Thursday, April 18, 2013

Interviews with RHS Botanical Art Gold Medal Winners

Every year I go to the RHS Botanical Art Show and every year I try to interview all the Botanical Artists who won Gold Medals.

Key themes

The key themes for me this year were very evident very quickly
  • The first is the perennial one - which is that Gold Medal Winning botanical artwork ALWAYS stands out.  For those aspiring to win Gold it's worth reflecting on what it takes for your artwork to be "stand out".  Often it's a clear and consistent theme which looks good on the display panels and doesn't look like anybody else's work.
  • First time exhibitors do win Gold Medals.  In this instance 50% went to first timers.  I suggested in my last post that feedback from the RHS suggested that aming for a Gold Medal Standard for your first entry is absolutely essential if you want to exhibit more than once!
  • Painting flowers nicely isn't enough. There's a clear and strong botanical science theme running through the stories of many of the new Gold Medal Winners.  Dissection and the portrayal of the complete plant and life cycle should be high on the agenda of any aspiring Gold Medal winner
  • Personal connections with plants they were portraying came through strongly with a number of the gold medal winners.  You've got to at the very least love the plant you paint!
  • a number of artists made a point of highlighting how much they owe to their teacher.  It's certainly worthwhile making sure you get top instruction if you are able to.
  • you don't have to be good at everything but you generally need to be good at something in addition besides painting!  That might be plant collection - or finding a good grower, great presentation or great dissection. Keep adding to your repertoire and you strengthen your case to win a Gold.
  • I think Fabriano should be sponsoring a prize at this show given the number of times their paper gets a mention!

The other thing to note is how many of the gold Medallists are first timers.  They're listed below by order of surname.

Gülnar Ekşi

Plants from the forests and woods of Chile 
GOLD MEDAL 2013 awarded to Gülnar Ekşi GM
ccopyright: images - Gülnar Ekşi; photo - Katherine Tyrrell
Gülnar Eksi GM is from Turkey and is currently completing her PhD in Botany at Ankara University.

All her paintings have been sold to the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh - and they are to be published in a book about Plants from the Woods and Forests of Chile 

She commented that the feedback she had from the judges suggested they particularly liked the colour she had achieved and the three dimensional quality of her paintings.

I asked Gülnar what materials she used.
Her paper is Fabriano 5.  For her absolutely stunning pinks she uses Winsor & Newton Colours and in particular Permanent Rose, Opera Rose, Permanent Magenta and Alizarin Crimson.

She showed me an area of leaf shine and said she never ever lifts paint out. She never paints the area and then just uses water to blur the edges

Gülnar started to paint in 2000. Between 2002 and 2005, she learned about botanical art from Christobel King who is one of the main botanical artists at Kew Gardens.  It's worth noting that before she started painting botanical art, Christobel had gained a degree in botany and studied scientific illustration.  It's maybe not surprising at what Gülnar did next!

She started to learn about the biology and botany in order to help her with her botanical art.  It helps with understanding more about the plants she's working with, what to show and what to highlight.
  • In 2004, she graduated in Biology from Hacettepe University
  • In 2010 she started a Master course at the Department of Pharmaceutic Botany in Ankara University
  • and she's now doing a PhD in Botany!
She has a full-time job working as a botanical artist teaching plant morphology.  Since 2007 she has been a visiting botanical artist to the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) in order to prepare paintings for the book and to teach botanical art classes at the weekends.  Plus she also teaches botanical art in Santiago University in Chile.

To date, her work on the Chilean plants have earned her
  • a Gold Medal from BISCOT (Botanical Images Scotia), Edinburgh in 2010
  • a Gold Medal from the 2010 and 2012 Royal Horticultural Society, Botanical Art Show in London
  • this Gold Medal for another set of paintings on the same topic
Click this link to see more of her paintings of Chilean plants.

Annie Hughes

Sometimes you get odd juxtapositions at these RHS Exhibitions - because Annie Hughes (3 Gold Medals 2011, 2012, 2013) is Chilean by birth and comes from Santiago - although she now lives in New South Wales in Australia!

I've interviewed Annie previously in 2011 (see RHS Botanical Art Show & Five Gold Medal Winners) so this time we discussed her choice of topic.

Buddha's Hand (cropped version)
by Annie Hughes
awarded to 
Annie Hughes GM
copyright: images - Annie Hughes; photo - Katherine Tyrrell
I was amazed to find that she had painted three orchids before deciding the series wasn't working.  She needed to find a more helpful grower who could supply her with plants - which is how she came to be painting a range of plants belonging to the Citrus Family.  She had seven paintings in her display and these were:
  • a Blood Orange
  • the Seville Orange
  • a Pomelo - which was the subject she painted first
  • a Buddha's Hand - which is an extremely odd looking fruit.  I think I'm right in saying that one was returning to Australia and will be exhibited at another show this year.  Note how the image has the complete life cycle of the development of the fruit
  • a Pink Grapefruit
  • an Australian Red Centre Lime - which I'd never heard of
  • a Eureka Lemon
Her display provided botanical notes for all her subjects.  Annie used Fabriano Artistico for her watercolours and she painted her Pomelo first.

She had an absolutely fabulous set of oversized cards of her work which seemed to be selling fast.  They were on good quality card and demonstrated good reproduction standards - and I bought four!

Sandra Sanger GM

Sandra Sanger (Two Gold Medals 2010, 2013) only started to do botanical art after she retired from her work.  She started as a graphic artist and went on to become a lecturer in drawing, Art and Design for 35 years in the Department of Fashion and Textile design at RMIT in Melbourne, Australia.

When she started botanical illustration she took workshops in plant dissection and developed an interest in including the microscopic details in her studies.

She has been exhibiting on a regular basis in the biennial Art of Botanical Illustration at the Royal Botanic Garden in Melbourne and other botanical art shows in Australia, including the Margaret Flockton Award.  She has now begun to curate botanical art exhibitions for the RBG in Melbourne.

Sandra won her first RHS Gold Medal at the RHS Garden Show at the NEC in Birmingham.  She has work in the State Collection as well as in private collections in Australia and overseas.

She chose to do nine works with a series of Slipper Orchids and a smaller series of Australian Native Orchids.  Her main challenge was finding somebody who could provide an accurate identification of all the different orchids for her.

Hye Woo Shin

Lauraceae in Korea by Hye Woo Shin
RKS Botanical Art Exhibition: Best Exhibit in Show
Lauraceae in Korea by Hye Woo Shin

GOLD MEDAL 2013 awarded to Hye Woo Shin
copyright: images - Hye Woo Shin; photo - Katherine Tyrrell
Hye Woo Shin lives in Seoul in South Korea and this was her first time exhibiting at an RHS Show, her first Gold Medal and her first 'Best Exhibit in Show'.

I think a lot of people were greatly intrigued by how she had constructed her exhibits - and I'm afraid to say I forgot to ask!  (But I've got her email address!)

She's currently studying to complete her PhD in Botany and is an active collector of plants in South East Asia.  Her main area of study is DNA and she one day hopes to work at Kew.

One of the reasons she chose to do a series of studies of Lauraceae in Korea is because she very much likes the berry.  I have to say her arrangement of the different parts of the tree was very refreshing - particularly the inclusion of a small version of the tree displaying its growth habit.  I have of course seen this classic treatment of the illustration of a tree before but not for a while.

Laura Silburn

Varieties of Hardy Geranium that have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit
GOLD MEDAL 2013 awarded to Laura Silburn

copyright: images - Laura Silburn; photo - Katherine Tyrrell

This was Laura Silburn's first RHS Show and first Gold Medal.  She came to paint flowers through an interest in her plants.  Her collection of hardy geraniums come from her garden.

She has always drawn for as long as she can remember and used to paint in oil and acrylics.  However she's never painted regularly with watercolour until she started to do botanical art.  Her interest in plants in her garden became a way for her to reengage with her ability to paint.

Laura commented that she really values the good community of people who relate to botanical art in Cornwall and highlighted the Eden Project Florilegium Society.  Laura manages its Freaky Nature Painting List which matches members up with plants to paint.

You can see more of Laura's botanical art on the Florilegium's website

Julia Trickey

Hippeastrum Seedhead Gone to Seed
Nature in Waiting - Gold Medal 2013
by Julia Trickey GM, Assoc SBA

copyright: images - Julia Trickey; photo - Katherine Tyrrell
I interviewed Julia Trickey (4 Gold Medals 2006, 2008, 2012, 2013) last year - see 7 Gold Medal Winners at RHS Botanical Art 2012.

What I like about Julia's work is it never looks like anybody else's.  She also likes to do work large and oversized.  This year she took what on the face of it is an unpromising - and BROWN - topic which are the seeds and bulbs of Nature in Waiting (see Ten Top Tips for winning an RHS Gold Medal for Botanical Art for a view of the complete set)

She managed to capture the delicate papery thin nature of bulbs and dead hippeastrum flowers.  I also liked the way her paintings had odd little bits which looked like they'd dropped off the plants - as doubtless they did while being handled.  They really grounded the image on the page.

I gather it's very rare to see a Hippeastrum go to seed - and for them all to stay together so they can be painted.

Margaret de Villiers

RKS Botanical Art Exhibition: Best Painting in Show
Erica Bodkinii by Margaret de Villiers
GOLD MEDAL 2013 awarded to Margaret de Villiers
copyright: images - Margaret de Villiers; photo - Katherine Tyrrell
Margaret de Villiers is from Hermanus in South Africa. This was her first RHS Exhibition and she won Best Painting in the Show as well as a Gold Medal for her display of Cape Ericas.

Margaret has previously exhibited at The Kirstenbosch Botanical Art Biennale and indeed is intending to display some of her works at the exhibition this summer.

I always ask artists why they chose their plant or flower and I loved Margaret's answer.  It's one I've heard before from other Gold Medal winning artists! Apparently Cape Ericas don't move a lot with the light - unlike flowers!  Plus she has over 660 to choose from and is very keen that other people know more about the huge variety of ericas in South Africa!

She lives down near the coast but every week walks in the mountains and hence is very familiar with the different varieties of Ericas and was able to collect the plants from her walks.  Again, this points up to me how effective it can be both to have ready access to a plant and some point of attachment to the plant you are portraying.

The Cape Ericas do not flower for very long so Margaret kept them in a fridge and painted all the flowering parts first.

Margaret had a very useful tip for artists who are not very technical when it comes to dissection and photographing their artwork - see Tip 7. Have a good team behind you.  I liked the way she had all the botanical dissection information painted in a row at the bottom of the page.

[Note:  I found out when I got home that Franz Bauer did a series of illustration of Cape Ericas for The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. Indeed some may have worked out that last week's
Who painted this? #24 is a Cape Erica by Franz Bauer.

Esmee Winkel

Esmee Winkel's Gold Medal was for a set of meticulous and well designed pen and ink drawings of Leguminosae.  They were probably the most scientific illustrations in the whole show.

Esmee is a Scientific Illustrator as well as a Botanical Artist. She works for the Nationaal Herbarium Nederlands which is now part of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center which is one of the top five natural history museums in the world.  Her work is part of a large project to document the flora and legumes of South East Asia.  Her work is also published in Scientific Journals

She studied biology first and then trained as a scientific illustrator which was mainly about medical illustration but the same techniques work for the study of plants and flora.  You can see a portfolio of her artwork on her website

GOLD MEDAL 2013 awarded to Esmee Winkel

copyright: images - Esmee Winkel; photo - Katherine Tyrrell

She credits her botanical art tutor Anita Walsmit Sachs and other botanical artists with the quality of the work she now produces.  Until her recent retirement, Anita was head of the Art department and scientific illustrator at the Nationaal Herbarium Nederland.  (Anita is also a tutor on the distance learning program of the Society of Botanical Artists in England.) Esmee has also been influenced by Jan van Os who is a past winner of the The Linnean Society's Jill Smythies Award (which is awarded for excellence in published illustrations, such as drawings or paintings, in aid of plant identification, with the emphasis on botanical accuracy and the accurate portrayal of diagnostic characteristics.)

The work on display in the exhibition took about two to three weeks to do and were produced using specimens from the Herbarium.

Esmee uses Rotring technical pens (.35 and .18) and Indian Ink in cartridges for her drawings.  She finds she doesn't have a problem with Indian Ink drying in her pen if it's used a lot.  She also has a vibrating box with water which can also sort out any pen which is inked up - which was a new one on me!  She has also used my old trick of a good wash out in hot water.  Apparently scientists only want botanical illustrations in an ink which is good for reproduction purposes so she must always use black ink.

Links to previous posts on this blog about RHS Botanical Art:

If you'd like to know more about botanical art please check out my information websites:

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant post Katherine - so informative with lots of new links to websites I haven't visited before. I found the information about paints and papers really useful. Thanks for posting!


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