Saturday, 31 August 2013

A love of detail - plant morphology

Echinacea purpurea cross-section
 (c) Sarah Morrish 2013
I think the majority of botanical artists have a love of detail.  That detail does not always stem from a scientific background, but just from pure fascination and the passion to want to portray that detail accurately in a beautiful work of art.

How that detail is rendered in an art piece is of course dependant on the medium used.  Botanical Illustrators have traditionally used pen and ink for pure scientific illustrations, as well as watercolour.

In 2009 Niki Simpson had an exhibition entitled 'Digital Diversity - A New Approach to Botanical Illustration'.  Although I didn't visit the exhibition I have seen the associated publication, and was fascinated by her approach.  The illustrations themselves are digitally created, but also beautiful in their composition.  All of the illustrations on her website have been produced in collaboration with Peter Barnes.  To see more of her work go to:

Another artist from the present day whose work I admire is Carolyn Jenkins.  Her illustrations often include cross-sections of flowers and parts of plants, but her work is presented in a fresh contemporary way.  Also, her paintings are not always particularly large, so it shows that size does not always matter.  To see more of her illustrations go to:

(c) copyright Carolyn Jenkins
I have always been fascinated by the morphology of plants, and as a young girl I used to enjoy taking flowers apart looking at their different parts.  This interest has been throughout my life, although at times has waned a little due to other artistic distractions.
When I was introduced to botanical art formally by the Botanical Illustrator Gretel Dalby-Quenet, one of the first historical illustrator's she introduced me to (not literally, but his work !) was Arthur Harry Church (1865 - 1937).  To this day I could spend hours just looking at the book about his work.
Published by Merrell and The Natural History Museum
Many of his works are composed of cross-sections of flowers and are beautiful in their own right.
Below is an image of his Foxglove Digitalis purpurea illustration.

Dianne Sutherland SBA, a fellow Botanical Artist, has written an essay on the work of Arthur Harry Church.  This formed part of her work for the Society of Botanical Artists Diploma Course.
The full essay can be found on Dianne's website, along with her stunning illustration on vellum of Digitalis purpurea.
For those of you that may be interested in plant morphology and scientific illustration, the Institute for Analytical Plant Illustration produces some great resources to support your illustration work, as well as providing workshops and meetings to members.
 So in conclusion, will my work take a new direction, is a new project in the pipeline ??  Watch this space !!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Botanical Art & Natural History Drawing & Painting Courses 2013 - 2014

As the new term is getting ever nearer, I thought that I would give an overview of the courses and workshops that I teach at Peter Symonds College AHED in Winchester.

Starting Monday 30th September 2013 - 10 week course
Time: 15:00 - 17:00

This course is suitable for students that have already attended either part of or all of the first year of the Botanical Art course.  It is also appropriate for those who have some experience in observational drawing and the use of watercolours.

Students do not have to attend the whole year and each term is taught as an individual unit.  Therefore within each term we cover subjects such as: detailed drawing methods, recognising and applying tone, colour-mixing and colour theory, paint application techniques and those techniques that are particular to a specific plant family or species.

For the Autumn term we will be: studying a tree of personal choice and completing studies of its bark, leaves, fruits, seeds etc.  We will also be learning how to draw fungi and lichen, as well as painting autumnal leaves with acrylic inks.


Starting Tuesday 1st October 2013 - 10 week course  BOTANICAL ART: DRAWING & PAINTING TECHNIQUES - Beginners.  Time: 17:15 - 19:15

This course is suitable to those that are new to drawing and painting plants and flowers.  During the first term the emphasis will be on building up our knowledge and skills of observational drawing, accurate depiction of tone, using different shading techniques, understanding the fundamentals of colour-mixing, creating naturalistic greens, how to compose a botanical picture and starting to understand the structure of botanical subjects.

Starting Wednesday 2nd October 2013 - 8 week course

Time:  19:00 - 21:00

This course covers a wide range of subject matter and the main focus is on depicting natural objects in a detailed and accurate manner.  As with the Botanical Art courses we start with observational drawing, depicting tone and build up to applying colour. 

A range of media is also used.  You may start off using pencil, but there is also the opportunity to use pen and ink, as well as mixed media techniques.

Subject matter can be feathers, butterflies and other insects, drawing birds, stones and shells and even antlers and horns !

For further information and to book a place on any of the courses please go to:

There are also Saturday workshops available at Peter Symonds AHED
For a full list, see my website:

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Swallows, Swifts and no stings !

This post doesn't have a totally bird theme, as you can guess from the title.

We have had a lovely time away exploring the Wye Valley, the Brecon Beacons and the picturesque town of Hay-on-Wye, with its amazing array of bookshops that you can get lost in for hours.

Our home for a few days was a little annexe located in Hendre, a tiny village west of Monmouth.  Our bedroom had the most fantastic views from three aspects and I spent a lot of time just watching the Swallows soaring above the fields opposite the house.  Swooping down to collect their food, with occasional breaks to perch on the wires.

I had always wanted to go to Hay-on-Wye after hearing about the annual literary festival held there.  I wasn't disappointed and apart from the tempting bookshops there were some inspirational galleries - I especially liked the Bowie Gallery   and the HayMakers , and we also had a relaxing time mooching round an antiques shop with numerous little rooms that often brought back childhood memories when we spied an item that our parents or grandparents had also owned.

As we were walking through the town back to the car we both looked up and watched the Swifts for a while, delighting in their screeching calls, a sound that we hadn't heard for a long time.

For us both the highlight of our travels that week was seeing the view from Symonds Yat Rock.  It really did take your breath away and it felt as though you were looking down on the world from on high !  It made me think of my Grandad's trip to that part of the world when he was a young man and him showing me the black and white photographs (or more like sepia !) of the same view.  An added bonus was having the chance to see the Peregrines that were nesting on a nearby cliff-face.

With a few days in Devon added onto the end of our trip, our holiday was nearly complete.  Whilst on our friend's farm I was treated to a viewing of their beehives.  This was unexpected and I must admit I am now hooked and looking forward to seeing how the hives are doing when we visit in September.
As the hives are new ones for this year, it was important to check to see how many Queens were in each hive, as there should only be one per hive.  I am not experienced enough to explain all of the technicalities of bee-keeping and the ecology of Honey Bees but here are a few images that will hopefully help you to understand how a bee hive works.

Each section of the hive is called a 'super'.  Here we are lifting off the top super which is where the honey will be collected from.
The boards in the top super.
Here you can see one of the boards lifted out.  The capped honey cells are clearly seen - those covered in a creamy white waxy substance.
The lower super is where the brood is kept.  This metal grid is a queen excluder to stop the Queen from coming through to the upper super.
The drones are larger bees than the workers.  Here you can see some capped honey too, which is reserves for the brood itself.  The darker cells are where larvae are.
In this image some of the larval cells have been capped.  Those with a more bulbous cap contain larvae of the drone bees and the cells with the flatter cap contain larvae of worker bees.
Here in the lower part of the picture you an see a Queen just about to emerge.
I have been attempting to do some painting too, but with the weather having been so hot the paint just dries so quickly.
Whilst in Devon I was able to dabble with my acrylics and completed two small paintings, both 10x10 cms in size on natural linen canvas.
Further painting projects are underway, with new paintings ready for exhibitions next year - watch this space !