Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A 'Making A Mark' Profile of Fiona Strickland

I was delighted last week to meet up with and interview an artist I've very much admired for the last four years and five SBA exhibitions - Fiona Strickland DA SBA GM CBM '09, CBM, 11 and CBM 12.

Fiona Strickland and her watercolour painting of Iris 'Action Front'

I first saw Fiona's work at the The Botanical Palette Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists (SBA) in 2008.   If ever work by a botanical artist deserved a "Wow" this was it!  One of her paintings in that exhibition was immediately bought by Dr Shirley Sherwood (of the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at Kew Gardens) at the Buyer's Preview and the wheels of Fiona's personal artistic destiny started to turn.......
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.
How to become a member of the Society of Botanical Artists
I think this is the measure of Fiona - her works simply bowls people over and just leaves us all wanting more!

Fiona suggested to me that she was very fortunate that James White - the (then) Curator at the Hunt Institute of Botanical Documentation happened to see her work at the exhibition in 2008.  He was as impressed as the rest of us and invited her to submit work for the 13th International Exhibition of Botanical Art & Illustration in 2010.  Her submitted work was then featured on the front cover (see below)

Fiona told me last week that she is also very honoured that the work which Dr Shirley Sherwood bought for her personal collection is actually hung in her house

Helianthus, Last Sunflower
65 x 74cm
©  Fiona Strickland
 I was greatly amused by a comment Fiona made which is one which I am sure will make a lot of botanical artists grin!
I like to paint dead things as they don't move!
Awards and Recognition

To date Fiona has exhibited and been received awards as follows:
  • 2008
    • exhibited at SBS - first exhibition
    • full professional membership of the Society
    • won People's Choice Award
  • 2009
    • Helianthus, August Sunflower was awarded the Margaret Grainger Memorial Bowl (for the best painting by a member within 2 years elected in the previous two years).
    • a Certificate of Botanical Merit 
  • 2010  
(left) Protea, Past Their Best, Watercolour 74 x 65 cm
(right) Ananas, Ananas Bracteatus, Watercolour 65 x 58 cm
©  Fiona Strickland
Papaver June Poppy by Fiona Strickland
watercolour, 24.5" x 18"
©  Fiona Strickland
My particular favourite of those winning CBMs this year was the June Poppy painted in watercolour by Fiona Strickland. If you've never seen Fiona's work, it's worth a trip to London just to see the quality of her painting and what she can achieve. As somebody commented to me, there's an immense number of meticulous watercolour washes used to achieve the intense saturation and luminosity found in her work. Making A Mark - Certificates of Botanical Merit at SBA Exhibition 2011
  • 2012
    • An iris painted by Fiona is the flower motif for the 2012 Exhibition and the SBA flyer
    • a Certificate of Botanical Merit for Iris 'Action Front'

Iris 'Action Front' by Fiona Strickland
©  Fiona Strickland
She's also been awarded an RHS Dawn Jolliffe Botanical Art Bursary and an RHS Gold Medal.

She has also exhibited her work in Cumberland Lodge in Windsor Great Park; at the Palmergarten Botanic Gardens in Frankfurt and in the Forum Botanische Kunst exhibition in Frankfurt.

Work by botanical artists of a very high standard always sells well.  However Fiona seems to have developed a track record of selling very well indeed.  She must be a huge asset to any gallery or exhibition which exhibits her work.  I rather suspect there will come a time in the near future when there will be a queue of people waiting to buy one of Fiona's works.

What was so refreshing about meeting Fiona is how surprised - and truly honoured - she is about the level of success she has achieved to date.  However she's very much enjoying everything that has happened, even when it means lots of late nights and hard work.

Media and Approach

So after the tale of success - the next question is how does she do it!

I'm just as inquisitive as the next botanical artist when it comes to knowing a bit more about how a botanical artist approaches her work.

The first thing people need to know is that Fiona has had absolutely no formal training in botanical art.  However she did have formal art training as a painter when she studied for a Diploma in Drawing and Painting at Edinburgh College of Art, Scotland.  She enjoyed a year of post graduate study in a studio overlooking the botanical gardens in Edinburgh!  Plus she then taught art for many years rising to become Head of an Art Department in a High School.

I've been greatly intrigued over the last few years as to how Fiona manages to achieve her luscious dark tones which are always colourful rather than muddy.  Apparently the secret is to only work with pure transparent colours and never ever to use any opaque or semi-transparent colours.  She then builds up her colours through layers of washes and glazes.  I became convinced while talking to her that her real secret is having a comprehensive and in-depth knowledge of how different pigments and colours behave on paper, which colours work together and what to expect from the layers of different colours she employs.

The number of layers in one of Fiona's paintings painting very much depends on the subject matter, the colour required and the place of the colour in the overall design.  Fiona focuses very much on tonal contrasts and the temperatures of colours and how to use them in combination to good effect.  In other words she knows her colour theory and colour combinations inside out!

She also works on Fabriano Artistico HP 300lb (640gsm) which enables her to control her paint colours much better, although having talked to her my own feeling is that it's as much because she knows exactly how each colour behaves!

Each painting takes her about two to three months - but this obviously varies depending on the size and complexity of the work.  She generally works from top left to bottom right finishing as she goes.  Generally she doesn't make studies - because of becoming too absorbed in her studies when then turn into works of art!

Fiona also makes a point of working with any mistakes made rather than trying to remove them.  She never ever scrapes back because of what this does to the paper - however she might try 'lifting out' using water.  In fact, she told me that she rather enjoys the fight with a painting as it enables her to become much more involved in the work.  I rather gather that simple, straightforward botanical paintings are not for her - she would much rather have a good challenge!

and finally......

I asked Fiona what were her plans for her the future.  Lots more exhibitions would seem to be the principal theme.

There are plans for more exhibitions - in Germany with SBA and in the Hamptons with a private gallery.  Some of her work is also due to be published in a book about female botanical artists throughout history which is currently in preparation and due to be published later this year.

However she also wants to make time to start a series of 25 paintings linked in some way to Scotland.  I think that's an absolutely cracking idea (I even ventured a suggestion for a title!) and I look forward to seeing what emerges.

I was left wondering whether it's about time botanical artists in Scotland gave some thought to developing a florilegium!

Links to websites about Fiona Strickland

Reviews of the Society of Botanical Artists Annual Exhibitions


  1. Thank you for this wonderful post! The artwork is brilliant and it's great to hear about the way she works.

  2. Fantastic article about a truly wonderful artist! incredible depth and of colour! and a great idea about the Scottish florilegium!

  3. Wow, breathtaking. Thanks, Katherine, lovely post.

  4. This is brilliant read Katherine. It is fascinating to learn how Fiona paints and achieves that spectacular luminosity in her compositions. I am very much looking forward to seeing that new book about female botanical artists. Well done Fiona for bowling us over again!

  5. Botanical paintings can sometimes be really well done scientifically - but a little soulless - these are wonderful and passionate works :>)

  6. Thanks for introducing me to this artist, it has changed my view of both watercolour and botanical paintings, stunningly beautiful, a little sinister and very contemporary.


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