Thursday, April 19, 2012

Botanical art, watercolour and art societies

Can anybody tell me why the very best botanical artists who work in watercolour tend to limit art society membership to Botanical Art Societies? 

I visit a lot of art society exhibitions each year.  I keep wondering why some of the most technically skilled use of watercolour that I see can only be found in the exhibitions by botanical artists.

For example, why do so few botanical artists who work solely in watercolour join those art societies which focus on painting in watercolour?

  • Is there a perception amongst botanical artists that watercolour societies do not take botanical painting in watercolour seriously?
  • Do watercolour societies not appreciate the level of excellence achieved by some of the best botanical artists?
  • Is it a gender "thing"?
Who are these vagabonds even more transient than we? 
Fay Ballard RWS
This question has been prompted because I've begun to notice an increase in botanical art being exhibited in (non-botanical) art society exhibitions.  For example, UKCPS is displaying more and more botanical art in coloured pencils.

While it is possible to see some excellent examples of botanical art on display, in general it seems to me that the standard of work in watercolour in other exhibitions often seems somewhat adrift from the standards achieved in exhibitions by botanical artists.  There are of course some notable exceptions - Fay Ballard RWS being one.  I wish there were more....

Two questions for you:
  • Do you know of botanical artists working in watercolour who exhibit outside in art society exhibitions
  • Do you have any idea why botanical artists working in watercolour stick to the botanical art societies?

Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists

The Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists opens to the public tomorrow at Central Hall Westminster in Storeys Gate London.

The exhibition is open every day between 11am and 5pm until Sunday 29th April.

Admission is free although the catalogue is priced.  All work is for sale.

I'm visiting the Private View today and will be posting a review on this blog tomorrow.

The artwork on the flyer for the exhibition is by Fiona Strickland DA (Edin) SBA GM CBM who is a brilliant artist who paints in watercolour

Note:   Fay Ballard RWS graduated from Central Saint Martins Art School in September 2006 with an MA in Fine Art having previously studied History of Art at Sussex University. She also has a Diploma in Botanical Painting from the Chelsea Physic Garden and was elected as an Associate of the RWS last year in 2007 and subsequently became a full member.  The painting of leaves shown above was exhibited in Royal Watercolour Society - Spring Show in 2008.



Ruth said...

Hi Katherine,
Perhaps it is because botanical illustrators approach their work from a scientific point of view rather than an artistic one, and don't consider their work to be same 'sort' of art that other art societies exhibit? With some of the more analytical illustrations the images could be seen as a technical 'blueprint' of a plant. I do agree though, that there is a huge amount of incredibly creativity and artistry involved in a lot of botanical watercolour. Hope you enjoy the SBA show - I'm hoping to get there later this week!

Unknown said...

Why not ask the question: "What can other art or watercolour societies offer Botanical Artists?" I think you will find that the answer if "Absolutely nothing!" They would not relate to the mindset required to become a competent botanical artist.

Although I am not a botanical artist, and am a really bad water colourist, several of my friends are producers of magnificent botanical art, and one of them is an RHS Gold Medal winner and possibly one of the most prominent botanical artists and teachers in the world. I watched her paint for years before she became famous. One small painting would take a month or six weeks to paint, often with the use of a magnifying glass. It still taks just as long to complete a work some thirty years down the track.

Others I know employ the same methods and time frames. Can you imagine any conventional watercolourist spending that much time and devotion on one small painting? That's why a watercolour painting by a prominent botanical artist can fetch in excess of $40,000 and a Limited Edition print $800-1200. Have you seen many watercolour landscapes commanding such prices recently?

Only another botanical artist can really understand the incredible concentration, time and training that goes in to becoming a half way passable artist in this genera. Other water colourists can teach them nothing. They are a race apart and I take my hat off to all accomplished botanical artists. I certainly do not have the patience and talent to produce such work - but then, I'm ham fisted with all watercolours.

orchidartist said...

Botanical art societies offer much that other organizations do not. As the previous writers have noted, there is a commonality of scientific observation, creative purpose, tireless discipline among the thousands of botanical artists alive. There is also a rich tradition dating back thousands of years to Egyptian tomb paintings that we can be proud of! While a few renowned botanical artists can command tens of thousands of dollars for their work, most of us do what we do out of love and a deep, even reverent appreciation for nature.

Making A Mark said...

Good points!

However my question was no so much directed at why should botanical artists aspire to become members of botanical art societies (I think they should!) so much as why they don't also seek to join watercolour societies as well - and find a bigger audience for their work.

I'd just really love to see the very best of botanical watercolour art in the shows which purport to display the best of watercolour painting period - whether that's the open shows of the RWS and RI or the Sunday Times Watercolour Competition (see the Call for Entries for the latter in 2012

David Teter said...

I too would like to know that answer. I would think Bot. artists would be well received.
In fact there lots of examples of floral watercolor artists who work large and very exacting, 30x 40 for example that do 'more artistic' approaches, probably spending countless hours painting each that do very well in art societies.
Is it Bot. artists don't venture outside of their own artistic community?
Why not just try you never know what will happen.

As I read the other responses I heard an underlying (unwarranted) resistance.
None of the reasons given really address the why, in fact they seem to me to be reasons IN SUPPORT of joining instead of reasons NOT to join.

Colours and Textures said...

I am wondering whether botanical artists don't submit much to other societies because they have looked at those exhibitions and decided that their genre is not present so it's not worth trying or whether they have tried and it hasn't been accepted.
The Society of Botanical Artists was founded 1985 which is relatively recently
' create a focus for the continuation of the centuries-old tradition of excellence in this unique aspect of art...'
The same question still remains. Was it founded to provided opportunities that were not forthcoming from other societies? Or was it that botanical artists were not offering then their work? Either way I think such centres of excellence are a good thing.
going back to your question Katherine, I suspect that trends and prejudices sometimes come into the equation too.

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