Q. Why carry a magnifier when visiting botanical art exhibitions?
A. To see the botanical art better
I never used to until I visited the Rory McEwen exhibition in 2013 at Kew Gardens.
That was when I realised I was only really able to appreciate part of the quality of the painting. I just couldn't view the way he painted like a miniaturist on a larger scale unless I could look at the paintings in more detail. Once I used a magnifier I was able to see much more clearly how he had painted different paintings and how his technique started and developed over time.
Yesterday I went back to Kew for the last day of the Nature's Bounty exhibition - with my magnifier. My intention was to take a closer look at a number of paintings.
One of these was the Beetroot by Susannah Blaxill. This is a painting which was purchased by Shirley Sherwood from Spink in 1994. However it has been so popular and so frequently requested for exhibitions around the world that she'has never been able to hang it on her own walls. It's certainly a painting which is much admired and remembered after it has been seen in person by botanical art lovers all over the world.
I'm guessing very many watercolour painters and others would probably think that Susannah has wonderful control over her watercolour glazes. Maybe that she applies a stipple in places using a brush designed for a miniaturist.
However yesterday I discovered that virtually all of this painting was painted using dry brush HATCHING techniques and optical colour mixes. Virtually anywhere I looked at the painting using my magnifier - apart from the leaf storks - I could see lots and lots of tiny hatching marks in different colours. None of this was apparent when viewed normally.
The painting is in effect a huge optical illusion.
As somebody who adores colour, is an inveterate hatcher and applies coloured pencils in exactly the same way I was extremely pleased.
I eulogised about her charcoal work in my review of the exhibition. Now I'll be looking very closely at any and all her work when I see it in future.
There is no doubt that she is one of the great contemporary botanical artists.
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Katherine Tyrrell writes about botanical art and artists and has followers all over the world.
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