Initially I was drawn to the strawberries because of the way their little seeds dip in to dimples and wanted to draw them larger than life in a simple arrangement, however they looked much more interesting jostled together in their plastic punnet.
As with my other paintings of food in containers I am fascinated by the patterns, changes in colour and distortions of the objects. I’ve come to realise they are are also a bit like cross sections as the container is almost invisible.
There are so many memories I associate with strawberries from my youngest politely refusing to eat them by always saying “I don’t like the nuts!”, eating my aunt’s stewed strawberries and thinking they felt like cold tongues to planting our strawberry patch with babies from my friend Anne’s garden.
There is something rather wonderful about watering the plants on a summers evening and eating freshly picked strawberries.
My strongest association with strawberries comes from the book, The Giant Jam Sandwich by John Vernon Lord with verses by Janet Burroway. As I grew up my first introduction to art was probably through the illustrations in reading books. The primary school I attended had a book worm club where we could buy books and this was one of the first to come home.
The illustrations and rhythm of the story have always stayed with me as I love the incredible detail and characters that take you through the story. The image with the wasps descending onto the huge slab of bread is one of my favourites, as I can hear the hum of wings and smell the strawberry jam. In my painting I have included a wasp in honour of this wonderful book.
It took a while to get the seeds and dimples in their places and it was an interesting challenge to make the drawing look correct but also capture some of the patterns and textures. I find it easier to think of them as mini landscapes and break them down into shapes.
Once the drawing is complete I trace selected lines, then print using the blotted line technique with a dip pen and waterproof ink. To begin with I was going to print the dimples but held off at this stage and planned to print them once the first washes of watercolour were on. In the end I thought it would be too heavy looking and decided to keep them simple.
Drawing feels a very natural way to understand an object but when it comes to watercolour I really have to work out the colours and tones in advance. I find it easier as I learn watercolour to be methodical but at the same time it can make me hesitant and the accidental qualities that I enjoy about the media don’t come through. After a few frustrating false starts I started to become bolder as the darker tones built up.
The reds used for this piece were Winsor Red, Winsor Red Deep and Scarlet Lake. It felt very odd at first painting with such intense colours and it was interesting to observe the different tones and hues of the fruit.
Windsor Red Deep was difficult and unforgiving to use as it dried completely flat or would cross over a glaze into a dry area. My favourite was the scarlet as every time I painted I could almost taste the strawberries. It reminded me of the Cresta fizzy drink with it’s logo of a polar bear with sunglasses on. It had a completely artificial taste but I loved it.
Once the masking fluid was removed I adjusted the highlights and added details to the punnet.
Every painting has it’s own set of challenges and rewards. Although the strawberries were complicated to create and tested my patience, they have helped me to use slightly looser brush marks and not to be scared of red paint!
Strawberries are an incredibly beautiful summer fruit with a taste that holds so many happy memories, but for me, the best ones will always be of wasps and giant jam sandwiches.