Monday, July 30, 2007

Flowers in Art: Contemporary painters #2

White Lillies and Gerbera (2006) £12,500
oil on canvas, 34" x 45"
Chris Beetles Gallery, St James, London
copyright Geraldine Girvan

Following on from Flowers in Art: Contemporary Painters #1, this post highlights a number of female artists who paint flowers - Geraldine Girvan, Pamela Kay, Diana Armfield, Shirley Felts, Nel Whatmore, Kim Parker and Shirley Trevena. I'd very much like to emphasise that I'm well aware that there are a number of other excellent artists in this field - and that surfing the internet can uncover lots of wonderful work - not least among contemporary artists who blog!

The Terrace
oil on canvas, 28" x 34"
Chris Beetles Gallery
copyright Geraldine Girvan

Geraldine Girvan is a modern Scottish Colourist who paints in both oils and watercolours and who exhibits regularly at the Chris Beetles Gallery in St James, London. She trained at Edinburgh College of Art where one of her first tutors was Elizabeth Blackadder and like Blackadder she paints flowers and cats - although not in the same painting!

I particularly enjoy
her talent for painting complexity and the exuberance of her work. This works well whether she is painting using vibrant or more muted colours according to the season and context. As with Blackadder, her slightly quirky take on perspective at times only enhances her compositions. Do take a look at the gallery of 50 works which were exhibited at her show at the Chris Beetles Gallery in April this year to get some insight into the range of her work.

Two artists who paint flowers in what I always think of as a painterly and somewhat traditional English style are Diana Armfield and Pamela Kay.

Pamela Kay ARCA, RWS, NEAC, RBA is is a graduate of the Royal College of Art and is considered to be one of Britain’s foremost painters of flowers and still life. She exhibits regularly (eg NEAC, Richard Hagen - this one has good examples of her work) plus now has a prints site.

She works predominantly in gouache and watercolour but also paints in oils and no matter which medium she worls in, she achieves a wonderful combination of saturated colour combined with painterly brush strokes and excellent draughtsmanship. She is particularly expert at making gouache look like oils and for many years I yearned to be able to do the same! She has written "A Personal View: Gouache", published by David & Charles. This is the ONLY book I've ever come across which sets out how to make this medium work in expert hands.

Michael Spender has also written a book "The Art of Pamela Kay" (David and Charles) which highlights how her work was originally inspired by the still life paintings of the Dutch, French and Spanish masters (see Making A Mark - "What is a Still Life?"). It was certainly her paintings seen at exhibitions at the Bankside Gallery which made me go and look at the sources which stimulated the wish to develop a contemporary version. She also used to regularly win the prize for the painting most popular with the public. It would seem that the classic still life never ever goes out of favour - although artists can always bring a new interpretation with the the subjects and media of their choice.

Diana Armfield RA is now in her 80s but still exhibits regularly at the Royal Academy, the Pastel Society and New English Art Club. She paints in oils and less often in watercolour. She also does lovely pastel drawings (which is how I first came across her work) and etchings. You can see her art at a number of places on the internet (eg NEAC, )although she tackles various subjects besides flowers.

The Art of Diana Armfield was published in 1995 and includes many examples of her still life work.

An interesting way of looking at who is producing contemporary art which enjoys wide popularity is to take look at the commercial websites which publish fine art prints of flower paintings. Two best selling UK artists who have been very popular in this respect are Nel Whatmore and Shirley Felts.

Nel Whatmore has specialised in the large macro floral, initially painted in oil but subsequently licensed (to Washington Green) and now translated into all manner of decorative products. She has been very successful and her art suggests that the approach of painting large simple macro (as first exemplified by O'Keeffe) still draws the fans. You can read more about how she found success (and she exemplifies the sort of success which can be enjoyed by those offered support by the Princes' Trust) and how she approaches her painting here.
Each painting is a puzzle, British artist Nel Whatmore believes. "There are many ways you can try to fit the pieces together, but only one way they really look right." Nel Whatmore quoted on Ballard Designs
By way of contrast, Shirley Felts is best known for her exquisite watercolour paintings of large and complex floral still lifes. She has terrific control over her use of watercolour and, in my opinion, has a particular gift for being able to find a palette which complements one dominant colour in each painting. I've only ever seen an original in the home of a friend but I bought her prints when I was young and they enjoyed a place on my walls for many years until my own work took over!

There is a long tradition of an artistic treatment of flowers in the design of textiles and decorative products for the home. Kim Parker appears to me to be an American version of Nel Whatmore with TV! Her art features in very popular textile designs and home products. She's a huge fan of the Arts and Crafts movement and has also apparently been referred to as a modern William Morris (see Making A Mark: William Morris - herbals, flowers and making patterns)

Finally, back to a contemporary watercolourist. Shirley Trevena is a member of the Royal Institute of Watercolourists and is renowned for painting flowers in watercolour. Scroll down this page of exhibitions at the Orange Street Gallery to see the works included in a solo exhibition of her work earlier this summer.

She has a fascinating website (despite a somewhat odd design and some unfriendly background colours for text) - make sure you explore it fully. A website for her new book Vibrant Watercolours will be of great interest to more than just the watercolour painter as it contains an insight into some of the topics in the book and some great tips. (A broadband connection is needed to see the films - which are quite slow even on my connection)
Flowers are a wonderful source of information & many of my paintings will have begun by choosing flowers that are strong in colour & dramatic in shape to give me the information I might need to complete a vibrant piece of work.
Shirley Trevena
A thought occurred to me as I developed this very quick and highly partial review of contemporary female artists who paint flowers. Although artists may be stimulated by the work of others through study or tuition, those who are successful are very often those who are able to interpret and create their own unique way of seeing and painting style in their own work.

I also know I'm much less familiar than I'd like to be with contemporary female artists in the rest of the world who have achieved success in painting flowers. Maybe readers can suggest names of artists with similar reputations?

Links to "Making a Mark" posts for "Flowers in Art" month:


  1. some nice links :)

    one artist you could look at is who does beautiful huge flower paintings - I've got a link to her on my blog - a young Canadian artist who is now doing really well, I thought I'd talk about her next.

  2. I thought I'd stop by for a quick peek at what you've been posting before I went to bed and an hour later I'm still here, dying to visit some of the links but must stop now! Thanks for posting about Pamela Kay. I'd been looking for a book about gouache and though hers is expensive, it looks very good. Sorry to hear about your awful weather. It's been just perfect in my neighborhood. I've painted in my car and it's fun--though only with watercolor. I'd be afraid of making too much of a mess with oils which I always end up getting somewhere they shouldn't be.

  3. Birgit O'Connor is another contemporary watercolor floral artist (close focus) who is quite wonderful. Her studio is about an hour away from me and I've visited her there. She's very generous with sharing information in her videos and classes and columns in Watercolor Magic. (


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