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Plant of the Fortnight: Tulip

Flower of the fortnight. Quick sketch Tulip (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

My birthday is in March so the tulip really reminds me of celebrations. Also, as a very lapsed catholic, it evokes memories of Easter festivals and masses at school. So that’s why it’s my plant of the fortnight.

As is customary for this series, I’m posting three super-quick black and white sketches of this structural, elegant and understated flowers now and showcasing a honed, perfected illustration of the bloom in watercolour and ink at the end of the week.

Flower of the fortnight. Quick sketch Tulip (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

Flower of the fortnight. Quick sketch Tulip (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

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Latest Bird of the Fortnight: Gannet

Gannet Illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

Ah the wonderful Gannet. I really enjoyed sketching my black and white drawings earlier in the week and I’m loving my final watercolour and ink illustration as I wanted to capture his beautiful mother-of-pearl type bill and the peachy flush on the bird’s glossy head and neck.

If you’re in the UK you can catch these birds at the breeding colonies at RSPB’s Bempton Cliffs, St Kilda, the Northern Isles and Bass Rock in Scotland and Grassholm in Wales.

As you probably know, the word gannet is associated with greed, this is because this mighty bird supposedly has a capacity for eating large quantities of fish. Gannets hunt fish by diving from a height into the sea and pursuing their prey underwater. Apparently Gannets can dive from a height of 30 metres, hitting high speeds as they strike the water so they catch fish much deeper than most airborne birds.

One of my favourite artistic representation of a gannet is by the fantastic Twinkle Troughton called The “A Gannet’s Stomach is Never Full”. I have a beautiful limited edition print of it in my front room – check it out here.

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Bird of the Fortnight: Gannet

Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Gannet (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

I love gannets and, seeing as they are coming over to our shores at the mo,they are a most worthy bird of the fortnight.

The gannet has the most ugly name yet it is quite a fabulous creature. I mean it has a sleek body, its bill is so pearly and iridescent and its plumage is so smooth. Such a pleasure to study and draw.

Anyway if you haven’t come across my bird of the fortnight posts before here’s the drill. I post three scruffy black and white sketches at the start of the week then present a worked up finished illustration using watercolour and ink at the end of the week so watch this space.

Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Gannet (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk
Bird of the fortnight. Quick sketch Gannet. (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

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Plant of the Fortnight: Wood Anemone

Wood Anemone Illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

On Monday I shared some sketchy five minute drawings of some wood anemones, here’s my colour version using watercolour and ink. I’ve also worked up a pretty pattern repeat using the flower and foliage as a motif.

These are really lovely delicate flowers, I love their light, paper-like petals and delicate minty coloured leaves. I’m lucky enough to live near woods and every spring it is full with a delightful carpet of green and white. It’s a wonderful gift every year and gives us a tremendous amount of pleasure.

Wood anemone pattern (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

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Plant of the Fortnight: Wood Anemone

Flower of the fortnight. Quick sketch Anemone. (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

You may have noticed by now that I love drawing birds and flowers, so to accompany my bird of the fortnight posts, I’m also doing a plant of the fortnight series. Just like its avian sister it will feature three very quick black and white felt-tip sketches of various favourite flora and fauna, then a final watercolour and ink illustration.

I’m kicking off with wood anemone. These are a most welcome sight when I go walking in Wivenhoe wood, so much so we tried to grow them in our garden (they didn’t like our clay soil). Watch out on Friday for my worked-up version.

Flower of the fortnight. Quick sketch Anemone. (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk
Flower of the fortnight. Quick sketch Anemone. (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

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Bird of the Fortnight: Chaffinch

Chaffinch Illustration (c) Ella Johnston ellasplace.co.uk

Earlier this week I posted some super quick sketches of a chaffinch. Here is my finished worked up colour version using watercolour paint and a selection of black ink artist pens.

Wonderfully, chaffinches are one of the UK’s most common birds and, brilliantly, they’re not believed to be in decline. Chaffinches are gorgeous birds and add a real splash of colour to our woodlands, hedgerows, fields, parks and gardens. Unlike a lot of birds in the UK you can actually spot these in most parts of the country; from the parks of central London to the birchwoods of northern Scotland. And I read that they have been found to have regional accents, with slight differences in the typical song depending on where in the country the bird lives. I’m a massive fan of different accents (believe me there is no voice I don’t like) so this pleases me greatly.

Find out more about this fabulous creature at the RSPB website.

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Creative ways with watercolour… birds

Watercolour by Ella Johnston

I’m treating you to a sneaky preview of some illustrations I’m working on at the moment. They are not finished by any stretch but I thought you may be interested in seeing them in their ‘raw’ state.

I’ve been trying out some creative ways of adding texture and colour to my avian drawings with watercolour paints for some time now. I feel that this painterly method creates further interest and depth when illustrating the individual bird’s plumage than a line drawing. I also think it imbues a sense of vitality and movement in the composition. It’s also really simple to achieve.

Watercolour by Ella Johnston

My illustrations are made on non-textured watercolour paper – it has a lovely quality that absorbs water and ink really well. I first draw a light sketch of my subject in pencil, loosely highlighting key areas in pencil. Then I apply layer of watercolour washes to the illustration. Each layer is very watered down and I like to build up the colours gradually – this gives me more interesting colour combinations and a pleasing overall texture. Once I’m happy with the colour, I leave this to dry before applying a detailed ink drawing over the top.

Watercolour by Ella Johnston

You’ll be able to see the finished drawings in a book of wading birds published by Dunlin Press next year.

Watercolour by Ella Johnston

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My Drawing Kit

Ella Johnston's drawing kit

If you listen to Desert Island Discs on Radio 4, you’ll know that you get to choose eight music tracks, a book and a luxury, to save your sanity in your new life as a castaway. Well, my music tracks and book selections pretty much change every month, but my luxury has been the same for the past 20 years – namely a never-ending supply of the stuff pictured above; my drawing kit.

Ella Johnston Art & IllustrationEvery one of my illustrations starts with this. I draw my initial motif in pencil on high-quality watercolour paper. I then apply washes of watercolour with a broad brush, adding little touches of detail colour while the wash is still wet with a thinner brush.

(c) Ella Johnston ArtDrawing (c) Ella Johnston

Once I’m happy with the colour, I leave it to dry and then set about putting an inky line over the composition. Years ago I used liquid Indian ink with a nib, but it was a messy process (all the sides of my hands would get covered in ink due to the way I hold the pen) and it also produced some inconsistencies in the final image. So I switched to fibre tips and have never looked back.
Drawing (c) Ella Johnston

Faber Castell India ink PITT artist pens  and Uni-ball fine line pens are my favourite to draw and write with (I love handwriting – more about that later) and I’ve built quite a stash of them – in fact you will find at least one of this type of pen in every bag I own and in practically every room in the house. Dr B sometimes says he sees them in his dreams. I mainly use the fine, small and extra small nib for my work – their precision is excellent and I really like the way their ink is absorbed into the paper. I couldn’t be without them.

Drawing (c) Ella Johnston