Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Want to see some very big flower paintings?

I've had any number of people tell me over the years that flower painting isn't really serious art.

For example, I've come across a fair few chaps who select work for their art societies who don't seem to take it very seriously. Granted there's a rather lot of amateurs producing some not very good flower paintings. However, I think most of us could agree that it's possible to say the same thing about landscapes, still life and portraits!!

So why does flower painting get shut out of 'serious' art exhibitions?

Jacqui Pestell MBE and Sharon Tingey GM with their Corpse Flower
- technically this is an unbranched inflorescence - and it's the biggest in the world
I know
  • I see more skilled use of watercolour by botanical artists than I do in some of the paintings selected for major exhibitions of watercolour art. However, art isn't all about skill is it?
  • from discussions last year with the Marketing Director and Marketing Manager of Fabriano Paper (see A Meeting with Fabriano about Hot Press Paper) that 
botanical artists are very demanding when it comes to testing watercolour paper.
However, anybody who wants to see what the women and a few men who paint plants and flowers can do and have been getting up in recent years should get themselves down to Kew and view the artwork on show.

"British Artists in the Shirley Sherwood Collection" opened at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery at Kew on Saturday.

I was at the PV on Monday night, spent Tuesday processing photos and writing blog posts and will be back there back again tomorrow to take a good long hard look at all the paintings in the exhibition.

Rosie Sanders with five of her paintings

You can see more of Rosie Sanders GM's work at
If you're visiting the Mall Galleries in the near future, her book was sat top middle of the Featured Books stand last time I was in!

The image at the top of this post is one I've now included on two Facebook Pages. One was prefaced by this comment...
Anybody out there who has any 'namby pamby' concepts about "flower painters" needs to change them!
The women of botanical art paint life-size - even if that means BIG!

This lifesize painting of the Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) - painted very fast last summer as it reached peak flowering and while it was at its stinkiest (it's also known as "the Corpse Flower") - is by Jacqui Pestell MBE (on left), Sharon Tingey GM (on right) and Işık Güner GM (teaching in Morocco at present) who at the time of painting were all artists and tutors for the Diploma in Botanical Illustration at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.  It's been donated by Shirley Sherwood to the Kew Collection.

This is how they painted it.

Titan arum painting (Kew exhibition, 2017) from Wild Leaf Reels on Vimeo.

Finally, Coral Guest GM who describes herself as "just a flower painter" who got an awful lot of other women painting large watercolours of plants with her book about Painting Flowers in Watercolour: A Naturalistic Approach (Art Practical) (affiliate link)

She paints large plants from bulbs at their actual full grown lifesize - and some of them are pretty big! At the same time some of the detail is absolutely delicate and exquisite. Check it out and see for yourself!

Coral Guest with five of her paintings in the Shirley Sherwood Collection

The exhibition is on at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art in Kew Gardens until 17th September 2017. It's open every day until 10am to 5.30pm

There's a lot more very fine art by very fine artists in the show - of which more later....

More of my blog posts about this exhibition

Sunday, March 26, 2017

300th Exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists

Last week I visited the 300th Exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists (RBA) at the Mall Galleries. The exhibition continues until 1st April from 10am to 5pm.

Below is my review - plus analysis of how well artists submitting work via the open entry fare.

Cover of the catalogue for the 300th Exhibition of the Royal Society of British Artists
This is not the 300th Annual Exhibition because the RBA has not been going for 300 years! It was founded in 1823, acquired a Royal Charter in 1887 and managed two exhibitions a year in its early days - hence "300th".
In addition to its normal exhibition, the far gallery in the North Gallery included artwork by twenty-two aspiring young artists selected from across the UK and Europe.

End wall in the Main Gallery

Exhibition metrics - and the Open Entry

I write this blog for artists as well as art lovers - in particular, for those who enter art competitions and open exhibitions. This year I'm monitoring how "open" the open Annual Exhibitions of Art Societies are.

In terms of numbers, the number of works submitted for the open has not been supplied in the catalogue - which is a pity. I'll see if I can get hold of it and calculate the percentage success artists have of getting their work accepted.

No. of artworks and artists

There are 510 artworks in the main exhibition across the three galleries (excluding the work by past Presidents and members, NADFAS RBA Scholars and the National Students At Exhibition) 

There are 383 artworks (75%) by 86 members and 127 artworks (25%) were by 100 non-members.

Of the latter some 16 of the 'open' artists are members of other national societies (most of which are based at the Mall Galleries).  Which leaves 84 which have no affiliation.
  • This makes the ratio of members' to open artworks hung 75:25. This for me puts this exhibition on the margins of being counted as a serious open exhibition. 
  • By way of contrast, the ratio of members to 'open' artists is 46:54 in terms of people hanging work in the exhibition. 

Artworks per artist

  • Members: averaged 4.45 works hung. Typically full members hung the six works they can hang while more senior members tended to hang just one or a small number
  • 'Open' artists: averaged 1.27 works hung each. The vast majority had just one work hung, a few had two or three and one candidate (who I know) had 4 works.  Whether it's worth submitting more than one work has got to be debateable as the chances are only one will be hung. I don't think there's a good rationale for submitting more than two unless you're pitching to be a candidate for entry now or in the future.

No. of sales per class of artist

This is an interesting statistic as this number will, of course, vary over the course of the exhibition. However, two days after the Private View is a good time to take a sample.

In the case of this exhibition, the metrics work out as follows:
  • 32 sales by members - 8.3% of artwork sold 
  • 30 sales by 'open' artists - 23.6% of artwork sold 
Bottom line, the open part of the exhibition is generating more sales pro rata to artwork hung than the members.

I did have the impression that some of the members' prices are a tad high relative to the marketplace - but they will know whether or not their work sells at that price.  You can check the prices of all the artwork in the exhibition on the Mall Galleries website and in the catalogue.

Review of the exhibition

Exhibition by members

Work of past Presidents and Members
The exhibition this year includes a wall of artwork by previous Presidents and Members in the Threadneedle Space.  It might be worthy and it's very definitely the sort of thing you do for a 300th event - but quite a lot of it was very dull. Not unworthy - just art more suited to the past than the present.

Yet again the work exhibited in the main gallery was by members.

I have written before at length on this topic and don't propose to repeat myself except to say I think it's a mistake.  The emphasis, to my mind, should ALWAYS be on creating the best possible well-hung exhibition as opposed an exhibition by members with the open submissions being treated as some sort of add-on.

The reality is that while there is some excellent work in the main gallery, there is also some work which fails to interest. Obviously, everybody's taste is different and I don't expect to like everything - but I did feel some of the work looked, for want of a better word, "old" (and by that I don't mean the past members' work or 'traditional' per se.)

Walls which looked good included:

Work by George Large, Jill Leman, William Selby and Martin Leman looked good in each other's company
Traditional but pleasing paintings
More traditional but pleasing paintings
I loved the exhibition of complex multi-media artwork and fine art prints by Vice President Mick Davies. I loved the drawing element to these works and the palette used for the colours. They're a lesson in how to make a very busy artwork look totally absorbing.

An EXCELLENT wall of mixed media work and fine art prints by Vice President Mick Davies

Some large and small sculpture in the Threadneedle Space
plus colourful paintings which looked excellent in the very neutral space.

The Open Entry and the North Gallery 

Most of the artwork selected via the Open Entry is hanging in the North Gallery. It includes a lot of good work. Overall, it has a more contemporary feel than some of the artwork by members in the main gallery.

It also had my favourite corner/wall of the exhibition.

North Gallery #1

North Gallery #2

North Gallery #3
This was my favourite wall. I love the combination of mostly monochrome with some well-judged colour.

The Middle of the North Gallery (the little room)
I also loved the fine art prints which were hung on the 'monochrome' wall.

Fine art prints from OPEN artists in the North Gallery
This is the VIDEO I made of the work hanging in the North Gallery.

I can't remember the last time that I saw Melissa Scott-Miller's work in the North Gallery. Her large paintings are normally out in the Main Gallery space winning prizes and garnering sales from her very faithful following...

Three works by Melissa Scott-Miller NEAC RP

Work by Young Artists / Scholars

I thought the work by some of the Young Artists in the far gallery was very impressive. Indeed some of them were winning prizes! (see below)

You can see all the NADFAS RBA Scholars on this website

I wasn't in the least bit surprised that this portrait by Wilmslow High School student Eleonor Prime was singled out for a Highly Commended for the top prize in the show! To my mind there are some issues with the painting but overall it shows very great promise.

Also see two of the prizes below which were won by Young Artists exhibiting in the North Gallery.


One of the bonuses of this open exhibition is that it has a lot of prizes! Prizewinners are listed on the website. It's a pity the list doesn't include images. Below are some of the award winners.

The de Laszlo Foundation Prize 
Medal and £1,500 will be awarded to the artist under 35 for the best painting from life
Blindfold by Anna Rubincam (Open)

Contemporary Arts Trust Award £1,000
Joint Winner
Untitled I by Gopal Sharma

Contemporary Arts Trust Award £1,000
Joint Winner
Self Portrait by Jane McNulty
RBA Scholar from Bourne Academy

I thought the next painting - by a young artist was very impressive and certainly worthy of the prize it won.

The John Ingram Memorial Prize
for a Young Artist

Self Portrait by Katie Denham

The Michael Harding Awards
Two prizes of £500 of art supplies
Ghost by Malcolm Ashman RBA ROI (above bottom left)
Peeling 2 by Henry Jabbour (open)

Frinton Frames Award
£200 of picture framing at Frinton FramesWaiting for You by Steven Outram RBA
(middle row right)

The Edward Wesson Award for Watercolour Painting £100Present from A.J. by Annie Williams RBA RWS

The Artist Magazine Award
The winner will be featured in The Artist magazineAll works (502-507) by Anthony Yates RBA

The Dry Red Press Award
Work published as a greeting card
Songbirds by Nicola Slattery RBA
acrylic painting on wood

The Alfred Daniels Personal Favourites Awards (Six prizes of £100)
  • Lights in Mist, Blackheath - Jon Pryke RBA
  • Don't Rock the Boat - Stuart Smith (OPEN)
  • Girl on the Wire - Bridget Moore RBA NEAC
  • The Old Boat - Alex Callaway (OPEN)
  • Bull's Head - Martyn Baldwin RBA
  • The Thames at Putney - Ronald Morgan RBA ROI 

Don't Rock the Boat - Stuart Smith
The Geoffrey Vivis Memorial Award £100
Self Portrait by Charlie Pike
NADFAS Scholar | Thomas Hardye School, Dorset

Events during the exhibition

The remaining events next week are as follows:

PresentersEvent DetailDates and Times
James HortonPortrait
Monday 27th March 12 noon to 2pm
James HortonTour of the exhibitionMonday 27th March 4pm
David SawyerLandscape and Architecture
Wednesday 29th March, 12 noon to 2pm
James HortonCoffee Morning (with sketching)
James will be playing the classical guitar
Thursday 30th March, 10am to 12 noon
Mick Davies
Nick Tidnam
Acrylics and Mixed Media
Thursday 30th March, 1:30pm to 3:30pm

About the exhibition

  • Venue: Mall Galleries - The Mall, St. James's, London SW1, UK (link is to Google Maps)
  • Dates: 22nd March to 1st April 2017
  • Open: Daily, 10am to 5pm during exhibitions (unless otherwise stated), including Bank Holidays.
  • Admission £4, £2.50 concessions, 50% off for National Art Pass holders, Free for Friends of Mall Galleries, RBA Friends and under 18s

Monday, March 20, 2017

Review: The Big Painting Challenge FINAL 2017

I was metaphorically on the edge of my seat last night watching the Final of The Big Painting Challenge on BBC1 - willing my prediction to do well.

Which was a bit silly when it dawned on me that this was filmed last summer and no amount of positive thoughts from me would have made any difference to the result!

However to my mind 'attitude' made a big difference to the result last night.
"Being in the Final, what it says to me is you shouldn't be so negative about your possibilities" David White
The Final Judgement
Not only did we have a worthy winner in Suman Kaur (who I had a lovely messaging chat with in the week - where she didn't betray a thing!).

We also saw four artists who had genuinely been - in those cliché words much beloved of TV people - "on a journey".

If you've missed my earlier blog posts about this series (and the last series) you can find them at the bottom of this post - along with links to the websites of all the participants in the series (including the Judges and Mentors - unmissable!).

Now for the final!

The Penultimate Challenge

The location was the Queen's House in Greenwich - which is a magnificent building and a beautiful setting for this challenge.

Hearing that the Penultimate Challenge is a Portrait

The presenters indicated that
  • The final episode would contain two very different challenges which would show how far they had progressed during the series. (Let's not forget that the different aim of this series was a much more educational slant to the programmes and continuous mentoring throughout up until this point.)
  • The ultimate aim was to identify the Finest Amateur Artist of 2017. (I'm guessing this is because Sky has already nabbed the Artist of the Year title - and this BBC series wants to emphasise its relationship with amateur artists across the country).
The Finalists were also told that the big difference in the Final was that the Mentors would NOT be able to counsel and coach - and they were on their own for the first time. That was a smart move - it made the first five episodes seem like lessons and tests and this was "The Big Exam" at the end of term!

So the first challenge was to be a portrait - but they were not told who was going to be the subject. So much speculation with the favourite being that they were going to paint their mentors.

They had tips from the mentors
"Think about your strengths that you've got remember to keep looking, keep observing. Think about composition, could be the face, could be the whole thing, think about the background, think about colours. You're going to be on your own. Just have my voice in your head saying 'Do that, do that!'." Diana Ali
"If we can get this triangle right between the bottom of the nose and the centre of both the eyes, no matter whether it's square on face or three-quarter view, if you get that right you can kind of do anything you want with the painting. You;re going to do the best painting you've done so far - I'm 100% sure." Pascal 
This challenge was WAY BETTER than the penultimate challenge from last year's series which was completely unrealistic in terms of subject matter and how people respond to it.  You can't make people paint subjects that don't mean anything to them - especially when the subject is the Royal Naval College!

This year, the penultimate challenge of evoking an emotional response for a painting was so much simpler when the artists were given the chance to "paint a parent"!  (Well done to the parents for agreeing to sit and be painted!)

The challenge was to paint a portrait in 3.5 hours AND:
  • to showcase all they have learned
  • to paint a portrait which demonstrates the character of the sitter
The overdub opined that painting parents can actually be a very real hindrance to painting a portrait BECAUSE of the emotional reaction. However I think the BBC forgot that compared to the challenges they had put painters in previous episodes this challenge apparently felt like a bit of a walk in the park. Well maybe not that relaxed - but definitely one which stimulated them to do well but without making them stress about the subject.

In fact, the presenters kept commenting on how much more relaxed the session was! Nobody was stressing out in a corner........

The episode also enabled the programme-makers to give a potted summary of "the progress the artists have made so far". They're particularly interesting on reflection because in a lot of ways they're not untypical of very many other amateur artists out there who have similar issues re. skills and areas they need to improve

The summaries went something like this....

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Review: Michelangelo & Sebastiano at the National Gallery, London

I went to the preview of "The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Michelangelo & Sebastiano" at the National Gallery this week, along with rather a lot of other people from all over the world.

Michelangelo & Sebastiano - Room 3 Defining the Roman Style
Michelangelo is a name we all know - but Sebastiano is less well known. This exhibition is about why they worked together within the context of Raphael's ever-increasing profile and prominence.

The key issue for me for those coming to visit the exhibition is that there talents and reputations and unequal - people will come for Michelangelo - while the exhibits (paintings, drawings and letters) are mostly by Sebastiano.

Notwithstanding it's impossible to remove mural frescos from walls in Rome and there are some exceptional loans of sculpture and drawings by Michelangelo, the exhibition does feel a tad unbalanced.

The 'Taddei Tondo' - the only marble sculpture by Michelangelo in Great BritainMadonna and child with the infant John the Baptist and a bird
On Loan from the Royal Academy of Arts (which it has not left since the 1960s!)
However, I did find the curator's talked focused on the relationship rather than the paintings and how their joint enterprise progressed and in that context I came out of the exhibition with a better impression than when I went in.

I'd also go a long way for a look at Michelangelo's drawings!

Michelangelo drawing of a seated nude with arms (crop)
The exhibition includes around 70 paintings, drawings, sculptures and letters.The exhibition is in the North Galleries on Level 2 and continues until 25th June 2017. It's open from 10am - 6pm daily (9pm on Fridays). The curator of the exhibition is Matthias Wivel, the National Gallery's curator of 16th-century Italian Paintings.

Below are highlights of the exhibition and key points about the context and the artists. Articles about the exhibition are listed at the end of this blog post.

A creative partnership

It's an exhibition about a creative partnership. Michelangelo (1475-1564) - who, as the audio guide suggested, never sustained a relationship with anybody - had a collaborative and creative working friendship with Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547).

This is the National Gallery short video about the exhibition.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Book Review - The Great Pottery Throw Down

The first series of The Great Pottery Throw Down had me fixating on the potter's wheel and raku firing. I ended up taking a trip to the Victoria and Albert Museum and writing this post - The Ceramics Gallery at the V&A. Mainly because I'd never before realised the scope, breadth and depth of the V&A collection.

The rest of the country conspired to make pottery now the most over-subscribed evening class in the UK!  Although I suspect that for many people being unable to have a kiln at home also probably contributes to that....
    I've again been a regular watcher of the Second Series which I've been greatly enjoying yet again.

    The semi-final is on BBC2 at 8pm tonight (and apparently we're all going to be wowed by Johnny Vegas throwing a teapot very fast - he used to study pottery at Middlesex University where he was taught by Kate Malone).

    Then there's the final next week - I've no idea who's going to win - and after that nothing, except evening classes.

    Or that's what I thought until Pavilion Books sent me 'the book of the series' to review - so this is that review.

    PS If you think this blog has been a bit besotted with art on television of late you have the programmers to thank. It all seems to go up a gear as we go into the New Year!

    The Great Pottery Throw Down - the Book

    Those who have enjoyed the series will definitely enjoy this book - and learn from it.

    What's the book about?

    It's intended as a companion book to the series - but it's not a "how to" book.

    That's not to say it doesn't explain techniques - because it does and it does illustrate stages.

    However, it is emphatically NOT a step by step type book for those who want to try every pottery technique known to man since the beginning of time

    I think it's very probably aimed at those who like to stay in their armchair rather than venture out to an evening class - and yet at the same time provide enough content to stimulate those who loved the series to have a go for themselves.

    I found it very educational in a very easy read way. I don't mean that it uses simple concepts and words but rather than the information is presented in a well thought through way. It has enough information to enable learning and not so much that you want to switch off!

    I now know a lot more about:
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