My daughter, husband and I ready to battle the elements on our first hike together this working holiday. We managed 3 km in 4 hours!
It was bitter cold and hailing when we started out, with a temperature of only 2º, and the wind coming from the north! It felt quite a tough climb particularly as I wasn’t in as good shape as I used to be. But the views were worth it, as were seeing the variety of plants.
On the way up we saw quite a lot of wild flowers from Wood Cranesbill, Bilberry, Bog Bilbury or Blueberry, Cowberry (or for Ikea addicts – Lignon berry), Bog Rosemary, and loads of Chickweed Wintergreen everywhere we looked.
Its funny, but this last plant really livened up the steep slopes and the Norwegian translation of its name felt more like the experience we had of it – Star of the Woods!
We rapidly got above the tree line with lots of heathers (most of the plants I have mentioned come from that family) and low lying Mountain Birch.
The small plateau on which we arrived had a lake and a further track leading over the mountain top. Patches of winter snow still lay there.
On a patch of rock clung another plant carrying its immature fruit – The Artic Bearberry. I have heard of it, but hadn’t really made particular note of it before. Perhaps the redness of its autumn colour confused me with the red of the prostrate Mountain Birch.
This is the other plant I managed to colour match on vellum whilst up in the mountains. But I will update about that one in a later blog.
Whilst everyone else is suffering extremely high temperatures in Europe, we are experiencing +4 high in the mountains of southern Norway! I believe it is warmer at the North Cape.
However, as there is now no longer a direct ferry from the UK to Norway, we drive here over several days, with our cargo of painting equipment. A necessity for the job I am going to do whilst here.
On the way we stopped off in Amsterdam to visit my son and partner and had a cycle ride to the coast in 37 degrees. It was almost a relief to eventually get to a cooler climate, although the day we arrived it was in the high twenties lower down in the valley.
Since then, the temperature has gradually sunk even lower. Today we are awaiting my daughter who lives on the Norwegian coast, advising her to bring winter woollies. I didn’t dare tell her that it has been snowing today – although it hasn’t settled.
So why am I subjecting my sun loving and warmth seeking husband to todays chill in the Norwegian mountains? It’s the plants of course. I am now back to getting all the plant information to paint my pictures for my next RHS exhibit. I know I have spoken about this for a couple of years or so, but my involvement in the Worldwide Botanical art exhibition last year and continuance with setting up the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA), rather delayed things.
Because of the delay, I also lost my right to exhibit at the RHS – this year being five years since I last exhibited. I therefore had to apply again. Luckily, my work in general was again accepted as potentially worthy of a medal place, so now I am going to work through my subjects properly and, rather than rushing it, plan to exhibit in 2021.
This year I am focusing on three of the plants I have chosen and plan to get information I feel is lacking to complete a picture. My first is Vaccinium microcarpum – or Small cranberry. Last year I was able to find ripe fruit and was able to get all the information from that. Previously I had only drawn one flower, so I am concentrating on these now.
I thought you might be interested in my already messy workplace setup at 910 metres over sea level!
If Denise Walser-Kolar sees this blog, I hope she will notice I have taken on board her teaching. As long as I practice what she taught in Vienna, painting on vellum is going much better – even with the tiny leaves! Thank you Denise.
The other two plants I hope to get some more information on is the Vaccinium uliginosum (Bog Blueberry) and a little from the Rubus chamaemorus (Cloudberry). In both instances, it is only small details I need. I have already noticed that the leaf colour of the Bog blueberry seems to change in the sun. New leaves have a red tinge to the edge of the leaves, older leaves don’t, but in the sun they become red to almost a Perylene Violet (for watercolour artists) colour. I didn’t realise that before.
The Cloudberry fruit is only to be found on female plants. Each plant can be quite huge and spread many metres. Around the cottage I have only seen the male flowers of the Cloudberry – no female ones at all. it might be because it hasn’t warmed up very much yet where we are. The temperatures are set to improve, but I doubt we will be here long enough to benefit from it.
Please don’t get the wrong impression of Norway. The summers can be hot and the winters cold. It is a fantastically beautiful country and every area has its own attraction. I like it in the area we are staying as I lived in the valley for several years. Lastly, a picture of the sun rise a couple of days ago. It doesn’t get totally black at night at this time of year, but this was taken at 03:30.
Today is exactly a year since we had the Worldwide Botanical Art exhibition where twenty five countries participated on the same day. The UK exhibition ‘In Ruskin’s Footsteps was held in Lancaster.
On the 19th May several artists demonstrated their skills in botanical art. They were the late Mally Francis painting Gorse, Jackie Copeman on vellum and Sandra Doyle painting Spindle Tree Moth caterpillars.
Sandra’s painting of the Euonymus (Spindle tree) was in the exhibition and for her demonstration she painted the caterpillars showing their strange behaviour on their host plant.
Today I am lucky enough to be in Vienna, participating in the first ‘Get Together’ conference, where botanical artists from around the world are congregating to learn from and teach each other. This is being held at the Vienna School of botanical Illustration. Unfortunately I was not able to be here the whole week, but today we have been on a Field trip to the Donau-Auen National Park.
Apart from seeing at least ten different orchids including my first live Bee orchid.
I also saw the effects of the Spindle tree moth. It was hanging right over the path we were walking and I think if I had reached it first all the wild animals in the forest would have deserted. I do have an almighty scream when I get going!
As it happens I was completely amazed by what I saw. It also helped to remind me about the first ABBA event exactly one year ago.
Tomorrow I am going to a workshop by Denise Walser Kolar. She is teaching painting on vellum. A workshop I have always wanted to do with her as she has encouraged me to paint on vellum for many years. I am so looking forward to being a student and getting to paint all day,
It is an awfully long time since I last wrote a blog! It isn’t because I didn’t want to – it was just the usual problem – Time!
The Worldwide Botanical Art Exhibition held in May 2018 took over my life virtually from the latter part of 2016. Initially it was to put on the UK arm of the exhibition, but this evolved with the development of ABBA.
My last blog post was following the London RHS exhibition in July 2018 when I, as part of ABBA (Association of British Botanical Artists), helped man its stand. We had a great response to the formation of the organisation and found that there was a huge expectation and need for us to continue. That is where all my time has gone!
With a fantastic new team and a lot of hard work, especially from the other members, we have come a long way since then. A new ABBA website, which also opens up to membership, is planned for 21 March. As I write this it is only 18 days away. Read about what ABBA is all about and watch for when the new website is launched by following this link: ABBA
After the RHS exhibition I realised that I had to get my own botanical art life back on track. I knew this would take time as work would continue with the development of ABBA.
I have previously mentioned the preparation I was doing for my own next RHS exhibit. It is a series of plants from the Norwegian mountains. Robin and I travelled to the beautiful Norwegian mountains in early August, where I continued to sketch my chosen subjects. In 2017 I had sketched my subjects in flowers this time I hoped to catch all of them with fruit. As we all know, the climate changes from year to year, so it is difficult to judge when is the absolute best time foreach of the plants. Heat and drought had also struck Norway, but luckily enough after much hunting we managed to find examples of everything. Whew!
Initially I had planned to get the series of paintings ready to exhibit this year, five years since my last exhibit and the last year I am allowed to do so without being re-assessed by the RHS. One has to be able to produce botanical art at a consistent set standard before being allowed to exhibit. The standard is rising year on year! But because of all the commitments already mentioned, I was unable to start on my final paintings and they will not be ready in time. I will not rush them. This means I have to go through the RHS application process again.
Here’s hoping they don’t refuse me! The sketches below were done in 2018 and are fruit, leaves and roots from three of the plants. In actual fact, I could write about my time sketching in the mountains and about each of the plants in detail. Perhaps one day I will. The more I learn about them the more fascinating they become.
There was a heatwave in the UK whilst we enjoyed cooler conditions at 900 metres in Norway. When we returned home for a short period the weather cooled down. In October we travelled to experience Spring in Western Australia with my sister. Again there was a heatwave in the UK whilst initially in WA we were dressing warmly with anoraks, jumpers and boots. My husband loves the warmth, I like it in between!
It was cooler in the southern part of the state, but quite warm by the time we went north. Whilst in WA we saw the most amazing varieties of spring flowers and took nearly 3000 pictures. Imagine if we had done this on the old 35mm cameras! I perspire (as I am a woman) at the thought of getting them all processed.
These pictures are from the northern part of the state near the Pinnacles in WA. It was apparently the worst period for flies. Although we laughed at the idea of wearing fly nets over our hats, it didn’t take many minutes to change our minds. But the flies still managed to get in many nooks and crannies you didn’t know existed.
Since we got back at the beginning of November I have been trying to catch up. Nothing has been straight forward, but I now see this blog as the beginning of getting back to some state of normality – even if the ABBA website launch and membership is only a few days away.
I have decided that my next blog will show you how I have changed the ergonomics of my workplace in the shed. Hopefully it will be of interest as a well adjusted workplace is the best way to keep one healthy enough to keep on painting for many years.
In May this year ABBA organised the British contribution to the first ever Worldwide Day of Botanical Art, joining 25 other countries in this amazing event. ABBA’s main exhibition in Lancaster, ’In Ruskins Footsteps’ was a great success as were our partner events in London, at the Shirley Sherwood gallery, Royal Botanic gardens Kew, Chelsea Physic garden and the RHS Lindley Library.
The Association of British Botanical Artists is now entering it’s next exciting phase. At the RHS Botanical art exhibition 10-12 July we announced the start of the formal establishment of the association.
There was a great deal of interest shown by people visiting the show including established artists, people new to botanical art and people passionate about our native flora. Their enthusiasm, combined with our successful online application process highlights the great interest in our native flora.
I have been really bad at keeping on top of my own website because of all the work in relation to ABBA (Association of British Botanical Artists). Therefore this information about my participation in the RHS exhibition next week is not on the right page! Sorry about that, but I am telling you a little more about it now and hope that you will be able to make it.
Following on from the exhibition ‘In Ruskin’s Footsteps’ at Lancaster University, we (ABBA) have a stand this coming week at the RHS Plant and Art Fair, which for Botanical artists is a very important event. It is on 11th & 12th July at the RHS Halls in London. ABBA have a stand with the majority of Botanical artists, in the Lindley Hall. As I said in my last blog, Follow the Banner!
We are exhibiting five of the original pictures from the juried exhibition in Lancaster, giving everyone a further opportunity to study them. One of them is mine – Sea Thrift, painted on vellum. I mentioned that I would be demonstrating at the exhibition and now it is clear which medium I will be using, also which plant I will be painting.
I had intended getting my own exhibit finished for the RHS exhibition next year, but because of the amount of work that has gone into ABBA, I have decided to put this off until 2020. My topic is ‘Foraging plants of the Norwegian Mountains’.
It became very clear whilst going through the various phases of the Worldwide exhibition preparation, that although the UK is a distinct island it is still part of the European Continent. At one point in our history we were connected without needing to use a tunnel, boat or plane. Our plants bear witness to this in that many of the plants that are native in Northern Europe, are also native in the UK. However, some may not be so common these days.
One of my series of plants is the Arctostaphylosuva—ursi, Common bearberry in English and Melbær in Norwegian. It looks similar to a Crowberry, but is white inside (floury), giving its Norwegian name. When picking Crowberries it is not popular to mix Bearberries in by mistake as they don’t taste quite as nice, although edible. Also it is a stone-fruit and not a berry!
ABBA wants to encourage botanical art in relation to our native flora. As I intend to paint the series on vellum, I will be using this medium on the ABBA stand at the RHS. I have a nice little plant of the Bearberry with the beginnings of small flowers. The image is already transferred to a small piece of vellum which will be ideal to practice on and make decisions about which colours to use.
You might be just able to see that in my sketchbook I have quickly done a rough tonal drawing, indicating where the light is coming from. I have also put in a little blue to indicate where the light of the sky has reflected on the leaves and started indicating the difference between the colour on the front and back of the leaves: but that is in my sketchbook. Which colours I will actually choose to use on the vellum, remembering that colours appear far more intense on vellum as it reflects the colour of the pigment better than on paper, will be the result of this trial piece.
In addition to my demonstrations we will be talking with people to find out what they want from ABBA in the future and whether they – you, want to be part of it. Our focus will be to help anyone, anywhere, interested in botanical art to learn more.
But there is a little icing on the cake: The RHS have agreed to show the Botanical Art Worldwide exhibition slideshow from 25 countries. This will happen in the talks area of the Lindley Hall, between and after the talks. But just in case you want to see it otherwise, we will be showing it on the ABBA stand.
This is the last opportunity to see the Worldwide Slideshow!
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You might very well wonder what the connection is particularly if you didn’t read my last blog a month ago! ABBA stands for Association of British Botanical Artists. For some of us working with ABBA during the last year, at times we have been so busy that we felt as though we could buzzzzzzzzz away to something more relaxing. But we stuck with it and had a lovely exhibition at the Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster University.
That was the start of ABBA, formed to take part in the Botanical Art Worldwide Exhibition where we were one of 25 countries taking part. For my part, I co-ordinated the UK offering.
But, whilst doing this it became very clear that there was a wish for ABBA to develop into an organisation that catered for everyone interested in botanical art. We are now putting things together to develop ABBA. Do come to the RHS Art & Plant Fair at the RHS Lindley & Lawrence Halls in London 11-12th July where we have a stand. You will be able to talk with me and my colleagues about our plans for ABBA’s future. Hopefully we can encourage you to join.
If I get time, I will be having some work there to demonstrate on, but I haven’t decided in which medium. That can be a surprise!
So what has been going on with me since my last blog?
I had a very interesting workshop at the end of May, where we concentrated on colour mixing. This is the sort of workshop that everyone says they want to do, but when it actually happens, life has taken over. But some people did sign up with an attendee from a loooooooong way away.
Although there was the opportunity to work in watercolour, people chose colour pencil. The results were amazing and there were pencils everywhere! In fact, it became so thoroughly interesting that I continued with my weekly class on one colour found to be a real challenge.
See if you can find a solution. I have to say it was slightly easier in watercolour than colour pencil. But a lot of layers are necessary no matter what medium you choose.
Following on from that was the event at the Stansted Park Garden show. We again had a really super show and met a lot of lovely people and the weather was perfect.
I notice that I am listing up events, which is not what my blog has normally been about. I want to show you work that I have been doing, but everything has been done in small bites as we race around the country setting up, taking down and planning.
But I did work some more on my Indian Corn in colour pencil. Luckily the fruit part of the corn doesn’t change too much over time as long as you look after it and keep it away from the light and gnawing bugs. But it is different with the leaves. I do need fresh supplies of those if the colour is to remain vibrant.
I hope to see you at the RHS in a couple of weeks time. Do let me know if you have read my blog!
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The last time I wrote a blog was at the beginning of April. That is a long time ago for a blog, but the time has been filled to the limit.
I won’t go into the intricate details, just enough to let you know what I have been doing.
I don’t think I have mentioned in any great detail the formation of the Association of British Botanical Artists (ABBA), initially just to allow the UK (England and Wales) to participate in the Botanical Art Worldwide Exhibition. At the American SBA conference in Pittsburgh in 2016 we were faced with the possibility that the UK would not participate because we were all too busy! I couldn’t let that happen. In the end 25 countries took part.
At a meeting back home in November, three of us met and agreed to form a steering group with me as main co-ordinator; we launched ABBA at the Royal Horticultural Society’s (RHS) Botanical art show in February 2017 and the process for participating in the Worldwide Botanical Art Exhibition began to take shape. A few more botanical artists joined the steering group and we were away.
We decided we wanted to hold the exhibition ‘up north’ as everything happens ‘down south’, doesn’t it? We found an exhibition space in Lancaster and ‘In Ruskin’s Footsteps’ (the name of the UK exhibition) started to develop. An RHS Dawn Jolliffe bursary was applied for and granted, so now we had something with which to pay for some of the things we had to pay for!
In November submissions of botanical art pictures arrived from all over the country and our amazing judges took care of that- initially digitally (with signatures removed) and the last phase ready framed at Kew in January. 40 beautiful pictures were chosen for the exhibition to be held 18th May to 9th June.
Several other institutions in London decided they wanted to work with us for the Worldwide Day of Botanical Art 2018, which was on 18 May. Therefore, together there was a lot going on behind the scenes on these events too.
After some wobbles and lots of hard work, the time to set up the exhibition arrived, now to be held at the Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster University. It is a fantastic exhibition space and people working there plus the previous curator at the Ruskin Library, were very helpful and supportive.
We had the pre-view on the evening of the 17th May, with speeches by the curator Richard Smith, myself and the opening of the exhibition by Professor Stephen Wildman. That in itself was a lovely event (I think!) and many of the exhibiting artists came along.
For more information about the Botanical Art Worldwide Exhibition; In Ruskin’s Footsteps, go to
www.britishbotanicalartists.com.The exhibition is on until 9th June 2018. Generally botanical artists are there demonstrating and on the last day there will be a tour of the pictures and a talk.
In between all of this I have managed to squeeze in the Chichester Open Studios weekends and I had quite a few interested visitors. Each evening though it was back to working until the early hours of the morning, on ‘In Ruskin’s Footsteps’.
To show you a little of my own demos whilst in Lancaster I am including the unfinished picture I worked on in coloured pencil. I chose a Lily of Valley as so many people worry about white flowers. I wanted to show how best to do it. I used a lamp to highlight from the left and some of the leaves became backlit creating a beautiful architectural plant. The picture will remain unfinished as the flowers are now long gone, but it will be useful to demo on.
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The Easter break has been and gone, visiting family who enlivened the recent days have gone back to their own homes and it is back to botanical art.
I will say farewell to “Farewell” (the Benton Iris) at the end of this blog, but invite you to see a couple of developments.
My project for the Chelsea Florilegium this year is the Rhododendron impeditum. It is an exquisite dwarf Rhododendron. Why I do such tiny plants, I have no idea. I spend a lot of time trying to think out how I am going to portray it even before I start. I know that it won’t be easy but at the moment I am doing as many sketches of it as possible before the buds open. Initially the buds looked fairly dead and in fact the winter did kill off my first plant and killed the buds of the 2nd plant. Luckily I managed to find a 3rd one, so my sketches so far have been from this one.
I think I will tickle your imagination as to how I might tackle this by just showing you a picture of my plant this time. With any luck, before too long I might have a better idea of what I am doing because soon the plant will flower and I will need to capture the detail on paper.
There is still a lot of work to do in preparing for the UK part of the Botanical Art Worldwide Exhibition – In Ruskin’s Footsteps. I hope as many people as possible will put the dates of the exhibition into their diaries. It will be held at the Peter Scott Gallery, Lancaster University between 18th May – Worldwide Day of Botanical Art – and 9th June. It will be open on weekdays between 12:00 – 17:00, and there are two special event days on Saturday 19th May and 9th June. These Saturdays will be open from 10:00 – 16:00.
Apart from the 40 juried pictures of native flora on view, we will also be having some demonstrations in botanical art and in depth tours of the artworks on the special event days. All this in addition to showing a continuous slideshow of roughly 40 pictures from each of the 25 participating countries throughout the whole exhibition.
I think this exhibition will be very different to any one you will have seen before because of the involvement of so many countries from around the globe – all at the same time.
I also want to share with you the excitement I have felt recently because of one of my plants from Norway. It is called Empetrum nigrum; hermaphroditum (Krekling in Norwegian or Crowberry in English). Normally this plant is either male or female, but at high altitudes it has both sexes in the same plant. During the autumn my plant developed some flower buds. But nothing else happened until this last week when a couple of them started opening and showing petals.
I took this picture with a macro lens on my iPhone. The actual size of each flower at this stage is about 2mm. I am keeping my fingers crossed that they will be fertilised so that I get fruit in the autumn.
By the way, this is one of the plants that I will be painting for my series of Norwegian mountain plants.
Before I finish, my next botanical art workshop is 27-28 April and we will be concentrating on different pen and ink techniques. Have you ever thought how many techniques there are? I think you will get a surprise. Knowing a little more about them can really enhance your botanical art practice. Get in touch via the contact form on my Workshop web page: gaynorsflora.com/tuition-2/workshops/
So finally, the Benton Iris ‘Farewell’. I am pleased that I own the copyright for this picture.