Eye-catching detail, clean edges, delicate petals and fruit good enough to eat. These elements describe the artwork of Anna Knights. The natural gesture of her leaves, the colors of her fruit and the transparency of her water drops will captivate you. This month we have the opportunity to learn from this award-winning artist and teacher.
Please welcome Anna Knights!
ArtPlantae: You are a self-taught artist. On your website, you write that one day you discovered your innate talent for botanical art. How did this happen?
Anna Knights: I always knew that I could draw and paint as I had loved to do so as a child – and took art up until the end of high school. But then I decided to do the sensible thing and went and did history at university. I had a brief stint painting murals in the US whilst I was doing a university exchange over there but then 5 years passed before I picked up a paintbrush again.
Then in February 2006, when I was coming up to my 26th birthday, I was working as a management trainee with local government, and I realised I really missed painting. So I started looking online for inspiration to get me back into doing some for fun. It was then that I saw botanical art for the first time. It was like a light bulb went off and I thought “I’m sure I can do that!”. I bought myself a set of artists watercolours and that was the beginning! And I was lucky enough to be able to do it straight away. In June 2006 I submitted work to the RHS picture committee and was awarded the Dawn Jolliffe Botanical Art Bursery to help with the costs of exhibiting at one of their botanical art competitions. I exhibited there a year later and won the Gold Medal.
AP: When did you begin drawing/painting and what type of subjects did you paint before you were drawn to plants?
AK: I have always painted and drawn. When I was a child I loved illustrating holiday diaries – showing what me and my family had been up to each day. So I liked to draw everything really. I do remember doing a series of enormous dissected fruits at age 14, so that interest has been with me a long time.
AP: Your paintings are extremely realistic. How much of your work is completed in a wet-n-washy type of painting and how much is done in dry brush?
AK: For the most part I work with very watery washes. However, I never load my brush very much, so the effect is that I use the paint quite dry. Between layers I always let them dry – so in the main it is “dry brush” except that I use the paint very thin a lot of the time. Especially where subtlety is needed – which is a lot in botanical subject matter!
AP: Are you a full-time botanical artist or do you split your time between botanical art and another profession? Approximately how many hours do you spend on your artwork?
AK: I have been a full-time botanical artist since I first exhibited at Chelsea Flower Show in 2008.
AP: At the recent conference of the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, there was a panel discussion about the future of botanical art. One of the topics discussed was, Will there always be traditional botanical art or does botanical art have a digital future? What do you think?
AK: I feel I need to make a distinction between botanical art and illustration here. I don’t do botanical illustrations. I do vibrant, big, bold but accurate watercolours of botanical subjects. I stick broadly within the botanical conventions in that I have a plain paper background – making them more like “studies”. I do them purely for their aesthetics and I try to depict a subject in its best possible light. I therefore consider what I do art – in that it’s about the aesthetics.
Botanical illustration is a bit different and whilst I think it’s great, I do think that with digital cameras getting ever more impressive, there is going to be a case for being able to accurately record every aspect of a botanical subject using a camera and some clever Photoshop work. It will probably end up taking longer than an illustrator would take to paint, but I’m sure it can be done.
People have a great appreciation for the beauty of nature being depicted as accurately as possible which is why I think there will always be an interest in botanical painting.
AP: As you know, student learning is a special interest here on this site. Particularly, how people learn about plants. How do you think people learn about plants best?
AK: I think they learn about them by growing them and living with them! The reason botanical art appealed to me so much is that I had caught the gardening bug and realised how perfectly possible it was to sit and stare at a Clematis sp. you’d grown from cutting for absolutely ages without a hint of boredom! What a joy.
AP: Drawing upon your experiences as a teacher, what is the best way students new to botanical art learn can about composition?
AK: I encourage people to play around with their digital cameras and use a white screen to set up shots in terms of composition alone. Playing that way gives you instant feedback on what looks good.
AP: On your website, you state you are thinking about developing a correspondence course and that you would like feedback from artists interested in this type of a course. Is there anything you would like to ask potential students that may help you create the curriculum for this course?
I have in mind a course delivered via video clips of me painting whilst describing what I’m doing – demonstrations. There are a few IT issues for me to address for this to be feasible. Ideally I’d like it delivered online but it will be a significant piece of work for me to organise this so it’s likely to take me a while. I suppose I am thinking of a course that students can take at their own pace – paying per lesson, or block of lessons. Then there would be an opportunity for feedback via email – so students can scan and email me work (or perhaps post on a private website) for me to advise them about. I would be interested to know whether your readers might be interested in this. If I feel there will be enough people signing up to make it worthwhile, then I might be able to justify employing an IT whizz to make it happen.
AP: Readers, what do you think?
Ask the Artist with Anna Knights!
You are invited to participate in a Q&A session with Anna Knights. Please submit your question(s) to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday August 12, 2011. Anna’s replies to your questions will be posted on Monday August 22, 2011.
Visit Anna on Facebook
If you “Like” Anna’s Facebook page you can receive offers and watch her paintings develop as she photographs them in various stages of completion.