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Per aspera ad astra-
Through difficulties to the stars

There has been a battle in my studio this week. Whilst my paperwork mountain was slowly being tackled, a little conker  sat on my desk, patiently awaiting my attention.

 I love painting conkers(Aesculus hippocastanum). I don’t know whether it’s the rich earthy colours or that tactile smoothness, but they make the perfect subject.
My page of conkers has now been stuck into Dianne’s sketchbook for the Nature Trails Sketchbook Exchange
 I have painted them quite a few times now, but always on paper, never on vellum. I did try once, but gave up in exasperation. To get that rich patina you need quite a few layers of paint, and that can be a challenge on vellum. Suddenly you can find that you’re lifting paint off instead of adding another layer, and the more that you try to fix it, the quicker it turns into a blobby, patchy mess.
However, undeterred by the last disaster, I began.
I was feeling confident. I threw on a few initial washes of colour.
It wasn’t long before I was trying to fix things using a dampened cotton bud. Because the paint sits on the surface of the vellum, it’s easy to wipe off. Perhaps a little too easy.
 However as I progressed, it became apparent that I had not put in enough blue in my initial washes, essential for that convincing gleam. I began to fuss, and it quickly became a horrible mess. I tried to scrape some of it off, but this is natural calf vellum, not kelmscott, which has a chalky coating, and so I ended up scuffing up the surface. The paint got caught in it and stained, leaving a dark and horrible patch. I wiped as much as I could off.
Attempt #2- I have to disguise that horrible dark patch
I decided to start again, but moved the conker up on the vellum to cover the recriminating patch. This time, I decided to start on the polished conker, ignoring the prickly cases.
Sometimes starting again can be the best option. You are aware of the mistakes that you have made and so take care to avoid them.
The colours that I used this time were similar to the ones that I used before, but with a few changes. I used Indanthrene instead of Cobalt and avoided Indigo altogether. For my really dark darks, I used Perylene violet with a little Perylene green. I also used a tiny bit of Transparent Brown Oxide and Burnt Bronzite from my Daniel Smith dot charts for the shell.
I ran out of daylight hours in my haste to finish this, so the photograph of the finished piece is not the best. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out though and glad that I persisted.
Today I was given some glorious lilies, exuberant beauties that are just begging to have their portrait painted. My palette will be washed, the earth colours put away and those delicious purple pigments will be coming out to play! Even the paperwork pile is looking less daunting.
That which we persist in doing becomes easier – not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.” 
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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