Friday, 5 October 2018

In Search of Beatrix ..... and a mutual love of illustrating fungi

In recent weeks I have had the opportunity to visit the Lake District, one of the National Parks here in the UK that I have longed to visit.

I had previously been teaching in Edinburgh at RBGE, so on our way back home it was time for a few days to explore the Lakes and the surrounding countryside.
As always, there was another aspect to the trip, that for me personally, was one to tick off the bucket list !

That was to see some of the original natural history illustrations drawn and painted by Beatrix Potter.  But first I wanted to find out more about her, not necessarily about the famous children's books that she illustrated but other aspects of her life.

The first trip was to Hill Top, the first farm that she purchased in the Lake District.  The garden was relatively small, but then it was a working farm and still is, so the garden is likely to have been for growing fruit and vegetables as well as flowers.

She bought Hill Top from the proceeds of The Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1905 and then went onto to buy many other farms and parcels of land, without her efforts some of the Lake District that we see today would not exist.

She was known to be a fair landlord and was considerate to her tenants in times of need, especially as they progressed into old age.  Another aspect of her life, was that she helped to fund the District Nurses, enabling them to travel to each of their patients in a car, making their lives easier and a lot safer, as well as benefiting those that were needing their care.

The pictures above show the garden at Hill Top with the house in the back ground.  Right you can see the range in the front parlour of the house.  Once Beatrix was settled in the house she had the range removed and replaced with an inglenook fireplace.  But before that she used the original range as a source of inspiration for her illustrations in the Tale of Samuel Whiskers published in 1908 (above left).  In the 1980's a range similar to the original was installed.

But what of fungi ??  Her passion of illustrating fungi happened in another phase of her life, whilst she lived in London in the late 1800's, from 1888 to 1901, but also when the family used to travel to the Lake District and Pethshire on holiday.
She got to know the postman that delivered to their holiday home and he was a keen naturalist.  Over time Beatrix and Charlie McIntosh got to know each other  and she would send him illustrations for him to check that they were correctly identified.  He also gave suggestions to her as to how to present the information in her illustrations, suggesting that she should show parts of the cap with the gills being visible.  It was discovered that some of the illustrations were completed in duplicate, so that she always had a record, whilst the other was sent to Charlie.

Upon her death in 1943, Beatrix's fungi and archaeological illustrations were bequeathed to the Armitt Library and Museum in Ambleside.  This library was set up in 1912 and she was a founding member and a major benefactor too.

In the museum's collection of Beatrix's illustrations, there are:

250 studies of fungi
40 natural history studies (that include mosses and lichens)
140 microscopic drawings
30 archaeological drawings

So several weeks prior to heading off on our travels, I had contacted the Armitt and had arranged to meet the Curator whilst we were in Ambleside.
The feeling as I was approaching the museum and library was actually quite a peaceful one, hard to explain really.  Yes, I was excited too, but I felt that I just wanted to soak in and remember every part of the experience.

Unfortunately, no photographs were allowed when I had my private viewing, a little disappointed initially, but now I really appreciate it, as it has made the experience so much more personal, although I would have course loved to have shared it with you !

There was only time to view about 30 of them, but they truly took my breath away.  It was as though they had been painted yesterday, the colours were so fresh.

The Armitt Museum

I took a magnifying glass with me as I wanted to see her brush strokes closely.  She also used several granulating colours, often in the background of the illustrations to portray the habitat.  The latter was not always illustrated in great detail but there is tremendous depth to the paintings.
The compositions are inspiring as they truly lead your eye into what you are seeing, encouraging you to want to know more.  The delicate application of washes means that there are hardly ever any overworked areas of painting.  The neutral washes, which we often now call 'botanical greys' are made up of several washes using the glazing technique with watercolour.  The fungi themselves are so accurately painted and detailed that the species are still easily identifiable today from Beatrix's paintings.
One fascinating aspect of holding and seeing her work so closely, was the opportunity to read her notes and measurements.
We also had the chance to see some of her archaeological illustrations and heard from the curator, that they were often illustrated from specimens either located at the British Museum or on loan to her.  One illustration that will stay in my mind for a long long time, was one of Roman leatherwork, showing the remains of a sole of a sandal with the studs visible in the painting, and another of Roman leather latticework.  The River Fleet was a major river in Roman times and it is likely that this was the origin of Beatrix's illustration subjects, when excavations were taking place at the time of it being incorporated into the Victorian sewage system.

Memories and memorabilia back in the studio at home.

So what now, after all of that inspiration ?  I was determined to return to illustrating fungi this year, after a break of a year or two.  A trip to the New Forest at the end of August yielded some specimens and now I feel motivated even more. 

This coming Saturday 6th October is UK Fungus Day, so why not have a look at the website and see if there are any fungi events near you.  If you are not up to sketching them why not take photographs, but remember to leave the fungi where they are.

Butter bolete Boletus appendiculatus © 2018 Sarah Morrish/NaturesDetails
From my A3 botanical sketchbook

Penny bun Boletus edulis © 2018 Sarah Morrish/NaturesDetails
From my A3 botanical sketchbook

For further examples of my fungi illustrations and those of a fellow artist and friend, Claire Ward, you can view the blog of the UK Fungus Day - British Mycological Society

If you would like to read more about the time that Beatrix Potter illustrated fungi, the following booklet gives a wonderful and informative overview, with a good range of her illustrations included.
It is available directly from the Armitt Musuem.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Change is a positive thing............ for students and tutor

Change can be a difficult process to get through, even when the end result will be a positive one.

The process of change is initiated often by an idea and for me in this instance it is a creative one.  Barbara Januszkiewicz sums it up well:

Creative thinking inspires ideas. Ideas inspire change - Barbara Januszkiewicz

Many of you know that over the last year or so, as well as health, and family caring challenges, I have been involved in the organisation of the Botanical Art Worldwide event for the UK. Now this very successful event is over and the Association of British Botanical Artists evolves without me, I can move forward with opportunities for me as an artist but also as a tutor.

My ultimate aim when teaching is to guide my students through their learning process, recognising that each of them may learn in a different way and leading them to a progressive and successful outcome.

This is a challenge in itself, especially when you may only be teaching them for a one day workshop or for a few hours each week, or even online.  So my thinking cap has been well and truly on and now I can reveal that there are several changes coming up with Illustrating Natures Details, which will hopefully provide a fulfilling learning and teaching experience for all.

The 3rd July was my last day of teaching at Peter Symonds College AHED in Winchester.  I will be leaving after 6 years of teaching there and meeting so many talented people.  Thank you to everyone that has supported me and come to the classes, many of whom I will still see.

This means that I can create a new learning experience, one that means more time for all and following a project based approach.
This will take place from October 2018  at the Holt Estate, near Winchester, where I already teach workshops and courses.

The classes are for those with some experience of drawing and painting botanical and natural history subjects.  There will be a block of 4 classes to start with that will take place every other week. This will mean that there is the opportunity for structured tuition within class and then the option of continuing at home on a specific project over the 8 weeks in total. Students will also have the option of choosing a set botanical or natural history subject area at the point of booking.

Another exciting result of this creative change is that I have created a private group on Facebook for any student that attends the day workshops or longer courses at the Holt Estate.  This is a great way of everybody keeping in touch as some are spread far and wide.  
It is not a tuition group but an additional means of communication and support and is proving popular already.
This is one of the positive benefits of social media and I am thrilled to be able to provide this free of charge, as an addition to attending the workshops and courses.
If you have attended the courses at the Holt you can request to join the group here:

Don't forget that you can also keep up to date with news by signing up for the newsletter, the link for which is in the tabs above.

Do also keep a look out for further online courses coming later in 2018.

Happy drawing & painting !


Sunday, 4 February 2018

A rain forest in a hedge-bank ...

When I first started this blog way back in 2011, there were times when I could use it to focus on my nature writing as well as the 'arty' side of things.  So this year I have made a promise to myself to write more about my experiences with the natural world, those that really capture all aspects in all weathers and conditions.

This blog post has taken a while to evolve, from the beginning of the year to be accurate.

The last day of the year in 2017 we were settled in a granary cottage on the beautiful Little Comfort Farm situated in the depths of the north Devon countryside.
The winter weather was typically British with rain showers visiting us for various lengths of time, delivering their load and giving the surrounding hedge-banks what looked like a shower of diamonds, once the sun was shining.

After one such delivery we ventured away from the wood-burner and headed outside.

The lane was surrounded by high hedge-banks which created almost a humid climate due to their sheltering nature.  As I looked closer the realisation came that the vegetation on those banks gave you the feeling of being in a miniature rain forest.  

The tiniest capsules of the mosses were weighed down with moisture, the hairs of Wood sorrel leaves glistened in the sunshine and the new Harts tongue fern fronds and others looked as though they had been brushed with varnish.  

Further jewels of nature became more visible as we peered closer, not all touched by the rain but still shining out from the surrounding vegetation due to their colour, texture and pattern.

Don't forget to look around you after the rain - you may be in for a surprise !

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

How do I know which course is suitable for me ??

There have been discussions on social media recently about the availability of accredited courses in botanical art. There are many courses of varying levels out there but virtually none are accredited.

By 'accredited' we mean those that are assessed and quality controlled by and an educational institution, such as a university.  Such courses usually carry points that can be used to put towards the application process of further courses at degree or masters degree level.

In the distant past I had looked at several illustration courses that had a good modular focus on natural science education, but at the time attending a course like this was not an option for me.  Instead I went down the route of studying for a science degree in ecology and conservation biology.

This in turn I have been able to combine with my art to become a full-time professional artist, tutor and illustrator.

All of the above has led me to review how information about courses is provided to perspective students, particularly those courses that I teach as part of Natures Details.

I consider myself very fortunate in that I can teach and share my passion of botanical art and natural science illustration at a variety of venues.  This has enabled me to create a range of course types and I thought now would be a good time to give an overview of each format of course, workshop and learning opportunity that I and Natures Details can provide.

I hope that this open approach will help everybody when they are considering taking a course or workshop and give you some points that may apply to other classes as well as my own.

Weekly classes at Peter Symonds College AHED, Winchester.
Botanical Art - An Introduction to Techniques x1 class 2.5 hrs
Botanical Art - Further Exploration of Techniques x2 classes 2.5 hrs and 2 hrs

  • These classes take place once a week and last for 6-10 weeks according to the confirmed term length.
  • They suit learners that may have limited time available, but also those that have more flexibility and would like a regular learning experience.
  • Each course is carefully written to ensure that there is opportunity for progression at what ever skill level. 
  • If somebody wishes to attend for each term of the academic year no subjects will be repeated, but a variety of techniques can be learnt that can then be applied to numerous subject matter.
  • In the Introductory class, the fundamentals in botanical drawing are covered at the beginning of each term.
  • Due to the above it is advised that the first 3 classes should not be missed, as individual catch-up time is not available within the class.
  • Learners can attend the class each week and only work during the class if they wish.  Alternatively, if further practice is completed between classes at home then individual progression is likely to be at a different pace.
  • Techniques are demonstrated within the group and there is also individual guidance given through each class.
  • Handouts to support learning activities are provided.
  • No formal written assessment is given although verbal feedback and review is available on an individual basis.
  • Due to being in a college environment there other resources available to support teaching and learning.
  • Enrolments can be throughout the year for the forthcoming term if space is available.
  • Some of the course attendees also attend the longer workshops below to enable further exploration of the techniques learnt during the shorter weekly sessions.

1 & 2 day workshops Natures Details Hampshire Courses, The Holt Estate near Winchester. 6 hrs each day.

  • These take place throughout the year from March until October.
  • They suit learners who are beginners and those at other skill levels.
  • These workshops are also about the overall experience as The Holt is in a beautiful countryside setting on the South Downs, providing rural inspiration for some of the classes.  There is also no mobile or internet access, so most course attendees relish in having this chance to be away from everyday technology, I know I certainly do !
  • Individual themes are covered in each workshop and will include botanical and natural science subjects.
  • Suitable for those that cannot commit to a weekly class but would still like a concentrated length of time to focus on their art.
  • Some of the workshops are available as a one day option but those that are two days long give more time and opportunity for everybody to focus on potentially a more complex subject.
  • Attending a 1 or 2 day workshop will also give more time to possibly complete a painting.
  • Handouts to support learning activities are provided.

  • Techniques are demonstrated within the group and there is also individual guidance given through each class.
  • There is more time available to get to know your classmates, particularly over the lunch break and afternoon tea, enabling you to share learning experiences, and to learn from each other as well as me.
  • During these workshops there are also chance to try materials and resources that may be new to you and see these in action demonstrated by the tutor.
  • No formal written assessment is given although verbal feedback and review is available on an individual and group basis.
  • Themes of workshops are reviewed each year and requests for repeats are taken into consideration.  

Residential courses at the Kingcombe Centre, Dorset (all of the courses are available for those wanting to attend on a daily basis)

  • Many of the above points for 1 & 2 day workshops also apply to the residential/longer course options at the Kingcombe Centre.
  • Courses with a residential option are an advantage to those that may have to travel some distance.
  • They provide an option for those that work full-time and may want to attend a course as part of their holiday allowance.
  • Having meals together provides an additional enjoyable social experience.
  • The Centre is situated adjacent to the Kingcombe Meadows Nature Reserve and therefore there is direct access to the reserve, with many elements being included within courses.
  • There is also staff on hand from the Dorset Wildlife Trust who can advise on species information if needed.
  • There is a purpose built well-lit teaching secure space where materials and equipment can be left in place for the duration of the course.
  • Being on a longer course gives the learner the chance to really get to know the tutor's work and their methods too, with the opportunity for techniques to be shown more than once.
  • Handouts to support learning activities are provided.
  • Evening sessions are often included as part of the courses and can provide additional painting time or a time slot to learn more about the course subject and other associated artists or other activities e.g presentations / videos / using the moth trap / quizzes.

New 2 day course at Nature in Art, Gloucestershire

  • This is in a similar format of the 1 and 2 day courses provided in Hampshire.
  • The difference is that the focus will be on a more in-depth aspect of botanical art.
  • A detailed handbook is available specifically on the course subject.
  • The surroundings are very inspirational as it is the only venue in the UK dedicated to art in the natural world as a permanent collection.

Online Tuition Drawing Nature Courses - Parts 1 & 2
  • The online courses that I have written are very much designed to try and include some of the learning experience that you would have if attending a course in person.
  • Ideal if you are in a more rural location or need to be based at home.
  • If you are considering  enrolling on an online course, you do have to have good self-motivation.
  • The Drawing Nature courses are modular in structure and are a progressive learning experience, designed to increase your confidence in drawing.
  • Assignments are set throughout the course and are assessed individually.
  • Individual feedback is given for each assignment completed.
  • Additional support is available via email and a private Facebook group.
  • A course handbook is provided and is written to be used alongside the tutorial videos.  Each of these are not intended to be used as individual learning resources, as each reinforces the other.
  • Rather than me setting specific subject matter there is the option for you to choose your own.
  • Remember that there are a variety of online learning options out there and take time to decide what format may be best for you.  
  • Don't be afraid to ask the tutor for further information and a course outline and/or an example of a tutorial video/or an example page from the course handbook.
  • For structured courses such as Drawing Nature there may be a set time for the course to be completed in. 
  • The set time that I give is if the learner requires individual feedback.  As the course handbook can be downloaded, the course can be completed without feedback given. But it is very much considered an important part of the learning process.

Personal tuition / Individual coaching

  • This type of learning experience is very much tailored to the individual and their needs.
  • It can take the form of a themed day or can cover specific techniques and approaches to both botanical art and natural science illustration
  • It can suit any level of experience and is particularly useful if you require a coaching experience to cover project management, from choosing a theme, moving to research, onto planning, and onwards to planning the final exhibit.
  • This format suits 1 or 2 people.
For further information email Sarah at:

For all information about courses and workshops please see the Illustrating Natures Details tuition website