Sunday, April 14, 2013

Ten Top Tips for winning an RHS Gold Medal for Botanical Art

Would you like to win a Gold Medal for your Botanical Art?
  • Have you ever wondered whether your artwork is good enough to submit to the RHS Botanical Art Exhibition
  • Have you got the stage where you've started to wonder about the logistics of what's involved in submitting an entry?
If the answer to any of these is 'Yes" read ON - and you'll learn a thing or two - or ten!

I paid two visits on Friday and Saturday to the RHS Botanical Art Exhibition at the RHS Lindley Hall on Friday and Saturday.

I met eight ladies who had all won RHS Gold Medals - you can see images of some of them and their work below.  In this and my next post I'm going to be sharing what I learned - starting with...

10 Top Tips for Winning an RHS Gold Medal for Botanical Art

1. Only submit top notch work

This is a tip arising from various comments.  Feedback to artists by the RHS suggests that the quality of work now being submitted to the RHS Botanical Art Exhibition is such that the selectors are now getting very choosy.

I gather that if you are to stand any sort of chance of being invited to submit work to the exhibition you must fall into one of two categories:
  • EITHER an artist who is new to the RHS Botanical Art Exhibition
  • OR a previous medal winner

This year they awarded 8 Gold Medals and no Bronzes.  Realistically, you'd have to be a previous winner of a Gold or Silver Gilt to stand a chance of being selected.  That means if you want to exhibit more than once, you're going to have to win a Silver Gilt or Gold Medal at your FIRST attempt.

TIP #1: Aiming for a Gold Medal Standard for your first entry is absolutely essential if you want to exhibit more than once!

2.  Find a Helpful Grower

Annie Hughes (Gold Medals 2011, 2012, 2013) from NSW, Australia recommends finding a Grower who is both interested in your project, prepared to lend plants and is also flexible.  It had never occurred to me that growers would lend plants, however I could immediately see that supplying plants to an artist who wins a RHS Gold Medal could work well for a horticultural business.

So here's a call-out for Mark Engall of Engall's Nurseries in Sydney who supplied Annie's Citrus plants!

Annie Hughes RHS 2013 Citrus Plants
GOLD MEDAL 2013 awarded to Annie Hughes GM
copyright: images - Annie Hughes; photo - Katherine Tyrrell

TIP #2: Locate a friendly Grower for your theme plants and secure their support before you get started

Note: You can read my interview with Annie in 2011 in RHS Botanical Art Show & Five Gold Medal Winners

3.  Never ever forget that the RHS is a Horticultural Society

First time exhibitor  Laura Silburn of Cornwall came up with this excellent tip!  In deciding what theme to have for her work, she decided it was probably a very good idea to remember that the RHS is a horticultural society which is keen to identify and promote the best in plants.

Her collection of Hardy Geraniums were not just ones which grew in her garden, they are also ones which have received the RHS Award of Garden Merit

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
TIP #3: Consider the relevance of the RHS Award of Garden Merit for all cultivated plants suitable for gardens

4. Get the Botany right - know what to show and highlight

Gülnar Ekşi from Turkey recommends studying botany to make sure you understand the plant, its plant morphology and its unique or very special features which should be clearly featured in RHS artwork - which must be botanically accurate.

In fact it's very interesting that a significant proportion of the Gold Medal Winners have studied the plant extensively.  Two of them - Gülnar Ekşi and Hye Woo Shin are both in the process of completing a  PhD in Botany

Gulnar Eksi Plants from the forests and woods of Chile
Plants from the forests and woods of Chile 
GOLD MEDAL 2013 awarded to Gülnar Ekşi GM
copyright: images - Gülnar Ekşi; photo - Katherine Tyrrell
TIP #4:  Study Botany or seek assistance from an expert botanist

5. Practice to achieve top quality

A very high standard of work is required in the exhibition of botanical illustration. Emphasis is placed primarily on botanical accuracy with aesthetic appeal.
Another tip from Gülnar Ekşi from Turkey.  She recommends lots of practice to achieve excellent quality.  So if a piece isn't working, start again and make it your best work rather than trying to work round any errors made!

TIP #5: Never be afraid to stop work and start again if you want to achieve and submit top quality work

6.  Size your work to fit the Panels

One of the criteria for your exhibit is that it must fill but not swamp the exhibition space.
the space allocated in which to hang the pictures is well-filled without being overcrowded
My view is that the RHS are looking to reward botanical artists who know how to exhibit their work to a professional size and display standard.

Nature in Waiting - Gold Medal 2013
by Julia Trickey GM, Assoc SBA

copyright: images - Julia Trickey; photo - Katherine Tyrrell
This tip comes from Julia Trickey (4 Gold Medals 2006, 2008, 2012, 2013).
Display boards are light grey in colour, 2m long x 1.3m, and arranged in a zigzag fashion.
Julia starts by working out a plan for her display.  She knows that each display board is 2 metres wide.  She allows herself a MAXIMUM of 1.8 metres per display board for the artwork as space is also required to tell people about yourself and to provide space between each artwork.  A minimum of six works on two boards gives a width allowance of no more than 60cm.  Thus the maximum width of the artwork which has a decent margin of mat is around about 45cm which means that the effective working width of the artwork is around about 40cm.

Julia also works out the design of the work so she knows more or less how each will look relative to the others before she starts or revises her design to fit a plan for the overall exhibiti rather than working on the design of an individual piece in isolation.

TIP #6:  Start by working out the concept, design and layout for your end display. From that calculate the maximum size of each artwork - allowing for adequate spacing and the mat

(Note:  Julia also produces some very useful leaflets providing tips and techniques for botanical artists)

7.  Have a good team behind you

This tip comes from Margaret de Villiers of Hermanus in South Africa.  Margaret is a first time exhibitor and won a Gold Medal for her display of Cape Ericas.  She also won Best Painting in Show.

A key consideration for work for the RHS Botanical Art exhibition is that
Particular credit is given for botanical accuracy, exact colour reproduction and attention to detail. Higher awards tend to be given to exhibits illustrating a particular theme or plant family.
Margaret doesn't pretend to be an expert botanist, nor is she somebody who is a technical geek.   There is nothing in the regulations which says that the artist has to be responsible for all the dissection or recording it for reference material.

Consequently Margaret asked somebody who was an expert on the Cape Ericas to do the botanical dissection for her so that she had all the information which was relevant to each plant - and was advised and understood what was important.  The dissections were then photographed (think magnification and high resolution!) and transferred to a CD.  A Photographer friend then printed all the photos out for her and from these, she decided which images to use for the dissection information which runs along the bottom margin of each image.  In other words she assembled an expert team to support her with the work she knew needed doing.

Cape Ericas (Heathers)
GOLD MEDAL 2013 awarded to 
Margaret de Villiers
copyright: images - Margaret de Villiers; photo - Katherine Tyrrell

TIP #7:  Achieve your goal of winning a Gold Medal by assembling an expert support team

(Note: An expert support team may include one or more of a grower, a botanist, a photographer, a graphic artist and a framer)

8.  Take care with your presentation

Sandra Sanger of Victoria, Australia recommends paying attention to presentation of the display.  One of the criteria for assessment is that....
the design of the display enhances the appearance of the drawings or paintings
Whether the work is shown framed or unframed is again up to the exhibitor but the exhibit must not be a mixture of both. Work should preferably be presented in off-white single mounts and, if framed, in simple light-coloured wooden frames.
Signage is considered as part of the overall presentation of the exhibit and will be judged accordingly.
Thus there is no requirement to present the work in frames.  Artists from abroad typically do not frame their work to save on weight.

Sandra's preference is for a double mount which she feels sets off the work better.  She also lays emphasis on the graphical quality of the labelling for both theme and the individual works.

Orchids - Slipper and Australian Natives
GOLD MEDAL 2013 awarded to Sandra Sanger
copyright: images - Sandra Sanger; photo - Katherine Tyrrell
TIP #8:  Think about the quality of the mats and labels as well as the artwork!

9. Start very early!

This is my recommendation - and it's one which is always reinforced by listening to the stories of how a portfolio of work was put together.

To submit to this exhibition there is a very defined and lengthy timescale.  It's a good idea to get to grips with this early on.  See
You need to first show a sample of original work (four pieces) to the Picture Advisory Committee.  The deadline for consideration for exhibition in 2014 and subsequent years is 26 June 2013.
Please note there is an annual submission meeting to assess artists for exhibiting in RHS shows. The deadline for submissions for consideration at this meeting is Wednesday 26 June 2013.The date of the next selection meeting is 10 July, 2013.
Once approved you then have five years to submit your work. The lengthy timetable recognises the fact that botanical accuracy which displays a life cycle requires at least one year just to collect the information

However you also have to apply for a space to exhibit - and you can only do that once you have been approved.  You need to be very sure you will be able to deliver when booking your space as cancellations count against getting a place again in the future.

TIP #9:  Make a project plan - with critical events and timelines - for completing and submitting a portfolio to be "approved" through to getting your artwork completed and travelling to your target exhibition

10.  You need many more business cards than you think possible!

All but the previous GM winners had run out of business cards and images of their artwork on their first day!  I'd estimate most GM winning artists will get through at least 200-250 business cards and will also sell a lot of cards of their work.  It seems silly not to bring enough!

Remember this is marketing!  If the card is attractive people will keep it and may contact you again in the future with a commission.

TIP #10:  Triple the number of cards you first thought of!

I'm now minded to review How to enter the RHS Botanical Art Show which I wrote two years ago to see if it needs updating although I suspect most of it is pretty much the same rules and guidelines.  The only thing which has changed is that you now only need to submit six works rather than the nine which used to be required.

Links to previous posts about RHS Botanical Art:

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

[August 2016 - updated]


  1. Thank you so much for this Katherine!

  2. This is brilliant advice! Thanks Katherine!

  3. It is great to read this summary and see how other artists prepare for the show. I will point my students to your site. Keep up the good work and lovely to catch up with you again. Julia

  4. Great to read this summary of how other artists prepare for the show. I will point my students to your blog. Lovely to catch up with you again. Keep up the good work. Julia

  5. What a wonderful succinct clever summary of 'must do's' Katherine! Thank you!

  6. thank you for your interesting botanical web sites RHS and SBA. Great for teaching purposes for those who cannot get to the exhibitions. Very inspirational.

  7. Invaluable information with good visual support. You are amazing at what you do.
    Although I do not often comment, I am a loyal follower and you have helped and inspired me many times. This remarkable post reminded me how important it is to prepare a plan, have higher standards and attend to the details.
    Thank you, Katherine.


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