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:
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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
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.
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