Last weekend IAPI – the Institute of Analytical Plant illustrators, had one of its meetings in the Lake District. We went both to see Beatrix Potter’s botanical illustrations at the museum in Ambleside, and to John Ruskins home, which is an absolutely stunning botanical garden on the edge of Coniston Water. I don’t think I have ever seen such a display of colour!
No comments could make this more beautiful.
However, after this fantastic weekend away, we came back well prepared to take part in the hanging of the Society of Floral painters exhibition at the Oxmarket in Chichester. The exhibition opened successfully on Tuesday evening and since then there has been a steady stream of visitors to see all the wonderful Floral pictures. They range from a strict botanical style to a much looser style. But, although very different, the quality in each genre is very good.
By the way, that isn’t just me that has commented on this as of course I do have a vested interest; but visitors to the gallery have been extremely impressed.
Do come along at some point between now and the 12th June. Except for Mondays, a different person will be demonstrating their style of work each day. I am demonstrating coloured pencil tomorrow, Saturday 28 May and watercolour 7 June. The address is the Oxmarket, St Andrews Court, East St, Chichester PO19 1YH. This weekend the Chichester Flower Festival is also happening.
We got back from Norway on Wednesday last week after a two-day drive. I was tired and so was Robin. But of course as usual the diary was full when we got back. Against my better judgement I had said yes to an invitation to an 20th anniversary lunch held by the Chelsea Physic Garden Florilegium Society (CPGFS). This was of course in London, but was held at the Royal College of Physicians; what a wonderful building and a delicious meal. we were lucky enough to sit at a table with some really nice members and it gave me the opportunity to put my mind at rest in relation to the expectations of me as a member. I haven’t yet started the work on the picture I will be doing, although I have decided what I am going to do.
After the meal we were invited into the garden by Dr Henry Oakley for an introduction to the gardens. Although we only had a short time being led around the garden (we had a train to catch) it was absolutely fascinating. We got a potted history of the garden and then a thoroughly interesting reasoning behind its layout and the plants that were there. I think that many were surprised that so many really important medicines that are in use today, can be evolved from one and the same plant. There were several instances of this happening. I just wish we could have stayed longer. I’m glad that we made the effort to go.
Thursday was spent catching up with cleaning and washing clothes (followed all the time by the cats), before we went away for the weekend! Once a year the Institute for Analytical Plant Illustrators (IAPI) has a weekend away. There is normally a meeting every two months which we try to attend when we can as there is so much to learn from the rest of the group: botanists and botanical artists.This time it was decided that the meeting should start in the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. Maureen Lazarus and Heather Pardoe were to show us some of the botanical art in the collection. They were very knowledgeable about the collection which included artworks from Ehret up to modern day artists.
Although we missed the beginning of the session (junction closed on the M4), we still saw most of the pictures they had selected for us and heard some of the history behind them. Pictures ranged from ones by Ehret to modern day botanical artists.
The following day we planned to go to the National Botanic Gardens of Wales as a group. In between times we found each to our hotels for the night and we happened to end up at the same place as another group of people we were due to see the next day. Funnily enough, our visit coincided with Gardeners Question Time; they had chosen the same hotel as us – or the other way round!
We had a really beautiful day at the Botanic Gardens. The sun shone and it was warm. But we wanted to see everything. In the end we only watched one of the show recordings (they took two, obviously with a different panel), caught some of the talks round the garden, but we also wanted to SEE the plants as well as HEAR about how to look after them. These are one or two pictures.
I have mentioned this organisation before. It is a very good group to get involved in, particularly for botanical artists and botanists. But have a look at the website and see for yourself http://www.iapi.org.uk.
Yesterday, Robin and I drove up to Northampton for one of the regular meetings. They meet once every two months in different parts of the country and generally decide on a topic, get specialists in to talk to us, or as yesterday, use the very experienced members.
Last year we went to one of the meetings where Grasses was the topic. Yesterday, winter twigs was the subject. I have already described my feelings prior to and after the ‘grasses meeting’ and this time, prior to the day, I also thought winter twigs might be boring. If you have followed my blog you might remember that I was thrilled about what I learnt about grasses and yesterday was exactly the same. How could I even imagine that the subject could be boring!
I have found that when I am doing botanical painting, the result is usually better if I have studied the subject properly and not just painted it. For each of my RHS exhibits I did an awful lot of research and actually got quite hooked on finding out more about the subjects. I am also convinced that the research helped me get medals.
I am meant to be writing up notes on the meeting to get into the minutes, but I am doing this instead!
When we arrived at the meeting place, we were confronted with a table of twigs with numbers on and a sheet of paper with numbers on. The intention was to name the plants from which the twigs came and possibly include the scientific names as well. That was throwing me in at the deep end, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. We were there to learn. But I have to say that I didn’t identify many. Everyone was discussing and helping everyone else with this or that twig they thought they recognised, but couldn’t quite place. I was really amazed at some people with their wealth of knowledge whilst others were similar to me – although not quite as bad.
Roger Reynolds had put together the collection and created the list. Peter Mitchell talked to us about what we should be looking for to identify a twig. He described the different types of tree shapes and growth habits; how the branches grew; the bark on the tree and the twigs; colour; texture; marks on the bark (also describing what they were there for); length of internodes; appearance of the terminal bud; how the buds repeated themselves round a branch; bud size and shape and a multitude of other things. So much made sense – but should I be surprised?
I think that one of the things I found most useful were the questions you need to ask yourself when faced with a unidentified twig.
Of course all the twigs in the selection were discussed in detail and we discovered what distinguished one from the other and why.
In the afternoon we had an opportunity to draw from the twig selection. I bought a couple of simple new microscopes which I intend to encourage my students to use. We used these to start some drawings and I tried to take one or two pictures of the detail from the hazel twigs, with male catkins and female buds. Unfortunately the pictures of the catkins through the microscope didn’t turn out too well, but I can vouch that the detail was very beautiful. I will be drawing or painting something from them at some point – although perhaps not just right at the minute.
Isn’t it funny how in botanical art and illustration, there is always something that is challenging you to do its portrait?
On Friday and again on Sunday afternoon after church I was able to continue with my Acanthus ( in case you wondered what my new picture was all about). I finished the sketch and transferred it to the paper I am using for the final work. A warning, the following picture is not the whole composition as it will contain a third element – hopefully. It is a large project, but hopefully it will go well.
On Saturday my husband and I drove up to Leicester, visiting briefly the University botanical Gardens. But we also went to an IAPI meeting on Grasses. Now many of you might wonder what was so special about grasses – and I did too. But, with just one lecture and some amazing views through the microscope, I am converted.
There were so many different types for different types of habitat and temperature zone. They may look very ordinary, but up close they are absolutely beautiful.
Think of a colour wheel and pointillism. If you mix the three primaries, you get a grey shade, depending upon the mix. Optical mixing of colours means that you don’t mix the colours on your palette, but by placing colours side by side, your brain mixes the colours together creating a third colour.
Now back to the grasses. When a grass is waving in the wind, depending upon the type, all you might see is a greyish or beige-ish colour in the frond. Well, at the height of the season, those ‘fronds’ are the ‘flowers’ (inflorescence) of the plant and contains the male and female parts.
I looked at these under the microscope and saw some tiny, really beautiful flowers. Most of all, the colours were amazing ( I know I’ve used the word again, but have to). The one I was looking at had wonderful reddish purple and green parts with the tiny style and stigma in purple sticking out of the tip. The colours glowed.
Unfortunately the pictures I have taken do not reflect the beauty that I saw under the microscope, but hopefully they will give an indication.
Back to optical mixing of colours. Bearing in mind the smallness of the inflorescence, even though the colours were individually very beautiful, they were small surfaces to the naked eye and therefore had the same effect as pointillism – the colours became optically mixed to a dull grey! Could this be natures way of protection?
What do you think? I know the photo does not do the plant justice, but hopefully you can see the promise of the intricate and beautiful design.