Tuesday, 17 April 2018


'A gush of bird-song, a patter of dew, 

A cloud, and a rainbow's warning, Suddenly sunshine and perfect blue

-- An April day in the morning.'

Harriet Prescott Spofford

April is a favourite month. The Earth at springtime seems to breathe a huge sigh of relief and begins to relax under warm sunshine, and refresh itself with showers. The flowers too now stretch out across the countryside, with verges and hedgerows providing much needed cheer after the dull and gloomy days of winter. Change is also heralded by the coming of spring, with the need to throw open the windows, brush away the cobwebs. and clear out the old all giving us a boost, along with a fabulous sense of achievement.    

Springtime blooms are quite special to paint. Their colours are vibrant, providing a refreshing zest to our palette, and with structural forms and shapes, the challenge to capture the often short lived flowers makes for a great start to the year.

In this video I show you how to paint a delicate narcissus, with a combination of pale outer petals against a vibrant yellow trumpet. Narcissus are the classic springtime flower, but rather than the all over yellow varieties, I like the bi-colour blooms with their paper-thin, almost white halo of petals. These ones are everywhere in our garden, and pop up like clockwork every year. It's also heart-warming to know that the newly emerging queen bumblebees will have a little something to feast on as they drowsily pootle about in search of food and a nest.   

If pale and pretty doesn't always take your fancy, spring offers up the happy-to-see-you face of the viola. They may be tiny, but put them under a magnifying glass, and the hard effort of this tiny flower to put on a show takes on a bees eye view.  Or how about the all out glamour of huge magnolias or a wealth of camellias? 

At this time of year nothing says the British countryside quite like a carpet of nodding bluebells, and for me this will be the next springtime classic on the painting to do list. It's always good to hold something special in reserve. And the peonies are on their way too... 

Monday, 19 March 2018

Motivation Monday

Today is the day. Yes, I am back after a long hiatus, and it's been an eventful start to 2018 already, and not all of it for the good. No-one can ever know what the future holds for them, but the key to keeping all of those life balls in the air, is to just go with it. Play the hand you are dealt as we are often told.

March 20th is also the International Day of Happiness, but why try to be happy on just one day of the year? Take your own direction into happiness and discover the joy of creativity. You never know where it might take you.

"Happiness is a direction, not a place." 
- Sydney J. Harris

Food for the mind.

Raspberries are delicious, and healthy,
but the painting itself was also a fun experience. 

Easier said than done I know, especially when there are burst pipes, bins to take out, gardens to maintain, and all manner of day to day stuff. So how do we maintain that level of motivation that keeps us going? In this week's Bitesize I looked into how creative activities can have a positive effect on our mental health. it's nothing new, and there are many scientific studies that prove that by taking up a creative activity, we are more likely to build a positive mental outlook on life.


But don't just take my word for it. Here in the UK, the BBC are carrying out their own survey on how taking up a creative activity boost wellbeing, and keeps you happy. Take the survey

Taken from Bitesize, here are some extra tips on how to stay well.

With snow on the ground, and biting winds,
finding refuge in the studio for even a short time,
can lift the mood. 

  • Take Deep Breaths Breathing deeply and slowly for a short time slows a racing heartbeat and regulates your feelings of panic or anxiety. The old method was to breathe into a paper bag, and I think they were on to something there. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Listen to each breath as you draw in slowly through your nose, hold for a moment, then breath slowly out through your mouth. This has an immediate calming effect, and eases stress, or feelings of panic. 
  • Mindfulness Or meditation brings your thoughts into the present moment. It can help you to block out negative thoughts and feelings, and really calms the body and mind, as well as:
increase your awareness of your thoughts and feelings
manage unhelpful thoughts
develop more helpful responses to difficult feelings and events
be kinder towards yourself
feel calmer and able to manage stress better
manage some physical health problem, like chronic pain
  • Quiet Time Life is busy, with our time being taken with work, family, and the day to day stuff that we all have to do. Phones, and the internet have made us available 24 hours a day, and it can be almost impossible to find time for ourselves. That's when an activity like painting can really save us. Switch off the phone, and the laptop, and the tablet. Go old school with some music or an audio book, get out the paints, and spend some time with you. It doesn't need to be a whole day, it could be just an hour, but you will feel so much better for it.
  • Breaktime. Remember breaktime at school? That happy time when we all headed out for some fresh air and a breather. Be kind to yourself. Once you have completed a bit of painting, give yourself a teabreak. Walk away from your work, head out to the garden, or balcony and take in some big breaths, (see above). Look into the distance if you can as this will exercise and rest your eyes after all that close work. Focus on something. This could be a bird, or even a cloud, and just be in the moment, (don't forget to drink your tea).  
  • Set Limits. Facebook has brought us all much closer together, and the friendships we make there can be generous and lasting. But, if we are honest with ourselves there is also an element of competitiveness, with many artists only putting our their good work, then calling it a sketch. We know this isn't true, and I find this sort of posting utterly defeating to anyone struggling to find their way. Limit your time, and only look at postings that help you feel positive. I now limit my time on social media, and only post things that I feel promote a positive vibe. 
  • Love What You Do You know me, and this one is my own personal mantra. For me, if something is neither amusing, nor entertaining it has no place in my spare time. Like one of my design heroes William Morris stated 
"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful."

Your spare time is important, so fill it with the activities, and people you love. We all have to do the day to day stuff like the ironing, the cleaning, and the taking out of the bins, and many will be holding down full time jobs, so when we get a moment to ourselves, do something you love.
To find out more about Bitesize, my fortnightly tip sheets, and to sign up for the free tutorial package Visit the website

Friday, 4 August 2017

Crikey! It's August...

...it's August already! Where did this year go, and where did all that blogging time go?

The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.'

 Rabindranath Tagore

Oh to be like the butterfly, with time enough to do everything that is needed in the time we have in a day. Busy months have kept me from the blogosphere, and that has made me just a little sad, but also cheery in the delight that the website is going from strength to strength, and I have been given lovely opportunities to share my love of botanical painting with a wider audience. Now I'm back, and here's a bit about what I have been up to.

Since February there have been many, many online tutorial projects, a couple of magazine articles, and more changes. Celebrating our first birthday back in July, there are now 12 full step-by-step tutorials on the Botanical so Beautiful website, and 6 Sketchbook in Practice exercises for members to choose from, and it has been lovely to welcome lots of new subscribers, and to see their work, and follow their progress online. We may not ever meet in person, but it still feels like a wonderfully creative community.   

Reading the last words I wrote back then, I was so excited by having hundreds of new followers on YouTube, a growing Instagram community connection, and lots of new subscribers to the website, I can see I really wasn't quite prepared for what was to come. Hence the absence. All I can say is that it has been one crazy, wild, rollercoaster ride of a time already this year, and I have loved every mad minute of it. If you are one of those people who have climbed right on board, thank you so much for adding your presence to my crazy life. Bring it on.  

The family photo of year one from Botanical so Beautiful

A very mixed selection of subjects with many suitable for beginners,

and a few in there that are more challenging and aimed at the more experienced student

Along with Botanical so Beautiful I was delighted to have been asked to prepare a couple of pieces for Paint & Draw magazine and Leisure Painter here in the UK. Paint & Draw asked me to share some of my tips and techniques, and I was delighted to demonstrate a quick wet-in-wet exercise for a single petal, and shared a couple of practical tips from the studio.

For Leisure Painter I was asked to complete a full step-by-step tutorial for a flower study. Choosing an enlarged study of a purple Bearded Iris, I was delighted to see that the editor chose my painting to feature on the cover, and was impressed by the positive comments the article received on publication in their Summer edition. it was such a wonderful experience to be involved in both of these projects, and was great fun for me too.

A little something for Paint & Draw magazine

Then it was onto Leisure Painter magazine

and this time a full tutorial.

Really excited and surprised to see my Iris on the cover

It was celebrations all round with a strawberry Daquiri

and a flick through the magazine

The last You Tube video I shared from the channel last time around was the rosehip that I had just completed. Gosh, there have been so many lovely paintings since then, and I have continued to share the technique preview videos for each tutorial on the channel, ready for everyone to take a peek at.  

For the Iris painting, I have also put together a You Tube video of the process, sharing tips and techniques of my approach to a big project. Take a peek, and keep your eye out for the next one on a juicy raspberry coming next week. 

The very latest painting for Botanical so Beautiful is this bigger than life Juicy Raspberry

It's always difficult to choose a favourite, but this one has come pretty close.

Check out the YT Channel next week for the preview technique video

And before I go...

With promises of not leaving you all for so long next time, I'll be starting a major project that I hope to share the progress of as I go along. Not an article, and not for the website, this one is a biggie, and has been on the board for some time...

Friday, 24 February 2017

Times they are a changin...

"Change is the end result of all true learning." 

Leo Buscaglia

...and so there are changes afoot. As spring arrives, and the garden renews itself, there is a revitalising sense of optimism that seems to inject a certain zest and a need for progress and industry. Perhaps that's why we call it spring cleaning.

Sketchbook Squirrel has been with me since 2011, way back when I started the blog to keep me occupied during my entangled efforts to complete the SBA Distance Learning Diploma. Six years seems like an awful long time ago, and my how things have moved on. Additional arms of Squirrel HQ quickly followed, with the Facebook Page, Twitter, Instagram, and many other social media pages all coming into the fold.

With the launch of the You Tube channel and tutorials website, things really took off. From just a few subscribers on the channel, and very few videos, the number of people tuning in to view the little technique videos released to accompany the tutorials has rocketed. In just one year, I now have over 500 subscribers. The website too has been active on a daily basis, with requests for the freebie videos, and subscribers coming on board to try out my botanical painting techniques. It's got awfully big.

See the Ruby Rosehip Technique video on YouTube

This year, I have already made some big changes, with new kit for the videos coming online in March, making everything clearer and sharper, and some nice projects that will take me right through to 2018. With all this, I was given a nudge that maybe it was time to let Sketchbook Squirrel take a well earned rest, and for me to take on more of the work. 

Now, I'm not one to think about things too hard when it comes to a good idea. First, if you think too hard, you will never do it. Second, you can miss an opportunity. Second, you have to see good advice for what it is, good advice. The old analogy of 'you can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink' comes to mind. You can be given the opportunity, but it's up to you to take it.

Well, take it I have. Sketchbook Squirrel will be making an elegant and dignified retreat this year, heading into retirement, and handing over the reigns to Jarnie Godwin Art, and the tutorials website Botanical so Beautiful. Some of you may have already spotted the metamorphosis taking place here on the blog, on Twitter, the Facebook Page, and You Tube. The website will follow later this year, so Squirrel is still very much in charge there for now. (Well, putting her out to grass all in one go would have been something of wrench).  

"Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds

 cannot change anything." 

George Bernard Shaw

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Springing for Springtime

It's a gorgeous spring day here at Squirrel HQ. The birds are singing, the sun is shining and many of the lovely spring blooms are brightening every corner of the garden. February is a funny old month. Often the coldest month of the year here in Britain, there can also be days of glorious sunshine when the snow, wind and icy mornings feel like another time. But, we can also be caught out, and the frost, snow and ice come back again.

It must be because of their dogged determination to bloom whatever the world throws at them, that I really admire early spring flowers. No matter how cold that wind, or how much they are buried by snow, they still come up. Good for them I say.

With this in mind I decided to give the little viola a centre stage for my next project. With flowers that are just an inch or so across, violas blooming en masse with their little faces all turning towards the sun, are a joy, but one on it's own might just be a little underwhelming. Why not make it BIG?

Starting softly

Delicate, almost see through petals in pastel shades needed gentle washes and glazes

Building up

Stronger hues for the yellow staining and darker blue petals added to the form and dimension 

The fine details

I loved adding the characteristic veining to the lower petals.

I called this process 'tattooing' the petals 

Putting the face on

Bright Blue Viola

With the complicated centre complete,
the Viola had put it's game face on and was nearly ready to take on the world
This was a great little project for February, and only took a few days to complete. With a limited palette of just a couple of blues and yellows, with some red thrown in for the shadow tones I really enjoyed taking a simple approach, and using a delicate touch to get that fluttery and fragile appearance. Having enjoyed this one so much myself, I've decided to make Bright Blue Viola the first of my new 2017 tutorials on the website.