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.
This year I got permission from the RHS to video the RHS London Botanical Art Show 2017. This way those who aspire to enter in future - or have been thinking about visiting - can
my comments about the exhibition itself.....
RHS London Botanical Art Show 2017
This year's show was slightly smaller than the one in 2016. It was planned to have 29 artists (35 in 2016) from 10 different countries (10 in 2016). In reality due to two artists pulling out late on due to the serious ill-health of close family members, the exhibition was reduced to 26 artists from 8 different countries.
As both of the artists who didn't exhibit are also previous Gold Medal Winners, the number of Gold Medals awarded may also have been reduced. This year it was 9 compared to 13 in 2016.
Although the quality of work at the top end was good, initially I thought there was more variability in standards across the whole exhibition when compared to the last show in London. However when I did the medal count, this simply wasn't true in terms of medals the situation was as follows:
You can Download the list of 2017 awards (57kB pdf)
As always I was able to walk round the show and spot the Gold Medal exhibits before I saw the Medal Card attached to their stand. That's because there's something different about a Gold medal-winning exhibit. They stand out. They're unique. They're very high quality.
The RHS this year for the first time produced a board explaining how they assess the exhibits. While insiders and those with a copy of what used to be a hard to find document which listed the criteria knew what was important, this wasn't always immediately apparent to those visiting the show. Hence you'd get people liking exhibits because it was very pretty - and not realising that there were issues which meant that the exhibit got marked down.
So the key things which judges are looking for are:
I'm not sure everybody has quite got the message that it's not just about having a theme but rather it's about having a theme related to a specific plant family.
UPDATE: A very experienced exhibitor has written to me and suggested that the "of" (above) may have been a typo and SHOULD have been "or" as per the printed guidelines. In which case this is less of a change than it looked at first! I'm writing to the Picture Panel to check. However I'd observe that the higher medals do by and large go to exhibits with a strong botanical, horticultural or habitat theme.
For example, Kate Barling had a very pretty exhibit which was well presented and had great explanations of all her plants in labels underneath each one - and it won her a Silver Medal.
However, while "Climbers growing in my Devon Garden" might represent a coherent theme, it misses out on having an emphasis on
There was a clear lesson at the show for all those who find mixing and painting greens to be a bit of a challenge and that came in the form of all the green leaves in Bridget Gillespie's exhibit of Root Vegetables: Life Cycle where differences in green within and between plants were much more evident within this Gold Medal winning exhibit.
That for me is the value of visiting the show and why all those who can visit easily should make a point of doing so - and making the date of your visit non-negotiable!
I heard a new theme at this year's show. Judges telling exhibitors that they don't need to do so many paintings! Apparently, the Picture Panel judges are getting a bit anxious whether there is a new trend to submit more than six paintings.
I'm wondering if this is maybe a "new judge" thing because those of us who have been painting for the RHS for a long time AND those of us visiting RHS for some time well remember when the minimum requirement for an exhibit was EIGHT artworks (not six as it is now). Above is a photo I took at the 2011 show in the Lindley Hall - where each exhibit very clearly has 8 paintings.
Below are three of Kathy Pickles's Clematis paintings. While for most people this would be half her exhibit, for Kathy this is just a quarter of her exhibit. There are nine more! However Kathy goes way back in terms of painting for the RHS. This was her seventh Gold Medal and she got her first back in the early 90s.
I gather the point being made is that the Judges have to look at each and every painting in an exhibit really carefully - and on average look at them all four times (or is that four different judges looking at each painting?). This is because the grade of medal you get is based on the weakest painting. While this may be a complete joy if the exhibit wins a Gold Medal, it's less so if the exhibit isn't up to this standard. However even Mrs Ishi who won a Gold for her roses was advised to paint fewer paintings next time if she wants to exhibit her roses again.
I think the other thing that influences this injunction not to paint too many paintings is that as the show gets bigger it will become intolerable for the judges if all the exhibitors start painting more than six.
I predict if it becomes a major problem, then it will be addressed by telling exhibitors when they arrive that they can hang six and that's it. So if you do paint more than six, think on - there may come a time when extra paintings won't help in any way.
Video of the RHS Botanical Art Show 2017
Below is my video of the exhibition:
I hope you enjoy it. Do let me know what you think.
(Also can I apologise, it was supposed to be in HD but didn't turn out that way for some reason I have yet to identify!)
If you're interested in entering The RHS Botanical Art Show in 2018, you will need to first be approved to exhibit.
More about the RHS Botanical Art Show 2017
Past blog posts include:
This is the first of three posts with information from interviews with the nine RHS Gold Medallists at the London Botanical Art Show 2017.
I've been interviewing RHS Gold Medallists since 2011 and you'll find a list of previous interviews at the end of this post. This post covers five artists who won medals in 2017:
Upcoming posts will cover
Keiko Fujita GM (Japan - Tokyo)
Keiko Fujita GM lives in Tokyo, Japan. She's been a botanical artist for the last 19 years and prior to that was an interior designer. Her art career started by studying at art school and then her son started to study ecology at his junior high school. His homework involved botanical paintings and that's the point at which she became interested in botanical art. Subsequently she found an adult education night school which provided a class. She is a member of the American Society of Botanical Artists.
Her exhibit is about the Growth of Bamboo in Japan. She chose bamboo as it's a famous plant associated with Japan. Everybody knows about "Bamboo" (eg that it's very invasive) but nobody knows the different species!
She first had the idea for the exhibit seven years ago and started doing her research, finding plants and planning her exhibit. She finally started on the painting two years ago and each painting took about 3-4 months to do.
The paintings she produced:
Mariko Ikeda GM (Japan - Tochigi) - Winner of Best Exhibit 2017
Mariko Ikeda GM's Pandanus won Best Exhibit in Show and, unsurprisingly, it had lots of people looking at it and talking about for the duration of the show! (It's more commonly known as the screw pine).
Mariko took a botanical illustration class with Jenny Phillips in Sydney in 1999. Then studied Art and Design at University followed by a Ph.D in the Sciences of Art at the Graduate School of Comprehensive Human Sciences at the University of Tsukuba. Recently she took a botanical illustration class with Mikeo Ishikawa in 2015.
She lives in Tochigi and has been a Botanical Art Instructor at the Gakushuin University Lifelong Learning Centre in Tokyo since 2006. She's a member of the Japanese Association of Botanical Illustration and the American Society of Botanical Artists. However she has not exhibited widely.
This post is about who won which medal at the RHS London Botanical Art Show 2017. I've previously covered the Best Exhibit and Best Painting in RHS Botanical Art 2017 in my last post.
I'll also be writing posts in the coming days for:
How medals are assessed
The RHS included a useful exhibit of how the artwork for the exhibition is assessed. You can find a more detailed explanation in the Guidelines for the exhibition.
Candidates who have been approved to exhibit must submit at least six works - preferably on a theme. You get extra marks if you illustrate a plant family.
Key points are:
RHS Gold Medal
This is probably the biggest challenge and the most difficult award to win for any botanical painter.
There were nine Gold Medals in total. There may well have been more but unfortunately two previous Gold Medal winners had to pull out very late due to the serious ill-health of close family members. I'm sure that both Sansanee and Sue will be back next year and I send my very best wishes to both them and their families.
Below are the botanical artists who won Gold Medals for their botanical art exhibits. It's worth remembering that assessment is based on the weakest painting on show so the entire exhibit of a minimum of six drawings or paintings has to be top-notch to get a Gold Medal.
Some however have a talent for winning Gold Medals - and watch out for my comments below.
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RHS Silver Gilt Medal
These are people who have missed out on a Gold Medal for a particular reason.
This can be to do with presentation - including labelling (eg one year it was getting the latin name wrong), botany, accuracy, content of exhibit, colours and the general avoidance of any areas of confusion.
The artists - and exhibits - are:
RHS Silver Medal
RHS Bronze Medal
All exhibits were awarded a medal.
Posts about the RHS Botanical Art Show 2017 to date are as follows:
I went to the Preview of the RHS Botanical Art Show last night. Mostly to be able to have a chat with friends because they'll be very busy for the next two days. I also wanted to be able to have a quick look around the artwork before I get seriously stuck in to my review of the show and interviews with RHS Gold Medal-winning artists.
However I didn't get all the way round after I found the Best Exhibit and Best Painting - which happen to be opposite one another! (Expect big crowds in this area tomorrow and Saturday)
Best Exhibit in Show 2017
Some of you may recall that I said on Wednesday in Artists' Exhibits in the RHS Botanical Art Show 2017 that....
I'm always more interested in what's novel or unusual. The first one which jumped out at me was the Pandanus (Mariko Ikeda) - which I know can make for a very striking painting.
I also said I was looking forward to seeing this exhibit. Naturally I had a big smile on my face when I saw that Mariko Ikeda had not only won a Gold Medal for her exhibit of Pandanus - she had also won the Best Exhibit in Show.
Her display of Pandanus is quite simply stunning in design, technical quality - both botanical and artistic - impact and presentation. Everybody was talking about it!
More of this when I do my interview with Mariko.
However one thing I'd like to say now. I was very touched when talking with Mariko, when she explained how much she had found my previous reviews and posts about the RHS Botanical Show to be very helpful in her preparation for this show. This is why I do what I do......
Best Painting in Show
Right opposite Mariko is Bridget Gillespie with her exhibit of Root Vegetables: Lifecycle. It's another really splendid exhibit. I saw the first painting as I came round the corner and told myself I'd found one of the Gold Medal exhibits - and so I had. However in the middle of the exhibit is a really wonderful painting of beetroot - complete with seeds!
Bridget has won two previous Gold Medals for Plums and Pears - the last one being eight years ago. We discussed how much the show has changed in the last eight years!
Coming up in the next few days on this blog will be:
I now have the list of the exhibits for the RHS Botanical Art Show 2017 - to be held at the end of this week in the RHS Lindley Hall in Vincent Square London.
You can find the list below my commentary on the exhibits being displayed this year.
You can find our more information about the artists in RHS Botanical Art 2017 - Selected Artists.
The show is open to the public 24–25th February 10am–5pm. Free Entry - no ticket required
Casting my eye over the list of exhibits I see we will be viewing the usual orchids, roses and camellias as we do most years.
However I'm always more interested in what's novel or unusual. The first one which jumped out at me was the Pandanus (Mariko Ikeda) - which I know can make for a very striking painting. I've got a feeling either Kew or Shirley Sherwood have one in their collections. Here's an example of what I mean.
Another one which was going to be really interesting is Plants of the Holy Qur'an (Sue Wickison GM) - however Sue has had to pull out at the last minute
mainly because I haven't got a clue what these might be but am interested to find out. I couldn't wait so started looking this up on Google and it seems they're a popular topic for academic papers! However one source says there are 22 identifiable plants belonging to seventeen plant families while another says there there are 54 ! I shall wait for Sue to pronounce on the topic however I think I might arrive armed with a list of what I think she might have painted (e.g. Olive, Fig, Pomegranate, Date Palm, Zinger and Allium).
I note that we also have two lots of bamboo and I can't remember a single bamboo submission in the last 10 years!
I looked up Claudine Paquin's Plants of ‘Margredi’, dry grasslands of Friuli as it sounded like a bigger project - and I was right. There's a major restoration project going on so I'm assuming the two might be connected.
Shirley Slocock's Wayside Tracks and Verges appeals to me as it's not going to be cultivated flowers so much as "found" flowers. I assume these will be wild plants - but who knows?
Plus a further display which will not be judged
In terms of different ways of categorising exhibits I make that:
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First I have to apologise to five RHS Botanical Art Gold Medal Winners from last year:
Mea culpa. My only excuse is that I've never before had to do 13 interviews one after the other and then write them all up - besides extracting all their top tips! Then do the blog posts and the website updates.
I guess I'm not surprised I forgot something but I am very sorry it was this blog post.
The good news is that it is now published. My red exhibition/interview book gave up all that was required of it and my braincells remembered more bits as I finished it off! (If you see a woman clutching a red Moleskine at the RHS Botanical Art Show this week it's probably me!)
See Interviews with RHS Botanical Art Gold Medallists - from the UK and Europe
There is more good news (for me).
Yesterday this website exceeded 4,000 pageviews on one day for the first time. Google seems to a big fan of this website and traffic in 2016 has been very good (see chart). After nearly two years, Botanical Art and Artists is now approaching two-thirds of what Making A Mark gets after 11 years of blogging!
Given that this website is now well and truly established - and doing rather well in the comparative rankings of botanical art websites - in future I will be moving virtually all botanical art blog posts to the news blog on this site.
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Katherine Tyrrell writes about botanical art and artists and has followers all over the world.
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