Thursday, April 24, 2014

Interviews with six RHS Botanical Art Gold Medal Winners (2014)

This year there were six botanical artists who won RHS Gold Medals at the Royal Horticultural Society's Botanical Art Show last week. This post has interviews with all six.

This is a VERY LONG post and is for those interested in the technical aspects of producing a gold medal winning display of botanical art.

So grab your favourite hot drink and a comfy chair and settle down for a jolly good read!

Additional interviews

This post follows on from my interviews in recent years with other RHS Gold medal winners.
Please also note that their TIPS for creating a Gold Medal display AND how best to present it are listed at the end of this post.

So - on to my interviews with the six artists who won Gold Medals at this year's show.

The ladies with an RHS Gold Medal

This years RHS Gold Medal Winners were as follows - and the interviews follow the order below
  • Hye Woo Shin (Korea) - Heterotrophic Plants in Korea - also WINNER of the Best Exhibit
  • Işık Güner (Turkey/Scotland) - Plants from the woods & forests of Chile - also WINNER of the Best Painting
  • Lynda de Wet (South Africa) - Parasitic Plants in Situ with the Host Plant - this is her blog
  • Louise Lane (UK) - Ophrys (Bee Orchids) of Menorca
  • Nikki Marks (UK) - The Genus Arisaema
  • Sharon Tingey (UK/Scotland) - Sunflowers (Helianthus)

Hye Woo Shin (Korea) - Heterotrophic Plants in Korea

Hye Woo Shin - with her Best Exhibit Award and RHS Gold Medal for Heterotrophic Plants of Korea (Parasitic Plants)

Hye Woo Shin 

Hye Woo Shin is a Botanical Artist and a PhD student at the Molecular Phylogenetics Laboratory at the Institute of Life Sciences and Biotechnology at Korea University.

She won the Best Exhibit in Show in 2013 and repeated this feat in 2014. Her work is truly stunning.


Hye Woo Shin starts by collecting all the relevant information about the plant. Then she makes studies before starting her paintings which she started last year - but hadn't completed enough in time for last year's show.

Her paintings are hugely informative and very complex and I wondered how she works out how to organise all her material. She told me that she has the whole group in mind right from the very beginning in terms of how she is going to arrange all the material on the paper - and needs to do this because they all have different flowering and fruiting times and hence she has to work on each painting at the relevant time of year.

Part of Hye Woo Shin's display of Heterotropic Plants in Korea

She starts by drawing every part of the painting separately. She then transfers this to tracing paper which enables her to move the sample subject around the paper until she's found the exact right place for it

Hye Woo Shin was very keen to highlight all the people who have helped her with her series of paintings of parasitic plants and included a photo of them on her stand (see below) which I thought was a very nice touch - and also reinforced the calibre of those involved in and supporting her project.

Team of highly qualified people supporting Hye Woo Shin re. collecting plant material, taking photos and supervising plant moprphological identification


She doesn't use any pen or graphite for her drawings - everything in her display was done using watercolour - and she's absolutely superb at managing her tints and washes!

She uses Winsor & Newton Paints - but uses Schminke for the greens.

Part of Hye Woo Shin's display
Plant is painted in the centre. The life cycle of shoots, flowering and fruiting occures around the edge
all dissections are sized such that each contibutes to the whole - all is planned from the beginning


Everybody was absolutely fascinated last year and this about how Hye Woo Shin creates her very impressive display of artwork - so I asked! Here are the instructions for each individual piece of art:
  • the backing, the paper and the acetate used at the front are all exactly the same size
  • the paper is sandwiched between the 1cm (yes that's right 1cm) foamcore and PET (which is the Korean acronym for the type of crystal acetate she uses)
  • a very wide clear sticky tape is then used to seal the front to the back, all the way round. the tape overlap at the front is negligible. I think it's probably about 1/4cm on the edge of the front face of the artwork.  (Somebody is very good at doing corners!)
  • The artwork is then completely sealed inside a protective casing which is then impervious to changes in temperature and moisture in the air - and little insects!
  • The sheet is paper is completely untouched by tape
    • nothing attaches the paper to the foam core
    • nothing attaches the acetate to the paper
  • Basically it's one big sandwich!
So now you know!

Işık Güner (Turkey/Scotland) - Plants from the woods & forests of Chile

Işık Güner with Gold Medal Certificate
Işık Güner did a one week intensive botanical art class with Christobel King in 2002 - and was hooked! She continued to take classes with and Paint with Christobel King through 2005 - while she was doing her degree in environmental engineering. After graduation in 2006, she decided she's like to paint for a while - and her art has now become her career. She has been a visiting botanical artist with the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh since 2007 and now produces paintings for commissions, works on major projects and teaches on:

Işık was awarded the Best Painting in the Show Award for her panting of Gunnera tinctoria.


Işık only begins to paint once she has collected all her botanical information. She hasn't studied botany as a subject but she does know a lot about the botany of the plants she is painting.  Her aim is always to produce a really precise painting and ensures she always know which parts she needs to show clearly.

The approach to her set of paintings about Plants from the woods and forests of Chile is unusual.

  • The really hard work was in the research and the preparation and the design.  Her project is linked to a major project by the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh.  
  • It took her three years to prepare all the sketches of all the different plants.  She did this by visiting places in Scotland where the plant grew for certain portions of the plant (e.g. leaf) and also travelled to Chile to see the plant in flower
  • When she came to paint that took her three months and indeed the Botanical Art Group on Facebook was enthralled as we watched her paint the very large fern on the left of the group below.

RHS Gold Medal display of paintings of Plants from the Woods and Forests of Chile by Işık Güner GM

She sketches in graphite and uses watercolour for samples of the colours - always remembering she's not trying to do a painting!

When she comes to painting she starts with wet and washy layers of watercolour and establishes light and shade. On top of this she starts to layer the different pigments she wants to use in terms of building up the painting.

In terms of design and constructing the composition of her painting we had a discussion about whether her engineering background might help her here.

You can see a gallery devoted to her Chilean Plant Series in her website(Note All rights of these paintings are reserved by RBGE. ). Her work had already received a Gold Medal at the BISCOT (Botanical Images Scotia) and it was unsurprising that she topped this off with a Gold Medal from the RHS as well.


Işık uses Fabriano 5 - the very white white or Fabriano Artistico Extra White. Her paints are Winsor & Newton and she uses the largest tubes. For some colours she goes to other brands and likes Schminke's Brilliant Blue Violet and the Sennelier Tyrian Rose. She doesn't always want to use transparent paints and is happy sometimes using opaque paints - it depends on what's required.

Her brushes are W&N series 7 miniatures - she uses #4 and #6. (This is the Winsor & Newton Series 7 leaflet)


Her works aere large - and one was very large - however they all fitted on to the panels. It was obvious to me that some very precise calculation and measurement had been made of what would fit!  Işık was using velcro strips and tape to help stick the front to the back of her mounted artwork. She found that she needed to keep checking them due to the environment within the hall.

RHS Gold Medal display of paintings of Plants from the Woods and Forests of Chile by Işık Güner GM

Lynda de Wet (South Africa) - Parasitic Plants in Situ with the Host Plant

Lynda de Wet with her Gold Medal and the painting purchased by the RHSyou can clearly see in this painting the three elements to her artwork
coloured painting of speciment, graphite background featuring the host
and array of botanical dissections along the bottom

Lynda de Wet (blogstarted botanical art in 1999 although she graduated with a degree in art from the Michaelis School of Art at University of Cape Town in 1972.

She now lives in the Western Cape of South Africa and regards herself as a flower painter.


She's produced a collection of 960 original watercolours just for the purposes of identifying different plants and flowers. They're all botanically correct but very simple. They're all housed with a herbarium pressing and the GPS of where they were seen and collected in a conservation centre on a farm.

Her website is a mine of information about the parasitic plants she portrays.  This is a woman with a passion for her subject matter!

Between 2004-2006 she began exhibiting at Kirstenbosch. She's won two bronze medals and two golds including one last year.

Lynda did a lot of research about what was required. The style she uses is based on an approach which has been used before. Lynda started to incorporate an environmental context for her plants in graphite in 2010 for the Kirstenbosch Biennale. In 2013, she started to add in the strip of botanical dissection along the bottom of the painting.

Lynda's practice is to go to a location, find a specimen and pick it. With parasitic plants she also needs to find the host plant. She photographs the background and uses the reference and an element of artistic licence to develop the background for the painting.

In terms of painting, she now starts with the botanical strip at the bottom on the basis if she doesn't get this right and can't explain the plant then she can't progress. Next she paints the plant and then works on the environmental context in graphite and completes this working from left to right.

One of her paintings, "Mystropetalon thomii", was highly rated by Dr Shirley Sherwood who bought it. It can now be seen in the "Botanical Art in the 21st century"exhibition at Kew Gardens until 10th August 2014.


Lynda uses a limited palette of Winsor & Newton watercolour paints on Arches Hot Press 300gsm.


This is a view of the presentation of six paintings - which you can also see on a dedicated page on her website.

Parasitic plants in situ with the Host PlantNote the size of the card for naming and explanatory narrative
I liked her cards for the provision of information about the plant.

Louise Lane (UK) - Ophrys (Bee Orchids) of Menorca

Louise Lane and her RHS Gold Medal Winning watercolour paintings and sketches of Menorcan Orphrys


Louise Lane wanted a complete change from her last Gold Medal in 2012 when she was working in graphite. In particular she wanted to get back into painting.  But she also had the challenge of how to follow a Gold Medal. Her response - with another Gold Medal!  It also effectively buries forever Louise only ever being identified as the woman who did the marvellous ferns in graphite.

Her husband grew up in Menorca and the island is a place they visit on a regular basis. She knew eight Orphrys grew in Menorca but didn't know where they all grew.  So Louise set to and did her research, read books, contacted people, found the best people to provide advice and relevant information and generally did everything she could to find out all she could about the very small bee orchids of Menorca BEFORE her fieldwork. (see her tip 3 in More Top Tips for winning an RHS Gold Medal for Botanical Art)

Fieldwork was undertaken over two weeks in April 2013.  The orchids are very dependent on habitat and are therefore not available from nurseries. (One does get the impression that Judges like people who have taken the trouble to go and find their plants!) 

She visited and saw all the plants in situ and recorded them in field sketches which each record measurements in the field and scale drawings and annotated studies of them in different profiles, colour notes, and the GPS location. The Judges provided feedback and very much liked the field sketches and colour studies. I'm now expecting to see more of these in future. It demonstrates commitment to your subject matter and the ability to work in the classic manner.

After she got the identification of all her specimens confirmed by the Professor she was liasing with she was able to start painting!

Her paintings are then built up by a process of layers and glazes. It took her a month to paint each one and displayed eight paintings in total in the show.

Study of Orphys Balearica by Louise Lane
Orphys Balearica by Louise Lane
This Field Sketch includes:
top left: name, place found and date
top right: GPS data for location
left - measured drawing in the field
centre - annotated study of specific botanical aspects plus notes of variations between plants at that site
right - colour notes of the different parts of the orchid and notes of how these vary plus specific paints used
bottom right: measurements of petals, sepals and labellum
and a note about the presence of an ants nest!


Louise paints on Fabriano Artistico 300lb - primarily because she knew she would be working on large areas of watercolour painting at one time.  She also uses Winsor and Newton Series 7, sizes 2 and 3 and only keeps them as long as they make a point


The bee orchids are painted in watercolour at ten times their actual size. Louise also presented her field sketches beneath her watercolour paintings of each Orphys.  By doing so she created a strong presentation in terms of botanical information and painted her subject in the classic manner of focusing on the bloom and its salient and relevant botanical characteristics.

Louise also had a very handy perspex holder for the large printed postcards of the orchids which were selling fast!

Ophrys of Menorca by Louise Lane GM (2012 and 2014)
The botanical information is very much evident in this display.
However it's contained in the sketchbook display from fieldwork displayed below the botanical art

Nikki Marks (UK) - The Genus Arisaema

Nikki Marks GM - with part of her display of The Genus Arisaema


Nikki Marks starts with the flower and builds from there. She uses up to 15 layers of paint to build up the plant or flower very slowly.  Her control of the water in the paint gives her the tinting strength she requires


Absolutely everything is done in paint. She uses M. Graham Watercolor Paints. She absolutely loves the silkiness of of paint on paper due to the honey in the paint which really makes it flow very easily. She also admires the lovely translucency she gets with her paint now - and this was certainly very evidence in her Gold Medal winning display of Arisaema.

The switch to M. Graham was prompted by having become rather disillusioned with the way Winsor & Newton Paints have changed since the place of manufacture changed (from UK to France). In particular she is very fed up with their Olive Green!  She thought the old W&N was brilliant and really does not like the new!

The paint can be obtained in the UK from T. N Lawrence of Hove.

Nikki's paper of choice is Fabriano Artistico 300lb (640gsm) extra white. This is because she only ever uses the paper itself for any whites in a painting. Also because with this paper it does not buckle and there is no need to stretch.


A really excellent presentation
Same size of mat, double mount, bevel cut lent weight and quality to the presentation
Underneath a simple description card plus sample card - available for sale from Nikki.
Nikki had an extremely smart and very professional presentation and display of her paintings. I was a big fan! The display was prepared by a framer who has unfortunately now retired. He used matboard front and back with foamcore inbetween to give a fillet to the interior window. Both front facing mat and the foamcore were bevel cut and the foamcore had, I think, a fillet over the top.

All the matted pictures on display were around about 15" square and uniform - except for the inteior window so that any difference in the actual size of the painting did not make a difference to the overall display

Display of Arisaema by Nikki Marks GM

Sharon Tingey - with her 
Gold Medal Certificate and one of her Helianthus

Sharon Tingey (UK/Scotland) - Sunflowers (Helianthus)

Sharon Tingey has been painting for a long time and is a self taught watercolourist.

She's a previous student of the Certificate and Diploma courses at Edinburgh. These taught her what she needed to know to pursue botanical art as a career and she was awarded her diploma in 2011.

Prior to winning her RHS Gold Medal, she had won a Gold Medal at BISCOT and now teaches on the courses at RGBE.

Her teaching involves courses via Skype!


Sharon bought her flowers from Tesco. Which just goes to show you don't absolutely have to travel to find your subject matter! You just need a fresh take on the subject and an excellent set of paintings.

Her seed head came in the end from an American Giant - a different type of sunflower which she obtained from the Botanical Garden. It's portrayed on a 1:1 scale

She started by doing some sketches and making swatches and studies for colour matching. Plus detailed drawings of dissections and photographs for reference purposes.  Each proper painting then took about a week - she completed five in January and February.

As her painting progressed she inevitably became more reliant on photographs as the original specimens had died. When using reference photographs, Sharon uses her Sansung Galaxy 2 for the image - it then becomes very easy to magnify if the reference photo is good enough.

Four of Sharon Tingey's Sunflowers (Helianthus)


Sharon uses Fabriano 5 and Winsor and Newton Paints. (She mentioned - as did a number of artists at the show - that she didn't like the new tubes as you can't read the details easily. I understand W&N are now having a rethink!). Her brushes are W&N series 7 and, like Işık,  she only uses the Miniatures #4 and #2. She strokes the paint on and then uses water to blend

Her preference is to keep to a limited palette. She used a very bright yellow by Daniel Smith's for her main yellow.  For those also wanting to tackle helianthus, here is the complete set of paints that Sharon used - although she emphasises that she onlu used small amounts of some.
Daniel Smith: Hansa Yellow Light
Winsor & Newton:
  • Green Gold
  • New Gamboge
  • Quin gold (small amount)
  • Cad. Orange (small amount)
  • Perm. Rose (small amount)
  • Perm Magenta (small amount)
  • Perylene maroon
  • Indanthrene Blue
  • Payne's Grey
  • Burnt Sienna (decaying bits)
  • Raw Umber (decaying bits)
  • Burnt Umber (decaying bits)
  • Sepia
  • Permanent White Gouache (Hairs)
This is a 2011 interview with Sharon Tingey on the Botanical Artists blog.

More about Botanical Art

These are links to previous blog posts and my resources for botanical artists websites.

You can find more resources about Botanical Art in my resources for artists websites:

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