September 2022

Shipra Shah

Guest Artist for September 2022: Shipra Shah
Can Art be Addictive?
By Margaret Vickers

Botanical artist and art teacher Shipra Shah was the guest demonstrator for the September meeting (2022) of the Lane Cove Art Society. Her passion for botanical art using watercolour soon became evident as the presentation unfolded.

Precision is the hallmark of this art form. It determines everything about this genre – what brushes to use, what paper is selected, what watercolours you paint with and how you approach your spotlit botanical specimen which is usually viewed at eye level. Good materials are essential in getting a positive result. Consequently, Shipra works wet on dry not wet in wet. Control is critical. There are set steps to follow to achieve a favourable outcome.

Good quality smooth paper such as Arches 300gsm is recommended as it will not buckle when wet. Sable brushes are good to use but Shipra prefers a brush that has a mix of sable and synthetic hairs as it gives a better point on the brush producing a more precise mark. The quality of the watercolour paint is also important so well known professional brands such as Winsor and Newton, Daniel Smith and Schminke are all satisfactory. Shipra “loves” Schminke because of the richness of these watercolours.

Botanical art “comes alive” when depth is achieved through tone. You need a keen eye to do botanical art. Light, mid and dark tones need to be observed and then replicated. Initially a quick sketch is done using a 2H pencil as it has very soft marks. Shipra also encourages her students to do a tonal drawing of the object. It familiarizes the student with the tonal variations of the botanical subject under focus.

For the purpose of this demonstration, Shipra selected a pear. A quick sketch was done to scale with a 2H pencil. The location of the highlights was noted. To accentuate them a layer of light yellow was painted wet on dry. To get the green colour Shipra mixed two colours, a cool yellow (lemon yellow) and a warm blue (French ultramarine).

The experience of this botanical artist was exposed in this step as Shipra knew the ratio required to give the green she was after. Three quarters of lemon yellow was to be mixed with around twenty per cent of the warm blue French ultramarine.

A test strip was painted on the side of the paper to see if indeed this mix was correct. Depth had to be injected into the work. Tone gives depth. Paint was placed on the darker side of the image first. To create depth from the darkest tone to the lightest one water is added to the tip of the brush to keep it damp but not abundantly wet. Controlling the watercolour is the key to botanical art. Depth increased with each additional layer producing stronger tonal variations. Usually five to six layers are required. Each layer must be totally dry before another is applied. Details are only added in the final stages after the depth has been achieved.

Shipra suggests working with the following colours. One warm red (cadmium light), one cool red (permanent rose), one warm blue (French ultramarine), one cool blue (cerulean blue), one cool yellow (lemon yellow) and one warm yellow (cadmium yellow) whilst payne’s grey is a versatile colour to use when shadows are being included.

Shipra noted that in botanical art “perfect is good, but imperfect is better.” It does link to the Japanese concept of “ wabi sabi” where beauty can reside in imperfection so embrace it. For Shipra, imperfection can make a more interesting botanical artwork. The half eaten apple core, the subject of one of Shipra’s botanical specimens was a wonderful testament to this belief.
Shipra’s generous transfer of knowledge about botanical art made for a very entertaining evening of art for the Lane Cove Art Society. Possibly one of the most endearing qualities in the presentation was the pure passion Shipra brought to her botanical artwork. Art can sometimes feel like an addiction…