Monday, October 09, 2017

Two different approaches to art society events in the UK and USA

This post is about a contrast between national art societies:
  • in two different countries (the UK and USA - but this is probably applicable to others too) 
  • of different sizes - with an impact on the ease and expense of getting around 
  • with different approaches to getting together as members
  • and different associated costs to those members
It happens to be about botanical art. However, this post really could have easily been about ANY media or subject based art society.  

Hopefully it's also a prompt for national art societies in the UK to start "thinking outside the box" in terms of what's possible - and maybe what artists want of an art society?

I'm not quite sure how this happened - but this year the Annual Exhibition of the Society of Botanical Artists in Westminster is taking place at the exact same time as the Annual Conference of the American Society of Botanical Artists in San Francisco!

For me the arrangements of annual exhibition and the conference events exemplify the difference between the annual exhibitions of UK art societies and associated events and the conference approach of the USA Art Societies.

The latter is driven somewhat by the fact that actually getting people together from different states involves a lot of travelling and people staying over - and hence EXPENSE!

Hence to justify the time, effort and expense, there needs to be an extensive programme of events and workshops by first rate instructors and professional representatives - which means some of these events are not cheap!

However one of the interesting aspects of this strong educational emphasis behind such conferences is that they also start to attract people from other countries around the world as well as those from around the USA!

Interestingly, this week, there are also going to be quite a few Brits delivering sessions at the ASBA Conference!  So the international flavour of that Conference very much extends to tutors as well as participants!

To be honest, I've met more than a few artists at the Private Views and visits to national art society over the last decade (OK - I've met LOTS!) who have wished that Art Societies in the UK would make much more of an effort to develop an annual conference in addition to an annual exhibition.

One of the reasons why people think this would be a good idea is that such an event can be held anywhere in the country and gets away from the London-centric tenor of annual exhibitions by national art societies.  That then has the potential to increase participation by people who live outside the London and Home Counties

Who knows, if such conferences got off the ground they might then attract both registered participants and tutors from outside the UK!  Just as happens in the USA!

Anyway - enough of the theory and back to what's happening this week

Society of Botanical Artists - Annual Exhibition

The 2017 exhibition's theme is Changing Seasons. It opens to the public on Friday 13th October at the Central Hall Westminster and continues until 21 October. Hours are 11am - 5pm and entrance is free although there is a £6 charge for the colour printed catalogue which has a number of images of members' works selected for exhibition.

All artwork is for sale and, in addition, there is a shop selling books, artist materials recommended for botanical art, fine art prints and cards.

The exhibition has several events:
  • 11th October: The buyers preview - for previous buyers (always a good idea to let your previous buyers have "first dibs" at new work on display!)
  • 12th October: The Private View and awards ceremony 
  • 13th October: How to be a Botanical Artist (evening event 5.45pm - 8.00pm / bookable with Eventbrite) - an opportunity to meet several professional practitioners with diverse backgrounds and routes to making their mark in botanical art
  • 16th-20th October - An Audience with an Artist (2-4pm) with five individual artists using different media and techniques for botanical art - again bookable via Eventbrite
I want to emphasise that the events are not untypical for a UK national art society - and are a little more advanced than some.

American Society of Botanical Artists - Annual Conference

The 2017 Annual Conference of the American Society of Botanical Artists is being held in San Francisco and is being hosted by the Northern California Society of Botanical Artists (NCalSBA)

The Conference lasts three days and is being held on 12-14th October.  These are the core days. Some events happen before and after the core days - as some people like to make the most of their stay.

Conference activities are being held at:
  • the historic Filoli estate in Woodside - where a number of botanical art exhibitions are also being held, and at
  • the San Mateo Marriott Hotel (nine miles south of San Francisco Airport)
They include a small works exhibition Golden Gate to Garden Gate - at the San Mateo Marriot

Plus a LARGE number of events over the three days covering:
  • PAID Workshops ($145-450 - depending on tutor and length of workshop eg 1-3 days)
    • Extreme Detail on Kelmscott Vellum
    • Subtle Colors - Exploring an Orchid
    • Leaves and Greens for Beginners
    • Painting Mushrooms and Incorporating Habitat
    • The Drama of Dark and Light - Painting Pale Flowers on Dyed Parchment
    • Painting the Dark Side
    • A View Inside
    • Drawing with a Paintbrush
    • Autumn Leaves in Colored Pencil
    • Composition: Yes!
    • Mastering Dry Brush and Wash in Watercolor
    • Introduction to Drawing and Painting on Vellum
    • The Appeal of Oranges on Vellum
    • Demystifying the Fibonacci Sequence: A Workshop in Graphite
    • The Challenge of White Flowers
    • Drybrush Skills for Botanical Artists
    • Petals
    • Graphite on Drafting Film
    • Camellias: Delicacy and Solidity in Opening Buds (Colored Pencil)
    • Botanical Patterns in Silverpoint on TerraSkin
    • Creating Botanicals with Impact (3 day workshop after the Conference)
  • LOW cost events (typically half day - between $10 and $80)
    • Introduction to Drawing with a Lead Holder (Neither a Wood Pencil nor a Mechanical Pencil)
    • Techniques Showcase on Stage
    • Vibrant Colored Pencil on Pastel Board
    • Sketching Filoli's Bonsai Collection
    • Roses - Creating a Study Sheet
    • This is Your Brain on Paper: The Art and Science of Keeping a Nature Journal
  • Low Cost Visits
    • Alcatraz Tour
    • Filoli Orchard Walk
    • Filoli Nature Hike
    • Filoli House and Garden Tour
    • Golden Gate Park Tours (3 different versions)
    • USDA Pomological Watercolor Collection
  • FREE events - short events / lectures - typically less than half a day
    • Alcatraz - Creation of a Florilegium (free)
    • The Story of Vellum ( free)
    • Portfolio Sharing and Sales (free)
    • Education Forum - sharing tips and tricks
    • Beyond Accuracy - Creating Art, Panel Discussion
    • Open Studio - drop in
    • Pricing Botanical Art
    • Pierre-Joseph Redouté
    • Juror Training
    • Approaching a Gallery
    • Making Photographic Notes
    • Art Bazaar and Artist Sales
    • Annual Awards Banquet (free to members)

I've listed these because, although some are very particular to botanical art, it's interesting to see the scope of sessions which can be covered during a three day stay in an interesting place.

Also, this to me underlines what an art society can be about.
  • A chance to get together and really associate properly with other members with common interests and experiences 
  • PLUS also learn a lot about topics which are gaps in your knowledge.

I had originally planned to go to the ASBA Conference (I'm a member despite living in the UK - because the have an ace magazine!) before my knee and then my ankle let me down very badly (I've learned never ever to go travelling unless I'm fit or know how to minimise risks re mobility!).

I know I'd be very tired after a long and packed three days of sessions and activities!

With best wishes to to all my UK friends who are delivering workshops and talks.....


  1. Extremely interesting I had no idea of the breadth and depth on offer in the USA
    I love the thought of changing how we do things here. Perhaps it will take a few societies putting their heads together to achieve the critical mass.
    Thanks very much for voicing your observations.

  2. Could not agree more! I’ve long envied the Portrait Society of America’s events and workshops. Compare and contrast with the RPS’ blinkered London centric attitude...

  3. Another really great article - thank you for putting such a clear concise argument together. There is definitely stuff to think about here!


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