Monday, 29 February 2016

Speaking up for native species amongst a global stage

What is very special about the RHS Botanical Art Show is that you are visiting a global stage of botanical art where you will be bombarded (in a positive way), to botanical subjects that will dazzle you in form and colour.

Evident at the recent RHS London Botanical Art Show, was that several of the artists exhibiting had illustrated native species from their countries, rather than plants of a cultivated variety.

Three exhibitors illustrated British native plants, myself, Roger Reynolds and the Iceni Botanical Artists.

My exhibit 'Twigs & Buds in Winter - from Trees & Shrubs of Ancient Hedgerows'
Lower image courtesy of Solene Dequiret

Roger's Gold medal exhibit 'The Tip of the Branch' showed the beautiful detail of the growth stages of native woody species, and the Iceni Silver gilt medal exhibit was composed of numerous illustrations of 'Breckland Wildflowers - Heaths and Grasslands'.

Roger Reynolds with his exhibit 'The Tip of the Branch'
Images courtesy of Amber Halsall

The Iceni Botanical Artists Exhibit 'Breckland Wildflowers - Heaths and Grasslands'

As the first day of the show progressed, there was a pattern emerging and we soon realised that there was a real interest in native species.  Roger and I were constantly busy on the first day especially, with many many people wanting to know more specific information about the plants we had illustrated in addition to the techniques we had used to illustrate them.

During one of the quieter moments of the show, you can see that Roger and I were still busy chatting to people around our exhibits (centre of picture).
Image courtesy of Katherine Tyrrell.

Even though the subjects of our exhibits were presented in a different way, both of them really raised the profile of native woody species and for me, the fragility of ancient hedgerows.

Chatting to one of my students visiting the show

Personally, I had numerous visitors unknown to me, come and introduce themselves and to tell me that they had been following my project online for the last year and now wanted to see the work for real.  Other botanical artists were also grateful that I had been so open about the process I had gone through.  This was extremely satisfying and is evidence of how different forms of social media can work positively to promote native species and of course botanical art, as well as help in promoting yourself as a professional botanical artist.

I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone that helped to spread the word, on Twitter, Facebook and followers of this blog.  In particular the Botanical Society for the British Isles and The Ancient Tree Forum were very supportive on Twitter in the lead up to the show, as well as many others.

I had the opportunity to chat to the Show Manager about social media and he was very keen for artists to spread the word on social media platforms in the lead up to the botanical art show. There is nothing to say that you can't in the RHS documentation, and indeed they provide details of tags and links to use.
As an artist you do not necessarily want to reveal every single piece of the detail of your exhibit, but to reveal some information and perhaps images of parts of paintings, can pay dividends in the long run.

I will soon be writing another blogpost about the logistics of attending the RHS Botanical Art Show as an exhibitor - watch this space !

Friday, 19 February 2016

Finishing and fine tuning - reaching that goal

The last year has been somewhat of a busy one.  Natures Details has had its busiest year yet with new courses and exhibiting opportunities, but the main focus by far has been the work towards my RHS project.

With under a week to go until the RHS London Botanical Art Show, I thought that I would pen some words, hopefully to encourage others and also to give an insight into what goes into the preparation of such an exhibit in the final stages.

Back to the beginning first though.  I have been asked recently, 'why do you want to exhibit at the RHS with all the work it involves ?'

The process for me started many years ago when I could only dream of painting full-time.  At that point botanical art was a hobby alongside my main career in early years education.  I was also on the committee of a painting organisation and one day I had to deliver some paperwork to a popular and skilled botanical artist's home.  I nervously entered and there before me on the wall were several RHS gold and silver gilt medals.  At the time I remember thinking how amazing such an achievement was, just to exhibit, and wouldn't it be lovely one day ....

Well here I am, waiting to exhibit at the RHS.  There are so many people to thank and you all know who you are, I can't thank you enough.

One of the first ports of call for any botanical artist thinking of exhibiting at the RHS is the blogposts written by Katherine Tyrrell of Making A Mark, with the help of RHS medal winners.  A compilation of posts under the title Tips from RHS Gold Medal Winning Artists can be found on the Botanical Art & Artists website.

For me, if I was to put so much effort into creating a body of work on a theme, I wanted it to benefit others, not be just for the purpose of exhibiting.  Because of my previous working life in conservation this often happens with my work.  I wanted the paintings to be able to be used beyond the RHS show.

With this in mind I knew my theme would be linked with an ancient and declining habitat, so I therefore chose hedgerows, which have always fascinated me, particularly the structure of the ancient remnants.  The hedgerows themselves contain many species and these gave me perfect subjects to study and to help others ID these species.
But then I had to decide what season to depict the artwork in.  For me there was only one - winter.  I had already become mesmerised by the beauty of buds and twigs in winter and this was the route I decided to take.  With some expert help and guidance I was encouraged to depict the buds in a very different way - larger than life - and this really does open up the beauty of them for others to see.

It really helps to chose a theme that you feel passionately about.  It will buoy you along as you have to maintain that momentum.  There are times when you will have to be so determined.  Not everything will be straightforward.
No matter how much preparation you do before you even put brush to paper, a painting may not work out how you envisioned it to be.  One of my paintings had to be painted 4 times, before I got it right!
I learnt so much through this process though.

  • All through the project you need to take note of exhibiting regulations and guidance given to you by the RHS.

Now to the final stages ......

  • Taking the advice of others I completed one painting more than I had chosen to exhibit.  This gave me the option that if one was weaker in quality than the others, I could hopefully maintain the consistency, especially as the exhibit is judged as a whole.  Also you need to see how the collection of paintings look together.  They need to be individual but still harmonious and the one I chose to leave out did not fit in and jarred against the others.
  • I knew what I wanted to say in the accompanying text for my exhibit and built this up over several months.  It is very useful to ask someone to give an independant opinion on the text that you had in mind, and be prepared that you may have to make significant changes if it will benefit your exhibit as a whole.  Bear in mind that some aspects will only be down to you if you have specific knowledge in a subject.  It can be easy to become close to your theme and be difficult to distance yourself and view it as to how others would see it.  Remember when writing the text, link directly with your exhibit title and present the information in an easy to read format.  Visitors may not know anything about your theme/subject and they will also not be able to necessarily stand there for ages reading reams of information.
  • Think about how you are going to present your work.  This should definately have been decided very early on in the project in terms of the sizes of the finished paintings.  2016 is the last year that framed pictures will be exhibited at the RHS show.  From 2017 only mounted work will be accepted for exhibiting.  I had already decided that mine would be mounted and I also wanted the paintings to be backed on foam board so that they stood out from the board a little.  Even though I do cut my own mounts normally, I took the stress away by getting my framer to cut the mounts and he also cut a couple of extra ones just in case ! This was done several months in advance so that there was no rush at the end.
Cutting the foam board to fit the size of the mount-board

Using acid free framers tape to edge the foam-board.
I have seen too often how 'normal' tape can discolour very quickly, in a matter of weeks.

Mounted work backed onto foam-board and with acetate between the mount-board and artwork to help protect it.
  • There will be other things that you will need to take with you to help you build the exhibit on the day before the show.  If you haven't got these already, start collecting them early on.  I got a small spirit level as a 'tree present' at Christmas !
My Christmas spirit level !
Also heavy duty velcro - this will be used to attach the artwork to the display boards.  Using heavy duty velcro means that the adhesive is stronger and the hooks and loops are more robust too.  I will be attaching the velcro to the back of the pictures before we leave on Wednesday so that I know it is fully adhered to the backing surface.  The velcro pictured above is 5cm deep.
Take additional other tape with you too, just in case it is needed.

  • Other items you will need will include business cards, may be a profile leaflet with contact details and course information on (if you teach), and cards of the artwork, as you are allowed to sell them and visitors so often want a reminder of specific artworks.

Ooh the first peek !
These are the postcards that I will have for sale at the show.

Finally .......  Remember it is your exhibit with your vision.  As with everything it is a complete learning process too.

I am at the stage now, that I have done all that I can and I just want to enjoy next week and hopefully get a medal too ! 

Thank you again for the support and I look forward to seeing some of you at the show.