Tuesday, 22 July 2014

¡Me Voy a España!

Our local lake in the Winter

So as time is ticking on, I find myself packing boxes, ordering extra sheets of paper and saying good bye to Brick Lane. It's been an emotional few months that is for sure. There has been a lot of retrospection and tying up of loose ends as I prepare myself for the next step. It's a bold one - Inky Leaves is moving studio to Spain! I have been very lucky in that my mother and stepfather have offered a place for me to stay while I work towards building a portfolio of work and learn what it is really like to paint full-time. This is a tad scary, as I have never painted full time and I might end up falling out of love with it, but then you never know how it will go unless you try. I'd much rather give it a try than regret not having tried at all when I am on my death bed. 

The Almond fields near our house in Spring

With all of this in mind, I have also taken the plunge and booked some driving lessons. My test is scheduled for August. Fingers crossed. I am also picking up my Spanish lessons again and going for a little holiday to Galacia with my house mate. We have both been through the wars, so it'll be a time of healing for both of us and hopefully a lot of fun!  So at this rate my 30th birthday will be in Andalucia, and maybe a rather quiet affair. Might have a trip to the cemetery with all the locals as it is right next to the day of the dead and it's tradition to have a trip to the cemetery in the night.

One of the local lakes in Summer
Along with my portfolio work I hope to do a series of paintings for a book that will be published by Kew Gardens and my mother and I are looking at the possibility of running some courses. I really hope the funding comes through for this book, as it would be such a good experience for me and I believe something rather lovely to have on a bookshelf. Even if I do say so myself!

The Sierra Nevada in Autumn
So yes - ¡Adiós Amigos! I will be blogging again once I am on tierra española

Friday, 18 July 2014

Laurence Hill's 10 metre long composition

I am excited to announce that Laurence Hill will be exhibiting one of his larger works at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art's upcoming show 'Inspiring Kew'. Laurence been devoting a lot of his time and expertise on his own project called Fritillaria Icones - a photographic botanical database which is designed to help with the identification, research and conservation of all Fritillaria species. Admirably, he has made his work available to all who are researching the genus by uploading his images onto an open web based resource. Each image has been set to show both currently accepted diagnostic characters and other morphological and physiological elements that are apparently poorly represented within the existing literature.
Fritillaria Capsules by Laurence Hill ©
These images endeavour to increase understanding of the genus. An essential principle of the project is to keep it simple and accessible, therefore practical, whilst maintaining high image quality. Users are also encouraged to make comments and critique.  

Laurence Hill's own projection of how his work will look in the gallery
So Kew is lucky in that they will have Laurence Hill’s Fritillaria, A Family Portrait, on display. This piece is a bit different to the database work, as it captures a large number of species from a single genus and groups them in one, very long, continuous image. A whopping total of 80 species will be shown life-sized in a 10 metre long composition. The sequence in which the plants have been represented is apparently based on the most up-to-date genetic research from Kew’s Jodrell Laboratory. This piece might be a bit controversial in that it isn't painted, but I think it is a fabulous way of showing the beauty in plants and the sheer diversity present even at genus level.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Marilyn Ward retires as Illustrations Curator at Kew Gardens

I am sorry to report that this week Kew Gardens had to say a fond (semi) farewell to Marilyn Ward, the curator of illustrations department. I say 'semi', because although she is retiring, Kew will be very lucky in that Marilyn will be returning to work as an ‘illustrations volunteer’, which is really lovely of her. As one can see - she is very devoted and dedicated to the collections and work that Kew does. So there was somewhat of a rather large party on Friday to mark her retirement and 41 years of service. There was a mountain of food, cake and a little bit of champers. Lovely jubbly! 

Photograph taken by Christabel King
After scouring the internet for articles on Marilyn I have to say I was left feeling a bit disappointed - there is very little out there. I find this to be quite astonishing, as she really is a remarkable lady. I suppose one can only contribute it to the fact that she did so much out of the limelight. Throughout her career, she has always cared very deeply for the artists at Kew and encouraged them in all of their work. She also visits well known artists that are no longer painting in the studios at Kew, such as Pandora Sellars, and was a very close friend to Mary Grierson,who sadly passed away at the start of 2012. Marilyn is a bit of a walking database, she knows pretty much EVERYTHING about the illustration collections at Kew and a lot about its history. Upon scouring the internet I found this fabulous little radio program which features both Marilyn and Christabel King and touches on the collections held at the Royal Botanic Gardens. It makes for very good listening whilst in painting in the studio if you are interested...

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Krzysztof Kowalski video

Krzysztof Kowalski has recently uploaded a superb video on how to paint Vicia cracca....

Margaret Mee e a Flor da Lua

Last night, after work I snuggled into bed and watched the Margaret Mee film. I consequently had the best dreams ever - of colourful birds, jungle noises, lush vegetation and beautiful sunsets. You can get the DVD here for about £13 if you are interested. It will be coming all the way over from Brazil!

I must say that if you are interested in painting in the field/saving the planet/painting awkward plants such as those that only flower at night or just interested in Margaret Mee herself, then I would most definitely watch this film.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Macoto Murayama's Talk July 2014

Introducing the extraordinary Macoto Murayama©

So I went to Macoto's talk this week and what a joy it was. Firstly, the Japan Foundation was a superb space and all of the speakers and directors made us feel so very welcome, providing us all with refreshments which is always a nice thing. Secondly, it was an awesome experience because Macoto delivered the entire lecture in Japanese (thankfully there was a translator on hand). I was really pleased that he did this as not only did it make him feel more comfortable, but also because I believe you can tell a lot about a culture and the thought processes associated with it when you listen to it's language. Even though I had no idea what he was saying, one could note the pauses and changes in rate and expression. I noticed that Japanese seemed to be more efficient as a language - less words were said than the translation - and I wondered if that sort of efficiency gets translated into other aspects of life, such as in their art work.

Photos from Frantic Gallery. Work by Macoto Murayama (on Pinterest)

The talk was a beautiful introduction to his work and the methods he uses when creating. The presentation was later followed by a conversational piece between Macoto, Lucy Smith and Nathan Cohen. I particularly enjoyed this element of the discussion and wished it lasted longer. I had several questions that I really wanted to ask, but we sadly ran out of time. The questions I had saved were rather different to eatchother - one was far more basic and certainly less philosophical than the other. Firstly, I wanted to know how Macoto chose the plants that he used in his Botech Compositions (where several plants are used to make an elaborate pattern - see picture below (a couple down)). Looking at the designs, there is no reference to taxonomy or shape, but maybe geography was the key? Or maybe the patterns represented something more journalistic, possibly depicting plants collected on a single afternoon of field work? Who knows?! However - I would like to know as I think this sort of thing is really interesting as it descirbes the thought process and influences one's interpretation.

I also wanted to ask Macoto (and Lucy) if they think it is important to include a level of emotion in their work. At the start of Macoto's talk, he mentioned that he worked in a florist shop in Japan between the academic years of study, so that he could learn more about the relationship that exists between human beings and plants/flowers. Further to this, he also highlighted the groundbreaking moment when he first saw what was inside a flower - how bold over he was and that his first impulse was to share what he saw to the masses. He wanted everyone to see the beauty hidden in plants. Lucy appeared to empathise with this feeling (as do I and probably most botanists and illustrators). There certainly is something truly remarkable about the complexity, wonder and beauty hidden at the microscopic level of an organism that so commonly goes unnoticed. 

Botech Art by Macoto Murayama©

Therefore, from what Macoto is describing, one can deduce that there is most definitely an emotional and communicative aspect in his work. However, I very quickly noticed a contradiction which was introduced at the start of this debate and it was this that I wanted to highlight and bring to the table. When discussing the artists that had influenced his work – Georgia O’Keefe, Ernst Haeckel and Karl Blossfeldt, Macoto said that it was Karl's work that he resonated with the most because he was drawn to the distance captured in each black and white photograph. He liked the clinical nature of Blossfeldt's work, the emptiness, stillness and lifelessness reflected in every piece. I feel that in the majority of work that both Macoto and Lucy produce today, this stillness is also very much present. However, why produce work that is so reserved, detached and quantifiable if what made you want to make it in the first place were the irrational feelings of excitement, ecstasy, awe and sheer wonder?

Botech Compostion by Macoto Murayama©
Lucy's scientific works are mostly black and white and drawn in pen and ink. Macoto's "Botech Art" and "Floral Diagrams" are very mathematical, logical and, like Lucy’s work, linear. There is nothing irrational about them; they are to the book accurate and motionless. I wanted to know how they felt about this and if they thought as illustrators, if it is possible to engage the populace using such heavily structured illustrative works or, if they felt that this where botanical art comes into play. 

Botanical Diagrams by Macoto Murayama
Is botanical illustration able to engage people from all backgrounds, or is botanical art, with its many applications, media and forms, better equipped at tackling this dilemma? I wanted to know if Macoto felt that his compositional work (second above), which features ideas behind symmetry and pattern (these are the ones that look like rug patterns), has been better received across the board than the more quantitative works. Or are people intrigued by the more numeral pieces and if so, why? Do people prefer less emotive works? Are less expressive works easier to observe because there is nothing beyond the shapes and lines to interpret (there is nothing overly challenging). Along this line of thought, I also really wanted to know if he was conducting evaluations of his exhibitions as this is something that I very strongly about. Personally, I feel that it is incredibly necessary to know how one's work is received - it gives purpose and direction.

I was disappointed that I didn’t get to ask Macoto and Lucy their thoughts on the different  channels of visual description and communication, but then it was probably just as well as we might have been there all night debating it, and it might have blown the interpreter's mind! I might have to ask Lucy one day if I see her again - I'd be intrigued to know her thoughts. Obviously her more scientific works are of use to many people under the umbrella of environmental research, but I wonder how she feels about showing her work to those beyond this sphere of enterprise and if she feels that she would need to change her style in order for it to be more noticed by these other spheres and cultures? Basically I suppose I am asking if the work needs to become more emotional, expressive and arousing whilst also being accurate in order to be noticed and send a message?

I am glad that I have been able to highlight these thoughts online. I think this is something that we all need to consider. I myself don’t have any answers, but would be delighted to know your thoughts on how successful ‘clinical’ illustration is (as opposed to the more arty forms of botanical art) in encouraging people to become more familiar with the beauty, elegance and complexity present in plants.