Had I not been a landscape architect, gardener or fashion designer – all professions suggested by my school careers advisor, who was largely at a loss with anyone who didn’t want to be a teacher, lawyer or doctor – I might have been a botanical artist. As a student I possessed extraordinary patience and an unhealthy obsession with detail. My writing and drawing were painfully precise, reflecting the personality of an uptight and highly strung young man who needed to ‘let go’ more. (This has changed, in that I am now a middle-aged man who needs to ‘let go’ more!) I preferred pencils to paint and recorded every vein, sinew and shadow of my subjects with pinpoint accuracy. These days I still have the pencils, but neither the time nor patience to draw with them. Having visited the RHS Botanical Art Show in London last week I now wonder if I might have missed my calling.
I seem to recall that the RHS Botanical Art Show was once combined with a flower show, and consequently I paid the art section scant attention. If so, that was a sad oversight on my part. This year, botanical artists from as far afield as Japan, New Zealand, Korea and the USA had the Lindley Hall to themselves, and what a joy it was to appreciate their work in that lofty space. The variety of styles and approaches to the genre fascinating to see. It’s some time since I have seen the Lindley Hall venue so packed: the shared pleasure and admiration of the crowds were palpable. Between the 30 or so artists exhibiting, the whole spectrum of plant life was observed, from eucalypts to anemones, onions to orchids.
Now, I am no expert, but I could spot the stand-out exhibit from a mile off. In a style reminiscent of the posters that used to gather cobwebs in my school biology lab, artist Mariko Ikeda had recorded specimens of the genus Pandanus in astonishingly beautiful detail. Painted on creamy-white vellum, spherical bundles of orange, green and yellow fruit leapt from the canvas as if they were there in front of me. Mariko’s work was, justly, awarded a gold medal and Best Botanical Art Exhibit.
Conincidentally, the artwork that won Best Botanical Painting, a representation of Beta vulgaris by Bridget Gillespie, was hanging directly opposite. Herein one could appreciate the particular skills and disciplines required to achieve botanical accuracy. Some of those are shared with other art forms, but the importance of representing a subject clearly and accurately was masterfully demonstrated in Bridget’s work.
Remarkable as some good pieces of botanical art are, I wouldn’t necessarily want them on my wall at home. I’d certainly have given house room to Vivienne Rew’s sublimely realistic renderings of an oriental poppy (Papaver orientale), depicted from bud to seed head. Vivienne’s large renderings on heavy white paper were achieved with a mind-boggling number of tiny brushstrokes and clever techniques, creating finished artwork that could almost be mistaken for photography.
Annie Hughes’ series of paintings depicting the Eucalyptus of Western Australia were richly detailed, as were Silvana Rava’s delicate sketches of Italian vegetables. Rachel Dein, an artist from North London, demonstrated how to turn flowers and foliage into intricate, spectral plaster casts.
This being the Royal Horticultural Society, botanical accuracy is paramount, especially when it comes to awarding medals. I overheard a judge explaining to one Japanese artist that she had lost marks simply for failing to correctly name the variety of clematis she had painted. Harsh, but them’s the rules I suppose. For the record, that clematis was Clematis florida var. florida ‘Sieboldiana’ and it was painted most elegantly, in my humble opinion, by Kazumi Yoshikawa. All of Kazumi’s paintings were of white flowers and I’d have been delighted to own a single one of them.
A drawback of the show set-up is that artworks are shielded from greasy fingers by clear plastic film, more or less professionally applied. This make it difficult to appreciate some of the finer details of the work, and might perhaps be better replaced by sheets of clear perpex set away from the panels, like those used by Mariko Ikeda to protect her precious pandanus portraits.
Is it too late for me to discover if I might have a talent for botanical art? I think not. There were a bewildering number of art schools and artists offering courses lasting from one day to several months, located in all manner of tempting places. And, judging by the average age of those attending the show, I still have a few years left to explore whether I have retained any of my youthful talents. In the meantime I am quite happy to admire the incredible artistry of those who can see, interpret, celebrate and record the wonders of nature for us all to marvel at.
For anyone interested to view or purchase botanical art, The Society of Botanical Artists will hold their annual open exhibition at Central Hall, Westminster, from October 13-21 2017.
Categories: Art and Design, Floral Art, Flower Shows, Flowers, Foliage, London, Plants, Plants in Detail
25 comments On "RHS Botanical Art Show 2017"
your quote,’, I still have a few years left to explore whether I have retained any of my youthful talents. In the meantime I am quite happy to admire the incredible artistry of those who can see, interpret, celebrate and record the wonders of nature for us all to marvel at.’ Alas those remaining years ,as I have found,gather momentum at such a pace that those ‘few’ years will disappear before your very eyes! Pick up your pencils and take up the challenge before the time has passed you by!
Very interesting topic and thanks Dan for your background. Digital camera versus the Botanical art is a controversial matter that I often meditate about.
Lovely review of a fascinating show. I also found the allium paintings interesting and, like you, loved the Beta vulgaris by Brigid Gillespie. My favourite part of the show was watching the artists work and having the opportunity to ask questions. My husband and I had a great afternoon out and let feeling inspired. ☺
It was so hard not to be inspired … and fascinating to hear how some of the details are achieved! I’d love to have had time to ‘have a go’ at one of the workshops. Glad you had a good afternoon out!
Hi Frustrated Gardener, thank you for the lovely comments on my work. Pick up your pencils it’s never too late…I think we had the same careers teachers, I was told painting and biology wouldn’t get me anywhere, it took 30 years to prove them wrong.
I agree Mariko’s work was a highlight for me, I spent as much time at her stand as my own, in awe of her talent, combining botanical accuracy and art.
Never again will I use wrinkly plastic, a lesson learnt.
I’m trying to make my painting into a career so just to let people know I’m selling giclee prints of all my poppies. Details on my website or follow me on Instagram @vivrewbotanicalart
Thanks for getting in touch Vivienne. I’m sorry I didn’t say hello at the show. It was very busy and I was with a friend, but I did love the way you had explained the different techniques you had used to create your stunning artworks. Especially the use of crushed pencil to mimic the poppy’s violet-black pollen. So clever.
I can understand why you’d want to protect your artworks – I could only marvel at how ‘clean’ everyone’s backgrounds were. Perhaps the RHS should invest in a solution so that it’s a level playing field for all exhibitors.
Thanks for your encouragement and for the Instagram link. I am now following you! Dan
Look forward to seeing some of your work on there soon.
It was amazing how easy it was to spot the very best pieces in the hall. I am not an expert on artwork by any means, but they just jumped out a mile! Now for working out why! Looking forward to seeing some of your masterpieces…
You may be waiting a while! Drawing would probably be a good discipline for me to re-master. It might force me to sit still for a bit …..
I had similar a similar school experience (art, biology and history a’levels!) and used to love drawing plants. But, like you, I haven’t done any for years. If this exhibition has given you the kick, go for it! It’s never too late. The images you’ve shared here are gobsmackingly gorgeous, especially the Pandanus. I’ve made a note of the October exhibition. Thanks for the tip.
I am really feeling the pressure to have a go now! Perhaps I will, one rainy weekend. I’m glad you enjoyed my images, they don’t really do the real artwork any justice I’m afraid. I think you’ll find the October exhibition truly inspirational.
You must! I bet you would be brilliant. I love botanical art and would like a original for myself. Perhaps one day. Or perhaps if you got going, I could have one of yours?! 🙂
Promise you will get first dibs on a Cooper original 🙂
It’s never too late — start now. Make yourself happy. Those photos are gorgeous. My story: the instructor in a watercolor class I took years ago said my painting of a hibiscus blossom looked like a photo, and that, if I were going to paint every little vein, etc, why didn’t I just take a picture of the flower. I still like painting very large close-ups of flowers – so much so that some of my art friends started calling me Georgia, as in O’Keefe. I wear the moniker proudly. Can’t wait to see some of your detailed botanical drawings.
Georgia O’Keefe! That’s a lovely compliment from your friends Maria. Well done for sticking to your guns and persevering with your botanical style. I am thinking I might buy a book that will take me through some of the basics of botanical drawing …. and probably a daylight lamp so I can practice in the evenings after work.
I have a daylight lamp for painting. You will enjoy having it.
Thanks, Dan, for the low-down on this show! Decided not to go this year, as I never seem able to stick to a budget at Botanical Art Shows… (And no, sadly, nowhere near enough for originals but giclee prints at best, more often just the printed cards’ version). I met someone at last year’s show though, whilst we were both admiring the same stunning pencil works and we became friends. She’s working on a career change and has been to a number of Botanical Art courses since.
According to her, botanical drawing/painting has a therapeutic effect, akin to meditation, since you have to observe so closely, lose yourself in the detail and can’t rush it. I’m sure she’s right. Myself, I couldn’t muster the patience needed (for either). But if you were so painstakingly detailed and patient as a young person already, I bet you’d really enjoy the process! And it does not need to lead to a career change either 🙂 .
Botanical drawing is certainly something I feel I must try Stefanie. Finding the time is going to be tricky, as our house still needs a lot of work and the day job is unrelenting. I think I might need to start with something small, to avoid disappointing myself!
Stunning – very talented artists. 🙂 I can’t draw a straight line normally even when I use a ruler so these beautiful pieces of art are amazing.
Ahh yes, but you have other artistic outlets at which you excel Judy! How is New England? Thawing out yet?
6 degrees Fahrenheit this morning. Pellet stove is roaring. The outside scenery is still mostly white in color. 🙂
Sounds cosy. You’ve got some way to go to catch up with us here though! Stay warm Judy.
Well next time you have hours to while away on a long haul flight….take a block of paper and some coloured pencils…I am sure you would excel at botanical art as you clearly have such a good eye for flowers!
Might work if I get upgraded to First Class 😉 Can’t imagine drawing in cattle class. Fairly true to say, in all aspects of life, “I don’t do economy”!
A fantastic piece – I’m glad you liked the show last year!
I work at the RHS Lindley Library and thought you might be interested to know we’re running a Botanical Art Seminar in July this year. It falls on the second day, and includes entry to, the RHS Plant & Art Fair feat. Botanical Art Show.
There is more info about the seminar on our website here: http://www.rhs.org.uk/botanical-art-seminar
Feel free to email me if you have any questions email@example.com