The School of Botanical Art and Illustration (SBAI) at Denver Botanic Garden won an RHS Gold Medal for their exhibit of Rocky Mountains: Plants and Fungi at Altitude at the 2017 RHS London Botanical Art Show at the end of February
It's really difficult to win an RHS Gold Medal.
It's even more difficult if you are trying to win as a group - where every single artist has to achieve the GM standard. That's because Gold Medals are awarded on the basis of the weakest image in the portfolio and you can't afford to have any one artist not meet the mark.
That's by way of a preamble to explain why what the School of Botanical Illustration achieved was very significant.
Each of the images had a very detailed label and explanation about the plant including:
The images were then ordered (left to right) by elevation.
You can find/see:
The exhibit was made up of nine drawings and paintings by the core of teachers who regularly provide botanical art and illustration instruction at the Denver Botanic Gardens School of Botanical Art and Illustration and two alumni They are:
Mervi Hjelmroos-Koski, the Manager of SBAI brought the exhibition to London and talked to me about what's involved in creating a group exhibit.
The aim of the exhibition was to show the quality of the School and the calibre of its instructors. The best way to do that was to go to somewhere completely neutral and see what they thought - and where better than the RHS Botanical Art Show!
The feedback she got about the exhibit was firstly that it was very rare to have a Gold Medal winning exhibit by a group. (I know I've seen a number which have done well - but fallen short of a Gold Medal).
In terms of queries from the public, everybody was very interested in the variety of media used eg the frosted mylar used for coloured pencil which gives the impression of vellum.
What it takes to produce a good group exhibit
We talked about what Mervi found essential to getting the exhibit together at a standard which made it possible for them to win Gold.
Botanical Beauty opened last Saturday at the Riverside Gallery in Richmond and runs until April 1.
An Invitation to submit work was sent to various organisations and artists so not exactly an open exhibition but not one associated with any specific organisation either - although the Orlean House Gallery in Richmond helped organise it.
Various artists sent me an invitation to the Private View! (For which many thanks!) However the PV was on Monday evening. This was while I was still recuperating from two and half days on my feet at the RHS last week. Plus I did a lengthy interview and a video that I did with Jess Shepherd on Monday - so a long trip over to Richmond in the evening and standing on feet which were about to give up the ghost held little appeal!
However I do fully intend to visit the exhibition while it's on as it has some top class artists exhibiting. Especially as my very nice Consultant Rheumatologist gave me an injection on Wednesday which has made me feel positively sprightly and almost pain-free!
There are 34 exhibitors in total. They're drawn from all over the country and also include local artists living in the south east and Richmond area. Some, such as Billy Showell, Ann Swan and Susan Christopher Coulson, are well known nationally. Other botanical artists include: Vivienne Cawson, Amber Halsall, Margaret Fitzpatrick, Fiona Kane, Nikki Simpson, Pamela Taylor, Josie White and Sue J Williams.
They're exhibiting alongside photographers, textile and mixed media artists who do not normally specialise in this genre.
Media used for artwork is diverse and includes watercolour, graphite, coloured pencil, pen and ink, acrylics, Digital botanical illustration, photography and some giclee prints as well as one embroidery and a 3D piece.
Gallery: Old Town Hall, Whittaker Avenue, Richmond, TW9 1TP
Opening Hours are as follows:
Telephone: 020 8831 6000
Note: The illustration for the flyer about the show - at the top - is by Susan Christopher Coulson
Think of Botanic Gardens in London - and you think of Kew. However there have also been a number of important botanic and physic gardens in London associated with gardeners, herbalists and horticulturalists, such as John Gerard, Phillip Miller and William Curtis, that have played an important role in relation to the development of botanical art and associated botanical books.
I've been spending the last month or so researching these gardens - and their locations - and references to them on historical maps - and today I'm announcing a new page for my website - Botanic and Physic Gardens of the past in London
Botanic and Physic Gardens of the past in London excludes Kew but does include:
The Gardens of John Gerard
Each section includes a brief history of the garden, a plan of its location where possible, a plan of its layout if available and what's happening at that location today. Plus references to the Botanical Publications and significant related botanical art associated with its originator or that particular garden.
If you're visiting London in the near future you might like to take a look at some of the locations where important gardens related to botanic art were developed in the past.
Fiona Strickland's first solo show The Vital Moment at Jonathan Cooper's Park Walk Gallery in Chelsea opens to the public today (20th October) and continues until 12 November 2016.
I visited yesterday afternoon and had a close look at the paintings on display. You can see images and details of the paintings by clicking The Vital Moment link above.
Fiona's very fine botanical paintings in watercolour are painted on either Fabriano Artistico or Kelmscott Vellum. I've only seen her large works before and it was interesting to see her new range of smaller works done on vellum - two of which I particularly liked. So much so I kept going back for another look at Almost Over and Open Absalom.
The majority of paintings feature tulips at different stages. However the exhibition also includes an Iris, a Hippeastrum, autumn leaves and notably the amazing painting of a Rhododendron which won the top prize at last year's 18th International Exhibition by the American Society of Botanical Artists in New York. (see Fiona Strickland wins The Hort's "Best in Show" Award at 18th Annual International)
Below is a slideshow of images in the exhibition which give you a sense of the relative size of some of the paintings. (Click the 'play' button).
I was very impressed by the presentation of the paintings and their walnut frames.
The vellum has been gallery wrapped which gives it the appearance of a an oil painting. The watercolour paper is not matted and rather than being float mounted it is very flat and I suspect is dry mounted. It certainly looks very contemporary and unlike the traditional presentation of watercolours.
Both paintings and their presentation are obviously appealing to the collectors as five have sold before the exhibition had formally opened!
About Fiona Strickland
I've been following Fiona Strickland's amazing artwork since I saw her very first exhibition at the Society of Botanical Artists. You can read my interview with back in 2012 - see A 'Making A Mark' Profile of Fiona Strickland. This includes an explanation of her working practices.
Below you can read what the Gallery has as her bio and the background to this exhibition.
Strickland trained at the Edinburgh College of Art under Dame Elizabeth Blackadder, who instilled in her a dedication to composition and mastery of negative space that continues to inform her practise. Of equal influence in Strickland’s work is her passion for and fascination with the Golden Age of Dutch art, and a major inspiration for this exhibition is the seventeenth-century Tulip Book of Jacob Marrel, which she recently studied at the Rijksmuseum. Indeed, the tulip in its myriad of forms will be a key focus of the show, which will include many varieties grown by Strickland in her garden in Scotland, such as the English Florists’ Tulips beloved of fellow artist Rory McEwen, whose paintings Strickland first encountered while a student in Edinburgh.
About Jonathan Cooper's Park Walk Gallery
The Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists had its Private View on Thursday. I managed to get Billy Showell in front of her HUGE painting of peonies which were used as the feature image for the exhibition - on the flyers, catalogue and this year a bag too! If you get the opportunity do look at the 5 minute video below where she explains how she created this composition and extremely impressive painting.
The exhibition is at the Central Hall Westminster until Friday 23rd April (11am - 5pm each day). Entry is free and there are daily demonstrations and tours of the exhibition. Plus a great exhibition shop! I think the signed copies of Billy's new book might have sold out!
I was supposed to be writing up the exhibition and who won the prizes and Certificates of Botanical Merit yesterday and today. However I've been greatly preoccupied since Thursday evening by my left knee which is slipping sideways repeatedly and threatening to dislocate. Consequently I've been trying to find and buy a suitable knee braces for the last 24 hours!
Anyway this is to say that you'll find my review and the prizewinners and CBM people over on my Making A Mark blog starting tomorrow!
Changes to the submission process
The Society of Botanical Artists (SBA) last week published its call for entries for its 2016 Annual Exhibition which takes place, as usual, at Central Hall Westminster in London in April 2016. The theme this year is "Shape, Pattern, Structure" which I personally think is very likely to produce some fascinating entries with a more contemporary feel.
While the exhibition venue and dates remain the same as usual, the submission process has changed.
I've written an overview of the whole process on my main blog ( see Making A Mark: Call for Entries: Society of Botanical Artists' Annual Exhibition 2016 ) and below I highlight and comment on the main changes - relating to:
Fees have changed
Instead of having a very complex range of fees covering (a) submission and (b) hanging - both of which varied by size - there is now just one fee which covers everything irrespective of size.
I have to say I think this is a major improvement. The "one-fee-for-everything" is
Digital entry has been introduced
I guess the fee change was inevitable given that the Society is also following the trend of switching to digital entry already adopted by many other national art societies and major art competitions in both the UK and across the world.
A number of art societies have now introduced digital entry for their open exhibitions. This is a process which has been happening over the last five years or so and is now becoming the accepted way of entering work in many prestigious exhibitions from the RA's Summer Exhibition to the open exhibitions of many of the other national art societies.
In this instance the SBA is using 2016 to pilot the process with non-members. From 2017 I understand that digital entry will be mandatory for both SBA members and non-members - which gives members a long time to get their skills up to speed or to identify people who can help them with submission.
There is no absolute requirement to use digital entry if the timescale and implications of the change make it difficult for anybody. However there are significant advantages to using this method of entry
Advantages for artists
The major advantage for artists is that digital entry cuts down on their expenses.
The one requirement that it's essential for artists to get to to grips with is how to photograph and manipulate artwork so that it is suitable for submission - and I'll be writing more about this.
Obviously digital entry will not suit everybody right away. However older artists who are not computer savvy will usually have somebody amongst their family, friends of local art group who can help them out.
Advantages for art societies
I don't know the exact reasons why the SBA are bringing in digital entry
The major advantage of this method of entry - for an art society - that I know about are as follows:
The timeline for submission has changed
This is one aspect of the Call for Entries which I think needs to be reviewed in the light of the experiences this year and may well need fine tuning next year.
While the process for entering work via the Receiving Day remains the same as last year, the timeline for submission via the digital entry process is tight between the call for entries and the deadline for submission. The caveat of allowing non-members to continue to use the normal Receiving Day process is very helpful in avoiding any problems this year for those who find the new process 'strange'. (On a personal basis, I'm expecting to enter works using both methods!)
I know the timescales have been partly influenced by the introduction of a very nice new website in order to facilitate the digital entry.
For the next exhibition in 2017, I'd like to suggest that the SBA should aim to emulate the sort of timescale and notification provided by the FBA Societies where:
The Annual Exhibition will be on display - as normal - in the Aldersgate Room of Central Hall Westminster, Storey’s Gate, London SW1H 9NH between 15th and 23rd April 2016.
I look forward to seeing many of my readers there - and all the work of course!
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Katherine Tyrrell writes about botanical art and artists and has followers all over the world.
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