Botanical illustration is about mixing science with art.
Today, as in years past, botanical illustrations relay information that contributes to our scientific knowledge about plants.
Botanical artists spend hundreds of hours studying plant specimens, drawing them and then painting them. Traditional plant portraits are painted on a white ground. This is one of the traditions of botanical art. Sometimes, though, there is an urge to ditch the white background and to be more expressive with one’s interpretation of plants. Have you ever felt this way? Ever wonder how you could break out of the box a bit?
Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to experienced guides in all forms of flower portraiture, from botanical painting to free design, from miniature works to large paintings, from china painting to silk painting, the members of the Society of Floral Painters have explored it all, each in their own way.
We have the wonderful opportunity to learn from them today. Please welcome members of the Society of Floral Painters!
Founded in 1996, the Society of Floral Painters (SFP) consists of Full and Associate Members, amateur and professional, beginners and experienced artists from the UK and elsewhere. Both Members and Associate Members attend workshops and painting days which are held throughout the year. Today we get to learn from members of this diverse group of artists.
As always, you are invited to join the conversation and to post comments or ask questions. If you’ve always wanted to post a comment, but have been too shy to do so, please know that when posting a comment or question, only your first name is necessary. If you prefer to use a screen name, then feel free to use one. While we might not introduce ourselves in person as “tigerlily564378”, I understand being reluctant to use one’s full name.
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Welcome everyone. Thank you so much for visiting. I have many questions, but do not want to talk over readers. I want to provide ample opportunity for them to ask their own questions. So let me begin by first asking…of the more than 200 members in your group, how many have studied the traditional techniques of botanical art and illustration?
A considerable number of our artists come from botanical art backgrounds but certainly not all, it’s difficult to put a number to really. Some remain in the botanical sphere and others explore and embrace a freer style or different medium.
I browsed through the Gallery and many styles are represented. It is a wonderful collection of work. Who started the Society?
The Society was founded in 1996 by artists Constance ‘Miggy’ Bath and Anne Middleton. They were very keen to establish a floral painting society that welcomed a wider range of approaches to portraying floral subjects. Siriol Sherlock was approached to be the Society’s first President and after the SFP had an extremely successful exhibition at Sofiero Castle in Sweden, Princess Lilian of Sweden was asked to be the Society’s first Patron. The Society’s current Patrons are The Lady Brabourne and Roy Lancaster OBE VMH FIHort and our President is Jenny Jowett.
There is much interest in online learning opportunities. Do any Society members teach drawing, painting or mixed media classes online?
Sandrine Maugy teaches the Botanical Painting Diploma for the London Art College with many elements of the course available online. Wendy Jelbert also has online teaching videos on the Painting and Drawing Channel.
Many of our members also have their own websites and in addition blogs, which often have links to painting and drawing videos and other useful guides on drawing and painting. Members have also had instructional books and/or DVDs published, these include Sandrine Maugy, Billy Showell, Jean Haines, Wendy Tate, Janet Whittle, Ann Blockley, Judith Milne and Ann Mortimer.
In a recent survey, ArtPlantae readers expressed an interest in hearing artists’ opinions about materials and techniques and want to get a sense of “best practices” when it comes to all aspects of botanical art. If I may, I would like to propose a broad topic to get a conversation going. Readers, you are more than welcome to help streamline the conversation.
My question has to do with the business of art. What do you think is the best way to bring attention to one’s artwork and professional services (e.g., teaching)?
Having a consistent quality to your artwork is essential and belonging to a Society such as the SFP helps to ensure that quality is maintained, through initial assessment of artwork to become a full exhibiting member and then assessment before each exhibition.
Having this quality enables a positive reputation to become established and in turn people come to recognise your work and want to learn from you, if you provide teaching opportunities.
Teaching opportunities can be varied – teaching for an organisation such as a local college, tutoring painting holidays, running private workshops in an established venue or even teaching in your own home studio.
All of these require some form of publicity either with the organisation concerned or independently. In today’s world the Internet is an important tool for this and provides many networking opportunities through websites, Facebook pages, blogs and forums. Networking is not just an online phenomenon, students attending an artist’s workshop or course often spread the word to other individuals and news of the artist’s work and reputation can spread further afield.
I have a question for Kate Steele…
I love your monochrome oil paintings. I was wondering…since painting in oil is painting light over dark, how do you decide the value of your darks? Can you provide some insight into how you create these pieces?
With all my work lighting is the most important factor and has to be just right, whether I’m working from a live subject or one of my photos…it’s what brings a painting to life.
Rather than work from dark to light, I always start by applying a yellow ochre ground…it gives a wonderful warm medium tone on which to begin and makes it easier to see light and dark areas right from the beginning….sometimes a hint of the colour shines through the white and gives the painting a beautiful glow.
I roughly sketch out the composition onto the yellow ochre ground, then block in the body of the subject using both black and white paint. This first layer – although usually quite flat in terms of tonal value – helps me to judge where my lightest light and darkest dark need to be…these extremes of value can often be quite small areas but vital to the depth of the painting.
Using layers of paint in thin glazes, intensity of tone is gradually built up, often focusing on small areas, still using both colours of paint together and blending all the time. It’s only in the final few layers where the finer details, highlights and darkest areas are defined.
People often ask me how I manage to work on a black background…but as you now know, I don’t, its yellow ochre. The final black background is blocked in only when I’m absolutely certain I’m happy with the composition and depth of tone…usually after the first few layers of paint have been applied but often not until the end.
And now a few questions for natural science illustrator,
The demonstration files (PDF) you provide in the “Work in Progress” section on your website are very good. They are very informative and I appreciate being able to learn how you create your floral and landscape paintings. You teach many ways of “seeing” and provide many tips. Since readers are just now learning about the availability of your demos and have not had a chance to read them, I would like to ask a few questions about your techniques so they have a bit of background information when they do read your demonstrations.
Masking – Do you use white masking fluid or colored masking fluid?
I use Winsor and Newton Colourless Art Masking Fluid because of its consistently single cream runny texture, which for some thankful reason doesn’t thicken up into clots or need diluting once the bottle has been opened (which the coloured ones always seem to do). This means it is easy to apply with a ruling pen or a brush coated in soap, and is reliably removed without the paper surface being abraded and removing some of my carefully drawn structures with it. It works especially well on hot pressed papers. For these reasons I don’t mind that it happens to be a white or transparent tone on the paper. I would never use coloured masking fluid again.
Who’s on First? – When you paint traditional botanical paintings such as your Rhododendron ‘Percy Wiseman’, do you typically paint your leaves first?
Yes, generally I seem to paint them first, for two reasons I think.
Practically speaking, there seem to be so many technical approaches to painting leaves, governed by their venation, texture and the way they catch the light. Since I usually know exactly how I am going to paint the flowers, I like to decide on my approach to the leaves first and get them started. For me painting the leaves is the more systematic part of a botanical painting, the vital beginning of the journey.
Aesthetically speaking, it is pleasing to have the greens in place for when you paint the flowers. The established greens make the flowers come alive in front of you, where you reap the rewards and start to arrive at your destination. It’s a kind of delayed gratification, the icing on the cake.
Habitat Scenes – What should one consider when creating a habitat scene, be it 4″x4″square or a 3’x4′ square?
Well I use two kinds of habitat styles, realistic and atmospheric. I usually know which I am going to use before I start, however the main subject is always considered, drawn and painted in first as a priority.
For the realistic habitats, seasonal selections of complementary grasses, wildflowers and insects are what I would concentrate on, with a softer less intrusive tinted ground.
In the case of the atmospheric grounds, I like to create a kind of living environmental aura around the plant, where colours and wet into wet effects become vital to conveying something I feel about the plant, using a range of light and dark tones to convey depth. I usually try to incorporate some complementary colour to the main subject, to give the subject some contrasting visual enhancement here and there.
Readers, if you are visiting the UK or live there, why not go and see a selection of wonderful artwork from SFP members?
The Society of Floral Painters 2013 Exhibition takes place at the National Trust Property – The Vyne from June 1-23, 2013. Gallery hours are 12-5 PM Monday to Friday and 11 AM – 4 PM Saturday and Sunday.
The Vyne is located at Vyne Road, Sherbourne St. John, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG24 9HL.
The Society of Floral Painters also has a blog and Facebook page where you can keep up-to-date with the latest news and learn about events and workshops.
Readers, do you have questions for members of the Society of Floral Painters?
Post your questions in the comment box below.
An interview with Billy Showell