Tuesday, January 24, 2012

How to become a member of the Society of Botanical Artists

This is a post about how to become a member of the Society of Botanical Artists (SBA).

"Membership" is a term used in this post to denote botanical artists who have achieved the status of member through the process of election to the SBA.  It should not be confused with the membership status related to any other organisation or anybody who pays to be a "friend" of a society.

This is the reference page on the SBA website for "how to become a member".  Anything stated which is not contained on that page or in the information sheet about how to exhibit/become a member (downloadable as a PDF file) are my own personal observations.

How to become an Associate Member of the Society of Botanical Artists

In order to become a member of the Society of Botanical Artists, botanical artists must first achieve the status of Associate Member.

Many Art Societies are now taking the step of introducing a two stage process in election to full membership.  Having an Associate Membership stage enables any Art Society to check out both capacity and commitment - over a period of time:
  • capacity to deliver at the quality of a signature member
  • commitment to become fully involved with the Society and to maintain that commitment 
An Associate Membership stage also prevents an art society becoming a victim of the signature membership junkie.  That's an artist who collects signature memberships from different art societies but fails to contribute on a regular basis.

The first step

You need to address the question "Does your work merit membership of the Society?"

It's pointless to apply unless you think your work might be considered to be a suitable standard - which means you need to work out what's the standard.

To make that assessment I'd advise you to study the work of recently elected Signature Members and existing Associate Members.
  • recently elected signature members - indicates the standard now required for signature status
  • associate members - indicates the standard required for Associate Status - but bear in mind that progression to signature status is not automatic or related to time served.
I'm suggesting looking at the work of recently elected members because, the SBA in common with other art societies is continually reviewing the process people must follow to become elected as signature members.

In  common with many art societies, the hurdles to membership become higher as the Society becomes better established.  I've had full members of the SBA tell me that they regard themselves as very fortunate to have been elected in the very early years of the Society.  They consider that they might find it a bit more difficult and certainly a longer process to get elected today.

I've certainly noticed that a number of the artists recently elected to full membership have earned Gold Medals from the Royal Horticultural Society round about the time they've been elected to signature membership.  It's a good and appropriate yardstick for the strictly botanical work.

I'm therefore suggesting that the work of recently elected signature members is probably the best demonstration of the standard which now represents the yardstick of quality used in recent times.  One such member. who is a coloured pencil artist, that I know is Janie Pirie SBA UKCPS, GM, CBM '10, CBM'11. You can see more of her recent work on her website

Artwork exhibited in the 2011 Annual Exhibition by recently elected signature member
Janie Pirie SBA UKCPS, GM, CBM '10, CBM'11

I first saw the exquisite work of watercolour artist Fiona Strickland DA SBA GM CBM '09, CBM '11 at her first exhibition with the SBA in 2008 (The Botanical Palette exhibition).  It was immediately obvious to me and very many other people that she would be elected to membership.  However she's the only person I know in recent years who has shortcut the normal process - she was elected to membership at her first exhibition.  An iris painted by Fiona is the flower motif for this year's Exhibition and the SBA flyer

The Great Art Award 2011
Leucospermium by Fiona Strickland DA SBA GM CBM

The very best way of making an assessment of the standard is to visit the SBA's Annual Exhibition.  This year's exhibition is being held at Central Hall, Westminster between Friday, 20 April and Sunday 29 April 2012.

I cannot emphasise enough the difference that exists between seeing photographic reproductions on websites and in books and the reality of seeing an artwork up close.  This is an observation many people make about about their artwork but in my experience it's an observation of particular relevance to botanical art of a high standard.

Another - and longer route - to assessing whether your work is of a suitable standard is by becoming a student of the Society's Diploma Course.  This is also particularly suitable for botanical artists who don't live in the UK and all those who can't get to see the exhibition easily.  The benefits are:
  • undertaking the work for the course enables you to get feedback about how well your work meets the standards required.
  • An artist who has won two or more of the highest international awards such as Gold Medals or gained a Distinction in the Society’s Distance Learning Diploma Course could, entirely at the discretion of the Selection Committee, be invited to to apply for Associate Membership on presentation of six works of the requisite standard in the first year of application
Criteria for associate membership

So far as I am aware where you live is not a criteria for membership of the Society.  For example, the Society's Diploma Course is open to students anywhere in the world.  Students to date have come from the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Australia, The Netherlands, Italy, the USA, Switzerland, Singapore, South Africa, Greece, Sweden and France.

The SBA is fortunate in having a member who will frame work for overseas members so that they can avoid the shipping costs associated with sending framed work (see The exhibition information sheet for 2012 (downloadable as a PDF file).

How to apply / Selection process

To apply you need to have work accepted at the Annual Exhibition - as follows
To become an Associate an artist must have submitted five works and had ALL five works accepted for two consecutive years: that is 10 out of 10 works accepted in total over two successive years. 
In the second year, the work submitted by an artist who is a Candidate for Associate Membership (and who is required to mark their work as from a Candidate) is obviously scrutinised even more carefully.

Thus the selection process begins with selection of work for the Annual Exhibition.
The Selection Committee Council elects new Associate Members from the non members who submit work to the Annual Exhibition..... The Selection Committee only sits once a year at the Annual Open Exhibition and Associate Membership is automatic for those applicants who fit the criteria above. Whilst the process may appear difficult, it is not impossible and, if unsuccessful, artists can apply again in successive years.
Only work submitted for the exhibition and seen in person by the Selection Committee counts for the purposes of the selection process.
The Selection Committee will not consider portfolios, reproductions of work or web site addresses as part of the election procedure.
The costs and benefits

Becoming a signature member of an art society is something that many artists aspire to.  Some are a tad surprised when they find out the annual subscription levels for associate and full members!  This is a piece of information which is rarely found on a website or any information for prospective members.

It's therefore extremely refreshing to see that the cost and benefits of becoming an associate member spelt out on the SBA website
The annual subscription for Associate Members is £120.00 which entitles the use of the initials AssocSBA after the artist’s name. There are also other benefits for Associates: free submission and hanging, reduced commission on sales at the exhibition, the opportunity to take part in projects and exhibitions which are exclusive to the Society’s Members, and the obvious association with like-minded artists.
The next step - full membership of the Society of Botanical Artists

Signature status
Full membership entitles the use of SBA after a member’s name, signifying a guarantee of excellence in the botanical painting world.
This a prize which is not easily attained - but it is achievable by talented artists who work hard - in much the same way as excellence is achieved in all things.

There is another route to membership.
Alternatively, an artist who has won two or more of the highest international awards such as Gold Medals or gained a Distinction in the Society’s Distance Learning Diploma Course could, entirely at the discretion of the Selection Committee, be invited to take up membership on presentation of six works of the requisite standard in the first year of application.
Election to full Membership is entirely at the discretion of the Selection Committee and is not automatic. 
My personal view is that this is the right approach - particularly if a Society does not want to devalue its signature membership status.

The ability of all signature members to consistently produce and exhibit work of the highest standard is of paramount importance to the credibility and status of any art society.

All queries about the process of submission or selection should be addressed to the SBA.

Below you will find links to my reviews of past exhibitions of the SBA.  You can also see members work in the gallery and on the members pages of the SBA website

2012 exhibition
2011 exhibition
2010 exhibition
2009 exhibition
2008 Exhibition
2006 Exhibition
My botanical art 'resources for artists' websites
  • Botanical Art - Resources for Artists
  • A History of Botanical Art - Resources for Botanical Art Lovers
  • Botanical Art - Art Book Reviews for Artists
The above have now been replaced by my compendium website Botanical Art and Artists about all things related to botanical art


  1. Thank you for posting this article Katherine. Having all the information clearly explained and all the links to reviews etc in one place is a great resource. I have copied and pasted your link to the Facebook Botanical Artists Forum.

    I am interested to know how many artists applying for exhibition and Associate Member would be sending five original artworks for selection to the SBA from overseas areas.

    I know there is a great deal of interest in the SBA from Australian artists - however the distance and cost for artworks to travel may be a deterrent. Would love to hear from anyone who has sent artworks in from countries further afield.

  2. Thank you Vicki

    I am now going to go and amend the post to indicate that the SBA has a member - Jackie Gethin - who is happy to frame work sent by International Artists so as to minimise shipping costs

    I see work every year sent in by artists from overseas.


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