Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Russell Square London Plane Tree

It's been a while, but I haven't forgotten you. I am just slowly detaching from the internet and becoming more and more silent. The other day I even practiced a dedicated hour of complete silence. It is rather tricky to do in this house as there is a lot going on, but I managed it the other day. It's a lovely thing to do, although I am discovering how intolerant I am becoming to unwanted interruptions. For example, I don't like it when people to burst into my studio at the best of times, but it's now become a big 'no-no'. I have also asked that no one may enter unless they have permission, an idea I have stolen from Ennio Morricone after listening to a fabulous programme on him on radio 6 which you can listen to here (there is also this one here). I also heard a rather good one on David Lynch over the Christmas Period, which I also recommend as he requests some great tracks and you can here that programme here. Ennio locks his studio and keeps the key on him at all times. He also, rather like Sherlock Holmes, never dusts. I'd very much like to practice this idea if it weren't for the fact that the dust ends up in my paints...

Progress roughly 35 hours in of the London Plane. 

My silence is not only a result of me detaching though, it is also a side effect of something else. A week ago I got a rather big commission which needs to be completed by the 17th January. It's for an A1 sized London Plane Tree. I had hoped that this commission would come in during November, but nothing ever works out as you plan does it?! So I am busy painting like a mad women in my studio trying to get roughly 160 hours of painting done (which is roughly how much I think it is going to take). Despite this being rather hard work, I am enjoying the slog. I haven't sat down so intensely with a subject like this since I was at school. I ache all over and my eyes are starting to feel tired. Last night I got up from the drawing board and lost all sense of spatial awareness which was rather funny! I am taking frequent breaks as I think it is important and going for walks still, but the long days do take their toll when one isn't used to it. Anyway, I have managed to nail 50 hours so far and I am happy with how it is going. Musical tastes have moved on from Erik Satie to Jack White and now I am into the radio and catching up on all sorts of things. Mark Radcliffe and Maconie had me in stitches yesterday, which I suppose isn't ideal when holding a brush, but it lightened the soul. I think it was the Christmas Eve programme that had me in fits of laughter, especially after 1 hour and 17 minutes in when Mark Radcliffe goes a bit all over the place.

I have just realised that it is in fact New Years Eve today, (crumbs - I have lost all sense of time), So I'd like to wish you all a very happy New Year! I hope you all have something sensational planned for tonight. I think we might be heading down to the 'Old Mans Bar' (as our neighbour likes to call it) for a tapas or two. 

Sunday, 21 December 2014

A break through on Mork

After struggling somewhat with the concept of this rather over sized Money Plant I think I might have finally found some ground on which to tread. I often find that with botanical art, one can feel very lost at the start, because the painting looks so weak and empty with only a few washes on it. It's easy to become disheartened at the beginning. When I begin a piece I am usually full of optimism, excitement and hope. However, only after a few days of painting this feeling of elation is quickly replaced by feelings of despair and frustration when the leaves and flowers still look far from reaching the intensity I had originally desired to capture. So yes, during those first few weeks of embarking on a new piece I often feel like I am treading water. It's like being thrown in the deep end of a pool; but after a while we all begin to do a doggy paddle. For me, I find this moment inevitably comes when I have painted the first bit of the painting to its richest most complete phase, which unsurprisingly has been the case here. I nailed a leaf and that made me feel good, spurring me onto another. 

Working in the studio yesterday

However, this piece is a little unusual in that it does not come with a planned composition. Although I don't do sketchbook work, I usually have an inkling of where I am going and a general idea of how I want the plant to look on the page. Mork, however, didn't come with a manual. After struggling with getting the right paper and the fact that I couldn't see his trunk very well meant I really had NO IDEA on which road to take. In the end I decided to take no road and just go walking in the wilderness, blindfolded.

Progress on Morph the Money Plant
So what I am trying to say here is that just painting one 'good' leaf was not enough to make me feel grounded at all - I needed more, and yesterday, whilst roaming around in the wildness with Radio 6 blaring it's tunes out in the background, I found a new trail. First of all, he's been renamed. Secondly I intend to do only five limited edition prints. Thirdly I am going to be applying at least one new medium on the prints after they have been printed and lastly the final piece, I reckon, will be a triptych. I might need to do a bit of sketchbook work for the last course of action, but I will only do that once I have gained more ground, so I had better get on with it.  

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

How botanical art is being used to confirm the provenance of a painting

A quick post as I dont feel it is possible to improve upon The Guardian's Dakya Alberge's excellent piece. Here is a fascinating article about how Leonardo da Vinci used botanical art in his work and how his well known committment to the accurate portayl of plants has meant that art historians and botanists are starting to doubt if he is the artist responisble for painting the London version of the 'Virgin of the Rocks:

Monday, 15 December 2014

Hojas pintadas

Saw these and thought I'd share... Such a great idea, wish I'd thought of it. I am inspired to make a Christmas reef for our door! Here is the full post.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The fascinating work of Amy Shelton

A while ago I came across the work of Amy Shelton and wrote a blog spot about her project Honeyscribe. I then completely forgot to publish it… So, here it is:

Work by Amy Sheldon
In her artwork, Amy Shelton, who read History of Art at Manchester University and later Fine Art at the University of Plymouth, constantly reflects on the plight of the honeybee. Back in 2011, in response to her research, Amy began The Honeyscribe Project – something that lead her to produce a fascinating body of work that explored the relationship between bee health, human health and the environment. Her aim was to create a body of work that would encourage a dialogue about bees between scientists, artists, writers, beekeepers and the public. Apparently, the name of the project comes from an original name used in Ancient Egypt. Apparently, a ‘Honey Scribe’ was a person who was given the task of recording every drop of honey produced by the local bees.  Amy borrowed this title as a contemporary Honey Scribe who charters current threats to the health of the honey bee whilst reflecting upon their behaviour.
Amy Shelton preparing her Florilegium

Work by Amy Shelton
Work by Amy Shelton
 This year, back in the Spring (sorry guys – I missed it too as I was in California) Amy curated an exhibition in one of the galleries I once exhibited at – Peninsula Arts in the city of Plymouth – it’s a fantastic space and I recommend it. Shelton’s exhibition was a collaborative one featuring many artists, but also, and more importantly for me, one of her own pieces called: ‘Florilegium: Honey Flow’ - a light box installation that documented the plant sources of the pollen and nectar collected by bees to sustain their colonies. This fascinating body of hand sourced material was, in my opinion, arranged by Shelton in such a beautiful, well thought out way. Hundreds of preserved melliferous plants were collected and pressed over an entire year by Amy. Such a collection on its own acts as an absorbing calendar into the life of both the bee and the plant, but when arranged against a lit backdrop in the way these were, they become beautiful pieces of art in their own right. Through this arrangement, Sheldon reveals the inner beauty of every flower whilst also highlighting their importance. Fantastic!

Work by Amy Shelton

Mona Caron’s Murals of Weeds

Mona Caron, a San Francisco-based artist, does most of her art work in the streets. Recently, 'This is Colossal' did a feature on her work which you can see here: Murals of Weeds. I absolutely love her work. I love the way that she empowers plants and gives them a place in the metropolis. Through her paintings, the most overlooked of plants are brought closer to us and in turn we are forced to consider the fact that the city is just as much as place for them as it is for us.

Dandelion by Mona Caron
Mona Caron, a San Francisco-based artist, does most of her art work in the streets. Recently, 'This is Colossal' did a feature on her work which you can see here: Murals of Weeds. I absolutely love her work. I love the way that she empowers plants and gives them a place in the metropolis. Through her paintings, the most overlooked of plants are brought closer to us and in turn we are forced to consider the fact that the city is just as much as place for them as it is for us.

Mona Caron painting her Dandelion

Taking Root by Mona Caron
really love Taking Root. I love the way it glows as the sun rises (or sets - can't quite work it out). I think it's pretty cleverly thought out. This 7 story tall mural apparently features the first tiny wildflower that made it back to a barren piece of land in Union City, California, after its rehabilitation from industrial pollution. Mona worked with the new inhabitants of this specific area and they added welcoming phrases in their many native languages to the roots of the painting, so it is very much a community piece. You can see more about Taking Root on this video:

Friday, 5 December 2014


It's been a while since I last updated you all. This is mainly due to a multitude of reasons, such as dealing with broken boilers, Canary Palm Beetle and the fact I have been a little unwell. Two weeks ago I was home alone, which was superb to begin with but the novelty soon wore off, especially when the boiler started spewing water all over the floor at 2am in the morning. Nothing quite like a disaster to improve one's Spanish! Then sadly our two palms, which had up to this point managed to dodge the dreaded beetle, got the palmetto beetle. So I then had a nice little conversation with the gardeners about that. They have given me a couple of the bugs (Rhynchophorus cruentatus) in a tin so I can paint them. They are amazing to look at, such bright colours and a spiteful rostas and tail.

Rhynchophorus cruentatus

Then I went out to get my car shoes so I can start driving more and my Spanish Sim Card... I am slowly integrating! I have also sorted out all my music which in itself was a MAJOR chore and sourced a paper suppier in Granada who will order in rolls of Saunders Waterford for me, but sadly only at 300gsm. So in a way it's not been the most productive time in my studio!

However, I have started a new piece and my new Rosemary and Co. paintbrushes have arrived complete with Christmas chocolates. Thank you Rosemary and Co. they were delicious!

Mork the Money Plant - a major experiment

Mork the Money Plant - a major experiment

So Mork is a bit of a test piece in a way -not at all sure where the beast is going.... I have first of all butted two pieces of paper together in the way that Rachel Pedder Smith did with her Herbarium Specimen Painting to make the piece as big as I can.  I haven't used one whole piece of paper as I am still niggling about how I proceed with the medium. The rolls are just not thick enough for my work and I still can't get hold of Hot Press large sheets. I have considered getting the more textured cold press papers in larger sizes, as suggested by coral Guest, but then again I am further compounded by the issue of how I best to transport such large sheets. Back in August, when I was still in England, I just wasn't able to make a decision on how I was going to get them to Spain without encountering any damage. As I am sure you can appreciate, paper doesn't come cheap at these sizes - it's certainly an investment! Therefore this has meant that I opted to use two sheets of the Coffee Plant size of just under A0... not ideal, but worth a punt.

Mork the Money Plant - a major experiment
So yes, Mork is rather large - twice the size of Caroline. He might even get bigger, as I might opt to seperate the two pieces of paper so that he is completely split down the middle. I was am also considering the possibility of putting something in the middle of him, thus making a triptych. As you can see - he is a very nebulous piece! With all of this going on in my head, it is difficult to concentrate on actually getting the bulk of the piece down in watercolours. I have to say it's been very tricky indeed, but I seem to have changed gear this week and I can slowly feel the pace picking up a bit. 

Caroline the Coffee Plant in the background and foreground.
This is one of the large prints I took of the original framed in our new house - might help you to get a sense of scale.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Charles Jones

Here’s another artist I had never heard about until recently… On their return from England, my Mum and stepdad Andrew splashed out on a magazine at Gatwick Airport. It’s a beautiful magazine – possibly one of the most elegant publications I have ever laid my hands on. It's almost more bookish in appearance, or maybe a periodical, and is called ‘The Art Book Magazine’. You can see a digital version of the journal here:, but I recommend actually splashing out on a real copy if you can find one as embracing the pages is such a delight. The idea behind The Art Book Magazine was conjured up by the genius Oscar Humphries, who wanted to create a publication that celebrated the beauty of art unlike most contemporary sources. In his words ‘what we need is a magazine that presents, in a contemporary way, the best art ever made: those masterpieces that engage, at once, the heart and the head’.  

Broad Beans by Charles Jones

So yes, I was just flicking through and getting a feel when Charles Harry Jones (1866-1959) popped up. Well, his images did. There they were, in all their glory; beautifully plump, velvety broad beans lined in metallic, militant rows. The work reminded me of Karl Blossfeldt (1865 –1932), but I knew straight away that it wasn't Blossfeldt’s work. This work was more organic and natural. In fact, I have thought about these two photographers all week since seeing Jones’ work for the first time and it’s taken me this long to write this post because of it. It irritated me that I couldn’t really put into words how the work from these two photographers differed, but it does. I wanted to say that Jones’ work was more sensual, but then some of Blossfeldt’s work is very sensual. I wanted to say Jones’ work has a tranquil quality to it, but so does Blossfeldt’s. After much thought I have concluded that the difference between the two comes to the level of processing when orchestrating their compositions. One can see that Charles was quite clearly showing how beautiful the fruits of his labour really were and maybe that's all there is.

Pea pods by Charles Jones

You see, Charles was actually an English gardener. From the 1890s, Charles Harry Jones began to work on a number of private estates in England as a gardener, including Great Ote Hall, near Burgess Hill in Sussex. In this profession he was renowned enough to have been featured in a glowing 1905 article in The Gardener's Chronicle about his place of employment.  It stated in part, "The present gardener, Charles Jones, has had a large share in the modelling of the gardens as they now appear for on all sides can be seen evidences of his work in the making of flowerbeds and borders and in the planting of fruit trees, etc..."  Sadly though, what no one realized then, or for another seventy-five years, was that this same gardener was also this brilliant photographer of uncommon sensitivity who chose as his subject matter the very produce and plants which he grew. It is in his treatment of vegetables and fruits that Jones really did transform the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Charles Jones

The strength of Jones's photographs is in the subtlety of his arrangement, lighting and focus.  They do not have the over the top decorative qualities typical of the Edwardian age in which they were created.  Instead, his works anticipate the modernism of photographers  such as Edward Weston and Karl Blossfeldt without the attendant formalism of twentieth century aesthetics.  The photographs of Charles Jones certainly have a simplicity to them, that is spare and direct.

Karl Blossfeldt

Cabbage Leaf by Edward Weston

Pepper by Edward Weston

Jones's work was sadly never exhibited in his lifetime, and his talent as a photographer went largely unknown, even to his family. He died in Lincolnshire on 15 November 1959, aged ninety-two. After his death, Charles’ exquisite photographs of fruits, vegetables and flowers remained hidden for a further 22 years, until they were finally discovered by accident in a trunk, along with hundreds of other Edwardian era photographs by Sean Sexton at Bermondsey antiques market. Apparently, two-thirds of the collection mainly comprised of vegetables and the remaining third was evenly divided between between fruits and flowers.  The photographs were fastidiously annotated with the name of each plant followed by the initials ‘C.J.’, although a few had the full name of the photographer.  Meticulously printed gold-toned silver prints from glass plate negatives, the majority of the photographs were unique with very few duplicates. Since Sexton's discovery, the collection has slowly been dispersed by him through auction houses and by other means. According to Charles Jones's granddaughter, Shirley Sadler, Charles was a private and uncommunicative individual, and she confirmed that his activities as a photographer were virtually unknown to his family. However, she did recount her aged grandfather using some discarded glass plates as cloches in his garden...

Cauliflowers by Charles Jones

Luckily for us, Charles Jones has been the subject of a book by Robert Flynn Johnson and Sean Sexton with a preface by Alice Waters called Plant Kingdoms: The Photographs of Charles Jones (Smithmark Publishers, New York, 1998). So, if you want to read more on the subject I suggest that might be a good place to start.  If you want to see his work in the flesh, his vintage photographs can be found in the collections of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts, San Francisco, the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Further reading:

Charles Jones

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Miron Schmückle

Oh my God, where have I been...?! I have just discovered this artist's work and I adore it. I can't stop looking at it, in fact it might even replace my current desk top background.  Check out the work of Romanian artist Miron Schmückle if you have a minute. It's pretty unusual and far out, but I am completely captivated by it. I like how his work really plays on the senses; it is very cleverly done. The pieces are almost musical. 

Untitled, 2011, tempera on canvas on wood, 55x75cm, by Miron Schmückle

Botanical Archives (out of my brain) by Miron Schmückle 
A bit about Miron: 

He was Born in Sibu, Romania in 1966. He studied experimental painting at Muthesius Art School in Kiel and Performance art in Art Academy Hamburg. He was also a teaching assistant at the Theatre Academy Saint Petersburg in Russia. In 1997 he moved to Hamburg where he had his studio until 2008. He then moved to Berlin for a bit and later returned to the Muthesius Art Academy in Kiel for the Doctoral Program.

There is a fabulous little interview with him here

Botanical Archives (out of my brain) by Miron Schmückle 

Untitled, 2011, pencil, Indian ink, watercolor on paper, 140x87cm, by Miron Schmückle 

Botanical Archives (out of my brain) by Miron Schmückle 

Botanical Archives (out of my brain) by Miron Schmückle 

“As You Desire Me”. Installation view at MANZONI SCHÄPER, Berlin 2011, by Miron Schmückle

Monday, 1 December 2014

Egon Schiele's Botanical Drawings

So whilst scanning the internet for images, I also came across some of Egon Schiele's work (1890 –  1918)A protégé of Gustav Klimt, Schiele was a major figurative painter of the early 20th century. His work is mostly noted for its intensity. His exquisite use of a simple, singular, expressive line marks the artist as an early exponent of Expressionists. It his depictions of twisted body shapes and raw sexuality that he is most known for, but I feel less is said about his botanical works. I for one didn't know that he ever made studies of plants. I am not sure how that skipped me by, but nevertheless it did. Maybe I was just so captivated by his portraits that I didn't bother looking for anything else?

Field of Flowers by Egon Schiele

Regardless of this though, I have at last come across his studies and I have to say I really rather like them. It's his use of line that fascinates me more than anything; the slightly emaciated look of his subjects and the way he places the object on the canvas. The compositions don't appear to be very structured possibly conveying the very chaotic nature of the wild. The plants seem to 'dance' on the page - they all look very theatrical and slightly animated. I particularly like his sunflower at the end of this post and his piece titled 'Autumn', the latter of which reminds me of the fields behind my studio at the moment. 

Autumn Sun and Trees by Egon Schiele

Field of Flowers by Egon Schiele

Young Trees with Support by Egon Schiele, 1912

Blumenstudie by Egon Schiele, 1918

Foxglove by Egon Schiele

Weiße Chrysantheme by Egon Schiele, 1910

Sunflower II by Egon Schiele

Autumn by Egon Schiele

Sonnenbaum (Sunlit tree) by Egon Schiele, 1910

Sunflower by Egon Schiele

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Christmas Wish List

You all know me by now; I am not known for my asking for “stuff”, I like asking the universe for opportunities, solutions, inspiration and the luck needed to meld everything together. Remember when I so fervently wished to be able to buy a piece of vellum after helping to curate a retrospective show of Rory McEwen's work at Kew Gardens? That wish must have been a powerful one, as a small perfect piece of prepared Kelmscott vellum arrived quite out of the blue one day. The semi-translucent oblong had come from Rory McEwen's daughters, Christabel and Samantha, who had decided to gift me a piece from their father's collection - the very artist who had inspired me work as a botanical illustrator. It was a magical moment. 

I live to paint, to grab that invisible light, colour and surface and fasten it tight forever. My medium is paint and though the process of seeing, feeling and creating I occasionally transcend to a wider understanding of the object I study. As an artist I use my brushes until they are completely worn out. Every hint of pigment is squeezed out of the tubes and compositions are carefully planned so as to not waste paper.

I have been known to lust after many things that will further my practice of painting. Such as a certain shade of green that reminds me of the flesh just under the skin of a conference pear after it has been bitten into. These colours always seem to elude me. I have written this blog post in response to the Next Christmas Wish List competition in the hope that I might end up with one of the items on my list. So this year, I wish for:

1) A Size: 12 Pure Kolinsky Rigger Paint Brush from Rosemary and Co. These handmade brushes are gorgeous and I'd like a big one so that I can work more freely and openly whilst retaining the detail with it's very fine point.

Rosemary and Co, make all of their brushes by hand using the best materials
2) A large piece (c. 60cm square) of Kelmscott (Calfskin) Vellum from William Cowley'sso I can paint something that will glow with luminosity. It is the crème de la crème of watercolour painting surfaces and a must have item.

A delicious roll of Kelmscott
3) A roll of Saunders Waterford, 300gsm, High White, Hotpress Paper (1.524m x 10m) from St. Cuthbert's Millso I can start to work on bigger paintings. I have always wanted a roll of paper so that I can have more freedom when choosing the dimensions of my compositions, but I have never had a studio large enough to store a whole roll in. Having just moved my studio this year I thankfully find myself in a position where I can have 10 metres of this fabulous paper.

The Saunders Waterford Stamp
4) A silver magnifying glass pendant by Crafy Little Gnome on Etsy, so I can see all the tiny details inside my flowers. I love the idea of a pendant because I'd wear it all of the time. It'll be there whenever I need it, such as when I am working in the field.  This handmade one is particularly lovely with it's simple, clean design.

Magnifying pendant by Crafy Little Gnome
5) Charvin Deluxe Oil Painting Set With Wood Chest. Since moving my studio I have begun to paint outside. There is a lovely stretch of countryside behind where I am based and I go on walks regularly. I want to be able to capture the intense colours of the landscape using oils and feel this set would really send me off to a good start!

Doesn't it look sumptuous?! 

Just the five things on my list   this year, even though one is allowed a maximum of ten. It's all I need and want.

Happy Advent.