A painting for HM The Queen
The Governor-General of Australia, His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Retd), asked Heidi to paint Australia's gift to Her Majesty The Queen to celebrate her Platinum Jubilee.
The painting was completed and presented to the then HRH The Prince of Wales on behalf of the Queen in July 2021. HRH presented the painting to Her Majesty The Queen shortly thereafter, and it was hung in Balmoral, where Her Majesty was residing at the time.
For more details about the commission and the technical aspects of the work, keep reading.
The Governor-General of Australia is His Majesty The King’s representative in Australia. In practice, he is Australia’s Head of State and has a range of constitutional and ceremonial duties. The Governor-General is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Australian Defence Force.
His Excellency approached Heidi in early 2022 to commission a painting of Australian and British flora to represent the relationship between the two nations, as a gift to Her Majesty for the Jubilee. He asked that Australia's official floral emblem, Acacia pycnanth Benth., or the Golden wattle, be painted alongside representative UK flora (ultimately, the rose was selected).
Heidi set about procuring the specimens - something of a challenge given the seasons - and plans began.
The most critical stage of a painting is the layout. With this being as artful and engaging as it can be, all the hard technical work is not maximised and can't fully metamorphose into a striking piece.
Heidi worked on tens of different potential layouts, in the effort to secure a blend of drama and accurate plant characteristics, with the essence of "posy" about it, consistent with the brief.
This involved showing the rose from a number of different angles, no two the same, and from immature buds all the way through to an overblown, mature bloom.
The clusters of roses on this floribunda form were enticing to replicate, and groups of roses are more pleasing to the eye. The large rose heads are enormous (up to 14cm - the painting was not to scale) and so care had ot be taken not to them overwhelm the composition.
Heidi also wanted to show the rose leaves going from the deep maroon-red of the bud leaves to the rich deep forest green of the large mature leaves, with high shine in parts.
Deeply satisfying is the treatment given to the stems, especially the woody stem at the base of the painting, which helps ground the composition.
The wattle, given its flouncing trails of sweet fluffy buds, was intertwined with the more substantial roses in a way which highlights its presence in the painting, throughout each area. Finding ways to place the young unopened buds all the way through to the heavier explosions of flowers was painstaking and deliberate.
Also highlighting the very different, more olive/blue shades of the wattle foliage was critical, to ensure the wattle wasn't swamped by the roses. Heidi enjoyed creating deliberate contrasts, with the wattle peeking out of groups of roses.
Without wanting to simply put a deadly clump of roses in the centre of the painting, surrounded by wattle, Heidi needed to find a way to gracefully take the eye throughout the layout, building to the crescendo of yellow inflorescences woven through heavy-headed roses. This risked leaving a hollow middle with nothing but greenery and a few wattle flowers, so Heidi adjusted the branch of three roses by adding a bud and fresh maroon leaves to remove the sense of a "hole" at the core.
Once the layout was complete, the work of painting began (for more on Heidi's technique, click here). The final sketch is transferred to tracing paper for transferring to the high quality cotton rag paper for the final work. This is important to keep the discipline of a single-line outline to paint, especially for a complex work like this, so there are no erased lines which can create lack of clarity in applying water and paint washes - this is deadly for precision.
The final outline is drawn several times - the sketching and drawing process itself, traced onto the tracing paper, transferred onto the final painting surface using tracedown paper (like carbon paper but lifts easily), then retraced on the paper with a 5B pencil to settle the outline clearly, as the carbon wears off too easily. These four steps are not all necessary in simpler pieces, but do give confidence.
Once the tracing is onto the paper, Heidi cuts out a piece of acetate which will stay on the painting until complete, to prevent spills on the white areas.
The final outline was a complex mass of lines. To ensure correct decisions are made about colours in each tiny segment (given watercolour cannot be removed once applied), Heidi does an under-painting process called grisaille, which defines each separate element and provides tonal depth to the whole painting. This is also a satisfying process, and makes the whole painting process more enjoyable, once it's clear which segment is which.
Colour is then applied in layered washes, the more washes for those areas requiring strong colour. Heidi kept two separate palettes operating throughout, one for the rose and one for the wattle. This ensured the different colours used for each would not mingle and undermine their separate characters on the page.
The process of layering up the washes takes many hours. Watching the painting emerges from the pale blankness of a page is immensely satisfying.
When it is complete, the painting must be cut off the backing board on which the paper has been stretch (soaked in water then taped with gummed tap to prevent cockling as the layers of wash go on). This is a heart-in-mount moment, using a sharp box cutter and a ruler, and holding one's breath...
Talens Rembrandt Sap Green
Winsor & Newton French Ultramarine
Winsor & Newton Permanent Rose
Winsor Lemon Indian Yellow
Daniel Smith Sap Green
Daniel Smith Phthalo Blue Red Shade
Daler Rowney Permanent Yellow
Daler Rowney Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Daler Rowney Lemon Yellow
Paper: Fabriano Artistico Extra White 300 gsm (stock purchased in 2013)
Paper stretched on 9mm coated mdf board (with wet-in-wet, the paper will cockle, as some areas have many washes to get the depth of colour).
Brushes: Winsor and Newton Series 7 Miniature brushes sizes 4 and 1, plus a rough flat size 0 for lifting
Time to complete: 150 hours
Colours and equipment
The Governor-General and his wife, Mrs Hurley, had the opportunity to see the work in progress on several occasions. They were very interested in the piece and how it was prepared.
When the painting was completed, it was handed to Their Excellencies at Government House in Canberra.
During the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in July 2022, Their Excellencies presented the painting to the then HRH The Prince of Wales, who accepted it on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen.
It was shortly afterwards presented by The Prince of Wales to Her Majesty at Balmoral.
For a media report, including on how it was received, click here.