dutch painting 18th century floral still life watercolour

Step by step watercolour study of an 18th century floral painting

The original oil painting. Source: wiki.com

With the long winter lockdown evenings, I was looking for a project I could really get my teeth into to pass the time. For a while now, I’ve really admired a floral still life in a Dulwich Picture Gallery catalogue of Dutch and Flemish painting that I have. It’s by a little-known Dutch painter called Francina Margaretha van Huysum, who trained under her father Jan van Huysum – a family of floral painters! This beautiful still life takes up just one quarter of the page in this catalogue and is only a quick reference. Nonetheless, it’s the page to which I always turn and it sprang to mind when I was wondering what to paint.

My flat is a bit too packed to set up shop with an easel and oil paints and so I decided to use my go-to medium of watercolour. I wanted something with lots of intricate detail to delve into and the cacophony of botanical textures and forms in this still life was just what I was looking for. It’s also been glorious to spend time staring into those luminous pale pinks, set against inky shades of teal and indigo. The colour palette is probably what most drew me to this still life although, like so many others, I can never resist a billowing vase of fluffy peonies. Painting this study has filled me with anticipation for peony seasons to come!

When I first shared the final artwork on Instagram, I was asked if I had any progress shots and I actually do – for once! I should really take photographs of new work as it develops more often as I love to see this with other people’s creations too. So I’m sharing below what I do have, apologies for the phone quality. I hope it’s interesting to see how it progressed. The final painting is at the very end and is also now available as a print.

And this is where I stopped documenting the progress on my phone – behold the final study below! (Once I scanned it in to my computer so you can see it properly). If you’d like to see the giclée print available in my shop, I’ll link it here.

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Autumnal reflections and styling seasonal props

As many have said before, there are largely two groups of people – those who mourn the end of summer and those who break out into gleeful anticipation of the misty Autumn days to come.  I confess to belonging entirely to this latter group. My milk and cinnamon skin is made for this season – high summer by contrast recalls long weeks of sunburn and lethargy (although – washed down with crisp G&Ts, which is no bad thing). Joining the hoard of autumn fanatics that appear from their caves once the heat of the summer has died down, the first chill in the air sends a genuine shiver of excitement through me and I avidly begin to eagle eye the trees for any first tinge of gold or orange. It’s a total cliche, but one that I’m all too happy to embrace.

Writing this towards the end of November, I’m already feeling nostalgic about my favourite month of the year: October. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness and all that. Or rather, heaven. It is hard to wax lyrical about any season without sounding twee but sometimes you just have to tell it like it is. The sunlight is simply so beautiful in late September and October, tinted with that shimmering rich golden haze. It all feels very romantic! The mornings are equally wonderful whether they arebrightly cold and sunlit or cool grey and misty. I’ll take them all! Squirrels in trees begin chucking conkers down at unsuspecting passers-by – I’m pretty sure you can hear them tittering with glee – so take a stroll in the park at your own peril. Even in London you can dupe yourself into thinking that the autumnal air is crisp and clean.

vintage chair autumnal product photography props styling
Image: Elizabeth Rider

Autumnal reflections

I’m not sure how this infatuation with autumn began but suspect it is one rooted in childhood that has been gradually reaffirmed throughout early adulthood. One fond memory I have of my time spent living in France was a beautiful autumn walk through Nantes’ Jardin des Plantes with a kind elderly gentleman who took the time to point out various trees in the arboretum, all ablaze, as he put it, with ‘les teintes d’automne’ (autumn hues). A more recent highlight was when Jan’s parents came to visit from the Czech Republic. I came back from work to discover that an autumn fairy in the form of Jan’s mum had wafted through the flat leaving in her trail everything from red berries, Chinese lantern fruit, handfuls of beautiful leaves collected from the Czech forest to pine cones – and even a delicate swirling snail shell.

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Autumn in Edinburgh Image: Jan Polášek

Seasonal mood board inspiration

This is also very much the season where I feel most animated and raring to create. The first leaf falls and the cannons of inspiration fire! This year I had great fun playing about with various seasonal finds in my home, arranging leaves and conkers with anything remotely autumn coloured in the flat I could lay hands on. Weathered chopping boards and tartan scarves all sprang into action. I made the obligatory trip to buy some mini pumpkins from the grocer across the road. Autumn was on.

This season is abundant with natural, tactile finds. From the waxy surface of gourds and pumpkins to shiny smooth conkers and knobbly pine cones, I wanted to capture the myriad of colours and textures. The great outdoors embraces maximalism in the best way! Mood-boarding is a surefire way to detail all of these references in one place and it makes for a fabulous cosy afternoon task to assemble together all of the things that most inspire you. It doesn’t have to complicated. In this mood board, I have snatched the mat by the front door to create a lovely rustic texture against which to dot around some apples, postcards and anything that I felt lent interest. Even the kitchen salt has a made an appearance!

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Image: Elizabeth Rider

Styling seasonal accessories

Growing up, my mum instilled in me a real appreciation for artisanal design and so I have collected various pieces along the way that made the perfect accompaniment for these outdoorsy finds. Among my favourites is this pair of beautifully curving wooden candle holders that I found in the MoMA gallery shop in San Francisco – that place is amazing! They feel akin to holding a shiny round conker in your hand, cool and smooth. With some beeswax candles, they look beautiful sitting among scattered autumn leaves on the sideboard.

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Image: Elizabeth Rider

Every single pine cone in my flat, bar one, has come from the Czech Republic. It’s a dangerous job smuggling pine cones, great and small, into the UK from lands afar but someone has to do it. These huge pine cones sit pretty as a centrepiece on the table, like a giant forest in which dwells this little bear carved from a nut! Living in an age which celebrates wabi-sabi (read: the art of imperfect decoration) is brilliant – just scatter anything you love around with no faffing required.

autumnal styling product pinecones
Image: Elizabeth Rider

 

This one is a favourite because it embodies all sorts of lovely things. I like to be able to see delicious foraged things, like these dried mushrooms and linden tea leaves, so I keep them in old jam and mason jars. Folk who know me well know that it’s hard not to hoard old cards from friends and family and there are some really beautiful prints in my card box. Which again make for great additions to styling shots!

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Image: Elizabeth Rider

Autumnal greeting cards

You can’t have a brand called Indi Skoven ‘Into the Woods’ and not feel inspired to paint the season onto paper. Two of my favourite illustrative prints – one, an autumn leaf motif designed for my friend’s parents’ wedding anniversary, the other a nod to London’s rambunctious fox population – are on greeting cards. A perfect way to send love to a fellow autumn fan, especially as the days draw into winter! So there you have it, the autumn meter has brimmed over and, although I’m sad to see the peak of this magical season fade, I’m not going to complain that Christmas merry-making is around the corner. Although those pine cones on the dining table are going nowhere. 😉

fox illustration autumn leaves print watercolour painting stationery greetings card   illustration autumn leaves print watercolour painting stationery greetings card

 

Ode to Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

Conspiring with him how to load and bless

   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

And still more, later flowers for the bees,

Until they think warm days will never cease,

      For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

– John Keats

 

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Owl illustration by Elizabeth Rider

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