Monday, August 13, 2007

Gardens in Art - The Order Beds at Kew Gardens

The Order Beds
10" x 14" on Arches Hot Press

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

This is a developed version of a sketch I did on Saturday afternoon at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew - or Kew Gardens as they popularly known. It's a view of the Order Beds (in the north eastern section of the garden or no 28 on the map) from the centre of that bit of the garden - looking towards the Temple of Aeolus which sits on top of the artifical mound known as Cumberland Mount.
The Order Beds were originally introduced by Sir Joseph Hooker as a living library of flowering plants for students of botany and horticulture - the plants being systematically arranged so that they could be easily located for study.This process, and the science of understanding the relationship between plants, is known as taxonomy and is the basis of all research carried out at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. A pergola covered with climbing roses covers the central path of the area, and the surrounding walls provide shelter for many plants
Kew website

As I'm trying to get a lot of sketches done in Gardens in Art month, I thought that I'd say a bit about what I do when I sketch plein air.

Get comfortable and used to the place
  • First off, we have to find a bench where "he who must not be bored while I sketch" can sit in the sun. He's not keen on shade! Then we make sure he has enough reading material. On Saturday he was armed with the Financial Times, the Economist, a professional journal and a book.
  • I generally start with a good walk around the place. It's amazing how just 'being there' and letting your eyes do some work before you sit down to sketch helps to get your eyes attuned to colours particular to the place. In this case the order beds were past the early summer excesses in terms of flowers and were now either empty or had just the leaves.
Use my camera selectively as a tool and for reference purposes
  • I used my camera to:
    • try out different crops of the scene - using the viewfinder. It's great when the shape is the same as the camera's and not so useful if a different shape would suit better.
    • take photos at the beginning and the end and as the light changed while I was sketching. Very often when I do a worked up version of a sketch, I may change things. With this one the issue is whether to have a long thin version looking down the long strip of grass or whether to include all the nuances of the foliage in the landscape view. Having photos helps with the structure of compositions even if they are less than perfect at recording both colour and values.
Develop a "thumbnail sketch"
  • I then developed a thumbnail sketch for the design and value pattern. Except my idea of thumbnail is 8" x11"!!! i'm just more comfortable doing them big. Plus once I've got the mono version done and I'm happy with it I quite often put in key colours to remind me of what and where they are in case they disappear. I am after all sketching outside - and the sun moves as do the clouds.
"Thumbnail" sketch for The Order Beds
(8" x 11" in daler Rowney Sketchbook)

copyright Katherine Tyrrell
Consider and select colours
  • When looking at and trying to work out coloursI find it helpful to:
    • mentally name the colours as I look at them - giving them a name helps to make that stick in my head.
    • select all the colours I expect to use and put the pencils in a separate box. Bear in mind that what I'm looking for is the colour in the colour. So it's less about looking for greens and more about looking for the red/blue/yellow in the green.
  • The critical issue with this scene was to notice all the different sorts of greens which existed - from the intense apple green of the nasturtiums (bottom left) top the intense acid yellow of the grass where the sunlight was hitting it in the centre to the yellow ochre green gold of some of the trees in the middle background to the sea greens of some of the plantings (the overgrown sweet peas right of centre) and the black cherry/pine green of some of the trees in the background.
Develop the sketch
  • Using a mechanical pencil I sketched in the main structure quickly. I then start to roughly dab colour around the piece - generally starting with the darks at the junction with the lights.
  • I use a hatching movement for most of it, changing the angles to suit the form. The hatching is loose so that when I hatch on top with a different colour you can see through it. My guess is most people would have a fit if they could see how imprecise I am and how much I simply scribble. It always feels a bit like sculpting where I get closer and closer to finding the real form and 'look' of a piece.
  • I'm planning to try and organise it so that "must not be bored" takes a video of me while working at some point in the future. Either that or I remember where the instructions are for the remote control for my camera!
  • It's rare to get everything done while I'm out. However sketching a lot outside means that I've developed a very good visual memory of a place which usually lasts as a good quality image for about 24 hours. I then use the next 24 hours to both recall what more needs developing and also to look at the piece for more critically from an aesthetic viewpoint. Being away from the place means that I can now adjust for what 'feels right' as opposed to 'what actually is'.
  • On return home I did a few more things:
    • I finished hatching the areas where I'd just put down enough to know the colour. Essentially this is a "more of the same" exercise. It almost always applies to the sky area once I've worked out any cloud edges. It often applies to big and somewhat similar masses - I've got the initial colour down and I have photos to check shapes - essentially it's very often "more of the same"
    • I worked on the relative values. This is very often something which I don't get quite right on site - usually for no other reason than that white paper in sunlight causes problems with evaulation. I find getting the sketch back indoors means I get a better sense of the extent to which I've hit the right values. I always mentally tell myself where all the darkest patches are as I'm drawing and then my memory prompts a checklist when I get home. In this instance the trees at the back were very dark in patches and I needed to develop that further - which I did using complementary colours so the areas would vibrate rather than look 'dead' holes.
    • Using my battery powered eraser, I lifted out some birdie holes and lightened some areas where light coloured flowers exist and places where and grasses and tendrils had got backlighting. I then put back some of the clean light colours - the pale pinks and the lemon yellows.
While at Kew I had great fun inspecting all the vegetables in the beds developed by the horticulture students and taking photographs - only to discover when I got home that I'd inadvertently adjusted something on my camera and the photos were a lot smaller than intended. C'est la vie! But I've decided I'm definitely going to develop a series about vegetables.

  1. This post will also be reproduced in Travels with a Sketchbook
  2. All text copyright Katherine Tyrrell



Parisbreakfasts said...

you caught the liveliness of the thumbnail in the finish!
Often hard to do

Rose Welty said...

I was hoping a post like this was in the works! we are really getting into your head! :-) Seriously Katherine, this is very interesting reading, everyone's process is different and it is fascinating to get such a glimpse. And, congrats on all your recent success! Well deserved...wish I was closer.

Robyn Sinclair said...

Fabulous post, Katherine. It should be in a book! Makes me want to rush right out and sketch, instead I have to rush out and exercise - yuk. Can't wait to try this. Your finished picture is beautifully executed.

Jana Bouc said...

1. I want to live in this picture! It's so magical and glowing and beautiful! Life would be happily ever after if one lived in this picture!

2. I was with you halfway through the steps as things I already do and then was delighted to learn from the next half, especially giving a name to all the different colors you see. That's a really helpful suggestion.

Making A Mark said...

OMG - I thought I'd responded to all these comments! So sorry.

Carol - I hate it when the thumbnail looks great and then the development wooden. This is still officially a sketch in my book so we'll have to see whether I can manage to transfer it again - although I think I may just leave it 'as is'

Rose - thanks. I'll maybe try and do more like this. I used to do a lot of explanation when I used to do WIPs - maybe I need to do some more of those?

Robyn - I have written some articles before about my sketching - which you can find on my website. I think maybe with this one I wrote it quickly after the event and have been able to put more of my 'do it automatically' stuff in - such as the 'name the colours' tip which Jana likes so much.

Thanks Jana - it sounds so basic - but it really works!

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