Wednesday, January 20, 2016

(an overdue) Review of RHS Botanical Art 2015

This is a VERY overdue review of the RHS Botanical Art Show held last February.

Initially I misplaced my catalogue and notes and then subsequently I was distracted (much loved cats dying etc.) and just plain forgot to write it up - so I'm now remedying the error as the RHS Botanical Art Show 2016 is almost upon us!

Below are the images and information about the artists that won an RHS Hold Medal. Also, at the end I have:
  • my observations about the show
  • TIPS for potential exhibitors from Gillian Barlow, Chair of the RHS Picture Committee
Hideo Horikoshi - winner of the Best Painting in the RHS Botanical Art Show 2015
for Apiaceae Daucus carota ‘Kintokininjin’
The 2016 show will be held from 26-27 February 2016 at the RHS Lindley Hall. As a member of the RHS I've already ordered my ticket online and printed it off and it's pinned to the wall just above my iMac! You too can book tickets for this show.

RHS Botanical Art 2015 - Six Gold Medal Winners

All the Gold Medals except one went to international artists with four going to Japanese artists. Scotland also did well with Kathy Pickles from the Orkney Islands picking up her sixth Gold Medal (1991-94, 1996, 2015) and Turkish artist Gulnar Eksi, who has worked as a botanical artist for the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, also picked up another Gold Medal for one of the RGBE's major projects.

This in part explains why this particular review of the show (compared to others - see end) is much less focused on interviews with the GM-winning artists.
Exhibits of groups of drawings or paintings are assessed first and foremost as botanical illustration (Guidelines for judging group exhibits of drawings and paintings of plants, flowers and gardens)
This is the link to the RHS Botanical Art Medal Winners in 2015
Winner of Best Botanical Art Exhibit

Best Botanical Art Exhibit - Climbing Plants
Kumiko Takano (Japan) - Climbing Plants

Kumiko Takana with two of her paintings
Kumiko Takana's paintings displayed a wonderful sense of design both within each painting and across the display as a whole. The habit exhibited by these plants came across very strongly in terms of the way each plant was shown.

Winner of Best Painting

Hideo Horikoshi. (Japan) Traditional Root and Tuber Crops in Japan

I had a long slow conversation with Hideo Horikoshi about his wonderful paintings. The gist of it was that he had focused on root and tuber crops as they were very important food storage crops for the human diet.

I loved the fact that a carrot won best painting! My personal favourite was the Daikon radish - it was HUGE!

Traditional root and tuber crops in Japan - by Hideo Horikoshi

Gulnur Eksi (Turkey / Scotland). Plants from the Woods and Forests of Chile

Gulnar Eksi's paintings of plants from the woods and forests of Chile
What was very exciting about Gulnar Eksi's exhibit was that it contained a new plant which was only discovered just as the book about the Plants of the Woods and Forests of Chile was about to sent to the presses by the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh!

Consequently, Gulnar had to produce a painting PDQ so they could include the plant in the book and still meet their planned publication date.

I think she did an excellent job! :) What do you think? (see below)

Gulnar Eksi and the newly discovered plant

Kathy Pickles (Scotland / UK) . Fritillaria and Helleborus.

You can see Kathy's work by clicking the links in the name of the two genus. Interestingly Kathy demonstrated a different strategy for both display and selling her work

Rather than one group of six paintings, Kathy had two groups of eight smaller paintings and was selling them matted 'as is' for between £175 and £225 - and very nearly sold all of them. I'm only surprised that nobody came along and bought a complete set!

Kathy Pickles with some of her Fritillaria

Kimiyo Maruyama (Japan) - Trees of Pinaceae in Watercolour. 

Kimiyo Maruyama and her husband with three of her paintings
I'm afraid it wasn't possible to have a conversation with Mrs Maruyama.

Masako Mori (Japan) -  Persimmon.

Masaka Mori's display of paintings of Persimmon

Other Medal Winners

Silver Gilt

It's a great honour to win a Silver Gilt Medal - but it must also be very irritating to be pipped at the post and not quite make it to the Gold Standard!

This year I've included some images of the people who just missed out on Gold and got a Silver Gilt instead.  I suggest potential applicants look back and forth at the images and see if they can work out why one set got Gold and another set just missed out.

You might also want to reflect on my observations from previous years about what makes for a series of paintings worthy of a Gold Medal (see Tips and Techniques from Gold Medal Winning Artists)

One thing I noticed was that there was more graphite and mixed media at this level. However it's certainly not the case that monochrome works cannot win Gold as this has very definitely happened in previous years.

  • Deirdre Bean Australia's mangroves: living on the edge 
  • Yuko Inujima Flower and Fruit. 
  • Ikuko Matsui Study of Flower. 
  • Keiko Sekiya Pumpkins and Squashes. 
Study of Flower by Ikuko Matsui (Silver Gilt)
Pumpkins and Squashes by Keiko Sekiya (Silver Gilt)
  • Jessie Carr In Depth Seed Studies. 
  • Guy William Eves The Black and White of Colour. 
  • Jill Mayhew Inside the Fruit Cage - a Collection of Soft Fruits. 
  • Claire McDermott Michaelmas. 
  • Fran Thomas Plants of the Coast and Islands of the Firth of Forth. 
  • Margaret Walty Orchid Hybrids. 
  • Jenny Webster Going to Seed. 
  • Amanda Willoughby (UK) Metallophytes: Heavy Metal Tolerant Plants of Abandoned Lead Mines. 
The Black and White of Colour by Guy William Eves (Silver Gilt)
Guy produces his pencil art in graphite
Plants of the Coast and Islands of the Firth of Forth by Fran Thomas (Silver Gilt)
Going to Seed by Jenny Webster (Silver Gilt)



  • Lucilla Carcano. Autumn Walks: the patterns of leaf colour during the season. 


  • Mayumi Ishii. Contemporary Roses in Japan. 


  • Waree Sawangarom. The Magnificent Garden Tree. 


  • Vanda Adamson. French hedgerow flowers and fruit. 
  • Kate Barling. Six varieties of apples, grown in a Devon garden. 
    Leigh Ann Gale
    . The Diversity of Clematis 
  • Nicola Macartney. All Glory is Fleeting - Papaver Flowering .  
  • Francesca Ross. Crab Apple Varieties from RHS Garden Hyde Hall. 


Not assessed

  • Sansanee Deekrajang. Tropical Climate Plants. (see below for explanation)

Observations about the botanical artart

Every year I make observations about things I notice about the art. (See the list of my posts at the end). I am now collating all information about RHS Botanical Art Exhibitions on my new website Botanical Art and Artists:

Small paintings

...paintings and drawings should be at least life-size. Miniatures are unsuitable for the
Society’s RHS shows - Regulations for Botanical Art Exhibitors
A lot of botanical artists produce paintings which are on the small side. However in 2015, the only exhibitor who won Gold produced 16 of them - two series of eight paintings of Fritillaria & Helleborus by Kathy Pickles

Packaging and Shipping

Every year, the exhibition attracts a lot of entries by international artists from all over the world. This necessarily means that the artwork also needs to be transported across countries and, in some cases, continents.

Particular attention needs to be paid to how well the artwork is packed and protected. It's not enough to think about whether it gets bent - you also need to think about what happens if it gets wet.

Take a look below at the wonderful paintings of Tropical Climate Plants by Sansanee Deekranjang. Note there are only five. The sixth suffered water damage which I understand happened while it was being transported to London. The result was that the exhibit could not be formally considered by the Judges.

Only five paintings of Tropical Climate Plants by Sansanee Deekjanrang
It was extremely kind of the organisers to allow her work to be shown and for the rest of us to enjoy her paintings - and learn from her great misfortune.

Pitch your price to sell your work

I've seen all sorts of prices for works on display - including excessive prices asked for work that hasn't won Gold.  Nobody doubts that much of the work takes a long time to produce however there's no question that more affordable artwork tends to sell better.

The question is how to pitch your price.

My solution would be to come along with a set of cards for alternative price ranges and wait and see what sort of medal is awarded before deciding which one to use! I'm not sure if this is allowed but it's certainly worth a thought.

Of course if you don't want to sell it then there's no need to make it available for sale.

Changing standards

I often hear artists saying that the standards of botanical art have risen significantly in recent years. The implication being that artwork that won a Gold Medal in the past might not win one today.

The reality is that while that might apply to some artists, it's also the case that if you're good enough you can come back and try again for Gold after an interval of many years. Kathy Pickles tried it and succeeded - and it's surely possible for other artists to do likewise.

However to make a judgement you have to see the artwork for yourself - and I do very much recommend that people pay a visit to the show.

Business Cards

You can never ever have enough business cards for this exhibition. It's one of the major meetings on the planet for botanical artists. I have a box stuffed full of cards from artists I've met at this exhibition!  Don't forget yours!

RHS Botanical Art Show 2015 - the display boards are changing in 2016
They will look more like those used in the SBA Exhibitions.
I'm going to miss this view of the exhibition!

Tips from Gillian Barlow

I was cheeky. I asked Gillian Barlow, Chair of the Picture Committee, for tips!

Fortunately I have now found the notes I made at the time about the brief remarks she very kindly gave me to my questions.

I asked her to focus on the things that make a difference - either because they critical to the outcome or they were aspects which tended to be weaknesses or crop up more often when people got things wrong.

So - here are some of the things which make a difference in terms of what the Judges look for or which affect their judgement of an entry. PLEASE NOTE: The 'bullet point' commentary is my own personal interpretation of the tip. 

Has the artists met his or her brief?

  • Very many tests of professional competence allow the individual to set their own test and then work out how to meet it. The RHS is no different.  The artist designs the test of their competence and then has to meet it.
  • That means that a critical part of any entry is working out what the entry should be about and whether its scope and practical aspects will allow you to present a good entry.
  • You then need to make sure you address it properly in your display.

Does the artist demonstrate good observational drawing?

  • I've heard on more than one occasion that an artist has been told that the colour of medal they got was determined by the quality of their drawing. 
  • Good observational drawing describes key aspects of form and structure accurately and seeks to clarify rather than confuse. 
  • It's also essential that it reflects key characteristics - don't hide them!

Use the correct green within the right family of green for the plant

Particular credit is given for botanical accuracy, exact colour reproduction and attention to detail. Regulations for Botanical Art Exhibitors
  • "Exact" is what they say and "exact" is what they want! In practice botanists and plant lovers can tell straight away when the green is wrong so it's very definitely worth doing the work to get it right. Observation is also about colour matching and making absolutely sure you achieve the correct colours.
  • Unfortunately people tend to focus their colour matching on the flowers and the fruit and forget to do the same for the leaves
  • Do NOT just use the green you like using or the one which you're used to mixing which approximates to the right green.  Such behaviour is rather similar to those who travel abroad to paint but only take with them the palette that they use in a different climate with different light at home - which is very often wrong for the place they're travelling to. (I'll never forget watching somebody painting palm trees in Bali with the greens associated with the English countryside! They were just so wrong!)
  • Make sure that you both determine and demonstrate the accuracy of the green of the plant. This is where making colour notes from observation of actual plant material makes all the difference.

If people have said their brief is about "fruits", the flower and the bark are not required

  • This again comes back to the brief you set for yourself.  Are you demonstrating the complete life cycle or just one aspect of it? Stick to your brief - and make sure you know how you intend to present work before you submit it.

Composition is important. Relate the design and the size to the space you have chosen

Paintings and drawings can be of any dimension (within reason) but, where possible, subjects should be depicted at least life-size. Where the subject is depicted more than life-size a scale must be indicated.
Regulations for Botanical Art Exhibitors
I've noticed time and time again that Gold Medallists tend to be very good designers of their entries so I asked about this
  • Paintings do not need to be large to win a Gold Medal. 
  • However they do need to make good use of the space allotted for the painting. How you place your plant material within the four lines is as important as how you define and draw those four lines which crop the painting.

Previous Years

You can take a look at the art which has won a Gold medal in previous years in my blog posts below. The first set is about tips I've had from Gold Medal winning artists. The second set are interviews with those same artists. Both show images from the shows.

More Top Tips for winning an RHS Gold Medal

Interviews with RHS Gold Medallists


Elisabeth said...

Thank you for posting this, even with the delay. I had wondered whether you had been able to see the exhibit last year.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

Hi Elisabeth - the RHS Botanical Art Show 2016 is next month (26-27 February 2016) at the RHS Lindley Hall. - see

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