The first piece that I painted for the Society of Botanical Artists Distance Learning Diploma Portfolio was of a beetroot. I was first struck by the colours in the leaves when I was at a local farmers market. One of the things I love about botanical illustration is that it has opened my eyes to the different colours, textures and forms of nature.
I loved the contrast of the vivid purple stems and beet against the bright green leaves. I knew it would be a challenge; to perfect the crisp round form of the beet, the delicacy of the leaves, and the structure of the stems.
With the drawing, I really needed to convey how the leaves flopped on their stalks, and how they erupted from the beet, with new leaves sprouting as the old reached the end of their lives. Getting the line of the beet would also be crucial. I wanted it to appear solid, and I wanted to try and convey the weight of it pulling down the rest of the plant.
I don’t often use masking fluid, but I do find that occasionally I come across a situation that is perfect for it! This beetroot was definitely one of those. There are a lot of markings, scratches and hairs on the surface of the beet. I knew that in order to get a solid, spherical appearance to it I needed to be able to place down layers of large, even washes. I couldn’t be worrying about avoiding the small imperfections. You can see in the photograph below a few attempts I had at using the masking fluid effectively, as well as colour matching and practicing those large even washes (and ensuring I left the highlights well alone!)
I loved that I would be able to portray tired leaves; the beautiful changing colours in the leaf matter in contrast with the more permanent purple veins, and those nibbled edges!
I started this pieces on the leaves – possible because they covered the largest area, or possibly because I was too afraid to attempt the beet! I just simply slowly built up layers, paying attention to tone and colour – spot the areas where the deep purple veins ‘bleed’ into the leaf!
I eased myself into the purple stems by starting with the veins on the leaves.
I used a different approach to my normal technique to paint the stems. Using a dry brush, I painted the lines of the undulating surface of the stems. This both gave definition to their form before washes were applied, and also gave me structure and more confidence to lay down washes over the top.
And then onto the beet…!
Firstly I placed the masking fluid onto the areas I wanted to avoid placing my bright washes. You can see this in the image above.
Next, I had to be very bold with my washes. This was scary (especially having already done so many hours and hours of work on the leaves. I used vivid pinks, reds and blues as an under-wash, and then started layering the deep pink/purple mix over the top.
Finally I was able to pull the whole thing together…
The Final Piece
Thank you for reading.
You can buy prints of this painting at my website, here.