Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Interviews with RHS Botanical Art Gold Medallists 2016 - from Australia and South Africa

This is the second in a short series of short interviews  I did with the RHS Gold Medal winners for Botanical Art earlier this year.

These interview posts have been very popular with botanical artists around the world and the first this year was with the RHS Gold medal winners from Asia.

I've amended the latter post to include Akiko Enokido and her display of Classical Camellia Japonica. I had thought she was living in the USA but has in fact returned to live in Japan.

My next post in this series will be about the UK and European artists who won RHS gold Medals at this year's show.

This series follows on from my posts about


Julie Nettleton (Sydney, New South Wales)

Julie Nettleton won the award for the Best Botanical Painting: Xanthorrhoea resinosa Pers., Grass Three with Antechinus Stuartii, Brown Antechinus which you can see behind Julie in the photograph below. Her painting includes a tiny marsupial mouse.

Julie Nettleton with her Gold Medal winning exhibit of Xanthorroea (Grass Trees) 
at the 2016 RHS London Botanical Art Show. 
She won Best Painting in Show for "Xanthorrhoea and marsupial mouse"

Her display told the life story of Xanthorrhoea sp., Grass Trees’.  They're called this because they develop a trunk from the base of old leaves and can grow to about 2 metres high. Xanthorrhoea are Australian native plants that can grow for hundreds of years because they have can survive fires.

Xanthorrhoea sp., Grass Trees’ - a Gold Medal winning display by Julie Nettleton

The particular ones which Julie has been painting all grow in a small area of protected bushland scrub within the North Head Sanctuary at North Head (on the north side of the entrance into Sydney Harbour - the one on the left as the ferry turns left for Manly!).

Her display tells the life story of the grass tree and includes:
  • a plant with a new spike, 
  • two spikes growing taller and the flowers beginning to form, 
  • a close-up of the flowers on the tip of the spike, 
  • a view of the grass tree minus spike but including its skirt of old grasses, 
  • the tree minus the skirt after it's been through a bush fire - revealing the 'trunk' of the grass tree. Plus a mouse which lives in the grass
  • Finally a grass tree which has recently experienced fire and has no grass - but reveals its structure and interior.
What I particularly liked was that the artwork was extremely well designed as a whole and then within each artwork. This is undoubtedly due in part to Julie's training and background as an interior designer.

Sandra Sanger (Melbourne, Victoria)

This is Sandra Sanger's fourth RHS Botanical Art Gold Medal (previous wins were in 2008, 2010 and 2013) and this year it was for her display of ‘Orchids: Paphiopedilum and Australian Natives’.

You can find my first interview with her in 2013 in this post.

Sandra Sanger and two of her paintings of Orchids: Paphiopedilum and Australian Natives
Sandra Sanger and two of her paintings of Orchids: Paphiopedilum and Australian Natives

The Orchid Show is no longer exhibiting at the same time as the Botanical Art as happened last time Sandra exhibited with the RHS in 2013.

Sandra commented that the great advantage of orchids from a botanical art perspective is that they last for months and progress slowly as they open.

You would think that once you've won four Gold Medals that you might be able to rest on your laurels. However Sandra is a refreshing example of the artist as a constant student!

She is a great enthusiast for continuing to learn about how to paint botanical art. She goes to a minimum of two classes each year and likes taking Master Classes with more than one teacher. She finds she always learns something she didn't know before. She's also a big fan of meeting up with groups of other botanical artists and painting together.

Sandra is a very experienced exhibitor and has shown in a large number of shows in Australia as well as the RHS.

She puts a lot of emphasis into thinking about her presentation and how her work is mounted and presented. In terms of thinking about layout of her work she always works on the floor and looks at how the works relate to one another and flow across the wall in terms of both structure and colour.

In terms of travel, her framer mounts her work and then packs it into a special case for her. He cuts the correct sized shape in foam rubber so that the paintings have a good buffer against jolts and shocks during transport and also cannot move inside the case.

South Africa

Margaret de Villiers (Hermanus, Western Cape)

This was Margaret Villiers's second RHS Show and her second Gold Medal.  She won Best Painting at her first show in 2013.  She is a member of the Botanical Association of South Africa - which used my photos of her for their blog post about Margaret's Gold Medal!

Margaret de Villiers with her display of seven Ericas of the Western Cape Fynbos

Her subject matter is a continuation of her massive and major project to record all the Ericas of the Western Cape Fynbos!

(NOTE: Fynbos means "fine bush". It's the popular generic name for the varied “fine-leafed” plants. 9,300 of the 30,000 species being indigenous and unique only to the Western Cape region of South Africa - this link is to information about the Fynbos Biome).
Fynbos, or the Cape Floral Kingdom, is the smallest of the worlds six plant kingdoms, covering only 0.4% of the earth’s surface. According to its size it is the most species-rich plant kingdom, consisting of some 8600 species, of which 68% occur nowhere else in the world.
Margaret told me that there are over 800 Ericas in the world and 400 of them can be found in the mountains of South Africa.  Her view is that it's impossible for a photograph to carry the amount of information contained in one of her paintings - which is of course one of the main reasons why botanical illustration continues to be regarded as important even in the age of the camera.

Margaret is painting to teach and to tell a story about a unique area of flora!

I hadn't realised until I got home after my first interview with Margaret at her first show in 2013 that Ericas from South Africa had been a theme of paintings by Franz Bauer during his time at Kew Gardens as  'Botanick Painter to His Majesty'.

Margaret uses the classical approach pioneered by Bauer of painting the plant as the major image - but then also including all the dissections and the images of the differentiating characteristics along the bottom edge of the painting.  It's an excellent approach for including all the information required.

Classical Bauer approach to recording Ericas of the Western Cape Fynbos by Margaret de Villiers GM
Many of the Ericas that she paints are brought to her by local people who know she wants specimens to record.  Her preference is to see how they grow on location - she needs to find out what sort of vegetation they grow alongside. However carrying a sticky erica down a mountain is apparently not an easy job!  She tends to take a bottle with a little bit of water.

When she takes a specimen she takes a photo and then works her way through a checklist of things she needs to record to capture the differentiating characteristics of each Erica.

She was keen to emphasise that she has the support of a small army of amateur botanists and she regards her Gold Medal as belonging to the whole team associated with the project.

It's a sentiment I've heard from other botanical artists in the past and I'll doubtless will again.

The Hermanus Botanical Society are also very proud of her - see below and Hermanus Artist Succeeds Again

Image from the Hermanus Botanical Society Facebook Page on 14th March 2016

How to enter

You can find more information about the RHS Botanical Art Show and how to enter it on the
RHS ​Botanical Art & Photography Shows page on my website

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 and Reviews of the Shows

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