5.1 – detailed paintings of plants

  1. I made four paintings for the exercise, using water based media – gouache, acrylic ink, watercolour pencils as well as watercolour – and A4-A5 paper:  Here is my Hedgerow series :

No 1 hedgerow

No 2 hedgerow

No 3 hedgerow

No 4 hedgerow

Reflection on the outcomes:

My preparation for the exercise, a series of early morning walks observing the hedgerows along my route, was eye-opening.  What seemed at a casual glance non-descript, on close observation became full of interest and yielded endless possibilities from which to develop interesting paintings.  The light was great; the low sun revealed the forms of things,  created bright contrasts between foreground and background, and enriched colours. As the sun gets higher, forms are flattened and colours become washed out.

Evaluating and comparing my outcomes, I like the fresh sketchiness of No 1 .  The brushwork in the foreground is bold and expressive; my aerial perspective works well, with a gold field transitioning to pale gold distant hill, and sense of a vast sky.  Not sure if the flowers work left as they are,  they are really the focal point of the composition.   Compared to No 1,  No 3 painting seems overworked, with the middle ground and the tree not really working.

No 2, different in feel to the others as it has no perspectival clues,  has a Japanese feel, with a very large, pointed round brush used to make quick descriptive marks in the foreground.  The simple complementary palette works very well.  Again, flowers are suggested simply as unpainted shapes, but here I think that’s more successful.

No 4 has a sharp transition from foreground to background  I thought the composition was too much in two halves, so I  made a final adjustment, adding some more foreground foliage at the lower right.  I painted the flowers quite positively with thick gouache, a different approach and works well without being picturesque.

What I did

In the previous post I researched some artists who paint plants in a detailed way and thought about how I might adopt some of their ideas into my work.  I’m also thinking back to part 4 and a successful painting I made, Drummer Boy, in which I used fluid water based media (watercolour and coffee), in a very loose way.  Detail was only added at the final stages.  I decided to develop this process for my plant paintings, particularly incorporating blot techniques (I looked at Alexander Cozens’ process, my tutor’s suggestion) and a sort of decalcomania for watercolour, where the paint is allowed to dry before the two surfaces are separated.

It’s July and along my morning walk the hedgerows are in summer regalia – deep blue-green foliage of oleander bushes with brash pink flowers;  blue and silver hebes; figs gone wild; the odd fag packet, a couple of stray shoes (Richard Wentworth comes to mind here); all manner of grasses, seed-heads and sharp blue thistles; a smattering of plastic bags and plastic water bottles.  The landscape behind it all is bright gold.

I took loads of photos, zooming in and out, holding the iPhone at hip level, tilting it, focussing on different elements, manipulating exposure levels; some had glimpses of the landscape behind the hedgerows, others were close-ups of weeds forming striking patterns.  The weeds in Mimei Thompsons paintings are usually placed within some sort of background context, so I chose four images to work on which also showed a bit of context, rather than the zoomed-in abstracty ones.

I roughly wet my four stretched papers, skipping some areas,  (paper size between A4 and A5) and one by one, I dropped in blots of colour, keeping a separate palette for each painting (forgot to photograph painting no 1 at the blot stage).  The blots and colours roughly corresponded to the compositions I wanted, but I kept it all very loose and wet.  I let them dry under a weight, having first sprinkled fine and coarse salt, and applied stretch wrap and cellophane, aiming to achieve some hedgerowy , landscapey textures.

With number 1 hedgerow  (A5) I just carried on at the wet blot stage, adding layers of dark blue-green representing the tangle of foreground foliage, drawing grasses with a stick up from the wet paint, lifting paint where I wanted a lighter tone, drawing hebe flower outlines with a mauve watercolour pencil. I intended to add more foreground detail, and to colour the mauve hebe flowers, but I like the looseness and lack of fuss, so stopped early.

Hedgerow no 1 – cad red, perm gn olive, Prussian bl, aureoline, cad orange

Number 2 hedgerow is based on a white hebe with a bright gold mown field behind it.  I liked the contrast between the dark leaves and the shining background, and the lace like pattern the leaves make.  I’d been looking at Archie Franks‘ watercolours, two in particular struck me with their bold brushwork mark-making, describing trees and water (looking more closely some of the mark-making may be ink, something I’ll think of trying next time).  They can be seen at :


My simple A5 blot underpainting, textured with stretch-wrap, quickly developed into a tangle of dark calligraphic marks made with a large brush, using an intense mix of deep red and perm green dark watercolour.  The field was intensified with cad orange and dried under cellophane, then a suggestion of grasses added in the foreground using a small brush.

Hedgerow no 2

No 3 hedgerow (A4) was developed in a little bit more of a considered way, adding more layers of the same colours as the original blot painting, plus lemon yellow and May green.  To describe the foreground grasses I used gouache, watercolour pencils and acrylic ink.


No 3 hedgerow

Finally for No 4 hedgerow (A4) I worked into my blot painting no 4, adding more layers of watercolour, particularly in the foreground to describe the pink flowering oleander bush.  I left the background hazy to give an aerial perspective to the composition, and added watery cerulean at the top.  The flowers were painted impasto using a coffee stirrer to dab thick colour in in random shapes, first in white gouache then pink and finally blue.  The painting in the course manual by Thomas Hall inspired this approach; looking closely individual flowers aren’t accurately painted, as they are in the pre-Raphaelites’ work.

No. 4 hedgerow





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