Thursday, 26 September 2013

Rory McEwen lives on

Tuesday was a sad day - I wasn't in the gallery on Monday when the rest of the team began to take down Rory McEwen The Colours of Reality, which closed on Sunday. On Monday I was busy celebrating Henry's birthday, decorating the house with bunting and balloons, tending to the garden and cooking, so I missed out on the de-installation.

It can be fair to say that Monday was a day of merriment and celebration, but Tuesday? Well I was gobsmacked by how much work my team had done in a day - when I came in, most of the paintings were no longer on the wall and were instead standing on foam blocks ready for wrapping. This really marks the end of a show for me, seeing all those paintings on blocks. It's a sad moment at the best of times.

I think this show has been one of our most successful at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art and all of us in the gallery are very grateful to everyone for their support in buying the catalogue, coming to the show and talking about it with their friends. An exhibition is nothing without it's audience.

Tulips are down and ready to go back to their owners
This exhibition changed my life. It did this in so many different ways, from seeing the paintings for the first time in the flesh, to the people I met along the way. It seems like a long time ago when I saw the paintings for the first time in the form of a digital file whilst was designing the website. I remember being bowled over even then! Something inside me has been moved by these paintings and I think it has for us all. How wondrous to be the person responsible for touching so many souls after so many years after passing away. Miraculous really.

One of my favourite little sketches by Rory McEwen - so much energy
Rory's two daughters visited the gallery on Tuesday afternoon to pack up the show cases. I took some photographs for our archives as there was so much information packed into those cases. One of my favourite things to do at the end of the day is to see how many hand prints are on the cases. Sometimes it's a good measure of how busy we have been, or how sunny it was outside (suncream always leaves marks) or if we had school groups in (they leave small hand prints and children tend to have the stickiest of mits).

In the case of Rory though, I rather liked seeing which cases caused people to stop and stare more. In this exhibition, it was the music display case that got more handprints on than any other - the one with his guitar and records inside. The next most 'touched' was the one with his painting schedule written out on loose sheets of paper with the 'Is that you Rory?' postcards running along the top. I think a lot of people found this display to be very informative as it showed how fast he was at painting and how he worked on several paintings at once. Lastly, the Karl Blossfeldt show case in Dr. Sherwood's part of the show proved to be a popular gazing ground too. 

The showcase with Rory McEwen's paints inside, Kew Gardens
As the show cases got packed up it was my job to open them up. The highlight of the day was opening up the case with his apron, tools and paints inside. As I opened it the most exquisite smell of paint and old paper seeped out. I stood there wondering if that was the smell of Rory's studio, trying to memorize it as it diffused across the room. 

Rory McEwen's tools including a very fine scratching tool for sharp, defined highlights.
So I guess, like summer, the show is over and it's time to embrace something new... As the leaves on the trees start to change colour in a rather 'Rory' way, we are busy sanding and peeling sentences of vinyl off our walls... I tell you something - I won't be forgetting the glorious summer of 2013 in a hurry!

In case anyone is interested, the Estate of Rory McEwen have got a website. 

Also, the remarkable botanical artist, Martin J Allen, has written a very in depth post on his website pointing to all things Rory, from exhibition reviews and blog posts such as those by Coral Guest, to books and memoirs. I recommend scouring through every link, as each author's take on Rory's work demonstrates very well how people interpret things differently. Yet also at the same time, I find it extraordinary that by reading each review one can see very clearly that, as human beings, we are all affected by Rory's work on a spiritual level. I personally think it's something about the condition of being alive.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

New Rory McEwen Prints Available from Kew

I am very pleased to say that despite the exhibition closing today, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew are selling two new Rory McEwen fine art prints until Christmas 2013.  These are really beautiful prints, and I myself will be getting one (the purple tulip). If you are interested in ordering a print, the best thing to do is to give the gallery a call on 020 8332 3622. They are printed on 300gsm acid-free 'minuet' paper and have a beautiful beveled edge, making them ideal for float mounting.

Tulip 'Columbine' Bybloemen feather 1974, watercolour oh vellum, 290 x 400mm£110 (unframed)

Flamed Pink and White Tulip  (open) 1974, watercolour on vellum, 420 x 470mm,  £110 (unframed)

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Making a start

So I have made a start on Cosmo... I think I can officially say it's one of the hardest things I have ever done. There are so many bumps and colour changes - it's really tricky to keep up the good ol' observation skills. I am trying to do this piece as fast as I can too, which is not helping matters I guess, but at the same time it is. I am trying to get to a level where I can just get on with painting rather than to fuss too much about where I place my line. I often find that when one paints quickly, they are painting more from the heart and that subsequently comes across in the piece. Well that's the hope anyway! I guess it's a test to see how fast I can get. The interesting thing is that the Green Giant actually only took just over double the time of Sally the Savoy, despite being sustainably larger. Practice makes perfect, as Dianne Sutherland is finding with her amazing 30 day challenge.

Cos Lettuce - work in progress

I have put this picture in so you can get a sense of scale. There is no 'little' with 'little gem'!

Me and Cos - work in progress

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Starting Cosmo

Yesterday I started a new painting! It's so exciting when starting a new piece of work, especially on new paper. On my last trip to Atlantis I tried to get some large paper - same size as the one used for the Green Giant, only heavier. Sadly, this type of paper doesn't exist. Stuck with what felt like a massive compromise, I opted for the heavier paper at the smaller size. This decision was helped by the fact that Atlantis had run out of the paper I used for the Coffee plant. 

So why did I want to go heavier? Well, I wanted the 425gsm because despite stretching the paper for the Coffee Plant, the paper still cockled. This disappointed me as the paper was 300gsm, so not exactly lightweight, plus it was a pain to stretch (size). The other reason I decided to go heavier was not long ago I met up with Masumi Yamanaka in the herbarium at Kew to see her latest paintings of Kew's heritage trees. They were truly amazing. Masumi is one of my favourite artists, she has such a delicate touch and arranges her plant portraits very elegantly on the page. Currently she is being kept very busy with two large projects. When I met up with her I very was impressed with the speed in which she works. When I was shown the work she'd already done I was amazed, not only by the quality of the work, but also by the fact that the paper was wooshed out of her folio without much in the way of protection. Great heavy things they were, with no board or a plastic wallet in sight. I guess when one paints that regularly at that volume you'd probably get less precious about the paintings.

Masumi demonstrating at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art
I noticed that Masumi hadn't stretched her paper - it was just really thick Saunders Waterford - thicker than what I had used previously. I guess it's essential for her to be able to transport her work from one studio to another and the last thing she'd need is to carry an A1 piece of board. She also needs to swap the paintings she is working on as different species come into fruit and flower. 

So... after all this I thought I'd give it a go myself and sacrificed size for weight.

The good news is I have chosen to paint Cosmo on this piece of weighty paper. Cos 'coz he was littered with beautiful colours! He's being painted as a super-sized Cos Lettuce... 560mm x 760mm, when really he is only a 'little gem'. I wanted to paint so many other things, but for some reason the paper lent itself to this specimen more than anything else I had in mind. 

And so, with this little lettuce, the journey the begins...

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Rare Beatrix Potter botanical paintings come to Kew

Daphne laureola L., watercolour study by Beatrix Potter, signed and dated 1885

For a long time the Archives at Kew used to only hold one letter from Beatrix Potter and a couple of examples of books about her. This surprises a lot of people because it's widely known that she visited Kew frequently and worked closely with the mycology department. Visitors used to always think that Kew held many examples of her botanical illustrations, when in fact they didn't. But this year, for the first time, Kew now has two of Potter's paintings in their collection.

The paintings' journey to Kew began in February, when on a cold evening, Chris Mills, the Head of Library, Art and Archives at Kew, was browsing through a catalogue for the sale of the Mark Ottignon Beatrix Potter collection when he spotted Lot 174 - two botanical paintings by Beatrix Potter.

The watercolours, which are painted on two sides of a single sheet of paper, depict Black Bryony, Tamus communis L, dated 1883, and, on the reverse Daphne laureola L., initialled and dated 1885. Without hesitation Chris bid for the items. Their acquisition was thankfully funded by a generous legacy bequeathed specifically for use of the library collections.

Tamus communis (Black bryony), watercolour study by Beatrix Potter, dated 1883
With the paintings now safely in Kew's Collection, the conservation department are now removing the  stains caused by yellowed sellotape and giving them a good clean. Once the paintings have been fully restored the item will be mounted so that both sides can be admired by visitors to the herbarium. What a happy ending!

You can read more about Beatrix Potter at Kew here.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Green Giant has been scanned

'The Green Giant', 2013, J R Shepherd © (Coffea arabica - The Coffee Plant)

Plus, if you were intersted in the coffee thing, there is a delightful little blog post about a book called 'The Berry That Changed World', which was published in 1898 and is all about the history of Coffee. You can read the book online too which is pretty cool. It has loads of illustrations in it, which I actually find rather interesting to look at from a sociological point of view.

Title page of 'The Berry That Changed the World' - A book on coffee

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Exhibition of Botanical Art at Oxford Botanic Garden

Flower and Plant Portraits

A Homage to John Ruskin

By Liz Sherras Clark, SBA, SFP

Wednesday 5th September 2013 to Thursday 31st October 2013
Liz paints her botanical illustrations using the subjects from her own cottage garden in Surrey and in Australia. Her knowledge of flowers, enjoyment of colour and freedom of style is evident in the subjects she chooses. This looks like it is going to be a great show with stunning paintings so if you are in the area it's well worth a looksy.

There is a special event running in conjunction with the show too - a weekend course on 28th and 29th September 2013, 10.00am - 4.00pm on both days. It costs £120.00. Bookings can be made online here.

Course outline:

Turning Circles into Spheres
Exercises using line and tone

Students then choose from spherical plants to make studies and complete a finished painting by the end of the afternoon. 

Looking at Colour
Exercises using watercolour paint
Understanding the spectrum, complimentary, neutral and green colour-mixing.
Advice on the quality of watercolour paints
Following this students select a dahlia to paint, relating it to the morning studies.

John Hall Thorpe Woodcuts - not strictly illustration, but very botanical

My mother visited a house not long ago when dropping off a pot and inside it she spotted some woodcut prints by the artist John Hall Thorpe. She knew I'd like them, so informed me about her find as soon as she could. I myself had never heard of the chap, but I can say that I most certainly do like his work. There isn't much about the man online, but there is a little blog post and Camberwell Fine Art has written a bit about him on their site.

Apparently he is Australian-born and learnt the art of colour woodblock printing in the early 1890s while living in Sydney. He attended Heatherley’s School of Art and held his first solo show in London in 1918; his success was established almost immediately. The brightly coloured woodcuts became something of an international phenomenon during the 1920s and 30s and were designed with the specific intention of providing bright, colourful decoration in peoples homes and offices. Hall Thorpe produced his work in reaction to what he saw as dull and laborious realism of so much of the decoration in people’s homes at the time.

His prints sometimes come up in auction houses if you are interested. I myself would like to see them made into a set of stamps because they are visually quite powerful.