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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Space Like Black Velvet

        Blossom Arc in Outer Dark 
        2006 - 10
        Litho crayon and carbon over wash
         150 x 130 cm

Out walking at dawn amidst an apricot sunrise gloriously graced by this Indian Summer that we are presently enjoying in England, I reflected upon something that has interested me for many a year - what is the difference between a flat black background and a black space?

Black, like the colour white, can be both background and space. I spent many of my early years contemplating this as a pictorial problem, and the answer was eventually very simple:

When the subject suspended in the black is affected tonally by that black, the black is more apparent as space. Thus the subject painted appears to emerge from the dark space that surrounds it. When the subject suspended in the black is not affected tonally by that black, the black appears to be a flat background.

The work on my new website that reflects this idea and has inspired many to send me a complimentary message, is the Blossom Arc in Outer Dark, a large monochrome drawing of white apple blossom in a dark space. 

Look around the outer edges of the subject matter, and you will see that the leaves and the farthest petals are themselves touched tonally by the darkness, hence the subject matter appears to emerge from the dark space and consequently it does not simply sit upon a dark background. 

This kind of subtlety is very simple and once you see, it becomes obvious. Those of you who will have seen this artwork, on this blog and eventually on the website, will be able to recognise what I am saying.

The technique used in this work is litho crayon and carbon over watercolour wash, which is also the result of experimentation. I discovered this combination works well in creating a great depth of intense dark, bringing the appearance of velvety black space.

So thank you to all the generous messages received about this artwork - from the artists, the collectors, and also to the anonymous kind person who has written to say that a well-known Botanical Artist (their name was not written in the message) has recently made a very similar drawing to this, which they feel is obviously influenced by the Blossom Arc.  Travelling away from home, I rarely get the time to look at other artists work, and so I do appreciate the messages that are sent to me. 

When children write and send me copies of the artworks that they have drawn and painted, it’s a delight to see them learning by copying my work. As we all know, Redouté taught his pupils by instructing them to copy his own work. It is a very efficient way of learning techniques and developing ideas. So when I see my work copied by developing artists, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I see them learning and growing via this. 

Earlier this year, someone placed a copy of an artwork of a purple anemone, from my book, onto her Botanical Art Society’s page. It was uploaded as her own work.  When someone told me about this, I was actually quite intrigued, and then I politely wrote and asked for an acknowledgement. When I brought this to the attention of the artist in question she was apologetic and embarrassed. I myself did not mind, I simply would have liked an acknowledgement. I offered her a free tutorial as this was my way of saying its ok as these things are done unconsciously. Because her copy was poorly done I was very willing to help her improve. 

So, for those who are in the midst of their studies, copying can be a good thing. If there is ever a problem in this area, it is when another professionally well-known artist sees an artwork by one of their contemporaries, takes the same or similar idea and the same or similar techniques, and does a very similar artwork that is not identical, but oh so very similar. 

In art colleges students are advised to develop originality, and if they are influenced by another artist they are encouraged to say so, because this is the ethical way to proceed. Influence is a very different kettle of fish from stealing ideas, and paying homage by giving acknowledgement is an  appropriate modus operandi for an artist.

So there is a code of practice that those who have received an education in fine art naturally carry with them. For me, and other artists like me, who can sometimes spend many years developing an idea and a corresponding technique, it is a painful experience when another professional  has been ‘influenced’ by one's work and not acknowledged this ‘influence’. It comes across as an aggressive act. But as I said, such things are often done unconsciously.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015


29th August 2015 to 31st January 2016
Shirley Sherwood Gallery
Royal Botanic Gardens Kew

        Reception Panel at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery

            Edible pomegranate Punica granatum
           colour study 1:1

As the summer draws to its fruitful conclusion, the Shirley Sherwood Collection is harvesting some of its own paintings of fruit and vegetables for their autumn show, with all manner of glorious bounty on a global scale, painted by many artists who delight in the creation of pictorial volume that the fruiting bodies of plants offer to them as inspiration. 

This exhibition includes some study works, which are now becoming a regular feature in the gallery, as this method of naturalistic and spontaneous recording of plant life picks up pace, gathering interest from collectors and exhibition visitors alike. 

The reception banner in the gallery entrance shows an enlarged image of a life-size colour study of a pomegranate, which I completed whilst on a winter visit to The Netherlands in the early 1990's. 

Also being shown ls a small precision work of a Screw Pine, Pandanas utilis. The seed  was collected by Sir Charles Burrell of Knepp Castle, during one of his early explorations into Papua New Guinea with his wife to be, the travel writer Isabella Tree. At the time, I completed a series of study works based on Sir Charles' seed collection, followed by the precision work of the screw pine, for Dr Sherwood.

There's the opportunity to see again some artworks that have found their place in Botanical Illustration's history books, including the gloriously intense Beetroot by Susannah Blaxhill and the ephemeral Pineapple by the late Paul Jones. 

And, to ice this cake of autumn abundance, on display are some exquisite illustrations of fruits from the Kew Library, including works by Redoute and Maria Sibylla Merian. The cherry on the top is a delightful small show of fruit models from Kew's economic Botany Collection.


Fruit Studies from the CG Archive

Here are some images of Colour Study works from my archive, to offer a flavour of fruitfulness as the evenings draw-in over middle England and as the greens transmute to gold and red. A spontaneous colour study is infused with a sence of place and time, which is unrepeatable in its unique record of our moment. It depicts the truthfulness and the simplicity of domestic bliss, embraced by the peaceful joy of watching something grow.

     Before the Pie Was Made 
    Apples in Joan's Garden 
    Spontaneous oil study on painted paper
    Painted for the Lady Joan Black, 1991
    Private Collection

      Rowan Berry (Sorbus aucuparia) Battersea Park
      Spontaneous watercolour study 1991
      Private Collection


Making Jam - View from the Kitchen Window 
Prunus domestica 'Victoria' 
Northamptonshire, 1996
Spontaneous watercolour study
Private Collection


     Not Yet 
     Malus domestica
'Ribston Orange Pippin' (unripe)

     Northamptonshire, 1994
     Spontaneous sketchbook study
     Private Collection

     Malus domestica
'Ribston Orange Pippin' (ripe)

     Northamptonshire, 2009
     Spontaneous sketchbook study
     Private Collection

      Early Evening at The Cipriani, Venice
      White Grape (unknown cultivar)
      Sketch book study on tinted paper 2003
      Private Collection


Wednesday, August 05, 2015


        Walking on White, Iceland 2015
        Acrylic and gouache on chalk gesso
        20 x 12 cm

Most people who follow my work will know me as a painter of flowers. The main body of work that I have been involved in for many years involves more esoteric concerns, and although it sometimes embraces the flower motif, it is with a view to a greater meaning. Much work has been completed, as I worked in silence over many years, seeking and expressing profound meaning. The work has developed privately, sometimes finding the rare collector to support it. The energy was contained, as I sought to protect the work from superficial glamour, allowing it to grow on a deeper level. 

The focus of this work is upon drawing and various forms of painting that involve drawing with the brush as well as other mediums. It embodies my quest for a new discourse on the spirituality of drawing, and so the right to this had to be earned over many years of disciplined training and practice on other levels. I have now created a new website specifically for this work, bringing it out into the open to be seen. 

I have placed a large copyright notice on the home page, and this is to warn anyone who assumes they have the right to copy the text or the imagery, translate it into another language, and publish it as their own. I have of recent years had this problem with plagiarism, from this blog as well as my other flower painting website. If it were not for the kindness of strangers who speak other languages and who have informed me of this, it would have continued without my knowledge. 

Much of the recent work has come into completion after many months or years of experimenting with drawing methods and materials. Some works are very large, some very small. The site also shows a glimpse of what I did as a student, which was where it all began. 

There is intense mental energy placed into this work, but the appearance - in some of the landscape pieces in particular - is of less, with hardly anything there on the material levels. Its asking if you can 'read' it in other ways than are normally acceptable. I hope you enjoy the work, should you choose to view the site, and thank you for reading this post.


Sunday, August 02, 2015

WATERCOLOUR - Elements of Nature Fitzwilliam Museum Cambridge

For those in love with the grace of techniques and what is possible within the realm of watercolour, do make a visit to the Elements of Nature exhibition at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. The show is creatively and intriguingly curated by Jane Munro, and described by the Sunday Times as 'Ravishing and conceptually strong', which is perhaps an understatement, because it really is a fabulous show.

The great thing here is that so many watercolour artists of high calibre are represented in this show, including two originals by the masterful and legendary P J Redouté. Those particularly interested in his flower painting can see two of the very well-known originals from the Fitzwilliam's own collection, as well as works by his pupils.

Whilst Durer is currently in fashion so far as often being granted a deservedly high status in the history of botanical art - even though he produced studies that make him more of a naturalistic painter - Redouté produced infinitely more flower paintings and botanical illustrations than Durer. Alas, he is not in vogue with the many botanical artists out there, but he has always been in vogue to the few, including myself.

The great thing about the inclusion of these two original watercolours in this show, is the fact that they are in the context of other great watercolours that are focused upon nature. It offers the Flower Painter’s art, represented by Redouté, as a part of the bigger picture of the watercolour tradition.

I breathed a sigh of relief, a sense of delight, and a perfect smile of regard for Redouté, who has stood the test of time, even though we often only know him by the endless chocolate box prints. He is the landmark icon of the great age of flower painting and part of a grand whole, not someone separated from the mainstream by the title botanical art and placed into a niche, but something of great power and passion that holds its own in the midst of it all.

The works on show are two famous pages, featuring a peony and a magnolia, so they have borders in line wash and gold leaf around the images, and the vellum is buckled. But don’t let this put you off, instead look deeper into how serene the techniques are and ponder on life the universe and everything through the eyes of the grandest flower painting master of them all, as he worked on these drawings, which were monumentally commissioned by the Empress Joséphine. 

Thereafter, simply look around you at the entire room and take in the miracle of watercolour as a whole, and then walk on to observe the show cases nearby that reveal some fascinating early books written on how to paint in watercolour and the curious examples of early watercolour materials. You will not fail to be touched by the wonder of watercolour, and feel graced with its presence in your life.

This show continues until 27th September 2015.


                                 Redouté Homage
                              Rosa Mme E. Calvat 
                              Early study work 1990
                              1:1 unfinished
                              Coral Guest
                              Private Collection

Monday, July 27, 2015




Singapore Botanic Gardens

10th July - 1st November 2015




Monstera deliciosa (Araceae) 1997
750 x 550 cm  1:1 life size
watercolour on paper

As part of the celebrations of Singapore’s Jubilee, and the Singapore Botanic Gardens recent award of World Heritage Site status, the Gardens are now presenting a fabulous exhibition of work with a tropical theme. If you are fortunate enough to be there, please do write a comment, as I would be so delighted to hear from you. The artists exhibiting in this truly international extravaganza are both new and established, and herald from Australia, Brazil, Germany, Japan, Thailand, The Philippines, USA, and the UK. My work on Monstera deliciosa, which was commissioned in 1997, is exhibited.


This early work was painted from a 1.5 metre high cutting taken from a plant heralding from the glass house plant collection at Dr Sherwood’s country home in Oxfordshire. As my studio was in town at that time, I drove to the Sherwood’s London home to collect the specimen. On arrival, the house keeper presented me with a huge box, which had been very carefully assembled by the head gardener at Hinton. It contained a substantial plant cutting of the Monstera, which included several leaves - one still furled, and also two attached live spathes containing both a fully developed and an undeveloped fruit. 

In my bid to keep the plant upright, I removed some of the packaging and managed to get it to sit nicely in the car, with the seat belt wrapped around its box. When driving along Baker Street, I stopped in a traffic jam and heard a tiny unrecognisable crackling sound and the dim echo of something landing on the car seat. I then saw in the mirror that the very ripe spathe had fallen, leaving the scaly fruit resplendent and without its protective hat.

This created something of a conundrum, as when back in the studio, and having fixed the specimen to a basic hydroponic system, I knew that I would need to wait for the second spathe to develop in order to create a unified composition in the artwork. So this is what I did. Working with the ripened fruit first, I then waited for the second spathe to mature. I painted it by natural north light, with a view to revealing not only the subtle but intense depth of colour of its component parts, but equally their textures - leathery but shiny leaves, a smooth opaque vellum-like spathe, and the scaly fruit. Its presence filled the studio and it produced alien sounding squeaky noises as the new leaf unfurled a little more each day, when the first light came.