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Botanical watercolour workshop with Sarah Jane Humphrey

When it comes to personal restoration, I often gravitate to the cosy confines of the sofa and the worn pages of my favourite book, and while this is indeed a welcome avocation, I’ve come to learn that this isn’t the only way to unwind.

Throwing myself into a creative pursuit is quickly becoming my most treasured way of relaxing as it’s quite singular in its ability to both focus and clear the mind… with the added bonus of having a (hopefully) pretty end result!

I am very lucky to live in Cornwall in this respect, as there is seemingly no end to the variety of artistic endeavours you can pursue. Most recently, I attended a wonderful botanical watercolour workshop by the lovely Sarah Jane Humphrey, in which I tried my hand at a completely new (and instantly winning) medium.

Introducing our artistic teacher

Sarah Jane Humphrey standing amidst the beautiful plants she so perfectly paints

An Illustration graduate from Falmouth University, Sarah specialises in natural sciences illustrations with a particular focus on botanical subjects. Her work has taken her from publishing to research to commercial design, giving Sarah a tremendous appreciation for the widespread application of such delicate drawings.

Looking through Sarah’s back catalogue, you can’t help but get excited to learn how to replicate her graceful style, full of both beauty and accuracy, each drawing instantly recognisable.

Getting started

Everyone gathering around the table for the botanical watercolour workshop with Sarah Jane Humphrey

Arriving at Hotel Meudon, I was greeted with smiles and ushered to a landing lined with comfy chairs that overlooked the budding gardens – thank you, spring! While chatting with the other eager participants, my eyes slowly scanned the colourful foliage below as I contemplated which beautiful botanical I would be attempting to immortalise on paper.

Usually, the workshop begins with a tour of the gardens to light our creative flare. While Cornish mizzle halted these plans, our sadness was quickly salved with a serving of teas and coffees in the workshop room, where a collection of freshly picked flowers and leaves decorated the table.

A Forget Me Not lying on the white table cloth

As we sat and chatted over our tea, our gaze roamed the bouquets that featured the vibrant pinks of the rhododendrons and the bashful white blossoms we couldn’t name. Finally, my eyes settled on the pretty blue of the Forget Me Nots and my muse was chosen… later I would come to question my decision as my unpractised fingers attempted the more intricate petals but, in the moment, I couldn’t wait to get started.

With my subject chosen and my teacup full (and carefully placed away from my brush water), I sat back to enjoy an introduction by Sarah, who carefully went over what we would be doing during the session, which would cover drawing techniques and colour theory.

The all-important basics

Drawing the outline of the Forget Me Not for my botanical watercolour

With my fingers itching to take hold of my 2H pencil, I calmed my eager mind so that I could take in the all-important details and tips on how to begin my drawing. Each of us was given a piece of cold-pressed paper, which lends itself perfectly to watercolour as it allows you to create exceptional detail with your paints.

Before the lead of our pencil could touch the paper, a quick overview on how to draw for watercolour was given. Armed with the knowledge of fine, clear lines, the room went silent as heads bowed and nothing but the sound of scratching pencils could be heard.

Sarah was a brilliant workshop lead, knowing when to give us our space to create and when to step in with welcome nuggets of wisdom. When the flowers littered around the table began to bloom in black and white on our paper, Sarah stopped the scribbling to go through colour theory, so that we could progress to the next step of artistic accomplishment.

Playing with colour

Painting watercolour swatches in different colours and shades

If drawing is relaxing, colour mixing is akin to a glass of wine at the end of a long day – you just can’t help but feel soothed by the gradual progression of rich pigment to an opalescent swatch of colour. After watching the master at work, we got stuck into the calming activity of recreating the vivid hues of nature on paper before adding the newly created shades to our drawing.

Once again proving that time really does fly when you’re having fun, the metaphorical whistle was blown to signify we only had fifteen minutes left. It was a bittersweet warning as while we were all excited to tuck into the indulgent afternoon tea that followed the workshop, we could easily have spent many more hours hunched over our masterpieces.

With not long left, my hand started working in double time, trying to inject as much life into my flower as possible. Before long, the time was up, and I held in my hand a gentle replica of a Forget Me Not. As I placed the drawing in front of me, I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of this previously blank piece of paper, which now bore evidence of an afternoon well spent.

A decadent finale

Looking down on the oh-so tempting brownies and cakes

Just as I thought the day couldn’t be improved upon, cake stands piled high with fanciful delights were brought into the room. Chocolate brownies so gooey you couldn’t speak, scones with lashings of clotted cream and jam and a selection of finger sandwiches that perfectly balanced the sweetness of the cakes.

I will admit, that for a time, all thoughts of art were cast aside as my focus turned wholly to the prospect of such tempting delights. As we ate our way through the selection, we discussed what brought us to the workshop. It was lovely to hear people’s backgrounds, some of which were arty through and through and others just wanted to try a new skill. It was clear to see that the workshop was worth more than just the time it took to complete as people had travelled from far afield to attend, with the furthest visitor having set off from Worchester. The consensus was clear amongst all: a visit to Cornwall was never complete without an artistic endeavour and an artistic endeavour was never better than when set in the unrivalled beauty of Cornwall. The two really do go hand in hand.

Parting thoughts

The final watercolour painting surrounded by the tools of the trade, including a beautiful painting by Sarah herself for inspiration

To all those who consider themselves beginners (of which I am too), under the careful tutelage of Sarah, you will be pleasantly surprised by your final piece. It has been a long time since I’ve picked up a pencil, and even longer since I’ve held a brush and I have to say I was thrilled at my creation (which now sits proudly in a frame on my wall) so don’t let inexperience prevent you from enjoying an afternoon of watercolour wonder.

Sarah runs many workshops throughout the year, so you too can immerse yourself in the easy-going beauty of watercolour. You can also pop into her shop in Falmouth, where you can pick up everything from artistic supplies to copies of Sarah’s work, which spark both inspiration and admiration.

You can find out more about Sarah, her incredible art and wonderful workshops here.

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