Today I have some of the Tips I received from my interviews with the RHS Gold Medal Winners at last month's RHS Botanical Art Show.
Later this week you will also have tips from the RHS Gold Medal Winners in 2017 too! This is because although I drafted most of it last year for some reason I didn't finish the post and publish it!
This is a LONG POST with lots of content - so you might want to get a hot drink and a notebook before you start to read!
It's been my habit, for some years, to ask each of the Gold Medal Winners who speaks reasonable English to tell me what would be the three tips they'd like to pass on to people aspiring to exhibit at the RHS Botanical Art Show. Some include ones I've heard before - but good tips are always worth repeating.
I have however omitted
TIP: Focus on what you are passionate about
Recommended by Laura Silburn and various artists. More than one artist told me this - in various ways. Variations include:
It is so much easier to complete a major project - such as a portfolio for an RHS Botanical Art Show if you are in love with your subject matter.
TIP: Being a grower helps a lot!
Recommended by Simon Williams Nepenthes
Simon Williams told me he has been growing carniverous plants since he was 16 - and loves them. He's invested in heated greenhouses. The advantages of being a grower are that you get to see your plants through a complete life cycle and can watch them through every season.
TIP: Keep a sketchbook
Recommended by Lara Gastinger (GM 2007, 2018) Seeing Plants; a year in Virginia
Lara Gastinger told me that her amazing 12 paintings which made up her exhibit were created after keeping 17 years worth of sketchbooks. She had plenty of data on what to look for in each month in terms of the what she had sketched previously. All the plant material is drawn and painted to scale (ie as in life)
The format for her paintings was influenced by Ernst Haeckel, the German biologist and artist. However because she was used to filling pages of her sketchbook with sketches of different plant material she was able to build up the composition as each month progressed. She sometimes mapped out a rough sketch for the composition in terms of axes for arrangements but she sometimes allowed the plant material to dictate how it progressed
You can see her sketches on her instagram account.
Lara also recommends that you should never be scared to try new ways of working.
Her paintings could have easily been examples for the next tip too....
TIP: Make the ordinary and commonplace exceptional
Recommended by Bridget Gillespie (GM 2017, 2018) A year in the Yorkshire Hedgerow
Experience of understanding what makes a composition work - and reviewing different options for how you can present a plant on the page - helps a botanical artist to create something that makes people look at plants with new eyes.
Bridget recommends making the ordinary and commonplace exceptional - and she practices what she preaches! Last time Bridget did it with ordinary garden vegetables (and won Best Painting in Show) and this year she took on hedgerows - and all those plants, leaves, flowers and trees. On both occasions, she made me wonder how everything can look so natural and yet be carefully organised to show off the features of the plant and appeal to the eye. Lined up in an exhibit I certainly thought there was a very strong sense of a hedgerow!
The Judges apparently loved the complexity of each paintings and the feeling of it being a real scene and that they could almost walk into the painting.
Bridget also paints from life and each painting takes about a month - although the elapsed time might be longer.
(Note: I gather the Judges were not fans of the muted gold slip insert on her mount - but I liked it!)
Recommended by Angela Petrini (GM 2018) Rice of Italy - Cultivars Old and New
A variation on this theme is choose your composition very carefully.
Recommended by Hye Woo Shin Plants in Dokdo Island (Special Judges Award)
Hye Woo Shin has won a Gold Medal and Best Exhibit on the two previous occasions she has exhibited at the RHS Show. Exhibiting a third time this year meant she experienced the additional pressure of trying to find a way of maintaining her standards and if possible doing even better - of making her work exceptional!
Her philosophy was to make the painting exact in every way to show the beauty of the plant. As a botanical illustrator, she's very influenced by the work of Franz Bauer and his careful and well thought out compositions which includes dissections.
Below you can see four of her six very carefully designed paintings from her exhibit of Plants in Dokdo Island which won a Special Judges Award. All were wholly unique in design and incorporated:
Recommended by Laura Silburn (2013, 2014, 2018) - AGM Dryopteris: species and cultivars of Dryopteris ferns with an Award of Garden Merit
Laura suggests that the emphasis of any exhibit should be on
In the photo below the top row is the actual exhibit. The bottom row is a print of the painting which has been transposed so that it is in reverse. When placed below the original painting it creates a complete picture of the actual size of the fern and the way it grows. It had been designed as a whole exhibit before the painting started.
Laura also reiterated advice given in previous years to never ever forget that the RHS is a HORTICULTURAL society and that plants which are the best they can be also matters to them. Which is why she always choose plants which have received an Award of Garden Merit - which is the medal system for individual plants.
TIP: Be careful.....
Recommended by Angela Petrini (GM 2018) Rice of Italy - Cultivars Old and New
One of the things which characterises Gold Medal work is the quality of the finish within the artwork. Be careful is something that might be said about various aspects of the process use by Gold Medal winning artists
Angela wanted to emphasise the importance of getting both the colour and the tones right.
TIP: Preparation is critical for an excellent exhibit
Recommended by Angela Lober (GM 2018) - Native Food Plants of Australia
and Laura Silburn GM (2013, 2014, 2018) Dryopteris: species and cultivars of Dryopteris ferns with an Award of Garden Merit
It's particularly important to be well organised and prepared if you want your exhibit to be excellent.
TIP: Keep your exhibit safe and secure
Recommended by Angela Lober (GM 2018) Native Food Plants of Australia
Careful preparation is particularly important if you are travelling to London from the other side of the world and have a long journey to the exhibition. (see also my blog post How to get your art exhibit there and back - safe and secure)
Your priority is to make sure that your exhibit arrives in good condition and looks good throughout the show. Specific tips include:
People coming from other climates to London need to be aware that the differences in season, temperature and humidity can have a really adverse impact on paper. Typically this does not happen straight away (ie when the exhibits are being judged) but more than one exhibit this year had paper which cockled due to the weather.
Ways to tackle the awful cockling problem (which I see EVERY SINGLE YEAR) include:
Material for covering artwork: Laura Silburn told me she would NOT be using archival sleeves again next time she exhibits. She thought they gave a less than optimal result and dulled colours more than she would have liked. Somebody else told me they wouldn't be using acetate again. This echoes comments in previous years about regrets about the material used to protect artwork. It's VERY difficult to assess the impact of materials used cover your artwork until in good overhead light (as in the RHS Lindley Hall). You need to try and have a good look at it in natural light well before the show so you have time to look for an alternative if not happy.
I promise at some point to do a blog post about recommended materials for covering artwork at RHS Shows - and what to avoid!
TIP: Think business! Think Income! Think expenses!
Recommended by various artists
A number of those who have exhibited at previous RHS Botanical Art Show will smile at this one. Over the years, I've lost count of the number of artists who very quickly ran out of absolutely EVERYTHING they brought with them to hand out and/or to sell - and so lose out on quite a bit of income.
Income generated from sales helps offset the cost of exhibiting which is always going to be significant for the majority of exhibitors (in terms of travel and accommodation in London). That just doesn't make good business sense - or even common sense!
In short - don't be caught short! You need:
A couple of examples to give you an idea:
Finally, one tip to help reduce expenses that I got (from a trade exhibitor) was to remember that a summer exhibition in London means that university rooms are available for rent. These are generally very much cheaper than a hotel room or an AirBnB rental. This is one website which enables you to rent University Rooms in London.
TIP: It's never too late to start
Recommended by Hideo Horikoshi GM (2015 - Best Painting in Show 2015; 2018)
- The Classical Chrysanthemums in Japan (2018)
Hideo's wife got him to start painting after he retired. He's now been painting for 20 years and painting full time for the last 4 years. He's now 82 years old and has just won his second Gold Medal.
One of the things he liked best is that by winning the Best Painting in 2015 he found he has inspired other people from Japan to come to the RHS Botanical Art Show.
This year 5 of the 7 Japanese Exhibitors won a Gold Medal....and so it goes on....
My next blog post about this year's show will focus on
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