Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Interviews with RHS Botanical Art Gold Medallists 2016 - from Asia

This is the first of my blog posts about my interviews with 12 of the 13 botanical artists who won a Gold Medal at the 2016 RHS London Botanical Art Show at the end of last month (27-28 February 2016). [UPDATE: Now includes an interview with Akiko Enikodo]

Best Exhibit in RHS London Botanical Art Show (February 2016)
Tillandsia by Mariko Aikawa
The painting second from the left was bought by the RHS for the RHS Lindley Library.
I've decided to divide up the gold medal winners by geography. Thus this first post covers the FIVE Asian artists namely:
  • Mariko Aikawa - Tillandsia 
  • Sansanee Deekrajang - Tropical Climate plants 
  • Akiko Enokido -  Classical Camellia Japonica 
  • Hiromi Hyogo - Leguminous plants 
  • Chiyoko Ohmi - Paulownia tomentosa
I've also updated the page devoted to leading botanical artists from Asia on my website - including a new section about leading botanical artists in Thailand.

You can read tips from the Gold Medallists in the post I wrote straight after the exhibition - Tips from 2016 RHS Gold Medal Winners - Botanical Art

You can also see the complete list of medal winners in RHS London Botanical Art Show 2016 - Medal Winners

Mariko Aikawa (Japan)

Mariko Aikawa GM with the two largest of her display of six paintings of TillandsiaCopyright: artwork - Mariko Aikawa photograph - Katherine Tyrrell
Mariko Aikawa's display of paintings of Tillandsia (air plants) won the Best Exhibit in Show Award.  The painting on the left was bought by the RHS for the Lindley Library and she sold at least four of her other five paintings. Having the best exhibit of a plant which is not often seen at the RHS Show can also be financially rewarding!

What I liked about her display was that it was very coherent in terms of the colour palette and how the individual images were arranged - and she also painted some big paintings!  At the same time it was clear how each plant was different from the next. Overall it was a very graceful and aesthetically pleasing exhibit as well as being informative in a botanical context.  I also very much liked the fact that her labels were printed with a font size which made them very easy to read.
Tillandsia is a genus of around 730 species of evergreen, perennial flowering plants in the family Bromeliaceae, native to the forests, mountains and deserts of Central and South America, the southern United States and the West Indies.
She began botanical illustration in 2004 - and became a member of the SBA in 2009.

Her subject for her display was a bit of a challenge. I don't think I've ever seen a display of air plants at the RHS before. The plants are very rare in Japan, very expensive to buy, and they bloom and bear fruit only once in their lifetime. It can take 2-3 years but can also take between 5-10 years for the flower spike to develop - plus they tend to grow in the tops of trees! They have no roots but are not really parasitic as there is connection to the host they use for support. Other plants are merely used as a kind of trellis!

She bought some of her air plants and then borrowed others from friend who was a collector of bromeliads.

She prefers to work on Fabriano Artistico Extra White HP 638g/m² (300lb). She paints using a lot of water at the beginning - and drops the paint on to the very wet surface. She then uses a dry brush technique to paint the texture. At present she uses Winsor & Newton (old stock) but also likes Da Vinci paints

Sansanee Deekrajang (Thailand)

Sansanee Deekrajang GM - Tropical Climate Plants
Copyright: artwork - Sansanee Deekrajang photograph - Katherine Tyrrell
The story of Sansanee Deekrajang's journey to an RHS Gold Medal for Botanical Medal is a sad one.

Last February she prepared a display of six paintings of Tropical Climate Plants - only for one of them to become damaged by water getting under plastic during transit.  As she only had six to display she was unable to be assessed for a medal. However the RHS were kind enough to let her display the other five - at which point it became very apparent that if she came back again she would win a Gold Medal!

The 2015 ex-exhibition display of what might have been assessed - if there had only been six images!
Copyright: artwork - Sansanee Deekrajang photograph - Katherine Tyrrell
I thought initially she had brought the same paintings back plus one new one. However most of the 2016 display was new.

Two thirds of the 2016 display of Tropical Climae Plants by Sansanee Deekrajang GM
(one - on the right - is from 2015 (not assessed at the time) and three were new)
Copyright: artwork - Sansanee Deekrajang photograph - Katherine Tyrrell
Sanjanee has her own unique style. She packs content into her paintings and the colours are bright and saturated - but always the correct tone. She is completely self-taught when it comes to botanical art but she has a degree in printmaking and trained as an etcher. That for me explains how she is able to compose in a complex way on a page as this is a characteristic of very many high-class printmakers.

She plans her compositions step by step and thinks about how the characteristics of the plant would look best on the paper. She also makes a point of painting from observation at the right time - and then puts the painting away until the next stage of seasonal development comes along.

She uses Arches HP 638g/m² (300lb) as it's very robust and she also uses many brands of paints - whichever produce the right colour. Her preference is to paint colours straight from the tube using very little water. That way the colours remain fresh because they're not muddied in any way through mixing - however she does mix her greens.

She began preparing for the 2015 exhibition in 2013. This year she achieved what she set out to do. If you'd like to see how her paintings develop watch her posts on her Facebook Page. Sanjanee was born in Bangkok but she's currently staying in Livingston in West Lothian - so I'm hoping we might see more of her work very soon.

I've told her I'd really like to see a great set of botanical etchings exhibited at an RHS Botanical Art Show in the future - and I have high hopes!

Akiko Enokido (Japan)

Akiko Enokido with her gold medal winning display of Classical Camellia Japonica
at the RHS London Botanical Art Show 2016
This is an UPDATE. I had not realised that Akiko has moved back to Japan and consequently omitted her from this post. 

Akiko Enokido moved back to Japan from the USA in 2012. She obtained a Certificate in Botanical Art and Illustration from The New York Botanical Garden in 2004 and joined the ASBA  in 2005 and the Botanical Artists Guild of Southern California.

She won her RHS Gold Medal for her watercolour paintings of "Classical Camellia Japonica" on vellum.

Camellia cultivation is very popular in Japan and started in the 17th century in the Edo era. Akiko began painting them when she returned to live in Japan in 2012 . Since then she has exhibited individual paintings at selected annual exhibitions in the USA. Her "Goldfish Camellia Camellia japonica ‘Kingyo-tsubaki’" had previously been exhibited at the 18th Annual International American Society of Botanical Artists at The Horticultural Society of New York.
The foliage is appropriate to its name, and you can see the tip of the foliage split into three to five segments, which looks like a fishtail. The leaves are unusually shaped, really odd, and each leaf is different, showing different expressions and movement.
We discussed her approach to painting the blooms which are of course rather temperamental when it comes to staying in one piece!

Her display of Classical Camellia Japonica are painted in watercolour on vellum which she gets from Talus of New York.  She thinks the vellum surface is particularly well suited to the camellia given the depth and intensity of colour in the blooms and the leaves.  The vellum helped her get the saturated colour and tonal values.

Akiko likes to use different ways to collect information about her specimens prior to painting
  • she uses ordinary alcohol (7-9%) to preserve the bloom and she dips the bloom in and completely covers it. (The Smithsonian's Department of Botany provides advice on Preserving specimens in liquid preservatives).  Use of the alcohol means that the colours disappear very fast but the overall structure and the stamens remain intact). 
  • As the colours disappear in alcohol it's necessary to make colour studies beforehand.
  • She also uses her iPhone to make a 360 degree video of her specimen. She first clamps the specimen and then walks around it with the iPhone so she gets all the information she needs about how the plant is put together which helps her create a 3D image in a 2D format. 
She also uses a Japanese hair brush to get fine lines, it has very few hairs and these are a little bit stiff.

Hiromi Hyogo (Japan)

Hiromi Hyogo (b. 1956) was the only person I didn't have the pleasure of meeting. However I have got a photograph of part of their display of Leguminous plants.
The Fabaceae, Leguminosae or Papilionaceae,[6] commonly known as the legume, pea, or bean family, is a large and economically important family of flowering plants. It includes trees, shrubs, and perennial or annual herbaceous plants, which are easily recognized by their fruit (legume) and their compound, stipulated leaves. The group is widely distributed and is the third-largest land plant family in terms of number of speciesWikipedia
Hiromi Hyogo Leguminous Plants
Two thirds of Hiromi Hyogo's display of paintings of Leguminous Plants
Copyright: artwork - Hiromi Hyogo; photograph - Katherine Tyrrell
However I do know that Hiromi Hyogo
  • began her study of botanical illustration in 1989
  • paints using transparent watercolour
  • has previously exhibited in the 13th International Exhibition of Botanical Art & Illustration at the Hunt Institute of Botanical Art and Illustration in 2010
  • has exhibited extensively in Japan and has won a number of prizes
  • teaches botanical art in the Saitama Prefecture of Japan

Chiyoko Ohmi (Japan)

Chiyoko Ohmi and her Gold Medal winning display of Paulownia tomentosa
Copyright: artwork - Chiyoko Ohmi; photograph - Katherine Tyrrell
I learned a lot about Paulownia tomentosa while talking with Chiyoko Ohmi who lives in Tokyo.
Paulownia tomentosa (common names princess tree, foxglove-tree, empress tree or kiri) is a deciduous tree in the family Paulowniaceae, native to central and western China.Wikipedia
One of the interesting aspects is that the shape of the leaf changes from three loves to five lobes as the seasons progress. The other aspect which makes these paintings interesting is that all the action takes place at the top of the tree and her subject  matter is usually about 15 metres off the ground!

Her display took the plant through the seasons with one painting being devoted to each stage so that the changes in plant form could be clearly observed.

She has been preparing for the exhibition for three years. She has a friend who has a Paulownia tree and her paintings have been based on branches cut from that tree at different times of the year.

She keeps her branches as cold as possible so she can to slow down their development - which obviously helps when you are painting from observation. At night they are kept in the bridge and during the day they are in water containing ice.

Chiyoko also likes to use Saunders Waterford paper 638g/m² (300lb) for her paintings and she absolutely loves the Ivory Shade! (Which I think means she likes the 'White'!)

Other Medallists

Yoko Urano was awarded a Silver Gilt Medal for her paintings of Orchids
Copyright: artwork - Yoko Urano; photograph - Katherine Tyrrell
I also met Yoko Urano at the show who won a Silver Gilt Medal for her Orchids. I loved her attention to the roots and rhizomes. She lives in Tokyo, Japan

Finally I was also pleased to meet SoYoung Sin who painted Korean Endemic Plants and was awarded a Silver Medal. I understand that it was felt that her paintings needed a scale bar to differentiate between plants at different scales on the same paper. This is an observation I've heard in past shows and one which prospective future applicants need to watch out for. SoYoung has been a student on the SBA Diploma Course and lives in South Korea.

Silver Medallist - SoYoung Sin and her Korean Endemic Plants
RHS Botanical Art exhibition 2016 in the Lindley Hall
View of the exhibition in the Lindley Hall from the balcony


Previous Years

You can take a look at the art which has won a Gold medal in previous years in my blog posts below. The first set is about tips I've had from Gold Medal winning artists. The second set are interviews with those same artists. Both show images from the shows.

More Top Tips for winning an RHS Gold Medal

These are now summarised on a page in the Education section of my new Botanical Art and Artists website - see Tips and Techniques

Interviews with RHS Gold Medallists

1 comment:

  1. Very Interesting and informative interview, It really increased my knowledge and interest in painting.



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