Thursday, April 27, 2017

SKETCH OPEN PRIZE 2017 - selected!

I'm delighted to announce that my sketch book entry for the international Sketch Open Drawing Prize 2017, has been selected for the show. The Sketch Open 2017 will be hosting 100 hundred sketch books chosen from over 500 entries, and will travel to three locations around Britain until December 2017. 
The show opens on 21st May at the Rabley Drawing Centre.

The two previous exhibitions of this show were so popular with visitors and artists alike that the originators handed over the organising to Parker Harris, who are well known for running the prestigious Lynn Painter Stainer Prize and the Jerwood Drawing Prize. 

This year's Show will offer sketch books by many diverse artists working with a vast range of philosophies and media, whose interpretation of the sketchbook, and of drawing itself, is as contrasting as it is varied and includes an intriguing Italian travel sketch book by Anne Desmet RA. 

As a passionate young artist, very keen on sketch book drawing in the field, I longed to see Turner's Colour Beginnings and Pencil Studies. Eventually - in 1987 soon after the opening of the Study Room in the Clore Gallery at Tate Britain - I was granted permission to view and research Turner's sketch books

This study room was then a well kept secret, an empty place, occupied only by the occasional academic and the faithful army of Turner archivists. At the time, visiting this room was considered a very old fashioned and eccentric thing for a contemporary artist to do in the age of Conceptualism

And now, as drawing has at last taken centre stage and Turner is everywhere recognised as a timeless national treasure, the Study Room at the Clore Gallery has become the Prints and Drawings Room for the whole of Tate Britain, housing not only Turner's sketches but also contemporary works on paper by international artists.

It's been a while since I have entered a work for an open exhibition. I was selected for the Sunday Times Watercolour Exhibition in 1995, and have always worked privately and quietly on the drawing work since then. 

I'm so delighted to be participating and honouring the art of the sketchbook in this show simply because I believe in the sketch book and all that it means to artists everywhere. 
Thus we are celebrating this infinitely renewable medium of the sketch book.

A travel sketch book in particular is a very distinct statement. One needs verve and a powerful intent to walk out of the studio alone and to draw and paint in an isolated place, or the streets of a crowded city. 
This very act is itself worthy of acknowledgement, as are the many varied working methods of all the Sketch exhibitors who have invited the outer world to view their inner world via their working process.

Here is a glimpse of my selected sketchbook entitled Iceland - Light into Dark  and more to come when the show opens.

   Beneath the waterfall - Seljalandsfoss SE Iceland 
   32 x 42 cms
   watercolour, chalk, and graphite on paper

arrived at the Private View of the SKETCH 17 show to find the gallery crowded, and yet the space was filled with a silence and an atmosphere of heightened concentration. It was really the strangest and most exciting private view that I had encountered for many a year. 

The sketch books were being observed with the greatest of respect by those present, all wearing archival gloves and looking intently upon the many books. 

The Rabley Drawing Centre has an air of isolation that is totally conducive to the work they exhibit - an extraordinary place in the midst of beautiful Wiltshire countryside which has been deservedly very successful. 

Each book on show holds a unique and diverse approach to drawing that is inspiring and thought provoking. Here are some pictures from the show:

Rapt in concentration - a view of some of the attendees of the SKETCH 17 private view

A glimpse of some of the books on show

All books exhibited are numbered on the cover 
Those who the visit in person can find my book with the number 29
The above double page show a study of basalt rock (left) from the waterfalls at Hjalpafoss in the Hekla lava plane in SE Iceland.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Leafing through the Archive 3

Inspiring Innovation in Composition

A response to the requests for the earlier classes in composition of leaf paintings

Much of the work in the Kew classes and the Masterclasses at the Cipriani in Venice and the USA were focused upon bringing in the use of innovative compositions that were suitable for various plant elements. 

These were first shown in earlier versions of this blog in 2005.

The studies of leaves, broadly painted in watercolour, were a case in point and were painted to encourage the students to free up their working process and think more laterally about how a leaf could be displayed as a solitary icon in a composition. 

The light of each leaf also enters from beyond the edge of the paper and this was indicative of the way this element could be seen as emerging from another place and space.

The bringing of a leaf into the composition from the outer edge of the paper was the most popular modus operandi and students delighted in what could be achieved with this simple approach using both light and composition.

The use of this method can be found in art history, and is distinctive as a pictorial element growing inwards from the edge of the paper. 

This is separate and different from the creation of an element that is growing outward from the composition, and beyond the edge of the paper. 

The students were asked to fine tune their understanding, and for many this was a moment of realisation in how light is used in composition, as part of the composition.

This had never been pointed out to them before. I have often been asked since why I would give it away so freely. I leave you all dear readers, to answer this for yourselves.

Importantly, the leaf has been displayed not to appear as being cut by the edge, but as moving into the composition and towards the observer. 

The students were asked to think about this as an idea, seeing it in light of their own awareness of how they wanted the viewer to react to the work. 

This way of bringing in elements has perhaps not surprisingly become a major influence on many botanical painters since that time. We used what has been used before in art history, and made it work in a larger format, taking something old and bringing in renewal.

This idea was to foster an approach that looks at the work in a brand new way.

It simply reveals a window of observation to a part of the leaf, without creating a cliche.

Here are a couple of the freely painted and large compositions, done for fun for the students, showing how this could be achieved. 

Vine Leaf in Noon Light 
Study work
watercolour on paper
90 x 60 cm

Water Lily Nymphaea 'Fosita'
Kew Lily Pond 2002

Rapid Study Work 60 x 30 cm

Sketching in the Field  Workshop at Kew 2002

Monstera deliciosa

Shirley Sherwood Collection

This elemental composition using a leaf, can again be seen on the right side of the composition of the Monstera deliciosa commissioned by Shirley Sherwood in 1997.  

It shows the leaf emerging into the composition from the right side, beyond the edge of the paper. The sense it offers is a kind of paradox of awareness, where the viewer is not sure where they themselves are placed. 
This work is on currently on show at the British Artists exhibition at Kew.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Leafing through the Archive 2

Blossom Arc in Outer Dark
Number One 2006

From the Space Like Black Velvet Series 2006-10

Carbon and charcoal over watercolour on paper 
150 x 150 cms
Private Collection

The medium of the above drawing is charcoal over watercolour, which I began developing in 1974. I have used the carbon over washes in both monochrome and colour, and it was for this technique that I won the Chelsea College of Art Drawing Prize in 1975.

This post is a response to the many well meaning emails I have so far received, which have informed me that my large leaf paintings, 
the writing on the ideas of Beauty, and the techniques of using charcoal over watercolour, have been copied. This is a gentle response to you all in appreciation of your concern. And yes, I am aware that art history is peppered with stolen ways of working. 

The purity of my work is probably not affected by attempts to copy, because it originates from an attitude that cannot be stolen. My work has a meditative focus as a part of a reflective way of life. However, I do recognise that this kind of harmless attitude may sometimes cause me to be vulnerable to those artists who may have more predatory notions. I do tend to rise above the problems of being plagarised. 

The botanical aspect of my work and the teaching it has encompassed has always involved an aspect of service. My background in fine art has enabled me to see the plant world in a way that is charmed and imbued with the love of nature in a mystical way that is separate from science. I observe not with a scientific view but with that of a mystic who is in love with the natural world. I have often said how much I enjoy scientific illustration, and I see my works as the balance and a partner to that.

You will all know that I have always wanted my work to speak for itself, and that I have no need to glamorise the process. Photos of me are an occasional interest, and one I hope you enjoy. As a child in the 1960's, I was one of the Kodak Children, who formed a stable of photogenic kids that advertised Kodak film, and the Box Brownie Cameras. This was a spectacularly fun aspect of my childhood and it gave me great insight and ability to observe the pitfalls this can create for anyone in pursuit of 15 minutes of fame. And so, my attitude is very different from the face book generation, as I am focusing ahead of it.

I have also recently been asked why I have no interest in painting decaying or diseased plants. Why would I want to introduce this aspect of plant life to Collectors homes or into a museum? For me beauty is in renewal, and in the force of life that is ever evolving. Decay and disease in plant matter is not the message I want to convey, I'm looking instead toward renewal and evolution. The Imperial War Museum is a sobering and serious place that I recommend anyone interested in depicting death and decay to visit. The War Artists are those who have really seen and depicted death and decay in its most profound moments.

Thank you to all the kind and thoughtful people who sent me the emails.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Leafing Through the Archive 1

The Photosynthesis Series 
Number 1
The Time Line of  Minerals in the Leaf of the Winter Green

Carbon, watercolour, and acrylic on paper over canvas
100 x 130 cm
Coral Guest 2009

This blog first opened in 2005 and took a rest in 2016. The contents of that time have now been archived. The blog showcased my particular approach to painting and drawing, and due to the unanticipated and phenomenal demand from those who have an interest in the work, it has today reopened. This blog will now revisit some examples from my body of work that to date has spanned a distance of more than 40 years.

Many pieces have remained publicly unseen, to protect them from plagiarism and copyists. If you should like to reproduce or copy an image or text and claim it as your own, please request permission to use the idea.

The focus of my work has been upon paintings and drawings of mineral life (landscapes) and flora, and abstract representations of unseen aspects of experience, all of which are dominated by the interpretation of light on many levels. The botanical paintings and drawings, have formed a substantial aspect to this main body of work, both as spontaneous and commissioned output. Commissioned work has generally occupied approximately 30 percent of my overall body of work.  

The insurgence of the various aspects of Flower Painting in the last 20 years has become something to be explored within the context of the current climate of interest. It is perhaps inappropriate for me to label myself as a Botanical Artist, as my works generally extend far and beyond plant life into other areas of natural phenomena. However, aspects of my body of work live under the banner of Botanical Art and are specifically and appropriately placed there for clear and concise reasons. 

I am more intentionally placed under the banner of Botanical Art as one who has served its needs throughout my working life as a painter, writer, and lecturer. The pioneering work began as large scale works that superseded the historical diminutive arrangements in botanical painting. This enabled others to do likewise and create larger more confident artworks. Opening this gateway was something that came from my training as an abstract painter. 

From the early 1970's this contribution of developed techniques, lectures, teachings, and interviews as well as the body of work itself, have been absorbed, via my book, by teachers and artists. My understanding of this as a painter and draughtswoman, is that such works exist within the bigger picture of the art world and are more correctly understood as an aspect of it rather than an isolated specialist field.

Several of my explored themes have featured here over the years, and it is these that the blog will now revisit, viewing previously unseen photographs that show it placed in a number of contexts that offer a truer sense of its scale and meaning.

The large size works began with a Cosmological Cuttle Fish that was painted five feet in height in 1973. This was the point at which the works ceased to use frames, liberating the image and freeing the work to be placed in a variety of contexts.

The first works to be revisited here are the Photosynthesis Series that initially appeared on this blog in 2005, showing paintings of leaves and representing the colour green.

The other requested themes to be included, will be the Wish Fulfilling Water Lily Series of carbon drawings, which is still ongoing. This is focused upon spontaneous carbon studies of the Nymphaea, and was inspired by a visit to Monet’s Garden at Giverny in 1995. This Series has been requested by some of the lovely and remarkable students who accompanied me there on my visit to that glorious garden.

Other Series that have been requested are The Peony Bud ProgramThe Iris Buds and BloomsThe Flora of the White Light Series, and the more recent Petal Ascending and Descending.

Some works can also be seen on my website for drawings, and the one devoted mainly to flower paintings. I can be contacted through both sites.


The Photosynthesis Series 
Number 2

Carbon, charcoal over watercolour on paper over board
130 x 90 cm
Coral Guest 2009 

There is a well known story of the how the late Rory McEwen picked up a leaf from the street near his home, took it back to the studio, and painted a picture of it. 
It is often commented upon that the appearance of his chosen leaf had touched him and mirrored his own inner self at that time. The other dying leaves that he became fascinated by are thought by some to also be the bringers of a poignant message.

The Collector who commissioned the above artwork Nimo, had been fascinated by the story of the found leaf, particularly as it had by that time become a much used idea amongst botanical painters. This particular leaf had landed in his garden as the result of a storm. Not knowing the name of the leaf, nor where it came from, he brought it to me and commissioned this large study. 

I accepted the commission because the leaf was very much alive and filled with vibrancy, rather like the Collector himself. The leaf, at the moment of collection was sensibly placed in an orchid fial and fed with a plant solution. It lived for a further three weeks in a cool environment for the duration of the artwork, on its eventual demise it was placed gently upon the compost heap.

The bringer of this leaf felt its appearance reflected his own mind set of the time, in a vulnerable and sensitive way it mirrored his journey through an inner storm to the arrival at the right place, at the right time. The resulting artwork is now sometimes hung vertically, sometimes horizontally, and sometimes placed on the ground as the centre-piece of a room. This collaborative work supported my intent to create large paintings without frames - an idea that I have been quietly developing for over thirty years.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Large Scale Drawings - a glimpse into the studio

Monochrome drawings in the north light of the airy work space in middle England:

Petals fall from the up of their composite flowers, through the power of weather patterns. 

Recovered and drawn at a scale of 1:13.

Last Petal Standing - After the Storm
Paeonia lactiflora 

130 x 100 cm


Dance Through the Dawn - Freed by the Rain
Tulipa 'Bright Parrot'

130 x 100 cm

Touched By Morning Dew - After the Hail
Tulipa 'Bright Parrot'

130 x 100 cm

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Space Like Black Velvet

        Blossom Arc in Outer Dark - Space Like Black Velvet Series 1
        watercolour wash and charcoal 150 x 130cm

Out walking at dawn amidst an apricot sunrise gloriously graced by this Indian Summer that we are presently enjoying in England, I reflected upon something that has interested me for many a year - what is the difference between a flat black background and a black space?

Black, as with the colour white, can be interpreted as both background and space. I spent many of my early years contemplating this as a pictorial problem, and the answer was eventually very simple.

When the subject suspended in the black is affected tonally by that black, the black is more apparent as space. Thus the subject painted appears to emerge from the dark space that surrounds it. When the subject suspended in the black is not affected tonally by that black, the black appears to be a flat background.

The work on my new website that reflects this idea and has inspired many to send me a complimentary message, is the Blossom Arc in Outer Dark, a large monochrome drawing of white apple blossom in a dark space. 

Look around the outer edges of the subject matter, and you will see that the leaves and the farthest petals are themselves touched tonally by the darkness, hence the subject matter appears to emerge from the dark space and consequently it does not simply sit upon a dark background. 

This kind of subtlety is very simple and once you see, it becomes obvious. Those of you who will have seen this artwork, on this blog and eventually on the website, will be able to recognise what I am saying.

The technique used in this work is charcoal carbon over watercolour wash, which is also the result of experimentation. As a student, I observed renaissance cartoon drawings and sketches, and discovered this combination works well in creating a great depth of intense dark, bringing the appearance of velvety black space. When opaque white watercolour is added to this, as an aspect of the image, the combination result is dramatic. 

So thank you to all the generous messages received about this artwork - from the artists, the collectors, and also to the anonymous kind person who has written to say that a well-known Botanical Artist (their name was not written in the message) has recently made a very similar drawing to this, which they feel is obviously influenced by the Blossom Arc.  Travelling away from home, I rarely get the time to look at other artists work, and so I do appreciate the messages that are sent to me. 

When children write and send me copies of the artworks that they have drawn and painted, it’s a delight to see them learning by copying my work. As we all know, Redouté taught his pupils by instructing them to copy his own work. It is a very efficient way of learning techniques and developing ideas. So when I see my work copied by developing artists, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I see them learning and growing via this. 

Earlier this year, someone placed a copy of an artwork of a purple anemone, from my book, onto her Botanical Art Society’s page. It was uploaded as her own work.  When someone told me about this, I was actually quite intrigued, and then I politely wrote and asked for an acknowledgement. When I brought this to the attention of the artist in question she was apologetic and embarrassed. I myself did not mind, I simply would have liked an acknowledgement. I offered her a free tutorial as this was my way of saying its ok as these things are done unconsciously. Because her copy was poorly done I was very willing to help her improve. 

So, for those who are in the midst of their studies, copying can be a useful thing. If there is ever a problem in this area, it is when another professionally well-known artist sees an artwork by one of their contemporaries, takes the same or similar idea and the same or similar technique, and does a very similar artwork that is not identical, but oh so very similar. 

In art colleges students are advised to develop originality, and if they are influenced by another artist they are encouraged to declare it, because this is the ethical way to proceed. Influence is a very different kettle of fish from stealing ideas. Paying homage by giving acknowledgement is an  appropriate modus operandi for an artist. 

So there is a code of practice that those who have received an education in fine art naturally carry with them. For me, and other artists like me, who can sometimes spend many years developing an idea and a corresponding technique, it can be a painful experience when another professional has been ‘influenced’ by one's work and does not acknowledged this ‘influence’. It comes across as a predatory act. But as I once said, such things are often done unconsciously.