Richard Bell's Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

Dock Leaf

Monday, 19th March, 2007

dock leaf

dock leafIT’S SO LONG since I did a botanical illustration; I painted hundreds of them in the late 1980s and early 1990s for a series of guides to wild flowers and herbs. This one is a commission from a magazine to illustrate an article on docks and nettles.

This detail of the dock, Rumex sp., is 7cm (3 inches) across (left at approximately actual size) but I’ve shown it enlarged so you can see how I went about it.


I started with a light pencil drawing, using an H grade pencil. I kept sharpening the point on a piece of medium grade glass-paper that I keep in the drawer. As reference, I used a pen and ink drawing I’d done in the garden some years ago. I prefer to draw from my original sketch, rather than tracing it, which, as I’ve said before, I prefer, as I feel restricted following a pre-existing outline.


Unfortunately I hadn’t added any colour so for reference I looked at Roger Phillips’ photographs of dock but decided that Ian Gerrard’s illustration in Wild Flowers of the British Isles gave a better impression of the colour of docks as I see of them (not that the photographs were inaccurate). If it had been summer I could have gone out and found the actual plant.

Using a number 9 sable, I added a dilute watercolour wash of raw sienna, with a touch of cadmium yellow lemon, along the main veins of the leaves, then, when that had dried, a pale wash of olive green with a touch of yellow as an all-over background for the leaves.

When that was dry I went over the entire plant adding areas of green to start to build up a three-dimensional impression of the leaves. I used to a smaller brush, a round size 3 sable, to put in the detail such as veins and the wavy margins of the leaves.

This particular number 3 brush has an awkward point so I switched to the number 5 in the same series of brushes, which, although it’s that bit bigger, comes to a point more reliably.

I used touches of English red and sepia on the stem and flowerheads and ultramarine and cerulean blue in some of the greens, particularly where the underside shows.

BeethovenRadio 3 v. Classic FM

One pleasure of doing this kind of botanical work is that I find I can listen to music as I’m doing it, so I had Radio 3 on all morning. I can’t listen to Classic FM as the commercial breaks infuriate me! (‘ . . . r e l a x on a Scroggins Sofa . . . every minute A CHILD DIES because you haven’t contributed to our charity . . . and now, Mozart . . . ’). In total – if I exclude numerous tea breaks - it probably took 4 or 5 hours to complete the whole drawing.

dock leafI should have kept covering the parts of the drawing that I wasn’t working on because when I scanned the artwork I found that I’d smudged the pencil. I was able to go over the whole illustration in Adobe Photoshop, erasing all the smudges and then convert from RGB (red-blue-green of the scan and computer screen) to CMYK (cyan-magenta-yellow-black of the printing process). If only I’d had Photoshop twenty years ago.

The illustration will appear at a smaller size in the magazine.