Friday, April 22, 2016

Review: SBA Exhibition 2016 - Shape, Pattern and Structure

In this review of the 2016 annual exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists (SBA) I'm going to focus on the various art media used for artwork submitted and accepted into the 2016 exhibition.

Sandra Armitage, President of the SBA, with her watercolour paintings
View of the centre of the exhibition
First a number of points of interest relating to the exhibition itself.
  • I found I had a lot of difficulty this year in recognising people's work (unless they were doing 'more of the same'). It seems that the theme of 'Shape, Pattern and Structure' really made some people think and they tried drawing and painting new (for them) plants and flowers. Personally I enjoyed people flexing their artistic muscles and doing new things. However I have a lot of empathy for those that didn't meet the challenge. I suspect the image of your chosen subject is in the same place as mine - in your head!
  • Next it's worth noting that fewer works were hung this year while the standard of quality work was definitely maintained. In part I understand that more larger works were submitted. What I noticed were more smaller works as well. I think maybe the differential entrance fee - depending on size is tending to produce works at the extremes rather than in the middle!
  • However - one thought to ponder on. I went out for lunch recently with Anne-Marie Evans who spoke with conviction about the need for botanical artists to emphasise form as well as accuracy in draughtsmanship and skills in painting.  It's a characteristic of the expert artist. You can't get a 3D feel for a plant unless you can see it and to see it you have to acknowledge in your head that it is there and then seek to work at ways to create 3D through 2D. Ever since the lunch I've found I've been looking at botanical artwork with new eyes - and I have to say she is right! There are some works in the exhibition which are beautifully painted but which lack the form they need and which is clearly evident in the best work. "Is it 3D?" is one of those notes that it's very easy to pin up in your studio and reference on a regular basis!
Not all artwork is conventional or traditional botanical art!

Paintings in different media


The exhibition includes some excellent paintings in watercolour.

The most impressive was the feature painting by Billy Showell - but I must confess I was blown away by all her work this year. Billy has an ability to bring a new perspective and contemporary perspective to painting plants and flowers in watercolour.

Some stunning watercolour paintings by Billy Showell
Billy Showell with two of her paintings
(Left) Fading Splendour: Rosa 'Sally Holmes £3,995
(right) Semi Shade: Rhododendron 'Boule de neige' £3,995
Sharon Fox's wonderful watercolours on the theme of the Fibonacci sequence found in many plants greeted people as they entered the exhibition.

Sharon Fox with two of her watercolour paintings(top) Dried Pineapple £950
(bottom) Lupinus 'Gladiator' £1,275
I've been suggesting to some of the artists for some time that they should enter their paintings in the annual open exhibitions of the two national art societies for painting in watercolour - the Royal Watercolour Society (RWS) and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour (RI)

However it seems the traffic might have started the other way! Those that have previously exhibited with those societies are now finding their way to the SBA. Perhaps because the SBA is is an art society which truly appreciates the artist who enjoys painting plants, flowers, fruit, trees and gardens in 'proper' watercolours?

Chilli Fiesta by Cherryl Fountain

I was therefore thrilled to see an excellent painting of chillis by RWS exhibitor and regular RA Summer Exhibition exhibitor Cherryl Fountain. This actual painting is two half sheets of paper and it's a large painting.

I've long loved her work and am hopeful that she might submit some of her paintings of gardens in future - such as those she has done for the National Trust. Paintings of gardens are also accepted by the SBA in their open exhibition.

Much as watercolour is often associated with painting flowers in colourful shades, we also need to remember that not all botanical paintings are of flowers!

I really liked this section of the exhibition and what you can do when you look at fruits, roots, nuts and seeds - and different shades of brown! Can I suggest this as a theme for a future exhibition? ;)

Lots of fruits, roots, nuts and seeds etc
copyright the artists - From the left
(First columnextreme left) Janet Pope - a group of three Autumn Fruits paintings: Perry Pear; Kiwi and Medlar
Second column) Amber Halsall - Coconut and Quercus robur - English Oak
(Third Column) Top: Christiana Webb - Kelp and Bladderwrack;
Middle: Pauline Trim - Gladiolus 'Black Jack' corm
Bottom: Sandra Doyle - Pods, Cones and Capsules (Sandra is a scientific illustrator)
(Fourth column top) Pauline Trim HS - top Fraxinus excelsior; middle Zantedeschia Beginning and End;
bottom Hymenocallis x festalis 


Gouache - or traditional watercolour with body colour added - is becoming a more popular medium for painting.

This might possibly be to do with the fact that Simon Williams the Director of the Distance Learning Diploma usually works in gouache. (He uses Turner Acrylic Gouache).

Botanical Painting in Gouache by Simon Williams (his first!) was
  • published in the UK on 10 March by Batsford
  • will be published in the USA on 10 August 2016.
It's also available:

Oil and acrylic

The paintings in oil and acrylic were very striking this year.  Here's some of them....

(left) Oil paintings of his orchids by Enzo Forgione and
(right) acrylic paintings of cherry blossom and a pink dahlia by Annie Leach 

Note that the box canvas (with properly finished sides) seems to be a popular option for both painters using both oil and acrylic.

Having visited the "Crawling with Life" exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum, I'd very much like to see some oil paintings on copper next year!  Anybody up for it?

Drawing in Dry Media

Not all the artwork takes the form of paintings. There's more and more works in monochrome in graphite.

Coloured Pencils

Ann Swan went "Big" this year.  Rather than doing complete drawings of a plant or flower she has focused on parts of them and drawn them in coloured pencils very much enlarged and bigger than life size.

Ann Swan's coloured pencil drawings on the right of this view of the exhibition
Ann will be demonstrating at the exhibition tomorrow (Saturday). Not to be missed if you are a coloured pencil fan!

I was amazed at the drawing of the cactus by Eun Young Song which was part of the body of work which won the Derwent Art Prize (see Prizewinners - Society of Botanical Artists' Annual Exhibition 2016) which you can also see on the right of Not all artwork is conventional or traditional botanical art! above and her two other drawings below.

Coloured pencil drawings by Eun Young Song


Graphite seems to be favoured for leaves, ferns and trees - plant forms which have less colour than blooms - and very complicated structures.

A mix of graphite and pen and ink
Copyright the artists

Pen and Ink

The wet version of monochrome is drawing with pen and ink.

The other favourite form of monochrome image is the pen and ink drawing. There's quite a variety of styles employed from the very precise and very botanical botanical illustrations rendered in line and dots to the loose more calligraphic styles drawn using a flexible nib.

Trees and shrubs by Pamela Taylor Bsc PhD SBA
They include a Walnut, Crack Willow, Wych Elm, Stinking hellebore and a Mahonia


I was ecstatic to see silverpoint in the exhibition! It makes me want to practice my technique for creating silverpoint drawings again! I do hope we see more in the future...

Many thanks to Margaret Fitzpatrick for her two wonderful drawings - click the link in her name to see them on her website.

Two silverpoint drawings by Margaret Fitzpatrick

Multi Media

There were a fair few multi media pieces - but the one which grabbed my eye was the collage of cut painted paper produced by Penny Brown.  In 2015 Penny won The Presidents Prize for work other than watercolour.

It's always really nice to see a botanical artist who references the past in creating contemporary botanical art. There is of course a great tradition of producing botanical art in this way - started by Mary Delaney who made exceptionally detailed and botanically accurate depictions of plants collaged in hand coloured tissue paper.

It's Spring! Grape Hyacinths and Lesser Celandine £350
multimedia collage
copyright Penny Brown

Different Supports

Painting on vellum

It's beginning to be very noticeable that more and more botanical artists are working on vellum. I think there's two reasons for this.
  • It's an archival surface which is much more robust than paper. 
  • Plus there are issues associated with paper quality which have been plaguing botanical artists of late - particularly in relation to Fabriano HP papers which are used about two thirds of botanical artists.
This year there was a corner of the exhibition devoted to paintings on vellum.

All these works are on vellum
all works copyright the artists
(left on natural vellum) Margaret Fitzpatrick SBA,
(centre top) Meg Mulcahy SBA
(centre bottom) Dianne Sutherland,
(top right) Shevaun Doherty SBA
(Middle right) Helen Cavalli DipSBA
(and I'm hoping somebody will tell me the names of the other artists!)
Note the different ways artists have framed their work - and the sales (red dots!)!

Polyester Paper

Marta Chirico produced a number of botanical illustrations of Spanish Aquatic Flora in ink on what she refers to as polyester paper.

Spanish Aquatic Flora by Marta Chiricopen and ink on polyester paper

Coconut Paper

I loved Amber Halsall's gouache painting of a coconut on coconut paper!  The fibres merged seamlessly from coconut into the paper. Brilliant!

gouache on coconut paper £350 (sold)
copyright Amber Halsall

Next year's theme

Sandra Armitage, the President told us on her tour of the exhibition that the theme for the next exhibition is "Blooming Marvellous" which can relate to:
  • flower blooms
  • the bloom on certain fruit
  • trees and shrubs which bloom.

I'm sure it will give lots of artists food for thought.

Digital submission

The President reported that the digital submission was used by a lot of artists and went well for the most part. However next year the Executive Committee will be seeking to improve the process so even more people can take advantage of a process which makes life simpler for the society and generates a major reduction in submission costs for the artists.

For the exhibition in 2017, it's very likely that:
  • there will be a longer lead time for submitting digital images next year. 
  • there may be a review of the forms. These are currently being reviewed based on feedback with a view to improving them so they can help more people who need or want to make a digital submission.

More about the SBA Annual Exhibition

In the meantime if you want to see who is doing which demonstrations for the rest of the week you need to consult yesterday's post.

Society of Botanical Art: Exhibitions 2016

Society of Botanical Art: Exhibitions 2006-2015

More information about Botanical Art


  1. Excellent coverage as usual Katherine. Focussing on the various art media was very helpful - I was particularly fascinated by Penny Brown's use of collage.

  2. If an art student learns to separate form from pattern and colour, by working with monochrome, then with the help of a good tutor they can learn how to see form.

    I was told that every art teacher should be able to demonstrate what they talk about. Please can you advise the aspiring botanical artists where they can see Anne Marie's own work? I does not appear to me represented in the major botanical art collections, such as the Shirley Sherwood Collection.

  3. I don't normally allow anonymous comments but will in this instance

    I emphatically agree about the need to work in monochrome to understand how to develop form before introducing the complication of colour. It's absolutely essential.

    Anne Marie's work can be seen in some books and exhibitions using work from collections. She is in her 80s and does not have a website. Nor does she exhibit her work any longer. In this she is entirely typical of very many botanical artists of a similar age. Her teaching also now tends to be limited to Master Classes for experienced botanical artists.

    You can however still buy her book "An Approach to Botanical Painting" however it is now out of print and second hand copies command very high prices.

    I think she is minded to produce a revised and updated version however I'll leave any announcements on that matter to Anne Marie!

  4. Having read this post whilst waiting for a train, it seems in this moment, a good idea to reply to the above comment by Mr/Mrs Anonymous:

    Anne Marie Evans is well known as a very inspirational Master Botanical Art Teacher, who has taught her specific program to many who have become professional in this field.

    She has championed a very concise way of working that has inspired probably thousands of artists worldwide, helping to build a new tomorrow for this kind of art.

    Regarding your comment that artists should be able to demonstrate what they teach, I don’t actually think this is true.

    Coral Guest

    Some are gifted as teachers and their vocation is to enable others, and if they are not prolific as an artist it does not detract from their work as a teacher or the great service that they give to their artistic community.

    Through her devotion to a lifetime of teaching, Anne Marie has earned the right to have very clear cut views on what is or is not Botanical Art. It has to be said that interpretations of Botanical Art vary a great deal worldwide, and this is how it should be, because the world can embrace a multitude of views on what Botanical Art can embrace.

    I have never met Anne-Marie Evans, and so my views are unbiased. I would not hesitate to say that it probably does not matter if you cannot find any of her art work in major collections, because in a way she is represented globally through the work of her many students.


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