and I expect that I will be visiting there a lot more often to collect items to sketch for my friend's sketchbooks.  It is called Meon Shore and is on the south coast of England, looking out over the Solent, which is the stretch of sea between the mainland coast and the Isle of Wight.

It is a delightful place and I adore visiting there in the winter, when it is more peaceful, with less people on the beach.  On one side of the road is the shoreline and on the other side is Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve, where I often visit and sit in the hides viewing and sketching the birds.

To give you some idea where subjects for the sketches will originate from, here are a couple of pictures of Meon Shore and the nature reserve.

Looking along the shore towards Southampton Water, which is the channel of water leading up to the port of Southampton

 A view looking into Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve

Well it has taken me a long time to work this out but I hope I have it right now and this is the correct blog for the sketchbook exchange.

I have at last managed to get my Title page finished, also the inside front cover. The capital F is taken from a manuscript held in the National Library in Paris, the Echternach Gospels,which I adapted by replacing the letter A in the arms of the F with the rest of my name.

The Title page  which I wanted to look like a stained glass window is a mixture of Celtic design and a kind of Art Nouveau. It is meant to represent a daffodil, tulips and shamrock all very stylised. I couldn't paint the piece as the paper I used is too light, so I did it in coloured pencil using Faber Castell Polychromos ones.
I hope to complete the first spread of pages this coming week, so that the sketchbook can go on to Doreen.
I have found it interesting and a challenge as I have to fit this activity in around my botanical illustration course which I had got a bit behind with due to mislaying my paint brushes. However I hope to be better organised for the future so that I don't need to panic about finishing dates. It will be a bit unnerving to have to do work in someone else's book but also lovely to see the different pieces first hand and up close. I'm looking forward to the rest of the project.

Across a continent and ocean- my Natural Sketchbook Exchange journal is ready for its maiden voyage!

Aislinn Adams' Natural Sketchbook Exchange.

January is almost over and it is only now that my journal is ready to go. Somehow I got a little too involved in the extra details - envelopes, labels etc., This is my first time to keep a regular nature sketchbook (confession time here!) so I am very excited and, in spite of the anxiety, I am having loads of fun.

Title Page

The first thing I did on receiving the journal was to create a title page. I haven't played around with hand-lettering in years so designing the page was a walk down memory lane with some new influences cropping up- reminding me that I am always changing. I used graphite pencil to create the form and texture, adding polychromos pencils last for subtle color. I started using Faber Castell polychromos pencils recently and I really like the feel of them. I'm also enjoying the Stillman & Birn journal paper, both for pencil and watercolor. I don't have that much experience with watercolor papers but I certainly do like the paper's smoothness for graphite and color pencils.

I love textures!

The textures in the lettering were inspired by nature- leaves, lichens, tree bark, wood grain, succulents and seeds. My January page- devoted to lichens- is also a study in textures. When I picked up this lichen-covered bigleaf maple branch in our front yard I knew instantly what I wanted to do in my journal for January.

I haven't managed to identify all the lichens on this branch but I've made a good start with the help of several people including fellow Nature Trailer Claire Ward. Here are some of the main ones:-
Oakmoss, Evernia prunastri, Pincushion sunburst lichen, Xanthoria polycarpa, Waxpaper lichen, Parmelia sulcata, Fork-boned lichen, Hypogymnia inactiva, and Brown shield lichen, Melanelixia spp.

January lichens.
"More things are learnt in the woods than from books; trees and rocks will teach you things not to be heard elsewhere."     Bernard of Clairvaux

All the lichens, save the one on the very right (pincushion sunburst lichen,) are painted in watercolor. I used polychromos pencils for the pincushion sunburst lichen and the "JAN" lettering.

"The Rules"

Because I find them so helpful (and inspiring) I have decided to include a copy of St. Corita Kent's "Rules" at the back of the journal. Numbers 6 and 7 are my favorites. One of her "helpful hints" is "Save everything- it might come in handy later." So, taking her advice to heart, I've copied her rules onto a piece of rice paper I've had for over 30 years!!

In an effort to keep the journal flat I have put the rules in an envelope that is attached to the inside back cover, with a ribbon "hinge". This is to allow it to be laid flat, out of the journal, while being used. Making the envelope and figuring out how to attach it to the journal was an adventure in itself and I could never have done it without the help of local craft shop owner and new friend Christy Wood. Learning to make the envelope was so interesting and creatively stimulating I want to devote another blog to it.

But in the meantime I am just delighted to have finished my first month of the Natural Sketchbook Exchange and look forward to February's sketchbook arriving soon.

Aislinn Adams

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


Red grossular garnet, Mexico (my collection)


Always fascinated from garnets because of their colour. The red of some variety (grossular, pyrope, spessartine) remembers of the vivid red of the grains of pomegranate. 

Red grossular garnet, China (my collection)


To me especially it remembers of the beautiful deep red "ruby" colour of the red Italian wine not so old.

Red Garnet, Brazil (my collection)

Red Garnet, Afghanistan (my collection)

As a precious stone, the red garnet is not of value, except for those pieces that show special clarity, colour and purity.
Red grossular garnet, China (my collection)


The garnet was used as a stone on rings, instead of the true and extremely expensive ruby, at the end of the 19th - start of the 20th century

Faceted red garnet (my collection)


Mineral and crystals of red grossular garnet

Watercolour on "sketchbook exchange"


Botanical garnets

Watercolour on "sketchbook exchange"

Friday, 24 January 2014

January Colours

Yes it does.... It took a long time (over a month) before I finally got my sketchbook from Jackson's. But when I got it I was over the moon. The Stillman & Birn book is really nice looking and the paper feels wonderfully smooth and is white. That's important for me. I hate creamy coloured watercolour paper. This is good and it will show all the colours I paint and draw in the way I want them to be shown.
So I started straight away with the title page. No problem, that was just a matter of grabbing my bookbinder glue and stick my Ex Libris in the front. I had a month to wait for the sketchbook and used that time to come up with a nice title page image. It's one of my favourite birds, the long tailed tit. They are such happy little birds and I get them a lot in my garden.

The only thing I had to work on is the lettering. I haven't written enough lately and it shows in the handwriting. Ah well... the bird was nice ;)

After that it was time to make the first two pages. I thought a lot about it and looked for inspiration on the Internet. I decided to just start with what I had in my garden. It's January and one would think that there's not much going on in nature. Wrong!!! If you look well around you there's a lot going on right now. I first cut off a twig of my Hazel. They started to colour in December and are now slowly opening up. I picked a twig with male and female catkins. It's so nice how you can see them so clearly on the Hazel.

I recently got a few new watercolours and found out that the Cinnabar Green Light Extra from Old Holland matched the male catkins beautifully. In my collection of Italian watercolours from Zecchi (in Florence) were two other colours that came very close to the hues I needed: Magenta Lake and Venetian Yellow. To finish that page I added two hazelnuts from last Autumn in coloured pencil.

On the second page I made a drawing of my flowering Prunus autumnalis. That tree is the best tree a person can have in their garden. It starts flowering after the first frost and continues to do so all winter and the start of spring. The leaves are very bright green and small, filtering the light in the summer so nicely. In autumn the leaves change colour to happy yellow and orange colours. What else do you want? Again the Magenta and Cinnabar green were most useful for this twig.
Finally I found a flowering Viburnum bush close to my house. The scent is heavenly and again I could use the soft pinks. And what else did it need? A little something to balance it all. Last year I found a small feather of a Goldfinch in our garden. Treasures like that you just have to pick up. Now is the time to share this little feather with others.

Now, about the paper.... did I like it? Yes! It is not Fabriano 5 of course but it's very nice for a sketchbook. I did some lettering in wet ink. The ink didn't bleed and feather and even the small puddles of ink didn't get through to the other side of the paper. I normally work quite dry in watercolour, especially with smaller subjects. So for me the sizing of the paper wasn't too much to handle. I imagine that if I would like to work more wet in wet, I absolutely would get a problem. But I don't, so never mind about that. For coloured pencils it's nice too although I prefer paper that allows a few more layers. But again, this is a sketchbook and not paper to make a masterpiece on. So you won't hear me complain about it.
A shame we can't buy the sketchbooks in the Netherlands but I'm happy the Golden Boy has sent me his spare sketchbook as a gift. It means more sketch fun for me ;)

~ Sigrid Frensen ~

Thursday, 23 January 2014

The beginning

No a botanical subject, no a tree, no a garland of twigs. For the title page I've choosen to draw in short the trips that the sketchbooks will do around the world. Fun ! It remembers to me the past time, when the bread was homemade : a small piece of dough left from the not baked bread , the yeast, was sent, doing a turn, to other houses for taking there new ferments and to keep it always alive.

(Watercolour and Copic pen)

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Doreens first page

Quite an unusual choice for my first page ,but it wasn't really my choice I dreamt it and  felt compelled to do it .
Its  100 years this year since the start of the Great War  . So many young men died .
 Here on Anglesey in North Wales  . Then there were  just tiny villages  of maybe less than 100 people . But the memorials to the fallen young men between the ages of 17 and  30 are vast nearly every young man who went to war did not return . They should not be forgotten .
 Ralph Weaver was my Grand Father   he died at age  34 and is buried out side Callas .I have always said  that I would go and find him. So my first page is dedicated to him for with out him and the sacrifice he made I would not be here ,and yes I am planning a trip to Callas at the end of the year to keep my promise to visit his grave.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Time to Begin

At last it was time to begin my sketchbook. I decided to cover my book and found some handmade paper from a company called They had just what I was looking for, natural paper with fern prints. After covering the book I then worked on the title page with simple sketches and writing in pen. I tried to echo the lines of the fern shapes with the writing but kept it all pretty simple.

Then what to do for the first double page spread. Hmmm. I wanted to keep it seasonal so my theme for
January was winter birches, one of my favourite trees. I went out to my local woods with my old sketchbooks and drew the trees,with pen and wash and then sketched the mosses and lichens that are found on the birch bark. The weather has been so wet and dismal that I sat in my car in the car park of the woodland and sketched! Got to keep the pages (and myself) dry!! Armed with plenty of sketches I went home and drew them up neatly in the new book.

I wanted to add some words or poetry so I made up an acrostic poem using the word BIRCH, great fun.
These sketches are actually a bit unusual for me,so neat and tidy. My normal sketchbooks are a real mess, with terrible writing and quite scruffy! But the thought of other artists looking closely at your work is enough to make you tidy it up!

The books themselves are great to work with; having very thick paper that took my washes and pen without showing through. The surface is smooth so perfect for showing up detail.

It is thrilling to be a part of this venture and to share it with such lovely people. Although the thought of drawing in another's book is quite daunting at times. But it will be a challenge and I hope my contributions will live up to expectations and most of all, will be enjoyed.        

Friday, 17 January 2014

Mighty Oaks from Little Acorns Grow

"Draw everywhere and all the time. An artist is a sketchbook with a person attached.
Irwin Greenberg

My sketchbook arrived just before Christmas, sleek, clean and full of promise. I had so many other things to do at the time, but those beautiful white pages kept tempting me. Ever since this project was conceived, I have had the phrase “Mighty Oaks from Little Acorns Grow” in my head and I really wanted to include that somewhere in my sketchbook.
I decided that I’d also like to do something on the cover of my book in gold leaf. I lost several hours looking at vintage book covers online… so inspiring! I really loved these ones, although they were perhaps a little too ambitious for me.

Beautiful vintage book covers.

In the end, I decided to do a simple golden acorn on the cover.

For the title page I took a previous sketch of an acorn and leaf and modified it.

A sketch from last September

An envelope from Egypt, printed to look like papyrus fitted perfectly as an endpaper. I’ll be writing my address onto that too, just in case the book goes astray. Fingers crossed, none of the sketchbooks will be lost!
The double spread was a bit daunting, perhaps because that first sketch will set the tone for the book. I decided to let nature be my muse and headed out on a beautiful crisp winter morning to a nearby woods. I wasn’t quite sure what I would find, but once you start to look, you begin to notice all the subtle colours of winter, and the tiny signs of new life that are appearing all around.

"If one really loves nature, one can find beauty everywhere. "
Vincent van Gogh

 I’m going to try and use this project to learn more about the natural world around me. I’m delighted to say that the paper also lived up to my expectations … it didn’t buckle and took the paint very well.

Beech tree buds are quite beautiful up close 

But most of all, I’m feeling very excited to be involved with such a creative and supportive group of people. Their enthusiasm and encouragement is contagious!  It’s wonderful to start the year on such a positive note. 
Great things lie ahead.