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HomeBotanical ArtOlive Inspiration

Olive Inspiration

Olea europea, olive painting on vellum Shevaun Doherty
A Taste of Spain, watercolour on vellum, ©Shevaun Doherty 2015

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy” ~Rumi

 Every now and then something finds you, and it whispers to you about golden sunshine, birdsong and the rich warm smell of earth. 
Paint, it says.
Olive tree Egypt watercolour sketch, Shevaun Doherty
Olive tree, Egypt, 2010
The olive groves in Spain filled me with sense of longing. There is something quite special about an olive tree, with it’s gnarled twisted trunk and crown of silver grey leaves. The branches were full of fruit of every colour. Pick me, they whispered.
So Marta filled a box for me and placed a sprig of wild thyme in amongst the leaves. I had so much to do when I got back, but when I opened the box, the jewel-like colours and that wonderful aroma seduced me.  In my studio, a piece of natural calf vellum in warm honey tones lay waiting for me, soft sable brushes at it’s side, enticing me to come and paint. 
Olive Studies 2010
I have painted olives before. They are one of those subjects that I find myself irresistibly drawn to. There is a large organic olive farm just outside Cairo (WESC) that I used to visit with my paints and sketchbook, and ziplock bags for fallen treasures. The fact that it was also a tortoise sanctuary and had owls and bats made it even more of a special place.
The teeny tiny writing reveals that the pigments are Terre Verte, Lemon Yellow. Cerulean, Indanthrene, Perylene Green, Raw Sienna and  Manganese Violet. I would not recommend Terre Verte!
At the time I was just starting out on my botanical art training, still unsure of my pigments and struggling with the techniques. I looked at my tiny colour notes and saw that I used Terre verte for the leaves, a pigment that I wouldn’t touch with a bargepole now! 
It’s pretty, but far too sticky and insipid.
In my sketchbook, I found a later study page with lots of green notes, and saw that I had progressed to Perylene green which I mixed with winsor yellow and cerulean. Raw sienna and quinacridone violet were in the mixes too. I didn’t have much time to waste, so after a quick sketch on tracing paper, the painting began!
I decided to paint the leaves first and leave my favourite part, the fruit, until the end, although I soon switched tactics when the fruit began to shrivel! I also ended up changing my mixes slightly. I prefer Verditer blue (Daniel Smith) to Cerulean (it’s more transparent), and having recently had a very interesting conversation with Jess Shepherd and Denise Ramsay about green mixes, decided to try a little Paynes Grey with Transparent yellow (both Winsor&Newton). 
Although Paynes Grey contains some black, it can be a very useful colour when used SPARINGLY (Beware- it stains and can muddy colours!) I knew that I would be adding it to the fruit to get those rich darks, so didn’t mind introducing it to the leaf colours. It actually makes quite a nice green.
If you look at the leaves carefully, you can also see quite a lot of purple, particularly down the midrib. I found that mixes of Schmincke Quinacridone violet and Raw sienna, and mixes of Quin violet with Verditer did the trick in the first washes. Those mixes also helped define the outer edges of the leaf.
The fruit was the fun part. I used the same technique as I used with my dates
I started with washes of Cobalt violet and Verditer, but as the fruits vary quite a lot in colour, I had quite a range of pigments on the palette. (listed below)
When using a lot of pigments, the trick is really to layer the colours, so that they don’t become muddy. With vellum you can lift any mistakes, so if it’s not working out, it’s sometimes better to start again. Fortunately this was one of those paintings that flowed gloriously from the start.
For the colour junkies out there: 
I used raw sienna, cobalt violet, Verditer blue and quinacridone violet in the first washes. Then perylene maroon, perylene violet, alizarin, purple lake, winsor orange-red, quin violet, winsor yellow, indian yellow, Verditer and Paynes Grey, depending on the fruit colour.
By chance this week a friend sent me a photo of an earlier olive painting that she had framed! How nice it is to see my work in it’s new home!
Despite the distraction of the olives, I still managed to get through my list of other jobs. 
There are many new and exciting things happening here which are keeping me very busy (all to be announced very soon), but it was just nice to escape into my studio, turn on the music and succumb to the pleasure of painting.
Sometimes you have to listen to that inner voice. 
If it’s saying Paint, then do that. Everything else will fall into place.

A Taste of Spain Olea europaea -  Shevaun Doherty 2015 watercolour on calfskin vellum
Olea europaea watercolour on natural calfskin vellum, Shevaun Doherty SBA

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
 Steve Jobs

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