Friday, April 16, 2010

A Making A Mark Interview with Mary Ann Scott

Mary Ann Scott is the author, with Margaret Stevens (President of the Society of Botanical Artists) of Botanical Sketchbook: Inspiration and Guide to keeping a Sketchbook.

You can read my Book Review: Botanical Sketchbook on Making A Mark Reviews.

I highly recommend this book to all students of botanical art, particularly those on the Distance Learning Diploma Course run by the Society of Botanical Artists.

Mary Ann Scott, author of Botanical Sketchbook, with two examples of her assignment work which are included in the book

This is the third book which has been produced in association with the SBA for the benefit of the Diploma students and also for the wider appreciation by all those studying botanical art and seeking to improve their skills

Mary Ann writes in the book about her journey as a Diploma student from when she started the course in January 2006 through to her graduation with a Diploma with Distinction in April 2008 which fast tracked her into membership of the Society of Botanical Artists. This year she has been asked to submit work to the .Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation.

For those unfamiliar with the SBA Diploma, it involves 12 assignments culminating in the development of a portfolio of three works. Throughout the Course, students are required to keep a sketchbook in which to do their exercises, pencil studies, field studies and make colour charts and notes. The quality of the sketchbook is seen as being an indication of a student's general ability and preparedness to do the background exercises and sketches.

The quality of Mary Ann's Sketchbook is what triggered the notion of doing a book about keeping a sketchbook for botanical art.

I met Mary Ann at the evening Reception on Tuesday this week and discussed the process of writing the book with her.

Maryn Ann has always been very interested in painting flowers. I imagined when reading the book that Mary Ann had an amazing garden. In reality she lives in Italy and her garden is 4metres by 5 metres and a lot of the plants she worked on from life were actually growing in pots. So you don't need a fantastic big garden to be a botanical artist. In fact, Mary Ann says
I know a lot of botanical artists who only have a balcony
Mary Ann really enjoyed the notion that the book was akin to a master class and it was about showing how she developed as an artist from being enthusiastic about flower painting through to achieving mastery of her art. Which means it's OK to show when not everything goes according to plan. Plus there's a very significant emphasis on the practice which is involved in achieving mastery of the art of botanical art.

The penny dropped, as it were, and her confidence grew when she learned how to do wet on wet painting from Billy Showell's book about painting flowers - Watercolour Flower Portraits. After that she started to feel more in control.

Completing her assignments typically took about two months. The first month would be used for doing studies and practising techniques and the second month was then used to develop the work which was going to be submitted for marking. At the end the preparation of the three pieces for the portfolio took about four months. We looked at the red onions which are in the book - and she commented to me that each of the onions took about a day.

Writing the book from beginning to end took about 18 months and started after she completed her Diploma. Mary Ann has a very friendly and relaxed way of telling the story of each assignment and she's just as friendly in real life.

Media and Materials

I asked - because I know all the botanical art fans like to know about such matters - about what paper, paints and brushes that Mary Ann uses. I've found the websites and extracted some information about the media and materials in question. Follow the links if you want to find out more.

Paper: She usually paints on Fabriano Artistico in Traditional White (which is actually quite creamy coloured). she has now started using "Extra white" as this a whiter shade. Mary Ann uses 630g paper. She buys all her paper from an Internet supplier who is based in IIaly.
Fabriano Artistico watercolour paper is mouldmade, 100% cotton, chlorine, acid free and archival. The paper has an internal and external sizing, which makes it very absorbant and suitable to lifting, scraping and other techniques.Traditional white tone, free of witheners. This high quality paper will meet the expectations of all levels of artists. Ideal for: watercolour, gouache, acrylic, ink, charcoal and drawing.
Brushes: Mary Ann particularly likes Winsor and Newton Series 7 Kolinsky Sable Brushes. They do of course have the reputation of being the world's finest watercolour brushes (and they're called No. 7 because that's the size which Queen Victoria liked the best!

Series 7 fulfils the essential qualities that define the finest water colour brush for artists:
  • Point - the brush comes to a crisp point which is maintained during use.
  • Snap & Spring - the brush snaps crisply back into shape with the right degree of spring to allow the artist superior control between the brush and painting surface.
  • Flow Control - The colour flows evenly and consistently from the point, with enough colour carrying capacity in the belly of the brush to allow flowing gestural strokes.
Winsor & Newton Series 7
Watercolour Paints: For paints she uses either Winsor and Newton or Sennelier. This is the Sennelier colour chart (pdf file). She adores the reds produced by Sennelier. Favourite paints include Chinese Vermilion and Cadmium Red. Other Sennelier colours that she particularly values include Naples Yellow, French Ultramarine (Light and Deep) and the Blue Violet and Red Violet.

One of the things I loved about the book was her constant attention in her sketchbook to which paints made which colour and the constant colour notes she made. Plus at the back there are some wonderful reproductions of her shade cards - you can see the naturals below

I'd like to thank Mary Ann for taking time out to give me an interview and Margaret Stevens for arranging to send me a review copy of Botanical sketchbook which i greatly enjoyed reading.


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