|Begin with loose washes of blues and purple. I used cerulean and cobalt violet for the highlighted areas, and adding mixes of light red, perylene maroon and perylene violet to the washes to build up form.
Cerulean, Cobalt violet, Purple lake,Light red, Winsor orange, Brown madder Burnt sienna, Perylene maroon, Perylene violet, Winsor violet, Indanthrene,Paynes Grey, Quinacridone gold
As I pulled out my paints, I couldn’t help but wonder what paints Ellen would have used. We are so spoilt for choice these days with the wonderful range and availability of pigments.
Many of the modern pigments are synthetically produced and only came into being in the mid 19th century. Ellen began painting in her teens (around 1800), when a family friend Dr Whitley Stokes concerned about her frail health, felt that an interest in Natural Sciences would restore both her appetite and her spirits.
However when I did some research into the pigments that were available at this time, I was quite horrified to read that many of the paints were extremely poisonous, containing highly toxic compounds such as lead, mercury, chrome, arsenic and cyanide.
No wonder she often felt so unwell!
I’ll be writing more about pigments later as it’s really a fascinating topic!
Despite the hardships that she was enduring in her life, (she looked after her mother and her invalid brother who required full time care, and her own ill health), it is obvious that she found great solace in her art and her walks along the shores.
She often includes enlargements on her illustrations, so it’s easy to imagine her delight at peering through a microscope, and the satisfaction she must have felt at getting every tiny detail just right. How thrilling it must have been to discover new plants, and to correspond with eminent botanists and scientists of the time about her finds! To have her artwork included in important publications must have been a dream come true, although shyness made her reluctant to have her name included.
I walked around the exhibition with my own magnifier, peering closely at the paintings which are for the most part kept at Kew. I would have loved to have seen her sketchbook and read her notes, for she must have kept one, but sadly these have been lost, or perhaps are just waiting to be discovered in an archive somewhere.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. I met so many interesting people- botanists, naturalists, historians and art lovers. The festival with it’s nature walks, boat trips, botany talks and botanical art was a resounding success. Ellen no longer lies in an unmarked grave but has been given the recognition that she truly deserves.
As for Bantry Bay, well, I did manage to leave with my next painting subject!
That blue tape comes in handy again!
Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.