It would appear that winter has arrived early with a blanket of pristine snow covering the rural Ontario landscape. I was visiting London, Ontario, to teach a one-day botanical drawing (coloured pencil) workshop for the London-based Brush and Palette Club. Despite a last minute venue change and whiteout conditions, everyone, including myself, made it out to the event.
Perfect driving conditions!
“It’s beginning to look a lot like winter…”
Organized by Bob Sivak and Ron Mabee, (workshop convenors at the club), the workshop brought together a group of talented artists interested in learning more about using coloured pencils in botanical art.
The Brush and Palette Club is a not-for-profit organization, now in its 42nd year. The club is dedicated to providing a supportive arts and social environment for its members to learn, grow, interact with each other and share ideas. The club started when artist and teacher, Dorothy Heaven started painting classes for a small group of interested women. When the sessions ended, the remaining group members formed The Brush and Palette Club. At first the group met in the home of Wyn Slemon (who continues to be an active member today). By 1989, the original group had grown to 50 and the need for more space brought them to St. Aiden’s Church Hall, which still remains the home base for the club. The membership has grown to over 110 members with a substantial waiting list.
It was quite a challenge to complete a detailed botanical project in one session but that was the goal I had set for the workshop and everyone remained focused and engaged throughout the day. We had a large group of 27 participants and got started early. I began by going over the initial drawing process and how to set up and transfer a line drawing onto good quality paper — in this case, 200-lb hot-pressed watercolour paper. I chose my Cattleia orchid (shown below) for the step-by-step project of the day.
Cattleia orchid in coloured pencil by Michael Spillane
After transferring the drawing onto watercolour paper, we started the undertoning process, shifting from a line drawing to a tonal rendering with a full range of light and dark values. The tonal drawing, rendered with a warm grey pencil, produced a high contrast, monochromatic (one colour) base ready for the colour layers.
Club members working on the undertone drawing.
After completing the base undertone, we moved to the leaves, then the outer petals of the orchid and, finally, the inner trumpet, red flares and final details. By the end of the day, and after a well-deserved lunch break, everyone had more or less completed the project.
A beautiful Cattleia orchid completed by club member Anneke Salmon (above and below)
Throughout the day we also discussed techniques used in coloured pencil drawing, including burnishing and blending, points of interest regarding botanical art in general and the differences between the various brands of coloured pencils and the uses of other materials.
My method for instructing the workshop combined short demonstrations (for the different parts of the orchid) with detailed step-by-step handouts — covering each part of the project from start to finish. I also made sure that enough individual attention was given to each student and active discussion was maintained throughout the group.
As the snow continued to fall and create a magical winter wonderland outside, inside the church hall we were warm, comfortable and distracted by the beauty of a majestic tropical orchid… far removed from the reality of winter!
I was so pleased to get such positive feedback from the club members. A few comments from workshop participants included the following:
“I must say it was an amazing experience to attend this class. It introduced me to an entirely new medium using coloured pencils. The written instructions were clear and easy to follow. The day was well structured and organized, allowing me to complete the finished project. Michael’s feedback was extremely helpful and constructive.”
— Sincerely, Mijo Kovacevic
Busy at work!
“I thoroughly enjoyed the one-day coloured pencil workshop with Michael Spillane held in London last week. Michael’s teaching style is excellent. He was very organized and broke the project into small bits, demonstrating each step and then providing time for his students to try what was demonstrated. He provided very detailed written instructions which were easy to follow and allowed everyone to work at their own pace. When he wasn’t demonstrating, he moved constantly around the room providing critique and encouragement. I loved the medium which was new to me, and thanks to Michael’s thorough instruction, I feel confident about trying it in projects of my own.”
— Diane McClure
“Michael , this workshop was everything I had hoped for when I first visited your website . Bob and I were delighted with the day. You were so well prepared. You gave our group easy to follow instructions and kept demo stages simple and brief, allowing all participants plenty of time to execute the techniques. Everyone worked hard and really appreciated the individual coaching. As you know we take a survey questionnaire from all the participants, here are some of the comments we received.”
— Ron Mabee
“A wonderful Workshop. I loved trying something new. Instructor was excellent, well organized and very pleasant.”
“ He was such a great teacher, perhaps he can teach another medium.”
“This was a super workshop and introduced us to many new techniques! Michael spent a lot of time with us individually as well as with the group. He was extremely positive, helpful and knew the medium well. I’d love to have this (teaching) technique in another workshop. It is a welcome change. I feel I have learned something I could get to really love and would like to learn more! Thank you.”
“Excellent, excellent workshop!”
“Not a medium I normally work in but very interesting. I have a better appreciation for botanical work now.”
“Extremely well prepared with detailed handouts. Clear instructions both verbal and written. Warm, mild manner, relaxed yet interesting. Clear short demos followed by work period application. Relaxing, uplifting music made work so pleasant.”
“Loved this workshop and learned a lot. Really appreciated that Michael was so well prepared.”
“Michael, we have one question which asks: Did this workshop meet your expectations? …100% of the participants checked Yes!”
From the workshop convenors, Bob Sivak and Ron Mabee.
Thanks to everyone at The Brush and Palette Club who attended this event. My next workshop is coming up at the end of November and beginning of December at the Guelph School of Art in Guelph, Ontario. This will be a two-day workshop on botanical painting in watercolour.
Check out my website for details. http://www.spillane-arts.com