I am pleased to introduce you to Gilly Shaeffer. I met Gilly soon after enrolling in my first botanical drawing class in January 2001. At the time, Gilly was serving as President of a small group of artists who called themselves the Botanical Artists Guild of Southern California. Gilly served as President until 2006 and is largely responsible for transforming this small group of 30 artists into the organization it is today.
Since 2001, I have watched Gilly work diligently as a student in a certificate program, share her knowledge in her first watercolor class (in which I was enrolled), stick her neck out entering juried exhibits, receive an invitation to exhibit two paintings in the 11th International Exhibition of Botanical Art & Illustration at the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, hold her first solo exhibit, and become a contributing artist to the first book dedicated exclusively to North American botanical artists.
Thank you, Gilly, for taking time for this interview. I wanted to interview you because I admire your focus, your dedication, and your ability to create artwork while all of your other lives swirl around you. Your career as a botanical artist has progressed quickly and I think readers would be interested in learning how one goes from student to published artist. You have spent countless hours with your nose hovering directly above your watercolor paper getting in all of those fine details. Your dedication is obvious.
What was the first botanical art class you completed?
The first art class was called The Art of Drawing Florals in Pencil and Pen and Ink taught by Olga Eysymontt at Otis College of Art and Design.
Were you hooked from the beginning or did you think that botanical art was “so-so”?
When I started I had almost no time to devote to drawing, but I made a special effort to get to the class. I always liked going to the classes but becoming “hooked” took place over a two year period of sporadically attending classes and starting to make the time to draw on my own when not signed up for a class.
How long after completing your first botanical art class did you take the leap into Anne Marie Evans’ Botanical Art Certificate Program?
About four years after taking the first floral drawing class through Otis College, I attended Anne-Marie Evans’ studio program at her home in England. At that time, I heard that she was planning a comprehensive watercolor painting certificate program at the New York Botanical Garden. This program evolved from Anne-Marie’s certificate course given at London’s Chelsea Physic Garden. I was impressed by the work of her Chelsea Physic Garden certificate students who I met at her home studio. It was shortly after my trip to her studio that I signed up for her certificate program to be held at the New York Botanical Garden.
Describe this program for those who may not be familiar with it.
The first part of the program was comprised of one- and two-week segments of full day classes at the New York Botanical Gardens. The certificate students went through a series of exercises to deepen understanding for rendering three dimensional forms, learning techniques to deal with problems encountered in rendering botanical subjects, dealing with composition and learning how to deal with detail in a painting. After each one or two week course segment, there were homework assignments given to complete before the next segment of classes began and there were periodic critiques. A final project was given after all the preliminary exercises were completed. Students were to choose a topic to be the theme of six paintings which had to be completed to be eligible to receive the Anne-Marie Evans Watercolor Program Certificate from the NYBG.
What was your first juried exhibit?
My first juried exhibit was at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania called “Flora 2000”.
Briefly describe what it is like to be a rookie at a juried show.
It was really great fun and a wonderful introduction to contemporary botanical art in the U.S. and internationally. I went to the opening and met a few of the artist participants and saw a lot of high quality and inspiring work on display.
What kind of advice do you have for rookies hoping to get into their first juried event in 2008 – 2009?
Realize that being accepted into a juried exhibit is part of the process of developing as a botanical artist. Sometimes your entry will be accepted into the show and sometimes it may not be. All that we can do as artists is make a commitment to keep on learning and improving and not allow ourselves to get discouraged if we don’t get accepted into a show the first time that we get up the courage to enter one or at any other point in our botanical art career. The first time that I entered work in a juried exhibit, I guess that I felt an inner readiness to take this step. Another point to consider when getting ready to enter a show is to look at your own work with as much objectivity, as possible.
Every learner, regardless of discipline, begins work in their field thinking that there is a right way and a wrong way to think of things. Eventually (i.e., hopefully), a learner’s experience enables them to see that there is more than one way to get things done. As a beginning botanical art student, one clings tightly to the tried and true techniques taught to them by trusted instructors. There comes a time, however, when an artist deviates from the reliable “formula” and begins to experiment. When did you first begin to experiment? How has this changed your approach to your work?
I have always had an “experimental streak”. As I have matured, I have come to see the importance and value in following a “ formula”. This “formula” has given me a solid foundation or confidence in knowing how to achieve a certain result. I reach a point in every painting when I will draw on every trick I can think of to make it work better. This is when lots of experimentation occurs. So, both “formula” and “experimentation” are essential in my painting process. The more I paint the less I need to rely on following the step by step method outwardly, though it continues to provide me with an invisible or internal structure for going about the job of creating a painting.
It is very exciting to see your paintings in Today’s Botanical Artists. What has it been like to be a contributor to this exciting project?
I feel very honored to be invited to be in this group of very talented artists. It is a wonderful experience to have my work appreciated in this way.
Doing more paintings. Finding more ways to make each painting a window for someone to more deeply appreciate the beauty that is so abundant in nature.
Thank you, Gilly. Very much.
Gilly’s website can be viewed at http://www.gillyshaeffer.com. You can also learn more about Gilly by clicking the Feature Artist tab. Gilly’s watercolor painting of a cattleya is featured in the header above.