Sunday, February 28, 2016

Tips from 2016 RHS Gold Medal Winners - Botanical Art

This is the fourth in a series of posts about tips from RHS Gold Medal winners.

The three previous posts are:

You can also find a summary of the Tips and Techniques - including those from RHS Gold Medal Winners - on my website Botanical art and artists

Where more than one artist provides a tip I don't identify the source by name. Otherwise each tip is identified back to its source.  (GM after the name indicates the individual is a Gold Medal winner.)

Your subject - plants and flowers

Choice of plant

Loving the plant

  • You have to love the plant says Julie Nettleton GM (Australia). Never ever paint a plant because you admire a painting of that plant by another artist, love the plant instead!
  • People love citrus plants says Simonetta Occhipinti GM (Italy) - who painted the citrus trees grown by the Medici family.
The Citrus of the Medici Family by Simonetta Occhipinti GM


  • Research your plant as thoroughly as possible before undertaking fieldwork. That way you can identify the best sites to visit. (Sarah Howard GM)


Two other 'trends' I noticed in the exhibition - relating to "botanical aspects" are as follows:
  • native species - more and more exhibits are highlighting aspects of plants that are native to the area where the artist lives and/or visits regularly. The two exhibits of the twigs and buds of common UK native trees were particularly popular (by Roger Reynolds GM and Sarah Morrish) and both exhibitors were asked lots of questions. The exhibition opened people's eyes to trees they see every day!
  • recording native species which are rare or endangered - This was a repeated observation and practice of a number of artists. There is no need to travel abroad to find plants which need recording!

Preservation of the plant

  • To slow down development and deterioration two options are recommended:
    • Store in a refrigerator overnight to slow down the development of flowers or fruit
    • Keep the stems in iced water while working on on a plant in the studio
  • Drop the bloom into alcohol before it starts to deteriorate. It will preserve the entire structure - including stamens - for reference purposes although the colour will drain away. (Akiko Enokido)
Classical Camellia Japonica by Akiko Enokido 

Preparation and reference material

Friday, February 26, 2016

RHS London Botanical Art Show 2016 - Medal Winners

Below you'll find the names of the people who won medals at the RHS London Botanical Art Show today. 

You can find out more about them and their exhibits in my previous post about RHS Botanical Art 2016 - Selected Artists

Well done to the RHS Organisers for having the list of medal winners available as a pdf file on their website by the time I got home!

Best Botanical Painting by Julie Nettleton

Best in Show

  • Best Botanical Art Exhibit: TillandsiaMariko Aikawa 
  • Best Botanical Painting: Xanthorrhoea resinosa Pers., Grass Three with Antechinus Stuartii, Brown Antechinus – Julie Nettleton

Gold medals

Paintings of Tropical Climate Plants by Sansanee Deekrajang
Four of Roger Reynolds's paintings of "The Tip of the Branch"


View of the RHS London Botanical Art Show 2016
The new arrangements for the display of the art worked extremely well


  • Amanda Petty Biblical Boys 
  • Carolyn Jenkins Hydrangeas 
  • Hiroko Jibiki Squash 
  • Janice Peers A Bulb for All Seasons 
  • Jean Webb Close Encounters of the Botanical Kind 
  • Lyn Campbell Trilliums 
  • Maggie Niagassas Strelitzia reginae 
  • Pamela Moodie 5TR Patterns of Growth 
  • Sarah Morrish Twigs & Buds in Winter - from Trees & Shrubs of Ancient Hedgerows Silver 
  • SoYoung Sin Korean Endemic Plants
  • Verene Kutter The Genus Anemone L. in Central Asia 


  • Margaret Bickerton 39 Stretton Farm Road Church Stretton Shropshire SY6 6DX Artichokes
I'll be writing more about the exhibitors and the lessons I learned after I visit again tomorrow.

My new website about Botanical Art and Artists has more information about:

Thursday, February 25, 2016

117th Annual Exhibition of the Pastel Society

This year's Annual Exhibition of The Pastel Society - NOW @ The Pastel Society - opened to the public at the Mall Galleries on Tuesday. It continues until 3pm on Saturday 5th March.  The Society very kindly invited me to their pre-PV Lunch and I spent a very long time at the exhibition on Monday afternoon!
Featuring works created in pastel, pencil, chalk and charcoal, the Pastel Society exhibits abstract and experimental works alongside traditional representation.

View the images online

You can view the e-catalogue for the exhibition on Issuu. You can also see a brand new website which also has ALL the images of the artwork produced by:
I'm finding it a little slow and this might be due to the number of images but hopefully this can be sorted out with time.

View of the Main Gallery during the Private View
Thankfully the society has gone back to being known as The Pastel Society - which is certainly the prerogative of the oldest pastel society in the English-speaking world!  (The French lay claims to the oldest society - the Société des Pastellistes was founded in 1870.)

Maybe it could also go back to recording the number of annual exhibitions it has held? I'm hanging on to the count (see the title of this post) which has sadly left the catalogue and all publicity for the exhibition. IMO both tradition and heritage (age!) count when it comes to credibility and buyers!

Images of the Exhibition

Overall, the exhibition is an interesting exposition of the many different ways in which pastels (and charcoal) can be used.

Members work is typically hung in the Main Gallery - usually in sets of four or five works. There are some strong sets in the exhibition. However I was very surprised by the work of some of the artist members whose work I've liked a LOT and raved about in the past. It just did not stand out for me this time around.  This left me looking around to see whose work I did like a lot this time.....

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Artists’ Livelihoods Survey in England

Arts Council England has commissioned a new national study into how visual artists in England live and work.

This is a link to the Artists’ Livelihoods survey which forms part of the study.
What makes this study - and survey - serious and different is that it is being conducted within the context of a a broad coalition of partners from across the visual arts which have shaped and support it. These partners include:
The survey will be complemented by investigation of existing research, focus groups and case studies and is due to be completed in Spring 2016.  The full report will be available in late 2016.

The deadline for completing the survey is Friday 25 March 2016.

More information:
Take part and share your views on the day-to-day realities of being a professional artist and the challenges and barriers you face.
A-N - Comprehensive new study: Artists’ Livelihoods survey needs your views
The survey forms part of a wider study, which is the first of its kind in England in a decade. It aims to identify the challenges and barriers faced by visual artists that prevent them from realising their full potential, whilst highlighting how these issues vary across different groups within the sector.
The study will look at social, cultural and economic factors and how each of them impacts visual artists. Location and other factors which affect the movement and retention of artists between the regions, London and internationally will also be explored.  
Arts Council - Arts Council launches survey into visual artists' livelihoods
This is the first comprehensive study in over a decade of how visual artists in England live and work. The project aims to listen to and document the realities of practicing as a visual artist, as well as providing an opportunity to inform future initiatives. The findings will help to focus support where it is most needed to ensure a resilient and diverse visual arts sector.  
Axisweb - Artists' Livelihoods Survey
How do artists earn money, how much do they earn, and by doing what? Help a-n, Arts Council England, Artquest and our partners find out so we can advocate for better working conditions for artists.  
Art Quest - Artists Livelihoods

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Artists and Illustrators - Artist of the Year 2015

The exhibition of artwork by the 50 artists shortlisted for the Artist of the Year 2015 Prize sponsored by Artists and Illustrators Magazine opened yesterday at the Mall Galleries and is on display until the end of Saturday 27th February.

The "Artist of the Year 2015" gets £1,000 in cash and gallery representation at Panter & Hall. You can see the rest of the prizes on offer on the competition web page.

I would have told you that you can vote for the winner - but the prizewinners are being announced tonight!

The artwork is impressive and colourful. The exhibition is definitely well worth a visit - especially if you are an aspiring artist wanting to try your luck in this competition in 2016.

View of the Artist of the Year exhibition at the Mall Galleries

Selected Artists

While virtually every artist has a website it was interesting to note that not every artist thinks it worth creating an "about the artist" page on their website.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Nelumbo nucifera plus reflections on drawing and painting

I'm busy finishing artwork and matting and framing drawings for hand-in submission to the annual exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists tomorrow.

I ended up doing something completely different to what I had planned. I've done two drawings of the sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) neither of which are the conventional view of the lotus

Nelumbo nucifera bud and bloom by Katherine Tyrrell
coloured pencils on Fabriano Artistico
I've been a big fan of the Lotus ever since my first close encounter with a pool of them at the Cafe Lotus in Ubud in Bali.

Two blog posts below which discuss drawings and paintings made on that particular trip
When people ask me about my current style of drawing, I often joke with them about how it took me nearly 10 years (as in YEARS!) to learn how to scribble.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Short Courses at Ruskin School of Art

If you've ever fancied improving your drawing knowledge and skills at a leading art school in the UK, I recommend you take a look at the 2016 Short Courses offered out of term time by the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford University.

The courses are not cheap and there's a limit of 16 places on each course however I expect some of them - particularly those taught by Sarah Simblet - will be booked up fast.

Three drawing topics with Sarah Simblet

Courses offered include three with Sarah Simblet, a renowned artist and author. I've attended her lectures and done courses with her in the past and she's excellent! See, for example. my blog posts
My sketch from A 'Day to Draw' at the National Gallery
done while listening to Sarah Simblet talk about 
the anatomy and skeletal features and muscle groups
She's very good and her books are also highly rated and best sellers! 

Sarah is doing one course related to each of her books:

Other tutors

Two other tutors also offer courses:
More details for each in the links in the titles.

Practical matters

  • If you want to book, then you need to use Oxford University’s Online Store.
  • If you need a room to attend then you can try University Rooms to access one in a college at the University

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Great Vellum Scare - and what happened next

Some of you will have heard that Parliament was proposing to do away with printing laws on vellum. This raised all sorts of very understandable concerns amongst artists using vellum about whether the loss of the Parliamentary contract would cause business problems for the UK's oldest vellum supplier William Cowley - and consequently cause problems for the supply of vellum to artists in the UK

This was the report - Report: The use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament.

The only firm in the UK that makes vellum

The good news

It appears that the reaction to news about the change has led to the following:
  • queries have been raised about the notional cost-saving of £80,000
“The vellum cost varies from year-to-year depending on the number of Acts passed. The average over 15 years is £46,000. When you think about the MP expenses scandal, they can claim a duck house costing £40,000 but we can’t preserve our history for a similar amount. So many people are unhappy about this, we are hoping the Lords will backtrack on it.”
“The figures quoted for printing on vellum are actually more than the cost of the vellum itself. This is surprising as no specialist printer or printing press is necessary. We print on vellum here every day, at William Cowley's on an ordinary office printer with archival ink and have no specialist printing knowledge. When was the last time the House of Commons put out a tender for printing the Acts of Parliament because they no doubt would have found a much more reasonable, and comparable with printing on paper, cost?”
  • a very enthusiastic social media campaign to save the use of vellum started using the hashtag #savevellum - supported in no small part by various artists who use vellum
  • Cowley & Sons have revealed that the Parliamentary contrast is only a small percentage of their business
  • MPs started to ask questions in parliament
  • it turns out that the laws of the land are actually printed on parchment not vellum
The original parchment acts of Parliament are sometimes called vellums. Vellum is a high quality calfskin but in fact the parchment used is from goatskin or sheepskin
As a result the Cabinet Office have offered to pick up the bill from the House of Lords and it looks as if the use of vellum by Parliament will continue (see references below)

Which means all artists using vellum can now stand down and breathe...... :)

More about vellum

  • traditional vellum is made from the skin of very young calves or the skin of the foetus of an aborted calf. It is treated and stretched under tension to produce a smooth and very durable surface which accepts and displays colour well. It is most appropriate for those wanting an archival surface as it can last for centuries - medieval manuscripts are written on vellum and still survive while later paper documents have deteriorated. 
  • modern-day vellum is vegetable vellum. Basically this is plasticised cotton
The word vellum is derived from the Latin vitulus (calf), and its diminutive vitellus.
  • Calf skin is both smooth and durable because it doesn't have hair follicles which create dimples in the skin. The treated skin of young/unborn goat (kidskin) or lamb (lambskin) is sometimes also referred to as vellum. 
  •  The finest vellum is "uterine vellum" made from the skin of stillborn or unborn calves. In the UK this very fine vellum is known as Kelmscott (the home of William Morris who was a strong proponent of the Arts and Crafts movement).
Painting with vellum is a bit of a problem. Vellum should not be wetted as it will buckle.  Consequently using it for drawing or painting involves the use of dry media or dry brush work if painting.

Getting hold of vellum is also a bit of a problem as there are very few suppliers of genuine traditional vellum. The standard sheet size is 6" x 4" or 7" x 5" and typically costs in excess of £11

The Art Bloggers

  • Saving the Art of Vellum - Shevaun Doherty - the new tutor for painting on vellum for the Society of Botanical Artists' Diploma Course - produced an excellent blog post yesterday commenting on the importance of retaining vellum as a medium for artists.
This reminds me that I need to get on and get my information about paper and supports transferred to a new website as I've got a lot more information about vellum sitting on my computer at present.


The Press - reaction to the proposed change

The Press - the good news

Monday, February 15, 2016

How to create a still life painting

Last night I discovered that I'd missed an excellent BBC programme called Apples, Pears and Paint: How To Make a Still Life Painting which was broadcast last month. It provides a history of what has historically been the least popular genre of painting - and the depiction of fruit, flowers and domestic objects - from the still life painting in Egypt and Pompeii to Cezanne and Picasso via Caravaggio.
It promoted me to revisit my lengthy post back in 2007 in which I collated the different definitions of What is a Still Life? I hugely enjoyed researching it at the time - across cultures, time periods and different art movements - and I've just enjoyed finding out how much better the images are that are available now compared to then! Consequently I've updated as many as I could. Plus I updated some links - but do shout if you find any duds!
If you missed it too, I hope you enjoy the 90 minute programme originally broadcast on BBC4 - it has lots of expert comment and some fabulous still life artworks. It's a real put your feet up and don't answer the phone programme - and you've got 23 days left to view it!  (If you watched it first time round, I've got a feeling it's a programme that's worth revisiting!)

I particularly loved seeing the size of the first ever official still life - a basket of fruit by Caravaggio - in the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan

Canestra di frutta / Basket of Fruit (1596) by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610)
Oil on canvas, 45.92 cm x 64.46 cm Pinacoteca Ambrosiana, Milan, Italy

Apples, Pears and Paint: How to Make a Still Life Painting
BBC4 / BBCiPlayer
Don't miss the surprise at the beginning!
These are the links related to the programme

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Van Gogh's Bedrooms in Chicago

Van Gogh's Bedrooms is a very unusual exhibition opens in the Regenstein Hall of The Art Institute of Chicago today. It closes 10th May 2016. While most of us won't be able to see it in person, there are quite a few resources online which allow us to appreciate some of the effort which has gone into this exhibition.

At the end of this post I've also listed my very extensive list of posts on this blog about Van Gogh and his drawings, paintings, flowers, gardens and other exhibitions and videos! I hope they are of interest to artists and art lovers alike - I know I enjoyed my own research!

Van Gogh's Bedrooms

This site provides you with a preview of the exhibition
  • This is a really interesting video about the science involved in the collaboration between the three museums to determine the differences between the three paintings - looking at paint and painting techniques and the inner structure of the three paintings. Really fascinating stuff!

As part of a promotional campaign, The Art Institute of Chicago commissioned a recreation of the famous room, which rents for just $10 a night in Chicago's River North neighborhood.
The odd thing is that I think the recreation of the room may have backfired. There are masses of news inches devoted to the AirBnB bedroom and not so much to the exhibition!

More about Van Gogh and his art

Those interested in Van Gogh will find more reading in my posts about Van Gogh on this blog.

Van Gogh and Drawing

"I sometimes think there is nothing so delightful as drawing." Vincent van Gogh ( 1853 - 1890)

Van Gogh's Paintings

  • Van Gogh: The Complete Paintings (Taschen) - This comprehensive study of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) represents a rarity in art history: a detailed monograph on his life and art combined with a complete catalogue of his 871 paintings.

Flowers and gardens by Van Gogh

Other Exhibitions 

Other videos

Miscellaneous posts about Van Gogh

Below is a list of my blog posts about Vincent Van Gogh excluding those listed above

Friday, February 12, 2016

Review: The Columbia Threadneedle Prize 2016

The artwork selected for the Columbia Threadneedle Prize exhibition at the Mall Galleries is different from previous years - and I like it a lot better.

Threadneedle Prize Exhibition: A view of the Main Galleryprior to the Preview
Compared to previous years, the changes I noticed are that
  • the art - to my mind - is a lot more accessible. This is an exhibition which will be enjoyed by more people.
  • there's a huge diversity in interpretation of figurative and representational art. I'm guessing a lot of artists may well find it stimulates their own work. 
  • more drawings and paintings of figures and people
Some very strong paintings of figures - both large....
...and small
  • a lot of very good drawings and display of draughtsmanship
  • more monochromatic artwork - with a great hang in the North Gallery
Some impressive monochromatic and near mono drawings and paintings in the Far North Gallery
  • more works on paper 
  • media is much more mixed
  • a lot less sculpture
only one piece of sculpture that I spotted
  • a much better fit with most people's understanding of figurative artwork
First Prize on the left; shortlisted on the right
This is also an exhibition which deserves to be seen by many of people who exhibit and who seek to exhibit artwork at the open exhibitions of the FBS Societies (and others) at the Mall Galleries because it stretches the boundaries of figurative while remaining accessible to all.

North Gallery - First room
North Gallery - second room
To my mind it sets a very good benchmark for contemporary figurative art.

It's also complemented by an extremely good exhibition in the Threadneedle Space.

I'm certainly thinking about going back for another look - and I've already seen it twice!

I'll be posting more pics from the exhibitions of artists with their paintings and purchasers with their new paintings on my Facebook Page over the next week.

More about the Threadneedle Prize 2016

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Threadneedle Exhibition 2016 - my favourites

The Threadneedle Prize has a £10,000 Visitors' Choice Award which is voted for by people visiting the exhibition.

Every time the Threadneedle exhibition is held I always do a post devoted to the pictures I would have chosen as my shortlist for "The Columbia Threadneedle Prize: Figurative Art Today" a.k.a. (at least by me) as 'the Threadneedle Prize".  In effect they contain the picture I'm voting for as my personal favourite.

These are they.

Barry McGlashan with his painting
What Remains (After Hogarth)
Oil on panel, 76 x 102 cm, SOLD
I love this painting - as indeed I said when the selected artists were announced. I'm not in the least bit surprised that it sold fast.

It's not helped at all by the digital image online or in the catalogue - it's nowhere near as dark as the image suggests it is. I'm left wondering if that might not have helped when it came to the selection of the shortlist.

This is a painting of 'what happened next'.

Barry McGlashan  paints a lot of paintings about painters. Some times they feature in the paintings and sometimes they don't. However they will appeal to those who like to know about how artists worked - and definitely appeal to those who "collect" places artists have painted (like me!)

This one relates to an image called A Modern Midnight Conversation created by William Hogarth which has been reworked a number of times in terms of paintings by other artists "after Hogarth" (note the double entendre pun in the title) and by those engraving the image.

Below is the version in the Yale Center of British Art and is the one most like the painting produced by Barry. Here's another in the Royal Collection. Plus an erudite article by Andrew Graham Dixon on the topic of this painting.

A Midnight Modern Conversation by an Unknown artist after William Hogarth, 1697–1764, British
formerly William Hogarth, 1697–1764, British
Oil on canvas, 30 x 64 1/2 inches (76.2 x 163.8 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
You can see that in Barry's painting all the people have disappeared - but all the objects associated with their evening remain. From the clay pipes for smoking to the numerous lemons used for the gin punch. You look at the painting for a long time before noticing that a candle has just caught the tablecloth and the room is about the combust!

For me it does three things.
  • It's a neat connection with the past and one of the masters of British art. In the same way that Henriette Simson made the connection with Ambrogio Lorenzetti in her painting when she won the prize in 2011.
  • It's a pun on the history of the "the conversation piece" in British art...
  • Plus it's a narrative painting with subtext which makes it accessible both to those who take it at face value and those who enjoy their art history.  I have bemoaned the fact that we have far too many artists have lost sight of the value of the narrative painting.
All in all a clever piece of art!

Barry McGlashan describes his work as a commentary on the social history of painting and a homage to other artists. That's my kind of art! He will be having an exhibition of his work at the John Martin Gallery, Mayfair - during Autumn 2016. I'm hoping to get an invite to the PV!

Other works that I liked very much are below.

Only The Curious Have Something To Find by Gillian Ellis
Biro on paper, 209.5 x 139 cm, £2,500
I loved Gillian Ellis's drawing in biro. It was a complete surprise and has a major impact as soon as you see it. There's just so much to see and the creativity is wonderful. She also displays amazing control of a biro and what can be achieved in terms of drawing.

I didn't get to meet her but I'd love to know the story behind this very unique piece of art.

Gillian is currently taking a Masters in Fine Art/ Printmaking at Cambridge School of Art. She already has a First Class Honors Degree in Textile Design from Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design, London.

I predict good things for Gillian. If this is what she produces with a biro I'd love to see her fine art prints! However first she needs to get herself sorted with a proper independent website in her own name to display and market her artwork!

a closer look at Only The Curious Have Something To Find by Gillian Ellis
Next a more familiar face - but a less well known artist who belongs to the older generation.

Stuart and Ukelele by Penelope Smith
Oil, 60 x 50 cm, £3,000
I'm wondering how many people spotted this as being a painting of Stuart Pearson Wright who won the BP Portrait Prize 2000 and created the painting of JK Rowling which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

I liked it as it's an exceptionally good portrait of him!

I had a feeling this must have been done by somebody close to him and had a chat with Stuart at the PV. It turns out I was right - the painting is by his mother!  For some reason she is listed as Penelope Smith in the catalogue although I understand her real name is Penelope Wright.

Penelope only started painting in 2008 - the same year as this competition started!
Without any formal training, Penelope began painting in 2008. She works principally in oils, but also loves drawing. Her subjects are the familiar places and objects of everyday life as well as friends and family.

Next another chap with a musical instrument.

‘Chère Capucine 1915-2015′
Oil on Masonite, 68cm x 75cm
Copyright Tom Clayton
Tom Clayton has two exceptionally good and extremely original paintings in the exhibition. I find them absolutely riveting - the sort of paintings that make you walk across the room to view them

This is the one I liked the best.

Honourable Mentions

These include a couple of works which in some ways are a lot simpler than others in the exhibition but which have merit nonetheless.

The first appears to be a sketchbook pulled apart - and an awful lot of small drawings of people. I liked the pun on art competitions suggested by the title.

The Yes & The No Pile by Rebecca Harper,
Graphite on paper, 240 x 140 cm, £5,000
 Rebecca Harper graduated from The Drawing Year at The Prince's Drawing School (now the Royal Drawing School) in 2013. She also has a first class Degree in Drawing and the Applied Arts from UWE, Bristol. Rebecca Harper can be found on Tumblr and Facebook.  Based on the work I can see my recommendation to Rebecca would be to get herself a proper website and a proper Facebook Page for her paintings and drawings. I predict we're going to be seeing more of Rebecca!

Study of her Hand by Helen Lloyd-Elliott
Oil on canvas, 26 x 30 cm, £1,200
This is the sort of painting which it would be very easy to live with. It's apparently a study done for one of her larger portraits. This is Helen Lloyd-Elliot's website. She completed a diploma in portraiture at The Heatherley Art School in Chelsea - which is interesting as I thought her work looked familiar.


The Columbia Threadneedle Prize Exhibition is at the Mall Galleries until until 1pm on Saturday 20th February.

The £10,000 Visitors' Choice Award is now being voted on by those visiting the exhibition.

Do let me know by leaving a comment below:
  • what you think about my choice
  • how you choose art that you like in an exhibition
  • which painting you have/are voting for in the Visitors' Choice Award

More about the Threadneedle Prize 2016

Threadneedle Prize Archive


Threadneedle Prize 2014

Threadneedle Prize 2013

Threadneedle Prize 2012

2011 Threadneedle Prize

2010 Threadneedle Prize

2009 Threadneedle Prize

2008 Threadneedle Prize