Watercolour method – my approach, in response to a reader question

sunflowerI have a very complimentary question from a Facebook reader – What is my watercolour technique?  So I have outlined my approach below for anybody who cares to emulate it.  It should suit anybody with poor impulse control.

My technique is: panic because I have to get a picture up today, think F*** it just draw something in pencil.. Sometimes I trace an image if it is a particularly complex one.  A lightbox is a massive help here.  Some artists feel that a tracing can remove all the life from an image, others (Quentin Blake) use tracing quite a lot, but mainly as a guide to positioning.

On this 100 Day project I am using a water resistant ultra fine point sharpie to outline first but often I don’t use outlines at all. I really like wet-in-wet and what this does to colour. Often I often use this even when it won’t give me any sort of naturalistic effect but because I can’t stop. The paper cockles because I haven’t taped it down, leaving weird tide marks.

I fail to wait for it to dry completely because I lack patience and then end up doing more wet in wet instead of finer dry details as intended. Then I cast it to one side often in disgust. I come back later and use a fine brush to do the fine details over the top.

I use a standard Schmincke paint palette which is well worth the expense. Yay Schmincke!  but proper botanical artists probably customise and add more greens and pinks to their palettes. I also love Start aquarelle pencils for quick things like birthday and cards for friends.

The secret to super easy flower arrangements – five ways

131116 glass bottles and PierreHow to make perfect flower arrangements with whatever you have in your garden, using one simple tool

Happily we don’t have to be florists, or have a Sissinghurst style picking garden. The prettiest arrangements are perfectly within reach.  All you really need are need are some simple little glass bottles.

You can buy bottles like this cheaply from homeware stores or Trademe. However, there are plenty of small bottles which can be recycled into new life.  It still makes me laugh that mine started life as IV paracetamol bottles.  Well cleaned, and with labels scraped away, they have been pressed into a new and more decorative life

Right now in our part of the world the burgeoning, budding spring loveliness is all around us.  Even if you don’t have a garden it isn’t hard to find a few buds or blooms.  This type or arrangement is marvellously non-discerning.  Here are five ways you can use bottles like this to satisfying effect:

131116 Pierre bud vase1. One perfect bloom in a bud vase

Meet Pierre (de Ronsard).  I get ridiculously excited when M. de Ronsard decides to pop out a few fat, heavy buds, the petals of which open gradually into this lovely old fashioned quatrefoil arrangement.  It speaks for itself and doesn’t need any further embellishment.

 

131116 burgundy sweet peas

2. The tiny, fragrant bouquet

I wish I could link you through to the amazing old fashioned scent of these purple sweet peas.  If anything will take you back to your grandmother’s garden, it will be these.  The stems are not always as long as you might like, which is why these little bottles are just perfect.

 

131115 Purple Opium poppy

131116 poppy flower heads close3. the ‘personality’ seed pod arrangement

These glorious purple opium poppies bloom and then give way to these plump upraised seed pod faces.  They seem to have their own comical characters and I like to see them in chatty little groups. My children sometimes draw fierce little faces on them when I am not looking.  It can be quite disconcerting to have a flower arrangement stare back at you!

131116 dinner party flowers

4. The easiest dinner party arrangement ever

I used eleven small glass bottles and whatever I could find in the garden to create this centrepiece for a dinner with friends last night. This is an extremely simple arrangement to create but it brought lovely colour and sparkle to the table creating and a real sense of occasion.  On a practical note, the cakestand makes it easier to remove the arrangement from the table when it came time to put the main dishes on the table.

131116 centrepiece deconstructed

131116 fresh flower ringTo make the arrangement simply, cut the stems to roughly the same height and place them in their bottles on the base of a glass cake stand or plate. This brings them together and give them some height.. Add simple tealights in decorative glasses for a bit of glimmer.

131116 House elf 5.  The birthday party

I had no time, and not many flowers.  But a surprising number of the few blooms went with the froot-loop inspired bunting. Keeping the arrangement on the windowsill took advantage of the sunlight and kept them out of the way of serial small party-hyped elbows.  (You will have to supply your own house-elf though.  This one is ours ;-) ).

There you have it, five ways with everyday flowers, glass bottles and no time.  Do you have any favourite tricks with flowers?

From scratch: Restorative lemon, ginger and honey cordial

P2P cordialThis changeable spring seems to have brought with it more than the usual number of debilitating bugs don’t you think?  Attendance at the primary school is down by a quarter and I have had two pale, hot and listless boys home for five days running.  It’s one thing for kids, but quite another for some of the mums who have been similarly stricken. Even the ‘tough’ ones are finding it hard to soldier on with Codral. And you know what it’s like; Mums don’t always get the care they deserve when they’re laid low. We have to look out for each other ladies!

This small ‘cheer up and get well’ treat is a cordial made of sunny lemons, warming ginger and health-giving honey.  I swear that if you feel a bug sneaking up on you and you rest up with one of these you will feel much better faster.

lemons and graterConfession time. Okay well here’s the thing:  Sometimes when you learn to make something from scratch it turns out to be so easy that it’s slightly embarrassing when someone asks you how you made it. This yummy lemon cordial is one of those things.  It’s pretty hard to muck it up.

Also it’s quite hard to write an accurate recipe. Some lemons give off a ton of juice and others much less. Flavour-wise, the backyard favourite Meyers are much milder than lemons such as Yenben. Also some honeys are very strong tasting or very sweet and can overwhelm. So, it’s a taste as you go kind of thing. Trust your instincts!

Ingredients:

  • Lemons: Two if they’re nice juicy ones from the Chinese grocer down the road or three lemons if they’re the hard waxed yellow imported ones from the supermarket.
  • Honey: Manuka has antibacterial properties and is very good but also very expensive.  I’m experimenting with the raw untreated bush honey from the little bulk shop behind the multinational hamburger joint and I’m enjoying the different flavour.  Manuka can get a bit samey-meh.
  • Ginger root: I keep one in the freezer, as it’s great for lots of things such as baking, stir fries and tea.
  • Boiling water

Steps

  • Juice two to three lemons  Have you noticed that if your lemons are at room temperature you’ll get a lot more juice?  A couple of seconds warming in the microwave won’t hurt. Don’t worry about the pips, as you’ll strain them out later.I’ll often substitute limes because I have quite a few off my tree (first time ever!) and the flavour is very fresh. Grapefruit would also be good as long as it doesn’t contraindicate any medication your ‘patient’ might be taking. I love them, but Grapefruit can be sneaky like that.
  • NOTE:  I zest the lemons before juicing them as I keep the zest frozen in a snaplock resealable bag to use later in icing or baking.  You don’t need to do this, it just makes me feel all urban homesteady and uber efficient. Don’t crush my illusions. I’ll just point out, as the owner of sometimes grated knuckles, that it is easier to zest a whole lemon than a wet, slippery squeezed rind.
  • Grate ginger on the small side of your grater.  Don’t worry about peeling it.  Anything from two to four tablespoons of shaved ginger ice should do it.  If your ginger is fresh then two or three tablespoons should do.
  • Mix the grated ginger and lemon juice in a heatproof jug or bowl with a great big dollop of honey.
  • Pour half a cup of boiling water on top of it.  Mix until the honey is dissolved.  Leave for a few minutes to steep.  Have a little taste – what do you think? More honey?
  • Find a clean jam jar or small preserving jar with a lid.  This is what you’ll use to present or store your cordial.
  • To strain your cordial put a funnel into the jar, a sieve on top of the funnel and just pour it through. This will take out the pips and ginger skin. You might still get a little sediment, but that’s OK in my world.  If you don’t have a funnel then just sieve it into a pot or another bowl.  Nothing wrong with freestyling it.
  • Top up with boiling water.  Screw the lid on to the jar.
  • This cordial should last 2-3 days in the fridge, but it usually gets used well before then.
  • You might like to write a note to tell your friend to dilute the mix to taste. With this in mind it’s better to make a stronger mix than a weaker one, and then it can be enjoyed over a few restorative sessions.
  • P2P cordial outsidePretty it up a bit!  I have a few paper flowers around from my latest obsession, so my jars went off looking quite sweet. Something tells me Martha Stewart is unlikely to come knocking anytime soon, but it made for a suitably girly spring treat.
  • Deliver to your friend.  I hope she gets better soon.

Stay well xx

P.S  Some people may think they have seen me adding a slug of whisky for certain sickies.  I couldn’t possibly comment, but if you’re making this for a man-flu victim, it does mysteriously seem to increase the chances of consumption.