The other side of being an artist

This is the time of year for a botanical artist, in the UK,  when there are the most exhibitions and opportunities to promote ones work. You only need to see the list of dates and places on my ‘Exhibitions’ page to see all the occasions for which I need to prepare my work.

I love painting with watercolour and coloured pencil, or drawing with graphite or pen and ink. Many of my subjects are at their most beautiful at this time of year, but this doesn’t always mean that they are at their most interesting. People starting out in botanical art are often surprised to find that there is something of interest all year round.

I don’t love having to prepare my work for exhibitions! The reason for this is that it takes me away from doing what I do best and enjoy most – creating the actual artwork. But it has to be done.

For the last week I have not done any real painting as I have been preparing what I have done to exhibit. I try to keep on top of preparing each painting for printing as I finish that painting and rarely allow myself a backlog of more than two. This alone can take about two full days for each picture, where I use Photoshop to match the colours as closely as possible to the painting.

Luckily I haven’t had to do any colour matching on the pictures that I have been framing or mounting this week, as I had done it previously. But I do have some small pictures that will soon have to be done.

I got into the mounting and framing mode a week ago when my husband, Robin, needed to prepare some of his work for an exhibition. He did most of the work himself and I just helped him. After all, he does an awful lot in supporting me at my exhibitions and shows. So I just carried on from his framing to my framing.

The large table used for classes and workshops comes in very useful when mounting and framing artwork – but it’s never large enough!

The working table - at work
The working table – at work


You will hopefully recognise all but one of the pictures. The nightshade is one that I had intended to do as a series, but other subjects became very interesting!

'Young or old and still spiky'; Acanthus.
‘Young or old and still spiky’; Acanthus.
Daffodil; 51 shades of grey.
Daffodil; 51 shades of grey.
'Fatal attraction' ; Dipladenia and 'Solanum x dulcamara'; Bittersweet nightshade.
‘Fatal attraction’ ; Dipladenia and ‘Solanum x dulcamera’; Bittersweet nightshade.


Before I forget, the hanging of the pictures at the SBA exhibition at Westminster Central Hall in London, seems better this year. the exhibition continues until this coming Sunday, so I hope you get a chance to see it. Five of my six Crab apple paintings in coloured pencil from my exhibit at the RHS last year, are hanging there. Although not mentioned in the SBA catalogue, the series won a Silver Gilt medal.







The Dipladenia: Anything missing?

In between marking assignments and receiving pictures for the SBA exhibition at Palmengarten, the botanical gardens in Frankfurt, I have been painting.

Last time I suggested you find the part in the picture where I had made a mistake, but had rectified it.

Now I have three photos of the final work on the picture – I think!

Dipladenia picture: What is needed to balance the composition?
Dipladenia picture: What is needed to balance the composition?
Dipladenia picture: Notice the difference? Does it work?
Dipladenia picture: Notice the difference? Does it work?
Dipladenia picture: Is it finished?
Dipladenia picture: Is it finished?
Part of my shed. The table looks as though a bomb has hit it, therefore hidden!
Part of my shed. The table looks as though a bomb has hit it, therefore hidden!

What to do with the plants now as it is poisonous. It nearly took the life of one of our cats and is very much a temptation to play with – as well as being very beautiful and exotic looking for our colder climate.

Spotting the near miss with a Dipladenia leaf

The sun has just come round and is shining in the shed door. It is the only period during the day that I risk the sun coming directly into the shed and shining onto my work. I had just done loads of detail on a leaf and was doing a gentle wash on top. The sun suddenly appeared and I made a mistake. Hopefully it is recoverable.

I therefore took a couple of deep breaths, went out into the vegetable garden directly outside – picked a runner bean and chewed on it to gather my wits. Whilst the work is drying I have decided to do this blog.

Did you see the detail that I showed you yesterday, which was a near miss? In actual fact I did make the mistake and it wasn’t until I was checking over the days work that I saw it.

In the top left hand corner of the second picture I showed you yesterday, there is a leaf going off the page. To the right of it is a tendril of new growth. It was meant to appear from under the leaf. Guess what I did. Without thinking I had painted the petiole of the leaf (rather than curling it round behind and out of sight) and I connected the tendril and the leaf petiole!!!! How stupid can you get? My picture therefore had the a leaf with a petiole and the tendril as a continuation of the petiole! i.e a tendril with the tip completing one end and a leaf completing the other!

I don’t know how many times I say to students, paint what you see and not what you think you see. That also applies if composing a picture from various parts of a plant to make a cohesive whole. The details in the picture have to be completely botanically correct even though taking elements from different parts of the plant.

To correct the whole, I had to lift the edge of the leaf, petiole and end of the tendril – luckily it doesn’t show. I re-painted the tendril to disappear a little lower down the leaf, and then added a stem coming in from above the leaf. That meant I also had to slightly change the direction of the stem coming out from below the leaf. All very complicated and of course that mistake has knock-on effects with the composition in other areas. Hopefully I have managed it reasonably well.

I know that some people will find the above explanation and detail unnecessary in a blog such as this. But I am already being very honest about this picture, so why not go into the detail. It might even help someone else avoid similar stupid mistakes.

Anyway, the first of today’s pictures is the corrected view. The second picture is more leaves that I have done. These include views of the underside of Dipladenia leaves, foreshortened views and a full frontal view(!). The last is not finished yet.

By the way, I have found that for these leaves I have needed to use smaller brushes than I normally use and a dryer mixture.

Finished leaf and tendril.
Finished leaf and tendril.
More leaves
More leaves
Last adult Dipladenia leaf
Last adult Dipladenia leaf


The Dipladenia leaf start. Help!

Well, now the start of the leaves. I am on tender-hooks all the way. I am hoping that as I am extra careful at each stage, that I will overcome this fear – whatever the fear or blockage is.

The first whole leaf actually took a whole day and I will let you be the judge as to its success or not. The result is still not as I am wanting it and I can’t even define what it is I want. I am very much a detail person, and it may be that I am concentrating too much on this without thinking enough of the overall result.

This is a picture of the start of the leaf.

A leaf or two in progress.
A leaf or two in progress.

My fingers, toes and everything else are crossed.

The start of a leaf and part of a tendril
The start of a leaf and part of a tendril

Spot the mistake leading to a near miss!

Dipladenia progression

I have to be honest that the photos I am sending out in my blog are ones taken during work done over the last couple of weeks.  I suppose that rather than show you them as I am doing them, I am still hesitant as to where the painting will go and if I will get over my fear of doing it badly yet again!

I am still spending quite a bit of time on the Palmengarten exhibition organisation which means that some days I have virtually no time to paint.  Additionally I mark the assignments for the two botanical art courses at the London Art College. It all takes time off the actual painting. But, I am enjoying seeing the assignments that come in and the development of the students.

Do have a look at the London Art College website if you are interested in doing botanical painting either in watercolour or coloured pencil. Obviously getting hands-on tuition is the best, but sometimes distances preclude this and the distance learning is a good option.


Now a couple more photos from the Dipladenia picture.

Dipladenia flower pair with bud and a flower having lots its fused, tubular petals.
Dipladenia flower pair with bud and a flower having lost its fused, tubular petals.
Dipladenia flower shrivelling & two buds.
Dipladenia flower shrivelling & two buds.

Dipladenia – again

I am now on my 6th attempt – I think. I’m losing count.

It is a while since I last wrote a blog and since then I have been trying to get my head around my temporary(!) lack of skills. I had decided to paint a Dipladenia plant for the Botanical art exhibition at Palmengarten, Frankfurt in October. The title of the exhibition is Poisonous and Medicinal plants.

Prior to going to Norway I had sketched out and gently started the picture. For those who may not know, the Dipladenia is as poisonous as Poinsettia. But it grows long tendrils and these are a temptation to a playful cat. Unfortunately I didn’t know how poisonous the plant was and I now know that when the cat suddenly became seriously ill before we went away, that in fact he had been poisoned by the plant.The trouble is it also seems to have had a negative affect on my painting skills.

The plant is now in the shed – well away from playful cats, and will be given away once the picture is finished. I will not give up.

This time I have reduced the design and have painted most of the flowers first. I suppose that is asking for trouble as I seem to get a blockage when I get to the leaves. I know what I want to do, but somehow there is a disconnect between my head and the messages sent to my hand and skills with the brush, pigment and water!

I am taking some photos as I go along.

Dipladenia flower 1
Dipladenia flower 1

First layer of the dipladenia flower. Note what looks like a heavy dark tracing. It is in fact not heavy and is traced in the method I have demonstrated in an earlier blog. Because no sharp tool, even a pencil is used to do the tracing, the graphite is easily lifted off completely with a putty rubber, leaving NO indent.

Dipladenia flower 2
Dipladenia flower 2

The layers of watercolour are almost complete.

Summer botanical art show and open studio in Bosham

It’s raining,
It’s pouring,
The old man is snoring.
He went to bed,
And banged his head, and couldn’t get up in the morning!

Yesterday was beautiful and we had quite a few visitors. This exhibition and open studio is the one I normally have once a year for two weekends during Bosham’s Junior Week. Bosham is a sailing community and all events associated with sailing are very important.

For me, my open studio yesterday was successful in many ways as we had a lot of interested visitors. There is also evidence of a returning economy. But for the young sailors this week, the weather is awful. They want wind to sail – but not dangerous gusts as we are having now. Rain isn’t too off-putting as they get wet anyway. But sun is much better and the norm at this time of year.

How the remnants of Hurricane Bertha will affect the Open studio today I don’t know. It might mean that I paint undisturbed! But time will tell.

I will not show you pictures of my ongoing painting at the moment. I have shown you a little of it previously, but I think the photos were from my first attempt. I am now on my fifth and I have a severe blockage.

The picture is a Dipladenia. The flower is elegant and beautiful and the leaves soft and shiny. Think of Camellia leaves that for a change are very soft and shiny and with clear side veins. I know what I want to do and how I want to do it (watercolour), but the result is not how I feel it should be and I have now thrown aside four pictures. Had I put them all together the picture would have been finished.

People looking at the pictures cannot see what is wrong with them, but I can and that is what is important. But I’m now dreaming about it all. And I have a deadline. It is a picture that will go to Palmengarten this Autumn. I cannot be the one organising everything from the UK and unable to paint a picture!

Any suggestions?

Maybe I should stand outside in this very windy and very wet weather and have everything washed and blown away. I hope you can see what I mean from these photos outside the conservatory.




Demonstration at Society of Floral Painters in Chichester

Following a lot of preparation on composing and drawing a new botanical art picture, I spent the day starting the watercolour painting as a demonstration for the SFP.

The day dawned sunny and warm; the first nice day for a while. Watching the weather forecast as I write this, it reverts to cooler and wetter weather for a few days! Has spending the day inside demonstrating botanical art been worth it?

I am told that the SFP exhibition at the Oxmarket in Chichester, has attracted a lot of visitors. Visitors who I spoke with today, found the exhibition to be very interesting and many were amazed at the variety of floral painting; from very loosely painted Irises in oil, through the tighter botanical art, to strict botanical illustration. There is something there for everyone.

From previous experience, I knew that even though warm outside it can be cool sitting and demonstrating. I was well prepared. We didn’t have huge numbers of visitors and I am told that Sundays do not seem to attract the crowds. However there were quite a few people interested in my demonstration and I was able to talk a little of what I was doing.

The following is pictures from today finishing off with what I have done so far. The plant is a Mandeville, or Dipladenia.




Tomorrow I will be catching up:
– with London Art College assignment marking;
– preparation for the exhibition in Palmengarten Botanical gardens in Frankfurt, Germany. A joint exercise between Palmengarten and the SBA. My husband and I receive botanical art from across the UK and take it over to Frankfurt in October for the exhibition;
– preparation for the Garden Show at Stansted House ( this coming FRiday, Saturday and Sunday. We have a stand there for the first time. Do come and support us. I intend to demonstrate some more.